A Friday mailbag for a Sunday without Patriots foot. Every week I'll be answering your questions be they Patriots-related, NFL-related or otherwise. This week, the focus for many of you was -- no surprise -- the injury situation. We'll start there...
Is there any chance the Patriots bring back Ben Watson or add another tight end?
— Harry Mann Jr. (@harryjunior1985) October 11, 2019
I'd imagine the Patriots would act quickly to add a capable tight end, Harry. Ben Watson is still available. Bill Belichick didn't rule out the possibility that Watson would be back, and maybe the latest injury to Matt LaCosse will push them to act. Whether it's Watson or someone else. Ryan Izzo had his best game of the season in a reduced role, blocking on the move, being used as a safety-valve receiver. If they can get him back into that niche, that might be the best thing for them.
— 🏈Karen O 🎃🧟♀️🕸 (@Kodiva22) October 11, 2019
N'Keal Harry has been working behind the scenes with fellow rookie wideouts Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as though he's returning, Karen. I'd think he's a safe choice to be back given the overall health of the receiving group. Isaiah Wynn also is a logical returnee. Both, if healthy enough to contribute, would carry greater value than bringing back either fullback. Harry can begin practicing this week. The Patriots will have a chance to evaluate him in practice first before having to activate him to the 53-man roster. The earliest he could play is Week 9.
How about Brady being forced to throw to the young guys!!!! Think it's a positive, also TE on trade market?
— Pixie Palladino (@tpalladino34) October 11, 2019
Pixie, I think the positive sign is the fact that Olszewski and Meyers played as much as they did without any obvious mental errors or negative plays. They caught almost everything thrown their way (six of seven combined targets were reeled in), and they weren't flagged for anything. It looked as though they aligned out of the huddle without issue. And both were in good enough shape -- even without getting many practice snaps -- to handle every play in the second half. Their preparation should be lauded. More performances like that one should allow Brady to trust them a little more, particularly Meyers, who showed promise in training camp but has seen his practice reps diminished with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon -- both of whom missed most of the summer -- back in the mix.
As far as a tight end who'd make sense in New England via trade? What's difficult for the Patriots is that teams around the league are embracing 12-personnel packages more and more, it seems, and so they want two starting-caliber players at that position in order to take advantage of the mismatches inherent to those formations. But someone like Austin Hooper, of the fading Falcons, would make plenty of sense. He'd be more of a pass-catching option as opposed to a Dwayne Allen type. Dwayne Allen himself -- who was released by the Dolphins this summer with an injury settlement -- would make some sense if Bill Belichick wanted someone who's going to make an impact in the running game.
If the Pats stand pat at the deadline with regard to WR, is that a sign of confidence in N'Keal Harry?
— Tom Driscoll (@tdriscoll17) October 11, 2019
It could be, T. They'll have two weeks to work with Harry out on the practice fields before the Oct. 29 trade deadline. If they love what they see, they might be less willing to part with a high-end draft choice in a trade. But I think there's a chance that even if Harry looks great, they'd be in on a pass-catcher -- whether it's a wideout or tight end. Between backs, tight ends and receivers, the Patriots would ideally have five guys they can count on as receiving options in crunch time. Right now they have one healthy crunch-time passing back (James White) and no one at tight end. They have a banged-up Julian Edelman, a banged-up Josh Gordon and a banged-up Phillip Dorsett. Even if Harry works his way into that top-five, you could make the argument that they still have room for one more given all the injuries.
Does a player starting to practice designate him to return, or can the team decide later?
— Steve Claflin (@SteveClaflinIT) October 11, 2019
Good question, Steve. Teams are required to notify the league office that a player they're planning to have at practice has been "Designated for Return." They're allowed to do that with two players on IR (or on NFI, like Yodny Cajuste). Once a player begins to practice, that starts a 21-day clock for the returning player's team to either activate him or shut him down for the season.
Could Mike Bennett really get dealt? What kind of return could the Patriots get for him?
— Brett Bosse (@brett8055) October 11, 2019
Of course. It'd take two to tango, obviously. The Patriots would deal him if they felt it made the team better. Given his dwindling snap counts, it'd come as little surprise if they decided to trade him -- even if it was primarily to free-up cap space. Bennett is a bit of an odd scheme fit with the Patriots using more of a 3-4 scheme this year. He's really a 4-3 end who can pass-rush from the interior. But as an interior pass-rusher, he's more of a penetrator, and with the Patriots seeing mobile quarterbacks almost every week, penetrating -- slicing through the line -- isn't always as highly valued as someone who can push the pocket and maintain his rush-lane integrity. Bennett still has a load of pass-rush talent, though, and his playing time rollercoaster could end up resembling the path taken by players like Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch and even Danny Shelton. All were healthy scratches at some point despite being among the most talented defensive linemen on Bill Belichick's roster over the years. After being scratched for non-injury related reasons, they all came back to play important roles thereafter, assumedly after they made changes asked of them by the coaching staff.
