Moving right on to the defense…
Locks: Trey Flowers, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
In: Adrian Clayborn
Out: Keionta Davis, Eric Lee
Way Out: Frank Herron
Comments: I’m putting Flowers in the Shaq Mason category. Trey is in the last year of his deal and may command big money next year. Money I don’t think the Pats will pay. Now, he may not command “Chandler Jones money”. He hasn’t had the start to his career that Chandler had. But he may still be too expensive for Bill’s taste. I think if a trade made sense, Bill may do it. I probably wouldn’t, as you can see the depth is a little thin at this position. But I’m not ruling out the possibility.
Hopefully Wise can build on a decent rookie year and that Rivers can show something after missing last year due to injury. Clayborn is probably a lock due to the contract…a surprising one at that…with like 2/3 of his sacks coming in a single game last year. But again, every year there is a long-time veteran that just doesn’t fit in the Patriots’ system. For some reason, I think it may be him. Just a hunch. It’s probably wrong though.
Lee flashed after being claimed on waivers last year…in the regular season anyway. So he probably has a chance. Davis always seems to be around when I write these projections, but not sure he is any type of answer. I’ve never heard of Herron, so he will need to make some noise in camp for me to take him seriously.
Locks: Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton
In: Adam Butler, Vincent Valentine
Way Out: John Atkins, Trent Harris
Comments: One more guy I put in the “possible trade” category is Brown. His contract is up after this season. And he may require an investment. The acquisition of Shelton could grease the skids for that…though Shelton’s contract is up after the year too. Seeing that they just made the trade to get Shelton, a trade of him seems unlikely. But maybe with the other guys around, Brown can be shopped. Again, I do not think this will happen, but I am not overlooking the possibility. Guy has his fat contract and played well enough last year I guess, so he’s in.
We had Butler as “way out” in the initial projection last year. Smart. But of course, he was someone we never heard of and he needed to catch the eye to improve his standing. And he certainly did it appears. I think with a year of development, he sticks again. Valentine missed all of last year. But if he is healthy, he stays. Because he is also young and cheap. And Bill likes his fat guys.
This years’ “never heard of dudes” in this category are Atkins and Harris. So we will follow their camp progress…or lack thereof.
Locks: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy
In: Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley
Out: Harvey Langhi, Christian Sam
Way Out: None
Comments: Once again, an absolutely putrid group here, especially if Dont’a can’t stay on the field…which is bound to happen. A stud when healthy, unfortunately, that almost is never the case. They love Van Noy and gave him a ton of dough…still trying to figure that one out. Flowers and Roberts stink, simple as that. But who else is there? And the team likes these guys too. Bentley makes my team because some of the draft picks have to make it, don’t they?? (My team has the three first and second rounders and fifth rounder Bentley making it and the five sixth and seventh rounders on the outside looking in). Sam, as a sixth rounder, may sneak on, who knows? And Langhi showed some promise last year as an undrafted free agent, made the team, played sparingly, then had that horrific car accident. Who knows how well he has recovered? If he has fully, he will get his shot, since again, this is a sad linebacking corps.
Locks: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Duke Dawson
Out: Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson
Way Out: Jomal Wiltz
Comments: Gilmore is the clear #1 now, but who plays the other spots and in what order is anyone’s guess right now. The staff seems to like Rowe. And also Jonathan Jones, who got more time at corner as the year went on before he went down with an injury late. Some people think Jason McCourty may not be quite the lock some think he is. We’ll see, but that’s where I’m leaving him now. Dawson clearly makes it as a second round pick, but how much he plays is up for debate.
Lewis had some buzz in the spring and was on the practice squad most, if not all, of last year. But then the team signed McCourty and drafted Dawson. So much for that. Crossen was a seventh rounder and I’m not sure who Jackson or Wiltz are, so let’s leave them where they are for now.
