En route to their historic sixth Super Bowl championship, the New England Patriots hit a few speed bumps.
The defense was unreliable, Tom Brady began to show signs of his age and talk of the dynasty’s demise gained traction.
And yet the team went on to win a rather boring Super Bowl LIII 13-3, and all those speed bumps disappeared into the rearview mirror.
This offseason, however, has seen a whole new level of turbulence that makes the previous year’s issues seem like child’s play.
First, owner Robert Kraft became embroiled in a prostitution scandal with a possible link to a human-trafficking ring.
Then, the Patriots lost a pair of key trench players. Starting left tackle Trent Brown went to the Oakland Raiders, and defensive end Trey Flowers signed a lucrative deal with the Detroit Lions.
Flowers, only 25 years old and New England’s best pass rusher in 2018, was a particularly stinging blow to a defense that was up-and-down all last season.
Perhaps anticipating that Flowers’ deal would be too rich for their tastes, the Patriots traded for a Pro Bowl pass rusher when they acquired Michael Bennett from the Philadelphia Eagles before Flowers left town.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, while Bennett’s talents and price tag are certainly agreeable, he might be adding some undue drama and controversy to a locker room typically devoid of any.
In an interview with ESPN, Bennett confirmed that he would continue to protest the national anthem by staying in the locker room during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I explained to (the Patriots) that my integrity means everything,” he said. “I think they respect that about me, they respect who I am as an individual.”
New England had been linked to Bennett for some time.
“The Patriots have been trying to trade for me for two years,” he said. “Last year they tried to get me, the year before they tried to get me.”
And while a ship as tightly run as the Patriots might be able to rein in a lone anthem protester, Bennett’s issues run far deeper than just disrespecting the anthem.
There was the incident in late 2017 where Bennett seemingly fabricated a police brutality allegation against the Las Vegas Police Department. There was another incident in early 2018 where Bennett was indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of injury of the elderly after allegedly pushing a paraplegic 66-year-old woman.
These are not small incidents.
And that’s to say nothing of the potential chemistry issues where Bennett is now playing for a team endorsed by President Donald Trump. That’s the same president that Bennett’s brother, Martellus, accused of attacking “the culture of black people.”
Suffice to say, for an organization that normally steers clear of controversy (murderous tight ends and cheating scandals notwithstanding), this offseason spells an ominous start to the Patriots’ title defense.
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