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.
Another (somewhat) abridged (but not so last-minute) holiday edition. Tough sledding here, as plenty of teams will be resting guys for the playoffs, shutting guys down period, playing some young kids to see if they are worth hanging on to for next year and any other scenario in-between. We will see what happens. If we go 1-15, we finish the year over .500 still. So that’s good enough for me anyway. Happy New Year!!
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-13.5)
Cleveland is shooting for 0-16. I think they can do it, even though the Steelers are apparently not playing any of their key guys…well, Big Ben and Le’Veon Bell anyway…with Antonio Brown still out too. Landry Jones and Stevan Ridley anyone? Sure. They could (and should) probably still beat the Brownies.
Pittsburgh 17, Cleveland 13.
Green Bay at Detroit (-7.5)
The Lions actually should win this one going away…but of course they won’t.
Detroit 20, Green Bay 17.
Chicago at Minnesota (-12.5)
I believe Minnesota still has to play its way into the second seed and the bye over in the NFC. Therefore…
Minnesota 30, Chicago 10.
Dallas (-2.5) at Philadelphia
Philly is apparently going to play their starters for a bit. Which Nick Foles will show up? Who cares?
Dallas 27, Philadelphia 17.
Houston at Indianapolis (-3.5)
Speaking of “Who cares?”, 7-23 between these two squads. The only intrigue will be after the game to see if either of the two coaches keep their jobs. They both honestly probably should, based on their respective teams’ injury concerns this season. But I’d keep O’Brien and fire Pagano. Then again, Billy O’B and the Houston GM apparently despise each other. Kind of thinking both are going, right or wrong. Oh, I have to make a pick?
Houston 13, Indianapolis 10.
New York Jets at New England (-15.5)
It’s apparently going to be 50 below in Foxborough Sunday. The Jets are likely ready to hit the offseason, despite their competitiveness this season. Because the Pats still need to win (or have the Steelers lose) to sew up the #1 seed, I’d say that they will probably just try to do enough to get the W and get the hell outta there unscathed. But they may only have Dion Lewis and Brandon Bolden at running back…and I’d prefer not to give Lewis 30 carries on the eve of the playoffs. Maybe Pro Bowler (?!) James Develin gets some carries too. I’m starting to think the Patriots come out throwing and take a little bit of a lead and then ride Bolden to victory in the second half!
New England 27, New York Jets 16.
Washington (-3.5) at New York Giants
The brand new Giants GM said he is leaning towards keeping Eli as the starting QB next year. Yeah, until he finds someone better this offseason…likely with the #2 overall draft pick. The Giants owner also seemingly wants to bring cornerback Eli Apple back too, because you “don’t give up on talent…” or some nonsense like that. That should go over well in the locker room. Not to mention the Giants interim coach is playing Eli Sunday “start to finish”. Why? He says they already know what they have in third rounder Davis Webb…despite Webb getting zero game experience this year. All of the above is kind of irrelevant for Sunday…even Eli playing the whole game…but it does make me laugh.
Washington 14, New York Giants 13.
Cincinnati at Baltimore (-9.5)
The Bengals winning on Marvin Lewis’ way out? Nah. The Ravens need this one. Though the spread is probably too high. I’m still doing it.
Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 17.
Carolina at Atlanta (-3.5)
This may be the one game worth watching. The Falcons need this one more. That of course makes me nervous…but I’m still gonna do it here too.
Atlanta 27, Carolina 20.
New Orleans (-7.5) at Tampa Bay
The Bucs are bringing back Dirk Koetter next year? Yaaaay! Wait, what happened to all those Jon Gruden rumors? Anyway, the Saints should roll here either way.
New Orleans 37, Tampa Bay 23.
Kansas City at Denver (-3.5)
The Chiefs are resting everyone and the Broncos are starting Paxton Lynch (I think). I should be taking the Broncos defense here, but I’m not.
Kansas City 17, Denver 13.
Jacksonville at Tennessee (-3.5)
This may be the second best game of the week…if the Jags play their regulars…which their coach said they were going to. But we will see, since the game doesn’t mean anything to Jacksonville. Other than to get revenge on a Week Two beating the Titans handed to them. Since that point was mentioned specifically by Dougie Marrone, I’ll take my chances with the Jags this week. The Titans have continuously underwhelmed and I really don’t expect anything different here…even with a playoff berth staring them in the face.
Jacksonville 31, Tennessee 20.
Arizona at Seattle (-8.5)
The Cards are 7-8? Hard to believe. The Seahawks have been inconsistent, but still have a chance. Based on their inconsistency, laying 8.5 seems aggressive, but the feeling here is that they come out ready to go.
Seattle 34, Arizona 23.
Buffalo (-2.5) at Miami
Two times in three weeks for this marquee matchup, with the Bills winning by eight in the first one in Buffalo. The Bills are still remarkably in the playoff mix and therefore need it more. Despite the Bills not actually being very good. Throw in the fact that Miami isn’t good either, I am not expecting the ‘Phins to go all out to knock the Bills from the playoff chase. I don’t know…
Buffalo 27, Miami 17.
Oakland at Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5)
The Raiders actually gave the Eagles a game last Monday. Both teams were kind of inept though. Chargers have a chance. Raiders do not. That’s all I can say really.
Los Angeles Chargers 24, Oakland 13.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams (-2.5)
The oddsmakers apparently have not been watching the Jimmy G show. Of course the Rams are the better team, but when your coach has already said your best players aren’t playing and the rest of the starters aren’t playing much, one wonders how the Rams could still be favored in this game.
San Francisco 27, Los Angeles Rams 16.
Week (against the spread): 6-10
Week (straight up): 13-3
Season (against the spread): 128-112
Season (straight up): 163-77
Picking up where we left off yesterday…onto the defense.
