The New England Patriots season 2023 is toast. The seeds of this precipitous decline were planted in poor personnel decision-making for years including the disastrous jettisoning of Tom Brady after the 2019 season. Other errors and omissions have compounded that franchise-worst gaffe since. Poor drafting and free agency decisions have occasioned the dramatic decline of the once-feared Patriots.
What needs to be done to right the ship? Three major steps are required in the short term to get things moving in the right direction. None are easy but they're steps that owner Robert Kraft (who allowed Brady to leave) and/or football majordomo Bill Belichick should accomplish soon.
The Patriots first need to address their most important position, quarterback. The Mac Jones experiment has failed. It's time to move on. Full attempts should be made before the October 31 trade deadline to trade him for whatever draft picks you can get, and don't expect a haul.
Accompanying this move, Malik Cunningham should be the starting quarterback for the remaining 11 games. The team dished out a tidy sum for Cunningham as an undrafted free agent. They need to do a full evaluation of what Cunningham can bring to the table. If he succeeds, he's the guy for the future. If not, draft the next quarterback next April.
New England Patriots need to sell big-time before the trade deadline
Absent a major miracle performed by Cunningham, the team will lie at 1-7 after the next two games against powerhouse divisional rivals Buffalo and Miami. Any personnel moves they make now will have little impact on the outcome of this lost season. It's all about 2024 and beyond.
Suggestions that the team should trade three, eight, or 10 payers before the deadline are conservative. Kraft should instruct Belichick to clear out this moribund squad and initiate a major clearout at the trade deadline. The call here is to try to trade or if not release maybe 20 players or so before the trade deadline.
In addition to Jones, Bailey Zappe can be traded. Then, looking at fourth-year players who are not re-signed, they should either sign them now or trade them before the deadline. Ones who can fetch a decent draft pick perhaps from the third to fifth rounds include safety Kyle Dugger, offensive lineman, Mike Onwenu, running back, Rhamondre Stevenson, and edge Josh Uche. Anfernee Jennings and Myles Bryant won't.
Other offensive players who should be moved include offensive linemen Calvin Anderson, Riley Reiff, Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Vederian Lowe, and possibly even David Andrews. Skill position players Ezekiel Elliot, Ty Montgomery II, Kendrick Bourne, Devante Parker, Hunter Henry, and Mike Gesicki can also go.
Defensive trade-bait players include defensive linemen Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, and Dietrich Wise Jr. Defensive backs Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, and linebacker Mac Wilson Sr. This is a good start but it's by no means a comprehensive list. This is a roster bereft of talent.
The New England Patriots need to hire a top personnel director
Bill Belichick has flopped as the Patriots' personnel manager. While he's had some moments, they've been too few and far between. While Brady was here, he papered over lots of personnel deficiencies. With Brady gone, no one else can. It's time for a sea change. Talk is swirling about Belichick and his future with the team. Kraft should strap on his owner's pads and take decisive action.
Kraft should tell Belichick he is bringing in someone to run the personnel side of the operation. (ESPN's Louis Riddick is the choice here.) While Belichick retains substantial input, the final decision-making authority must be with the new chief. If Belichick is amenable, he will stay on as coach. If not, a move upstairs for the six-time Super Bowl winner can hopefully be worked out after the season. The choice should be Belichick's.
The New England Patriots have fallen off the edge of the NFL's earth. They are an afterthought, a laughingstock, and perhaps worst of all, irrelevant in the NFL world. Kraft brought on the onset of this fall by allowing Brady to move on. It was a franchise-altering mistake that continues to plague the team now.
Kraft should instruct Belichick to move on from Mac Jones, to trade as many players for draft picks as he can at the trade deadline, and then get ready for a shift in personnel decision-making authority in January. Kraft proved a weak and imprudent owner with the Brady fiasco.
It's time now for Robert Kraft to re-take control of the New England Patriots and do what's right for his floundering franchise. We'll see if he has what it takes to do what needs to be done. History seems to argue otherwise.