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New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 2

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.

Wide receiver:

Players under contract:  Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Devin Lucien, Malcolm Mitchell

Free agents:  Michael Floyd

What I would do:  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t do anything to the group that ended the year on the team.  The top 4 of the group (Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell and Amendola) have earned the complete trust of Tom Brady.  This alone is huge.  They run the right routes, make the right reads, have decent hands, make the tough catches and are completely comfortable in the system.  And all that.  Amendola gets banged up a lot and that would most likely necessitate carrying a 5th receiver (please no Matthew Slater here).  But these four seem to be a reliable crew in general.  Amendola would have to adjust his almost 8 million cap hit…and all indications are that he is amenable to that.  The other 3 have salaries that the team could live with.

That 5th receiver could be Floyd.  I’d be ok with that.  He likely will have to take one of those 1 year “prove it” deals that people love to talk about…and the Patriots like to give out.  At probably cheap money too.  Why not take a chance?  He’s got talent…and a head start in the system already.  There have been some rumors that the Pats have interest in New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks.  Wouldn’t argue with that either.  Not sure why he is even on the market, but that’s their problem I guess.  Lucien, a 7th rounder from last year, would not seem to be able to crack this group.  Maybe sticks on the practice squad again.

No reason to go too crazy finding other receivers to fit in here right at the start of free agency for sure.

What I think will happen:  Belichick doesn’t love dressing 5 receivers for games, unless they make an impact on regular special teams units.  Edelman and Amendola do returns, but none of the other guys above are a factor there.  But if Amendola takes that pay cut and returns, I think Bill adds either Floyd or another “traditional” receiver.  That also could come through the draft though.  Maybe they eventually make a trade for a Cooks or the like.  But this is another position that will be low priority in free agency for the team.

Tight end:

Players under contract:  Rob Gronkowski, Rob Housler,

Free agents:  Martellus Bennett, Matt Lengel (exclusive rights), Greg Scruggs, Michael Williams (?)

What I would do:  Bennett was a good soldier this year.  Kept his attitude in line.  You know he played hurt for a great deal of the season.  It’s a crime he and Gronk were not together, healthy, for a 16 game season.  That would have been fun to watch.  Bennett has his ring now and wants big money in free agency.  He will probably get it too.  If the dough is out of hand, I’d let him go.  I’d let him go regardless actually.  Because he is the type of guy that if he signs here for less than he believe he deserves, and he already has a ring, he could revert to his past ways where he is kind of a headache.  No thanks.

That being said, having a TE of Bennett’s caliber is something I think the team should pursue.  Gronk is Gronk.  But with another back surgery in the books.  The Pats should chase another TE that is in the upper tier.  Maybe buy low on someone like they did with Martellus last year.  Housler, Lengel, Scruggs and Williams don’t fit that bill.  I don’t even know if Williams is still here.  He spent all of last year on injured reserve and is still listed on their roster.  But not on the salary cap page from what I can see.  But that really doesn’t matter I suppose.  Anyway, maybe that upper tier TE comes in the draft.  But I’d look hard for one in free agency.

What I think will happen:  Bennett walks.  The team signs a couple of backup TE’s in the mold of a Clay Harbor or something.  A veteran with seemingly more to offer than the 4 “other” TE’s above, but not as good as Bennett.  Then work on getting another quality TE in the draft…which is supposed to be TE-rich.

Offensive line:

Players under contract:  David Andrews (C), Chris Barker (G), Marcus Cannon (T), Jamil Douglas (C), Chase Farris (T), Tre’ Jackson (G), Ted Karras (G), Shaq Mason (G), Nate Solder (T), Joe Thuney (G), LaAdrian Waddle (T)

Free agents:  Cameron Fleming (T) (restricted)

What I would do:  The line was exposed a bit in the playoffs.  Maybe it’s because the middle is full of young guys.  Maybe it’s because Cannon isn’t actually as good as he apparently played this year.  Maybe it’s because Nate Solder isn’t as good as people think he is, period.  Maybe it’s because it was Dante Scarnecchia’s first year back in the saddle and he is still working on some things with the unit.