Cyrus Jones? Interesting case. Is he worth keeping around and trying to salvage? Perhaps. He looked a little better in the preseason last year before being lost for the year with injury. But a ton better? I don’t think so. I don’t think he fumbled on returns anyway. Has Bill given up on second rounders before? Yup. Bill actually has taken several bad second round picks during his tenure. But he will get some kind of shot this summer, I will bet you that. Perhaps Cyrus or one of the others can play safety? They could also try to trade him, but what the heck are you going to get for him with how his career has gone thus far? It will be interesting to watch, since I have a feeling he may stick around.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
In: Jordan Richards
Out: Damarius Travis, A.J. Moore
Way Out: Eddie Pleasant
Released: David Jones
Comments: Locks are easy…then we get to Richards. Another dude who I think is atrocious. But another dude I think the staff loves for some reason. I don’t know if one of the corners can convert to safety and knock him off. Or one of these other safety characters can do it either. Jones spent last year the practice squad and was then dumped before camp. Travis was around on the practice squad last year too, but no one is chatting him up now. Moore? No idea. I do know they signed Pleasant the other day, so that seemingly leaves him out of the mix, barring a miracle. Right now, looks like Richards will be around. Sad to say.
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Brandon Bolden (ST), Nicholas Grigsby (ST)
In: Ryan Allen (P)
Out: Corey Bojorquez (P), Geneo Grissom (ST)
Way Out: None
Comments: It’s amazing that with Gostkowski’s inconsistency the past few years the team has not brought someone in to at least challenge him a little bit. It just doesn’t make much sense. But with Stephen and Cardona facing no competition, they are locked in. The fact that another punter is in camp this year means Allen’s job is not safe. He probably holds the kid off, but we shall see on that.
The rest of the locks basically do not play another position, so they are listed here. And since Bill loves his core special teamers, they all stick with the exception of Grissom. But Geneo will be back. He’s a guy they can bounce on and off the roster and no one else wants him. So he will always be available. And perhaps even break camp with the squad as well.
That’s about the size of it. I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists. Looks like Slater, Ebner, Britt, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones are starting on the preseason PUP list. Bolden is on the non-football illness list apparently as well. Some of these dudes starting on the regular season PUP list will open up roster spots for others. Let’s see how that all goes.
Continuing on…defense AND specialists, that is. Can’t forget how important the special teamers are to the Patriot organization!!
And, in case you forgot, there’s this: 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).
Holdovers: Keionta Davis (IR), Trey Flowers, Eric Lee, Derek Rivers (IR), Deatrich Wise
Arrivals: Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta)
In limbo: None
Comments: Seems a little bizarre we start this section with someone named Keionta Davis, eh? The danger of going in alphabetical order I suppose. Anyway, it would seem that even with the addition of Clayborn, the expected return of Rivers and the hope of growth from Year One to Year Two for Wise, this group still may not be saved. Lee had spurts at the end of last season. But there’s also probably a good reason he spent the year on the Buffalo Bills practice squad.
In addition to not really knowing if Rivers can actually play, or whether Wise will get better, I cannot say I am too bullish on the Clayborn move. I mean, it appears this won’t cost the team much, per usual. But on the surface, it’s fair to question how a player can get 6 sacks in one game and then 3.5 total in the other 15. Maybe he didn’t play all 16, but I’m not even going to look it up. You get the point. Clayborn certainly cannot hurt. But there still needs to be an infusion of talent here this offseason. And I’m not sure where they are going to get it. The free agent list I am looking at is…weak. The draft? Sure, but any studs here will be long gone by the time the Pats even pick in the first round.
Let’s hope they figure out something here as well. Oh, and Flowers is a free agent after this season. He may not necessarily be a stud, but he is the best they have. May want to figure something out with him too, while they are at it.
Holdovers: Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (IR)
Arrivals: Danny Shelton (Cleveland)
Departures: Alan Branch (released)
In limbo: Ricky Jean Francois
Comments: There’s a lot of NFL bodies here now, but how good really are they? Shelton apparently can play the run, but not the pass. I’m still not sure what to make of Brown, and he’s been around a few years now. I’m not exactly sure what Guy did last year, after signing that fat free agent contract last year. Butler still likely remains a project and we probably can say the same thing about Valentine, to be honest.
