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What Are The Pats Doing?

What do you mean?  They are doing what they ALWAYS do.

To back up a little bit…so that Gronk piece last week was supposed to be an update on the New England Patriot free agency action.  Then he kind of threw a monkey wrench (wait, is it politically correct to use this term anymore?  Brief research indicates that it’s ok, but you never know these days.  But…I digress…) into that plan.

So the Pats are doing what they always do during the free agency period.  Eschew the bigger names and sign a bunch of depth-type guys and see who sticks.

What’s wrong with that?  Doesn’t that always seem to work?  For the most part anyway, I would say?

But the fans once again do not like it.  Talk radio hosts don’t either.  So yet again, we have to listen to everyone squawk about how “Bill never does anything” and “we need a receiver who can stretch the field” and all that crap.

Doesn’t anyone ever learn?

Sure, I suppose it would be nice to have had defensive end Trey Flowers return.  Or have the Patriots sign a high profile free agent from outside the organization such as linebacker C.J. Mosley or the “Honey Badger”, safety Tyrann Mathieu.  OR trade for another high profile guy such as receivers Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown.  Who doesn’t love a big splash?

But this is not how New England does business.  This is not how Bill Belichick has EVER done business.  No, we can’t count the acquisitions of Randy Moss or Corey Dillon back in the day.  Bill took advantage of disgruntled stars supposedly on the decline.  Beckham and Brown may have been disgruntled, but they don’t appear to be on the decline at all.  Not the same situation.

Maybe you can count the Adalius Thomas acquisition as an exception.  But you get the point:  it’s rare that Belichick signs off on these types of things.

So even though the re-signing of Brandon Bolden and the signing of Matt LaCosse may be the two biggest moves of the offseason thus far (Ok, it’s actually the trade for Michael Bennett.  But once again, you get my point), there is no reason to panic at this point.

Especially considering that we have about three and a half months before training camp even opens.  Not to mention a draft at the end of the month.

The draft?  Yeah, I know that is a crapshoot.  Especially for Bill and his crew.  But they have 6 picks in the first three rounds.  Gotta believe that a couple of those pan out.  Not to mention that the 12 picks they have overall will eventually turn into 16 this year (5 in the seventh round) and one or two next year.  So they can miss on a great deal on them actually.  Though we aren’t hoping for that of course.

I would guess the focus at the draft would be on tight end, receiver and fat guys on both sides of the ball.  Then again, the Pats won with THAT group of receivers last year, so maybe they just sign a couple more bums off the street to cover that.

But a TE in the first round?  Eminently possible.  Some would even say probable.  But knowing Bill he takes a safety or something.

In any event, this roster is far from being final.  Not to mention I really believe the team thinks Josh Gordon will contribute next season…for whatever that is worth.

As for the free agents they HAVE signed, I can’t say I have a tremendous problem with any of them.  I don’t particularly love Bolden.  But Bill is going to stockpile his special teamers whether we like it or not.  And since Bolden wasn’t here last year and the special team units kind of stunk, bringing him back can’t be awful.  “Safety” Terrence Brooks allegedly will help there too.  Nose Tackle Mike Pennel HAS to be better than either Malcolm Brown or Danny Shelton, right?  LaCosse won’t be Gronk.  But hopefully, he won’t be Dwayne Allen or Jacob Hollister either.  Bringing WR Phillip Dorsett, CB Jason McCourty, P Ryan Allen and DE/LB John Simon back won’t kill you.  We will see about new WRs Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris.

Then ask me again after the draft…where they may have to take a kicker now too, as Stephen Gostkowski and the team are apparently differing on the amount of compensation in the next potential deal.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Gostkowski can be shaky at times.  Seemingly during key times.  BUT when you look at the body of work, you have to acknowledge that he has been pretty damn good over the years.

Many people want Gostkowski gone.  But look at some of these kickers floating around the league.  Not good.  Be careful what you wish for.  One of those retreads may end up in Foxborough.  Then you’ll be begging for Stephen to come back.

