How many times are media members, the supposed “experts”, going to fall into the same trap? On top of that, how many fans are going to take the bait, read the foolish drivel that is called journalism, and run out and call sports radio to spew the same nonsense? The days of critical thinking, research, and common sense have gone the way of ignorance, assumptions based off misleading headlines, and turning a blind eye to the obvious truth. It is amazing to me that as we enter deeper into the information age, people are getting progressively ignorant about basically everything, especially sports.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about by now, then you really haven’t paid attention since New England lost to Philadelphia in the Super Bowl this past February. The Patriots are dead, supposedly, and it is so obvious that these so called experts can’t understand why anyone would say otherwise. Well, that is what I am here to do, just like I did in 2009 when I wrote an article for Bleacher Report about the exact same subject. History is repeating itself, and the mainstream media is simply ignoring it.
The Patriots, at least the 2018 version, are probably the most flawed Patriots team since 2009. They struggle on third down on both sides of the ball, they have a lack of real depth at the wide receiver position, their starting tight end is a shell of himself, Tom Brady is still very good, but his relationship with the team is…weird. All of this stuff is real, but so were the issues in ‘09 as Moss became targeted too much, or in ‘06 when they basically had no receivers for Brady to throw to. But this isn’t the ‘09 group, because these guys continue to fight; the ‘09 group had quitters, and there isn’t anything you can do about that. This current group has fighters, which always gives you a chance to win.
It has never been all perfect, but the train keeps rolling along somehow. Brady already said he is preparing to play next season, so adding to and continuing the THIRD rebuild on the fly of this run will be a delicate balance, but we’ve already seen the start of the rebuild this year. New England is said to be an old team, and if you look up the average age on their roster going into the 2018 season, the Patriots were tied with the Panthers for 29th in roster age, which basically means they ARE old. I’m not one to argue with facts, but the average age of the roster is skewed due to some grey beards. Instead of wasting our time breaking down the 2018 roster, we are going to breakdown the 2019 roster just to see how “dead” this dynasty really is.
30 & Over: The Gray Beards
The Patriots have 13 players under contract over the age of 30 in ‘19, and a lot of them contribute. Some of those guys won’t be returning; here is the list of players over 30 that are under contract for 2019:
*Age is what they’ll be during the 2019 season
Tom Brady, 42
Matthew Slater, 34
Brian Hoyer, 34
Julian Edelman, 33
Devin McCourty, 32
Patrick Chung, 32
Marcus Cannon, 31
Adrian Clayborn, 31
Nate Ebner, 31
James Develin, 31
Rob Gronkowski, 30
James Ferentz, 30
As you can see, there are some important players on this list. Brady is the only one that is most likely to be on the roster; everyone else has the potential to be released. Gronkowski, for what he is now, is simply too expensive. His cap hit of $12 million, even with the $2 million in dead cap they’d absorb, is WAY too much. If he decides to continue playing, he needs to understand that his salary will be half of what he originally expected, if not less.
Devin McCourty is in the same exact situation; he is scheduled to make $13.5 million, which is, again, WAY too much. If they cut him, they take on $3.9 million in dead cap, but they save $10 million on the 2019 cap, and he is off the books completely in 2020 (as is Gronkowski). McCourty can still play, and they want to keep him, but if he doesn’t renegotiate his contract, he will most likely be released.
Adrian Clayborn ($6 mil cap hit, $2 mil dead cap) is another candidate to be cut considering his production-to-salary ratio. Don’t freak out about the dead money either, at least not in 2019. I’ll explain why later in the article (which means you have to keep reading.) Matthew Slater has a contract that could get him cut too- $3 million cap hit, $500k in dead cap if he is cut. If they see any drop in his special teams production, he could see a pink slip too.
Everyone else (Brady, Hoyer, Edelman, Chung, Cannon, Ebner, Develin, Ferentz) should be safe, unless they walk away on their own or their performance falls off a cliff from now until Week One of 2019, which does happen.
