It’s Monday and time to get back at it. Here’s a quick rundown of today’s top stories.
Amendola Move a Big One for Patriots – One of the biggest issues facing the Patriots over the years has been the lack of continuity at the receiver position, which has stemmed largely due to the turnover at the position whether it be losing a player in free agency, or the decision to simply move on from a veteran in favor of adding a lesser-expensive replacement. With the plan by the front office to continually try and fill the roster with depth while trying to retain core veterans, it’s a delicate balancing act that sometimes forces difficult decisions. Those decisions have sometimes cost them, leaving quarterback Tom Brady to try and make the best out of a situation that at times has been less than ideal.
This offseason has seen them put together one of the deepest receiving pools in recent memory, and it’s hard not to feel pretty confident about their chances this year given the group that will be surrounding Brady in the coming months. Heading into training camp, excluding special teams captain Matthew Slater, New England has 10 receivers currently on their roster, lead by Julian Edelman, offseason acquisition Chris Hogan, and Danny Amendola. From there, the competition for the fourth and fifth receiver position will be one of the more interesting battles to watch, which will likely come down to Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington, DeAndre Carter and Aaron Dobson, with recent draft picks Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien as potential sleepers who could emerge as targets by the time the regular season opens. Chris Harper also had a strong preseason last year and worked his way onto the roster before a rough night in Denver sent him back to the practice squad.
But the key component in that mix is Amendola, who was been one of Brady’s top targets over the last two seasons. His decision to restructure his contract last week could potentially become one of the key moves of the offseason, as his loss would have disrupted the balance of a roster that would essentially have been one injury away from being completely thrown off. As we saw last year after Edelman went down with a foot injury, Amendola ended up being a key piece in helping the Patriots remain in contention for a top playoff seed and they would have been in rough shape had they not had him on their roster.
He came into the offseason with a cap hit of $6.8 million along with a salary of $5 million, but the two sides managed to put together a more amicable deal last week that with incentives is now worth closer to $8.1 million. That was key on Amendola’s part, who took a pay cut for the second time in order to ensure his tenure continued in New England.
By keeping Amendola the Patriots now have more flexibility in how they handle the bottom part of that position, especially given the fact they obviously have Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett at the tight end position. Had Amendola balked and forced their hand, cutting the veteran would have created an incredible amount of uncertainty that would have created major question marks two months from now when training camp opened.
Instead, the Patriots have the freedom of being able to start working some of the other players into the offense. Should New England end up playing in February, this could be a week that we look back on and appreciate if Amendola once again goes out and has another terrific year. But for now Brady likely breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the band will be back together one more time in 2016, and he can thank #80 for making sure it stayed that way.
Offensive lineman Joe Thuney should be another physical presence for the Patritos this season.
Thuney a great fit inside – The Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian caught up with newly drafted offensive lineman Joe Thuney’s former coach Matt Canada, who was NC State’s offensive coordinator over the past three seasons.
Canada had high praise for Thuney, whose versatility ended up being a key part of the team’s success after they were forced to move him around. But after seeing him get drafted by the Patriots, he’s excited to see how his former player develops at the NFL level.
“We had him at tackle by necessity for what we needed to do to win, but my feeling is Joe will play inside,” Canada told the Herald last week. “Being able to play all three positions just shows how smart he is. But Joe, he can move, he can bend, he likes to play, he likes to be physical. . . . I was really excited when I saw him go to New England. I think it’ll be a great fit for him. They like to do different things with moving guys around. With his versatility, I think he’ll fit in real well.”
As it stands right now, Dante Scarnecchia noted last week that Thuney will likely play inside as the team tries to change things up after not being physical enough in the running game to have much success. You can essentially see what the Patriots had in mind after taking Thuney along with Ted Karras, with both players being guys who are physical and play with an edge. It never hurts to have too many of those guys playing up front, and hopefully Thuney ends up being a key part of turning things around from that standpoint.
