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New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Offense

So now we are over a week into free agency.  As you know, most of the huge money across the league flies out in the first couple of days.  There are still some very desirable stragglers, but most of the big-ticket dudes sign right away.  The Patriots, as you also know, made some unexpected moves.  Of course, we will cover everything that has happened thus far in this post and the one that follows.  Thank you for listening.

Arriving:  Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead

Returning:  James Develin, Michael Williams, Matt Lengel

Departing:  Martellus Bennett

In limbo:  LeGarrette Blount, Cameron Fleming

Who cares?:  Brandon Bolden, Michael Floyd, Greg Scruggs

Worth mentioning:  Jimmy Garoppolo, Danny Amendola

First, the trades:

*Allen from the Colts, along with a 6th round pick, for a 4th rounder.  This was the first shoe to drop for the Patriots in the free agency period.  A gamebreaker, by no means.  But we all knew Bennett was going to chase the green once he got to free agency.  He got his ring, now it was time to get paid.  No problem with that, good for him.  Highly doubtful the Pats were going to throw a ton of money at him anyway.  So they got someone else for just dropping down a couple of rounds in the draft.  Belichick was going to turn that 4th rounder into a 6th and a 7th or something like that anyway.  May as well get a useful player while we are at it.

In any event, even though Allen isn’t Bennett, it appears to be a move worth making.  His contract extension signed before last season is kind of silly for what he has(n’t) done in the NFL…3 more years at roughly 17.5 million left.  But he is supposed to be a pretty good blocker and also a nice red-zone target.  So can’t complain much here.  Besides, hopefully Gronk stays healthy for 19 games this year.  Yeah…

*Cooks from New Orleans, along with a 4th round pick, for 1st and 3rd rounders.  Always have to wonder when a stud 23-year-old receiver, who in 3 years in the league has two 1,000 yard seasons already, gets dealt.  Why did the Saints want to unload this dude?  Yeah, he supposedly whined about not getting any targets in a blowout win last season.  But what stud wide receiver DOESN’T do that sort of thing?

Is there another reason he was available that we don’t know about?  Maybe.  Perhaps he was impressive in putting up those stats indoors with Drew Brees his QB in a pass-first offense.  And can’t transition to cold weather or something.  I don’t know.  But I don’t care.  The first rounder given up was last in the round.  I’d rather have the guy that has proven he can play in the NFL a bit anyway instead.  The third rounder given up?  Bill would have just taken some random dude from Rutgers.  No big loss.  The fourth rounder acquired looks like it will be given up due to the last remaining piece of the Deflategate penalty.  But Bill would’ve just taken another guy from Rutgers there too…so I’m not losing sleep over that either.  I’m all-in on this one.

The rest:

*Rex Burkhead?  I’m not doing cartwheels.  But it seems like a solid move.  I’ll tell you one thing…if this means Bolden is gone, I MAY do some cartwheels.  I asked for an upgrade at backup RB.  Rex could be that guy.  Looks like he can contribute a helluva lot more offensively than Bolden can.  That’s enough for me.  I can’t imagine the team picked him up to be the lead back.  I’ll feel a little differently if that is the case.  Let’s see what the dough is…

*Williams/Lengel.  Can’t hurt.  That’s about all I need to spend on these guys.

*Blount.  He will be back.  I feel it.  Jamaal Charles, Latavius Murray and Adrian Peterson are still out there.  Along with plenty of other flotsam and jetsam.  But I don’t see it.  If Blount thought he was going to cash in because of the 1,100 yards and all those TD’s, he was mistaken.  He knows the system, Bill loves him and all that.  He will eventually take a small deal to return, much to my dismay.

*Fleming.  He’s restricted.  No one else is paying him 1.8 mil.  He will eventually be officially in the fold.

*Floyd.  I would’ve taken a flier if no other moves were made at the position.  Despite the fact he has some jail time to serve.  But Cooks’ acquisition has closed this door.

*Scruggs.  Who?

