Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days. Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up. Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster. Anyway, here goes:
Locks: Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise
In: Geneo Grissom
Way Out: Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)
Comments: This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year: “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.” Oops. At least on Flowers. Welp, I’ve been completely off before. And most assuredly will be again. Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season. Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team. So I wasn’t the only one. There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp. His attitude. His fit on the team. His “coachability”. And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports. But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”. I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet. Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks. Not likely to go anywhere. And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point. Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot. It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well. Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement. But maybe we shouldn’t have been. He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension. Yup…
Locks: Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine
Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo
Way Out: Josh Augusta, Adam Butler
Comments: Pretty much cut and dried here. Branch re-signed on a nice deal. Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere. May be a little push for Brown in his third year. But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway. Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year. Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season. And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them. Good enough for me.
Locks: Dont’a Hightower, David Harris
In: Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi
Out: Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates
Way Out: Brooks Ellis
Comments: When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock. Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc. Seemed to be a prime candidate for that. Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense. I know, that is “early in camp” too. But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong. McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now. Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes. He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough. Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability. Bates is from Maine and that’s nice. Ellis? Yup, no idea who he is.
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: Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year: “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?” And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”. Oops. And. Oops. But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year. Wouldn’t be unprecedented though. Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp. Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock. Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.
As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me. Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago. Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that. I mean, he knows how this organization operates. But still. Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened. Not typical Patriot behavior. Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed. Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them. Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal. And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it. And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year. That will also benefit the Patriots of course. But did the team play this out right? Time will tell. But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…
Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room. Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point. Likely & Thomas? Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.
Locks: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon
Out: Jordan Richards
Way Out: Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore
Comments: Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp. Three safeties is kind of thin. But the other guys? You know what I am going to say.
Locks: Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)
Way Out: None
Comments: Nothing really to say here. Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year. I’m not. There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year. No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker. Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.
That’s about the size of it. I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists. Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year. Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list. Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…
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:
Locks: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
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’…
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.
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.
Locks: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
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…
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
Picking up where we left off yesterday…onto the defense.
Arriving: Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy
Returning: Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Duron Harmon, Geneo Grissom, Justin Coleman, Brandon King
Departing: Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Barkevious Mingo
In limbo: Malcolm Butler
Who cares?: Chris Long
Worth mentioning: No one else
Let’s start with the big ones:
*Sign Gilmore for 5 years, 65 million…of which apparently 40 mil is guaranteed. Whoa. Lotta dough. Did anyone see this coming? I doubt it. Sure, everyone knew they were likely to lose Ryan. And that Butler would want some big money sooner, rather than later (more on him later) and that fact may have had some impact going forward. So signing a cornerback or two in free agency may have been on the list at some point. But signing a big-ticket CB? One of the most coveted free agents out there? On the morning of the very first day of free agency? Not typical Patriot behavior. Especially throwing the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the franchise.
OK, let’s just cover Butler here as well. A lot of fans seem to be pretty upset that the team would make this kind of move. After all that Butler has done here…cementing the Super Bowl with his interception at the end of his rookie year. Then playing at an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level the subsequent two years. All the while doing everything the team asked him to and keeping his mouth shut. At limited dollars. Blah blah blah.
And those fans may have a point. Butler sure as hell does deserve a raise. And he got one. This year as a restricted free agent, he was tendered at the highest level and will make close to 4 million. I’d say that is a pretty good raise. Apparently, he was offered 6-7 million dollars a year before this past season. Now, we don’t know how many years (ie: how many years past his current unrestricted free agent date at the end of next year would he have to lock into and “lose”), or the guaranteed money involved (BIG consideration). But still looks like a pretty good raise nonetheless.