The Patriots knew all along that Bailey would have the ability to kick if needed. That upped his value in their eyes. I think the punting alone -- his ability to flip the field has been on display multiple times already this season -- would've been enough to win him the punter's job though. He simply has a bigger leg than Allen, which has paid early dividends for the Patriots.
He's been around, Matthew. And he's been meeting with the team. In my story from Thursday night on the "virtual room" being used by young Pats wideouts, I pointed out that Harry has been in there working with his fellow rookie receivers.
Think you can chalk that up to the matchups, Phil. The Patriots did just play on Thursday night, though. They had the late Steelers game for the opener. They play Monday night in Jersey in a week. Then you've got an 8:20 p.m. game in Baltimore Week 9 and another Week 13 in Houston. Also in the mix are a whole mess of 4:25 p.m. games: Week 8, Week 11, Week 12 and Week 14.
Who from the defense will start playing some snaps on O?
— Stu Kirsch (@stuartkirsch) October 11, 2019
I think Jamie Collins would make a mean tight end. Maybe JC Jackson, if they need a wideout? Devin McCourty told me last year that Jackson is the best tracker of the football they've had in the secondary since McCourty's been here.
Get Isaiah Wynn back in a few weeks. His cap is still on the books while he's on IR. That's the easiest solution, and it'd represent a significant upgrade.
Phil, to what do you ascribe blame for running woes this year? Changes at OL? Indecision by Sony? No Develin? No Gronk/Allen? Percentage blame for each?
— Boom80517 (@boom80517) October 11, 2019
Changing offensive line. Inconsistent performance at tight end relative to the last few years. Running back quickness. I think they're all part of the issue. Hard to blame Sony Michel for not getting much when there isn't much space for him to work with. The flip-side to that argument is this: If Michel can't get yards without help from his blockers, doesn't that make him like just about any replacement-level back in the league? It's kind of the how-much-do-running-backs-really-matter argument in a nutshell. The special talents at that position are the ones who can create yards on their own anywhere on the field and contribute in the passing game. Everyone else? Their success at that position is largely dependent on the situation around them.
You can understand why the Patriots like Rex Burkhead as much as they do. Though he's dealt with injury throughout the course of his Patriots tenure, he's quick enough to make defenders miss when the offensive line doesn't give him a lane, and he's a more-than-capable receiver. Through four games before Burkhead's injury, he was averaging 4.7 yards per carry behind the same offensive line that blocked for Michel, who was averaging 2.8 yards per carry through that same span.
With Jakob Johnson injured, will they bring back Develin from IR instead of Wynn/Harry?
— kyle pereira (@pereira_report) October 11, 2019
Indications are that Develin's injury will keep him out for the season, Kyle.
Will the Patriots bring in a fullback or just gameplan around it?
— Joel Dickinson, REALTOR® (@JoelDickinsonRE) October 11, 2019
Joel, if they find one they think will be able to learn the offense, I think they'd be happy to have that element as part of their attack. If they don't, I think you could see the Patriots use a tight end in the fullback's place. We saw it a bit on Thursday. Ryan Allen motioned from his spot at tight end and into the backfield on multiple occasions to lead the way for a runner.
Is there any historical precedent for bringing in a veteran receiver this late into the season? I know Belichick has done it with other positions but can't think of a time he's added a WR this late.
— Tim Woodman (@Wo0dy2shoes) October 11, 2019
The Patriots brought in Austin Collie as veteran receiver help in October of 2013. They claimed Michael Floyd in December of 2016. They obviously brought Deion Branch back for a second go-round in October of 2010. It's been done before. The Collie and Floyd signings clearly weren't game-changers, but there are some bigger names who could be had this year -- Emmanuel Sanders is the one that makes the most sense to me -- who I'd think would make a quick impact.
Tight ends look inexperienced (do the even block, bro?), but Meyers has big upside seen in preseason and last night. With Gordon possibly going down how much pressure on BB to get help at trade or Meyers good enough to step in at WR? Thanks, Phil!
— Rich Pellegrino (@rich_pellegrino) October 11, 2019
Meyers has impressed since the day he arrived, but I think they understand that they'd be putting themselves in a better spot if they have someone with a little more experience to complement what they already have on the roster. Meyers could be on a path to have a Malcolm Mitchell-type role by the end of the season -- that wouldn't shock me in the least. But, remember, Mitchell was behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, James White, Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan as pass-catchers on the roster that year. You might even be able to include Dion Lewis on that list. They didn't ask the rookie to be a No. 3 or 4 option. I think they'd like to not have to do the same with Meyers.
6 games in, which historic Pats team would you compare this ‘19 edition to?
Are we better or worse placed than last year to win? #FridayBag
— Damian Sharkey (@Sharks771) October 11, 2019
I'm thinking 2003? Led by the defense. Questions offensively. Can't go with 2001 because they had a rookie quarterback and this version of that guy is still one of the best in the league. And I can't go with 2004, even that's the team everyone is comparing this current group to because of the great defenses. In 2004, they had Corey Dillon and a dominant run game. Not the case this year. Great question, though, Damian. Curious as to what you all think about that one.
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