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Takin’ A Stab…

…so while the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins presumably wrap up their current playoff series’ this coming week, one way or the other, and me waiting to comment more on them until after they are complete, we thought we could stuff a New England Patriot roster projection right in the middle of all that to pass the time.

How’s that for a run-on sentence?!

Oh and the Red Sox?  They seem to be rounding back into form.  But then they will probably lose the upcoming series to the Orioles.  So let’s push them off for a bit as well.

In any event, projections don’t really mean much, especially at this time of year.  But we certainly do love to do them.  Even better once all the draft picks and other nobodies fill up the 90-man roster without anyone ever seeing (or really, hearing) what they are doing in practices over the spring/summer.  So let’s get right to it:

Offense:

QB (3):

Locks:  Tom Brady, Jarrett Stidham

In:  Brian Hoyer

Out:  Danny Etling

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Stidham would have to be really atrocious all spring and summer for him not to stick.  Hoyer’s 3 mil cap hit is stupid, but he will be around for insurance for one more year.  Could they cut him and leave him “on call”?  Perhaps.  But I don’t see it playing out that way.  Unless Stidham is the real deal.  Some people have been pointing out that the Pats did keep 4 quarterbacks one year of the Belichick regime.  But that 4th QB was Brady.  Etling is…and will not…be Brady.  Plus if they thought he could be they would have kept him on the roster last year.

RB (5):

Locks:  Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel, Damien Harris, James Develin (FB)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  Nick Brossette, Jakob Johnson (FB)

Comments:  Nothing to see here.  4 dudes from last season and a third rounder from this year.  Good enough.

WR (5):

Locks:  Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry

In:  Phillip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington, Demaryius Thomas

Out:  Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Damoun Patterson

Way Out:  Ryan Davis, Jakobi Meyers

Suspended:  Josh Gordon

Comments:  Could be the position most in flux.  Edelman and the first rounder Harry are locks of course.  Then what?  The coaches seem to love Dorsett.  Thomas signed for fairly big coin and may start the year on the PUP list, so he likely sticks…unless he turns out to be Chad Ochocinco, Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker, Joey Galloway or the like.  Meaning, he can’t get the offense or is officially done.  Maybe Berrios or Harris beats out Ellington.  Maybe none of the three make it.  There seems to always be some buzz around Berrios, but for now, I’m going with the veteran.  If, for some unknown…and unbelievable…reason Gordon is reinstated, then he gets a spot over everyone but the top two.  Not going to count on that, however.

TE (3):

Locks:  None

In:  Matt LaCosse, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Ryan Izzo

Out:  Stephen Anderson

Way Out:  Andrew Beck

Comments:  Complete turnover.  Worse yet, no Gronk.  In any event, your guess is as good as mine.  LaCosse got signed to a decent deal.  But the club seems to like Izzo and Anderson.  Sefarian-Jenkins may be the guy with the most talent, but who really knows with him?  Rumors of Ben Watson are in the air.  And perhaps Gronk at midseason?  Doubt it.  But it wouldn’t surprise me if none of these guys were here for Opening Night, to be brutally honest.

OL (8):

Locks:  Isaiah Wynn (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT),

In:  Yodny Cajuste (T), Hjalte Froholdt (G), Ted Karras (G/C),

Out:  James Ferentz (C), Brian Schwenke (C), Cole Croston (T)

Way Out:  Calvin Anderson (T), Jake Eldrenkamp (C), Tyler Gauthier (C), Cedrick Lang (T), Dan Skipper (T), Tyree St. Louis (T)

Comments:  On the other hand, this group seems to be fairly set in stone.  If Wynn is healthy, they probably go with him to replace Trent Brown at left tackle.  The other starters are mainstays.  The two fourth rounders would seem to be in, along with Karras who is the backup center.  Maybe an undrafted free agent sneaks in there somewhere since one or five always seem to make the team.  But for now, this seems right.

Defense:

DE (6):

Locks:  Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich

In:  Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers

Out:  None

Way Out:  Nick Thurman

Comments:  Bennett goes without saying, but the rest of the group looks to shake out like this.  Wise shows flashes from time to time, Simon re-upped for decent cake and Chase is a third rounder so they all are no brainers.  Think they give Davis and Rivers one more year.  But their spots are anything but safe.

