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Patriot Free Agency (in)action, Offense…

As promised (threatened?), we will provide a snapshot of the New England Patriots roster as it stands now.  Of course, there will be plenty of informative comments following each position group.  Define the word “informative” as you may, but I’ll feel good about them anyway.

For the record, we will say where the player came from if they are an addition and where they went if they jumped ship.  We will also note if they finished last season on the Patriots injured list (IR) or on the Patriot practice squad (PS).  Just cuz I want to be informative, as I said…yup…

Enough of the nonsense, let’s get to it:

QB:

Holdovers:  Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Everyone knows that Brady will be 41, Jimmy Football was traded for a bag of footballs and a tackling sled and that Hoyer stinks.  Not to mention that Jacoby Brissett was also traded last year for probably something less than Garoppolo.  Even though I keep hearing from some talking heads recently that Phillip Dorsett actually had a pretty good year “…when he played…he was actually open a lot, Brady either didn’t see him or just didn’t throw it to him…”  Ok, if you say so.  In any event…an obvious need at some point…and soon.

I’d take a QB fairly high in the draft.  Someone who the team thinks has potential to be that proverbial “next guy”.  Not taking one just to take one.  Brady (and his wife) were doing some whining on his little Facebook thing and some people took that to maybe mean he doesn’t plan on playing until he’s 125 like he has always said.  I don’t buy it.  It’ll all work out and he will be around for a while.  If they draft a dude now, they will have time to groom him.  It’s supposed to be a deep quarterback draft, but what do I know?

And no, I would pass on signing Matt Cassel or Matt Moore or any other Matt that is a veteran stiff…in case you were wondering.

Bottom line?  Still in pretty good shape here, wouldn’t you say?

RB:

Holdovers:  Rex Burkhead (re-signed), James Develin (FB), Mike Gillislee, James White

Arrivals:  Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati)

Departures:  Dion Lewis (Tennessee)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  We talked enough about Lewis yesterday.  Hill has regressed from his fantastic rookie year in 2014 for the Bengals.  But from what I understand, the Pats are on the hook for very little if he doesn’t pan out.  I feel like Gillislee deserves another shot and I want to see more Rex.  I feel ok with this collection…especially in this offense…and especially if they all keep Brandon Bolden off of the field.  Moving on…

WR:

Holdovers:  Kenny Britt, Brandin Cooks, Phillip Dorsett, Julian Edelman (IR), Chris Hogan, Cody Hollister (PS), Riley McCarron (PS), Malcolm Mitchell (IR)

Arrivals:  Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland)

Departures:  Danny Amendola (Miami), Bernard Reedy (released)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  I’m not going to deny they will miss Amendola to some degree, especially when the chips are down.  But again, we went through all that yesterday.  I will also add that I am not sure that throwing multiple mediocre bodies at the end of the depth chart will help that cause.  But that’s me.

If the depth chart shows Cooks, Edelman, Hogan and Mitchell, assuming good health of course (a BIG assumption), do we really need Britt, Dorsett or Patterson?  Plus, McCarron has been getting a lot of love recently.  How many receivers can you carry?  What exactly are the first three bringing you anyway…especially if they are the 5th receiver on the depth chart?

That’s just it I suppose…depth.  Who knows where Edelman and Mitchell will be health-wise going forward?  I know, there appears to be little risk with the aforementioned three veterans, financially or otherwise.  And I know, Patterson is a dynamic kick returner.  Though I will agree with the talk radio chatter on Monday where it was pointed out that kick returns are a very small part of the game these days.

I have no inside info on the situation.  But I have a feeling there may be another shoe to drop here before camp opens.  There has been some smoke revolving around Cooks’ status for a couple of weeks now.  Cooks was up and down last year and my feeling is that he will improve in his second year in the system.  And none of those three vets mentioned appear to have the ability of Cooks.  But I suppose you never know…

TE:

Holdovers:  Dwayne Allen, Rob Gronkowski (we think?), Jacob Hollister, Will Tye (PS)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  Martellus Bennett (IR, released)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  I do believe we have to take Gronks’ retirement “threats” seriously.  Despite being a monster, he has taken quite a beating over his NFL career.  And despite all the back surgeries, there is no doubt that the back will always hang over his head at least a little.  I’m betting that throwing a little money at him will get him back into the fold mentally though.  Isn’t that always the case?

