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Disappointing, But…

…In Bill We Trust?  Here we go again…

Yeah, I know it has been a week since the New England Patriot’s draft has concluded.  Has it taken me this long to process the results?  Nope.  It would appear I feel the same way as most of you.  Has it taken me this long because I was waiting to see who the Pats would bring on as undrafted free agents?  A little bit, but not really.  I don’t believe they have still announced who they are.  But I see some lists…we will get to them later.

Since I wrote some pre-draft stuff, I feel the need to comment on what actually transpired.  Though I think we may all know how this will go.  Since what transpired obviously did not match up with what I kind of hoped they would do.

None of us should be surprised at how many trades Bill Belichick made during the draft.  This should be the least surprising occurrence of the three days.  The conspiracy theory of Bill making a ton of trades involving the pick received in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, so that it would be hard to track what return they actually received?  I can buy into that…a little bit anyway.  I wouldn’t rule that scenario completely out.  Was it the main focus?  I don’t believe so.  But don’t tell me Bill didn’t have something like that in mind.

The most surprising thing to me was that Bill did not auction off the #31 pick overall to the highest bidder.  Teams are ALWAYS looking to move back into the first round and can offer enticing packages to get back into the end of it.  Especially because the Pats already had used a pick at #23.  Especially nowadays that the second round starts a day later, for whatever reason.  Possibly because the teams get an extra year of team control for a first-round pick.  In any event, Bill usually loves these sort of deals, where he could have picked up like 2 or 3 more picks for that one.

To top off my surprise, after not trading the pick, they selected a running back with it.  Holy Jesus…a f’n RUNNING BACK!!  This RB part has been talked about ad nauseam this week locally…as well it should be.  Count me among the masses of the confused.

This offense does not need to spend major assets on the running back position.  It just doesn’t.  Think of all the guys they have picked up over the years for next to nothing.  You know the names:  LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Antowain Smith, Sammy Morris, Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead for starters and also Steven Jackson and Fred Taylor…ok, forget the last two.  Then using no more than mid-round picks on guys like James White, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and the like.  And let’s not forget the last time that the Pats used a first round pick on a runner…the immortal Laurence Maroney!  How’d that work out?

Sigh…Sony Michel may be a good running back.  You just didn’t need to use that pick on him.  I did watch most of the NCAA football “Final Four” last year.  And I will admit, Michel looked pretty damn good.  But I honestly think that the team could have gotten away with the combination of White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill this coming season.  And perhaps another veteran plucked off the wire later in the year, or a kid from the practice squad.

I would have bet my house that Bill would have traded that pick down for more picks.  I would have bet my neighborhood that he wouldn’t have selected a running back with that pick once he kept it.  Glad I didn’t do either.

Can’t say I am enamored with the selection at #23 either.  Isaiah Wynn may very well be a good player too.  But although he played tackle in college and the Patriots announced him as such, most of the “experts” think he will be a guard in the pros.  Not to mention they already have 35 offensive linemen on the roster.  Including grabbing the humongous Trent Brown from the Niners seemingly on the cheap.  What are they going to do with all of these guys?  Yeah, half of them are fringe players.  But looking at the list, they won’t be able to even keep all of the half-decent ones.

Then in the second round…a “slot corner” in Duke Dawson.  Maybe he is a good player too.  But…

I was clear that I wanted defense, defense, defense and more defense…just like everyone else.  I would have accepted taking a quarterback high if the Patriots had truly identified “the future”.  The Pats had 5 of the first 95 picks.  Seemed like a good chance to get some good defensive talent in tow.  Instead, they only took three guys…the offensive lineman that may not have a set position, the running back that seems extraneous and a backup corner.

Underwhelming.

Their next pick was in the fifth round, Ja’whaun Bentley.  A linebacker!!  But one whose speed may not match up in the pros.  Oops.  Don’t we already have Elandon Roberts?  Seems like the same guy.  Ummmmm…speed at linebacker is kind of one big thing the team needs.  Like…a BIG thing.

Five more picks in the sixth and seventh round…not sure we even need to talk about them.  Mel Kiper loves the 6th round receiver/punt returner…yay.  Just cuz Julian Edelman worked out in the 7th round, doesn’t mean this guy will.  LB, QB, TE, DB the other picks…yaaaaaawn.

You may ask, “Well, what do the undrafted free agent pickups look like?  A handful always seem to make the team, right?”  Again, no signings appear to have been announced.  But I’ve seen one list of 10 dudes.  We already know that I have no idea who these lower rated guys are.  But my only real comment is that list includes not one, but TWO punters.  And still no kickers.  As a result, I can’t get all fired up about any of these guys.