“He does (play with an edge). He’s one of those guys that enjoys the game, the competitive part of it,” Canada said. “He enjoys being physical.”
Brissett Draws Praise – One of the areas where Jacoby Brissett excelled in college was his ability to make good decisions and be smart with the football, and according to Canada, it’s one of the things people likely won’t appreciate until they see him out there.
Brissett, who was a teammate of Thuney’s at NC State, threw 20 or more touchdowns in each of the last two seasons while keeping his interception total to single digits. Canada points out that while that looks good on paper, it’s hard to realize just how well Brissett played because he wasn’t exactly surrounded by talent at the receiver position.
“I don’t want to bad-mouth our players, but we didn’t have great receivers. That’s the reason we had so many catches to our tight ends,” Canada told the Herald. “So he had to throw balls to only where our guys could catch them. That’s the thing people won’t understand until he gets there.’’
Butler’s success makes Patriots the place to go for UDFA – When you see an undrafted free agent go from a long-shot to Super Bowl hero, it’s always a great story and given the philosophy here in New England, it obviously speaks volumes about the success of head coach Bill Belichick an what they’ve been able to accomplish.
Belichick has been a coach who came into both of his times as a head coach with similar mindsets, with the idea being that he’ll play the best player regardless of tenure, stature, salary, etc. It made him an unpopular guy in Cleveland after he ousted long-time quarterback Bernie Kosar in favor of Vinny Testeverde, but the move ended up being the right one after he ended up making Cleveland a playoff team in just a a few seasons.
Fast-forward to now and you can see how big of a part that’s played out here. Drew Bledsoe signed what at the time was a record ten-year, $103 million contract with the Patriots in March of 2001, likely not realizing that his career as a starter in New England would be over just two weeks into the ensuing regular season. Belichick’s decision to stay with Brady obviously changed everything, and the team hasn’t had a losing season since.
It’s simple, the best players play. Butler’s emergence was similar to Brady’s in that he played well and started earning the confidence of his coaches, which ultimately earned him a spot on the roster. That’s all any player can hope for, and Mike Reiss pointed out in his Sunday column that after speaking to agents, it’s one of the things that makes the Patriots so attractive to undrafted free agents because they know they’ll get a shot if they simply perform well.
“Clearly when a tryout guy like Malcolm Butler ends up where he does, it’s an example of how they play the best players and it’s truly an open competition, no matter how you got there,” agent Joe Linta told Reiss.
And that’s the reason why four championships later, Belichick’s philosophy remains the right one and it’s why each season that group of players (the Patriots have added eight undrafted free agents) are always one of the key areas to watch during training camp.
Ninkovich’s competitive edge started at a young age – Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich drive and determination helped him emerge as a key component of New England’s defense, and it sounds like that competitive fire started burning at a young age.
Patriots.com had an interview with Ninkovich’s mom for mother’s day, which revealed some of the traits the veteran had from the time he was little, which caused some phone calls home from teachers who thought he was even a little too competitive at times.
“As far as athletics go, I started seeing it when he was fairly young because I would have a teacher call me every once and a while and say Rob was a little too competitive during recess,” Ninkovich’s mom told the website. “I used to tell him, “You know Rob, you’re just playing right now. You don’t really have to win or it really doesn’t matter who wins.” He was fairly young when that was happening. If he was going to do something, he wanted to practice so he was doing it the best. It just continued as he went into high school, especially when he got into high school. He was very focused and put in a lot of work and extra effort to get what he wanted.”
On the field, Ninkovich is tenacious and he looks fearless as he’s battled players throughout his career. However, his mom revealed that there is one fear the veteran has.
“Oh, boy. I could get in trouble,” his mom laughed when asked about it. “Rob is not a fan of spiders. You would think things like that wouldn’t rattle him, but he would have his mother or someone else kill the spider.”
Posted Under: Daily Patriots Rundown