BOSTON (CBS) — For the sixth time in the last 18 seasons, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl champs. It’s been an incredible and unprecedented run of success by the Patriots, one that was supposed to have ended a number of times over the years. But as the Patriots showed the world Sunday night with their 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams, they’re very much still here.
Winning a Super Bowl would usually lead to an off-season of celebration; one long party until the team regroups at OTAs. But this being the Patriots, that is not the case. Their dynastic run has fans and the media alike wondering if the team can keep it going next season. And the year after that. And the year after that.
For now, we’ll just focus on the 2019 season. And as Bill Belichick will always point out, the Patriots are five weeks behind just about every other team in the NFL. After Tuesday’s victory parade through Boston, the Patriots head coach won’t be taking many days off in the coming weeks, because he and his staff have plenty of work to do to defend their latest title.
So before the new Lombardi Trophy gets a nice duck boat tour of Boston, we’re going to take a look at what is on Belichick’s to-do list this off-season. After all, Super Bowl LIV is less than a year away.
The Future Of Gronk
The biggest question of the off-season is what Rob Gronkowski is going to do; will he be back for another season or will he call it a career? Gronk wasn’t ready to comment on his future in the moments after Super Bowl LIII, saying he’d take a few weeks to make a final decision.
After tickling retirement last off-season, no one would be surprised if Gronkowski walks away following his third Super Bowl title with the Pats. He’s taken a beating over his career, and not having to take monster hits 16+ Sundays a year would probably be a wise career choice for the 29-year-old. With his personality and likability, Gronk should have no shortage for post-football career options.
There’s also the little matter of his cap hit, which climbs to nearly $12 million in 2019. As great as Gronkowski was during the playoffs, and as great as he was as a blocker throughout the season, he was nowhere near his usual self during the regular season. Belichick probably won’t have the tight end count that much against the cap, especially with other areas to fill this off-season.
If Gronk does elect to come back, there’s a good chance the Patriots try to re-work his contract to lower that cap hit. If not, he may not be the one making the decision on his future with the Patriots. But chances are if Tom Brady wants Rob Gronkowski to be back in the New England offense, the Patriots will find a way to get Rob Gronkowski back in the New England offense.
Hopefully this time around, Gronk’s decision doesn’t carry into OTAs/Motocross season.
Find A Defensive Coordinator
After he and Bill Belichick mastermind one heck of a defensive game plan in Super Bowl LIII, Brian Flores is now set to take his talents to South Beach. The Miami Dolphins have to feel pretty darn good about their head coaching hire after watching the New England defense shut down the Rams on Sunday.
While Flores was never given the official title of defensive coordinator in New England, he called the defensive plays throughout the 2018 season. That leaves a big void for the Patriots in 2019, but one Belichick shouldn’t have too much trouble filling. There are already rumors that Greg Schiano may take over. And rumors that Bret Bielema, a current assistant to the coaching staff, could be in line for the gig.
If Belichick wants to elevate someone in-house, the top candidate to move up would be defensive line coach Brendan Daly.
Extension For Tom Brady
Brady is set to enter the final year of his contract, which is pretty rare for the Patriots quarterback. In the past, the team and their franchise QB have worked out a contract extension when there were two years remaining on his current deal. That was obviously not the case this time around.
But it would be wise for the Patriots to extend Brady, who will turn 42 in August. He’s currently set to count $27 million against the salary cap, a hit that the Patriots could lower significantly with an extension that includes loads of front-end money, as they have done in the past.
Plus, as we’ve seen, there really shouldn’t be too much concern about Brady falling off the proverbial cliff anytime soon. But just in case…
Quarterback Of The Future
Eventually, Brady is going to have to retire. Right? While he continues to defy the laws of nature, he can’t play quarterback forever. We think.
Behind Brady, the Patriots currently have veteran backup Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling (a seventh-round pick last year who landed on the practice squad) on the depth chart. That is not a great plan for the future.
So with plenty of draft capital, the Patriots can be aggressive if they like a quarterback in this year’s draft class. They own their first-round pick, a pair of second-round selections, and three third-rounders (two projected compensatory picks), if they’d like to maneuver the draft board come April 25.
The issue, though, is this year’s crop of quarterbacks isn’t all that impressive. So while conventional wisdom would point to the Patriots addressing their future need this off-season, it may drag out another year.
Good thing they’ve got that Brady guy.
A handful of Patriots players will have an opportunity to get paid this off-season. Whether they get paid by the Patriots remains to be seen.
Defensive end Trey Flowers figures to cash in the most. He didn’t put up the eye-popping numbers in the pass rush that usually earns monster paydays, with just 7.5 sacks in the regular season, but he added a pair of sacks on the way to Super Bowl LIII and was constantly harassing Rams QB Jared Goff on Sunday night. He’s been criminally underrated throughout his career, but that may change this off-season. He probably won’t be getting the big paychecks that go to Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, but Flowers is going to get paid. A valuable part of their defensive front, the Patriots should invest in the 25-year-old.
But there are plenty of other spots that need to be addressed as well. After keeping opposing pass rushers off Tom Brady in his first season in New England, left tackle Trent Brown will be free agent this off-season. Having a monster block Brady’s blindside is imperative, especially since he’ll be 42 next season. The New England offensive line was such a giant part of their postseason success, it’s hard to imagine Brown being a part of that unit.
There are also a handful of Brady’s targets set to hit the open market, with Chris Hogan, Cordarelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett entering free agency. Hogan had an up-and-down season and never seemed to be on the same page with Brady, so it’ll be interesting to see where that one goes. Patterson showed his versatility in the kicking game and out of the back field, and Dorsett has shown promising strides whenever he’s gone out to catch passes from Brady. Don’t be surprised if both are back on shorter, low-money deals.
And then there is kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has been booting field goals and extra points in New England since 2006. He’s prone to have the occasional miss in a key situation, but has been one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. It’s hard to imagine anyone else kicking for the Patriots other than Gostkowski.
The McCourty Brothers
Devin McCourty still has another year, and nearly $14 million, left on his current contract. But he has kind of become a packaged deal with his twin brother, Jason, who is set to hit free agency. There were hints that Devin could retire leading up to Super Bowl LIII, and even he wondered what else he could accomplish if he were to win a championship with his brother. After winning a third Super Bowl on Sunday, McCourty has to think long and hard about that one.
Jason McCourty turned into a valuable member of the New England secondary in his first season with the Pats, and made a key touchdown-saving play in the fourth quarter on Sunday. If the money is right, Jason should be back, and that in turn should mean Devin is back too. But we shall see. Losing either McCourty twin seems like it would be a pretty big blow to the New England secondary.
A New Rallying Cry
Do Your Job was great in 2014. Everything We Got didn’t work out too well last year. One More and Not Done have also worked their way into the mix. And New England’s rallying cry in the 2019 playoffs, We’re Still Here, was a wonderful reminder to all the haters that the Patriots aren’t going anywhere.
But where do they go from here? Do they come up with some play on the No. 7 (George Costanza probably has a few ideas to share)? Or do they keep going back to the underdog well and use all the doubters for motivation (which they will anyways).
How about they just keep it simple and let the world know they’re no ready to pack it up. A simple, Us Again, would work just fine in that case.