DT (4):

Locks:  Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Mike Pennel

In:  Byron Cowart

Out:  Ufomba Kamalu, David Parry

Way Out:  Trent Harris, Frank Herron

Comments:  Wouldn’t shock me if a fifth body made it, but for now looks to be these guys.  Hey, Danny Shelton is apparently available!  Ugh…

LB (4):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts

In:  None

Out:  Christian Sam

Way Out:  Shilique Calhoun, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson

Comments:  Looks like Hightower’s high cap number is irrelevant to the team.  Roberts still stinks, but they love him.  Sam is still on the outside looking in.  May be a place where any of the last three players could sneak in with a big camp.  But maybe I just wanted to say the word “Shilique” again?

CB (7):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams

In:  Keion Crossen

Out:  Ken Webster

Way Out:  D’Angelo Ross

Comments:  Loaded.  McCourty signed a pretty pricy 2 year deal, so he’s firmly in, as opposed to last year where he was firmly on the bubble.  Hard to believe they would cut bait with Dawson after lugging him around all last year.  Williams’ second round status this year locks him in.  Crossen could be in trouble, but he supposedly showed well last year, we don’t believe they would just toss him by the wayside at this point.  Jones played plenty of safety in the Super Bowl, so maybe that’s part of next seasons’ plan?

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Obi Melifonwu

Way Out:  Malik Gant, A.J. Howard

Comments:  Harmon makes too much money (as does Devin, for that matter), but I don’t see them jettisoning him.  Some of the corners and special teamers can back up here, in my opinion.

Specialists (8):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Brandon Bolden (ST), Terrance Brooks (ST)

In:  None

Out:  Ryan Allen (P)

Way Out:  None

Comments:  A hunch on the punter.  Allen has been serviceable since he has been here.  And he had a helluva Super Bowl!  But they tried to replace him last year pretty much, by getting a dude with a big leg, trying to “hide” said dude by not punting him the entire preseason, yet he still was claimed by Buffalo at final cuts when they tried to get him through waivers to the practice squad.  Now they DRAFT one in the fifth round?  And Allen only signed for one year because “that’s what he (Allen) wanted”?  Seems like the writing is on the wall here.  The rest of the specialists…it’s almost like they have tenure here.  Yeah, Bolden left for a year, but you know Bill loves him.  And Brooks is new, but he was a kind of a “priority signing” if you will.

Final comments:  Yup, that’s 56 guys for a 53 man roster!!  I can add, I swear!  I thought it was pretty good narrowing things down as I went along position by position in order though.  I didn’t go back and adjust, because…I don’t have any real answers.  There will be injuries.  And trades.  That will pare things down.

But for the sake of accuracy, the three I would remove from above to have an actual 53-man projection would be both Keionta Davis and Derek Rivers at defensive end, to be honest.  They can move some linebackers around to cover the edge.  And it’s not like those guys have stood out in any way.  For the last cut, I considered Crossen, Hoyer (as discussed above), Ellington or one of the TEs.  But I’m taking the easy way out and putting Demaryius Thomas officially on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

I can do what I want I guess…but a lot can happen from now until September of course.  So again, this doesn’t really mean all that much in the end…

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What’s Next? Conclusion…

Defense and specialists today…and hopefully a little shorter read…but I make no guarantees.  Positive news came Saturday, most assuredly because the Blowhard wrote about it.  Dwayne Allen was informed of his release.  So we are off to a good start!  I still will not be surprised to see him back at some point in the spring or summer once he finds out no one else wants him.  Anyway, moving on…

DE:

Under contract:  Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Ufomba Kamalu

Unrestricted free agents:  John Simon

In limbo:  Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn

What I would do:  Yikes!!  Flowers is by far the best player on this list.  So I would strongly consider franchise tagging him.  There are very few candidates for that tag, and we’ve already ruled out using it on Trent Brown.  Flowers is a great fit for this defense with his versatility and seems to be a great team guy overall.

