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
So now we are over a week into free agency. As you know, most of the huge money across the league flies out in the first couple of days. There are still some very desirable stragglers, but most of the big-ticket dudes sign right away. The Patriots, as you also know, made some unexpected moves. Of course, we will cover everything that has happened thus far in this post and the one that follows. Thank you for listening.
Arriving: Dwayne Allen, Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead
Returning: James Develin, Michael Williams, Matt Lengel
Departing: Martellus Bennett
In limbo: LeGarrette Blount, Cameron Fleming
Who cares?: Brandon Bolden, Michael Floyd, Greg Scruggs
Worth mentioning: Jimmy Garoppolo, Danny Amendola
First, the trades:
*Allen from the Colts, along with a 6th round pick, for a 4th rounder. This was the first shoe to drop for the Patriots in the free agency period. A gamebreaker, by no means. But we all knew Bennett was going to chase the green once he got to free agency. He got his ring, now it was time to get paid. No problem with that, good for him. Highly doubtful the Pats were going to throw a ton of money at him anyway. So they got someone else for just dropping down a couple of rounds in the draft. Belichick was going to turn that 4th rounder into a 6th and a 7th or something like that anyway. May as well get a useful player while we are at it.
In any event, even though Allen isn’t Bennett, it appears to be a move worth making. His contract extension signed before last season is kind of silly for what he has(n’t) done in the NFL…3 more years at roughly 17.5 million left. But he is supposed to be a pretty good blocker and also a nice red-zone target. So can’t complain much here. Besides, hopefully Gronk stays healthy for 19 games this year. Yeah…
*Cooks from New Orleans, along with a 4th round pick, for 1st and 3rd rounders. Always have to wonder when a stud 23-year-old receiver, who in 3 years in the league has two 1,000 yard seasons already, gets dealt. Why did the Saints want to unload this dude? Yeah, he supposedly whined about not getting any targets in a blowout win last season. But what stud wide receiver DOESN’T do that sort of thing?
Is there another reason he was available that we don’t know about? Maybe. Perhaps he was impressive in putting up those stats indoors with Drew Brees his QB in a pass-first offense. And can’t transition to cold weather or something. I don’t know. But I don’t care. The first rounder given up was last in the round. I’d rather have the guy that has proven he can play in the NFL a bit anyway instead. The third rounder given up? Bill would have just taken some random dude from Rutgers. No big loss. The fourth rounder acquired looks like it will be given up due to the last remaining piece of the Deflategate penalty. But Bill would’ve just taken another guy from Rutgers there too…so I’m not losing sleep over that either. I’m all-in on this one.
*Rex Burkhead? I’m not doing cartwheels. But it seems like a solid move. I’ll tell you one thing…if this means Bolden is gone, I MAY do some cartwheels. I asked for an upgrade at backup RB. Rex could be that guy. Looks like he can contribute a helluva lot more offensively than Bolden can. That’s enough for me. I can’t imagine the team picked him up to be the lead back. I’ll feel a little differently if that is the case. Let’s see what the dough is…
*Williams/Lengel. Can’t hurt. That’s about all I need to spend on these guys.
*Blount. He will be back. I feel it. Jamaal Charles, Latavius Murray and Adrian Peterson are still out there. Along with plenty of other flotsam and jetsam. But I don’t see it. If Blount thought he was going to cash in because of the 1,100 yards and all those TD’s, he was mistaken. He knows the system, Bill loves him and all that. He will eventually take a small deal to return, much to my dismay.
*Fleming. He’s restricted. No one else is paying him 1.8 mil. He will eventually be officially in the fold.
*Floyd. I would’ve taken a flier if no other moves were made at the position. Despite the fact he has some jail time to serve. But Cooks’ acquisition has closed this door.
*Amendola. Love this guy. Hated him when he first got here. Several big catches, great attitude, team player…and then some…eventually won me over. Has a cap hit of almost 8 mil next year though. I’m sure he would restructure (again), but it may be over. Cooks, Edelman, Hogan, Mitchell ahead of him on the depth chart. If Bill keeps a 5th, he’s a special teamer…or just uses Matthew Slater there. Only 4 are usually active on game day. All the injuries. Belichick loves his depth elsewhere more than he does at this position. We will see what happens and I’d love to keep him. But the signs are there…and it doesn’t look good.
*Garoppolo. I’ve changed my mind. I now believe that those reports of the Pats not trading him for ANYTHING are true. He stays. But the Pats already have thrown a few surprises at us already. So watch him go.
