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New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup

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.

Quarterback:

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.

Running back:

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.

Blame the refs?

Well, that’s what everyone is doing.  But I am not going to.

Sure, there were a handful of questionable calls going against the New England Patriots in their loss against the Denver Broncos Sunday night.  And, in reality, the officiating across the NFL has been abysmal for some time now, especially this year.  Clock errors.  Bogus pass interference calls, specifically offensive.  Erroneous ball placements on the field.  What is a catch and what is not a catch?  Endless conferences and time under the hood.  Inadvertent whistles.  Etc.

Even though “reffing” this year has been bad, to be kind, I try not to get on their backs too much.  These guys have to make split second calls while looking at a few different things (hands, feet, boundary lines, etc.) while also having to kind of “interpret” the rule book…reception rules or injury time run off or inadvertent whistle decisions and so on.   Sure, these guys are supposed to be professionals and it is their job to know everything, but when retired guys in the booth such as Mike Carey or Gerry Austin get stuff wrong when the announcers throw it to them for analysis, do you expect guys on the field to know every nuance of the rule book by heart?  Maybe.  But then we can get into how this is a part-time job for these guys and also how the game has passed some of them by or there are several new guys on the job and all that.  Different topic for a different day.  And really, do YOU know every aspect of your own job head to toe?  If you do, I’m impressed.  But I would argue that assertion.

Anyway, I digress.  I try not to get on the refs too bad because they have to process everything quickly.  We, as TV viewers, get to see 8,000 replays at 2,000 different angles and make a decision from there.  When it comes down to it, the refs are right quite a bit.  They are only egregiously wrong a handful of times.  And those are the ones we focus on of course.  Because most of those are horrible mistakes.

Were the officials egregiously wrong last night?  Well, I wouldn’t have called the Gronk offensive PI late.  Or the Patrick Chung holding in the end zone late.  But you could make a case for both.  It’s been common knowledge that the league has targeted offensive pass interference more aggressively this year.  Gronk’s a big guy you say, and he can’t help it?  Maybe so.  But he did kind of push his forearm out there.  And Chung did grab some shoulder, however little it was.  The better question may have been why Chung seemed to be one on one against Demaryius Thomas, but whatever.  Pass interference, illegal contact, holding…these could likely be called on every play.  Probably 90% of the time the refs should just “let the boys play”.  Only 10% of those types of penalties are probably blatant enough to deserve a flag.  Unfortunately for the Pats, the refs decided to flag them for these marginal infractions at the wrong time of the game.

But that is NOT why they lost the game.

I can think of several reasons why they lost the game.  The refs may have had a small role.  I think the following had larger roles:

*Chris Harper.  Fumbling a punt with a 21-7 lead early in the final quarter after holding the Broncos to a three and out.  Not damaging in and of itself…if the D holds again.  But they didn’t.  And it essentially changed the momentum of the entire game.  Have to catch that punt.

*10 punts by Ryan Allen.  Sure the weather would hold down any offense.  But 10 punts?  This is a team that went an entire game without a punt against Jacksonville earlier this year.  Ok, Jacksonville.  But still.  More importantly, here is where 6 Patriot drives ended in punts:  Denver 49, Denver 42, Denver 49, New England 47, New England 48, New England 47.  The Pats had pretty good field position for the majority of the evening.  6 punts stalled around mid-field…where another first down or two would present a field goal opportunity.  If they kick even 3 field goals out of the 6 drives it’s a different game.

*Conservative drive at the end of the first half.  14-7 Pats, 2:07 left, all three timeouts in their pocket.  And 5 straight runs to end the half???!!  Surely this cannot be the Patriots.  7 point lead on the road in bad conditions with limited weapons against a good team…I can see maybe a little conservatism.  But this was ridiculous.  This is historically where the Pats make a move, especially considering they were to receive the 2nd half kickoff.  Completely mystifying here.

