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Patriot Free Agency (in)action, Defense…and…The End…

Continuing on…defense AND specialists, that is.  Can’t forget how important the special teamers are to the Patriot organization!!

And, in case you forgot, there’s this:  For the record, we will say where the player came from if they are an addition and where they went if they jumped ship.  We will also note if they finished last season on the Patriots injured list (IR) or on the Patriot practice squad (PS).

DE:

Holdovers:  Keionta Davis (IR), Trey Flowers, Eric Lee, Derek Rivers (IR), Deatrich Wise

Arrivals:  Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta)

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Seems a little bizarre we start this section with someone named Keionta Davis, eh?  The danger of going in alphabetical order I suppose.  Anyway, it would seem that even with the addition of Clayborn, the expected return of Rivers and the hope of growth from Year One to Year Two for Wise, this group still may not be saved.  Lee had spurts at the end of last season.  But there’s also probably a good reason he spent the year on the Buffalo Bills practice squad.

In addition to not really knowing if Rivers can actually play, or whether Wise will get better, I cannot say I am too bullish on the Clayborn move.  I mean, it appears this won’t cost the team much, per usual.  But on the surface, it’s fair to question how a player can get 6 sacks in one game and then 3.5 total in the other 15.  Maybe he didn’t play all 16, but I’m not even going to look it up.  You get the point.  Clayborn certainly cannot hurt.  But there still needs to be an infusion of talent here this offseason.  And I’m not sure where they are going to get it.  The free agent list I am looking at is…weak.  The draft?  Sure, but any studs here will be long gone by the time the Pats even pick in the first round.

Let’s hope they figure out something here as well.  Oh, and Flowers is a free agent after this season.  He may not necessarily be a stud, but he is the best they have.  May want to figure something out with him too, while they are at it.

DT:

Holdovers:  Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (IR)

Arrivals:  Danny Shelton (Cleveland)

Departures:  Alan Branch (released)

In limbo:  Ricky Jean Francois

Comments:  There’s a lot of NFL bodies here now, but how good really are they?  Shelton apparently can play the run, but not the pass.  I’m still not sure what to make of Brown, and he’s been around a few years now.  I’m not exactly sure what Guy did last year, after signing that fat free agent contract last year.  Butler still likely remains a project and we probably can say the same thing about Valentine, to be honest.

Branch would help…well, the 2016 Branch and not the one that loitered around last year.  I suppose that’s the risk you take with guys like that though.  Francois really isn’t in limbo, as he said he wasn’t re-signing with the Pats.  I think he was babbling about going to a team with a better scheme fit like Chris Long did after the 2016 season.  Francois isn’t even as good as Long, so I am not sure what he was talking about.  He was lucky to have a job.  He was only here because Branch didn’t feel like playing.  Whatever…best of luck Ricky Jean.

Here’s hoping they do some more work here too.  But not as much as the place that needs the most work…

LB:

Holdovers:  Dont’a Hightower (IR), Harvey Langi (IR), Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  Shea McClellin (IR-released), Trevor Reilly (PS-not re-signed)

In limbo:  Marquis Flowers, James Harrison

Comments:  If only Hightower could ever stay healthy, this group would…still suck badly.  Holy crap.  I haven’t seen a worse collection of stiffs at one position…maybe ever.  Ok, that’s hyperbole.  I’m sure if I just analyzed the position groups of the Cleveland Browns over the last two years I would find worse.  But the message is clear:  This is the area of greatest need.

The team loves Van Noy and that’s really kind of inexplicable.  Roberts is terrible and everyone else listed may be worse than terrible.  I’m not sure what the Patriots’ plan is here.  This should have been the first thing addressed.  And they haven’t added anyone.  The draft?  Sure.  But again, picking late in each round and having several needs…how many impact players can they get from there?

