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Gronk…

…ok, so now we have an answer.  Rob Gronkowski is done.

As the weeks have gone on since the Super Bowl in early February, I honestly thought that there was a decent chance he would be back for at least one more year.  One more run at yet another Super Bowl.  I just figured the longer Gronk hadn’t made a decision, the better the chance that Tom Brady got in his ear and convinced him to come back.

I guess not.

But can you blame him?

Certainly not.

Gronk was a shell of himself last season.  We will never know specifics because it’s, you know, the Patriots.  But it appears that he was battling several different injuries during the year.  Of course, the beating he took over the years likely played some role in his reduced numbers as well.

So was all of that going to get any better?  Unlikely.  And he knew it.  WE knew it.  Some of us just didn’t want to admit it.

He’s walking away from the game while he can still…walk.  People talk about this kind of stuff all the time, but this would seem to apply to Gronk more than any other player, no?.  How many back surgeries has he had?  And all the various other operations?

Listen, any player is the proverbial “one hit away” from not only a career-ending injury but a possible life-altering one as well.  Based on Gronk’s lengthy medical history, could one say that he would be more susceptible to something like that?  Can’t discount that line of thinking.

On top of all the surgeries and all the rehab he has had to do throughout his career, spanning back to college as well, perhaps he also couldn’t bear to see himself become a lesser player?  Everyone loses skills as they age, but did Gronk want to become what someone like Antonio Gates has become?  Playing a handful of downs and catching significantly less passes with each passing season?  Not to mention becoming more of a blocker as New England seemingly is becoming more of a running team as other skill players such as Tom Brady and Julian Edelman age as well?

Can’t imagine any of those prospects were very appealing to Gronk, even if the team continued to win…and win Super Bowls at that.

I’m not sure we as fans would like the prospect of watching Gronk deteriorate on the field either.  It was tough enough to watch him last season.

So let’s celebrate the career of Rob Gronkowski and wish him well going forward.  He was perhaps the best tight end to ever play the game.  Definitely a Hall of Famer despite the truncated career, probably even a “first ballot” one.

I just personally hope we don’t now see him in something like the WWE, or some D-level movies or the like and watch him end up turning into some sort of laughingstock.

I suppose he doesn’t give a rat’s arse what we think though…

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What’s Next? Conclusion…

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…

DE:

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.

DT:

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.

LB:

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.

CB:

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.

S:

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.

Specialists:

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!

What’s Next?

For Robert Kraft?

Nope.

You guys can talk about Kraft on your own time.  Plenty of talk radio action on that, I am sure.

I know, he is the “flavor of the week”.  And I suppose his “situation” is newsworthy, to some degree.  To the degree of “what the F are you doing, you couldn’t have been more discreet about this?” anyway.  That’s how I see it.

Listen, whatever the old man wants to do on his own time is up to him as far as I’m concerned.  The guy was married for like 50 years for Chrissakes.  But more importantly, he has done a lot of good in his life.  Despite having plenty of money lining his own pockets.  If he wants to partake in some consensual “fun”, all the power to him.

Now, if Kraft were involved in any way of participating in human trafficking, then that is an entirely different story.  But I’m not aware of any evidence being turned up on that.  Yet anyway.

Other than that, why the hell are we even talking about it?  Kraft has suffered some embarrassment, that is for sure.  But I’m also sure he likely doesn’t give much of a rat’s arse.

That’s all…

In any event, the question posed in the title was supposed to reflect the upcoming free agency period for the New England Patriots.  I know, the Super Bowl pretty much just happened.  But the offseason movements are coming soon.  Time to get ready.

Let’s take a look at the roster as it currently stands.  That includes everyone that ended the year on the injured list and any of the practice squad guys that were signed to futures contracts.  As well as the guys who are due to become free agents.

We will talk a little about the salary cap.  I know, the NFL salary cap is fraudulent and can be manipulated any way you like.  But we will just go on theoretically what the cap implications could be.

