Training camp opened up this week for the New England Patriots. Led off by another informative Bill Belichick press conference…not. He’s never telling us why he didn’t play Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl last year. But I don’t mind people still asking.
I will also tell ya…this whole thing about badmouthing the taskmaster Belichick is laughable. Sure, he isn’t perfect. Butler, trading Jimmy Garoppolo for 25 cents on the dollar and we could list several more probably. You’re bound to make some mistakes over 18 years. Have we forgotten all the good he has done too?
Even more, he had Jimmy Football set up to lead the Pats for the next decade or so…once Tommy Boy finally decides to decline, that is. And at 41, it may come sooner than people, or even he, is ready to accept.
Sure, the thought of trading Brady is hard to stomach. But the end will come. And at his age, there is a very good chance it could come quick. So what’s wrong with having someone good ready to go next? Tommy Boy didn’t like it though. And got owner Robert Kraft to side with him. But why is Bill the bad guy here?
Same with the Rob Gronkowski trade rumors. Gronk may be the best tight end of all-time. But he’s hinting at retirement and gets hurt a ton. So why wouldn’t Belichick try to get some value for the guy in a trade while he can? Certainly can investigate it. I would. I may not actually do it. But, based on the circumstances, it’s smart to see what was out there. So why was Bill the bad guy here too?
In any event, even if none of these zipperheads get along, with the players not going to voluntary workouts and all that nonsense that people were flipping out about this summer, I am not sure it will matter in the end. Unless Brady pulls a Brett Favre in his age-41 season with the Vikings.
Moving on, the team has 90 players in camp, so let’s get to why we are here. The Pats made a few roster moves this week, so I included them…since I already had the players lined up. The first roster projection of the year, right here:
Locks: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
Out: Danny Etling
Way Out: None
Comments: Unless you think the seventh-rounder Etling is the 2018 version of the 2000 Brady that was drafted in the sixth round and you want to put him on the team. I don’t. I see practice squad written all over him. Plus Bill usually keeps only 2 quarterbacks anyway. Hoyer is a safe backup. It would be hard to believe Etling could beat him out this summer to take the backup job. I don’t see it anyway. But who saw Brady take the backup job back in 2001? I suppose at least he had a full year in the system, something Etling obviously doesn’t have.
Locks: Rex Burkhead, James White, Sony Michel, James Develin
Out: Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill, Ralph Webb
Way Out: None
Comments: Burkhead signed a decent sized three-year deal, so it looks like he heads in as the lead back. Until Michel replaces him. Likely due to injury. White is the third down guy. The team loves Develin. The locks are pretty easy.
A pretty solid fall for Gillislee. He was the man last year early and didn’t take advantage of his opportunities. Lost the job to Dion Lewis and now it looks like he will lose his entire fat paycheck this year. Hill is nice to take a flyer on. But as a 4th back…you can find those anywhere. Unless someone gets hurt, I expect him to be gone, with the team going with more depth at other positions. I’d normally have Webb as ‘Way Out”, but I think they gave him a nice signing bonus as an undrafted free agent. Has to count for something I guess.
Locks: Chris Hogan
In: Jordan Matthews, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson
Out: Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron
Way Out: Devin Lucien
Suspended: Julian Edelman
PUP/IR/Traded/Released: Malcolm Mitchell
Released: Cody Hollister
Comments: Welp, this is one fine mess! Hogan is the only lock, with Edelman suspended the first four games for PED use. Matthews would seem to be the closest to another lock. But he could be one of those guys that never find a rapport with Brady, despite having success elsewhere. Patterson will be kept for kick returns and gadget plays. Dorsett would seem to be buoyed by having a full year in the system, and a full training camp this year. Remember, Jacoby Brissett was traded for Dorsett like 5 days before the season last year. I have no idea if he can actually play, but he would seem to have a leg up on others this year now based on the above. And…people that watch film said he got open a ton last year, just Brady never threw to him, for whatever that’s worth. I wasn’t bullish on Britt initially. But I read something recently that the team likes him as the #3 guy during Jules’ suspension. Guess that means he is on the team.
Berrios may have a chance. But I see the practice squad in his future. Speaking of the practice squad, McCarron was on it for all of last year I believe. And there was some buzz about him in the spring too. Then the Pats signed Matthews, traded for Patterson and drafted Berrios. So much for that buzz. Lucien spent some time on the practice squad last year, I think maybe the whole year too, after getting drafted in the seventh round in 2017. But they thought so much of him that they let him walk, only to re-sign him like two days ago. Hollister was another long-term practice squad dude from last year. But he had some sort of “non-football” injury I guess and they just dumped him.
Mitchell is kind of a sad story. Football one anyway. We all know he was at like a fourth-grade reading level in college and then took action to improve and is now an author. But he can’t stay on the field in the sport. Too bad. He showed promise in 2016. But then missed all of 2017. And now may miss all of 2018. The talk is they are trying to trade him, but good luck with that. Who knows what will happen, but the end result is that he won’t be on the roster this year any way you slice it.
