The New England Patriots returned to the postseason in 2021 after a one-year absence in the wake of Tom Brady’s departure. After a 2020 season in which the Patriots received below-average quarterback play from Cam Newton, Patriots Head Coach (and chief decision-maker) Bill Belichick made a splash at the position by drafting former Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones with a first-round selection. Jones promptly led the Patriots to a respectable 10-7 record and wild-card appearance.
A successful season in 2022 would require yet another playoff appearance while taking a step forward. The Patriots should theoretically be looking to build upon last year’s momentum, but a strange offseason has us questioning their ceiling.
The success or failure of New England’s 2022 campaign will likely rest on the development (or lack thereof) of Jones. In an offensively-driven league, it’s Jones who will likely catapult the Patriots forward, or hold them back. And Belichick made a highly questionable decision this offseason in relation to Jones’ environment.
The Patriots lost an excellent offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels, who agreed to become the new head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. McDaniels also plucked some impressive members of the Patriots’ coaching staff, including Mick Lombardi, who was a strong in-house candidate to replace McDaniels in New England. Belichick has curiously decided against actually replacing McDaniels, refusing to name a new offensive coordinator (in title, at least). When it comes to just who will call offensive plays for the Patriots going forward, all signs point to the returning Matt Patricia, who’s spent the majority of his coaching career on the defensive side of the ball. Joe Judge may also be in the mix.
Questionable coaching changes aside, the Patriots entered the offseason with an opportunity to improve last season’s roster from a personnel standpoint, but the decisions they’ve made via trades, the NFL draft, and free agency have left onlookers scratching their heads in confusion while struggling to comprehend the logic. The Patriots lost several high-end contributors this offseason. Arguably the league’s best cornerback, J.C. Jackson, was allowed to sign a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Chargers in free agency. The Patriots are counting on a reunion with 32-year-old Malcolm Butler, who didn’t play in the league last season, to help replace Jackson on the boundary. Butler will forever be the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, but it represents a monumental risk.
Starting guard Shaq Mason was inexplicably traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for a 2022 fifth-round selection (No. 170). The offensive line was further hampered when Ted Karras signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. A pair of other defensive mainstays may not return. Kyle Van Noy was released from his contract, and D’Onta Hightower remains an unrestricted free agent.
Then came the puzzling 2022 NFL Draft. The Patriots stunned the world by drafting former Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange with a first-round selection. Strange gained traction as a potential day-two selection following an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl, but nobody foresaw Strange hearing his name called in the first round. Strange is expected to start at left guard as a rookie, but he wasn’t Belichick’s lone surprise of the draft.
The Patriots were accused of reaching again with their very next selection by taking former Baylor receiver Tyquan Thornton. A 4.28 40-yard dash allowed Thornton to open eyes in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine and the Patriots are hoping that Thornton’s track speed can help them open up their offensive playbook.
Several of New England’s day-three selections were equally as puzzling. They drafted two running backs (Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris) despite already rostering Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and James White. Spending a fourth-round pick on a quarterback (Bailey Zappe) just one year after drafting Jones in the first round felt like a peculiar use of resources—a luxury pick for a team that couldn’t afford one.
The Patriots don’t possess any high-level offensive playmakers, but there’s enough depth throughout the starting lineup to potentially field an effective offense. Despite the losses of Karras and Mason, starters such as Trent Brown and Michael Onwenu should help spearhead a physical, formidable offensive line, one that benefits from its run-heavy approach and one-two punch in the backfield. The receiver corps is loaded with NFL-worthy talent, including Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and the recently acquired DeVante Parker. Whoever calls plays for the Patriots would be wise to get Jonnu Smith more involved at tight end in 2022. Smith is a prime candidate to enjoy a bounce-back season while forming the duo they envisioned alongside Hunter Henry.
Defensively, the aforementioned changes in the secondary are the biggest question marks surrounding this group. How quickly can rookie cornerbacks Jack Jones and Marcus Jones contribute? Can Butler and Jalen Mills form a strong enough partnership at cornerback to combat the elite receivers they’ll face throughout the course of a difficult schedule, particularly the ones within their own division?
Speaking of, a new look, competitive division further complicates matters. The Patriots finished second in the AFC East last season, well behind the dominant, division-winning Buffalo Bills. The 2022 iteration of the Bills appear to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender once again, and Buffalo is largely expected to capture their third consecutive division title. While the Patriots have every logical reason to fear the Bills, they should also be peeking over their shoulder at the much-improved Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Dolphins and Jets have arguably been the two most aggressive teams throughout the offseason, acquiring a bunch of high-level talents on both sides of the ball. Analyzing these rosters on paper could indicate the Dolphins and Jets are capable of leapfrogging the Patriots in 2022. A last-place finish in the AFC East would qualify as a major disappointment for Belichick and the Patriots.
Competing for a Super Bowl in an absolutely loaded AFC seems far-fetched, and the Patriots aren’t a strong bet to win their division, either. A successful season must be defined by qualifying for the postseason for the second consecutive campaign. The Patriots’ offseason doesn’t lean favorably toward improvement or even a replication of last season’s success, but Patriots faithful have every right to demand another postseason appearance.
Dayo Odeyingbo Looks Healthy, Ready To Wreak Havoc For Colts
- Aug 22, 2022
3 Teams That Should Trade For Isaiah Wynn
- Aug 22, 2022