In this episode, Derek Havens and Steve Balestrieri share their views on the beginning of Free Agency for the Patriots.
Trey Flowers tenure as a New England Patriot came to an end on Monday.
The 2015 fourth round draft pick out of the University of Arkansas agreed to a five-year, $90 million contract with the Detroit Lions.
The signing reunites Flowers with his former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Flowers played an integral role on defense during the Patriots run to three consecutive Super Bowls and two championships.
In 46 career regular season games, Flowers logged 21 sacks and 164 total tackles.
Over nine career playoff games, Flowers tallied 5 1/2 sacks and 39 total tackles.
On Monday afternoon, Flowers took to his Instagram and shared a heartfelt goodbye message to the Patriots and their fans.
“For the memories, for the lessons, for the relationships…for the opportunity..I thank you!! #ForeverGrateful”, Flowers wrote below a photograph from the Championship parade.
A few teammates tweeted out some congratulatory messages when the news broke.
The Patriot Way Giveth and Taketh Away
While not shocking at all, it was nevertheless a blow to the Patriots as they waved goodbye and good luck to starting left tackle Trent Brown, who after one year is moving back to the Bay Area after agreeing to a big money deal with the Oakland Raiders.
It was more difficult, however, to part with Trey Flowers, the Patriots best defensive player on their front seven for the past several years and a consummate pro who spoke softly but led by his example on the field.
There is no way that the Patriots were going to match either offer. Call Brown and Flowers victims of the “Patriot Way”, where the team will not become enamored with any particular player. They’ll place a value on each player and will rarely if ever go over that amount when it comes to compensation.
It is why year after year, we watch players who came to Foxboro leave for big money contracts, much more than they would have received here. And it is also why, most of the big name, high-dollar free agents don’t sign here. So, every spring Patriots fans gnash their teeth in frustration over “the big fish that got away.”
It is also why, because the team won’t overspend for free agents that Patriots fans are glued to their television sets in late January and February every season. Because of their fiscal responsibility, they’ve been able to compete every year. The Patriots have been in the AFC Championship Game nine years in a row and have been in four of the past five Super Bowls. That isn’t a fluke. The Patriots build a complete team of 53 players every year. Because they won’t overspend and get into a bidding war over individual players, they’re able to sustain their success over the long haul.
It is why March is usually not fun to be a Patriots fan but February can be glorious. Which would you rather have?
Brown came to the Patriots with plenty of questions a year ago. Nobody…but the coaches were sure that he could play left tackle. But he hooked up OL coach Dante Scarnecchia and he parlayed that into a terrific 2018 season. Now he’s rewarded with a four-year deal worth $66 million dollars with $36.75 million guaranteed. He’s now the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Take a bow Dante…you’ve done it again.
Flowers came to the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft in the 4th round with the 101st pick that year. But he impressed right from the start and even when the Patriots had him tucked away in the far left corner of the locker room when they expand for training camp, one could sense that he wasn’t going to be tucked away for long.
Flowers cashed in and has agreed to a four-year deal that is reportedly paying him between $16-17 million per year with the Detroit Lions and will join former NE defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who also signed former Pats WR Danny Amendola as well.
The Tennessee Titans supposedly outbid the Patriots for the services of free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries to the tune of a four-year deal worth $36 million. Humphries is a guy we said on these pages would have been a great fit in the Patriots offense. But he opted for the bigger payday with the Titans. It is the nature of the beast.
With the contracts of NFL players largely not guaranteed with their career spans in many cases woefully short, one should never fault the players for taking care of their future. In Brown and Flowers’ cases, the money they got was far beyond what the Patriots were going to offer. Nobody is going to argue that. How many of us would turn down millions of dollars? Not many I’d bet.
So what’s next for the Pats? Free agency in reality hasn’t even begun yet, because the league with their ridiculous “legal tampering period” has deemed that none of the deals are binding until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday when the league year officially begins.
So, with free agency beginning and the draft around the corner, the team will try to address these as well as other holes to fill. In Brown’s case, his replacement is already here. Isaiah Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago and he’ll team up with Scarnecchia and get to work on becoming the new left tackle. He tore an Achilles tendon in preseason last year, but is expected to be ready to go once training camp begins this summer.
Brown’s departure will also impact on how the Patriots may value swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is also a free agent. A valuable, versatile, tough player, Waddle was re-signed a year ago but played little due to the offensive line remaining healthy in 2018. But now bringing him back makes a lot more sense. He can play on either side, is an established, solid veteran and now will be one of the team’s priorities.
Replacing Flowers is more problematic. His greatest gift was his versatility. He was very good at rushing from and setting the edge. But he really made hay by rushing from the interior when they’d slide him inside on passing downs. He was tailor-made for the Patriots defense and their style of playing.
The blow was lessened a bit by the trade for Michael Bennett who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7th round pick in 2020 for the Patriots fifth rounder next year. Bennett is more productive from a pure pass rusher perspective but will he be able to do all of the things Flowers was tasked? We’ll see. But at 33, while still very productive, his shelf life will probably be a year or two at the most here.
At least for now, Deatrich Wise will be looked at to provide more in terms of every down production. He played just under 60 percent of the snaps last year. The team also has Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris, and 2017 top draft choice Derek Rivers. Rivers tore his ACL in his rookie training camp and missed all of that year. Last year he came back but flashed very little. The 2019 season will be a very big year for him moving forward.
There are still some intriguing names in free agency in terms of pass rushing edge players including Justin Houston, Cameron Wake and Ezekiel Ansah. Although the prices for each of them may preclude any from coming to New England. The Patriots will no doubt be looking at the draft to find the next Flowers.
It is a fact of life, that when the team has success in February, others will try to poach your best players and coaches from your roster. It is the way of the league in March. And it is just beginning.
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.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-10 and AFC East Notes.
Van Noy Defense – As if Van Noy needed anything else to endear himself to the fan base. After Colts TE Eric Ebron took a veiled shot at the Patriots when he tweeted “nobody wanna do that Patriot way bull- #COLTure.” But Van Noy quickly answered that by tweeting a picture of two rings with a winking emoticon.
Gronk Selling Condo: On a day with some exciting trade news, one item that could have people thinking worst case scenarios was the news that Rob Gronkowski is selling his Boston seaport condo. Gronk’s luxury condo located at 21 Wormwood St. located on the waterfront can be yours for a cool $2,375,000. Does this mean the big guy is retiring? Not so fast. While it could be just that, it should be noted that he bought the place just a few years ago for $1.8 million. Just another sound financial investment.
Jamie Collins redux? With the news that the Cleveland Browns were parting ways with linebacker Jamie Collins, many fans and media members were wondering about a reunion for the two. As we see it here, that ship has sailed and he won’t be returning to New England. We don’t see it as a need as the LBer position isn’t in bad shape.
Et Tu Amendola: Danny Amendola was released by the Dolphins on Friday. The cost-cutting move is expected to clear a salary-cap space that Miami may use to entice Trey Flowers to South Florida. Now many are hoping for a reunion with Amendola and the Patriots.
