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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…

New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 4

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 backs:

Players under contract:  Patrick Chung, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Eric Rowe

Free agents:  Malcolm Butler (restricted), Justin Coleman (exclusive rights), Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan

What I would do:  Take some of that cap space and lock up Butler.  Sure, you have a year to do it, but do it now.  The guy has done everything the team has asked.  And played at an extremely high level.  The cornerbacks behind him on the depth chart are…sketchy.  Even if Ryan stays, he is up and down.  I’m not ready to give up on Cyrus yet.  But he needs to get his head out of his arse next year.  Rowe?  We will see with a full offseason in the program.  Not enticing.  Pay Butler.

Ryan has improved since he’s been here.  I’d like to keep him.  But I’m not giving him #1 cornerback dollars.  Harmon can take a hike.  Should be able to find just about anyone that can play 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and pick off stupid throws.  Maybe that guy is Richards next year.  He was a 2nd round pick after all.  I’d get another decent body or two at corner though.

What I think will happen:  The Patriots don’t pay Butler until they absolutely have to.  Perhaps their hand is forced if someone makes him an offer and the Pats are forced to match.  I know the Pats have signed Chris Hogan and Wes Welker and probably others off the restricted free agent market before.  They have also made offers to plenty of players before, such as Emmanuel Sanders.  But I feel like the rest of the NFL is not as aggressive on restricted guys.  I could be wrong.  But I don’t know if I see anyone coming after Butler.  Haven’t heard ANY rumors about it either.  The silence could be a sign however.  Some team could swoop in under the radar.  Worth monitoring closely, either way.

Ryan gets overpaid by some stupid team.  As does Harmon.  The Pats eventually add some bodies.  But of course no one of significance.

Specialists:

Players under contract:  Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Matthew Slater (ST)

Free agents:  Brandon King (ST) (exclusive rights), Barkevious Mingo (ST)

What I would do:  Nothing.  I mean, what difference does it make?  Allen and Cardona seem more than capable at their jobs.  I’m not sure the Patriots need to go searching for upgrades there.  Gostkowski?  It’s time for some competition for the guy for sure.  But I’m not laying out big dollars in free agency for a kicker.  Not when I believe that all the money left on the last two years of Gostkowski’s contract is guaranteed.

Gostkowski has had a pretty good career.  He’s been borderline automatic since early in his career until this year.  Sure, he hasn’t made a ton of big kicks like his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri.  But he hasn’t had as many opportunities either.  His kickoffs, long and short, have been normally what you ask for.  And may have made a difference in this past Super Bowl.  I have a hunch that he had some sort of injury this year that wasn’t talked about.  Perhaps not.  But he deserves a chance to keep his job.  Bring in some kid to camp to push him.  But don’t spend in free agency.

The special teamers?  Whatever.  I’d have actually loved to see Bill use Mingo on defense to see what he could do.  Maybe just speed rush the passer.  They obviously thought he couldn’t do anything though, so they never put him in.  Slater and Ebner had a ton of tackles, but they are signed.  The rest of them…not worth worrying about too much.

What I think will happen:  Absolutely nothing noteworthy during the heat of free agency.

Next:  Another sport.  We are done here!!  Mercifully…

Roster projection…already? Part Two…

I told you yesterday the roster would be in flux.  The Patriots are clearly playing games with the Blowhard.  Shortly after I posted the first part of this projection, Danny Amendola did indeed restructure his contract (which now makes him a “lock”) and Joey Iosefa was released (he was “out” anyway).  Plus, they signed 8 undrafted free agents…where the original list was 9.  And one of the eight is TE Bryce Williams (“way out”, for completeness), who was not on the original list of 9.  It appears that they also did NOT sign an apparent “Blowhard” favorite, D’Runnya Wilson, either.  Oh well.  Let’s just blow through the rest of this before the roster changes again.

Onto the defense:

DE (4):

Locks:  Chris Long, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  Trey Flowers, Frank Kearse

Way Out:  None

Comments:  I’m assuming Long has something left.  This may be a bad assumption.  We’ve seen the “high-profile player on the downside of his career come to New England and not even make the team” guy here before.  The team did not exactly extend for him and he isn’t as old as some of the guys that fell into this category in prior years.  So I’m thinking he’s pretty safe…for now.  Nink and Sheard are no-brainers.  You could go in any direction for the 4th spot.  Flowers didn’t even come close to the field for the most part last year.  Grissom played some, and also some on special teams…but on one occasion let someone blow by him to get a punt blocked…so I am not sure that even matters.  Kearse is a 5 year veteran, who if I remember correctly, played like 79 snaps last YEAR.  Maybe it’s someone else by the onset of the season.  Maybe they keep more DT’s or LB’s and use them as ends.  I just went with Grissom at this point.

One thing I did notice is that Long, Ninkovich, Sheard and Kearse appear to be only signed through the end of this year.  Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.  Chandler Jones is gone.  Not that we care too much…yet.  But 2017…yikes!!

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Terrance Knighton, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out:  Joe Vellano, Marcus Kuhn

Way Out:  Woodrow Hamilton

Comments:  Looks pretty set in stone here with what they have now.  Not as many bodies as last year, seems a little thin to me.  Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley and Akiem Hicks are gone.  Vince Wilfork didn’t come back through that door.  Though Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton may be a reasonable facsimile…as long as he doesn’t come in at 5 bills.  Would’ve liked to have seen them keep Hicks, who seemed to thrive last year once he arrived.  It’s not like the Chicago Bears wildly overpaid him.  Still not sure what the deal is with Easley, but he is still a free agent, so maybe the team was right.  Valentine may have been a questionable pick according to the experts…but they kind of need him.  Vellano always seems to be on the fringe, like the Chris Barker of the D.  He may always be an option in-season.  Maybe they keep a Kuhn here because of the lack of bodies.

