The 2018 offseason was unlike any other for the New England Patriots. After dropping Super Bowl 52, questions lingered on the future of head coach Bill Belichick and stars Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. And on top of that, a number of key players were set to hit the free agent market.
Through all the chaos, New England made a number of roster additions and changes like always, and managed to find their was back in the Super Bowl for a third straight year.
Here’s a look at how the 2018 offseason went down for the Patriots:
February 5th, 2018 - Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia hired as Detroit Lions head coach, assign play calling duties to Brian Flores
The Patriots first loss of the offseason came to the coaching staff, as they lost their long time defensive coordinator to the Lions. New England went the whole season without naming an official defensive coordinator, but handed over play-calling duties to linebackers coach Brian Flores.
Since taking over play calling duties, Flores overcame some early season defensive struggles to round the Patriots unit into a top 10 scoring defense. And when the 2018 season officially concludes, Flores is expected to be named the Miami Dolphins new head coach.
March 14th, 2018 - Acquired defensive tackle Danny Shelton in a trade with Cleveland
Belichick has never been afraid to make a trade, especially if he can acquire a former first round pick. And that’s exactly what he did, acquiring the 12th overall pick from the 2015 draft in Shelton, who was entering the final year of his rookie deal.
After struggling to stop the run in 2018, New England sent a 2019 third-round pick for the 335-pound defensive lineman. New England also received a 2018 fifth-round selection from Cleveland.
While the Shelton trade looked great for New England on paper, he often underperformed at time like he did in Cleveland. Shelton was a healthy scratch for the Patriots in four games this season, but could be called upon in Super Bowl 53 to help slow down the Rams dynamic rushing attack.
March 15th, 2018 - Running back Dion Lewis and cornerback Malcolm Butler sign with the Tennessee Titans
As free agency opened, the Patriots saw some major pieces on their roster depart in free agency.
After being benched in Super Bowl 52, Butler agreed on a five-year deal worth more than $61 million with the Titans. Lewis then followed his lead, agreeing on a four-year deal worth $20 million. Both players were key contributors to the Patriots for several seasons, but New England didn't have the cap space to financially match Tennessee.
For much of the season, it proved wisely New England didn't ante up to what Tennessee was offering. Butler allowed a 102.6 passer rating to opposing quarterback who targeted him, and Lewis mustered a career low 3.3 yards per attempt. New England saw much better execution, for a much cheaper price, in rookies J.C. Jackson and Sony Michel.
March 15th, 2018 - Offensive tackle Nate Solder signs with the New York Giants
Butler and Lewis weren't the only key Patriots to depart in free agency, as starting left tackle Nate Solder decided to sign with the New York Giants.
After spending seven years protecting Tom Brady’s blindside, Solder cashed in with New York, inking a four-year deal worth $62 million. The deal made him the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
Much like Butler and Lewis, Solder struggled in his new home away from New England. He did improve in the second half of the season, but allowed the most sacks of any Giants offensive lineman.
March 15th, 2018 - Wide receiver Danny Amendola signs with the Miami Dolphins
After losing Lewis, Butler and Solder all in free agency, the Patriots weren't done losing, when the division rival Miami Dolphins signed wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Spending five years in New England, Danny “Playoff” Amendola took several pay cuts to stay in Foxboro, while coming up clutch time after time during three Super Bowl runs.
Miami gave Amendola a two-year, $12 million contract, something New England could not manage to surrender financially.
March 15th, 2018 - Acquired defensive back Jason McCourty in a trade with Cleveland
A day after the Shelton trade was made official, Belichick went right back to work with Cleveland. This time acquiring defensive back Jason McCourty, twin brother of safety Devin.
New England sent a 2018 sixth-round pick to acquire McCourty, while also receiving a 2018 seventh-round selection. McCourty ranked as the league’s 17th best corner in 2018 and was seen to be a major piece in replacing Malcolm Butler.
While McCourty was once viewed as a Butler replacement to potential training camp cut, he settled in into a nice role in the Patriots secondary throughout this season. He saw a heavy amount of snaps in the middle of the season as the No. 2 cornerback across from Stephon Gilmore, and has become a key rotational piece since the emergence of J.C. Jackson.
March 17th, 2018 - Patriots sign defensive end Adrian Clayborn
After seeing players depart in free agency, New England decided to dip their hand into the open market. Hitting the market after a career year with 9.5 sacks, Clayborn and New England agreed on a two-year worth up to $12.5 million.
The move was made to help boost the Patriots pass rush, which often seemed to struggle in the 2018 season, especially in Super Bowl 52.
