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Patriots Roster Projection, v2

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:

Offense:

QB (3):

Locks:  Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

In:  None

Out:  None

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…

RB (6):

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?

WR (3):

Locks:  Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola

In:  None

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.

TE (2):

Locks:  Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

In:  None

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.

OL (9):

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.

DE (3):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Geneo Grissom

In:  None

Out:  None

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.

DT (5):

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.

LB (7):

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.

CB (5):

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.

S (4):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  Jordan Richards

Out:  None

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?

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

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…

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New England Patriots Roster Projection-Offense

It’s that time of year again.  Training camp opened up last week for the New England Patriots.  Already there has been a somewhat surprising retirement and maybe some insight into a future surprise cut.  But for now, the team has 90 players in camp, so let’s get right to it.  The first roster projection of the year, right here:

Offense:

QB (3):

Locks:  Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Jimmy Football will be the starting QB by the opening of the 2019 season.  Yup, probably not a stretch here.  Brady will be 42 before that season starts.  And as much as he is on his special training regimen at his TB12 facilities, with his questionable trainer in Alex Guerrero and his range of products such as the concussion water (which apparently does not actually work, if you ask Giselle) and all that….the fact remains is that age 42 is age 42.  You simply do not see many athletes performing at a high level at that age…in any sport.  Brady did play at a high level at age 39 last season still, but as we have seen with guys like Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, the end can come quick.  People often forget that Brady had a 4 game “vacation” at the beginning of last year.  He won’t have that this year.

This analysis isn’t to bash the legend, though I admit after I re-read it, it sure sounds like it.  My apologies.  Brady will be the unquestioned starter this season.  And I expect it to be a pretty good season still for him, without a doubt.  The point really to be made here is that although we have seen greatness for quite some time at this position, it could change in an instant.  Of course we could say this about any football player at any position…any athlete in any sport actually.  But I think the locals truly believe Brady when he says he can play until his mid-to-late 40s.  I’m just here to drive the expectations of that crowd down.  So is Bill Belichick.  He clearly could have gotten top dollar for Jimmy G around the NFL draft in the spring but chose to keep him.  Does Bill think he is the real deal and the franchise going forward?  Perhaps.  Maybe he just wants good QB insurance for this (presumably) long upcoming season.  And then pulls a Matt Cassel and franchise tags Jimmy and then trades him before next season.  I think Bill would have to be convinced that Brissett is the next big thing also and ready to step in when Tom eventually fades for that to happen.  I don’t see it, but you never know…

Can’t forget about the old Madden curse either…with Brady on the cover this season.  Just sayin’…

RB (5):

Locks:  Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis

In:  James Develin

Out:  Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Glenn Gronkowski

Way Out:  LeShun Daniels

Comments:  Last year I had Brandon Bolden as only one of two locks, simply because of his special teams value.  He had also managed to not kill the team when they played him on offense as well.  So that didn’t hurt.  But he was brutal on offense last year, they have 63 guys that can play special teams this year, the team signed Gillislee and Burkhead to decent sized contracts to replace the departed Hall of Famer (according to some fans) LeGarrette Blount, among other things.  Oh, and when Bolden was free to sign with anyone in the spring, no one really wanted him.  So he’s out this year, but can easily be re-signed if needed, since again, no one really wants him.  I can’t believe I just wrote that much about Brandon Bolden.

People want to make Lewis a surprise cut this year, but I am not sure that will happen.  He undoubtedly will give them all he has for a half a season or so and then get hurt again.  So things will take care of themselves there eventually.  Gillislee and Burkhead will hopefully be more productive than Blount.  I still don’t love James White.  But he signed an extension as well and ideally will springboard off his fantastic Super Bowl performance.  We shall see.  Bill loves Develin.  Maybe better use of that roster spot elsewhere, but I see them keeping the fullback.  Foster is going to be on the fringe this year.  The “other” Gronk is depth and expendable.  And I don’t even know who Daniels is.

Speaking of Blount, I love how the team slapped that “May 9th tender” on him when they officially knew that they weren’t bringing him back.  The tender allowed the Pats to count Blount as part of the compensatory draft pick formula when he signed elsewhere.  And if he didn’t sign elsewhere after a certain date in July, he could only play for the Pats.  No one has ever heard of this tender before.  Probably people working in the league likely included.  But the Pats are ALL business.  Ask pretty much every veteran they let go of over the years when they had their replacements ready.  Troy Brown was maybe the one exception, as they let him hang around for a year longer than they should have.  But Troy spent most of that year on the PUP list.  ALL business.  Just be ready when that business involves Brady.