So there you go.  I’m in the same boat as the masses.  Not excited at the draft haul.  But yet again, we are all probably wrong.  Everything always seems to work out, no matter how bad it looks.  There will be more moves.  There is no way the team can keep all of their guys at various positions.  Maybe they can get draft picks for some of the guys they choose to move on from.  Maybe there will be bigger deals on the horizon.  Of course no one really ever knows what Bill is thinking.

We are in a period of tremendous future uncertainty here folks.  We all know the end is near for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and it certainly seems like Rob Gronkowski.  Robert Kraft will most certainly pass the team along to his son Jonathan soon.  But dig a little deeper.  Of the 84 roster players listed on Spotrac.com, only 13 of them are signed in 2020 and beyond.  Take away the 9 draftees, that is 13 of 75 that are locked up long-term.  Seems light.  Sure, there could be extensions coming…especially perhaps for guys like Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton, who just had their fifth-year options from their rookie contracts declined, making them unrestricted free agents after this year.

There is no question that this team will be markedly different over the next couple of years.  HOW different is what scares me…

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Patriot Free Agency (in)action, Defense…and…The End…

Continuing on…defense AND specialists, that is.  Can’t forget how important the special teamers are to the Patriot organization!!

And, in case you forgot, there’s this:  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).

DE:

Holdovers:  Keionta Davis (IR), Trey Flowers, Eric Lee, Derek Rivers (IR), Deatrich Wise

Arrivals:  Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta)

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Seems a little bizarre we start this section with someone named Keionta Davis, eh?  The danger of going in alphabetical order I suppose.  Anyway, it would seem that even with the addition of Clayborn, the expected return of Rivers and the hope of growth from Year One to Year Two for Wise, this group still may not be saved.  Lee had spurts at the end of last season.  But there’s also probably a good reason he spent the year on the Buffalo Bills practice squad.

In addition to not really knowing if Rivers can actually play, or whether Wise will get better, I cannot say I am too bullish on the Clayborn move.  I mean, it appears this won’t cost the team much, per usual.  But on the surface, it’s fair to question how a player can get 6 sacks in one game and then 3.5 total in the other 15.  Maybe he didn’t play all 16, but I’m not even going to look it up.  You get the point.  Clayborn certainly cannot hurt.  But there still needs to be an infusion of talent here this offseason.  And I’m not sure where they are going to get it.  The free agent list I am looking at is…weak.  The draft?  Sure, but any studs here will be long gone by the time the Pats even pick in the first round.

Let’s hope they figure out something here as well.  Oh, and Flowers is a free agent after this season.  He may not necessarily be a stud, but he is the best they have.  May want to figure something out with him too, while they are at it.

DT:

Holdovers:  Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (IR)

Arrivals:  Danny Shelton (Cleveland)

Departures:  Alan Branch (released)

In limbo:  Ricky Jean Francois

Comments:  There’s a lot of NFL bodies here now, but how good really are they?  Shelton apparently can play the run, but not the pass.  I’m still not sure what to make of Brown, and he’s been around a few years now.  I’m not exactly sure what Guy did last year, after signing that fat free agent contract last year.  Butler still likely remains a project and we probably can say the same thing about Valentine, to be honest.

Branch would help…well, the 2016 Branch and not the one that loitered around last year.  I suppose that’s the risk you take with guys like that though.  Francois really isn’t in limbo, as he said he wasn’t re-signing with the Pats.  I think he was babbling about going to a team with a better scheme fit like Chris Long did after the 2016 season.  Francois isn’t even as good as Long, so I am not sure what he was talking about.  He was lucky to have a job.  He was only here because Branch didn’t feel like playing.  Whatever…best of luck Ricky Jean.

Here’s hoping they do some more work here too.  But not as much as the place that needs the most work…

LB:

Holdovers:  Dont’a Hightower (IR), Harvey Langi (IR), Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  Shea McClellin (IR-released), Trevor Reilly (PS-not re-signed)

In limbo:  Marquis Flowers, James Harrison

Comments:  If only Hightower could ever stay healthy, this group would…still suck badly.  Holy crap.  I haven’t seen a worse collection of stiffs at one position…maybe ever.  Ok, that’s hyperbole.  I’m sure if I just analyzed the position groups of the Cleveland Browns over the last two years I would find worse.  But the message is clear:  This is the area of greatest need.

