It’s that time of year again. Training camp opened up last week for the New England Patriots. Already there has been a somewhat surprising retirement and maybe some insight into a future surprise cut. But for now, the team has 90 players in camp, so let’s get right to it. The first roster projection of the year, right here:
Locks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
Way Out: None
Comments: Jimmy Football will be the starting QB by the opening of the 2019 season. Yup, probably not a stretch here. Brady will be 42 before that season starts. And as much as he is on his special training regimen at his TB12 facilities, with his questionable trainer in Alex Guerrero and his range of products such as the concussion water (which apparently does not actually work, if you ask Giselle) and all that….the fact remains is that age 42 is age 42. You simply do not see many athletes performing at a high level at that age…in any sport. Brady did play at a high level at age 39 last season still, but as we have seen with guys like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, the end can come quick. People often forget that Brady had a 4 game “vacation” at the beginning of last year. He won’t have that this year.
This analysis isn’t to bash the legend, though I admit after I re-read it, it sure sounds like it. My apologies. Brady will be the unquestioned starter this season. And I expect it to be a pretty good season still for him, without a doubt. The point really to be made here is that although we have seen greatness for quite some time at this position, it could change in an instant. Of course we could say this about any football player at any position…any athlete in any sport actually. But I think the locals truly believe Brady when he says he can play until his mid-to-late 40s. I’m just here to drive the expectations of that crowd down. So is Bill Belichick. He clearly could have gotten top dollar for Jimmy G around the NFL draft in the spring but chose to keep him. Does Bill think he is the real deal and the franchise going forward? Perhaps. Maybe he just wants good QB insurance for this (presumably) long upcoming season. And then pulls a Matt Cassel and franchise tags Jimmy and then trades him before next season. I think Bill would have to be convinced that Brissett is the next big thing also and ready to step in when Tom eventually fades for that to happen. I don’t see it, but you never know…
Can’t forget about the old Madden curse either…with Brady on the cover this season. Just sayin’…
Locks: Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis
In: James Develin
Out: Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Glenn Gronkowski
Way Out: LeShun Daniels
Comments: Last year I had Brandon Bolden as only one of two locks, simply because of his special teams value. He had also managed to not kill the team when they played him on offense as well. So that didn’t hurt. But he was brutal on offense last year, they have 63 guys that can play special teams this year, the team signed Gillislee and Burkhead to decent sized contracts to replace the departed Hall of Famer (according to some fans) LeGarrette Blount, among other things. Oh, and when Bolden was free to sign with anyone in the spring, no one really wanted him. So he’s out this year, but can easily be re-signed if needed, since again, no one really wants him. I can’t believe I just wrote that much about Brandon Bolden.
People want to make Lewis a surprise cut this year, but I am not sure that will happen. He undoubtedly will give them all he has for a half a season or so and then get hurt again. So things will take care of themselves there eventually. Gillislee and Burkhead will hopefully be more productive than Blount. I still don’t love James White. But he signed an extension as well and ideally will springboard off his fantastic Super Bowl performance. We shall see. Bill loves Develin. Maybe better use of that roster spot elsewhere, but I see them keeping the fullback. Foster is going to be on the fringe this year. The “other” Gronk is depth and expendable. And I don’t even know who Daniels is.
Speaking of Blount, I love how the team slapped that “May 9th tender” on him when they officially knew that they weren’t bringing him back. The tender allowed the Pats to count Blount as part of the compensatory draft pick formula when he signed elsewhere. And if he didn’t sign elsewhere after a certain date in July, he could only play for the Pats. No one has ever heard of this tender before. Probably people working in the league likely included. But the Pats are ALL business. Ask pretty much every veteran they let go of over the years when they had their replacements ready. Troy Brown was maybe the one exception, as they let him hang around for a year longer than they should have. But Troy spent most of that year on the PUP list. ALL business. Just be ready when that business involves Brady.
Locks: Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell
In: Danny Amendola
Out: Austin Carr, Devin Lucien
Way Out: Cody Hollister, K.J. Maye, Tony Washington
Comments: Pretty much set in stone. The problem is that the team usually likes its backup receivers to play special teams. Mitchell and Amendola really don’t, other than Danny on returns. But hard to see them ditching Danny after he took yet another pay cut…and is pretty damn clutch. I believe they paid Carr and Hollister more dough than rookie free agents get, but there is simply no room. They may find their way onto the practice squad, along with Lucien. Maye and Washington just signed in the last few days. Should get plenty of time with Brissett in the early preseason games and they can tell their kids they played with the Patriots in their careers.
Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Out: Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy
Way Out: Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton
Comments: The Pats gave Gronk some more money when they didn’t have to, so hopefully he is happy. And of course healthy. Those close to the team are also pointing at Allen as a surprise cut. I don’t see it…yet. But it also wouldn’t shock me if Belichick cut him and kept both Lengel and O’Shaughnessy. Let’s see how camp goes. My guess is they actually start the year with 3 TE’s, but play some roster shenanigans at the final cutdown to give themselves a better chance at keeping some kids elsewhere. Then they can bring back at least one of Lengel or O’Shaughnessy a couple of days after final cuts. If that even matters to you…
Locks: Nate Solder (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT), Antonio Garcia (T)
In: Ted Karras (G/C), Conor McDermott (T), Jamil Douglas (G)
Out: Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T), James Ferentz (C)
Way Out: Cole Croston (T), Andrew Jelks (T), Jason King (G), Max Rich (T)
Comments: A little more settled than the beginning of last year. The Pats were a disaster on the line at the end of 2015 and seemed to be throwing numerous bodies at the problem during last years’ camp. Almost no jobs were set in stone. Dante Scarnecchia was returning to coaching. Not the case this year. The starters are locked in. Although this does not mean it is a dominant line, at least it’s a start.
Seems to me that Garcia was taken in the 3rd round of this past draft to eventually slide into Solder’s spot once his contract runs out at the end of this season. Did you realize Solder has the second highest cap hit on the team this year behind Brady? Me neither. Anyway, Nate may get PAID next offseason. Garcia may take his place as a result. (Another reason to make a switch to a more mobile Garoppolo, by the way). In any event, he is locked in.
I feel like they will hang on to McDermott to start and then hopefully slide him onto the practice squad shortly after final cuts. A supposed project, he seems to have the physical characteristics they’d like to have at tackle. And took him in the 6th round as one of their mere four draft picks. Karras was a backup in the middle last year and I imagine he will fill the same role this year. Another backup guard seemed to be in order, so I took Douglas over King. Since Douglas spent some time on the practice squad last year I believe. That may be a spot for a veteran upgrade at some point.
There seems to be no room in this scenario for Fleming and Waddle, who were on the team all of last year. But as referenced with Bolden and the TE’s above, they may slide through unclaimed and be available for pickup at a moments notice. If not, I am sure no one really cares. Kind of like the last five guys on the outside looking in. Though a handful of those guys are sure to end up on the practice squad at some point.
Next: Defense and specialists
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.
Players under contract: Tom Brady, Jacoby Brissett, Jimmy Garoppolo
Free agents: None
What I would do: Look, I would love to keep Garoppolo around if he truly is the “next big thing”. And Bill Belichick normally would keep the 25-year-old and trade the 39-year-old…999,999 times out of a million. But we all know Brady is a special case and is that one exception. I really don’t know if he can play until he’s 45 or so. The end can come quick. And I am sure Jimmy Football wants to play. Some people think if you hand him a boatload of money, he will sit on the bench the next 5 years waiting for Brady to retire/fall apart. I don’t see it. The Pats are unlikely to tie up serious dough in two QB’s anyway.
They can certainly keep Jimmy next season and let him walk after the season for just what they would receive for his part in the compensatory draft pick process. I’ve thought about that. But if teams are willing to overpay for Garoppolo now and the Patriots are sticking with Brady until the end, why would you pass the overpayment up? If the speculation that Jimmy could bring a huge return in a trade is bogus, then I’d keep him for insurance and let him walk next year and get that pick. If the Patriots only get a mid-second round pick in reality for Jimmy now, why bother? May as well keep him. If there is truly a bidding war for him now, see ya!
What I think will happen: Pretty much what I just said. If they get a huge return, Jimmy is gone. If not, he stays. I don’t see how some of these reports out there now say that he is absolutely not getting traded under any circumstances can be accurate. Bill seems to have everyone available at the right price. I mean, if a team offered like 6 first round picks for Brady, do you think Brady would still be here? Radical example, I know. But you get the point.