Malcolm did not want any of that and wants to cash in after next season in unrestricted free agency. Fair enough for sure. So despite the fact that we all feel for him to some degree, he really shouldn’t be upset that the Pats pounced on a potential long-term replacement now in case Butler walks next year. Plus, the team rarely pays players before they have to, unless it’s a situation like above, where the player pushes off unrestricted free agency a few years for additional financial security before the Pats actually HAVE to lay out the cash. I usually don’t begrudge a player for going after the money, especially in a sport like football where the average career is short. But…them’s the rules…
As for the two players’ actual skills on the field? I have seen Butler every week and I love him. I don’t watch a lot of (ummm…any) Buffalo Bills football, so I can’t tell you if Gilmore is a better player. But he is a smidge younger. A smidge bigger. And the Patriots locked him up for 5 years, so apparently THEY think he is better. So who am I to argue with that?
All that being said, I hope Butler stays this year, makes his 4 mil, gives the team a great CB tandem (while keeping Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, et al off the field as much as possible) and this helps them win another Super Bowl. Then he can walk, since I doubt the Pats are paying 2 cornerbacks 8 figures a year apiece. But now what I think will happen, especially with Butler’s visit today to New Orleans, is that Malcolm will get traded to the Saints post-haste. It appears it would have happened in the Brandin Cooks deal, but it didn’t for many reasons. One, Butler can’t be traded without signing his tender. Two, Cooks had some sort of bonus deadline that he had to be dealt by if NO didn’t want to pay. And also I suppose three, Butler needs to decide if he wants to play there and sign long-term and he and the Saints would have to negotiate and all that.
Butler leaving would certainly be too bad. But that’s life in the NFL I guess…now that we’ve beaten this to death…
*Trading a second round pick (#64) to Carolina for Ealy and a third rounder (#72). Steal, even if Ealy sucks. Dropping 8 spots in the draft and getting a young defensive end with potential? One that makes less than a million beans? With Long and Sheard gone and Rob Ninkovich seemingly towards the end of the line, leaving the position fairly thin? How could you not do that? Maybe he’s not as good as the guy that had 3 sacks against Denver in the Super Bowl 2 years ago. But should be an asset…and absolutely worth the seemingly miniscule acquisition price.
*Re-signing Branch and signing Guy. You know I wanted Branch back. Don’t know a thing about Guy and the contract seems steep. But I’m guessing he is better than Woodrow Hamilton. And along with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, seems like a serviceable rotation to have in the middle of the defensive line. I’ll wait and see if Guy gets turnstiled regularly before I complain about this one. In the meantime, Hamilton can go back to the practice squad and be insurance for if/when Branch decides to smoke some more weed.
*I’m not classifying Hightower’s return as a “big” one. Not because it’s not a big deal he came back. It sure is…just look at the rest of the linebacking core. But rather because I think most felt like he was pretty much coming back here anyway. That he had a “McCourty-esque” kind of understanding with Bill Belichick and the team. Where he would bring any offers back to the Pats and they would get the opportunity to match it. Once the first few days of free agency passed with no monster offers for Dont’a, I think this theory became stronger. I mean, seriously, the Jets? The cupcakes were a nice touch (huh?), but unless they gave him the moon, did anyone actually think that he would go there? Doubtful. Didn’t seem to be other serious suitors. Always kind of felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.
*Seems like waaaay too much dough for Harmon. 3rd safety, technically a backup. But I’m not opposed to him being here. Just hope the money invested in Duron doesn’t stop them from paying someone, you know, good, in the future.
*Again, I expected someone to overpay Ryan. That happened. No worries there. We knew Sheard wasn’t coming back. But the Colts gave him 25.5 mil over 3 years? Yikes! The Colts also gave Mingo 2 mil for a year. Mingo barely played on D here, so 2 mil sounds way too steep as well. Guess Indy had some money to burn.
*We covered Long already, with his desire to “get back to being the player he once was”. Good luck with that, my friend. I hate to tell you that that ship has sailed.
*Grissom, Coleman, King? Useful. Depth. Low cost. Sounds good to me.
Now let’s get this Butler nonsense settled…