The New England Patriots will have many difficult decisions to make at the end of training camp this summer. They enter the 2017 season fresh off a Super Bowl win and have re-tooled their roster to an even more dangerous (on paper) group that was victorious in February.
They seem to have more than made up for the players that they’ve lost in free agency and appear poised for another deep playoff run in 2017. Bill Belichick went against the grain once again and traded most of his draft picks in what was considered a very deep draft and came away with a slew of established veterans.
The team only drafted four players in April with two each from the offensive and defensive lines, but even those are with an eye to 2018 as this team appears loaded. First up are the key players lost and then the ones added.
Key Players Lost:
TE Martellus Bennett
DE Jabaal Sheard
DE Chris Long
RB LeGarrette Blount
CB Logan Ryan
LB/ST Barkevious Mingo
WR Michael Floyd
RT Sebastian Vollmer (injured/retired)
Key Players Added:
LB Dont’a Hightower (re-signed)
DL Alan Branch (re-signed)
S Duron Harmon (re-signed)
FB James Develin (re-signed)
RB/ST Brandon Bolden (re-signed)
CB Stephon Gilmore
DL Kony Ealy
DL Lawrence Guy
WR Brandin Cooks
TE Dwayne Allen
TE James O’Shaughnessy
RB Mike Gillislee
RB Rex Burkhead
WR Andrew Hawkins
LB David Harris
This doesn’t take into account their four draft picks and the UDFAs that they’ve signed thus far. While the inevitable injuries will occur, as its part of the game, the team seems in very good shape to handle whatever gets thrown at them in 2017.
First up is the offense…
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
New England has an embarrassment of riches at the position. They have three QBs that have started and won games for the team. Garoppolo was the guy everyone had being traded this spring but they held on to him … at least for this season. And can we please cease and desist with the “is Jimmy G injury prone?” talk? He has proven he can take over the team in a pinch and he’ll be watched closely this summer to see where his progression is at.
Brissett stepped in cold and split two games after receiving very few snaps in the preseason. He still has a long way to go in his development but he’s in the perfect place to do so. And that old guy at QB? I think they keep him around a bit…don’t you?
RUNNING BACK (5): James White, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James Develin
Out: D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, Glenn Gronkowski, LeShun Daniels
With the depth of the position (wasn’t it just a year ago we were lamenting the depth?), the Patriots are going to cut a couple of guys that you hate to see leave. I love the Gillislee signing, a one-cut power runner who hits the holes quicker than LG. White is coming off of a Super Bowl performance of a lifetime. Burkhead was signed from Cincy and Lewis looks to be completely healthy this spring.
That said, I hate to see Foster go. He can play in this league and will probably get a shot elsewhere. Daniels will probably get stashed on the practice squad or get a case of the Foxboro Flu. Bolden is another tough cut… he has been a core STs performer.
TIGHT END (3): Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy,
Out: Jacob Hollister, Matt Lengel, Sam Cotton
Dwayne Allen replaces Martellus Bennett and will be looked to for his blocking skills mainly. When healthy, nobody is better than Rob Gronkowski and it will be curious to see how the team manages his snap counts. But he looks completely ready to go.
The fight will be for the 3rd tight end spot and right now, we have Shaughnessy taking it. But Hollister is going to be kept around on the practice squad. Those too and Lengel will be battling for reps.
WIDE RECEIVER (5): Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola
Out: Devin Lucien, Andrew Hawkins, Austin Carr, Cody Hollister
Brandin Cooks was the big addition this spring, at the cost of the Patriots 1st round draft pick. But he’s a proven commodity in the league and is only 23. He, Edelman, and Hogan all can move inside or outside and create matchup nightmares.
Mitchell earned Brady’s trust as a rookie, no mean feat and will only improve. Amendola took his yearly renegotiation of his contract and is back. His pedestrian numbers belie the impact his production has at crunch time.
