Patriots Talk: 5 Players That Have the Most To Prove In 2017?
There are a lot of players in the NFL that want to prove they are worth the money. Some will go to different teams to get the chance to win a championship, others want to get the most money they can while they are young and healthy. However, the Patriots have a lot of players under their banner that are going to need to prove themselves this upcoming season. The question is: Which one to start?
Let’s start off with the player that many of us are all concerned with going into the 2017 season. Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots both know that his injuries are becoming an issue. No matter how much he can bounce back, any further wear and tear on his body will likely mean the end of his NFL career. He is effectively a ‘glass cannon’: explosive and powerful, but fragile and breakable.
The reality is Gronk is coming off a severe back surgery that he suffered during the Week 9 game from Seattle Seahawks [Free Safety], Earl Thomas. Gronk also now has a newly restructured contract, that if he plays to his full ability, will make him the highest paid Tight End in the NFL. Everybody who has watched Gronk play, knows he is the best TE in the league and arguably one of the most lethal offensive weapons in the game. As of now, Gronk has a lot to prove to the team that he is worth the money and 2017 is his year to do so.
Cyrus Jones was the Patriots highest pick in the draft last year (2nd Round, No. 60) and yet he struggled throughout his rookie campaign. His whole rookie season he was mainly on special teams: only returning 11 punt returns for 46 yards total and 8 kick returns for 180 yards total. Nothing speculator to-day the least. According to reports from training, he is still has the same struggles as before, and likely will need further work.
Cyrus coming off a bad rookie season is always difficult. (I don’t even want to imagine how much pressure Jared Goff from the Los Angeles Rams is feeling!) However, Cyrus was a player that was brought in to potentially play defensive back. (to fulfill Logan Ryan‘s shoes before he went into free agency and went the Tennessee Titans) As of now, Jones needs to prove himself before Week 1 or he could be warming the bench before the season even begins.
It would seem odd to see Julien Edelman on this list as he is coming off Super Bowl LI with one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history. (It was so unexpected that it made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title ‘The Comeback’) Many would say that he is secured as anybody on the Patriots roster, hell he was the safest target in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
Patriots WR Julian Edelman saw the most targets of any WR in the NFL, without having any one of his targets intercepted. pic.twitter.com/yWzxvBKMn6
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 30, 2017
Edelman is already turning 31 alongside his teammate, Danny Amendola, who just restructured his whole contract with the team. However, Edelman has been seen as the Patriots #1 receiver for the past few seasons but with the addition of Brandin Cooks, its become clear that the Patriots are loaded at the roster right now. With players like Malcolm Mitchell who is coming off a stellar rookie campaign, Cooks showing promise already on his first week of OTAs, Edelman will need to step up to separate from the crowd. The current wide receiver core consists of:
- Julian Edelman (11)
- Devin Lucian (13)
- Brandin Cooks (14)* – Traded from the New Orleans Saints
- Chris Hogan (15)
- Andrew Hawkins (16)* – Free Agent
- DeAndrew White (17)
- Matthew Slater (18)* – Special Teams Captain
- Malcolm Mitchell (19)
- Danny Amendola (80)
With about eight total receivers, players will be not be fighting for roster spots, but rather where they will rank on the depth chart. Lucian and White are practice squad players (or camp bodies). Slater is the special teams captain and his role is too crucial to the team as he is the best gunner in the NFL. However, Hawkins is a player who is both a new player that will likely warm the bench since he is just as old as Edelman and Amendola. Chris Hogan has become one of the main stays for the team going forward. Mitchell’s development will be important here if he continues to improve off his rookie season and the same is true with Brandin Cooks likely becoming the Patriots’ new #1 target.
Edelman will stay, that is not a question but after 2018 he will be an unrestricted free agent. He will likely not be resigned after 2018 unless he feels that he can maintain his performance past the age of 32. Right now, Edelman’s focus will be keeping his competitive drive as he will need to prove his worth in 2017.
Probably one of the biggest free agent signings this off-season, Gilmore has become a big topic of discussion during practices. Despite Malcolm Butler being the #1 corner seemingly going forward, Gilmore has shown early on that he is capable of being a top corner in the league. Butler is now playing under his tender for only 1 year for almost 4 million. His window is running short on making a big pay-day.
Butler right now, is coming off a good season where he was a starter for all 16 games during the regular season. He was available for 1,009 of possibly 1,044 defensive snaps (which is 96.7% second most on his team). Including his three additional starts in the post-season and was on the field for 185 of 187 snaps (98.9%). Most of these times, he was asked to cover the number 1 receiver for the opposing team. (Julio Jones was probably the only exception)
Right now, Butler is fighting for not only his roster spot as the top corner on the team, but he also is fighting for his NFL career if he doesn’t resign with the Patriots. Butler is turning 27 this season, and cornerbacks are one of the positions with the most limited time frame in the NFL. Butler will need to make an even bigger impression going into 2017.
And now finally the one I am sure many already know…
Many all knew this, but it needs to be said: Tom Brady is getting old. He is going on 40 years of age in the next few months. Many players by this age typically fall off and many NFL critics have overstated this. Brady believes he can play till he is 45 or older which is pretty incredible but after what he did in Super Bowl LI, some are starting to believe.
However, some people over the last month have started the rumor that he might make a surprise retirement after 2017? It starts with his wife, Gisele talking about Brady having concussions without telling protocol and Jimmy Garappollo is a free agent next season and his leave could be potentially be a big issue. It’s all kinds of crazy going on, but I believe Brady truly does want to play till he is 45.
The only issue is if Belichick believes as well. Brady has done everything that one could have ever imagined from him. Brady’s story is one that will be talked about in NFL history books, and will be further solidified when he is eventually accepted into Canton someday. But right now, Brady going into 2017 is riding off a huge amount of hype. He just elevated himself from his long time idol, Joe Montana, from being one of the all time greats to being the G.O.A.T.
Right now, Brady is playing the best football of his career and the question isn’t if he can keep it up, its whether can still play football at the same level he has always been playing at? Brady’s greatest strength has been his consistency and many are wondering just how long he has left. Personally, Brady could retire tomorrow and he will be called the greatest quarterback to ever live but I believe he will stick longer than everybody is giving him credit for.