Patriots 2023 Training Camp Article
| Review, Recap, Predict
A Review of the 2022 season, a Recap of the offseason, and a prediction for the future of The New England Patriots.
2022 - A look back
The New England Patriots began their 2022 GZL season on a high note. They had been able to secure their division along with a first-round bye the previous season. Although they had been taken out by the eventual Superbowl champions, the Denver Broncos, the organization knew deep down that they had what it would take to get back into the playoffs in 2022. To even take their run all the way until the end.
That positive outlook and belief in themselves, however, didn't stop the eventual collapse that happened in 2022. Everything looked good when they won their first game of the season. A complete destruction of the Washington Redskins 44-25. A home game that they had won with ease. The rest of the first half of the season did not, however, go as smoothly. They lost their second game to the Titans, before recovering with a victory against the Bengals... at that's how the rest of the season went. It seems for every game that the Patriots were able to win, there was another that they just couldn't win and they ended up finishing with an 8-8 record on the season... A stark difference from the 12-4 record they put up the year before as they clinched a first-round bye.
No, in 2022, they weren't even going to be seeing the playoffs, and that... that hurt. The person it probably hurt most of all was GM Matt Spencer. GM Spencer had been the GM of the Patriots for 13 years... a respectable length for just about anyone in this league. GM Spencer was the heart and soul of the team, and when he threw in the towel and moved to New Orleans, you could visibly tell that the heart and soul of the New England Patriots had disappeared along with him.
The Collapse of 2022
We have now discussed what happened in 2022, but we have yet to talk about why. Why did a team that went 12-4 the previous year fail to even make the playoffs? It's hard to spot a particular problem. Had GM Spencer already lost interest in the team and was looking elsewhere? Were the players overconfident in their approach to the season? Or was it something else?
Perhaps it was Ryan Nassib, who missed five games with an injury? This reporter doesn't think so. The Patriots only looked slightly worse with backup QB Bortles at the helm. They went 2-3 with Bortles at the helm. That means there was still five loses in the season that could not be placed on Blake Bortles' play.
If it wasn't QB play, then what was it? Analysts around the league were finally able to agree on a major problem that the Patriots had in 2022, and it was on the opposite side of the ball. Looking back on every game, the problem stood out more and more as the season went on, and that was their inability to get to the opponents quarterback. The Patriots were ranked 27th in sacks and 29th in opponent passer rating. These are two stats that no team ever wants to be ranked so low in. If your QB is getting pressure put on them, but you aren't returning the favor against your opponent, then you are not going to have a good time. It's a surprise to this humble reporter that with stats so low, the Patriots were even able to manage to pull out eight wins.
Hopefully, during the 2023 season, the Patriots can figure out once again how to get pressure back on the QB.
As mentioned previously, the 2023 Offseason began in the worst way possible, and that was with the departure of GM Matt Spencer. The longtime fan and GM of the Patriots left in disgust at their 8-8 record and joined the New Orleans Saints in order to start anew. The hole that GM Spencer left was quickly filled by GM Travis Robbins, a two-time super bowl champion GM with the tendency of only lasting a few seasons before going back into semi-retirement. I suppose one can only golf so much before the urge to return rushes back.
The Patriots were in shamble in more ways than one. Their hearts had been ripped out of their chests with the departure of their long-term GM, and GM Robbins confessed to even worse news. The Patriots were in a dire Salary Cap situation. In the efforts to win a super bowl, cash was being thrown at Free Agency over the past few years and those large contracts were beginning to reek havoc on the stability of the organization.
Apparently, the situation called for a little more than just cutting a few depth players that we couldn't afford. No, the first thing GM Robbins did in his new job was trade away the beloved Jarvis Jones, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2014 and played for them ever since. Patriots fans around the country were not happy but had come to accept their situation. A week later, GM Robbins had worse news; The thirteen million dollars that they saved trading away Jarvis Jones was not nearly enough to resign many of the young guys who only wanted reasonable contracts.
The next player who needed to go was announced. CB Jamar Taylor was traded away to the Falcons. CB Taylor's contract wasn't nearly as large as Jones but the Patriots already had a pretty decent cornerback squad, and GM Robbins announced that it was one of the only two positions that he felt could take a hit like that and survive.
