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: 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.
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.
Since the season starts (for the Pats) starts in about a half hour (as I start typing this), here’s some random observations…basically since the team started camp. No rhyme or reason, no particular order, completely all over the place. But no, no more roster projections. I can promise you that.
*The starting offensive line tonight appears to be Cameron Fleming/Joe Thuney/David Andrews/Ted Karras/Marcus Cannon…YIIIIIIIIKKKKKKKEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!
*The Patriots have re-signed some of their upcoming free agents recently: Matthew Slater, Jonathan Freeny & Rob Ninkovich, to be specific. I do love Ninkovich, despite him being an idiot and getting suspended for PEDs. Have an “expert” check the labels next time Nink. But if I had to pick three of the impending free agents to re-sign, these wouldn’t be the first three. Devin McCourty restructured today apparently too. I HOPE all of this means they have created some decent cap room and are locking up Jamie Collins for several years.
*The rest of the impending free agents? I’m not worried about Malcolm Butler next offseason. He’s restricted. If they sign Collins, they can franchise tag Dont’a Hightower. Jabal Sheard? Would love to keep him, but I bet they let him go, especially after some other team throws a ton of dough at him…assuming he has a good year of course. Logan Ryan & Duron Harmon? Replaceable. Martellus Bennett? A luxury this year. Sebastian Vollmer? Injury-prone, seems likely if he wants to stay, he will have to take a huge pay cut. Point being? Sign Collins ASAP and the rest should fall into place.
*Yes, the Julian Edelman “losing Brady is like one of your friends going to jail” comment is silly. He was on the same team with Aaron Hernandez at one point, no?
*If Jimmy Garoppolo is truly is affected by the Tom Brady banner hanging at Gillette Stadium, is he the person we want quarterbacking the team?
*Jacoby Brissett looked pretty good in the preseason. But if Jimmy Football struggles out of the gate, do people really think he will be better? At least now? Not so sure about that.
*Gronk has a bad hammy. Uh oh.
*Brady is keeping sharp by throwing to Gisele. That should work.
*Surprised DJ Foster is inactive. Thought they may go short passing game tonight. Wouldn’t be shocked if they showed a bit of no-huddle. Running game is average, at best. Line is potentially brutal. Foster could help there. Maybe we will see some Brandon Bolden out there in his place. Yuck.
*People were surprised that Cre’von LeBlanc and Kamu Grugier-Hill were left off the final roster. I was. But do we really think that these guy will end up being superstars elsewhere? Doubtful.
*Gametime. Moving on. Prediction? Ugh. I think the Pats will show better than most think. But the obstacles are too great. Arizona, 24-17.
To relieve Peter Chiarelli of his duties, that is.
Based on the press conference the other day, it sounded like Cam Neely basically fired him at the trade deadline. Neely admitted that he told Pete not to “trade any assets” at the deadline. Wait, Jordan Caron wasn’t an asset?? That’s news to me! But seriously though, talk about having your hands tied. I’m not sure Pete could have actually done much, based on their salary cap situation. But it sounds like it wasn’t his decision anyway. And if you are seemingly getting your power stripped there, then…that’s not a good sign.
By the way, are press conferences mostly useless? In sports anyway. When does someone give actual information you can use during one? At least around here. We all know about Bill Belichick’s press conferences. As well as all the others. What did Neely and Charlie Jacobs say of value the other day? Not much from what I heard. I guess the other point is that, other than the part where Steve Buckley pressed for some answers (and got none), the rest of the local media tossed up some nice softballs.
Don’t get me going on the local sports media though. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I know these guys have to be somewhat like they are…complimentary of the team and everything surrounding it. If they aren’t, players won’t talk to them, team sources won’t give them info…and they usually work for an outlet that is owned by the team. But do they have to go overboard, as they ALWAYS do? I mean sometimes…wow. Like some of the stuff I am reading now about Chiarelli being the fall guy. Ummmmm, no. 3 other people got fired as well. And there will be more to come, including some players. “Fall guy”? I think not.
Chiarelli had a nice run here. Very successful. Give credit where credit is due. But it was time for a change, simple as that. It’s no secret he messed up the salary cap. Some writers have said it was because he was “going all out in 2013-14”. Ummmm, wrong again. This has accumulated over his tenure. Primarily because he has drafted poorly over the years and does not have cheap (and good) labor to take over spots where someone becomes too expensive. And also because he consistently paid guys too much and too early and for too many years. Not because of going “all out” for one year. Do the math.
In reality, Cam has probably wanted to shake things up for years. He got the Prez gig in June, 2010. Pete had been on board for 4 years already and Claude for 3. If you recall, Cam wasn’t exactly a fan of Claude’s style early on. It was no secret, as Cam made some very thinly veiled comments at the time. He was likely ready to overhaul in 2011 if they were ousted early…as they almost were, before the Game 7 OT goal against Montreal. If they lose that game, the Bruins look a lot different the next season. But then they go and win the Stanley Cup! How can Cam do some sacking then? Then there was a grace period, then they went to the Cup Finals in 2013. Again, how can he make a move?
Timing was right for this move. Missed playoffs, cap is a problem, not many decent young players have been developed…or are on track to be developed, players seem to be comfortable, etc. I suppose they want the new GM to ditch Claude at some point. But I waffle on that every day. What if the new GM is Donnie Sweeney, the assistant GM now? Also, they signed Claude to a 3 year extension last season, do they want to eat that dough already? Is he willing to change up his style a bit, be more flexible and forgiving of young players for one? There is plenty of time, but the longer he stays, the more I feel like he will stay long-term. At least another year. But I think it’s time for a change there as well. I believe the players have tuned him out and need a new voice.
As with Chiarelli, Julien has had a nice run here. I hated his style at first, then adapted of course when they won the Cup. I still am not a huge fan, but how can you argue with his overall success? But again, I believe most players have become too comfortable under him. I don’t think he’s as much of a hard-arse as he was when he first got here. He relies too much on useless vets on the last lines and just doesn’t trust any young players. I am ok with him rolling those 4th liners in the first and second periods. But not down a goal with less than three minutes left in the game. That happens far too often.
This wasn’t to single out Claude and Pete at all. EVERYONE is to blame for missing the playoffs. Cam, Charlie Jacobs, the players, just everyone. There was enough talent on this roster to make the playoffs, simple as that. And in the end, the players underachieved, absolutely no question about it. It’s been a nice run for everyone, to be quite honest. But all good things must come to and end. Let a new era begin. Get away from complacency. Fresh voices. Younger players. New system. There is usually more than one way to do things right, let’s try a different way now. Thanks for your service Pete, but you go find some new challenges yourself. I’d like to be saying the same to Claude soon as well…