Patriots Mailbag: How Will the Pats Replace Ernie Adams?

The Patriots' director of football research is retiring after serving on Bill Belichick's staff for decades.


Another pillar of the Patriots’ dynasty is calling it a career as director of football research Ernie Adams announced his retirement this week.

The “mythical creature” in New England began working with the Patriots under head coach Chuck Fairbanks, and as Belichick documented after Adams’s final draft last weekend, formulated the grading scale that the Patriots use in the draft to this day. 

On top of his scouting contributions in the draft, Adams, alongside Belichick, was at the forefront of bringing advanced scouting and game-planning to professional football in the 1980s and 90s. 

Before Belichick and Adams, teams didn’t meticulously comb through opponent game tape to study their tendencies and formulate game plans to take advantage of their weaknesses. 

Adams had such an eye for the game that he’d pick out even the minute details such as certain cadences or how a tackle might stagger his feet for a run or pass play. 

There was some of that going on in pro football before Belichick, but teams had to match Belichick and Adams’s attention to detail to keep up with the Giants and eventually Patriots. 

In NFL Films’s “Do Your Job” documentary highlighting New England’s 2014 championship season, Adams and Belichick explain how the Malcolm Butler interception began in practice. Adams was responsible for charting the opponent and constructing a practice script based on their common play calls. He noticed that Seattle ran the same pick play at the goal line earlier in the season, so the Pats devised a way to defend the route combination in case they saw it in Super Bowl 49. 

The rest, as they say, is history, and Adams’s contributions to the Patriots’ football operations span decades and touch every aspect of the team from college scouting, pro scouting, player contracts, in-season coaching and game-planning, and in-game decision making and adjustments. 

With such huge shoes to fill, the logical question is, how do the Patriots replace Adams? 

Some of the administrative responsibilities that Adams left behind, such as player contracts and advanced scouting duties are expected to fall under Matt Patricia’s jurisdiction. Patricia was fired by the Detroit Lions after three seasons as their head coach and served as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator for the six seasons before the Lions hired him. 

Although it’s unclear how exactly the responsibilities will be divided up until the season starts, Patricia will likely take over charting the opponent and devising practice scripts as well. 

The former head coach and Pats defensive coordinator also brought once Lions research assistant Evan Rothstein to New England after he parted ways with Detroit last November. 

Nobody is Ernie Adams, but Rothstein is thought of as a young Ernie, as someone who is extremely bright and held weekly meetings with the players to go over the opponent. 

Similarly to Adams, Rothstein would handle situational analysis and discuss those tendencies, signals, cadences, and little nuances of the game with the players each week. At one point, he even called the defensive plays for Detroit under Patricia. 

If there were a Mount Rushmore of the Patriots’ dynasty, Adams’s face would be etched in stone alongside Kraft, Belichick, Brady, and Scarnecchia. Yes, that’s five people, not four, but you get the point. 

The Patriots, as they always do, have a plan in place to replace Adams, who requires multiple people to fill his wide range of responsibilities that he held over the last 21 seasons. 

But his contributions are unmatched, and he should be recognized as one of the most important figures of New England’s run of success.

Thanks as always to those that asked questions. If I didn’t answer your question here, we do live Q&As every Thursday on my podcast. You can find that on our Youtube channel. Now, let’s get into your questions for this week’s mailbag:

My favorite pick is the quarterback, Mac Jones, because it was the right move for the organization, and it’s the most exciting outcome. But since that’s easy, I came to love the Rhamondre Stevenson pick too. Stevenson is the Pats’ type of early-down back, with great power and lateral agility for his size. Plus, he can catch the ball a bit and pass protect. If all goes well, Stevenson will push for playing time sooner rather than later and will likely push Sony Michel right off the roster. There are vibes of Pats power backs of the past with Stevenson, such as LeGarrette Blount, and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly he catches on in camp. 

I wouldn’t say Jones grew on me after the draft. I was pretty high on him as a fit before the draft as well, even if I preferred others such as Justin Fields or Trey Lance. I will say that a deeper dive into Jones’s film gave me more confidence in his ceiling as a pro, though. He has such a great grasp of the nuances of the position and is working with better physical tools than many think. This is not a quarterback with a weak arm, nor is Jones a statue in the pocket, even if he isn’t as toolsy as Fields. With Jones’s high IQ and timing, he has plenty of talent to supplement what’s between the ears to reach a much higher peak than I previously thought. We’ll see if he’s able to put it all together in the Pats offense as he did running the Alabama scheme. 

I was also surprised by the Perkins pick due to the depth at the position. The Patriots signed Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy in free agency, who figure as starters on the edge. Plus, they selected three similar linebackers in Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings in the ‘19 and ‘20 drafts; where does Perkins find playing time? My guess is that the Patriots loved the fit with Perkins, a physical and instinctive edge defender, too much to pass on him. At the same time, they also wanted to send a message to Winovich and Jennings (who was largely ineffective as a rookie). Winovich told ESPN that he’s bulking up this offseason to become a more effective run defender, but his fit as an every-down player is in question. Let’s see how camp goes before we start forecasting trades, but it’s a possibility if one of Perkins, Uche, or Jennings out-plays Wino this summer. 