The line seemingly played pretty well this year before the playoffs, so maybe the weaknesses showing up there can be fixed in the offseason…plus with more experience for the interior guys.  I’d work on getting better depth in free agency for one thing.  The team carried only 8 guys for most of the year…with Waddle mostly inactive and Fleming playing a lot of tight end when injuries hit.  I haven’t done any research, but I would say Belichick usually has 10 or so guys on the active roster.  Maybe he felt he didn’t need that this year with the line staying intact for most of the year.  And also with Douglas, Farris and Barker on the practice squad for most of the year too.

Even with Jackson returning from injury, none of the backup guys seem to inspire confidence.  I’d spend some time in free agency finding a better veteran backup swing tackle and a better veteran backup interior guy that can play both guard and center.  I’d also restructure Solder’s gruesome 11 mil cap hit.  The Pats will have plenty of cap space to do what they want.  But that number (currently second on the team overall) just doesn’t look right.

What I think will happen:  Nothing.  Maybe Solder gets an extension to shrink his cap number.  But I think these are most of the characters you see next year.  Certainly the starters.  Solder and Cannon, with his fat extension signed during last season, will be the tackles.  Thuney was a third rounder from last year that they love and he played something like all but 4 snaps the entire season.  He’s going nowhere.  Andrews seems entrenched.  If anything, maybe Mason gets pushed.  But by Jackson or Barker (since he can’t spend an 18th consecutive year on the practice squad I would bet), not by a vet they have signed.  They will probably bring in some big bodies at the middle to end of the draft.  But I doubt they sign any veterans.  Not in the first wave of free agency anyway.  I can tell you that Sebastian Vollmer ain’t coming back either.  So long Sea Bass!!

Next:  Onto the defense.

Was it a Dream?

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!!

And The Winner Is…

…wait, I’m still thinking!

Almost two weeks have passed since the NFL Conference Championship games and could I possibly still be thinking about who is going to win the Super Bowl?

Perhaps.

It could simply be because my heart is telling me one thing and my head is telling me something a smidge different.

What is my heart telling me?  That the New England Patriots should win this game by 2-3 touchdowns.  Not only because I am a total homer either.

In my head?  Lots of things.  That the Pats have played 6 Super Bowls in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era and the largest margin, win or lose, has been 4 points.  That all of those have gone down to the bitter end.  That the Pats have somehow not scored in the first quarter of ANY of those 6 games.  That the Las Vegas line has not budged since opening up at Pats minus 3, with more of the money coming in on the Pats that would then normally cause a line to be bumped up to get more money coming in on the Falcons…since, you know, Vegas doesn’t like to lose money.  Since Vegas is usually smarter than all us Joe Blows, this would suggest they “know” something.  And all that…

So why do I think the Pats SHOULD win this game handily?  There are actually a lot of reasons for that as well:

*The Atlanta defense is PUTRID.  And that may actually be kind.  We’ve already talked about how they gave up the 6th most points in the league this year.  But also in all the coverage this week another nugget was unearthed that I hadn’t heard.  The Falcons were 32nd this year in red zone D.  Yup 32nd.  That’s LAST, in case you didn’t know how many teams were in the NFL.  You heard a lot of people say this week that “the defense got better as the season went along…”  Pretty easy to say I guess when your last 4 games were against the Rams, 49ers, Panthers and Saints…and they still gave up 32 to the Saints.

Pundits like to say the Patriots’ schedule was full of cream puffs this year and that may be true.  But take a look at the Falcons’ schedule.  Not a Murderer’s Row, by any stretch.  And they still gave up all those points.

*That very defense is young and inexperienced.  7 rookies or 2nd year players start.  They supposedly have a lot of team speed, but speed may not be able to make up for inexperience.  Sure, Dan Quinn has played Brady before and may know some things to do.  But if that doesn’t translate to the players performing well, then that knowledge means nothing.  One may say that because Brady hasn’t faced this defense, that may be an advantage for the Falcons.  But I am sure he has done his homework.  And he too has faced off against a Quinn defense before.  So obviously, it will come down to what happens on the field.  And Brady can make youngsters pay, regardless of the talent level.

*NFC Championship/front running.  “Experts” will tell you Atlanta smoked a hot Green Bay team 2 weeks ago.  But let’s revisit the game.  What if the Packers don’t miss a 41 yard field goal on their first possession?  Then what if they don’t fumble inside the Atlanta 10 on their second possession?  Game starts out a little closer, no?  Let’s take it further.  What if the Packer defender corrals the Falcon fumble that he should have to stop one drive?  Then what if the Packers don’t drop, not one, but TWO sure interceptions on another drive in which Atlanta scores a TD?  How many easy drops did Jared Cook and others on the team have the entire game?

