FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. What’s next at QB?: With the Patriots eliminated from the playoffs, it is time to look to 2021, and there is no more important question for coach Bill Belichick’s team than this one: Who is the quarterback?
Cam Newton said he wants to be part of the solution, but he’s scheduled for free agency and it’s unclear whether Belichick will keep the door open for his return. Based on two of the criteria Belichick often discusses as critical for quarterbacks — accuracy and decision-making — it would seem like a longer-odds scenario. The alternative view: Even Belichick would be likely to acknowledge he didn’t surround Newton with enough to give him the best chance to succeed in 2020.
Meanwhile, Jarrett Stidham enters the third year of his four-year rookie contract, and he figures to be part of the 2021 plans. But does Belichick view him as anything more than a backup?
Which brings us to the trade market and free-agent possibilities.
It’s challenging to project what the Patriots might do without knowing the opportunities in front of them. For example, would the San Francisco 49ers consider moving on from Jimmy Garoppolo? It seems unlikely, but if that was a possibility, one would think the Patriots’ interest would be piqued, as they groomed Garoppolo and held on as long as possible before trading him.
How would the New York Jets‘ potential selection of a quarterback affect the status of Sam Darnold, and could he be an option? Then there are others under contract but whose situations come with some questions, such as Matthew Stafford (Lions) and Carson Wentz (Eagles).
In free agency, Jameis Winston (Saints), Philip Rivers (Colts), Dak Prescott (Cowboys) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Dolphins) headline the group of those with considerable experience who are scheduled to hit the market.
And in the draft, where the Patriots are projected to pick No. 15, that’s out of range from Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Ohio State) and maybe even Zach Wilson (Brigham Young). So it could be Mac Jones (Alabama), Trey Lance (North Dakota State) and Kyle Trask (Florida) as considerations, if the Patriots feel strongly about it and don’t try to make an aggressive move up the board.
There’s plenty of time for it all to unfold, but it’s not too early to start to shine the spotlight on it.
2. Edelman’s future: Wide receiver Julian Edelman is coming off a 2020 season in which he has been limited to six games because of a knee injury, which came after an offseason in which he underwent knee and shoulder surgeries. That’s a lot of wear and tear for the 34-year-old, and he was held out of practices this week after having the clock started on his return from injured reserve last week, creating the scenario in which he’s possibly played his last game for the franchise. It would be a shame if so, as Edelman would never have received the proper on-field sendoff from the faithful fans with whom he’s had such a strong connection. He is under contract for 2021, with $2.8 million in guaranteed money.
3. Slater touts Tasker: Patriots captain Matthew Slater extended his NFL record for Pro Bowl berths by a special-teamer (9) this season, and Belichick paid him the highest compliment when he put him at the top of the list when asked about his place in the history of football when it comes to impactful special-teams play. That has sparked a question in some circles of whether Slater is worthy of Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration, but Slater deflected that talk this week, saying: “If you want to start having those conversations they need to be had with the name Steve Tasker, because he paved the way for us to play the game. He’s the Godfather.” It’s a timely topic with the Patriots hosting the Buffalo Bills Monday night (8:15 ET, ESPN) as Tasker, the seven-time Pro Bowler, played for Buffalo from 1986 to 1997.
4. Jackson snubbed: Cornerback J.C. Jackson was the obvious Patriot who was snubbed for a Pro Bowl berth, considering his eight interceptions (second in NFL). He had to feel good seeing some around the league support him, such as Eagles cornerback Darius Slay, as the four AFC cornerbacks selected were Xavien Howard (Dolphins), Tre’Davious White (Bills), Stephon Gilmore (Patriots) and Marlon Humphrey (Ravens). “He definitely should have got in. It’s crazy that he didn’t,” said Patriots safety Adrian Phillips. Ironically, if Jackson had been selected, it probably would have been over Gilmore.
5. Folk tale not in final chapter: Veteran kicker Nick Folk has been one of the best stories of the Patriots’ season, having made 25 straight field goals, including two game-winners from 50-plus yards with no time left on the clock. It’s hard to believe Folk, 36, had not kicked in the NFL for two seasons when the Patriots signed him as an injury replacement midway through the 2019 season. And the Patriots probably weren’t planning on Folk to be their primary kicker after they drafted Justin Rohrwasser (practice squad) in the fifth round. But Folk’s persistence has paid off, which included a stop with the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football, and now he’s positioned himself to continue his NFL career in 2021. “I still have a lot of leg in me,” he said. “I definitely want to continue the journey.”
