Defense and specialists today…and hopefully a little shorter read…but I make no guarantees. Positive news came Saturday, most assuredly because the Blowhard wrote about it. Dwayne Allen was informed of his release. So we are off to a good start! I still will not be surprised to see him back at some point in the spring or summer once he finds out no one else wants him. Anyway, moving on…
Under contract: Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Ufomba Kamalu
Unrestricted free agents: John Simon
In limbo: Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn
What I would do: Yikes!! Flowers is by far the best player on this list. So I would strongly consider franchise tagging him. There are very few candidates for that tag, and we’ve already ruled out using it on Trent Brown. Flowers is a great fit for this defense with his versatility and seems to be a great team guy overall.
Pickings are slim after that. Clayborn is in limbo because he counts almost 6 mil against the cap next season…and did next to nothing this past season. You most commonly found him pushed out wide and past the containment, so that the QB or RB had open field in front of them. He was a healthy scratch a few times down the stretch. We were skeptical of the signing the last offseason and we think we were proved right. Let him go and spend that money elsewhere.
Wise shows flashes, but also is banged up a lot. Davis and Rivers rarely played. Kamalu was signed late in the season and didn’t play much after that. The first three will be here, not so sure about Ufomba. I’d probably re-sign Simon for depth since he seemed to play ok when he was in there. But resources need to be invested in this position, whether it’s on Flowers or others. Adding players through the draft wouldn’t hurt either.
What the team will probably do:
Not tag Flowers and regrettably let him walk. The local writers seem to think that because Trey doesn’t post big sack numbers in this defense that he won’t command big money league-wide. But we’ve looked a few NFL free agent rankings lists from national sources and he is in the Top Ten of all free agents available. Sssssso…so much for that thinking. Not to mention the fact that the last two Defensive Coordinators the Pats have had are now at the helm of other teams. They know how good Flowers is. Seems to be a good chance they may make a run at him. Smoke is currently coming out of Miami that the Dolphins have interest. Makes sense, that is where Brian Flores just went. Flowers has rings and will likely want his dough now too…and you certainly cannot blame him for that.
Other than that? Simon will probably be back, along with Davis, Rivers and Wise. Then they will likely try to find the next Flowers in the 4th round like they did with him. Or somewhere else in the draft. Clayborn? Hard to believe he survives. But Bill does like his vets.
Under contract: Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Trent Harris, Frank Herron, David Parry
Unrestricted free agents: Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton
In limbo: None
What I would do: Yikes…again!! Brown and Shelton were supposed to be the big dudes in the middle that would stop the run. They couldn’t stop anyone. Yeah, I suppose some of that may have been by design…letting teams do anything they wanted to on the ground so they didn’t make big plays through the air. After all, the NFL is a passing league. But still. Those two were kind of putrid. There was probably a good reason the team passed on exercising both of their 5th year options on their rookie deals last offseason. Exercising those would have kept them both here for 2019. But would have cost them upwards of 7 million apiece. No thanks. I wouldn’t bring either of them back. Shelton was actually benched several games down the stretch. Not a good sign.
According to guys like Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, Guy was a solid player every week, sometimes spectacular. Almost worthy of team MVP consideration. I didn’t see it, but I don’t watch copious amounts of film as he does. So how the hell am I going to argue with that dude? In fact, I don’t watch any film, but that’s beside the point. In any event, as a result, we have no complaints with Guy. Butler seems useful as well. Harris, Herron and Parry seem to be practice squad types. But maybe one or more explodes in the summer and makes an impact as at least a depth piece next season.
But I’d invest a relatively high draft pick at this position (but how many picks have I given away already?). And sign another useful veteran or two with at least a little something left. Work these 2 or 3 in with Guy and Butler. Then stockpile another Harris and/or Herron and/or Perry with the real Harris, Herron and Perry for more practice squad depth.
What the team will probably do: Read recently that the Pats were considering re-signing either Brown or Shelton and perhaps both. Ugh. I don’t know about that one. But they do need bodies. And if it was partly a scheme thing where they were exposed, then…maybe. But it wouldn’t shock me if at least one was back. They would have to come significantly cheaper than the 7 mil mentioned above though. Brown is the higher rated one and the possibility exists that he has run his course in New England. Shelton maybe can use the excuse of having one year to adjust to the system. I wouldn’t buy it, but maybe Bill cuts him that slack.
