Locks: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers
Way Out: None
I wanted to split out the defensive ends and defensive tackles, but with the way the Patriots kind of shuffle these guys around, maybe that wasn’t such a smart idea. In any event, it looks as if the team has more DL types than pure DE types as of right this second. The possibility also exists that if Jamie Collins, Don’t’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are all healthy, either Collins or Hightower will rush the passer more from this position. So I went with all 4 pure DE types being locks. Obviously changes if Flowers’ injury from the exhibition opener is serious.
Locks: Dominique Easley, Malcolm Brown, Sealver Siliga, Geneo Grissom
In: Zach Moore
Out: Alan Branch, Joe Vellano, Casey Walker, Antonio Johnson
Way Out: A.J. Pataiali’l
Not many people loved the Grissom pick…where it happened in the 3rd round anyway. So regardless of how well he does now, it’s unlikely he won’t make the squad. Moore seemed to have some potential last year and I wouldn’t think he would be cut either. Though I do wonder why they moved him inside this year. But he would seemingly be DE depth as well. Branch is the vet on D that I could see them moving on from kind of unexpectedly. I don’t think the salary is prohibitive. But if they wanted to keep all of these younger bodies in tow it may be a move that has to be made. The other vets are fringe guys anyway. And A.J. Pahkjnafanjknj…I admittedly know nothing about.
Locks: Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jerod Mayo
In: Jonathan Freeny, James Morris
Out: Darius Fleming, Cameron Gordon, Dekoda Watson, Rufus Johnson
Way Out: Xzavier Dickson, L.J. Fort, Eric Martin
Can’t get any more solid than the locks above. Yet again though, the backup LBs are a weak group. Belichick seems to basically use his backup LBs as special team linchpins every year. Even the 4 “outs” are probably known more as special team guys. Anyway, didn’t think much of Freeny until they played him a ton in the first game and he was lauded by Bill this past week. Morris was kept on IR all of last year and I’ve heard whispers that they seem to like him. In any event, don’t be surprised to see Chris White back here once his injury heals. I know, L.J. Fort was already released today. But since I had the bulk of this written before I found out, I’m leaving him here. Proves I got one thing right anyway. Well, maybe it proves nothing, but…
Locks: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan
In: Tarell Brown, Robert McClain, Darryl Roberts
Out: Bradley Fletcher, Dax Swanson
Way Out: Jimmy Jean, Brandon King
Letting go of arguably their 4 top cornerbacks on paper this offseason (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard…ok, you can fight me on Fonzie) seemed to be a dicey proposition. That hasn’t changed for me, sorry. Butler goes from 5th or 6th CB to Super Bowl hero to now top CB…just like that? Ryan played ok as a rookie, not so much in his sophomore year. Brown and McClain are veterans who don’t seem to be special. Roberts is a 7th round rookie. If you want to add Fletcher here, throw him in the same category as Brown and McClain. I have Bradley out since I’ve heard nothing from him since the start of camp. He may still make it, especially if they stash Roberts on IR after his injury in the opener. But you can’t tell me that you have any comfort with this group at all. Scary.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards
In: Tavon Wilson
Out: Nate Ebner
Way Out: None
Same goes for the safeties. McCourty is a good one, but one of the highest paid? Not so sure. Richards was a reach in the 2nd round, according to everyone (nice reminder of how well Tavon Wilson has worked out as an unheard of 2nd rounder…oops). The other guys? Unexciting. That may be the kindest word to describe them. These DB’s scare the bejesus out of me. That about sums it up.
Physically Unable to Perform (2): Chris Jones, Dane Fletcher
There are 4 dudes on the preseason PUP list. Keeping these 2 on for the regular season. LaFell and Wendell tentatively break camp with the team. Since no one really knows how their injuries are progressing, this could obviously change.
