Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. QB workouts set the stage: The quarterback battle in New England is on.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the past week had Cam Newton remaining in Los Angeles while throwing to newly signed Patriots receiver Damiere Byrd (among others), while Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer were on the opposite coast in Massachusetts alongside starting center David Andrews, throwing to receivers Mohamed Sanu and Gunner Olszewski, running back Damien Harris and rookie tight end Dalton Keene, among others.
The dueling sessions shine a spotlight on a most intriguing storyline for the 2020 Patriots — the competition to become Tom Brady‘s replacement, and the unique dynamics that accompany it.
Jeremy Fowler polled a panel of more than 50 coaches, execs, scouts and players to come up with top 10 rankings for 2020:
It’s hard to top Newton when it comes to career résumé, but he has notable ground to make up compared to Stidham and Hoyer with relationship-building among the majority of teammates and knowledge of coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system. Newton began the process by throwing to Sanu and 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry last week (and he played with Byrd in Carolina).
Meanwhile, one line of thinking is the Patriots will learn a lot about Stidham based on how he responds to Newton’s arrival. The fact Stidham is still helping to lead player-only workouts in Massachusetts, while observing social-distancing guidelines, reflects that he isn’t backing down.
Ultimately, all the quarterbacks will end up on the same field at Gillette Stadium, with the split of repetitions monitored closely. But for now, they’re split across the country, setting the stage for what is to come.
2. Thuney’s tag manageable: When Wednesday’s deadline passed to sign franchise-tagged players to extensions — and the Patriots and left guard Joe Thuney didn’t strike a deal — some quickly speculated on social media that it could be the catalyst for the team to trade him. That seemed to be, in part, a reflection of Thuney’s one-year salary of $14.78 million not being viewed as the type of solid “value” the club usually prioritizes. While there is some validity to that line of thinking, I view an in-season trade as a less likely scenario for multiple reasons. Perhaps most notably, it’s asking a lot for another team to give up a considerable asset (e.g. third-round pick) for a highly paid player who might be a short-term rental. Meanwhile, from a Patriots standpoint, when the combined cap charges for quarterbacks is $4.4 million — one of the lowest totals in the league — it provides more flexibility elsewhere. And Thuney, arguably their best offensive lineman, is well worth it with that context.
3. Camp questions: While July 28 has been the most widely reported date NFL teams will report to training camp, it’s hard to imagine a traditional practice taking place on that day for the Patriots, let alone any team. The more likely scenario is for the opening stretch of camp to resemble more of an orientation/spring practice type feel. So while coach Bill Belichick often says the spring is a time for teaching to put players in position to compete in training camp, the actual competitive part of camp might not show up until well into August. It’s all guesswork at this point, as coaches, players and support staff generally are echoing the same message: There’s a lack of details across the NFL, which has created a lot of uncertainty.
4. Belichick and Garrett: Belichick’s affinity for Nantucket, Massachusetts, is well documented, and now that former Cowboys coach and current Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett spends time on the island, the two have once again broken bread with each other. That has continued this summer, which serves up a reminder of how football connects people in different ways. For those keeping track, it’s 76 seasons of professional football between them — Belichick enters his 46th year coaching in the NFL, while Garrett’s playing career spanned 1989-2004, and he has been coaching in the league since 2005.
Julian Edelman, who is Jewish, offers to take DeSean Jackson to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. to help him better understand Jewish culture.
5. McCourtys salute Edelman: Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty opened their “Double Coverage” podcast last week with a salute to receiver Julian Edelman for how he responded to DeSean Jackson‘s anti-Semitic social media posts. McCourty said he spoke with Edelman and relayed “he did an awesome job.” The McCourtys said they disagreed with Jackson’s posts, with Jason adding: “It was disappointing. I understand his thought process in trying to uplift Black people and let them understand their worth and how important they are. But I think whenever we do that while stepping on somebody else, or putting down another community — in this aspect the Jewish community — the intent all falls out the window. Because you can’t uplift one group that you feel like that has been discriminated against or marginalized, by stepping on another group that has also went through their torture and hardships.”
6. Corey Dillon and Derrick Henry: When powerful running back Corey Dillon rushed for a single-season franchise record 1,635 yards as a key force in the Patriots’ 2004 Super Bowl championship season, it set him up for a nice payday as a free agent; the team extended his contract for two years and $10 million. Dillon’s forceful running was a major part of the team’s identity. Fifteen years later, I see similarities with the Tennessee Titans and Henry, who last week signed a four-year, $50 extension (that could end up being closer to a two-year, $25 million deal). One notable link: Titans coach Mike Vrabel was a linebacker on those Patriots teams with Dillon.
7. The Sideline Hustle: Sanu has hired a full-time coach to live with him, which he hopes creates a situation where his relentless offseason work produces tangible on-field results in 2020. The coach, Drew Lieberman, is a Wesleyan alum who spent nine years on the sidelines at Rutgers, Albany, Wesleyan and Don Bosco High School (Ramsey, New Jersey) before going out on his own to start his business, The Sideline Hustle. Sanu made the connection to Lieberman through Rutgers, his alma mater.
8. Josh Kraft’s new role: Before Robert Kraft could finalize his purchase of the Patriots in 1994, he had to convince his late wife, Myra, on the value of the investment. One way he did so was to explain how the team’s wide-ranging philanthropy could make the New England region a better place, which spoke directly to Myra’s heart. This was one of the first things that came to mind with the recent announcement that Josh Kraft was stepping down after nearly 30 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (including 12 as CEO) to assume a newly created position of president of Kraft Family Philanthropies. In the new role, Kraft will manage all of the family’s initiatives, including the Kraft Family Foundation, the Kraft Center for Community Health, the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism, the Patriots Foundation, and the Revolution Charitable Foundation, as well as assisting with the family’s participation in the REFORM alliance.
Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore gets surprised by his adorable family with gifts to congratulate him for joining the Madden 99 club.
9. Madden rankings: Madden NFL 21 released its player ratings last week, with Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore joining Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as the only players with the high mark of 99. Devin McCourty (92) was the only other Patriots player with a rating of 90 or more. On a fun, lighthearted topic, Madden 21 gave Patriots undrafted rookie running back J.J. Taylor (Arizona) a rating of 67, which was higher than rookie tight end Dalton Keene (66). If Taylor makes the team and produces in a Dion Lewis-type role, that would be impressive foresight.
10a. Did You Know, Part I? Only two of the 14 players who were assigned the franchise tag agreed to long-term deals, down from 59% of franchise-tag players to agree to long-term deals in the previous five years combined. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, the 12 players to play a full season under the tag would be the most since the tag was implemented in 1993.
10b. Did You Know, Part II? Per Elias Sports Bureau research, the Patriots are the first team in NFL history to both lose and add a former Most Valuable Player quarterback in a single offseason.