I believe they do take one high in the draft too…Brown went in the first round when he came in and Vince Wilfork back a bit too. Then they just fill up with some other dudes that won’t cost much. I wouldn’t expect a big splash here.
Under contract: Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’whaun Bentley, Calvin Munson, Christian Sam
Unrestricted free agents: None
In limbo: Dont’a Hightower
What I would do: Welp, Hightower already came out and said he would not take a pay cut, so there is that. Because that is something I would certainly attempt to do. Dont’a looked rather pedestrian most of the year, until the Super Bowl at least. 11 mil against the cap in each of the next two years, seems like too much. If they end up having the room, I’d probably keep him at that number at least one more year. The reasoning is that Roberts still stinks and they really don’t know what they have in Bentley quite yet. He looked pretty good early on, but then got hurt. So we will see. Van Noy has one year left on his deal and undoubtedly will be looking for big dough. He seemed to take a step up this past year, but is that for real? I’d obviously work to try to extend him, but not if the money is extremely silly.
I’d consider bringing another veteran here as well and perhaps a draft pick. But it’s hard to tell if they need many more bodies here. Rivers and Simon could possibly be considered outside linebackers. Plus safety Patrick Chung fills some of this role. So they may not need another vet if they have all the bodies above.
What the team will probably do: I imagine they keep Hightower at his current number. For one more year anyway. I bet they try to extend Van Noy as well. I’m thinking they will lowball him though, per usual, and he won’t bite. I mean, he has two rings now and three Super Bowl appearances in his two and a half years in New England. After his age-28 season in 2019, he will want to get PAID. And that won’t happen here. Bentley and Roberts return along with the rest. They may draft someone, but I don’t actually see them doing much here.
Under contract: Stephon Gilmore, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson
Unrestricted free agents: Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty
In limbo: Jonathan Jones (restricted free agent)
What I would do: Tender Jones at the highest level they can, so he doesn’t get lost. Or re-sign him quickly. I know, he’s Jonathan Jones. But he has mostly acquitted himself well at slot corner when he is out there. Plus he added safety to his repertoire in the Super Bowl (and likely other games but no one noticed). And with the top three safeties getting up in age and not much depth behind them, Jones could play a key role going forward. Especially if the second round pick Dawson actually gets on the field next season. They like him still and apparently, his best position is slot corner. I’d consider re-signing McCourty as a depth piece, as long as he doesn’t command too much. The team loves Jackson, but Jason can be some insurance as they continue to bring J.C. along. It’s time to part with Rowe of course.
What the team will probably do: Exactly as I mentioned above. If Jason wants to come back, it will have to be on the cheap. Maybe the Pats gamble on Jones by not tendering him at a high level, but they also value him on special teams and you know how Bill feels about those guys. I would expect them to bring him back. They will also probably let Rowe hit the bricks, now that there are a lot of capable bodies at the position.
Under contract: Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard
Unrestricted free agents: None
In limbo: Devin McCourty
What I would do: McCourty has a ridiculously high cap number at thirteen and a half. That is unacceptable. He looked a step slower this year himself. But would I cut him? Hmmmmm…probably not without a capable player to replace him. Since 2019 is the last year of his deal and that he has stated that he will continue playing AND seeing that he is a good leader for this team, I would consider extending him a year or two to get that cap number down. Chung is solid and locked in. Harmon is overpaid as well, but the number doesn’t kill them and you could do worse at third safety, so he sticks. No idea if Melifonwu can add anything after a full offseason with the team. Or Howard either for that matter. I would bring another decent body in, whether that is through free agency or the draft.
What the team will probably do: I bet Devin balks at a pay cut if asked. He may extend, but since his play slipped a bit and he did talk retirement the week of the Super Bowl, the Pats may not go that route. Hard to believe they would cut him, seeing that they overpaid greatly for him once he hit free agency last time and of course what he brings to the table as far as locker room presence and leadership qualities go. I believe he just sticks at that cap number for 2019, as unseemly as that sounds, and let things play out next offseason. I do expect the team to add some bodies here, but don’t go expecting Earl Thomas or anything. If Thomas is even still any good, that is.