31-year-old The man played for the 49ers for six seasons before joining the Patriots in 2021. He had a great first season with the Patriots but his production fell off severely last year because he wasn't a full-time starter. His contract was just too large for his position as a backup.
It wasn't over yet. More news appeared only a day later. Ryan Nassib would not be a Patriot for the 2023 season. GM Robbins had to make the tough decision between the 31-year-old Ryan Nassib and his backup Blake Bortles.
Ryan Nassib never played as well as he should have, and GM Robbins wasn't going to gamble on him finally fully developing his abilities now that he was in his thirties. Instead, QB Blake Bortles was called up to start for the Patriots in the upcoming seas. Drafted in 2018, Bortles has been showing signs of improvement every year. Because of the cap situation, it wasn't logical to resign Ryan Nassib to a new contract when Bortles already had a healthy contract of his own, and so The Patriots let Ryan Nassib walk.
With the departure of Nassib, it finally appeared to be over. The announcements of player departure's and trades went away and instead news of player signings started to appear.
RT Ja'Wuan James got signed to a 5-year contract that will see him making over ten million dollars in 2027.
The Patriots got into a small bidding war over the signing of RG Vadal Alexander but were able to hold on to the player with a 1 year, ten million dollar contract. Hardly ideal, but letting Nassib walk meant that they were able to keep a stable offensive line for Blake Bortles.
Two other low Unfortunately signings pre-draft were Punter Mason Whitt and Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin, two key players that GM Robbins wouldn't have been happy trying to replace.
GM Robbins expressed that he wasn't completely happy with the Pre-Draft Free Agency. He had been hoping to get a better contract on RG Vadal Alexander, but he knew that there would be a risk in letting the young offensive lineman hear offers from other teams. GM Robbins' last thoughts on the matter were, "Once we sign all of the upcoming rookies, we can take another look at our cap situation. I am cautiously optimistic."
The biggest contract that emerged from this period was news of a large contract restructure for LE Owa Odighizuwa. In order to extend his contract and lower the upcoming season's salary cap amount, Owa agreed to a 57.61 million dollar contract over seven years with a 23 million dollar signing bonus. The twenty-six-year-old has to be happy with that payday.
Patriots fans could finally rest and gather their breath. Nothing crazy was going to come out of the NFL Draft. Sure, GM Robbins might decide to trade away his draft picks to avoid any rookie contracts, but we'd get something in return.
In fact, most expected this to be the case. The Patriots just had to trade multiple star players and agree to a ten million one year contract for their guard. There was no way, after all that, that GM Robbins would risk drafting rookies with engorged contracts and leave no money left for Free Agency, right?
Wrong. GM Robbins apparently had every intention of keeping his draft picks and drafting as much talent off the board as he could. When the critics started calling, GM Robbins answered with a media release explaining his actions, "We are not out of our cap situation yet. We may be in a worse situation next year with an even larger cap penalty because of these trades that were required. More Veterans might be leaving next season, and the only way to combat that is to have young players with talent and lengthy contracts. Large signings of talented players in Free Agency just isn't realistic... it's far too competitive. All the cash we have left will be going to young players hoping to make their dreams in the GZL."
And so the Draft went. The only trade that occurred was the trading away of a fourth-round pick for a pick next year. All other picks were used.
1.13 CB Grady Jones
2.8 FS Woody Carlisle
2.13 LOLB Elijah Strong
3.23 CB Lincoln Luna
4.4 WR Garcia Bend
6.12 C Bryant Fuller
6.13 C Gerald Watters
7.8 CB Paul Guyton
7.12 CB Liam O'Malley
It was an interesting selection. The main criticism coming out of New England and the country was the selection of Grady Jones, a developed cornerback for sure, but without the height advantage of a similar corner that was still available.
Out of the nine rookies, however, only four made the team.
1.13 CB Grady Jones
2.8 FS Woody Carlisle
2.13 LOLB Elijah Strong
3.23 CB Lincoln Luna
CB Luna and LOLB Strong were both signed to backup duty almost immediately. CB Jones might see some action, as the Patriots were down to only three corners prior to the draft. Jones could easily start playing in certain formations for the Patriots.
FS Woody Carlisle will more likely than not be starting. The rookie comes out of the draft with good awareness of tackling ability. GM Robbins believes that he's the best option they have.
The rest of the offseason consisted of the cutting and signing of depth players who would take the cheapest contract.