Now, he should face competition from someone next year.  Say that every year.  Spending a low round pick on a kicker, I would not be adverse to.

While we are on free agents and Gronk and all, many people think Gronk “screwed” the Patriots by waiting so long to announce his retirement.  Because people felt that they could have spent his cap room on a guy like free agent TE Jared Cook.  Or free agent WR Adam Humphries.

But did he really screw them?

We are talking about Jared Cook here.  A 10 year NFL veteran…of 4 different teams.  Now a 5th with New Orleans.  Who has never broken 1,000 yards…or even 900.  Are we as fans really bitter on missing out on him?  I can’t see it.

We are also talking about Adam Humphries.  Now, Humphries is a young, ascending slot receiver…we think anyway.  Could be the next Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, etc.  But what if he isn’t?  On top of that, how would a big fat contract like the one he supposedly was offered look in the “room”, with Edelman still here making maybe half of what Humphries was making?  Can’t say that would be a positive, though the Pats have certainly dealt with distractions like that before and could have worked around it I’m sure.  But worth noting.

I have to tell you if Gronk “screwing them” is the popular thinking, why are we also not blaming guys like Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower for “screwing the Pats”?  Those guys’ inflated cap numbers are not commensurate with their play.  Hightower came out and said he wasn’t taking a pay cut…not sure if the Pats even asked.  Not sure about anyone asking Devin either, but I am betting if they did, he balked too.

Now, we know Bill loves those guys “in the room”.  But Stephon Gilmore restructured.  Maybe they should have considered it too?  Michael Bennett even restructured and made himself some more money in the process.  Maybe Devin and Dont’a could’ve too?  Just sayin’…

Tom Brady will likely restructure down the road as it’s unlikely he will keep that 27 mil cap charge for next season.  And if he really plans on playing until he’s 45, then an extension should be in order as well.

Bottom line?  They will work the cap any way they need to in order to make things work.  Like every other team does.

Speaking of Brady, how does everyone feel about Josh Rosen?  Rosen didn’t have much of a rookie year in Arizona last year.  But he’s young.  And a Top Ten pick from last year.  I know, Blake Bortles was taken third overall in 2014…so I guess Rosen’s draft slot doesn’t mean a whole helluva lot.  Not to mention the fact that I have no idea if the kid can actually play.  But the scenario is worth monitoring.

Don’t the Pats have to add a “real” quarterback this offseason?  I say yes.  But I guess this is where Bill usually says “no”.

By the way, Gronk’s agent flapping his gums about him potentially coming back?  I suppose it’s possible.  But I’m not betting on it…

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What’s Next? Conclusion…

Defense and specialists today…and hopefully a little shorter read…but I make no guarantees.  Positive news came Saturday, most assuredly because the Blowhard wrote about it.  Dwayne Allen was informed of his release.  So we are off to a good start!  I still will not be surprised to see him back at some point in the spring or summer once he finds out no one else wants him.  Anyway, moving on…

DE:

Under contract:  Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Ufomba Kamalu

Unrestricted free agents:  John Simon

In limbo:  Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn

What I would do:  Yikes!!  Flowers is by far the best player on this list.  So I would strongly consider franchise tagging him.  There are very few candidates for that tag, and we’ve already ruled out using it on Trent Brown.  Flowers is a great fit for this defense with his versatility and seems to be a great team guy overall.

Pickings are slim after that.  Clayborn is in limbo because he counts almost 6 mil against the cap next season…and did next to nothing this past season.  You most commonly found him pushed out wide and past the containment, so that the QB or RB had open field in front of them.  He was a healthy scratch a few times down the stretch.  We were skeptical of the signing the last offseason and we think we were proved right.  Let him go and spend that money elsewhere.

Wise shows flashes, but also is banged up a lot.  Davis and Rivers rarely played.  Kamalu was signed late in the season and didn’t play much after that.  The first three will be here, not so sure about Ufomba.  I’d probably re-sign Simon for depth since he seemed to play ok when he was in there.  But resources need to be invested in this position, whether it’s on Flowers or others.  Adding players through the draft wouldn’t hurt either.

