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Are We Ready? Part III…

Lastly, everybody else:

Defense:

DE (3):

Locks:  John Simon, Chase Winovich

In:  Derek Rivers

Out: Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Nick Thurman, Tashawn Bower

Comments:  Wishful thinking on Wise I guess.  Rivers perhaps too.  With Wise, it’s probably time for him to go.  He still looks like he can add value, but they haven’t played him much.  And when they do, he always commits at least one dumb penalty.  As for Rivers, he has played one season out of his three thus far.  Two full years on injured reserve.  I only added him here because while we have seen enough of Wise on the field, we really haven’t with Rivers.  Can he play?  Who the hell knows?

Truth be told, this position could use a major upgrade, so they both probably won’t be here when the smoke clears.  And it probably won’t matter.

I’m not sure I even want Winovich to play full time either.  He looks to me like a situational pass rusher and core special teamer.  But what do I know?

I’d use a few draft picks here for sure.

DT (4):

Locks:  Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen

In:  Byron Cowart

Out:  None

Comments:  I don’t know a single thing about Allen.  He has to be as good as Danny Shelton though, no?  Well, the 2019 version.  Not the 2018 healthy scratch one.  Again, I am not sure why we will miss Shelton anyway.  When did he become a key loss?  It’s not exactly like the Pats were real stout against the run last year.

In a normal year, Guy may be a candidate for an extension and a lower cap number.  But again, I don’t think the Pats are doing that with anyone this offseason.  Everyone who watched tape swore that Guy was awesome…and has been since he has joined the Pats.  I’ll take their word for it.  Again, how were they against the run last season?  Sigh…

Expect a draft pick or two here as well.

LB (5):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley

In:  Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, Terez Hall

Out:  None

Comments:  Calhoun I guess plays some “edge” and is a special teamer.  Copeland comes from the Jets, which automatically makes me question him.  Hall is getting some buzz here in the spring as a guy that could make some noise.  That should make Hall himself nervous.  Too early for that kind of hype.

Hightower is one of the three aforementioned players with huge cap hits that could be addressed.  But similar to Devin McCourty last season, we think Dont’a gets all his money on this contract and plays this year as is.  Leadership, team transition, call it what you want.  Hightower has won Super Bowls and will probably be seeking one last big fat contract before he is done.  He was allowed to shop himself last time he hit free agency (a la Devin), but nothing apparently materialized and he ended up back in NE.  Maybe he took a discount last time.  But not next time.  Bill will gladly take the compensatory pick next year when Dont’a walks.

Big year for Bentley.  Let’s see if he can get back to what he showed in his rookie season before his injury.  Because he was no great shakes last year.

Draft picks are sure to be had here as well.

And at least Elandon Roberts is gone.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams

In:  None

Out:  D’Angelo Ross, Lenzy Pipkins

Comments:  Some buzz about trading Gilmore now…who is the last of the three I mentioned earlier (Hightower, Thuney) that would be normal candidates for extension or trade to get the cap number down on a team that would seem to be transitioning.  Steph has another year besides this one left on his deal and after he won NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season, no doubt will be looking for a HUGE payday in his next deal.  At age 29 right now, he is unlikely to get it here.  I expect him to be here this year at the current cap number.  Then I would absolutely not rule out a trade next offseason, even if this season goes way better than expected.

Pretty solid cornerback group otherwise.  Keeping Jason McCourty at his inflated option price probably helped keep his brother Devin.  But in today’s NFL, with its emphasis on passing, you would seem to need a slew of good corners.  So having Jason around won’t hurt them.

Jones plays well out of the slot and Jackson is still young and improving.  He may be the #2 guy this year anyway.

I don’t see the Pats giving up on last years’ second rounder Williams.  Although, they gave up on the previous years’ second rounder, Duke Dawson, fairly quickly.  And Joejuan got busted for drugs earlier in the offseason.  So that can’t help.  But since the drugs were weed, he’s probably safe.

S (5):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Terrance Brooks

In: Obi Melifonwu, Adrian Phillips

Out:  Adarius Pickett, Malik Gant

Comments:  Somewhat surprising Devin got as much dough as he did…but it was only for two years, so I am ok with it.  Especially under the circumstances.  Meaning, his leadership matters.  And, more importantly, a LOT of contracts are coming off the books in the next couple of years.