I know, a lot of “ifs”, but if even half of the above happen, Atlanta does not run away with the game at least.  And Green Bay had no running backs, wide receivers that wouldn’t have played due to injury if it were the regular season and absolutely zero defensive backfield.  Give the Falcons credit.  They cashed in on all of the above, ran up a huge lead and never looked back.  Will that happen against the Patriots?

*Vic Beasley.  The Blowhard read a piece from Bill Barnwell of the 4 letter site a day or so ago, in which he included some info that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  If you are so inclined, you can read the piece here:

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/18599645/barnwell-super-bowl-li-preview-new-england-patriots-atlanta-falcons

His piece included some interesting stuff on Beasley.  In summary, half his 15.5 sacks were in three games against backups and rookies…which I acknowledge (and Barnwell acknowledges) that all pass rushers beef up stats like this.

But the more interesting thing is that Vic rarely plays when the opposing offense has 2 or fewer wide receivers on the field.  Presumably running downs, you might think.  If the Pats trot out Dion Lewis on first down and run with Beasley off the field, then go no huddle with Lewis on second down and pass the ball…then Vic is still on the sideline in the scenario when he is most productive.  Will the Falcons change that up?  Not sure.  But they haven’t all year.

*The “experts” have told us for two weeks that “the Atlanta defense gave up a lot of garbage points after they were winning big and that makes the defense look worse.”  Ummmm, maybe in 3 of their 11 wins, as I looked back at all their games.  But I’m not buying that it happened all year.

*I think nationally that people are overrating the playoff win against Seattle as well.  Atlanta played well, no doubt.  But this wasn’t the same scary Seattle team of the past few years.  The Seahawk offensive line was in shambles.  Earl Thomas was out.  Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson apparently have been hurt all year and trying to push through their injuries.  Oh, and that long Devin Hester punt return was called back.  The Falcons deserved to win, no question.  But lets not get carried away.

I could ramble on some more, but what’s the point?  The Super Bowl can be unpredictable of course.  Two weeks of hype.  Half hour halftime.  Butterflies by even the most experienced veterans.  Players coming out of nowhere to be huge factors:  Chris Matthews, Larry Brown, Malcolm Butler, Timmy Smith, Dexter Jackson, Desmond Howard…the list goes on.  Eugene Robinson soliciting prostitutes the night before the Big Game the first time Atlanta was here…and getting busted.  Stanley Wilson drilling down some cocaine the night before the Bengals played in the Game for the second time.  And then some…

So enough already, who am I picking?  Well, here’s how I (think I) see it:  Green Bay was able to slow the Atlanta RBs down, so since that is a Patriot strength, I believe they will do the same.  The Pats will let Julio Jones get his yards.  They will allow the short stuff to the running backs and everyone else.  Bend, but don’t break, as they usually do.  We all know the Pats are not really a #1 defense, even though they allowed the least amount of points this year.  But they are better than the Falcons D.  They will probably dress an extra corner and play coverage most of the game.  I don’t see them doing a lot of blitzes or really putting a ton of pressure on Matt Ryan.

The Patriots should be able to move the ball any way they want to.  I don’t know if I see them going no-huddle and trying to engage in a shootout with the Falcons.  But they will mix in runs liberally with LeGarrette Blount and Lewis.  They will play ball control…to a point.  Julian Edelman will have a huge game.

Another feeling I can’t shake:  This has game has the feel of a guy like Logan Ryan coming through and making himself rich in the off-season…even richer than we thought for a guy who has largely had an uneven Patriot career, to be kind.

The verdict?  New England 38-27.  I hope…let’s also hope that Atlanta isn’t so fired up about hearing about legacies and 5th Super Bowl wins and if Roger Goodell is going to hand the Super Bowl and/or the Super Bowl MVP trophies to Tom Brady and what’s going to happen then.  And all the rest of that stuff.  The game will probably be closer than this and thus, closer than it should be.  But hopefully the Pats do it.  Cuz, you know, I’m a homer!!

Championship Games:  1-1 (1-1 against the spread).

Total:  6-4 (5-5 against the spread).

 

 

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