Patriots Mailbag: Could Pats pursue Mike Evans or another elite WR?

Patriots Mailbag: Could Pats pursue Mike Evans or another elite WR? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots are still looking for their first win of the season entering Sunday's game with the Jets in New York. Before we dive headlong into that matchup, let's tackle your hard-hitting questions about the current state of the team in our latest mailbag.

After asking around a bit, SDoof, my guess is that this is the group the Patriots will roll with this season.

I wouldn't be stunned, to be honest, if they were more likely to offload a piece at some point rather than add. When healthy, between DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Pop Douglas, Kayshon Boutte and Tyquan Thornton, they believe they have six NFL players at that spot. (They also elevated Jalen Reagor, a first-round pick who has bounced around to three different clubs since 2020, from the practice squad for Week 2.)

While none of those names are going to strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators at the moment, it's a crowded room. No one is being shopped right now, is my understanding, but it is worth wondering how the team handles this position group moving forward. And given the dearth of explosive plays they've compiled to this point in the year, your question is a good one.

I'm sure there are those in the building who'd love to add a true star at the position. But I can also tell you receiver isn't viewed as the primary issue facing the offense right now.

That would be the offensive line through two weeks. Same old, same old there. The line was, from what I was told at the time, very clearly the team's No. 1 concern before the season began.

ESPN has tracked their pass-block win rate as the second-worst in football to this point. Their best back, Rhamondre Stevenson, is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Until they solve what ails them up front, it will be hard for them to gauge exactly where they are elsewhere offensively.

Now... Would I be pursuing a trade to improve the receiver room? I would.

Parker and Smith-Schuster's injury histories are what they are. Neither looks right to me at the moment; Parker getting bodied out of bounds on Mac Jones' ugly interception against the Dolphins was eye-opening. Their most dynamic players at the position look like Bourne (38 snaps in Week 2) and Douglas (nine snaps before being benched following a fumble).

They could still use a down-the-field threat, like Mike Evans, to round out the room.

The problem? Parker is here to do what Evans does, though he's not nearly as consistent as Evans has been over the breadth of his career. Also, Evans would have to be acquired via trade. The Bucs likely aren't re-signing him, but he's lighting it up (12 catches, 237 yards, two scores), they're 2-0 at the moment in what looks like a bad division, and if they were open to trading Evans, they'll likely be looking for an improvement on the draft pick they'd receive for him via the compensatory formula if and when he walks in the offseason.

Would Bill Belichick really be willing to offload a third-round pick (or thereabouts) for less than a full season of Evans? I'd consider it. But -- barring an injury or two at the position that could change his approach -- I don't think he would.

First things first, I don't see Tee Higgins becoming available any time soon. The Bengals are trying to win a Super Bowl. They just invested a boatload of money into their young quarterback who's having a rough start to the season. They aren't about to pry weapons away from him.

While Higgins is in a contract year, the expectation there is he'll get the franchise tag and be in Cincinnati through 2024. At least.

As for the approach taken by Belichick? He's been open about the fact that he doesn't want to overspend on talent because then the bill comes due eventually. He's been happy to point out teams like the Bucs (2-0) and Rams (1-1) are dealing with the cap ramifications of their spending at the moment. But those ramifications can be mitigated by drafting well and finding relatively inexpensive veteran talent that outperforms its cost.

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The urgency to win -- which was there in a very obvious way toward the end of Tom Brady's tenure (pricey Antonio Brown, Mohamed Sanu additions) -- does not seem to be there from a team-building standpoint in the same way right now in New England.

Perhaps that's a reflection on the opinion Belichick has of his own roster at the moment as well as the overall sustainability of that kind of approach. (You'll remember following Brady's last season in 2019, in 2020, Belichick referred to that season as a "reset" year for the team from a financial standpoint.)

I would not. Hunter Renfrow is having trouble getting on the field for Josh McDaniels. Can't imagine it would be all that much easier for him here. Especially since the Patriots could... potentially... just play the undersized slot option they already have on the roster and see what happens without giving up a pick.

Getting ahead of yourself, Junkfish! Also... Parker and Smith-Schuster are under contract for 2024. They likely aren't improving as individual talents. But maybe more time with Mac Jones would eventually yield better results.

Wouldn't anticipate Belichick and his staff punting on those two while they're on the books.

The lack of high-end offensive talent could be what ultimately holds this team back (assuming the offensive line gets healthier, shakes off some rust and improves). That is a team-building issue.

Defense is certainly harder to play these days. And every bit of tangible evidence we have would suggest you're much better off if you're an elite offensive team with a mediocre defense as opposed to the other way around. But that doesn't mean defensive-minded coaches can't work.

Mike Vrabel is widely regarded as one of the best in football. Same for Mike Tomlin and obviously Bill Belichick.

Going with an offensive coach in the head position makes sense because if you have a positive working relationship between that coach and a good quarterback, then it could continue unbroken for years. But with a defensive-minded head coach, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching aspirations on the staff, there is the possibility for that critical play-caller-and-quarterback bond to be broken if the coordinator gets hired away for his own head job.

