Author Archives: Steve Balestrieri

Steve Balestrieri

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and writes as an Editor at SpecialOperations.com and as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

DL Potential Patriots Defense Draft Prospect Yetur Gross-Matos

Steve Balestrieri
April 9, 2020 at 7:22 am ET

As the 2020 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

We’ve taken a look at a couple of linebackers and at safety but today we’ll look at the defensive line, specifically the defensive end/edge area. 

The Patriots don’t like to rely on one designated pass rusher but a collective effort where they can use different players to create mismatches by using stunts and blitzes to get after the opposing QB. The Patriots were tied for 7th in 2019 with 47 sacks but the leading sack producer was Jamie Collins with 7 followed by Kyle Van Noy with 6.5. Both of them are gone, so the production will have to come from elsewhere. 

On the edge, the Patriots currently have among the players on the roster Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich and Derek Rivers. They can use some fresh blood in there and provide them with the production that they received from Trey Flowers who signed with Detroit a year ago. 

So, let’s take a look at another one of the prospects that we feel would be a good fit for the Patriots and vice versa. A while back we wrote about Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa who could fall to them late in the first round of the upcoming draft. But this next player has an intriguing story.

Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State is a very productive defensive end who is another talented defender just scratching the surface of his professional potential. He’s a long fluid athlete and has the prototypical size for a defensive end at 6’5, 265. 

He’s got excellent quickness and speed to power and consistently walks tackles back into the pocket. His production spiked in his last two seasons and last year had 40 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss with 9.5 sacks and 7 QB hits.

Gross-Matos had to overcome a lot in his early life as he lost his father to a drowning accident and a brother who was struck by lightning before he was 11 years old. He checks all of the blocks with size, speed, production, and athleticism. 

Pros:

– Prototypical size, agility, and athleticism. 

– Excellent production, 35 TFL, 17 sacks last two seasons

– Very good change of direction, and can disrupt the play at the LOS

– Growing more as a pass rusher

Cons

– Hand usage needs to improve 

– Sometimes allows blockers to get in his chest

– Still needs to grow into his frame

What his Role Will Be:

Gross-Matos would initially be a sub-package pass rusher as a rookie. But he has the ability, with good coaching to become an every-down player

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 he should be competing for starting reps

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one. His potential mirrors that of the former defensive end Trey Flowers.

What is his ST Value?

Minimal 

Conclusion:
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, their resident draft expert wrote about the Litany Lion, Yetur Gross-Matos is an impressive person and player. He has the size (6’5″, 266 lbs) to play 4-3 defensive end right out of the gate and will remind fans of Trey Flowers with his mixture of power and quickness. He’s also just scratching the surface of what he can be down the road with good coaching—something he’ll get plenty of in New England.

Gross-Matos is not yet the sum of his parts. The best word when describing him is “potential”. He’s one of those twitchy edge rushers with the size, length, bend and burst that teams covet at defensive end. 

While he’s far from a finished product and could easily pack on another 10-15 pounds of muscle on his frame, he also needs to improve his hand usage, something the Patriots have a perfect mentor in Joe Kim, who uses a martial arts background to teach that. 

Once Gross-Matos harnesses his potential with his speed-to-power moves and improves in the small things that he needs to clean up, he has a ton of upside. In a draft without a ton of talented pass rushers, he is one of the top 3-4 with the ability to become a star in the making. If the Patriots decide to use #23 or trade back into the 2nd round, Gross-Matos should still be available to them. 

Gross-Matos’ highlight reel tape from JustBombs Productions can be seen here: 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

More Potential Patriots Defense Draft Prospects  – S Xavier McKinney 

Steve Balestrieri
April 8, 2020 at 9:38 am ET

As the 2020 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

On Monday we wrote about Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, who we feel is a great fit for the Patriots in what they do and how they normally target potential linebackers in the draft process. On Tuesday, it was another linebacker Malik Harrison. Today we’re going to look at a position that needs an influx of youth, safety

Presently, the Patriots return both starters Devin McCourty and Pat Chung and they are both excellent safeties, McCourty at free safety and Chung in the box. But both are on the wrong side of 30 and despite McCourty having the best year of his career in 2019, the team needs to get younger.

The backups on the roster, Adrian Phillips (just signed, Terrence Brooks, Obi Melifonwu, and Malik Gant are all more in the box safeties than a centerfielder. The team lost Duron Harmon (“The Closer”) to the Lions and need a safety that can defend the deep part of the field in sub packages and eventually replace McCourty. 

So, let’s take a look at another one of the prospects that we feel would be a good fit for the Patriots and vice versa.

Xavier McKinney from Alabama is another great prospect from Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide program. McKinney, like McCourty, has the versatility that Bill Belichick loves in his players. With the Tide, he played equally at slot, free safety and in the box and produced at each one. 

He’s tough, physical and will make plays all over the field, like his predecessor Minkah Fitzpatrick. In the last two seasons, he’s had five interceptions and 20 passes broken up, forced five fumbles and had a fumble recovery. 

Of the safeties entering the draft this spring, McKinney is arguably the best man-to-man coverage safety available. As a senior, he notched 95 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions, 8 passes broken up, and 4 forced fumbles. 

Pros:

– Excellent football I.Q. 

– Outstanding in man coverage, can cover a lot of ground

– Very good change of direction, and burst to make up ground

– Superb versatility

Cons

– Can allow passes underneath when spying on QB

– Struggled a bit on big targets

– Inconsistent tackler at times

What his Role Will Be:

McKinney will take over the role from Duron Harmon as the subpackage deep safety.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 he should be pushing McCourty for the starting deep safety role

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

McKinney will replace Harmon who was moved to the Lions. Eventually, he’ll replace McCourty as the team’s starting free safety

What is his ST Value?

Outstanding. He began his career in Alabama by working his way on the field in the kicking game.  

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, their resident draft expert wrote about McKinney, “His coverage instincts, athleticism and quick-twitch burst are more cornerback than safety, which is why he’s likely to be a coveted toy for teams looking to upgrade and diversify their sub-packages. He can sit in center field all day if needed, and he’s an adequate open-field tackler but has room for improvement in that area. McKinney represents the new breed of versatile, matchup safety with high upside as an early starter.”

McKinney checked in at six-foot, 201 pounds at the NFL Combine. He turned in a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, 19 reps on the bench press, a 36-inch vertical and a 122-inch broad jump. 

Some of his best attributes are his instincts and ability to read a QB’s eyes while in coverage. McKinney is outstanding in man coverage and has tremendous hip fluidity which allows him to change direction easily and while at top speed. Nick Saban often tasked him to cover tight ends and slot receivers and he showed he’s more than up to the challenge.

McKinney is going to go early in the draft, possibly even before the Patriots are selecting at #23. While they may decide to go in another direction with their first pick, if they’re looking for a playmaker who’ll step in on Day 1 and provide quality reps and who’ll eventually replace Devin McCourty, then he would be an outstanding pickup. Many people are split on who is the best safety in the 2020 draft class, McKinney or Grant Delpit from LSU. The feeling here is you can’t go wrong with either. 