*Amendola.  Love this guy.  Hated him when he first got here.  Several big catches, great attitude, team player…and then some…eventually won me over.  Has a cap hit of almost 8 mil next year though.  I’m sure he would restructure (again), but it may be over.  Cooks, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell ahead of him on the depth chart.  If Bill keeps a 5th, he’s a special teamer…or just uses Matthew Slater there.  Only 4 are usually active on game day.  All the injuries.  Belichick loves his depth elsewhere more than he does at this position.  We will see what happens and I’d love to keep him.  But the signs are there…and it doesn’t look good.

*Garoppolo.  I’ve changed my mind.  I now believe that those reports of the Pats not trading him for ANYTHING are true.  He stays.  But the Pats already have thrown a few surprises at us already.  So watch him go.

Here’s what I believe now though:  Jimmy Football stays this year.  Tom Brady is owed 1 million cash in 2017, 15 mil cash in both of 2018 & 2019.  With all of the cap room available still in 2017 (even after a few more signings to go), I believe the Patriots rework Brady’s contract this offseason.  Use a ton of cap space in 2017 for Brady, then add some bogus years to spread things out.  And pay him a ton of cash in 2017 & maybe 2018.  Have it all work out where it is essentially a 2 year deal, with the majority of the cap hit occurring in 2017.

Then the Pats franchise Jimmy in 2018.  Yup.  If Brady’s cap hit is huge in 2017 and low in 2018, they can afford to do this.  Instead of you know, spending and/or having cap hits of like 50 million on 2 QB’s in 2018.

I may have confused anyone that actually reads this with all that crap above.  Bottom line?  Brady is the QB for the next two years.  Jimmy takes over in 2019, when Brady will be 42.  Will Tom still be able to play at a high level at age 42?  Perhaps.  But do you think Bill is going to bet on that?  It’s never been done.  Bill is going to err on the side of caution here.

Now…get ready for a Garoppolo trade next week…

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.

Uh oh?

Sssssoooo…we all know Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt Sunday.  Quite a shame, since it looked like he was going to throw for 800 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Ok, a smidge of an exaggeration.  But he was indeed carving up the ‘Phins.  And was off to a great start in his 4 game “audition”, either for other teams or maybe even for the Pats themselves.   Even with the injury, talk shows have been heating up this quarterback “controversy” this week and wondering if now the organization trades the legend, instead of the kid.  All the talk up to this season was that hopefully the Pats could get some picks or something of worth if they traded Garoppolo after this season, when he has one year left on his contract.  Now the talk is Jimmy G may be the future and Tom Brady could be the one traded.  Interesting to talk about for sure.  But irrelevant at this time I suppose.

We can talk about it for a second here if you wish.  You may ask…what would the Blowhard do?  The answer is…I don’t know.  Sometimes I just simply blindly follow the mantra “In Bill We Trust”.  Therefore, whatever Bill Belichick decides to do, I am fine with.  But…that is a cop-out, I know.  The real answer is…I don’t know.  Jimmy G surely has looked good so far.  But it has been only five and a half quarters (I am not counting any mop-up appearances over his first two seasons).  Brady has looked pretty damn good for 16 years.  And although he is 39 years old, he hasn’t shown much in the way of slowing down.  Sure, being on a great team and having a decent line…as well as not being able to breathe on QB’s or WR’s in the NFL these days…has helped a ton.  But you still have to do the job.  He clearly has.  I expect him to do the same this year when he returns in Week 5.

My initial knee jerk reaction would be to keep the 25-year-old (in November) guy over the guy turning 40 next year, despite the older dude being a legend and probably having a great year or two or even three left.  How can I callously cast Brady aside like that?  I don’t want to, but it just makes too much sense.  IF you think that the younger guy can play at least a high level for the next 15 years himself.  Maybe not at Brady’s level, but perhaps close?  But that is a huge IF.  Especially based on a few quarters of real action.  I can’t really be a judge of that, however.  I don’t see Jimmy every day in practice and working out in the offseason and all that.  But Bill does.  The other coaches do.  So I have to really have to rely on their judgement, especially since they know a whole lot more about football than me (yup, that’s true!)…and they’ve been more than a little successful.

