By Brendan O’Connell
Last week, everyone rightly took the time to pause and appreciate the greatness and dominance of the New England Patriots, their legendary quarterback and coach and their historic comeback in Super Bowl LI to capture their fifth title in 17 years.
Now, with the shock subsiding and the championship parade through chilly, drizzly Boston behind the team and their fans, reality is beginning to settle back in and the offseason presents new challenges.
With a Super Bowl ring for each finger on one hand, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are widely regarded as the greatest to ever do what they do. In their time in Foxborough, the two have rewritten the NFL record books, individually and together. Nevertheless, the two are aging, and likely nearing the end of their careers.
When the Patriots raise another banner at the start of next season, Belichick will be 65 years old and Brady will be 40.
In the week leading up to Super Bowl LI, news broke that Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick have a mutual, confidential knowledge of when Belichick, the second-oldest coach in the league plans to retire. This will likely be before he reaches the age of 70, based on previous rhetoric from The Hoodie.
Brady, easily the oldest quarterback in the NFL today, has already reversed the downward trend associated with aging and outperformed expectations as of late, but Father Time is notoriously undefeated. Perhaps avocado ice cream and recovery sleepwear will make Brady different from the rest, but very few have been able to withstand the wear and tear of decades of play at football’s highest level over the age of 40.
Even if BB and TB can continue to excel at their advanced ages, this year’s free agency class includes several key Patriots who could be donning different uniforms next year.
Elite linebacker and Super Bowl hero Dont’a Hightower, top-end tight end Martellus Bennett, cornerback and team-leading tackler Logan Ryan, running back and league-leader in touchdowns LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, defensive tackle Alan Branch and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, among others, are headed for the open market, while legendary cornerback Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent. The Patriots must choose some of these players to re-sign, considering they were significant pieces to this past season’s championship puzzle.
Finally, back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and despite only garnering limited playing time — he has started just two games — Garoppolo has received plenty of hype and attention. The Patriots have a chance to trade the 25 year-old and receive high-end draft picks in return, or keep the budding young player as a security policy against a Brady injury or rapid decline, while risking the chance of losing him for nothing in free agency after the 2017-18 season.
As New England commences its “Blitz for Six” next season behind two all-time greats, they will likely have some holes to fill and newcomers to integrate during their quest for a second edition of three Lombardi Trophies in a four-year span.