Injured Reserve (2): A.J. Derby, Tyler Gaffney
At least we know these 2 guys are here. Already on the list going forward. And so much for the Gaffney Hall of Fame push. All I heard was that Tyler was going to be a major cog in the backfield this year once healthy. That they stole him from Carolina last year. Listen, if Carolina absolutely wanted to hang onto the guy, they wouldn’t have exposed him to waivers at the time that they did. They would have carried him and then put him on IR when they didn’t have to expose him to waivers. They took a chance that no one would claim him. They were wrong, but if he was that invaluable, he wouldn’t be here in the first place. Plus, he wouldn’t have been a 6th round pick either. But what do I know?
Non-Football Injury (1): Caylin Hauptmann
I think this guy is still on the NFI list and I don’t even know what for. Nor do I care. The Pats did care enough about him to carry him on the practice squad for however long last year. But I’m not expecting him to be a factor at any point, no offense to him or his family.
Practice squad (10):
Total shots in the dark here, as obviously it is early in the preseason. But also because of the eligibility rules. I am not going to pretend I know who exactly is eligible for the practice squad and who is not. Sure, I could do all the research. But, ummmmm…no thanks. Not for this projection anyway. I did just briefly look at the eligibility rules though, for the record. All sorts of stuff about accrued seasons and 46 man game day rosters and third practice squad seasons and changes for 2014 & 2015 that will revert back to 2013 rules for 2016 if there is no extension and blah blah blah. For this exercise, I will just assume anyone with less than 3 year’s experience is eligible. Thank you so much for your understanding…
That’s about it…along with Fort being released there was a trade today and some more roster moves. So I guess I won’t be perfect…
Here’s what New England needs to compete for a Super Bowl Championship next year:
Keep Darrelle Revis on a longer term, more cap friendly deal; keep Revis, Gronk and Brady healthy, at least so they will be at the end of next season and…
…that’s it, simple as that!!
OK, maybe also acquire low-cost depth across all other positions, specifically both offensive and defensive lines.
But that about sums it up.
Oh, and have Rex Ryan chase after (Josh McCown) and/or land (Matt Cassel) mediocre quarterbacks and have the rest of the AFC East continue its ineptitude doesn’t hurt either.
I suppose we can get a little more specific. And we will. We’ll start with the defensive side of the ball. Simply because Revis is clearly the most important piece that needs to be addressed.
Under contract: Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Dominique Easley, Zach Moore, Michael Buchanan, Jake Bequette
Free agents: Akeem Ayers
Thoughts: Ninkovich played more snaps than any defensive lineman in the NFL last year. This fact still blows my mind. I like him, but I’ve said for a couple years now that I’d love for him to be a kind of that “3rd pass rusher”. Have him back up the 2 starters and play a little situational linebacker and still be on the field a great deal. Acquire more of a pure pass rusher, even though he has performed pretty well in the role that they ask him to. Putting him in that role is unlikely to happen though, especially considering the paycheck. But I’d still like a strong 3rd pass rushing option to group with Ninkovich and Jones at the very least. I wouldn’t break the bank on this position though.
Maybe it’s Easley, but he may play more DT…and can you even count on that anyway, with his injury history? Moore seems far away still. Not convinced it’s either Buchanan or Bequette. Still trying to figure out why Jake is still here. I put Ayers in this group because it seems that once Jones came back from injury last year, Ayers stopped playing. Seems Akeem got a lot of Chandler’s reps then. Liked what I saw when he was playing. But I expect him to get more cash elsewhere. Maybe it’s a draft pick. But I’d add some better depth here, at a low cost.
Under contract: Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Antonio Johnson
Free agents: Vince Wilfork, Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch
Thoughts: This is by far the biggest need for the Patriots, in my estimation. It’s quite obvious actually, when you look at the bodies above. Highlighted by the Wilfork move today. Big Vince had an $8 million option. I wouldn’t have exercised it either. He had a decent year, by all accounts. But he is not the same guy as he once was…an understatement, I know. And the Big Man does not like to renegotiate. So this was probably the best solution. Personally, I’d be surprised if Vince was back. I would bet that the Pats approached him about a renegotiation and he said no. And after the contract haggles in the past, both sides probably determined that a clean split was best. Some team will overpay him a little, especially for the “leadership” angle. But as sad as it is, I am ok with it. Siliga is actually a restricted free agent, so he will likely be back. Branch may find better riches elsewhere. As good as a piece as he was down the stretch, he can be replaced.
