Sunday 7: This is not a 'mass exodus' of Patriots players

Ryan Hannable
March 22, 2020 - 6:00 am
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1. One of the things (non-Tom Brady) discussed about the Patriots this past week was there’s been a “mass exodus” of players, with some saying it was connected to Tom Brady’s departure. That really could not be anything further than the truth, it’s just life in the NFL. Each offseason players are going to change teams. In 2019, the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, LaAdrian Waddle, Trey Flowers, Trent Brown and Malcom Brown. This year the Patriots lost Brady, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Nate Ebner, Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts. There really isn’t that much difference. Sure, losing Brady is a big deal and it will drastically change the direction of the franchise, but it doesn’t mean there’s been a “mass exodus” of players. The most important free agent besides Brady — Devin McCourty — was re-signed, as well as special teams captain Matthew Slater and guard Joe Thuney got the franchise tag. While Thuney could potentially be dealt to save money, the team kept three of its most important free agents. The Patriots still have several important pieces in place, namely Stephon Gilmore, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman on top of the players brought back. A “mass exodus” would have had a lot more players leaving for other teams, and the team not keeping the players that it did. While it will be a new-look team in 2020, especially at the quarterback position, the number of players departing isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

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2. Speaking of Brady, a lot will be made this coming season of who needed who more — Bill Belichick or Brady. Expect this to be talked about at length and how the season goes for Tampa Bay and New England will determine what people think. If Belichick and the Patriots continue their winning ways, Belichick will come out looking good, especially if Brady and the Buccaneers don’t do so well. On the other hand, if Brady and the Buccaneers do well and the Patriots struggle a bit, Brady will look the best. Considering the Buccaneers have not made the playoffs since the 2007 season, just making the playoffs will be a huge deal for Tampa Bay and the credit will go to Brady. Meanwhile, the success of the Patriots may work against Belichick, as many believe a season is a failure in New England if the team fails to reach the AFC title game.

3. We wrote about this earlier in the week, but wanted to touch on it again -- what was the majority of the NFL thinking when it came to Brady? The best quarterback in NFL history was a free agent and made it well known he wasn’t going to return to the Patriots, but yet only two teams (Buccaneers and Chargers) expressed legitimate interest. While most teams have a QB they are tied to and can count on, others don't and passed on Brady. Mike Vrabel and the Titans really think Ryan Tannehill is the better option than Brady? Brady will be 43 years old, but odds are Tennessee will be looking for a new quarterback after two years. Another team is the Colts. How is a 38-year-old Philip Rivers a better option, especially when they are paying Rivers the same as the Buccaneers are paying Brady. This could be something that fuels Brady in 2020.

4. As for Brady’s replacement, it really feels like it is going to be Jarrett Stidham along with a veteran on the cheap. After his release Saturday, Brian Hoyer feels like a top candidate given his experience in the system, but it is also worth considering maybe Brady tries to get him down in Tampa. The Buccaneers need a backup quarterback as well. Other names to consider are Cody Kessler (currently under contract), Blake Bortles, Trevor Siemian, Blaine Gabbert, Brett Hundley and Mike Glennon.

5. The Patriots are still up against it from a cap space perspective, so do not be surprised to see some moves in the coming days, weeks and even months to create more room. There could be a few surprise cuts to even trades. Players to keep an eye on from that perspective are Thuney (would save close to $15 million), Edelman (after June 1 would save around $7 million) and Gilmore (after June 1 would save around $11 million).

6. There’s no question the rest of the AFC East got considerably better this week. The Bills made the biggest move in the division by trading for Stefon Diggs, who should give Josh Allen the No. 1 receiver he’s been looking for. Miami, who had a ton of money to spend, added a number of quality players, especially on defense, including some former Patriots. And lastly, while they did not make any huge splashes, the Jets did improve some needs and should be better in 2020. For the first time in a long, long time, it would not be a surprise to see a team other than the Patriots favored to win the AFC East.

7. Free agency will continue over the next few weeks, just not at the frantic pace of this past week. This is usually when the Patriots make the majority of their moves — when the prices aren’t as high. But, the next big date on the NFL calendar is the NFL Draft on April 23. That is really the next big event on the sports calendar and it’s worth wondering when the league will come up with an alternative plan now that it will not take place in Las Vegas like previously scheduled.

Related: Brian Hoyer released by Colts, could be attractive option for Patriots