FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady’s decision not to attend the start of voluntary organized team activities Monday is significant because it's a break from his regular routine and has a trickle-down effect on other players.
Last week, Brady’s former teammate Rob Ninkovich explained, “If he doesn’t show up for the OTA/minicamp part of it, that’s probably more of an issue because then guys aren’t taking reps [with him]. You’d have Brian Hoyer taking all the first-team reps [at quarterback], and that’s not an ideal situation that you’d want going into training camp.”
Added Matt Chatman, another former teammate, “A guy like Kenny Britt, and a handful of other receivers who would love to spend 3-4 months just throwing with Tom and have a relationship with him ... I would imagine if there was a guy on the roster who would prefer he was here, it’s probably one of those guys. But for everything other than that, it doesn’t matter.”
Voluntary OTAs are as close to real football as it gets at this time of year. Brady has spoken in the past about how it is the time to build a foundation with teammates to take into the start of training camp.
One of the best examples to highlight this in recent memory came with running back Dion Lewis in 2015. Lewis had been signed to a reserve/future contract that January, and his work with Brady in OTAs -- with Brady at one point singling him out during on-field workouts for running a precise route -- was a preview of what was to come in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons.
With this as a springboard, here are the players most affected by Brady’s decision:
Brian Hoyer/Danny Etling -- The No. 2/3 quarterbacks will get all the work in OTAs, which is valuable time to improve their craft in a teaching-based setting. Whether Etling (seventh round, LSU) can legitimately challenge Hoyer for the No. 2 job remains to be seen, but this is an early opportunity for him to make an impression with practice repetitions he might otherwise not have seen.
Kenny Britt -- After joining the Patriots last December, the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Britt played in three games but had to develop a rapport with Brady on the fly. When they didn’t connect on one slant route in a late-season game, leading to an interception by the Bills, it highlighted how they could benefit from more practice time to develop trust (and probably best explained why Britt was inactive throughout the playoffs). While Britt might throw with Brady at another point this offseason, this would be valuable time for him in OTAs.
Phillip Dorsett -- The speedy 2015 first-round pick has had a solid offseason after joining the team in a September 2017 trade, which is critical for him because last season, like Britt, he had to jump into the mix without the foundation of an offseason to learn the system. Dorsett’s intelligence made an impression on those around the team, and now he's hoping to elevate his contributions to a higher level, with his connection to Brady a large factor on whether it will happen.
Jordan Matthews -- The 2014 second-round pick who has 250 career regular-season receptions decided to sign a modest one-year deal with the Patriots this offseason, and one of the primary reasons was the chance to catch passes from Brady after a challenging season in Buffalo in which he battled some injuries (25 receptions). Matthews falls into a similar category as Britt and Dorsett as a player with some solid skills whose ability to adapt to Brady will be key to his emergence.
WR competition -- Britt, Dorsett and Matthews are part of a crowded group competing for roster spots at receiver behind Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan. That group includes Cordarrelle Patterson (top kickoff returner), Malcolm Mitchell, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister. All could naturally use more time with Brady. While Brady might still host teammates for some offseason throwing, it is unknown whether that would include a select few receivers or if it would be all of them.
David Andrews -- The fourth-year center is the only offensive captain who has been attending voluntary workouts, as both Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski remain away. Brady is a tone-setting leader, but that leadership has limited impact when he isn’t in the building. That shines a brighter spotlight on Andrews.