Perhaps no team has experienced as much roster turnover this offseason as the New England Patriots. After watching Tom Brady walk away, Bill Belichick also lost starting linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency. Eight players elected to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season. Needless to say, the Patriots will look completely different when they take the field this year.
However, even though Belichick whittled down his roster to 53 players, he still has to fill a huge hole before the Patriots begin their season. And depending on how he addresses it, that could have major implications for a new-look New England team that will be led by Cam Newton.
A new look for New England
Bill Belichick has had quite the offseason. First, he watched the quarterback who helped him win six Super Bowl titles leave New England for Tampa. Prominent free agents departed for massive paydays. To make matters worse, the Patriots lost a league-high eight players as a result of the COVID-19 opt-out policy.
Dont’a Hightower, Pat Chung, and Marcus Cannon highlight the crop of Patriots who will not suit up this season. Plus, an already-undermanned offense suffered blows with tight end Matt LaCosse, running back Brandon Bolden, and fullback Dan Vitale also electing to sit out.
Still, Belichick found potential plug-and-play replacements in the 2020 NFL draft. He took two tight ends in the third round and added three linebackers who could play significant snaps as rookies. Top pick Kyle Dugger also has a chance to make an immediate impact given Chung’s absence.
Of course, New England’s biggest move occurred after the draft. After spending months on the free-agent market, Cam Newton signed a one-year deal to join forces with Belichick. The former No. 1 pick just got named as a team captain and will look to lead a roster full of new faces back to the playoffs.
Bill Belichick must fill huge hole before Patriots begin their season
With NFL teams trimming their rosters down to 53 players, Bill Belichick surprisingly cut both his kickers. Veteran Nick Folk and rookie Justin Rohrwasser got released before signing with New England’s practice squad.
Currently, the Patriots do not have a pure placekicker on the active roster, though Jake Bailey does return as the team’s starting punter. The 2019 fifth-round pick excelled as a rookie, but he certainly does not seem like a legitimate option as a placekicker.
Though Bailey handled kickoff duties following Stephen Gostkowski’s season-ending injury, he did not attempt a single field goal last year or at any time during his four years at Stanford.
With the season opener right around the corner, that puts the Patriots in a precarious position. And it means Belichick has to make a critical roster decision before New England hosts a much-improved Miami Dolphins team on Sunday.
Who will kick for the Patriots in 2020?
During his two-decade tenure with the Patriots, Bill Belichick relied on essentially two kickers. Adam Vinatieri became a legend in New England for delivering in the clutch. Gostkowski took over in 2006 and provided stability at the position for more than a decade. Now, though, Belichick must decide which direction to move in at the kicker spot.
Folk spent part of the 2019 season with the Patriots and delivered solid results. The 35-year-old NFL veteran connected on 82.4% of his field-goal attempts after joining the team midway through the year. Given his familiarity with New England’s special teams unit and his adequate performance last year, that should give Folk the leg up in the competition to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
Of course, Belichick had to bring back Folk just a few weeks ago because fifth-round pick Justin Rohrwasser failed to seize the job. Many expected the rookie to step in seamlessly given his draft pedigree. Yet, an inconsistent performance in training camp that may have been caused by an injury forced the Patriots to re-sign Folk.
Ultimately, Rohrwasser may have to look to 2021 to find his way on the active roster. Belichick would be smart to move forward with Folk, who at least provides a reliable leg and a wealth of experience. With the season opener just days away, it will not be surprising to see him get promoted to the active roster.
Either way, Bill Belichick still has to figure out who will kick for the Patriots in 2020. And his decision will have a drastic impact on a team that could struggle to score points.