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.
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.
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.
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.
Made you look! The answer is…of course not! That would be colossally stupid on the part of Robert Kraft and the New England Patriot organization.
I have to tell you though, some of the coaching decisions made since the team started out 10-0 this year have left me scratching my head. Based on reactions from the general public discussed in print, talk radio, donut shops and everywhere else, I am not alone.
We all know Bill is an arrogant S.O.B. (my Steeler, Giant and Jet “friends”, among others, remind me of this often). There are certainly times he acts as if he is smarter than everyone else. I will allow for that. The fact is, he IS often smarter than everyone else. But the last 2 months or so, he may have just been outsmarting himself.
Look, the better team won this past Sunday. Well, the Denver Broncos were/are not necessarily the better team overall, but they sure as hell were a few days ago. There is no disputing that fact. The Pats played about as poorly overall as I can remember them ever playing…in the Brady/Belichick era, that is. They of course played much worse during the Rod Rust season and several other prior years as a whole. We don’t need to be reminded of that. Or actually, do we? The Pats have been generally great for a couple of decades now. Too many people have forgotten what a doormat this franchise was for its first 3-4 decades of its existence. But I digress…
The Broncos were a big part of the reason the Pats played poorly. Many locals are overlooking that fact. The makeshift offensive line had absolutely no answer for their pass rush. Even if they did provide Brady more time, would he have been able to find Julian Edelman more? Not sure. Chris Harris Jr. seemed to have Jules under wraps. And the complete non-existence of a rushing game made it possible for the Broncos to just completely play the pass. I’m not one of these guys that thinks it’s necessary to “ground and pound” and to have complete 50/50 pass/run balance. But 70/30 maybe? 75/25? Not 100/0 or 95/5, which is what the Patriots had Sunday. Absolutely no one had any fear of Steven Jackson, Brandon Bolden or James White rushing the ball (I wouldn’t either). So the Broncos could tee off on Brady. Would LeGarrette Blount have made a difference? Not necessarily, but more than the aforementioned three. Dion Lewis may have. Either way, it would have been nice to have SOMETHING back there.
Back to Bill and his decisions though. As poorly as the Patriots played, my feeling is that if the game was in Foxborough, they would have won…by double digits at least. As soon as they lost the last regular season to an inept Miami Dolphin team, I was lamenting the fact that they would have to go through Denver to get to the Super Bowl again. Sorry, I was not buying the Steelers, Texans, Chiefs or Bengals (especially without Andy Dalton) as real competition. It is well chronicled how the Patriots and Brady have struggled there historically. It’s just a place that a lot of teams do not want to play at. Knowing this as well as he surely knows it, why did Bill not fight harder for the #1 seed?
Let’s look back at specific decisions by Bill that still get under my skin. And I can assure you, they did very much at the time too:
*Having a rookie (Chris Harper) who barely plays return punts in the hostile environment of Denver in the 4th quarter with a 2 TD lead. Sure, no Edelman or Danny Amendola took away your first (and maybe only reliable) options. But Keshawn Martin had plenty of experience (though not here…as of that point) returning punts. Patrick Chung also had caught one previous punt in the game. Harper had juggled a punt or two beforehand. SOMEONE just catching the punt and then running a few plays taking some time off the clock…maybe ices the game. A mistake may kill you. It did…or helped immensely anyway. Don’t put the kid in that position.
*Rugby kicks against the Philadelphia Eagles. Yup, that’s “kicks” in plural. Up 2 TD’s against a team that was about to quit on not only the game, but the season. No need to screw around. Play it straight and all the other crap that happened in the game doesn’t happen.
*Deferring the kickoff in OT against the Jets. Sometimes if the weather is a factor, this may actually be a good move. It worked for Belichick in the past. But no need to do it in this instance. The weather wasn’t a factor. And…IT’S THE FREAKIN’ JETS!! I don’t care what their record was this year and that they almost made the playoffs. They still suck. And proved it by losing the last regular season game the following week to the Bills to eliminate themselves from the playoffs. Take the ball.
*EVERYTHING against the Dolphins. Terrible team, lame duck coach, cornerback’s wife ripping the QB, one foot on the bus for the winter, etc. I don’t care if Miami has also been a difficult locale for the Pats historically. This game should have been a cakewalk, especially considering the circumstances. What the hell was the game plan? It was like they were trying not to win. Consistently running the ball into a brick wall? I get giving Jackson some carries to see where he was at. But only 5 passes in the first half? A lot of injured players sat out. Fine. But if your goal was to protect injuries, why were Brady, Gronk, McCourty, Chung and other key or banged up guys out there for the whole game? Granted you can’t sit everyone, someone has to play. But in this case, absolutely not Brady or Gronk and maybe others. This whole game plan was just mystifying to me.
*Last Sunday. Winning the toss and NOT deferring surprised me, but I was ok with that actually. Theoretically going down and scoring right off the bat would have been beneficial, no doubt. But Malcolm Butler seemingly playing 20 yards off Emmanuel Sanders on an early third and long to prolong a drive? Not kicking a field goal with about 6 minutes left to cut the lead to 5? Seemingly not helping out the overwhelmed offensive line? It’s not Bill’s fault Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for the first time in 45 years, but a lot of the small decisions after that just added up.
