2019 NFL Offseason: New England Patriots

New England Patriots (Last Year: 11-5)

2019 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Maurice Harris, WR Dontrelle Inman, DE Michael Bennett, DE John Simon, NT Mike Pennel, OLB Jamie Collins, S Terrence Brooks.
Early Draft Picks:
WR N’Keal Harry, CB Joejuan Williams, DE/OLB Chase Winovich, RB Damien Harris, OT Yodny Cajuste, G Hjalte Froholdt, QB Jarrett Stidham. Patriots Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Chris Hogan, TE Dwayne Allen, OT Trent Brown, DE Trey Flowers, CB Eric Rowe, KR Cordarrelle Patterson.

2019 New England Patriots Offense:
Will Tom Brady ever slow down and succumb to Father Time? It doesn’t seem like that will ever be the case, as Tom Brady turns 42 in August, yet is still the best quarterback in the NFL. Brady, who just claimed his sixth Super Bowl victory, threw for 4,355 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2018, despite working with a diminished supporting cast.

Speaking of the supporting cast, it took an even greater hit earlier in the offseason when Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement. Gronkowski lost a step (or five) this previous season and had issues getting open, but he was still a dangerous threat in the end zone. Gronkowski could decide to change his mind and return to the team, while it’s less likely that Josh Gordon will be around. Gordon was indefinitely suspended because Roger Goodell treats his job as if he were a Saudi Arabian dictator.

With Gronkowski possibly retired and Gordon gone, the Patriots had to find some talent around Brady this offseason. They didn’t really do much in free agency, bringing in a couple of middling wideouts like Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman. It didn’t seem like anything would happen in this regard, but then New England used its first-round pick on wide receiver N’Keal Harry. The Arizona State product is a huge target (6-4, 213) who figures to become a potent end-zone presence. Harry has been lining up all over the place in OTAs, so there’s a good possibility that he’ll be Brady’s top target after Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman if Gronkowski remains retired.

In addition to Gronkowski and Gordon, the Patriots lost another valuable member of their team this offseason, as tackle Trent Brown signed with the Raiders. After Brady, Bill Belichick and Edelman, it could be argued that Brown was most instrumental to New England’s playoff success. Brown did a terrific job of keeping the dynamic Chief and Charger edge rushers out of the backfield. Brown will be replaced by 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn. The Georgia product suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason last August, so this will be the first time he takes the field in the pros. Wynn was projected as a guard in the 2018 NFL Draft, so it was a surprise that the Patriots were interested in him as their blind-side protector. He certainly has some big shoes to fill. He’ll bookend Marcus Cannon, a solid right tackle.

Fortunately for New England, the team has outstanding blocking in the interior to counter the expected downgrade it’ll have at left tackle. Guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney are both outstanding, especially the former, while center David Andrews is excellent in pass protection.

With only one downgrade on the offensive line, the Patriots figure to run the ball very well again. Sony Michel, also a 2018 first-round selection, eclipsed the century mark in two of three playoff performances, and the one exception was a 94-yard effort versus the Rams’ stellar defense. Michel should have an even better 2019 campaign, now that he has more experience. James White, meanwhile, will continue to serve as Brady’s safety valve on third downs.

2019 New England Patriots Defense:
Like the offense, New England’s defense lost an important member of the unit, so the team could be worse on this side of the ball because of what transpired this offseason. Trey Flowers is the player in question, as he departed for Detroit in free agency.

Flowers was the Patriots’ best pass rusher last year, and it wasn’t even close. No one on New England’s roster logged more than 4.5 sacks, save for Flowers, so he’ll somehow have to be replaced. The Patriots signed Michael Bennett, but given that he’s turning 34 during the season, he’s no longer the dominant defensive lineman he once was. Bennett recorded nine sacks for the Eagles last year, so he can still play very well, but he won’t be able to duplicate what Flowers provided. He’ll bookend Deatrich Wise Jr., who is just a mediocre player. Third-round rookie Chase Winovich might be able to contribute, but that’s an unknown.

