The Patriots wrapped up their final practice before cut-down day and are about to experience an unprecedented weekend of player movement. When teams make cuts, it will release a crop of players with no current game film to give other teams any insight. Usually, there's plenty of preseason tape to pour over, but now the unknowns are greatly expanded.
"There's a lot less shopping of players this year than what there would normally be, where teams could anticipate the way it was going to go," said Bill Belichick on his Friday press conference via Webex. "You could kind of tell what other teams were going to do for most roster spots and you kind of knew who was available. If a team was going to release a player, they'd rather trade him and get something for him than release him and not get anything."
But what the teams are gaining in uncertainty, they're gaining in flexibility when it comes to the practice squad. The squad will now be 16 players, including six veterans of unlimited experience, as well as the ability to protect four players from signing elsewhere each week.
The Injured Reserve rules are also a lot more forgiving. Unlimited players will be eligible to return after just three weeks, but they must be on the initial 53-man roster that is set on Saturday.
"If you have an experienced player on the practice squad, it's a lot easier to get him up," explained Belichick. "You have those couple free activations. You have the three-week IR rule, so I think that might change a little bit."
With the added flexibility but limited information no one knows quite for sure how aggressive teams will be this weekend. Will they stick with the guys that they know the most about, for better or worse? Or will they take a swing on an external guy who they really liked previously?
"I think, all the other 31 teams are probably sitting there just like we are, saying, 'I haven't seen as much of this guy as what we normally would,'" said Belichick. "This is a tough decision without seeing a player play that doesn't have a lot of experience, how confident are you that he's better than somebody else that you've seen play?"
Belichick pointed out that the decision is complicated for the players as well.
"With the practice squad, I think there's an argument for a player to, do you want to be on a practice squad knowing that you're very close to playing on a team in a situation you know you're comfortable with versus going to another team where as soon as they find somebody better, they might want to replace you with somebody else?"
"When we put a player on the practice squad it's for a reason," said Belichick. "It's with a purpose and that could be for a variety of things, but he would fill some type of need or potential need. That's what his role would be."
The Patriots have a knack for staying flexible and there's little doubt this will be one of the most interesting practice squads they've put together, with multiple players who are certain to play significant roles with the team this season.
"Every day is important and we want to take advantage of each one," said Belichick. "Definitely the roster decisions and composition of the team and other potential player movement throughout the league – there's going to be well over a thousand players that are going to have some sort of transaction in the next couple days and there will be some opportunities there and we will try to evaluate those and do what's best for the team.
Captains honored and ready
The team announced their captains for the 2020 season and many of the captains spoke with the media on Friday afternoon. All were grateful and humbled by the honor to be voted in by their teammates.
"Words can't even explain my feelings when I heard," said Cam Newton. "Ever since I first spoke with any personnel from the team I wanted to make sure they understood my drive and understanding that I'm not taking this opportunity for granted.
"To be named captain it was just like rewarding to hear but at the same time, now the real work kind of starts for me. Knowing that I have to prove it each and every day."
First-time captain Lawrence Guy continues to cement his place as a bedrock Patriots defensive lineman.
"Truly honored," said Guy. "We got a good group of guys in the locker room. For them to vote me in is a true honor, that a bunch of guys look up to me, look up to my leadership in the locker room and what I do on the field and what I do off the field. It's a true blessing."
Fellow first-time captains Ja'Whaun Bentley and Jason McCourty will help Guy as a new wave of leadership arises across the defense.
"Honored," said Bentley. "Blessed. All the great words describe the feeling. You look around our locker room, you see all the great guys we have, all the talent, all the big personalities, so I'm definitely honored and something that's a huge responsibility."
"I would say it means the world for the guys in the locker room to look up to me and look at me as somebody who can lead them and be there for them," said McCourty, who joins his brother Devin, now a ten-time captain.
For four-time captain David Andrews it's an honor that never gets old. One day after receiving the team's prestigious Ron Burton Community Service Award and being named captain, Andrews was grateful.
"It's something that I take a lot of pride in," said Andrews. "I love the game of football and the game's been really good to me. A lot of the guys I played football with throughout my career have had a huge impact on my life, so it's a huge honor and something I'm very humbled by and take with great responsibility."
The Patriots were in shells on Friday after padded practices on Tuesday and Thursday this week. The players will be off on Saturday as the team must have their roster down to 53 players by 4pm EST.
Returning to practice: Tashaun Bower
Absent during open portion: Gunner Olszewski, Nick Thurman, Damien Harris, Beau Allen, Scoota Harris
Webex Quotes of Note
Bill Belichick on Ron Burton Award winner David Andrews:
"Congratulations to David [Andrews] for his great, unselfish off-the-field work and volunteerism for the organization. He has been a tremendous addition to our team for the last six years, so it's great to have him back after the time he missed last year."
David Andrews on winning the Ron Burton Award:
"It's a huge honor. Still kind of humbled by it. Previous winners, guy's that I looked up to in this program, especially the offensive line... the Matt Lights, the Joe Andruzzi's, you see who won when you come in the building. I understand how much giving back to the community means. It really made this place a home and made me love this community, this area, it's just something important to me to try to give back. It's just a huge honor."
Cam Newton on what most excites him about the Patriots offense:
"I think the most exciting thing is that nobody knows and you're still not gonna know, so you just gotta tune in and see. That's what excites me the most because everybody's kind of having the same questions, 'what are they going to do, are they going to do this, are they going to do that?' I'm not gonna tell you, come on, it's almost game time guy, you can't let all the tricks out of the hat."
Bill Belichick on the kicker competition between rookie Justin Rohrwasser and veteran Nick Foles:
"I think that is pretty close gap and it's a similar decision. I think that every team that I've ever been on, this has come up, where you have a veteran player with experience and a very accomplished career, with a younger player with potentially a long career ahead of him that has less experience and may, at this particular point in time, you just have to see where you feel like the competition is but then also look at it and say, 'OK, where are things going to be halfway through the season? Where are things going to be a year from now or maybe two years from now?' So, that changes sometimes the evaluation."