Here’s what I believe now though: Jimmy Football stays this year. Tom Brady is owed 1 million cash in 2017, 15 mil cash in both of 2018 & 2019. With all of the cap room available still in 2017 (even after a few more signings to go), I believe the Patriots rework Brady’s contract this offseason. Use a ton of cap space in 2017 for Brady, then add some bogus years to spread things out. And pay him a ton of cash in 2017 & maybe 2018. Have it all work out where it is essentially a 2 year deal, with the majority of the cap hit occurring in 2017.
Then the Pats franchise Jimmy in 2018. Yup. If Brady’s cap hit is huge in 2017 and low in 2018, they can afford to do this. Instead of you know, spending and/or having cap hits of like 50 million on 2 QB’s in 2018.
I may have confused anyone that actually reads this with all that crap above. Bottom line? Brady is the QB for the next two years. Jimmy takes over in 2019, when Brady will be 42. Will Tom still be able to play at a high level at age 42? Perhaps. But do you think Bill is going to bet on that? It’s never been done. Bill is going to err on the side of caution here.
Now…get ready for a Garoppolo trade next week…
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: Tom Brady, Jacoby Brissett, Jimmy Garoppolo
Free agents: None
What I would do: Look, I would love to keep Garoppolo around if he truly is the “next big thing”. And Bill Belichick normally would keep the 25-year-old and trade the 39-year-old…999,999 times out of a million. But we all know Brady is a special case and is that one exception. I really don’t know if he can play until he’s 45 or so. The end can come quick. And I am sure Jimmy Football wants to play. Some people think if you hand him a boatload of money, he will sit on the bench the next 5 years waiting for Brady to retire/fall apart. I don’t see it. The Pats are unlikely to tie up serious dough in two QB’s anyway.
They can certainly keep Jimmy next season and let him walk after the season for just what they would receive for his part in the compensatory draft pick process. I’ve thought about that. But if teams are willing to overpay for Garoppolo now and the Patriots are sticking with Brady until the end, why would you pass the overpayment up? If the speculation that Jimmy could bring a huge return in a trade is bogus, then I’d keep him for insurance and let him walk next year and get that pick. If the Patriots only get a mid-second round pick in reality for Jimmy now, why bother? May as well keep him. If there is truly a bidding war for him now, see ya!
What I think will happen: Pretty much what I just said. If they get a huge return, Jimmy is gone. If not, he stays. I don’t see how some of these reports out there now say that he is absolutely not getting traded under any circumstances can be accurate. Bill seems to have everyone available at the right price. I mean, if a team offered like 6 first round picks for Brady, do you think Brady would still be here? Radical example, I know. But you get the point.
If Jimmy goes, reports have also said the Pats aren’t prepared for Brissett to be the primary backup…yet. So maybe they get a veteran backup. Maybe those reports are also bogus and they draft another QB to develop instead. Brady himself made a huge jump from his first year to his second and became the primary backup in that second year. No, I am not comparing Brissett to Brady, but could the same thing happen here? Perhaps. We know the team loves Brissett. And that he works hard and has a good head on his shoulders, etc. Ultimately, I am guessing that, other than what goes on with Garoppolo, QB will not be a high priority this spring/summer.
Players under contract: D.J. Foster, Tyler Gaffney, Glenn Gronkowski (FB), Dion Lewis, James White
Free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (FB),
What I would do: Lewis and White have one year left on their deals at about 1.5 mil and 800k respectively. I see no reason not to have them both back. Despite the fantastic Super Bowl, I remain not a huge fan of White. He trips over yard lines too much and gets caught from behind in the open field almost always. He absolutely cannot run the ball out of a standard offensive set. And Lewis doubtfully will ever make it through a 16 game season, plus any playoffs. So they will again need some help.
Can we please upgrade from Blount though? He is dominant against bad rush defenses. But less than average against good ones. Playoff time this past year? Not so good. So can they get a guy that is at least average against the good teams? I’m not talking about getting an Adrian Peterson-in-his-prime-type. Or even Jamaal Charles. Just someone better. Anyone. A bigger back better than Bolden or Gaffney to back up that starter would be nice too.
What I think will happen: We will see the same group back as last year. Lewis and White on their reasonable deals. Blount, Bolden and Develin are Belichick favorites and they will all sign for next to nothing to come back. Foster will spend another year at the end of the roster or practice squad to see if he can replace White in 2018. The “other Gronk” will be on and off the practice squad. Gaffney will get hurt in the preseason for the 4th straight year and head to Injured Reserve again. But hey, I think he has 2 rings to show for his career, so there is that…
Next: The remainder of the offense.