Two notable injured players who've missed significant time this summer were welcomed back to Patriots practice on Monday. Both right tackle Marcus Cannon (unknown) and rookie running back Sony Michel (knee) have been out of commission since leaving practice prematurely on Aug. 1.
During the media viewing window at the start of Monday's session, Cannon and Michel both appeared on the field in full pads, just like the rest of their teammates. While it's unclear how much the duo was able to take part in practice, they were seen taking reps in their respective position drills for the first 10 minutes or so before media were required to leave the field.
Though it might be unreasonable to expect either player to be prepared for Thursday night's preseason finale against the New York Giants, the return of Cannon and Michel provides at least a glimmer of hope that they'll suit up for the regular season opener on Sept. 9.
On the other end of the spectrum, four Patriots were not on the field Monday: linebacker Harvey Langi (kidney, according to media reports), offensive lineman Luke Bowanko (unknown), rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn (left Achilles), and rookie tight end Ryan Izzo (unknown). Bowanko is the only new addition to the absentee list. He hadn't missed any practice or game time prior to Monday.
Meanwhile, the Patriots already had one spot available on their 90-man roster, which had been vacant for a while. They cleared out room for two more with the retirement of wide receiver Eric Decker on Sunday and the Monday of defensive back Eddie Pleasant. At practice Monday, three new players had filled those spots – a pair of running backs and a wide receiver. During the mid-afternoon interview period in the locker room, it was learned that the receiver is K.J. Maye, who spent time on New England's practice squad last season. The running backs are Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad.
Reshuffling the Deck-er
Officially, the Patriots released Decker on Monday, following the player's social media post over the weekend indicating that he'd decided to leave the game on his own terms. Decker signed with the Patriots only three weeks ago, but never seemed quite comfortable in the complex Patriots offense.
During his midday press conference Monday, Belichick was asked about Decker's decision to bring his NFL career to an end.
"We talked to Eric. Eric felt like – and I don't want to speak for Eric… I think he certainly can handle that for himself – but he's had a great career. I have a lot of respect for Eric going all the way back to when we talked to him coming out of [the University of] Minnesota, and when Josh [McDaniels] drafted him [in Denver], and to Tennessee, and the Jets and so forth. I enjoyed working with him. Again, I really have a lot of respect for him, what he did. I think he's decided to retire from football so we wish him well and appreciate what he did."
Media reports surfaced Monday that right guard Shaq Mason has inked a lucrative five-year contract extension worth as much as $50 million. NFL Network was first to report this.
Later in the locker room, Mason confirmed the news, but added that he had been focused on his job on the field and wasn't worried about a deal eventually coming to fruition with the Patriots.
"Definitely, it's a relief," Mason admitted. "I've known I wanted to be here. It's the team that believed in me from the jump. So, it's huge."
When asked about the money aspect, Belichick refused to elaborate, but was willing to lavish Mason with praise for being an integral player with New England over the past three seasons.
"Shaq's done a good job for us from the time he got here. He came from an offense that was quite different from ours and he adapted quickly and did a real good job of learning new techniques. He's an athletic player that has good strength, good balance, [he's] an excellent run blocker, can pull, run and hit.
"He's gotten better each year and done a good job for us. He and Joe [Thuney, the left guard] and David [Andrews, the center] – those three guys have played a lot of football together and they're young. Hopefully they can continue to play a lot for us in there."
Mason's original rookie contract with the Patriots would have expired at the end of 2018.
In the locker room after practice, a reporter asked Mason what he plans to do to celebrate his hefty new contract. From the next locker over, Andrews shouted, "We're going to lift. Let's go, Shaq!"
That drew a laugh from Mason, who then answered the question for himself.
"It's a blessing, but I'm not going to do too much with it," he smiled. "I've got three daughters, so…"
Defensive end Trey Flowers has spent more of the preseason rehabilitating some sort of injury during practice than actually practicing. He has been a regular attendee throughout the summer, but the team has limited his practice activity while he recuperates.
Flowers hasn't spoken much to reporters, either, but he finally fielded a few questions Monday at his locker.
"Oh, I'm going to be ready to play. Yeah, I'm ready to play," he said of his availability for the preseason finale in New York Thursday night. "I've just got to work hard and be ready to play. When they put me out there, I'll be ready to play."