If there were ever an offseason that Patriot fans could not wait to end, it would be this one. With a narrative only the NBA could replicate, this drama filled offseason officially ended this past weekend with the beginning of training camp. Unfortunately, the rumors and questions surrounding some of the Patriots key cogs did not do the same. The last thing a team trying to recover from a Super Bowl loss needs is drama, especially when that drama involves your best players and head coach.
Media, players, and fans have discussed the Patriots and their offseason issues ad nauseum and who can blame them? The scars from Super Bowl 52 are still fresh and the questions surrounding Malcolm Butler’s benching have remained unanswered. It makes sense that people would still be stuck on some of the issues that have driven Boston sports media for the past nine months.
What really happened regarding the Jimmy Garoppolo trade? Why was he traded for such a low price? What is going on between Belichick and Brady? How many more years will Brady and Gronk be playing in New England? We probably won’t know the answers to most of the questions currently surrounding the franchise until ESPN releases their 30 for 30 about the Patriot’s dynasty 20 years down the line.
For now, all we have are cryptic social media posts, skipped OTA’s, and Oprah interviews, all of which seem to be a severe departure from the “Patriot Way”. If I were to tell you back in 2014 that in four years, Brady and Gronk would be publicly mulling retirement, skipping OTA’s after speaking at length about its importance, and competing with the Jaguars for the throne of the AFC, you would call me crazy and tell me to seek medical attention.
Don’t get it twisted, I’m just as annoyed as all of New England is with everything that has transpired these past few months. Belichick’s refusal to address Butler’s benching in the Super Bowl has infuriated me for months as it was clearly not in “the best interest of the team” – to use Belichick’s own phrasing. Brady’s overt recognition of his dwindling playing career is a clear departure from his stern stance of wanting to play until age 45 and highlights a stark difference from Brady’s all-in, team first mentality that made him who he is today. And don’t get me started on Gronk. His petty and juvenile behavior on social media and in press conferences is no way to get a new contract, if that is even what he wants.
But while these off-field issues might all be part of a larger storyline that puts the validity and reputation of the Patriot’s culture on the stand, these same issues have distracted us from a number of roster issues and positional battles that will play a significant role in determining the success of the team. The departure of key players like Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler, James Harrison, and Nate Solder have left huge voids not just in talent but in experience.
Wide Receiver in particular is a position to keep an eye on as replacing the reliability of Amendola and the speed of Cooks will be tough to do. Injuries to players like Kenny Britt and Malcolm Mitchell have also highlighted the uncertainty at that position. And that’s not to mention Julian Edelman’s four game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, a suspension that not only adds to the team’s depth issues, but also to the suspicious narrative surrounding Alex Guerrero, as Edelman is one of his clients. With no clear number one at that position, it will be important for players like Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson to earn Brady’s trust.
On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of Malcolm Butler and the putrid performance from the secondary in the Super Bowl has raised some questions about who will play opposite to Stephon Gilmore. The addition of Jason McCourty may help as the veteran has gotten off to a strong start at training camp according to various reporters.
Jason McCourty had a nice day breaking up passes intended for Patterson and Hogan.— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) July 27, 2018
Really good practice for Jason McCourty, who had two breakups and didn’t allow any completions in team drills. He is competing with Eric Rowe for the starting job across from Gilmore.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) July 27, 2018
Depth and talent will also be a huge question along the front seven. Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers will spearhead a unit that is lacking in experience and proven talent. Flowers and Clayborn will be especially important to watch as the former enters into the final year of his rookie contract while the latter is coming off a career year where he registered 9.5 sacks and was the team’s highest paid free agent. For a unit that struggled at stopping the run and creating a pass rush, consistent contributions and progress during training camp will be needed from players like Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, and Elandon Roberts.
So, while certain members of the media may still be stuck on some of the offseason storylines, it is time to turn the page onto the 2018 season. Brady, Gronk, Bill, and the rest of the Pats are back and ready to compete for a sixth ring. They will be the favorites to come out of the AFC unless Blake Bortles and the Jaguars continue the progression they showed last season, which if you ask me is about as likely as Peyton Manning running a play without calling a damn audible. All of the drama surrounding the team will work itself out eventually but for now, none of it matters. Redemption is all that matters. Ring number six is all that matters. Enjoy another season of the “Super Bowl or bust” mentality because if this offseason has taught us anything, we don’t know how many of those we have left.