Patriots

Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

The New England Patriots have had an unsettled receiver room for most of the 2019 season. At one time, it seemed like they had one of the best groups in the league. But the release of Antonio Brown and the team's decision to trade Demaryius Thomas left them a bit weaker at the position. And in recent weeks, they have been thin at the position due to injuries.

Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), Josh Gordon (knee/ankle), and Julian Edelman (chest) have all been dealing with various maladies over the course of the first six weeks of the season. Additionally, first-round rookie N'Keal Harry has been on IR since just after the team's final cuts.

With these absences, some unexpected contributors have been able to step up. And one of them is Gunner Olszewski. The undrafted rookie out of Bemidji State has earned a big role as a return man and has recently seen an increase in offensive action. And so far, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with his energy and effort.

"Gunner works really hard," Belichick told reporters at Saturday's media availability. "He gives a lot of effort to do, again, whatever we ask him to do. Whether that’s return kicks, cover kicks, block, catch – he works really hard. Just gives his best all of the time, so you can’t ask for anything more than that. He keeps getting better, so we’ll see where it goes. But, yeah, he’s a good, hard worker."

Of course, hard work is only part of the equation. In the Patriots' offense, it's important to have chemistry with Tom Brady. Has Olszewski done enough to earn Brady's trust so far?

"Yeah, definitely," Brady said when asked about his level of trust in Olszewski. "I think they’re – like I said, those guys are – when you’re young, you gain trust in practice, and a lot of it’s doing the right thing over and over and over again. Those guys are working at it. I mean, they’ve been here a short period of time, so try to get as many reps as you can and talk about things. You get coached up, and any young player, they’re trying to earn the trust of the coach and the players every day."

This is seemingly the most positive Brady has felt about his young receiving weapons this year. Perhaps the team's success against the New York Giants despite being limited to only one formation because of their lack of healthy personnel had an impact on Brady. And maybe that helped him to become more confidence in Olszewski and fellow undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Either way, Brady will likely have to look Olszewski's way a bit more than usual on Monday night against the New York Jets. Josh Gordon is out for the game and so too are tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. That should afford Olszewski a good opportunity to make his presence felt.

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Nate Ebner wants to stay with Patriots as free agency looms

Nate Ebner wants to stay with Patriots as free agency looms

The New England Patriots have some key players set to enter free agency this offseason. Obviously, Tom Brady will take most of the attention, but the team has some important special teams players set to hit the open market as well.

Notably, Matthew Slater and Stephen Gostkowski will be available. And Nate Ebner will be as well.

Ebner, an eight-year pro who was drafted in the sixth round in 2012, has been a big-time special teams ace for the Patriots. In 2018, he ranked second in the league in special teams tackles with 15. He provided another eight last season and continued to be a key cog in that aspect of the game.

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Ahead of his free agency, Ebner opened up about wanting to stay with the Patriots as he looks to continue his NFL career.

“I mean, that would be the best thing, I think, when you consider my entire career has been here,” Ebner said per NESN's Zack Cox. “I understand how things go. I’ve got some true friendships here.

“I understand how things work — that would be great. But right now, it’s out of my hands, so we’ll see what happens and I’ll just take it as it goes. We’ll see.”

It wouldn't be surprising to see Ebner return to the Patriots. After all, Bill Belichick places a lot of value on special teams performance. Given that Ebner should come relatively cheap -- he signed a two-year, $5 million deal last time he was set to hit free agency -- it's well within the realm of possibility that the team could find a way to keep him.

Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and if the Patriots use up most of their cap space signing Brady and some offensive weapons to surround him, Ebner might not fit. But if Ebner's first choice is remaining in New England, it seems likely that the team will at least entertain the idea of bringing him back.

How the reported expanded NFL playoff proposal impacts the Patriots

How the reported expanded NFL playoff proposal impacts the Patriots

NFL owners are pushing for a big change that would be part of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. The league reportedly will propose expanding the postseason to add a seventh playoff team in each conference.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter detailed, the league would now have six games on Wild Card weekend under the new proposal, three in each conference, and only the No. 1 seed in each conference will get a playoff bye.

Also in the proposal is a 17-game regular season and a shortened preseason to three games. The changes would be implemented for the 2020 season if the new CBA is ratified by the owners and NFL Players Association.

If adopted, this is certainly a massive change and one that could have a big impact on the New England Patriots. 

The Patriots have mastered the art of qualifying for a bye in their two-decade-long dynasty. In fact, this past postseason was the first time New England didn't have a first-round bye since the 2009-10 postseason. The Patriots finished as the No. 3 seed and promptly lost to the Tennessee Titans at home, marking their earliest playoff exit since the '10 postseason.

Thus, the elimination of one of the byes could have a significant impact on the Patriots. Since Bill Belichick took over as coach before the 2000 season, the Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl nine times. In each of those seasons, they've had a first-round bye.

In the Belichick Era, the Patriots have been the AFC's No. 2 seed on six occasions. They advanced to the Super Bowl and won three times in those six instances, and it's fair to wonder if they would've had a similar chance to advance had they needed to play another game, even if it was against a seventh-seeded team.

In the past seven Super Bowls overall, no team has made it to the big game without a first-round bye. The 2013 Ravens were the last team to play Wild Card weekend and make the Super Bowl.

So, needless to say, the No. 1 seed in each conference will now have a major advantage, and the Patriots are going to have to fight harder to earn it. They're certainly capable of earning the No. 1 seed. They were the No. 1 as recently as the 2017 and 2018 playoffs, when they beat the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in SB 52.

The road to the Super Bowl will become a little more difficult without that No. 1 seed if the new format is approved. Only once in the Patriots history have they reached the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team and that was 35 years ago in the 1985 season. The No. 1 seed and home-field advantage will carry even more importance, but they'll have to outduel some powerful up-and-coming AFC teams if they want to earn it in the near future.

For a team with the NFL's toughest projected strength of schedule in 2020, that will be no easy task.