Pretty much everything went right for the New England Patriots during Thursday’s preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cam Newton played efficient, mistake-free football. Mac Jones looked like a seasoned pro rather than a rookie. And Bill Belichick watched his much-improved defense hold Nick Sirianni’s team to zero points and only 162 total yards.
However, the Patriots didn’t head back to Foxborough totally unscathed.
Although they managed to avoid a nightmare scenario, it’s time for Belichick to finally admit defeat on the failed N’Keal Harry experiment.
The Patriots just dodged a major bullet with N’Keal Harry
Coming off a one-catch performance against the Washington Football Team, Harry needed to step up against the Eagles.
That didn’t happen.
Once again, the 2019 first-round pick finished the night with one reception. Oh, and that came against an Eagles defense that mostly played second- and third-stringers.
Of course, Harry had a prime opportunity to prove why Belichick made him a Day 1 selection. With the first half coming to a close, Mac Jones unleashed a perfectly thrown deep ball down the left sideline that should have gone for a touchdown. Harry attempted to make a diving catch, but he couldn’t maintain control of the ball. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound wideout fell hard on his left shoulder and had to be helped off the field.
Harry didn’t play another snap, and speculation immediately started to swirl about the severity of his shoulder injury.
Luckily for the Patriots, they officially avoided a nightmare scenario.
Although it seemed possible that the third-year receiver could land on injured reserve or miss significant time, that won’t be the case.
“#Patriots WR N’Keal Harry avoided a serious injury last night and should be good to go by Week 1, per a source. Harry may miss some practice time but it’s not a long-term injury,” tweeted CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar.
Obviously, the fact Harry’s latest setback shouldn’t prevent him from being ready for Week 1 has to be viewed as a major win for New England. But after dodging a major bullet with the oft-injured wideout, it’s time for Belichick to admit defeat on a failed experiment.
Bill Belichick needs to finally admit defeat on a failed experiment
Belichick chose to ignore his scouts when he took Harry 32nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. At the time, the selection didn’t make a ton of sense. After all, outside of Randy Moss, the Patriots have typically relied on smaller, quicker receivers with top-notch route-running skills and reliable hands. But Harry represented something entirely different — a physical, big-bodied wideout with big-play ability.
Expected to give New England’s offense a new dimension, the former Arizona State star simply hasn’t come close to delivering on his first-round pedigree.
During his first and only season with Tom Brady as his quarterback, injuries limited Harry to only 12 receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns in seven games. Teaming up with Cam Newton resulted in a disappointing 2020 stat line of 33/309/2.
Although Harry has performed well in training camp, he continues to disappoint when it really matters. Not only did he drop a potential touchdown pass, but he also injured himself by unnecessarily laying out for the ball. Prior to that, he even tried blocking one of his own teammates (left tackle Isaiah Wynn) on a screen play.
At this point, it makes no sense for the Patriots to keep trying to find a role for Harry. He’s never looked comfortable in the offense. And he’s clearly thought about playing elsewhere based on his well-publicized trade request. Belichick needs to admit defeat and find a team willing to part ways with a conditional mid-round pick for a player who doesn’t seem to be a good fit in Foxborough.
The Harry experiment never made sense from the beginning, and it’s obvious that he hasn’t lived up to expectations. A change of scenery seems like an ideal solution for both sides. The 23-year-old wideout would get a fresh start with a team that might have an offense that’s a better fit for his limited skill set. Meanwhile, the Patriots would get draft compensation and no longer have to take away reps from players who can actually make a positive impact.
Should Patriots fans feel confident about the state of the offense?
Although the Harry situation remains a source of frustration for many Patriots fans, they should be excited about what lies ahead for an offense that received a number of upgrades this offseason.
Cam Newton may fend off Mac Jones for now, but it’s clear the 2021 first-round pick has a bright future ahead of him. The talented quarterback looks capable of running Josh McDaniels’ scheme, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Belichick turns the offense over to Jones at some points this season.
Meanwhile, it’s hard not to get excited about a running back group that features Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, and promising rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. Plus, J.J. Taylor has shown flashes of Dion Lewis-like ability, so he could force Belichick to keep him on the roster, too.
Those backs should have plenty of room to run given the strength of New England’s offensive line. Isaiah Wynn, Michael Onwenu, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Trent Brown comprise a formidable starting lineup, and the team has plenty of depth at tackle and along the interior.
Belichick invested significant financial resources to shore up the wide receiver and tight end positions. Nelson Agholor (two years, $22 million) and Kendrick Bourne (three years, $15 million) have to prove they can make plays in a system that is notoriously tough to pick up. Jonnu Smith (four years, $50 million) and Hunter Henry (three years, $37.5 million) need to avoid further injury setbacks and become reliable weapons. Plus, the Patriots should get solid production out of third-year receiver Jakobi Meyers.
So, even though N’Keal Harry seems destined to earn the “draft bust” label, there are plenty of reasons to be confident about the future of New England’s offense.
Only time will tell how quickly those pieces come together for Bill Belichick’s team.