There’s only one way for the New England Patriots to go: Down. Superbowl stardom is something that most teams could only dream of at the moment, but every year one team gets to tout their shiny Lombardi Trophy (as well as bragging rights) in the faces of 31 other franchises, something the Patriots have done with impunity through the past few seasons. Can the Brady Bunch manufacture success once more? Can Bill Belicheck coach some more WalMart employees to MVP status? Let’s get into it.
In a busy offseason, one loss sticks out above the rest for Patriots fans. Long-time TE Rob Gronkowski retired, taking his final (dented) trophy to the bank. Gronk’s legacy is well established; 79 receiving TD’s and nearly 8000 receiving yards in only 115 career games. He will be sorely missed, considering how rare those once-in-a-generation players are. He wasn’t the only loss this season, but don’t expect any newcomers to have the same impact on the offence that RG87 had. Turns out, the entire position was in for a rebuild, with Dwayne Allen being released and Jacob Hollister being shipped to Seattle for a 7th-round pick.
The offensive line took a bit of a hit, with OL Trent Brown leaving for Oakland to become the highest-paid lineman in league history. They also lost rotational piece LaAdrian Waddle at tackle to Buffalo, where he aims to compete for a starting job. The defensive side of the line took a more substantial whacking, with DE Adrian Clayborn being released and DE Trey Flowers leaving for Detroit, where he’ll play under former Patriots DC Matt Patricia. DT Malcolm Brown left for the bigger payday in New Orleans, and CB Eric Rowe took off to reunite with Brian Flores in Miami.
They also released veteran P Ryan Allen, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson left for Chicago.
Make no mistake, despite the number of their losses this offseason, the Patriots were busy, re-signing DE John Simon, K Stephen Gostowski, WR Phillip Dorsett, and CBs Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones.
They brought in an extensive batch of fresh faces, highlighted by a trade for 33-year old DE Michael Bennett (a notable sack artist) and a 7th-round pick, where they gave up only a 5th-rounder. This bargain signing kept their defensive line from falling apart entirely, a move which they bolstered with 3rd-round DE Chase Winovich.
To supplement a passing game marred by the loss of Gronk, They drafted WR N’Keal Harry 32nd overall in the draft, and signed WRs Maurice Harris, Demaryius Thomas, and Dontrelle Inman in Free Agency. TE Benjamin Watson is returning to the team that drafted him for the first time since 2009, and Matt LaCosse looks to play a backup role to him. The surprise return of Josh Gordon was likely a welcome one for many fans, as he gives a little more versatility to what had been considered a stale receiving core up until this point.
Other notable free agent pickups include RB Brandon Bolden, S Terrence Brooks, DL Mike Pennel, and homecoming king LB Jamie Collins. Spending a 2nd-round pick on CB Joejuan Williams was a smart move, as he looks to reinforce a secondary that was ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed last year. However, using 3rd-rounders on OT Yodny Jacuste and OL Hjalte Froholdt looks to be a small patch on a growing wound on the offensive line.
This offseason was not a bad one for the New England Patriots. They didn’t get worse at many positions but they didn’t get better either, with a rather average amount of turnover but no difficulty finding replacements. Still, the Patriots fared far better than their division rivals in Miami, and look to compete at a similar level to that which they have been known for throughout the past 20 years.
The Patriots will have a hard time being better than they were last season. Missing a few pieces, they will likely figure out their offence as they go and lean on their defence when they can. A playoff lock, New England likely doesn’t have to worry about someone knocking them off their throne quite yet, but they’ll be hard-pressed to replicate the Buffalo Bills and go to their 4th-straight Superbowl. Speaking of the Bills, they, alongside the New York Jets, have the potential to make the leap in the next 2 years as the AFC East heats up. If the Patriots want to try and squeeze a 7th Championship out of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, there’s no time like the present. Good luck, Pats fans.