Cautiously optimistic about the Patriots’ future, and a few other scattered thoughts

Jim Davis/Globe Staff
The Patriots haven't just wasted a year of Mac Jones's development, they have caused him to regress.

A few scattered thoughts on what’s happening with the Patriots, where they stand, and where they’re headed. Like the delightful Marcus Jones, who has fast become the best thing about this Patriots season, we’ll be all over the place with this one …

· Maybe I’m in the minority on this, but I’ve found myself being cautiously optimistic about the near future — meaning next season rather than this Sunday or next.

As much as the Patriots could use a win over the Dolphins to maintain playoff hopes and stoke morale after two gut-punch losses, it’s best that they pick as high in the 2023 draft as possible in the ongoing and thus far fairly successful quest to replenish the young talent on the roster.


The priorities over the final two weeks, even with their thin playoff hopes currently intact, should be to send Mac Jones into the offseason on a positive individual note, get a look at some young players who haven’t had many game-day repetitions, and go 0 and 2 with dignity.

The Patriots have found several keepers in the past three drafts. Rhamondre Stevenson, Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Michael Onwenu, and Christan Barmore fall into that category, and Cole Strange and Tyquan Thornton should even with uneven rookie seasons. I kind of like Pierre Strong, too; hey, he is averaging 10 yards per carry.

It’s critical to continue finding immediate contributors in the ‘23 draft and never again revert to the wasted days and wasted nights of counting on the likes of N’Keal Harry and JoeJuan Williams to turn into something other than roster filler.

· I still believe Bill Belichick is on the short list of the best coaches in the NFL, if not the best. That belief will waver only if he keeps Matt Patricia involved in the offense next season. I believe Belichick thought Patricia would struggle as the de facto offensive coordinator early but would eventually figure it out.


The miscalculation is that there’s no time for eventually. The Patriots haven’t just wasted a year of Mac Jones’s development. Their choices caused his regression. I can see him getting straightened out, a la Daniel Jones with the Giants this year, with competent guidance.

· The Patriots’ defensive performance in the second half against Joe Burrow and the potent Bengals offense convinced me that that unit is legitimate. Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick (who has been on the staff since May 2012 but still gets treated like some novice) have done high-quality work with that group, especially given the injuries to Jalen Mills and Jack Jones.

Glad to hear Mayo reiterate his desire to be a head coach soon. He’s worthy, and would be a fine representative of both the Bill Belichick and “Quick Slants” coaching trees. He’d be making a mistake to take the Broncos job, though. The disastrous Russell Wilson trade will not be overcome anytime soon.

· Mel Kiper Jr.’s crystal ball hasn’t always been accurate when it comes to projecting Patriots draft picks, but it would have been cool if his 2011 mock draft had been correct. The Patriots selected tackle Nate Solder, who became a quality player at an important position, at No. 17 that year. Kiper had them taking Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, who ultimately went at No. 11 to the Texans. It worked out pretty well for them, I heard.


· While we’ve meandered over to the subject of the ‘11 NFL Draft, you might recall that the Patriots entered that draft with a second first-round pick, No. 28 overall, but traded it to the Saints for an ‘11 second-rounder and a first-rounder in ‘12. The Saints took Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who is on his second tour in New Orleans.

And the Patriots? Well, they turned those picks into running back Shane Vereen, who made 11 catches in Super Bowl XLIX in one of the more overlooked outstanding performances in the dynasty era, and, after trading up six spots in the ‘12 draft, they took defensive end Chandler Jones. Hmmm, feels like I’ve heard his name recently.

· There are pages if not chapters remaining in their stories as Patriots, but here are the grades I would give each player that was part of Belichick’s free-agent frenzy in March ‘21.

Matthew Judon: A-plus. Hope he ties Andre Tippett’s single-season sack record.

Hunter Henry: C-plus.

Jonnu Smith: D-minus.

Nelson Agholor: D.

Devon Godchaux: B.

Jalen Mills: C-plus.

Kendrick Bourne gets a C, but it probably would be a B-plus if Patricia had the good sense to play him and the coaching acumen to figure out how to best utilize one of the Patriots’ few legitimate playmakers.

I hope the Patriots keep Bourne around after this season, but if I were running a contending NFL team with a need for a versatile third receiver, I’d be making a strong effort to acquire him.

· Mac Jones seemed to be a bit, oh, let’s say calmer against the Bengals, and that’s probably a good thing. While Patricia deserves to be yelled at long and loud and in front of all functioning cameras, Jones doesn’t have the gravitas to do it yet, as Vince Wilfork and Julian Edelman have pointed out.


No one should be surprised that Jones can be a madman, though. His haunting “huh … huh-huh” laugh in that Arbella commercial should have been clue enough.


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