If Jimmy goes, reports have also said the Pats aren’t prepared for Brissett to be the primary backup…yet. So maybe they get a veteran backup. Maybe those reports are also bogus and they draft another QB to develop instead. Brady himself made a huge jump from his first year to his second and became the primary backup in that second year. No, I am not comparing Brissett to Brady, but could the same thing happen here? Perhaps. We know the team loves Brissett. And that he works hard and has a good head on his shoulders, etc. Ultimately, I am guessing that, other than what goes on with Garoppolo, QB will not be a high priority this spring/summer.
Players under contract: D.J. Foster, Tyler Gaffney, Glenn Gronkowski (FB), Dion Lewis, James White
Free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (FB),
What I would do: Lewis and White have one year left on their deals at about 1.5 mil and 800k respectively. I see no reason not to have them both back. Despite the fantastic Super Bowl, I remain not a huge fan of White. He trips over yard lines too much and gets caught from behind in the open field almost always. He absolutely cannot run the ball out of a standard offensive set. And Lewis doubtfully will ever make it through a 16 game season, plus any playoffs. So they will again need some help.
Can we please upgrade from Blount though? He is dominant against bad rush defenses. But less than average against good ones. Playoff time this past year? Not so good. So can they get a guy that is at least average against the good teams? I’m not talking about getting an Adrian Peterson-in-his-prime-type. Or even Jamaal Charles. Just someone better. Anyone. A bigger back better than Bolden or Gaffney to back up that starter would be nice too.
What I think will happen: We will see the same group back as last year. Lewis and White on their reasonable deals. Blount, Bolden and Develin are Belichick favorites and they will all sign for next to nothing to come back. Foster will spend another year at the end of the roster or practice squad to see if he can replace White in 2018. The “other Gronk” will be on and off the practice squad. Gaffney will get hurt in the preseason for the 4th straight year and head to Injured Reserve again. But hey, I think he has 2 rings to show for his career, so there is that…
Next: The remainder of the offense.
…wait, I’m still thinking!
Almost two weeks have passed since the NFL Conference Championship games and could I possibly still be thinking about who is going to win the Super Bowl?
It could simply be because my heart is telling me one thing and my head is telling me something a smidge different.
What is my heart telling me? That the New England Patriots should win this game by 2-3 touchdowns. Not only because I am a total homer either.
In my head? Lots of things. That the Pats have played 6 Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era and the largest margin, win or lose, has been 4 points. That all of those have gone down to the bitter end. That the Pats have somehow not scored in the first quarter of ANY of those 6 games. That the Las Vegas line has not budged since opening up at Pats minus 3, with more of the money coming in on the Pats that would then normally cause a line to be bumped up to get more money coming in on the Falcons…since, you know, Vegas doesn’t like to lose money. Since Vegas is usually smarter than all us Joe Blows, this would suggest they “know” something. And all that…
So why do I think the Pats SHOULD win this game handily? There are actually a lot of reasons for that as well:
*The Atlanta defense is PUTRID. And that may actually be kind. We’ve already talked about how they gave up the 6th most points in the league this year. But also in all the coverage this week another nugget was unearthed that I hadn’t heard. The Falcons were 32nd this year in red zone D. Yup 32nd. That’s LAST, in case you didn’t know how many teams were in the NFL. You heard a lot of people say this week that “the defense got better as the season went along…” Pretty easy to say I guess when your last 4 games were against the Rams, 49ers, Panthers and Saints…and they still gave up 32 to the Saints.
Pundits like to say the Patriots’ schedule was full of cream puffs this year and that may be true. But take a look at the Falcons’ schedule. Not a Murderer’s Row, by any stretch. And they still gave up all those points.
*That very defense is young and inexperienced. 7 rookies or 2nd year players start. They supposedly have a lot of team speed, but speed may not be able to make up for inexperience. Sure, Dan Quinn has played Brady before and may know some things to do. But if that doesn’t translate to the players performing well, then that knowledge means nothing. One may say that because Brady hasn’t faced this defense, that may be an advantage for the Falcons. But I am sure he has done his homework. And he too has faced off against a Quinn defense before. So obviously, it will come down to what happens on the field. And Brady can make youngsters pay, regardless of the talent level.
