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The Patriots' fate hinges on their quarterback and the NFL draft

The Patriots' fate hinges on their quarterback and the NFL draft

FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – Quick thoughts and notes about the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. All about QB: Former Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich, who still resides in Massachusetts, has been tuned into local sports talk radio over the past week. He noted how negative the fan and general media response to the Patriots' moves in the first week of free agency was.

Ninkovich, who rarely hesitated to criticize his old team in his previous role as an ESPN analyst, views the matter a little differently.

“I hear people saying they're going to re-sign all these guys who were 4-13 last year, so why would they do that? To me, the guys they targeted and brought back, I think they're key pieces. And they're taking players out of the building that they think are the reason,” he said. Behind the team's four victories.

“But the biggest thing for me is that no matter what they do, the draft is what will make or break their season. This could be a home run. At the same time, the scary part is if they draft a quarterback at No. 3, and he's not the guy That's right, they're in big trouble.”

Ninkovich succinctly sums up why director of scouting Elliott Wolff, who has the ultimate say on personnel in the first year of the post-Bill Belichick era, is among the NFL executives with the brightest spotlight on him.

Bottom line: If the Wolff and Patriots' coaching staffs and scouts are ultimately convinced they have a quarterback at No. 3, they should race their ticket to commissioner Roger Goodell on April 25, then have offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and quarterbacks coach in place. TC McCartney immediately put together a development plan for him.

Many assume the choice will be between LSU's Jayden Daniels and North Carolina's Drake Maye if the Bears select Southern California's Caleb Williams at No. 1. Michigan's JJ McCarthy, Washington's Michael Penix Jr., and Oregon's Bo Nix are also among the highly-rated QBs with first-round potential, with one NFL executive predicting McCarthy and Penix will rise to a higher level than he expects Some currently.

Ninkovich is still studying midfielders and is open to multiple scenarios for the team, including waiving and/or potentially selecting a player at a different position.

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A week into free agency, Ninkovich has seen some positive signs for the Patriots, but he believes it's all secondary to what's to come.

“I like the moves across the board, but the draft, and what they decide at quarterback, is what will ultimately determine how the team is put together and whether they are headed in the right direction,” he said.

2. Ridley Rex: Receiver Calvin Ridley, who chose to sign a four-year, $92 million deal with the Giants over offers from the Jaguars and Patriots, shared insight into his decision-making process on Friday. He said he had hoped to return to Jacksonville, but when things weren't going well, the Giants had the combination of money and on-field assets he was looking for — which included receiver in DeAndre Hopkins to play opposite and help get the best out of him.

No shame on the Patriots, who were aggressive in their offer, but it reflects, in part, the fact that the top of the receiver depth chart includes JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, DeMario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, and Jalen Reagor.

One of the reasons the Patriots were hot on Ridley is because he tallied 768 yards of passes thrown outside the numbers last season, which was fifth-most in the NFL. In 2023, the Patriots ranked second-to-last in the NFL in receiving yards on passes thrown outside the numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. New England's 1,581 yards on passes thrown outside the numbers last season was more than just the Jets (1,515).

One NFL executive acknowledged the Patriots' need, but also noted that the 29-year-old Ridley wasn't always the voice in Jacksonville while being viewed more as a solid receiver than a top-tier option.

3. The Patriots’ Approach: the The most common question From frustrated social media followers over the past week has been asking, “What's the Patriots' free agent plan?”

Many expected more, perhaps because coach Jerrod Mayo previously said they would “burn some money” to bring in talent. Whether the Patriots' approach will prove to be the right approach is fair to debate, and my opinion boils down to this way – they have a lot of holes to fill, and some of their best players would have their contracts expiring, and if they don't, they won't. If they make re-signing them a priority, they'll dig themselves a deeper hole because it's unrealistic to think that splurging more on the others would immediately cure all their issues. So they had to work hard just to stay neutral.

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As Bill Belichick used to say, the team's building process continues throughout the year and they still have a lot of work to do, which is expected to include starting extension talks with promising fourth-year defensive tackle Christian Barmore.

4. Judon deal: When the Patriots restructured outside linebacker Matthew Judon's contract last August, cutting his 2024 base salary to $6.5 million as some of his money was rolled over to 2023, it primed both sides to return to the negotiating table this offseason.

Now, with the first wave of free agency over, it opens a window for the two sides to work out a solution, which they have begun tentatively exploring. Judon's return from a torn biceps tendon that limited him to four games last season adds a layer to any discussions, as the team will likely want to protect itself with incentives that reward Judon for being on the field.

5. Hooper Report: What do the Patriots get for nine-year veteran Austin Hooper, whom they signed to a one-year contract with a base value of $3 million?

“It's not a 'Y' that you're constantly putting on the line and asking to be blocked, but more of a traditional 'F' type receiving tight end-blocker position at the best, more of the back side,” said one NFL source with close knowledge of the matter. From the run. You want to make sure you don't put him in too much of a defensive position; he's not a roadie but he'll compete. He's better as a guard than he was a year ago. [Mike] Gesicki, who was actually more of a receiver than a tight end. He has the ability to get open, with speed and decent hands.”

6. Intel Takitaki: Linebacker Sione Takitaki, who signed a two-year deal with a base value of $6.6 million and a maximum value of $10.2 million in New England, developed into a team leader and signal-caller during his five-year stint with the Browns. Wolf, the Patriots' director of scouting, was one of Takitaki's biggest supporters when he was with the Browns and was the main reason the team selected him in the third round of the 2019 draft.

A scouting report from an executive familiar with Takitaki's playing style described him as “energetic, not the quickest, but sees the game well; versatile, can rush and attack – a very solid third or fourth linebacker.” Takitaki had the opportunity to return to Cleveland on a one-year deal, but the Patriots' willingness to commit to a two-year agreement contributed to his decision to leave.

7. Gibson Skill Set: Former Patriots offensive coaches in Washington have identified Antonio Gibson as a prime target, as his ability to catch passes and run the route. This highlights, in part, how the new regime was looking for more contrast between leading back Ramondre Stevenson and his backup than was the case last season with Ezekiel Elliott. One NFL executive saw value in the signing as long as Gibson picks up the offensive system and shows the ability to pass protection — which could be a challenge for the draft.

8. Trade Deadline/Emergency QB: The NFL's annual meeting begins Sunday, March 24 in Orlando, and seven teams (Steelers, Browns, Lions, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Commanders) have proposed a change to the league's bylaws regarding the trade deadline, according to a league source. Last season, the trade deadline was after the Week 8 games, and the aforementioned clubs are proposing to postpone it by either a week or two.

The Bills also propose a bylaw change that would allow a quarterback to be promoted from the practice squad for a game and then be listed as a third-string/emergency quarterback. Under current rules, the third/emergency quarterback designation is only permitted for quarterbacks on the permanent 53-man roster.

9. They said that: “I think I'll trade the best player, other than the quarterback. I don't think this roster is ready for a quarterback. There are a lot of holes.” – ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, on NFL Live on Tuesday, regarding the Patriots and the No. 3 pick.

10. Did you know: Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is set to become the 30th player to have at least two different stints with the Patriots since 2000, assuming he makes the 2024 Opening Day roster and appears in a regular-season game.