What the team will probably do:

Not tag Flowers and regrettably let him walk.  The local writers seem to think that because Trey doesn’t post big sack numbers in this defense that he won’t command big money league-wide.  But we’ve looked a few NFL free agent rankings lists from national sources and he is in the Top Ten of all free agents available.  Sssssso…so much for that thinking.  Not to mention the fact that the last two Defensive Coordinators the Pats have had are now at the helm of other teams.  They know how good Flowers is.  Seems to be a good chance they may make a run at him.  Smoke is currently coming out of Miami that the Dolphins have interest.  Makes sense, that is where Brian Flores just went.  Flowers has rings and will likely want his dough now too…and you certainly cannot blame him for that.

Other than that?  Simon will probably be back, along with Davis, Rivers and Wise.  Then they will likely try to find the next Flowers in the 4th round like they did with him.  Or somewhere else in the draft.  Clayborn?  Hard to believe he survives.  But Bill does like his vets.

DT:

Under contract:  Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Trent Harris, Frank Herron, David Parry

Unrestricted free agents:  Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton

In limbo:  None

What I would do:  Yikes…again!!  Brown and Shelton were supposed to be the big dudes in the middle that would stop the run.  They couldn’t stop anyone.  Yeah, I suppose some of that may have been by design…letting teams do anything they wanted to on the ground so they didn’t make big plays through the air.  After all, the NFL is a passing league.  But still.  Those two were kind of putrid.  There was probably a good reason the team passed on exercising both of their 5th year options on their rookie deals last offseason.  Exercising those would have kept them both here for 2019.  But would have cost them upwards of 7 million apiece.  No thanks.  I wouldn’t bring either of them back.  Shelton was actually benched several games down the stretch.  Not a good sign.

According to guys like Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, Guy was a solid player every week, sometimes spectacular.  Almost worthy of team MVP consideration.  I didn’t see it, but I don’t watch copious amounts of film as he does.  So how the hell am I going to argue with that dude?  In fact, I don’t watch any film, but that’s beside the point.  In any event, as a result, we have no complaints with Guy.  Butler seems useful as well.  Harris, Herron and Parry seem to be practice squad types.  But maybe one or more explodes in the summer and makes an impact as at least a depth piece next season.

But I’d invest a relatively high draft pick at this position (but how many picks have I given away already?).  And sign another useful veteran or two with at least a little something left.  Work these 2 or 3 in with Guy and Butler.  Then stockpile another Harris and/or Herron and/or Perry with the real Harris, Herron and Perry for more practice squad depth.

What the team will probably do:  Read recently that the Pats were considering re-signing either Brown or Shelton and perhaps both.  Ugh.  I don’t know about that one.  But they do need bodies.  And if it was partly a scheme thing where they were exposed, then…maybe.  But it wouldn’t shock me if at least one was back.  They would have to come significantly cheaper than the 7 mil mentioned above though.  Brown is the higher rated one and the possibility exists that he has run his course in New England.  Shelton maybe can use the excuse of having one year to adjust to the system.  I wouldn’t buy it, but maybe Bill cuts him that slack.

I believe they do take one high in the draft too…Brown went in the first round when he came in and Vince Wilfork back a bit too.  Then they just fill up with some other dudes that won’t cost much.  I wouldn’t expect a big splash here.

LB:

Under contract:  Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’whaun Bentley, Calvin Munson, Christian Sam

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Dont’a Hightower

What I would do:  Welp, Hightower already came out and said he would not take a pay cut, so there is that.  Because that is something I would certainly attempt to do.  Dont’a looked rather pedestrian most of the year, until the Super Bowl at least.  11 mil against the cap in each of the next two years, seems like too much.  If they end up having the room, I’d probably keep him at that number at least one more year.  The reasoning is that Roberts still stinks and they really don’t know what they have in Bentley quite yet.  He looked pretty good early on, but then got hurt.  So we will see.  Van Noy has one year left on his deal and undoubtedly will be looking for big dough.  He seemed to take a step up this past year, but is that for real?  I’d obviously work to try to extend him, but not if the money is extremely silly.

