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“D” Is For “Disastrous”…

…or “disgraceful”?  Or “disgusting”?  I don’t know, maybe all of them.  Atrocious is another one, but that obviously doesn’t start with “D”.  And I am not talking about the Blowhard’s NFL picks last week.  Those weren’t so great either.  But we are talking about the Patriots’ defense here.  If you can even call it that.

Three weeks in and the Pats are at the bottom of a lot of defensive rankings.  I mean, the bottom.  Last.  I know…it’s only three games.  And Dont’a Hightower hasn’t played a ton.  And Eric Rowe missed the last game.  And a lot of new players are being integrated in, like Stephon Gilmore, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, Cassius Marsh, Adam Butler, David Harr…well, nevermind on him since he doesn’t actually play.  And the Patriots figure it out every year.  And on and on and on…

Sure, those are all valid points.  But a lot of these guys were here last year.  The safeties particularly have not played well.  That shouldn’t happen with guys like Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and even Duron Harmon.  Guys like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts were here last year.  Harris can’t play over those two guys?  He has to be done if that’s the case.  And if he is done, why is he on the roster?  Van Noy just got himself a nice extension and I don’t think I’m the only one that has wondered why.  Moving on to Alan Branch…he got extended in the offseason too.  Is this where he reverts back to the problem that he has been in past organizations?  Got a ring, got a new contract and then…stop caring?

Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Matt Patricia.  I HATE the way the defensive backs never seem to turn their heads around to look for the ball when it’s thrown downfield.  I don’t love it that they seem to give a ton of space to receivers off the line.  Among other things.  Yes, Patricia is obviously an extension of Bill Belichick, but still, he is the main man on defense.  And his troops have been abysmal thus far.

That being said, they usually figure it out over the course of the season.  I will of course allow for that.  But I don’t believe they have ever started in this deep a hole.  Not to mention guys like Jonathan Jones and Jordan Richards are playing entirely too much right out of the gate.  Probably Roberts, Van Noy, Marsh and Adam Butler too.  I think I saw that Van Noy has played EVERY defensive snap this year.  Really?!  And if they are truly trying to phase Malcolm Butler out this year, seeing that he won’t be here next year, then that doesn’t help.

So am I panicking?  A little.  I mean, how can you not?  Giving up a boatload of yards to Drew Brees isn’t something to be ashamed of.  But doing the same to mediocre quarterbacks like Alex Smith and rookie QB’s like Deshaun Watson is something that just shouldn’t happen.  Cam Newton this week too.  Well, he has played poorly this year thus far, so maybe it’s not as daunting a challenge as it seems on paper.  But it’s still not encouraging.

I think they will figure some of it out as the year goes along, like they always do.  As they always say about the team, “September is an extension of the preseason”.  But I’m not getting giddy about the defense’s long-term prospects.  I don’t think we are looking at a Top Ten defense at all, as currently constructed.

You know what will happen next though, right?  Pats will give up only like 10 points on Sunday and their defense will all of a sudden click and start to take off for the year.  Seems about right…

Chicago at Green Bay (-7.5)

Chicago is coming off a somewhat shocking win against Pittsburgh.  Even though they were home.  And even though that jackass on the Bears tried to showboat his way to the end zone after the blocked field goal before the half…only to never make it.  Hate the Steelers myself personally.  But loved the play.  Sometimes players are just boneheads.  And that’s being kind.

Green Bay is coming off a surprisingly tough win at home against the Bengals.  It’s a Thursday night game, sometimes a crapshoot with the short week and all.  Not to mention a divisional battle.  Last week’s Thursday night divisional matchup between the 49ers and Rams was an exciting game…and close.

All adds up to a close game…a probably Green Bay win, but a Chicago cover, no?

Well…no.  Thursday night games are usually putrid.  Last week may have been the one exception.  Divisional games can be hard to predict.  But I’m feeling a Packer rout.

Green Bay 38, Chicago 24.