One name that isn’t on this list- Stephen Gostkowski, who will be an unrestricted free agent. There are rumors of the Patriots using the franchise tag on him, which would put him right in the same financial slot he’s been in for the last five years. They may move on, but he is only going to be 35 during the 2019 season, and he has been very consistent. We’ll go more in depth on this at the end when we discuss free agency.
26-29: The Prime Guys
A large chunk of the players under contract for 2019 fall into this category, but there are also a few on this list who could be cut because their contract doesn’t match their ability anymore. Remember, the listed age is how old they will be when the 2019 season begins. Let’s take a look.
Stephon Gilmore, 29
Dont’a Hightower, 29
Dwayne Allen, 29
Lawrence Guy, 29
Rex Burkhead, 29
Kyle Van Noy, 28
Duron Harmon, 28
James White, 27
David Andrews, 27
Joe Thuney, 27
Joe Cardona, 27
Shaq Mason, 26
Brandon King, 26
Ted Karras, 26
Jake Hollister, 26
Out of the 15 players listed, eight are full-time starters. Allen, Burkhead, Harmon, Cardona, King, Karras, and Hollister are all either special teams starters, or contributors on offense or defense. Although this is a solid core group for the 26-29 age bracket, one of the bigger names and contributors of this group may have to take a paycut or he could be a candidate to be released.
Dont’a Hightower, who has been a huge contributor to two Super Bowl wins and three appearances, may be at the end of the road in New England if he isn’t willing to rework his deal. He’s on the books for $10,375,000, which is a lot of money for the production he now provides. Releasing him will only save $5,375,000 because he would leave $5 mil in dead cash on the books. Yes, they would save money, but he is still on the books for 2020, and he would leave $2.5 mil in dead money in 2020 also. New England will likely ask him to take a reduced deal, and if he isn’t willing to do it, they may stick with him for the 2019 season and then release him in the 2020 offseason.
Dwayne Allen is also in danger next offseason; he counts for $7.4 million against the cap, and there is no dead money if he is released. Yes, he is a good blocker, but he provides nothing in the passing game, and they need to revamp this position anyways. Cut Allen, and use that money to find a tight end that can help in the passing game. Bringing Allen back for cheaper money would not be a bad thing considering he does provide decent depth, but not at the number he is currently scheduled to receive. I’ll go out on a limb and guarantee Allen reworks his deal or is released.
Gilmore, Guy, and Van Noy are all starters or on defense with good contracts (Gilmore is worth every penny), so those guys aren’t going anywhere. Andrews, Thuney, and Mason make up the interior of the offensive line, and they’re probably the most underrated trio in the league. Thuney is in-line to get paid, and that will probably happen this upcoming offseason. Besides Hightower and Allen, the rest of these players are virtual locks for the 2019 roster.
22-25: The Future
The Patriots have 16 players that fall into this category. This is an interesting group because there are current contributors, some starters, most off the bench, but there are also two guys who went on IR but are potential future stars.
Isaiah Wynn, 24
Sony Michel, 24
Duke Dawson, 24
Derek Rivers, 25
Obi Melifonwu, 25
Deatrich Wise, 25
Elandon Roberts, 25
Adam Butler, 25
Ja’ Whaun Bentley, 23
Keion Crossen, 23
J.C. Jackson, 24
Darren Andrews, 24
Keionta Davis, 22
Christian Sam, 23
Braxton Berrios, 23
Ryan Izzo, 23
Quite a mix of talent they have here with the young core; starters (Sony Michel, J. C. Jackson, Deatrich Wise, Elandon Roberts, and Ja’Whaun Bentley before he tore his bicep), another potential starter in left tackle Isaiah Wynn, solid depth/developmental players in Duke Dawson, Derek Rivers, Obi Melifonwu, Adam Butler, Keion Crossen, and Keionta Davis. Christian Sam, Braxton Berrios, and Ryan Izzo all showed potential in the 2018 preseason before landing on IR, and some (me) believe they basically redshirted those three for 2019. Darren Andrews is pretty much unknown because he was signed during the season, but they like something they see. This is an area where supposed experts say the Patriots fall short, but they are simply wrong.
