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Are We Ready? Part II…

Continuing on with the offense, as promised (threatened?!):

RB (5):

Locks:  Sony Michel, James White, Damien Harris

In:  Rex Burkhead, Dan Vitale (FB)

Out:  James Develin (FB), Jakob Johnson (FB)

Comments:  Much less interesting than the quarterback position.  Michel was not very good last year.  But neither was the offensive line.  Hopefully, they both improve.  Because he will likely get most of the touches again.

Not to mention that I believe that with Stidham at QB, the Pats will try to run the ball even more.  Rely more on that and the defense to win games.  I believe Belichick has wanted to do that since drafting Michel.  To protect against Brady getting old at first.  Now to lessen the burden on a young QB.

Harris is primed for a bigger role this year after he spent his rookie season redshirting.  Not unusual for a young back to go this route, just ask White.

Rex is a popular potential salary cap casualty pick by a lot of people.  But, like a lot of guys on this roster (White included), I think the team sticks with them in the final year of their contracts.  Again, I don’t expect this roster to look much different once training camps open in July (presumably).  Other than new, cheap faces.  So I don’t think any of the popular “they can cut him to create cap space” guys are going anywhere.  Plus Rex is pretty good when healthy.  I know, good health is kind of a problem for him.  But still…

Don’t be surprised if Harris was groomed to take White’s role.  Similar to White being groomed to take Shane Vereen’s role.  Could White be traded to open up that door as soon as this season?  Possible.  But I don’t see it.  They will probably just let him walk after the year.  Like what they did with Vereen.  Plus, no one knows how capable Harris is yet anyway.  And Bill LOVES those compensatory picks.

Develin is a coaches favorite.  But the way I see it, Vitale’s signing means that Dev is not ready.  Neck injuries are kind of serious folks.  Maybe he starts on PUP.  Maybe he goes on IR for another year.  Maybe he gets released.  Maybe the Pats carry two fullbacks?  Maybe Vitale is just here until Develin is deemed fully healthy so that Michel has his security blanket back?

I can’t believe I just wrote this much on the fullback position…

WR (5):

Locks:  Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu

In:  Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers

Out:  Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross

Comments:  Many people all of a sudden want to trade Jules to Tampa to be with his buddy.  But the Bucs have Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.  I think Tom will be ok.  And then I hear during this writing about rumors of Jules to…Detroit??!

Ummmmm…no thanks…

Jules should be good for Stidham.  And maybe Jarrett won’t feel the need to target him 400 times, so that can keep Edelman healthy…for a while anyway.  I get it, Julian was the most reliable receiver for Brady last year.  By far.  So Tom kept looking for him.  And it worked for a long time.  But man, did Jules take a beating last season.  Let’s keep him around to help the kid.  But let’s also develop a couple of other guys so that Edelman is able to stay on the field.

This is where Harry and Meyers, in particular, come in.  They need to develop a rapport with Jarrett.  Meyers had one in the preseason last season.  But that was the preseason.  I do think that’s what keeps him on this years’ roster, however.

Harry HAS to work.  And since he won’t have a QB that hates him now (presumably), maybe N’Keal can take the next step.

Gunner seemed to be a desperation roster add last year during final cuts, in order to mainly return punts…but now that Sanu is here, it’s not necessary to keep him.  Sanu can return pun…oh wait, that’s how he got hurt last season when he got here and then was useless after.  Nevermind.  But although Gunner was game, he took his own beating.  And while he may be a nice practice squad guy, the Pats should do better.

That’s where Byrd comes in.  Maybe he can return all kicks.  And add some speed.  And be more useful than Phillip Dorsett.  Is that too much to ask?

As for Sanu, people want to cut him as well for salary cap purposes.  As bad as he was down the stretch last year, I am going to give him somewhat of a pass because of the injury.  He IS a proven receiver in this league.  If healthy, he should be a good receiver for this team.  Especially if Harry can establish himself and put Sanu in the #3 role at best.

TE (2):

Locks:  None

In:  Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Out:  None

Comments:  A draft pick or three here would seem to be in order.  Gronk ain’t walking through that door, my friends.  Best of luck in professional wrestling (sigh…).  Aaron Hernandez ain’t walking through that door either, and thank the Lord for that.  No Ben Coates, Russ Francis or even Marv Cook.  Sorry.

Funny thing is, these two dudes may stick.  LaCosse was never healthy last year.  Maybe he is halfway decent.  Izzo was supposedly hurt last season as well.  And we know he was hurt the year before.  So the team has invested 2 years in him already.

And…they are cheap.