Per usual, we will do it by position:

QB:

Under contract:  Tom Brady, Danny Etling

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Brian Hoyer

What I would do:  Hoyer is under contract, but in limbo I feel because he counts 3 million against the cap next season.  Hoyer is Brady’s good buddy, but do the Pats need to pay him that much to do nothing all year?  I mean, if Brady gets hurt and has to miss time, Hoyer can hold the fort in the regular season sure.  But the Pats ain’t winning a Super Bowl with Hoyer at the helm.  I’d slash his salary.  You would think he would be agreeable, especially since no one else in the league is handing him a starting job.  I know, do we want to tick off Brady over pinching pennies?  Maybe not.  But I think they should look into it.

Etling can stay…for now.  With 12 picks in the upcoming draft, it may be a good time to draft the ACTUAL QB of the future though.  And if Brady is serious about playing 3 or more years, maybe it’s time to extend him and drop his 27 million cap hit.  Maybe 2 more years, not 3 or 4.  But even if you do 4 more years and it’s basically throwing money away at the end, we could probably live with it since it’s Brady after all.  He’s earned it.

What the team will probably do:  Extend Brady, keep Hoyer at his current cap hit, keep Etling and yes, I’m thinking they take a QB this year with more upside than Etling and someone who has a real shot at being the franchise QB after Brady.  First rounder?  Doubtful.  But with several picks in Round 2 and 3, a spot there has to be considered a real possibility.

RB:

Under contract:  Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James White, James Develin (FB)

Unrestricted free agents:  Jeremy Hill

In limbo:  None

What I would do: Re-sign Hill if healthy after he tore his ACL in the first game of last season.  If not Hill, another comparable veteran back.  Same difference.  Someone that may have once been good and still maybe can be…but will be cheap.  Other than that, no need to do much else here.  Maybe draft a kid for the practice squad as well.

What the team will probably do:  Likely the same thing I would do.  Burkhead, Michel and White form a pretty good trio, when healthy.  That’s the biggest issue, health, specifically for Burkhead and Michel.  That’s why you need the extra back, preferably a veteran.  Maybe that kid too, but not another first rounder for sure.

WR:

Under contract:  Julian Edelman, Darren Andrews, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson

Unrestricted free agents:  Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley McCarron

In limbo:  Josh Gordon (restricted free agent), Cody Hollister (exclusive rights free agent)

What I would do:  LOAD UP!!  All kidding aside, receiver is a huge need.  Stating the obvious, I know.  Just look at the names.  Edelman is under contract for only 2019 as well.  Perhaps a short extension is in order?  Berrios got some props last preseason, but I didn’t see it.  Andrews and D. Patterson?  Whatever.

3 bodies, at least, need to be brought in.  And good bodies at that.  Not Dorsett, Hogan or C. Patterson.  Look, if you wanted to bring Cordarrelle back as a #5 guy, I wouldn’t complain.  He can be that gadget guy again.  But not for the 3 mil he earned last year I would say.  Even bringing Gordon back as an extra piece wouldn’t bother me.  “Extra piece” cuz you sure as hell can’t count on him.

Golden Tate said “he would love to play for the Patriots”.  Of course he would.  He’s a free agent.  He’d love to play anywhere right now.  That being said, him as a #3 here?  Sign me up.  Someone like Danny Amendola at #4?  Sure.  But you need a #1/#2 to match with Edelman.  Odell Beckham Jr?  Hmmmmmmm…I’d consider it.  If any team can rein that jackwagon in, it’s the Patriots.  But someone of that ilk would be nice.

High draft picks?  I don’t know.  Rumors are that the team is meeting a whole slew of highly regarded college receivers at the NFL Combine going on now.  Meetings are nice.  But Belichick’s track record of drafting wide receivers is not.

Even though that with the drafting of Michel and the extension of Burkhead last year and how the team played a lot of ball control in the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl victory may lead to the conclusion that the Pats will continue to run the ball more as Brady gets older, they still need major upgrades at receiver to keep the offense rolling.  They don’t need Randy Moss, Part II.  But they need reliable dudes.

What the team will probably do:  There were rumors that the Pats pushed hard for Beckham at the trade deadline last season.  But it would still shock me if they went in that direction in the coming weeks.  Or Antonio Brown either, though there is pretty much zero chance the Steelers will send him to New England.

