Hackett: The next path for the Patriots? Here is a road map.

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I’m sure you have heard the phrase “got nothing to lose.” When it comes to the state of the 2020 Patriots of late, I’m wrestling with the idea of them having nothing to win.

Seriously, trying to solve what has become of this enigmatic 2020 Patriots team is like watching a ping-pong match, with eyeballs and opinions quickly bouncing between opposing schools of thought, including my own.

What a difference a week can make.

Now coming off of three straight losses, it’s getting harder to support the idea of investing in this 2020 team and its current construct. First and foremost, moves and decisions need to be made with some urgency to try and fortify the eroding core of this team. The Band-Aid solution of bringing in Cam Newton to bridge the gap from now to the future has lost its requisite stickiness. That Band-Aid did the trick for a couple of weeks, as Band-Aids are known to do. However, once time passed, the covering slipped right off and we’ve found that the wound is not yet healed. In fact, it’s suddenly looking worse.

Surgery may be required.

Last week I wrote that Bill Belichick needs to be bold and approach the trade deadline with an eye toward ordering the steak and lobster (highest quality items) on the trade deadline menu. In terms of acquiring talent, that opinion still firmly stands, but the focus needs to be adjusted to the future now, based on what we’ve experienced over this most recent three-week sample.

The paradigm officially changed Sunday afternoon. New solutions are required. Here’s what I propose:

Time to rethink Cam Newton

I liked the signing when it happened. It was a typical opportunistic Belichick move. With roughly $1 million to invest, Belichick took a low-risk, high-reward shot as he is one to do. Fast forward past Week 7, it’s no longer working and it’s not going to. Not all of it is Newton’s fault, as pathetic as his performance was on Sunday. Much of it is actually Belichick’s fault for constructing a roster with disconnected strengths and limited continuity.

Allow me to explain what I see.

I see a quarterback who can’t see the whole field. I see a quarterback looking downfield, waiting for wide receivers who are incapable of getting open, to get open. All the while, the Patriots three most talented offensive players, Julian Edelman, James White and Rex Burkhead are not being seen underneath or in the flat. Those three guys are where they are supposed to be found, but Newton can’t find them. He’s looking for completions in all the wrong places; places where there is no legitimate NFL talent to be found. This is Belichick’s fault.

So what do you do?

Undo it. Then fortify the roster with talent you can use to not only move the chains now, but into 2021 and beyond. Anyone not on the radar for 2021 should be shopped, Stephon Gilmore being the top and most desirable asset on that list to trade out. More on that later.

On the field, with little legitimate promise for postseason success in 2020, it’s time to find out what you have with Jarrett Stidham. Let Stidham start, get all the practice reps and see what you have. If it doesn’t work, then now you know and you’ve probably lost enough games to position yourself to improve the quarterback position in the 2021 NFL Draft. Not doing so is prolonging the inevitable and is wasting valuable time and opportunity to evaluate.

Back to Newton. I’m not saying he needs to be permanently stuck to the bench as I think he still has some value. Why not make him the Patriots version of Taysom Hill? Stidham is your starter, Newton is your red zone weapon. Now, in this scenario you have nothing to lose.

The Trade Deadline 2.0

Long-term solutions only please. Belichick has done pretty decently targeting previously high draft picks in trades and free agency in the past. Guys that he may have either originally missed on or whom under-delivered on their promise since entering the league. Cordarrelle Patterson and Danny Shelton come to mind as recent evidence. The point is, Belichick has missed on plenty of TE’s and WR’s in the last few drafts. George Kittle was grabbed in the fifth round for heaven’s sake and this happened as a succession plan at tight end should have been on top of the Patriots priority list. No more looking back however, time to look forward. I bring up the misses like Kittle only to underscore this point, that sometimes those who were once missed during their drafts, can be found a few years later.

Here are a few wide Receiver and tight end targets that are talented enough to help now but most importantly, can help reinforce the Patriots eroding core for the future.

The M*A*S*H Unit options:

Odell Beckham Jr., Courtland Sutton and Sammy Watkins.

If we’ve learned anything about Belichick it’s this; ACL’s = Opportunity. If you want top end talent and are looking to fortify the future, I’d inquire on OBJ and Courtland Sutton. Everyone knows that OBJ is always available in some form, he’s a diva/alpha wide receiver. Gettable because he’s never quite satisfied where he is, as I wrote last week.

In Denver, there’s a newly developing core of rookie receivers the team has invested heavily in. It’s worth making a call on the injured Sutton, who will be back in a big way next year; only his third in the league, while value is at its lowest.

I mention Sammy Watkins because he’s often hurt, still within his prime and really, how many stud offensive players can Kansas City keep? Hill, Kelce, Watkins, Edwards-Helaire, LeVeon Bell, Robinson, Hardman. They cannot keep them all, not with a super max contract player like Patrick Mahomes in their plans for the next 10-plus years. It’s worth a call to KC. Any one of those players can help.

Targeting the critically acclaimed 2019 Wide Receiver draft class (and some Tight Ends)

Andy Isabella, WR AZ. Talented and buried on the depth chart of a high-powered Cardinals offense. Isabella is versatile and a perfect example of a player who can help now and for the long-term. He’s also available on a rookie contract as are the rest from the 2019 draft.

Scotty Miller, WR TB. “Which doesn’t belong and why?!” See Kansas City. Same opportunity. Mike Evans. Chris Godwin. Antonio Brown. Rob Gronkowski. Ronald Jones. Leonard Fournette. Cameron Brate. Justin Watson. Jayden Mickens. Yet only one ball. Brady better make the Super Bowl. Geez. It’s almost embarrassing. Miller has Patriot written all over him.

Miles Boykin, WR BAL. A physical freak. Formerly of Notre Dame. A forgotten man in an offense that isn’t using him. Catching the theme here?

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR PHI. Outside looking in. A promising receiver coming out of the draft just one year ago who is buried on a depleted receiver depth chart. Should be readily available for cheap cost. Nothing but upside here.

Same Draft Class, some young and underused Tight Ends.

Jace Sternberger, GB., Josh Oliver, JSV (and currently injured), always a plus with Belichick ...

From last week’s article, I highlighted TE’s Kyle Rudolph and David Njoku. Each can offer sustained value to the offense. At 30 years old Rudolph walks in as an immediate upgrade to the entire offense not just at his position.

Also from last week, I featured sparingly used Cincinnati speedster John Ross; add his physical receiving teammate Auden Tate to the mix as well. Both young and capable.

I’m focusing on offense for a couple of reasons. First, it’s their biggest problem. Second, if they don’t figure out a way to move the chains now and keep the defense off the field for more than half the game, then a tired defense could become an injured defense. That’s when the mistakes happen, when you’re tired. Then you have even more problems and much more to lose.

So in the case of the 2020 Patriots your best defense for the long-term is fixing that offense.