It’s time. We’ve had a chance to digest the improbable Super Bowl LI, but we’re still riding the miracle adrenaline. So it feels like the right moment to look ahead to the 2017 Patriots, to see if Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the rest might deliver another dose of the magic they conjured on Sunday.
Belichick, naturally, has already been looking ahead. The day after the Super Bowl he said, “as great as today is, in all honesty, we’re five weeks behind the 2017 season to most teams in the league.” The next day, during his team’s victory celebration, he returned to the theme of his all-consuming work ethic and tried to start a chant with the adoring crowd, “No days off! No days off! No days off!”
No one joined him since, well, most in the crowd had just taken the day off to watch duck boats. The less socially awkward but equally telling parade moment came when Brady and Devin McCourty got into the “We want six! We want six!” chant.
There are many decisions to be made and games to be won, of course, but Brady, McCourty and Patriots Nation might just get what they want.
The rest of America won’t like it, but there’s a good chance the Patriots will win a ninth straight AFC East title in 2017, go to a seventh straight AFC Championship game and find themselves in Minnesota in February 2018 for Super Bowl LII. And as of now, New England is the Las Vegas favorite to win that Super Bowl.
Vegas likes the Pats because that guy who threw a record 43 completions for a record 466 yards on his way to 31 unanswered points and a record comeback on Sunday will be back at quarterback. And the guy who has molded two Super Bowl-winning teams in three years despite turning over more than half his roster is back as the head coach/supreme football leader.
Brady and Belichick may be the colossal pillars in New England’s foundation, but the Patriots have even more reasons for 2017 optimism.
First, there’s the much-discussed Jimmy Garoppolo trade option. The fourth-year quarterback multiplied his value when he filled in for Brady to start last season, and it only makes sense for Belichick to trade him now rather than let him walk when his contract runs out at the end of the 2017 season. Honestly, that’s probably been the plan since the Patriots used a third-round pick on Jacoby Brissett in last year’s draft.
Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco are all reported to be interested in Garoppolo, which is great news. The competition will drive the price up and all three teams are loaded with high picks. The Bears have No. 3 overall and the fourth pick of the second round. The 49ers have the second pick in each of the first three rounds. And the Browns own five of the top 65 picks, including No. 1 and No. 12 overall.
Since Brady will be 40 by the time next season begins, some pessimistic Patriots fans (they have to exist, right?) might think it best to hang on to Garoppolo for as long as possible in case Brady does prove to be mortal like the rest of us (doubtful) or he gets hurt. It is football, after all, and injured lists are lousy with quarterbacks. But this leads us to the next reason to believe that Lombardi Trophy six may be right around the corner...
The entire starting offensive line is signed through next season – Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney and David Andrews. That group was excellent this year under offensive line Yoda Dante Scarnecchia, and young guys like Mason, Andrews and Thuney (two second-year players and a rookie, respectively) should only get better.
Brady will also have all his top receivers back in 2017 – Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are all signed through next season.
All the glasses aren’t half full on the offensive side, however, and Belichick has a couple decisions to make at tight end.
Rob Gronkowski is a force of nature signed through 2019 at an affordable rate, but he is also coming off his third back surgery and ninth reported surgery since 2009. Paying Gronk $24 million over three years isn’t really a bargain if he isn’t, you know, actually playing. Bennett is an unrestricted free agent and he likes it here, but does he like it enough to take the discounted rate the Patriots are likely to offer?
Similar issues face the defense, which should look very much like the young unit that led the league in points allowed last year (15.6 per game) but has a few free agent questions to answer. At that top of that list is Dont’a Hightower, the linebacker/leader who just made a key play in a second straight Super Bowl (strip sack against Atlanta, goal line tackle against Seattle that led to Malcom Butler’s interception).
Hightower is an unrestricted free agent, but it seems like the Patriots have had plans to re-sign him ever since they traded Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Those two were also due for new deals, but it seems Belichick saved that money for Hightower and the next item on the defensive’s to-do list – Butler. The cornerback is a restricted free agent, so the Patriots can let the market dictate his price and match it. They can also travel a similar road with Hightower by using the franchise tag on him.
The NFL is due for plenty of changes next year. The Chargers will be in Los Angeles, or at least in Carson, Calif., where they’ll be playing in the 30,000-seat StubHub Center. The Raiders might be in Vegas. Or L.A. Or roaming the Pacific in a sloop. (I made up that last one.) Tony Romo will probably be on a new team. There might an extra official in the press box. Roger Goodell will have to wear a Brady jersey every Sunday after losing that bet with Robert Kraft. (I made up that one, too.)
But here’s what won’t change – your Patriots will be working towards another Lombardi Trophy with “No days off! No days off! No days off!”