Every year is different.
Bill Belichick might want to trademark that nugget. He’s said it almost as much as he has said “We do what’s best for the team.”
The Patriots’ 2019 season is going to be interesting, with topics beyond winning the division, getting the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and then winning the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady, the offensive line, Josh Gordon and the improved defense are storylines we’ll all be following. Well, there’s more.
Here are some unsung things to watch in 2019:
1. Gilmore’s last year?
By January of 2020, Stephon Gilmore will have received $41 million from the Patriots for services rendered over three seasons. A good deal for both. But will it also be the end?
Before you say “No way,” consider this: The Patriots will have to add several million to Tom Brady’s salary ($23 million) if he indeed remains, and Brady is among 19 players who are in the last year of their deals. That’s a lot of people to replace, and some, like Kyle Van Noy, Ted Karras and Josh Gordon, could be in for substantial raises.
Can J.C. Jackson take over as No. 1, shutdown role? Is Joejuan Williams a starting cornerback? What about Jonathan Jones?
Bottom line is Gilmore won’t take a pay cut from his $10 million salary, which is very affordable.
2. Stidham usage
Under normal circumstances, Jarrett Stidham’s only action will be in an emergency or to hand off to the backup running backs in the final four minutes.
This is not normal. With Brian Hoyer being released, Stidham is the No. 2 guy and possibly the future No. 1 guy. What does that mean?
Expect Brady to leave the game a little earlier, say a few minutes into the fourth quarter of a 24-3 lead, or losing by three touchdowns in the last two minutes.
Brady’s future is in question for the first time as a Patriot starter and that means Stidham’s usage will not be standard.
3. Kids play
It sort of feels like the preseason, when rookies get their day in the sun. Well, because so many made the roster, some will have bigger roles.
Chase Winovich (DE), Jakobi Meyers (WR), Williams (CB), Gunner Olszewski (WR/KR) and Damien Harris (RB) will all be in position to make game-winning plays and earn bigger roles with this franchise. If you include last year’s rookie class — Sony Michel (RB), Isaiah Wynn (LT), Jackson (CB) and my personal favorite Ja’Whaun Bentley (LB) — the Belichick-Brady Patriots could be as athletic as they’ve ever been.
That alone, makes 2019 as exciting as any potential Super Bowl run.
4. Young Belichick’s ascension
The younger Belichick’s role has grown … exponentially. Safeties coach Steve Belichick has been involved in play-calling. This preseason he’s been coaching as “aggressively” on the sidelines as he ever has since he became a position coach in 2016.
Pops will be overseeing the defense, which means “Junior” will be receiving a lot of one-on-one coaching from the best defensive coordinator that ever lived.
There is not a defensive coach on the staff that appears to be in Steve’s way in terms of experience. This could be a big year, possibly leading to a bigger title in 2020.
5. Brady-Thomas relationship
Tom Brady doesn’t like new, experienced receivers. OK, maybe that’s not totally true, but the stats appear to prove it.
Demaryius Thomas has a chance to take a lead role as the go-to guy not named Julien Edelman. While Josh Gordon appears to be “the” guy, his consistency was a question even despite his decent numbers last year.
Brady loves to throw the back-shoulder pass along the sidelines and that is a Thomas’ specialty.
This is a big year for Thomas, who is on a cheap, one-year deal. Brady has not had great relationships with all-star receivers on the back side of their careers. It feels like this one might be different, particularly if he is healthy (Achilles).