The Patriots head into the 2020 NFL season without a few of the people who have been fixtures in New England during previous championship seasons.
Beyond the most obvious examples — Tom Brady, as well as other free agent departures — the Patriots will be playing without a growing number of players who have decided to opt out because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet one of the most impactful losses was the retirement of a coach: Dante Scarnecchia. For 34 years, Scarnecchia was an assistant in New England, most notably as an offensive line coach. In three separate stints, he helped the Patriots reach 10 Super Bowls.
Now 72, Scarnecchia remained a helpful presence for Bill Belichick even after the 2019 season, as he aided New England’s evaluation of prospects at the NFL Combine.
Looking at the daunting challenge that Belichick and the Patriots face, Scarnecchia recently offered his thoughts in an interview with Lance Medow on SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio.
On the players who have decided to opt out, Scarnecchia said they are simply doing what is best for them.
“I took everything that happened with these guys at face value,” Scarnecchia explained. “All these guys are really good guys, intelligent guys, hard-working people. Four of those guys [Brandon Bolden, Marcus Cannon, Patrick Chung, and Dont’a Hightower] really helped us win a lot of games, had a lot of success.
“I think everything they’ve done relative to opting out has been with a lot of soul-searching, talking with their families, and coming up with the best decision for them. Even though it is a big hit — there’s no doubt about it, you’d be crazy to say it was any different — this is a different time we’re in.”
The other dominant story facing the Patriots in 2020 will be replacing Brady.
To help overcome the loss of the longtime quarterback, who left for the Buccaneers, New England brought in former NFL MVP Cam Newton.
The 31-year-old quarterback was released by the Panthers in March after battling injuries. As Scarnecchia sees it, Newton will be motivated to prove his critics wrong.
“I think he has a huge edge, because of what he’s done in the league,” he said. “The guy was an MVP [in 2015]. We played against him a number of times, have a huge respect for him as a player and leader, and the things he’s done. This guy, from a skill set, [is] a lot different from guys we’ve had in there at quarterback over the years.”
Looking at one of the other possible successors to Brady, Scarnecchia sees second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham as a capable candidate in his own right.
“Stidham has great feet and ability to move and avoid the rush and create and do a lot of similar things,” he said. “I don’t think he’s to Cam’s skill set, but this guy is a pretty good player.
“He also has a tremendous work ethic, and he’s a smart guy. I know this, you have to be a smart guy to play quarterback in that system.
“Having said all that, the cupboard is not half-empty by any means. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm. The situation looks a lot different than it did two months ago.”