In fact, while we are talking about it, the Pats only have 12 players under contract in 2022.  8 are 1 million-ish and under.  Joejuan is about 2 and N’Keal about 3.  Only Jonathan Jones at about 8 and Mason at about 10 are significant outlays that year.

Interesting.

Anyway, back to the safeties.  Still old.  How much does Chung have left?  He took a beating last season.  Moreso than he usually takes.  Phillips (allegedly) and Brooks are glorified special teamers.  Maybe Obi-Wan Kenobi too (and I’ve never even seen any of the Star Wars…impressive, no??!!  Ok, ummm…).

Expecting some draftees here as well.

Specialists (8):

Locks:  ????? ?????????? (K), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Justin Bethel (ST), Brandon Bolden (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  Cody Davis (ST)

Out:  None

Comments:  Welp, they will eventually need a kicker.  So…that position has to kind of has to be a lock, no?  I’m thinking inexpensive, mid-round pick.  With Nick Folk (still unsigned) on speed dial.  No one is talking about it now either.  But can we rule out a return for long-time kicker…Stephen Gostkowski…at some point?  Haha…did you think I was going to say Adam Vinatieri?!  Nah.  He may come back to the Colts, but I am thinking his time has come for the old age home.  He won’t be here, for sure.

What if Gostkowski has a clean bill of health late in camp or at least early in the season?  And doesn’t have a job by then?  Would he come back for presumably short money?  I’d keep an eye on that for sure.

The rest of the guys…blah, blah, blah.  Have to have a requisite number of core special teamers, don’t you?

That concludes our waaaaaaay too early look at the roster.  Probably about 60% accurate from who will break camp with the team in August/September.  But always a fun exercise to do…even in April.  Again, since there isn’t much of anything better to do…

Next:  We are done…I wouldn’t have the energy I don’t think anyway…

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…

What’s Next? Conclusion…

Defense and specialists today…and hopefully a little shorter read…but I make no guarantees.  Positive news came Saturday, most assuredly because the Blowhard wrote about it.  Dwayne Allen was informed of his release.  So we are off to a good start!  I still will not be surprised to see him back at some point in the spring or summer once he finds out no one else wants him.  Anyway, moving on…

DE:

Under contract:  Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Ufomba Kamalu

Unrestricted free agents:  John Simon

In limbo:  Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn

What I would do:  Yikes!!  Flowers is by far the best player on this list.  So I would strongly consider franchise tagging him.  There are very few candidates for that tag, and we’ve already ruled out using it on Trent Brown.  Flowers is a great fit for this defense with his versatility and seems to be a great team guy overall.

Pickings are slim after that.  Clayborn is in limbo because he counts almost 6 mil against the cap next season…and did next to nothing this past season.  You most commonly found him pushed out wide and past the containment, so that the QB or RB had open field in front of them.  He was a healthy scratch a few times down the stretch.  We were skeptical of the signing the last offseason and we think we were proved right.  Let him go and spend that money elsewhere.

Wise shows flashes, but also is banged up a lot.  Davis and Rivers rarely played.  Kamalu was signed late in the season and didn’t play much after that.  The first three will be here, not so sure about Ufomba.  I’d probably re-sign Simon for depth since he seemed to play ok when he was in there.  But resources need to be invested in this position, whether it’s on Flowers or others.  Adding players through the draft wouldn’t hurt either.

What the team will probably do:

Not tag Flowers and regrettably let him walk.  The local writers seem to think that because Trey doesn’t post big sack numbers in this defense that he won’t command big money league-wide.  But we’ve looked a few NFL free agent rankings lists from national sources and he is in the Top Ten of all free agents available.  Sssssso…so much for that thinking.  Not to mention the fact that the last two Defensive Coordinators the Pats have had are now at the helm of other teams.  They know how good Flowers is.  Seems to be a good chance they may make a run at him.  Smoke is currently coming out of Miami that the Dolphins have interest.  Makes sense, that is where Brian Flores just went.  Flowers has rings and will likely want his dough now too…and you certainly cannot blame him for that.