McKinney’s highlight reel tape from JustBombs can be seen here: 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Potential Patriots Draft Target – LB Malik Harrison 

Steve Balestrieri
April 7, 2020 at 11:09 am ET

As the 2020 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

On Monday we wrote about Alabama’s Terrell Lewis, who we feel is a great fit for the Patriots in what they do and how they normally target potential linebackers in the draft process. 

Again, presently at the linebacker position, the team currently has Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Terez Hall. The team also has hybrid edge rushers who can also play some linebacker with Chase Winovich, John Simon, Brandon Copeland, Derek Rivers, and Shilique Calhoun.

So, let’s take a look at another one of the prospects that we feel would be a good fit for the Patriots and vice versa.

Malik Harrison from Ohio State is another one of those long-framed athletic linebackers who will play inside at the next level. He’d be an excellent fit in the Patriots 3-4 scheme as an inside backer. Harrison is versatile enough to be a good strong-side (SAM) backer in a 4-3 look 

He’s a very physical, downhill thumper in the running game. Prototypical size of 6’3, 247 who looks the part with a chiseled frame and huge arms. Was a former high school QB with freakish athleticism. 

Was considered only so-so in coverage, but improved as a senior and looked solid in coverage at the Senior Bowl with an interception. Growing as a blitzer up the gaps, he anchors well against the run and has great makeup speed.

Pros:

– Excellent Height and Length

– Freakish athleticism

– Outstanding change of direction, 6.83 in the 3-Cone Drill

– Just scratching his potential

Cons

– Natural aggressiveness makes him susceptible to play action

– Only average instincts

– Coverage ability still somewhat of a question mark

What his Role Will Be:

Harrison will initially be a backup and depth player for Hightower and Bentley. But as he grows into the system he could see more and more snaps as a rookie.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 he should be competing (and winning) reps as a starting ILB. Then look for him to become a much-more utilized blitzer up the A-gaps 

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Harrison isn’t the replacement for anyone on the current roster, but look for the Patriots to use him similarly to how they used Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

What is his ST Value?

He’ll be a frequent and often used coverage player in the kicking game due to his freakish athleticism. 

Conclusion:
Our friend from Patriots.com and Patriots Unfiltered Radio, Mike Dussault wrote about Harrison, “With the expectation that the Patriots trade out of the 23rd overall spot, Harrison would be a great first selection in the second round. He has outstanding size and athletic ability and would bring just the kind of hard-nosed play the Patriots love from their linebacker corps. After testing through the roof at the combine, Harrison is a riser on draft boards and would be an ideal foundational player as the defense looks to rebuild their front seven.”

Harrison, playing on a stacked Ohio State defense had excellent production, 75 tackles, 16.5 for a loss, along with 4.5 sacks. Harrison has the versatility to play all of the linebacker spots and has experience as a core special-teamer (a Bill Belichick positive). 

Harrison is the classic inside linebacker who can stuff the run; hits like a brick wall and is he’s outstanding at shedding blockers and getting runners while they’re still in the backfield. He’s versatile and can be moved around (a la Van Noy) While he does struggle some when it comes to coverage a bit, what we saw in Mobile may be a harbinger to come. He was slotted to go in Rounds 3-4 but I doubt he lasts into the 4th Round with the way he’s been shooting up different draft boards. If he’s available when the Patriots pick in Round 3, he’d be a great fit.

Harrison’s highlight reel tape from JustBombs can be seen here: </span>

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Looking for Linebacking Help, Terrell Lewis Checks All the Boxes

Steve Balestrieri
April 6, 2020 at 7:30 am ET

As the 2020 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

In my Sunday post, I touched upon the need at the linebacker position. The team lost an awful lot of talent of depth with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts all gone this spring. Not only were those players talented but they were versatile too. Van Noy and Collins, in particular, were like movable chess pieces who Bill Belichick could move around and create mismatches. That’s why the sack numbers were so high, especially early in the season when Collins was en fuego. 

At the linebacker position, the team currently has Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall. The team also has hybrid edge rushers who can also play some linebacker with Chase Winovich, John Simon, Brandon Copeland, Derek Rivers, and Shilique Calhoun.

As I wrote for the Sunday column, a lot of people are enamored (and rightfully so) with players Patrick Queen, Zack Baun and a few others who are tremendously talented but are not the size the Patriots usually covet. The average size of a linebacker that the Patriots draft is over 6’2 and 245 lbs. So, while I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it isn’t going to happen for either of those guys but I’m not holding my breath. 

We’ll take a look at a few of the prospects that we feel would be a good fit for the Patriots and vice versa.

Terrell Lewis from Alabama is an intriguing prospect that played in the SEC for Belichick’s good friend Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa. When talking about Lewis, however, his injury history is bound to be a concern. He missed significant time as a sophomore with an arm injury and then all of his junior season with a knee injury. But healthy in 2019, he showed the potential that he possesses. He led Alabama with 16 QB pressures while notching six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. 

He is built like a prototypical linebacker, with a long frame, very well built and excellent footwork. He runs well for a big man at 6’5, 262. He has the versatility to either rush the QB off the edge or drop into coverage. 

Pros:

– Excellent Height and Length

– Outstanding explosion off the snap

– Rare combination of speed and power

– Potential is far ahead of him

Cons

– Injury history in his middle two seasons

– Needs to get a little stronger in setting the edge

– Could use better use of his hands

What his Role Will Be:

Lewis will start out as a depth player, perhaps as a sub-package rusher, but by the end of his rookie season, he should be getting more and more reps

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, in Year 2 he should not only be earning starting reps, but could see his role blossom into one of the leaders of the defense. 

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Lewis is won’t be replacing anyone currently on the roster but could see his role evolve into a similar way the Patriots used Jamie Collins. .

What is his ST Value?

Limited, but the team will probably use him on some of the coverage units taking advantage of his speed and athleticism

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his draft profile wrote that Lewis, played in just 26 games, so he’s less technically sound than most Alabama defenders at this stage, but he was still productive and showed growth as a player in-season. With more coaching and development as a rusher, he should be able to pair traits with the skill to become a future NFL starter

Lewis’s future is tied up in potential. He is not yet the sum of his parts after playing in just 26 games in college. That combination of speed, power, and instinctive play should be an enticing look for the Patriots to take a flyer on. He is probably (if he can stay healthy) going to be a much better pro than he was as college player.

With the Patriots possibly trading down into the second round, Lewis should be around for them in the late 30s or early 40s.  The Patriots like their outside linebackers big, physical, and with the ability to either set the edge or drop their hand in the dirt and rush the passer. Lewis checks all of those blocks.

Lewis’ highlight reel tape from JustBombs can be seen here: 

 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Spreaker as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

New England Patriots News 4-05, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 5, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 04-05 and AFC East notes this week. 

From all of us here, we hope everyone is healthy and happy. Stay safe folks, we will all get through this.  

