Monthly Archives: January 2020

So Where Do They Go From Here? Part III

So now, the defense.  There could be significant turnover here next season.  Not only with four starters being free agents, but also some depth pieces, a restricted free agent and a potential cap casualty or two perhaps?

Let’s get right to it:

Defensive end:

Under contract:  John Simon, Chase Winovich, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Nick Thurman (Futures), Tashawn Bower (Futures)

Free Agents:  Keionta Davis (Restricted), Eric Lee (Practice squad)

Comments:  Thin.  No other way to describe it.  Simon is a pretty good piece, but that is what I would describe him as…a piece.  Winovich showed some promise as a strict passing down pass rushing option.  But can he play on all downs?  I have generally liked what I have seen from Wise in the past.  But this year, every time he was on the field he seemed to commit a stupid penalty that always cost the team in a key spot.  I suppose for 880k in the last year of his contract, he could be back as a depth piece.  Rivers has missed a full two seasons over his three years in the league and didn’t do anything in the one he played.  Perhaps it is time to move on.  I bet you didn’t even know Eric Lee was back with the team this season in any capacity, did you?  You may remember that he flashed for a couple of games after being signed away from the Bills’ practice squad late in 2017.  Then quickly faded into obscurity and didn’t even make the 2018 team.  And no, I had no idea he was here either.  I would think upgrades at this position in the offseason would be in order.  But the Pats never like to have a strict pass rush guy that pins his ears back and gets a ton of sacks (Chandler Jones?), so I wouldn’t expect any big names.  Especially after how the Michael Bennett thing worked out this past season.

Defensive tackle:

Under contract:  Lawrence Guy, Byron Cowart

Free Agents:  Danny Shelton, Adam Butler (Restricted)

Comments:  All of a sudden Danny Shelton “matters”, eh?  This guy was a healthy scratch down the stretch in 2018.  A quick fall from grace for the #12 overall pick in 2015.  Then he re-signed fairly late in the offseason, somewhat of an afterthought.  I suppose he had a decent year, but people are now worried about losing him?  Yeah, they are a little thin here as well.  But still.  Butler had a huge year, but it’s possible he could parlay that into big money elsewhere.  For people that analyze nose tackle play, Guy supposedly had a great year.  At a 5 mil cap hit next season in the last year of his contract, that probably makes him a candidate for an extension.  For a guy like me that doesn’t analyze nose tackle play, I saw the team have trouble against the run this season.  That tells me that the Pats could upgrade from ALL of these guys and not miss a beat.  But what the hell do I know?

Linebacker:

Under contract:  Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall (Futures)

Free Agents:  Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Shilique Calhoun

Comments:  Speaking of “thin”, this position could take a big hit this offseason.  Of the four free agents that are listed above, I would say the guy most likely to return is Calhoun.  But who cares about him?  Someone will throw Van Noy a boatload of cash, so say goodbye to him.  Collins may turn his dominant first half against bum teams into some sort of decent contract as well.  And although Roberts did his job for the team and played fullback down the stretch, he made no bones about wanting to play more at LB.  I imagine he will try to find a team that will let him do that.  The Brady situation bears watching here as well.  Hightower had a great year and got selected for the Pro Bowl.  He played 15 games this year as well.  But he always seems dinged up, turns 30 in March and costs 11 mil plus against the cap in the final year of his contract next year.  He has been adamant in the recent past about not renegotiating his deals to lower the cap number.  And is the player worth an extension under these circumstances, despite his obvious talent and leadership?  My sense is that if Brady is gone and many other free agents leave, Dont’a could be a cap casualty himself as they remold the team.  If Brady returns and they kind of “load up” for one more run, Hightower will most assuredly return at the same cap number as well.

