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New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 3

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.

Defensive line:

Players under contract:  Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, Rob Ninkovich, Vincent Valentine

Free agents:  Alan Branch, Geneo Grissom (exclusive rights), Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard

What I would do:  Sign Branch ASAP!  Along with Flowers, Branch was the best the defensive line had to offer this season.  Brown is competent.  Valentine may have promise.  The rest?  Ugly may describe most of them.  Long wants to leave “to get back to showing the world the player he once was…” or something like that.  What?  His playing time dipped as the year went on because…he will never be the player he once was.  But good luck to him.  Sheard had a nice year in 2015, not so much in 2016.  See ya.  Ninkovich has always been a nice piece.  But without the ‘roids this year, was this the beginning of the end?  Pass rush was non-existent most of the year outside of Flowers.  They were pretty stout against the run however.  I’d work on some edge rushers in free agency.  If Branch is retained, as I would like, the tackles should be in decent, if unspectacular shape.  Maybe add a big body in the draft or a close to “end of the line” player as free agency rolls on.

What I think will happen:  Not sure which way the league will go on Branch.  My sense is he will be back.  Simply because no one is going to hand him a fat contract when he is one toke away from a suspension.  But you never know.  Long and Sheard will be replaced by two lower level free agent defensive ends similar to what brought them here.  Short deals, not huge dollars and being veterans looking for a fresh start or a last hurrah, so to speak.  Sign a bunch of guys like Marcus Kuhn and Frank Kearse and see what sticks, similar to last year.  The Pats will not break the bank here…as if this comes as any surprise.

Linebackers:

Players under contract:  Trevor Bates, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Free agents:  Dont’a Hightower

What I would do:  Don’t you HAVE to re-sign Hightower?  Last offseason, the Pats had kind of a “Big Six” on defense that were becoming free agents:  Hightower, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Jabaal Sheard.  Collins and Jones are gone, Sheard is likely to be.  Ryan?  We will get to that.  Butler is restricted, so they can hold off a year.  It appears that the Pats will have over 60 mil of cap space, even more if guys like Solder and Amendola restructure.  Don’t you have to pay SOMEBODY?  Who is getting all the dough?

Look at all the names above.  Again, don’t you HAVE to re-sign Hightower?  That list above…YIKES!!  Sure they can replace Dont’a with a guy or two.  But they are not likely to have the same impact.  Look how long it took Hightower to be what he is in this defense.  A few years.  Why lose that now?  Sure, he is banged up a lot and misses games.  But he’s in the games that count.  I feel like they have to keep him.  And also add a few more decent guys to the mix as well.

What I think will happen:  My gut tells me that other teams in the league won’t overpay for Hightower, with the injuries and all.  My gut also tells me that he brings the best offer to the Pats and the team matches it.  Similar to Devin McCourty a couple of years back.  The Patriots will then be paying Hightower more than they want, but less than the franchise tag.  BUT…my gut has often been wrong.  All it takes is one humongous offer from one specific team with a ton of cap space.  We should know quick at least.

Other than this, I’d say the Pats sign a couple of lower level veterans to bring to camp.  Nothing else to see here.

Next:  Finishing up the defense and the specialists.

Gross…

…and it is still leaving a bad taste in my mouth two days later.  The New England Patriots’ performance on Sunday was just atrocious.  I guess it was worse since I saw it live.  And it wasn’t exactly a gorgeous autumn day to boot.  All in all, not a whole lot to be excited about.

The Buffalo Bills essentially had one player to stop, LeSean McCoy, and the Pats couldn’t do it.  Yeah, McCoy’s final numbers weren’t otherworldly (19 rushes for 70 yards plus 6 catches for 38 yards and a TD), he seemed to always get the job done when it needed to be done.  As did Tyrod Taylor.  A decidedly average quarterback, he seemed to accomplish what he wanted to as well.

You can say whatever you want about the offense.  And they seemed bad.  But…were they really that bad?  I’d call it moreso just conservative.  How much can you really accomplish when you play extremely conservative?

Granted, the Patriots had a third string QB at the helm.  One with a bum thumb on his throwing hand.  And the team once again played with only one legitimate QB active.  They still were clearly babying Rob Gronkowski.  Danny Amendola seems to be working his way back as well and he is not playing much at this time.  Etc.