People want the team to bring in a big name here.  That won’t happen.  It’ll be these two and a mid-round pick.  I can almost smell it.

For better or for worse…and I don’t really have anything better to say here.

OL (9):

Locks:  Isaiah Wynn (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT)

In:  Korey Cunningham (T), Jermaine Eluemunor (G), Yodny Cajuste (T), Hjalte Froholdt (G/C)

Out:  Najee Toran (G)

Comments:  That line looks pretty good on paper.  But will they all be there on Opening Day?

Thuney was surprisingly franchise tagged.  Some say he could be moved if there is no progress on an extension to lower the cap hit.  Andrews claims he is 100% but is he?  Cannon is one of those popular salary cap cuts.  And why not keep Thuney and try to trade Mason?

My guess?  They will all be here at their current cap numbers.

Thuney will pocket his almost 15 mil…did you see how long it took him to sign the tender?  The Pats won’t trade him, as they need the O-Line to be strong for the first year of the Stidham era.  And Thuney won’t sign an extension.  He will want his first huge long-term contract.  Especially since he has already has two Super Bowl rings.  The Pats won’t give him one…not yet anyway.  And Joe may want to see how that first year of the new era actually goes before committing long term to the franchise.

Andrews hopefully is healthy, Wynn hopefully stays healthy, as will Cannon…and even Mason, as there were indications he was bad last season because he was hurt.

No Dante Scarnecchia?  Might be a problem.  But he didn’t matter last season.  So maybe he won’t matter this year.  Hate to say that.  But could be true.

The 4 “In” dudes were drafted last season or acquired for picks right before the season.  I feel like they all will get another year to see if they are useful.  Eluemunor for sure, since they actually tendered him at 2.133 million as a restricted free agent (what?!).  The other 3 are still making 6 figures.

Maybe not though, as they all could get pushed by this years’ draft picks.  No harm in throwing some more bodies into the mix and see who is left standing in the end.

Next:  Defense and specialists.

So Where Do They Go From Here? Part II

No need for any preamble here.  We will jump right into the “non-Brady” positions:

Running back:

Under contract:  Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, James Develin (FB), Jakob Johnson (FB)

Free Agents:  None

Comments:  Now that we have vomited up all those words on Brady, how much can we say here?  Well, in this section, not much.  All of these guys but Michel and Harris will be entering the final year of their contracts in 2020.  If Harris is ready to contribute after essentially a redshirt year (read:  learning how to pick up blitzes), then that could make Burkhead or (gasp!) White expendable.  I doubt it on White, but at a 4.6 mil cap hit, maybe he gets an extension.  Burkhead’s 4 mil cap hit could put him in jeopardy, but honestly, I’d find a way to keep them all around.  Remains to be seen how Develin recovers from his neck injury, so that could factor into any decision making at this position.  Michel isn’t going anywhere, despite his largely disappointing play to start his career.

Wide receiver:

Under contract:  Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohammed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo (Futures), Devin Ross (Futures)

Free Agents:  Phillip Dorsett

Comments:  Bye bye Phil.  At least I hope.  But there is work to be done here.  Is there going to be space on the roster?  You have to figure Jules, Sanu and Harry are locks to return.  Despite Sanu’s ineffective play down the stretch.  Maybe the ankle injury was worse than we knew.  Maybe an offseason in the offense will help.  Hard to believe the Pats will give up on him.  Jules isn’t going anywhere.  Hope he heals up and they can lessen his load a bit next year.  Harry needs to take that next step.  Meyers may also get that chance.  There should be one more quality veteran added here as far as I am concerned though.  And I am not talking about the return of Gunner.

Tight end:

Under contract:  Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo

Free Agents:  Benjamin Watson

Comments:  Great career Ben and thank you for your service.  I will never forget you chasing down Champ Bailey in 2005.  But the only thing that needs to be said about this group is that they all should be flushed and the personnel has to be completely revamped here.  Will Rob Gronkowski come back for one more run?  It’s only a matter of time before we start hearing that nonsense.  But I will say I won’t rule it out.  Hopefully, he won’t do all that garbage leading up to any kind of announcement.  But after a year off, it would not shock me if he felt awesome and wanted to give it one more go.  I’m not banking on it, however.