Here’s something I haven’t heard much of this week though.  Jacoby Brissett looked capable in his two and a half quarters Sunday.  “Capable” is not much, I acknowledge.  BUT, pretty good for his first NFL action, with only one training camp under his belt.  Granted, the offense was dumbed down a bit…a lot, actually.  And the fumble was pretty putrid.  But he looked like he belonged.  For about half a game anyway.

The organization drafted Jimmy G high in the second round in 2014, presumably as insurance for a then 37-year-old Brady.  At 37, it would only be natural if his play started to decline and then Jimmy Football would then be “the QB of the future”.  This is certainly not new news.  Nor is it new news that Brady has defied the odds and has played at a high level since then.

Now though, shouldn’t the drafting of Brissett in the third round now mean that HE is the new Garoppolo?  Still pretty high to be taking a QB just to be a backup long-term.  Brady has extended the transition timeline.  Too early to trade a legend in favor of a young player?  Etc.  Again, I have no idea if Brissett or Garoppolo can be long-time starters in the NFL.  But Bill and the team should at least have an inkling.  In any event, it really seems to me the choice is not between Jimmy G and Brady.  I’d say the “plan” is to keep Brady, trade Garoppolo (this offseason most likely) and groom Brissett to take over 3-4 years from now.  The plan that they were supposed to follow with just Jimmy and Tom a couple of years ago.

If Garoppolo is the next Brady and Brissett is the next Average Joe, then that “plan” is obviously stupid.  But don’t we think they know what they are doing?  As of right this second, this is what I believe the Patriots will do.  Doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind by the end of the season though!

So I guess I talked about that for more than a second…

Going back to the particular game, thankfully the Patriots built up that huge 31-3 lead before they got real conservative on offense when Jimmy Football departed.  Because the defense apparently decided the game was already over then.  That was the immensely disappointing aspect of the game.  Why did the defense collapse when they knew what was coming?  Just throw after throw after throw as the Dolphins tried to come back and make it a game?  Stupid.

Moving forward, the defense is one big reason I am not throwing in the towel on the Houston game Thursday.  Sure, if Garoppolo can’t play, then it’s just Brissett.  Who backs up if he is hurt?  I personally think it is telling that the Pats have not signed another veteran QB who can at least hand off if he has to.  I know it would be kind of impossible to get any new QB up to speed in like 3 days.  But a vet who has bounced around could be capable enough if an emergency occurs you would think.  The team hasn’t even worked out any QB’s.  Maybe that means Jimmy will play in some capacity.  Maybe it is a smokescreen.  Maybe they will sign one on Friday for Week 4.  Just gamble Brissett can hold up for one game.  And if he goes down, have Julian Edelman, AJ Derby, James White or Alan Branch hand off or just QB draw the rest of the game and eat the L if necessary.  Who the hell knows?

But I think the D bounces back big-time Thursday after that embarrassment on Sunday.  They keep the score low.  And even with Brissett and a conservative offense, the Pats still have a chance to win.  Houston is the one traveling on a short week and that will help.  Plus, even though the Texans are 2-0, let’s not get too excited.  Both games were at home.  Week 1 against a putrid Bears team.  Week 2 against what appears to be an average KC team.  KC may end up being good, but I don’t believe they are right now, especially on the road.  No Jamal Charles.  No Justin Houston.  Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin as guys that can catch the ball, but not much else there.  Alex Smith still the QB.  You get the point.

As the week goes on, I’m feeling better about the Patriots’ chances.  I am not saying they will win the game.  But I think they have a better chance than people realize.  Either way at QB, I am looking forward to it.  If Garoppolo toughs it out and plays, I’ll be impressed.  I also wouldn’t mind seeing Brissett put in a full game to see where he is at.

If they lose, they lose.  I think they beat Buffalo regardless in Week 4.  Then they are 3-1 during the Brady suspension.  That’s where they were supposed to be anyway, right?

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