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.
Welp, Bill Belichick thought it may have been, so he re-watched the Super Bowl a mere few hours after the actual game.
Yup, a week and a half later I am still on the Super Bowl. I would have normally been onto the Pro Bowl. But they started playing that the week before the Super Bowl several years back. So…forget about that I guess.
Anyway, my apologies to anyone who may actually be paying attention. Snow storms and real life kind of got in the way recently. Plus, I wanted to replay the game as well…because I definitely wanted to hear every single thing Joe Buck and Troy Aikman had to say from my own living room instead of a somewhat noisy bar. Wait…not for that reason. But to make sure I didn’t miss anything worth noting. That hasn’t been noted a thousand times already.
But guess what? There’s probably not that much that hasn’t been dissected in this game already. By everyone under the sun. So I won’t regurgitate most of the obvious stuff. We all know about the early Patriot miscues (turnovers, drops, missing wide open receivers, long gainers on defense, Tom Brady getting hit a ton, etc.), Julio Jones’ great catches (specifically his last one), Julian Edelmans’ own fantastic catch, James White’s emergence, Danny Amendola’s re-emergence, Brady’s and Belichick’s greatness, Dan Quinn’s questionable play calling down the stretch, leading into the colossal collapse by the Falcons…and all that. But I do want to point out a few nuggets that I personally thought were interesting though. Maybe people have talked about them. But if they have, they haven’t been talked about enough.
First, stop all this nonsense about this being “The Greatest Super Bowl EVER”. Just not the case. The final score was close and the game went into overtime, but that doesn’t make the game actually great. Essentially, the Atlanta Falcons dominated the first 50% of the game and the New England Patriots dominated the second 50%. That hardly makes for a great game. Helluva a comeback definitely. But that may sum it up. You could point to a handful of even recent Super Bowls and call them better overall games…including pretty much any of the previous six for the Pats under Belichick. That’s kind of why the Blowhard isn’t chirping about his 38-27 prediction being close to the 34-28 final. Because it really didn’t play out the way he thought.
Let’s move on to the game plan. I look back at some of these Super Bowls the Pats have been in and don’t see the best coaching jobs. Sorry. Belichick has this reputation where he is unbeatable after two weeks of preparation. Maybe in the regular season, especially when the opponent is not coming off a bye. Though that didn’t even work this year when they lost to a Seattle team coming off a short week and flying cross-country to Foxborough. In the Super Bowl, the other team ALSO has two weeks to prepare. I think some people lose sight of that.
Now, I didn’t advocate having Brady come out and throw 62 passes. The last thing I wanted was to get in a shootout with Atlanta. That would have been a no-win situation. So I wanted some kind of balance for sure. And some sort of ball control.
But force feeding LeGarrette Blount early? And sending him out on sweeps? Sure, Atlanta was supposed to be terrible against the run. But remember, the Falcon defense is young and fast. Blount was not going to beat them wide. Why not Lewis on those plays? And then when Blount was stuffed inside as well, how ’bout changing some stuff there as well? Oh yeah, they did eventually. But I thought it took waaaaay too long. And I know, they were actually moving the ball well and the turnovers killed them. But still…I suppose my biggest beef with this whole thing is the very first drive. It would have changed everything likely if the Pats went down and scored a touchdown, maybe even a field goal. But they sent Blount on a sweep that had no chance on 3rd and 1. That one still eats me up for some reason…
Going back to the coaching…I know, Super Bowl opponents are supposed to be the best the NFC has to offer. So of course they are going to be harder to coach against. Especially since being in the NFC means maybe the Patriots haven’t seen much of them throughout the year and have a lot to catch up on in preparations. But still…who’s idea was the Edelman cross field throw? Yikes!! And going back to the old Super Bowls, don’t give me the “Belichick KNEW not to take that timeout against Seattle late…”. Methinks he got lucky on that one.
Tom Brady is getting all kinds of accolades for his performance. As he should. But man, does he have some brain farts in these big games sometimes. That pick-six was atrocious. As was that first down play down by the goal line on the second to last play of the game. If a defensive back was covering Martellus Bennett on that play, the ball may have very well have been picked off. And then what happens? Ok, this may be nitpicking. And stuff that has been analyzed over and over. But man, these still stick in my craw as well.
Dan Quinn has certainly taken a lot of heat for not running the ball down the stretch…and deservedly so. But how about his (non) use of Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman? I know, the Falcons only had the ball for like 23 minutes. But Jones caught all of his 4 targets. It appears that Eric Rowe and a safety had coverage on Jones frequently (with Logan Ryan on Mohamed Sanu and Malcolm Butler on Taylor Gabriel). Although this may not have been the D on every play, it appeared to be mostly the case. Rowe actually had good coverage on Jones’ amazing catch late in the game. But are you telling me that Atlanta couldn’t have taken more advantage of that matchup, even with the two bodies on Jones?
And Freeman had 2 huge gains on his way to 121 yards on 13 touches. Over 9 yards a play. Take away the 2 long gainers and he still is over 4 a touch. Even if the Pats slowed him down running the ball other than his one big play, the Falcons couldn’t have taken advantage of him more in space with someone like Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy or Elandon Roberts in coverage? 13 touches is way too low, and TWO targets is insanely low. Maybe they didn’t want him out there a lot on passing downs seeing that he whiffed on Dont’a Hightower when he strip-sacked Matt Ryan. But still, seemed like a severe under utilization to me.
Did the Patriots’ defensive game plan cause Freeman and Jones to be underused? Perhaps. But either way, seemed like the Falcons could have adjusted around it. My thanks to them for not doing so however. It helps when you don’t use your best two players that much, not counting Matt Ryan of course.
What was Patrick Chung catching that punt over his shoulder with his back to the play deep in Patriot territory in the 4th quarter for? Talk about potential disaster.
Falcons were 1 of 8 on third downs. Seems hard to believe.
Atlanta was penalized 9 times to New England’s 4. But don’t complain about the refs. 3 of Atlanta’s penalties were on one drive and were legitimate defensive holding calls…and that drive ended when they brought the interception back to the house anyway. I believe they declined one or two penalties on the Patriots as well. The officials were not a factor in this game, I don’t believe anyway. Falcon fans may point to the OT pass interference call being questionable. But as tame as it may have been, those always seem to get called. I’m actually really upset that Bennett didn’t catch that ball anyway. He should have.
We will talk more about Bennett’s poor game overall, as well as the state of the offensive line and the kicker formerly known as Stephen Gostkowski some other time.
Interesting game, emotional roller coaster for both teams, exciting finish…for Patriots fans anyway. A lot more words than I expected to write here. Hope it added some kind of value. In any event, that’s a wrap!
Super Bowl: 1-0 (1-0 against the spread).
Total: 7-4 (6-5 against the spread).
Finished better than .500…phew!!