Patriots News 03-19, Thoughts On Early Patriots Team Building
Good morning, and here are our Sunday Patriots news and notes. We hope everyone had a fun-filled and safe St. Patrick’s Day. I think my favorite one was spent in a Tel Aviv Irish pub while working there with my partner Jack. Too much Tullamore Dew.
The Patriots have begun the “early” team building, as there are still plenty of moves to come, including the NFL Draft, but thus far, the team has improved itself and more than made up for its losses. The most frequent refrain we hear is, “is it enough?” And the answer is No, it isn’t. But we’re still in mid-March, and rest assured, the team is far from done. More pieces will be added long before the games begin in six months.
We’ll take a look at the moves they’ve made and who they’ve lost below.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
Scott Zolak: The analyst on the team’s games on the radio and former Patriot QB spoke on his morning talk show Friday after the announcement of the addition of Mike Gesicki about the team’s plans.
“I was told today, this is the first domino to fall, that there’s more to come,” Zolak said. “So, I think this is where they’re starting to make their moves.”
Zolak coyly avoided any particular names in relation to additions but the Patriots have been the subject of trade rumors so, they could sign a FA, make a trade or wait for the draft to add to the offense.
Las Vegas “Patriots?” The Raiders, under Josh McDaniels, had taken some ex-Pats with him when he left to take over. In early free agency, he’s added three more; QB Jimmy Garoppolo, WRs Jakobi Meyers, and Phillip Dorsett.
The Raiders posted a video where the three reunited in the Raiders facility.
Jakobi Meyers: The former Patriot WR signed a three-year deal with the Raiders but left a nice message for Patriots fans on his Instagram account, thanking them for the support they showed him.
He also had an interesting reaction when the details of Juju Smith-Schuster’s contract were released. And he didn’t seem too pleased with the Patriots.
Cold world lol https://t.co/YtYqjrymUw
— Jakobi Meyers (@jkbmyrs5) March 15, 2023
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Russ and Derek were spot-on with their takes on early free agency.
Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that especially Francis isn’t is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.
Analysis On Free Agency (Thus Far) —
The Patriots have made several moves in free agency and have brought back many of their own free agents. They are building their depth, but the additions have made them a better team than last season’s end.
So here are the moves so far in free agency:
Calvin Anderson, OT (two years, $ TBD): Anderson returns to where he began his NFL journey as a UDFA in 2019. In his three years in Denver, he’s mostly been a backup but started seven games at left tackle last year. He could easily be the swing tackle this year or a spot starter if need be.
Riley Reiff, OT (one year, $5 million): Another offensive tackle; Reiff has been a starter for 149 games at both left and right tackle in his career. Last year he started 11 games for the Bears at right tackle. The 11-year vet projects to be the starting left tackle this season.
Juju Smith-Schuster, WR (3 years, $33 million): The former Chief and Steeler WR caught 78 passes for 933 yards for the Chiefs last year. He can operate from the slot or outside and has a knack for getting open by using his bigger body to box out defenders.
Where he is an obvious upgrade over Meyers is yards-after-catch (YAC). And that is a factor that has been sorely lacking with the Patriots’ WRs last year. I think Bill O’Brien will find ways to scheme him and the other skill position players open in 2023.
James Robinson, RB (two years, $8 million): The former Jaguar and Jet running back started his career well, showing his ability to run and catch. As a UDFA rookie in 2020, he rushed for 1,070 yards, catching 49 passes for a total of 10 TDs. His 2021 season was going just as well before he tore an Achilles.
He struggled in 2022 from not being all the way back from his injury, but the Patriots expect him to be closer to his 2020 self this season. He can provide the offense a much-needed relief for starter Rhamondre Stevenson, who wore down at the end of last season after Damien Harris was injured. Robinson can also contribute in the passing game, and he’s caught 91 passes in his three years in the league.
Mike Gesicki, TE (one year, $9 million): Gesicki is a guy that many Patriots fans and media thought would be a great fit for the offense. Now he comes here on a one-year deal. He has the tools to be an excellent red-zone target.
Gesicki has excellent size at 6’6, 250 but isn’t a great blocker despite that. However, the Dolphins used him in the slot or matched out wide. He’s a very good linear mover who is a terrific red-zone target. In his four years in Miami, he’s scored 18 TDs.
Bill O’Brien had great success using “12 personnel” (2WRs, 2 TEs, 1 RB) here in 2011, and perhaps it is being overstated. However, pairing Gesicki with Hunter Henry in 12 personnel should be a big upgrade over the production of 2021. And a lot of that will have to do with Bill O’Brien doing the coaching.