Under contract: Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Joe Cardona (LS)
Unrestricted free agents: Ryan Allen (P), Ramon Humber (ST), Albert McClellan (ST)
In limbo: Stephen Gostkowski (K)
What I would do: Gostkowski is a free agent and I would definitely bring him back. Sorry. He has declined a bit but is still pretty solid. His playoff performance in recent years does kind of make me pause. BUT…who else are you going to bring in? We all have seen how bad kicking is across the NFL. It continues to mystify me how the league cannot find 32 good kickers in this entire world. It also continues to mystify me how kickers all of a sudden have a problem with the extra point, as soon as the yard line was moved back to make it a 33 yarder a few years back. I don’t know if I would use the franchise tag on Stephen, but they have used it before on him and although I may use the tag on Flowers, I know the team won’t. So they will have the option to use it on Gostkowski. Yet again though, I would bring in competition for him at camp, something they have not done in years. Maybe that helps him even more.
I’d bring back Allen, Humber and McClellan too. But the world won’t end if they don’t. And I’m not overspending to keep a punter. The Pats actually brought in a kid last year and tried to hide him by not having him punt in the preseason. Didn’t work, as Corey Bojorquez was claimed by Buffalo at final cuts. Can’t hurt to bring in another punter for competition even if they bring Allen back. But the punter is probably last on everyone’s list. McClellan seemed to make plays out there once he was signed halfway through the season. He blocked two punts in one game. But they will find other veteran special teamers if Humber and McClellan leave.
What the team will probably do: Gostkowski will be franchised…I can feel it. They will probably try to sign the other three free agents as well. But again, they will find replacements if they can’t. Not much to fret about here.
OK, so this piece wasn’t shorter, my apologies. But we are finished!
Holiday week speed edition. Merry (belated) Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!
New York Jets at New England Patriots (-13.5)
We were burned on the spread by the late garbage touchdown by the Bills against the Pats last week. So why would we do it again, with an even higher spread? The Pats need this one, as we know. Though this year, that hasn’t necessarily meant much, I know. But the J-E-T-S will be practicing their golf swings on the sideline. Well, maybe not that. But we do know no one will be listening to their head coach, Todd Bowles, since he will probably be fired right after the game. Perhaps even at halftime. Yes, the Jets played the Packers close last week and actually appeared to be in control of the game at one point. Yes, the Jets would love to knock the Pats out of the second seed and therefore a bye week in the playoffs. Yes, the Jets were competitive with the Pats in their earlier game in New York. Yes, but…no…
New England 31, New York Jets 10.
Jacksonville at Houston (-7.5)
Blake Bortles is back!!
Houston 27, Jacksonville 13.
Miami at Buffalo (-3.5)
Buffalo 17, Miami 13.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay (-1.5)
Tampa’s coach said this week that their third-string quarterback may get some snaps in this game. I don’t remember the guy’s name, even though where I read the quote said the QB had been in the league for like three years. That’s enough for me to take the Falcons…I guess…
Atlanta 24, Tampa Bay 17.
Detroit at Green Bay (-7.5)
Not a great year for the Pack. But an even worse one for our old friend Matty Patricia.
Green Bay 38, Detroit 20.
Carolina at New Orleans Saints (-7.5)
The Saints have locked up the #1 seed. Are they going to play their starters? Sean Payton insists they are. I say, yeah, enough to get Drew Brees the 8 yards he needs for another 4,000 yard season. But I would assume they play for a quarter. The Panthers should easily cover then, right? Well, they are using their third string quarterback in this one. And not to just “get snaps”, but to start. Ssssooooo…my guess is a lot of running and both teams just try to get the hell out of there unscathed.
New Orleans 20, Carolina 13.
Dallas at New York Giants (-7.5)
New York Giants 17, Dallas 13.
Philadelphia (-6.5) at Washington
Philadelphia 27, Washington 17.
Cleveland at Baltimore (-5.5)
The Browns have been scrappy, no doubt. With a win, they finish 8-7-1…whoda thunk that?! But the Ravens have been hot, they need this one and I suspect that their defense shuts down Baker Mayfield and Co.
Baltimore 27, Cleveland 16.
Arizona at Seattle (-8.5)
The Seahawks are the #5 or #6 seed, but do they care? Pete Carroll says they are going to play their starters. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But the Cards are truly wretched either way.
Seattle 23, Arizona 6.
Los Angeles Chargers (-2.5) at Denver
Disappointing loss for the Chargers last week at home to the Ravens after the huge win at Kansas City the week before. But LA can still get the #1 seed in the AFC. The Broncos had that dud on Monday night, are banged up and their season is over anyway.
