Patriots

Are Patriots losing their grip on AFC East now that Tom Brady is gone?

Are Patriots losing their grip on AFC East now that Tom Brady is gone?

In the past 20 years, the Patriots have so often accomplished impossible things that most have just given up on doubting them.

No matter how bleak things seem, no matter how high the odds are stacked against them, they still somehow find a way.

Malcolm Butler. 28-3. The 199th pick becoming the greatest quarterback ever while playing for a coach people thought was too grim to ever succeed.

Those are the nail holes non-believers had to see and touch in order to believe. And most did.

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And now? With Tom Brady gone and the team turning its lonely eyes to Stid? With no cap room available to shop for free agents and five years of subpar drafting in their rearview mirror? With one of the NFL’s oldest rosters ready to do battle in an AFC East which suddenly looks real competitive?

Well, even Patriots fans are willing to acknowledge that the grip on the division has slipped just a bit.

On Tuesday, we threw out our Quarantine Question of the Day (thank you to the 4,131 respondents for playing along), asking how strong the Patriots’ grip on the AFC East is right now.

Tellingly, only 3.7 percent of the respondents were willing to say that the grip remains “Strong. Real Strong.”

The vast majority of votes were cast for “Looks loose. But it's not” (42.9 percent) and “Slip, sliding away…” (39.6 percent).

And a lot of those see any dip on the grip is a temporary thing.

The Bills are seen as the biggest threat to the Patriots’ reign — no surprise given their offseason so far and their playoff appearance in 2019.

Also not a surprise? How vocal the “They’re F*****!!!!!” minority was.

Personally, I think the grip is slip, sliding away. And it’s closing in on, “They’ve lost their grip…”

That’s not an opinion based just on the loss of Brady or the others who’ve gone out the door in 2020. That’s based on the trade deficit this team’s been running since 2015.

Look at the players and coaches who’ve left in the past three seasons alone: Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Kyle Van Noy, Dante Scarnecchia, Brian Flores and on and on.

And who — whether it be via draft or free agency — has the team brought in as legitimate cornerstone-type players for the next few seasons? Guys who could start for any team around the league? Joe Thuney. Shaq Mason. Lawrence Guy.

Maybe, given time, Isaiah Wynn, Chase Winovich and Jarrett Stidham? Possibly J.C. Jackson and N’Keal Harry?

Has there been a time in the past 10 years where the franchise faced this many questions and this much roster uncertainty? No.

The only time close was the 2008-2010 period, and the Patriots hoisted themselves out of that very mild malaise with incredible drafting prior from 2008 through 2012.

So are the Patriots losing their grip or merely readjusting it?

For it to be the latter, they have to rip it up in this year’s draft and get huge strides from their 2019 class which — given the pandemic — may be hard to accomplish.

If it’s the former? The rest of the division will finally be able to breathe again.

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NFL Rumors: Patriots may ask CB Joejuan Williams to play safety in 2020

NFL Rumors: Patriots may ask CB Joejuan Williams to play safety in 2020

If Joejuan Williams sees significant playing time in 2020, it may not be at his primary position.

The New England Patriots have asked the second-year cornerback to become more versatile on defense this season, posing Williams this challenge, per ESPN's Mike Reiss

"Can you be the jack-of-all-trades in the secondary?"

As Reiss wrote, that could mean Williams staying at cornerback, moving to safety or some combination of both.

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Why move Williams around? The simple reason: New England is stacked at cornerback, with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore leading a four-man rotation with Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones.

The Patriots also are deep at safety -- Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are the experienced starters with veteran Adrian Phillips and rookie Kyle Dugger joining as newcomers -- but Williams may be able to carve out a hybrid role as a slot cornerback or roving safety.

New England's second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2019, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound cornerback could take a cue from McCourty, who spent three NFL seasons as a cornerback before successfully transitioning to safety during the 2012 season.

Williams contributed just one pass defensed in nine games played last season, though, so he if wants to see more action in 2020, he'll need to add more skills to his tool box.

Tom Brady takes shot at Charles Barkley after 'The Match'

Tom Brady takes shot at Charles Barkley after 'The Match'

Tom Brady engaged in plenty of trash-talking with his opponents Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods during "The Match" on Sunday. But they weren't the only ones going back-and-forth with the six-time Super Bowl champion.

NBA legend Charles Barkley was a commentator for the charity golf match and didn't hold back from letting Brady hear all about his lackluster performance through the first few holes. On the seventh hole, however, the ex-New England Patriots quarterback birdied a par-5 with what was unquestionably the best shot of the day to silence Barkley. 

The real mic drop from Brady came after the match, though, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB jabbed Barkley for his inability to win a championship during his NBA career.


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Boom, roasted.

Of course, the trash-talking was all just good fun. And it provided phenomenal entertainment while those involved in "The Match" helped raise more than $20 million to go toward COVID-19 relief efforts.