New England Patriots training camp: Three questions facing the team

The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.

New England Patriots

Report date: Rookies July 24; veterans July 26

Location: Foxborough, Mass.

1. Can Brandin Cooks fit into the offense seamlessly?

New England Patriots history over the last dozen or so years is littered with big-name receivers who joined the team as draft picks or free agents and just couldn’t get on the same page with Tom Brady and the offense: Joey Galloway. Chad Jackson. Chad Ochocinco Johnson. Aaron Dobson.

There are those who succeeded, of course, and the Patriots and Cooks have to be hoping his transition to the team goes more like Wes Welker, Randy Moss and Malcolm Mitchell’s did than any of those mentioned above.

New England traded its first-round pick to the New Orleans Saints to acquire Cooks, the budding young star who had 78 catches, 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns in the Big Easy last season.

Cooks’ numbers at the end of this year may not reflect his transition – this is still a team that has Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Chris Hogan and also added Dwayne Allen – but it will be fairly easy to tell how he’s progressing during camp. Is Brady working with him off to the side? Are they communicating a lot? More importantly, is Cooks in 2-minute and hurry-up packages? Those are the ones that require precision timing and quick thinking, and if Brady isn’t confident that Cooks will do the right thing in those situations, he won’t be on the field.

Summer chemistry class: new Patriots WR Brandin Cooks (right) has to learn how to work well with Tom Brady. (AP)
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2. Will Malcolm Butler get a new contract?

Butler’s story is an NFL fairy tale: undrafted and seemingly undesirable, he practically begged for a tryout with New England and not only did he make the 53-man roster as a rookie, he made one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history just a few months later, and has since been named a Pro Bowler.

But the Patriots under Bill Belichick rarely hand out contract extensions before they absolutely have to, and have stuck to that with Butler. Instead of giving him a multi-year deal this offseason when he was a restricted free agent, they tendered him at the first-round level, a one-year $3.9 million deal. It was a nice pay bump, but Butler has been a good soldier, and better player – and the Patriots have struggled to develop high-level cornerbacks in recent years.

Plus, Butler watched the Patriots jump to sign Stephon Gilmore, a corner who is relatively his equal, to a deal in the early hours of free agency that pays him $65 million over five years with $40 million guaranteed. Talk about something the Patriots rarely do.

3. How many times during the first week of camp will Belichick and Patriots players be asked if they can go 19-0 this season?

We’ll set the over/under at 627 ½.

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