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Dark…

…so the title was supposed to mean something different, what with the whole country (world?) seemingly shutting down due to the Coronavirus.

First the NBA

Then the NHL

PGA

NCAA

MLB

MLS

XFL

…and of course everything else right on down the list.  Including restaurants, bars, some stores, construction and all that kind of stuff locally.

People seem to be listening to the warnings to stay home.  Drove around a little last night in my town (gasp!) and it pretty much was a ghost town.

Damn Coronavirus!

So with absolutely no sports to talk about, what the hell is the Blowhard to do?

Do we shut down too?  Not sure what to talk about!  We all for damn sure know there is more than enough coverage about the virus itself, there needs to be nothing else said about it by me.  Not that I could even add anything intelligent about it anyway…we could help spread the news…or at least some misinformation about it.  But why bother?  Does anyone even know what to believe anymore?

I stopped reading coverage.  It’s all over the place.  So are the opinions…which I care even less about.

So I just stay home and stare at a blank TV screen.  Since there are no games…

But wait!

There is something left…NFL free agency.

Glad that was not delayed as well.  Folks were worried about “bad optics” with players getting gazillion dollar contracts during a worldwide health crisis.

Like those wouldn’t have happened anyway.

So why not just do it now?  Especially since sports fans need SOMETHING.  And maybe even non-sports fans need a little bit of this too…for a distraction.  Even if they hate the idea.

As for the local angle, which is really why we are here in the first place, things started off innocuously enough.

Devin McCourty re-signed.  As did Matthew Slater.  And Jason McCourty’s option was picked up.  Also, Adam Butler was tendered at a second round level, making him unlikely to go anywhere.

Although the money was kind of big for the first three, it’s not out of hand.  And it’s not long-term.  So I can live with that.

The Pats then franchised Joe Thuney.  SHOCKING.

Almost 15 mil for a guard.  When their other guard, Shaq Mason, makes like 10 mil.

That’s a LOT of dough for guards.  Thuney was supposedly good last year, according to those who actually grade offensive line play, and Mason has been good in the past (though not last year).  But the line sucked as a whole last season.  So this money is hard to justify.  I guess if they work out a long term deal with Thuney before the deadline in July (I think).  But Joe will still be 8 figures plus every year.

Besides, I thought Belichick only franchised kickers.  Both Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski were both franchised by the team…and I think both more than once.  Don’t fact-check me on this, however.

Then yesterday, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins both departed…well, they can’t officially “depart” until Wednesday when free agency actually starts.  But you get the idea.

They were the first defections.  That mattered anyway.

We thought Van Noy would get paid and walk…and he sure did get paid by the Dolphins.  Thought there was a chance Collins would be cheaper and would stay.  He had a great first half against bum teams, then slowly faded in the second half against better teams.  But he still got 3/30 from old friend Matt Patricia.  Good luck to all that out there in Detroit.

I guess that means Elandon Roberts will re-up at some point.  And that warms my heart.  Ummmmm…no it doesn’t.  He is simply not any good.  At either linebacker or fullback.  Despite what the beat writers want you to think.

We here at the Blowhard do not care about the rest of the Patriot free agents…if you haven’t heard that a million times in this space already.

That means you, Danny Shelton.  And you, Nate Ebner.  And most certainly you, Phillip Dorsett.

Welp, that is a bit of a lie.

Because we cared a smidge about one other guy.

Tom Brady.

Whodya think we were going to say silly, Ted Karras??!!

Yes Brady.  Yes we cared.  No we didn’t necessarily care if he was coming back to the Patriots.  We’ve said time and time again that we are not going to get all worked up about a 43 year old QB.  Despite the legend that he is.  The six Super Bowl rings that he led the Pats to.  The desire to see anyone play their whole career with one team.  The sadness or at least weirdness to see him in a different uniform and finish his career with a different team.

And all that.

But again, we root for the laundry here, and the player that wears that laundry as long as they wear it.  When they go to a different team, we don’t necessarily root for the player to fail (well, depends on who it is I guess…and where they end up…hello Johnny Damon on the Yankees, for example?).

We will NOT root for Brady to fail.  No matter who he goes to.  Even if it is the Jets (unlikely), Bills (probably not) or Dolphins (a chance perhaps?).  Or Steelers.  Or Broncos.  Or Giants.  Or anyone.

I will absolutely have none of that nonsense.

But my rooting interest is still the Patriots.  Simple as that.

Oh wait…in case you missed it, and I don’t know how the hell you may have, Brady announced on Instagram this morning that he will not be returning to the Pats.  There has been no contract agreed to with anyone else, as far as I can tell or have heard.  But he won’t be coming back here.

So the Brady watch is (kind of) over.  For all intents and purposes here anyway.

It will be interesting to see where he lands, no two ways about it.  But the most important part to a lot of us has already been revealed.

My sense all along was that Bill Belichick did not want Brady to come back.  Hell, he wanted Jimmy Football over Tom a few years back, we know that much.  He’s probably glad he was forced to keep Tom though, with the latest Super Bowl wins adding to the trophy case.  But still, it doesn’t change the fact that he wanted to move on from Brady a mere few years ago.

Jimmy Garoppolo is not coming back, however, as some rumors swirling the past few weeks would have you believe.

So who is next?

GREAT question.

Based on the Patriots’ current salary cap situation, wouldn’t it suggest they are riding or dying with Jarrett Stidham this upcoming season?

I know, I know, cap space can be manipulated in many ways.  Trades and cuts and restructurings and all that can happen too.

But at this point, they have very little cap room.  And that has to be a factor for right this second.

Recent rumors have suggested the Pats may be interested in Teddy Bridgewater.  I have a hard time believing they will shell out a ton of dough there though, even if the cap space became available.  Plus, a whole lot of other teams are interested in Bridgewater.

Cam Newton?  Doubt that as well.

Andy Dalton as a stopgap?  Those were the earlier rumors.  But I’d rather just go with Stidham, to be honest.

Lesser “stopgaps” have already agreed to terms with other clubs:  Marcus Mariota, Chad Henne, Case Keenum, Chase Daniel…

Cody Kessler?  Please.

Outside the box QB?  Who no one is talking about?  That may be the best choice of all of the above?

At this point, unless a truly viable QB comes out of the woodwork, I say go with Stidham.

Right now.

But stay tuned…things should get a whole lot more interesting all around…

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.

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