Locks: Rob Gronkowski
In: Dwayne Allen
Out: Jacob Hollister, Troy Niklas, Will Tye, Ryan Izzo
Way Out: Shane Wimann
Comments: Gronk…of course. But I battled with the rest. Allen’s salary and production would seem to make him a natural cut. But he stuck around all last year. So will he again? Someone still has to beat him out. Maybe Hollister takes a step up? Maybe Niklas lives up to his draft position of several years back? It won’t be Tye or Izzo. Izzo seems like a practice squad guy as a seventh rounder this year. Tye seems fungible. It sure as hell won’t be Wimann, who I’ve never heard of…and I expect you haven’t either. Maybe they keep three TE’s too. I don’t know how many people really pay attention to backup TE battles. But if you do, this could be a good one. It’s Allen for now, until further notice.
Locks: Trent Brown (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT), Isaiah Wynn (T/G)
In: LaAdrian Waddle (T), Matt Tobin (T), Luke Bowanko (C/G)
Out: Ted Karras (G/C), James Ferentz (C), Cole Croston (T), Jason King (G), Ulrick John (T)
Way Out: Nate Theaker (G)
Retired: Andrew Jelks (T)
Comments: Seems like Big Trent is going to get first crack at replacing the overrated and overpaid (especially now) Nate Solder. But they may cycle through a few guys in camp before it’s over. Waddle is back. Tobin and John were brought in to presumably battle. Some people insist that first rounder Wynn can play tackle. And then there is Croston, who spent all of last year on the active roster and barely played. So there may be some drama here yet. The “ins and outs” may change weekly, or even daily, at that position.
Karras has seemed to be a capable backup along the interior. But then again, he was cut last year out of camp. And then they brought in Bowanko this offseason. Karras’ time may be officially up now. Ferentz and King seem to be fringe players. No one has ever heard of Theaker. Jelks was getting some buzz in the spring…even though he had missed 3 straight years of football. So much for that buzz. But he probably made the right decision by retiring.
Going back to the starters, other than left tackle, the line appears set. But I think we should watch out for one thing. A Shaq Mason trade. What? Yup. We know Bill ain’t paying Shaq big money next year. The market for guards went up with a huge contract or two this past offseason. Does Bill preemptive strike and unload him for value in camp? Maybe. What it would also do is open a spot for Wynn at guard, where most think he will end up anyway. Something to consider. I think there may be a few candidates for trade on defense as well. But we will get to that in due time.
Next: Defense and Specialists
The “all-important” third preseason game has been played. Great time to make another projection, since no regulars will really play in the fourth preseason game. No regulars that count anyway. A new wrinkle this year though is that there is no cut down to 75 players. The entire 90 man roster of each NFL team will be able to play in those teams’ final preseason game on Thursday night. Then a day and a half later, the rosters will be slashed to the regular season limit of 53. It’ll be a crowded waiver wire on Saturday afternoon. Good thing I don’t have to sift through all those names. Anyway, here goes:
Locks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
Way Out: None
Comments: Haven’t heard much lately about Brissett’s roster spot being in jeopardy. I still don’t see that being the case anyway. I suppose if he stinks Thursday night…
Locks: Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis
In: James Develin, Brandon Bolden
Out: D.J. Foster, Glenn Gronkowski
Way Out: LeShun Daniels
Comments: Six running backs is pretty steep. But I think they will find room for Bolden, as much as that pains me. They love him too much on special teams. And in a pinch they think he can play a little RB. People seem to be throwing Lewis’ name out there for trade consideration, and although that wouldn’t surprise me, I don’t know if that’s realistic. I mean, he has talent, but is injury-prone. So who’s going to give the Pats anything for him? And he can fill a nice role here anyway. Side note: it was great seeing White get tripped up by the yard lines in the last game again. I know, he was awesome in the Super Bowl. All the props in the world to him for that. But has anyone seen the rest of the games in his career?
Locks: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola
Out: Austin Carr, Devin Lucien
Way Out: Cody Hollister, K.J. Maye, Tony Washington
Injured Reserve: Malcolm Mitchell (designated to return), Julian Edelman (out for the season)
Comments: In the original projection I said this position was pretty much set in stone. Oops. Tough deal with Edelman. He was flying out of the gate in that last game. Looked primed for another big year, even with the addition of Cooks. He is Brady’s main man, after all. Going to be a tough loss on third downs especially. But…every team has key injuries, so what can ya do? Hope that opens the door for Cooks to really light it up. But it’s a good thing that Amendola is back. Makes him a lock now. Mitchell was brought along slowly in camp because of a knee injury. Then it looked to me that he aggravated it in the second preseason game. No one is really talking about it, but he didn’t play in the last game. I feel like he is a candidate for one of the two IR-designated to return spots that NFL teams have this year. Get that thing fully healthy for the stretch drive.