It would help if the Patriots were able to generate an interior pass rush. That, however, has not been the case for quite some time. Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel and Danny Shelton are all solid defensive tackles, but all of them specialize in stopping the run. It’ll be very difficult to move the chains on the ground versus New England, but there will definitely be a lack of interior pressure.

With a declining pass rush, the Patriots’ secondary will have to perform better. There’s no reason to expect that shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore will regress, but the same can’t be said of Jason McCourty, who pondered retirement this offseason. McCourty turns 32 in August, so natural regression is bound to happen. Perhaps second-round rookie Joejuan Williams will be able to thrive right away, but he doesn’t have any experience, so relying on him could be treacherous.

Jason McCourty has a twin brother, Devin, who obviously also turns 32 in August. Devin McCourty also thought about retirement this offseason, so his on-field performance could decline as well. If so, this will really hurt the Patriots, given that they don’t have much else at the position. Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon are both just middling talents.

Meanwhile, the Patriots added one defensive veteran of note, excluding the front line. That was Jamie Collins, who was released by the Browns. Collins once thrived for the Patriots, but didn’t perform nearly as well in Cleveland. Given that Collins is familiar with the scheme, he could slide right in and revive his career. He’ll play next to talented, but oft-injured Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy, who is just a serviceable role player.

2019 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Since 2003, the Patriots are 127-21 at home. They’ve been a near-perfect 51-6 as hosts in the past 57 games, with two losses coming against the Bills without Tom Brady. New England was 9-0 at home last year.

Stephen Gostkowski didn’t have a great 2018 campaign, going just 27-of-32, including 2-of-5 from 50-plus. He’s still one of the better kickers in the NFL, however.

Ryan Allen was a middling punter last year, finishing 19th in net average.

New England was average elsewhere on special teams, outgaining the opposition on kick returns, while losing on punt returns. Kickoffs could be worse this year with Cordarrelle Patterson gone.

The Patriots usually have six easy victories against their weak divisional foes, but the Jets and Bills are both expected to be much better this year. With that in mind, New England has a mixed schedule overall.

2019 New England Patriots Rookies:
Go here for the Patriots Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2019 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2019 New England Patriots Analysis: The Patriots just won their sixth Super Bowl, but a seventh will be a difficult feat this season. Not only does New England have to battle a Super Bowl hangover; it’ll be without its top pass rusher and talented left tackle from last year. Meanwhile, Tom Brady turns 42 in August. It’s unlikely that he’ll regress because of his tireless work ethic and diet, but his play has to drop off at some point, and it could happen in 2019. Despite all of this, however, the Patriots are still one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

Projection: 11-5 (1st in AFC East)

2018 Projection: 14-2. 2018 Actual Result: 11-5.
2017 Projection: 14-2. 2017 Actual Result: 13-3.
2016 Projection: 12-4. 2016 Actual Result: 14-2.

NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: Outside of Julian Edelman, the Patriots don’t have any offensive play-makers in the wake of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement. Two will need to be acquired in the 2019 NFL Draft to help Tom Brady. And speaking of Brady, the Patriots should find his successor, given that he turns 42 in August. As for the defense, New England will have to find a replacement for the departed Trey Flowers.

2019 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Patriots didn’t end up using two picks on downfield play-makers for Tom Brady, and they shockingly didn’t spend a single selection on a tight end. However, their first-round choice was used on a receiver, N’Keal Harry. The talented Arizona State product should replace the suspended Josh Gordon as Brady’s top downfield threat. Another weapon should have been added, but perhaps the Patriots have their eye on a tight end who could hit free agency following this weekend, like the Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph, who is being replaced by Irv Smith Jr.

