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New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days.  Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up.  Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster.  Anyway, here goes:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)

Comments:  This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.”  Oops.  At least on Flowers.  Welp, I’ve been completely off before.  And most assuredly will be again.  Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season.  Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team.  So I wasn’t the only one.  There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp.  His attitude.  His fit on the team.  His “coachability”.  And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports.  But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”.  I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet.  Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks.  Not likely to go anywhere.  And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point.  Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot.  It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well.  Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement.  But maybe we shouldn’t have been.  He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension.  Yup…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo

Way Out:  Josh Augusta, Adam Butler

Comments:  Pretty much cut and dried here.  Branch re-signed on a nice deal.  Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere.  May be a little push for Brown in his third year.  But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway.  Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year.  Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season.  And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them.  Good enough for me.

LB (6):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, David Harris

In:  Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi

Out:  Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates

Way Out:  Brooks Ellis

Comments:  When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock.  Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc.  Seemed to be a prime candidate for that.  Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense.  I know, that is “early in camp” too.  But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong.  McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now.  Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes.  He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough.  Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability.  Bates is from Maine and that’s nice.  Ellis?  Yup, no idea who he is.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones

In:  Cyrus Jones

Out:  Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings

Way Out:  William Likely, Dwayne Thomas

Comments:  Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?”  And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”.  Oops.  And.  Oops.  But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year.  Wouldn’t be unprecedented though.  Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp.  Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock.  Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.

As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me.  Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago.  Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that.  I mean, he knows how this organization operates.  But still.  Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened.  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed.  Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them.  Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal.  And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it.  And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year.  That will also benefit the Patriots of course.  But did the team play this out right?  Time will tell.  But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…

Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room.  Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point.  Likely & Thomas?  Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Jordan Richards

Way Out:  Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore

Comments:  Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp.  Three safeties is kind of thin.  But the other guys?  You know what I am going to say.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Nothing really to say here.  Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year.  I’m not.  There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year.  No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker.  Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.

That’s about the size of it.  I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year.  Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list.  Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…

New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Defense

Picking up where we left off yesterday…onto the defense.

Arriving:  Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy

Returning:  Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Duron Harmon, Geneo Grissom, Justin Coleman, Brandon King

Departing:  Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Barkevious Mingo

In limbo:  Malcolm Butler

Who cares?:  Chris Long

Worth mentioning:  No one else

Let’s start with the big ones:

*Sign Gilmore for 5 years, 65 million…of which apparently 40 mil is guaranteed.  Whoa.  Lotta dough.  Did anyone see this coming?  I doubt it.  Sure, everyone knew they were likely to lose Ryan.  And that Butler would want some big money sooner, rather than later (more on him later) and that fact may have had some impact going forward.  So signing a cornerback or two in free agency may have been on the list at some point.  But signing a big-ticket CB?  One of the most coveted free agents out there?  On the morning of the very first day of free agency?  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Especially throwing the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the franchise.

OK, let’s just cover Butler here as well.  A lot of fans seem to be pretty upset that the team would make this kind of move.  After all that Butler has done here…cementing the Super Bowl with his interception at the end of his rookie year.  Then playing at an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level the subsequent two years.  All the while doing everything the team asked him to and keeping his mouth shut.  At limited dollars.  Blah blah blah.

And those fans may have a point.  Butler sure as hell does deserve a raise.  And he got one.  This year as a restricted free agent, he was tendered at the highest level and will make close to 4 million.  I’d say that is a pretty good raise.  Apparently, he was offered 6-7 million dollars a year before this past season.  Now, we don’t know how many years (ie: how many years past his current unrestricted free agent date at the end of next year would he have to lock into and “lose”), or the guaranteed money involved (BIG consideration).  But still looks like a pretty good raise nonetheless.

Malcolm did not want any of that and wants to cash in after next season in unrestricted free agency.  Fair enough for sure.  So despite the fact that we all feel for him to some degree, he really shouldn’t be upset that the Pats pounced on a potential long-term replacement now in case Butler walks next year.  Plus, the team rarely pays players before they have to, unless it’s a situation like above, where the player pushes off unrestricted free agency a few years for additional financial security before the Pats actually HAVE to lay out the cash.  I usually don’t begrudge a player for going after the money, especially in a sport like football where the average career is short.  But…them’s the rules…

As for the two players’ actual skills on the field?  I have seen Butler every week and I love him.  I don’t watch a lot of (ummm…any) Buffalo Bills football, so I can’t tell you if Gilmore is a better player.  But he is a smidge younger.  A smidge bigger.  And the Patriots locked him up for 5 years, so apparently THEY think he is better.  So who am I to argue with that?