Cornerback:

Under contract:  Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, D’Angelo Ross

Free Agents:  None

Comments:  Nothing to see here, though it would not shock me to see the team move on from the 5.5 mil cap hit of Jason McCourty and officially elevate Jackson to a starting position.  Especially if Jason’s brother Devin does not return, but more on that later.  While also creating more playing time for Williams.  Then fill in the back end through the draft or low end free agency.  Or maybe they can go get Duke Dawson or Keion Crossen back.  Side note:  congratulations to Gilmore on winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  If you showed up against DeVante Parker of Miami in the last game of the regular season, perhaps the playoffs would have gone in a different direction.  Guess the voting was already complete before that game.  And no, I’m not bitter.  At all.

Safety:

Under contract:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Terrance Brooks, Malik Gant, Obi Melifonwu (Futures), Adarius Pickett (Futures)

Free Agents:  Devin McCourty

Comments:  The last time Devin hit free agency, in 2015, the team told him to go out and get his contract and then come back to talk to them first before signing anything.  He did and the Pats reacted by signing him to a 5 year, 47.5 million dollar contract.  Seemed like a lot of dough, but hey, he was heading into his age-28 season, fully in his prime and was an invaluable member of the defense as well as the locker room.  Turned out to be the right move…and by a longshot.  This time around, will the Pats do the same thing?  Maybe.  But I don’t think he’s getting almost 10 mil per, heading into his age-33 season.  Leadership or no leadership.  There is a good chance he doesn’t return if he wants that money.  Though, he may not get that kind of offer elsewhere.  So this will be interesting to watch as well.

McCourty, Chung and Harmon have filled out a pretty solid safety crew for years now.  But I am also going to question the returns of the latter two.  Again, if Brady returns, they probably stick even at their almost 6 mil and 5.5 mil cap hits, respectively.  But if Brady goes?  All bets are off.  Chung’s cocaine charges were dropped, pending good behavior or something.  He was dinged up more than usual this season.  And looked susceptible more than he has since his return to New England.  Could he be judged expendable?  If the team starts some sort of “rebuilding” process, do they also need to spend that kind of money on a third safety in Harmon?  Though Harmon will be 29 as opposed to Chung, who, like McCourty, will also be heading into his age 33 season.  Brooks is cheap and mostly a special teamer, so he’s safe.  Just another interesting position to watch.

There you have it.  A lot of words over three pieces.  A lot of random thoughts.  A billion questions.  But not a whole helluva lot of answers.

Unfortunately, we won’t be getting pretty much any of those until mid-March…and then into the summer.

Can’t wait.  But that also means winter will be almost over and that may even excite me more than Brady’s status…

So Where Do They Go From Here? Part II

No need for any preamble here.  We will jump right into the “non-Brady” positions:

Running back:

Under contract:  Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, James Develin (FB), Jakob Johnson (FB)

Free Agents:  None

Comments:  Now that we have vomited up all those words on Brady, how much can we say here?  Well, in this section, not much.  All of these guys but Michel and Harris will be entering the final year of their contracts in 2020.  If Harris is ready to contribute after essentially a redshirt year (read:  learning how to pick up blitzes), then that could make Burkhead or (gasp!) White expendable.  I doubt it on White, but at a 4.6 mil cap hit, maybe he gets an extension.  Burkhead’s 4 mil cap hit could put him in jeopardy, but honestly, I’d find a way to keep them all around.  Remains to be seen how Develin recovers from his neck injury, so that could factor into any decision making at this position.  Michel isn’t going anywhere, despite his largely disappointing play to start his career.

Wide receiver:

Under contract:  Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohammed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo (Futures), Devin Ross (Futures)

Free Agents:  Phillip Dorsett

Comments:  Bye bye Phil.  At least I hope.  But there is work to be done here.  Is there going to be space on the roster?  You have to figure Jules, Sanu and Harry are locks to return.  Despite Sanu’s ineffective play down the stretch.  Maybe the ankle injury was worse than we knew.  Maybe an offseason in the offense will help.  Hard to believe the Pats will give up on him.  Jules isn’t going anywhere.  Hope he heals up and they can lessen his load a bit next year.  Harry needs to take that next step.  Meyers may also get that chance.  There should be one more quality veteran added here as far as I am concerned though.  And I am not talking about the return of Gunner.

