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
…ok, so on to the draft chatter.
Let’s be honest, none of us really know how any of these college kids are going to perform in the professional ranks. Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Mike Mayock and all those other yahoos may THINK they know. But they don’t know either.
So I’m not going to pretend that I know. I for damn sure don’t. I really don’t even follow college ball too much anyway. I do take joy in Boston College losing whenever I can. But other than maybe a final score, I don’t pay much attention to their actual games. Or certainly their players. What I do know is where the New England Patriots have needs. And we can focus more on that in this space.
I’m not going to do a roster breakdown at this point here either. God knows we do enough of that here already and don’t need another one on top of those.
So anyway, the Patriots have 2 picks in the first, second and sixth rounds and single picks in the third and seventh round.
What do they need? Welp, a little bit of everything, I guess you could say.
What would I do? Glad you asked!
I’d say the top need is linebacker. Someone that can cover, someone who can rush the passer, basically just anyone that is GOOD. Dont’a Hightower is the only player listed at linebacker that really seems to have any talent at all and we know he gets hurt all the time. The team will tell you that Kyle Van Noy is a good player and that other players such as Elandon Roberts are on the rise. But us Patriots fans know better than that.
They should honestly use a bunch of their picks in this draft on linebacker/pass rusher types. Adrian Clayborn is someone who shouldn’t hurt. And the return of Derek Rivers should help as well. But loading up here in this draft, even in the lower rounds, should definitely be explored.
The defense actually should essentially be the entire focus of this years’ draft. The team lost a few key guys on offense in Brandin Cooks, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Nate Solder. But the offense will be just fine. The presumed returns from injury of Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell should offset the loss of Cooks and Amendola. And I love the Jordan Matthews signing. Running backs are fungible in New England, as I have said. I hope Rex Burkhead can stay healthy because I said all of last year I wanted to see more of him. Jeremy Hill may pan out here as well.
Left tackle? People are panicking over the loss of Solder. I am not one of them. He is about as average as you can get. He did a decent job for several years there, but no way was I giving him a huge contract to stay. Antonio Garcia was drafted in the third round last year to basically replace Nate this year. The blood clot messed up that plan. That being said, if he is the real deal and needs this year to get his strength back and to be eased back in, can’t they just stopgap here for a year to get by? I think they can. LaAdrian Waddle is no superstar. But I am thinking between him, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Matt Tobin, a mid-round draft pick this year and perhaps Garcia himself as the year rolls on, they can piece it together at left tackle. Add in supposed “offensive line whisperer”, coach Dante Scarnecchia, I am not as worried here as most people.
Tight end? A lot of “experts” and fans are advocating going after another “franchise” tight end, because no one knows what Gronk is going to do, now apparently year to year. And he is getting older. And he is injury-prone. And all that. That’s easier said than done of course. How many franchise-altering TE’s are available out there similar to Gronk? Or Aaron Herna…oops, nevermind. But you get the point. Maybe that guy is already here in former 2nd round pick Troy Niklas. Ok, maybe not, but he was certainly worth the flyer. In any event, I’m not going crazy trying to find the next Gronk. That seems like an impossible undertaking to me.
Defensive Backs? Wouldn’t hurt to take a corner. Unless you think Cyrus Jones is going to make a difference. I would say most of us don’t though. I think between Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe and Jonathan Jones, you have a solid base. But there are still plenty of question marks. At safety, I believe they also have a good base in Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. I know, the Super Bowl doesn’t inspire confidence in any of these guys. But these players should be ok. I’ve heard whispers that some dude named Ryan Lewis, a corner who spent all year on the practice squad, has some promise. But who the hell knows about that? Maybe add a decent prospect or two in the draft. And leaving Jordan Richards off the team in September would go a long way as well.
It’s also time to bring in some competition for placekicker Stephen Gostkowski. But you don’t need to do that during the draft. Or do you?
As I said above, I would use most of the picks on the defensive side of the ball. There is one wild card though…and it’s a big one. That would be the proverbial “quarterback of the future”.
All the draftniks say this is the deepest quarterback draft in some time. If you say so. Again, who really knows? Does anyone really think all these top 3-4 guys are franchise guys? Baker Mayfield was just a mid-round guy a few months ago…perhaps comparable to colossal bust Johnny Manziel. Now there are rumors he will go #1 overall? Yeah…
So Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Mason Rudolph, Kyle Lauletta, Luke Falk, blah, blah, blah…can any of them even play in the NFL? No one knows.
That all being said, if the Patriots have done their research, analysis and all that and they themselves have determined who that “next franchise guy” is going to be, my personal opinion is that they should do whatever it takes to get him.
They had that guy in Jimmy G. QB is obviously the most important position on the field. Brady will be 41 before next season starts. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: There is just no track record for 40-plus-year-old starting NFL quarterbacks. Not a good one anyway. Yes, Brady is a legend. Yes, he was MVP last year. Yes, he threw for over 500 yards in the Super Bowl last year. Yes, defenses cannot breathe on a QB these days, so the QB lifespan is indeed longer than ever. Don’t give me the Guerrero stuff, but Brady is admittedly a different animal.
But…he could also fall off a cliff. Like a lot of them do. And then you are left with Brian Hoyer.
Who wants that?
If they have identified their quarterback of the future, go get him.
Those other gaps can be filled in other ways. It’s a smart enough organization, I am not worried about that.
So in summary, what will they do? Well, it’s doubtful they will take all 8 picks in the end, as we know Belichick likes to make deals. They could have 5 or they could end up with 11. If they take the 8 as it stands, I’d do 1 QB, 4 defensive front seven players, 1 corner, 1 OL and 1 TE. Maybe 2 OL instead of the TE.
And zero special teamers. Please.
