Early verdict on Patriots’ draft: It looks solid
If there was anything surprising about the Patriots’ draft weekend, it was how conventional it all was.
They needed a big receiver, and took one N’Keal Harry with their first pick (32nd overall). They needed depth at offensive tackle and defensive edge, and found it in the third round with Chase Winovich and Yodny Cajuste.
They filled needs with their 10 picks, took safe-ish prospects, and restocked the roster with much-needed youth. The true evaluation of the 2019 draft can’t come for another two or three years, but their effort looks solid on paper.
Here are some thoughts on the Patriots’ draft, and where they go from here:
■ The Patriots entered the draft with 12 picks, and moved up the board well. They began with six Day 3 picks, but none in the fifth round, and four in the seventh. They ended up drafting two guys in the fourth, two guys in the fifth, none in the sixth, and one in the seventh.
■ The Patriots took another crack at a quarterback, taking Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round. The pick is high enough that the Patriots could credibly consider developing him as a quarterback of the future (Kirk Cousins was a fourth-rounder, too). But the pick is low enough that it doesn’t come with a ton of hype or expectations. This isn’t quite Jimmy Garoppolo, Part II. There’s no major investment here. Tom Brady probably isn’t grinding his teeth over this.
■ So now the Patriots have four quarterbacks — Brady, Stidham, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling. Only once in the last seven seasons have they kept three, and that was when Brady was suspended for four games in 2016.
Etling will probably be released, though perhaps he can be a camp arm and stick around on the practice squad. The bigger question is what to do with Hoyer; I would look to trade him. He has some value for the Patriots as a mentor and offseason leader, especially if Brady stays away from offseason workouts, but he would probably have more value as a backup to a team with a young starter. Like, say, the Arizona Cardinals. Hoyer only costs $3 million this year, which is attractive for a veteran backup.
The argument that the Patriots need to keep Hoyer as insurance in case Brady gets hurt is nonsense. If Brady goes down, Hoyer isn’t saving the season. You might as well get Stidham some reps in that scenario, as long as he isn’t a total bust in training camp.
In 2014, the Patriots didn’t trade away Ryan Mallett until Garoppolo proved in training camp that he was worthy of the No. 2 spot. I’d take the same approach with Hoyer and Stidham.
■ The Patriots failed to fill a glaring need at tight end, where they have to replace Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots have five bodies on the roster, but it’s not an inspiring list: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Matt LaCosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.
For now, we’ll give the Patriots the benefit of the doubt — that once T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant went off the board, they just didn’t like most of the tight end prospects. They passed on Irv Smith Jr. at 32 and 45, so we’ll take the Patriots at their word for it. For now. We’ll see again in two or three years.
■ If the Patriots want to add another tight end, it will have to be a veteran, via trade or training camp release. They should definitely call the Vikings about Kyle Rudolph, after Minnesota drafted Smith. Rudolph’s contract is a bit high, though — $7.625 million, plus $3.5 million in incentives in the final year of his deal.
Another player that makes sense is Texans tight end Ryan Griffin, a New Hampshire native and former UConn Husky who is on the roster bubble (and was arrested in Nashville over the weekend for reportedly punching out a window). Entering his seventh NFL season, Griffin won’t be confused for Gronk, but he’s a smart player, has good size (6 feet 6 inches, 255 pounds), and is cost effective at just $2.75 million this year. Bill Belichick should call up his old buddy Bill O’Brien.
Other options could be the Lions’ Michael Roberts, the Packers’ Marcedes Lewis, the Raiders’ Lee Smith, or the Broncos’ Jeff Heuerman or Jake Butt.
■ For all the talk about the Patriots needing to get Brady more weapons, they only drafted one pass-catcher all weekend (Harry). The wide receiver depth chart looks better now — headlined by Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Harry, and Josh Gordon (suspended) — but I would have liked to see them double up at receiver, especially on a slot guy. As of now, they’re counting on Harry producing right away, and Gordon staying clean, and Demaryius Thomas having anything left in the tank as he returns from a torn Achilles’, and newcomers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris catching on quickly.
■ Meanwhile, Harry may be a first-round pick, but he’s still pretty cheap. He will sign a four-year deal worth about $10.07 million, and his 2019 salary cap number will be about $1.83 million, per Spotrac.
■ A source in Denmark said the Patriots view fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt as a center first and a guard second. The Chiefs and Dolphins also liked him as a center in the predraft process.
This would put last year’s backup center, Ted Karras, in jeopardy. And I wonder if David Andrews needs to be nervous. He has been durable and dependable, but the former undrafted free agent is undersized for an NFL center. He’s under contract for two more years and $5.8 million, but I wonder if Froholdt could push Andrews for the starting job in 2020. The fourth round is where the Patriots found Bryan Stork, their starting center before Andrews.
■ Yes, I’m surprised the Patriots traded up for a punter (Stanford’s Jacob Bailey), especially after Ryan Allen basically won them the Super Bowl in February. But the Patriots have been looking for competition for him for the last two years — they tried to sneak Corey Bojorquez on the practice squad last year, but the Bills claimed him as their starter.
The fact that Allen signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with just $100,000 guaranteed this offseason shows that he’s on the roster bubble, and didn’t have too many options in free agency.