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:

Robert & Jonathan Kraft: We were pleased to see but hardly surprised that the Kraft family stepped up big time for the hospital workers and first responders in the state. Kraft stripped down the Patriots plane and had it flown to China to pick up the sorely needed masks for medical workers in Massachusetts and New York. 

The plane was only given a three-hour window to load the masks. Although they purchased 1,700,000, they were only able to load 1,200,000 masks before having to take off. The Krafts who are trustees of Mass General Hospital (MGH), showed the kind of empathy that we expect from leaders, be those in industry or government. Well done.

Even the NY Post, a never-ending source of needling toward everything New England, to say the least, had this to say… “THANK YOU Pats!”

Of course, there are always some who can’t take a gesture for what it is and have to try to quantify the gesture with divisive B.S.and try to make themselves relevant once again. Ignore the noise and consider the source, if you’re making this into a political statement, you need to look in the mirror…hard. 

Tom Brady’s Home “Breaking News”: I had to read with some amusement all of these people fighting over the news that the Brady Bunch was moving into Derek Jeter’s mansion on Davis Island outside of Tampa Bay. We knew about that about two and a half weeks ago and wrote about it here on March 22 

But whatever, I guess when you’re the ‘worldwide leader” you can take victory laps over anything you want. Stay close to home Pats Fans…

Bill Belichick: The coach’s philosophy was put on display by NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah who posted a copy of Belichick’s 1991 notes on the draft that Jeremiah received when he was in “scout school” with the Ravens.

Great stuff, his comments about QB play seem like a perfect description of Tom Brady, a full 10 years before he was drafted. “#1 is to make good decisions — then arm, size, physically tough, leadership, guys look up to and have confidence in, a real competitor,” Belichick wrote. “Accurate, rather than a guy with a cannon. Emphasis on our game will be on decision, timing, accuracy — guy needs to be confident, intelligence is important but not as much so as field awareness & judgment. Can’t be sloppy fundamentally unsound guy with ball handling, [techniques] etc.

James White: The Patriots running back who had such a fantastic game in Super Bowl LI admitted this week that he had never watched it…until the quarantine. 

In the game, White had 14 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, adding six rushes for 29 yards and two more touchdowns. He also successfully converted a two-point conversion. White accounted for 20 of the Patriots’ 34 points. That was a Super Bowl record for any one player, and White’s 14 receptions also made for a Super Bowl record. But he never watched any of his own highlights until the coronavirus quarantine. 

“It was actually my first time actually watching the full game a couple of days ago when it was on,” White said in a video conference call. “It was pretty cool to see.”. 

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, check it out. This week Russ, Derek, and I discussed Jarrett Stidham and how we felt things may progress with him…or another young QB. And we uploaded a video in the best Patriots team of the Brady/Belichick Era

How Will the Patriots Value the LBs in the Draft:

With the losses of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts this spring, the linebacker depth has become an area where the team will have to make some moves to shore that up. 

That does not appear to be the case for a free agent signing with the state of the team’s salary cap space right now. And barring a surprise trade…where are they at right now. While they did make a move to bring in Brandon Copeland, they still need help, especially on the edge. John Simon returns, he should have an even bigger role moving forward. Ditto for Chase Winovich, who played well for the team as a rookie. 

Looking ahead, many fans, as we mentioned a week ago, really like both LSU LB Patrick Queen or perhaps Wisconsin LB Zack Baun with the 23rd pick. I wrote before that while Queen is very athletic, and a three-down linebacker who can roam sideline to sideline but his lack of size, the same with Baun, makes me feel that the Patriots won’t target either. 

The Patriots like their linebackers, especially outside on the edge to be big guys. Queen is just a tad over 6 feet and 229 pounds. Baun is 6’2, 238. The Patriots (read Bill Belichick) have traditionally gone after bigger guys on the edge. He shares the same philosophy with his close friend, Nick Saban from Alabama. Saban has two linebackers in the draft that could be of interest to the Patriots. 

Terrell Lewis is an outside linebacker that is cut from the mold that Belichick likes his edge backers to be. He’s 6’5, 262, and has that rare combination of power and explosion off the snap that makes his ceiling very, very high. But he’s had injury issues with the Tide and that could entail the Patriots passing on him.

A couple of other OLBs that the team could target later in the draft are Lewis’ teammate in ‘Bama, Anfernee Jennings who is 6’3, 252 or Casey Toohill from Stanford who stands in at 6’4, 250.

Jennings is the kind of versatile guy that Belichick likes and can switch between defensive end and outside linebacker. He’s frequently compared to John Simon. So coming from a respected program coached by a FOB (Friend of Bill), and frequently compared to a valuable Patriots’ role player could tip the scales for the team on Day 3.

Toohill seems like a guy who is just scratching the surface of his potential. He has the frame to fill out some more and get a bit stronger. While he struggles to defend the run, he has a very high potential as a pass rusher. He’s smart too, and was a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded to a scholar-athlete for “combined academic success, football performance, and exemplary leadership.”

The team also needs some depth behind Dont’a Hightower (and Ju’Whaun Bentley), inside. And if the Patriots decide to stick with a 3-4, one player that may fit is Evan Weaver from Cal who is 6’2, 240. Weaver may not look the part, but he was the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He’s not fast but is able to diagnose quickly and plays faster than his timed speed. He’s a hard-hitting thumper who has been remarkably durable. He hasn’t missed a game all the way back to high school.

But the guy they may covet is Ohio State LB Malik Harrison. Harrison is 6’3, 247 and is another versatile guy, who has played all of the different LB positions. While Weaver may not look the part, Harrison has the chiseled, v-shaped frame. He has freakish athleticism and is another guy that is just scratching the surface of his potential. The knock-on him was he was slow to diagnose but improved as a senior.

Kessler Release Means Another QB Taken in the 2020 NFL Draft:

The Patriots, in the end, did Cody Kessler a solid…releasing him before the draft and giving him the opportunity to find a new home. They were probably waiting to see if Tom Brady was going to return for one more season to decide what their plan of action was going to be. 

By letting go of Kessler now, makes a couple of things clear at least from our point of view. I keep hearing that the team is still looking at Cam Newton/Andy Dalton/Blake Bortles even though Jeff Howe from the Athletic, who is as connected as anyone, says his sources say they have no interest. And now I’m convinced more than ever that this is absolutely the right move when I see Nick Wrong saying BB is making a mistake by signing Newton.

The Patriots have virtually no cap space to even sign their own draft picks. Clearing a bunch of space to sign a retread QB and then finding yourself back in the same position, doesn’t make a ton of sense. Is it out of the realm of possibility? No, but the chances of that happening are slim. 

Nope, the feeling here is that the team is planning on drafting a QB in the draft and not a high one. They’ll address the QB position in Round 3 or later. One kid who checks all the blocks Belichick likes in a QB is Jake Fromm. Although one guy I really like is Jalen Hurts. But we’ll see. 

