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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…

New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 3

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 line:

Players under contract:  Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Rob Ninkovich, Vincent Valentine

Free agents:  Alan Branch, Geneo Grissom (exclusive rights), Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard

What I would do:  Sign Branch ASAP!  Along with Flowers, Branch was the best the defensive line had to offer this season.  Brown is competent.  Valentine may have promise.  The rest?  Ugly may describe most of them.  Long wants to leave “to get back to showing the world the player he once was…” or something like that.  What?  His playing time dipped as the year went on because…he will never be the player he once was.  But good luck to him.  Sheard had a nice year in 2015, not so much in 2016.  See ya.  Ninkovich has always been a nice piece.  But without the ‘roids this year, was this the beginning of the end?  Pass rush was non-existent most of the year outside of Flowers.  They were pretty stout against the run however.  I’d work on some edge rushers in free agency.  If Branch is retained, as I would like, the tackles should be in decent, if unspectacular shape.  Maybe add a big body in the draft or a close to “end of the line” player as free agency rolls on.

What I think will happen:  Not sure which way the league will go on Branch.  My sense is he will be back.  Simply because no one is going to hand him a fat contract when he is one toke away from a suspension.  But you never know.  Long and Sheard will be replaced by two lower level free agent defensive ends similar to what brought them here.  Short deals, not huge dollars and being veterans looking for a fresh start or a last hurrah, so to speak.  Sign a bunch of guys like Marcus Kuhn and Frank Kearse and see what sticks, similar to last year.  The Pats will not break the bank here…as if this comes as any surprise.

Linebackers:

Players under contract:  Trevor Bates, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Free agents:  Dont’a Hightower

What I would do:  Don’t you HAVE to re-sign Hightower?  Last offseason, the Pats had kind of a “Big Six” on defense that were becoming free agents:  Hightower, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Jabaal Sheard.  Collins and Jones are gone, Sheard is likely to be.  Ryan?  We will get to that.  Butler is restricted, so they can hold off a year.  It appears that the Pats will have over 60 mil of cap space, even more if guys like Solder and Amendola restructure.  Don’t you have to pay SOMEBODY?  Who is getting all the dough?

Look at all the names above.  Again, don’t you HAVE to re-sign Hightower?  That list above…YIKES!!  Sure they can replace Dont’a with a guy or two.  But they are not likely to have the same impact.  Look how long it took Hightower to be what he is in this defense.  A few years.  Why lose that now?  Sure, he is banged up a lot and misses games.  But he’s in the games that count.  I feel like they have to keep him.  And also add a few more decent guys to the mix as well.

What I think will happen:  My gut tells me that other teams in the league won’t overpay for Hightower, with the injuries and all.  My gut also tells me that he brings the best offer to the Pats and the team matches it.  Similar to Devin McCourty a couple of years back.  The Patriots will then be paying Hightower more than they want, but less than the franchise tag.  BUT…my gut has often been wrong.  All it takes is one humongous offer from one specific team with a ton of cap space.  We should know quick at least.

Other than this, I’d say the Pats sign a couple of lower level veterans to bring to camp.  Nothing else to see here.

Next:  Finishing up the defense and the specialists.

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