Pickings are slim after that.  Clayborn is in limbo because he counts almost 6 mil against the cap next season…and did next to nothing this past season.  You most commonly found him pushed out wide and past the containment, so that the QB or RB had open field in front of them.  He was a healthy scratch a few times down the stretch.  We were skeptical of the signing the last offseason and we think we were proved right.  Let him go and spend that money elsewhere.

Wise shows flashes, but also is banged up a lot.  Davis and Rivers rarely played.  Kamalu was signed late in the season and didn’t play much after that.  The first three will be here, not so sure about Ufomba.  I’d probably re-sign Simon for depth since he seemed to play ok when he was in there.  But resources need to be invested in this position, whether it’s on Flowers or others.  Adding players through the draft wouldn’t hurt either.

What the team will probably do:

Not tag Flowers and regrettably let him walk.  The local writers seem to think that because Trey doesn’t post big sack numbers in this defense that he won’t command big money league-wide.  But we’ve looked a few NFL free agent rankings lists from national sources and he is in the Top Ten of all free agents available.  Sssssso…so much for that thinking.  Not to mention the fact that the last two Defensive Coordinators the Pats have had are now at the helm of other teams.  They know how good Flowers is.  Seems to be a good chance they may make a run at him.  Smoke is currently coming out of Miami that the Dolphins have interest.  Makes sense, that is where Brian Flores just went.  Flowers has rings and will likely want his dough now too…and you certainly cannot blame him for that.

Other than that?  Simon will probably be back, along with Davis, Rivers and Wise.  Then they will likely try to find the next Flowers in the 4th round like they did with him.  Or somewhere else in the draft.  Clayborn?  Hard to believe he survives.  But Bill does like his vets.

DT:

Under contract:  Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Trent Harris, Frank Herron, David Parry

Unrestricted free agents:  Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton

In limbo:  None

What I would do:  Yikes…again!!  Brown and Shelton were supposed to be the big dudes in the middle that would stop the run.  They couldn’t stop anyone.  Yeah, I suppose some of that may have been by design…letting teams do anything they wanted to on the ground so they didn’t make big plays through the air.  After all, the NFL is a passing league.  But still.  Those two were kind of putrid.  There was probably a good reason the team passed on exercising both of their 5th year options on their rookie deals last offseason.  Exercising those would have kept them both here for 2019.  But would have cost them upwards of 7 million apiece.  No thanks.  I wouldn’t bring either of them back.  Shelton was actually benched several games down the stretch.  Not a good sign.

According to guys like Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, Guy was a solid player every week, sometimes spectacular.  Almost worthy of team MVP consideration.  I didn’t see it, but I don’t watch copious amounts of film as he does.  So how the hell am I going to argue with that dude?  In fact, I don’t watch any film, but that’s beside the point.  In any event, as a result, we have no complaints with Guy.  Butler seems useful as well.  Harris, Herron and Parry seem to be practice squad types.  But maybe one or more explodes in the summer and makes an impact as at least a depth piece next season.

But I’d invest a relatively high draft pick at this position (but how many picks have I given away already?).  And sign another useful veteran or two with at least a little something left.  Work these 2 or 3 in with Guy and Butler.  Then stockpile another Harris and/or Herron and/or Perry with the real Harris, Herron and Perry for more practice squad depth.

What the team will probably do:  Read recently that the Pats were considering re-signing either Brown or Shelton and perhaps both.  Ugh.  I don’t know about that one.  But they do need bodies.  And if it was partly a scheme thing where they were exposed, then…maybe.  But it wouldn’t shock me if at least one was back.  They would have to come significantly cheaper than the 7 mil mentioned above though.  Brown is the higher rated one and the possibility exists that he has run his course in New England.  Shelton maybe can use the excuse of having one year to adjust to the system.  I wouldn’t buy it, but maybe Bill cuts him that slack.

I believe they do take one high in the draft too…Brown went in the first round when he came in and Vince Wilfork back a bit too.  Then they just fill up with some other dudes that won’t cost much.  I wouldn’t expect a big splash here.

