Some midweek Patriots thoughts after an interesting couple of weeks.
1) The Nick Caserio situation remains one that will be interesting to watch this season, especially given how the sequence of events behind the entire situation left us with more questions than answers about Caserio’s future heading into 2019.
Greg Bedard’s report last week about the internal frustration with the New England Patriots in terms of current Texans executive V.P. of team development and former Patriots character coach, Jack Easterby, spoke volumes, painting a good picture of how things played out. Easterby’s meddling reportedly left the Patriots “livid” internally, which then led to the tampering charges the team filed against Houston.
It wasn’t until the Texans learned about the clause in Caserio’s contract preventing him from leaving that they dropped their interest, but by then the damage was done. Thanks to this fiasco, the Patriots now potentially find themselves in a tough situation because it will likely require a promotion and a significant pay increase to retain Caserio, who will see his contract expire next offseason.
As for Houston, it seems they believe Caserio will join them when his deal runs out next spring. After losing out this time, rather than switching gears and directing their pursuit elsewhere, they’ve instead left the seat open. According to reports, rather than hire a new GM, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, Easterby and salary cap specialist Chris Olsen will handle the job heading into 2019. Since they’re not looking for a replacement, it makes you essentially believe that they’ll be able looking to pursue Caserio again once his contract expires, unless the Patriots can put that to rest and lock Caserio up further before it reaches that point.
The big question now is how Caserio feels about the whole situation and whether or not remaining in New England is even a possibility. Having been with the team since 2001, he obviously has deep roots here and a young family in a very stable organization with plenty of job security. But one thing that could be playing out in his mind might simply be, what else is there left for him to prove? Caserio has already been a part of building championship teams, which he doesn’t get the credit for nationally since Bill Belichick’s name is generally the one mentioned when it comes to personnel moves, etc. It could be that Caserio is looking for a new challenge and the Texans are simply the team he might believe would be his best opportunity, especially given the relationships he already has with each of his former Patriots colleagues. Those guys know what they would have in Caserio, so the trust would be there and he wouldn’t have anyone second-guessing his decisions.
As for whether or not Caserio is upset or “wants out”, that was the other discussion which raged on last week, sparked largely by The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, who put together an article that many took as a report rather than an opinion piece. Volin then made it worse by not clarifying that part of things after the story got picked up nationally, telling Houston reporters it was his opinion and then later telling WEEI it was a report, muddying the waters for those who wondered if there was anything factual about it.
That created a mess and Bedard was one who surprisingly took Volin to task in his latest Q&A. Bedard didn’t mince words when it came to his opinion on the matter, saying, “Look at the ‘writer’ and his track record,” wrote Bedard when asked about Volin’s report and how it was handled. “There are people who know what they’re doing, and those who don’t and try to look like they do.”
Either way, it’s a tough situation and one that bears watching given all Caserio does for this football team. Some have wondered whether or not it will affect his job performance over the course of this season but that certainly shouldn’t be something anyone should be concerned about. He’s the consummate professional and it’s safe to say his day-to-day duties won’t be affected.
For now, we’ll turn the page and see how things go but if we’ve learned one thing, this entire scenario was definitely a reminder that Caserio is among several good things this team has going which, unfortunately, won’t last forever.
Retired quarterback Josh McCown has high praise for one Patriots receiver. (USA TODAY Images)
2) Kudos to former NFL quarterback Josh McCown, who retired from the NFL and is now an analyst for ESPN and gave an interesting opinion last week on Patriots receiver, Julian Edelman.
Edelman, who finished as the team’s Super Bowl MVP in February, ranked 4th in McCown’s top 5 list of NFL receivers, which included the likes of Julio Jones (ATL), Michael Thomas (NO), Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE), Edelman, Mike Evans (TB) respectively. That upset a lot of people after the three receivers who led the league in receptions (DeAndre Hopkins, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown) were among those left out of the conversation.
It’s unclear what he based these rankings on but when you consider the entire package, it’s hard not to rank Edelman up there when you take his collective body of work into account. While the final season totals are great, one area that tends to get lost is how valuable a player is in key situations. For example, Edelman has been a key performer in the offense for Tom Brady, with the quarterback completing 65% of his throws to Edelman last season while averaging an impressive 11.7 yards-per-reception. But when you look at how he performed in the playoffs, Brady completed 75% of his 3rd down passes, largely led by Edelman, who caught 8-of-10, all of which moved the chains.
While the season totals tend to be the reason why players get the accolades, it’s funny how the clutch performers don’t tend to get much appreciation outside of their respective teams. Furthermore, Edelman didn’t simply have one good season. He’s been consistently good in key situations and the results speak for themselves. The team has come away with championships in three out of the last four seasons when he was on the field and had it not been for a foot injury in 2015, they may very well have pulled off the win in Denver and knocked off Carolina that year as well.
He may not be a flashy player or do some of the things those other names do but he’s certainly a valuable asset to this football team and better than many seem to think. As a result, it was definitely a good topic of discussion by a player who clearly respects Edelman’s body of work. While you might be able to debate where the Patriots’ receiver may rank, he’s absolutely a player who deserves to be in the conversation when it comes to the upper echelon of pass-catchers in the league, whether opposing fans like it or not.
Based on the league’s plan for reviewing penalties, apparently one play in the Super Bowl might have been different. (USA TODAY Images)
3 ) Stephon Gilmore’s pass break-up in the Super Bowl against Brandin Cooks has been a topic of discussion this offseason when it comes to what will/won’t be called pass interference in the future and it sounds like that play has remained in the crosshairs as they continue working out the kinks for the new rules.
