For the third year in a row, the New England Patriots experienced some major turnover during the offseason. While 2018 was dominated by rumors about internal dysfunction between the organization’s top-three and 2019 saw some considerable personnel changes both on and off the field, 2020 marked the end of an era: after two decades and six Super Bowl wins, quarterback Tom Brady decided to leave the organization as an unrestricted free agent to sign a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With one pillar of the Patriots’ dynasty gone, Bill Belichick will have to carry even more of a load heading into Year One without the greatest quarterback of all time. The challenge will be an enormous one for New England’s head coach and de facto general manager. After all, Belichick did not just have to watch Brady take his talents elsewhere, but also the departures of some other core players as well as long-time assistant coaches Dante Scarnnecchia and Joe Judge.
That said, Belichick has shown over the last 20 years that he knows only one direction: forward. He therefore did his best to try to improve the team through the avenues available to him. With that said, let’s take a look at them.
Free agency market
Re-signed: DT Adam Butler (RFA), LB Shilique Calhoun, G Jermaine Eluemunor (RFA), S Devin McCourty, WR Matthew Slater, G Joe Thuney (franchise tag)
Signed: DT Beau Allen, WR Damiere Byrd, LB Brandon Copeland, S Cody Davis, QB Brian Hoyer, WR Marqise Lee, S Adrian Phillips, FB Danny Vitale
Lost: QB Tom Brady, LB Jamie Collins Sr, S Nate Ebner, C Ted Karras, LB Elandon Roberts, DT Danny Shelton, LB Kyle Van Noy
As noted above, Tom Brady stands out among the free agency departures but he is far from the only notable player to leave the team this spring. Ted Karras was the team’s starting center in 2019, Danny Shelton, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins all played prominent role on the best scoring defense in football, and Nate Ebner was a key special teamer. Add Elandon Roberts, who served as a backup linebacker and emergency fullback, and you get a high-profile list from top to bottom.
That said, Belichick and the Patriots were able to also keep some of their best players from leaving. Veterans Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater were re-signed before the start of free agency, while guard Joe Thuney was given the franchise-tag. On top of it all, New England also was active on the open market despite limited financial resources to work with: players such as Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis or Danny Vitale could all play prominent roles on the team this year.
Given up: TE Rob Gronkowski, S Duron Harmon
The Patriots swung two trades this offseason, both involving long-time members of their organization. Rob Gronkowski was traded to the Buccaneers, after he announced he wanted to return to football but only as a member of Brady’s new team. Duron Harmon, meanwhile, was sent to the Detroit Lions in an apparent cost-cutting move. Both players yielded mid-round selections in the draft as a return.
Releases: DE Keionta Davis, K Stephen Gostkowski, QB Cody Kessler, S Obi Melifonwu
Retirements: FB James Develin, TE Ben Watson
The Patriots’ turnover extended beyond the free agency and trade, however, as the team also saw the departures of some veteran talent through release or retirement. While not all of the players listed were expected to play a prominent role in 2020, two do stand out: kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who was let go after the first wave of free agency, and fullback James Develin, who announced his retirement due to complications stemming from his recovery from a season-ending neck injury. Both men were instrumental in the Patriots keeping their dynasty alive during the 2010s.
Drafted: S Kyle Dugger (2-37), LB Josh Uche (2-60), LB Anfernee Jennings (3-87), TE Devin Asiasi (3-91), TE Dalton Keene (3-101), K Justin Rohrwasser (5-159), G Michael Onwenu (6-182), OL Justin Herron (6-195), LB Cassh Maluia (6-204), OL Dustin Woodard (7-230)
Free agency signings: TE Rashod Berry, CB Myles Bryant, TE Jake Burt, DE Nick Coe, LB De’Jon Harris, WR Will Hastings, QB Brian Lewerke, DT Bill Murray, WR Sean Riley, QB J’Mar Smith, RB J.J. Taylor, LB Kyahva Tezino, WR Jeff Thomas, DT Courtney Wallace Jr, WR Isaiah Zuber
The first round of this year’s draft was a sign of things to come for New England: the team traded away the 23rd overall selection to acquire more picks — the first of five moves made by Belichick and company. When the dust had settled, a total of 10 players were added to the team. Not all of them are expected to make the roster, given that four were chosen in the sixth and seventh rounds, but the Patriots still successfully bolstered their depth at some key positions (linebacker, tight end) while also adding high-upside talent at safety and kicker.
New England also was active during the subsequent free agency period, by bringing in some intriguing options such as wide receiver Jeff Thomas and edge defender Nick Coe — two players who seem well suited to keep the team’s active 16-year streak of at least one undrafted rookie making the opening day roster alive.
Even more so than last year’s offseason, this year’s saw some enormous turnover. Still, Bill Belichick did what Bill Belichick does: he was busy in free agency and the draft, as well as on the trade market, to find the best value for his team — all while addressing some of the most pressing needs on the roster along the way. The success of Brady’s heir (likely second-year man Jarrett Stidham) will eventually play a big role when it comes to evaluating the Patriots’ 2020 offseason, but Belichick still stayed true to form while heading into the unknown.
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