As COVID-19 continues to run it’s course, it hasn’t completely stopped the football world, with the start of the season drawing closer, the Patriots have had some interesting situations occur recently. Through free agency rumors and players opting out, the Patriots certainly have some questions t answer and issues to address.
The opt out deadline has passed on August 6th and the Patriots were slammed with 8 opt outs, the most in the NFL. The following players have officially opted out of the 2020 season, causing many holes to open across the roster; Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Najee Toran, Marquise Lee, Dan Vitale, Matt LaCosse, and Brandon Bolden.
The loss of Cannon, Hightower, and Chung are the most detrimental to the team by far and the losses of the others add insult to injury. Interestingly enough, there is a small silver lining, with the opt outs and revised CBA the patriots have over $35 million in cap space as of right now. Which is enough to sign a veteran player to fill the void left by these players. With Chung’s opt out, the obvious replacement would be 2nd round rookie, Kyle Dugger. Bill Belichick has a lackluster track record with defensive backs drafted in the second round, the reason usually being that the can not separate themselves on a depth chart crowded with veterans and pro bowlers, but with Chung gone, there is no excuse not to play Dugger. Hightower’s opt out will be the hardest to overcome, with Ja’Whaun Bentley having to fill his void, which shouldn’t be to much of an issue, however , New England was relatively thin at linebacker before, so the best move would be to sign a free agent. Replacing Marcus cannon will not be too difficult in terms of depth, with Yodny Cajuste and Michael Onwenu who could take his place, even guard, Joe Thuney is willing to move to tackle to replace cannon.
In other news regarding possible free agents, the Patriots held workouts with defensive tackle Darius Kilgo and tight end Jordan Leggett. Kilgo is a former Patriot, having spent a year on the bench in New England and would fit the Patriots’ scheme. Leggett has received legitimate interest from the Patriots according to NBC sports, however the Patriots have signed Kilgo, it will become final if he passes his pending physical, but they opted not to sign Leggett. The Patriots may also be eyeing big name free agent, Delanie Walker, per NESN and Bleacher Report. The tight end is a good blocker, something the Patriots value and can be elusive in the open field. Still, Walker remains unsigned and New England has the money to sign him, but nothing else is known about the likelihood of this happening. As of yesterday the Patriots have also traded a conditional 7th round pick to the Detroit Lions for cornerback, Michael Jackson, per NESN’s Doug Kyed.
It is currently unknown what New England’s plans are for Jackson, but there is almost no risk in the trade and the Patriots could waive him if he doesn’t make the team. The Patriots also signed free agent center, Tyler Gauthier, who will likely serve as a backup for David Andrews after spending his rookie year on the Dolphins’ practice squad.
The Patriots have made a big move in free agency late on Monday the 10th as they signed pro bowl Runningback, Lamar Miller, to a one year deal, per Sports Illustrated. With Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead in the Backfield, it is uncertain what role Miller would have. He spent the season on injured reserve last season, just a year removed from a pro bowl appearance, a very low risk/high reward signing.
Training camp is coming fast, set to start on August 17th and with no preseason, undrafted players and unproven signings will have to shine amongst veterans of the Patriots’ system. One such player to keep an eye on is quarterback Cam Newton, who is eager to start proving that he is still an elite talent. Receiver Julian Edelman has high praise for Newton, saying “He’s a specimen, for sure, when you first meet him, just his stature. The dude is large, put together well, and he’s got a great energy about himself. I was really impressed with his work ethic and his mindset.” Newton himself has been working out with New England receivers and has had an opportunity to build a connection with them and work on understanding the playbook. Can Newton win the starting role? Who will step up in the voids left by the opt outs? Will the Patriots sign Walker? What will Lamar Miller’s role be? Unpadded practice may start on August 12th, but training camp will hold the answers.