The defending AFC champion New England Patriots had an interesting offseason and lost some big-name players who showed up in big spots. Monday nights, championship games, Super Bowls, last-minute plays—these guys did it. Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Malcolm Butler and Danny Amendola are losses, on and off the field. But this is the NFL, which famously stands for NOT FOR LONG. Changes happen, and the team added some talent via free agency, the draft and trades. Let’s take a quick look at how the Pats look as training camp draws near.
The Solder loss is obviously huge, but the team loaded up on talent on the offensive line and Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best coaches in the NFL. PERIOD. Between LaAdrian Waddle, Trent Brown, and Isaiah Wynn, the left tackle position will be okay. I think the O line group will not fall apart. Remember this also: The Pats quarterback is decent and gets the ball out. FAST. The team has an elite tight end in Rob Gronkowski and always keeps a back in help in pass pro. Seven men blocking for 12? I like our odds.
I am a big fan of both Dola and Lewis. They both stepped up huge for us in big spots and played best in big games. Neither had a crazy contract offer so that makes it more frustrating. I honestly think this was about role and use. In the Patriots system, the carries and catches are spread out. And both players have had injury issues. Part of the reason #80 was so strong in the post season is the team did not run him into the ground with Julian Edelman out. The Pats loaded up at running back in the offseason- drafting Sony Michel, resigning Rex Burkhead and adding Jeremy Hill in free agency. Backs on this team must pass protect and run routes. There are no easy downs. Multiple backs play and the roles change week to week. Ask your friends who play fantasy football. A runner who has three touchdowns in week one barely played after week six.
Look at the wide receiver depth chart. The team has seven pros back. Edelman and Malcom Mitchell missed all of 2017. Kenny Britt is back for a full season, Cordarrelle Patterson is a new toy for the team and an elite return guy. Do not forget the Pats play Gronk a lot and almost always have at least one running back in the game. They run a lot of 11 personnel—one tight end and one back. That means three wide receivers in the game. They have seven who can play. Danny is now the #1 receiver in Miami. You would leave too for good money. This is the rare deal that works for all three parties—old team, player, new team. My guess is by week three Danny might miss TB12 after two or three games with Ryan Tannehill.
The Malcolm Butler thing is what it is. I think the team lost a solid player in the last offseason when they did not pay and shopped him. #21 was an emotional guy and max effort player. He seemed lost at times and had an uneven year. His lack of size versus bigger receivers is a huge deal—see the Carolina game. And the team was not going to pay big $$$ for a number two cornerback after paying Stephon Gilmore last offseason. Jason McCourty is a top three corner and like his brother, a low-maintenance, high-character, shows up Sunday guy. I like Malcolm and what he brought to the team, but this is a business and biz wise, the Pats did the right thing. So did #21.
The team really invested in the front seven in the offseason—draft, free agency, and trades—should turn this group around. Big time. The defensive line is ten deep and can rotate guys
all day. Both Adrian Clayborn and Danny Shelton should start and Derek Rivers looked awesome before he missed the season with a knee injury. Deatrich Wise and Vince Valentine could really step up in years two and three. I love this group. The Pats linebackers get better by just having Donta Hightower back. The team plays two linebackers most the game and when he is out there with Kyle Van Noy, the entire D looks BETTER. Harvey Langi was showing promise before his car accident and rookies Christian Sam and J’Whaun Bentley could get playing time. The Patriots defense will be MUCH improved in 2018. MARK MY WORDS.