New faces: DE Michael Bennett, LB Jamie Collins, WR Demaryius Thomas, TE Benjamin Watson, TE Matt LaCosse, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Jakobi Meyers, RB Brandon Bolden, S Terrence Brooks, CB Joejuan Williams, DE Chase Winovich, RB Damien Harris
They’re gone: TE Rob Gronkowski, DE Trey Flowers, OT Trent Brown, DT Malcom Brown, WR Chris Hogan, DE Adrian Clayborn, TE Dwayne Allen, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Eric Rowe, OT LaAdrian Waddle
2019 snapshot: Another Super Bowl, another talent exodus in New England.
Given the Patriots won the Lombardi Trophy again, nobody should be panicking, but Gronkowski, Flowers and Trent Brown will be very tough to replace. At the same time, Gronk’s retirement was out of the team’s control — and might even be temporary — and the Patriots certainly would not have paid Flowers (five years, $90 million) or Brown (four years, $66 million) anywhere near the money they landed on the open market.
As usual, the Patriots regrouped and reloaded in a variety of creative ways. Bennett cost only a swap of late-round picks and should step right into Flowers’ role, with inside-outside versatility and pass rush. Collins was brought back for a bargain $2 million after his release in Cleveland, and Watson (one year, $3 million) and LaCosse (two years, $2.8 million) provide cheap options at tight end. In addition to Thomas and Harry, Meyers has emerged as an undrafted rookie to reinforce the receiving corps.
Some questions remain. Offensive tackle is thin after Brown and Waddle left in free agency, with a lot riding on 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn. The tight end spot lacks a clear answer or upside, with LaCosse unproven and Watson suspended for the start of the season. Even so, Bill Belichick’s excellent draft class should include early contributors in Williams, Winovich and Harris, in addition to Harry.
Get to know… WR Jakobi Meyers
An undrafted rookie from Rutgers, Meyers had NFL highs of 19 catches, 225 yards and two touchdowns during the first three weeks of the preseason after drawing rave reviews during training camp. He has the opportunity to become one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets.
Worth the investment?
–The Patriots have the NFL’s highest over/under win total (11) and the best odds to win Super Bowl LIV (+700). Both figures feel a tad rich, but each could hit if Brady doesn’t fall off a cliff.
–As usual, Brady is among the favorites for MVP, with decent odds at +1400 (surprisingly behind Baker Mayfield at +1200). He needs two more to tie Peyton Manning (five) for most all-time, but the 42-year-old might not get the requisite volume.
Bottom line: The Patriots are a tad less talented overall than a year ago, but the difference should be marginal. Until Brady declines, they should remain a juggernaut.