I don’t know if Preston Brown made a gazillion tackles for the Bills over the years because there were simply too many players running free past their defensive line.  But that would have seemed to have been a guy to target.  Especially after he publicly said he would love to come here like some other former Bills (Hogan, Gilmore, Gillislee).  And the fact that he signed with the Bengals for a mere 4 million for 1 year.  25 years old too.  I’m not sure why the Pats didn’t sniff him out a bit and why he signed for next to nothing.  I guess I am missing something, but on the surface, I don’t understand the lack of interest.  No one is really talking about it locally, so maybe it’s just me.

But the fact remains that they need several capable bodies here.  And there is no way Brown would have hurt.  At this point, can adding anyone hurt?

CB:

Holdovers:  Stephon Gilmore, Cyrus Jones (IR), Jonathan Jones (IR), Ryan Lewis (PS), Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz (PS)

Arrivals:  Jason McCourty (Cleveland)

Departures:  Johnson Bademosi (Houston), Malcolm Butler (Tennessee)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Believe it or not, the Pats may be all set here.  Gilmore came on later in the year.  McCourty may not be an All-Pro, or even technically as good as Butler, but he should be solid, by all accounts.  I can probably live with Rowe and Jonathan Jones as backups.  And as much as I hate to say it, let’s give Cyrus one more chance.  I’m not expecting much, but you never know.  Lewis has been getting some love here as well, but I have no idea about him.  Adding a body here, of course, would not hurt.  But the needs are more pressing elsewhere.

S:

Holdovers:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, David Jones (PS), Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis (PS)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Same here as the cornerbacks I would say.  Devin struggled some and likely isn’t worth the money he gets paid.  But you could do a lot worse than the trio of him, Chung and Harmon.  I would be very disappointed to see Richards on the team next year.  He is flat-out awful.  But we are splitting hairs if we are complaining about the 4th safety.

Specialists:

Holdovers:  Ryan Allen (P), Brandon Bolden (re-signed), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST, re-signed), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Nicholas Grigsby (ST), Geneo Grissom (ST), Brandon King (ST, re-signed), Matthew Slater (ST, re-signed)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

My favorite group!  Once again, the Pats carry more special-teams only guys than anyone else.  This HAS to be a fact, right?  Slater apparently re-signed as I write this and with the team bringing back Ebner, Bolden and King, well, the gang’s all here!  Cardona had a bad snap and Allen a worse hold in the Super Bowl, but I cannot complain too much about those two otherwise.

The key question here is:  Is this the year they bring in competition for Gostkowski?  One year left on his deal, with a 5 mil cap hit, which I think is all guaranteed.  But although he seemed to get back on track last year during the regular season, his playoff performance left a lot to be desired…again.  Even with the aforementioned bad snap, he still should have hit that 26-yarder…blindfolded.  And another stray extra point.  I don’t know, maybe make him fight for his job this training camp?

It won’t happen, but we can hope, right?  I suppose that since kickers generally are all of a sudden pretty average in the NFL, especially since they moved the extra point back, they may as well hang on to Gostkowski.  But how about even attempting an upgrade?

That pretty much sums everything up.  I’m not anticipating many more moves before the draft.  We can all be somewhat disappointed at that.  But looking at the free agent list, there does appear to be plenty of swill out there, so how many more of those guys can really help?  Guess we gotta hope the draft class is strong…

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Patriot Free Agency (in)action?

Welp, since the New England Patriots have certainly stepped up their free agency activity since I had started this piece, or better yet, had INTENDED to start this piece, perhaps the title above is not entirely appropriate.  Then again, since the transactions have been somewhat underwhelming to most, maybe the title is indeed accurate.

In any event, people love it when the organization jumps into free agency right from the beginning and doles out huge dollars to big names.  However, don’t we all know that this very rarely happens?  I suppose that since they went out and locked Stephon Gilmore up to big dough the first morning of free agency last year, people expected that again this offseason.  Add in the fact that Tom Brady will be 41 at the start of next season and they traded Jimmy Garoppolo and have no youngster ready to step in to carry the organization to the next chapter in their history, fans may have expected the Pats to load up for the short-term.