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Brandon Beane Says Don’t Write Off New England:

The Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane has seen the news and he’s read the early predictions stating that this is the year that the Buffalo Bills dethrone the Patriots as the AFC East Champions, something the Patriots have virtually owned for two decades. And he’s telling everyone to just pump the brakes a little bit.

“Playing against (Tom Brady), I go back and forth,” Beane said. “You know you always want to take down the best… So I think it’s funny and comical that people are writing them off and labeling, whether it’s us or another team as the team to beat in the East.

The team to beat in the East is the Patriots, and until somebody beats them, they are the team to beat. And as long as Bill Belichick’s there, you’re talking about probably the greatest head coach of all time that was paired with the greatest quarterback of all time.

So until we beat them, we’ve done nothing, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

So, while Beane is confident that his team is moving in the right direction and continuing to improve, he’s made the conservative (and correct) call. They haven’t won anything yet. The Bills will have to go out and earn it in 2020. And while fans around the NFL are rejoicing at the fall of the hated Patriots, Beane is approaching the season as if nothing has changed. But regardless, the Bills persona is changing now. In the division, they’ll be the hunted in 2020 and not the hunter. And it is a much different look from there.

Dolphins Flores Building a Program That FAs Believe In:

The Miami Dolphins hired Brian Flores last year and promptly gave him a team that was considered the worst in pro football at the outset of 2019. Many pundits thought that the team was tanking on purpose.

But that attitude didn’t cut it with Flores and his team believed in what they were trying to build and played hard. While they finished at 5-11, that was after an 0-7 start. They won their last two games in the season, including a last-minute 27-24 stunner over the Patriots in Foxboro, knocking the Pats out of a bye. 

Despite all of the losses as well as the lack of a franchise QB, the attitude in Miami is one of confidence, that they’ve found the right guy to lead the team and turn things around. And that is reflected in the free agents that have signed with Miami. They’ve signed on as much in their belief in Flores as any other factor. 

“My number one reason is Coach Flores. He just made me feel so comfortable with coming down,” linebacker Elandon Roberts said. Roberts spent three of the past four seasons with Flores as his position coach. “Just knowing how good of a leader he is on and off the field, how much he cares about you as a player. … I’m 100% bought in. I can’t wait to get down there, and I love that I’m a Miami Dolphin.”

“He takes something that’s so small and is able to put it into football and relate it, and he’s really good with his players,” Kyle Van Noy, also a former Patriot under Flores said. “He’s ready to go all the time, and he brings that same energy each and every day. That’s what you want as a coach; and as a player, that’s who I want to play for.”

“Flores is a young coach and I love that. He’s got young energy. I hear he’s intense and he likes to create competitive scenarios, competitive situations,” said CB Byron Jones who came over from the Cowboys. “That’s just something that I like and I wanted to be a part of. … That’s exciting for me, just to be on a team that he’s leading.”

Foot in Mouth? Former Jets Coach Ryan Calls Amari Cooper a ‘Turd’:

The New York Jets former coach Rex Ryan had to walk back one of his comments when he said the Dallas Cowboys made a huge mistake in paying WR Amari Cooper and not QB Dak Prescott.

Cooper who has gained 1000 yards or more in every season except for one in his NFL career, signed a five-year, $100 million-dollar contract with the Cowboys. 

“[Amari Cooper] is the biggest disappearing act in the National Football League. … I wouldn’t have paid this turd,” Ryan said on the Get Up football telecast. 

Ryan was brought back later in the day on ESPN, Ryan apologized for his choice of descriptive words, by calling Cooper a turd and said that he hoped Cooper would accept his apology. 

_______________

““Thank you to our heroic medical professionals; doctors, nurses, medical workers, and others, who are selflessly and courageously doing their job to take care of others in need,” Belichick said in a video posted on the team’s Twitter page. “We have heard your stories, and have seen some of your great work. You are truly champions and warriors…”we are facing a difficult opponent” and “it will take teamwork, discipline and commitment to do the right things all of the time… I encourage everyone to shelter in place for as long as necessary as we fight this virus together. “There are plenty of things we cannot do right now, but let’s focus on what we can do. We can adapt, we can adjust, and we can make better decisions right now for the betterment of the future. As I tell our team, let’s keep stringing good days together, and we will get through this.” Bill Belichick in a PSA to all of the people out there trying to get through the Coronavirus pandemic.  

_______________

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

New England Patriots News 3-29, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 29, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-29 and AFC East notes this week. 

The news has been filled with nothing but the latest of the coronavirus, but with that being said, we hope that all of you and your families are being safe. While we’re not supposed to visit and congregate in larger groups (those Sunday Italian family dinners are missed), we can still check up on one another. Give a call to a family member, especially an older one, they’ll appreciate it. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:

Devin McCourty: We were very pleased that the team locked up McCourty, the QB of the defense for the next couple of seasons with a two-year, $23 million dollar deal. ESPN’s excellent NFL Insider Field Yates feels the same and gave NE high marks.

“I’m always a fan of investing in your own players, particularly one who is as indispensable as any other on the defensive side of the ball,” Yates wrote. “McCourty is one of the best players in football and an indispensable cog for the Patriots’ defense.”

Tom Brady Bucs Presser: It was no doubt painful for many fans seeing the virtual press conference with Tom Brady being introduced as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But the thing that kept coming to mind was the Seinfeld “Pirate” episode.

Bill Belichick: The coach was nominated for a Sports Emmy for his appearance on NFL Network’s “NFL 100 All-Time Team” panel. He is one of six nominated in the “Outstanding Sports Personality – Studio Analyst” category. We believe that he should be nominated every year for his press conferences …but that is just our opinion.

Shalique Calhoun/Brandon Copeland: With Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts heading off in free agency, the Patriots linebacking corps took a big hit. It is going to look very different (and we’ll add more below) but two players who have been brought back/in could see a significant amount of snaps this year are Calhoun and Copeland. 

Joe Montana: Tom Brady’s childhood idol is a bit baffled by the Patriots allowing Brady to leave for Tampa (Us too). However, Montana had this to say, “I think when you look at the whole situation, you try to figure out how you want to get away from things that are there,” Montana said. “I had a different story, where they had made a decision. I still don’t understand how New England let him get away. I don’t understand that.”

Salary Cap: The Patriots cap space is currently under $1 million dollars…yikes. The official amount according to Miguel aka @patscap is $803,834. So changes are coming and either some players are getting their deals reworked or cut outright. 

Among those who are available for reworking contracts are Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore. Those who could get a deal reworked or risk being cut would include Marcus Cannon, Rex Burkhead (with redshirt RB Damien Harris waiting in the wings). Burkhead is versatile but has had durability issues and his release would save nearly $4 million in cap savings. But again, if you’re not getting your cap information from Miguel, you’re not getting the right stuff. 

Phillip Dorsett: Is now a former Patriots WR, signing a one-year deal with Seattle. The former 1st round pick of the Colts has never lived up to his potential. His three years with the Patriots consisted of small hot streaks surrounded by long stretches where he was invisible/or forgotten. Maybe his third team is a charm. 

