The upcoming NFL season appears to be in peril, with prominent players around the league choosing to sit out. The Patriots are not safe from this and are in fact one of the most heavily hit teams. Here are the three main ways the opt-outs affect the team.
Greater Roles for Young Receivers
Marqise Lee was the Jaguar's second-best receiver in both 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, he was struck down with a knee injury in the following preseason, causing him to miss all of 2018 and most of 2019. He had been released this offseason and signed with the Patriots in hopes of making a comeback.
Josh Gordon has been gone for quite some time, and Phillip Dorsett just left in free agency. The Patriots attempted to fill this void by bringing in cheap, underrated receivers like Damiere Byrd and Lee. But with Lee opting out, Jakobi Meyers and N'Keal Harry have risen up the depth chart.
The pair will most likely be the third and fourth receivers, with Edelman and Sanu ahead of them and Byrd as the fifth. Odds are at least one of them will see major reps this year, especially when considering the injury histories of both Edelman and Sanu. Meyers definitely showed potential last year and is a safe bet over Harry despite his significant ceiling.
Blocking Unit Set Back Again
New England's offense was weaker in 2019 than it's ever been in the last decade. Some blame the lack of receivers or Brady, both of which are warranted, but it was more likely due to the blocking unit. Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn was just settling in, playing only half of the season. Starting center David Andrews was out the entire season due to pulmonary embolism. Even longtime starting fullback James Develin was out with a neck injury after only two games.
The expectation for the upcoming campaign was that Andrews would be back, Wynn would have some experience behind him, and new fullback Danny Vitale would take over relatively seamlessly. But Vitale, along with starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, are also opt-outs. Lineman Najee Toran and tight end Matt LaCosse also have opted out, putting further pressure on the team to patch up the unit.
The rushing game should be solid this year, and there seems to be a solid receiving and tight end group as well. Next year's offense will depend on whoever the starting QB is, and if they can field a strong o-line. This is not the best moment for these complications either, with the retirement of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and the aforementioned new starting QB.
Defensive Rookies get Pushed into Limelight
Even with the loss of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency, the defense still appeared strong. Their defensive line was, at least for the most part, still intact. Their secondary saw the introduction of Adrian Phillips, who was an All-Pro safety in 2018, and a second round pick, Kyle Dugger.
The Patriots even replaced their losses at linebacker with signing Brandon Copeland and draft picks Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings. But their strong defense took another hit when the opt-outs began. Starting linebacker Dont'a Hightower and starting safety Patrick Chung will not participate in the season this year.
This of course puts greater emphasis on the three rookies that we've previously mentioned. Chung was going to have to compete with Dugger and Phillips regardless, but now it gives Dugger a boost. Uche and Jennings both appear to be typical Patriots linebackers, and could be very instrumental in the team's success. But ultimately we don't yet know if the rookies and young players can make up the difference. If there was one conclusion to take from this, it's that the Patriots season has become even more uncertain.
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