Patriots Reloaded for the Next Five Years [OPINION]
Tom Brady shouldn't be expected to take the field after the 2020 season. He'll be 44 by that year's Super Bowl and quite ready to enjoy his epic walk off into the sunset. Hopefully, it will be in Tampa, site of the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 7, 2021.
If the Patriots continue to draft the way they did this year, they may not need Brady after that.
It must pique Coach Belichick's curiosity to see what he can do with a planned non-Brady at the helm. The one year Brady was lost, the Patriots went 11-5 and missed the playoffs but they were caught with only eventual journeyman QB Matt Cassel to take the snaps.
It will be interesting to see, but the transformation of the team has already begun. Last year, the Pats relied heavily on the run with excellent ball distribution between the talented corps of backs on the 2018 roster.
The defense is a constant revolving door but will also have the very best and deepest secondary in the NFL, which is vital in a pass-happy league. Second round choice in this year's draft JoJuan Williams, a 6-4, 211-pound cornerback out of Vanderbilt, is thought by many to be a steal that late.
The Patriots moved up to get him at No. 45, not believing his very slow 4.64 40 yard dash in the NFL combine in March was to be believed. Williams usually runs in the 4.5 range and was able to prove it on NFL Day at Vanderbilt after the combine, where Patriots scouts were present. Look for him to match up against tight ends early on.
First round choice for the Patriots this year went to a position of need and at No. 32 they went with a wide receiver. New England grabbed the second receiver taken in the 2019 draft, choosing N'Keal Harry of Arizona State. Most analysts have decided Harry has the best hands in the draft.
Brady likes dependable hands. At 6-2, 225 pounds and with a respectable 4.48 40, Harry should have a serious role in New England if he can grasp the offensive playbook. Even here, he is considered high on the "Football IQ" chart that I don't pretend to understand.
University of Michigan defensive end/outside linebacker Chase Winovich is a choice that continued to awe of NFL writers and pundits who watched as the Patriots reloaded in the draft. The third round pick at No. 77, Winovich is a very vocal, natural leader who plays hard and is said to have tremendous abilities to get to the QB, something the Patriots haven't been consistently great at since the departure of Chandler Jones to Arizona.
Again in the third round, New England grabbed another stud, Alabama running back Damien Harris. While I didn't think there was any need at this position, Harris was apparently too explosive for Belichick to pass up. With Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White on the depth chart, it is hard to see him taking over anytime soon. It does slightly tip the hand of Belichick in two areas: as Brady is another year older, the Patriots might grind the ball even more with a sustained, retro-look ground attack. At 5-10, 218 pounds, they now have a serious load to contend with for short yardage in Harris.
Also, it seems clear that Sony Michel is on his way to being an NFL star and his stock is rising fast—not exactly the kind of player that remains in New England when the contract expires. Harris could be based on future projections in addition to his presumed role player status for short yardage situations.
Yodny CaJuste, taken in the third round with the 101st pick, has blue-chip credentials. He came from Miami and was a highly touted player, thought to end up in the SEC but West Virginia landed the athlete. He had some knee injuries which were not serious but kept him off the field long enough to drop him in the draft charts. The Patriots feel this guy, especially under O-line guru Dante Scarnencchia, should be a special player in the NFL before long.
I'd love to tell you about the other new guy in the offensive line depth chart, but like everyone else on Earth whose last name doesn't rhyme with Schmelichick, I got nothin'. With the 118th pick in the fourth round, they took (ahem) Hjalte Froholdt. Paper thin resumé. Froholdt played for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Came from Denmark, played high school football in Florida. In 2016, Froholdt started all 12 games, allowed no sacks and had only two penalties. That's all I got. Again, might be a great project for Scarnecchia, who will apparently be kept very busy this summer.
In the fourth round again, and with the 133rd choice, the Patriots went with Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham. "Stidham can make 1st Round throws and 7th Round interceptions. This is an excellent upside developmental player, who will learn behind Tom Brady," said the great draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr.
At the time of this writing, the Patriots are looking into veteran TE Kyle Rudolph, who has been a very prolific player for the Vikings but finds himself on the chopping block due to salary issues for the franchise. With nearly 1,200 yards and 12 TDs over the last two years, the Patriots will definitely kick the tires as Gronk is now retired from football.
The AFC Championship was recently redefined as "the right to play the New England Patriots to advance to the Super Bowl." The Patriots have now played in the last eight AFC title games, winning five of them in a jaw-dropping streak that goes back to 2011.
With this draft, and with Belichick and Brady at the helm, I suspect it will continue.
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at ken.pittman@