The New England Patriots seek to repeat and reload in 2019
PHOTO CAPTION: BROOK WARD

The New England Patriots ended the season in familiar fashion with a Super Bowl victory. The Patriots dynasty is alive and well, and all of us must deal with it. “The Evil Empire” strikes again and it is almost as given as saying water is wet. The Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl title and now have nine Super Bowl appearances in 18 years.  

The New England Patriots are alive and well, regardless of what Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were trying to spin that they were the underdogs. Sure, the Belichick/Brady-era Patriots, which are a combined 248-78 including the playoffs since 2001, were not favored to win. But who among us believed they would not come out on top? I could go on and on and on (you get the picture) about their individual and team accomplishments and accolades, but I don’t want to upset anyone, and I want you to continue reading this article.

So, I will just provide a few significant historical facts. Brady became the first player in NFL history to win six Super Bowls. Belichick became the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl in NFL history. With this victory, the New England Patriots are now tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl titles in NFL history with six.

The  rollercoaster 2018 season

The 2018 season was a strange, rollercoaster year for the New England Patriots. They started the season 1-2 but then won six straight and were 9-3 before losing two consecutive games in December. Regardless, the Patriots finished 11-5 and won the AFC East for the 10th straight season. Those two losses cost them the chance of earning the No.1 seed, but they still clinched a first-round bye for the ninth consecutive season.

In the divisional playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Patriots coasted to a 41-28 victory in which the game was over by halftime. The Patriots then headed to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship game. Brady was fantastic and led the Patriots to a thrilling 37-31 overtime win and to their third straight Super Bowl.

Belichick and now former defensive coordinator Brian Flores,  who recently was named the Miami Dolphins head coach, instituted a masterful defensive game plan against the potent Los Angeles Rams offense to the lowest point total ever in a Super Bowl (tied with Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI).  They held on to a 13-3 victory, ending all talk about who the most celebrated franchise is in NFL history.

But now, they must look to 2019. Who are they going to keep for 2019?

Making a decision on starting left tackle Trent Brown and defensive end Trey Flowers.

The Patriots have a ton of work to do regarding their free agents. Spotrac.com  estimates $25.2 million is available cap room to begin 2019. The Super Bowl Champions have some important pieces about to hit the free agent market and have some difficult decisions to make during this Free Agency period. 

The Patriots never overpay their players. They believe in their winning formula and obviously, it works. If and when players outprice themselves out of their price range, the Patriots don’t blink an eye and move on. With that being said, these two players were integral pieces to them winning a title. Left tackle Trent Brown was the keystone to not allowing Brady to get touched throughout the playoffs. As long as Brown is not overwhelmed by a contract offer, Brown stays in New England.

Defensive end Trey Flowers led the team in sacks with 7.5 last season. Nonetheless, it looks like Flowers will be leaving to the Detroit Lions. The Lions will open their pocketbooks and reunite Flowers with Lions Head Coach Matt Practicia, the former Patriots defensive coordinator.

There are four wide receivers that can possibly hit the open market

Chris Hogan was quite a disappointment in 2018.  He was looked upon to take over as the number two receiver to Julian Edelman and failed miserably. He only caught 35 balls for 532 yards and three touchdowns. For whatever reason, he turned down contract extension prior to last season. His days in Gillette Stadium are over. Philip Dorsett produced when given the opportunity, but he received just 42 targets. He had only 32 receptions for three touchdowns. I don’t see much of a market for Dorsett out of New England. Dorsett re-signs with the Patriots. 

Cordarrelle Patterson was the swiss army knife of the Patriots offense. He had 21 receptions and 42 carries while scoring four total touchdowns. He is explosive on offense and someone who offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels loves to utilize in every way possible. 

September trade acquisition Josh Gordon is a restricted free agent. The Patriots still own his rights. He had 39 receptions for 701 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games last season.  Gordon was suspended indefinitely by the NFL for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He tried to circumvent this by announcing just hours before that he needed a break from football to focus on his mental health. Either way, he is getting his break. Here is hoping that he can get the help he needs. I doubt we see Josh Gordon in the NFL again.

Special teams and the secondary

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen should easily be back in New England. Cornerback Jason McCourty is probably heading elsewhere with the young talent at cornerback that the Patriots possess. With the young bodies in there, he will be hard-pressed to receive much playing time. He shouldn’t worry as he will cash in from another NFL team.