The team loves Van Noy and that’s really kind of inexplicable.  Roberts is terrible and everyone else listed may be worse than terrible.  I’m not sure what the Patriots’ plan is here.  This should have been the first thing addressed.  And they haven’t added anyone.  The draft?  Sure.  But again, picking late in each round and having several needs…how many impact players can they get from there?

I don’t know if Preston Brown made a gazillion tackles for the Bills over the years because there were simply too many players running free past their defensive line.  But that would have seemed to have been a guy to target.  Especially after he publicly said he would love to come here like some other former Bills (Hogan, Gilmore, Gillislee).  And the fact that he signed with the Bengals for a mere 4 million for 1 year.  25 years old too.  I’m not sure why the Pats didn’t sniff him out a bit and why he signed for next to nothing.  I guess I am missing something, but on the surface, I don’t understand the lack of interest.  No one is really talking about it locally, so maybe it’s just me.

But the fact remains that they need several capable bodies here.  And there is no way Brown would have hurt.  At this point, can adding anyone hurt?

CB:

Holdovers:  Stephon Gilmore, Cyrus Jones (IR), Jonathan Jones (IR), Ryan Lewis (PS), Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz (PS)

Arrivals:  Jason McCourty (Cleveland)

Departures:  Johnson Bademosi (Houston), Malcolm Butler (Tennessee)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Believe it or not, the Pats may be all set here.  Gilmore came on later in the year.  McCourty may not be an All-Pro, or even technically as good as Butler, but he should be solid, by all accounts.  I can probably live with Rowe and Jonathan Jones as backups.  And as much as I hate to say it, let’s give Cyrus one more chance.  I’m not expecting much, but you never know.  Lewis has been getting some love here as well, but I have no idea about him.  Adding a body here, of course, would not hurt.  But the needs are more pressing elsewhere.

S:

Holdovers:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, David Jones (PS), Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis (PS)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Same here as the cornerbacks I would say.  Devin struggled some and likely isn’t worth the money he gets paid.  But you could do a lot worse than the trio of him, Chung and Harmon.  I would be very disappointed to see Richards on the team next year.  He is flat-out awful.  But we are splitting hairs if we are complaining about the 4th safety.

Specialists:

Holdovers:  Ryan Allen (P), Brandon Bolden (re-signed), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST, re-signed), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Nicholas Grigsby (ST), Geneo Grissom (ST), Brandon King (ST, re-signed), Matthew Slater (ST, re-signed)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

My favorite group!  Once again, the Pats carry more special-teams only guys than anyone else.  This HAS to be a fact, right?  Slater apparently re-signed as I write this and with the team bringing back Ebner, Bolden and King, well, the gang’s all here!  Cardona had a bad snap and Allen a worse hold in the Super Bowl, but I cannot complain too much about those two otherwise.

The key question here is:  Is this the year they bring in competition for Gostkowski?  One year left on his deal, with a 5 mil cap hit, which I think is all guaranteed.  But although he seemed to get back on track last year during the regular season, his playoff performance left a lot to be desired…again.  Even with the aforementioned bad snap, he still should have hit that 26-yarder…blindfolded.  And another stray extra point.  I don’t know, maybe make him fight for his job this training camp?

It won’t happen, but we can hope, right?  I suppose that since kickers generally are all of a sudden pretty average in the NFL, especially since they moved the extra point back, they may as well hang on to Gostkowski.  But how about even attempting an upgrade?

That pretty much sums everything up.  I’m not anticipating many more moves before the draft.  We can all be somewhat disappointed at that.  But looking at the free agent list, there does appear to be plenty of swill out there, so how many more of those guys can really help?  Guess we gotta hope the draft class is strong…

Super Bowl…

So we are finally here.  Super Bowl LII is almost upon us.  These two weeks of hype always kill me…of course especially when the hometown team New England Patriots are in the actual game.  The two weeks did help me for sure in one case however…it allowed Rob Gronkowski enough time to shake the cobwebs (literally) and allow him to suit up in the game.  No need to speak about how important that is.

Did I pass my time last Sunday by watching the Pro Bowl?  Ummmmm…no.  But I suppose I should have watched that mess instead of what was probably the worst Grammy telecast of all time.  But that’s a story for a different day.

By the way, did you know that David Carr was in the Pro Bowl?  That guy had a putrid season.  How the hell…nevermind.  Another story for another day.

Time to get to the matter at hand…

Philadelphia “at” New England (-4.5)

Last year, I thought New England was going to hammer Atlanta from the get-go.  Although I do think the Pats could win big here, I won’t make that mistake again.