Branch would help…well, the 2016 Branch and not the one that loitered around last year. I suppose that’s the risk you take with guys like that though. Francois really isn’t in limbo, as he said he wasn’t re-signing with the Pats. I think he was babbling about going to a team with a better scheme fit like Chris Long did after the 2016 season. Francois isn’t even as good as Long, so I am not sure what he was talking about. He was lucky to have a job. He was only here because Branch didn’t feel like playing. Whatever…best of luck Ricky Jean.
Here’s hoping they do some more work here too. But not as much as the place that needs the most work…
Holdovers: Dont’a Hightower (IR), Harvey Langi (IR), Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy
Departures: Shea McClellin (IR-released), Trevor Reilly (PS-not re-signed)
In limbo: Marquis Flowers, James Harrison
Comments: If only Hightower could ever stay healthy, this group would…still suck badly. Holy crap. I haven’t seen a worse collection of stiffs at one position…maybe ever. Ok, that’s hyperbole. I’m sure if I just analyzed the position groups of the Cleveland Browns over the last two years I would find worse. But the message is clear: This is the area of greatest need.
The team loves Van Noy and that’s really kind of inexplicable. Roberts is terrible and everyone else listed may be worse than terrible. I’m not sure what the Patriots’ plan is here. This should have been the first thing addressed. And they haven’t added anyone. The draft? Sure. But again, picking late in each round and having several needs…how many impact players can they get from there?
I don’t know if Preston Brown made a gazillion tackles for the Bills over the years because there were simply too many players running free past their defensive line. But that would have seemed to have been a guy to target. Especially after he publicly said he would love to come here like some other former Bills (Hogan, Gilmore, Gillislee). And the fact that he signed with the Bengals for a mere 4 million for 1 year. 25 years old too. I’m not sure why the Pats didn’t sniff him out a bit and why he signed for next to nothing. I guess I am missing something, but on the surface, I don’t understand the lack of interest. No one is really talking about it locally, so maybe it’s just me.
But the fact remains that they need several capable bodies here. And there is no way Brown would have hurt. At this point, can adding anyone hurt?
Holdovers: Stephon Gilmore, Cyrus Jones (IR), Jonathan Jones (IR), Ryan Lewis (PS), Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz (PS)
Arrivals: Jason McCourty (Cleveland)
Departures: Johnson Bademosi (Houston), Malcolm Butler (Tennessee)
In limbo: None
Comments: Believe it or not, the Pats may be all set here. Gilmore came on later in the year. McCourty may not be an All-Pro, or even technically as good as Butler, but he should be solid, by all accounts. I can probably live with Rowe and Jonathan Jones as backups. And as much as I hate to say it, let’s give Cyrus one more chance. I’m not expecting much, but you never know. Lewis has been getting some love here as well, but I have no idea about him. Adding a body here, of course, would not hurt. But the needs are more pressing elsewhere.
Holdovers: Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, David Jones (PS), Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis (PS)
In limbo: None
Comments: Same here as the cornerbacks I would say. Devin struggled some and likely isn’t worth the money he gets paid. But you could do a lot worse than the trio of him, Chung and Harmon. I would be very disappointed to see Richards on the team next year. He is flat-out awful. But we are splitting hairs if we are complaining about the 4th safety.
Holdovers: Ryan Allen (P), Brandon Bolden (re-signed), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST, re-signed), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Nicholas Grigsby (ST), Geneo Grissom (ST), Brandon King (ST, re-signed), Matthew Slater (ST, re-signed)
In limbo: None
My favorite group! Once again, the Pats carry more special-teams only guys than anyone else. This HAS to be a fact, right? Slater apparently re-signed as I write this and with the team bringing back Ebner, Bolden and King, well, the gang’s all here! Cardona had a bad snap and Allen a worse hold in the Super Bowl, but I cannot complain too much about those two otherwise.
The key question here is: Is this the year they bring in competition for Gostkowski? One year left on his deal, with a 5 mil cap hit, which I think is all guaranteed. But although he seemed to get back on track last year during the regular season, his playoff performance left a lot to be desired…again. Even with the aforementioned bad snap, he still should have hit that 26-yarder…blindfolded. And another stray extra point. I don’t know, maybe make him fight for his job this training camp?
It won’t happen, but we can hope, right? I suppose that since kickers generally are all of a sudden pretty average in the NFL, especially since they moved the extra point back, they may as well hang on to Gostkowski. But how about even attempting an upgrade?
