It’s going to be tough for the New England Patriots to make a playoff push in 2020 without a clear picture of the roster in the first place.
It’s been about two decades since Pats Nation waded through an offseason that wasn’t filled with Super Bowl hopes.
However, with the departure of elite players like Kyle Van Noy, Stephen Gostkowski, and Tom Brady, the team is staring mediocrity straight in the face.
“But wait,” you may cry out, “we still have Coach Belichick! He knows more about the team than we could possibly know! He could make a Super Bowl run with anyone, including Jarrett Stidham!”
Bill Belichick is certainly the league’s greatest coach, but that doesn’t mean that his every season has to be the league’s greatest season.
Armchair GMs around New England were crossing their fingers that the Pats would sign another offensive playmaker like Tampa Bay TE OJ Howard or new Bills WR Stefon Diggs. After all, the team went 12-4 with underwhelming pass-catchers like TE Matt Lacosse and an injured Mohamed Sanu; who’s to say we couldn’t make the Super Bowl with a star or two?
The cap space.
According to OverTheCap.com, the New England Patriots have the second-least cap space in the league, with $1.7 million dollars to spend on new players. The team also has the third-most dead money in the league with $26 million — half of which is going to Tom Brady and $4 million of which is going to Antonio Brown.
Being low on cap space isn’t inherently a bad thing. You could be the Kansas City Chiefs, whose pricey stars are so talented you don’t need to spend much more (until Patrick Mahomes breaks the bank with a new contract).
However, the Pats have the unique distinction of being strapped for cash despite being a squad filled with young, unproven players.
Since so much of New England’s budget is made up of dead money, the team doesn’t have too much wiggle room when it comes to cutting players either. Cutting Dont’a Hightower and/or Devin McCourty would save the most money this offseason, but the moderate amount of cash saved wouldn’t be able to make up for the skill and leadership they would lose.
The fact is, New England can’t afford any free agents that could rescue 2020. They can’t afford Cam Newton, OJ Howard, or anyone that would instantly improve the roster. The Patriots have to run with what they have … and what they have is largely a mystery.
We’ve never known less about this football team.
The quarterback position appears to belong to Jarrett Stidham, who has thrown two passes in the NFL. Bill Belichick implied they wanted to grab a QB in the 2020 draft when he said this, and NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport even claimed the team was considering starting Brian Hoyer over Stidham.
It doesn’t sound like confidence in the young QB is abound.
Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu are both experienced WRs, but their careers are fleeting, and it’s unclear if they’ll be able to bring their usual production to the 2020 season.
There are six other receivers on the roster; between them, there are 41 career catches.
Once former Jaguars WR Marqise Lee signs with the team officially, that adds three more catches since 2017.
The four tight ends on the Pats roster have caught 19 balls.
Fortunately, the offensive line has five proven players, which is technically just about all a team needs. However, behind them on the depth chart are about five linemen who have little to no NFL experience at all.
Belichick picked up three offensive linemen in 2020 who will join two O-linemen drafted in 2019 that missed the season entirely. The four tight ends that often make up the edges of the line are either rookies or second-years. The ceiling for the O-line is high, but with injuries, the floor could be very low.
New England’s RB room isn’t bad, with veteran James White being one of the team’s only remaining deadly weapons. A question mark on the roster is second-year back Damien Harris, who only saw the field on a handful of snaps last year. We don’t know his potential, but I’m not too optimistic given his lack of use in 2019.
Bill Belichick likes to utilize as many running backs as possible in rotation, giving even Brandon Bolden time to shine in some games. If you’re completely sidelined as an RB on the Pats roster, it’s not a good sign.
I could keep going, but I could sum up almost every position on the field with a big “NO ONE KNOWS.”
No one knows if Jarrett Stidham is going to be New England’s future, no one knows if N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers will improve this season, no one knows if the linebacker corps is going to live through its drastic changes, and no one knows if we’ll even have a good kicker in rookie Justin Rohrwasser.
Half of the AFC is in “win now mode.” The Dolphins and Bills are making big changes, the Chiefs and Ravens are expected to remain on top, the Broncos and Steelers are developing tough defenses, and they can all afford to do so with a comfortable salary cap.
Before the Patriots make another playoff push, they have to figure out who they even want to bring with them on the roster. One (possibly virus-shortened) training camp isn’t going to align the stars and give us the team of the future; we need a year to test unproven players and shake off the dead money from Tom Brady and others.
Coach Belichick, by not making splashy plays in the draft, seems to be planning for it. He’s gathering players and figuring out where he wants to take the team from here. After all, the skills of the players on your roster don’t just determine your “power ranking,” but the schemes you work into the playbook.
New England’s had 20 years of dominance, but I don’t want us to get our hopes up for a 21st.
Let’s sit back and plan for the future by using this as a rebuilding year.