Week (against the spread):  6-10

Week (straight up):  9-7

Season (against the spread): 22-25

Season (straight up): 31-16

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New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days.  Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up.  Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster.  Anyway, here goes:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)

Comments:  This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.”  Oops.  At least on Flowers.  Welp, I’ve been completely off before.  And most assuredly will be again.  Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season.  Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team.  So I wasn’t the only one.  There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp.  His attitude.  His fit on the team.  His “coachability”.  And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports.  But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”.  I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet.  Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks.  Not likely to go anywhere.  And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point.  Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot.  It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well.  Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement.  But maybe we shouldn’t have been.  He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension.  Yup…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo

Way Out:  Josh Augusta, Adam Butler

Comments:  Pretty much cut and dried here.  Branch re-signed on a nice deal.  Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere.  May be a little push for Brown in his third year.  But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway.  Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year.  Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season.  And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them.  Good enough for me.

LB (6):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, David Harris

In:  Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi

Out:  Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates

Way Out:  Brooks Ellis

Comments:  When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock.  Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc.  Seemed to be a prime candidate for that.  Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense.  I know, that is “early in camp” too.  But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong.  McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now.  Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes.  He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough.  Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability.  Bates is from Maine and that’s nice.  Ellis?  Yup, no idea who he is.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones

In:  Cyrus Jones

Out:  Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings

Way Out:  William Likely, Dwayne Thomas

Comments:  Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?”  And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”.  Oops.  And.  Oops.  But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year.  Wouldn’t be unprecedented though.  Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp.  Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock.  Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.

As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me.  Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago.  Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that.  I mean, he knows how this organization operates.  But still.  Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened.  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed.  Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them.  Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal.  And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it.  And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year.  That will also benefit the Patriots of course.  But did the team play this out right?  Time will tell.  But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…

Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room.  Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point.  Likely & Thomas?  Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Jordan Richards

Way Out:  Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore

Comments:  Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp.  Three safeties is kind of thin.  But the other guys?  You know what I am going to say.

Specialists (6):

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

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Nothing really to say here.  Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year.  I’m not.  There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year.  No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker.  Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.

That’s about the size of it.  I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year.  Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list.  Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…

New England Patriot Free Agency Review – Defense

Picking up where we left off yesterday…onto the defense.

Arriving:  Stephon Gilmore, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy

Returning:  Dont’a Hightower, Alan Branch, Duron Harmon, Geneo Grissom, Justin Coleman, Brandon King

Departing:  Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Barkevious Mingo

In limbo:  Malcolm Butler

Who cares?:  Chris Long

Worth mentioning:  No one else

Let’s start with the big ones:

*Sign Gilmore for 5 years, 65 million…of which apparently 40 mil is guaranteed.  Whoa.  Lotta dough.  Did anyone see this coming?  I doubt it.  Sure, everyone knew they were likely to lose Ryan.  And that Butler would want some big money sooner, rather than later (more on him later) and that fact may have had some impact going forward.  So signing a cornerback or two in free agency may have been on the list at some point.  But signing a big-ticket CB?  One of the most coveted free agents out there?  On the morning of the very first day of free agency?  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Especially throwing the most guaranteed money for a defensive player in the history of the franchise.

OK, let’s just cover Butler here as well.  A lot of fans seem to be pretty upset that the team would make this kind of move.  After all that Butler has done here…cementing the Super Bowl with his interception at the end of his rookie year.  Then playing at an All-Pro/Pro Bowl level the subsequent two years.  All the while doing everything the team asked him to and keeping his mouth shut.  At limited dollars.  Blah blah blah.

And those fans may have a point.  Butler sure as hell does deserve a raise.  And he got one.  This year as a restricted free agent, he was tendered at the highest level and will make close to 4 million.  I’d say that is a pretty good raise.  Apparently, he was offered 6-7 million dollars a year before this past season.  Now, we don’t know how many years (ie: how many years past his current unrestricted free agent date at the end of next year would he have to lock into and “lose”), or the guaranteed money involved (BIG consideration).  But still looks like a pretty good raise nonetheless.

