Patriots’ holes to fill other than one left by Tom Brady: New England has needs, and not just at quarterback

There might be signings that end up making a bigger impact, but there is no question that the most notable transaction of the 2020 NFL offseason so far is Tom Brady’s move from New England to Tampa. The longtime Patriots quarterback’s exit left a gaping hole under center for his former team to fill; and right now, their only options are 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, journeyman backup Cody Kessler, and recently-signed former Brady backup Brian Hoyer.

The Pats may or may not be comfortable entering the 2020 campaign with one of those players as their starter, but quarterback is not the only position on the roster where they lost a key contributor. And despite the downgrade from Brady to the options available to replace him, it might actually not even be the position where the Patriots are least-equipped to move forward without last season’s stalwarts. 

In addition to Brady, the Patriots have so far seen Kyle Van Noy (Dolphins), Jamie Collins (Lions), Danny Shelton (Lions), Ted Karras (Dolphins), Phillip Dorsett (Seahawks), Nate Ebner (Giants), and Elandon Roberts (Dolphins) leave in free agency, and they also traded Duron Harmon (Lions). 

It has been a week since Tom Brady left the Pats, and there’s still a lot to figure out. Will Brinson is joined by Dan Hanzus to break it all down, including sizing up the AFC East and more. Listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.

They signed Beau Allen to replaced Shelton on the defensive interior, Adrian Phillips to take Harmon’s place in the secondary, and Damiere Byrd to fill Dorsett’s role in the receiver corps. (They almost certainly still need to add talent at that spot, but Dorsett fell out of the rotation by the end of last year so he was not too difficult to replace rather quickly.) Karras is not a player they’d planned on starting last season until David Andrews had to miss the year, and assuming full health Andrews should take his job back. Ebner didn’t play a single defensive snap last season but was a valuable contributor on special teams; however, New England already signed special teams standout Justin Bethel last season, and he can easily take Ebner’s role there. 

At linebacker, though, the Patriots do not have a lot of easy replacements. Dont’a Hightower is still there and Ja’Whaun Bentley should be able to pick up more snaps alongside him, but New England lost a ton of versatility when Van Noy and Collins walked out the door. Each of those players brought the ability to play on the edge, as a stand-up linebacker, or in coverage. Bill Belichick would move them both around the formation with ease and create all kinds of confusion and matchup problems for the opposing offense. Roberts was more of a standard linebacker type, but even he brought an element of versatility by filling in at fullback amidst various injuries. 

At the moment, the Patriots do not have the kinds of players that can fill those roles in their system. Perhaps they can be found in the draft, but with the team having already traded away its second-round pick for Mohamed Sanu last year, they’re working at more of a draft-capital deficit than they usually are. There are some players (Isaiah Simmons and Zack Baun, to name two) that seem like picture-perfect fits; but given their current draft slot (No. 23) and Belichick’s typical reluctance to trade up, even for premium players like Simmons, it would not at all be surprising to see the Pats trade down and out of the first round (they’re currently set to pick at No. 23) in order to pick up more selections and help fill those various holes. 

And even once they get around to doing that, there’s still the matter of retiring offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. A living legend of a position coach, Scarnecchia left a gaping hole the last time he stepped away from the game, as the Pats’ pressure rate jumped in his absence, while the team’s run-blocking suffered as well. 

At the moment, the Patriots have yet to hire a replacement for him. And without Brady under center to help set protections, having a well-coached offensive line is going to be more important to this offense than ever. 

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