WR (5):

Locks:  Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell

In:  Danny Amendola

Out:  Austin Carr, Devin Lucien

Way Out:  Cody Hollister, K.J. Maye, Tony Washington

Comments:  Pretty much set in stone.  The problem is that the team usually likes its backup receivers to play special teams.  Mitchell and Amendola really don’t, other than Danny on returns.  But hard to see them ditching Danny after he took yet another pay cut…and is pretty damn clutch.  I believe they paid Carr and Hollister more dough than rookie free agents get, but there is simply no room.  They may find their way onto the practice squad, along with Lucien.  Maye and Washington just signed in the last few days.  Should get plenty of time with Brissett in the early preseason games and they can tell their kids they played with the Patriots in their careers.

TE (2):

Locks:  Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

In:  None

Out:  Matt Lengel, James O’Shaughnessy

Way Out:  Jacob Hollister, Sam Cotton

Comments:  The Pats gave Gronk some more money when they didn’t have to, so hopefully he is happy.  And of course healthy.  Those close to the team are also pointing at Allen as a surprise cut.  I don’t see it…yet.  But it also wouldn’t shock me if Belichick cut him and kept both Lengel and O’Shaughnessy.  Let’s see how camp goes.  My guess is they actually start the year with 3 TE’s, but play some roster shenanigans at the final cutdown to give themselves a better chance at keeping some kids elsewhere.  Then they can bring back at least one of Lengel or O’Shaughnessy a couple of days after final cuts.  If that even matters to you…

OL (9):

Locks:  Nate Solder (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT), Antonio Garcia (T)

In:  Ted Karras (G/C), Conor McDermott (T), Jamil Douglas (G)

Out:  Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T), James Ferentz (C)

Way Out:  Cole Croston (T), Andrew Jelks (T), Jason King (G), Max Rich (T)

Comments:  A little more settled than the beginning of last year.  The Pats were a disaster on the line at the end of 2015 and seemed to be throwing numerous bodies at the problem during last years’ camp.  Almost no jobs were set in stone.  Dante Scarnecchia was returning to coaching.  Not the case this year.  The starters are locked in.  Although this does not mean it is a dominant line, at least it’s a start.

Seems to me that Garcia was taken in the 3rd round of this past draft to eventually slide into Solder’s spot once his contract runs out at the end of this season.  Did you realize Solder has the second highest cap hit on the team this year behind Brady?  Me neither.  Anyway, Nate may get PAID next offseason.  Garcia may take his place as a result.  (Another reason to make a switch to a more mobile Garoppolo, by the way).  In any event, he is locked in.

I feel like they will hang on to McDermott to start and then hopefully slide him onto the practice squad shortly after final cuts.  A supposed project, he seems to have the physical characteristics they’d like to have at tackle.  And took him in the 6th round as one of their mere four draft picks.  Karras was a backup in the middle last year and I imagine he will fill the same role this year.  Another backup guard seemed to be in order, so I took Douglas over King.  Since Douglas spent some time on the practice squad last year I believe.  That may be a spot for a veteran upgrade at some point.

There seems to be no room in this scenario for Fleming and Waddle, who were on the team all of last year.  But as referenced with Bolden and the TE’s above, they may slide through unclaimed and be available for pickup at a moments notice.  If not, I am sure no one really cares.  Kind of like the last five guys on the outside looking in.  Though a handful of those guys are sure to end up on the practice squad at some point.

Next:  Defense and specialists

New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 2

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.

Wide receiver:

Players under contract:  Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Devin Lucien, Malcolm Mitchell

Free agents:  Michael Floyd

What I would do:  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t do anything to the group that ended the year on the team.  The top 4 of the group (Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell and Amendola) have earned the complete trust of Tom Brady.  This alone is huge.  They run the right routes, make the right reads, have decent hands, make the tough catches and are completely comfortable in the system.  And all that.  Amendola gets banged up a lot and that would most likely necessitate carrying a 5th receiver (please no Matthew Slater here).  But these four seem to be a reliable crew in general.  Amendola would have to adjust his almost 8 million cap hit…and all indications are that he is amenable to that.  The other 3 have salaries that the team could live with.

That 5th receiver could be Floyd.  I’d be ok with that.  He likely will have to take one of those 1 year “prove it” deals that people love to talk about…and the Patriots like to give out.  At probably cheap money too.  Why not take a chance?  He’s got talent…and a head start in the system already.  There have been some rumors that the Pats have interest in New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks.  Wouldn’t argue with that either.  Not sure why he is even on the market, but that’s their problem I guess.  Lucien, a 7th rounder from last year, would not seem to be able to crack this group.  Maybe sticks on the practice squad again.

