The New England Patriots are in an unfamiliar situation. Heading into their Week 8 matchup against the Buffalo Bills with a 2-4 record, they are very much fighting to stay alive in the race for the AFC East crown. Beating the 5-2 Bills will not be easy, though, considering that core players such as Julian Edelman and Stephon Gilmore are not available due to injury.
Across the board, the team will have to rely on depth options to get the job done — something that is not new given that the Patriots lost long-time starters such as Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy and Nate Ebner in free agency, before also seeing veterans such as Dont’a Hightower, Marcus Cannon and Patrick Chung opt out of the 2020 season. This constant turnover has led to New England’s depth being challenged quite a bit this year.
So far, however, it has not passed the test as the team’s record shows.
Head coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick was also asked about the Patriots’ roster during a recent appearance on SiriusXM NFL Radio. Speaking with one of his former assistants, ex-New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Belichick was asked about using a considerable number of young players this season.
“We’re playing more young players than we’ve played in the past,” said Belichick. “A combination of reasons. We were pretty heavily invested in our team inn the past few years. From a salary cap standpoint, we didn’t have much flexibility at all. I think that was obvious on the Cam Newton contract. Then we had some opt-outs, so we lost some players there that would normally have been giving us a significant amount of play time.
“And then, like every year, a couple guys are banged up and we’ve missed some guys here and there in certain games. I think when you combine it all together, there is opportunity there, and some of that opportunity has gone to younger players.”
The Patriots still have plenty of veteran leadership on their roster — from long-time captains such as Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater, to players in their late 20s such as David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney. However, young talent still on its rookie contracts has been given plenty of snaps as well. Whether it is Chase Winovich or Ja’Whaun Bentley in the front seven, or rookie Michael Onwenu along the offensive line, New England’s youth movement is in full swing.
For Belichick, though, it all goes back to what has been a challenging salary cap situation earlier this year.
“Again, because of our cap situation in this particular year, we’ve taken to, I would say, adjust our cap from the spending that we’ve had in accumulation of prior years,” Belichick pointed out. “We just haven’t been able to have the kind of depth on our roster that we’ve had in some other years. That’s provided more opportunity for younger players. So, it’s a combination of all the reasons.”
Belichick acknowledging that the team is not as deep as others in years past is a pretty remarkable statement from a man who rarely comments on issues like these. The team is projected to be in a better situation next offseason, but one do have to wonder what the Patriots’ ceiling in 2020 can be when even its head coach is classifying the season as one aimed at cap adjustments.