That pretty much sums everything up. I’m not anticipating many more moves before the draft. We can all be somewhat disappointed at that. But looking at the free agent list, there does appear to be plenty of swill out there, so how many more of those guys can really help? Guess we gotta hope the draft class is strong…
…or “disgraceful”? Or “disgusting”? I don’t know, maybe all of them. Atrocious is another one, but that obviously doesn’t start with “D”. And I am not talking about the Blowhard’s NFL picks last week. Those weren’t so great either. But we are talking about the Patriots’ defense here. If you can even call it that.
Three weeks in and the Pats are at the bottom of a lot of defensive rankings. I mean, the bottom. Last. I know…it’s only three games. And Dont’a Hightower hasn’t played a ton. And Eric Rowe missed the last game. And a lot of new players are being integrated in, like Stephon Gilmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Cassius Marsh, Adam Butler, David Harr…well, nevermind on him since he doesn’t actually play. And the Patriots figure it out every year. And on and on and on…
Sure, those are all valid points. But a lot of these guys were here last year. The safeties particularly have not played well. That shouldn’t happen with guys like Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and even Duron Harmon. Guys like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts were here last year. Harris can’t play over those two guys? He has to be done if that’s the case. And if he is done, why is he on the roster? Van Noy just got himself a nice extension and I don’t think I’m the only one that has wondered why. Moving on to Alan Branch…he got extended in the offseason too. Is this where he reverts back to the problem that he has been in past organizations? Got a ring, got a new contract and then…stop caring?
Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Matt Patricia. I HATE the way the defensive backs never seem to turn their heads around to look for the ball when it’s thrown downfield. I don’t love it that they seem to give a ton of space to receivers off the line. Among other things. Yes, Patricia is obviously an extension of Bill Belichick, but still, he is the main man on defense. And his troops have been abysmal thus far.
That being said, they usually figure it out over the course of the season. I will of course allow for that. But I don’t believe they have ever started in this deep a hole. Not to mention guys like Jonathan Jones and Jordan Richards are playing entirely too much right out of the gate. Probably Roberts, Van Noy, Marsh and Adam Butler too. I think I saw that Van Noy has played EVERY defensive snap this year. Really?! And if they are truly trying to phase Malcolm Butler out this year, seeing that he won’t be here next year, then that doesn’t help.
So am I panicking? A little. I mean, how can you not? Giving up a boatload of yards to Drew Brees isn’t something to be ashamed of. But doing the same to mediocre quarterbacks like Alex Smith and rookie QB’s like Deshaun Watson is something that just shouldn’t happen. Cam Newton this week too. Well, he has played poorly this year thus far, so maybe it’s not as daunting a challenge as it seems on paper. But it’s still not encouraging.
I think they will figure some of it out as the year goes along, like they always do. As they always say about the team, “September is an extension of the preseason”. But I’m not getting giddy about the defense’s long-term prospects. I don’t think we are looking at a Top Ten defense at all, as currently constructed.
You know what will happen next though, right? Pats will give up only like 10 points on Sunday and their defense will all of a sudden click and start to take off for the year. Seems about right…
Chicago at Green Bay (-7.5)
Chicago is coming off a somewhat shocking win against Pittsburgh. Even though they were home. And even though that jackass on the Bears tried to showboat his way to the end zone after the blocked field goal before the half…only to never make it. Hate the Steelers myself personally. But loved the play. Sometimes players are just boneheads. And that’s being kind.
Green Bay is coming off a surprisingly tough win at home against the Bengals. It’s a Thursday night game, sometimes a crapshoot with the short week and all. Not to mention a divisional battle. Last week’s Thursday night divisional matchup between the 49ers and Rams was an exciting game…and close.
All adds up to a close game…a probably Green Bay win, but a Chicago cover, no?
Well…no. Thursday night games are usually putrid. Last week may have been the one exception. Divisional games can be hard to predict. But I’m feeling a Packer rout.
Green Bay 38, Chicago 24.
Week (against the spread): 6-10
Week (straight up): 9-7
Season (against the spread): 22-25
Season (straight up): 31-16