Now is when things get interesting.
On Wednesday, the Patriots finished up their joint practices with Houston. Last week, they wrapped up three days of work with Jacksonville before their preseason opener. They have a one-day walkthrough scheduled with the Lions next week, but for all intents and purposes their joint practices for 2017 are over.
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So why is now when things get interesting? Because now we can start taking stabs at which Jaguars and Texans will someday be Patriots.
If history is any indication, at some point Bill Belichick and his staff will be more than willing to work with players who participated in the joint sessions. Just have a look at Patriots joint-practice opponents year by year. Using the practices as a chance to do a little advanced scouting, they've plucked at least one player from every joint-practice opponent they've seen since 2010.
Last year, the Patriots worked against the Saints and the Bears. No one remembers former Bears tight end Rob Housler's brief tenure with the Patriots after he signed a future deal with the club last winter. But how about Brandin Cooks? The Patriots got their second close look at Cooks in 2016 -- he was with the Saints during joint practices with the Patriots in 2015 -- and then traded a first-round pick to acquire him the following offseason.
Here's a full rundown of the Patriots joint-practice opponents who were eventually acquired by New England . . .
2016 vs. Saints: WR Brandin Cooks, acquired in a trade in 2016.
2016 vs. Bears: TE Rob Housler, signed to a future contract in 2016.
2015 vs. Saints: DL Akiem Hicks, acquired in a trade in 2015; LB Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent in 2016; Cooks.
2014 vs. Redskins: DL Frank Kearse, signed as a free agent in 2016; CB EJ Biggers, signed as a free agent in 2016.
2014 vs. Eagles: CB Bradley Fletcher, signed as a free agent in 2015.
2013 vs. Buccaneers: LB Jonathan Casillas, acquired in a trade in 2014; TE Tim Wright, acquired in a trade in 2014.
2013 vs. Eagles: S Patrick Chung, signed as a free agent in 2014; WR Damaris Johnson, claimed on waivers from Houston in 2015; CB Bradley Fletcher, signed as a free agent in 2015.
2012 vs. Saints: RB Travaris Cadet, signed as a free agent in 2015; Casillas; LB Ramon Humber, signed as a free agent in 2016; DL Akiem Hicks, acquired in a trade in 2015.
2012 vs. Buccaneers: RB LeGarrette Blount, acquired in a trade in 2013; CB Aqib Talib, acquired in a trade in 2012; Biggers; LB Dekoda Watson, signed as a free agent in 2015.
2011: No joint sessions following NFL lockout.
2010 vs. Saints: Humber; DE Will Smith, signed as a free agent in 2014.
2010 vs. Falcons: WR Michael Jenkins, signed as a free agent in 2013.
Of course there's no guarantee the Patriots will ever snag any of the Jaguars or Texans they practiced with this summer. But here's a look at a handful of players Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio could be interested in trading for or signing down the line.
CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Texans: The Patriots would probably have to pay up to land Houston's top tight end, but Fiedorowicz is in the final year of his rookie deal and Houston just re-upped with tight end Ryan Griffin on a three-year contract. Maybe the Texans would be OK with the future of their tight-end group without Fiedorowicz if they got something of value in return. The Patriots seem set at the position now with Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and perhaps one of James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel and Jacob Hollister to round things out. But as we saw last season, that depth can evaporate quickly should anything happen to No. 87. The Patriots hosted Fiedorowicz on a visit when he was coming out of the draft in 2014, and he played at Iowa under former Belichick colleague Kirk Ferentz.
Lerentee McCray, OLB, Jaguars: The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is pretty far down the depth chart in Jacksonville behind Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell and Mallciah Goodman. He's in his fifth year out of Florida and currently on a relatively inexpensive one-year deal that he signed this offseason. McCray seems like a low-risk option to give the Patriots some depth not only on the edge but also in the kicking game, where he has a wealth of experience going back to his days with the Bills, Broncos and in college. In last week's preseason game against the Patriots, he made a tackle on Jacksonville's kickoff team, stuffed DJ Foster for no gain, recovered a Foster fumble, and sacked Jacoby Brissett.
Hunter Dimick, DE, Jaguars: Here's another option from Jacksonville if the Patriots want some depth up front -- which they could be seeking. Dimick went undrafted this spring out of Utah despite leading the nation in quarterback pressures with 83, according to Pro Football Focus. He doesn't offer much as an athlete, and he's essentially the closest thing in this year's draft class to the opposite of Derek Rivers in terms of flexibility. But maybe the Patriots saw something in the 6-foot-3, 265-pounder's game during practices that will allow his college production to transfer to the NFL. He had two hurries in last week's preseason game.
Ufomba Kamalu, DE, Texans: With the Patriots hurting on the edge, Kamalu isn't a perfect fit, but he may be worth a closer look. The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder has 35-inch arms that could make him an intriguing match, in a similar mold to 6-foot-4, 305-pounder Lawrence Guy. Kamalu seemed to showed up with effective reps in one-on-one work this week against the Patriots, and during an 11-on-11 period on Wednesday he broke through the Patriots line to sack Jimmy Garoppolo. In last week's preseason game against the Panthers, he recorded a quarterback hit, per Pro Football Focus.
Avery Williams, LB, Texans: Bill Belichick has long liked Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney's game, but don't expect the Texans to be willing to part ways with him any time soon. If the Patriots are looking for some depth at that spot and in the kicking game, Williams showed them some things during this week's joint practices. He dominated a punt-team drill where he put both Patriots Nate Ebner and LeShun Daniels on their backs after squaring them up one-on-one at the line. Williams wasn't an eye-popping athlete coming out of Temple this spring, but he was productive, earning second-team all-conference honors. Dylan Cole, an undrafted rookie linebacker out of Missouri State, is a better fit for the Patriots in terms of his athletic profile, but Cole seems to have impressed coaches at Texans training camp and may not be going anywhere for a while.
Breno Giacomini, OT, Texans: On a one-year contract in Houston, the Patriots could be interested in the veteran tackle who hails from Malden, Mass. Belichick's club has been hurting at tackle lately with Nate Solder, Tony Garcia and LaAdrian Waddle all missing time injured. The Texans have an intriguing rookie, Julien Davenport, who is currently listed as the team's backup left tackle, and whenever Duane Brown returns from his holdout, Giacomini could be the team's fifth tackle on the depth chart. Giacomini started for the Jets in Week 12 against the Patriots last season, played every snap, and held his own.