LB (5):

Locks:  Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McLellin

In:  Jonathan Freeny, Ramon Humber

Out:  Rufus Johnson, Jon Bostic, Tony Steward, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Elandon Roberts, Kevin Snyder

Way Out:  C.J. Johnson

Comments:  Freeny is probably a lock with the first three.  Bill and the staff seems to have a lot of confidence in him, based on how much he played last year.  And of course the special team abilities!  That’s what made me put Humber on over the rest.  Maybe Bostic developed in the time he has been here…adding in the full offseason.  After all, he was drafted 2 spots ahead of Collins in 2013, if that means anything to ya.  How many times did you hear that last year??  Johnson was a nice story early last season, but once he got that “illness”, they didn’t waste any time putting him on IR.  That should tell you something.  Steward was a 6th rounder on the Buffalo Bills last year, Grugier-Hill and Roberts were 6th rounders this year.  Snyder was signed in the playoffs last year after going undrafted before the season.  Seems like one of them would really have to stand out to make it beyond the practice squad this year.  Though Snyder went to Rutgers, so all bets are off there with the way Bill loves his Rutgers guys.

And…the hype-train may have already started with Grugier-Hill.  To wit, I borrow (steal?) the following quote from an article by Doug Kyed on NESN yesterday, “Kamu Grugier-Hill looks like a safety, plays like a linebacker and has the athleticism of a slot cornerback.  So, where will the sixth-round pick play for the New England Patriots?  The NFL needs to decide on a name for the position made popular by Arizona Cardinals safety/linebacker hybrid Deone Bucannon, whether that be “moneybacker,” “rover” or something else. The hybrid role is becoming more and more popular in the NFL, and Grugier-Hill seems to fit the bill perfectly.  For now, he’s listed as a linebacker on the Patriots’ roster.”  Fits the bill perfectly…of course!!!  I’m not blaming Kyed, by any means.  I’m sure he’s pumped to be quoted in the Blowhard.  I have heard this stuff elsewhere plenty of times since the draft, so I am sure he has too.  “Moneybacker.”  Sheeeesh.

CB (4):

Locks:  Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones

In:  Justin Coleman

Out:  Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers

Way Out:  V’Angelo Bentley, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc

Comments:  Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?  Tarell Brown, Bradley Fletcher, Coleman, Doug Johnson, Rashaan Melvin…I feel like I’m missing others, but you get the point.  I’m just hoping that Logan Ryan doesn’t remember that he is…Logan Ryan…and builds off his pretty good year last year.  I still wouldn’t pay him when he is a free agent after this year, but that’s me.

The Pats went with three corners in many games last year, so they could start this year the same way.  I don’t see it though.  Coleman did make a few plays, so we will see.  I keep hearing Roberts “flashed” in training camp last year from various writers.  But “flashing” in training camp does nothing for me.  Biggers is a long-time vet that is another special teamer, so we can’t rule him out.  I suppose we can’t rule any of the undrafted guys out here because of Butler’s rise.  But since I have no idea who they are, I will dismiss them at this point…until one of them “flashes” in camp, that is…

S (4):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

In:  None

Out:  Brock Vereen

Way Out:  Devonta Burns, Cedric Thompson

Comments:  Seems pretty cut and dried here too.  A couple of the specialists can play a little safety in a pinch.  Hopefully that doesn’t need to happen though.  Vereen and Thompson are mid-rounders that may be practice squad-types.  It appears that they never even signed the undrafted Burns, as I noted with the difference between initial reports and actual signings above.  But I am leaving him here anyway.  Because again, with the roster shuffling, he may actually be here next week.  Never can tell.

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:  Christian Yount (LS)

Comments:  I’ve expanded the specialist section even more this year.  Just had the first four last year.  Added Ebner and King.  These guys simply do not play defense at all.  If they do, many other options have been exhausted.  So that’s what these guys are, simply specialists.  You may even be able to put a guy like Humber here too.  Because if the linebackers stay healthy, he won’t play there.  But since the Pats’ linebackers never stay healthy, I left him at that position.

The only wild card here is if Cardona has Navy obligations which take him out of the region.  He had Navy obligations last year, but was able to play in all the games as he fulfilled them locally.  From what I have seen and heard, that may not be the case for the upcoming season.  I’m not convinced Yount would be the guy to actually replace him.  But he will be the guy getting the reps for now.  Since, you know, he is the only one actually here.

I suppose another wild card is if Ebner gets hurt playing for the U.S. Rugby team this spring/summer.  I have no issues with him playing.  He is a good special teamer, but not necessarily integral to the success of the 2016-17 team.  I just hope he doesn’t come back with more ideas and options for more “rugby kicks” for Bill.  I still blame those needless kicks turning the tide for the “ready to quit” Philadelphia Eagles team and the Chris Harper fumbled punt against Denver for preventing the Pats from getting home-field advantage in the playoffs and probably (definitely?) playing in another Super Bowl.  I’m not really that bitter though…no…not at all.

Anyway, that’s about it.  I’ll wait until August to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  As hinted at earlier and in the titles, projecting the 53-man roster at this point is really kind of silly.  But I did enjoy putting it together, I have to admit.  As pathetic as that may sound to some…

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