LB:

Under contract:  Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’whaun Bentley, Calvin Munson, Christian Sam

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Dont’a Hightower

What I would do:  Welp, Hightower already came out and said he would not take a pay cut, so there is that.  Because that is something I would certainly attempt to do.  Dont’a looked rather pedestrian most of the year, until the Super Bowl at least.  11 mil against the cap in each of the next two years, seems like too much.  If they end up having the room, I’d probably keep him at that number at least one more year.  The reasoning is that Roberts still stinks and they really don’t know what they have in Bentley quite yet.  He looked pretty good early on, but then got hurt.  So we will see.  Van Noy has one year left on his deal and undoubtedly will be looking for big dough.  He seemed to take a step up this past year, but is that for real?  I’d obviously work to try to extend him, but not if the money is extremely silly.

I’d consider bringing another veteran here as well and perhaps a draft pick.  But it’s hard to tell if they need many more bodies here.  Rivers and Simon could possibly be considered outside linebackers.  Plus safety Patrick Chung fills some of this role.  So they may not need another vet if they have all the bodies above.

What the team will probably do:  I imagine they keep Hightower at his current number.  For one more year anyway.  I bet they try to extend Van Noy as well.  I’m thinking they will lowball him though, per usual, and he won’t bite.  I mean, he has two rings now and three Super Bowl appearances in his two and a half years in New England.  After his age-28 season in 2019, he will want to get PAID.  And that won’t happen here.  Bentley and Roberts return along with the rest.  They may draft someone, but I don’t actually see them doing much here.

CB:

Under contract:  Stephon Gilmore, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Unrestricted free agents:  Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty

In limbo:  Jonathan Jones (restricted free agent)

What I would do:  Tender Jones at the highest level they can, so he doesn’t get lost.  Or re-sign him quickly.  I know, he’s Jonathan Jones.  But he has mostly acquitted himself well at slot corner when he is out there.  Plus he added safety to his repertoire in the Super Bowl (and likely other games but no one noticed).  And with the top three safeties getting up in age and not much depth behind them, Jones could play a key role going forward.  Especially if the second round pick Dawson actually gets on the field next season.  They like him still and apparently, his best position is slot corner.  I’d consider re-signing McCourty as a depth piece, as long as he doesn’t command too much.  The team loves Jackson, but Jason can be some insurance as they continue to bring J.C. along.  It’s time to part with Rowe of course.

What the team will probably do:  Exactly as I mentioned above.  If Jason wants to come back, it will have to be on the cheap.  Maybe the Pats gamble on Jones by not tendering him at a high level, but they also value him on special teams and you know how Bill feels about those guys.  I would expect them to bring him back.  They will also probably let Rowe hit the bricks, now that there are a lot of capable bodies at the position.

S:

Under contract:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Devin McCourty

What I would do:  McCourty has a ridiculously high cap number at thirteen and a half.  That is unacceptable.  He looked a step slower this year himself.  But would I cut him?  Hmmmmm…probably not without a capable player to replace him.  Since 2019 is the last year of his deal and that he has stated that he will continue playing AND seeing that he is a good leader for this team, I would consider extending him a year or two to get that cap number down.  Chung is solid and locked in.  Harmon is overpaid as well, but the number doesn’t kill them and you could do worse at third safety, so he sticks.  No idea if Melifonwu can add anything after a full offseason with the team.  Or Howard either for that matter.  I would bring another decent body in, whether that is through free agency or the draft.

What the team will probably do:  I bet Devin balks at a pay cut if asked.  He may extend, but since his play slipped a bit and he did talk retirement the week of the Super Bowl, the Pats may not go that route.  Hard to believe they would cut him, seeing that they overpaid greatly for him once he hit free agency last time and of course what he brings to the table as far as locker room presence and leadership qualities go.  I believe he just sticks at that cap number for 2019, as unseemly as that sounds, and let things play out next offseason.  I do expect the team to add some bodies here, but don’t go expecting Earl Thomas or anything.  If Thomas is even still any good, that is.