Well, no one has been a bigger Amendola supporter than we’ve been on these pages. While we’d love to see him back in Foxboro this spring, the situation may preclude that from happening. The team needs to get younger at the position and with the cupboard bare, they may play a waiting game to see how the rest of FA/Draft plays out before making a decision. By then, I’d expect Amendola to be signed elsewhere.
Brown Has His Cake, But Won’t Share it With Buffalo: Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown may have effectively forced his way out of Pittsburgh by demanding a trade, and now is stipulating where he won’t go. The Steelers and Bills had a deal supposedly agreed to in principle but Brown put the kibosh on it, stating he won’t go to Buffalo.
After a few tweets and videos that may have effectively ruined whatever compensation, the Steelers could have gotten for him, Brown now halted a trade. One has to wonder if he may paint himself into a corner where the Steelers (and rightfully so), give him the option to return to the team or sit out the season.
Bennett Trade, One The Team Couldn’t Bypass:
The Philadelphia Eagles are trading DL Michael Bennett and their 7th Round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Patriots for New England’s 5th round pick in 2020. In terms of compensation, the deal is a steal. Bennett is still a very productive player and even at 33 logged more sacks (9) and QB hits (30) than anyone on New England and fourth most (QB hits) in the league.
Bennett’s contract isn’t going to break the bank either. He’s due $7.2 million in salary and game day bonuses and $8 million in 2020. The Patriots tried to swing a deal with the Seahawks to get Bennett last spring, but the Eagles had pounced first and he was dealt to Philadephia.
Does this mean that the team is washing their hands of Trey Flowers in free agency? Not necessarily. We’ve been of the mind here that Flowers’ chances of resigning here have been slim. Especially now with so many of the edge rushers being tagged by their respective teams. But that doesn’t mean the team won’t try to retain Flowers. Bennett’s trade was something that just popped up on the radar that was too good to pass up for a player that they tried to bring in last spring.
He wasn’t brought in as a replacement for Flowers, although it could seem like that if indeed he does walk in free agency. But the thought of watching the two on the field together in the Pats defense is an exciting one. Will it happen? Stay tuned.
Brady Extension Coming?
We heard thru someone we know (and someone who would know) that a contract extension for Tom Brady was going to be done soon and the team would lock him up for another three years, that would take him to the age 45 limit that he said he envisioned.
The guys on “Patriots Unfiltered”, what used to be known as PFW in Progress on the Patriots team website invited me on the show on Thursday and we spoke about it for a few minutes. It can be heard here:
Free Agency “Legal Tampering” Season Is Here:
Now is when things get interesting. The Patriots still have a slew of free agents to either resign or let walk including both kickers and still look for ways to improve the team. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at certain positions and see who the team has out there and who they could bring in.
Interior Defensive Line: With both Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton unrestricted free agents, there is certainly a case to be made that neither returns. However, if I had to pick one… I’d go with Brown as being the one player closer to return, but not by much. Like a 52-48 ratio.
There are some intriguing free agents out there, Sheldon Richardson (Vikings), Brandon Mebane (Chargers), Johnathan Hankins (Raiders), but I don’t see the Patriots laying out the money that those guys would draw in free agency. On our 4th and 2 podcast, I mentioned Jets FA Mike Pennel as a guy the Patriots may target. A huge, 6’4, 330, two-gapping space eater, the Patriots are one of the few teams that still covet those type of players. Not a sexy signing, but one that will pay dividends in the season.
Tight End: Will he or won’t he? If Rob Gronkowski retires, it will free up $11.6 million in cap space, and the position becomes of critical need. if he doesn’t, it is still a position in dire need of young(er) blood. They currently have Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, and the sleeper Stephen Anderson under contract. Hollister has looked good but can’t stay on the field. Izzo was an intriguing kid and Anderson has unlocked potential.
With the release of Dwayne Allen, the team needs an injection of talent and youth. One guy who’ll be the perfect #2 TE with the team, (especially in the two-TE sets) is Pittsburgh’s, Jesse James. He’s been a favorite here to pick up all winter. He’s big (6’7, 260), is a very good blocker and productive as a receiver. He’s only 25 and has 112 catches in three seasons being the #4 or lower target.
Wide Receiver: With a slew of free agents (Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson), and only Julian Edelman and untested Braxton Berrios coming back, adding youth at WR is also critical. Will they bring back any of those three? I could see Patterson and maybe one or the other to return but they need some talent to help Edelman and Brady in 2019.
Free agents rumored to be linked to the Patriots include Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, Randall Cobb, Jamison Crowder, Eli Rogers, and Danny Amendola. As much as we’d love to see Tate in this offense as well as Humphries, the money those two would be looking at may be prohibitive.
Look for the Patriots to make a move on Jamison Crowder. That still would be a difficult proposition, however, because even though he’s coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss seven games, he’s still expected to fetch in the neighborhood of $8-10 million dollars in free agency. The draft, which the Patriots have struggled to find suitable wide receivers, may end up being the answer here.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Beane Says Brown Trade to Bills “Didn’t Make Sense”:
The Buffalo Bills inquired about and were close to making a trade for disgruntled Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown earlier this week. Then Brown put any hopes of that deal materializing by stating that he wouldn’t commit to showing up if the trade went thru. In the end, Bills GM Brandon Beane took the high road and in a statement. “We had positive discussions, but ultimately it didn’t make sense for either side. As great a player as Antonio Brown is, we have moved on and our focus is on free agency.”
The trade for Brown would have made total sense, from a football perspective for the Bills. They invested heavily into a young QB last year in Josh Allen. But he had a dearth of viable weapons to throw to plus an aging RB in LeSean McCoy. It would have made less sense, as it will for any other team since no one knows if Brown will tow the line in his next assignment.
As we mentioned above, Brown is painting himself into a corner, trying to force a trade to where he wants to go. For the Bills, they’ll approach free agency with about $80 million and the opportunity to sign lesser talented players but who will be more about the team than themselves.
Dolphins Clearing Cap Space, Release Three Veterans:
The Miami Dolphins have done a house cleaning in South Florida. By bringing in Brian Flores as the new head coach, he’s starting from scratch. Miami is expected to move on from QB Ryan Tannehill and that will be the first order of business for the new regime. But the team released three veteran players which will aid their salary cap situation.
Miami released wide receiver Danny Amendola, 33, in the move toward youth as well as DE Andre Branch and G Ted Larsen. The release of Amendola frees up $6 million and coupled with the other two vets gives Miami $22 million in cap space. Miami is also expected to decline the 5th-year option for WR Devante Parker making him a free agent this week. That will add another $9.4 million in cap space.
Amendola led Miami with 59 catches and 575 receiving yards in 2018. Now, Miami drafting in the first round with the 13th pick will have to decide whether to move up in the draft to get a QB they like, hope one falls to them in their spot, or wait until next year when the QB class is expected to be better. Free agency has the most intriguing name in Nick Foles, but the Jacksonville Jaguars released a slew of players adding $30 million to their salary cap and are expected to make a big push for the 30-year old QB.
Jets Have Money to Spend in Free Agency:
The New York Jets have nearly $100 million in salary cap space in 2019 and are in a position to make some big splashes in free agency. With that amount of money, they can front load some of those contracts to make the Jets the favorites to any team that they may be bidding against. However, they also have several (as many as 10) starting positions that need to be addressed.
