Sony Michel or James White? Both Patriots RBs should see role in passing game

Sony Michel or James White? Both Patriots RBs should see role in passing game

What makes the New England Patriots' offense successful? The same reason it frustrates fantasy football owners: unpredictability.

That's why the Patriots' 2018 running back group was an anomaly. Sony Michel was the one-dimensional "bell cow" who led the team with 931 rushing yards but caught just seven passes for 50 yards, while James White was the souped-up change-of-pace back who tallied a team-high 87 receptions for 751 yards.

But the Patriots covet versatility, which is why Michel has tried to make strides as a pass-catcher this offseason. Running backs coach Ivan Fears apparently likes what he sees so far.

"Much improved, much better than he was last year," Fears told Mac Cerullo of the Newburyport Daily News on Monday. "Last year I thought it was a lot for him, this year he's pretty good at it, he's going to be very good at it."

So, if Michel is more involved in New England's passing game, does that mean fewer opportunities for White? Hardly, said Fears, who suggested the shifty 27-year-old will still get plenty of carries.

"We like to be in that kind of mode, they've got to worry about Sony catching the ball as well as running the ball," Fears said.

"I think you'll find Sony is going to do very well in the passing game, and I bet you'll find James White and the rest of the guys doing very well in the running game also."

Michel and White will have to compete for touches with a loaded wide receiver corps that includes Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas and rookie N'Keal Harry. But there were enough points to go around in 2018, as White was the eighth-best running back in fantasy football (half-PPR scoring) last season, while Michel finished 27th despite missing three games.

Tom Brady is entering his age-42 season, and the Patriots boast a strong offensive line led by Dante Scarnecchia. That bodes well for New England's running back duo: Both Michel and White could be top-25 fantasy performers this season, with Michel slightly higher on our draft board due to his untapped potential in the passing game.

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NFL rumors: Salary details of Cam Newton's Patriots contract revealed

NFL rumors: Salary details of Cam Newton's Patriots contract revealed

The New England Patriots aren't spending a whole lot of money to bring Cam Newton to Foxboro.

Reports surfaced Sunday night that the Patriots and the veteran quarterback had agreed to a one-year, incentive-laden contract worth up to $7.5 million. 

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Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported Wednesday the financial breakdown of Newton's contract with the Patriots, including the base salary, guaranteed money and incentive totals.

The Patriots didn't have much salary cap space before this move. In fact, they recently had the lowest amount of available cap space in the entire league. So, for them to be able to acquire Newton and not have to spend a ton of money or cap space is pretty extraordinary.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Newton's contract is that the Patriots could franchise tag the 31-year-old quarterback next offseason. It gives New England more options in the event Newton has a strong 2020 season.

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There's not a ton of risk with this move, and it could end up being one of the best roster additions of Bill Belichick's 20-year tenure in New England if Newton is able to stay healthy.

Newton is a former league MVP (2015) and has been one of the most exciting quarterbacks to watch throughout his nine-year career. The last time he played close to a full season was 2018, when the former No. 1 overall draft pick threw for 3,395 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Newton also ran for 488 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in those 14 games.

If he produces similar or better statistics in 2020, the Patriots should have a strong chance to extend their playoff appearance streak to 12 seasons.

NFL rumors: Week 1 and Week 4 of 2020 preseason schedule to be eliminated

NFL rumors: Week 1 and Week 4 of 2020 preseason schedule to be eliminated

The NFL preseason could feature half as many games as we're accustomed to seeing.

ProFootballTalk reported Wednesday that Week 1 and Week 4 of the 2020 preseason will be eliminated.

Here's an explanation from PFT's Mike Florio:

The move was driven by two primary factors. First, teams who will be playing preseason games on the road won’t want to move that many people. Second, given that no teams had on-field practice sessions in the offseason, coaches would rather have the extra time to work with their teams, and that will happen if they don’t have to worry about two extra preseason games.

The NFLPA has yet to sign off on these moves, according to NFL Media's Mike Garafolo:

These cuts make a lot of sense as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the United States and the rest of the world. The pandemic has forced all offseason activities so far to be held virtually. Training camps are scheduled to begin July 28, and the league announced earlier this week that it's sticking to that date

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What would these preseason changes mean for the New England Patriots? It's not yet known if teams will just play their Week 2 and Week 3 preseason games, or if any opponents and/or dates will also be changed.

Here's the Patriots' original preseason schedule that was announced a few weeks ago:

  • Thursday, August 8 at Lions, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 17 at Titans, 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 22 vs. Panthers, 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 29 vs. Giants, 7:30 p.m.

The most intriguing matchup on the Patriots' preseason schedule is with the Panthers, especially after New England reportedly agreed to sign former Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Newton spent nine seasons with the Panthers before being released in March. He was a free agent for several months before finally landing in New England. This preseason matchup would be Newton's first time playing against the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2011.

It sounds like both the league and NFLPA still have some things to work out regarding the preseason. In any event, playing the full four-game schedule doesn't make a ton of sense given the current COVID-19 situation.