Just once…ONCE…I would like to see a Pats blowout win in the Super Bowl.  Win or lose, I am tired of the nerve-wracking endings in the Big Game during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.  I know, cry me a river, right?  The Pats have been to 8 Super Bowls with that duo, what the hell am I complaining about?  My apologies.  But I still want that comfortable blowout.  And for those of you that may say, “well, the Falcons were blowing the Pats out late in the third quarter and THEY lost.  You really can’t feel comfortable until the clock reads 0:00…”.  That may be true in theory, you would be absolutely correct.  I am generally a “0:00 guy”…talk to me when the game is officially over…in any sport.  But I would also assure you the Pats ain’t blowing that type of lead that late.  Sorry.  So the chances that I would be comfortable under that scenario would probably be pretty good.

In any event, I don’t think I will ever find that comfort.  It appears the formula seems to be set in the Super Bowl for the Patriots:  don’t score in the first quarter, continue feeling the game out in the second quarter, make halftime adjustments and show some life in the third quarter, head into the fourth quarter down (just hopefully not to the tune of 28-3 or 28-10 or the like), score late to secure the victory…or give up a miracle catch near the end and lose a heartbreaking one.  3 point game in the end either way.  Hard to go against what seems to be habit.

Enough of the preamble.  Let’s get down to brass tacks.  Although I have not watched a ton of Eagle football this season and sure as hell have not studied any of their game film.  But after soaking in all the hype for the past two weeks, here are some thoughts/concerns on the game/matchups/etc., in no particular order:

*The Eagle defensive line scares the bejesus out of me because, well, the Patriot offensive line scares the bejesus out of me.  That one is easy.  No, Chris Long doesn’t necessarily make me nervous.  But Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham kind of do.  The good thing is that the Eagles apparently like to rotate these guys to keep them fresh.  Why is that good?  The Patriots can presumably go no huddle the times that the backups are in the game.  Thus obviously keeping the starters on the bench.  Unless the Eagles are willing to take penalties and/or use timeouts.  Which also would be beneficial to the Pats.  Not to mention the fact that running a lot of plays would seem to wear down those fat hogs on the line and perhaps the defense as a whole.  See, Falcons, Atlanta, Super Bowl LI.

*Malcolm Jenkins seems to have a reputation of being a very good player.  However, the rest of the secondary and linebacking corps don’t necessarily make me fret.  Saw a stat recently that showed that Philly’s defense is rather pedestrian on the road, for whatever reason.  Minneapolis is not Philadelphia, as you are well aware.  Eli Manning also carved them up late in the season, while having virtually zero weapons on offense.  This should make Eagle fans a little nervous since, you know, Manning is done.

If Jenkins and say, a linebacker, take Gronk, then that leaves the rest of the secondary to take on the Patriot receivers.  Brandin Cooks had a pretty good game against Jacksonville, despite one horrific drop.  Danny Amendola is money.  But I also have a gut feeling that this is the week that Chris Hogan decides to show up again.  I wouldn’t bet serious money on it, but it’s a lingering thought I haven’t been able to dismiss.  Would be a nice story, since Hogan has been hurt/invisible for most of the year.  We’ll see…

*Doug Pederson is from the “Andy Reid coaching tree”.  What that essentially means is if this game is close in the 4th quarter, expect horrible game decisions and inexcusable clock mismanagement.  There is no way around that.  Pederson is also coaching in his first Super Bowl (with a backup quarterback…more on him next), Belichick his eighth.  This fact simply cannot be overstated.

*If Carson Wentz was playing in this game, I may have a different prediction.  Maybe not, but the point is moot.  Nick Foles is the QB.  Foles had a monster season a few years back in his first go-round in Philly.  But has done little since.  Ergo, that’s why he is a backup QB.

People seem to be overrating Foles at this point, simply because he had that one monster year and…he did play well against a good Viking defense in the NFC Championship.  But have those same people seen the rest of the games Foles played this year?  Wasn’t pretty.  In fact, the Eagles had to go back to some plays that were in Chip Kelly’s playbook to make Foles feel more comfortable.  I don’t necessarily think this is a great thing.  Kelly is also close pals with Belichick.  And likely is still vengeful toward the Eagles after his treatment there.  Maybe he deserved it, but still, that doesn’t change his feelings.  In any event, I’m guessing there was a conversation between Bill and Chip during the prep time.  Of course, Pederson also probably spoke to Reid as well, so maybe it’s a wash.

One thing is for sure though…Nick Foles is not going to single-handedly beat the Patriots.

