FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Trade deadline chatter: There was a notable contrast in how two Patriots players handled questions about their names being mentioned in possible trade discussions last week.
Receiver Nelson Agholor and offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn are viewed by some as top candidates to possibly be dealt by Tuesday’s deadline, which is the type of dynamic that can create an uneasy feeling in the locker room.
For Agholor, however, it hardly seemed to register on his radar.
“Can’t control it. It’s the NFL, teams all around the league trying to get better, so hey, whatever happens, happens,” he said. “My focus is to be a New England Patriot and do what I need to do while I’m here.”
Earlier this season, Agholor was referred to by coach Bill Belichick as one of the team’s most consistent players. The primary reason he is viewed as a trade candidate is the team’s depth at the position -- with rookie Tyquan Thornton pushing for more playing time -- and the financial implications of a deal.
If a team trades for Agholor after Sunday’s game, it would assume the remainder of his contract for 2022, which is a $5 million salary and per-game roster bonuses that would come off the Patriots’ books, providing relief.
Meanwhile, Wynn has struggled in his transition from left tackle to right tackle, having been called for a team-high eight penalties and losing time to veteran Marcus Cannon in some games.
Wynn didn’t attend the team’s voluntary practices in the offseason, and his demeanor with reporters has been notably different from the first four years of his career. Also gone are the days of seeing his jovial side with “Win With Wynn” Wednesdays on social media.
This was further reflected in an exchange with a reporter Thursday when Wynn, 26, was asked about how he handles having his name floated in trade rumors.
“I’m playing and doing what I have to do,” he said curtly.
When asked if he wanted to be with the Patriots, he responded: “I’m here, right?”
Then he walked away, ending the interview abruptly while suggesting the questions were an attempt to “indict” him.
Capable offensive linemen aren’t easy to find, and that’s one reason Wynn, a 2018 first-round pick, might be of interest to others at Tuesday’s deadline. Like Agholor, he is a free agent after the season and working his way back from injury (Agholor/hamstring; Wynn/shoulder). A team acquiring him would assume his contract, paying him $5.785 million. In turn, the Patriots would receive financial relief.
2. Mac at ease: Once Belichick made it clear Jones was starting on Wednesday, one player noticed a difference by saying of Jones: “He’s more at ease.” Now the question becomes if that leads to better performance, as Jones’ six interceptions are tied for the fourth most among NFL quarterbacks despite him missing three games.
3. Play-action passing for Mac?: One notable contrast in the Patriots’ approach between Jones and backup quarterback Bailey Zappe is the usage of play-action passing.
In Jones’ four starts and 209 snaps played, the Patriots called play-action passes 13% of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, which is the second-lowest total among quarterbacks with multiple starts.
In Zappe’s two starts and 207 snaps played, the Patriots called play-action passes 28% of the time, with Zappe leading the NFL in completion rate (21 of 24) on those plays.
This seems like an obvious place to start in the team’s hopes to get Jones back on track, although offensive playcaller Matt Patricia didn’t seem to think it’s that simple.
“I think it’s more based on our game plans for those weeks,” Patricia said. “Most of our stuff is built universally for all the quarterbacks and what we think is best for that game, more so than the particular quarterback.”
4. Bailey’s “hold” on job: The Patriots had free-agent punters Jordan Berry, Jake Julien, Ty Long and Michael Palardy in for workouts late this week, which could mean Jake Bailey is punting for his job Sunday. The best-case scenario for the Patriots is that Bailey works his way out of a slump, because he’s also the holder on field goals and has developed a solid rapport with snapper Joe Cardona and kicker Nick Folk. He also handles kickoffs.
“Right now we’re working through some things,” special teams coordinator Cameron Achord said. “Jake’s going to be OK. Jake’s a pro … He still has all the talent.”
5. Strange’s message: First-round pick Cole Strange has a small dumbbell weight hanging in his locker with the words “it’s not a contest” written on it. A motivational message? Not exactly. He said it’s more of an inside joke among a couple teammates, a result of them noting how late he often stays at the facility.
6. Run D on notice: Outside linebacker Matthew Judon said the Patriots’ 3-4 start to the season reflects a “tale of two teams.” Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux added that Monday’s blowout loss to the Bears “wasn’t us” in reference to allowing 243 rushing yards. But is it? The Patriots have had some real stinkers on run defense this season -- allowing 188 yards to the Ravens and 199 to the Packers -- and word among defenders is that was point No. 1 after Monday’s meltdown: Stop the run and then figure out everything else from there.
7. Jennings’ fit: Anfernee Jennings, a 2020 third-round pick from Alabama, is a strong candidate as the Patriots’ comeback player of the year. He said this week, a key has been playing more of his natural position -- outside linebacker -- on the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Jennings had a shaky rookie season playing more at inside linebacker (14 games, 4 starts, 20 tackles), then missed the 2021 season on injured reserve.
8. Berrios revisited: Injuries as a rookie in 2018, and then the unexpected emergence of Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski as undrafted free agents in 2019 training camp, help explain why the Patriots are facing Braxton Berrios on Sunday instead of Berrios being on their roster. It was a history timely to revisit this week, with the Patriots’ punting/coverage unit struggling and Berrios thriving with the Jets (fourth in the NFL in punt return average, 12.9 yards).
The Patriots drafted Berrios in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, carried him on injured reserve as a rookie, then hoped to slide him to the practice squad after a non-descript training camp in 2019 when Meyers and Olszewski outperformed him. That’s when the Jets swooped in.
9. Center of attention: With starting center David Andrews (concussion) ruled out for Sunday’s game, the Patriots will turn to veteran James Ferentz in his place. Both Belichick and Patricia cited Ferentz’ intelligence and at one point last week, Mac Jones came into the locker room and pulled Ferentz aside for a 1-on-1 meeting, highlighting the importance of the QB-center dynamic. Bringing up undrafted rookie Kody Russey (Houston) from the practice squad adds another layer of depth.
10a. Did You Know?, Part I: This is the 21st straight meeting the Patriots have been favored over the Jets, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
10b. Did You Know?, Part II: This is the first time since 2001 that the Jets (5-2) enter a matchup against the Patriots (3-4) with the better record, which breaks a streak of 40 games, the second longest in a head-to-head matchup in NFL history. The longest was 41 games -- Giants/Cowboys -- from 1966 to 1988.