The New England Patriots pulled off a hard-fought win over a mediocre Denver Broncos team, still hoping for a playoff berth. To make matters worse, they lost at home to a Patriots team with little to play for and a lot to lose by winning meaningless games.
The topic of so-called "tanking" has been one of substance since the Patriots' 2023 season went to heck in a handbasket months ago. Whether you agree with that concept or not, the fact of the matter is that inconsequential wins at the end of a dreadful season are counterproductive, truly fool's gold, when considering the team's future. Win now, and you lose in the annual NFL draft sweepstakes.
No matter how you slice the fruitcake, wins now are aimless when you consider the big picture. Fans can say never to the concept or maybe feel that you want your team not to win rather than lose. Whatever way you opt to look at it, wins now are detrimental to the team's future.
The New England Patriots' wrecked a chance to really maximize the last few games of the season
The call for the Patriots the remainder of the 2023 season should have been to test their own players to see who should be considered worthy material for the revamped 2024 squad (assuming someone new is on hand to do the revamping!). The play favored here was to roll out the young players and see who shines.
One in particular would have been the current Baltimore Ravens' quarterback, Malik Cunningham. A star dual-threat QB at Louisville, Cunningham never got a real opportunity to show what he could do as an NFL quarterback. This was a head-scratching move by Bill Belichick and company, who shortsightedly had sought to transform him (a la Julian Edelman) into an NFL receiver.
Instead, the Patriots hitched their wagon to Bailey Zappe as their starter, a player they'd waived in the final cut of the pre-season. That move should have been made a year ago. Zappe has performed OK, but he's not the long-term QB answer. Cunningham may have been, who knows, and the remainder of the 2023 season would have been a perfect opportunity to find out.
The result of winning a couple of pointless games has now been that the Pats have dropped to the fourth pick in the draft. This likely takes them out of the running for one of the top two quarterbacks, Caleb Williams of USC and Drake Maye of North Carolina. While that may provide interesting options, it's ultimately a self-defeating turn of events.
What now in the draft sweepstakes for the New England Patriots?
Even if the Pats thought that one of the other QBs in the draft is a better option, e.g., stars like dynamic dual-threat QB, Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels of LSU, Michael Penix Jr. of Washington, or Bo Nix of Oregon, the second overall pick is a bonanza in waiting. It carries high trade-down value to accumulate additional picks needed to revamp an offense that needs help everywhere. One or three wins against a mediocre team like Denver don't alter that reality.
That second pick could have been turned into additional picks, especially since the Patriots, at this writing, only possess seven in the draft. Should they feel Daniels or another top QB is a better option, they then could have wheeled and dealed adding more resources for the future, even as uncertain things are in both the personnel and the coaching arenas.
One thing the team could have done was trade down a few picks and then draft a top offensive tackle, arguably it's second most crucial need overall. They then could have taken a QB later on. Additionally, they could have selected a player like Penix earlier and still used the additional picks to fatten up an offense that needs bolstering at numerous positions.
The result of these empty wins is to stunt the developmental process of the next possible era of Patriots' greatness. As we have seen, it all begins with the quarterback, and now the team's options have been seriously curtailed by wins, which means zilch in the long term.
Whoever is running the 2024 NFL draft (the thought here is that it should be someone other than Bill Belichick who should remain as coach) has had their options significantly restricted. It is what it is in Foxborough, and that's still dysfunction all along the hierarchy from the owner on down. A couple of hollow wins don't change that reality at all.