Good morning, and here are our Sunday Patriots news 7-02 and notes for this week. With the 4th of July holiday coming up on Tuesday, we wish all of you a happy and safe Independence Day.
The Patriots rewarded DeVante Parker and Ja’Whaun Bentley this week, extending their contracts with the team, which will keep them around for the foreseeable future. We’ll dive into those contracts and what they mean for the mean moving forward.
After his comments on the “33rd Team podcast,” did Bill Belichick diss the 2001 Super Bowl-winning Patriots team? We’ll give our thoughts on that as well. But training camp is just 24 days away, and the countdown begins to the 2023 season.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and NFL News:
Dante Scarnecchia: The long-time Patriots’ coach has been honored by the NFL Hall of Fame this week. Scarnecchia will receive the Pro Football Hall of Fame Award of Excellence after learning earlier this spring that owner Robert Kraft announced that Scarnecchia will join the Patriots’ team Hall of Fame this year.
Coach Scar’s time with the Patriots goes back to Ray Berry and Ron Meyer, culminating in five Super Bowl victories with Bill Belichick. Anyone who attended training camps at Gillette Stadium will remember Coach Scar doing the hill sprints with his offensive linemen after practice sessions in the July/August heat.
Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said, “This year’s group of 17 assistant coaches, athletic trainers, equipment managers, film/video directors, and public relations personnel have impacted their clubs and the game of professional football positively, and this program is a way to recognize that.”
“Each recipient has dedicated decades of time to creating meaningful change for their respective field, their teams, and the National Football League.”
Congratulations, Coach Scar; it is a well-deserved honor.
Dalvin Cook: The former Vikings’ running back has been rumored to be possibly headed to New England. A sports betting site has the Patriots as the odds-on favorite to sign both Cook and DeAndre Hopkins this summer. However, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport threw some cold water on that report.
“If they paid Dalvin Cook and gave him a real running back salary, it’d be the first time they really paid a running back in; I don’t know, maybe forever, at least a real starting running back,” Rapoport said on NFL Network. “Plus, they have Rhamondre Stevenson; if he goes off this year, he could be prime for a (big extension). Instead, I’d focus more on the teams that were interested in potentially trading for him originally.
“The Denver Broncos, the Miami Dolphins. Might a team like the Jets, who could be looking to get the final piece to the puzzle,” he added. “Maybe focus more on those teams rather than the Patriots.”
From a pure football standpoint, adding Cook to the backfield with Rhamondre Stevenson would be an intriguing option to watch.
Training Camp Dates Announced: The Patriots have announced that the 2023 Training Camp will begin on Wednesday, July 26. The Patriots begin their 63rd camp and their 21st at Gillette Stadium this year as they begin preparation for the 2023 NFL season.
The first three dates are July 26-27, and 28, times TBD; There will be another practice scheduled for either that Saturday or Sunday, the 29th or the 30th. Updates will be posted on the team’s website.
The Patriots are also conducting joint practices with the Packers and Titans, but both of those will be conducted on the road before preseason games on August 19th and 25th, respectively.
Suzy Kolber/Todd McShay: Kolber, who has worked for ESPN for 27 years, announced on Twitter Thursday that she was being let go by the network in the latest of a run of layoffs by the media giant.
Kolber was a fixture on ESPN and was the host of Monday Night Countdown among her many duties covering the NFL for the network. Kolber posted on Twitter this short message: “Today I join the many hard-working colleagues who have been laid off. Heartbreaking-but 27 years at ESPN was a good run. So grateful for a 38 yr career! Longevity for a woman in this business is something I’m especially proud of.
Next step- a project that gives back. ❤️(emphasis mine)
Arguably one of Kolber’s finest moments was during the chaotic, heart-wrenching injury to Damar Hamlin. The network turned to Kolber and the crew in-studio. As the situation was unfolding on live television, Kolber handled the situation as the commensurate pro that she is. With grace and dignity and didn’t delve into “hot-take” speculation. She won’t be unemployed for very long, IMO.
McShay has been with the network for 17 years, focusing mainly on the NFL Draft and analysis. Originally brought on board in the event that ESPN lost Mel Kiper, he and Kiper would act as foils for one another during draft season.
