The New England Patriots don’t seem to be operating with any clear strategy, rhyme, or reason during NFL free agency so far.
What are the New England Patriots doing right now?
As the world itself grapples with a gigantic health and economic crisis, the NFL’s most successful team of the 21st century grapples with an existential identity crisis of its own.
It’s bad enough that the team reportedly low-balled Tom Brady, the greatest player in franchise history (and probably the greatest player in the history of the sport). Even if you’re aligned with Bill Belichick in thinking that it was best to cut bait with Brady a year too soon rather than a year too late, you have to admit that the Patriots don’t really seem to have much of a backup plan in place.
Belichick has obviously built his New England career and his reputation as the greatest head coach in NFL history on the basis of making tough decisions that oftentimes go against the wishes of his devoted fanbase.
He refused to play ball with stars like Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Adam Vinatieri, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and Danny Amendola, instead letting all those players either leave via trade or free agency when he no longer deemed them useful.
Many believed that Brady would be immune to Belichick’s notoriously cold-hearted penchant for ruthless abandonment on this issue, but even the G.O.A.T. was shown the door unceremoniously. Brady is now reportedly signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and some media figures have suggested the Patriots never even tried to retain him for 2020.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to this point already.
Brady is certainly in uncharted territory because of his age at this point. He also was far from solid last season statistically, despite playing with one of the weakest supporting casts he’s had on offense in years.
All that being said, is Jarrett Stidham really that much better today than Brady? For that matter, is anyone else that’s still available?
Remaining veteran quarterbacks who could potentially find their way to QB1 status in New England this offseason include Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, Cam Newton, and Joe Flacco. Each and every one of them has major baggage associated with their level of play or injury history, and none of them comes close to what Brady offered even in his 20th season last year.
Unless the Patriots find a way to package all their draft capital into a higher slot, they’re probably not going to be able to land a high-end quarterback next month either. There’s a chance they could go for someone like Jordan Love or Jacob Eason with their No. 23 pick in the first round, but it’s hard to envision Belichick drafting a QB that high — even without Brady on the roster for the first time since before Y2K.
The Patriots’ puzzling moves in free agency extend well beyond just quarterback, however.
New England committed big money to longtime leaders Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, and Joe Thuney, only to watch Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Ted Karras, Elandon Roberts, Nate Ebner, and Danny Shelton leave in free agency.
And that’s just what’s happened so far — the fates of players like Phillip Dorsett, Shilique Calhoun, Nick Folk, Marshall Newhouse, and James Ferentz are still up in the air.
Truthfully, some of these transactions hurt more than others. The losses of Van Noy, Collins, and Roberts from the linebacker group probably stand out the most, as this was a real position of strength for the Patriots in 2019.
Dont’a Hightower is still around to lead the young players left over at the position, but it’s hard to believe the New England defense won’t take a step back in 2020 overall with the losses of those guys already listed — plus Shelton, Harmon, and potentially Calhoun.
The Patriots offense is another story altogether.
It was already a weakness last season, and it’s hard to see any reasons why things are looking better in 2020 thus far. The loss of Brady obviously stands out first, but there are other concerns around the offense.
The line looks precarious after the departure of Karras. David Andrews is no lock to return to action this fall after blood clots in his lungs sidelined him all last season, and Isaiah Wynn has already developed a reputation for being injury-prone. Even if the Patriots retain Thuney, they’re committing a ton of cap space to just one player if they keep him with the franchise tag — a long-term deal or a trade seems imminent at some point.
Running back should look the same for the Patriots in 2020 as it did in 2019. Hopefully, the team will get a healthy James Develin back at fullback, and that could mean good things for Sony Michel and Damien Harris (if he plays regularly) this fall.
Wide receiver and tight end remain giant, festering wounds on this roster.
The Patriots must address both positions, either via the NFL Draft in April or through trades. It’s surprising to hear that Belichick reportedly was in on talks involving both DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs, yet decided not to aggressively pursue either superstar. Hopkins, in particular, was had for cheap by the Arizona Cardinals.
What’s the moral of this story?
Now, more than ever, we need to try and remember the classic Patriots Nation motto: “In Bill We Trust.” Some reports have indicated the Belichick does indeed have a plan for how he wants to address the quarterback position. Hopefully, the same is true for every other gaping area of weakness on this roster right now, too.