NFL Training Camps are expected to officially open on August 17th, after being delayed due to the current pandemic and with the NFL wiping out the entire pre-season schedule. We still do not know what is going on with the current COVID-19 virus but that is not going to stop the NFL from trying to get their players back on the practice fields to prepare for a full 2020 regular season.
This year's Patriots team looks a lot different compared to other years. You still have Bill Belichick as head coach is who entering his 21st year as New England's head man. However there is one name that is significantly missing from this season's training camp, and its a name that we all learned to love over the course of the last 18 years. Tom Brady, left the team in the off-season via free agency, officially ending his 20-year stint with the Patriots.
After Brady left for the Buccaneers, the pieces really started to fall off the wagon on the defensive side of the football as key guys such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts both went on to sign with the Miami Dolphins. linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton both signed with the Detroit Lions. Soon after safety Duron Harmon join them as he was traded to Detroit. Patriots also lost special teams player Nate Ebner as he signed with the New York Giants. Patriots also lost wide receiver Phillip Dorsett as he went on and signed with the Seattle Seahawks.
When the NFL Draft came and went and saw that Patriots did not draft a quarterback nor a wide receiver, it was evident that the team was going to go with what they had at Wide Receiver depth. As it stood the Patriots were planning on starting Jarrett Stidham and having Brian Hoyer as his backup.
All that changed when it was announced on June 29th that the patriots had signed free agent quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year contract. With this signing, it became almost abundantly clear the Patriots were not going to be tanking for Clemson Senior Trevor Lawrence who is projected to be the number one overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Newton has battled shoulder and foot injuries the past couple of seasons, injuries that kept him out all of two games last season. Newton was released by the Carolina Panthers in March after the two sides failed to find a trade.
During his first Press Conference with the media via Zoom, Bill Belichick said that Newton will have to earn the starting job as Belichick anticipates there being a quarterback battle between Newton, Stidham and Hoyer, but most if not all signs point to that Cam Newton will be the Patriots Week One starter.
There were past rumors of a quarterback battle back in 2014 and 2016 between both Brady and then backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Given how Brady had struggled early on in 2014 and how he had to serve his four-game suspension back in 2016, however, both times turned out to be just rumors as Brady was the starter no matter what the situation was.
In past years, we have seen Belichick put together his defense with less pieces. Let's not forget that 2020 is not an ordinary year, in fact this season, the NFL gave players the option to opt out of the 2020 Season due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Given how there is little social distancing involved in football as is, it raised the question of how may opt outs there would be. Surprisingly the Patriots lead the league in opt outs with eight.
The following Patriots players have opted out of the 2020 season: tackle Marcus Cannon, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, tight end Matt LaCosse, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale, wide receiver Marqise Lee and gaurd Najee Toran.
It's important to not that players can still opt out of the 2020 season by retiring. Given the fact that the player would decide to opt out after the deadline they have to retie and forfeit all money that was due to be earned, pay back any signing bonuses, and will not be in line for the stipend salaries $150,000 or $350,000) that are guaranteed to the players that did opt out before the opt out deadline.
With with big holes to fill in linebacker, the Patriots defense might be very challenging as the season begins, however with secondary mostly in tact with Stephon Gilmore, Devin and Jason McCourty still leading the charge, the Patriots defensive should be alright.
The huge question mark remains on the offense. What will the playbook look like, as it will be modified to fit the playing style of either Newton or Stidham (most likely Newton) and how will the receivers respond with the sudden changes. Julian Edelman who is longest tenured guy at the position, could struggle with the modified playbook. The health of both Edelman and Mohamed Sanu will be important as Sanu had lingering ankle injuries, while Edelman was dealing his lingering knee issues to go along with his shoulder. The weakened offensive line with Cannon now out, will make it difficult for pass protection. The Patriots do get the benefit of David Andrew back as the center.
Belichick and the rest of the coaching staff certainly have their work cut for them but with adversity comes a test of who is ready to come up big and make a name for themselves. Next man up is Belichick's mentality, and that will not change one bit.
Record Projection: 10-6 would be a modest record for the Patriots this season, but it will all depend on the health of key players and if those same players don't decide to retire for the 2020 season because of the pandemic. If that happens, that win total could go down.
The Patriots have had only one losing season under Belichick and only season where the team failed to win 10 games. The team went 5-11 in 2000 (Belichick's first season) and 9-7 in 2002 (Belichick's third season). The Patriots have won 10 or more games 18 times in 20 seasons
What do the 2020 Patriots have in store for us? We have to wait and find out.