As the offseason ends and the season is about to start, The Patriots don't even have the cap space to sign a single player... and their depth is basically at the bare minimum.
The Patriots players came into the 2023 training camp ready to prove themselves. Either they were trying to battle it out for a starting position or they were trying to prove that they were better than how they played last season. Some already had their heads in the game for next offseason, where another round of trades and cut were inevitable. The better they looked in free agency, the better the payday.
It didn't matter to GM Robbins, "Every man has his reasons for being out there. Every man has his reasons for playing at their very best. That's all I can ask from them."
The first player seeing a lot of work was CB Grady Jones, the rookie drafted in the first round. Along with his well-developed catching and tackling skills, his large bulky size is what made him so attractive so this organization. They hope that he'll have the ability to completely stop receivers at the line.
Along with his large frame, he's also very agile with a high top speed. The Patriots are looking to improve it some by conditioning and it seems to be working. Any fat on his frame appears to quickly be turning into muscle; he's looking faster every day. Because of the increase in muscle mass, he's putting on even more weight. One has to wonder just how fast he could be if he dropped 30 pounds. Possibly the fasted corner in the game.
Another rookie seeing attention is FS Woody Carlisle, who is the only rookie drafted by the Patriots that can expect to see any starting time this season. Because of the Patriots lack of depth at the safety position, Carlisle is getting a lot of one on one time with both the defensive coordinator and the Defensive Back coach. Speed is the one attribute that can cover for a players lack of awareness on the field, and their conditioning seems to be focused on that area, trying to get the most out of the young player.
Blake Bortles, who thought he had another season or two before becoming a starter seems to be having the time of his life with so much focus on him. The coaches appear to be trying to perfect his throwing motion... hopefully that manifests this season, as he was only able to put up a 75 QB rating in his handful of starts the previous year.
QB Bortles currently seems to be enjoying his new role as a starter, but only time will tell how he'll handle it when the whole season gets put on his shoulders by the media and the fans combined.
Conditioning and drills continue for everyone else. Some of the recently resigned players seem to be having an increased focused directed to them. Both RG Alexander and Kelvin Benjamin. Perhaps the coaches are trying to make sure their new contracts don't get taken for granted?
It will soon be clear as to who will be having a breakthrough during this short time before the 2023 season starts.
The 2023 Season
The new England Coaches remain positive that they have a very good chance of matching their 8-8 record of last season or maybe even improving upon it.
The fans and media alike are not convinced. They appear to be more under the impression that the coaches are merely trying to save face and what New England will face instead will be a complete dismantling of their team.
Experts predict that the Patriots will be lucky to put up even five wins this season, and next offseason they will be facing, even more, cap struggles. More players will be traded or cut, and more young players with limited knowledge and experience will be forced into starting positions.
This may be the season that Robert Kraft decides to just rebuild from the ground up.
With the doomsday prediction now over with, what is the best case scenario? The best case scenario is that the Patriots somehow manage to sneak their way into a wild card position where they lose in the first round. This would require many injured QBs in the Patriots schedule as well as Blake Bortles taking command of the Offense in a way that Ryan Nassib never could.
The Patriots still have talent on both sides. Taking away a few starters won't mean a whole lot if Blake Bortles can overcome his inexperience and keep the ball safe while converting on third downs.
The largest improvement that must be made however is an increase in the Patriots pass rush. Unfortunately, they have picked up zero players that could help them in this area. We'll have to hope that the Patriots come out more aggressive on defense and they can figure out a way to break through the opponents offensive line. Without pressure on the quarterback, it won't matter how well Blake Bortles manages the game... You can't outscore a team if your opponent has all the time in the world to throw the ball.
Now that we have the best case scenario and the worst case scenario, let's now see what GM Robbins has to say when asked the same question just days ago in a press conference.
"I'm not going to come out here today and say that this team has what it takes to go all the way. We have a lot of work to do before we can even begin to dream of such an idea. What I can say is that the players on this team could have what it takes to go all the way. They must work as hard as they've ever worked, and play as good as they've ever played, but I know, that this team can surprise the critics out there... I know my players can surprise everyone."
Last ditch effort to motivate his players? Probably... but the least we can do in Patriots Nation is to at least share in his hope until it all comes crumbling down around us.
(by T_Robbins on 10/28/2017)
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At A Glance
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