Tight end:

Under contract:  Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Free Agents:  Benjamin Watson

Comments:  Great career Ben and thank you for your service.  I will never forget you chasing down Champ Bailey in 2005.  But the only thing that needs to be said about this group is that they all should be flushed and the personnel has to be completely revamped here.  Will Rob Gronkowski come back for one more run?  It’s only a matter of time before we start hearing that nonsense.  But I will say I won’t rule it out.  Hopefully, he won’t do all that garbage leading up to any kind of announcement.  But after a year off, it would not shock me if he felt awesome and wanted to give it one more go.  I’m not banking on it, however.

Offensive line:

Under contract:  Isaiah Wynn (LT), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT), Korey Cunningham (T), Hjalte Froholdt (G), Yodny Cajuste (T), Najee Toran (Futures)

Free Agents:  Joe Thuney (LG), Ted Karras (C), James Ferentz (C), Marshall Newhouse (T), Jermaine Eluemunor (G) (Restricted)

Comments:  A return to good health for Andrews will be a huge boost…if indeed that is the case.  I don’t know where he stands with that though.  From people who actually analyze offensive line play, Karras was “ok”.  But the main criticism was that he “couldn’t block at the second level”, which seems important…especially for Michel.  Since, you know…Michel can’t seem to gain any yards on his own.  Have to imagine Thuney will get megabucks elsewhere and since the team is already paying one guard (Mason) a lot of money for the next 4 seasons, it’s doubtful they pay a second guard even more.  Mason had his problems last season and hopefully, they were injury related as many have intimated.  Wynn was hurt for a great deal of the year, but maybe he finally plays a full season next year.  Perhaps that is at Thuney’s old position since that’s where many felt he belonged when he was drafted.

Cunningham was rarely active after being traded for late in the preseason.  Seems like a waste.  But maybe offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia knew he was a project and was preparing him (and Eluemunor?) for 2020 instead?  Maybe Froholdt and Cajuste learned something in their year off and can apply that on the field in 2020 as well?  Cannon was kind of putrid this season and at his high cap number could be a casualty.  Especially if any one of those jamokes can contribute something going forward.

The bottom line was that this group was not very good this year.  Whether help comes from one or two or three of these guys from within or the outside, this position will be crucial to address.  Especially if the aforementioned 43 year old QB returns.  Kind of goes without saying I suppose.

Specialists:

Under contract:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Brandon Bolden (ST), Brandon King (ST)

Free Agents:  Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Nick Folk (K), Justin Bethel (ST)

Comments:  Slater will have a contract if he wants one.  Bethel maybe too.  Hell, Likely Ebner as well.  I will say that I’m really not too worried about the gunners in any way, shape or form.  I AM worried about the kicker position though.  Does Gostkowski’s hip heal enough in order to justify the 5 mil cap hit on technically the last year of his deal?  Folk actually kicked pretty well for a fraction of that.  Mike Nugent sucked for likely that same fraction.  And Kai Forbath didn’t inspire confidence in his one game.  4 kickers this year after only 3 the last 23 years…with one of those for only 8 games.  I ask the people that wanted Gostkowski gone the past few years, how you feeling now?  Perhaps there is an open competition next summer between Gostkowski (if he is ready to go), Folk and some kids, perhaps a draft pick?  We will see how that goes.  But we cannot have any more Mike Nugent’s running around Foxborough.  Not if the Patriots expect to compete.

Next:  The defense.

So Where Do They Go From Here?

As promised at some point in the recent past, let’s have a really, really, really early look at where the New England Patriots could be headed next season.  Take a look at the players on the current roster and their status.  What I think might happen going into next season.  Some thoughts about what should happen.  And perhaps some chatter about what we in this space here WANT to happen.