But it never fails.  Patriot fans are always upset if the team doesn’t go after the marquee players right out of the gate.  Then Bill Belichick invariably leads them to another AFC Championship Game in the upcoming season.  With whatever flotsam and jetsam he does end up signing or trading for during the free agency process.  Will we ever learn?

Probably not.  But I’m here to help with that.

I know, there is all sorts of drama apparently going on down in Foxborough now.  Brady is doing that Facebook stuff hinting at unhappiness.  Rob Gronkowski is also hinting at unhappiness, but he goes through Twitter.  Belichick is taking more offseason heat than he ever has in New England, simply due to his decision not to play Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl.  My guess is that most, if not all of this goes away before the season starts.  But what do I know?

Here’s what I DO know.  Patriot backers have been completely delusional about the four marquee free agents to have already departed the organization.  They are completely panicking about losing any and all of these guys.  I will proceed to tell you why that is stupid, individually, and in no particular order:

*Nate Solder.  Holy crap, this is the worst.  Ok, maybe we are going in order.  Anyway, this region has been going nuts about losing Solder for a few weeks now.  Local sports talk radio, in particular, has been adamant that the Patriots re-sign Solder.  My question is:  Why?  Listen, Solder has been a reliable, if unspectacular, left tackle for 7 years here.  They could have done a whole lot worse at that spot over the years.  But they also could have done somewhat better.  He was never an All-Pro.  He was never even in the Pro Bowl.  More importantly, how many times did you yell at your TV screen after someone blew by him and knocked down Brady?  Or he committed a stupid penalty?

Ok, I am probably exaggerating the situation.  But my point is, he was an average to maybe a smidge above average left tackle for the team for those 7 years.  And now everyone wanted to lock him up to 13-15 million a year for several years?!  Seems inexplicable to me.  Always did.  I said during my Super Bowl recap piece that I wouldn’t sign him for 10-11 mil a year.  He got 15.5.  For 4 years.  With 35 mil guaranteed.  Just insane to me.

Let’s also not forget that the Patriots more than likely intended all along to move on from Solder after this past season.  They drafted two tackles last year.  Antonio Garcia in the third round and Conor McDermott in the sixth.  Undrafted Cole Croston beat out McDermott for a spot on the roster last fall.  And Garcia ended up missing the season after developing a blood clot.  But they still drafted two guys.  And did not extend Solder’s contract at any point during the year (obviously).  Was the writing not on the wall last preseason?  Sure, McDermott is gone, Croston may not be ready and Garcia most assuredly is not after reportedly losing 40 pounds due to the blood clot.  But it sure looks like the decision to move on from Solder had been made long ago.

And certainly, circumstances did change with Garcia getting the clot and all.  I imagine the plan was for him to be the 3rd or 4th tackle last season and then more than likely take the starting left tackle job this year.  He will likely need another year to get back to where he was.  So if the timetable just gets pushed back a year, does that necessitate re-signing Solder to massive dollars for 4 more years?  I say no.

The simple fact is that they should be able to replace Nate with someone else for a fraction of the cost.  At close to the same performance level.  If Garcia was the plan and he needs another year, can’t they figure it out for that one year?  With the supposed “offensive line whisperer” Dante Scarnecchia still around to coach whoever that is up?  I think they can.  I know, Brady will be 41 and left tackle is an important position.  But I’m sure they can figure it out at a much lower cost.

*Danny Amendola.  Make no mistake, the Blowhard is a huge DA fan.  And the Blowhard did not care much when Danny initially signed here before the 2013 season.  He turned us around for sure.  We LOVE his clutch play.  The fact that he consistently took pay cuts to stay here.  The fact that he became one of Brady’s most reliable weapons.  All of that and then some.

But let’s be real here.  If everyone is healthy, the Pats would probably slot Amendola at least 4th on the depth chart at wide receiver, behind Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan.  Perhaps even behind Malcolm Mitchell as well.  They also have guys like Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt lying around…as well as everyone’s new favorite all of a sudden…Riley McCarron.  We won’t even count for the trade for Cordarrelle Patterson, which just happened as I type this I think.