Bill Belichick has raved about Gesicki in the past. “He’s a hard guy to cover,” Belichick said in December. “Long. He’s a good, crafty route-runner. He’s slick. He can get down the field. Very good hands, can make some acrobatic catches, and has enough quickness to separate. He’s another hard guy to cover on third down — well, on any down, but when you talk about those possession downs, he’s effective.”
Chris Board, LB/STs (two years, $6.9 million): Bill Belichick has always valued his STs units, and the past year must have weighed heavily on his mind after the team was truly awful in that department. Board was singled out for praise a year ago, when Belichick said, “Board, that’s the best special teams player we’ll play against all year. He’s a great, great player.”
Board would be a backup off-the-ball linebacker, where he has contributed in the past, but his value lies with STs. He will be a core 5-team STs contributor and should be an immediate difference-maker on a unit that needs some.
Team Free Agents Resigned:
- Joe Cardona, LS (four years, up to $6.3 million)
- Daniel Ekuale, DL (one year, $ TBD)
- Mack Wilson, LB (one year, up to $ 2.2 million)
- Jabrill Peppers, S (two years, up to $ 11 million)
- Myles Bryant, CB (one year, $ 2.6 million RFA tender)
- Jonathan Jones, CB (two years, $ 19 million)
- Carl Davis, DT (one year, money TBD)
- Raekwon McMillan, LB (one year, $ 2.2 million)
- James Ferentz, C/OG (one year, $ 1.2 million)
- Conor McDermott, OT (two years, $ 3.6 million)
- Matthew Slater, STs (one year, $ 2.6 million)
- Cody Davis, STs (one year, money TBD)
The free agent re-signings are highlighted by the return of future HOFer Matthew Slater, who is a leader on and off the field. Peppers, who IMO, along with Jonathan Jones, are the two most important players to bring back. Peppers was coming off an ACL tear last year and came along slowly, but down the stretch, he was very good and should be even better in 2023.
Cardona is now the highest-paid long-snapper in history, and while his salary cap hit increases yearly, he only takes up 0.67 percent of the cap, according to our friend Miguel (@patscap). Even better, his cap hit will decrease in relation to the increases in salary space.
The rest of the additions are good depth pieces, and it should be noted to some fans and media are quite necessary as the team cannot sign 53 All-Pros to the roster. And will prove their worth because even the stars or starters will get banged up and need a breather during games.
- Jalen Mills, CB (released)
- Brian Hoyer, QB (released)
- Jakobi Meyers, WR (signed a three-year, $ 33 million deal with the Raiders)
- Jonnu Smith, TE (traded to the Falcons for a 2023 seventh-round pick)
- Devin McCourty, S (retired)
- Jake Bailey, P (released)
Devin McCourty will be missed, but his retirement wasn’t a shocker. He had a fantastic career and was a terrific leader on and off the field. Releasing Hoyer and Bailey was no surprise either. Hoyer suffered a concussion and was placed on IR, which at his age, was a sign that it was time to hang it up. Bailey was an All-Pro in 2020, but the last two years have been really tough for him. Injuries and poor performance have made him expendable.
Meyers got a good deal from the Raiders, which was earned but less than what many expected him to draw in free agency. It was obviously more than what the Patriots were offering. Smith was a disappointment, mainly because the Patriots rarely targeted him. His 38 targets last year were far below what he should have been. A fresh start in Atlanta will probably vault him right back to relevance.
The big surprise here was Jalen Mills. He still had two years left on his contract and was a pleasant surprise in 2021. Last year he was hobbled by an injury, and because of his versatility, it was thought he might move over to FS as he played that very effectively for the Eagles. But his release, which further opens up the need for a CB, does save the team about $5 million against the cap.
“Crazy to have Coach Belichick, a legendary coach I’ve watched my whole life, come up to me after the game and tell me he respects my game and how I play,” Smith-Schuster tweeted.
Patriots wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s reaction after Belichick came up to him after a December 2018 game to tell him he respects his game.
“He’s a dynamic player, tremendous player – great with the ball in his hands, great hands, makes some spectacular catches, hard to tackle. So, he’s very good.”
Bill Belichick on JuJu Smith-Schuster prior to the December 2018 meeting between the Patriots and Steelers.
** One final thought on Smith-Schuster; I believe that many of the same people who are lambasting this signing may have selective memory. When he was with the Steelers, I remember them saying “Why can’t the Patriots develop WRs like him.”
“So, how was your week?”
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Calvin Anderson Chris Board Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers James Robinson JuJu Smith-Schuster Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Mike Gesicki New England Patriots New England Patriots wide receivers Patriots Patriots tight ends Riley Reiff