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, check it out. This week Derek and I went over the various comings and mostly goings of free agency. 

How Will the Patriots Attack the 1st Round of the Draft? Defense:

By now, most of you have seen on television or read many of the draft pundits predictions on how the team will go using the 23rd pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Many, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, have the Patriots using their pick on a QB. Kiper thinks they take Utah State’s Jordan Love. 

While that is entirely plausible, considering who they lost in FA, I’m not so sure they pick Love, who should develop into a solid starter but doesn’t strike me as having a very high ceiling. But we’ll see. Do I believe that they’ll draft a QB in 2020? Absolutely, but I feel that will be done in the middle rounds. I definitely don’t see them double-dipping with the 1st pick at WR for the 2nd year in a row. There will be some intriguing wide receiver talent available in the middle rounds as well too. 

They need an eventual replacement and backup for Devin McCourty at free safety. Both McCourty and Pat Chung return but both are getting long in the tooth. The Patriots have plenty of depth behind Chung, including the recently added Adrian Phillips. But with Duron Harmon gone, traded to the Lions during the early free agency frenzy, they lack that backup and eventual replacement to McCourty. 

If they were going to draft a safety in the first round, the guy I’d really like to see is Alabama free safety Xavier McKinney. Alabama turns out great defensive players every year and McKinney is outstanding. 

In my opinion, he’s the best safety in the draft and especially in man coverage. The Patriots demand that their single-high free safeties have the range to cover the deep part of the field, and McKinney is outstanding there. He can also (like McCourty) drop down and cover receivers out of the slot. McKinney, if drafted would provide an even better option than Harmon gave them in their subpackages…and that is saying something. 

I wrote here a few weeks ago that I thought they’d go defense either a lineman or linebacker in the first round. They replaced the loss of Danny Shelton with the signing of former Bucs DT Beau Allen and the big man should be a force against the run. We’ve heard rumors of the Patriots signing former Broncos DL Derek Wolfe, but there are at least as many rumors of him going to Kansas City or Baltimore, so we’ll have to watch how this situation plays out. 

Matt Miller, one of my favorite draft writers from Bleacher Report has the Patriots going after LSU LB Patrick Queen with the 23rd pick. I love Queen’s game, he’s very athletic, a three-down linebacker who can roam sideline to sideline. His biggest strength is in the run game, but he has a definite lack of size that the Patriots generally like with their linebackers at just 6’0, 229. However, Elandon Roberts was about the same size at 6’0, 238 so there is precedence there. Queen is at his best when the defensive line stacks things at the point of attack and it allows him to attack downhill. 

The guy I like and have been beating the table for is Iowa edge player A.J. Epenesa. He’s got the size that the Patriots like in their 3-4 DE/Edge rusher at 6’5, 280. He was very productive for the Hawkeyes in 2019 with 11.5 sacks, 49 tackles, and 14 tackles for a loss. And he didn’t test exceptionally well at the NFL Combine in Indy which may push his draft stock down enough for the Patriots to find him available with the 23rd pick. 

He’d be a great fit with the Patriots defensive philosophy that puts a premium on setting the edge against the run first, which is a strength of his. He shows excellent power, balance and the ability to be stout and string the play out. And for a big man, Epenesa has the speed to chase down ball carriers. And he can still bring the heat on the opposing QB too, as evidenced by his 11.5 sacks.

If the Patriots were to select McKinney, Queen, or Epenesa, it would, in my opinion, be a great start to the draft.  

Patriots Offensive Line Strength or Weakness in 2020:

The Patriots have a lot of holes to fill this offseason, but the offensive line is at least on paper, looking pretty strong heading into the 2020 offseason workouts…if there are any.

With LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, and RT Marcus Cannon seemingly in place, this starting unit with a new QB under center should be a position of strength. And the team still has last season’s redshirt draft picks T Yodny Cajuste and G Hjalte Froholdt as depth. However, there still exist several unknowns this spring.

Andrews is expected to be ready for training camp after missing all of last season with blood clots in his lungs. And with Ted Karras gone in FA to Miami, it opens up big question marks if Andrews is not ready. Joe Thuney had the franchise tag placed on him, which he signed but it is still a possibility that the Patriots trade him rather than try to work out a long-term deal. 

We had heard right after the playoff loss to the Titans that Cannon wasn’t returning and had moved his family back to Texas. Whether that was the Patriots choice or his wasn’t known. But perhaps he changed his mind. With a salary of $9.5 million (a prime player to rework his deal), it was a good reason to return for one more season in New England.

There were reports that the Patriots face-timed with Boise State T Ezra Cleveland. His draft projections are all over the place from 1st Rd to 3rd-4th with many draft pundits believing he projects to be a guard at the next level. Do the Patriots see him as a guard or tackle? And are they serious about bringing him in? If so, at which position? That’s what makes the offseason/draft season so intriguing.    

Plus we have the 2nd year guys with Cajuste and Froholdt. How will they fare in Year 2? And with Dante Scarnecchia retiring for a second time, how will his replacement fare in trying to replace one of the very best positional coaches in the league and a legend in Gillette? 

No AFC East Notes This Week – 

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“I have had the privilege of coaching some of the best specialists in the NFL and Stephen Gostkowski is one of them. Stephen had many highlights over his 14 years as a Patriot and one of the most impressive was the way it began when he succeeded the most accomplished kicker in NFL history. For some, this may have been too difficult a challenge. But from his rookie year, Stephen exuded a maturity and confidence that demonstrated he was up to the task. He made several crucial kicks his rookie year and established a top level of performance and consistency for years and years to come. Stephen is a great teammate who made outstanding contributions over a decade of championship football.” Bill Belichick on kicker Stephen Gostkowski after the team announced he would not be returning to New England. 

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“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

New England Patriots News 3-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-22 and AFC East notes this week. 

The news of Tom Brady leaving for Tampa Bay has dominated the talk and the print media this week, they’ll be much more of that below, however, there was plenty of other news this week as the Patriots had an exodus of veterans jump ship. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL:

Kyle Van Noy: As we said last week, the Dolphins were expected to show a lot of interest in Van Noy, and they did, signing him to a four-year $51 million dollar contract. 

In Miami, he’ll be reunited with former Patriots’ coach Brian Flores, and his former coach knows how to utilize the versatile player the Dolphins hope can become a centerpiece of their front seven.  Van Noy can play the run off the edge, drop into coverage and also rush the passer from any position.  

Jamie Collins: Is rejoining his former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in Detroit. The Lions offered Collins a three-year deal worth $30 million. Collins had a career-high seven sacks and three interceptions last season for the Patriots. 

Joining Collins in Detroit are DL Danny Shelton, who signed a two-year, $8 million dollar contract. They also secured Duron Harmon who was, in essence, a salary dump by the Patriots. New England gave up Harmon and a 7th round draft pick for a Detroit 5th round pick. 

