The New England Patriots are the cream of the crop in the AFC East, and while they don’t play the Buffalo Bills until October, we’re previewing the game by reviewing the Patriots offseason with help from our SB Nation partner, Pats Pulpit.
Notable free agent additions: DE Chris Long, LB Shea McClellin, DT Terrance Knighton, WR Chris Hogan
Notable free agent departures: DE Chandler Jones, DT Akiem Hicks
Trades: TE Martellus Bennett (acquired from Bears for 4th-round pick), OG Jonathan Cooper (acquired from the Cardinals with a 2nd-round pick for DE Chandler Jones)
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies:
2nd round CB Cyrus Jones: looks to slot in as the immediate nickel corner
3rd round OG Joe Thuney: playing with the first-team unit at left guard, although the three starting guards from 2015 are all hurt.
3rd round DT Vincent Valentine: Should be the 4th defensive tackle on the field at 20% of the snaps.
4th round WR Malcolm Mitchell: will become the top outside receiver over the coming months.
6th round LB Kamu Grugier-Hill: Projected to be a key special teams contributor.
Biggest offseason addition: TE Martellus Bennett is flying under the radar. He gives the Patriots the best tight end duo in the league and could arguably have been the biggest offensive addition of the offseason in the entire league. He should play 70% of the snaps moving forward, if not more.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: How will the offensive line shake out? Last year, almost every single player battled serious injuries. At tackle, Nate Solder was on the IR, Sebastian Vollmer was concussed and hurt his ankle, and Marcus Cannon had turf toe. At guard, Josh Kline needed shoulder surgery, Tre Jackson needed a knee scope, and Shaq Mason also hurt his knee. Center Bryan Stork started the year on the Short-Term IR list. Solder, Vollmer, Kline, and Jackson haven’t practiced yet this offseason. The health and ability of the line is paramount for the Patriots success.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Can the Patriots extend all of their players? If we look at the three-deep depth chart on defense, we see free agents everywhere. At edge defender, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, and Chris Long will be free agents after the season. At defensive tackle, Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton will be free agents. At linebacker, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will be free agents. At cornerback, Logan Ryan will be a free agent, while Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent. At safety, Duron Harmon will be a free agent.
The fact that the Patriots need to re-sign everyone is not a secret. What might be flying under the radar is the fact that New England is projected to have the most cap space in the entire NFL in 2017. The Patriots will be more able to re-sign their players than most people believe.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: The following players didn’t participate in minicamp: RB LeGarrette Blount (hip), WR Julian Edelman (foot), WR Danny Amendola (knee), OT Nate Solder (biceps), OT Sebastian Vollmer (everything, he’s old), OG Josh Kline (shoulder), OG Tre Jackson (knee). RB Dion Lewis returned to practice after tearing his ACL in 2015.