by Liam Tormey ’22
A new era is beginning for the New England Patriots. After 20 seasons and six Vince Lombardi Trophies, Tom Brady decided to end his career with the Patriots and sign a two-year, $50 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is now the post-Tom Brady era in New England.
So, where do the Patriots go from here? Well, for starters, Cam Newton will be the face of the New England offense after he was named the starting quarterback last week. Newton beat out both Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer for the starting job.
The 2015 MVP of the league has had his issues with injuries over the last couple of seasons. Last season, Newton played only the first two games of the season before being placed on injured reserve for the year with a Pedal Lisfranc sprain. After being released from the Carolina Panthers, Newton found a home in New England on a one-year deal.
The offense will look different this year without Tom Brady behind center, but there are still some familiar faces returning. Newton will be relying on the likes of Sony Michel, Julian Edelman, and N’Keal Harry. After trading for Mohamed Sanu last season for a second-round pick, the Patriots cut him this past week alongside running back Lamar Miller. Behind Edelman and Harry, Damiere Byrd will start the season as the Patriots No. 3 wide receiver.
New England’s starting tight end this year will be Devin Asiasi, who was the Patriots’ pick in the third round at number 91 in this year’s draft class. Asiasi enters the NFL after a successful collegiate career at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2019, Asiasi had 44 receptions, 641 yards, and four touchdowns. After coming out of retirement, Rob Gronkowski, one of the greatest tight ends of all time, was traded alongside a seventh-round pick to meet up with Tom Brady in Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick. The Patriots took back-to-back tight ends in this year’s draft, selecting Dalton Keene from the University of Virginia Tech in addition to Asiasi. Asiasi and Keene will look to fill the massive void left at the position since the departure of Gronkowski.
Due to COVID-19, the Patriots have a league-high number of players who have opted out of the 2020-2021 season. Those opt-outs include tackle Marcus Cannon, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, tight end Matt LaCosse, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Dan Vitale, receiver Marqise Lee, and guard Najee Toran.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Patriots defense will look very different from how it was last year. The Patriots lost Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts to free agency. Each leaves very large shoes to fill on defense. The defensive line will stay mostly intact, however, with Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, John Simon, and Deatrich Wise Jr. all returning.
The cornerback spot is still a strong spot for the Patriots. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore will feature alongside Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, and Adrian Phillips in the secondary. With their second-round selection in this year’s draft, the Patriots added Kyle Dugger at safety. Dugger should be able to fill the hole left by Chung, as the hard-hitting safety dominated Division II football while playing for Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.
It is going to be a strange time for New England fans with these new-look Patriots, but with Bill Belichick running the team, and with Newton having something to prove, anything can happen for New England this season.
Indeed, the Patriots started on a strong note this past Sunday against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. The team secured a 21-11 victory behind two rushing touchdowns from Newton. They will look to continue their solid start this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.