Malcolm did not want any of that and wants to cash in after next season in unrestricted free agency.  Fair enough for sure.  So despite the fact that we all feel for him to some degree, he really shouldn’t be upset that the Pats pounced on a potential long-term replacement now in case Butler walks next year.  Plus, the team rarely pays players before they have to, unless it’s a situation like above, where the player pushes off unrestricted free agency a few years for additional financial security before the Pats actually HAVE to lay out the cash.  I usually don’t begrudge a player for going after the money, especially in a sport like football where the average career is short.  But…them’s the rules…

As for the two players’ actual skills on the field?  I have seen Butler every week and I love him.  I don’t watch a lot of (ummm…any) Buffalo Bills football, so I can’t tell you if Gilmore is a better player.  But he is a smidge younger.  A smidge bigger.  And the Patriots locked him up for 5 years, so apparently THEY think he is better.  So who am I to argue with that?

All that being said, I hope Butler stays this year, makes his 4 mil, gives the team a great CB tandem (while keeping Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, et al off the field as much as possible) and this helps them win another Super Bowl.  Then he can walk, since I doubt the Pats are paying 2 cornerbacks 8 figures a year apiece.  But now what I think will happen, especially with Butler’s visit today to New Orleans, is that Malcolm will get traded to the Saints post-haste.  It appears it would have happened in the Brandin Cooks deal, but it didn’t for many reasons.  One, Butler can’t be traded without signing his tender.  Two, Cooks had some sort of bonus deadline that he had to be dealt by if NO didn’t want to pay.  And also I suppose three, Butler needs to decide if he wants to play there and sign long-term and he and the Saints would have to negotiate and all that.

Butler leaving would certainly be too bad.  But that’s life in the NFL I guess…now that we’ve beaten this to death…

*Trading a second round pick (#64) to Carolina for Ealy and a third rounder (#72).  Steal, even if Ealy sucks.  Dropping 8 spots in the draft and getting a young defensive end with potential?  One that makes less than a million beans?  With Long and Sheard gone and Rob Ninkovich seemingly towards the end of the line, leaving the position fairly thin?  How could you not do that?  Maybe he’s not as good as the guy that had 3 sacks against Denver in the Super Bowl 2 years ago.  But should be an asset…and absolutely worth the seemingly miniscule acquisition price.

*Re-signing Branch and signing Guy.  You know I wanted Branch back.  Don’t know a thing about Guy and the contract seems steep.  But I’m guessing he is better than Woodrow Hamilton.  And along with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, seems like a serviceable rotation to have in the middle of the defensive line.  I’ll wait and see if Guy gets turnstiled regularly before I complain about this one.  In the meantime, Hamilton can go back to the practice squad and be insurance for if/when Branch decides to smoke some more weed.

The rest:

*I’m not classifying Hightower’s return as a “big” one.  Not because it’s not a big deal he came back.  It sure is…just look at the rest of the linebacking core.  But rather because I think most felt like he was pretty much coming back here anyway.  That he had a “McCourty-esque” kind of understanding with Bill Belichick and the team.  Where he would bring any offers back to the Pats and they would get the opportunity to match it.  Once the first few days of free agency passed with no monster offers for Dont’a, I think this theory became stronger.  I mean, seriously, the Jets?  The cupcakes were a nice touch (huh?), but unless they gave him the moon, did anyone actually think that he would go there?  Doubtful.  Didn’t seem to be other serious suitors.  Always kind of felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.

*Seems like waaaay too much dough for Harmon.  3rd safety, technically a backup.  But I’m not opposed to him being here.  Just hope the money invested in Duron doesn’t stop them from paying someone, you know, good, in the future.

*Again, I expected someone to overpay Ryan.  That happened.  No worries there.  We knew Sheard wasn’t coming back.  But the Colts gave him 25.5 mil over 3 years?  Yikes!  The Colts also gave Mingo 2 mil for a year.  Mingo barely played on D here, so 2 mil sounds way too steep as well.  Guess Indy had some money to burn.

*We covered Long already, with his desire to “get back to being the player he once was”.  Good luck with that, my friend.  I hate to tell you that that ship has sailed.

*Grissom, Coleman, King?  Useful.  Depth.  Low cost.  Sounds good to me.

Now let’s get this Butler nonsense settled…

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