New York is rumored to be in on the LeVeon Bell sweepstakes and signing the very talented running back would ease the growing pains on young QB Sam Darnold. On the flip side of the ball, the Jets are also expected to make a run at the very versatile and talented LB Anthony Barr who has spent the first five years of his career with the Vikings. He’d fill a great need for the Jets.
Barr is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has been a Pro Bowler for the past four years with the Vikings. He’s adept at stopping the run, dropping into coverage and rushing off the edge. The team needs help at wide receiver as well as at edge rusher besides Barr. The Jets can be big players this spring with a ton of cap space. Look for them to make a splash or three.
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.
Some thoughts now that the page is about to officially turn heading into an offseason that will shape the 2019 version of this football team.
1) Patriots defacto defensive coordinator Brian Flores really did have a terrific season, showing another side of what this group was able to do defensively after a 2017 season where they weren’t anywhere close to as disruptive as they were in 2018. It was great to see and was a big reason behind their dominating performance against the Rams in their Super Bowl victory.
One thing that was obvious this season was that the players really seemed to respond to Flores’ intensity and personality, which may end up being a void that the Patriots will have a tough time filling next season. With Greg Schiano coming on board to replace him, it’s going to be interesting to see if Schiano will garner the same type of respect that Flores had with a group that really played well for him.
When Flores met with the Miami media following the Super Bowl, he sounded confident and said he has a plan that will involve some “bumps in the road” as he begins trying to turn the franchise around. The now-former Patriots coach made it clear that he didn’t accept the job on a whim, saying that he told the Dolphins that if the team didn’t share his beliefs, he wasn’t interested in the job.
“Our vision, and our core philosophy of how to build a team, they were aligned. That was one of the things [that sold] me,” Flores said via the Sun Sentinal. “I told every team this, ‘if our beliefs aren’t aligned then don’t hire me’ because if they aren’t aligned it’s not going to work.”
They have a long-term vision and he made it clear to the fans to expect some pain initially as he brings in guys who are “selfless” and put the team first. Past coaches really haven’t had much of an opportunity to build a good group of players there due to inept coaches who didn’t have the support of the front office. Dolphins GM Chris Grier knows Flores well during his time in New England and it’s obvious that he believes that he’ll be able to create a Patriot-like culture with Miami.
After seeing what Flores accomplished in just one season, one thing is probably certain, for the first time in a while the Dolphins may finally, once again, become a thorn in the side for New England moving forward.
Edelman was terrific in the Super Bowl against the Rams. (USA TODAY Images)
2) It’s not a surprise that most of the nation was displeased with the idea that the Patriots are again World Champions and Julian Edelman appeared to be the focus of their ire.
Edelman, who was obviously named Super Bowl MVP following his performance, ended up in the crosshairs of opposing fans who believed that he should never have even been on the field against Los Angeles to begin with thanks to his early season suspension for PEDs.
Baseball writers point to the fact that a player who was suspended for using PEDs isn’t permitted to play in the MLB postseason, which was the argument that made its way around the internet on Monday following New England’s victory.
The veteran receiver was big, catching 10 passes on 12 targets for 141 yards, with 8 of his receptions moving the chains. He also caught 3 of Brady’s 6 third-down completions, all of which were for first downs.
It’s clearly a case of sour grapes among those who were unhappy to see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick raise another Lombardi trophy. However, it will be interesting to see if the anti-Patriot sentiment doesn’t potentially spark a discussion for a change this offseason.
It wouldn’t be a surprise for the NFL to consider some sort of further penalty since this issue seems to come up among players throughout the league each year. As we know, given the history of situations involving the Patriots, the league loves to make a rule change to try and save face to figure out a way to stop a team that just continues to dominate year in, and year out.
Roger Goodell loves this stuff. The prospect of being ineligible for postseason play would obviously make players think twice before taking that type of risk, especially since missing the first four games of the year isn’t close to the damage that would be inflicted if a team’s key offensive (or defensive) weapon was sidelined during a playoff run.
Needless to say, don’t be surprised if we hear about this again during the offseason. But for now, it’s just noise and the fans made plenty of it in Boston when they celebrated during last month’s parade after an unbelievable year as New England won their sixth Lombardi trophy.
Andy Reid was out-coached again this postseason by Belichick. (USA TODAY Images)
3) While we’re on this topic, this nonsense with the Kansas City Chiefs complaining about the overtime rules is getting old, with the subject coming up again this week after the Chiefs submitted a proposal to end the scenario where a first-possession touchdown in overtime no longer ends the game in the postseason.
This is ridiculous. If anyone inside the NFL office is even leaning that way, they should take a good look in the mirror before they even consider making this change. The Patriots have been a part of two incredible wins in overtime during the postseason in recent years, with both coming on opening drive touchdowns to earn the walk off victory. To change it now would indicate the NFL wasn’t happy about the outcome and would be trying to prevent those situations going forward.
Let’s be serious. The league already once changed this rule as it pertained to field goals, which you could sort of make the argument because offenses really only needed a couple of big plays on their first possession in overtime to kick a long field goal and win it. Although given what we’ve seen from kickers in recent years, the difficulty surrounding that sequence doesn’t seem to garner the significance of pulling that off that people seem to think it does. But “it is what it is” at this point and the rule has already been modified.
However, the idea now that an offense digging deep and driving the length of the field and scoring isn’t worthy enough of winning the game is ludicrous. The worst part about this situation is the league already has a key example in the New Orleans Saints, who after coming up on the wrong end of a bad call in regulation, were unable to score on their opening drive in overtime, which opened the door to the Rams winning the football game and moving on to the Super Bowl. That game more or less proved that scoring a touchdown isn’t a given, and the fact the Patriots wore down a terrible Chiefs defense and then executed at the critical point in the contest to win the game is a reminder this rule shouldn’t even be on the table for discussion.
We’ve seen enough from the NFL over the years to realize that New England’s dominance is a key frustration behind the scenes. But if this rule goes through, it should set off a serious red flag that the league is just reaching at this point and reacting negatively to yet another incredible postseason run by this football team.
Brady extension is good news for the Patriots. (USA TODAY Images)
4) With our own Steve Balestrieri learning this week that a contract extension may be coming for Tom Brady, it’s good news for a team that will have essentially erased the narratives and speculation that would have surrounded his uncertainty heading into what would have been the final year of his deal.
While Brady isn’t necessarily coming off of his best season, it’s obvious that even with the injuries he battled through last season and his ability to eventually overcome Wade Phillips tough game plan in the Super Bowl, he’s still playing well enough to potentially do it a few more times before he finally walks away. That’s a positive sign for the Patriots, who are still in need of grooming a successor and don’t have that person in the locker room at this time.
Last year’s late draft pick, Danny Etling, showed some promise in the preseason, but he’s no where near the level of where Jimmy Garoppolo was and while seeing a late-round pick become a starter isn’t necessarily out of the realm of possibility (ie: Brady), we haven’t seen that from him just yet.
This year’s draft will be interesting to watch from the standpoint of whether or not they view one of the guys coming out high enough to pass on another player in favor of taking a quarterback. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll target someone in the first round, since as we know, Garoppolo was a second round selection. But given the timing of where Brady is, this would be the right time to find a player they believe in who could spend 3-4 years learning in this system and eventually emerge as a starting-caliber player.
