You’ve spent more of this offseason debating 19-0 with your friends than you have debating who will emerge as the Patriots’ right tackle in camp. Know why? Because 19-0 is more interesting, and it’s realistic. What isn’t realistic is this training camp being particularly interesting.
Like any year, training camp will serve a major purpose in preparing the Pats for the coming season. Roster locks will get up to game speed, while positional battles will lead to both jobs earned and spots lost. Yet everyone knows what the final result will be, barring disaster striking: The Patriots will be way better than everyone else, even more so than in previous seasons.
Coming off another Super Bowl victory, Brady is as good as he’s ever been and he’s loaded with weapons at receiver, tight end and running back. The defense kept Dont’a Hightower and added Stephon Gilmore, David Harris and Kony Ealy. There isn’t a single hole on the roster, and the depth at key positions is strong.
So what would actually need to happen over the next few weeks to move the needle?
ANY SORT OF BRADY INJURY
Duh. Lots of “How does Garoppolo look?” talk with a dash of “Is Brissett really the future?” mixed in. Adam Schefter would go hard with the “and this is why they were NEVER going to trade Garoppolo” bars.
ONE OF THE DRAFT PICKS IS A STUD
The Patriots put out a graphic on Twitter after the draft with the caption, “4 trades, 4 picks and 1 restricted free agent. How the Patriots used their 2017 picks.” The graphic then assigned traded/surrendered draft picks to veterans Brandin Cooks, Kony Ealy, Dqayne Allen, Mike Gillislee and James O’Shaughnessy, with four actually drafted players sprinkled in.
The graphic was fitting at the time, as the sentiment was that the Pats opted to spend their draft capital in the trade market and restricted free agency rather than actually selecting players. The fanbase was wholly OK with this, as it helped the Pats continue to strengthen their roster for another Super Bowl run. No rookies? No problem.
Except there actually were those four rookies, including one in Derek Rivers who was viewed in the draft as having major sleeper potential at defensive end.
If Rivers, fellow defensive end Deatrich Wise or offensive linemen Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott hit, it will essentially be found money in the eyes of Pats fans. It will also further load up the Super Bowl favorites even more.
CYRUS JONES DOES SOMETHING
The Patriots don’t really need Cyrus Jones to be great. They can survive with Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman behind Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore. Yet they spent a second-round pick on Jones for a reason, even if that reason never really showed itself during a disastrous rookie year.
Assuming Butler isn’t traded and Gilmore adjusts well, having Jones make strides would further bolster New England’s secondary while also giving the Pats an asset in the return game. It would also beg the question of how a player could be so bad one year and so good the next.
MALCOLM BUTLER GETS TRADED
Dammit. Now I’ve got trades on the brain.
JIMMY GAROPPOLO GETS TRADED
Need that Adam Schefter meltdown. Need it.
2015 DION LEWIS RETURNS
The Pats are going with quantity over quality in the backfield, but none of their running backs have shown the type of ceiling — particularly in the passing game — that Lewis has. Coming off two straight seasons that were marred by injury, the 26-year-old Lewis is in the last year of his contract and has potential replacements as teammates in James White and Rex Burkhead. His stock might be low now, but would anybody really be surprised if he stole his touches back? The real question, as always, will be how long he can stay healthy.