One common thread that was visible throughout the week leading up to Super Bowl 53 were the retirement questions once again surrounding New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The 29-year old, who was under the microscope all of last year’s offseason for the same reason, was asked on multiple occasions to comment. Needless to say that he did not give any definitive answer revealing his intentions about continuing to play or calling it a (Hall of Fame) career.
Gronkowski, however, is not the only member of the club seen as a candidate to step away from the game soon: safety Devin McCourty raised eyebrows during Monday’s media day when he did not definitively confirm that he would return to the Patriots next season. McCourty clarified his comments later during the week but at that point the talking heads, radio hosts, and analysts were already all over the story.
One thing is certain, though, at this point both Gronkowski and McCourty are only rumored to possibly consider hanging up their cleats after this year. However, there are multiple other players on the Patriots whose future with the club is very much uncertain beyond Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams: the team has a long list of players about the enter unrestricted free agency — a list that includes some of the team’s core players.
The two biggest names on the list are undoubtably defensive edge Trey Flowers and offensive tackle Trent Brown. Both men are core members of their respective units and will likely be highly sought-after free agents — and potentially enormous losses. Flowers is the most disruptive pass rusher on the team and a player that has gotten better every year in the NFL to a point where he is now on the cusp of the league’s truly elite linemen.
Brown, meanwhile, joined the team via trade during the 2018 NFL draft as a candidate to serve as the replacement for long-term starter Nate Solder. The 25-year old became just that after he effortlessly transitioned from playing on the right side of the line to the left without any visible issues. Brown, who began his career with the San Francisco 49ers before getting shipped to New England, is not on the same level of consistent excellence as for example Flowers, but he is a very good blocker that has successfully filled Solder’s enormous shoes.
While Brown would be a big loss for the Patriots after his very good first season with the club, his departure would probably not hurt as much as Flowers’ simply because New England lacks a viable replacement. At offensive tackle, meanwhile, 2018 first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn might be able to take over. While the rookie missed all of his first NFL campaign due to an Achilles injury and is noticeably shorter than Brown, he certainly has the talent to become a successful tackle at the next level as well.
Flowers and Brown are numbers one and two on the list of possible free agency departures next offseason, and together with Gronkowski (and McCourty if there were indeed any truth to the rumors about his retirement) would be tremendous losses. All three are very good-to-elite players, after all, and will play huge roles again in Sunday’s game — possibly their last one wearing a Patriots uniform.
The same goes, of course, for the rest of the players about to hit the open market in March. Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are integral members of the kicking operation, as is Cordarrelle Patterson who also serves as a jack-of-all-trades on offense. Chris Hogan, Jason McCourty, Malcom Brown, Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber have all carved out starting roles in their respective units. Phillip Dorsett and John Simon are valuable rotational players.
And while Gronkowski’s potential retirement yet again stole most of the headlines, Flowers, Brown and company might be even more realistic candidates to move on from the Patriots in a little more than a month.