Four questions confronting Patriots as OTAs begin
Four questions confronting Patriots as OTAs begin
By Tom E. Curran
The Patriots 2016 season starts today. Not at minicamp in June when the whole team is together for the first time and engaging in managed contact. Not in July when training camp starts. And not in the desert September 11 against the Cardinals. The start of OTAs (organized team activities) is the real starting point for the team as a whole. Even though the Patriots convene at Gillette on Monday and are restricted to weight room and conditioning drills in this first phase, this is where the team-building starts. I heard it in 2001. I heard it in 2014. The personality and character of the team starts taking shape in April. Here are some questions facing the team as the journey starts.
Will Tom Brady actually be suspended?
You don’t want me to say this is No. 1 and I don’t want to say this is No. 1, but again – still – Tom Brady’s possible suspension looms over everything. We got the schedule last Thursday and saw a relatively benign start to the year – at the Cardinals then hosting the Dolphins, Texans and Bills – but the fact we have to ponder how well a Brady-less team gets through the first quarter of the season is a reality. That’s why every bit of forecasting carries the “if Brady isn’t suspended” caveat. And it’s why the Patriots have to continue hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. I spoke last week with Michael McCann about the myriad possibilities that could unfold when the NFL’s appeal of the Judge Berman decision is rendered. With so many variables, it’s no use hand-wringing about it. But it will be worth the Patriots time to plan for it.
What are the Patriots’ plans with Danny Amendola?
If the Patriots wanted to move on from wide receiver Danny Amendola, my suspicion is they would have done so by now. But, even if they haven’t made a move yet, that doesn’t mean they’re OK with his 2016 numbers. The valuable wideout is entering his fourth season with the team and has a cap hit of $6.8M with a salary of $5M. He took a salary haircut last year and isn’t down with doing that again. But the Patriots are beginning to have some leverage if they do decide to push the pay-cut issue. There was confidence in the Amendola camp earlier this offseason that, if the Patriots moved on from him, he’d be able to find similar compensation elsewhere given his versatility, productivity and intangibles. Now? Teams have made their free agent decisions and spent their money. It would be hard for Amendola to get $5M from someone else. But if the team presents him with, say, a 50 percent pay cut to $2.5M, does he reject it, get released and take the same money or a little more from a team that’s not as good? Amendola is more valuable to the Patriots than anyone else in the league. He can get you 60 catches, has Brady’s trust and is a special teams weapon. But he’s also hard-pressed to play 16 games with his build and injury history. At some point, something will have to give.
How will this year’s team jell?
This season will be a chemistry test. . There’s a fleet of former first-rounders joining the team (Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Donald Brown, Jonathan Cooper), a quirky, productive tight end (Martellus Bennett), and two new wideouts (Nate Washington and Chris Hogan). Among others. The personality stew will be brought to simmer and stirred. Having watched the team for a while now, this kind of influx is almost always a good thing. The guys added know the Patriots’ program by reputation and know to a degree what they are in for. They’ll probably find it’s not quite as uptight in the day-to-day but more mentally and physically grueling than they’re accustomed to with a black-and-white approach. If you do what you’re asked, it’s not a tough adjustment. If you do not, they will call you on it. The release last week of Dominique Easley was related as much to his resistance to the Patriots’ way of doing things as it was his bad knees. Given the chance to decide whether he wanted in or out, Easley’s way of doing things announced that he wanted out. So they moved on prior to this critical team-building period.
What effect will Scar have?
How does the return of Dante Scarnecchia impact the offensive line group? Obviously, they didn’t close 2015 on a high note. But the banishment of Dave DeGuglielmo which followed the season wasn’t a reactionary move. The team was looking to bring back Scar for some time because he’s one of the best assistant coaches the NFL’s seen in the past 50 years. (Which brings to mind the fact we will need to find a spot for him in the Patriots HOF before too long). Logan Mankins predicted a “rude awakening” for the guys who’ve never been coached day-to-day by Scar. There are a lot of them – Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, Bryan Stork, David Andrews among them. The Patriots need those players to keep developing and to find out why a player like Marcus Cannon can be one of the best on the field against Kansas City in the Divisional Playoff game in January and one of the worst a week later in Denver.