6. Wise thrives on vegan diet: Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty produce an informative weekly podcast, and one thing learned from a recent episode is that fourth-year defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. believes a vegan diet has been a key part of his ability to stay on the field. Wise has played a career-high 54% of the defensive snaps and told the McCourtys: “I started 2018, after the Bears week (Oct. 21), and finalized my Vegan journey. My wife and I cook meals together. A lot of lentils, a lot of fruits and vegetables. I eat around 4-5,000 calories anyway, and it’s been great. It’s definitely helped on the recovery. I’d say since I’ve been Vegan, after games, after workouts, my recovery has been phenomenal. I’m less sore and have more energy after games, and what I put into my body definitely pays off.”
Stephen A. Smith wants to see Cam Newton move on from the Patriots because he thinks Cam doesn’t fit with the offense.
7. Cam speaks from the heart: Newton’s sessions with Patriots reporters have been one of the weekly highlights this virtual season. He has shown patience and common courtesy to listen to questions, while responding with thoughtfulness. On Thursday, during one of his final Q&As, he was thanked for his approach with reporters. He joked he would give everyone a 20-cent discount on his favorite fashionable hats, while sharing what the experience was like for him.
“I appreciate you guys, man. This whole thing is not ideal for a lot of people,” he said. “Especially as I go back home [after the season], being in the situation that I’m in right now, there’s still so much that I wish I was able to do. Who knows what the future holds? I know where my heart is. I know what I want. … But at the same time, I know, when you look back at things, you would have wished certain things would have happened. It didn’t happen. And there’s nobody to blame. Because we’re all going through this pandemic together.
“But yet through it all, I just appreciate you guys, just the professionalism. And it’s obviously starting with this organization; it’s something that I didn’t know what to expect. … You hear all the clichÃ© things — ‘Boston is a different market’; ‘Man, these guys — da, da, da, da.’ No. It is what it is, but you guys have been good to me, and I just appreciate that. Merry Christmas to you guys from the Boogie household.”
8. Slater mourns Greene: The sudden passing of Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene had the NFL world in mourning, and Matthew Slater asked Patriots reporters if he could share a story before answering questions. Greene was a longtime Rams teammate of Slater’s father, Jackie, before departing to play for the Steelers in 1993. Their practice matchups were fierce, sometimes to the point where it seemed adversarial. Slater was the wily vet (18th year), Greene in his ninth season, so when the Rams were hosting the Steelers in 1993 …
“It was a lot of build-up to the game, Kevin coming back to play Jackie. Their battles in practice were well-documented and it was kind of like the teacher and the pupil,” Slater said. “I will never forget his wife, Tara, was kind enough to come to my brother’s third birthday party the day before the game back in Southern California. That speaks volumes [about] him and his family. That is something I will never forget as long as I live. Despite all the animosity that there was supposed to be between my dad and Kevin, his wife’s gesture of coming to the [party] to celebrate my brother is something my family and I have never forgotten. I just want to send my condolences to the Greene family.”
Here’s the Los Angeles Times story from that game.
9a. Snow doubt about it for Dugger: Kyle Dugger, the Patriots’ top draft pick in 2020 (No. 37 overall), who has been coming on in recent weeks at safety, is from Decatur, Georgia, and went to college at Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, North Carolina. So coming to New England has been an adjustment. “The snow is very, very serious up here. It’s very different than the snow in Georgia, which kind of plays peekaboo or something — it shows itself and then goes right away. But the snow when it comes [here], it comes with a vengeance,” he said.
9b. Healthcare hero appreciation night: There won’t be any fans inside Gillette Stadium on Monday night, but viewers might notice some cutouts in the stands for the first time this season. There will be about 900 of them as part of Health Care Hero Appreciation Night. Also, players plan to wear custom-made shirts during pregame warmups that display images and names of front-line workers.
10. Did you know?: If the Bills beat the Patriots Monday, it will mark the first time the Patriots lost twice to a divisional opponent in the regular season since 2000 (Dolphins and Jets). According to Elias, the 19-season streak without being swept is by far the longest since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, with the Cowboys (1971-81) and Rams (1970-80) next at 11 seasons apiece.