Other than that?  Simon will probably be back, along with Davis, Rivers and Wise.  Then they will likely try to find the next Flowers in the 4th round like they did with him.  Or somewhere else in the draft.  Clayborn?  Hard to believe he survives.  But Bill does like his vets.

DT:

Under contract:  Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Trent Harris, Frank Herron, David Parry

Unrestricted free agents:  Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton

In limbo:  None

What I would do:  Yikes…again!!  Brown and Shelton were supposed to be the big dudes in the middle that would stop the run.  They couldn’t stop anyone.  Yeah, I suppose some of that may have been by design…letting teams do anything they wanted to on the ground so they didn’t make big plays through the air.  After all, the NFL is a passing league.  But still.  Those two were kind of putrid.  There was probably a good reason the team passed on exercising both of their 5th year options on their rookie deals last offseason.  Exercising those would have kept them both here for 2019.  But would have cost them upwards of 7 million apiece.  No thanks.  I wouldn’t bring either of them back.  Shelton was actually benched several games down the stretch.  Not a good sign.

According to guys like Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, Guy was a solid player every week, sometimes spectacular.  Almost worthy of team MVP consideration.  I didn’t see it, but I don’t watch copious amounts of film as he does.  So how the hell am I going to argue with that dude?  In fact, I don’t watch any film, but that’s beside the point.  In any event, as a result, we have no complaints with Guy.  Butler seems useful as well.  Harris, Herron and Parry seem to be practice squad types.  But maybe one or more explodes in the summer and makes an impact as at least a depth piece next season.

But I’d invest a relatively high draft pick at this position (but how many picks have I given away already?).  And sign another useful veteran or two with at least a little something left.  Work these 2 or 3 in with Guy and Butler.  Then stockpile another Harris and/or Herron and/or Perry with the real Harris, Herron and Perry for more practice squad depth.

What the team will probably do:  Read recently that the Pats were considering re-signing either Brown or Shelton and perhaps both.  Ugh.  I don’t know about that one.  But they do need bodies.  And if it was partly a scheme thing where they were exposed, then…maybe.  But it wouldn’t shock me if at least one was back.  They would have to come significantly cheaper than the 7 mil mentioned above though.  Brown is the higher rated one and the possibility exists that he has run his course in New England.  Shelton maybe can use the excuse of having one year to adjust to the system.  I wouldn’t buy it, but maybe Bill cuts him that slack.

I believe they do take one high in the draft too…Brown went in the first round when he came in and Vince Wilfork back a bit too.  Then they just fill up with some other dudes that won’t cost much.  I wouldn’t expect a big splash here.

LB:

Under contract:  Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’whaun Bentley, Calvin Munson, Christian Sam

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Dont’a Hightower

What I would do:  Welp, Hightower already came out and said he would not take a pay cut, so there is that.  Because that is something I would certainly attempt to do.  Dont’a looked rather pedestrian most of the year, until the Super Bowl at least.  11 mil against the cap in each of the next two years, seems like too much.  If they end up having the room, I’d probably keep him at that number at least one more year.  The reasoning is that Roberts still stinks and they really don’t know what they have in Bentley quite yet.  He looked pretty good early on, but then got hurt.  So we will see.  Van Noy has one year left on his deal and undoubtedly will be looking for big dough.  He seemed to take a step up this past year, but is that for real?  I’d obviously work to try to extend him, but not if the money is extremely silly.

I’d consider bringing another veteran here as well and perhaps a draft pick.  But it’s hard to tell if they need many more bodies here.  Rivers and Simon could possibly be considered outside linebackers.  Plus safety Patrick Chung fills some of this role.  So they may not need another vet if they have all the bodies above.

What the team will probably do:  I imagine they keep Hightower at his current number.  For one more year anyway.  I bet they try to extend Van Noy as well.  I’m thinking they will lowball him though, per usual, and he won’t bite.  I mean, he has two rings now and three Super Bowl appearances in his two and a half years in New England.  After his age-28 season in 2019, he will want to get PAID.  And that won’t happen here.  Bentley and Roberts return along with the rest.  They may draft someone, but I don’t actually see them doing much here.