Jonathan Jones is a restricted free agent who played sporadically last season. However, he showed promise in short stints. Did he show enough to hold off the other young corners?  The decision will show what the Patriots believe in the development of their sophomore cornerbacks.

How did the Patriots  2018 draft picks perform in their rookie seasons?

There were two rookies from the 2018 draft that contributed significantly to the Patriots championship run. The Patriots used a first-round pick on running back Sony Michel out of Georgia. However, he missed training camp and the first three regular season games due to a knee injury. He ended playing a vital role in the Patriots offense. He rushed for 903 yards six touchdowns during the regular season but shined in the playoffs.

Michel averaged 121 rushing yards in the two AFC playoff games and found the endzone a whopping five times. He followed that up with rushing for 94 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the Super Bowl. His six rushing touchdowns established a rookie postseason rushing touchdown record.

The other important rookie is cornerback JC Jackson. The former Terrapin was undrafted and opened eyes during training camp.  Eric Rowe was placed on the injured reserve after playing in four games as a result of a groin injury. Rowe’s replacement, veteran Jason McCourt,y struggled to hold down his starter role. Jackson took advantage of the situation and with the mentoring of Stephen Gilmore, Pro Football Focus’ highest rated cornerback, he became a hidden gem and a major cog in the Patriots defense.

Additionally, the Patriots used a first-round pick on offensive lineman  Isaiah Wynn, who unfortunately suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the preseason. He should be available for the start of the 2019 season and will be just like welcoming another draft pick.

Who are the Patriots looking to draft in this year’s NFL Draft?

The Lombardi Trophy winners have 12 draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.  They can reload and continue to be competitive and feared by every other team in the NFL. Here is who I believe they will select with their first four picks:

1st Round-Pick#32: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

By now, everyone knows the drama around Rob Gronkowski. Is he retiring or not? I think he still doesn’t know yet. Regardless, the Patriots need to find his successor. Fant has averaged 14.68 yards per reception over the past two seasons and scored 11 touchdowns in 2017 and added another seven in 2018.

Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network wrote that Fant “has the physical skills and receiving chops to be the next big thing at the TE position in the NFL”. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com also had high praise, writing that “he’ll be a big-play producer right away for his drafting team”.

Fant looks the part and seems to be a viable option to replace (eventually?) Gronk.

2nd Round-Pick#56: Jeffrey Simmons, Defensive Tackle, Mississippi State

With both rotational defensive linemen Malcolm Brown and Danny Shelton impending free agents, the Patriots take a gamble on Simmons who was a projected first-round pick but suffered a torn ACL in a workout. Additionally, there are character concerns regarding an off the field incident that has teams skeptical in selecting the 6-foot-4 300-pound defensive tackle. Since the Patriots have two 2nd round picks, they take a shot at a player that they could hit the jackpot on.

2nd Round-Pick#64: Isaiah Buggs, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

A physical bruiser at 6’5″ 290 lbs, Buggs recorded 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 2018. The Patriots run defense was suspect all season, so a presence in the middle is much-needed.

3rd Round-Pick#73: Rock Ya-Sin, Cornerback, Temple

Great size at 6’2″ 190lbs, who can fly, running 4.4 -second speed in the 40-yard dash. Smart, physical corner who has a nose for the ball. Patriots looking for insurance if Jason McCourty does not come back.

Do the Patriots repeat in 2019?

Considering the fact that they reside in the weak AFC East, it is almost a given that the Patriots will get to the playoffs. Furthermore, as long as Belichick and Brady are on the Patriots, they are the team to beat every season. The Patriots will reload and pick up players that they know will follow the Patriot Way. Those players may not be the best at what they do, however, they do their job! That’s all that Belichick asks for.

There will be a big turnover in coaches in 2019.  Defensive play-caller Brian Flores left for South Beach and took a band of coaches with him. The Patriots decided to bring back old friend Greg Schiano. Will Greg Schiano shake up a Super Bowl dominating defense? (PFN Film Room) However, everyone knows who runs the defense, the offense and every part of that team and that is Bill Belichick. Whether Gronk comes back or not, Brady and Belichick will be favored to win it all again, regardless of what they attempt to tell us.