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New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Defense

Picking up where we left off yesterday…onto the defense.

Arriving:  Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy

Returning:  Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Duron Harmon, Geneo Grissom, Justin Coleman, Brandon King

Departing:  Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Barkevious Mingo

In limbo:  Malcolm Butler

Who cares?:  Chris Long

Worth mentioning:  No one else

Let’s start with the big ones:

*Sign Gilmore for 5 years, 65 million…of which apparently 40 mil is guaranteed.  Whoa.  Lotta dough.  Did anyone see this coming?  I doubt it.  Sure, everyone knew they were likely to lose Ryan.  And that Butler would want some big money sooner, rather than later (more on him later) and that fact may have had some impact going forward.  So signing a cornerback or two in free agency may have been on the list at some point.  But signing a big-ticket CB?  One of the most coveted free agents out there?  On the morning of the very first day of free agency?  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Especially throwing the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the franchise.

OK, let’s just cover Butler here as well.  A lot of fans seem to be pretty upset that the team would make this kind of move.  After all that Butler has done here…cementing the Super Bowl with his interception at the end of his rookie year.  Then playing at an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level the subsequent two years.  All the while doing everything the team asked him to and keeping his mouth shut.  At limited dollars.  Blah blah blah.

And those fans may have a point.  Butler sure as hell does deserve a raise.  And he got one.  This year as a restricted free agent, he was tendered at the highest level and will make close to 4 million.  I’d say that is a pretty good raise.  Apparently, he was offered 6-7 million dollars a year before this past season.  Now, we don’t know how many years (ie: how many years past his current unrestricted free agent date at the end of next year would he have to lock into and “lose”), or the guaranteed money involved (BIG consideration).  But still looks like a pretty good raise nonetheless.

Malcolm did not want any of that and wants to cash in after next season in unrestricted free agency.  Fair enough for sure.  So despite the fact that we all feel for him to some degree, he really shouldn’t be upset that the Pats pounced on a potential long-term replacement now in case Butler walks next year.  Plus, the team rarely pays players before they have to, unless it’s a situation like above, where the player pushes off unrestricted free agency a few years for additional financial security before the Pats actually HAVE to lay out the cash.  I usually don’t begrudge a player for going after the money, especially in a sport like football where the average career is short.  But…them’s the rules…

As for the two players’ actual skills on the field?  I have seen Butler every week and I love him.  I don’t watch a lot of (ummm…any) Buffalo Bills football, so I can’t tell you if Gilmore is a better player.  But he is a smidge younger.  A smidge bigger.  And the Patriots locked him up for 5 years, so apparently THEY think he is better.  So who am I to argue with that?

All that being said, I hope Butler stays this year, makes his 4 mil, gives the team a great CB tandem (while keeping Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, et al off the field as much as possible) and this helps them win another Super Bowl.  Then he can walk, since I doubt the Pats are paying 2 cornerbacks 8 figures a year apiece.  But now what I think will happen, especially with Butler’s visit today to New Orleans, is that Malcolm will get traded to the Saints post-haste.  It appears it would have happened in the Brandin Cooks deal, but it didn’t for many reasons.  One, Butler can’t be traded without signing his tender.  Two, Cooks had some sort of bonus deadline that he had to be dealt by if NO didn’t want to pay.  And also I suppose three, Butler needs to decide if he wants to play there and sign long-term and he and the Saints would have to negotiate and all that.

Butler leaving would certainly be too bad.  But that’s life in the NFL I guess…now that we’ve beaten this to death…

*Trading a second round pick (#64) to Carolina for Ealy and a third rounder (#72).  Steal, even if Ealy sucks.  Dropping 8 spots in the draft and getting a young defensive end with potential?  One that makes less than a million beans?  With Long and Sheard gone and Rob Ninkovich seemingly towards the end of the line, leaving the position fairly thin?  How could you not do that?  Maybe he’s not as good as the guy that had 3 sacks against Denver in the Super Bowl 2 years ago.  But should be an asset…and absolutely worth the seemingly miniscule acquisition price.

*Re-signing Branch and signing Guy.  You know I wanted Branch back.  Don’t know a thing about Guy and the contract seems steep.  But I’m guessing he is better than Woodrow Hamilton.  And along with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, seems like a serviceable rotation to have in the middle of the defensive line.  I’ll wait and see if Guy gets turnstiled regularly before I complain about this one.  In the meantime, Hamilton can go back to the practice squad and be insurance for if/when Branch decides to smoke some more weed.

The rest:

*I’m not classifying Hightower’s return as a “big” one.  Not because it’s not a big deal he came back.  It sure is…just look at the rest of the linebacking core.  But rather because I think most felt like he was pretty much coming back here anyway.  That he had a “McCourty-esque” kind of understanding with Bill Belichick and the team.  Where he would bring any offers back to the Pats and they would get the opportunity to match it.  Once the first few days of free agency passed with no monster offers for Dont’a, I think this theory became stronger.  I mean, seriously, the Jets?  The cupcakes were a nice touch (huh?), but unless they gave him the moon, did anyone actually think that he would go there?  Doubtful.  Didn’t seem to be other serious suitors.  Always kind of felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.

