What a difference a year can make.
On March 17, 2020, our Nation was in the process of joining others throughout the world in the beginning stages of fighting a global pandemic; the likes of which had not been seen in recent memory, and which changed our way of living.
However, in New England, that same date took on an even more somber tone when longtime quarterback and team legend Tom Brady took to social media to announce that he would be ‘continuing his football journey elsewhere.’
And while the taste of last year’s news is still bitterly buried in the palate of Patriots fans everywhere, the team made quite a few headlines of its own, just one year later.
Here is a recap of Wednesday’s events from New England:
Kyle Van Noy is “backkk”
As Jon Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles once sang, ‘Who says you can’t go home?”
Taking to social media to post a 33-second hype video to confirm what many believed to be a strong possibility, linebacker Kyle Van Noy announced his return to New England.
Van Noy is back for his second tour of duty with the Patriots, having previously played for the team from 2016 through 2019. During that span, Van Noy played a key role in helping New England to win two Super Bowls, while remaining one of their most durable and versatile defenders. Van Noy started starting 45 games with New England, enjoying his best season in 2019. He compiled 6.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits, while earning his reputation as the Pats’ best pass rusher. In the offseason, he would depart via free agency, signing a four-year, $51 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. Despite having a productive first season in Miami, Van Noy was given his release, in an effort to free up cap space in South Beach.
In his return to New England, Van Noy should one again resume his role as one of the team’s most versatile defenders. Van Noy is equally capable of playing on the edge or off the ball. He will also join the likes of veteran Dont’a Hightower, emerging defensive play-caller Ja’Whaun Bentley, newcomer Matt Judon and sophomores Josh Uche and Anferneee Jennings; the latter two of which Van Noy can be called upon to mentor.
Adieu to Andrews
With news starting to emerge late Tuesday evening that center David Andrews would be testing the free agent waters in 2021, optimism started to wane that the beloved offensive line captain would be returning to Foxboro. On Wednesday, NESN’s Doug Kyed reported that Andrews would not be re-signing with New England, thus beginning a new chapter for the 28-years old. Andrews had been a warrior on the Patriots’ offensive line since signing with the team in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. During that time, he started 69 games for New England, providing stout protection for New England’s quarterbacks. Andrews won two Super Bowls with the franchise and was a perennial team captain. In fact, Andrews continued to serve in that capacity while he was sidelined in 2019, after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs.
However, David Andrews most indelible mark on the only franchise for which he has played so far, will be made by the leadership and perseverance he showed each and every day. Whether it be on the field, or in the locker room, Andrews led by example and played his role as assigned to the best of his ability.
Andrews will be deeply missed in New England. Whichever team for which he plays next, will be getting the services of a great one, and the heart of a champion.
Welcome Back, Karras
Just prior to learning of Andrews’ departure, The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported that the Pats would be signing free agent center Ted Karras. Karras originally joined the Patriots as a sixth-round draft selection in 2016. For his first three years in Foxboro, he was a versatile and valuable depth piece along the interior of New England’s offensive line. Like Andrews, Karras earned two Super Bowl rings with the Pats. In 2019, however, he was elevated to a starting role after Andrews was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Karras filled the role admirably, and parlayed that performance into a free agent contract with the Miami Dolphins. Karras started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2020, earning a spot as an offensive team captain.
With his 2021 return to the Patriots, he is expected to be the team’s starting center, joining an offensive line consisting of tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, and guards Mike Onwenu and Shaq Mason.
Bye, to Butler
As first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, defensive tackle Adam Butler will be leaving New England to take his talents to South Beach. Butler is expected to sign a two-year deal in Miami worth up to $9 million. During this tenure in Foxboro, Butler proved to be one of the Pats most durable and reliable defenders. He appeared in 15 of the Patriots’ 16 games last season, taking the field for 481 snaps. Butler aligned in multiple defensive line techniques throughout the season, often in tandem with fellow defensive tackle Lawrence Guy. Butler proved to be a formidable defender against both the run and the pass, finishing the season with 27 total quarterback disruptions, and four sacks.
In Miami, Butler will join an emerging and talented defense, orchestrated by former Pats’ defensive coach, and current Dolphins head coach, Brian Floers.
J.C. Jackson Gets Second-Round Tender
Along with the arrival of the League year, the Pats’ also faced a 4:00pm deadline to place a tender on restricted free agent (RFA) cornerback J.C. Jackson. Despite having the option to place a first-round tender on the talented defensive back, the Pats chose to place a second-round tender on him. The tender that Jackson received carries a non-guaranteed $3.384 million salary for 2021.
Jackson can now negotiate with other teams through April 23. Should another organization choose to sign Jackson to an offer sheet, the Patriots reserve the right to match that offer sheet, or receive second-round draft compensation if they refuse, freeing Jackson to join his new club.
While placing a first-round tender would have all-but-guaranteed Jackson’s return to New England, there may be several clubs that would be willing to part with a second-round draft selection to sign him. Jackson had nine interceptions in 2020, setting a team-record by recording an INT in five straight games. A player that can offer his youth, athleticism and potential are few and far between in the NFL. However, the reduction in salary cap from 2020 to 2021, combined with the dearth of cap space for several teams may work to the Pats’ advantage. As Evan Lazar of CLNS Media pointed out on Wednesday, the Patriots’ strategy could be to let Jackson gauge his RFA market, in hopes of getting an idea of what a contract extension between the two sides would look like. Tendering him at the first-round level seemingly would not bring about real interest, thus making it more difficult for the Patriots to establish Jackson’s market value.
Cody Davis is Special, Again
The Patriots continue to place a great deal of value in special teams, and the opuput generally results in one of the most solid and well-respected units in the NFL. As such, they will be retaining the services of Cody Davis, a key special-teamed for the club in 2020. Davis will return to New England on a two-year deal. After signing with New England in the 2020 offseason, he appeared in 13 of a possible 16 games for the team in 2020. Davis was employed both on the kickoff return and coverage units as well as the two punt teams. Most notably, he was charged with the role of personal protector for All-Pro punter Jake Bailey, previously held by Nate Ebner.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC