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So Much For That Theory…

…the one where we here in this space insisted for quite some time that the New England Patriots’ plan for the quarterback position was to have Jimmy Garoppolo take over the starting job by the start of the 2019 season.  Tom Brady will turn 42 in the 2019 preseason and really, how much further can he go?  I know, he talks about playing into his mid-40s and takes care of himself and blah, blah, blah.  But there simply isn’t any kind of track record of QB’s performing at a high level after age 40.  What makes Brady (and anyone else) think he will be different?

I say this often about players, but it’s certainly valid:  I don’t know if Garoppolo can actually play QB in the NFL at a high level.  Or even at an average level.  Sure, he looked pretty good for 6 quarters at the beginning of 2016.  He also didn’t play the other 2 games of Brady’s suspension due to injury and many people believed that he could have sucked it up and played…at least the last one after missing one week.  So that could be viewed as a little bit of a red flag.  But who really knows if he was the real deal?

You know who did think he was a sure thing though?  Bill Belichick.

Now, Bill has obviously never said that publicly.  But you can tell by his actions.  He hung on to him all of this time.  He apparently tried to re-sign him to some sort of “bridge” deal covering the time until (ideally) Brady retired.  Hell, he originally drafted him higher than most people thought Jimmy G would go.  And also drafted him when Brady theoretically had plenty of “life” left.  Add in the comments Bill made in his press conference earlier Tuesday, seemingly not happy to have traded Garoppolo.  And the fact that Belichick most likely would have loved to try to win a Super Bowl post-Brady.  I think all of this and then some means Bill thought he was the next guy.

Because of all of that, I believed that Jimmy Football was the next guy.  Again, who knows, since he really hasn’t played many meaningful snaps?  But from the above with Belichick and also trusting Bill knows what he has seen in practice for the past three and a half years, I had to go with that theory, right?

So that all being said, the Blowhard does not like the deal.  Other reasons?  You got it, in no particular order:

*Only a second rounder in return?  Seems light.  IS light.  People are now saying that Cleveland did not offer a first and some other compensation over the spring/summer as has been reported widely all along.  Who knows what reports are accurate?  But you’d have to believe they would have gotten more than just a second rounder if they shopped Jimmy G this past offseason.  I see at the deadline that Cincinnati almost dealt their backup QB, AJ McCarron, to Cleveland for a 2nd and 3rd rounder.  McCarron has played a few more games in the NFL than Garoppolo.  But not since 2015.  Probably puts them in the same ballpark as to what to expect for compensation.  Side note:  Glad to see that the Browns screwed things up again by filing late paperwork and not getting the McCarron deal done.  Great work.

*Why now?  Sure, they get a pick in the low 30’s in 2018.  Instead of perhaps a pick in the high 90’s in 2019 (as a result of the compensatory pick process if they consummated a trade after this season).  Yeah, that’s a 60ish spot difference and a year earlier.  But who cares?  Bill is going to turn that 2nd rounder into a third and two fourths at some point anyway.  It’s not like they got a top-10 pick.  What happens if something happens to Brady this year?  After all, he is getting crushed every week.  It could be a matter of time before he goes down.

*Speaking of something happening to Brady, what happens if his play falls off a cliff next year?  Not unheard of at that age.  And the Pats then will have traded the “future” a year or so too early.

*Why now, Part II?  The Patriots could have franchise tagged Jimmy after this year and then dealt him off of that tag if they so desired.  Once again, you would think that he would demand more compensation than a second rounder in the offseason.  When you could market him more.  One year at huge dollars would not scare teams off.  Including the 49ers, whom reports indicate have a ton of cap space available.  Plus, the team that acquires him could work out a long-term deal which would work better for that franchise.  And probably Jimmy himself.

*I believe Patriot owner Robert Kraft called the shot on this one.  Why?  Because in a situation like the QB one, Belichick ALWAYS opts for the younger player eventually.  Because, you know, that makes too much sense.  I know, as an owner, I suppose Kraft should have final say in everything.  Since he is footing the bill overall.  And I know, Brady is clearly a special case here.  It’s one thing to trade guys like Mike Vrabel, Logan Mankins or Richard Seymour…or release a guy like Lawyer Milloy.  It’s completely different when you are talking about one of the best to ever play the game.  Delicate situation, no question.

But one also has to think about the football team on the field.  And you can bet that keeping Brady for the short-term over Garoppolo for the long-term has to do with business…something that is the owner’s right…but something that as a fan I hate.

When an owner gets too involved in any teams’ on the field decisions, it makes me think of Jerry Jones.  Not positive.  But it also brings me back to the days when Kraft was using a stopwatch to time Tebucky Jones.  I’m all set with owners meddling too much with the on the field product.  Even if Kraft doesn’t really do that any more.  And even if it is only this one case.  Let the football people make the football decisions.

