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.
*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…
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.