No reason to go too crazy finding other receivers to fit in here right at the start of free agency for sure.

What I think will happen:  Belichick doesn’t love dressing 5 receivers for games, unless they make an impact on regular special teams units.  Edelman and Amendola do returns, but none of the other guys above are a factor there.  But if Amendola takes that pay cut and returns, I think Bill adds either Floyd or another “traditional” receiver.  That also could come through the draft though.  Maybe they eventually make a trade for a Cooks or the like.  But this is another position that will be low priority in free agency for the team.

Tight end:

Players under contract:  Rob Gronkowski, Rob Housler,

Free agents:  Martellus Bennett, Matt Lengel (exclusive rights), Greg Scruggs, Michael Williams (?)

What I would do:  Bennett was a good soldier this year.  Kept his attitude in line.  You know he played hurt for a great deal of the season.  It’s a crime he and Gronk were not together, healthy, for a 16 game season.  That would have been fun to watch.  Bennett has his ring now and wants big money in free agency.  He will probably get it too.  If the dough is out of hand, I’d let him go.  I’d let him go regardless actually.  Because he is the type of guy that if he signs here for less than he believe he deserves, and he already has a ring, he could revert to his past ways where he is kind of a headache.  No thanks.

That being said, having a TE of Bennett’s caliber is something I think the team should pursue.  Gronk is Gronk.  But with another back surgery in the books.  The Pats should chase another TE that is in the upper tier.  Maybe buy low on someone like they did with Martellus last year.  Housler, Lengel, Scruggs and Williams don’t fit that bill.  I don’t even know if Williams is still here.  He spent all of last year on injured reserve and is still listed on their roster.  But not on the salary cap page from what I can see.  But that really doesn’t matter I suppose.  Anyway, maybe that upper tier TE comes in the draft.  But I’d look hard for one in free agency.

What I think will happen:  Bennett walks.  The team signs a couple of backup TE’s in the mold of a Clay Harbor or something.  A veteran with seemingly more to offer than the 4 “other” TE’s above, but not as good as Bennett.  Then work on getting another quality TE in the draft…which is supposed to be TE-rich.

Offensive line:

Players under contract:  David Andrews (C), Chris Barker (G), Marcus Cannon (T), Jamil Douglas (C), Chase Farris (T), Tre’ Jackson (G), Ted Karras (G), Shaq Mason (G), Nate Solder (T), Joe Thuney (G), LaAdrian Waddle (T)

Free agents:  Cameron Fleming (T) (restricted)

What I would do:  The line was exposed a bit in the playoffs.  Maybe it’s because the middle is full of young guys.  Maybe it’s because Cannon isn’t actually as good as he apparently played this year.  Maybe it’s because Nate Solder isn’t as good as people think he is, period.  Maybe it’s because it was Dante Scarnecchia’s first year back in the saddle and he is still working on some things with the unit.

The line seemingly played pretty well this year before the playoffs, so maybe the weaknesses showing up there can be fixed in the offseason…plus with more experience for the interior guys.  I’d work on getting better depth in free agency for one thing.  The team carried only 8 guys for most of the year…with Waddle mostly inactive and Fleming playing a lot of tight end when injuries hit.  I haven’t done any research, but I would say Belichick usually has 10 or so guys on the active roster.  Maybe he felt he didn’t need that this year with the line staying intact for most of the year.  And also with Douglas, Farris and Barker on the practice squad for most of the year too.

Even with Jackson returning from injury, none of the backup guys seem to inspire confidence.  I’d spend some time in free agency finding a better veteran backup swing tackle and a better veteran backup interior guy that can play both guard and center.  I’d also restructure Solder’s gruesome 11 mil cap hit.  The Pats will have plenty of cap space to do what they want.  But that number (currently second on the team overall) just doesn’t look right.

What I think will happen:  Nothing.  Maybe Solder gets an extension to shrink his cap number.  But I think these are most of the characters you see next year.  Certainly the starters.  Solder and Cannon, with his fat extension signed during last season, will be the tackles.  Thuney was a third rounder from last year that they love and he played something like all but 4 snaps the entire season.  He’s going nowhere.  Andrews seems entrenched.  If anything, maybe Mason gets pushed.  But by Jackson or Barker (since he can’t spend an 18th consecutive year on the practice squad I would bet), not by a vet they have signed.  They will probably bring in some big bodies at the middle to end of the draft.  But I doubt they sign any veterans.  Not in the first wave of free agency anyway.  I can tell you that Sebastian Vollmer ain’t coming back either.  So long Sea Bass!!

Next:  Onto the defense.

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