If I’m the Pats, I make a significant free agent move here first. You can forget Ndamukong Suh. But there has to be another somewhat big name or two who would come here for a decent paycheck. Add some depth in the draft, as well as lower tier free agents and that would be a good start.
Under contract: Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Cameron Gordon, Darius Fleming, Eric Martin, Deontae Skinner, Rufus Johnson
Free agents: Chris White, Jonathan Casillas, James Morris
Thoughts: Kind of lumping them all together here, inside and outside linebackers, because in recent history the Patriots have had a few starters and all the backups have been essentially special teamers. Also, these linebackers seem to move around a bit, and the team seems to have more 4-2-5 defensive alignments, so let’s just do it this way.
The most pressing issue here seems to be what to do with Mayo. He has the 3rd highest cap number on the team at $10,287,500 (if Revis departs for good, it will be 2nd highest) and has missed the majority of the last 2 seasons due to injury. Hightower seemed to flourish once Mayo was out this year and was forced into his role. Hightower and Collins both need to play often.
I’d love to have Mayo back. For one reason, even if the Pats play more of a 4-2-5 alignment, all 3 of the LB’s can be on the field where either Collins or Hightower is more of a pass rusher. For another reason, the depth at the position is putrid, as you can clearly see. The easy thing would be for Jerod to take a pay cut. But will he? Have they even approached him? I am not sure what the team is thinking here. This will be interesting to see as the next week unfolds.
The rest of the selection seems to be that special teams group. Good enough. Wouldn’t be surprised to see both White and Casillas back. Morris is actually an exclusive rights free agent, so he will be in the mix, for whatever that will be worth. To me, what they do with Mayo is the only thing to watch here.
Under contract: Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, Alfonzo Dennard, Daxton Swanson, Justin Green
Free agents: Darrelle Revis
Thoughts: Putting Revis in the free agent box because there is no way the organization gives him 20 mil this year with a 25 mil cap number. They CAN do it, but shedding a few more bodies from the roster other than Vince, but WILL they? Unlikely. This is the only move to talk about here. The Patriots have plenty of other bodies at the position and they are all capable to some degree. But having Revis at the top of the depth chart moves all these guys into appropriate levels and sets them up in a better position to succeed. The team absolutely must do everything it can to keep him here. Sets everything else up perfectly. Not only the cornerbacks, but the whole secondary…and you could argue the defense as a whole as well. This is a no-brainer. The Pats cannot nickel and dime him. Give him a fair salary that he will accept, or else he goes to the highest bidder. Not more difficult than that. There are no other moves here.
Under contract: Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Free agents: Devin McCourty
Thoughts: I will allow for the fact that the remaining group after McCourty looks wafer thin…and that may be being kind. But I have to say that I am ok with them not franchising Devin. A lot of money for a guy at that position that isn’t necessarily a difference maker. Look, McCourty is a fine player. And I would like to see him back on a reasonable deal, where he still makes himself some coin. But I don’t know if I’m comfortable paying him at the top of the market. For his role in the defense anyway, as well as the fact that the money could be better spent elsewhere, in my opinion.
To me, Revis is the key to the secondary. I know, that is going out on a limb. But the team can make do without Devin, I trust that. Not with only the current group of course. Maybe a high draft pick and an established veteran or two, someone at a lower pay scale than McCourty. Not to mention, maybe one of the cornerbacks can switch to safety. Devin took a step back his second year at CB and so did Logan Ryan in his 2nd year last year. Maybe he switches to safety? I just feel like there are better options than unloading a Brinks truck on McCourty’s yard, if that is what he is looking for.