The best theory I’ve heard so far is that the Patriots are waiting to hear from the league about practice restrictions due to the pandemic. Last season, teams had two options: 1. Split-squad practices with a 90-man roster or 2. Full-squad practices with an 80-man roster. The Patriots opted for option two, releasing a slew of UDFAs to get to 80, which cost them some money. Currently, the Patriots have 84 players on their roster, including Patrick Chung, whose retirement is not official yet. If the league goes with the same COVID practice protocols, we may only see a few UDFAs invited to camp this season on a tryout basis. 

On the one hand, I understand the clamoring for an upgrade at wide receiver when your top three are Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and Jakobi Meyers. However, it’s important to note that they’ll have two tight ends on the field that are your 1A and 1B on the pecking order. Along those lines, the Pats will only play two or three wideouts most weeks, so there aren’t a ton of reps to go around. They already spent money on Agholor or Bourne; would they really invest more capital there? It just feels like they’re constructing their offense around the two tight ends and made their moves at wide receiver already, whether we approve of that or not. If a true “X” receiver comes available at the right price, that’s the move I’d like to see them make. 

One other note on wide receiver: don’t sleep on seventh-round pick Tre Nixon. He has some very impressive tape against press coverage with the lateral agility in his releases to evade jams and enough vertical burst to separate over the top. I wasn’t expecting much from Nixon’s tape, but Ernie Adams might’ve found a gem. He can play. I’m hoping to have more on Nixon next week.

There were rumors circulating before the draft that Houston defensive end Payton Turner would go in the first round, but I still can’t believe it actually happened. Turner didn’t look like a first-round pick on tape, at all, and is already 23 years old. The Saints are excellent in the draft, so maybe they see something I don’t, but that was a major head-scratcher.

The plan at cornerback beyond the 2021 season has to be near the top of Belichick’s to-do list. The league is only becoming more pass-happy, Belichick obviously knows that, yet his two starting outside CBs are set to be free agents after the season. I wouldn’t rule out extensions for Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson with projected spikes in the salary cap on the horizon. Precedent suggests that the Patriots would move on from Gilmore in the same way they parted with Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Aqib Talib, and Darrelle Revis. But Belichick got burned by having no plan to replace his top cornerback in the past. As for Jackson, his comp is closer to Malcolm Butler, but hopefully without the fallout. With Jason McCourty signing with the Dolphins, it’ll be interesting to see if the team feels that 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams is ready for a larger role. He’s the logical next man up at outside corner. 


It’s easy to chalk the Harry situation up to the player just not being able to hang at the NFL level, but I think that’s failing to tell the whole story. The Patriots drafted Harry thinking his skills as a ball carrier and downfield threat would translate to the pro game, but he hasn’t been a difference-maker in that vein. In other words, they missed on the projection into their offense, so now they need to adjust. Harry doesn’t have the speed to run away from NFL defenders, nor does he have the quickness at the line of scrimmage to defeat press coverage as a vertical threat. He can win jump balls down the field, but he’s unable to consistently stack cornerbacks to set himself up for those wins. As a result, moving him inside as a “big slot” running the seams and other vertical routes between the numbers is his only hope. They need to get him away from press coverage on the outside, stop trying to make him a featured ball carrier, and let him box out weaker coverage defenders in the middle of the field. Harry’s role could look something like Aquan Boldin’s career usage, a player comparison that many of his coaches at Arizona State used when the Pats drafted him. 

Let’s answer each of these questions separately because they are all fun ones to discuss: 

1. Uche – I’d like to see Uche play more off the ball as well. His speed in pursuit should translate nicely as a run defender, and he’s a good enough athlete to play in coverage. Plus, I want his playmaking on the field, and there aren’t as many reps at outside linebacker. In passing situations, turn Uche loose as an interior blitzer or rusher off the edge, similar to how they’ve used Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins in the past. On early downs, off the ball. In obvious passing situations, on the line in their pass-rushing fronts. 

2. Herron – I view Herron as more of a swing tackle and spot starter. Maybe he takes another step forward this season to change my opinion, but for now, he’s a third tackle that can swing left or right and back up multiple spots. Those depth players are extremely valuable. I would need to see more functional strength from Herron to view him as a full-time starting tackle. 

3. Dugger – I want the Patriots to play Dugger in more zone coverage roles at strong or free safety. I love when he attacks the line too, but he has so much explosiveness and good instincts that I want him hunting the football. By manning him up on tight ends, you’re preventing him from watching the quarterback and flowing to the football. He can ball-hawk for interceptions and attack ball carriers in the open field if he sees the ball. Dugger will have a bigger impact on the game if he’s free to roam. 

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t see Dalton Keene making the roster in the future as a traditional tight end. He’s an H-Back, or potentially a fullback, but he’s not an in-line tight end. My Kyle Juszczyk usage theory still exists, and that’s where I’d go with Keene. 

The last month of last season was a slog for film-watching, but there’s always something that reinvigorates my excitement. For me, that’s the draft, which is my favorite type of film study. I rarely get tired of it for long since there’s always something new to make enjoyable. My eyes do hurt sometimes, though. What can I say? I’m a film addict.