Of course, coming up with second guesses after the fact is pretty easy. But I think a lot of people were in the same boat as the plays/games were actually happening. Like…what is Bill thinking? I mean, if Bill gets a ton of credit for not taking a timeout before Butler’s interception in the Super Bowl last year…inexplicably letting the clock run down as people like myself were screaming at the TV to take the timeout…and then it works out and it looks like he is a genius, shouldn’t he take some heat for some of these decisions that didn’t work out and look even worse after the fact? No, certainly not to fire him. But make him a little more accountable? Usually, as long as the Pats win, Bill can be as big an arsehole as he wants and generally owes no one any explanations. That’s pretty much how I feel. This time just feels different…
Especially since within the last couple of days a couple of assistant coaches got canned. So they were the problem? Dave Deguglielmo (yup, I just looked up the proper spelling) may have had tough shoes to fill after Dante Scarnecchia’s departure. And maybe he does suck as a OL coach. What do I know? But here’s what I do know: the OL was in shambles from Day One this year. Last year’s Super Bowl winning line? Nate Solder only played a handful of games. Dan Connolly retired. Bryan Stork played less than a half a season. Ryan Wendell played 13 SNAPS. Sebastian Vollmer played most of the year, but some at the opposite tackle, and some he was clearly banged up. Throw in a few rookies in Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Tre’ Jackson getting tons of snaps. Starters for most of the year, but better suited as backups in Josh Kline and Marcus Cannon (if EVEN a backup for Cannon). Practice squad guys like Cameron Fleming playing key roles at times. Centers playing tackle for the first time ever (Stork)…and on and on and on…yikes!! How was the sieve that was the OL all “Gug’s” fault? Bill gave him the players. And then some of the better ones were hurt.
Maybe the injuries were too much? We will never know. We do know a great deal of the team was hurting. But how bad? This is where Bill could come clean a little more now. There are no more games and he doesn’t have to be secretive anymore. Yes, I know that if he/the team are honest, people will look at it as them making excuses. Since every NFL team has many players playing hurt. But we’d all love to know. After all, Jerod Mayo’s “shoulder” injury apparently was a torn pectoral muscle. Sssssssoooo…who else was that bad?
Regardless, the season is over. All in all, I suppose it was a good one. But…can both teams lose in the Super Bowl now?
*Patriots 45, Colts 24. Everyone wants the Pats to score 100. I do too. I think the game essentially will still be a blowout. But with the Patriots’ secondary in a state of disarray…and not being really good in the first place…maybe the Colts will score more than many people want. We know the Pats should be able to run on the Colts D. They may have to run more than they initially planned with Nate Solder being out and either Marcus Cannon (average at best) or Sebastian Vollmer (moving to a somewhat unfamiliar position) manning left tackle and protecting Tom Brady’s blind side. I’d love 66-3. But I think we have to be realistic.
*Speaking of Solder, he must be glad he signed that 2 year extension. But as far as his injury goes, we will see. He has kind of been up and down in his career and some wonder why the Patriots pay him so much. But he has largely been solid in my eyes. So that spot is clearly something to watch. The offensive line historically has come together every year and has been pretty good. But that was mostly under Dante Scarnecchia. Dave Deguglielmo is here now. It worked out with him last year after some early bumps. We will see about this year. The rookies inside have performed better than expected. But obviously left tackle is an extremely important position and is a much different story.
*Does David Price’s miserable postseason numbers give teams some pause in pursuing him as a free agent after this season? I think for most teams it should not. The guy is a stud. But for teams that have postseason hopes, maybe it should. I have always wanted the Red Sox to pursue him. But after another clunker last night (I know it was only 1 bad inning, but still…), I am having second thoughts. Ultimately, the Sox need a ton of pitching, so if they want him, they should still go after him. But they should be going after another top flight guy as well. I guess that much is obvious. I suppose it isn’t my 25 mil plus per year anyway, so they may as well make a strong bid.
*Jose Bautista’s bat flip this week against the Rangers really pissed a lot of people off. Not me. Granted, I hate when Big Papi goes through his antics when he hits a meaningless bomb in a 12-1 game. And/or the first inning of an early May game. Etc. But Joey Bats’ dinger was in a key moment of the playoffs…basically the game, even with a couple of innings left. The stadium was electric. No problem with the emotion in that spot. Maybe the Texas fans should reserve that anger for the putrid defense in the inning. Or Sam Dyson throwing a meatball to one of the games best power hitters. Or them blowing a 2-0 game lead. You get the picture.
*I’m all for breaking up a double play. But Chase Utley went in too wide, too late and too high. He’s a middle infielder and should know better. The announcers were saying that Ruben Tejada was trying to make a spectacular double play and he should’ve protected himself better and blah, blah, blah. That all may be true. But I say if you break a guys leg on a slide, something is wrong.
*I very rarely talk about Boston College football. Simply because I despise BC. And I don’t watch a lot of college ball anyway. But the BC/Clemson game was on where I was last night and I have to admit, I was surprised that BC head coach Steve Addazio was on the sideline. I somehow caught only the ending of the BC/Wake Forest game from the week before and was shocked that they somehow only ran one play in the last 29 seconds. Don’t even need to go through the details, but how that guy still had a job the next day was beyond me.
Short and sweet this time! Game is about to start…