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New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 3

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.

Defensive line:

Players under contract:  Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Rob Ninkovich, Vincent Valentine

Free agents:  Alan Branch, Geneo Grissom (exclusive rights), Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard

What I would do:  Sign Branch ASAP!  Along with Flowers, Branch was the best the defensive line had to offer this season.  Brown is competent.  Valentine may have promise.  The rest?  Ugly may describe most of them.  Long wants to leave “to get back to showing the world the player he once was…” or something like that.  What?  His playing time dipped as the year went on because…he will never be the player he once was.  But good luck to him.  Sheard had a nice year in 2015, not so much in 2016.  See ya.  Ninkovich has always been a nice piece.  But without the ‘roids this year, was this the beginning of the end?  Pass rush was non-existent most of the year outside of Flowers.  They were pretty stout against the run however.  I’d work on some edge rushers in free agency.  If Branch is retained, as I would like, the tackles should be in decent, if unspectacular shape.  Maybe add a big body in the draft or a close to “end of the line” player as free agency rolls on.

What I think will happen:  Not sure which way the league will go on Branch.  My sense is he will be back.  Simply because no one is going to hand him a fat contract when he is one toke away from a suspension.  But you never know.  Long and Sheard will be replaced by two lower level free agent defensive ends similar to what brought them here.  Short deals, not huge dollars and being veterans looking for a fresh start or a last hurrah, so to speak.  Sign a bunch of guys like Marcus Kuhn and Frank Kearse and see what sticks, similar to last year.  The Pats will not break the bank here…as if this comes as any surprise.

Linebackers:

Players under contract:  Trevor Bates, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Free agents:  Dont’a Hightower

What I would do:  Don’t you HAVE to re-sign Hightower?  Last offseason, the Pats had kind of a “Big Six” on defense that were becoming free agents:  Hightower, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Jabaal Sheard.  Collins and Jones are gone, Sheard is likely to be.  Ryan?  We will get to that.  Butler is restricted, so they can hold off a year.  It appears that the Pats will have over 60 mil of cap space, even more if guys like Solder and Amendola restructure.  Don’t you have to pay SOMEBODY?  Who is getting all the dough?

Look at all the names above.  Again, don’t you HAVE to re-sign Hightower?  That list above…YIKES!!  Sure they can replace Dont’a with a guy or two.  But they are not likely to have the same impact.  Look how long it took Hightower to be what he is in this defense.  A few years.  Why lose that now?  Sure, he is banged up a lot and misses games.  But he’s in the games that count.  I feel like they have to keep him.  And also add a few more decent guys to the mix as well.

What I think will happen:  My gut tells me that other teams in the league won’t overpay for Hightower, with the injuries and all.  My gut also tells me that he brings the best offer to the Pats and the team matches it.  Similar to Devin McCourty a couple of years back.  The Patriots will then be paying Hightower more than they want, but less than the franchise tag.  BUT…my gut has often been wrong.  All it takes is one humongous offer from one specific team with a ton of cap space.  We should know quick at least.

Other than this, I’d say the Pats sign a couple of lower level veterans to bring to camp.  Nothing else to see here.

Next:  Finishing up the defense and the specialists.

In Bill We Trust??

Jamie Collins is gone.

Chandler Jones has been gone for a while.

Jabaal Sheard, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan have regressed from last year.  To the point of Sheard now getting benched for some reason.  Perhaps regression can describe Malcom Brown and Patrick Chung as well?

Chris Long has been pretty invisible.

As has Rob Ninkovich.  But I guess that’s what happens when you can’t juice anymore.

Throw in the fact they gave away Dominique Easley for nothing if you wish.  I’m ok with even saying they let Akiem Hicks get away over short money.  Hicks played pretty well after being acquired from the Saints last year.

Etc.

And that’s just the defense.

Should we be worried?  In the whole scheme of things, probably not.  There are a bunch of cream puffs on the schedule going forward and the offense alone should beat all of them.  But in reality, the whole thing is concerning.

Throw all the departures and regression from above and add in the high draft picks in recent years that have contributed very little on defense (Cyrus Jones, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, and probably still including Trey Flowers).  Not to mention in-season acquisitions that have added zero (Barkevious Mingo, Kyle Van Noy and Eric Rowe…contributing negatively in Rowe’s case actually).  So where is the talent now…and the depth?

Good question.

The positive I suppose is that the Pats are actually 6th in NFL in points allowed with 163, only 11 behind league leading Minnesota’s 152.  But this is kind of a bogus positive.  The schedule has had plenty of cream puffs on it already.

The Patriots should once again cruise to the division title and still actually host the AFC Championship Game.  But that is more of an indictment on the rest of the AFC really.  The East is putrid and the South ain’t much better.  The West has some teams with good records, but is anyone really afraid of Oakland or Kansas City?  Denver, maybe.  But their offense has taken several steps back.  And I don’t know what is wrong with Pittsburgh at this point.