Other well-known football commentators let go by ESPN on Friday include Steve Young, Matt Hasselback, and Keyshawn Johnson.
Jonathan Jones: The Patriots’ cornerback pushed back on the NFL’s gambling policy after several players were suspended for violating the league’s rules on gambling.
“I understand rules are rules,” Jones said in a Twitter post, “but I can risk my life so that my team wins, but I can’t risk 1k on my team winning.”
Back in 2015, Commissioner Roger Goodell had this to say about the NFL and sports betting. “We’ve been very open about our position that we oppose legalized sports gambling,” Goodell said. “We haven’t changed our position on that, and I don’t anticipate us changing that going forward at all. We think the integrity of the game is the most important thing.”
What changed from focusing on “the integrity of the game” to partnering with sports betting sites? Money… as in money in the league’s coffers. The league is expected to earn $1 billion in the deal.
Isn’t it just a bit hypocritical of the league to partner with and embrace betting sites (including a 5 percent ownership in Draft Kings) and then punish players for using these sites? While most players (like Jones) would want to bet on their own teams, it potentially opens the door for other players to throw games to rake in large bets.
And while most players use their own devices to place bets, what is to stop friends and acquaintances from placing bets for them? It will be extremely hard to monitor. Once again, money wins out, and the league pockets the cash while players and employees are punished for trying to use the same partner sites.
Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t listened to our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Patriots 4th & 2 is expanding. Russ will join Derek and me occasionally but is going to focus on frequent (about daily) short podcasts during the week once training camp and the season begin. These will be about 15-20 minutes long and focus on one topic. That will bring more great content from the crew. Derek and I will also join Russ from time to time as well.
Derek and I spoke about the DeAndre Hopkins situation, the new contracts, and training camp questions this week.
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.
Parker, Bentley Get New Deals —
The Patriots signed DeVante Parker, who was entering the final year of his contract to a new deal that will carry him through 2025. As part of his new contract, Parker can reportedly earn up to $33 million, although much of that is tied up with incentives and roster bonuses.
The 6’3, 219-lb, 30-year-old Parker had 31 receptions for 539 yards (17.4-yard avg) with three TDs in 2022. He is a big, physical “X” WR who excels at contested catches above the rim. He is a player who garners much separation but still was an effective option outside the numbers for the team in 2022.
His cap number under his old contract was $5.7 million, which is expected to be lower in 2023. The new deal can be construed as an acknowledgment that Parker still fits inside the team’s plans for 2023, regardless of the fact that the team is still pursuing free agent WR DeAndre Hopkins.
Many (including here) believed that if Hopkins were signed, Parker would be the odd man out. But apparently not. Although I still put the odds of Hopkins signing with New England at only 30 percent, having Parker and Hopkins on the field would make for some intriguing possibilities. Derek Havens mentioned to me the Red Zone, where the Patriots were awful in 2022, could have Parker, Hopkins, Mike Gesicki, and Hunter Henry as targets for Mac Jones. That’s a pretty good group of receivers.
While it is still only an exercise of hope right now, it does sew up that Parker will be around for now. And with Bill O’Brien calling the shots this season, there is no reason why Parker can’t improve his production.
The Patriots also extended linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley to a two-year extension that is worth an estimated $18.75 million, with $9 million fully guaranteed. Bentley, who turns 27 in 2023, is a 6’2, 245-pound thumper in the middle who is outstanding in run support and has used his speed and athleticism to become a much better coverage backer.
Mike Reiss of ESPN quoted de facto Defensive Coordinator and linebacker’s coach Jerod Mayo in his piece regarding the Bentley deal.
I’m not sure why he doesn’t get much publicity,” Mayo said last season. “But he’s one of the best ‘backers in the league.
“You saw the season that he put together last year,” Mayo said this spring. “He is very smart and knows the entire defense. He’s fast, big, strong at the point of attack. He’s just a great player. With the loss of Devin (McCourty), it’s going to take multiple people, but what I will say is that Bentley will be a huge cornerstone to that rebuild.”