Los Angeles Chargers 31, Denver 18.
Chicago at Minnesota (-5.5)
The Bears still have a shot at a bye. The Vikings are maddeningly inconsistent, though also in control of their playoff destiny. Seems like a close one is in store here.
Minnesota 20, Chicago 17.
Oakland at Kansas City (-14.5)
The Chiefs have come back to earth a bit, but still hold all the cards for the #1 seed in the AFC. The Raiders left it all on the field Monday night when they likely played their last game in Oakland. Should be a runaway for KC.
Kansas City 38, Oakland 20.
San Francisco at Los Angeles Rams (-9.5)
Have to love the 49ers still being competitive down the stretch, despite their season being over weeks ago. But the Rams still need this one to keep the playoff bye. So even if Todd Gurley doesn’t suit up, we are still expecting them to win by double digits.
Los Angeles Rams 34, San Francisco 17.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-14.5)
The Steelers have played their way out of the playoffs (so far) and almost nothing brings me more joy. But a win still gives them a chance. Jeff Driskel appears to be horrendous. And we know what the Bengals are. But to trust Pitt to cover this large of a spread after the way their season has gone seems to be a stretch.
Pittsburgh 28, Cincinnati 17.
Indianapolis at Tennessee (-1.5)
Will Marcus Mariota play or will he not? Seems to be the same question every week. Do you trust Blaine Gabbert? Do you even trust Mariota even if he plays? I know, Derrick Henry has been lighting it up lately. And the Titans have won 4 in a row…though against inferior competition. Indy has won 8 of 9, and beaten a few good teams along the way. The Colts hammered the Titans in Indy 38-10 in their earlier meeting this year. Wouldn’t shock me if this one went the same way, despite being in Tennessee. Side note: It’s been awesome to see Dion Lewis throw up dogcrap numbers after he shot his mouth off following the win against the Pats.
Indianapolis 31, Tennessee 23.
Week (against the spread): 8-8
Week (straight up): 13-3
Season (against the spread): 129-111
Season (straight up): 151-89
Do we even need to talk about it?
I suppose we should at least a little.
Yeah, yeah, yeah…Patricia had “intimate knowledge” of the guys on the Pats defense and knew how to expose their weaknesses. Sure, there may be something to that.
But the reality is that the Patriots simply don’t have enough talent on defense. And/or have some injuries to boot (Trey Flowers, Patrick Chung). And/or played some young guys in spots that they may not be ready for (Cyrus Jones actually played some cornerback, so did Keion Crossen. Plus Jonathan Jones, Keionta Davis, etc.).
Not to mention that their linebacking crew sucks eggs (that was the “clean” version).
So did Patricia’s “knowledge” mean a rat’s ass?
But that doesn’t even explain how poorly the offense played. The receivers (predictably) were putrid. Why were the Pats trying to re-up Chris Hogan? Oh yeah, cuz he’s a solid 4th option. NOT a first option. Or technically second, behind Gronk. The other WR’s? Ugh. The running game. The play calling. Again…ugh.
Now they just lost Rex Burkhead and Ja’Whaun Bentley…perhaps for the season. Rex can be a very good player. Love what I see when he’s out there. Unfortunately, he is never out there. As for Bentley…whoever would have thought a few weeks ago that he would be considered a big loss?
In any event, the Patriots are now 1-2. Seems like a while since they have been here. Is it time to panic? Funny thing is, I don’t think so.
Yes, this year feels a little different. The whole “infighting” thing seems very real. But there have been Patriot teams in the past with less talent that have gone far. It remains to be seen. I’m not ready to give up yet. But I can say I am at least a little bit concerned.
Big game against the ‘Phins this week. More on that in another piece. But let’s get this slate started:
Minnesota at Los Angeles Rams (-6.5)
The Vikes were embarrassed by the heretofore hapless Buffalo Bills in Week Three. And they were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. Of course, that still could happen. Every team in the NFL lays an egg once or twice a year. The LA Rams have been a juggernaut out of the gate. But…Thursday Night Football is always unpredictable. Short week and all that. One thing I can say for sure is that Baker Mayfield will not be coming off the bench to lead anyone to victory. Ssssssooooo…
Minnesota 27, Los Angeles Rams 24.
Week (against the spread): 9-7
Week (straight up): 11-5
Season (against the spread): 22-26
Season (straight up): 27-21