Speaking of money, I am absolutely stunned that Allen is still here.  5 mil against the cap next season.  Was he that good a blocker?  Is he just hanging around in case Gronk does retire?  I don’t see it.  That’s money better spent elsewhere.  I know Hollister and Tye aren’t appealing backup options if Allen departs.  But there has to be someone else out there that is.

Let’s make Gronk happy and find a young tight end somewhere.  Not an extremely pressing area of need (unless Gronk walks of course), but definitely a position to keep an eye on.

OL:

Holdovers:  David Andrews (C), Marcus Cannon (T), Cole Croston (T), James Ferentz (C, PS), Antonio Garcia (T, IR), Andrew Jelks (T, IR), Ted Karras (G/C), Jason King (G, PS), Shaq Mason (G), Joe Thuney (G)

Arrivals:  Matt Tobin (T) (Seattle)

Departures:  Nate Solder (T) (New York Giants)

In limbo:  Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T)

Comments:  We ranted on Solder yesterday and I’m done talking about it.  The other four members of the line return.  It’s a solid, if unspectacular, group.  So obviously the focus is on finding a new left tackle.  And once again, I am not going to get worked up about it.  Dante Scarnecchia and the team should be able to figure it out.  Maybe it’s one of these guys above.  Maybe it’s a draft pick.  Maybe it’s someone released over the summer or early in camp.  Who knows?  Maybe I am being naive (or just plain stupid), but I am simply not concerned about it.

People are also seemingly terrified of losing Waddle and/or Fleming.  Seriously?  These guys were released in recent years.  Now they are all of a sudden irreplaceable?  Mystifying.

These guys are going to be alright next season without Solder.  I feel like that isn’t even going out on much of a limb, to be honest…

Next:  The Defense.

 

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Patriot Free Agency (in)action?

Welp, since the New England Patriots have certainly stepped up their free agency activity since I had started this piece, or better yet, had INTENDED to start this piece, perhaps the title above is not entirely appropriate.  Then again, since the transactions have been somewhat underwhelming to most, maybe the title is indeed accurate.

In any event, people love it when the organization jumps into free agency right from the beginning and doles out huge dollars to big names.  However, don’t we all know that this very rarely happens?  I suppose that since they went out and locked Stephon Gilmore up to big dough the first morning of free agency last year, people expected that again this offseason.  Add in the fact that Tom Brady will be 41 at the start of next season and they traded Jimmy Garoppolo and have no youngster ready to step in to carry the organization to the next chapter in their history, fans may have expected the Pats to load up for the short-term.

But it never fails.  Patriot fans are always upset if the team doesn’t go after the marquee players right out of the gate.  Then Bill Belichick invariably leads them to another AFC Championship Game in the upcoming season.  With whatever flotsam and jetsam he does end up signing or trading for during the free agency process.  Will we ever learn?

Probably not.  But I’m here to help with that.

I know, there is all sorts of drama apparently going on down in Foxborough now.  Brady is doing that Facebook stuff hinting at unhappiness.  Rob Gronkowski is also hinting at unhappiness, but he goes through Twitter.  Belichick is taking more offseason heat than he ever has in New England, simply due to his decision not to play Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl.  My guess is that most, if not all of this goes away before the season starts.  But what do I know?

Here’s what I DO know.  Patriot backers have been completely delusional about the four marquee free agents to have already departed the organization.  They are completely panicking about losing any and all of these guys.  I will proceed to tell you why that is stupid, individually, and in no particular order:

*Nate Solder.  Holy crap, this is the worst.  Ok, maybe we are going in order.  Anyway, this region has been going nuts about losing Solder for a few weeks now.  Local sports talk radio, in particular, has been adamant that the Patriots re-sign Solder.  My question is:  Why?  Listen, Solder has been a reliable, if unspectacular, left tackle for 7 years here.  They could have done a whole lot worse at that spot over the years.  But they also could have done somewhat better.  He was never an All-Pro.  He was never even in the Pro Bowl.  More importantly, how many times did you yell at your TV screen after someone blew by him and knocked down Brady?  Or he committed a stupid penalty?