That leave three guys there…obviously kind of lean. People may say that guarantees a spot for Carr or Lucien, but I’m not there yet. These guys seem to be perfect practice squad guys…if they clear waivers at cut downs that is. The Pats dressed only 3 receivers in several games last year. I think they may do it again early on if Mitchell ends up on IR. Matthew Slater can play WR in a pinch, though I don’t really want to see him there. But more importantly, one of the extra backs could always line up there too. Then it allows the team to carry a third TE or extra lineman or someone at another spot.
Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
Out: James O’Shaughnessy, Jacob Hollister
Way Out: Sam Cotton
Released: Matt Lengel
Comments: Still feel like the Pats start with 2 tight ends. Develin could play there in a pinch as well as an offensive lineman, likely Cameron Fleming, who they have put there repeatedly…though not necessarily with positive results. They are probably hoping Hollister gets to the practice squad. But when Lengel heals (out for several more weeks with injury they are saying), they could always pick him back up. Possibly O’Shaughnessy as well. Not really worth talking about the third TE much more.
Locks: Nate Solder (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT)
In: Ted Karras (G/C), Conor McDermott (T), Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T)
Out: Jamil Douglas (G), James Ferentz (C)
Way Out: Cole Croston (T), Andrew Jelks (T), Jason King (G), Max Rich (T)
Injured Reserve: Antonio Garcia (T) (designated to return?)
Comments: The starters are set in stone, though Solder has been managing an injury. Which forces me to put both Fleming and Waddle back on at the start of the season, for insurance. As well as Fleming’s experience at TE. Again, feel like they want to hang on to McDermott, so the thinking is they need to keep him initially before trying to waive him to the practice squad after teams have their rosters set the first week. I have no idea if he can play, but I feel like Dante Scarnecchia will want to try to take those physical tools and try to develop him into something. Douglas was the last guy I cut and I really know nothing about him…other than that they could use an extra guard probably. I suppose it’s not life or death…especially if he lands on the practice squad. Garcia has been a ghost…but as a third round pick, I believe he may be the other candidate for the “IR-return” spot. Dante may want to work on developing him as well…and not lose practice time by having him go on long-term IR. But maybe they save the IR-return spot for someone who gets a long-term injury early in the year…and will actually be a factor at some point THIS year…and put Garcia on ice for the year. He won’t be able to practice, but at least he can study the playbook.
Locks: Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom
Way Out: Michael Bart
Injured Reserve: Derek Rivers (out for the season)
Released: Kony Ealy, Caleb Kidder
Comments: Welp, I suppose those early in camp rumors about Ealy were spot on. Guess I should listen more. But just…wow. The guy can’t get his act together to play for the Patriots? In a contract year? Inexplicable. I suppose he got what he “asked” for. Getting claimed by the New York Jets after he was waived. I wonder how he feels now? Probably still doesn’t care.
Losing Rivers is a blow. No idea how good he is or can be. But now the team is down to three defensive ends…and one is essentially a special teamer in Grissom. Some people are clamoring for a Rob Ninkovich return. Not me. With all due respect, he is probably close to done. Even though some of the linebackers here can pretty much cover some of the depth issues here, I expect the team to look hard through the cuts this upcoming weekend and nab a guy or two. I would think they have to. And I’m not counting on big things from Michael Bart, who was just signed yesterday.
Locks: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
In: Adam Butler
Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo
Way Out: Josh Augusta
Comments: Elevated Butler from “way out” in version #1 to “In” now. Why? Seemed like a good idea at the time. He’s gotten some buzz and Belichick does love his fat guys. Maybe he’s a guy they keep on the initial 53 and then try to slide to the practice squad after teams set their rosters. Either way, there’s no need to talk about it more. The rest is still cut and dried here, as noted in the first projection.
Locks: Dont’a Hightower
In: David Harris, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi, Jonathan Freeny
Out: Trevor Bates
Way Out: Brooks Ellis, Christian Kuntz, Nick Usher
Comments: Dropped Harris to where I initially was going to put him. Some people have not been enamored with his play thus far. Freeny gets back on cuz, yup, Bill loves his special teamers too. Langhi has shown some skills, but just like all six in the “In” section he has been up and down. Kuntz and Usher were just signed yesterday, hope they enjoy playing Thursday night. Not sure we can expect much else from them.
Locks: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones
In: Cyrus Jones
Out: Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings
Way Out: William Likely, Dwayne Thomas
Comments: Cyrus has not “flashed” in any way, shape or form. But I have to believe he still gets that second year here, at a minimum. The rest is kind of obvious and the whole lot hasn’t changed from the first projection.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
In: Jordan Richards
Way Out: Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore
Comments: I said the last time that Richards probably gets one more chance and seemed to squeak on my roster here. Got a lot of run in the last preseason game with mixed results. Hey, another questionable second round pick at safety in Tavon Wilson got four years here, why can’t Richards get three?
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
Way Out: None
Comments: Same ol’, same ol’.
Bonus? Practice squad shot in the dark: Foster, Carr, Lucien, Jacob Hollister, Douglas, Ferentz, Hamilton, Augusta, Killings, Moore. Though half those dudes may get claimed and Bill will want to bring in five other young guys he sees on the wire anyway…