All that being said, I hope Butler stays this year, makes his 4 mil, gives the team a great CB tandem (while keeping Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, et al off the field as much as possible) and this helps them win another Super Bowl.  Then he can walk, since I doubt the Pats are paying 2 cornerbacks 8 figures a year apiece.  But now what I think will happen, especially with Butler’s visit today to New Orleans, is that Malcolm will get traded to the Saints post-haste.  It appears it would have happened in the Brandin Cooks deal, but it didn’t for many reasons.  One, Butler can’t be traded without signing his tender.  Two, Cooks had some sort of bonus deadline that he had to be dealt by if NO didn’t want to pay.  And also I suppose three, Butler needs to decide if he wants to play there and sign long-term and he and the Saints would have to negotiate and all that.

Butler leaving would certainly be too bad.  But that’s life in the NFL I guess…now that we’ve beaten this to death…

*Trading a second round pick (#64) to Carolina for Ealy and a third rounder (#72).  Steal, even if Ealy sucks.  Dropping 8 spots in the draft and getting a young defensive end with potential?  One that makes less than a million beans?  With Long and Sheard gone and Rob Ninkovich seemingly towards the end of the line, leaving the position fairly thin?  How could you not do that?  Maybe he’s not as good as the guy that had 3 sacks against Denver in the Super Bowl 2 years ago.  But should be an asset…and absolutely worth the seemingly miniscule acquisition price.

*Re-signing Branch and signing Guy.  You know I wanted Branch back.  Don’t know a thing about Guy and the contract seems steep.  But I’m guessing he is better than Woodrow Hamilton.  And along with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, seems like a serviceable rotation to have in the middle of the defensive line.  I’ll wait and see if Guy gets turnstiled regularly before I complain about this one.  In the meantime, Hamilton can go back to the practice squad and be insurance for if/when Branch decides to smoke some more weed.

The rest:

*I’m not classifying Hightower’s return as a “big” one.  Not because it’s not a big deal he came back.  It sure is…just look at the rest of the linebacking core.  But rather because I think most felt like he was pretty much coming back here anyway.  That he had a “McCourty-esque” kind of understanding with Bill Belichick and the team.  Where he would bring any offers back to the Pats and they would get the opportunity to match it.  Once the first few days of free agency passed with no monster offers for Dont’a, I think this theory became stronger.  I mean, seriously, the Jets?  The cupcakes were a nice touch (huh?), but unless they gave him the moon, did anyone actually think that he would go there?  Doubtful.  Didn’t seem to be other serious suitors.  Always kind of felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.

*Seems like waaaay too much dough for Harmon.  3rd safety, technically a backup.  But I’m not opposed to him being here.  Just hope the money invested in Duron doesn’t stop them from paying someone, you know, good, in the future.

*Again, I expected someone to overpay Ryan.  That happened.  No worries there.  We knew Sheard wasn’t coming back.  But the Colts gave him 25.5 mil over 3 years?  Yikes!  The Colts also gave Mingo 2 mil for a year.  Mingo barely played on D here, so 2 mil sounds way too steep as well.  Guess Indy had some money to burn.

*We covered Long already, with his desire to “get back to being the player he once was”.  Good luck with that, my friend.  I hate to tell you that that ship has sailed.

*Grissom, Coleman, King?  Useful.  Depth.  Low cost.  Sounds good to me.

Now let’s get this Butler nonsense settled…

Super Blah…

…that’s how I felt about that game last night.  And the halftime show as well, for whatever that is worth.

As we all know, part of the reasoning for the lukewarm reaction toward the Big Game is that the New England Patriots were not there.  That is no secret.

But I was not all that impressed by the participants regardless.  Carolina did not look like a 17-1 team.  The Denver defense absolutely showed up to play.  But the offense?  Meh…although if you listened to Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, you would probably think that Peyton Manning threw for 800 yards and 10 TDs and was the reason they won the game.  Ugh…for those watching objectively, Peyton was not very good.  But I suppose he didn’t need to be with the way the defense played.

You know what else I didn’t like about the game?  Where do I start?  Per usual, let’s throw out a few bullet points, again, in no particular order:

*Manning.  I’m putting him here again, because that’s how much I didn’t like him.  Only one interception, but could have been more.  But that one was a beauty.  Threw it right to a defensive lineman.  Rarely threw deep, but I suppose he didn’t need to.  Yelled “Omaha” a few times, so that was nice to hear.  Anyway, I have belabored the point.

*Cam Newton.  Your NFL MVP everyone!!  Wow.  Putrid.  On and off the field.  Sure the Denver pass rush was relentless.  They took the run away from him.  The Carolina coaches didn’t seem to make adjustments to allow Cam to do what he did all year, as far as utilize his running skills.  That much is all true.  But he started off the game firing passes over his receivers heads.  Ok, his receivers are atrocious too.  But he didn’t give them a chance early on.

The play everyone is talking about, his fumble with about 4 minutes left?  I’m still speechless.  Ok, I’m really not.  What a joke.  Losing 16-10.  4 minutes left.  IT’S THE SUPER BOWL!  And he doesn’t dive for the ball?  Doesn’t make any effort whatsoever?  Actually peels off?  Embarrassing.  I can’t say I have ever seen anything like it, especially considering the circumstances.  We all know how I feel about Peyton.  But he is for damn sure diving for that ball…even with his prior neck injuries.  He understands the magnitude of the situation.