*Seems like waaaay too much dough for Harmon.  3rd safety, technically a backup.  But I’m not opposed to him being here.  Just hope the money invested in Duron doesn’t stop them from paying someone, you know, good, in the future.

*Again, I expected someone to overpay Ryan.  That happened.  No worries there.  We knew Sheard wasn’t coming back.  But the Colts gave him 25.5 mil over 3 years?  Yikes!  The Colts also gave Mingo 2 mil for a year.  Mingo barely played on D here, so 2 mil sounds way too steep as well.  Guess Indy had some money to burn.

*We covered Long already, with his desire to “get back to being the player he once was”.  Good luck with that, my friend.  I hate to tell you that that ship has sailed.

*Grissom, Coleman, King?  Useful.  Depth.  Low cost.  Sounds good to me.

Now let’s get this Butler nonsense settled…

New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Offense

So now we are over a week into free agency.  As you know, most of the huge money across the league flies out in the first couple of days.  There are still some very desirable stragglers, but most of the big-ticket dudes sign right away.  The Patriots, as you also know, made some unexpected moves.  Of course, we will cover everything that has happened thus far in this post and the one that follows.  Thank you for listening.

Arriving:  Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead

Returning:  James Develin, Michael Williams, Matt Lengel

Departing:  Martellus Bennett

In limbo:  LeGarrette Blount, Cameron Fleming

Who cares?:  Brandon Bolden, Michael Floyd, Greg Scruggs

Worth mentioning:  Jimmy Garoppolo, Danny Amendola

First, the trades:

*Allen from the Colts, along with a 6th round pick, for a 4th rounder.  This was the first shoe to drop for the Patriots in the free agency period.  A gamebreaker, by no means.  But we all knew Bennett was going to chase the green once he got to free agency.  He got his ring, now it was time to get paid.  No problem with that, good for him.  Highly doubtful the Pats were going to throw a ton of money at him anyway.  So they got someone else for just dropping down a couple of rounds in the draft.  Belichick was going to turn that 4th rounder into a 6th and a 7th or something like that anyway.  May as well get a useful player while we are at it.

In any event, even though Allen isn’t Bennett, it appears to be a move worth making.  His contract extension signed before last season is kind of silly for what he has(n’t) done in the NFL…3 more years at roughly 17.5 million left.  But he is supposed to be a pretty good blocker and also a nice red-zone target.  So can’t complain much here.  Besides, hopefully Gronk stays healthy for 19 games this year.  Yeah…

*Cooks from New Orleans, along with a 4th round pick, for 1st and 3rd rounders.  Always have to wonder when a stud 23-year-old receiver, who in 3 years in the league has two 1,000 yard seasons already, gets dealt.  Why did the Saints want to unload this dude?  Yeah, he supposedly whined about not getting any targets in a blowout win last season.  But what stud wide receiver DOESN’T do that sort of thing?

Is there another reason he was available that we don’t know about?  Maybe.  Perhaps he was impressive in putting up those stats indoors with Drew Brees his QB in a pass-first offense.  And can’t transition to cold weather or something.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care.  The first rounder given up was last in the round.  I’d rather have the guy that has proven he can play in the NFL a bit anyway instead.  The third rounder given up?  Bill would have just taken some random dude from Rutgers.  No big loss.  The fourth rounder acquired looks like it will be given up due to the last remaining piece of the Deflategate penalty.  But Bill would’ve just taken another guy from Rutgers there too…so I’m not losing sleep over that either.  I’m all-in on this one.

The rest:

*Rex Burkhead?  I’m not doing cartwheels.  But it seems like a solid move.  I’ll tell you one thing…if this means Bolden is gone, I MAY do some cartwheels.  I asked for an upgrade at backup RB.  Rex could be that guy.  Looks like he can contribute a helluva lot more offensively than Bolden can.  That’s enough for me.  I can’t imagine the team picked him up to be the lead back.  I’ll feel a little differently if that is the case.  Let’s see what the dough is…

*Williams/Lengel.  Can’t hurt.  That’s about all I need to spend on these guys.

*Blount.  He will be back.  I feel it.  Jamaal Charles, Latavius Murray and Adrian Peterson are still out there.  Along with plenty of other flotsam and jetsam.  But I don’t see it.  If Blount thought he was going to cash in because of the 1,100 yards and all those TD’s, he was mistaken.  He knows the system, Bill loves him and all that.  He will eventually take a small deal to return, much to my dismay.

*Fleming.  He’s restricted.  No one else is paying him 1.8 mil.  He will eventually be officially in the fold.

*Floyd.  I would’ve taken a flier if no other moves were made at the position.  Despite the fact he has some jail time to serve.  But Cooks’ acquisition has closed this door.

*Scruggs.  Who?

