Patriots

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

Check out more of the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below:

How Patriots addressed uncertain NFL season in letter to season-ticket holders

How Patriots addressed uncertain NFL season in letter to season-ticket holders

The New England Patriots can't promise their fans the 2020 NFL season will go on as scheduled.

They can promise free parking, though.

In a letter to season-ticket holders Monday, the Patriots announced that parking at Gillette Stadium will be free in 2020 and that ticketing will be entirely digital, per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.

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That's no small gesture from the Patriots, as parking at Gillette Stadium isn't cheap. But it assumes NFL games will be played in front of fans, which is far from a sure thing as the coronavirus pandemic persists in the United States.

The Patriots acknowledged the possibility of games being cancelled or played in empty stadiums in Monday's letter.

"We know you, too, are eager to return and cheer on the Patriots together," the letter read, per PFT. "However as previously communicated, if for any reason a game is cancelled this season or is unable to be played with fans, you will receive a full refund for the face value of your ticket (plus associated fees) OR you will have the option to apply the full amount of a cancelled game as a credit toward a future ticket purchase."

If games are played in front of fans, digital ticketing and free parking would eliminate exchanges of cash, which present a higher risk of COVID-19 spread.

Of course, large gatherings such as NFL games present their own health risks during the pandemic. While the league reportedly decided to shorten the preseason from four games to two, it has yet to develop safety protocols for the season or decide whether fans will be allowed at games.

That decision may not come for some time as the coronavirus continues to evolve, but at least Patriots fans have the promise of free parking if they're allowed at Gillette Stadium.

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Will Cam Newton conquer Patriots offense in time to start by Week 1?

Will Cam Newton conquer Patriots offense in time to start by Week 1?

All things being equal, there’d be no reason Cam Newton couldn’t make his case to be opening day starter for the Patriots in 2020.

But all things really aren’t equal between Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.

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First, Newton has to show he’s recovered from foot and shoulder problems that marred his last two seasons. From all indications, that’s a formality. The Patriots expect Newton to have no physical limitations.

Second, Newton has to make up the system stagger that Stidham and Hoyer have on him. There are a lot of plug-and-play positions on a football team. Quarterback isn’t one of them. The position demands its owner know his job cold AND the responsibilities of 10 other guys.

That’s less of a sure thing.

Stidham’s been with the team through two offseasons, got specific tutelage throughout 2019 from offensive assistants like Mick Lombardi and has had 15 months to eat, drink and sleep the Patriots' way of doing things.

Hoyer’s been around it even longer.

Newton’s been with the team a little more than a week. Sources say he’s already into the playbook, learning the language and there’s no concern he won’t master it. But demonstrating that mastery on the practice field and in preseason games? Newton may not have that chance.

Two weeks of preseason have been lopped. Right now, the league and players are wrangling over how to ramp-up the early stages of camp. The union, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, wants 80 players on rosters as opposed to 90, just 20 players at a time at the facility during the first 21 days of camp and 40 during the next 10-day phase of non-contact practices. So that’s 31 days of players in shifts from the time camp theoretically opens on July 28. There are then 10 practices (eight padded) and the two preseason games.

It’s inevitable that a full-go Newton will be the Patriots' starter at some point in 2020. And over that proposed 41-day period, there will be plenty of time for Newton to show the arm strength, mobility, poise and leadership the team presumes he’ll bring.

But will it be enough time for Newton to show he can run the Patriots offense as smoothly as Stidham and Hoyer? Who gets the first-team reps in camp? Who starts the preseason games? Is weight placed on the crispness of the whole operation when they do hit the field or — if it doesn’t look just right — is that chalked up to the acclimation period?

“I think Jarrett Stidham is going to make this closer than most people realize,” said Chris Simms, an analyst for NBC Sports and Pro Football Talk. “(When the Newton signing happened) I thought, ‘Ooohh, this far into the offseason …?’ I just thought the Patriots would stand pat with Stidham. I know they really like him. This is going to be hard to overcome.”

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On further review, Simms realized the equation will ultimately boil down to who’s the better player: Newton or Stidham?

“The more they play around with Cam Newton, the more they’re going to realize, ‘Whoa, there’s just a whole other facet of our playbook here that we can dive into and be very effective with Cam Newton over Stidham too,’ ” Simms said. “I would imagine Cam Newton is going to be the starter and Jarrett Stidham will be his very willing backup.”

From indications I’ve gotten, this will be an open competition. The starter’s job isn’t promised Newton. Importantly, the sense is that Newton understands that. And the belief is that if he’s not the starter coming out of camp, he wouldn’t pull the ripcord and demand his release so he could latch on elsewhere. Both sides want this to work. Both sides know that work is what it will require.

When you sit back and think about it, trepidation and presumptions about what Newton would expect his situation to be is what led him to the Patriots.

“He got screwed over by his own team, then Covid-19 hurt him with being able to get the medical checks,” said Simms. “So all the seats were filled for starting quarterbacks. I’ve been saying that nobody would sign Cam Newton except for a few teams because he would disrupt or divide a locker room (if he’s not the starter).

“If he’s your backup, everybody’s going to go, ‘Man, did you see our backup today? Did you see that throw he made? Did you see that run he had? Did you see that throw he made on the run?’ And everyone’s going to say, ‘Why aren’t we starting him?’ That will ruin a football team,” said Simms. “That’s why he was on the street. But this is a situation that certainly makes sense.”

It does because Newton isn’t trying to beat out a quarterback the team drafted high and planned to hand the reins to. Stidham’s a promising player they took a shot at. His flag isn’t planted anywhere on the depth chart.

The question isn’t whether Newton is good enough to start over Stidham. The question is how quickly a Patriots offense that’s been built around a pocket assassin morphs to meet Newton halfway.

Simms says that shouldn’t be an issue.

“It’s the most versatile playbook in the NFL,” he said. “There’s no team in the NFL that can reinvent their offense, or their team or the mantra of their team on a regular basis. I don’t think this is going to be a huge adjustment for them where they say, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to invent this whole new playbook.’ A lot of these plays are in their playbook. Now, instead of putting them on page 185, now we move them up to the first 40 pages of the playbook because they’ll be more of a staple that way.”

Bottom line? Pandemic or not, teams don’t generally wait until June 28 to acquire their starting quarterback for an upcoming season. The Patriots have.

We’ll find out if that means, “Ready or not, here comes Cam!” in Week One.