Offensive line:

Under contract:  Isaiah Wynn (LT), David Andrews (C), Shaq Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT), Korey Cunningham (T), Hjalte Froholdt (G), Yodny Cajuste (T), Najee Toran (Futures)

Free Agents:  Joe Thuney (LG), Ted Karras (C), James Ferentz (C), Marshall Newhouse (T), Jermaine Eluemunor (G) (Restricted)

Comments:  A return to good health for Andrews will be a huge boost…if indeed that is the case.  I don’t know where he stands with that though.  From people who actually analyze offensive line play, Karras was “ok”.  But the main criticism was that he “couldn’t block at the second level”, which seems important…especially for Michel.  Since, you know…Michel can’t seem to gain any yards on his own.  Have to imagine Thuney will get megabucks elsewhere and since the team is already paying one guard (Mason) a lot of money for the next 4 seasons, it’s doubtful they pay a second guard even more.  Mason had his problems last season and hopefully, they were injury related as many have intimated.  Wynn was hurt for a great deal of the year, but maybe he finally plays a full season next year.  Perhaps that is at Thuney’s old position since that’s where many felt he belonged when he was drafted.

Cunningham was rarely active after being traded for late in the preseason.  Seems like a waste.  But maybe offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia knew he was a project and was preparing him (and Eluemunor?) for 2020 instead?  Maybe Froholdt and Cajuste learned something in their year off and can apply that on the field in 2020 as well?  Cannon was kind of putrid this season and at his high cap number could be a casualty.  Especially if any one of those jamokes can contribute something going forward.

The bottom line was that this group was not very good this year.  Whether help comes from one or two or three of these guys from within or the outside, this position will be crucial to address.  Especially if the aforementioned 43 year old QB returns.  Kind of goes without saying I suppose.

Specialists:

Under contract:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Jake Bailey (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Brandon Bolden (ST), Brandon King (ST)

Free Agents:  Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Nick Folk (K), Justin Bethel (ST)

Comments:  Slater will have a contract if he wants one.  Bethel maybe too.  Hell, Likely Ebner as well.  I will say that I’m really not too worried about the gunners in any way, shape or form.  I AM worried about the kicker position though.  Does Gostkowski’s hip heal enough in order to justify the 5 mil cap hit on technically the last year of his deal?  Folk actually kicked pretty well for a fraction of that.  Mike Nugent sucked for likely that same fraction.  And Kai Forbath didn’t inspire confidence in his one game.  4 kickers this year after only 3 the last 23 years…with one of those for only 8 games.  I ask the people that wanted Gostkowski gone the past few years, how you feeling now?  Perhaps there is an open competition next summer between Gostkowski (if he is ready to go), Folk and some kids, perhaps a draft pick?  We will see how that goes.  But we cannot have any more Mike Nugent’s running around Foxborough.  Not if the Patriots expect to compete.

Next:  The defense.

Boston Celtics 2019-2020 Season Preview…Kind Of…

…so here we go.  The NBA season started last night.  The Boston Celtics season starts tonight.

As was the case with the NHL, I am simply not ready.

You know, the heart of football season, World Series going on (despite the absence of the local team). the last NBA season feeling like it just ended…and all that…

Plus…the NBA has lost my interest as a whole a great deal over the last decade or two.

Why?

Too many threes, lack of fundamentals, no one boxes out anymore, four on one fast breaks where one of the four pulls up for a three or a long jumper despite having an easy layup in front of them, too much of the game being about entertainment and showtime…blah, blah, blah…I’m sure we’ve been through all of this before.

But now the whole Celtics course has exhausted me as well.  Actually, it was Kyrie Irving that exhausted me really, so maybe the last statement was a little hyperbole.

In any event, last years’ team was supposed to be a championship contender…the culmination of several years of a rebuild, so to speak.  Good coach, great players, young and old…someone who was going to cruise through the Eastern Conference and give some serious competition to the likes of the Golden State Warriors to try to claim the NBA title.

And we know how that went.

Just a trying year…certainly for the team…but also for the fans…if the players even care about them.

The two most prominent players who left, Kyrie and Al Horford, said as much.  Although Kyrie was full of crap, per usual.  That press conference he gave when he reported to the Brooklyn Nets’ training camp was comical in so many ways.  But that was a while ago, so we won’t go there.  Besides, I chafe even thinking about him nowadays.

Horford was a little more sincere, but he stopped short of blaming anyone in particular (from what I’ve heard anyway).  He said something to the effect of “if Kyrie stayed, I am not sure we could have coexisted…”

Ssssssoooo…was he blaming Kyrie?  Or the young kids (primarily Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum), who had tremendous egos, likely because they were on the cusp of the NBA Finals the year before without max contract guys Irving and Gordon Hayward and as a result seemed to clash when those guys came back?  A little of both?

Not sure.  But he was right.  No way bringing back all of the same guys was going to work.  I don’t think there is any question about that.  Though also, let’s be real…Al left because he got PAID.  A lot more than what people thought he was going to get.

In any event, where does that leave this years’ team?

Amazingly enough, what we wrote in July (last time we wrote about the C’s) pretty much sticks.  Well, the composition of players anyway.  But also…what is the rotation?  I am not sure coach Brad Stevens has that nailed down yet.  And we don’t like that.

Historically, I feel like Brad has tried to play way too many guys and cannot settle with an 8-9 man rotation.  Didn’t like it when Doc Rivers did it either.  Best thing that happened to Doc was trading like 7 of those average guys for Kevin Garnett.  All of a sudden Doc had barely 6 guys to play.  And it worked out pretty good because, well, those 6 were pretty good themselves.

Stevens, of course, has Brown, Tatum, and two max contract guys in Hayward and Kemba Walker.  Decent start, as long as Brown and Tatum continue their upward trajectory and Gordo has fully recovered from his horrific injury two years ago to at least be close to the player he once was.  And the team sure as hell counting on Brown continuing to improve, what with the almost 30 mil per he just re-upped for.

What’s after that?  Hmmmmmm…

Marcus Smart of course.  Solid all around player, but no star for sure.

Question marks.

Let’s start with what appears to be some sort of “four-headed monster” in the middle.  I don’t think Stevens even knows how he is going to divide time up between Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier.  Theis is undersized, but fits the offense better; Kanter is more of a traditional center and can rebound, but can’t play a lick of defense; Williams is young and still extremely raw and Poirier?  No idea what he’s all about.  He didn’t play much in the preseason either.  Maybe at some point we will see ourselves some Tacko Fall too, if he shows anything all in the G-League in Maine.

My guess is that they roll mostly with Theis and Kanter, maybe mix in Williams a bit, but basically close games with Smart as the 5th guy on the floor instead of a big man if the situation allows for it (e.g. there is no big man on the other team to be accounted for…which in today’s NBA is a real possibility).

Then you have the other “kids”.  The true rookies in Carsen Edwards. Grant Williams and Romeo Langford (maybe Tremont Waters from Maine as well).  Edwards lit up the preseason, but I’m saying that doesn’t mean much.  He is intriguing though.  Langford has been hurt all summer/fall.  Maybe he can contribute eventually.  But not off to a good start.  The team may like Grant.  But I don’t know where he fits…this season anyway.

Who’s left?  Ugh…right…Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wanamaker.  Brad LOVES Semi (I don’t, can’t you tell?).  So he will try and shoehorn him some minutes.  I have no idea why Wanamaker is here.  Third ball handler?  Sure.  But…whatever.  The team cut Max Strus to get to the roster limit.  And this was after Strus was the first undrafted dude they signed to a two-way contract…then made it a “real” contract and guaranteed him some dough…then he is gone.

Now, I really don’t know Max Strus from Levi Strauss, but I would have kept him over Wanamaker.  No doubt.

I guess if we are debating the 13th-15th spot the roster, who cares?  But still…

Oh, Javonte Green made the final 15 too…but since he will likely be #15 and he’s actually 26 years old…we will move on.

So while Brad actually figures out the rotation, this is what I think:

Starters:  Walker, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, Theis.

Second unit:  Smart, Edwards, Kanter, Ojeleye, Langford (when healthy).

11-13:  Both Williams’, Wanamaker.

Inactive:  Poirier, Green.

G-League:  Fall, Waters.

That’s all well and good.  But the real question is, can they compete?

I say absolutely.  In the East anyway.

Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard, so they will likely fall back.  Milwaukee still has Giannis, Khris Middleton and others…and looks like the favorite…but by no means do they look infallible.  Same with Philadelphia.  They still have Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and added Big Al.  But still beatable.  Indiana?  Maybe when Victor Oladipo comes back eventually.  Brooklyn with Kyrie?  Not this season without Kevin Durant.

Looks like the East is wide open.  Why can’t the Celtics make a run?

The locker room should be a whole lot more stable, we can definitively say that much.

And Brad seems to be a better coach when the expectations are lower (and talent is less).

I wouldn’t be shocked if the C’s were at least able to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.  The NBA Finals?  Won’t commit to that.  But I reserve the right to change my mind once I see how these guys all come together.

Winning the NBA Championship?  Ummmmm…nope.  Not as I see it anyway.

Anything less than a visit to the second round of the playoffs would seem to be a disappointment.

At worst, perhaps this team will be easier to root for than last years’ team?  We will see how they all mesh once it gets real.

I know, that’s not the goal.  I mean, we loved those Isaiah Thomas teams.  But what did that give us?

That being said, a team worth rooting for this season would be a breath of fresh air after the disaster that was last season.

Baby steps.

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