Amendola’s snaps also no doubt have to be managed since he gets dinged up quite a bit.  I just looked it up and was surprised to find he has only missed 11 games total in his five years as a Patriot.  Feels like a lot more.  Then again, he was never really healthy in Year One.  And the games where he left and didn’t return probably add up to a fair share as well.

Just seems to me that Brady still has plenty of reliable weapons.  Don’t blame Danny for taking the money at all.  But the money saved here by the Pats is better spent elsewhere.

*Dion Lewis.  Let’s take a look at Lewis’ career.  Doesn’t play much in 2011-2012.  Missed 2013 to injury.  Out of football in 2014.  Played two half, albeit productive, seasons in 2015-2016.  Then has a career year in 2o17…in which he was mothballed for the first half of the season, probably, or at least possibly, to keep him healthy for the stretch run.

So the Pats were supposed to break the bank to keep him here?  Many people thought so.  I did not.  Not for a running back.  A fungible position here in New England.

I’m happy for Lewis.  He deserves some sort of payday for his perseverance…and of course performance.  But I’m glad it’s not here.  I said all year that I liked what I saw from Rex Burkhead when he was healthy.  And yeah, he was hurt a lot too.  But with the re-signing of Rex and the addition of Jeremy Hill to add to James White and I would guess Mike Gillislee still, there is plenty enough remaining in the backfield at a reasonable cost.

*Malcolm Butler.  I would say Patriot fans are still more fired up on why Butler didn’t play in the Super Bowl, and rightfully so.  Seems as if his value did not decrease across the league, as interest in signing him was apparently fairly widespread.  Including reported interest from the Detroit Lions, now coached by Matt Patricia, defensive coordinator of the runner-up Pats last year.  Hmmmmmm.  Butler didn’t say much when he signed.  So we may never know the real reason why he didn’t play.

In any event, the second the Pats signed Gilmore last year, we all should have known Butler was done after this past season at the latest.  So most rational Patriot fans did not throw a fit when he signed with Tennessee.  Thankfully.

The Patriots have of course lost other guys since free agency started.  But no one significant.  Unless you count the loss of Johnson Bademosi as significant.  I do not.

Next?  We will take a snapshot of the roster as it currently stands.  And despite all the hullabaloo, it’s really not all that bad.

Super Bowl Leftovers…

…and perhaps a few early offseason notes.  I mean, the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl loss has been analyzed a gazillion times over the last week.  How much more is there to say?  Well, I had to write something to throw out my final pick record, so I’ll throw a few thoughts out there in no particular order:

*Josh McDaniels is the most recent story, so maybe we should cover that first.  That was kind of a slimy thing he did to the Colts.  But hey, the contract wasn’t signed, right?  He changed his mind, for whatever reason.  Sure, he gave the Colts every indication he was taking the job.  Then, of course, didn’t.  Maybe that’s an indictment on how the NFL handles these situations?  If Josh signs that deal in the wild card week, then there is no backtracking, correct?  But the NFL doesn’t allow that.

Most people feel bad for the assistants that signed contracts with the Colts.  And yeah, there is some validity to that too.  But again, why did they sign their contracts and leave their current jobs when Josh hadn’t actually signed his yet?  Shouldn’t the head coach be sealed up in blood before anyone else does anything?  Sure, the assistants planned to go with him for probably several months.  And then officially for several weeks, once Josh told them he was taking the Indy job.  But again, nothing was signed.  I’ve heard a lot this week about “well, the assistants had been planning to go with McDaniels for up to a year when Josh got a head coaching gig”.  Yeah, that may be true.  But what if Josh never got a head coaching opportunity this offseason?  The assistants were going to quit their jobs anyway like a year ago, even they didn’t know when McDaniels was going to be offered a head coaching position (more importantly, TAKE, a head coaching position)?  I don’t know.  Assistants often get screwed.  And maybe I am taking a hard line here.  But I am not feeling as bad as most about their “plight”.

