Tom Brady to reunite with ex-Patriots QBs at 2019 Kentucky Derby

Tom Brady to reunite with ex-Patriots QBs at 2019 Kentucky Derby

It appears "the wolfpack" will join forces once again ... off the field, anyway.

After missing last year's Kentucky Derby, Tom Brady will be back at Churchill Downs next weekend for the biggest horse race of the year. A press release announcing attendees for the 2019 Kentucky Derby Eve Gala listed the New England Patriots quarterback as the headliner.

If you'll notice, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and Indianapolis Colts QB Jacoby Brissett also are on the list. Garoppolo and Brissett both backed up Brady during the 2016 season, leading the GOAT to dub the trio his "wolfpack" on social media.

Brady's current backup, Brian Hoyer, also will be in attendance, as will close pals Julian Edelman and ex-Patriots receiver Danny Amendola. Even a few head coaches are joining the party, including Patriots Hall of Fame nominee Mike Vrabel.

Notably absent from the star-studded guest list is retired Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who's been a mainstay at the Derby in years past. But considering the time he has on his hands, we're not ruling out a surprise appearance.

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NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Six New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Arizona Cardinals

OT Marcus Gilbert (August 4)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (Aug. 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (Aug. 2)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Indianapolis Colts

DB Rolan Milligan (Aug. 5) 
LB Skai Moore (Aug. 4)
DB Marvell Tell (Aug. 5)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

LB Ukeme Eligwe (August 4)
CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)
WR Albert Wilson (August 5)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB CJ Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)

Can Cam Newton handle being called out by Bill Belichick? Ex-Patriots DT has doubts

Can Cam Newton handle being called out by Bill Belichick? Ex-Patriots DT has doubts

Will Cam Newton be able to take the same kind of verbal upbraiding that Bill Belichick directed at Tom Brady over the years?

Kyle Love, who started his career in New England before spending the past five seasons in Carolina, has his doubts.

Love spoke with Andrew Callahan of The Boston Herald about Newton’s prospects as a Patriot.

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And while Love was high on the potential for success, he mentioned a dynamic that we’ve spoken about on NBC Sports Boston recently. How well will Cam take the heat?

“This is just my opinion, but I don’t feel like Cam can take the pressure of coaches talking down about his play,” Love told Callahan. “If he had a bad game in Carolina, the coaching staff wouldn’t say much to him because they may have felt he could be a little frail about it or maybe pout. They never really corrected to the point Bill used to correct Tom.”

It’s a very intriguing point and it will be a dynamic that Newton’s new teammates will no doubt watch closely. Will Newton feel entitled to different treatment? Will Belichick be a kinder, gentler version of himself so as not to rankle Newton?

Belichick could easily write a best-seller on sports psychology and leadership. He’s got a feel for who needs what kind of coaching and when.

Newton is a 32-year-old former superstar on a prove-it contract who’s had his football life turned upside down. Regardless of the invulnerability his social media posts try to convey, there’s probably a guy in there who’s got a shadow of a doubt about how this is going to go. He’s walked across the bridge to Belichick. An arm around the shoulder might fit better than a boot in the ass as the two men get going.

With Brady, there was a method to the meanness. First, Brady didn’t come in as the No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner. So when Belichick railed at him during his first camp, “I can’t stand it. can’t stand it, run it again! Huddle up and run it again, Brady!” Brady did it with the knowledge his chubby self could be on its way back to San Mateo.

As Brady became more accomplished, Belichick tamped down celebrity quarterback tendencies as best he could and Brady — attuned to Belichick’s worries he would go Hollywood and get soft — responded.

Belichick — knowing he had a willing target who could take the heat — would turn it up on Brady knowing the impact it would have on everyone else.

First, nobody was above criticism. Second, Brady’s response was almost always to attack back with his performance.

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Martellus Bennett recounted last May how this all worked.

“One day we were at practice and the defense is crushing us," Bennett said. "We can’t complete any passes. Sometimes they do the install and it’s just the right install. So we come into the meeting and Bill (Belichick) always had bad plays of the day and he’s just calling out Tom, ‘We have quarterbacks that can’t make throws.’

“I’m like ‘This is Tom Brady. He can make all the throws.’

"I’ve never seen coaches really call out the quarterbacks in group meetings. I sit right behind Tom because I’m the quarterback whisperer. I like to whisper in their ear when I see things. So, after we break that meeting, I go to finish my workout or whatever and Tom is in there doing dropbacks. He’s just throwing dropbacks. He’s pissed off. The next day we go 33 for 33 or something like that at practice, and from then I was just like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna be great.’ I’ve never seen anyone that didn’t shut down. He was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna show you tomorrow.’ He just picked them apart. Take this, take that.”

"He'll call out anybody," Bennett said of Belichick. "I try not to laugh sometimes because, like, the way he does it is funny to me. I find Bill to be hilarious. But he calls everybody out. That's the first team I've been on where I felt everyone was equal."

The stories are legion.

“Bill’s going to be Bill, and he’s going to let Cam know how he feels no matter what. Everybody is treated equal, and I actually love that about Bill because that let the whole team know you’re going to be held accountable,” Love told Callahan.

“Being a professional in New England is different from being a professional in Carolina. It’s a whole different ballgame,” Love said. “Bill wants things run a certain way, wants things practiced a certain way and said a certain way in the classroom and in the media. New England is not for everybody. Every player does not fit well there physically or mentally.”

Brady’s longstanding willingness to get aired out for the sake of getting aired out eventually waned. But before it did, it was frequently cited as a lesson in what it meant to play for the dynastic Patriots.

The interplay between Newton, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and how quickly they get comfortable is a fascinating part of this preseason.

And there’s really no time for walking on eggshells.