Ted Karras: Opted to bet on himself and signed with the Miami Dolphins on a one-year deal worth $4 million. The Patriots offered him a two-year deal with more overall cash but Karras looked at the current unsettled situation, especially with Brady and his OL coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring, he’ll have a good chance to start at center for Miami

Nate Ebner: The ace ST player is joining former Patriots STs/WR coach Joe Judge with the New York Giants on a one-year deal.  

Damiere Byrd: The Patriots signed the small (5’9, 180-pound) but fast wide receiver to a one-year deal. Byrd is coming off of a career-high 32 catch season for the Cardinals and has the ability to return kicks and punts. Byrd ran a 4.28 in the 40-yard dash while at South Carolina. 

Beau Allen: The Patriots replaced Danny Shelton with the big, 6’3, 327-pound defensive tackle who is known as a run-stuffing interior lineman. Allen spent the past two years with the Bucs  

Danny Vitale: The Patriots signed the big, bruising fullback who played for the Packers last year serving as a lead blocker and occasional pass catcher (7 receptions, 97 yards). The signing of Vitale doesn’t bode well for the long-term health of James Develin who suffered a season-ending (perhaps career-ending) neck injury last year.

4th & 2 Podcast – If you’ve haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, check it out. This week Derek and I went over the various comings and mostly goings of free agency. 

Trying to Make Sense of Brady’s Leaving:

For the first time in 27 years, the Patriots are now the team in the AFC East that is searching for their franchise quarterback. The Bills, for years, have been waiting for the next Jim Kelly, the Dolphins tried out numerous faces searching for Dan Marino’s heir apparent. The Jets? All the way back to Joe Namath. Now with Tom Brady leaving, there is a huge hole in the Patriots lineup.

For the past nearly three decades, the Patriots have had that stability, since they drafted Drew Bledsoe in 1993. Then when Mo Lewis leveled Bledsoe in the first game after 9/11, Brady stepped in and twenty years and nine Super Bowls later, the rest has been history.  That stability is now HIS-TOR-REE. And that is of their own choosing

They have 2nd year QB Jarrett Stidham, and honestly, nobody knows if he can be the guy or whether the Patriots even believe he can be. That’s what the other teams in the division have been dealing with for the past few decades…So, how the heck did we ever get here? 

But first and foremost, let’s get something clear and it seems like a lot of people on social media have it in error. Brady didn’t leave the Patriots. The Patriots forced him out the door. Now they can spin this however they want, but this relationship was broken to the point of no return last year.

Ian Rapoport from NFL Network said that the Patriots “likely would have done the contract” he signed with the Bucs, “though Tom Brady never came to them with his desire to return.” That’s a crock, sorry folks. They made it quite clear that they were not going to commit to Brady more than year-to-year. 

One of the people we spoke with is Tom’s long-time, good buddy Jay Flannelly. You can check out our conversation here: And we’ll get into the year-to-year thing shortly. But first, once the Patriots decided to go year to year, Brady was furious. He basically felt betrayed and that he was a lame-duck quarterback. He felt that after 20 years, he earned the security of a multi-year deal, even at age 42. 

After nothing was agreed upon by both parties in August, they gave Brady a raise and agreed to let him test free agency for the first time in his career this spring. Brady put his house on the market the next day. This was all very avoidable if, in fact, the team wanted Brady around past the 2019 season.  The sad fact is, they didn’t want him beyond 2019 unless it was at their terms and now they’re paying him $13.5 million dollars to play in Tampa Bay in 2020. 

And Tampa is paying him only what he asked of the Patriots last summer. Tom’s choice to leave? Really? No, this was their decision. 

One of the hallmarks of what made this team so great for the past two decades is that they invariably made sound decisions when it comes to the team. Bill Belichick is considered cold-blooded by some for his business first attitude and the fact that he doesn’t let emotions play into his decisions. That’s been their business model and it has obviously worked. 

But what about this decision? Do the Patriots have a better option at quarterback right now? Is there someone waiting in the wings that can handle this offense better, to where you’re paying Brady millions of dollars to stay away? 

This spring they didn’t even make an offer to Brady, the message was “go find an offer and bring it back to us.” To some bottom third of the roster player, that may be acceptable. To the QB who brought you to nine Super Bowls, that was a message that he wasn’t needed or wanted back. Then with the news that the DeAndre Hopkins trade was coming and how little Arizona gave up for him, Brady’s mind was made up. The Patriots weren’t going to make him an offer, nor would they be making another play to be all-in for another championship in 2020.

The Stefon Diggs trade was the icing on the cake. We spoke with someone that lives in Tampa, that Brady had dinner with Bill Gates, Derek Jeter and Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and that he made Jeter an offer to buy his mansion on Davis Island off of Tampa Bay. His decision was made…for him.

On Monday, he went to Robert Kraft’s home and told him that he was leaving. But the fact remains, he was ready to leave last August. There were reports that Belichick was shocked that Brady was signing with the Bucs. If they thought he was going to come back to them for one final negotiation, they were sadly mistaken. 

You could make a comparison between Brady’s last season and Rob Gronkowski’s. Both were unhappy and unnaturally moody in their final season. But the difference was, Gronkowski made the signature play at the end of the Super Bowl, hauling in a great catch that set up the Patriots for the game-winning touchdown. He was able to ride off into the sunset a champion. Brady’s last game ended badly with a Wildcard Loss to the Titans. 

Robert Kraft has come off awfully bad since the news broke. First, he called into a daily “hot take” show to claim that it was Brady’s decision to leave. That Brady wanted to leave… that take was a classic Red Sox move (hint, that isn’t a good look) by trying to deflect it back on #12 and then on Friday, he had another statement that was even worse, by throwing Belichick under the bus, in essence comparing Belichick or possibly his son Jonathan to a meddling mother-in-law that ruins a marriage. 

“Think about loving your wife and for whatever reason, there’s something — her father or mother – that makes life impossible for you and you have to move on but you don’t want to,” Kraft told NFL Network’s Mike Giardi. 

If Kraft had just said that the Patriots were sticking to their business model and the two sides were hopelessly deadlocked, while one can disagree with it, or even dislike it, but at least you can respect the decision. This wasn’t the case at all. Kraft first tried a couple of times to insist that all Brady had to do was to tell them he wanted to return and then tried to blame others as if he didn’t have the power to change it. That was a really bad look. 

We’ve heard rumors that Kraft has increasingly turned over more of the day-to-day operations to his son Jonathan, and may have admitted as much a few years ago, when Brady signed an extension. Kraft said he looked at the contract and then asked Jonathan what he thought. But that is a stretch …or was it?

Kraft spoke with Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston and tried to explain that the Patriots were waiting for Brady to signal that he wanted to return…What? After eight months of inactivity, they waited until the final few hours for Brady to signal he wanted to return? Bad, bad, bad. For a team steeped in making smart business decisions, this one rivals any of the stupid ones the Jets or Dolphins have made in the past 20 years.