Specialists:

Under contract:  Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Joe Cardona (LS)

Unrestricted free agents:  Ryan Allen (P), Ramon Humber (ST), Albert McClellan (ST)

In limbo:  Stephen Gostkowski (K)

What I would do:  Gostkowski is a free agent and I would definitely bring him back.  Sorry.  He has declined a bit but is still pretty solid.  His playoff performance in recent years does kind of make me pause.  BUT…who else are you going to bring in?  We all have seen how bad kicking is across the NFL.  It continues to mystify me how the league cannot find 32 good kickers in this entire world.  It also continues to mystify me how kickers all of a sudden have a problem with the extra point, as soon as the yard line was moved back to make it a 33 yarder a few years back.  I don’t know if I would use the franchise tag on Stephen, but they have used it before on him and although I may use the tag on Flowers, I know the team won’t.  So they will have the option to use it on Gostkowski.  Yet again though, I would bring in competition for him at camp, something they have not done in years.  Maybe that helps him even more.

I’d bring back Allen, Humber and McClellan too.  But the world won’t end if they don’t.  And I’m not overspending to keep a punter.  The Pats actually brought in a kid last year and tried to hide him by not having him punt in the preseason.  Didn’t work, as Corey Bojorquez was claimed by Buffalo at final cuts.  Can’t hurt to bring in another punter for competition even if they bring Allen back.  But the punter is probably last on everyone’s list.  McClellan seemed to make plays out there once he was signed halfway through the season.  He blocked two punts in one game.  But they will find other veteran special teamers if Humber and McClellan leave.

What the team will probably do:  Gostkowski will be franchised…I can feel it.  They will probably try to sign the other three free agents as well.  But again, they will find replacements if they can’t.  Not much to fret about here.

OK, so this piece wasn’t shorter, my apologies.  But we are finished!

Still No Clarity…

…on who exactly the New England Patriots are this season.  We’ve been through this a ton.  Their next game is in December.  We usually know by this month on the calendar.

We are clear on the AFC East stinking…yet again.  3 game lead for the Pats with 5 to go.  So that means another division crown.  Go figure.

The conference?  Not sure.  KC is obviously off to a fantastic start.  But it remains to be seen if they can stop anyone.  The Steelers coughed one up last week and should have lost the week before.  The Chargers or Texans?  Can we really expect these teams to do anything in the playoffs?  Doubt it.  The rest of the teams?  Don’t see it.

As for the Pats themselves?  Offensively a step behind what they usually do.  Maybe three steps.  27 points against the f’n Jets?  Tom Brady looks old and injured (sorry).  Rob Gronkowski?  Yup…”old” and injured.  Sony Michel?  We will see.  People think Rex Burkhead’s return this week will help.  But he’s always…injured.  Chris Hogan is no superstar.  But he can play.  And Brady refuses to even look at him anymore.  And so on…

The defense?  Sure, 13 points allowed in a game is nice.  But…the Jets.  Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty have been alternating between average and “washed-up” all year long in my eyes.  “Average” may be too kind a word for the personnel on D this year.  Think of it this way:  When Kyle Van Noy is one of your better players, that speaks volumes…I don’t care how well he actually seems to be playing.

Special teams?  You know, made up of a ton of guys that Bill Belichick likes to keep and can’t do anything else on the field?  Atrocious all around this season.  Well, I guess Stephen Gostkowski has been pretty good and every once in a while Bill raves postgame about the punter, Ryan Allen (like last week).  But the return and coverage units.  Bad.

By now, any issues are supposed to have been fixed.  Not this year.  Can they still be?  Not sure.  But now it’s a real fight to the end.  Starting Sunday against another team that likely should be better than they have been…the Minnesota Vikings.  More on them next column.

The rest of the schedule isn’t daunting.  But playing at Miami hasn’t always been great.  Even if the game is in December and not September.  The Pats have a good track record against the Steelers, even in Pittsburgh.  This year?  No idea.  Should be cakewalks against the Bills and Jets at home the last two weeks.  But can we even count on this now?

I guess we will find out in due time.  For now, the Thursday game:

New Orleans (-7.5) at Dallas

The NFC West has 2 doormat 2-9 teams, but the NFC East isn’t much better as a whole.  The Saints have crushed the other 3 NFC East teams they have played this season to the tune of 124-44.  Dallas may be home.  But New Orleans is actually 5-0 on the road.  Both of these teams played on Thanksgiving, so no advantage there.  I’m just filling space now.  There is no debate on this one.

New Orleans 41, Dallas 20.  

Week (against the spread):  11-4

Week (straight up):  11-4

Season (against the spread):  96-80

Season (straight up):  111-65

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