Did we ever get an explanation?  I don’t know, but I haven’t heard what he was thinking yet…from him anyway.  I’ve heard people say that he thought the ball was going to bounce backwards.  Ummmm…not so sure.  Maybe the media was going to ask him in the postgame interview…but of course he bailed on that.  Another ridiculous thing.  I’ve heard people defending him for cutting that short because Chris Harris Jr. can be heard in the background telling reporters that they had a great game plan to stop Cam…and Newton didn’t want to listen to it, blah, blah, blah.  That’s pure garbage.  You played awful, your team lost, you didn’t get to “dab”…face the music.  And he is supposed to be one of the “new faces of the league”?  Please…lost a lot of respect for him yesterday.

*Carolina offensive line.  Did the Patriots offensive line from two weeks ago actually take their place Sunday?  Yes, again, the Denver pass rush is stout.  But neither the Pats or the Panthers can come even close to even slowing them down at least a little?

*Jerricho Cotchery.  Yikes, he is still in the league?  And he’s like the Panthers #3 receiver?  And then he drops the first three passes thrown to him.  Including the one that was a catch, then wasn’t, but should’ve been (more on that later).  But he would’ve made it easier if he just caught the ball cleanly.

*Ted Ginn Jr.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Carolina’s #1 receiver!  If you listened to Nantz and Simms, you would’ve thought he actually finally became good this year after 8 years of mediocrity…less than that actually.  He caught 44 passes this year…yup, less than 3 a game.  On 96 targets.  So he caught less than half thrown his way.  Anyway, the things that bothered me most was on his 45 yard catch and run, it appeared that he could have maybe juked the safety, cut inside and then race to the end zone…you know, because his one skill is that he can fly.  Instead, he just cruised out of bounds.  Maybe it’s just me, since no one else is talking about it.  But it seemed that he kind of just gave up on the play.  I suppose a lot of receivers kind of do that as well.  But…IT’S THE SUPER BOWL!  Try it at least.  And take a hit if you have to.

*Greg Olsen.  Ok, he is the real top pass catcher on the team.  Where was he?  Sure, he was probably blanketed.  But so was Rob Gronkowski in the AFC Championship.  And he came up huge still.

*Demaryius Thomas.  Another disappearing act.  Blame Josh Norman if you want.  Or Manning.  But 1 catch for 8 yards?

*Mike Tolbert.  I have a little soft spot for this fat guy.  I really haven’t watched him a ton over the years, either in San Diego or Carolina.  But he has always seemed to run well when I did.  Short, fat dude plowing through the line.  Interesting to watch anyway.  But the first two times he touched the ball he fumbled.  Disappointing.

*Graham Gano.  As Jim Nantz said early, along with Simms and sideline reporters Evan Washburn and Tracy Wolfson, they would also go to Jay Feely “if needed”.  Nice of Jim to include Jay.  Anyway, I feel that sideline reporters are generally useless.  But Feely inexplicably added something the one time they went to him.  After Gano missed his field goal, Feely said that Gano had “missed a couple in this direction in pregame in the same fashion and knew what to expect…”, or something along those lines.  So Gano KNEW the adjustment he had to make and STILL did not make it?  Hard to fathom.

*Carolina punt coverage.  On the Jordan Norwood return specifically.  You think he calls fair catch.  But you don’t bother looking to see if he did?  And then you bump him before he catches the ball anyway?  Then no one tackles him right at the spot?  I’m still shaking my head over that one.

*Mike Carey.  This one needs no explanation.  Didn’t everyone know that whatever he said, the call on the field was going to be the opposite?

I could probably find more, but those are the ones that come to mind immediately.  I won’t be watching the tape again, so I’ll leave it at those…

I’d love to blame the officials.  But like I have previously said, that job is tough enough.  Could the Cotchery “catch” actually have been ruled a catch?  Sure.  But then again, he should have caught it cleanly in the first place and we wouldn’t even be talking about it.  One unsportsmanlike penalty on Aqib Talib, when he was jawing on the sideline, was questionable.  As was one on a Carolina DB (forget exactly who) when he knocked the ball out of Emmanuel Sanders hand after a catch.  Then when Talib had that blatant face mask penalty…there was some chatter of possibly tossing him from the game.  But, all in all, I don’t think the refs had any bearing on the game either way.

I’ll tell you two things I did like and that no one is talking about.  Kony Ealy.  3 sacks, an interception, a couple of QB hits, fumble recovery…I don’t know much about the guy.  But he had a monster game.  Second thing?  Some dude named Mario Addison.  Never heard of him.  But here is some monster defensive end flying downfield after Norwood on his punt return.  And then I watched him also jet after a receiver downfield from the line later in the game.  He may completely suck, for all I know.  But loved watching the big dude speed down the field on those occasions.

Let’s now break down the halftime show.  Ummmmm, nope…but that Bruno Mars can dance, no?!

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