*Not trusting the running game at certain moments.  Ok, the running game was brutal.  But in a way they did not give it a chance.  There were certain times that they should have run the ball.  The most glaring was the play that Gronk got hurt.  2:53 left, 1st and 10 at NE 40, Denver had only 1 timeout remaining.  THIS was the play to run and make them use their last timeout.  Chances are Blount would have been stuffed for 2 yards or less.  But the timeouts would be gone.  Then a 2nd down run would’ve likely taken them to the 2 minute warning.  If you want to try a screen or something on 3rd down…maybe…but another run would’ve taken it down to less than a minute and a half.  I get that the pass is the Patriots’ way of closing out a game.  But it may have been smarter to run on these downs.  In this situation anyway.  Then put pressure on the kid to go the length of the field with 1:30 or less left and no timeouts.  You may say that Osweiler still did go downfield and score while only using 1:22 so it wouldn’t have mattered.  But I would say the circumstances between the two scenarios would have been different and he may have made quicker and more riskier decisions. Different plays may have been called.  Etc.

*Offensive line.  Maybe not as much as the previous game against Buffalo, but the OL had its struggles in this one too.  And the Broncos didn’t even have DeMarcus Ware.  People don’t think that Tre’ Jackson should’ve been called for the penalty that wiped out a 51 yard pass play.  I say if he doesn’t haul Von Miller down, Brady doesn’t get the pass off.  Looked like a legit penalty to me.  Anyway, they didn’t give Brady a ton of time I felt.  Which made all the 3rd and 10 bombs to Brandon LaFell even more mystifying to me.

*Defense in crunch time.  Sure, the fumbled punt and the offense shutting down in the 4th quarter didn’t help the D.  They may have been a little tired.  Losing Hightower hurt as well.  Special teamer Jonathan Freeny and the Ghost of Jerod Mayo played entirely too many snaps.  But there were several big plays in the 4th and OT as well.  Logan Ryan played well…until the end.  Malcolm Butler got torched a few times.  The safeties?  Seemed a little late on several plays.  23 points allowed in the 4th quarter and OT?  Awful.

That about sums it up.  Not all about the refs.  The Pats had a legit chance to go undefeated, even with all the injuries.  So will this loss help?  Maybe.  As long as they keep the #1 seed.  With the 5 cream puffs coming up on the schedule (please don’t try to sell me on the Texans or Jets, even in their house), the team should win those games and be able to manage playing time and injuries.  As long as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower return for the playoffs and the team suffers no more major injuries, the Super Bowl is within reach.  But we will cross that bridge when we get to it…

 

 

Observations from Week 1…

The Patriot’s win was a little closer than I expected.  Maybe the weather was a factor.  Maybe rust.  Who knows?  But it was still quite comfortable in the whole scheme of things.  Being at the game, I never felt like it was in jeopardy.  Even though the Pat’s D was kind of atrocious…but more on that later.  Some random observations, starting with my favorite:

*Crybabies/whiners/losers/etc.  Welp, sure looked like the Steelers jumped on the bandwagon with all the Patriot-bashing that has occurred over the last several months.  And that really heated up with some “new” stuff this week.  Maybe they just felt they should jump on board since they lost a game everyone was watching.

Mike Tomlin.  “The headsets never work at Foxborough”.  OK.  Coming from a guy that once tried to trip a Raven player returning a kickoff a couple of years ago.  Maybe he should look in the mirror.  As haters would say against the Pats when it comes to that kind of stuff:  “there’s more where that came from”.  Or, “where there is smoke, there is fire”.  Trick play on the FIRST SERIES OF THE SEASON?!  Taking your sweet arse time in the last quarter down 2 TD’s?  Playing for a FG in the 4th quarter on the road down 2 scores against a Super Bowl contender, with a kicker that missed 2 FG’s already?  Oh yeah, that’s Todd Haley’s fault, not Tomlin’s.  Or the weather’s…

Maybe he is feeling the heat.  11-5 last year, but a playoff loss.  Two 8-8 seasons before that.  No playoff wins since 2010.  A defense that is without Dick LeBeau for the first time in forever…some Steelers fans may say that is a good thing actually…and doesn’t appear to be very good regardless.  The D talked a lot of smack about how they were going to jam Gronk and take him away.  Then for some reason had no one cover him on a handful of plays.  And on the others he still did what he wanted to.  Anyway, Mikey has a Super Bowl on his resume…but that was 2008.  2nd year as coach, maybe that team was a bunch of Bill Cowher leftovers?

