NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-9)
CAMP SITE: Foxborough, Massachusetts
LAST YEAR: The first year of the post-Tom Brady era in New England began with high hopes after the team signed 2015 MVP Cam Newton to a one-year deal to succeed the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback after he signed with Tampa Bay. The Patriots started 2-1, but things with south fast after Newton contracted COVID-19 prior to their Week 4 matchup with Kansas City. New England lost that game and four straight overall as Newton returned but struggled to command the offense. Injuries and inconsistencies mounted, and the Patriots went on to lose three of their final four games on the way to missing the postseason for the first time since 2008.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Jonnu Smith, TE Hunter Henry, WR Nelson Agholor, WR Kendrick Bourne, QB Mac Jones, DT Davon Godchaux, LB Matt Judon, DB Jalen Mills, DL Henry Anderson, LB Kyle Van Noy, DL Christian Barmore, DE Ronnie Perkins, special assistant Matt Patricia.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WR Julian Edelman (retired), S Patrick Chung (retired), LG Joe Thuney, RT Marcus Cannon (trade), DL Adam Butler.
CAMP NEEDS: The status of cornerback Stephon Gilmore is in the spotlight, with the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year possibly set to hold out to improve a contract that will pay him a base salary of $7 million this season. Even with a $500,000 roster bonus, that still ranks him 25th among NFL cornerbacks for 2021. His absence during voluntary workouts and minicamp sent a message that he feels under compensated, and the team can’t afford to head into the regular season rushing to fill his spot.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: With a full offseason program, it would take something drastic for Newton to lose the starting job. It’s to be determined who will surround him in the backfield and at receiver. Veteran Julian Edelman retired, leaving Agholor and Bourne as frontrunners to be Newton’s go-to threats. Spots for Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski should also be there. The same isn’t true for third-year pro N’Keal Harry, who recently requested a trade despite two disappointing seasons. If he’s still with the team, he will get plenty of competition from Isaiah Zuber and seventh-round pick Tre Nixon. At running back, Damien Harris supplanted Sony Michel last season as the Patriots’ top rusher. New England didn’t pick up Michel’s fifth-year contract option, possibly signaling a willingness to move on after the 26-year-old battled through another injury-plagued season. The Patriots also drafted Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson to join a pre-camp depth chart that includes veteran James White, Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor.
EXPECTATIONS: New England spent lots of money this offseason to plug its holes. It should pay off immediately on defense and the Patriots can certainly return to the playoffs with this group. How much of a contender they are beyond that will hinge on Newton’s productivity in his second year in the offense and how quickly he can help integrate the new additions around him.
FANDUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +3100
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL