The Super Bowl champs have hit the real offseason. No more parties, no more minicamp practices, no more OTA sessions.
The players are off on their own to, as Trey Flowers said, “stay in shape and out of trouble” before they reconvene next month to begin defense of their title.
Here’s one man’s opinion of the top 10 players on the roster.
1. Tom Brady
You weren’t seriously expecting anyone else in this slot, right? As he prepares to enter his 18th NFL campaign (this year’s offseason regimen includes throwing passes on the Great Wall of China), Brady shows no signs of slowing.
He was his old fiery self during recent workouts, chiding and cheering teammates as he continues to build chemistry with his receivers.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo
Depth is so important in this league, and Garoppolo provides it at the most important position. He showed in a brief window last season that he can run this offense and run it efficiently.
His audition was cut short by injury (as were his final spring practices, though I suspect he’d have been a full go if it were real football). Patriots fans might not want to see him under center, but it’s nice to know he’s there.
3. Rob Gronkowski
No player commands more attention on the field. Heck, no player commands more attention off it, either. When Gronkowski is in the game, he’s either making big plays or opening things up for his teammates to make big plays.
The problem is, the monster truck tight end also absorbs a lot of big hits. Keeping him healthy is imperative. Cutting down on his workload may help, but with his incentive-laden deal, that may not go over so well.
4. Brandin Cooks
The receiver’s quickness, route running, and breakaway speed were eye-catching at recent practices. He built a nice rapport with Brady during the teaching sessions, and this has the makings of a tremendous combo.
It’s much too early to judge this trade, but to land a player of Cooks’s ability for the No. 32 overall pick looks like smart business.
5. Nate Solder
The man who has Brady’s blind side covered enjoyed a bounce-back season after an injury-shortened 2015. He is surprisingly nimble and athletic for a man of 6 feet 8 inches, 325 pounds, and will swallow pass rushers.
A rock both on and off the field, Solder is in the final year of his contract, and if the seventh-year vet wants to keep playing, a new deal makes a lot of sense for both sides.
6. Dont’a Hightower
Getting the QB of the defense inked to a new deal was the most important transaction of a torrid offseason. Nobody believed for a second he was going to the Jets, right?
Hightower is smart, versatile, and clutch. Young linebackers Elandon Roberts and Harvey Langi will benefit greatly from emulating Hightower. The team and fans will benefit, too.
7. Stephon Gilmore
The Patriots moved swiftly to secure the cornerback’s services. Now they hope he continues to move swiftly through the playbook and in the secondary as a shutdown corner.
Gilmore and Malcolm Butler (don’t worry, we’ll get to him) should be a great 1-2 punch on the perimeters. Gilmore has great length and showed some competitive fire during recent practices.
8. Malcolm Butler
The Super Bowl hero and Pro Bowler was the subject of a ton of rumors this offseason. When the dust settled and the ink dried, it was on his Patriots tender, meaning he’s in town for at least one more season.
Expect Butler to come to camp and be his competitive self. A big payday awaits him next season no matter what uniform he’ll be wearing.
9. Devin McCourty
The leader of the safety squadron, McCourty has excellent instincts and physicality. A perennial captain, he teams with Patrick Chung to form one of the best tandems in the league.
McCourty gets everyone in the secondary lined up in the proper spot and is an excellent special teamer. About to enter his eighth season, he keeps getting better.
10. Alan Branch
He’s the beefiest of the big beefs in the middle. A powerful player with underrated quickness and a gargantuan wingspan, Branch is rarely out of position and is playing his best football heading into his 11th year.
A grizzly bear on the field, Branch is a teddy bear off it. He keeps things light in the locker room and is an important sounding board for the younger linemen.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org