The defending NFL champions will look far different in 2019. But that doesn’t mean the New England Patriots won’t be their same old contending selves.
On Sunday night, one of the best players ever at his position in NFL annals called it a career after nine productive seasons. Tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement and the New England Patriots will certainly miss his contributions.
The prolific pass-catcher and blocker joins quite the list of performers who won’t be around when the reigning Super Bowl champions look to repeat in 2019. On the defensive line, end Trey Flowers got big money from the Detroit Lions, interior presence Malcom Brown signed with the New Orleans Saints and veteran Adrian Clayborn was cut loose.
On the other side of the ball, the notable departures include left tackle Trent Brown (Oakland Raiders) and wide receiver/kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson (Chicago Bears). So what’s the NFL’s reigning dynasty to do?
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Yes, the Patriots have added a few players to offset the losses. Bill Belichick acquired defensive end Michael Bennett via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, running back Brandon Bolden is back after a year with the Dolphins and the team added wide receivers Maurice Harris (Washington Redskins) and Bruce Ellington (Detroit Lions).
But let’s take a hard look at the 2018 draft class of the New England Patriots. The team made nine selections and only three of those players — running back Sony Michel, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and cornerback Keion Crossen — saw any playing time during the regular season or postseason.
Michel led the club with 931 yards on the ground and six scores. Meanwhile, the rookie posted 336 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs. Bentley played in three contests, made two starts, racked up 13 tackles and an interception before going down for the year with a biceps injury. Crossen played in 11 games and made 14 stops and was also on the field for all three postseason games.
Elsewhere, tackle Isaiah Wynn, cornerback Duke Dawson, linebacker Christian Sam, wide receiver Braxton Berrios and tight end Ryan Izzo spent all season or a considerable time on injured reserve. Quarterback Danny Etling (7-LSU) was signed to the practice squad in September and never saw the field. It should be noted that Dawson was activated from IR later in the season, but wound up not being active all year.
That’s a lot of unproven but promising talent that has yet to contribute to the organization. The Pats have a dozen draft choices at their disposal this April as of this writing, including a pair of second-rounders and three third-round selections.
Will Belichick keep them all or move up or trade into 2020? It should be fascinating to watch. And if anyone is worried about this franchise suddenly falling apart and veteran quarterback Tom Brady winding up on the wrong end of a cliffhanger, keep in mind, it’s March 25.