*NFC Championship/front running. “Experts” will tell you Atlanta smoked a hot Green Bay team 2 weeks ago. But let’s revisit the game. What if the Packers don’t miss a 41 yard field goal on their first possession? Then what if they don’t fumble inside the Atlanta 10 on their second possession? Game starts out a little closer, no? Let’s take it further. What if the Packer defender corrals the Falcon fumble that he should have to stop one drive? Then what if the Packers don’t drop, not one, but TWO sure interceptions on another drive in which Atlanta scores a TD? How many easy drops did Jared Cook and others on the team have the entire game?
I know, a lot of “ifs”, but if even half of the above happen, Atlanta does not run away with the game at least. And Green Bay had no running backs, wide receivers that wouldn’t have played due to injury if it were the regular season and absolutely zero defensive backfield. Give the Falcons credit. They cashed in on all of the above, ran up a huge lead and never looked back. Will that happen against the Patriots?
*Vic Beasley. The Blowhard read a piece from Bill Barnwell of the 4 letter site a day or so ago, in which he included some info that I haven’t seen anywhere else. If you are so inclined, you can read the piece here:
His piece included some interesting stuff on Beasley. In summary, half his 15.5 sacks were in three games against backups and rookies…which I acknowledge (and Barnwell acknowledges) that all pass rushers beef up stats like this.
But the more interesting thing is that Vic rarely plays when the opposing offense has 2 or fewer wide receivers on the field. Presumably running downs, you might think. If the Pats trot out Dion Lewis on first down and run with Beasley off the field, then go no huddle with Lewis on second down and pass the ball…then Vic is still on the sideline in the scenario when he is most productive. Will the Falcons change that up? Not sure. But they haven’t all year.
*The “experts” have told us for two weeks that “the Atlanta defense gave up a lot of garbage points after they were winning big and that makes the defense look worse.” Ummmm, maybe in 3 of their 11 wins, as I looked back at all their games. But I’m not buying that it happened all year.
*I think nationally that people are overrating the playoff win against Seattle as well. Atlanta played well, no doubt. But this wasn’t the same scary Seattle team of the past few years. The Seahawk offensive line was in shambles. Earl Thomas was out. Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson apparently have been hurt all year and trying to push through their injuries. Oh, and that long Devin Hester punt return was called back. The Falcons deserved to win, no question. But lets not get carried away.
I could ramble on some more, but what’s the point? The Super Bowl can be unpredictable of course. Two weeks of hype. Half hour halftime. Butterflies by even the most experienced veterans. Players coming out of nowhere to be huge factors: Chris Matthews, Larry Brown, Malcolm Butler, Timmy Smith, Dexter Jackson, Desmond Howard…the list goes on. Eugene Robinson soliciting prostitutes the night before the Big Game the first time Atlanta was here…and getting busted. Stanley Wilson drilling down some cocaine the night before the Bengals played in the Game for the second time. And then some…
So enough already, who am I picking? Well, here’s how I (think I) see it: Green Bay was able to slow the Atlanta RBs down, so since that is a Patriot strength, I believe they will do the same. The Pats will let Julio Jones get his yards. They will allow the short stuff to the running backs and everyone else. Bend, but don’t break, as they usually do. We all know the Pats are not really a #1 defense, even though they allowed the least amount of points this year. But they are better than the Falcons D. They will probably dress an extra corner and play coverage most of the game. I don’t see them doing a lot of blitzes or really putting a ton of pressure on Matt Ryan.
The Patriots should be able to move the ball any way they want to. I don’t know if I see them going no-huddle and trying to engage in a shootout with the Falcons. But they will mix in runs liberally with LeGarrette Blount and Lewis. They will play ball control…to a point. Julian Edelman will have a huge game.
Another feeling I can’t shake: This has game has the feel of a guy like Logan Ryan coming through and making himself rich in the off-season…even richer than we thought for a guy who has largely had an uneven Patriot career, to be kind.
The verdict? New England 38-27. I hope…let’s also hope that Atlanta isn’t so fired up about hearing about legacies and 5th Super Bowl wins and if Roger Goodell is going to hand the Super Bowl and/or the Super Bowl MVP trophies to Tom Brady and what’s going to happen then. And all the rest of that stuff. The game will probably be closer than this and thus, closer than it should be. But hopefully the Pats do it. Cuz, you know, I’m a homer!!
Championship Games: 1-1 (1-1 against the spread).
Total: 6-4 (5-5 against the spread).