Ok, I am probably exaggerating the situation.  But my point is, he was an average to maybe a smidge above average left tackle for the team for those 7 years.  And now everyone wanted to lock him up to 13-15 million a year for several years?!  Seems inexplicable to me.  Always did.  I said during my Super Bowl recap piece that I wouldn’t sign him for 10-11 mil a year.  He got 15.5.  For 4 years.  With 35 mil guaranteed.  Just insane to me.

Let’s also not forget that the Patriots more than likely intended all along to move on from Solder after this past season.  They drafted two tackles last year.  Antonio Garcia in the third round and Conor McDermott in the sixth.  Undrafted Cole Croston beat out McDermott for a spot on the roster last fall.  And Garcia ended up missing the season after developing a blood clot.  But they still drafted two guys.  And did not extend Solder’s contract at any point during the year (obviously).  Was the writing not on the wall last preseason?  Sure, McDermott is gone, Croston may not be ready and Garcia most assuredly is not after reportedly losing 40 pounds due to the blood clot.  But it sure looks like the decision to move on from Solder had been made long ago.

And certainly, circumstances did change with Garcia getting the clot and all.  I imagine the plan was for him to be the 3rd or 4th tackle last season and then more than likely take the starting left tackle job this year.  He will likely need another year to get back to where he was.  So if the timetable just gets pushed back a year, does that necessitate re-signing Solder to massive dollars for 4 more years?  I say no.

The simple fact is that they should be able to replace Nate with someone else for a fraction of the cost.  At close to the same performance level.  If Garcia was the plan and he needs another year, can’t they figure it out for that one year?  With the supposed “offensive line whisperer” Dante Scarnecchia still around to coach whoever that is up?  I think they can.  I know, Brady will be 41 and left tackle is an important position.  But I’m sure they can figure it out at a much lower cost.

*Danny Amendola.  Make no mistake, the Blowhard is a huge DA fan.  And the Blowhard did not care much when Danny initially signed here before the 2013 season.  He turned us around for sure.  We LOVE his clutch play.  The fact that he consistently took pay cuts to stay here.  The fact that he became one of Brady’s most reliable weapons.  All of that and then some.

But let’s be real here.  If everyone is healthy, the Pats would probably slot Amendola at least 4th on the depth chart at wide receiver, behind Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan.  Perhaps even behind Malcolm Mitchell as well.  They also have guys like Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt lying around…as well as everyone’s new favorite all of a sudden…Riley McCarron.  We won’t even count for the trade for Cordarrelle Patterson, which just happened as I type this I think.

Amendola’s snaps also no doubt have to be managed since he gets dinged up quite a bit.  I just looked it up and was surprised to find he has only missed 11 games total in his five years as a Patriot.  Feels like a lot more.  Then again, he was never really healthy in Year One.  And the games where he left and didn’t return probably add up to a fair share as well.

Just seems to me that Brady still has plenty of reliable weapons.  Don’t blame Danny for taking the money at all.  But the money saved here by the Pats is better spent elsewhere.

*Dion Lewis.  Let’s take a look at Lewis’ career.  Doesn’t play much in 2011-2012.  Missed 2013 to injury.  Out of football in 2014.  Played two half, albeit productive, seasons in 2015-2016.  Then has a career year in 2o17…in which he was mothballed for the first half of the season, probably, or at least possibly, to keep him healthy for the stretch run.

So the Pats were supposed to break the bank to keep him here?  Many people thought so.  I did not.  Not for a running back.  A fungible position here in New England.

I’m happy for Lewis.  He deserves some sort of payday for his perseverance…and of course performance.  But I’m glad it’s not here.  I said all year that I liked what I saw from Rex Burkhead when he was healthy.  And yeah, he was hurt a lot too.  But with the re-signing of Rex and the addition of Jeremy Hill to add to James White and I would guess Mike Gillislee still, there is plenty enough remaining in the backfield at a reasonable cost.