*I’m praying that Pederson runs the ball 40 plus times with LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi to “keep the ball out of Brady’s hands”.  This will not beat the Patriots.  Will he be that stupid?  I don’t think so, but you can’t underestimate some people.  Oh, and if Blount can fumble early in the game like last year, that would help me a great deal.  Thank you in advance.

*Speaking of Philly running backs, we all know Blount has hands of stone and judging by the numbers, Ajayi doesn’t do much damage catching the ball either.  This is favorable for the Pats.  We know their linebackers may be the worst collection of stiffs I have ever seen.  I don’t care how many sacks special teamer Marquis Flowers had in the last two regular season games against the Bills and Jets.  And if I see Elandon Roberts try to cover ANYONE in the Bowl…

*One big concern for the Patriot defense against the Philly offense is that Philly doesn’t have that ONE dude that Bill usually likes to take out of the game and let the others beat them.  They have a bunch of dudes that can do some things.  This undoubtedly makes things a little more difficult to prepare for.  My guess is that they try to take away tight end Zach Ertz first.  But then you have Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and to a lesser extent, Blount and Ajayi and to an even lesser extent, but perhaps on a deep shot or two, Torrey Smith.  Corey Clement may actually be someone to fear more than a smidge as well.  As poor as the Patriots’ third down defense has been recently, this has to be a big concern for the team.  Even with the two weeks to prepare.  A lot of options.

*One thing about the Eagle offense that they themselves should be concerned about is that Jason Peters is not at left tackle.  Peters is supposed to be awesome, from all the people who actually watch offensive line play.  But he is hurt.  His backup, some Vaitai character with a real long first name, has apparently struggled.  The Pats D-Line is no juggernaut, as we all know.  But maybe Trey Flowers makes his presence felt?

*Aside:  Philly fans are absolute lunatics.  This is absolutely no secret.  I’m glad I’m not in Minny, as one of them may try to set me on fire.  Better to let them do that to someone else.

*Aside, Part II:  Loved Jeffery predicting a win.  You be you, brutha!  Don’t teams ever learn?

*Aside, Part III:  Just for fun, with everyone on the active roster being “healthy” (ie:  not injured enough to be listed on the injury report), here’s my take on the inactive list:  Mike Gillislee (wasted year), David Harris (why bother even having him this season?), Alan Branch (too bad he apparently packed it in this year.  He’s pretty damn good when he’s engaged), Bernard Reedy (who?), Kenny Britt (glad you came for the ride!), Jacob Hollister (sorry, just no room kid) and…Cole Croston (yup…who?).  That seemed fairly easy, though don’t rule out Belichick surprising people.  Like the year he released Tiquan Underwood the day before the Super Bowl, so he could activate someone from the practice squad (Alex Silvestro and yes, I just had to look that up) to have an extra defensive lineman available.

*Aside, Part IV:  I don’t want to hear any more about injuries…Wentz’ specifically.  Sure, having him healthy and active would probably put a different spin on this game.  But you don’t think the Pats wish they had Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower, among others?  EVERY team loses key players EVERY season.  Deal with it.

*Aside, Part V:  I don’t want to hear about the officials either.  The Patriots have historically have had plenty of bogus calls go against them as well.  No different from any other team.  Those things tend to even out over time.  And I would bet that officiating will not be a factor in this years’ Super Bowl either.

*Dion Lewis…PLEASE hang on to the ball.  Thank you.  I have a hunch you may be catching the ball quite a bit and not running it as much.  Hopefully that helps.

*Rex Burkhead WILL make a few plays.  Perhaps out of the slot.

*Stephen Gostkowski has had a nice career.  But my confidence, and likely Patriot fans’ confidence, in him is not where it was a few years back.  Let’s make him a non-factor, ok?

*With “Tom vs. Time” and “The Two Bills” and all that crap going on this week, it would appear Brady and Belichick are putting some unnecessary pressure on themselves to win this game.  Like, why did they do these now?  Tom certainly and Bill probably had some say in when these would come out.  Why add this to the mix before the game if you really don’t need to?  It probably doesn’t matter, what do I know?  It just doesn’t seem like normal operating procedure for the two of them though.

Ok, that seems like enough.  Prediction time…oh, one more thing.  I love Seth Wickersham of ESPN picking the Pats to win 38-9.  Yeah, the same guy who wrote that piece about New England organizational discord several weeks ago.  I’d love to have his back on that prediction and see it come to fruition.  But…

New England 27, Philadelphia 24.

Week (against the spread):  1-1

Week (straight up):  2-0

Season (against the spread):  142-124

Season (straight up):  180-86

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