FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots ended their offseason program on June 12. Here’s a look at how it unfolded, how they fared and the questions still lingering:
Offseason goals: Regroup and compete for another Super Bowl championship after falling short. Bill Belichick often talks about how the offseason is a clean slate and a time to teach players the system and get them up to speed for the start of training camp in late July, when things shift to a more competitive focus. Belichick said it was a good process, and the final week included a field trip to Fenway Park and a football-based "Back to the Future" day as part of the overall team-building approach. The team canceled its final two OTAs, which owner Robert Kraft said was a result, in part, of a productive spring. Kobe Bryant also visited players during voluntary workouts. Every player reported for mandatory minicamp from June 5-7, and it was a productive three-day stretch for the team.
How they fared: Average. In one respect, watching mandatory minicamp practice, it was clear that the Patriots have the potential to be a deep, talented team. Quarterback Tom Brady looked sharp, tight end Rob Gronkowski brought a fun, energetic approach to the field, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower cited a more aggressive defensive approach under coach Brian Flores. Yet the absence of Brady and Gronkowski for voluntary work for the other nine weeks of the program (Brady cited family considerations, while Gronkowski wanted to take care of his body) also is part of the analysis. As Brady has said, that’s a good time to build a connection with new targets.
Move I liked: Signing veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn to a two-year contract with a base value of $10 million. One thing that stood out from watching practice: Clayborn puts a lot of time into his craft. He was often the first player on the field, and his presence at right defensive end showed up multiple times, whether it was with a strong pass rush or blowing up an end around. He should help the Patriots generate more pressure in 2018, assuming good health.
Move I didn’t like: Brady and his receivers missing three weeks of on-field practices in which they could have begun the process of developing a rapport. Practice time is already limited during the season, and with new targets like Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson -- as well as veterans Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorsett experiencing their first full offseason with the team -- they aren’t as far along in their connection with Brady as they would have been otherwise.
Biggest question still to be answered in training camp: Who will emerge at receiver? This is especially important with Julian Edelman, pending an appeal, facing a four-game suspension to start the season. Chris Hogan is a lock, and then there’s Matthews, Patterson, Britt, Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister, sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios and special-teams captain Matthew Slater.
Quotable: “Just trying to keep stringing days together here in the spring. We add a little bit each day and just keep trying to move things along. I feel like we’re getting things accomplished, but you always want to probably move a little faster than you’re moving, but when you look back you can see a lot of progress. We’ve seen that.” -- Belichick
Salary-cap space: $11.7 million. A contract sweetener for Gronkowski, and Brady, are still possibilities.
2018 draft picks: 1a. OT/G Isaiah Wynn (Georgia); 1b. RB Sony Michel (Georgia); 2. CB Duke Dawson (Florida); 5. LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (Purdue); 6a. LB Christian Sam (Arizona State); 6b. WR Braxton Berrios (Miami); 7a. QB Danny Etling (LSU); 7b. CB Keion Crossen (Western Carolina); 7c. TE Ryan Izzo (Florida State).
Undrafted rookie free agents signed: DL John Atkins (Georgia); P Corey Bojorquez (New Mexico); DL Trent Harris (Miami); DL Frank Herron (LSU); CB JC Jackson (Maryland); CB A.J. Moore (Mississippi); RB Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt); TE/FB Shane Wimann (Northern Illinois)
Unrestricted free agents signed: C/G Luke Bowanko (Ravens);DE AAdrian Clayborn (Falcons); RB Jeremy Hill (Bengals); OT Ulrick John (Packers); WR Jordan Matthews (Bills); TE Troy Niklas (Cardinals); OT Matt Tobin (Seahawks)
Restricted free agent signed: S/LB Brandon King (Patriots)