I know, the 2019 NFL season isn’t even over, free agency doesn’t start for about two months and the draft is about three and a half months away.  But QB Tom Brady’s future has been speculated upon all season.  And there are about 20 other free agents that will need to be accounted for.  So it’s fun to think about, even at this early juncture.  Well, for me anyway…

But think about it.  Arguably the best player of all time could leave this organization.  Several other marquee players could jump ship as well.  The Pats could have some significant roster turnover next season and be led by a 2nd year quarterback who barely played his first season.  Although that storyline sounds eerily familiar, let’s not put Jarrett Stidham in Brady’s class yet, ok?  Despite some late season stories by beat writers that said Stidham was making “wow” throws in practice all season.  Let’s pump the brakes on all that please.

Seriously, however, not only is Brady a free agent with some significant other players, there could be some additional salary cap casualties involving older, high priced, consistently banged up players.

Also consider the way coach Bill Belichick likes to trade, especially during the draft, when you add it all up, it is going to be a FASCINATING offseason.  Even for non-Patriot fans, as they wait to see what happens with Brady, first and foremost.  And if it indeed is the end of an era for the organization.

Per usual when we do these things, let’s take a look by position, starting today with the offense:

Quarterback:

Under contract:  Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler

Free Agents:  Tom Brady

Comments:  The elephant in the room right off the bat.  Brady.  What happens?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Brady spent all year kind of whining.  His behavior appeared to be about the weapons he was given to work with throughout the year.  But you have to believe it was about the money too.  How they have made him work for his money with incentives, voidable contracts and all that.  And how, after all these years, they just wouldn’t give him a three year contract to play until his goal of 45 years old.  Not for top dollar, mind you.  But I am sure for decent money.  Maybe his attitude had to do with that he is sick of coach Bill Belichick and his methods.  And even offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, as rumors had it later in the year.

Any way you slice it, Brady’s demeanor was different this year.  And it has led many to believe he will be gone as soon as he gets a chance.  For the first time in his career, he is a free agent.  So he will have that chance.

Recent rumors have indicated that he may have softened his stance however.  That he really doesn’t want to “start over” in a new city, system, etc.  If he felt that way it would be unsurprising.  But it also would be quite a sudden turn of events from what he portrayed all season.

That all being said, how much is any team across the league going to pay a 43 year old quarterback, despite being arguably the best player of ALL-TIME?  Sure, some bottom feeder could open the coffers to get Brady in and draw fans in.  Would Brady do something like that?  Hard to believe.  He has always been about winning and not the highest bidder.  And what would it feel like to him to just be an attraction?

Does Bill even want him back?  I am not so sure that is the case.  Not that Stidham is ready.  Or is even the long term answer.  But Bill may be ready to move on.  Especially if Brady doesn’t go to the offseason stuff like he used to and work with the young/new receivers to help ensure a more seamless transition into the real games?  But also…BECAUSE HE IS 43 YEARS OLD!  People seem to think this guy can go on forever.  There is simply no data for QBs to be successful at his age.  Not to mention the fact that Bill usually gets rid of guys “a year too early rather than a year too late”.  And everyone already assumes he had wanted to move on from Brady when Jimmy Garoppolo was ready to go.

Brady is not done.  He has declined, despite what a lot of people think.  But he is far from done.  But could he be next year?  Sure can.  If I was Bill, I wouldn’t hand him a 3 year contract either.  Doesn’t matter who he is.  If he would come back on a one year deal, would he be better than Stidham or a veteran stopgap such as Andy Dalton?  Damn right.  But Brady may not want to do that.

All of the above would probably be moot if owner Robert Kraft stepped in.  Don’t rule that out either.

No one knows what is going to happen.  I don’t know the right answer as to what should happen.  I am not sure what I even WANT to happen.  I could go either way.  Let Brady walk, root for him on another team, see if he can win, see if Bill can win with the replacement QB in New England, etc.  Or bring him back for at least one more year (if he will do it), surround him with better talent and make one more run at it.  After all, the last time Brady had this kind of crew at receiver, Randy Moss and Wes Welker came walking through that door the following year.

One thing is for sure:  I can’t wait for this to play out.  I am sure everyone else is in the same boat.

Next:  The remainder of the offense and specialists.

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