CB:

Under contract:  Stephon Gilmore, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Unrestricted free agents:  Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty

In limbo:  Jonathan Jones (restricted free agent)

What I would do:  Tender Jones at the highest level they can, so he doesn’t get lost.  Or re-sign him quickly.  I know, he’s Jonathan Jones.  But he has mostly acquitted himself well at slot corner when he is out there.  Plus he added safety to his repertoire in the Super Bowl (and likely other games but no one noticed).  And with the top three safeties getting up in age and not much depth behind them, Jones could play a key role going forward.  Especially if the second round pick Dawson actually gets on the field next season.  They like him still and apparently, his best position is slot corner.  I’d consider re-signing McCourty as a depth piece, as long as he doesn’t command too much.  The team loves Jackson, but Jason can be some insurance as they continue to bring J.C. along.  It’s time to part with Rowe of course.

What the team will probably do:  Exactly as I mentioned above.  If Jason wants to come back, it will have to be on the cheap.  Maybe the Pats gamble on Jones by not tendering him at a high level, but they also value him on special teams and you know how Bill feels about those guys.  I would expect them to bring him back.  They will also probably let Rowe hit the bricks, now that there are a lot of capable bodies at the position.

S:

Under contract:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Devin McCourty

What I would do:  McCourty has a ridiculously high cap number at thirteen and a half.  That is unacceptable.  He looked a step slower this year himself.  But would I cut him?  Hmmmmm…probably not without a capable player to replace him.  Since 2019 is the last year of his deal and that he has stated that he will continue playing AND seeing that he is a good leader for this team, I would consider extending him a year or two to get that cap number down.  Chung is solid and locked in.  Harmon is overpaid as well, but the number doesn’t kill them and you could do worse at third safety, so he sticks.  No idea if Melifonwu can add anything after a full offseason with the team.  Or Howard either for that matter.  I would bring another decent body in, whether that is through free agency or the draft.

What the team will probably do:  I bet Devin balks at a pay cut if asked.  He may extend, but since his play slipped a bit and he did talk retirement the week of the Super Bowl, the Pats may not go that route.  Hard to believe they would cut him, seeing that they overpaid greatly for him once he hit free agency last time and of course what he brings to the table as far as locker room presence and leadership qualities go.  I believe he just sticks at that cap number for 2019, as unseemly as that sounds, and let things play out next offseason.  I do expect the team to add some bodies here, but don’t go expecting Earl Thomas or anything.  If Thomas is even still any good, that is.

Specialists:

Under contract:  Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Joe Cardona (LS)

Unrestricted free agents:  Ryan Allen (P), Ramon Humber (ST), Albert McClellan (ST)

In limbo:  Stephen Gostkowski (K)

What I would do:  Gostkowski is a free agent and I would definitely bring him back.  Sorry.  He has declined a bit but is still pretty solid.  His playoff performance in recent years does kind of make me pause.  BUT…who else are you going to bring in?  We all have seen how bad kicking is across the NFL.  It continues to mystify me how the league cannot find 32 good kickers in this entire world.  It also continues to mystify me how kickers all of a sudden have a problem with the extra point, as soon as the yard line was moved back to make it a 33 yarder a few years back.  I don’t know if I would use the franchise tag on Stephen, but they have used it before on him and although I may use the tag on Flowers, I know the team won’t.  So they will have the option to use it on Gostkowski.  Yet again though, I would bring in competition for him at camp, something they have not done in years.  Maybe that helps him even more.

I’d bring back Allen, Humber and McClellan too.  But the world won’t end if they don’t.  And I’m not overspending to keep a punter.  The Pats actually brought in a kid last year and tried to hide him by not having him punt in the preseason.  Didn’t work, as Corey Bojorquez was claimed by Buffalo at final cuts.  Can’t hurt to bring in another punter for competition even if they bring Allen back.  But the punter is probably last on everyone’s list.  McClellan seemed to make plays out there once he was signed halfway through the season.  He blocked two punts in one game.  But they will find other veteran special teamers if Humber and McClellan leave.

What the team will probably do:  Gostkowski will be franchised…I can feel it.  They will probably try to sign the other three free agents as well.  But again, they will find replacements if they can’t.  Not much to fret about here.

OK, so this piece wasn’t shorter, my apologies.  But we are finished!

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