In case you’ve missed it – and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you haven’t – the New England Patriots have had a fairly tumultuous offseason.
Rob Gronkowski is hurt (again), Wes Welker skipped town, Tim Tebow was picked up off the scrap heap and Aaron Hernandez might have killed a guy.
“They’ve got issues up in New England,” CBSSports.com NFL writer Clark Judge said on The John Feinstein Show.
Yeah, you could say that.
The Patriots went 12-4 last season and advanced to the AFC Championship, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. Yes, they’ll be without their top five pass-catchers from last season – the top returner, aside from Gronkowski, is Julian Edelman, who caught 21 balls for 235 yards and three touchdowns – but will that matter?
“Last time I checked, the one guy who mattered (Tom Brady) was still in the lineup,” Judge said. “If I’m Bill Belichick, I feel pretty good about that.”
It’d be easy to say the Patriots will regress. It’d even be easy to say they’re no longer the favorite in the AFC East.
But let us not forget 2006.
The Patriots got rid of Brady’s best – not to mention favorite – receiver in Deion Branch and left him with the likes of Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Jabar Gaffney and an aging Troy Brown.
“He had nothing,” Judge said of Brady.
And then he went out and took the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game, where they blew an 18-point lead to the Indianapolis Colts.
Brady also once lost Randy Moss – and then the Patriots went to the Super Bowl.
“Does this make them vulnerable?” Judge asked, referring to Brady losing so many elite weapons this offseason. “It might. But all I know is, we have not yet reached that tipping point with Tom Brady. Every time we say this, he goes out and takes them to a division championship, the playoffs and off to the Super Bowl or a conference championship game.”
Belichick, meanwhile, has been his typical silent, surly self regarding the Hernandez saga. Fans should expect more of the same come training camp.
“I don’t know whether we should be critical (of Belichick this time),” Judge said. “If I were Bill Belichick, I’d probably say the same thing, which is nothing. This is a first-degree murder charge, and I think you’ve got to be very careful when you start tip-toeing around this and saying things about people who haven’t yet been tried.
“No question he took a risk on this guy. No question what they did was something other teams wouldn’t. But I think the reason Bill Belichick hasn’t said anything is because his owner, Robert Kraft, has.”
Indeed, the Patriots, in typical Patriots fashion, are focusing only on what they can control.
“I know it’s a cliche, but in this case, it actually works,” Judge said. “They move forward with the people who are there, and they do a good job directing the conversation.”
As for Tebow, some believe the former playoff-winning quarterback should be used at tight end this season. That’s not a terrible thought, but there are two pivotal questions surrounding it: One, can Tebow run routes? And two, can Tebow actually catch the football?
Regardless of where he lines up, Judge believes Tebow will get playing time – and perhaps lots of it.
“This is a good football player,” Judge said. “He may not be the greatest quarterback – he may not be a good quarterback – (but) he at least proved he can play the position. They will find a role for him whether it’s tight end, H-back (or) whatever.”