The Patriots need more than a good season from Mac Jones

New England must fix its defensive issues and resolve all of its special teams concerns to be a contender in 2022.

FOXBOROUGH — A promising season in 2021 that at one point in early December had the New England Patriots as the No. 1 seed in the AFC it ended with a disappointing fall. That is the backdrop as the team looks forward to the 2022 season.

On the plus side, there is hope under the 2021 first-round draft pick, mac jonesin the quarterback position.

At the same time, there are lingering questions about why the defense and special teams dramatically faded when needed most, and if the offense led by jones it can grow as the coaching staff undergoes significant change following the departures of coordinator Josh McDaniels and multiple assistants.

head coach Bill Belichickwho turns 70 in April, said after the 47-17 playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills that he didn’t want to downplay the game, but he would also closely watch every other game of a 10-8 season.

Calling the playoff performance the “least competitive” of the year, he said: “Is that who we are? Or, is it a bad night? We’ll see when we start playing again next year, I guess.” .

Projected salary cap space: $9.4 million

Top free agents: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, OT Trent Brown, K Nick Folk, LB Dont’a Hightower, QB Brian Hoyer, CB JC Jackson, G/C Ted Karras, S Devin McCourty, ST Matthew Slater, RB James White

Possible candidates for court: Starting right guard Shaq Mason is slated to hit $10.1 million in the salary cap and with no money guaranteed as part of his deal, his status deserves to be watched. On the other hand, the team’s top 2019 draft picks — wide receiver N’Keal Harry and cornerback Joejuan Williams — were underperforming toward the end of the season.

What you need to know: Things can essentially be boiled down to three points: 1. What can the patriots in terms of personnel (for example, another threat at the receiver position) to better support the growth of jones? two. What happened to the defense at the end of the season and what will they do to make sure it doesn’t happen again? 3. Why have their once-dominant special teams slumped so badly? head coach Bill Belichick He often talks about playing complementary football and bridging the three phases of the game, and doing a better job in that area in 2022 seems to be a big emphasis this offseason. One problem specific to the defense is that recent Day 2 draft picks — Chase Winovich, taken in the third round in 2019; Josh Uche, elected in the second round of 2020; and Anfernee Jennings, a 2020 third-round pick — haven’t been a factor lately. There seems to be a flaw somewhere in the drafting and development process with those young linebackers.

Best scenario for the offseason: Jackson signs an extension, veteran leaders McCourty and Slater (special teams) return for another season, the offensive line solidifies with the return of Karras, solid kicker Folk re-signs with the team … and the draft brings in a receiver dynamic and more speed, versatility and intelligence on defense.

Worst case scenario for the offseason: Changes in the offensive coaching staff hamper the development of jones and the draft looks more like 2019 than 2021, when mistakes were made with top picks who, if done right, would be peaking right now.

First look at the draft, from the analyst of ESPNJordan Reid: With Jackson hitting free agency, the patriots they could cater to cornerback early in the draft. Linebacker could also be another position the team covers. build around jones he should remain an important target, and adding a starting-caliber receiver is necessary as the team lacks major options.

Main needs: CB, WR, LB

Highest draft pick: No. 21

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The Patriots need more than a good season from Mac Jones