Any of the other four could stick in the event of an injury. Lucien, Carr, and Hollister could wind up back on the practice squad if they’re not picked up by another team.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE (4): David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras
Out: Jason King, James Ferentz, Chase Farris
Center David Andrews and guards Mason and Thuney were all starters last year and Thuney went wire to wire as the starting LG as a rookie. Karras is tough and can fill in at either guard or center in a pinch. Ferentz may stick on the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Nate Solder, Antonio Garcia, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming
Out: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Max Rich, Andrew Jelks
Left tackle Nate Solder enters the final year of his contract. He and Cannon both performed very well in 2016. Cameron Fleming is the swing tackle for the team. Tony Garcia will get a red-shirt type season to learn under Dante Scarnecchia and may be the LT of the future.
McDermott may get the same red-shirt experience on the practice squad. Waddle was a third, blocking tight end but is a victim of numbers this season.
Next up in the defense.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4): Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vince Valentine, Lawrence Guy
Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Alan Branch re-signed with the team and he’s played some quality snaps inside for the team. Brown has shown the type of play that he’s capable of at times and now just needs to be consistent. Valentine flashed at times in his rookie season and Guy should be a versatile piece who can play inside or outside after coming over from the Ravens.
The big bodies give the team the flexibility to play with either a three or a four-man front. This position seems to be very strong heading into camp this year.
EDGE RUSHER (5): Kony Ealy, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
Out: Geneo Grissom
The emergence of Trey Flowers down the stretch and into the playoffs made the loss of Sheard and Long sting a lot less. The team picked up Ealy in a trade with Carolina and the big man has seemed to buy into the Belichick/Patriots way already. Ninkovich is slowing down but is a very reliable, consistent, smart player.
The Patriots drafted Rivers and Wise this spring and both will be eased into the system and allowed to develop slowly. Time runs out on Grissom who was a valued ST player but could never make an impact on defense.
LINEBACKER (5): Dont’a Hightower, David Harris, Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin, Harvey Langi
Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates, Elandon Roberts
Re-signing Hightower this spring was a huge plus for the team, they just didn’t have anyone with his skill set that could step into his shoes, until now. David Harris was a great pickup, he can sub for Hightower or play beside him in a 3-4 situation, he’s a consummate professional who will fit in seamlessly with New England.
Van Noy and McClellin were picked up a year ago and both played valuable roles for the team. Van Noy, in particular, was very impressive in sub-packages and will be looked to do more of the same this year. McClellin can play in the sub-backer role, fill in the middle in a pinch or line up as an edge rusher. The signing of Harris is bad news for Freeny who was a valuable STs contributor and was lost to IR in 2016.
CORNERBACK (5): Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones
Out: Justin Coleman, DJ Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore, Dwayne Thomas
Malcolm Butler was thought to be a trade loss this spring but the Patriots are bringing him back for 2017. Paired with Gilmore, who’s a bigger corner, this gives the Patriots a very solid pair of corners who can match up with anyone. This Patriots group of corners is among the best the team has had. The third corner spot is open for competition between Jonathan Jones, Eric Rowe, and Cyrus Jones. Depending on the matchups, each of those should see some valuable snaps.
The numbers game strikes Coleman and the feisty Killings who turned some heads this spring. Doubtful that either would pass thru waivers….but we shall see.
SAFETY (4): Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, David Jones
Out: Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis, Jason Thompson
The Patriots enter 2017 with all three starting safeties intact…three you say? Yes, because Harmon was nearly a starter with the snaps he played in the sub-packages. Bringing him back was a nice move for both parties.
Chung plays a physical brand of football and his eventual replacement, David Jones could be the UDFA that makes an impact this season. Richards has disappointed thus far and is too stiff to be a good cover man for backs and tight ends. Jones has the size and physicality and showed some flash in coverage this spring when we watched him. He’s a player to watch this summer.
SPECIAL TEAMS (6): Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen and long-snapper Joe Cardona are as solid a group as there is in the league. None of them are going anywhere. King, Slater and Ebner are all outstanding Special Teams players and Bill Belichick values STs more than most. It would be a surprise to see any of them going anywhere at this point.