Arriving: Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy
Returning: Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Duron Harmon, Geneo Grissom, Justin Coleman, Brandon King
Departing: Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Barkevious Mingo
In limbo: Malcolm Butler
Who cares?: Chris Long
Worth mentioning: No one else
Let’s start with the big ones:
*Sign Gilmore for 5 years, 65 million…of which apparently 40 mil is guaranteed. Whoa. Lotta dough. Did anyone see this coming? I doubt it. Sure, everyone knew they were likely to lose Ryan. And that Butler would want some big money sooner, rather than later (more on him later) and that fact may have had some impact going forward. So signing a cornerback or two in free agency may have been on the list at some point. But signing a big-ticket CB? One of the most coveted free agents out there? On the morning of the very first day of free agency? Not typical Patriot behavior. Especially throwing the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the franchise.
OK, let’s just cover Butler here as well. A lot of fans seem to be pretty upset that the team would make this kind of move. After all that Butler has done here…cementing the Super Bowl with his interception at the end of his rookie year. Then playing at an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level the subsequent two years. All the while doing everything the team asked him to and keeping his mouth shut. At limited dollars. Blah blah blah.
And those fans may have a point. Butler sure as hell does deserve a raise. And he got one. This year as a restricted free agent, he was tendered at the highest level and will make close to 4 million. I’d say that is a pretty good raise. Apparently, he was offered 6-7 million dollars a year before this past season. Now, we don’t know how many years (ie: how many years past his current unrestricted free agent date at the end of next year would he have to lock into and “lose”), or the guaranteed money involved (BIG consideration). But still looks like a pretty good raise nonetheless.
Malcolm did not want any of that and wants to cash in after next season in unrestricted free agency. Fair enough for sure. So despite the fact that we all feel for him to some degree, he really shouldn’t be upset that the Pats pounced on a potential long-term replacement now in case Butler walks next year. Plus, the team rarely pays players before they have to, unless it’s a situation like above, where the player pushes off unrestricted free agency a few years for additional financial security before the Pats actually HAVE to lay out the cash. I usually don’t begrudge a player for going after the money, especially in a sport like football where the average career is short. But…them’s the rules…
As for the two players’ actual skills on the field? I have seen Butler every week and I love him. I don’t watch a lot of (ummm…any) Buffalo Bills football, so I can’t tell you if Gilmore is a better player. But he is a smidge younger. A smidge bigger. And the Patriots locked him up for 5 years, so apparently THEY think he is better. So who am I to argue with that?
All that being said, I hope Butler stays this year, makes his 4 mil, gives the team a great CB tandem (while keeping Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, et al off the field as much as possible) and this helps them win another Super Bowl. Then he can walk, since I doubt the Pats are paying 2 cornerbacks 8 figures a year apiece. But now what I think will happen, especially with Butler’s visit today to New Orleans, is that Malcolm will get traded to the Saints post-haste. It appears it would have happened in the Brandin Cooks deal, but it didn’t for many reasons. One, Butler can’t be traded without signing his tender. Two, Cooks had some sort of bonus deadline that he had to be dealt by if NO didn’t want to pay. And also I suppose three, Butler needs to decide if he wants to play there and sign long-term and he and the Saints would have to negotiate and all that.
Butler leaving would certainly be too bad. But that’s life in the NFL I guess…now that we’ve beaten this to death…
*Trading a second round pick (#64) to Carolina for Ealy and a third rounder (#72). Steal, even if Ealy sucks. Dropping 8 spots in the draft and getting a young defensive end with potential? One that makes less than a million beans? With Long and Sheard gone and Rob Ninkovich seemingly towards the end of the line, leaving the position fairly thin? How could you not do that? Maybe he’s not as good as the guy that had 3 sacks against Denver in the Super Bowl 2 years ago. But should be an asset…and absolutely worth the seemingly miniscule acquisition price.
*Re-signing Branch and signing Guy. You know I wanted Branch back. Don’t know a thing about Guy and the contract seems steep. But I’m guessing he is better than Woodrow Hamilton. And along with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, seems like a serviceable rotation to have in the middle of the defensive line. I’ll wait and see if Guy gets turnstiled regularly before I complain about this one. In the meantime, Hamilton can go back to the practice squad and be insurance for if/when Branch decides to smoke some more weed.
*I’m not classifying Hightower’s return as a “big” one. Not because it’s not a big deal he came back. It sure is…just look at the rest of the linebacking core. But rather because I think most felt like he was pretty much coming back here anyway. That he had a “McCourty-esque” kind of understanding with Bill Belichick and the team. Where he would bring any offers back to the Pats and they would get the opportunity to match it. Once the first few days of free agency passed with no monster offers for Dont’a, I think this theory became stronger. I mean, seriously, the Jets? The cupcakes were a nice touch (huh?), but unless they gave him the moon, did anyone actually think that he would go there? Doubtful. Didn’t seem to be other serious suitors. Always kind of felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.
*Seems like waaaay too much dough for Harmon. 3rd safety, technically a backup. But I’m not opposed to him being here. Just hope the money invested in Duron doesn’t stop them from paying someone, you know, good, in the future.
*Again, I expected someone to overpay Ryan. That happened. No worries there. We knew Sheard wasn’t coming back. But the Colts gave him 25.5 mil over 3 years? Yikes! The Colts also gave Mingo 2 mil for a year. Mingo barely played on D here, so 2 mil sounds way too steep as well. Guess Indy had some money to burn.
*We covered Long already, with his desire to “get back to being the player he once was”. Good luck with that, my friend. I hate to tell you that that ship has sailed.
*Grissom, Coleman, King? Useful. Depth. Low cost. Sounds good to me.
Now let’s get this Butler nonsense settled…