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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…

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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.

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!!

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