As promised (threatened?), we will provide a snapshot of the New England Patriots roster as it stands now. Of course, there will be plenty of informative comments following each position group. Define the word “informative” as you may, but I’ll feel good about them anyway.
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). Just cuz I want to be informative, as I said…yup…
Enough of the nonsense, let’s get to it:
Holdovers: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
In limbo: None
Comments: Everyone knows that Brady will be 41, Jimmy Football was traded for a bag of footballs and a tackling sled and that Hoyer stinks. Not to mention that Jacoby Brissett was also traded last year for probably something less than Garoppolo. Even though I keep hearing from some talking heads recently that Phillip Dorsett actually had a pretty good year “…when he played…he was actually open a lot, Brady either didn’t see him or just didn’t throw it to him…” Ok, if you say so. In any event…an obvious need at some point…and soon.
I’d take a QB fairly high in the draft. Someone who the team thinks has potential to be that proverbial “next guy”. Not taking one just to take one. Brady (and his wife) were doing some whining on his little Facebook thing and some people took that to maybe mean he doesn’t plan on playing until he’s 125 like he has always said. I don’t buy it. It’ll all work out and he will be around for a while. If they draft a dude now, they will have time to groom him. It’s supposed to be a deep quarterback draft, but what do I know?
And no, I would pass on signing Matt Cassel or Matt Moore or any other Matt that is a veteran stiff…in case you were wondering.
Bottom line? Still in pretty good shape here, wouldn’t you say?
Holdovers: Rex Burkhead (re-signed), James Develin (FB), Mike Gillislee, James White
Arrivals: Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati)
Departures: Dion Lewis (Tennessee)
In limbo: None
Comments: We talked enough about Lewis yesterday. Hill has regressed from his fantastic rookie year in 2014 for the Bengals. But from what I understand, the Pats are on the hook for very little if he doesn’t pan out. I feel like Gillislee deserves another shot and I want to see more Rex. I feel ok with this collection…especially in this offense…and especially if they all keep Brandon Bolden off of the field. Moving on…
Holdovers: Kenny Britt, Brandin Cooks, Phillip Dorsett, Julian Edelman (IR), Chris Hogan, Cody Hollister (PS), Riley McCarron (PS), Malcolm Mitchell (IR)
Arrivals: Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland)
Departures: Danny Amendola (Miami), Bernard Reedy (released)
In limbo: None
Comments: I’m not going to deny they will miss Amendola to some degree, especially when the chips are down. But again, we went through all that yesterday. I will also add that I am not sure that throwing multiple mediocre bodies at the end of the depth chart will help that cause. But that’s me.
If the depth chart shows Cooks, Edelman, Hogan and Mitchell, assuming good health of course (a BIG assumption), do we really need Britt, Dorsett or Patterson? Plus, McCarron has been getting a lot of love recently. How many receivers can you carry? What exactly are the first three bringing you anyway…especially if they are the 5th receiver on the depth chart?
That’s just it I suppose…depth. Who knows where Edelman and Mitchell will be health-wise going forward? I know, there appears to be little risk with the aforementioned three veterans, financially or otherwise. And I know, Patterson is a dynamic kick returner. Though I will agree with the talk radio chatter on Monday where it was pointed out that kick returns are a very small part of the game these days.
I have no inside info on the situation. But I have a feeling there may be another shoe to drop here before camp opens. There has been some smoke revolving around Cooks’ status for a couple of weeks now. Cooks was up and down last year and my feeling is that he will improve in his second year in the system. And none of those three vets mentioned appear to have the ability of Cooks. But I suppose you never know…
Holdovers: Dwayne Allen, Rob Gronkowski (we think?), Jacob Hollister, Will Tye (PS)
Departures: Martellus Bennett (IR, released)
In limbo: None
Comments: I do believe we have to take Gronks’ retirement “threats” seriously. Despite being a monster, he has taken quite a beating over his NFL career. And despite all the back surgeries, there is no doubt that the back will always hang over his head at least a little. I’m betting that throwing a little money at him will get him back into the fold mentally though. Isn’t that always the case?
Speaking of money, I am absolutely stunned that Allen is still here. 5 mil against the cap next season. Was he that good a blocker? Is he just hanging around in case Gronk does retire? I don’t see it. That’s money better spent elsewhere. I know Hollister and Tye aren’t appealing backup options if Allen departs. But there has to be someone else out there that is.
Let’s make Gronk happy and find a young tight end somewhere. Not an extremely pressing area of need (unless Gronk walks of course), but definitely a position to keep an eye on.
Holdovers: David Andrews (C), Marcus Cannon (T), Cole Croston (T), James Ferentz (C, PS), Antonio Garcia (T, IR), Andrew Jelks (T, IR), Ted Karras (G/C), Jason King (G, PS), Shaq Mason (G), Joe Thuney (G)
Arrivals: Matt Tobin (T) (Seattle)
Departures: Nate Solder (T) (New York Giants)
In limbo: Cameron Fleming (T), LaAdrian Waddle (T)
Comments: We ranted on Solder yesterday and I’m done talking about it. The other four members of the line return. It’s a solid, if unspectacular, group. So obviously the focus is on finding a new left tackle. And once again, I am not going to get worked up about it. Dante Scarnecchia and the team should be able to figure it out. Maybe it’s one of these guys above. Maybe it’s a draft pick. Maybe it’s someone released over the summer or early in camp. Who knows? Maybe I am being naive (or just plain stupid), but I am simply not concerned about it.
People are also seemingly terrified of losing Waddle and/or Fleming. Seriously? These guys were released in recent years. Now they are all of a sudden irreplaceable? Mystifying.
These guys are going to be alright next season without Solder. I feel like that isn’t even going out on much of a limb, to be honest…
Next: The Defense.