Including the Harry pick, three of New England’s first four choices were graded as an A+ or an “A.” This includes high-effort edge rusher Chase Winovich, who out-produced Rashan Gary at Michigan, as well as running back Damien Harris, who could have been taken off the board an entire round prior to No. 87. The lone criticism I have of the Patriots’ first two days was the pick used on cornerback Joejuan Williams. That wasn’t a horrible decision by any means, but it was a bit of a reach.

It was hardly a surprise that the Patriots put together a great draft class. Aside from wasting a pick on a punter, all of their moves were logical, and they deserve an overall grade to reflect that.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

32. N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State A- Grade
I mocked Parris Campbell to the Patriots for weeks, but it ended up being another receiver. N’Keal Harry makes just as much sense as Campbell, so I like this pick. Harry was highly productive at Arizona State, but had some speed concerns. He proved his detractors wrong at the combine, elevating himself into the first round. He should be a terrific downfield weapon in the final years of Tom Brady’s career.

45. Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt C Grade
I don’t understand why the Patriots traded up for Juejuan Williams. I thought there was a good chance they could obtain him or someone comparable at the end of the second frame, which is where I had him pegged. I don’t think Williams is ready to start right away, as he’s just a developmental, athletic player with great size at this point. The Patriots need a cornerback for the future, so it makes sense to take Williams, but I don’t believe that trading up for him was necessary.

77. Chase Winovich, DE/OLB, Michigan A Grade
Chase Winovich is the exact opposite of Rashan Gary. While Gary, the 12th-overall pick, has extreme athleticism, he didn’t try very hard at Michigan and failed to live up to expectations. Chase Winovich isn’t the same sort of athlete – though he tested better than expected – but he works hard and has a motor that doesn’t quit. He was more productive than Gary. He’s a Patriots type of player, and he should’ve been drafted a round earlier than this. New England made an outstanding selection with Winovich.

87. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama A+ Grade
This is one of the top picks of the third round. The Patriots needed to find a running back to play alongside Sony Michel and James White, as giving the ball to the plodding Rex Burkhead is always a wasted down. Harris is not only a talented runner, but also a stellar pass protector. He was also a team captain at Alabama, so I can’t say I’m surprised that New England made this selection.

101. Yodny Cajuste, OT, West Virginia B Grade
Yodny Cajuste doesn’t have an extensive history with football because he grew up as a basketball player. He’s far from fully developed, but has the upside to eventually become a starter in the NFL. He has a low floor as well, however. That said, this is the right range for Cajuste, so this is a fine pick.

118. Hjalte Froholdt, G, Arkansas B+ Grade
I had Hjalte Froholdt being chosen around this range, so this pick makes sense for the Patriots. Froholdt is an athletic guard, but must develop some strength. The upside is definitely there though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he emerged as a starter in the near future.

133. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn B Grade
I wasn’t a fan of Jarrett Stidham, but that’s when I thought he would be chosen in the third round. I think the fourth frame makes sense for Stidham. He has a great arm and upside, and he also has high character traits. However, he has zero pocket awareness, so he’s a major project. It’ll be interesting to see what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels do with him.

159. Byron Cowart, DT, Maryland C- Grade
Byron Cowart is a fringe draftable prospect, so the Patriots could’ve done better in the fifth round. Cowart lacks experience and good athleticism. He wasn’t productive at Maryland. He doesn’t strike me as a smart football player. I’m not exactly sure what he does well outside of holding up well in run support.

163. Jake Bailey, P, Stanford GENE SMITH Grade
Not only did the Patriots waste a fifth-round pick on a punter; they traded up for a punter! THERE’S NO REASON TO TRADE UP FOR A PUNTER, EVER, UNLESS HE CAN BLAST 100-YARD PUNTS WITH A BIONIC LEG!!!

252. Ken Webster, CB, Ole Miss A- Grade
Ken Webster used to be a late first-round pick in my mock draft. He had a brilliant start to his career at Ole Miss, but following an injury and an arrest, his play completely fell off. However, Webster tested extremely well at the combine, so perhaps the Patriots believe he can return to pre-2016 form. With a pick this late, why not take a shot?

