If Patriots lose Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, strong RB draft class could help fill voids

Exploring some New England Patriots hot topics in the form of a mailbag:

Thanks, Brian. I would say it's too early to know if both players are going to be elsewhere. While there might be a projection that there could be a strong free-agent market for both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, there is a difference between talking about it on March 3 and teams acting on it come March 12. What most teams are doing now is trying to gain credible information on where the market could be heading, and gauging a team's true intentions/genuine interest in a player can sometimes be difficult. As for the draft, this is considered a strong class at running back. If Lewis and Burkhead eventually do sign elsewhere, the idea that the Patriots would turn to the draft (in which I believe they like Alvin Kamara in 2017) makes the most sense to me.

Philip, that option is off the table in my opinion, because the Patriots wouldn't want to put themselves in a position of putting the tag on cornerback Malcolm Butler, seeing him sign it immediately, and then not being able to trade him and thus having to keep him at the franchise-tag figure. It would also hurt them on the salary cap.

Nick, I wouldn't rule anything out at this early stage in the process. Teddy Bridgewater's health would obviously be one thing the Patriots would need to get more comfortable with, and measuring Mike Glennon's upside versus a potential draft pick would likely be the key dynamic in play with that scenario. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock made an interesting point early in the week when saying there are about 11-12 quarterbacks drafted on average, and there are 10 who could go within the first four rounds this year, which highlights a higher volume than the norm.

Mark, the 2018 Patriots' coaching staff, including defensive coordinator, has not yet been formally announced by the team. Linebackers coach Brian Flores, who interviewed with the Cardinals for their head-coaching job this offseason, is expected to take on expanded responsibilities and leadership of the defensive unit in 2018.

Michael, while anything is technically possible, I'd be surprised if the Patriots go in that direction at this time. In 2017, the Patriots were a team that had more veteran players from other clubs compared to draft picks. There is a risk of taking that same approach two years in a row when looking at the yearly challenge of building a team and continuing to replenish young talent. With that in mind, my sense is 2018 will be more about youth/draft picks than free-agent signings such as the 32-year-old Michael Bennett.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the majority of Patriots coaches stayed behind from the NFL combine, so it wasn't just McDaniels. I believe around just two or three coaches on the Patriots' staff attended the combine this year, and none of those coaches were on the offensive side of the ball. So it has nothing to do with anything about being scared or the like; it's about trying to be as efficient as possible in a shorter offseason because of playing in Super Bowl LII.