In 2016 Chris Long approached the New England Patriots and proposed that he take the veteran's minimum so that he could have a chance to win a Superbowl with New England. Fast forward to 2020, and Bill Belichick can't seem to hold on to his players.
Patriots fans are used to guys coming to New England, having a good season, and then bolting for a big contract somewhere else. But I think that it's fair to say that this is getting a little bit ridiculous, and away from just losing Tom Brady this has been one of the weirdest off-seasons in a long time for New England.
The Patriots lost some key pieces of their defense, an important special teams player, and their quarterback of the last 20 years. There's some people that fairly believe the Patriots won't be a good team this season. But despite what some of Pat's Nation might be thinking, and all of the negativity that's coming from the New England faithful, I do hold some hope that Bill Belichick will do what he does best, and that's shock the NFL. Analysts probably aren't going to pick New England to do much of anything in 2020, and at this point I can't blame them, it's not like New England's set themselves up to look like a powerhouse, but we've seen this story before with the Patriots, it's just a little bit different this year.
I think the fairest assessment of the Patriots in 2020 is to say that we don't know exactly what to expect. The AFC East seems to have vastly improved. The Buffalo Bills have made some big moves, including bringing on Stefon Diggs. The Miami Dolphins have added a plethora of defensive players, and it's also expected that they're going to draft a quarterback in this year's draft. The rest of the AFC seems you've gotten better too, the Las Vegas Raiders are expected to be a competitive team, the Indianapolis Colts have signed Philip Rivers, and of course the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs will be seen as the favourites. The Cleveland Browns have added Austin Hooper to their star-studded lineup, and you add a new coach to the mix, on paper the Browns should be a competitive team this season. Then you have the Cincinnati Bengals who are set to draft Joe burrow, and who knows how Cincinnati will look this season.
So where exactly does that leave the Patriots? The answer is we don't know, what we do know is, they've lost a lot of key players.
It doesn't matter that he's 43 years old, losing Tom Brady was the most significant piece to walk away from the Patriots this season. After 20 years of being what some people see as the greatest football player of all time, the locker room leader, and the catalyst behind a lot of Patriots victories, Bill Belichick will be entering the season without the safety blanket of Tom Brady.
The Brady situation is a little bit different, because unlike some of the other players that left in free agency, it doesn't appear the Brady left for the money. Brady and Belichick have had a fractured relationship over the last few years, and considering that the Patriots didn't even make a contract offer to Brady since last August tells you that both guys were ready to move on from each other.
We could take the easy road out right now and say that Brady is old and the cliff may be eminent, so it makes sense that Belichick wanted to move on from Brady before he wasn't good anymore. We could say making a big financial investment into a 43 year old quarterback isn't wise, but it's also a fair assessment to say that the offense was built around Brady, and it will not put some pressure both on Belichick and Josh McDaniels to be able to keep New England competitive.
They're going to be a lot of people in New England watching the Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers very close to this year, and even though the results of this season will not tell us who's more responsible for the dynasty, that's exactly what the narrative is going to be. If the Patriots do struggle this year, and there's a very good chance they could, there will be a lot of uninformed and uneducated so-called Patriots fans pointong to any success Brady has in Tampa Bay, and screaming how Robert Kraft got rid of the wrong person.
Some people who are not in the know seem to think that Bill Belichick is going to be on a short leash, but I don't see it that way. I think that Belichick has earned his right to build the team the way he needs to, and I'm sure if he believes that the Patriots will struggle for a couple of seasons he will inform Robert Kraft of that. He will ensure Kraft that he has a plan, and the Patriots will use the draft and free agency to improve New England in the future.
As big as the quarterback situation is, Brady wasn't the only leader to leave the Patriots. Kyle Van Noy who has made an absolute statement ever since Belichick traded for him from the Detroit Lions departed for the Patriots to their AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins. Nan Noy will reunite with the Patriots former defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Kyle was the least surprising of all the Patriots departures, his play the last couple of seasons had made him one of the most sought out linebackers in the NFL, and I already came to the conclusion in December that Van Not would not be returning to the Patriots for the 2020 season. I do wish that Van Not would have signed somewhere else but Miami, I don't look forward to seeing him for two games this year, it also doesn't help that he's rejoining Flores who was one of the coaches who helped transform Van Noy to the player he became in New England.
One guy that I was hoping the Patriots could hold onto was Jamie Collins, but after returning to the Patriots for one season he showed the NFL that he's worth the big money, and like Van Noy he joined a former Patriots defensive coordinator but not in Miami, Collins signed with Detroit to rejoin Matt Patricia for quite a lucrative contract. One of the best tweets I saw after Collins signed with Detroit, was that he owes Bill Belichick a beach house, because prior to the 2019 season, there wasn't a lineup of teams hoping to sign Collins to a contract, but after having a spectacular season under Bill Belichick's defense, Collins is rolling in the money again.
Jamie was definitely the best signing of the offseason last year, and he brought the most value to the Patriots roster. But the second most valuable player for the Patriots last year as it pertains to the money he was being paid is Danny Shelton. Shelton fell out of favor with the Patriots after the 2018 season, and many people believe that he wouldn't return to New England for 2019. Shelton spent the offseason working out, cutting weight, and getting a little bit more agile, and after signing a $1 million contract with the Patriots, he played out of this world, and performed way outside of the money he was being paid. Shelton will join Collins in Detroit as Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn continue to poach former Patriots players that also includes Danny Amendola and Trey flowers.
Belichick also gifted another Patriots player to Patricia's Lions when he traded Duron Harmon for a late round draft pick. The trade was less shocking to me as it was for others, and I think that more people were shocked because of the amount of players that have left the Patriots rather than the reality of the situation. There were rumours during the preseason last year that the Patriots were actively searching for a trade partner to move on from Harmon. New England still has one of the most stacked secondaries in the NFL, Belichick was able to re-sign Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung is one of the spiritual leaders, Jason McCourty is able to play cornerback and safety, Stephon Gilmore is the defensive player of the year, JC Jackson and Joejuan Williams are still on the team as well as Jonathan Jones. As a secondary they continue to get better, and it becomes more crowded moving on from Harmon made a lot of sense. I suspect Belichick will take a safety in the draft, so saving money on Harmon's contract makes a ton of sense.
The Patriots also lost Elandon Roberts to the Dolphins, and Nate Ebner joined the Patriots former Special Teams coordinator Joe Judge's Giants in New York. This is definitely the biggest roster turnover I can remember since the 2010 season, and I know that a lot of Pat's Nation is weary right now. Patriots fans are also understandably frustrated and upset, but I'd also like you to remember that this is the team that has brought a 6 Super Bowl championships the last 20 years, and even though we feel entitled to win championships every year, every team at some point and time needs to go through some sort of a rebuild, and the Patriots have finally hit that wall.
I have faith that Belichick will do it right, he won't sign anybody just for the sake of signing somebody. It may be two or three years before the Patriots will be back as one of the top teams in the NFL, I just hope that the bandwagon isn't completely unloaded by then.