Still, the leadership qualities required necessary to be a good head coach might outweigh the benefits of having an offensive head coach. If the Patriots end up hiring Mayo as the next head man in Foxboro, it would be because of his ability to lead.

Here you go, Tom: He's making $2.08 million in base salary this year and carries a cap hit of $4.25 million. Next year he's on the books for $2.76 million in base salary and a cap hit of $4.96 million.

In 2025, he could either A) hit free agency, B) play on the fifth-year option for first-round picks or C) start playing on a new contract extension inked with the Patriots.

If his fifth-year option gets picked up, it would be fully guaranteed and is currently projected by Over the Cap to come in at $23.25 million. In terms of cash spent that season, Jones would come in as the 17th-highest paid quarterback in the NFL.

Affordable. Sensible. And unless Jones and the Patriots come to an agreement on an extension prior to 2025, I'd anticipate that the team picks it up.

Makes sense to me, Ashley, that the Patriots would want to go year-to-year with Trent Brown. He'll now have an opportunity to earn a little extra by being on the field and performing.

Having a motivated Brown is critical for this team -- he's arguably one of the two or three most important players on the offensive side of the ball in Foxboro -- and if this newly-reworked deal has him motivated, then it's smart. In the grand scheme of things, $2 million is a small price to pay to make sure one of your key pieces is at his best.

It's a small sample, but it looks like that part of Jones' game has improved. His throw rolling to his left to Smith-Schuster along the sideline against the Dolphins was impressive. He hit Smith-Schuster again at the goal line when rolling to his right. His touchdown throw to Hunter Henry came off-platform.

Per Pro Football Focus' grading, he's the fifth-best quarterback under pressure in football. In 2022, he graded out as the 39th best passer when pressured. The key difference? He has answers on where to go with the football when he needs to throw it quickly.

He knows where his outlets are. When trouble strikes, he has a plan. Those were lacking a season ago.

My guess is Mike Onwenu lands elsewhere this offseason, QS. The Patriots haven't made it a habit of playing offensive linemen big money -- outside of tagging Joe Thuney in 2020 -- and they just drafted three linemen who could help fill in after Onwenu should he walk as a free agent. While shakeup up front doesn't help the performance there, generally speaking, I'd expect more next year.

It's interesting, Richie. They've been working on it the last few weeks, and I've been asking about it. The issue is that there are limited fully-padded snaps to perfect those types of plays and the timing necessary to make them sing.

The way it's been described to me is that players try to "steal" reps where they can, between periods, in down time, or even when it's just a shells-and-shorts session in order to get as much work in as they can together.

How should a double-team fit together? When should a player leave a double to get to another defender? Where should one player's hand-placement be when working with a teammate to move a 330-pound defensive tackle? Those are all things that the Patriots haven't had enough time to perfect in camp because of injuries to Cole Strange and Onwenu (and because of Calvin Anderson's long-term stay on the non-football illness list).

With more time, as Bill O'Brien told us this week, that part of the Patriots offense should improve. But this isn't an easy week to try to get on top of all of the nuances involved in executing blocks in the running game. The Jets defensive front, of course, is one of the deepest and most talented in the league.

Great question. I'll do some digging and see what folks inside the building think on that front. My guess is they'd still avoid trying it -- they're currently 30th in the NFL in play-action pass rate -- until they feel more confident in their offensive line.

Those types of attempts usually require more time spent by the quarterback with the ball in his hands behind center. They also usually mean turning your back to the defense (and the pass-rush). Not sure O'Brien would want Jones doing either of those until the offensive line proves it can protect more effectively -- even if it meant some sort of positive trickle-down effect on the run game.

I think they have the ability to make the postseason. I had them as a 10-win team once Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles. But they have to be the smartest team on the field every time they play.

If they are, they can compete consistently. If they aren't -- if they remain near the bottom of the league in turnover differential, for example (-2 in two weeks, tied for 23rd) -- it'll be a long season.

Choosing the tackle position as one to take a gamble on? Not a bad idea. The league knows how valuable they are -- just take a look at their salaries. They make a real difference between winning and losing. Therefore, to me, rolling the dice on Dawand Jones (6-foot-8, 374 pounds, 7-foot-6 wingspan), would've been worthwhile in the fourth round.

He's not a great athlete, and so perhaps he'll end up flaming out once he logs a significant number of miles in the league. But the position he plays is one that can make or break a team depending on its talent level there. I'm not sure the same can be said of safety, where it looks like Marte Mapu will play primarily for the Patriots.

What might sting for the Patriots? They could've had both. They selected Jake Andrews (hasn't yet logged a snap offensively) at pick No. 107 in the fourth round. Jones went to the Browns four picks later.

Let's give it some time before we make grand proclamations about what the Patriots should've done back in the spring, but Jones would've made sense for the Patriots based on his draft position, his upside, and their depth of young talent at that of-so-critical position.