Under contract: Ryan Allen
Free agents: None
Thoughts: None really, it’s the punter. Allen is good enough and is fine at holding for kicks, while we are at it. If the team feels it needs to upgrade, fine with me. But either way, I am not losing sleep over this position.
First exhibition game tonight. Continuing on with the projections. 27 guys on offense so far.,,here are the rest (again, (L) for locks):
DL: Chandler Jones (L), Vince Wilfork (L), Rob Ninkovich (L), Tommy Kelly (L), Sealver Siliga (L), Chris Jones (L), Will Smith, Michael Buchanan, Zach Moore, Dominique Easley:
Some of the pundits are fast to subtract Kelly. I don’t see it. I guess if the Pats think that Joe Vellano has more upside. Siliga’s injury could provide some room. But I’m not sure Marcus Fortson or Jake Bequette are making the team over Kelly. I’m convinced that Easley actually starts on the Non-Football injury list, so there should be room for one more anyway. Pretty sure Buchanan has a spot, based on flashes last season…and youth. Not convinced Smith makes it, but with all the uncertainty, he will probably sneak on. I have read everywhere that despite coming from Division II, Moore has so much upside that he won’t clear waivers to the practice squad. Maybe that is why they needed to take him the 6th round instead of the 7th. Who knows? But at this point I feel I have to keep him based on all the info I have seen. But once the exhibition games start he could totally fail…again, who knows?
LB: Jerod Mayo (L), Dont’a Hightower (L), Jamie Collins (L), James Anderson (L), Steve Beauharnais, Chris White:
I hope that with Collins’ emergence late last year that one, he is for real and two, that moves Hightower into a different role in which he can be more effective. Dont’a hasn’t impressed many, but maybe 3rd year in the system (and a different role) this is the year. If Collins and Dont’a don’t cut it, this area is a real concern. Especially if Mayo doesn’t return from his injury last year with the same skills. White makes the team based on his special teams play. Beauharnais on his youth and potential upside. But pickin’s beyond that are slim…from what I know anyway. Maybe Darius Fleming is something. And Anderson is better than a 4th linebacker. Seems to me that this could be a position to target at the end of camp through waiver wire pickups. Although that doesn’t necessarily excite me either.
DB: Darrelle Revis (L), Devin McCourty (L), Alfonzo Dennard (L), Kyle Arrington (L), Logan Ryan (L), Duron Harmon (L), Nate Ebner:
Admittedly pretty light here and will definitely change. Especially considering that Ebner is really a special teamer. Initially, I think the Pats keep as many big bodies on the lines as possible to start the year. The schedule is not taxing at the beginning of the year, for one. Gives them time to evaluate some other positions before evolving in the defensive backfield. Brandon Browner is not listed here because he is suspended for the first 4 games, for two. Once he comes back, there will be a trim at another position. For three, they should be able to re-sign a Patrick Chung, Justin Green, Tavon Wilson or Kanorris Davis, probably on a week-by-week basis if needed. So you can go a little lighter here to start the season I feel. Especially if they think Revis will just shut down his side completely. A kink in the plans would come if a guy like Daxton Swanson or Malcolm Butler starts making some noise and warrants a roster spot. I’m holding off on that for now though. Looks to me they may try to stash 6th rounder Jemea Thomas on IR as well. That could change too.
Specialists: Stephen Gostkowski-K (L), Ryan Allen-P (L), Danny Aiken-LS:
No other kickers/punters in camp, nice easy one here. I suppose if they wanted to save a few bucks somewhere, they could keep the kid out of Harvard (Tyler Ott) over Aiken. I suspect that Aiken would have to bomb completely in the preseason for that to happen though.
That’s 53 between the two posts. Surely to change a ton. But good for now. I’m not even going to venture (separate) guesses at the “lists” (IR, NFI, PUP…and practice squad) at this point. Even though I did give some thoughts to these above. But I’ll firm up those lists as time goes on. Until next week on these…