That’s tougher than it sounds, especially knowing how hard it is to find an NFL-ready quarterback. One other X-factor in all this is Josh McDaniels, who has done a pretty good job of developing quarterbacks during his tenure here in New England. But if ever there was a time to hope that process was starting over again, this offseason would seem to be it.
The Patriots seemed to try and prepare for Flowers’ departure on Friday. (USA TODAY Images)
5) The addition of Michael Bennett reminds me of a couple of offseason scenarios over the years, which doesn’t make me feel overly confident in the future of defensive end Trey Flowers.
Bennett’s arrival mimics one of the more surprising moves, highlighted by the signing of Danny Amendola when Wes Welker was headed to the free agent market in 2013. At the time, it was obvious that the Patriots signing of Amendola looked like they felt like Welker wouldn’t be back. So Bill Belichick appeared to take the step to protect his team from losing an impact player, essentially moving on after feeling that Welker sign elsewhere.
Flowers seems poised to end up with a big payday, with the initial reports seeming to indicate that the veteran will hit the market and test the waters, which will likely spell trouble for the Patriots in terms of trying to keep him in the fold.
While it’s not impossible, it seems unlikely and it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone like Flores brings Flowers in to help start building Miami’s defense. While Flowers’ numbers (7.5 sacks last season) aren’t among the NFL’s best, what’s scary to consider is the fact that those totals probably could have even been higher. While New England’s defense was more aggressive last season than it’s been in a while, he still wasn’t used in that role as much as he could have been.
But that’s not how this scheme works. The Patriots’ defense is much more disciplined and it prevented him from ending up on the highlight reel since most of his best work really came from the plays he made that flew under the radar. For teams who take the time to look at that body of work, they may realize that Flowers is a complete player who has only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. The bad news for New England is, it likely means a payday much larger than what the Patriots can offer may be coming for him.
This year’s defense did a terrific job. (USA TODAY Images)
6) Watching this year’s defense over the final three postseason games was interesting from the standpoint of trying to ponder where they’ll someday sit in history when we reflect back on each of those players.
Think about it for a second. At the time, none of us looked at players like Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, etc. in the way we look at them now. After all, during that era, none of them were ever considered among the NFL’s elite because the Patriots weren’t really viewed that way back then. Fans knew they were good players, but it wasn’t until Bill Belichick arrived and took Pete Carroll’s roster and turned them into champions that they really became who they were.
When you look at what New England did defensively this postseason, this isn’t exactly a group full of superstars. You can put Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Trey Flowers and Stephon Gilmore in the group of potentially elite players, but the remainder of this group is simply filled with just really, solid football players. The secondary was rounded out with guys like Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, and Jason McCourty, along with safeties Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung. None of them get anywhere near the amount of respect outside of New England as they do by fans who see them each week.
Up front, they had players like Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Malcolm Brown and Lawrence Guy, none of which would ever be on the radar of fans outside of this region. The same can be said for linebackers like Elandon Roberts, John Simon, and Kyle Van Noy. Honestly, even most casual Patriots fans don’t even know who these guys are.
Yet these are players who just put together one of the best defensive stretches in Patriots postseason history to capture the club’s sixth championship.
One of the things that made guys Law, McGinest and Bruschi so great was the fact they did it over a sustained period of time, which obviously sets them apart but again, people didn’t really appreciate how good they were until this team went through a rough stretch without them. It’s like they say, you don’t appreciate guys like that until they’re not around anymore.
That’s why it’s going to be hard not to wonder how fans may someday view players like McCourty, Chung, Hightower, and Gilmore, with players like Van Noy even hopefully earning a little more appreciation after putting together a terrific showing to cap off a pretty terrific year.
Either way, it’s an interesting notion. What makes it even more curious is the fact that while many fans discussed how great they played defensively, the names didn’t seem to be joining the discussion of what they did on the field as they held one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses to 3 points.
Oddly enough, even after a Super Bowl win, people still don’t seem to know who they are. The key to changing that will be seeing if they can build on this performance heading into 2019.
If they can, maybe people will start paying attention.
One More Thought:
Is this the end for Gostkowski? (USA TODAY Images)
7) With the news that the Patriots weren’t using the franchise tag, the first player that came to mind was kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who appears to be headed to free agency.
When you take into consideration how many kickers struggled last year, Gostkowski looks like he’s in for a potential payday and it could mean that the Patriots might have to spend this offseason looking for a replacement.
For Gostkowski, there’s not much really left for him to prove. He’s already put together a Hall of Fame worthy career here in New England and there’s really nothing more positive that can come for him staying in Foxboro.
Gostkowski missed just one extra point during the regular season and five field goals total, missing two from 40-49yds and 3 from 50+. He was perfect from 20-39yds. In the postseason, he missed just one field goal and was perfect on all his extra points.
Yet, that didn’t stop the criticism and whispers that happened over the course of this season, as well as the year before when he hit a couple of bumps during an almost-championship season.
As a result, if I’m Gostkowski, I would follow Adam Vinatieri’s lead and target a dome team with a lot of money in need of a reliable kicker, which would likely extend his career. He still has a strong leg and doesn’t seem to have lost any of his power, which is a positive sign for a player who has been among the best in the league for a while now.
Gostkowski’s loss would be tough as he would mark the end of another solid career for another terrific kicker in Foxboro and leave the Patriots with some uncertainty at a position that he’s quietly been an afterthought since he’s been here. There have been people hoping for his departure not realizing how good he’s really been, which is unfortunate.
For now, this may be something to watch over the course of the offseason and if Gostkowski does move on, fans need to recognize just how special his run has been and how replacing him might be harder than some might think.
Defensive end Trey Flowers is considered a top free agent heading into the NFL offseason, but did he give away his future plans?
On Saturday, Flowers made a special appearance at the American Hockey League’s Springfield Falcons Military Appreciation Night.
During the pregame, Flowers walked out to center ice with the Vince Lombardi trophy and shared some words to the fans.
“This is Number. Six. We want seven,” Flowers yelled.
While firing up a crowd isn’t the same as signing a contact, the comments added a little more offseason intrigue.
In this episode of Patriots Fourth And Two, we started the show by talking about Tom Brady, as there are rumblings of a potential contract extension for him. After that, in the Patriots Fourth And Two Roundtable, we discussed several topics that involved the approach of Free Agency. To end the show, we talked about our thoughts on the Combine.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-24 and AFC East Notes. And as we’ve said before, the Patriots are many things, but boring is never one of them.
Kraft Opens Himself, and the Team Up For Unwanted Scrutiny:
Robert Kraft found himself in the center of a maelstrom on Friday morning as the Jupiter, Florida police busted a series of massage parlors that were tied to human trafficking. They had implanted surveillance cameras on the premises of each of those establishments and had 173 people on tape soliciting sex. About 200 people are to be charged and Kraft is one of them.
The Patriots immediately fired back with a release denying all charges and with the now very Patriot M.O. in the last line, “we will not be commenting further.”
