Projecting Patriots' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
This July and August, the New England Patriots' training camp will bear witness to some of the fiercest roster battles in the entire NFL. Much of the talent jettisoned in the latter stages of roster building will likely find their way into other uniforms by season's end.
With the current collective bargaining agreement favoring cheap rookie labor, established veterans have a tougher row to hoe than in the past. Regardless of whether it is veteran or rookie—somebody has to be cut—there will be blood.
For the masochistic, here are the five positions to watch closely.
Options: Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork
The quarterback of the offensive line, the center for the New England Patriots has to be in sync with Tom Brady on every play. The level of trust needed there might be just enough to save a veteran his job.
Stork was drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft, not a difficult projection following the dismal performances of Wendell and Connolly in 2013. They both struggled mightily in pass protection and couldn't make up for it in the running game.
Whether Stork can make up for his rookie standing with a strong offseason remains to be seen. If there are any doubts regarding his readiness to make the line calls, however, Wendell will likely be seen snapping to Brady this fall.
Verdict: Ryan Wendell
Options: Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Jon Halapio
Like center, there may be a passing of the torch occurring at right guard.
Connolly has held down the right guard spot the last few seasons, but Cannon and Halapio are poised to take that starting spot away. If he loses the starting edge, he'll likely see his $4 million contract terminated, saving over $3 million against the cap for New England.
Cannon and Halapio are both powerful blockers who should be able to open bigger holes in the running game than Connolly did in 2013. However, Cannon's experience at tackle should give him an edge in pass protection and ultimately could land him the job.
Verdict: Marcus Cannon
Options: James Morris, Steve Beauharnais, Cameron Gordon, Ja'Gared Davis, Chris White
Following the departures of Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher, the linebacker position has the least depth of all positions in New England. After the starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, Beauharnais, Davis and White combined for one defensive snap in 2013.
New England eschewed drafting a linebacker in 2014 but landed two coveted undrafted free agents in Morris and Gordon. While Gordon will predominantly be a special teams ace, Morris could step in and take over Fletcher's role as a rookie.
He might be a bit small—6'1" and 241 pounds—but he plays big. He finds the ball well in coverage and has Spikes-esque instincts on the football field. If he shows any prowess at all on special teams, I'd be shocked if he didn't see snaps—at "Mike" or "Will" on Sundays.
Verdict: James Morris
Options: Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner
After losing Steve Gregory and Adrian Wilson this offseason, the strong safety position is wide open for the taking. Harmon filled in well as a rookie, rarely finding himself out of position or chasing receivers down from behind.
Wilson and Ebner always seem to find the ball when they are put into the fray, but neither has been consistent enough performers to earn Bill Belichick's confidence over the last two years.
Chung is a former Patriot returning to his old team. He flashed brilliance during his first stint in New England but was maddeningly inconsistent with his coverage skills and angles. Although I think Harmon eventually wins the job, Chung's ability to make plays could earn him the starting nod.
Verdict: Duron Harmon
Options: Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, Mark Harrison, Jeremy Gallon
The New England Patriots might not have superstars at the receiver position, but the depth behind Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola is quite solid.
Boyce offers deep speed that nobody else on the roster has, while Harrison has the 6'3" size and length. Thompkins has made some clutch plays in the past, and Gallon looks like he could be the next slot receiver to roam the flats and underneath areas.
LaFell, however, offers the versatility—he can play"X", "Z" and slot—to win at all three levels. Having Brady throw him the ball could even cure a bit of his inconsistency.
Verdict: Brandon LaFell