But it just doesn’t feel right.  I don’t know what the game plan was against Seattle.  That game was all lined up for a win.  Seattle was on a short week.  Travelling across the country.  Their defense had spent a ton of time on the field in recent weeks and were missing Michael Bennett.  Russell Wilson is a little banged up and doesn’t run as much now.  The Seahawks running game was lacking.  The Patriots were coming off a bye and were at home.  And on and on.  Seattle will always play everyone tough despite whatever odds.  But it still should have been a win.

For years a lot of us have questioned the Patriots’ defensive methods.  Defensive backs never turn their heads in coverage.  They don’t blitz often.  Years of “bend, but don’t break” mentality.  Par for the course this year, but seemingly worse.  How ’bout for once we try something different?  Unleash Mingo or something…tell him to just make a beeline for the QB on every snap?  Maybe play a little more man and not have opponents’ wide receivers running free all through the secondary?  Stop carrying 85 special teamers and have some of those guys actually play a position capably.  Stop giving away talent.  Yeah, not likely.  I’m not a defensive coordinator.  But there has to be a better way.  Very rarely should anyone question Belichick.  But again, things just don’t feel right.  Even if they are 7-2.

Sadly, I am a little worried about Colin Kaepernick looking like Joe Montana later today…

We’ve focused on the defense, but the offense isn’t necessarily as stout as it can be either.  Sure, the first 4 games were helmed by backup quarterbacks.  But that side of the ball doesn’t feel right now either.

Julian Edelman isn’t the same.  They don’t seem to play Danny Amendola a whole lot for reasons unknown.  Maybe they are managing an injury there too.  Now Chris Hogan is banged up.  Malcolm Mitchell has been hurt some as well.

Now Gronk is out…and who knows for how long?  Martellus Bennett has been pretty good.  But he isn’t 100%.  I don’t know if AJ Derby can play in the NFL.  But Denver thinks he can.  And they gave him away to the Broncos.

The running game?  LeGarrette Blount has been better than expected.  But he is still…LeGarrette Blount.  Dion Lewis is back.  But let’s hold up on going crazy on that for now.  Still not a fan of James White.  And the offensive line doesn’t exactly open up a lot of holes…or give Brady a ton of time for that matter.

Tons of negativity here, I know.  But 7-2 never felt so bad.  This season was supposed to be a cakewalk to at least a Super Bowl appearance.  And it may very well be still.  After all, the NFL as a whole kinda stinks this year.  But the decisions of the team and the head coach appear to be making it hard to see that now.  It’s hard for me to see how the team gets better down the stretch, even if guys get healthy.  The competition should be weak, so what kind of test will any of the games be for the team?  Actually, with all of the above, maybe the games WILL be tests.  And that is pretty scary.  Because they shouldn’t be.

So watch Kaepernick be…Kaepernick later today and the Pats win something like 45-7.  After posting this, I’m pretty much counting on it now.  This is pretty much the first time in the Belichick era that I have had some doubts.  Prove me wrong Bill…as always…

Playing catch-up…

…so it’s been a bit since I have had something to say.  But it’s not like I haven’t thought of anything.  So here are some of the things that have been rolling around in my head.  Warning, this may take a while (ie:  meaning, more than one part).  I apologize profusely for that…and also if some of the topics are a smidge dated….which…they will be.  I’ll try to mix in the old with some new though.  But I am making zero guarantees on that.  Anyway, once again, in no particular order:

*Bruins re-sign Kevan Miller, 4 years, 10 million.  This one has been sticking in my craw since the news broke.  I know, it broke a while ago.  You’ve heard all the displeasure already a million times over.  In fact, out of the whole universe, I only know ONE person who likes this deal (that’s you, Magoon, hope you’re reading!!).  Ok, maybe it doesn’t cover the whole universe.  But I think you get the point.  And of course, I still feel the need to comment.

Both numbers above are stupid.  There’s simply no other way to put it.  Why did the B’s feel the need to lock up a 3rd pairing D-man for 4 years?  Miller’s salary shot up from 800k/year to 2.5 mil/year.  Seems like overkill.  Wait…IT IS overkill!  Somehow, the dude was a plus-15 last year.  But if you watched any of the games, you know that stat is inexplicable.  Miller actually does have some use, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just too much money to pay an “end of the roster” guy.  When you consider the 4/11 that Sween-dogga gave to Quaider last year, the stupidity of this deal is amplified.  Why do you need both of these guys…for that many years and at those prices?  These are the types of contracts that got Peter Chiarelli into cap trouble…overpaying the likes of Chris Kelly, Soup Campbell and Paisy…

Now, I’m waiting for other shoes to drop.  Yup, plural in “shoes”, not singular.  Sweeney said they “would find a contract for Torey Krug.”  I see at least 4/20 in his future.  And whither Loui?  Donnie Hockey reportedly has had some “productive discussions” with Eriksson’s agent.  I see like 7/45 there.  Ugh…let’s bring the whole band that missed the playoffs two years in row back together!  Especially the putrid defense!