Bentley appeared in all 17 games last year and made 125 tackles, including four tackles for loss (TFL), with 7.5 QB hits, one interception, and a fumble recovery. He’s become the captain and leader of the front seven in the mode of Dont’a Hightower and Willie McGinest. He’s well respected both on the field and inside the locker room.
Patriots.com’s Evan Lazar post this on Twitter. Bentley, in 2022, rated among all inside linebackers in the league:
80.4 PFF Grade (8th-best)
20 QB pressures (T-6th best)
33 run stops (T-10th best)
78.7 passer rating into coverage (fourth-best)
The deal makes sense from a financial and cultural standpoint. Bentley is a high-character, dependable player, who, much like Hightower, may not be an All-Pro player, but he is that valuable for the Patriots. With so players hitting free agency next season, locking up some of the established veteran presences in the locker room is a very good thing.
Did Belichick Diss the 2001 Super Bowl-Winning Patriots?
On the “33rd Team Podcast,” Bill Belichick made some comments that drew the ire of former Patriot linebacker and now television analyst Ted Johnson. To be fair, most of what Belichick does these days also is slammed by Johnson, but Belichick’s comments deserve a look.
“When the opportunity came in 2000, even though this team was nowhere near the team that we left in ’96, it had declined quite a bit, there were still a few pillars here that we could build with,” Belichick said. “And I’d say by ’03 — even though we won in ’01 — by ’03, this was a pretty good football team in all three phases of the game. It kind of took the same basic four-year window that it took in Cleveland. Again, we were fortunate to win in ’01, but I’d say by ’03, ’04, we had one of the better teams in the league.”
“It amazes me that he would devalue or discredit the 2001 Super Bowl team,” Johnson said. “I know we were 14-point underdogs, but it’s weird. I would think he would be more proud of that Super Bowl than any of them. I take issue with these comments.”
None of what Belichick said there was truly inflammatory. The 2001 Patriots started off badly and then lost QB Drew Bledsoe, who had signed a $100 million contract. That team then remarkably pulled together and got hot at exactly the right time. However, they entered Super Bowl XXXVI as 14-point underdogs. That wasn’t an oversight, and no one gave them a chance. But the defense overachieved, and Tom Brady emerged as Mr. Clutch for the first time.
The pillars that they leaned on during Belichick’s early reign and that he mentioned above consisted of Drew Bledsoe, Troy Brown, Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Lawyer Milloy, and Adam Vinatieri. Most of them would be part of the three first Super Bowl teams. But Belichick, in 2002, began to jettison off many of the players that were carried over from 2000. And in 2003-2004, the team didn’t sneak up on anyone. They went 14-2 in both years and were easily the best team in the league.
His comments were not disrespectful toward that 2001 team that played fantastically down the stretch and overachieved. He was even quoted in David Halberstam’s book, “The Education of a Coach,” after SB XXXVI that he couldn’t believe that they had won the Super Bowl with the team they had.
“Put Paul Brown at the top of the list,” Belichick said on which coaches he would have loved to coach with. “I would have loved to have done that.”
“I think he really took the West Coast offense, and it was so far ahead of its time with the West Coast principles that Bill Walsh took and turned it into the West Coast offense,” Belichick said. “But, you know, Coach Brown also was so innovative in so many other ways, whether it was the play-calling, whether it was the cab squad, the screen and draw plays that evidently he kind of stumbled into. But that was kind of the creative way that he worked was to see things and figure out how it would disrupt the defense. I know Coach (Tom) Landry was like that, too.”
“When I worked with Jim (Brown), and we’d have a lot of conversations, Jim would refer to Paul Brown very frequently,” Belichick said. “(Jim Brown would say), ‘This is the way Paul did it.’ Or, ‘Paul did it a little bit differently.’ Or, ‘Here’s why Paul did it this way or that way.’ And it really gave me a lot of insight from a player’s perspective into the way that Paul coached the team.”
Bill Belichick on “The 33rd Team Podcast” which also had quotes about the early years of the Patriots dynasty.
“Talent sets the floor; Character sets the ceiling.” Bill Belichick
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick DeAndre Hopkins Devante Parker Dont'a Hightower Ja'Whaun Bentley Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Super Bowl XXXVI