I’d consider bringing another veteran here as well and perhaps a draft pick.  But it’s hard to tell if they need many more bodies here.  Rivers and Simon could possibly be considered outside linebackers.  Plus safety Patrick Chung fills some of this role.  So they may not need another vet if they have all the bodies above.

What the team will probably do:  I imagine they keep Hightower at his current number.  For one more year anyway.  I bet they try to extend Van Noy as well.  I’m thinking they will lowball him though, per usual, and he won’t bite.  I mean, he has two rings now and three Super Bowl appearances in his two and a half years in New England.  After his age-28 season in 2019, he will want to get PAID.  And that won’t happen here.  Bentley and Roberts return along with the rest.  They may draft someone, but I don’t actually see them doing much here.

CB:

Under contract:  Stephon Gilmore, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen, J.C. Jackson

Unrestricted free agents:  Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty

In limbo:  Jonathan Jones (restricted free agent)

What I would do:  Tender Jones at the highest level they can, so he doesn’t get lost.  Or re-sign him quickly.  I know, he’s Jonathan Jones.  But he has mostly acquitted himself well at slot corner when he is out there.  Plus he added safety to his repertoire in the Super Bowl (and likely other games but no one noticed).  And with the top three safeties getting up in age and not much depth behind them, Jones could play a key role going forward.  Especially if the second round pick Dawson actually gets on the field next season.  They like him still and apparently, his best position is slot corner.  I’d consider re-signing McCourty as a depth piece, as long as he doesn’t command too much.  The team loves Jackson, but Jason can be some insurance as they continue to bring J.C. along.  It’s time to part with Rowe of course.

What the team will probably do:  Exactly as I mentioned above.  If Jason wants to come back, it will have to be on the cheap.  Maybe the Pats gamble on Jones by not tendering him at a high level, but they also value him on special teams and you know how Bill feels about those guys.  I would expect them to bring him back.  They will also probably let Rowe hit the bricks, now that there are a lot of capable bodies at the position.

S:

Under contract:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard

Unrestricted free agents:  None

In limbo:  Devin McCourty

What I would do:  McCourty has a ridiculously high cap number at thirteen and a half.  That is unacceptable.  He looked a step slower this year himself.  But would I cut him?  Hmmmmm…probably not without a capable player to replace him.  Since 2019 is the last year of his deal and that he has stated that he will continue playing AND seeing that he is a good leader for this team, I would consider extending him a year or two to get that cap number down.  Chung is solid and locked in.  Harmon is overpaid as well, but the number doesn’t kill them and you could do worse at third safety, so he sticks.  No idea if Melifonwu can add anything after a full offseason with the team.  Or Howard either for that matter.  I would bring another decent body in, whether that is through free agency or the draft.

What the team will probably do:  I bet Devin balks at a pay cut if asked.  He may extend, but since his play slipped a bit and he did talk retirement the week of the Super Bowl, the Pats may not go that route.  Hard to believe they would cut him, seeing that they overpaid greatly for him once he hit free agency last time and of course what he brings to the table as far as locker room presence and leadership qualities go.  I believe he just sticks at that cap number for 2019, as unseemly as that sounds, and let things play out next offseason.  I do expect the team to add some bodies here, but don’t go expecting Earl Thomas or anything.  If Thomas is even still any good, that is.

