Patriots

Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski working to be ready for 2020 season

Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski working to be ready for 2020 season

We interrupt our wall-to-wall, door-to-door, sunrise-to-sundown, soup-to-nuts Tom Brady coverage for a Stephen Gostkowski update.

The kicker. You remember, right? One of the most accurate in NFL history, been with the team since 2006? He’s one of a slew of Patriots we’ve underreported on this offseason because of the Brady fixation.

I reached out to Gostkowski this week as he continues recovery from the hip injury that ended his 2019 season after four games and required surgery.

His text response?

“Just working hard rehabbing ... I think Brady is the bigger story here.”

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He’s right. But Brady isn’t the only story. Gostkowski’s progress and the pending free agent status of players like Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Joe Thuney and Matt Slater matter too, regardless of where Tom Brady hangs his hat in 2020.

Gostkowski signed a two-year, $8.5M deal last offseason so he’s under contract for 2020. But at 36 and coming back from injury, there’s no assurance he’ll back for his 15th season as a Patriot.

He gets that. But he’s attacking his five-day-a-week rehab work “trying to get healthy so I have the choice” to keep playing.

After Gostkowski went down, the Patriots first turned to Mike Nugent as his replacement. Nugent didn’t get it done so the team brought in Nick Folk. Folk was excellent even after missing a game for an emergency appendectomy. Folk kicked in seven games and the playoffs. Folk is a free agent and turns 36 in November.

He showed himself capable enough to be a viable option for any team and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Patriots maintain steady contact with him throughout this offseason.

It also wouldn’t be a surprise if they dipped into the draft for a kicker as they did with Gostkowski in the fourth round back in 2006.

The return on investment from Gostkowski — the 118th overall pick in that draft — has been outstanding. He’s always been a lot better player than he’s been given credit for locally — an irritation that’s been a writing chew toy for me the past few years.

So while our fixation is quite reasonably with the quarterback who’s been with the team since 2000, the kicker who’s been with the team since 2006 and has played a role in plenty of the team’s success as well (including Super Bowl 53) shouldn’t be overlooked.

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NFL rumors: Buccaneers signing Blaine Gabbert to be Tom Brady's backup

NFL rumors: Buccaneers signing Blaine Gabbert to be Tom Brady's backup

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found Tom Brady's backup.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that veteran quarterback Blaine Gabbert is headed back to the Bucs on a one-year contract.

Gabbert started the 2019 season as the backup quarterback behind Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but he did not play a single snap. He was placed on injured reserve in September after dislocating his shoulder in the preseason.

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The Buccaneers opted not to bring back Winston as their franchise quarterback, and instead pursued Brady in free agency after he announced his decision to leave the New England Patriots. Brady signed a two-year contract with the Bucs that could be worth as much as $59 million.

Gabbert was the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's failed to meet expectations and has spent the majority of his career as a backup. It's safe to say the Buccaneers are in huge trouble if Brady misses any amount of games due to injury next season, but in fairness, you could say that about most teams in regards to their quarterback situation.

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Who were Tom Brady's all-time favorite Patriots targets? What the numbers say

Who were Tom Brady's all-time favorite Patriots targets? What the numbers say

Tom Brady completed a lot of passes in a New England Patriots uniform -- 6,337, to be exact.

Brady was diplomatic in his distribution, too: He threw at least one touchdown pass to 77 different targets during his 20-year tenure with the Patriots, which ended when he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason.

But the six-time Super Bowl champion certainly had his favorites. And as it turns out, the most prolific pass-catcher of Brady's Patriots era by sheer volume is on the current roster.

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Boston Sports Info (@BostonSportsInf on Twitter) compiled a list of Brady's 10 most-coveted targets based on total receptions. At the top of the list: wide receiver Julian Edelman.

Edelman has the benefit of experience: He spent 10 years catching passes from Brady, more than any other player on this list. But the 33-year-old still averaged 68.9 receptions per season with Brady after beginning his career as a converted quarterback drafted in the seventh round.

As for Brady's most prolific pass-catchers based on their career averages in New England rather than total numbers? Here's our unofficial top five:

1. Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski's stats are absolutely mind-boggling: A Patriots-leading 8,949 receiving yards in the regular- and postseason with 90 touchdowns over nine seasons.

2. Wes Welker
Welker was nearly as prolific in a shorter amount of time: He averaged 112 catches per regular season alone during his six-year stint with Brady from 2007 to 2012.

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3. Julian Edelman
Edelman has three 1,000-yard seasons under his belt with Brady and has caught at least 74 passes from the GOAT in five of the last six seasons.

4. Troy Brown
Brown was Brady's Welker and Edelman before either player came to prominence, winning three Super Bowls with TB12 in the early 2000s while amassing 101 receptions in 2001.

5. Randy Moss
Moss only spent three seasons in Foxboro, which makes it even more remarkable that he cracked the overall top 10. The Hall of Fame wideout hauled in an NFL-leading 23 of Brady's 50 touchdown passes during the Patriots' historic 2007 season.

Brady has a strong set of weapons in Tampa Bay with wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. But none of those players will come close to cracking the "Brady 10."