Bills must protect Josh Allen; Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones
Most Important Position Battle: Strategist. Of the five first-round quarterbacks caught in this year’s draft, Mac Jones is the third least likely (and third most likely) to start Week 1, narrowly edging Chicago’s Justin Fields. That doesn’t mean that the Alabama rookie’s performance and development at camp isn’t worth watching daily and with great fervor. Cam Newton, a winning veteran who assimilated and integrated well in his first year at Foxborough, returns, after a flirtation with free agency, as a likely starter; Bill Belichick gave that assurance the night Jones was drafted. With a full year to play in Josh McDaniels’ system under his babushka and returning from a 2020 season sick with COVID, Newton recently said he sees this year as a ‘put it up or shut up’ campaign for him. -even. New England have been doing all they can this offseason to bolster the QB’s outlook by adding weapons (see below), and Newton should immediately take advantage of that at camp. But the veteran’s salary – around $ 5.1 million, with no playing time and no incentives for success – isn’t so important that his starter status is secure. Our Mike Giardi reported this summer that Jones, a Nick Saban product, is earning praise from teammates, including Newton, speaking about his preparation and ease with McDaniels’ vision. Whether New England makers can see a September with the rookie under center depends on Cam and Mac, the palindromic pair of potential passer for the Patriots.
Newcomer to know / key player returning from injury: All pass recipients. Sorry for mistaking the category here, but it’s not often that there are so many notable new faces in New England, especially in just one side of Bill Belichick’s opaque operation. After years of struggling to develop and locate reliable wide receivers outside of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, Belichick threw caution / money to the wind / wide this summer. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Marvin Hall, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith bring with them 216 receptions, 2,926 receiving yards and 35 total touchdowns last year alone to a WR / TE group that recorded just five catches. TD in 2020. N’Keal Harry, who contributed two of those scores with 33 catches and 309 yards, is not part of the reconfigured receiving room; the former third-year first-round WR’s agent requested a New England trade earlier this month. With Harry out of the picture, the Patriots will likely float a whole new group of pass catchers for Newton and Jones to try out. Who will stand out and impress the coach and QB to justify starting clichés in New England’s new normal?
Other sub-plots to follow:
- Don’t overlook New England’s defensive additions / returns. Dont’a Hightower (COVID opt-out) and Kyle Van Noy (dolphin / pink pony operation) are back in linebacker corps. Joining in the top seven are signings Matt Judon, Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson, expansion Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr. and rookies Christian Barmore and Ronnie Perkins. This on-the-fly recalibration in the trenches is an attempt to improve upon a unit that has lacked bite in recent years and reframe a weakness like a classic Belichickian force.
- How will Trent Brown behave when he returns to New England? Sent back to the Pats in a late-round pick of choice, the tackle returns from Vegas two years older and, this time around, is expected to play on the right side of the line. Brown was Tom Brady’s blind tackle on the 2018 champion squad, but this go-around Isaiah Wynn will play LT for QB1 TBD. Brown said playing RT for the Raiders “was not a good solution.” Now that he’s back in Boston, we’ll see if he was just talking about the organization or the job.
- Will Stephon Gilmore show up? Stay tuned! The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year did not take place last month at the mandatory minicamp, citing the desire for a new deal. Gilmore recently reiterated that he wanted to be paid what he was worth. His current salary this season – $ 7 million, 24th among CBs – is apparently not that; Gilmore has a cap of $ 16.3 million. New England moved money last year to appease the All-Pro CB. That might not be enough to gratify Gilmore this time around.