Big Ben.  “Unwritten rule was broken by the defense shifting at the goal line”.  What?  If it’s unwritten…nevermind.  But there was nothing wrong with the play.  Hard to ever take anything serious from a criminal.  Wait.  He was never convicted, just accused a whole bunch.  My bad.  As haters would say against the Pats when it comes to that kind of stuff:  “there’s more where that came from”.  Or, “where there is smoke, there is fire”.  Oops, I already said that.  Kind of applies again here though, no?  Nice throw to Duron Harmon by the way.  Oops again, he’s on the home team.  Or was that throw Haley’s fault too?

Anyway, enough of that garbage.  Onto the actual performance:

*Tom Brady.  As I’ve always said, why use him in the preseason?  Sure, he had a little rust maybe when he overthrew a wide open Danny Amendola for a potential TD early.  And that was a terrible throw to Dion Lewis late, when a first down may have led to more clock killing…and a lot of happy gamblers, assuming the Steelers don’t score with 2 seconds left.  But a total of 7 incompletions…not too shabby.

*Gronk.  What is there to say?  Please, please, please just stay healthy!

*Dion Lewis.  Talk about out of nowhere.  15 carries?  The pass catching…ok.  Moves in the open field…ok.  But solid ground work…who saw this coming?  It’ll be a while before he gets 15 carries again, I imagine, what with LeGarrette coming back.  But other than the fumble, quite a game for the guy.

*David Andrews/Shaq Mason/Tre’ Jackson.  3 kids getting significant PT in the middle of the line after the somewhat surprise inactivation of Ryan Wendell.  Seemed to hold up well.  But next week against Buffalo will be something to keep a close eye on.  Their DL is significantly better than Pitt’s.  But hopefully a nice confidence booster for them.

*Brandon Bolden.  Yuck.  Blount is no Hall of Famer, but glad he will be back next week.

*Aaron Dobson.  Yuck again.  Seemed to see pretty good playing time, but targeted only once.  At least he caught it.

*Reliance on Gronk and Julian Edelman.  See above on Gronk.  Apply it to Julian too.  Brady can’t just laser focus on these guys all year long.  It’s only one game.  But already seems to be going in that direction.  Not good.

*Dominique Easley.  Seemed to be poised to take a step up this year.  But now he is hurt again.  With the 23 defensive linemen Billy B kept on the roster, hopefully they will be able to withstand his loss in the short term.  As usual though, no idea how long he will be out.  And the DL couldn’t stop D’Angelo whether he was in the game or not, so…by the way, I just said D’Angelo as in “D’Angelo Williams”.  Not D’Angelo as in “Le’veon Bell” or “LeSean McCoy” or “Demarco Murray”.  I think you get the point.

*DB’s.  Talk about yuck.  Guys were running wide open all over the secondary again last night.  As I’ve said more than once, asking Malcolm Butler to go from undrafted free agent playing 16% of the snaps to #1 shutdown corner is quite a bit much to ask, in my humble opinion.  Despite the great 2nd half in the Super Bowl.  Maybe it works over the course of the year.  That’s what we have to hope for.  As well as the rest of the secondary taking shape over the next several weeks.  The team has always seemed to figure this kind of stuff out over the years, even if that means a healthy dose of Hank Poteat, Earthwind Moreland and even Troy Brown and Edelman.  But seeing Nate Ebner out there last night for a handful of snaps is not something I want to see at all going forward.  I also wish the Patriots could finally figure out how to cover a tight end.  Heath Miller was always open as well.  As are all the other TEs they face.  That’s what made them go out and get Scotty Chandler, right?

*Marc Bertrand.  I have to add this “joker” to the list for one reason and one reason only.  Driving home, I was listening to the postgame show and he was going through the scoring that happened during the game.  When it came to the clip of Will Johnson scoring his TD, he actually stated, “a little bit of Johnson goes a long way!”.  I’m sure there were not a whole lot of people listening at that time.  But I say he should be put on probation for his job at the very least.  Not because the quote was offensive, as he most assuredly meant it to be.  But because the joke was colossally stupid.  Just dumb and not funny in the least bit.  Did anyone laugh?  I mean, besides the Beetle himself?  Did DeOssie even get it?  I probably should cut him some slack, since he did his normal show in the 10-2 slot and here he was 11 or so hours later, back on the air.  But…

‘Nuff said…we’re onto Buffalo…

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