New England Patriots

By Ty Anderson,

In a week’s time, Tom Brady’s agent confirmed that his client is returning for the 2018 season, Rob Gronkowski shed his ‘vroom vroom’ dirt-biking gear for a Patriots helmet, and Bill Belichick continued to stockpile draft pick capital.

So, these last two months — where rumors that Brady suddenly hated his situation in New England and used Tom vs. Time to expose that, Gronkowski was going to be the next WWE Intercontinental Champion after subtweeting the Patriots into submission, and Belichick was leaving Foxboro dominated headlines — were just a waste of time?

A convenient waste of time in the most content-starved time of year? What a shock.

With all due respect to those that tried to tell me the walls were crumbling from the inside, and those on the Patriot Beat that consistently work themselves to the bone (mix in a day off every now and then, you guys), there’s just no way that you can still look back on the doom-and-gloom of March and April and convince me it’s still real.

If the Patriots felt that things were hitting a legitimate breaking point with Brady, or at the very least had concerns about his commitment to playing football into his mid-40s, there’s no chance they would have twice passed on Lamar Jackson (No. 32 to the Ravens). Same for Belichick wet dream Kyle Lauletta (No. 108 to the Giants) and Mike White (No. 171 to the Cowboys). Or even Luke Falk, the man that tries to do everything he can to be Brady, and was probably freaking out (in a good way) when he was taken by the Titans with the No. 199 overall pick on Saturday.

They did take a quarterback, though, with the seventh-round selection of Danny Etling, taken at No. 219 overall.

Etling, who I honestly thought was named Danny Efling — maybe even Elfman… shoutout to movie soundtracks — before I sat down to write this story, was the 11th quarterback selected in what finished as a 13-quarterback class. And he wasn’t really given a ringing endorsement from Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio after the draft.

“We knew we were going to add a quarterback to our team at some point,” Caserio said when asked about the Etling selection. “You just evaluate the player, and look, we think Danny has some decent traits and some decent qualities to work with. We’ll put him in our program and see how he does.”

If you’re drafting the heir apparent to the greatest quarterback of all time, you probably want more than a ‘well, we basically had to draft a quarterback’ and ‘decent’ read from a front office head, but maybe that’s just me.

…So it’s still Brady.

Barring Brian Hoyer’s decade-long endgame of usurping Brady comes to fruition this season or beyond, it will still be the 41-year-old Brady moving forward, too. And despite his absence from a team-scheduled strength and conditioning camp — because everybody knows that Brady adheres to the same strength and conditioning methods as everybody else — Brady still looks completely committed to playing football, as he got in some reps last week at UCLA.

The Patriots also handled the tight end position similar to how they did the quarterback spot.

Staying away from the position until the final round, the 6-foot-5 Ryan Izzo came to the Patriots with the No. 250 overall pick. With just 14 catches and 258 yards for Florida State in his senior season, Izzo is not known for his catching as much as his blocking, which means he would be in New England to replace Dwayne Allen infinitely more than he would be a long-term replacement option for Gronkowski. Izzo was the 14th and final tight end selected in the draft, and the Patriots seemingly had their chances to select better pass-catching options if they wanted to.

Following a free agency blur that saw them lose Marty Bennett to the Imagination Agency without a replacement, the New England depth chart at tight end now reads Gronkowski, Allen, Jacob Hollister, Troy Niklas, Will Tye, and Izzo.

…So it’s still Gronkowski.

And if we take Gronkowski at his word about a positive meeting with Belichick and agent Drew Rosenhaus last week, then it’s probably Gronkowski well beyond this upcoming season. (Read as: a new contract seems closer than it did when Gronkowski took to the Gillette Stadium podium looking like a member of Daft Punk almost two weeks ago.)

What’s also incredible is how the Patriots almost made sure there would not be any sort of debate in regards to Brady or Gronkowski’s positioning within the franchise — or even a simple “Is this person here to eventually replace them?!” hot take slideshow — by drafting so damn low at both positions. It’s not even on your radar at this (or likely any) point.

And perhaps most telling in regards to everything being simple business as usual was seeing Belichick continue to make value moves, with a franchise-best eight trades on draft weekend. And with his 2018 draft capital also yielding NFL human beings like Danny Shelton, Trent Brown, and Jason McCourty. That didn’t take him and the Patriots out of 2019, either, which currently projects the Patriots to possess about six picks in the first three rounds.

If Belichick was truly leaving any time soon, why would he possibly care what the 2019 draft looked like? Or think that he had any sort of obligation to make sure that the Patriots were in good hands upon his departure? After all, we’ve been led to believe that he purposely sold low on Jimmy Garoppolo to ensure that this wasn’t possible. And if this upcoming season was indeed his last hurrah for a ‘ship-and-screw, there’s no doubt that Belichick would have traded all of the assets he did indeed part with for 2018 help much like he appeared to do with last year’s offensive load-up.

Instead, Belichick has put the Patriots in a situation that allows them to use their future picks for immediate help sometime this season — be it during training camp when a legitimate weakness is identified or when the regular-season trade deadline approaches — or commit himself to another gradual build of sorts via draft picks. Neither is the course of action for a vindictive coach-executive intent on telling ownership that he’s done (in more ways than one).

…So it’s still Belichick. And thus still normal when it comes to the Patriots being the Patriots next season.

What a shock.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.