No confidence in Bruins management.  But I suppose we should wait to see how the entire offseason pans out before we make a final judgement heading into next season.  It will likely be hard to do though.

*Speaking of hockey, why is 98.5 The Sports Hub broadcasting live the Stanley Cup Finals between Pittsburgh and San Jose?  Is anyone in the Boston area really interested?  I have watched most of the series on TV.  But hearing it on radio would really not appeal to me.  I should check the ratings.  Hard to believe they are any good.  Maybe there’s still a lot of Jumbo Joe Thornton fans still in the area…

*New England Patriots mandatory minicamp kicked off today.  Everyone apparently showed up.  This is not necessarily news.  But I think some of the local talking heads WANTED a no-show or two.  That would certainly spice up radio talk for sure.  But did anyone really expect a holdout to happen?

I didn’t…at least not yet.  Holding out of this camp would seem to me to not accomplish much.  I know Vince Wilfork did not attend these types of camps years ago and as a result got himself a new contract.  But wouldn’t not showing up to “actual” camp in mid-July have a greater impact?  It would seem that way to me anyway.  But what do I know?

Sure, the Pats have a few candidates…if they were so inclined.  Gronk, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins for three.  People want to point to Dont’a Hightower, but he’s taking home close to 8 mil this year, so I doubt that.  And please, no Logan Ryan here.  Butler missed some voluntary workouts a couple of weeks ago.  Today, he said it was because of a “big misunderstanding”.  Whatever.  Maybe it was a message, maybe not.  Who cares at this point?

Gronk could have a case.  But he signed his contract a while back knowing the risks.  The team took a risk because he is injury-prone.  And he took a risk because he most assuredly left money on the table.  He has outperformed the contract, but them’s the breaks.  Butler and Collins will get paid next year at the latest, by the Pats or someone else.  Sure, they could get hurt seriously this upcoming year and jeopardize that big payday.  But you think they may have insured themselves against that with a fat policy perhaps, as athletes typically do?  I have no idea if they did that, but it’s worth noting.

These guys all seem to be “team players” for the most part, so I am not sure there will be any fireworks come July.  It would also behoove the Pats to extend a guy or two…or three, or four…before the season, so they can keep as many of the 2016 free agents as possible.  They won’t be able to keep everyone.  But I’m surprised that not even one of the key defensive dudes has not been adjusted yet.

Regardless, I think people need to relax a little when it comes to this stuff.  Again, the team simply can’t keep everyone after this year.  But they will keep a lot of them.  The Patriots have been somewhat unfairly criticized over the years for not paying guys.  They pay plenty of money to plenty of people.  A lot of these contracts will work out.  It will just be on their timetable, that’s all.

And let’s face it.  As long as they come back for the playoffs, isn’t that the only thing that matters?  Logan Mankins held out in 2010 and the team went 6-1 without him.  Then he came back anyway, since he didn’t want to lose an accrued year toward free agency.  A handful of players can hold out for the Pats this year and they will still cruise to the division title.  Not to worry.

*COPA AMERICA!!!!  Who’s fired up for tonight’s game against Costa Rica??!!  (I mean, besides you, Barry?!)  What the hell is “Copa America” anyway?  Ok, I just looked it up and apparently it has been played since 1916 with this being the 45th event.  That’s how much I know.  Oh, and for some reason it is being played in the United States this time, despite never (NEVER!!) being hosted outside of South America in its history.  So my question to you (or at least “out loud”) is:

Why in the world would you take a South American tournament that is 100 years old and then decide to play it in the United States…where soccer (FUTBOL!!) still has not left an indelible mark?

Sorry, that is true.  Soccer is still just not that important in the States.  It has grown, sure.  Gradually, yes, but there still has been growth.  But you can’t tell me it even ranks up there in the U.S. with the clear “4th” major sport…hockey.

In my admittedly rudimentary research, it looks like they planned to have the tourney in the States because “the market, stadiums, money, etc.” were in the U.S.  Ummmmm, ok.  Whatever floats your boat.

Well, as the host country, the U.S. team nabbed a spot automatically.  Good thing for that.  Isn’t this the same team that was (is?) in danger of not even securing a spot in the 2018 World Cup?  I don’t think the Opening Round loss to Colombia is going to help that.

Maybe that’s why the tourney was here…give them an extra chance to qualify.  But I’m not going to look that up to see if that is even possible.  Because my quota of soccer research has been met.  But it was a lot of fun!  Ummmmm…

 

 

 

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