While Clayborn only mustered 2.5 sacks on the year with New England, and often appeared undisciplined in containing the quarterback, he did help improve the defensive line. Throughout his season (including playoffs), Clayborn generated pressure on 17.3 percent of his pass rush snaps, the most by any edge rusher in the league.
March 19th, 2018 - Acquired Cordarrelle Patterson in a trade with Oakland
Belichick struck again, acquiring former first-round pick speedster Cordarrelle Patterson from the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots swapped their fifth-round pick for a Raiders sixth-round pick in order to make the move.
After losing Danny Amendola and appearing they would likely lose special team ace Matthew Slater, Patterson was an important special team get for New England. His elite speed had marked him as one of the leagues best return man, and would provide Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady with another “toy” to work with.
And they took full advantage of their new “toy”. Patterson was used in New England like never before in his career, seeing touches in almost anyway imaginable. While providing a spark in the passing game, Patterson also saw a career high with 42 rushing attempts. Beyond jet sweeps and end arounds, Patterson filled in at running back when New England was down Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel.
He did all that while again showing his value in the return game, being named to second team All-Pro as a kick returner.
April 4th, 2018 - New England trades wide receiver Brandin Cooks to Los Angeles Rams
After trading for Brandin Cooks the year prior, New England dealt the 24-year old speedster to Los Angeles. New England acquired Los Angeles’ 2018 first round selection (No. 23 overall) along with a sixth-round selection, while also sending a 2018 fourth-round pick in addition to Cooks.
Cooks, who posted a 65-catch, 1,082-yard season, seven touchdown season with New England, was in the final year of his rookie contract and due $8.5 million. New England prioritized the cap space and early draft pick to fill other roster needs.
April 26th, 2018 - New England drafts running back Sony Michel
Following Dion Lewis’ departure, New England used their own first round pick (No. 31 overall) on Georgia running back Sony Michel.
Michel played a major role in helping Georgia reach the College Football National Championship, while also running for a career-high 1,227 yards and 16 touchdowns. His 7.9 yards per carry were the fifth-most in FBS.
Many teams questioned Michel’s past of knee injuries, which might have been a reason he fell to New England at 31. And the reported knee injury was a problem throughout the season, as Michel missed almost all of training camp and appeared to be rusty through the first several weeks of the season.
When he was healthy, Michel showed why New England used a first round selection on him, rushing for over 900 yards and six touchdowns in the 13 games he played. And throughout this postseason, the Patriots have leaned on the rookie, who has piled up 242 yards an five touchdowns in New England’s first two postseason contests.
April 27th, 2018 - Acquired offensive tackle Trent Brown in a trade with San Francisco
After losing Nate Solder in free agency, New England had to address their left tackle position. To do so, they acquired the 6-foot-8, 355 pound Brown from San Francisco.
It didn't take much to acquire the 25-year old starting tackle, as New England had to move pick No. 95 to the Niners, while also acquiring their fifth-rounder (No. 143) in return.
Looking back, Brown may have been one of the biggest steals of the offseason. Brown started all 16 games for the Patriots at left tackle and has set himself up to earn himself a valuable contract when he hits free agency this offseason. And looking at Solder who often struggled in New York, moving down just 48 picks to add the 6-foot-8 mauler might have been the Patriots best offseason move.
August 9th, 2018 - Return of wide receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont’a Hightower
As the Patriots opened up their 2018 preseason, it also marked the return of two key veterans: Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower. Edelman, who tore his ACL in the 2017 preseason, missed all of the previous season, where Hightower was shut down mid-season after tearing his pec.
Both Edelman and Hightower are two of the Patriots best, and most important, players on the roster, and were clearly missed the following season. Brady and co. struggled without their trustworthy slot receiver, whereas the linebacker core had to turn to a number of unknown commodities to replace Hightower’s snaps.
It took some time, but Edelman and Hightower’s presence were seen and felt on the field during this season. Edelman, who was suspended the first four games of the season, looked like the same old shifty slot receiver once he finally returned to action. He started all nine games in his return, piling up over 70 catches and 800 yards.
Hightower played in all but one game this season for the Patriots, something he has struggled to do since being drafted to New England. He often looked slow in his first several games back, playing his first meaningful football in almost a year, but has regained his form as one of the Patriots best linebackers.
Looking back, New England’s had quite the impressive 2018 offseason. While watching faces who departed struggle in new locations (while making a hefty amount of money), several of their new acquisitions played vital roles for the Patriots in all three phases of the game.
Now almost a year after all the chaos started, New England is right back where they were last season: with a chance to win their sixth Super Bowl. Win or lose, the Patriots have yet another wild offseason in their future.