But I thought Jacoby Brissett looked…competent…out there.  I thought he showed well for someone with his experience, not to mention with the limitations the coaching staff placed on him.  Sure, the fumble inside the 20 was inexcusable.  And he missed a wide-open Amendola on one third down.  But he also dropped one right into Brandon Bolden’s hands for a potential TD, only to have Bolden drop it.  He probably held onto the ball too long most of the time and did other things that rookies are prone to do.   But to me, he didn’t look out-of-place like a lot of rookies do.

They let him throw 3 passes in the first half.  THREE!!  Not counting the 90 yarder to Edelman on the first play of the game due to penalties.  Ok, it was a screen pass that Edelman turned into 90 yards, but a pass nonetheless.  Once the coaches saw what direction the game was going in, couldn’t they have opened it up more earlier?  Yeah, they did a bit in the second half, but still…not quite enough in my eyes.

I thought the game plan and the adjustments from the coaching staff left a lot to be desired.  Especially with 10 days to prepare.  But I have to say, I kind of don’t blame them for at least the offensive plans.  Guys are banged up, as I said, including your only real QB.  The Bills are terrible.  LeGarrette Blount had been running well and was just named the AFC Player of the Month for September.  And all that.  With the game at home, they probably thought they could sneak out of there with like a 20-10 win or something.  Even 14-10 or 14-7.  Something along those lines.

The other units just didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.  Special teams…returns in particular…not good.  Cyrus Jones is supposed to be a dynamic returner.  That quality supposedly separated him from other players in the 2nd round the Patriots thought were about equal where they drafted Jones.  But since the lights have come on in the regular season, Jones has been dropping the ball a lot and has been indecisive when he holds onto it.  Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal as well.  Ryan Allen punted well, but, not a banner day overall.

My ire is mostly with the defense.  16 points against looks good in the box score.  Making the Bills attempt 5 field goals and allowing only 1 touchdown may look like a positive as well.  But not really.  No pass rush, terrible coverage, couldn’t get off the field on third down.  Ugly.

I know Billy B. has his way of playing mobile QBs…not a ton of pass rush, contain the QB, some sort of zone D, etc.  I know Jabal Sheard and Dont’a Hightower are not 100%.  I know Vincent Valentine left the game somewhere in the middle of it, leaving the Pats essentially with only two defensive tackles in Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch, at a position where they like to rotate a bunch of guys to keep those big fellas fresh.  I know all that and more.  But a hugely disappointing effort all around on the defensive side.  Countless missed tackles.  A cornerback with an amazing 17 tackles (Logan Ryan…which is not actually a good stat for a CB, by the way).  Guys running around TOO wide open, even for zone defense.  As noted above, too many third down conversions against.  And on and on.

With all that negativity being said and as angry as I have been since the game, I am really here to tell you…it doesn’t matter!!  yes, the Pats really should be 4-0.  Sure, everyone figured they’d be 3-1, with the loss actually coming against Arizona.  Once they got to 3-0 and had a bad team at home, 4-0 really should have happened.

Now that it didn’t, it’s probably a good time to look at the big picture.  With their 3rd string QB playing two and a half games out of the four Tom Brady was suspended, the team went 3-1.  They still lead the putrid division by a game.  And now Brady comes back.  Rob Ninkovich is back as well.  Presumably, Gronk, Amendola, Sheard, Hightower et al will get healthier.  The offensive line will continue to gel (helped by quicker decisions and releases by Brady).  The defense should play better and round into some sort of form.  Gostkowski should return to his reliable self.  Even Jones may learn from his return mistakes.  Maybe we see more of Barkevious Mingo chasing the QB around as well.

The goal here is the end of the season, not September.  We know Belichick always treats the first month or so as an extended training camp.  Gets an idea of what they have.  How things can be adjusted.  The team should win the division going away still.  And be in the mix for home field advantage in the AFC for sure…let’s just hope they don’t blow it like last year.

Maybe an early loss is good for them?  No undefeated record to chase.  Early wakeup call.  Stuff like that.

That’s what I’m going with now anyway…

 

Patriots roster projection-final

Preseason is over.  Cuts are within hours.  Hopefully this will get done before they happen.  Since, you know, these projections seem to be the only thing the Blowhard feels like doing these days it appears.  Anyway, 75 players remain, but now the Pats have TWO guys suspended for the first 4 games.  So 55 players will be left at the end.

QB (3):

Locks:  Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Suspended:  Tom Brady

Nothing new to see here.

RB (5):

Locks:  Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount

In:  James White, James Develin, D.J. Foster

Out:  Joey Iosefa, Tyler Gaffney

Way Out:  None

Switched Foster and Gaffney after Foster’s performance in the last preseason game, despite the fumble.  But again, anyone’s guess as to what happens here.  I think White stinks and hopefully he will be cut.  But probably not.  Same goes for Bolden.  Waiver activity is likely here.

