FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Cornerback Eric Rowe added some depth to New England's secondary and performed well after he was traded from the Eagles last year. Now he will have to work his way up the depth chart again.
Malcolm Butler, once a Super Bowl savior, is back for his fourth season in New England after a somewhat tumultuous offseason that included a brief flirtation with the New Orleans Saints as a restricted free agent. He will be paired with Stephon Gilmore, whom the Patriots added as a free agent on a five-year, $65 million deal. Together they could be one of the best cornerback pairs in the league.
Rowe was caught off guard by the signing of Gilmore.
''It surprised me because, I think I was on vacation,'' Rowe said. ''I was like whoa, that threw me off. But it's just like another challenge in a way. (Gilmore) got here, he's a great teammate, he's a real cool guy. Now he's just someone to work with now. I mean, how it affects me, yeah, it kind of puts me down on depth chartwise, but my mindset is to just come out here and just keep making plays. Really, that's just how I have fun.''
Rowe, a second-round (47th overall) pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, was acquired by the Patriots in a September trade. He appeared in nine regular season games, with seven starts - three at cornerback, four at defensive back - credited with 25 tackles, an interception and eight passes defensed. Rowe appeared in three playoff games, including Super Bowl LI, with 11 tackles, an interception and eight passes defensed
He prefers not to look at his situation as competing for a particular spot.
''Right now, in my head, I'm not even thinking about `I'm competing with (Butler) and (Gilmore, (or) playing for third.' In my head right now, it's just, `How am I going to get better each day? How am I going to improve myself?'
''I'm still trying to improve myself, tying to show the coaches I can fit in the system, and play multiple roles.''
That includes cornerback in the slot.
''I did play a little bit of slot in the beginning when I was in Philadelphia so that really was my first experience,'' Rowe said. ''It's not like I'm completely new to it, I kind of know what to expect. I know it's some more thinking, a lot more moving parts.''
Coach Bill Belichick knows Rowe has some experience inside.
''He played safety in college, so that's one position inside from corner, so there is certainly some relevance to that,'' Belichick said.
In his first full season in New England, Rowe knows there is still a lot to learn.
''I go home every night and review our next set of install plays,'' Rowe said. ''We come out here and coach throws me in the slot role, and you know we run them, so right now I feel pretty well.''