One last thing, the “family” reason for why McDaniels stayed is sweet and all.  But it’s also nonsense.  Sure, stability for coaches and their families is not something that happens often in the league.  But Josh didn’t stay for that reason.  The Krafts made him the heir apparent to Bill Belichick.  Period.  Maybe nothing is signed.  But you honestly cannot tell me that McDaniels sullied his reputation around the league and kind of torpedoed his head coaching prospects, at least for the immediate future, without receiving SOME kind of promise in the process.  No way he stays otherwise.

*You know what else I have determined is also nonsense?  The fact that everyone thinks that if Malcolm Butler plays in the Super Bowl, the Patriots automatically win.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Having Butler on the sideline sure didn’t help.  And for a player that played 98% of the snaps all season to all of a sudden be benched in the most important game of the year is certainly questionable.  But would one player have had made the difference?

Reports came out this week that Matt Patricia and probably Belichick had the players often in the wrong positions all game.  They didn’t match up to Eagle packages the best way.  They had plays where Marquis Flowers was rushing the passer and their best pass rusher, Trey Flowers, was going into coverage.  They left Nick Foles uncovered on his touchdown catch.  They had dime defense in for obvious running downs.  Etc., etc., etc.

We all know that Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards are special teams players at best and in Richards’ case, maybe not even a real NFL player.  So Butler comes in.  But then Eric Rowe is still out there.  And he was terrible too.  Maybe Bademosi and Richards still get snaps.  And maybe Butler does ok, but the other three still get torched.  Devin McCourty was awful too.  And Butler has not been great overall this year either.  EVERYONE on the defense, with the possible exception of Stephon Gilmore, was brutal in the Super Bowl.  No pass D, no run D, no nothing.  The coaches did not help things.  James Harrison played something like 93% of the snaps.  Sure, he was “fresh” from not playing much of the season.  But you are really going to depend on him as well?

I think we all want to hear why Butler was benched.  But with the entire defense being historically bad, and the coaching also matching that, to suggest that having his presence merely in the lineup would have changed things I actually think is a little bit of a leap.

I will also admit that I told someone during the game that “I would play a dead Malcolm Butler over a fully operational Jordan Richards” though.  So there’s that…

*Most New England fans expected Doug Pederson to wet his pants at some point in the game and for the Pats even to win somewhat comfortably.  I know I did.  But that man deserves a ton of credit for the game he called.  He wasn’t afraid, that was a big start.  He exploited matchups.  Went for it on 4th downs.  All that.  He was probably the real MVP and not Foles.  Hell of a call on the 4th down TD to Foles down by the goal line.  The Pats had no idea what was going on for that play.  Well, for a lot of plays actually.  But that one in particular.

*The Super Bowl loss makes me more angry that Brady did his whole “Tom vs. Time” Facebook thing and that Bill did his “The Two Bills” 30 for 3o.  It probably doesn’t matter either way.  But I feel like they have never done stuff like that in the past and now here they are doing it the week of the Super Bowl.  Tom obviously had a choice on when to schedule his stuff and I am sure Bill did too.  It just seems odd that this is the year they decide to do that kind of stuff.  Just felt like to me that these guys kind of thought the game was in the bag.  Maybe not, but that’s what I’m feeling.

*Speaking of one play on defense, by Butler or anyone else, maybe making a difference, how about the fumble by Brady with just over two minutes left?  THAT’S the one I cannot get over.  Didn’t we all think that when they got the ball back at that point that Brady would march them downfield and score pretty easily?  Sure, Brady got swallowed up pretty quickly.  And sure, it’s hard to nitpick an offense that had over 600 yards.  But that was obviously a killer.

*On the fumble, it’s also hard to blame an offensive line that played over its head all day.  But that was clearly a bad spot for a glitch.

*As for the people on the offensive line, Nate Solder has had a decent, if unspectacular career.  Hard to criticize him too much also, since he and his family have gone through some significant battles off the field.  But if he’s not retiring as some people think, I’m not resigning him anywhere near the 10-11 mil or whatever he made this year.  As average as LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming may be, I’d consider resigning them for short money, hope 2017 third round pick Antonio Garcia can contribute something and then add another vet or two to compete at lesser money.  I’m spending every available penny to revamp that defense next year if I’m the Patriots.