Don’t worry, the rest of the NFL will, and have already done plenty of talking. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t matter if Kraft is guilty or not (as he claims), the old adage of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t count much when the person charged is a celebrity, or in Kraft’s case, the owner of probably the most hated franchise in the NFL.
At a minimum, he was guilty of an extremely poor decision making by frequenting the establishment twice and once the video comes out on TMZ, because in this day and age the video always comes out, then there will be the devil to pay.
Kraft as the owner of the Patriots has not been a “behind the scenes” kind of guy. He’s always been upfront and very visible. He was instrumental in helping to end the player’s strike in 2011. He’s one of the most generous people in New England with his charities both here in the United States and in Israel. He lobbied hard for the release of rapper Meek Hill, and was seen with a championship gold and diamond chain that the rapper gave him as a gift after the Super Bowl. A life-long Democrat, he’s pals with President Trump and regularly golfs with him. And now, his reputation has taken a very big hit.
In the court of public opinion, he’s already guilty, and all of the social media feeding frenzy on his character has already begun. Some, such as the noted blowhard Bart Scott called for the NFL to take away all of the Patriots draft picks in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This time, the firestorm is placed right on Kraft’s doorstep and this isn’t going to be an easy time for the 77-year old owner, who has been one of the most popular people in New England. He’ll certainly face some kind of internal discipline from the NFL and Roger Goodell, regardless of whether he’s convicted or not. The NFL holds the owners to an even stricter conduct policy than the players.
It is coming and it isn’t going to be pretty. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…”
Patriots Receive Four Compensatory Picks in the Draft:
As expected the Patriots received multiple compensatory picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. They received two third round picks, a sixth, and a seventh. Now the team has 12 selections in the draft, including six in the first 101. With this many picks, the team is in prime position to move up in the draft if there is a prospect that they’re looking for.
1: #32 Own
2a: #56 via the Bears
2b: #64 Own
3a: #74 via the Lions
3b: #97 Comp pick (Nate Solder)
3c: #101 Comp pick (Malcolm Butler)
4: #134 Own
6: #205 Comp Pick (Danny Amendola)
7a: #237 via Eagles
7b: #243 Josh Gordon trade
7c: #246 Own
7d: #252 Comp pick (Cameron Fleming)
Flowers Should Be Allowed to Set His Own Worth:
Earlier we wrote that Flowers should be considered one of the top priorities for the Patriots to resign in 2019. And we’re not changing that. However, Flowers plays in a position that is frequently overpaid in the NFL and if he begins to receive offers, such as Nate Solder and others got a year ago, the Patriots would be correct in walking away from the table and looking to replace him elsewhere.
Flowers, in our opinion here, is an invaluable piece of the Patriots defense. He can do multiple things, set the edge against the run, rush the passer and kick inside and be a good interior pass rusher. But is Flowers an “elite” pass rusher to the tune of being worth $12-14 million dollars a year? The feeling here is that the Patriots would say no and allow him to bolt for greener pastures.
After him, the Patriots have Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, and Derek Rivers. None have the versatility of Flowers. There are some intriguing edge rushers in the upcoming draft, and with a lot of draft capital, the Patriots could slide up and select one of them.
We’ll be watching how the rest of the league sets Flowers’ worth. He’ll probably give the Patriots the chance to match any offer on the table, but anything in that higher range will probably result in the team allowing him to walk.
Devin McCourty Returning in 2019:
In another bit of good news, Devin McCourty announced that he’ll be returning for his 10th season with the Patriots in 2019. McCourty’s steady hand on the back end of the defense, his leadership and his durability all contribute to how valuable he is to the Patriots defense.
If there is a downside to McCourty not retiring, it means that the Patriots will now have a difficult decision to make on McCourty’s contract, which pays him more than $9 million in base salary with a $13.4 million dollar cap hit in 2019.
He’s been a Patriots captain since 2011 and has missed only 5 games in his career. While the two sides will have to work out an agreement on the cap issue, it can be done and should be soon.
Free Agency – Tight Ends That Could Be on NE’s Radar:
Rob Gronkowski is still sitting on the fence regarding retirement. Regardless of whether he decides to return for the 2019 season or not, the Patriots need to address the position this spring. Maybe in free agency or the draft, possibly both.
The Patriots currently have Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, who remains one of the best blocking TEs in the game but hasn’t been a factor at all in the passing game. For a player with a $7 million dollar salary cap hit, that far too much. They also have Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, and Stephen Anderson.
There are a couple of intriguing names in the draft and we’ll get to those players soon, but for now, who are the players that would fit in the Patriots scheme?
Jesse James – James was often the fifth option for the Steelers passing offense in a loaded offensive system. While not a dynamic receiving option, James has more potential than people are crediting him with, having 30 catches for 423 yards in 2018.
He’s a reliable good receiver with prototypical size, a tough, no-nonsense attitude and good blocker in the running game. In the Patriots “12” or “22” personnel, he’d immediately be a weapon that can be targeted, giving opposing defenses more options to worry about.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Jenkins had an outstanding 2017 with Jets catching 50 passes for 357 yards before moving on the Jaguars. He suffered two hernias and was placed on IR after just five games. He was due $4 million from Jacksonville but they decided to let him walk.
Jenkins is just 26 years old and has never really lived up to his high (2nd round) draft selection…sound familiar? The opportunity to play with Brady and the Patriots offense could be a powerful draw to bring him to New England.
Tyler Eifert – Eifert is easily the most talented TE on the list but has played the least due to injuries. He’s only suited up for 43 of a possible 96 games thus far in his NFL career. Eifert is another play with oodles of talent, was drafted in the 1st round but has only scratched the surface of his potential, catching 13 TDs from Andy Dalton in 2015.
But in the past three seasons, he’s played a total of 14 games. While the talent is obviously there, the Patriots may only offer a one-year, prove it type of deal. If they’re interested at all.
Charles Clay – Clay is a player that they’re very familiar with, playing him twice a year in the AFC East as he was a member of both the Bills and Dolphins. Clay had a very down year in 2018, playing in the moribund Bills offense and with a rookie QB.
The 30-year old has been a productive TE in the past, and it should be noted that Bill Belichick has always thought very highly of him. And we all know that Bill loves to bring in players that he respects.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills To Put Hughes on the Trade Block?
ESPN had an intriguing piece by Buffalo Bills beat writer Mike Rodak about whether the team may decide to trade edge player Jerry Hughes in 2019. Rodak wrote that Hughes, 30, is in the last year of his contract. Since being traded to the Bills from Indy, he’s played in all 96 games with 80 starts.
Hughes will turn 31 during training camp and is due $10.4 million against the salary cap this season. If they trade him now, they’ll save money against the cap, where they already have $79.4 million in cap space which would allow them to address one of the premier free agent pass rushers and get younger at the position.
The Bills already own the #9 pick in the draft, with added draft capital, they could decide to move up and make an effort to land one of the top names on the edge as well as sign a free agent.
Flores, Graham Will Run More 3-4 Looks for the Dolphins Defense:
The Miami Dolphins have an entirely new coaching staff this season and many of their names will look familiar to Patriots fans. Brian Flores has hired Patrick Graham to be his defensive coordinator. The two spent seven years together as Patriots assistants, once sharing an office together. Now, they’re be building a defense in a manner that they both feel will fit their personnel.