Tate?  Maybe.  But not if he wants too much money.

I’m thinking they will load up on bodies, like last summer, and see who sticks.  There is probably a good chance Dorsett and Cordarrelle will be back…unless someone wildly overpays for Patterson.  Seems unlikely, but you never know.  Dorsett they apparently are already talking to.  Hogan is likely gone, but we will probably be looking at another summer of Kenny Britt’s and Jordan Mathews’ and the like.

TE:

Under contract:  Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

What I would do:  This is what I wrote last year, shortly after the free agency period had commenced:  “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.”

Aren’t we in EXACTLY the same boat here?  Well, Tye is no longer on the roster, but you get the point.

Gronk had an off-year, with supposedly an Achilles injury to blame as well as…back problems.  My belief is that Brady can talk him into one more year if Gronk is up for it.  I can totally see that happening.  But we are still waiting to see if Gronk will retire, just like last year.

Allen’s salary is still an issue, though for 2019 he will be over 7.3 mil against the cap.  Outrageous.  Hollister is still unappealing as a backup and I am guessing that Anderson is too.

Izzo, a seventh rounder from last year, could perhaps be that kid they are looking for.  He spent all year on injured reserve, likely with some kind of bogus injury to “redshirt” him for the year, similar to Berrios.

I’d talk Gronk into one more year and cut bait with Allen.  Give Izzo a shot at a spot, but bring in some competition.  Draft one relatively high?  Perhaps.  I’d even take Allen back if he wants to play for like a million.  After Gronk, will any of the other TE, regardless of who they are, make any difference in this offense?

What the team will probably do:

The longer time goes by where Gronk doesn’t retire, the likelihood increases that he will be back.  I think Brady talks him into one more go-round.  Allen sticks too, believe it or not.  But maybe shaves some salary.  Hollister’s time may be up, but he, Izzo and Anderson battle for a spot.  Perhaps another Izzo type drafted late looking for future depth.

Wouldn’t put it past Bill to draft a TE high.  He’s done it before.  A lot of mock drafts have them taking one.  But that’s when Bill throws us a curve and takes a safety or a running back or something.

OL:

Under contract:  David Andrews (C), Marcus Cannon (T), Shaq Mason (G), Joe Thuney (G), Isaiah Wynn (T/G), Cole Croston (T), James Ferentz (C), Ted Karras (G/C), Brian Schwenke (C), Dan Skipper (T), Ryker Matthews (T), Jake Eldrenkamp (C)

Unrestricted free agents:  LaAdrian Waddle (T), Ulrick John (T), Tony Adams (T)

In limbo:  Trent Brown (T)

What I would do:  Brown is in limbo because theoretically the Patriots can franchise or transition tag him.  I doubt that happens and I would let him walk anyway.  Someone is going to pay him huge bucks and he has his ring to boot.  Brown played well this year, but I am wary of giving an almost (over?) 400 lb. guy who had underachieved prior to last season an enormous (pun intended) amount of dough.  Wynn may be able to replace him.  But Brown replaced Nate Solder well enough after only playing right tackle his whole career previously.  So Dante Scarnecchia and company can replace Brown probably fairly easily…and cheaper.  Bring in a vet to compete with Wynn and then the loser should provide good depth on the line.

I may see if I can extend Thuney, as his contract is done after 2019.  Thuney and the other starters have been solid.  And the current backups don’t scare anyone.  However, even though the team has said since Day One that Wynn is a tackle, maybe he ends up at guard where many projected all along.  That would line him up to replace Thuney and then we are still left with getting that left tackle.

Otherwise, just keep bringing in big bodies and continue to improve the depth.  Cannon can be a weak link, but he’s locked in for decent dough for the next three years, so replacing him is probably a pipe dream at this point.

What the team will probably do:  Make Wynn the left tackle and bring in a lot of fringe vets and maybe a draft pick or three to find out who can provide depth.  It seems to be pretty cut and dried here.  I mean, look at some of the nobodies they already have signed for the upcoming year.

Next:  The Defense.

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