The Patriots made their decision and have now taken a giant step back. They will no longer be an automatic favorite to go deep into the playoffs and compete for the Super Bowl. They’ve rejoined the pack. They’ll have to fight, claw, and scratch for every win and hopefully eke out a Wildcard berth. They won’t be favorites, nor should they be, to even win the division they’ve owned for 20 years. Honestly, wearing an analyst’s hat, it makes for a very compelling season. It should be fascinating to see how the entire team dynamic is going to work. Switching to a fan’s perspective, it sucks. But we knew it was coming sooner or later…and now it is sooner.

And so, Brady is moving on to a new team, a new coach, new teammates, and a new system. But what isn’t new is his burning desire to win. Everyone who’s had the pleasure to watch him work and interact on a very small scale down at Gillette can see that the fire still burns really bright in him. His coaches and teammates will soon see that too. He’s going to a good coach that knows how to get a lot out of his QBs, although he’s a bit of a deep passing guy. 

Brady loves nothing more than a challenge. That’s his personal bushido, he approaches things with the warrior mentality of everything is a challenge. Any perceived slight or negative criticism is, therefore, also a challenge. And he does feel slighted and challenged by the Patriots forcing him out the door. The Bucs defense may hold them back this year, their secondary was awful a year ago. But Brady and the offense? He’s going to light it the hell up in 2020 in Tampa.  Just sit back and watch.

Patriots Franchise Tag Joe Thuney:

The Patriots in a somewhat of a surprise move used the franchise tag designation on left guard Joe Thuney and the 27-year old signed it guaranteeing him…for now having the highest salary on the Patriots at $14.78 million for 2020 now that Tom Brady is a member of the Bucs.

Thuney has made $3.6 million in his three-year career, so this is a big pay increase for him. He was expected to price himself out of New England this spring as a free agent but the tag will keep him a member of the Patriots …for now. The team could still opt to trade him since they’d have an inordinate amount of cap space dedicated to their guards. 

The Patriots have until July 15 to work out a long-term extension with him or he’ll count the entire $14.78 million against the cap this year. 

Adrian Phillips, Will Ease Workload on Pat Chung:

The Patriots signed Safety Adrian Phillips, the free-agent All-Pro and Pro Bowler came from the Chargers where he had spent his entire six-year career.  Phillips signed a two-year deal worth $7.5 million with $3 million guaranteed. Phillips can earn a total of $4 million this year if he hits all of his incentives.

Besides being a Special Teams ace, he is a physical, downhill safety and will play in the box, defending the run and in coverage against tight ends. He missed significant time in 2019 with a broken forearm but this year, with Pat Chung, who fills the same role getting older, Phillips would help scale back Chung’s workload and would look to be his eventual replacement.

So, Phillips would replace Ebner’s presence in the kicking game and back up Chung and play a role at Strong Safety. But the salary dump of Harmon still leaves the team with a hole in Free Safety depth. 

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade for WR Stefon Diggs:

The Buffalo Bills are going to have an offense that will be tough to stop. They wasted no time in going after former Vikings WR Stefon Diggs during the early hours of “legal tampering” as free agency unfolded. 

While they paid a steep price for Diggs, a 1st, 5th, and 6th round picks in 2020 and a 4th rounder in 2021, he’s going to transform this offense into a very dangerous one. Buffalo now has speed, speed and quickness outside and it will be a case of “pick yer poison” while trying to defend Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley next year. 

Buffalo has three excellent wide receivers who give their QB a large target window due to their ability to get separation from defenders. For a QB that still has some accuracy issues in Josh Allen, this group will go a long way in alleviating that. 

Diggs is a very good #1 WR, Brown as the #2 and Beasley out of the slot gives Allen and Buffalo an excellent group of skill players. Coupled with a suffocating defense, Buffalo should be overwhelming favorites to run away with the division in 2020. 

Dolphins Going Conservative in FA? Not a Chance:

The Miami Dolphins had said that they were leaning towards being conservative in free agency, despite having a boatload of money to spend. But GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores were anything but, going after a ton of players that they coveted once free agency began.

Miami filled a bunch of holes in their roster as they quickly hit on the Patriots, poaching LB Kyle Van Noy, who should immediately become a centerpiece for their front seven. But their secondary got a huge boost from the signing of CB Byron Jones, formerly of the Cowboys to a deal worth a guaranteed $57 million. Jones, teamed with Xavien Howard gives Miami the most expensive CB duo in the league. Miami also brought in edge rusher Shaq Lawson, OL Ereck Flowers. They later added OL Ted Karras from the Patriots who should get the nod at the starting center in 2020. 

With three first-round draft picks in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, Miami is set to make a big splash there as well. A week into the process, the Fins are off and running. Conservative? Nope, but it is hard to disagree with anything they are doing so far. 

Jets Go Low Key in Early Free Agency:

The New York Jets, unlike Miami, DID go conservative in the first week of free agency, something they’ve not done in recent years. Probably the biggest signing the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets have made is slot corner, Brian Poole. While a needed, and solid signing, it isn’t the kind of splashy signing, we’ve seen from Gang Green under previous regimes. Although, those haven’t exactly worked out either. 

Poole is a solid player and a good signing, and while the Jets still need more help at corner, they didn’t spend a ton on him and he should pay immediate dividends. Another under the radar move GM Joe Douglas did was to sign C Connor McGovern. A definite position of need, McGovern is a solid, if unspectacular player but is an immediate upgrade over what they had last year. 

They gave McGovern good money, three years, $27 million with $18 million guaranteed but with the Broncos last year, he allowed one sack and just three QB hits. And he didn’t commit a single penalty last year. He’ll help keep the pressure off Sam Darnold up the middle in the A gap. Good moves by Gang Green

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“Tom was not just a player who bought into our program. He was one of its original creators. Tom lived and perpetuated our culture. On a daily basis, he was a tone-setter and a bar raiser. He won championships in three of his first four years on the field and in three of his final six seasons with us, while competing for championships in almost every season in between. This is a credit to Tom’s consistency and what separates him. He didn’t just perform. He didn’t just win. He won championships over and over again.

“Tom and I will always have a great relationship built on love, admiration, respect and appreciation. Tom’s success as a player and his character as a person are exceptional. Nothing about the end of Tom’s Patriots career changes how unfathomably spectacular it was. With his relentless competitiveness and longevity, he earned everyone’s adoration and will be celebrated forever. It has been a privilege to coach Tom Brady for 20 years.

“Examples of Tom’s greatness are limitless, going back even before he was drafted. We witnessed how he prepared when he wasn’t playing, how he performed when he got his opportunity, what he did to continuously improve, his leadership, his mindset, the example he set, and, of course, the person he is. I am extremely grateful for what he did for our team and for me personally.

“Sometimes in life, it takes some time to pass before truly appreciating something or someone but that has not been the case with Tom. He is a special person and the greatest quarterback of all-time.”  Bill Belichick on Tom Brady after he announced he would not be returning to New England. 

