- The New England Patriots’ offseason has been messier than usual.
- The Patriots saw several of their big-name free agents leave in the offseason and then share some blunt opinions of their time with the team.
- The Patriots are also dealing with uncertainty around Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, as both players appear to be weighing their NFL futures and contract status.
- The team seems to be going through a transitional period, which, while not unusual, has occurred quicker than expected.
Almost as soon as the Super Bowl ended, after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots’ offseason threatened to be more turbulent than ever.
Amid all of this was the impending free agency for several prominent players, Tom Brady’s future as he turns 41, and the reported ongoing tension on the team between Brady, Bill Belichick, and the team owner Robert Kraft.
In the months since, there haven’t been many signs that it’s been a smooth, business-as-usual offseason for the Patriots.
The team was ravaged in free agency, as opponents threw big offers at some of their biggest-name players – they lost top offensive lineman Nate Solder, wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back Dion Lewis, Butler, and offensive tackle Cameron Fleming.
The Patriots signed players like defensive end Adrian Clayborn, running back Jeremy Hill, and offensive lineman Matt Tobin to replace some of those players, but the Patriots mostly lost more talent than they acquired.
Perhaps more concerning were some of the comments made by departed Patriots players.
Amendola told ESPN that playing for Belichick was challenging, calling him an “a–h—” at times, but also rewarding.
“It’s not easy, that’s for sure,” Amendola said. “He’s an a–h— sometimes. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about playing for him, but I must say, the things I didn’t like were all in regards to getting the team better, and I respected him. I didn’t like practicing in the snow, I didn’t like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team, and that was going to make me a better football player.”
Solder wrote in The Players’ Tribune that the atmosphere could be tense, but, like Amendola, it’s part of the reason for their success.
“It can be a tough environment. It’s very businesslike, and at times it can be cold. Everything in New England is predicated on performance. It’s a place where people sometimes treat you differently based on how you practiced that day or how you answered a question in a meeting. One day, you could walk around the facility feeling like a Pro Bowler – the next, like you’re about to get cut.”
Amendola and Lewis both said the contract offers they received from the Patriots were not in line with what others offered, and they didn’t feel particularly wanted.
Butler said he never received an explanation for why he was benched in the Super Bowl, almost ensuring he would be on a different team next season.
While the Patriots’ contract offers would seem to reflect how badly they wanted those players to return, it’s also difficult to replace so many key pieces in one offseason, no matter how talented a team may be at scouting and drafting.
Brady and Gronkowski’s futures are in the air.
There’s even drama with players who are on the roster – for now.
Rob Gronkowski is skipping voluntary team workouts, and while most expect him to play this season, he hasn’t committed to his future. Several reports have suggested that Gronkowski may be angling for a bigger contract.
Brady also hasn’t committed to playing in 2018, though like Gronkowski, the Patriots reportedly think he will play.
However, questions about both players’ relationship with Bill Belichick continue to surface.
NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran reported that Brady is leading a revolt against Belichick’s style. He elaborated on the “PFT PM” podcast that much of Brady’s current lifestyle and attitude runs counter to Belichick’s, threatening one of the sport’s all-time greatest coach-player duos.
The Boston Herald reported this offseason that Belichick chastised Gronkowski in front of other players last season for using Brady’s trainer and business partner Alex Guerrero. Guerrero has reportedly been a source of tension on the Patriots.
If Brady does return this season – again, most expectations are that he will – the Patriots may need to begin considering their long-term relationship with Brady. Gotham Chopra, the director and producer of the “Tom vs. Time” docuseries, told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he doesn’t think Brady will play 4-5 more years, as he had suggested.
In that event, the Patriots may look at drafting a quarterback this season, and they have the draft capital to move up to get a top QB thanks to the Jimmy Garoppolo and Brandin Cooks (another offseason departure) trades. The Patriots could also look to draft a top offensive lineman if they move up, or perhaps they’d rather keep their four picks in the first two rounds to replenish their depth after losing so many key players.
All dynasties come to an end, and it should hardly be surprising given Brady’s age, and the length of the Patriots run that the team seems to be experiencing some setbacks. But the murmurs of discontent and roster turnover, so quickly after the Patriots were heavy Super Bowl favourites, are nonetheless eyebrow-raising.
The Patriots could have several more runs in them, and no team in football has been better at adjusting on the fly, but things seem to be changing right before our eyes.
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