*Why now, Part III.  Wouldn’t it have made some sense to keep Jacoby Brissett if they had an idea that maybe Jimmy would have to be traded at some point?  Brissett has looked competent, at the very least, for the Colts after getting traded there right before the season.  Maybe he looks even better if he had a whole preseason and offseason with the team and not getting thrown into the fire there right from the start…on a bad team, no less.  Maybe long-term Brissett can’t play either.  But he sure would be nice to have right this second.

*It amazes me that the Patriots obviously banked a little bit on Jimmy signing that “bridge” deal mentioned above.  Something like a 2 or 3 year deal for good money, but not starters money for sure.  But why would Garoppolo do that?  He’s in his 4th year here.  He has 2 Super Bowl rings already.  He hasn’t made a ton of money.  And of course hasn’t played much.  Why would he want to wait another 1-5 years to take over this team?  I would think he wants to play…and of course get a fat second contract.  We all wanted Jimmy G to take a contract that benefited the team.  But if you were in his shoes, would you?  Ultimately, he wants to play.  And if I had a backup QB on my team that DIDN’T want to play, I wouldn’t want him on my team.  I don’t blame him one bit.  I just can’t believe that the Pats thought they could pull that kind of contract off with him.

So we will see what happens from here.  San Francisco is 0-8.  Maybe Jimmy G goes there and is putrid and then has an average career after his stock drops.  Maybe Brian Hoyer comes here as a backup to Brady, Brady gets hurt and then the Patriots ride Hoyer to another Super Bowl win.  Maybe Jimmy Football is like every other highly touted Patriot backup QB that never makes it…Ryan Mallett, Rohan Davey, Kevin O’Connell, Matt Cassel et al…including Hoyer himself.  Maybe the Pats use that SF pick on a QB from next year’s supposedly deep draft at the position, Brady plays 2 more years at a high level and then that pick takes over and wins games and Super Bowls.  Or maybe Brady plays at a high level until his Social Security kicks in.

We just don’t know.  But on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to like about this deal.

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New England Patriots Roster Projection-Offense

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:

Offense:

QB (3):

Locks:  Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

In:  None

Out:  None

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’…

RB (5):

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.

WR (5):

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.

TE (2):

Locks:  Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen

In:  None

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…

OL (9):

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

Was it a Dream?

Welp, Bill Belichick thought it may have been, so he re-watched the Super Bowl a mere few hours after the actual game.

Yup, a week and a half later I am still on the Super Bowl.  I would have normally been onto the Pro Bowl.  But they started playing that the week before the Super Bowl several years back.  So…forget about that I guess.

Anyway, my apologies to anyone who may actually be paying attention.  Snow storms and real life kind of got in the way recently.  Plus, I wanted to replay the game as well…because I definitely wanted to hear every single thing Joe Buck and Troy Aikman had to say from my own living room instead of a somewhat noisy bar.  Wait…not for that reason.  But to make sure I didn’t miss anything worth noting.  That hasn’t been noted a thousand times already.

But guess what?  There’s probably not that much that hasn’t been dissected in this game already.  By everyone under the sun.  So I won’t regurgitate most of the obvious stuff.  We all know about the early Patriot miscues (turnovers, drops, missing wide open receivers, long gainers on defense, Tom Brady getting hit a ton, etc.), Julio Jones’ great catches (specifically his last one), Julian Edelmans’ own fantastic catch, James White’s emergence, Danny Amendola’s re-emergence, Brady’s and Belichick’s greatness, Dan Quinn’s questionable play calling down the stretch, leading into the colossal collapse by the Falcons…and all that.  But I do want to point out a few nuggets that I personally thought were interesting though.  Maybe people have talked about them.  But if they have, they haven’t been talked about enough.

First, stop all this nonsense about this being “The Greatest Super Bowl EVER”.  Just not the case.  The final score was close and the game went into overtime, but that doesn’t make the game actually great.  Essentially, the Atlanta Falcons dominated the first 50% of the game and the New England Patriots dominated the second 50%.  That hardly makes for a great game.  Helluva a comeback definitely.  But that may sum it up.  You could point to a handful of even recent Super Bowls and call them better overall games…including pretty much any of the previous six for the Pats under Belichick.  That’s kind of why the Blowhard isn’t chirping about his 38-27 prediction being close to the 34-28 final.  Because it really didn’t play out the way he thought.

Let’s move on to the game plan.  I look back at some of these Super Bowls the Pats have been in and don’t see the best coaching jobs.  Sorry.  Belichick has this reputation where he is unbeatable after two weeks of preparation.  Maybe in the regular season, especially when the opponent is not coming off a bye.  Though that didn’t even work this year when they lost to a Seattle team coming off a short week and flying cross-country to Foxborough.  In the Super Bowl, the other team ALSO has two weeks to prepare.  I think some people lose sight of that.

Now, I didn’t advocate having Brady come out and throw 62 passes.  The last thing I wanted was to get in a shootout with Atlanta.  That would have been a no-win situation.  So I wanted some kind of balance for sure.  And some sort of ball control.

But force feeding LeGarrette Blount early?  And sending him out on sweeps?  Sure, Atlanta was supposed to be terrible against the run.  But remember, the Falcon defense is young and fast.  Blount was not going to beat them wide.  Why not Lewis on those plays?  And then when Blount was stuffed inside as well, how ’bout changing some stuff there as well?  Oh yeah, they did eventually.  But I thought it took waaaaay too long.  And I know, they were actually moving the ball well and the turnovers killed them.  But still…I suppose my biggest beef with this whole thing is the very first drive.  It would have changed everything likely if the Pats went down and scored a touchdown, maybe even a field goal.  But they sent Blount on a sweep that had no chance on 3rd and 1.  That one still eats me up for some reason…

Going back to the coaching…I know, Super Bowl opponents are supposed to be the best the NFC has to offer.  So of course they are going to be harder to coach against.  Especially since being in the NFC means maybe the Patriots haven’t seen much of them throughout the year and have a lot to catch up on in preparations.  But still…who’s idea was the Edelman cross field throw?  Yikes!!  And going back to the old Super Bowls, don’t give me the “Belichick KNEW not to take that timeout against Seattle late…”.  Methinks he got lucky on that one.

Tom Brady is getting all kinds of accolades for his performance.  As he should.  But man, does he have some brain farts in these big games sometimes.  That pick-six was atrocious.  As was that first down play down by the goal line on the second to last play of the game.  If a defensive back was covering Martellus Bennett on that play, the ball may have very well have been picked off.  And then what happens?  Ok, this may be nitpicking.  And stuff that has been analyzed over and over.  But man, these still stick in my craw as well.

Dan Quinn has certainly taken a lot of heat for not running the ball down the stretch…and deservedly so.  But how about his (non) use of Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman?  I know, the Falcons only had the ball for like 23 minutes.  But Jones caught all of his 4 targets.  It appears that Eric Rowe and a safety had coverage on Jones frequently (with Logan Ryan on Mohamed Sanu and Malcolm Butler on Taylor Gabriel).  Although this may not have been the D on every play, it appeared to be mostly the case.  Rowe actually had good coverage on Jones’ amazing catch late in the game.  But are you telling me that Atlanta couldn’t have taken more advantage of that matchup, even with the two bodies on Jones?

And Freeman had 2 huge gains on his way to 121 yards on 13 touches.  Over 9 yards a play.  Take away the 2 long gainers and he still is over 4 a touch.  Even if the Pats slowed him down running the ball other than his one big play, the Falcons couldn’t have taken advantage of him more in space with someone like Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy or Elandon Roberts in coverage?  13 touches is way too low, and TWO targets is insanely low.  Maybe they didn’t want him out there a lot on passing downs seeing that he whiffed on Dont’a Hightower when he strip-sacked Matt Ryan.  But still, seemed like a severe under utilization to me.

Did the Patriots’ defensive game plan cause Freeman and Jones to be underused?  Perhaps.  But either way, seemed like the Falcons could have adjusted around it.  My thanks to them for not doing so however.  It helps when you don’t use your best two players that much, not counting Matt Ryan of course.

What was Patrick Chung catching that punt over his shoulder with his back to the play deep in Patriot territory in the 4th quarter for?  Talk about potential disaster.

Falcons were 1 of 8 on third downs.  Seems hard to believe.

Atlanta was penalized 9 times to New England’s 4.  But don’t complain about the refs.  3 of Atlanta’s penalties were on one drive and were legitimate defensive holding calls…and that drive ended when they brought the interception back to the house anyway.  I believe they declined one or two penalties on the Patriots as well.  The officials were not a factor in this game, I don’t believe anyway.  Falcon fans may point to the OT pass interference call being questionable.  But as tame as it may have been, those always seem to get called.  I’m actually really upset that Bennett didn’t catch that ball anyway.  He should have.

We will talk more about Bennett’s poor game overall, as well as the state of the offensive line and the kicker formerly known as Stephen Gostkowski some other time.

Interesting game, emotional roller coaster for both teams, exciting finish…for Patriots fans anyway.  A lot more words than I expected to write here.  Hope it added some kind of value.  In any event, that’s a wrap!

Super Bowl:  1-0 (1-0 against the spread).

Total:  7-4 (6-5 against the spread).

Finished better than .500…phew!!

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