How many teams that went 11-5 or better have two rookies as very good starters? There aren’t many (Colts are the exception), and next year they get Ja’Whaun Bentley back, who looked like the best rookie of the whole group. Isaiah Wynn also returns off his Achilles injury, and he’ll be expected to win or at least push for the starting left tackle position. Yes, there are many question marks with a lot of these players, but they all fit the mold of player the Patriots have drafted and excelled with, so if you’re a betting man, bet that Belichick and his staff know what they are doing with “The Future” crew, and most of the names on this list are going to be key starters and contributors for many years to come.
The 2019 NFL Draft
This is where the Patriots have to do damage, plain and simple. Last year sitting in the media room at Gillette watching trade after trade, all I could think about was this- Bill is loading up for a huge ‘19 roster influx. Looking at their financial situation, it makes sense to do it through the draft. The Patriots have 12 picks in 2019 NFL Draft, and six of them come in the first three rounds. If they hit on just half of those picks, they will put themselves in the same position they’ve been in for two decades- loaded and ready to win now and into the future.
Here are the Patriots 2019 draft picks:
We spoke about taking on dead money and how 2019 was the season to do it, and I promised if you kept reading, you would see my point. Congratulations, you made it! With 12 draft picks, the Patriots have the ability to draft players, sign them to cheap rookie deals, then they can come in and replace the high-priced veterans that leave dead money behind. Instead of trying to replace them in free agency and potentially doubling the problem with dead money, it is much easier to simply replace them with a young, hungry players with very manageable contracts, not to mention the young guys are typically healthier too.
Belichick and Caserio have also been excellent at identifying undrafted rookie free agents, and typically they find two to three each year that not only make the roster, but eventually start (J.C. Jackson). This ability to identify contributing players that aren’t drafted gives the Patriots a HUGE advantage when it comes to team building because they are able to use another tool of acquiring talent to continue to field the best team possible. Every team gets lucky sometimes, but the Patriots use the UDFA pool better than anyone in the game.
2019 NFL Free Agency
The Patriots have a whopping 20 free agents coming off the books after 2018, with just three of them being restricted (one is Josh Gordon, who is facing a lifetime ban). They also have the aforementioned top heavy contracts in 2019 with Brady ($27 mil cap hit), Stephon Gilmore ($14.8 mil cap hit), Devin McCourty ($13 mil cap hit), Rob Gronkowski ($12 mil cap hit), Dont’a Hightower ($10.3 mil cap hit), Dwayne Allen ($7.4 mil cap hit), and Adrian Clayborn ($6 mil cap hit). Like we discussed earlier, I expect Gronkowski to retire, which will save them $10 mil due to the $2 mil in dead cap money he would leave behind.
First and foremost, the Patriots need to re-sign Trey Flowers, who will be an unrestricted free agent. There is money to spend on him, and they need to get that done. Flowers is one of the best defenders in football, and he is going to demand top dollar. Pay it, I don’t care if they have to guarantee a large chunk of it. He is the straw that stirs the drink on that defense, and if they lose him, they will take a HUGE step back.
Other than Flowers, there are no true stars on this list, but there are some guys on there that I’m sure they would like to bring back if the price is right. Jason McCourty has actually been very good for New England, and he is the type of guy I can see them bringing back, especially if Devin agrees to a new deal. Danny Shelton, Cordarelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Trent Brown, Jeremy Hill, Jonathan Jones, Chris Hogan, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski, and LaAdrian Waddle are all either starts or major contributors, so there is a good chance most of these guys return. One free agent that most likely won’t be returning is Malcom Brown, who has been extremely disappointing in 2018, and really has regressed every year since he was a rookie.