*One offensive free agent I would spend a little extra to bring back, however, is Danny Amendola.  Even if he is again the fifth receiver on paper next year behind Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.  As long as Brady is here, I want Danny here.  The guy is just money.  He won’t take yet another pay cut to stay after his huge offseason, will he?  He’s been taking cuts for years, does he finally go the other way?  Not sure what the market will be for him, or what he wants to do, but I’m keeping him here.  I’m good with these 5.  Not sure I care much about Kenny Britt or Philip Dorsett.

*While we are on offensive free agents, I have loved what Dion Lewis has brought to the team, but if he’s looking to cash in, we’ll see ya later.  I don’t blame him because of how his career has gone with injuries and being cut and all that.  I’m just not spending a lot of dough on running backs.  I’d give Gillislee another shot next year since he is signed.  I’d also see if Rex Burkhead would come back at similar money as this year…or less.  He missed some time this season but looked pretty good when he was out there.  I’d like to see more.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of him in the Super Bowl, especially after Cooks got knocked out.  Would have played him at receiver instead of Dorsett for that matter.

*It’s too bad Alan Branch retired this year and didn’t tell anyone.  Could have used the 2016 Branch in the playoffs.  Much more so than Ricky Jean Francois.

*I hope Brady isn’t blaming Amendola for overthrowing him on his pass route.  Similar how everyone blamed Wes Welker in 2012 for dropping Brady’s wide open pass, including probably Brady himself and as we all know, Brady’s wife Gisele.  Both throws could have been better.  But both catches should have absolutely been made.  Maybe Gisele understands now.

*Man I hope Jimmy G is the real deal for the sake of the 49ers.  He’s pocketing like 43 million next year alone from what I understand.  Just…wow…thank God Bill got that second round pick for him…ugh…

*Cooks trying to jump over the defender on the goal line when he could have beaten the guy to the outside was pure stupidity.  Yes, that play could have worked.  But I still think it was a dumb play call.  Brady needs to throw it there, simple as that.

*Then the botched field goal the play after.  Not Stephen Gostkowski’s fault in that case.  Though being that short an attempt, the feeling here is he still should have made it.  He got off a decent attempt actually.  BUT, the missed extra point was brutal.  Gostkowski had a pretty good year.  But it’s time to at the very least bring in some competition for him next year.

*Guess the Eagles’ backup left tackle wasn’t so bad, eh?  I suppose when you have a 39-year-old James Harrison playing over 90% of the snaps, maybe that’s a big part of the problem.  But where also was Trey Flowers?  Oh, sometimes he was in coverage.  Nevermind…

*Not sure anyone is talking enough about how that stupidity with the kickoff return on the very last drive cost the Pats some pretty good field position.  Maybe they are a lot closer on that last play and don’t have to fire up a Hail Mary?

*The strategy of deferring when winning the coin toss is something that has worked well for the Pats over the years.  But in some games, doesn’t it make sense to take the ball, score on the first drive and make the other team actually play from behind instead of it always being you?  Seems like this would have been a good time to do that, playing against a backup QB and a lot of players that hadn’t been on this stage before.  Never know, the Eagles could have folded under the pressure early.  Instead, the early lead for them in this game may have given them some confidence.  Not to mention that the Pats allowed the Eagles to march downfield pretty easily right before the half.  There goes that plan…

I guess that is enough.  And we shouldn’t feel too bad I guess.  5-3 in Super Bowls in the 2000’s should make most people happy.  Maybe it should be 6-2.  Maybe it should be 2-6.  The Pats probably should have lost to the Rams, Seahawks, and Falcons.  Maybe they should have beaten the Eagles and won both Giants games.  Who knows?  Sometimes these things even themselves out over time.

Guess I am just trying to keep things in perspective…trying…

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  0-1

Season (against the spread):  143-124 (53.6%…I can live with that!)

Season (straight up):  180-87 (67.4%)

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