*Malcolm Butler.  I would say Patriot fans are still more fired up on why Butler didn’t play in the Super Bowl, and rightfully so.  Seems as if his value did not decrease across the league, as interest in signing him was apparently fairly widespread.  Including reported interest from the Detroit Lions, now coached by Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator of the runner-up Pats last year.  Hmmmmmm.  Butler didn’t say much when he signed.  So we may never know the real reason why he didn’t play.

In any event, the second the Pats signed Gilmore last year, we all should have known Butler was done after this past season at the latest.  So most rational Patriot fans did not throw a fit when he signed with Tennessee.  Thankfully.

The Patriots have of course lost other guys since free agency started.  But no one significant.  Unless you count the loss of Johnson Bademosi as significant.  I do not.

Next?  We will take a snapshot of the roster as it currently stands.  And despite all the hullabaloo, it’s really not all that bad.

What the hell happened?

Thursday night, that is.

Kansas City is a good team for sure.  #2 seed in the East last year.  A lot of talented players.  And many thought the game would be close, including myself.  But to smoke the Patriots in the end?  Not sure a lot of people saw that coming.

Am I worried?

Nah.

Well, maybe a little.

Disappointing performance, but ultimately I think it is a little bump in the road.  Unless the injuries pile up.  But every team has to worry about that.  I mean, the Chiefs themselves lost Eric Berry for the year in that same game.

Tom Brady did not look like Tom Brady.  Part of it was of course the Chiefs’ game plan.  Maybe he was rusty, since he didn’t play much this preseason.  Maybe it was partly because in the second half he was throwing to the likes of Phillip Dorsett.  Probably a combination of those things and more.  But I’m not blaming his age.  That was a terrible opening throw to Dwayne Allen though.  Maybe we should have taken that as a sign for that particular night.

Hopefully the coaches were in preseason mode still.  Seemed as if the game plan on both sides of the ball left a lot to be desired.  I know the Patriots are thin at wide receiver.  Julian Edelman out and now Malcolm Mitchell as well.  But didn’t they know that playing Danny Amendola every snap was bound to backfire?  Love DA, but he is extremely brittle.  Add in him returning punts and it was asking for trouble.  Of course, then the concussion…Dorsett then had to play apparently.  And he has been here less than a week.

Why can’t one of the 15 running backs they carry line up at receiver?  Specifically, James White, Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead?  White and Lewis have been here, so they should know the “route tree” and all that.  Seemed like a better idea playing them over Dorsett, especially since Rex only played 10 snaps and Dion 6.  Then they may not have resorted to just throwing the ball up for grabs the last quarter.

And the defense?  Ugh.  Starts with the game plan again.  Jordan Richards for half the game?  Yikes!  The guy seems to be a special teamer at best…and they are trying to make him a linebacker?  Not good.  I know the Chiefs have a lot of speed.  But they gave real money to David Harris.  And he plays 2 snaps?  I’m not saying he would be better than Richards or Kyle Van Noy or anyone else.  I’m just saying that if he’s playing only 2 snaps on Opening Night, perhaps that money was better spent elsewhere?

Is Dont’a Hightower really ready as well?  Was it necessary to rush him out there for Opening Day?  I know, Bill will say “football players play” and “if the doctor clears them, they are ready to go” and stuff like that.  But even with a seemingly weak front seven, perhaps maybe they should have given him some more time to recover from what ailed him this offseason?  Maybe even left him on PUP?  He doesn’t exactly play every game every year either.  Then, predictably, he goes down too.

I was actually OK with them going with the 2 4th and shorts they had.  I just didn’t love the play calls.  Mike Gillislee got stuffed on both.  But he had nowhere to go.  Where was the QB sneak, which seems to work 99.8% of the time?  Where was…any other play call?  Especially with all of KC up on the line?

Also of note, the Pats may have less depth all around this year…more than in recent years.  Is the decision to carry a slew of “special teams only” players going to come back to bite them…finally?  They always do it and it always seems to work.  But there seem to be more of them this year.  Bademosi, Bolden, Ebner, M. Flowers, J. Jones, King, Slater…and I would say Richards too (first names not necessary).  These guys are (or should be) special teams players only.  To carry 8 of them seems like a lot.

Ultimately, although this game did indeed finish ugly, I expect that the Pats will roll next week and be on their way to something like 13-3, a division championship and a likely appearance in the AFC Championship Game at least.