Specialists:

Under contract:  Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST), Joe Cardona (LS)

Unrestricted free agents:  Ryan Allen (P), Ramon Humber (ST), Albert McClellan (ST)

In limbo:  Stephen Gostkowski (K)

What I would do:  Gostkowski is a free agent and I would definitely bring him back.  Sorry.  He has declined a bit but is still pretty solid.  His playoff performance in recent years does kind of make me pause.  BUT…who else are you going to bring in?  We all have seen how bad kicking is across the NFL.  It continues to mystify me how the league cannot find 32 good kickers in this entire world.  It also continues to mystify me how kickers all of a sudden have a problem with the extra point, as soon as the yard line was moved back to make it a 33 yarder a few years back.  I don’t know if I would use the franchise tag on Stephen, but they have used it before on him and although I may use the tag on Flowers, I know the team won’t.  So they will have the option to use it on Gostkowski.  Yet again though, I would bring in competition for him at camp, something they have not done in years.  Maybe that helps him even more.

I’d bring back Allen, Humber and McClellan too.  But the world won’t end if they don’t.  And I’m not overspending to keep a punter.  The Pats actually brought in a kid last year and tried to hide him by not having him punt in the preseason.  Didn’t work, as Corey Bojorquez was claimed by Buffalo at final cuts.  Can’t hurt to bring in another punter for competition even if they bring Allen back.  But the punter is probably last on everyone’s list.  McClellan seemed to make plays out there once he was signed halfway through the season.  He blocked two punts in one game.  But they will find other veteran special teamers if Humber and McClellan leave.

What the team will probably do:  Gostkowski will be franchised…I can feel it.  They will probably try to sign the other three free agents as well.  But again, they will find replacements if they can’t.  Not much to fret about here.

OK, so this piece wasn’t shorter, my apologies.  But we are finished!

Champs…Yet Again…

…surprised?  I am a little bit…actually, a lot.

Sure, the New England Patriots have a ton of talent.  But, on paper, was it on par with teams like the Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints?  Not so sure about that.  Not to mention having to play the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.  With that atrocious (for them) road record this season.

But that’s why they play the games, as they say.

Plus…the Pats have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  So there is that…

Now, Brady didn’t exactly play his best last Sunday.  But did he need to?  I guess not the way the defense played.  And with how putrid Jared Goff looked.  Then again, it would have been nice to see some points on the board.  And not waiting until about seven minutes left to score a touchdown.  But that’s what happens when you don’t give Brady many weapons.

I’m not sure what happened to Chris Hogan this year.  Hogan had been a fairly reliable wide receiver during his first two years with the team.  But completely disappeared for most of this year.  He supposedly fell out of the “Brady Circle of Trust”.  But seemingly came back in during the playoffs.  Zero for six in the Super Bowl for catches and targets, however.  Disgusting.  And Phillip Dorsett played a good amount of snaps and no one even saw him on the field I don’t think.  James White had one catch on four targets.  Surprisingly not part of the game plan in that respect, but apparently was chipping the Rams’ D-linemen often.  So we will give him a pass.

Other than that?  Just Gronk and Jules.  But I guess that is all you need…Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.  How could the Rams let those two catch ANYTHING?  Have to let those other stiffs beat you, no?

So the Pats won the game…with running and defense?  What, was this 2001 all over again?

Hard to believe.

When you look back, the running game wasn’t exactly stout the entire game.  154 yards is a nice total.  But it was also misleading.

What wasn’t misleading was the fact that the Patriots ran the ball down the Rams throat when it counted most.  Their last drive.  After Stephon Gilmore picked off a Goff floater inside their own five yard line with about 4 minutes left and the Pats up 10-3, the running game then took it to another level.  They marched down the field running the ball led by a pair of 26 yard runs, one each by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead.  (Though Michel couldn’t get two yards on a third and about a yard and a half, but we won’t nitpick too much).

That drive obviously sealed the game.  When is the last time that anyone could say the running game wrapped up a game for the New England Patriots?  The Corey Dillon days?  Usually, Brady would be throwing screens to guys like Edelman and White to get 3-5 yards and first downs because they couldn’t run the ball.  Seemed weird.  But it worked.

The Patriot defense? Sure, they played pretty well.  But was the performance overrated?  Perhaps.  Goff was absolutely abysmal, in all aspects.  And Todd Gurley can tell anyone he wants that he wasn’t hurt.  But that can’t possibly be the case.  He HAD to have been hurt.  10 carries in the Super Bowl?  A handful in the NFC Championship Game?  It’s noble for Gurley to deny his knee was a problem.  But we all know it was.