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
Tom Brady won Super Bowl No. 6. Amazing. The Patriots struggled at points during the year, losing to the likes of the Lions, Jaguars and Dolphins, but in the end, they were world champions once again.

Offseason Moves:
  • Patriots sign OLB Jamie Collins
  • Patriots sign WR Dontrelle Inman
  • Patriots sign OT Jared Veldheer
  • Patriots sign WR Demaryius Thomas
  • Patriots sign TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
  • Patriots cut DE Adrian Clayborn
  • Patriots sign NT Mike Pennel
  • Patriots sign TE Matt LaCosse
  • Patriots sign S Terrence Brooks
  • Patriots sign WR Maurice Harris
  • Patriots sign DE John Simon
  • Patriots sign RB Brandon Bolden
  • Patriots acquired DE Michael Bennett, 2020 7th-rounder from Eagles for 2020 5th-rounder

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Wide Receivers: The Patriots don’t have anyone who can get open besides Julian Edelman. Josh Gordon, of course, has been suspended indefinitely for no good reason, but even when he was playing, the Patriots needed another receiver to join him and Edelman at the position. Signed Demaryius Thomas, Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris

    2. Tight End: Speaking of players unable to get open, Rob Gronkowski also struggled to do so. It seems as though his career is just about over. The Patriots could pull the trigger on one of the three first-round tight end prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft. Signed Austin Seferian-Jenkins

    3. Linebacker: Moving on to the defense, the Patriots have to fix their linebacking corps. They’ve had trouble covering space for far too many seasons. They need to add a talented linebacker to join Dont’a Hightower. Signed Jamie Collins

    4. Defensive Tackle: The Patriots have also needed a player who can produce an interior pass rush for quite some time as well. This is the year to obtain a player of that sort, as the 2019 NFL Draft class is stacked on the defensive line. Signed Mike Pennel

    5. Two Defensive Ends: Trey Flowers was the best player on New England’s defense, but he’s an impending free agent. Still, even with Flowers, the Patriots needed another edge rusher. Traded for Michael Bennett

    6. Young Quarterback: Tom Brady turns 42 in August. He hasn’t shown much regression, but that could easily change very quickly. The Patriots need to find a successor.

    7. Safety: The Patriots could stand to improve at safety, as Patrick Chung has been a pedestrian player for them for quite some time. Signed Terrence Brooks

    8. Left Tackle: Trent Brown had a great year with the Patriots, but his contract is set to expire. He’ll need to be re-signed. Signed Jared Veldheer

    9. Cornerback: Jason McCourty is another key free agent-to-be. He’ll need to be retained or replaced. Re-signed Jason McCourty

    10. Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski is coming off a poor year by his standards. Still, the Patriots should re-sign him before his contract expires. Re-signed Stephen Gostkowski

    11. Punter: Ryan Allen is an impending free agent as well. Re-signed with Patriots

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2019 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Mike Pennel, NT, Jets. Age: 28.
      Signed with Patriots

      Mike Pennel didn’t register a single sack in 2018, but he was a stout run stopper. The Jets let him go because he doesn’t fit the new 4-3 defense.

    2. Jamie Collins, OLB. Age: 29.
      Signed with Patriots

      Jamie Collins was once a valuable member of New England’s defense. The Patriots then traded Collins to Cleveland, where he had two-and-a-half disappointing seasons. Cutting Collins, who turns 30 in October, was a no-brainer for the Browns, as his release clears $10.5 million off the books.

    3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Jaguars. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots

      Austin Seferian-Jenkins had a great year in 2017 for the Jets, but did nothing in Jacksonville last year. Part of that can be blamed on Blake Bortles, so it’s possible for Seferian-Jenkins to bounce back in 2019.

    4. Dontrelle Inman, WR, Colts. Age: 30.
      Signed with Patriots

      Dontrelle Inman has been a solid No. 2 receiver ever since the Colts picked him up in October. Of course, his production is enhanced by Andrew Luck’s ability.

