Across New England, reaction has been widely positive about the Patriots’ decision last month to go all in and spend nearly $200 million free agency to revamp nearly every position on the field.
But there have been some naysayers, and you can put the folks at PFF in the latter group. In their latest roster rankings, PFF slotted New England at No. 20 and wrote:
“Bill Belichick went all in during free agency, handing out money left and right. Even after the heavy spending, the Patriots still have an average roster outside of their offensive line. Despite losing standout left guard Joe Thuney, they still have a top-10 unit.
The big concern with this team is at quarterback and wide receiver. Cam Newton ranked 24th in passing grade in his first season as a Patriot and struggled to push the ball downfield. His 2.8 percent big-time throw rate was a bottom-five mark among quarterbacks on the year.
“As it stands, New England's No. 1 wideout is Nelson Agholor, who is coming off a boom-or-bust campaign with Las Vegas where he was fed deep crossers and vertical routes. He ranked 45th of 99 qualifiers in receiving grade in what was his most productive year in the NFL. In the five years prior combined, he ranked second-to-last in receiving grade.”
If ever there was a way to quantify how important the upcoming NFL draft is to Belichick and the Pats, PFF found it. The heat is on to upgrade at quarterback or wide receiver, and it might be wiser to use the pick on a wideout and trade for a quarterback.
After all, long-time Pats object of desire Jimmy Garoppolo still could become available after San Francisco takes a quarterback at No. 3 on Thursday. Although the price for Garoppolo originally was rumored to be a first-round pick (after the 49ers traded up to No. 3 with taking a quarterback as their priority), several reports say San Francisco’s ask could drop — as it should. No one is questioning Garoppolo’s capabilities, but injury problems and age should have diminished his value, and all the Pats got from the 49ers in the first place for Garoppolo was a second-round pick in 2018.
While they once were firm in their intent of keeping Garoppolo to compete or mentor a rookie quarterback, the 49ers have become non-committal, at least publicly. Coach Kyle Shanahan set the social media world ablaze with his comment Monday.
"I can't guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday" he said, "so I can't guarantee who will be on our roster on Sunday. That goes for all of us."
That could leave the Pats trading a package of picks this year and next to land their quarterback and then selecting Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith — assuming he's available at 15. Or maybe even trading down to take advantage of a deep receiver class.
But then there’s the other route, and that’s trading up to draft a quarterback. Justin Fields seems to be the one pundits are linking to the Pats . That could require trading up, and SI’s Albert Breer wrote Tuesday there’s “groundwork” for a trade between the Pats and Carolina for the No. 8 pick if Fields lasts that long.
Whichever way the Pats go, they can’t really mess around and take a lineman or a linebacker (which Breer projects they’ll do with a pick of Penn State’s Micah Parsons at No. 15). Their obvious weaknesses are quarterback and wide receiver and with a pool of draft capital that PFF ranks 14th, the Pats can't miss this opportunity to get a franchise-altering talent at one of those two positions this weekend.