Not having a healthy Gurley was a huge blow for the Rams…and don’t give me “well, C.J. Anderson was lighting it up after they signed him…”.  Anderson isn’t Gurley.  I think we can all agree on that.  A player isn’t on three different teams in one season for no reason.

I’m sure this factor has been talked about ad nauseam this past week.  However, I have not been able to listen to a lot of the chatter, unfortunately.  But Sean McVay got taken to the woodshed in the game.  Simple as that.

According to people who watch film, and all the other information available that has been analyzed and re-analyzed, it appears that the Patriots had two different calls for the defense for every play…or a majority of them anyway.  One to show the Rams a look before the 15 second mark on the play clock and another for after the 15 second mark.

Why the 15 second mark?  Well, you have all heard about this too.  McVay can talk in Goff’s ear until then.  After that, the line of communication is shut off.  So McVay helped Goff before the time limit, then Goff was helpless thereafter.  Because the Patriots changed things up and Goff had no idea what to do.

My main question is:  How come no other team has figured that out?  I guess teams “do what they do” and don’t strategize to that degree.  Kind of a mistake I would say.  But then again, when you have the same coach and the same systems in place for almost two decades, I guess that makes it easier for a team to do.

My second question would be:  Wow, is Goff really that inept that he can’t figure things out on his own?  Makes you wonder if he is really a franchise type guy.  Not our problem I guess.  But worth noting nonetheless.

So there is your story:  Coaching, defense, running game…and maybe a dash of special teams.  Stephen Gostkowski did have 7 of the teams’ 13 points after all.  Yes, a little shaky.  But the job was done nonetheless.

For all those people who thought the game was boring?  I understand.  If you are not a fan of the teams, I imagine that more offense would have been what you wanted.  If you were like most of the country, wanting the Patriots to lose, well, having the Rams score only three points couldn’t have been that exciting for you.  And…we know that offense is now the name of the game.  See the 54-51 game between the Rams and Chiefs earlier this year.

The fact is, the Patriots should have scored more points.  How many times were they into Rams territory with nothing to show for it?  Plenty.  But defense is still a part of the game.  And fans should have been paying attention to that.  Wasn’t a boring game for the Blowhard.  Then again, being out in a pro-Patriot crowd while enjoying some (many?) adult beverages will often help that, I will allow.

In any event, the New England Patriots are Super Bowl Champions for the 6th time.  Deal with it.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again:  People, for some reason, fail to remember the years before Robert Kraft owned the team.  Many failures, few successes, lots of laughable moments.  Drug scandals, head coaches in the playoffs creating distractions by taking other jobs before the season is over (Chuck Fairbanks AND Bill Parcells), sexual harassment scandals (Lisa Olson), a bogus roughing the passer call (Sugar Bear Hamilton), the Rod Rust (1-15) era, the Sullivan’s and their decrepit stadium, Matt Millen punching one of the Sullivan’s, James Orthwein, Victor Kiam, etc., etc., etc.  The list can go on.

Patriot fans should make no apologies for the past two decades of dominance.  Because we all know the other side of it…and how fast things can change going forward.  Who knows what this organization will look like once Brady and Belichick retire?  I believe that as long as the team remains under the Kraft’s ownership (which should be a significant amount of time, as undoubtedly Jonathan Kraft will take over for his father Robert at some point), I expect no 2-14 or 1-15 seasons.  But that does not mean they will continue winning Super Bowls.

Let’s enjoy this run, ignore the haters…and go for the seventh next year!

Which leads me to what’s next for this Patriot’s team.  Welp, seemingly a lot of roster decisions.  A whole slew of free agents of varying importance.  And we will cover that in due time…

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  1-0

Season (against the spread):  147-120 (55.1%…1.5% better than last year!)

Season (straight up):  171-96 (64.0%…3.4% worse than last year…yikes!)

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