It’s Monday, and here’s a look at today’s top stories as we begin the week:
Patriots Will Open Against Kansas City – When the season kicks off in Foxboro this September, we now know who the Patriots’ first opponent will be and it should bode well given their history against them.
According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, it’s a near certainty that it will be Kansas City who will be the visiting team to begin the 2017 campaign, and that’s good news for Tom Brady and the Patriots, who have had their way against them in every meeting at home.
Going back to 2002, the Patriots have won the last three regular season meetings at Gillette Stadium against the Chiefs, as well as a Divisional Round playoff win against Kansas City in 2016.
Away from home, it’s been a different story. The Chiefs had success against New England on national TV in 2014, with Kansas City Handing Bill Belichick’s club a 41-14 defeat at Arrowhead Stadium in a Monday night match-up.
That’s an area where the Chiefs have held the edge, having beaten them in two out of their last three meetings away from Gillette Stadium. Kansas City has won the last two match-ups when they’ve been the home team, including that game.
Overall, Andy Reid is 3-1 in season openers since taking over as head coach for the Chiefs.
The Sunday Night game in Week 1 will reportedly include the Falcons opening up their new stadium on the national stage, which should be good for them and will reportedly include either the Packers, VIkings, Bills, Dolphins and Cowboys as potential opponents.
Too Early to Pencil In Jason McCourty? – One thing that was interesting reading the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian’s football notes on Sunday was the fact that while many would call a marriage between the Patriots and free agent cornerback Jason McCourty a perfect match, there’s a small asterisk that needs to be placed on that until one big domino falls one way or another.
Adding McCourty to the mix really can’t happen until the future is decided with Malcolm Butler, and she had a quote from his brother, Devin, that stood out given the fact that barring his departure, the cornerback depth chart doesn’t leave room for a player of McCourty’s caliber given who is currently on their roster.
“We’d love to play together, but I think first and foremost he has to do what’s right for his family, where he could actually play and be out there playing,” safety Devin McCourty told reporters Friday after Boston University’s Play it Forward summit via the Boston Herald. “He’s not at the point in his career where he’s going to just sit on the bench, so he wants a chance to get out there and compete. I’m excited for him. It’s a little bit of the unknown. He’s my brother. He should do all right. Just tell people he’s related to me.”
McCourty pointing out that his brother needs to go somewhere where he “could actually play” is telling, since with Butler, incumbent Eric Rowe and newcomer Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots already have a talented trio of starters. That would likely make McCourty a role player, which is what his brother was referring to.
We’ll likely see step one of what the future will hold this week. From a strategic standpoint, it would make sense for Butler to sign his tender this week given that New Orleans has already made it clear that they won’t be giving Butler an offer sheet, which means that nothing will likely be coming his way by the April 21st deadline when he’s no longer allowed to receive an offer sheet from another team.
That means the only ticket out of town for the veteran is going to require a trade, which can’t happen unless he puts his pen to paper and signs the $3.91 million tender the Patriots have already offered him since the Patriots can’t trade a player who isn’t under contract. If Butler signs it before April 27th’s draft, that could signal that he’s headed elsewhere. If it drags on into June, that’s where it begins to get contentious.
If he hasn’t signed the tender by June 15, the Patriots can reduce his offer to 110 percent of his 2016 salary, which would equal about $660,000. Some might think the team wouldn’t do that, but the precedent is there from what happened with Logan Mankins that the Patriots won’t be the ones to blink in this situation.
It would be surprising for it to get to that point, given the amount of money it would cost him, as well as the fact it would leave him out of options. Unlike Mankins, Butler has already admitted he won’t hold out and his preference is to ultimately stay here.
All that said, I was given a strong indication Butler prefers to be a "Patriot for life." He wants to make it work in New England.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) March 13, 2017
If nothing happens with Butler and he remains a Patriot with the $3.91M tender, he doesn't have any plans to hold out.
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) March 13, 2017
Either way, as we saw with Mankins, Butler would have to suit up in 2017 eventually to accrue the season he needed to reach free agency.
Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point, but this week will certainly be interesting to watch. For now, as it stands for McCourty, he’ll likely be among those keeping an eye on things this week if he has any desire to play here with his brother. But McCourty reminded us all that there’s already a pretty talented group back there and until we know that outcome, any chance of the McCourtys playing together will probably have to remain on hold.
Hightower has some additional incentive to stay healthy this season.
Hightower Has Incentive to Play:
Veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower has had his struggles with injuries during his tenure in New England and after getting a contract extension this offseason, it sounds like there are clauses in his new deal to try and ensure he gets through all 16 games and then some this season.
According to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, Hightower earns $54,687.50 for every game he is active (maximum of $875,000 per season). Volin also points out that Hightower has $2 million in incentives in all four years, including $375,000 if he plays in 65 percent of snaps, an additional $250,000 for 70 percent, $250,000 for 75 percent, and $125,000 for 80 percent.
Hightower has played in 16 games just once during his career, which was in his second season (2013). He played in 12 in 2014, 12 in 2015, and 13 last season.
The good news is, he’s been a key contributor during the playoffs and was certainly a big reason why they won a title in 2014 and 2016. Hopefully that success continues heading into 2017 and he’ll finally be able to enjoy an entire campaign fully healthy.
Voluntary Workouts Begin Monday – Mike Reiss pointed out on Sunday that New England’s voluntary workouts begin today, which should mean there will be a fair amount of players on hand to start getting ready for the 2017 season.
According to Reiss, there should be strong attendance, including Brady, who reportedly plans on being a participant.
Reiss reports that there may be a couple of players missing, including Alan Branch, but otherwise there should be a pretty good group on hand as the team starts putting in the work to try and begin yet another march toward a championship.
Gostkowski Working On His Degree – Stephen Gostkowski is spending some time this offseason improving himself, although it happens to be off the field.
The veteran kicker is apparently finishing up earning his MBA degree at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, which he said he’s trying to do to help prepare for life when his football career eventaully comes to an end.
“I want to be prepared for whatever opportunities may come my way outside of just football,” said Gostkowski via the NFL Players Association website. “so this will help me prepare for a big range of different jobs.”
Gostkowski admitted that balancing his family and work life is tough, but he’s trying to set an example for his kids to try and keep working hard despite the success he’s had on the field in the NFL.
“It’s tough, but as a player you’re very routine – and it’s nice to have a routine in the offseason, too,” said Gostkowski. “It’s also a really good example for my kids. They see me working hard to finish something that is important to me. Overall, it’s just a different kind of challenge than football is.”
He also encourages other players to try and do the same, and that it’s important to try and make the transition to life after football a little easier.
“Give it a try. School isn’t for everyone, but it’s a very advantageous opportunity to further education at no cost to us,” said Gostkowski. “I wish that I would have started sooner, but you can never be too prepared or work too hard for the future. It’s a way to plan ahead and better your future. I’ve heard the transition out of football can be hard, and this is a good way to make the transition easier.”
Good for him, and great advice to other players to always keep working toward making investments in their future so that they’re prepared for what lies ahead after their playing days are over.