*Amendola.  Love this guy.  Hated him when he first got here.  Several big catches, great attitude, team player…and then some…eventually won me over.  Has a cap hit of almost 8 mil next year though.  I’m sure he would restructure (again), but it may be over.  Cooks, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell ahead of him on the depth chart.  If Bill keeps a 5th, he’s a special teamer…or just uses Matthew Slater there.  Only 4 are usually active on game day.  All the injuries.  Belichick loves his depth elsewhere more than he does at this position.  We will see what happens and I’d love to keep him.  But the signs are there…and it doesn’t look good.

*Garoppolo.  I’ve changed my mind.  I now believe that those reports of the Pats not trading him for ANYTHING are true.  He stays.  But the Pats already have thrown a few surprises at us already.  So watch him go.

Here’s what I believe now though:  Jimmy Football stays this year.  Tom Brady is owed 1 million cash in 2017, 15 mil cash in both of 2018 & 2019.  With all of the cap room available still in 2017 (even after a few more signings to go), I believe the Patriots rework Brady’s contract this offseason.  Use a ton of cap space in 2017 for Brady, then add some bogus years to spread things out.  And pay him a ton of cash in 2017 & maybe 2018.  Have it all work out where it is essentially a 2 year deal, with the majority of the cap hit occurring in 2017.

Then the Pats franchise Jimmy in 2018.  Yup.  If Brady’s cap hit is huge in 2017 and low in 2018, they can afford to do this.  Instead of you know, spending and/or having cap hits of like 50 million on 2 QB’s in 2018.

I may have confused anyone that actually reads this with all that crap above.  Bottom line?  Brady is the QB for the next two years.  Jimmy takes over in 2019, when Brady will be 42.  Will Tom still be able to play at a high level at age 42?  Perhaps.  But do you think Bill is going to bet on that?  It’s never been done.  Bill is going to err on the side of caution here.

Now…get ready for a Garoppolo trade next week…

New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 4

NFL free agency begins Thursday afternoon at 4:00 pm.  Of course there is some sort of “legal tampering” period that starts Tuesday.  But let’s ignore that for now.  The following is one man’s thoughts on what’s going on with the players that ended the 2016 season on the Patriots’ roster, by position.

Defensive backs:

Players under contract:  Patrick Chung, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Eric Rowe

Free agents:  Malcolm Butler (restricted), Justin Coleman (exclusive rights), Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan

What I would do:  Take some of that cap space and lock up Butler.  Sure, you have a year to do it, but do it now.  The guy has done everything the team has asked.  And played at an extremely high level.  The cornerbacks behind him on the depth chart are…sketchy.  Even if Ryan stays, he is up and down.  I’m not ready to give up on Cyrus yet.  But he needs to get his head out of his arse next year.  Rowe?  We will see with a full offseason in the program.  Not enticing.  Pay Butler.

Ryan has improved since he’s been here.  I’d like to keep him.  But I’m not giving him #1 cornerback dollars.  Harmon can take a hike.  Should be able to find just about anyone that can play 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and pick off stupid throws.  Maybe that guy is Richards next year.  He was a 2nd round pick after all.  I’d get another decent body or two at corner though.

What I think will happen:  The Patriots don’t pay Butler until they absolutely have to.  Perhaps their hand is forced if someone makes him an offer and the Pats are forced to match.  I know the Pats have signed Chris Hogan and Wes Welker and probably others off the restricted free agent market before.  They have also made offers to plenty of players before, such as Emmanuel Sanders.  But I feel like the rest of the NFL is not as aggressive on restricted guys.  I could be wrong.  But I don’t know if I see anyone coming after Butler.  Haven’t heard ANY rumors about it either.  The silence could be a sign however.  Some team could swoop in under the radar.  Worth monitoring closely, either way.

Ryan gets overpaid by some stupid team.  As does Harmon.  The Pats eventually add some bodies.  But of course no one of significance.

Specialists:

Players under contract:  Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Matthew Slater (ST)

Free agents:  Brandon King (ST) (exclusive rights), Barkevious Mingo (ST)

What I would do:  Nothing.  I mean, what difference does it make?  Allen and Cardona seem more than capable at their jobs.  I’m not sure the Patriots need to go searching for upgrades there.  Gostkowski?  It’s time for some competition for the guy for sure.  But I’m not laying out big dollars in free agency for a kicker.  Not when I believe that all the money left on the last two years of Gostkowski’s contract is guaranteed.

Gostkowski has had a pretty good career.  He’s been borderline automatic since early in his career until this year.  Sure, he hasn’t made a ton of big kicks like his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri.  But he hasn’t had as many opportunities either.  His kickoffs, long and short, have been normally what you ask for.  And may have made a difference in this past Super Bowl.  I have a hunch that he had some sort of injury this year that wasn’t talked about.  Perhaps not.  But he deserves a chance to keep his job.  Bring in some kid to camp to push him.  But don’t spend in free agency.

The special teamers?  Whatever.  I’d have actually loved to see Bill use Mingo on defense to see what he could do.  Maybe just speed rush the passer.  They obviously thought he couldn’t do anything though, so they never put him in.  Slater and Ebner had a ton of tackles, but they are signed.  The rest of them…not worth worrying about too much.

What I think will happen:  Absolutely nothing noteworthy during the heat of free agency.

Next:  Another sport.  We are done here!!  Mercifully…

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