Feb 5, 2020
Mike ReissESPN Staff Writer
- Covered Patriots since 1997
- Joined ESPN in 2009
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In a Fox television segment leading up to Super Bowl LIV, free-agent tight end Greg Olsen sat next to former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and joked that he would be a third option at the position for the Patriots in 2020.
The back-and-forth highlighted two of the more pressing issues surrounding the Patriots as coach Bill Belichick begins the process of putting the team together in 2020: They have a big hole at tight end, and they capped off this past season looking slow and old in the passing game.
The age factor is particularly notable.
The Patriots had the oldest average roster this season at 27.8 years, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. That includes all active, injured and suspended players. Furthermore, the Patriots had 17 players who are 30 years or older, which was the highest total in the NFL.
So it’s natural that when Olsen hit the free-agent market after parting ways with the Carolina Panthers that the Patriots would come up as a possible landing spot. He’s 34, and he would fit right in.
As it turns out, Olsen will first visit with the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and those teams have direct connections — coaches Sean McDermott and Ron Rivera — to the Carolina team Olsen played for the past nine years. Olsen is also scheduled to visit the Seattle Seahawks, per Schefter.
In the segment with Gronkowski, Olsen joked that the Patriots’ first choice would be to have Gronk come out of retirement, then he cracked that maybe after someone else, he would garner some consideration. In reality the Patriots don’t currently appear to be on the radar, which might be by Belichick’s own design, and it highlights how striking the balance between filling the roster voids — while also keeping the team young, fast and vibrant — projects as a notable challenge for him in 2020.
It all connects to the NFL’s biggest storyline: The free-agent status of 42-year-old quarterback Tom Brady.
The quickest way for the Patriots to get younger, of course, is to turn the reins over to quarterback Jarrett Stidham, 23, and then make tough decisions to say goodbye to unrestricted free agents such as special teams captain Matthew Slater (34), safety/longtime captain Devin McCourty (32) and longtime special-teamer Nate Ebner (31).
Call making those moves the rip-off-the-Band-Aid-and-start-over approach, with an emphasis on the 2020 NFL draft and development. The Patriots should have a first-round pick and three third-rounders as part of their draft capital once compensatory selections are awarded.
Such an extreme would also have benefits on the salary cap, where the Patriots project to have about $29 million in space for 2020. That is a total they can work with, but when considering the Dolphins project to have anywhere between a league-high $90-100 million, it also shows how the Patriots aren’t in the most advantageous cap position.
Helping the balance sheet sounds good in theory, but then there’s the question of how those major moves that would affect the on-field product.
The Dolphins were the NFL’s youngest team in 2019, with an average age of 25.7, according to ESPN’s Stats & Info. They finished 5-11 and owner Stephen Ross said last week at a Bloomberg Power Players Summit event at Super Bowl LIV that they are in rebuilding mode and couldn’t imagine why Brady would think Miami is a free-agent fit for him.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
“We’re at a stage where we’re trying to build for the future and after. We’re looking to build a team that’s really going to be there year after year,” Ross said.
That is where the Brady-led Patriots have been for the past 19 years — competing for championships.
Bringing back Brady and other veterans projects to keep them in that mix for 2020, but how much longer after that?
Those decisions form the backdrop to what promises to be an intriguing Patriots offseason.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe