The suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the regular season certainly puts a damper on the star power available for the league to promote its big season opener on Thursday Night Football in early September
But even though he may likely be the biggest name between both the Patriots and their opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers, that is certainly not the only big name that will be absent from this game, and I’m not even talking about Le’Veon Bell for the Steelers, who is scheduled to serve a three-game suspension to begin the regular season himself.
Of course, the Patriots will also be without their presumptive starting running back, LeGarrette Blount, who will coincidentally be serving a one-game suspension for a drug-related incident that occurred while he was with the Steelers—in a car with Bell, in fact.
Brady and Blount played significant roles in allowing the Patriots to come out victorious during their playoff run during the 2014 season, earning the organization its fourth Lombardi trophy in its history, and neither of them will be on the field to defend their title on opening day.
But there will be many more pieces missing on opening day that were integral to securing that final victory that had eluded the Patriots for a decade, despite two additional trips to the Super Bowl in 2007 and 2011.
The Steelers are said to be undergoing a transition on defense, but so, too, are the Patriots, if you consider the pieces that they have lost from their 2014 defense.
Topping the list is, of course, cornerback Darrelle Revis, arguably still the finest at his position in the league, even after returning from an ACL tear. He spent only the 2014 season with the Patriots, cashing in substantially, both monetarily and professionally by securing the first title of his career while securing himself yet another huge free agency contract after the fact.
Their other starting cornerback, Brandon Browner, also turned out to be a one-year rental, who is now plying his trade in New Orleans after locking up another Super Bowl ring.
Beyond that, they also released Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington, two cornerbacks who have played their roles for the team over the years. That is a huge chunk of the secondary they will be looking to replace in just one offseason.
In the middle of the defense, the Patriots parted ways with Vince Wilfork, which, needless to say, they will struggle to replace. Despite his age, Wilfork is very much still on his game, playing over 800 snaps last season.
With Blount suspended, it will also be of no benefit that both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen signed free agent contracts elsewhere this offseason. Perhaps the Patriots believe that they have done enough to replace them during the offseason, but will they have enough to fill the void that also includes Blount for the season opener? This seems to me a Patriots team that is much weaker on paper than the one that just won a Super Bowl, with or without Brady.