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“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 

Tom Brady Bids Farewell to Patriots Fans on Social Media

Steve Balestrieri
March 17, 2020 at 9:36 am ET

There won’t be another season for Tom Brady under center for the New England Patriots. What fans have been bombarded with for months with constant innuendo and rumors has finally come home for sure. 

Brady bid fans a heartfelt goodbye in a series of Instagram posts that were quickly carried by Twitter and Facebook. He didn’t say where his NFL career would be heading to, but we now know, there won’t be the 21st season in New England.

Ever the team player, Brady always eschewed personal accomplishments, a point he reiterated in his statement this morning. “Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments,” he posted.

Brady leaves behind an incredible legacy of six Super Bowl Championships, including four Super Bowl MVP awards, nine conference championships in his 20 years in a Patriots uniform.

He’s been saying for years, his goal was to play until he’s 45-years old, and when the season begins in September, he’ll be 43. But he won’t be quarterbacking the Patriots this year, the only team that he’s ever played for professionally. 

Unable to come to an agreement last summer, he essentially signed a one-year deal that would allow him to test free agency for the first time in his career. And now he’s gone. 

In his Patriots career, he led the team to at least 12 wins, a record total of 13 times. Now the Mount Rushmore of the Patriots Dynasty (Brady, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft) will be missing one of its pieces. A grateful Patriots’ Nation bids you a fond, but sad goodbye.

Brady at minicamp last year, answering questions about his future. (SBalestrieri photo)

What Does Joe Thuney’s Franchise Tag Mean For The Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
March 16, 2020 at 3:30 pm ET

In a surprise move, the Patriots have placed the franchise tag on left tackle Joe Thuney. The Boston Globe’s Jim McBride was the first to have this report. So, instead of hitting free agency on Wednesday, he still belongs to the Patriots who now will owe him a cool $14.781 million in 2020. 

Thuney’s money officially goes on the books on March 18, at 4:00 p.m. That means that unless they start renegotiating with some of their established stars (Gilmore, Hightower) to create some cap space, they aren’t going to have much cap space left. That, on the surface, doesn’t bode well for the return of Tom Brady. 

But…this could be the Patriots deciding to tag and then trade Thuney and thereby getting some draft capital for him today rather than a compensatory pick for him next spring. And a bigger point to consider is that by tagging and trading Thuney, the Patriots can dictate where he goes. More to that below.  However, the Patriots released a statement saying they are tagging Thuney to try to work out a long-term deal.

“Joe has been a model teammate and an essential element to our success since joining our team in 2016. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach the goal of a long-term agreement.”

Again, on the surface, this would make it seem that the Patriots are interested in keeping who was their best offensive lineman around for the long-term. And who could blame them for that? 

Thuney has outstanding on the field and a model of consistency while answering the bell, not only for every game but playing nearly every snap as well. Thuney, 27 has made 74 straight starts including the playoffs for the Patriots. 

But at the end of last season, we thought, as everyone else did, there was no way that they’d be able to keep Thuney and most of their other free agents, given that their cap situation is so low. This is just another case of the Patriots going against the grain when it comes to predicting what they are going to do. 

There are so many scenarios at play here, and as always Bill Belichick will keep the rest of the league guessing at to what their true intentions are until the last minute. This could be a way of protecting themselves in the case that they can’t work out a deal for Tom Brady. Then they’ll be protecting whoever they do have at QB with their best OL at least for 2020. 

But the feeling here is that this will be a tag and trade scenario. They get immediate compensation and can pick the spot where Thuney goes and perhaps keep him out of the AFC East. As we wrote in our Sunday notes, Thuney was expected to generate a ton of interest from both Miami and the New York Jets, and perhaps the Patriots don’t want to help either of those. 

Thuney is now making left tackle kind of money in the league, it is really doubtful that the Patriots could lessen his cap hit very much to keep him around long-term. One common theory which is now shot was that they’d tag and trade him to Houston for DeAndre Hopkins. But Houston inexplicably traded Hopkins to Arizona for David Johnson, a 2nd round draft pick this year and a 4th next year. Maybe the Texans should have made a bigger push for Nick Caserio one more time this spring. 

Needless to say, the news is already popping with the league. 

On the tight end front, with Hunter Henry tagged, Austin Hooper is moving to Cleveland and the Cowboys have signed TE Blake Jarwin to a long-term deal, seemingly moving on from Jason Witten. One thing is for sure, the market for TEs is drying up quickly. 

New NFL CBA Should Make It Easier for Brady/Patriots To Deal

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:30 am ET

While the world rushed the aisles of stores to hoard the last of the toilet paper supply, the vote for the NFL’s new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) narrowly passed 1019-959 with about 500 players not even voting. 

If the Player’s Union wanted to send a strong message to the owners, they perhaps sent the wrong one. With about 20 percent of the members not even voting, it tells the ownership that the union is fragmented and weak. That won’t bode well down the road.

The big takeaways from the new CBA is that there will now be a 17-game season with one less preseason game. The seven-team playoff format with only one team getting a bye means that more teams will be resting players down the stretch

The salary cap will increase to $198.2 million, which means the Patriots should receive about another $3 million in cap space. Rosters will increase from 53 to 55 and teams can dress an additional two players on game days. The rules governing drug testing have changed and the players will receive a bigger slice of the revenues moving forward. The agreement will ensure a somewhat calm labor front for the next 10 years.

So, on to the Patriots and the possibility of bringing Tom Brady back, the new CBA should help that along. The 30-percent rule is no more so it “should” be easier to backload a contract for multiple seasons that may be agreeable to both Brady and the Patriots. This “should” make it easier for the team to restructure guys like Stephon Gilmore and Dont’a Hightower, because with the Slater re-signing and the news of Devin McCourty’s return (more below) the Patriots are running out of cap space.

With the new CBA, the sticky subject of voidable years has also been addressed as well. The Patriots added two voidable years to his deal last year, those are not allowed if the CBA is in its final year, which the league was in until Sunday. Now the team and Brady can add the voidable years to the back end of the contract, which will give the team some measure of cap space relief. For more on that see Miguel @patscap.

The rumored Brady to Tennessee train totally derailed on Sunday when it was announced that the Titans were giving Ryan Tannehill a big new contract with over $91 million in guaranteed money. That supposed door is closed. What’s left for Brady now? In reality, not much. The Tampa Bay Bucs, the Patriots, or perhaps that “mystery team” that we’ve been reading about. We’ll see; unless something totally crazy happens in the next day or so, the chances of Brady returning should be much better. 

Is Tampa closer to a Super Bowl than New England? No, so if Brady were to opt to go there, it would have to be for one of two reasons. One, he just wants out of NE and would be willing to go about anywhere, or Two, the Patriots don’t want him back. 

So, with the news that Devin McCourty is returning, the twins will be back for at least another season in New England. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that McCourty’s two-year deal is worth $23 million with $17 million in guarantees. 

Friday the Patriots locked up Slater for another two years, so they are locking up some of their veteran players before free agency starts. Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Joe Thuney, and Ted Karras are all free agents, but all eyes will be on #12. 

And so it begins, buckle your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night.