Bill Belichick entered the 2021 NFL draft with a clear need to address. And thanks to the board falling their way, the New England Patriots didn’t even need to make a move up to land Alabama’s Mac Jones. However, although Belichick filled his biggest remaining roster hole, he still has a problem to solve that involves a critical position on the other side of the ball.
And if he doesn’t figure out a solution at some point, the Patriots could have a major problem on their hands.
Bill Belichick capped off a wild offseason by selecting Mac Jones
New England needed major reinforcements this offseason to upgrade a roster that got largely outplayed during the 2020 NFL season. Armed with more cap space than ever before, Belichick shocked Patriots fans by taking an uncharacteristically aggressive approach to free agency. By the time the dust settled, New England had signed Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Matthew Judon, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne, among others.
Belichick fixed most of the team’s roster flaws (at least on paper) before the draft. With only Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham under contract, the Patriots entered Thursday night with a chance to secure a young quarterback prospect with starting potential.
Despite all the rumors of a potential move up the board, Belichick didn’t mortgage future assets to jump into the top-10 range. Instead, he waited patiently and let Jones fall right into his lap. The former Crimson Tide star ultimately fell to the 15th overall pick, but he couldn’t have found a better fit for his skill set. New England now has a legitimate candidate to fill the void left behind by Tom Brady when he departed in free agency after the 2019 season.
Belichick still has a major problem to solve even after drafting his quarterback of the future
Belichick secured the most valuable asset in football via the draft. But he still has work to do. Because even though he has his quarterback of the future, the Patriots’ chief decision-maker has another problem to solve.
Both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson survived the weekend without getting traded. The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and his young understudy have played terrific football for Belichick in recent years, but both players enter the 2021 season without any long-term financial security. Gilmore, who’s slated to make just $7.3 million in 2021, will become a free agent after the season. Jackson will earn $3.4 million on his one-year restricted free agent tender.
Based on his resume, it’s fair to assume Gilmore won’t settle for that type of payday. Belichick may be forced to give the star corner another bump in pay just to convince him not to hold out. But Gilmore’s recent injury and age could work against him.
On the other hand, Jackson has yet to cash in on his NFL success. Losing him would represent a massive blow to a defense that has struggled to develop homegrown talent in recent years. But will Belichick be willing to pay No. 1 CB money to a player who has spent so much time as Gilmore’s sidekick?
What should New England do with Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson?
The Patriots face a tough call on what to do with Gilmore and Jackson. An ideal situation would involve keeping both corners in Foxborough for years to come. The chances of that happening, however, appear slimmer than Brady’s chances of playing for Belichick again.
So what should New England do?
As great as Gilmore has been, his best days are behind him. If Belichick believes the Patriots have Super Bowl potential this season, he should adjust the veteran’s contract to pay him closer to market value for 2021. If not, he should trade Gilmore and get younger at the position.
As for Jackson, he seems like a logical candidate to receive a contract extension. He certainly has room to improve, but the former undrafted free agent has shown the ability to make plays on the ball and shadow top-flight wideouts. Rewarding him with a multi-year deal would cement his status as a key building block for the future. Only time will tell if Jackson and the Patriots can agree on a price, though.
Without a readymade replacement on the roster, Belichick can’t afford to not have a proper succession plan again.