Welcome to 10 Patriots training camp questions!
Each day leading up to the start of camp, the Herald will explore one of the biggest questions facing the Pats this summer. Several pertain to the offense, which held the team back in 2019 and will feature a new quarterback this season. Others cover the defense and special teams, units whose success should hinge on the play of a few players and/or positions.
Once the Patriots hit the field, here’s what they must learn before the 2020 season kicks off.
Who could be a surprise cut?
Every summer, there’s at least one.
An unsuspecting veteran who underperforms, falls victim to a roster squeeze or simply gets blown away by an underdog in a position battle. Then he’s released with the label of “surprise cut,” a living reminder NFL snaps are earned, not given.
In a year defined by exceptions, 2020, in this sense, should be no different than any other.
Competition will sprout across the Patriots’ practice fields in training camp, with a starting spot or key backup job open at seemingly every position. By the end of August, the Pats will inevitably make an unforeseen release.
Here are five players who could slip on to the chopping block.
QB Brian Hoyer
No player lost more when Cam Newton came aboard than Hoyer, whose season ceiling fell from improbable starter to unlikely backup. The Patriots haven’t rostered a third quarterback for a full season in more than a decade. Still, a veteran with more system experience than the rest of the team’s four passers combined, Hoyer could provide value.
But will it be enough to join Newton and Jarrett Stidham come cutdown day?
TE Matt LaCosse
In 2019, LaCosse represented one of several small bets the Pats made and lost. He failed to make a significant leap from career journeyman to respectable starter and proved to be a net negative in the league’s least-productive tight ends room.
While LaCosse should be favored to make the team over Ryan Izzo, his job is in jeopardy after the additions of third-round rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. All it takes is Izzo or an undrafted free agent to perform similarly in camp — or the team to acquire another tight end via trade — and he should be out on the street. Releasing LaCosse would create $1.3 million in space for the cap-strapped Pats.
DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
No stranger to the roster bubble, Wise Jr. has been considered a fringe 53-man roster candidate almost his entire career. Given his performance last year, that’s unlikely to change.
According to Pro Football Focus player grades, Wise endured his worst year as a pro and saw his fewest snaps in a single season yet. Limited playing time did help maximize Wise’s impact as a pass rusher, but couldn’t keep him from rating as the Pats’ worst defender. Too often, he was a liability against the run, most glaringly in the team’s Wild Card playoff loss to the Titans.
Last year, the Patriots kept seven defensive linemen on cutdown day. It’s easy enough to hit that number without him this preseason; provided at least one undrafted free agent, or perhaps practice-squadder Nick Thurman, sticks.
S Terrence Brooks
Once Duron Harmon was traded last March, Brooks appeared to be primed for an increased defensive role. Then Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger arrived, and suddenly he could be on the bubble.
There’s reason to believe Brooks will follow the best season of his career with another personal best in 2020. But if he doesn’t, the consequences could be costly. Brooks will not only be fighting Patrick Chung and the aforementioned safeties for playing time, but potentially returned special-teamer Brandon King and free-agent addition Cody Davis for a roster spot. As a former special teams star, Brooks may have to return to his roots to set down roots in Foxboro.
ST Justin Bethel
Another cost-effective release candidate, Bethel would instantly create $2 million in space if cut. As an impact special-teamer, he ranks only behind Matthew Slater on the entire roster. The problem is, it was just a year ago Bethel received his release from Baltimore and joined the Pats. Within a stacked cornerbacks room, he offers virtually no defensive value, and must edge out Davis, King, Slater and others to stay.