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Shut Up Whiners…And…

…New England Patriot NFL draft coverage of course!

Yeah, I know…the Boston Bruins just won their first-round NHL playoff series and the Boston Celtics will try to do the same tonight.  We will get to them soon and catch up on all that, I promise.

But I have a hair across my arse first…

Why?

All of this nonsense going down with the players in Foxborough…as well as with the players that have departed Foxborough.

Listen, all us Patriot fans know Coach Bill Belichick is generally an arsehole.  In public for sure, and presumably inside the locker room as well, based on what we hear…and have heard for his entire tenure here.  I’ll never understand why he has to be a total jerk to reporters just trying to do their job.  But the way I see it is, as long as he wins like 13 games a year, goes to the AFC Championship every year and a Super Bowl roughly every other year, I can live with the stupid personality he shows us.

You would think that with all that success and that kind of cachet, the players would just deal with it as well.

Not this year.  And that’s foolish.

The two biggest stars on the team now have been not so subtly hinting about their dissatisfaction this offseason.  And most of the guys that have left have had something to say as well.

Tom Brady is likely pissed because Bill won’t let his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, travel with the team and come into the building and all that.  That’s what we assume it all comes down to.  Brady also apparently is a more positive person these days and Bill’s negative methods wear on him now.  And Tommy did not like Jimmy Garoppolo around either, we know that much.  Rob Gronkowski isn’t having fun anymore.  And the Guerrero issue may affect him as well.  Waaaaaah…waaaaah…waaaah.

I’m not stupid enough to say that Belichick is responsible for the success that both of these guys have had in their respective careers.  But he sure played a pretty big hand in both, no?

Bill kept Brady as the fourth QB his rookie year, then handed him the job even when the $100 million man Drew Bledsoe was recovered from his injury.  Bill protected Tom with a running game and defense early in his career, as Brady developed.  Then opened things up when Brady proved completely more than capable.  Bill drafted Gronk when other teams were scared away by his back issues and has dealt with all of his injury issues throughout his career.

Please do not misinterpret this last thought.  Brady and Gronk are legends of the game.  They worked hard to become the players they have become.  Take nothing away from them for that.  But Bill also had to play a huge role for them to become what they are now as well.  This much cannot be denied.

Anyway, if Bill lets everyone do their own thing as far as training goes, why have any trainers on the Patriot staff?  He really has to have his own program (which also has seemingly worked here) and if players want to supplement with their own things, they can do that on their own time.  I know, because these two guys are legends, maybe exceptions can be made in their cases.  I get it.  But still…Bill can’t have 53 players doing 53 different things.  He needs his program and his staff to oversee things and make sure everyone stays on track.  That’s what I think.

The departing players may be even worse.  God love Danny Amendola.  Clutch.  Money.  Use any word you want.  I also don’t blame him for taking guaranteed money, also seeing that he took pay cuts every year here to stay.  That all being said, he remains brittle and needs to be babied somewhat.  And if everyone is healthy, where is he on the WR depth chart?  Anyway, he said some stuff when he left town…although it wasn’t completely inflammatory, it still bugged me anyway.

Danny mainly questioned Malcolm Butler not playing in the Super Bowl.  We all have.  We don’t know if playing Butler in the big game would’ve made a difference.  People think that the Pats automatically win the game if he does.  I don’t necessarily buy that, though of course, it shouldn’t have hurt them.  But let’s all please let that go.  We don’t really know if Butler would have made a difference.  Bill is never going to tell us why he did it.  We’ve all been bitter about it since that day.  But now it’s time to move on.  The players should too.

Butler was actually complementary when he left.  Good for him.  He got his dough too.  As Jeremy Roenick would say, “that’s great for him, twice-fold”.  Most of the departing players you know wanted to say more and likely bash Bill some more than they hinted at, but kind of toned things down in the end.  One guy that should have taken the high road like Bulter is Dion Lewis.  Here’s a guy who’s injury-prone to start with, is a bit player the first two years of his career, out of football the following two, then picked up off the scrap heap by Belichick in 2015.  Then Bill gives him a 2-year extension after Dion got off to a flying start, then he gets hurt again.  Plays half seasons in 2015 and 2016.  The organization babies him early in 2017 and he has a huge second half.  Then we hear that he was upset about his lack of early season usage and then about his lack of usage in the Super Bowl.  And took some other thinly veiled shots on his way out the door too.

Good riddance Dion.  Bill saved your career and then made you a ton of money.  Glad you enjoyed it here.  Whatever.  Running backs are fungible here in New England.

Maybe there is a compromise with Guerrero to make everyone happy this coming season.  Maybe Bill also tones the act down a bit for the current crop of players, I don’t know.  But the way I see it, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Keep doing what you are doing Bill…keep winning those games and most of us could care less about these whiny ballplayers…

Welp, I was going to talk a bit about the draft here but got a little carried away.  I’ll add some thoughts on this in another piece…

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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…

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.

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