Patriots Mailbag Q&A: Week Eight

Week eight is here and that means another edition of Patriots Mailbag! I answer your questions about the New England Patriots and the hot topics heading into their game against the Bills. Let’s get to it!

With Rob Gronkowski & Martellus Bennett the only two tight ends on the roster, do you see them adding a third tight end anytime soon?

The team traded away their third string tight end A.J. Derby earlier this week to the Denver Broncos. He had only been active for four of the seven games this season and did not register an offensive stat. Derby was an emergency blocker and perhaps the team’s third string quarterback when Tom Brady was out on suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo was hurt. Both Bennett and Gronkowski have played the past five games together after Gronkowski missed the first two. Bennett is still dealing with his ankle injury but it hasn’t stopped him from playing while Gronkowski isn’t on the injury report.

Honestly, it looks like for as long as Gronkowski and Bennett are both playing, it doesn’t look like the Patriots need a third tight end on their roster. James Develin can function as a situational tight end if needed, but the Patriots seem content with their top two guys only for the time being. If a practice squad spot opens up, perhaps they add a free agent such as Bryce Williams, who spent time with them during the pre-season as an undrafted free agent. Otherwise, I wouldn’t expect any major moves at the tight end position in the near future.

How does it work with Dion Lewis practicing again? Is he on the roster? Will he play this weekend?

Lewis returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since the middle of last season prior to his season-ending knee injury. He would undergo surgery and then require another surgery back in August on the same knee. He has been on the team’s PUP (physically unable to perform) list since and was eligible to start practicing last week. He returned on Thursday and that now “starts the clock” on his return. The Patriots have 21 days from his first day back on the practice field to activate him or he will go to “PUP reserve” and not be allowed to play at all this season.

Because the team still has time before they need to activate him, he is still technically on the team’s PUP list and is not currently on the active roster. He is allowed to practice but does not count towards a roster spot until he is activated onto the active roster. So, he is allowed to practice and be activated anytime over the next three weeks but is not on the roster until that happens. Thus, he is also not allowed to play in any games for the team as well. Lewis will not play in week eight but has a decent shot of being activated for week ten following the team’s bye next week. It’s not a given, but a good amount of signs point to that right now.

What would you say are the biggest reasons behind the two trades the team made earlier this week?

With the Kyle Van Noy trade (Patriots traded a sixth round draft pick in 2017 to the Detroit Lions for Van Noy and a 2017 seventh round draft pick), it looks like the primary reason for this is depth. Jamie Collins is still bothered by his hip injury, Elandon Roberts has his ankle injury, Shea McClellin was just cleared from his concussion and Jonathan Freeny is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Van Noy projects best an outside linebacker who doesn’t really rush the passer but mostly sits back in coverage on passing plays. He can move inside if needed as well. Like Barkevious Mingo, don’t expect Van Noy to get a lot of playing time, but he is a decent depth piece to have.

As discussed above with A.J. Derby, he primarily wasn’t used by the Patriots as anything more than an occasional blocker when he actually was active. The Patriots drafted him in the sixth round back in 2015 and were able to get a fifth round pick for him. It is a nice return on investment and the Patriots likely saw an opportunity to open up a roster spot and get some more draft capital and took it. Derby showed well in the pre-season but couldn’t do much in the regular season even after Clay Harbor’s release, so this isn’t much of a loss for the team.

Do you see the Patriots making any more trades before the deadline? And if so, for what position(s)?

You really can never count out the Patriots when it comes to trade. Since the end of the 2015-2016 season, they have made five trades (acquiring Van Noy, Mingo and Eric Rowe while trading away Chandler Jones and Derby). They have also made some notable in-season trades over the past few seasons including acquiring Akiem Hicks, Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas and Isaac Sopoaga. It would not be surprising to see the Patriots make a minor trade or two before Tuesday’s trade deadline. And no, I don’t expect them to go after any “big names” who are being rumored to be on the trade block such as Joe Staley, Joe Thomas, Alshon Jeffery or Torrey Smith.

As for the Patriots, I could see the Patriots trying to add some interior defensive line help and/or interior offensive line help. The defensive tackle rotation consists right now of Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Woodrow Hamilton. Vincent Valentine has been dealing with a troublesome back injury and the team has struggled with depth there especially in his absence. As for the offensive line, the Patriots have been solid at left guard with Joe Thuney but have struggled with Shaq Mason on the other side. He has been a liability in pass protection and they have no solid depth behind him. Ted Karras is the only other guard on the roster and can’t necessarily be trusted as a swing guard. Plus, Tre’ Jackson is still not practicing after missing the entire season so far while being on the PUP list.

So if any areas of the roster were to be addressed by trade, it would likely be defensive tackle or offensive guard.

Cyrus Jones has been a healthy scratch the past two weeks. Any reason why? Do you see him playing anytime soon?

Jones has sat out the past two games after struggling in pass coverage along with special teams as well. He had a couple of special teams returns that shouldn’t have been run out while being a liability in pass coverage as well, whether it be in the slot or outside. Not to mention, he was also ejected from week five’s game after supposedly throwing a punch at a Browns player as well, which probably was the biggest issue for Bill Belichick. Looking back, Bryan Stork was mysteriously released from the team not long after getting into a physical altercation (and ejected from) during a joint practice back in pre-season. Not to say that one is the same as the other, but Belichick appears to be especially against any sort of fight/physical altercation by his players against the opposing team.

Jones is the Patriots top draft pick from this past draft and has a lot of long-term upside into evolving as a cornerback and even as a returner. He may be in Belichick’s doghouse right now, but the team has not by any means given up on him. He’ll likely return remain a healthy scratch going forward as Eric Rowe has passed him on the depth chart seemingly and Justin Coleman returned from being a healthy scratch himself. He wasn’t playing much even when active, so I don’t see him necessarily being active anytime soon without any injuries to the Patriots cornerback group.

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