The NFL trade deadline is November 3.
The 2021 NFL Draft and free agency period are a mere few months away for a Patriots team that should have plenty of draft picks and cap space to put to use.
When life gives you lemons, turn them into lemonade. Or if the lemons are so rotten you can’t make much from them, go find some new lemons or even buy some lemonade!
There are opportunities on the horizon, short and long term, for New England to add talent to a roster that quite frankly is in major need of an upgrade at a variety of areas on both sides of the ball.
That fact was obvious this offseason.
It’s been magnified over the last eight days, an ugly loss to the Broncos and Sunday evening’s even more embarrassing 33-6 beatdown at the hand of once-upon-a-time-heir Jimmy Garoppolo’s 49ers.
There are really three primary reasons an NFL team loses, especially in the dramatically hideous fashion the now 2-4 Patriots did on Sunday.
The first is that the team isn’t prepared, as Bill Belichick complained about all last week regarding a lack of practice time prior to the loss to Denver. But, this time around that explanation – excuse? – doesn’t hold water. New England had what players and coaches alike described as a “normal” week of practice.
Belichick – the best coach and game planner in the game today, maybe ever -- even declared that “we definitely got better” on the practice field this week. Of course you’d be hard-pressed to tell based on the performance against San Francisco.
The second reason an NFL team comes up short is effort.
Sometimes, to steal a hockey term, its compete level just isn’t where it needs to be. Tough spots, trap games, short weeks and the like can lead to battles were teams just don’t compete at a high enough level.
But, Belichick also dismissed that issue for his team against San Francisco, “I thought we competed hard.”
OK, well, if the Patriots were prepared to play against the 49ers and competed hard there is really only one other reason NFL teams lose and lose the way New England did on Sunday – they simply aren’t good enough.
New England has 11 giveaways and just two TDs in its last three games. Three straight games with three or more giveaways.
They obviously aren’t trying to turn the ball over and they certainly aren’t coached to play that way, as Newton observed.
“The point of emphasis all year has been protecting the football and you know you have to protect the football,” said Newton, who now has seven interceptions. “And when you do not protect the football, that's when you kind of question a lot of things. But yet at the end of the day, we're just going to come back to the drawing board starting tomorrow and I have full faith in the coaching staff and to be prepared. So it's just about player production.”
Indeed, it’s about player production. Or lack thereof. On both sides of the ball.
We knew entering the season that the Patriots – thanks to free agent departures and COVID-19 opt-outs, among other things – were undermanned at wide receiver, tight end and on the front seven on defense. All remain areas of major need and alarmingly limited production.
The pass catchers, in particular, have become an even more glaring shortcoming than was generally accepted, especially with N’Keal Harry sent to the locker room early on against San Francisco with a head injury and Julian Edelman failing once again to find a consistent role in the passing game. After a career-year last fall, Edelman suddenly looks hurt, old or both.
Devin Asiasi, the supposed rookie answer at tight end, was a healthy scratch against San Francisco, opening the door for fellow mid-round pick Dalton Keene to make his NFL debut and snag his first catch for 8 yards.
Newton has also proven himself more a part of the problem than anything close to the solution. Dropping to 2-3 in starts this year, he’s now lost 11 of his last 13 NFL starts dating back three years to Carolina.
And how about that defense, buoyed by its supposedly elite secondary, that was expected to be a strength of the team. It gave up six-straight scoring drives in the loss to Denver, even if the bend-but-don’t-break work against Drew Lock led to six field goals. This time, Garoppolo’s play-action passing game and the 49ers dominating running attack gave the Patriots fits. Even Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was left chasing All-Belichick tight end George Kittle at times while getting chopped down in the running game to allow big runs for a team that got flat out bullied.
That brings us back to trades, free agency and the Draft.
There is no debating right now, as Tedy Bruschi said last week on WEEI, that the Patriots are a team that “isn’t very good anymore.” That’s a simple fact based on the standings, the stats and the scores. It is what it is.
That result hasn’t come because the Patriots need more practice time. Nor because the team isn’t trying.
Quite the contrary. Devin McCourty was “embarrassed.”
They want to win. They are preparing to win. They are competing to win.
Right now, though, New England can’t find a way to win.
Because the Patriots have a talent problem. On offense.
“We're just not performing at a good level right now in any area,” Belichick acknowledged. “We're still a long way from where we need to be. That's obvious.”
It is obvious. And it all comes back to talent.
Sometimes the obvious answer to an obvious problem is…obvious.
Belichick and Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio need to find more talent.
That starts at the trade deadline. Maybe the fiscally-positioned Patriots can ship draft picks for overpriced talent. Maybe they begin the tough process of rebuilding the roster by utilizing assets like Gilmore or franchise-tagged guard Joe Thuney to bring back talent or picks that will be longer-term solutions.
The future is now for the Patriots because the present isn’t going very well in the first year post-Tom Brady in New England.
It’s beyond time for a talent upgrade.
But good news, Patriots fans, the trade deadline, free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft are just around the corner! So there is still hope.