We're now in our final week of the NFL offseason. Around the league, teams will gather in the next several days for their respective training camps. The Patriots open with their first public practice on Thursday, July 27. To many of us, it seems like they just got back from Houston after capturing their fifth Super Bowl crown.
Although truncated, it's also been an eventful offseason for New England. As the Patriots prepare to embark on yet another title defense, let's revisit some of what's unfolded since they last took the field.
Roster gets (even more) stocked
Already the best team in football, the Patriots might be even better after loading up on free agents and acquiring talent in several trades, beginning in early March. Speedster Brandin Cooks adds a compelling component to the wide receiver corps, Stephon Gilmore bolsters the secondary, Dwayne Allen and Kony Ealy provide needed depth at tight end and defensive end, respectively.
Meanwhile, the running back committee adds young players with potential in Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, while thanking LeGarrette Blount for his service and wishing the best.
Then, when spring practices concluded and teams dispersed for six weeks of summer, Bill Belichick and his staff brought in yet another potentially key veteran in linebacker David Harris. New England is almost universally considered the clear-cut favorite to repeat as champions.
Trio stays put
It wasn't all about who came; who didn't leave was nearly as newsworthy. At times, more so, in fact. Despite weeks (nay, months) of speculation and reporting suggesting they'd be playing elsewhere in 2017, cornerback Malcolm Butler, LB Dont'a Hightower, and backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo are still in Foxborough for the foreseeable future.
Butler, a Pro Bowl-caliber player, briefly flirted with New Orleans, but ultimately signed his one-year restricted free agent tender with New England and sounds committed to giving everything he has to the Patriots this season.
Unrestricted free agent Hightower also tested the market. A co-captain and defensive signal caller, his departure would have been difficult to overcome, but he eventually decided to ink a four-year pact to remain with the club that drafted him and thus keep the core of a young, improving defense intact.
Garoppolo, meantime, made it clear he's anxious to play on a regular basis, but also said all the right things this spring with respect to his contract and depth chart status.
Draft is a breeze
After all the wheeling and dealing for the aforementioned veterans, New England was left with an uncharacteristically meager selection of draft choices. With their four picks, the Patriots made quick work of April's NFL Draft, but not before addressing two areas of need - defensive and offensive line - with a pair of picks at both positions. DE Derek Rivers topped this year's class as the first of two third-round picks.
Even though he missed half of last season with another serious back injury, Rob Gronkowski enjoyed a full and prompt recovery from surgery. By the time spring practices got underway, he was sufficiently healed to take part fully. Yes, the Patriots managed to win another title without Gronk on the field, but without question, they're a different (i.e. better) team when he's part of the offense.
The fact that he was able to run around and perform at a high level this spring bodes well for his eventual return to full contact and regular season action.
Quarterback gets his jersey back
In one of the most bizarre post-Super Bowl developments, Tom Brady's jersey from that game went missing for more than a month immediately thereafter. The purloined piece of clothing was later tracked down (in good condition) in Mexico, but not after a lengthy investigation involving local, federal, and international authorities.
Brady got that jersey back in time to wear it to Fenway Park on Red Sox opening day in April, when he and several other Patriots personalities stole the show from the home team. It was just one of many high-profile appearances and events the Patriots enjoyed as Super Bowl champions. There was also another joyous parade through downtown Boston, a memorable April visit to Washington, D.C. with unprecedented access to the White House and U.S. Capitol, and a lavish ring ceremony at the home of owner Robert Kraft.
There were several individual celebrations as well. Brady toured East Asia, while Kraft took Hall of Famers back to Israel. Julian Edelman one-upped Peyton Manning on the ESPYs stage and scored a truly revealing cover of ESPN the Magazine. Not to be outdone, fellow pass catchers Danny Amendola (modeling contract) and Malcolm Mitchell (book deal) also cashed in… just to name a few.
All this was the culmination of a triumphant 2016 campaign, but, as head coach Bill Belichick is fond of saying, "That's in the past."
It's now time for the Patriots - and those of us who follow them - to turn our attention forward to 2017.