“We want guys who are selfless, guys who are willing to work hard,” Graham said. “Aside from the character traits, you want guys who play with their hands and are heavy-handed. You want guys to play with good knee bend and good leverage, and you want guys who have good eye discipline.”
“In terms of the toughness, I want to have a way to measure the toughness. To me, you measure the toughness as a defensive player, and what we’re going to talk about to those guys is, ‘Can we stop the run, and can we stop the run when we know they’re going to run the ball?'”
While the Dolphins don’t have the personnel, yet to run more of 3-4 look which will help their ability to stop the run, it will take an overhaul, the coaches believe that is the correct way to go. They want a flexible, versatile defense that can change on the fly determined by who their opponent is…Sounds a lot like New England.
Gase Feels the Jets Can Turn Things Around Quickly:
The New York Jets new coach Adam Gase has a daunting task ahead of him, he’s inherited a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010, and has a fan base and media contingent hungry for a winner in New York that won’t be patient with him for very long. But he’s convinced that he and his staff can get things done.
Start with the fact that the team has a whopping $101 million dollars of salary cap space. The Jets can go after, and sign multiple big-name free agents this spring and still have flexibility under the salary cap.
But the most important piece, at quarterback, the Jets feel like they’ve finally found their franchise leader in Sam Darnold. Now they have the means to surround him with the talent he’ll need to succeed in the NFL.
“We have to find the right guys for us, the right fit, and make sure those guys want to be here,” Gase said during an interview this week with WFAN. “We have a lot of money right now, but at the same time there are going to be other teams pursuing certain guys and it’s not only going to be money. Guys want to know if this is the right place for me and do I fit into what they want.”
“We can improve quickly because we’re able to bring in players that have done it before. We’ve seen it in the NFL,” he said. There won’t be much of a grace period. He’ll be expected to win and be competitive right away.
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.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-17 and AFC East Notes.
Van Noy On Media Roundrobin: Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy has been seemingly everywhere lately in the media circles after the Super Bowl. And why not? After an outstanding postseason, the well-spoken, likable linebacker is enjoying his time in the spotlight. One of the best spots he did was on the NFL Network show, “Good Morning Football” where he and Nate Burleson spoke about how the Patriots found a way to use his talents and put him in the best position to succeed.
Speaking of Burleson, he did an earlier segment right after the Super Bowl on how well Bill Belichick and the Patriots build a roster from top to bottom. Which of course will not sit well with the “GM Bill is hurting Coach Bill” crowd. Burleson said, “It’s not about where you are, it’s about where you’re headed.” Really good stuff there.
Evaluating the Team Needs by Position Entering 2019:
In a perfect world, a team will sign all of their key free agents and have enough money left over to bring in fresh blood and retool on the fly. But the reality is, with the salary cap and free agency, it is hard to accomplish those goals on a yearly basis. And yet Bill Belichick has done that. So, here is our breakdown by position in terms of team need before free agency begins:
QB – Team Need – High:
While Tom Brady continues to play at a very high level and isn’t going anywhere, the time is here when they have to bring in his eventual replacement. At age 42 when the 2019 season starts, he isn’t getting any younger, (I know, we say this every year),
Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling are the backups and while Hoyer got and deserved huge kudos for running the scout teams of the opponents to prepare the team for the postseason games, neither of those two could step in and win much of anything in case of a Brady injury…or another league-sanctioned vacation over cold weather.
RB – Team Need – Low:
The team is in very good shape here, with Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and fullback James Develin in the mix. The team had Jeremy Hill in last year and he looked really good all summer before tearing an ACL in Week 1. He’d be a welcome sight if the team brings him back for depth.
WR – Team Need – Very High:
The Patriots currently have Julian Edelman and the unproven Braxton Berrios signed for the 2019 season so far and this position is critical in terms of need. Josh Gordon is a restricted free agent, but the team can’t be reliant on him getting back to the team anytime soon.
Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Phillip Dorsett are all free agents. Even if all three are resigned, which is doubtful, look for the Patriots to address this position heavily in both free agency and the draft.
Tight End – Team Need – High:
With the Rob Gronkowski retirement rumors swirling, the team really needs to add serious depth here this spring whether Gronk returns or not. Dwayne Allen is a terrific blocker but at $7 million with virtually no offensive output in the passing game?
They have some intriguing younger guys in Ryan Izzo and Stephen Anderson but like Jacob Hollister who can’t stay healthy, they’re all unproven. The team needs to address this position in either free agency or the draft.
Offensive Line – Team Need – Low/Medium:
The Patriots offensive line is stacked in the interior with three excellent starters (David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney) and depth behind them. RT Marcus Cannon returns while LT Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle are free agents.
If Brown bolts in free agency, top 2018 draft pick Isaiah Wynn is waiting in the wings which would go a long way in replacing Brown, who never played LT until last year. Waddle’s status is probably dependent on Brown’s. If he walks, then they’ll probably want to sign him to be the swing tackle again. If both decide to bolt for greener pastures, then the need goes up.
Defensive End/Edge – Team Need – High:
The top free agent for the team is Trey Flowers, he’s also the best front seven player on the defense. If they can’t ink him to a new deal before free agency, they hopefully have an agreement with him to let him find a deal and give the team a chance to match, like what they did with Dont’a Hightower.
Behind Flowers is Dietrich Wise Jr., Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, and Ufomba Kamalu. Which adds up to a lot of depth, but not a lot of proven play-making ability there. Resigning Flowers is paramount first. If they don’t do that then they’ll need to sign a free agent as well as address this in the spring.
Defensive Tackle – Team Need – Very High:
Both Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown are free agents. Both played well in the playoffs and having those big bodies that can stuff the run was a key reason the defense was so good in the final five games (two regular season, three playoff). And why it is critical to address this need this spring.
Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler return but the team needs to decide if either Brown or Shelton returns and then address this position in both the draft and free agency.
Linebacker – Team Need – Low:
My, my what a difference a few months makes. Back in the fall, we were lamenting the lack of an athletic linebacker but after watching the play of Hightower and Kyle Van Noy during the postseason, that need doesn’t seem as glaring right now. Elandon Roberts played well in short stretches as well.
The team needs to bring back John Simon in free agency, he played a valuable role and is versatile, something the team likes. Christian Sam spent the season on IR with the Foxboro Flu and is that athletic guy.
Secondary – Team Need – Low:
The Patriots are young and deep at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is outstanding and behind him is J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, and Duke Dawson, all young players. Jason McCourty gave the team a solid veteran presence and may return. Jonathan Jones is a restricted free agent.
At safety, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon are all under contract but McCourty was flirting with retirement. He and Chung are 32 so their replacements, while not imminent this year, need to be addressed at some point in the future.
The team signed Obi Melifonwu who is a physical freak and the feeling is here, that the Patriots will find some way to utilize his physical skills.
Special Teams – Team Need – Very High:
The Pats have both kickers entering free agency. Stephen Gostkowski has been with the team since 2006 when Adam Vinatieri left. Ryan Allen has been outstanding with his directional punting. Resigning them is critical.
Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, and Joe Cardona all return. Two other special teamers that need to be resigned are Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber.