New England currently has just over $25 million dollars in cap space in 2019, and that money is spent on 43 players. If you consider the contracts they will purge or adjust, they are in great position because so much money is tied up in so few players, that will give them plenty of money to spend on guys they want to keep, draft picks, and unrestricted free agents. Flowers is likely to take up roughly $15 million per year if they sign him. That leaves them just over $10 million before doing anything. Let’s say they release Allen and Clayborn, and Gronkowski decides to retire. That would then give them $31 million in space, which could be used for draft picks, current free agents who most likely won’t demand top dollar, and also try to steal some free agents that might want to come to a good situation. Throw in a Brady, McCourty, and Hightower contract restructures, they could be potentially be looking at another $15-20 million in cap space on top of what they already have. .
Here are a few free agents who could help the Patriots in areas of need in 2019:
Adam Humpheries, WR- Strong slot receiver who is just entering his prime. He is most likely a Patriot target in free agency.
Quincy Enunwa, WR- Enunwa is a good player, and he has hurt the Patriots in his Jets days. If he takes low money, which he will, he could be a potential target because he fits the offense.
Tyrell Williams, WR- The deep threat from San Diego would give the Patriots a legitimate wide receiver that can stretch the field.
John Brown, WR- Brown falls into the same category as Williams, but he may be a better fit in the Patriots offense because he can run the shorter routes better than Williams.
Kevin White, WR- The Patriots LOVE 1st round pick reclamation projects, and White is the perfect candidate for that role in 2019. His best game in 2018 came against the Patriots when he had two catches for 64 yards.
Jared Cook, TE- He is 32 and would probably want a decent contract, but you never know with guys that are getting towards the end and want to win. Playing for the Raiders cannot be fun because they just don’t win, and Gruden seems like a lunatic. Would he be willing to come to New England for a year for a decent deal to try and win a title? It is not out of the realm of possibility.
Matt Lengel, TE- Lengel would be a depth addition, especially if Allen doesn’t return, but they know what they would get in him. Lengel makes more sense if they are looking to add a tight end early in the draft, which many believe they are (including yours truly.)
Teddy Bridgewater, QB- Bridgewater appears to be healthy since his return from a gruesome knee injury almost three years ago, and the Patriots need to seriously start thinking about what they are going to do to replace Tom Brady. Bridgewater could be signed to a deal that pays him as a top backup to appease him for two years until Brady retires. Who says they need to find the heir apparent in the draft? Bridgewater is only 26 years old, and he is a great fit in the Patriots offense. Keep an eye on this one; they could simply cut Hoyer, eat the dead money, and use some of his money plus cap cash towards Bridgewater.
Lorenzo Alexander, LB/DE- Another veteran (36) that could be willing to take a one-year title-chasing deal that many great teams have signed throughout the history of the NFL, the Patriots being no different. They know Alexander from having faced him when he was with Buffalo; he can absolutely help the 2019 Patriots, and it would buy them time to develop players at this position, which is a weak point on their roster.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE- Pipe dream, no question, but nobody would have guessed in a million years that they were going to give Stephon Gilmore a huge deal and eventually let Malcolm Butler walk. If Belichick loves Clowney and thinks he is a game-changer, who is to say he doesn’t aggressively pursue him and fill all the rest of the holes in the draft and cheap free agents? When you have 12 draft picks, it allows you to maybe take some chances in free agency. Clowney would be a force opposite Flowers.
Not only is this team far from dead, they are once again in a rebuilding-while-winning stage. Yes, there are some challenges, but the majority of their offensive line is under the age of 26, and they have young starters littered throughout the offense and the defense. There are young players coming back from injury that should start and contribute, and with a boatload of draft picks in a deep draft, the “old” Patriots are about to become very young again while maintaining the leadership of their veterans while the train keeps rolling.
They need to add talent at wide receiver, find a new tight end, add some athleticism and talent to the linebacking core, and find another interior defensive lineman. It may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t when you have the right people in place to find said players, and luckily for the Patriots and their fans, they have that in Bill Belichick and Co.
Ignore what you hear on sports radio and from the national media when it comes to the Patriots and their eminent death; they have a potential Super Bowl run on the horizon if the play to their potential, and they have all the pieces in place to keep this franchise competing for Super Bowls for years to come.
-Christopher Simoneau is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @chris_simoneau