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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!

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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

Week Twelve…

Off to a good start this week, let’s keep it going:

Seattle at Carolina (-3.5) 

If I was “Riverboat Ron”, I wouldn’t have gone for two last week.  Then again, maybe he figured that since the NFC appears to be eminently mediocre other than the Saints and Rams, the Panthers will make the playoffs as long as they go 8-0 at home.  So it really didn’t matter what they did against the Lions regardless.

Carolina 24, Seattle 20.

New York Giants at Philadelphia (-6.5)

The Eagles shouldn’t be favored by six and a half over anyone right now.

Philadelphia 20, New York Giants 17.

Oakland at Baltimore (-10.5)  

Oakland won last week…yippee!!  Oh yeah, it was against the Cards.  Ok.  Lamar Jackson is apparently getting another start this week for the Ravens.  All things being equal, this spread would seem a little high.  We should go Raiders here.  But we are not.

Baltimore 24, Oakland 13.

New England (-9.5) at New York Jets 

Tom Brady apparently has a knee injury now.  Doesn’t matter this week.

New England 38, New York Jets 24.

Miami at Indianapolis (-9.5) 

Indy is on a roll, no question.  I don’t think the Dolphins are all that great.  But they need a win and are coming off a bye, so we feel like the game is close at the very least.

Indianapolis 30, Miami 23.

Cleveland at Cincinnati (-3.5)

Hue Jackson now working for the Bengals may actually be a good thing for the Browns, in more ways than one.

Cleveland 27, Cincinnati 24.

San Francisco at Tampa Bay (-3.5) 

FITZMAGIC!!  Oops…back on the bench, where he belongs.

Tampa Bay 31, San Francisco 24.

Jacksonville (-3.5) at Buffalo

I’d personally love it if these fraudulent Jaguars lost to the Bills.  But I can’t see how it happens.

Jacksonville 27, Buffalo 11.

Arizona at Los Angeles Chargers (-12.5)

The Chargers are coming off a tough loss to the Broncos and the Cardinals couldn’t even beat a wretched Raider team at home.  Goodnight.

Los Angeles Chargers 45, Arizona 10.

Pittsburgh (-3.5) at Denver

A nice divisional win for the Broncos last week.  The Steelers escaped with a win against the Jags.  Denver has been in most of their games this year and is a tough place to play.  Gut feeling on this one.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 27. 

Green Bay at Minnesota (-3.5) 

Crucial divisional game for both these teams, as the Bears are starting to pull away in the division and the wild card race is completely muddled as we head into December.  Both teams have their flaws, no question.  The first meeting ended in a tie in Week 2.  I am not betting on that happening again.  Another thing to ponder:  The Packers can’t go winless on the road this year, can they?  Seems like too much talent to “accomplish” that.  The Pack needs it more here too.

Green Bay 28, Minnesota 27.

Tennessee at Houston (-6.5)  

Spread seems a little high for this divisional tilt.  It appears Marcus Mariota will play, so no one has to suffer through Blaine Gabbert.  That all being said, I just don’t think the Titans are all that good.

Houston 23, Tennessee 14.  

Week (against the spread):  2-1

Week (straight up):  2-1

Season (against the spread):  87-77

Season (straight up):  102-62

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