Our Favorite Free Agent Targets For the Patriots:
With free agency getting ready to heat up, the Patriots have a slew of free agents that they’ll ultimately have to make a decision on whether or not to try to resign. But barring that for a minute, here is a list of guys, we’d really like to see the Patriots make a stab at bringing in this spring.
Wide Receivers: There are a couple of names to keep an eye on this spring. First among them is Adam Humphries from the Bucs. Humphries has been a favorite of nearly everyone in the New England area because one look at his game and you can see Patriots written all over it.
Just 26, Humphries had career highs in receptions, (76), yards (816) and touchdowns (5). He shows fantastic quickness off the line and moving horizontally and is very difficult to stop when running those routes underneath coverage and shallow crosses. He has the excellent ability to find holes in zone coverages. He’d seamlessly fit into the Danny Amendola role here in New England from Day 1.
Tyrell Williams from the Chargers, in our opinion, would be a great fit for the Patriots offense. Williams has great size, (6’4, 210) and has very good speed to go along with it. He’s been used as a deep threat in the Chargers offense, but the feeling here is that he could do much more than that with the Patriots and would offer that big body red zone target as well as a player that opponents would have to respect deep.
Golden Tate is long been rumored as someone the Patriots have coveted but his recent comments make it seem like he is wanting to stay in Philly although he had very limited chemistry with Nick Foles and none with Carson Wentz.
Defensive Ends: While we’d rather have Trey Flowers return in 2019, there isn’t a guarantee that happens. One sleeper to keep an eye on is Arizona Cardinal Markus Golden. In 2016 Golden had 12.5 sacks, with four forced fumbles but an ACL tear in 2017 set him back. While not completely healthy in 2018, his numbers dipped to just 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Golden may be available for a one-year prove it type deal with the option to play for a winner and the potential to increase his net worth. He seems to expendable in Arizona with the Cards signing former Falcon Brooks Reed.
Others such as Brandon Graham, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark et al will likely be too expensive for the Patriots but we’ll have to see how the market plays out.
One other player who can play the edge or in the interior depending on the alignment is Henry Anderson of the Jets.
One name to watch is tight end Jesse James of the Steelers. Known primarily for the “catch that wasn’t”, he’s second on the depth chart behind Vance McDonald and a had modest season with 30 catches for 423 yards and a pair of scores. However, playing on a team the past three years with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, LaVeon Bell and James Conner, it doesn’t mean he’s not a viable receiver.
James is a very good blocker who was credited in 2018 without missing one according to Sports Info Solution. In describing James, the Athletic’s Mark Kaboly tweeted, “A 100 percent no-nonsense, hard-working, drama-free tough guy who refuses to miss practice and is an all-around great human. You win with a locker room full of those guys.” After describing the Steelers as the “Kardashians” last season, perhaps James is looking for a fresh start elsewhere.
Gronk Not a First-Ballot HOFer, According to Voters:
Certain things occasionally will slip thru the cracks when given the sheer volume of information that goes thru the Patriots timeline every day. And then there’s what transpired this week. Karen Gueregian of the Boston Herald wrote a piece that jumped off the page when she spoke with five different voting members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (there are 48) about Rob Gronkowski. And the question she posed was, “if Gronkowski retired today would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The short answer from the voters was no.
While they all agreed that “Gronkowski will eventually get in”, these five voters pointed to the lack of stats for Gronkowski as compared to players who are already in, because he’s played substantially shorter than players Tony Gonzalez (17 seasons) and Shannon Sharpe (14), there his catches and yardage numbers are naturally much lower.
Mike Chappel from Fox 59 in Indianapolis had this to say, “Everybody wants guys to be first-ballot guys. And they make it sound like they are no-brainers. The issue with him will be the brevity of his career,” he said.
“If someone said first ballot, I’d say let’s pump the brakes. But then when you look at the body of work when he played at the position, you want difference makers … “
John McLain who covers the NFL in Houston, however, isn’t buying this argument at all. “I’ve been watching football since 1960. When you think about the combination of size, the speed he had at that size, and being an underrated blocker, and being able to line up at so many different spots, his career average is over 15 yards (per catch). I’ll say this, when Gronk is eligible, I’ll vote for him. To me, he’s a no-brainer if he never plays another play.”
Gueregian’s entire piece can be referenced here:
We’ll leave it with this…in his era, nobody has come close to being the most overall dominant tight end in the past decade that Gronkowski has. That’s the true sign of a HOF worthy player. And he’s been at his best in the playoffs while competing against the best in the league. Gronkowski has competed in 16 playoff games, (we won’t bother with the Texans game where he broke his arm or the SB where he was on one leg), and his numbers were this:
Gronkowski 16 games, 81 receptions, 1163 yards, 12 touchdowns. Looking at the career records of Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, and Tony Gonzalez, they played a total of 39 playoff games and totaled 11 combined touchdowns in the postseason. Isn’t that the definition of a “difference maker”?
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills Release TE Charles Clay:
The Buffalo Bills have released tight end Charles Clay. He had one year remaining on the five-year contract he signed before the 2015 NFL season. The Bills will save an estimated $4.5 million on their salary cap where Clay would have counted over 9 million against the cap in 2019.
Playing with a rookie QB, Clay had a down year in 2018 catching only 21 passes for 184 yards. The handwriting was on the wall when Clay was a healthy scratch for the Week 16 loss in New England.
Now the Bills will be revamping the position and trying to get 2nd-year player Jason Croom more involved with the offense. Croom had just 16 receptions as a rookie in 2018. The Bills will definitely be looking to add more depth this spring.
O’Shea – Dolphins to Bring Patriots-like Approach to Game Planning:
The Miami Dolphins have a totally revamped coaching staff, but a lot of them come from New England and they are planning on bringing a Patriot-esque view of how they approach to game planning and coaching.
New offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, spent 18 years in the Patriots system and when speaking to the Dolphins’ media, he stated that the coaching staff will adjust to the skill set of the players and not the other way around. From the MiamiDolphins.com, he had this to say:
“I think that you have a foundation and some core beliefs that you have offensively, but I think the key is to do what your players do well. It’s our job as a coaching staff to identify what are the skill sets of the players and how can we utilize those skillsets to be a productive offense.”
“That’s why we don’t talk about specific scheme. We talk about being multiple. We talk about being able to adjust. That’s a word that definitely is an important part of our offense is the ability for the coaches to adjust in the way we think as far as our scheme, and our players to be able to adjust and might be able to adjust weekly depending on what we need to do to win the game.”
So, the Dolphins offense should look much different in 2019. But first, they need to decide who their QB is going to be.
Jets Switching to a 4-3 Defense Under Gregg Williams:
The New York Jets are expected to switch to a one-gap attacking style of defense under Gregg Williams which is the style he’s always run and the Jets are hoping for bigger and better things from their defensive leader Leonard Williams.
They believe that playing Williams as a 3-technique with a defensive end on his outside shoulder. This way they hope it will free up more one-on-one matchups inside where Williams can create some mismatches.
But perhaps the biggest beneficiary to Williams’ system is safety Jamal Adams. In Williams’ style of defense, he needs a safety who can be versatile, play over the tight end and who could match up with a running back. Williams will take advantage of his aggressive style of play as well.
