Three thoughts for the price of one, as the 2019 'season' gets underway:
Reporting for Duty
As you are undoubtedly aware by now, the 2019 season has begun. Not in the true sense, of course – we're still a bit more than three months away from the first pads popping at Training Camp – but individually, whatever 'off-time' that has been enjoyed to this point now takes on a different meaning.
Off-season workouts begin this week, as players on the current roster are allowed to come and go at Gillette Stadium – as long as they follow the guidelines as set forth by the Players' Association for Phase One:
- Limited to strength and conditioning, only strength and conditioning coaches allowed on the field
- 90 minutes maximum time allowed on the field
- Teams can specify two hours for players to be at their facility
- Players can choose an additional two hours for weight work, conditioning, etc.
Patriots players arrive for the first day of the offseason program at Gillette Stadium on Monday, April 15, 2019.
The Patriots are one of 23 teams beginning their official off-season workouts this week, each team with a returning head coach. Eight teams have already begun workouts, under the guidance of new staffs in place, and the New Orleans Saints will get started next week.
Phase One consists primarily of strength conditioning as noted, which includes rehabilitation for injuries. Teams can also meet with players for up to four hours per day.
Phase Two begins after the initial two weeks of strength and conditioning work, and for the following three weeks on-field work may include individual player instruction and drills, as well as some team practice done on a separate basis. In other words, no live contact or 'team vs. team' drills are permitted.
Phase Three begins in late May, runs for four weeks and will consist of the official 'Organized Team Activities' (OTA's) on the calendar. Teams can schedule 10 of these OTA practices, where 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills can take place. The Patriots have scheduled May 20-21, May 23, May 29-30 and June 10-11 as OTA's, with mandatory mini-camp also scheduled for June 4-6 as part of the 10 practice dates.
Got all that? Good. There will be a quiz to follow. Training camp dates are officially To Be Determined but expect things to begin swinging in Foxboro before the end of July.
It'll be here before you know it.
Gostkowski's reign continues
Count me as one of those happy to see Stephen Gostkowski re-sign with the team for another two seasons. Is there a more under-appreciated player on the roster, considering his position, his duties, what those duties mean to the team and then on top of all that – the pressure to perform involved?
Through the recently-completed 2018 NFL season, Gostkowski stands as the 3rd most-accurate place kicker (87.381%) in league history, behind only Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90%) and San Francisco's Robbie Gould (87.745%) – who had the 49ers' franchise tag for next year placed on his leg/shoulders just a couple of weeks ago.
Gould has not yet signed his tender, which led to some public wooing of Gostkowski by the 49ers…which could have hastened the Patriots' two-year deal for Gostkowski now in place. The interest from the outside certainly didn't hurt, even though he has maintained his desire to remain a Patriot all along.
"I'm extremely grateful and excited for the opportunity to keep playing, especially for this team," he told ESPN's Mike Reiss last week. "Having had to wait 13 years to be a free agent kind of put a different spin on things for me, because I'm in a whole different place in my life and career than a lot of people when they first have a shot at free agency.
"The things I had to think about and go through, and decisions I had to make of whether I would stay or leave, are completely different from what I would have had 10 years ago when I could have had a chance at free agency," Gostkowski added.
Seems he's grateful to have had his opportunity, his job and stability here in the first place, which is refreshing. Could he have gone elsewhere? Sure. Are there other priorities this team is facing going into next season? Of course there are. One of them, however, won't include having to find another kicker.
It's a luxury to be able to say you've got one of the best to ever do it coming back.
"Having the extra time, and waiting and taking my time, really made me know that I was 100 percent wanting to be here," Gostkowski told ESPN. "I'm so blessed to have a chance to play 15 years in one spot. I know my position is different than most. But even in my position, guys that have played it this long, have probably already been with two or three different teams."
Combining longevity with stability and ability, Gostkowski has it over every other kicker in the NFL today. He's 35 and has a new two-year contract worth approximately $8.5 million. Which is good for him. The Patriots thought him to be important enough – and still good enough – to be here for at least two more seasons.
And from our friends Chris Price and Miguel Benzan from the Boston Sports Journal, Gostkowski will receive the 5th-highest amount of cash out of all kickers in the league this year, while only holding the 13th highest cap hit number.
Seems like a win-win, doesn't it?
Opening Night possibilities
You can also count me as one who is disappointed with the NFL's decision to stray from having the defending champs traditionally kick-off the new year.
Call it Patriot-fatigue, perhaps. Or, call it smart marketing. It's the 100th anniversary of the National Football League, so it's quite likely ANY matchup is likely to gain great ratings on the opening Thursday night next September. Why else would any sane person (outside of Green Bay and Chicago, perhaps) think Packers-Bears would outdraw, let's say, Patriots-Cowboys?
They wouldn't. Let's be real, here.
But the Patriots will get the opening Sunday Night game at Gillette Stadium on September 8th. The full, 16-game regular season schedule will be released soon, but while we're thinking about it – here are three solid (realistic?) games the league should be considering for Kick-Off Weekend:
- Patriots vs. Dallas – America's Team of Today vs. America's Team of Yesterday. Do we really need to go any further than this? Plus, the Cowboys should have a team worthy of contention again in the NFC, they have one of the most-recognized owners in the league, etc., etc., etc. The guess is here that since Fox owns the rights to this one, the league won't take it away from them for a Sunday Nighter on NBC. But they should.
- Patriots vs. Kansas City – a rematch of the AFC title game that went into overtime this past January. Hey, maybe they can just give the Chiefs the ball instead of the opening kickoff to see if they can score and keep that dialogue from last season going? No?
- Patriots vs. Cleveland – this one probably makes the most sense from a marketing standpoint, largely so the world can see if the Browns' spectacular off-season can translate to the regular season against the defending champs. Yeah, it would be must-see TV. And we'd all get the chance to just-see if the Browns are all that. Or not.
Best guess – Cleveland. Or perhaps a rejuvenated Jets' team, or a traditional Steelers' team that has big question marks to answer going into a new season. Fun to think about, certainly. But as far as I'm concerned, it's making chicken salad out of chicken, um, feathers.
The NFL is simply showing Patriot-fatigue, no matter who the Sunday Night opponent will be. The team wouldn't have it any other way, would they?
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is entering his 27thseason as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio & Television Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.