But…one last point to note:  Brady and other veteran players said after the game that the team has to have a better attitude and compete more and all that.  And to me, seemed like they borderline “gave up” on that last KC TD.  Uh oh.  Made me think of 2009 and that dysfunctional locker room.  If this is a problem, let’s get this taken care of…like, NOW.  Or all the talk will have quickly gone from “16-0” to “10-6, thanks to this team of underachievers”…and possibly worse…oh, 10-6 will likely still will win the division.  But it would also mean a quick exit in the playoffs.

On to the picks…short and sweet this week.  Not a whole lot of ammo in Week 1.  First week is always kind of a crapshoot.  Plus, I really didn’t pay close attention to the league this preseason.  For whatever the preseason is worth.

Pittsburgh (-9.5) at Cleveland

Cleveland definitely has improved and will be undoubtedly better this year.  Just not yet.

Pittsburgh 31, Cleveland 13.

Arizona (-1.5) at Detroit

Going with the Lions at home.  Good enough for me.

Detroit 24, Arizona 20.

Jacksonville at Houston (-5.5)

The Jaguars still stink.  I don’t care how many running backs they want to use.

Houston 20, Jacksonville 10.

Baltimore at Cincinnati (-2.5)

Could go either way on this division game.  But is Joey Flacco ready to go?

Cincinnati 21, Baltimore 17.

Oakland at Tennessee (-1.5)

Lots of people on the Tennessee bandwagon this year.  Oakland coming to the East Coast for a 1:00 game.  Seems like a Tennessee pick, right?  Not today.

Oakland 34, Tennessee 30.

Atlanta (-6.5) at Chicago

Mike Glennon or Mitch Trubisky?  Who cares?  Atlanta on the road?  No matter.  I don’t believe Atlanta was as good as they ended up last year, when they got to the Super Bowl and chok…er, lost.  But they are probably going to still be in the mix this season.  And the Bears should still be putrid.

Atlanta 38, Chicago 17.

Philadelphia at Washington (-0.5)

No idea on this divisional battle.  The spread suggests no one else has an idea either.  Or “they” like Philly since “they” presumably gave the ‘Skins three points for being at home.  Either way, when in doubt, go with the home team…I guess.

Washington 28, Philadelphia 27.

New York Jets at Buffalo (-7.5)

Wretched.  Who’s watching this one?  Probably not even many Jets or Bills fans.  Jets are going to make a serious run at 0-16 this year.  That’s high on the list of things that make me happy.

Buffalo 27, New York Jets 6.

Indianapolis at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5)

Another “must-watch” game.  Scott Tolzien vs. Jared Goff.  I’m sure the only person who predicted New England would actually trade Jacoby Brissett instead of releasing (or just keeping him) may want to see some Jacoby action in this game (there you go Batts!!).  But not sure that is going to happen.  I would have to think the St. Louis offense will be better this year, even out of the gates.  So I am going with Todd Gurley over the 150 year old Frank Gore in this one.

Los Angeles Rams 17, Indianapolis 13.

Seattle at Green Bay (-3.5)

Looks like a good one.  Normally I would go with the home team both to win and against the spread in what should be a fantastic game between two top contenders.  But Week 1, you just never know.

Green Bay 34, Seattle 31.

Carolina (-5.5) at San Francisco

Feel like Carolina rebounds this year.  Not the same feeling about the Niners.

Carolina 34, San Francisco 10.

New York Giants at Dallas (-3.5)

Ezekiel Elliott is ready to go.  Dak is back.  ‘Boys at home.  As much as it pains me though, going with G-Men.  Purely a hunch.

New York Giants 28, Dallas 24.

New Orleans at Minnesota (-3.5)

I have absolutely no insight here.  Just another hunch.

New Orleans 35, Minnesota 27.

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver (-3.5)

The Broncos at home.  Even though Trevor Siemian is still the QB, they presumably still have the stout defense and nice running game.  “Los Angeles” in front of Chargers instead of “San Diego” just sounds stupid and wrong.

Denver 27, San Diego 17.

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  0-1

Season (against the spread):  1-0

Season (straight up):  0-1

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