Four weeks separate the New England Patriots from the start of training camp.
Trips to Detroit and Tennessee will follow. So will padded practices behind Gillette Stadium and preseason games inside of it. And so will a firmer grasp on who’s staying and who’s going before a roster of 90 drains through the colander and down to 53.
But here is one projection heading into July.
- In: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
- Out: Danny Etling
Hoyer carries a cap charge of $3 million into the final year of his deal, with $1.5 million guaranteed, putting the fourth-round investment in Auburn’s Stidham towards 2020 and beyond. As for Etling, who cleared waivers prior to spending the entirety of his rookie season on New England’s practice squad, it will take more than another bootlegging, 86-yard touchdown run in the preseason finale.
- In: Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
- Out: Nick Brossette, Jakob Johnson
Harris, taken No. 87 overall in April, should alleviate some of Michel’s between-the-tackles workload and prevent the Patriots from a Cordarrelle Patterson-type recurrence at running back. There’s room in the backfield for the do-it-all Burkhead and Bolden, too. New England’s financial commitments to the two veteran backs run through 2020, and both bring elements of unpredictability to the present.
- In: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Matthew Slater
- Out: Jakobi Meyers, Dontrelle Inman, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, Ryan Davis, Gunner Olszewski
- PUP: Demaryius Thomas
- Suspended: Josh Gordon
Having suffered a torn Achilles in December – and having agreed to an incentive-laden pact – the 31-year-old Thomas is a candidate to begin on physically unable to perform. That’d buy New England midseason insurance out wide, where four targets and a captain in the kicking game look probable. Harris gets the inside track for that fourth spot, though if an undrafted rookie were in the fold for a 16th consecutive opener, N.C. State’s Meyers gets the early vote.
- In: Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson
- Out: Ryan Izzo, Andrew Beck
- Suspended: Ben Watson
As Watson serves his four-game suspension, the post-Rob Gronkowski depth chart should be able to get through September with two tight ends. LaCosse received $500,000 guaranteed in his two-year deal, while Anderson – promoted to the 53 for January’s playoff run – is an off-line hybrid reminiscent of Tim Wright. The ex-Houston Texan will have to fend off the in-line blocking of a 2018 draft choice in Izzo. That depends on New England’s skillset preference.
- In: Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Ted Karras
- Out: Brian Schwenke, Tyree St. Louis, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Tyler Gauthier, Dan Skipper, Cedrick Lang
The May retirement of 113-game starter Jared Veldheer shifted plans. But the rehabbing Wynn remains the wait-and-see starting left tackle, even if Thuney kicked over from left guard to fill the gap during organized team activities. Cajuste projects as New England’s top swingman and a potential successor on the right side down the road, while Froholdt and Karras offer starting-caliber flexibility to the interior line.
- In: Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Deatrich Wise Jr., Adam Butler, Chase Winovich, John Simon, Derek Rivers, Byron Cowart
- Out: Danny Shelton, Ufomba Kamalu, Keionta Davis, Trent Harris, Shilique Calhoun, David Parry, Nick Thurman
Once a five-star recruit, Cowart faces a steeper climb with Shelton returning to the defensive tackle group on a $805,000 base salary. But Cowart’s movement skills from the A-gaps to 3-4 end could make him a more consistent value to the weekly gameplans – in theory. As for the edge, Rivers is penciled in. The top pick in the Patriots’ 2017 draft logged one sack and seven percent of the defensive snaps last campaign.
- In: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Brandon King
- Out: Elandon Roberts, Christian Sam, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson
Collins won’t be expected to play the every-down role he did before departing to the Cleveland Browns at the 2016 NFL trade deadline. But the 2015 Patriots Pro Bowler will be a situational asset behind a base of Hightower, Van Noy and a second-year pro in Bentley. Collins is a chess piece. And his Patriots reunion leaves Roberts – a strong run presence at inside linebacker with low mileage on special teams – sitting on the fringe.
- In: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen
- Out: Ken Webster, D’Angelo Ross
It’d be unprecedented for New England to part ways with a second-rounder from a year ago, Dawson, before he plays a snap beyond the preseason. It’d also be remiss to overlook the roles Jackson and Crossen filled in year one – or the trade-up to No. 45 overall for Vanderbilt’s 6-foot-4 Williams. New England has stockpiled at corner, yet keeping seven isn’t unfeasible. Between their applications at nickel, safety and on special teams, the position is trending towards position-less.
- In: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Terrence Brooks
- Out: Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, A.J. Howard
Behind a starting safety trio, there’s starters in the third phase. Brooks is of a similar cloth as Ebner. He led the New York Jets’ special teams in snaps last season, then garnered $1.3 million assured from New England. If there’s a sixth man, it’ll be up to Melifonwu to translate the athleticism that once made him pick No. 56. Gant is a name to monitor, as well. The onetime walk-on became Marshall’s MVP, and fits the scout-team profile.
- In: Stephen Gostkowski, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
- Out: Ryan Allen
Allen’s directional clinic in Super Bowl LIII was met with a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Now, the longest-tenured punter of the Bill Belichick era faces company for a second-straight training camp. This time, that company is a righty that the Patriots traded up in the fifth round for. Bailey also brings a background as a kickoff specialist. It’d be hard not to view the rookie out of Stanford as the favorite.
LABOR DAY WEEKEND’S FINAL CALLS
- Last in: Stephen Anderson, Derek Rivers, Byron Cowart, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, Jake Bailey
- Last out: Jakobi Meyers, Ryan Izzo, Danny Shelton, Elandon Roberts, Obi Melifonwu, Ryan Allen
New England saw a league-high four players claimed off waivers during the Sunday of Labor Day weekend in 2017, and then three in 2018. Time will tell what this year’s churning process will bring. Or, whether a trade or two precedes again.