Supporters of the New England Patriots should all brace themselves as we approach the beginning of the NFL season, because if history is any guide, someone who we all deem to be a pivotal player on the roster is going to be moved at one point or another. No one wants to admit it, no one wants to think about it, and we certainly would have a hard time predicting it, but chances are that it is coming. Before we take a look at whom some of the likely candidates might be for the seemingly annual Belichick super star chopping block, let’s revisit some of the more surprising players that the Hoodie has discarded shortly before or during the season.
2003: Safety, Lawyer Milloy
Prior to the 2003 season the Patriots brought in Rodney Harrison to create what initially appeared to be an incredibly deep and hazardous secondary particularly for receivers crossing the middle of the field. By all accounts upon his arrival, Harrison became an instant leader in the New England defensive back field. Contract negotiations with Milloy had been ongoing for the entire off season and through training camp, and with the four time Pro Bowl safety refusing to take a pay cut, the Patriots released him and his $5.8 million cap number a week before their first regular season game. This one may have been the hardest of all, as even coach Belichick, the man who pulled the trigger, was quoted as saying “The timing is not good.” Clearly the locker room was stunned too, as this move almost immediately backfired when the Buffalo Bills signed Milloy shortly after his release, and within plenty of time to help them demolish the Patriots on opening day of the 2003 season, 31-0. Although it looked bad early, the Patriots were able to rally and we all know how that season finished.
2009: Defensive End, Richard Seymour
This move was probably not as high profile as the Milloy release, and with this situation the Patriots were at least able to gain some much needed draft currency in return. Recall that they had only recently been popped for Spy Gate and were trying to rebuild an aging defense that saw Rodney Harrison and Teddy Bruschi retire not long before this move. As opposed to the move to cut Milloy, one had the feeling this time around that Bill had a better idea of what he was doing, as the return for the trade and the destination for the player [Oakland was really a non-contender] softened the blow. Despite the tasty return, this trade was however the beginning of a trend of soft defenses in New England for the next five seasons.
2010: Wide Receiver, Randy Moss
In hindsight we probably should’ve seen this one coming. Randy Moss was the type of player that could only be in the same place for so long before his true colors shone through and spilled into the public. After openly complaining about a lack of targets in the early part of the season, and sulking about a lack of an extended contract periodically, it was just a matter of time.
2014: Guard, Logan Mankins
In a season where the team was seemingly “loading up” for a run at another title after a loss in the super bowl and 2 straight AFC title game flops between 2011-2013, the Patriots traded Logan Mankins, possibly their best offensive lineman to Tampa Bay for not much more than a back up tight end, Tim Wright. This one seemingly had the potential to blow up in Bill’s face, as the offensive line struggled early on and Tom Brady may have passively protested the casting off of his long time mate by growing what appeared to be a Logan Mankins type beard in the early part of the season. By the time January rolled around Mankins was all but forgotten.
2016: Linebacker, Jamie Collins
This move was perhaps the most puzzling of all on the list here. For the most part, it would still fall into the category of mystery as to why they traded Jamie Collins for almost nothing to the Cleveland Browns. Maybe it was the contract situation, or perhaps Jamie was free lancing, as these seem to be the two predominant theorems. Maybe Jamie Collins looked at Linda Holliday the wrong way and Bill said, “peace out, see you in Cleveland,” either way, this move belonged in the twilight zone, except for the fact that they won the Super Bowl, again.
So who is a prime candidate for Bill’s baffling boss move this season? To pick this out, one must examine several factors that seem to be prevalent in the moves we have talked about earlier. The player is almost certainly at or near the end of his contract, and the Patriots would have to figure they are unlikely to be able to afford to resign the player, or that the player is already overpaid and has reached the end of his useful life as an NFL player. The x-factor in all of this is the player’s attitude toward the team and or the contract situation. Bill can deal with a player who may be a little over paid but still has some gas in the tank, but if that player is making a mockery of his operation, said player is unlikely to be around long, see Randy Moss 2010. Also one more thing, the player has to be, in Bill’s eyes, someone he can replace, usually readily. Based on these factors there are 4 players I can see on this roster who’s job may not be as safe as everyone thinks.
To me the most obvious one is receiver Julian Edelman. We all love the way Edelman leaves it all on the field every single play. The guy is a favorite of their first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, but that’s not how the coach makes his moves, is it? Edelman will be a free agent after this season and is well on the wrong side of 30 years of age. With an injury history that is long and frequent coupled with a wealth of options on the receiver depth chart, the man who made the marquee offensive play in the Patriots super bowl fifty one victory over Atlanta, may not be around to see the next one.
Danny Amendola has a very similar situation to Julian Edelman in almost all respects. The injury history, one of Tom’s favorites, the impending free agency all look bad for Danny. Don’t forget about the fact that Danny and Jules are just about duplicates of each other, so that works against the both of them. The only thing that works in favor of Amendola is that he just took yet another pay cut to stick around. I don’t think this has stopped Belichick before but it can’t hurt his cause to stick around.
This is a strange situation with Dion Lewis. The Patriots have not lost a game that he has been active in over the last two years, which speaks to his ability and versatility as a player. The story for Lewis is the same as Amendola and Edelman though, a long history of being banged up coupled with a free agent year around the corner, and one cannot help but wonder if Bill sees room for him on a crowded backfield depth chart.
On the defensive side of the ball there seems to be a bit more certainty, but one player who could become a casualty is safety Patrick Chung. With Harmon and McCourty locked up long term, and youngsters rounding out the depth chart, Chung with his limited coverage skills and penalty propensity could end up on the outside looking in when it comes to cut down day. He is a free agent in 2019.
Last but certainly not least, a position that is absolutely never safe in the NFL, the kicker. Stephen Gostkowski has been indeed a model of consistency for the Patriots over his tenure here. A free agent in 2019, there is still some money left on his deal, but nothing the Patriots couldn’t swallow. Particularly if they’re able to bring in a young, cheaper option who could out-perform Gostkowski in camp. If this did happen, rest assured, Steve would land on his feet, as there are probably 25 teams that would die to have him lining up for field goals on Sunday.
In the end, I’m a fan first and I want all these guys to stick around, and build the second coming of the Patriots dynasty. Run it back for a second round of three-out-of-four with a whole new group but Tommy B and the Hoodie still at the helm. In the end however, no matter how dumb or nonsensical the move may look on the surface, we must be patient. We must give the man a chance and judge the team only on the final results of the season, which despite whomever they release or trade, may very well end up with the Commissioner handing over yet another silver trophy to our boys.