The hype is palpable surrounding the New England Patriots as they gear up for what is billed to be one of their more aggressive offseasons in recent memory. Bill Belichick and company are armed with the fourth-highest amount of cap space in the league, have an array of draft picks at their disposal, and a number of holes to fill on a roster that went 7-9 and missed the playoffs in 2020. Tremors of this seismic offseason have already begun leading up to the start of the new league year with the club re-acquiring old friend Trent Brown in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders earlier this week. Now, rumors are percolating that wide receiver N’Keal Harry may be on the block with teams reportedly inquiring on his availability via trade.
While some may view these two nuggets as the warm-up to an eventual firework show over in Foxborough (which could ultimately prove to be the case), there’s also a concerning element to these two moves specifically in how they are related. Both — in their own way — highlight New England’s poor execution in the first round of the NFL draft in recent years.
Of course, the dots are not hard to connect with the likes of Harry, who has yet to establish himself as the top-flight receiver after the Patriots selected him with the No. 32 overall pick back in 2019. Through two seasons, Harry has played 21 regular-season games and the stats don’t leave much to be desired. He’s hauled in 45 passes on a 55.6 catch percentage for 414 yards and four touchdowns. When you compare those numbers to some of Harry’s draft classmates who were taken below him (Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Mecole Hardman, D.K. Metcalf, etc.), it’s hard not to say New England may have miscalculated.
In a vacuum, moving on from a player who doesn’t seem to fit your offense and could use a change of scenery to get his career off the ground should be something any team explores. However, when it’s someone with Harry’s draft pedigree and the initial hope that he could have taken the offense to a move dynamic level, it’s a tough pill to swallow.
It’s also just the latest in what has been a crippling run in the first round of drafts. And that brings us to the Trent Brown trade.
During his tenure with the Raiders, the 6-foot-8 behemoth played at right tackle, but New England could be bringing him back to Patriot Place to slot him on the blindside where he dominated during his previous tenure with the team in 2018. If that’s the club’s intention, what of current left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who the Patriots selected No. 23 overall in 2018?
When healthy, Wynn has been a solid figure at his post, but over his three years in Foxborough, the 24-year-old has played just 18 games. At 6-foot-2, Wynn also may be better suited to kick in at guard and possibly replace Joe Thuney on the left side as he enters unrestricted free agency. No matter how New England ultimately slices out the roles along its offensive line, durability concerns are always going to hover over Wynn, which may be why Brown is back in the fold. His arrival not only gives the unit size but versatility and depth. Again, when you take someone in the first round, the player is expected to be a blue-chip piece to your overall roster, and to this point, Wynn has yet to become that due to his health.
That further complicates the decision that New England will soon have with Wynn and fellow 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel — another top selection who has yet to truly establish himself as a star — regarding their fifth-year options. The fact that you even pause at whether or not the Patriots should deploy that tool means that the picks haven’t been as fruitful as initially anticipated.
That brings New England to the modern day. The club’s inability to find production with their first-rounders — really dating back to their last successful picks in that spot in Chandler Jones (No. 21) and Dont’a Hightower (No. 25) in 2012 — has now started to inflict significant damage, especially without a Hall of Fame quarterback to erase some of the miscues.
Yes, the Patriots are armed with loads of cap space and should fare well in free agency, but that’s only half the battle. If they want to bounce back from an under .500 season quickly, they’ll also need to start executing at the draft beginning at No. 15 overall this year, which is their highest selection since 2008. This carries even more weight if New England elects to use the draft to find its next quarterback. After all, the club has reportedly been scouting this QB class quite intently, which should excite and scare any Patriots fan all at once given their iffy history picking up top.
If Belichick can’t find a way out of his draft slump, the path back toward relevancy just gets bumpier.
Published: 2021-03-11 01:29:15
Tags: #Patriots #draft #NKeal #Harry #trade #rumors #Trent #Brown #deal #latest #examples #highlighting #firstround #woes