WR (4):

Locks:  Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell

In:  Keshawn Martin

Out:  Chris Harper, DeAndre Carter, Aaron Dobson

Way Out:  Devin Lucien

PUP:  Danny Amendola

Moved Dobson down.  Having the team shop him around the league this past week you would think means he is a goner.  With Amendola still heading to PUP I believe, as well as Mitchell and Martin being banged up, maybe 4 is a little thin here.  But of course Matthew Slater could play here in a pinch.  One of the TE’s or one of the RB’s like Foster could play here as well.  Plus, if Harper and/or Carter and/or Lucien slide through to the practice squad, that can cover them as well.  Maybe they won’t throw much under Jimmy G anyway…who the hell knows?

TE (3):

Locks:  Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett

In:  A.J. Derby

Out:  Clay Harbor

Way Out:  Bryce Williams

Sticking with Derby here.  Went through a bunch of possibilities last projection and they all remain in play.  But another thought is cutting both Harbor and Derby and keeping extra offensive linemen…based on a bunch of those dudes being nicked up…not to mention ineffective.

OL (10):

Locks:  Nate Solder (LT), Shaq Mason (G), Joe Thuney (G), David Andrews (C), LaAdrian Waddle (T), Marcus Cannon (RT), Josh Kline (G/C)

In:  Jonathan Cooper (G), Ted Karras (G), Cameron Fleming (T)

Out:  Chris Barker (G)

Way Out:  Jon Halapio (G)

Added Fleming for at least for the short-term because of all the uncertainty on the line as a whole.  All of a sudden Barker seemed to get some run in the 2 recent games, so maybe he factors in.  They’ve had about 6 guys play right guard over the preseason, so again, who the hell knows?

DE (5):

Locks:  Chris Long, Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Suspended:  Rob Ninkovich

Nice work on the PED’s Rob.  Ugh.  Since the news came out, I have heard people say, “Rob has been such a solid citizen, this is so surprising…”  How do we really know how “solid” Ninkovich has been?  Sure, he has been versatile and a good team player over the years.  But how do we know he hasn’t been doing ‘roids all along?  No doubt the league is rife with players that use them regularly.  Maybe he was one of them.  And that’s how he took “the next step” from end of roster, part-time long snapper to important part of a championship defense.  Just sayin’…anyway, the suspension actually doesn’t hurt anyone really, since Nink probably wouldn’t have played in those games due to injury.  Doesn’t help the reputation however.

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, Vincent Valentine

In:  Anthony Johnson

Out:  Joe Vellano, Marcus Kuhn

Way Out:  Woodrow Hamilton

Switched Johnson and Kuhn.  Johnson has been extremely noticeable the entire preseason while Kuhn started hot and seemed to fade.  Johnson is 7 years younger too, so that kind of counts for something.

LB (5):

Locks:  Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McLellin, Jonathan Freeny, Barkevious Mingo

In:  None

Out:  Rufus Johnson, Elandon Roberts, Kevin Snyder

Way Out:  None

I wanted to find spots for Rufus and Elandon, but unless there is some other movement elsewhere (Brandon King, perhaps?), doesn’t look like we can fit them in.

CB (5):

Locks:  Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones

In:  Justin Coleman, Cre’Von LeBlanc

Out:  Jonathan Jones, Darryl Roberts

Way Out:  None

Same here as well.  Thought about trying to slide LeBlanc to the practice squad along with Jonathan and Darryl.  Wouldn’t rule the team out from doing that.

S (4):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards

In:  None

Out:  Vinnie Sunseri

Way Out:  None

Sunseri is terrible, I can’t even believe he made it past cuts to 75.

Specialists (7):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Brandon King (ST), Nate Ebner (ST)

In: Kamu Grugier-Hill (ST)

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Ok, so Grugier-Hill missed Game #3 because of illness, not long-term injury.  Think Bill really loves him.  But really, between Grugier-Hill, Slater, King, Ebner, Bolden, Freeny, perhaps Grissom and who knows who else…how many special teams guys can you really carry?

Practice squad stab:  Gaffney, Carter, Harper, Lucien, Rufus Johnson, both Roberts’, Jonathan Jones, Snyder, Iosefa I suppose…but some of these dudes may be claimed by other teams when initially waived…and of course the team can claim some players waived by other teams.  But you already knew all that…

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