By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick has been a busy man.READ MORE: Tom Brady Gets Another Weapon In Giovani Bernard
In the past week, the Patriots have executed trades and a series of big-name signings. Throw in some released players and a retirement to boot, and it’s been tough to keep track of.
So to try to sort that out, let’s take a ride through the depth chart to see where things stand at this moment for the local football team. Given the team’s activity this week, this is likely to only be a temporary picture. We’ll try to focus on the top end of the depth chart too, leaving out the players who are unlikely to have a role on the 2021 team.
Everyone’s pretty much up to speed on this one. Cam Newton signed a one-year deal that will essentially pay him between $5.5 million and $7 million in 2020. Stidham still has two years left on his rookie deal.
James White is still seeking a deal in free agency, potentially leaving a pass-catching hole in the Patriots’ backfield. The presence of Dan Vitale — who opted out last year over COVID concerns — shouldn’t be overlooked, as his power and versatility could open up some real offensive creativity with Josh McDaniels.
Rex Burkhead is also likely to have a depressed market, as he’s coming off a torn ACL. He could be a candidate to sign a one-year deal and spend the first half of the season on the PUP list, but that’s merely speculation.
Edelman’s status still bears watching, as it’s unknown what he and the Patriots want to do for his final year under contract. Outside of that, the Patriots clearly got a much-needed infusion of talent with Agholor and Bourne, who combined for 1,563 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. (Patriots wide receivers in total accounted for 2,063 yards and four touchdowns in 2020.)
Harry’s spot on the roster remains a question, too, as multiple reports have indicated that the Patriots are having some serious discussions about trading him. He has just 414 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 21 games played.
The most drastic change on the roster, obviously, is at tight end. It wasn’t necessarily neglected last year, as the investment of two third-round picks into the position does count for something. But the two rookies failed to catch up to speed quickly.
Now the Patriots have two legitimate tight ends who can do it all. Considering how important that position was to Bill Belichick’s team for so long, things might start to get closer to normal for an offense that struggled so mightily a year ago.
Ryan Izzo, who hasn’t done much in his two seasons, was traded on Thursday. We’ll learn between now and September whether one of the two second-year guys ends up on the outs.
Trent Brown is back, but he’ll likely be working on the right side this year, unlike his spot at left tackle in the 2018 Super Bowl-winning season. But if Isaiah Wynn struggles to stay healthy (he’s played in 18 of 32 games since entering the league), it may make sense to move Brown to the left side and use Herron or Cunningham on the right side.
Mike Onwenu, who was the steal of last year’s draft, could work at tackle, but he might be needed more on the interior. Yodny Cajuste (the 101st overall pick in 2019) has yet to play in the NFL due to injuries, but he is still under contract and thus shouldn’t be forgotten.
It’s a solid trio in the middle of the Patriots’ line, but you perhaps ought to expect the Patriots to target this area in the draft. If any of the three starters gets hurt, it’ll be a problem for the whole offense.
Reports said that David Andrews’ job now belongs to Ted Karras, but if he doesn’t find the deal he’s seeking in free agency, it’s possible he could return to the Patriots on a one-year deal type of situation.READ MORE: Patriots Terminate Julian Edelman's Contract
UPDATE! David Andrews is back. The Patriots’ interior line is in business. Ted Karras might have expected a starting role, but chances are, everybody won’t stay healthy all year on the line. Now the team is equipped to handle some injuries, with Andrews of course anchoring the middle of the line.
The retirement of Patrick Chung probably didn’t come as a surprise to the Patriots, as Chung’s physical style of play has led to him absorbing quite a bit of damage over the years. Adrian Phillips filled that role quite well a year ago, and though his cap hit jumps up a bit to $4.25 million this year, expect him to continue in that spot. Increased opportunity for Kyle Dugger — who played roughly half of New England’s defensive snaps as a rookie — should allow last year’s 37th overall pick the room to continue to develop.
Jalen Mills might technically be a cornerback, but he seems more like a hyper-versatile safety-corner-linebacker-nickelback hybrid. It’s no surprise that he was appealing to Belichick.
This group’s very much up in the air at the moment. Stephon Gilmore surely won’t be playing the 2021 season on a $7 million salary, so he’s still a prime candidate for either a restructure or a trade. J.C. Jackson had a second-round tender placed on him, which theoretically opens him up as a candidate to be poached by another team. But … it seems unlikely that the Patriots would let him go, especially with Gilmore’s situation.
Veteran Jason McCourty is a free agent, and hasn’t generated much in the way of buzz thus far. Perhaps he’d be open to a “continue playing with my twin brother” discount to add some veteran depth at the position.
Joejuan Williams — the 45th overall pick in 2019 — played just 17 percent of the team’s defensive snaps a year ago. He’ll be facing a make-or-break type of opportunity in 2021.
Kyle Van Noy
Hightower’s return is massive. Van Noy’s return is significant. Those two returns instantly transform a weak spot of the roster into a strength.
The Patriots needed to bolster their pass rush, so they went out and gave a ton of money to Matt Judon. If he can deliver, it changes the entire scope of a defense that was among the worst in the NFL at generating pressure on opposing QBs.
Some more needs to shake out here, as Lawrence Guy remains a free agent. Belichick’s been fond of Guy for some time, and the fact that he’s still out there means he’s still a possibility to return.
The team is somewhat OK if Guy does leave (just as Adam Butler did), after signing Godchaux and Anderson in free agency. But still, for a team that was terrible at stopping the run last year, Belichick may want to do a little bit more work on the interior of the D-line. Doing so could help rebuild that defense into something that compares to the 2019 unit that was arguably the best defense in the whole league.
*Almost immediately after this story was published, the Patriots signed Montravius Adams. The 300-pound third-round pick from 2017 certainly adds some heft to the middle of the D-line.
Jake Bailey is a stud — as much as punters can be studs, you know — but the Patriots don’t exactly know what they’re doing at kicker just yet. Nick Folk, who was surprisingly excellent last year, is a free agent. Justin Rohrwasser spent his rookie season on the practice squad (after an apparently unimpressive camp), and Roberto Aguayo was a complete and total disaster in his lone NFL season … way back in 2016.
Figuring out kicker might not have been a Day 1 priority for the Patriots this offseason, but it’s nevertheless an important spot that needs to be solved.MORE NEWS: Patriots Will Reportedly Attend Justin Fields' Second Pro Day This Week
*And would you look at that? An hour or so after this story published, Nick Folk re-signed with the Patriots. Kicker situation solved … except for what to do with the other two guys.