Adam Schefter already previously reported that the competition committee believed that Gilmore should have been flagged and according to Rich Eisen, NFL Senior vice president Al Riveron confirmed during a conference last week that it’s a play that will be flagged after using it as an example during that portion of the recent NFL Media Group’s annual talent symposium.
But it goes both ways. Eisen cited a play between the Chargers and Chiefs during their Week 15 match-up, where Los Angeles overcame a 14-point first-quarter deficit to beat the Chiefs at home.
One of the plays that helped complete the victory for the Chargers stemmed from a pass interference call on Kansas City defensive back Kendall Fuller, who was called for interfering with Mike Williams. The penalty turned things from a 3rd-and-goal from the 10 to a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
From there, Los Angeles not only scored a touchdown, but converted the two-point conversion to stun the high-flying Chiefs.
However, according to Riveron, since it was under 2 minutes, the play would have been reviewed and instead would have seen Williams flagged for offensive pass interference for pushing off of Fuller.
According to Eisen, the room went wild after that was reviewed and somewhere Rob Gronkowski is likely glad that he’s done with a game that saw him flagged an inordinate amount of times over his final few seasons for similar reasons after being mugged by every defensive back who tried to cover him.
Needless to say, it sounds like 2019 should be interesting as the league conducts what, for now, is supposed to be a one-year experiment. Riveron said that in order to reverse or call a penalty, it needs to be “clear and obvious” and show a “significant hindrance” to the player in question. Being as there has been little consistency in that department in recent years when it comes to those calls, and given New England’s history there, most fans shouldn’t expect many of those to go the Patriots way.
3a) A couple of other nuggets worth mentioning from that column. Eisen has high expectations for running back Sony Michel to have a “monster season” for the Patriots. He believes that with Gronk retired, the team will lean on Michel more in 2019 and as a result, Michel should finish with a big year. As for setting any records, Eisen points out that the player who holds that distinction is Corey Dillon, who finished with 1645 yards on 345 carries during the team’s 2004 Championship season.
However, things are a little different these days. This time around New England has a pretty crowded backfield where carries tend to get spread around a lot more. So while a big season for the second-year back may be in the cards, it would likely be tough for him to break Dillon’s record. Barring a philosophy change around here, Dillon’s accomplishment will likely stand for a long, long time.
3b) Finally, Eisen – as of now anyway – believes the Patriots will repeat and he expects them to match-up with the Cowboys in Super Bowl 54. While there could certainly be a surprise team representing the NFC next February, the Cowboys would seemingly be farther down the list compared to other teams in the Conference.
But then again, we all know better than anyone that anything can happen once the postseason starts, so if Dallas gets hot, anything is certainly possible.
Rodgers and Brady are clearly very different people. (USA TODAY Images)
4) We’ll close on this note: Speaking of NFC teams, the obvious match-up many have always hoped for would be a showdown between Brady and Aaron Rodgers, with Rodgers being a player who continues to draw the adoration of analysts and players who have convinced them he can do no wrong. Many even go so far as putting him ahead of Brady as a player, so a head-to-head showdown for the Lombardi trophy would seemingly be a fun way to settle things.
The only problem is, Rodgers may end up once again being his own worst enemy, with his arrogance already rearing its ugly head with new head coach Matt LaFleur.
The two are already butting heads, with the 39-year head coach trying to install an offense that features a philosophy he believes in but Rodgers doesn’t seem completely on board with. The veteran isn’t willing to give up the freedom to make changes at the line if he disagrees with them, which appears to already be creating a problem.
“Aaron and I have had some good talks, and we’re going to have to talk a lot more — and one thing we have to work through is the audible thing,” LaFleur explained via NFL.com. “We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle (Shanahan) in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up. “
“We pride ourselves on having concepts that have answers for whatever. Now, it might not always be the best answer, but you have an answer. But when there are plays that are called that have maybe not a very good answer, we typically call two plays and we run one or the other, based upon the look that the defense is giving us. The quarterback chooses, and there are criteria: We try to teach him the criteria for why we would want this play over the other play.”
For Rodgers, it’s a conversation the two will continue to have, but it’s pretty clear that he has no plans to agree to it.
“It’s a conversation in progress,” Rodgers said in the piece. “I don’t think you want to ask me to turn off 11 years (of recognizing defenses). We have a number of check with mes and line-of-scrimmage stuff. It’s just the other stuff that really not many people in this league can do.”
“That’s not like a humblebrag or anything; that’s just a fact. There aren’t many people that can do at the line of scrimmage what I’ve done over the years.”
That’s a bad sign for a team coming off a similar issue with their last head coach. While it’s going to take a while for the two to get on the same page, there’s going to have to be trust and some flexibility on both sides in order for this to work. Right now, it sounds like it’s one-sided.
Considering his history, chances are probably more likely that Rodgers isn’t going to be willing to bend and it’s going to be interesting to see how that pays into the dynamic between the two. Whether or not that affects the Packers this season remains to be seen but the fact this discussion is even out there for public consumption is a bad sign since those things don’t tend to happen here in New England.
For those in Wisconsin hoping to see their team make another run, if I’m a Packers fan, this news certainly leaves me feeling a little uneasy. Although, then again, they’re probably used to it by now. One has to wonder if Rodgers will one day look back on his career and wish he had done things differently. But that would require him admitting fault, which clearly isn’t going to happen.
Lastly, we’ll end this with a video posted by Joe Giza of WBZ who provided us with video from Brady during his 2000 mini-camp. Even then, he looked pretty good and we’re certainly fortunate things turned out the way they did.