    5. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Texans. Age: 31.
      Signed with Patriots (1 year)

      The Texans acquired Demaryius Thomas for a fourth-round pick, but that was a waste. Thomas didn’t do much when healthy, but eventually tore his Achilles. He did this in late December, so he’ll almost certainly be placed on the PUP list to begin the 2019 season.

    6. Maurice Harris (RFA), WR, Redskins. Age: 26. — Signed with Patriots
    7. Jared Veldheer, OT, Broncos. Age: 32. — Signed with Patriots (1 year, $3.5 million)

    New England Patriots Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Trey Flowers, DE, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Lions (5 years)

      If you want proof that Trey Flowers was crucial to New England’s defense last year, consider that he missed the Jacksonville and Detroit games (was knocked out on the opening drive versus the Jaguars), and New England lost both contests despite those opponents failing to make the playoffs. Flowers is an exceptional talent as both a pass rusher and a run stopper. He’s just 26 (in August), so he should continue to improve his game.

    2. Trent Brown, OT, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Raiders (4 years, $66 million; $36.75 million guaranteed)

      There was some doubt as to whether or not Trent Brown could play well on the blind side, but he silenced critics with his performance in 2018. Brown played very well at left tackle, and at just 26 (in April), he has immense potential to eventually emerge on a Pro Bowl level.

    3. Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots. Age: 35.
      Re-signed with Patriots (2 years)

      Stephen Gostkowski had a poor year by his standards, but he’s still a very good kicker. He hit 27-of-32 attempts in 2018, though he was just 2-of-5 from 50-plus.

    4. Jason McCourty, CB, Patriots. Age: 32.
      Re-signed with Patriots (2 years)

      Jason McCourty misses some tackles, but he’s a very skilled cover cornerback. The downside is his age (32 in August), but he should be able to play on a high level for another year or two.

    5. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Patriots. Age: 31.
      Adrian Clayborn is a rock-solid defensive end with no weaknesses. He logged a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017, though six of them came in one game where Dallas’ inept coaching staff didn’t adjust for Tyron Smith being injured. He predictably saw that number dip to 2.5 in 2018, but still played well overall. Unfortunately, Clayborn turns 31 in July, so he’ll regress rapidly in the near future.

    6. Ted Karras (RFA), G, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Ted Karras hasn’t played very much thus far in his career, but he’s looked excellent when filling in for an injured starter. He’s stuck behind two talented guards, so he’ll have to wait until next offseason to sign with another team.

    7. Ryan Allen, P, Patriots. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Patriots (1 year)

      Ryan Allen has been ranked in the middle of the pack in net yardage the past couple of years.

    8. Josh Gordon (RFA), WR, Patriots. Age: 28.
      Tendered by Patriots (original)

      It’s difficult to rate Josh Gordon because he’s suspended indefinitely, and it’s unclear when he’ll be available to play again. Because Roger Goodell runs the NFL like a Saudi Arabian dictator, it’s possible Gordon may never play again.

    9. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Patriots. Age: 28. — Signed with Bears (2 years, $10 million)
    10. Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers
    11. Jeremy Hill, RB, Patriots. Age: 26.
    12. Dwayne Allen, TE, Patriots. Age: 29. — Signed with Dolphins (2 years)
    13. Eric Rowe, CB, Patriots. Age: 26. — Signed with Dolphins (1 year)
    14. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Patriots (1 year)
    15. LaAdrian Waddle, OT, Patriots. Age: 28. — Signed with Bills
    16. Jonathan Jones (RFA), CB, Patriots. Age: 25. — Tendered by Patriots (2nd round)
    17. Albert McClellan, OLB, Patriots. Age: 33.
    18. Ulrick John, OT, Patriots. Age: 27.
    19. Brian Schwenke, C, Patriots. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Patriots (1 year)

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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