Which of the Patriots Free Agents Return in 2019?
The Patriots are facing a ton of potential turnover in their roster in the upcoming 2019 season and to go along with a slew of coaching changes, it presents a difficult challenge in the days ahead.
Most Super Bowl winners suffer a turnover of more than 20 players from the Super Bowl to Week 1 of the following NFL season. This year’s Patriot team will no doubt be any different.
So, now that the post-Super Bowl celebrations are over and we’ve had a chance to let the dust settle, we are going to take a look at some of the Patriots free agents and try to get a feel on who may return and who may be moving on. And let’s start with the two biggest of them.
The Patriots defensive end was a fourth-round pick from Arkansas just four years ago and at 25 is just now entering the prime of his career. Flowers led the team in sacks the past three years but he’s much more than just a sack specialist.
In the varied scheme that the Patriots run on defense, they ask their edge players to do a lot of different things. And Flowers can do them all. He sets the edge, rushes the passer from the outside, can kick inside as an interior pass rusher and drop occasionally into the passing lanes in the flat.
Flowers has arguably been the Patriots’ best defensive player for the past several years and they know and appreciate his value. How will the rest of the league value Flowers? In an increasing fantasy football mindset, many fans and writers may not believe that he’s a top-tier defensive player. But the coaches see what he brings, especially two ex-New England coaches in Detroit and Miami.
The chances of Flowers returning are probably less than 50/50, and if they can’t get anything done by the time the signing frenzy begins, it will probably be less than that. Flowers would look awful in teal…
My, my, my, (Joe Kenda voice), what a difference a year makes. When the Patriots got Brown in a trade with the 49ers there were a lot of very unconvinced people (including right here) that wondered why the Niners would let him go if he was as good as Von Miller proclaimed him to be.
Miller, the Broncos pass rush specialist, called Brown the best right tackles in the NFL and considered him one of the best tackles …period. Brown is absolutely enormous at 6’8, 380-pounds but for a man so big, he moves incredibly well. He took over the starting left tackle position in the first days of training camp and never looked back.
He started all 16 regular season games and all three playoff games and was simply outstanding. So, yes… he can play left tackle in the NFL, and do so at an elite level. Having feet as quick as his for such a large man allows him to keep pass rushers at bay and he can be a road grader in the running game.
Will another team throw a boatload of money at his feet this spring? With the protection of QBs blindsides always at a premium, the answer is probably yes. Will the Patriots match? Probably not. They invested their top pick last year in Isaiah Wynn who ended up on IR with a torn Achilles last year. Marcus Cannon is under contract for the next three years. The Patriots believe Wynn is more than capable, however, they’ll want to take him along slowly with his injury.
If the Patriots do re-sign Brown, then swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle will probably go, if not he’ll return for another year. The chances of Brown returning are far less than 50 percent in 2019.
Stephen Gostkowski/Ryan Allen:
Both of the Patriots kicking tandem are free agents this season. Gostkowski has been with the Patriots since Adam Vinatieri left in 2006, (the Patriots have essentially had two kickers since 1995), and Gostkowski has been remarkably consistent for a very long time. Last season he was 27-32 on FG attempts, three of his misses were beyond 50 yards and 49-50 on extra points. His work on kickoffs is a subject that Bill Belichick has long complimented on as exemplary.
Allen has been outstanding at angling punts to the sidelines and dropping them inside the 20-yard line of opponents. During the Super Bowl, he pinned the Rams deep three times inside their 10-yard line. And don’t forget, it is Allen that does the holding on all of the extra points and field goals.
Both are extremely valuable and trusted. The odds of each returning is well over 50 percent for 2019.
J-Mac was a very valuable contributor in 2018, his solid play, experience, and leadership were all key factors in the team’s success in the secondary. And playing in the playoffs for the first time in his career, was an experience that McCourty relished, a valuable teaching point to the younger players to never take anything for granted. Especially for a player who went from 0-16 to a Super Bowl win.
The Patriots have a lot of depth at the cornerback position with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones (RFA), Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and Eric Rowe (UFA). McCourty’s veteran presence would be very valuable in 2019, but much of his future may be tied into his brother’s retirement consideration. If Devin decides to return for one more year, Jason would be much more inclined to remain. He’s a 50/50 proposition to return.
Chris Hogan/Phillip Dorsett/Cordarrelle Patterson:
The Patriots three complementary wide receivers are all unrestricted free agents this spring. Hogan has spent the past three seasons here after signing a three-year deal bringing him over from Buffalo. Hogan was a key contributor on the two Super Bowl teams his first two seasons but this year, he seemed to be frozen out of the offense, where he was forgotten for very long stretches. A classy vet, on and off the field. He’s a great teammate who works hard every day and can be a valuable complementary piece in any offense.
Dorsett seemed primed to have a nice role in the offense after a really strong training camp. But when the team signed Josh Gordon, he saw his playing time slashed. However, when his number was called, he contributed some big plays, most notably the touchdown pass in KC during the conference championship game right before the half. He never lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations but can be a nice role player.
Patterson remains one of the premier kick returners in the game and the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl showed how dynamic he can be, nearly breaking it for a TD. The Patriots installed a package on offense to take advantage of his blazing speed and he chipped in with three receiving touchdowns. He also jumped into the mix at running back when injuries piled up at mid-season and acquitted himself pretty well there. That concept of doing whatever the team needs you to do wasn’t lost on the coaching staff.
The belief here is that Hogan is gone and Dorsett is slightly less than 50 percent to be returning, probably looking for a spot that will allow him more playing time. Patterson seemed to really like it here and if the Patriots offer him anything close to what he gets on the open market, then his chances of returning are better than 50 percent.
Malcom Brown/Danny Shelton:
The two big men in the middle both had the team decline fifth-year options for each in 2019 which says that they are prepared to move away from either or both unless the money is right. Brown had a good but unspectacular 2018 season and like his previous four years, had bouts of inconsistency. He was much better down the stretch and into the playoffs. But in truth, he never really lived up to his first-round draft expectations.
The Patriots picked up Shelton from the Browns last spring and he too was plagued by consistency problems. He was a healthy scratch for three late-season games including the AFC Championship Game but was active and very good in Super Bowl LIII.
The belief here is that the team could easily bring one of the two back on a team-friendly deal, but the chances that either return are under 50 percent.
John Simon/Albert McClellan/Ramon Humber:
The Patriots love their special teams’ guys and in a year when the normally stellar STs units were struggling with their consistency early in the year, they brought these three into to the fold to steady the boat.
Simon proved to be a valuable role player on the defense first and STs second. He did a very good job when called upon in setting the edge and getting after the passer as well as dropping into coverage. In the sub-packages the team runs, he provided a valuable role and fit in well.
McClellan was an outstanding addition to the STs and blocked a couple of kicks, forced a key fumble. But in the punt coverage teams? Before McClellan’s arrival, the team was allowing nearly 13 yards per punt return. After he came on board, it was cut in half. That isn’t a coincidence.
Humber is another STs maven and he’s terrific on kick coverage and recovered a blocked punt. The chances of these three returning are better than 50 percent, it would be nice to see the team re-sign all three this spring.
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