Phil Perry

Healthy Patriots have some choices to make

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Healthy Patriots have some choices to make

FOXBORO - Every Friday, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry and Mike Giardi will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or Friday Bag, as they call it.

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, give the latest edition of the Bag a read.

PP: Good question, Ted. The Patriots are looking pretty healthy after having full attendance at Thursday's practice, so that could leave them with some tough choices when they select their inactives. Malcolm Mitchell will not be activated, but the Patriots could decide to add him early next week if they so choose. I'd be surprised if Mike Gillislee was ready to go. He's one of my seven for this weekend. I'd also say Chris Hogan's removal from the injury report could make it tough for Kenny Britt to get on the field. There's two. Let's round out the last five with Cole Croston, Geneo Grissom, Ricky Jean Francois, Nicholas Grigsby (though he's been devastating on kick coverage units lately) and David Harris. If the Patriots look at this as a big game for their base defense, Harris could be out there to try to slow down Derek Henry. But my inclination is to sit the veteran linebacker since Kyle Van Noy will be back in the fold and seemingly able to play a regular workoad.

PP: There was no easy one-for-one replacement for Nate Ebner, since he served such a critical role in kick coverage and as a communicator in the kicking game. The Patriots have done fairly well to make up for Ebner's loss with new additions, though, particularly Grigsby. Jordan Richards has taken Ebner's punt-protector duties and handled them without issue. Ebner is progressing well as he rehabs his torn ACL, and I've been given indications that he believes he can be ready for the start of next season. He'll be a free agent after this year, so it'll be interesting to see what the future holds for one of Bill Belichick's favorite special teams specialists.

PP: Pat! Malcolm Mitchell was back at practice and seemed to be in good spirits but he won't play Saturday night and if he plays at all, should the Pats win, he'll have to be activated by 4 p.m  Wednesday to come off IR. So, the team was simply getting their young wideout some work in the event that they decide to bring him onto the 53-man roster early next week -- their last opportunity to do so. Even if he's not ready to play immediately, maybe they'd see value in keeping him available in case he could improve by the AFC title game or the Super Bowl. As for his prospects for buying the Panthers . . .  I'm not sure if "The Magician's Hat" has brought in enough cash for Mitchell to be in play as the next owner of the Panthers. But never say never. 

PP: The Bag is just so damn versatile. Has information. Has some ball-busting. Has the ability to do some good . . . It's rare, sure, but it has that ability. This is one of those rare instances. If you're able, throw some support Tucker's way. He's running the marathon for a great cause. Good luck, T.

PP: Four words, Peter: Hashtag new profile pic. 

TC: I hear you my Fine Whiner, I hear you. But I don’t think the belief is Hogan’s going out to get 6 and 135 and Mitchell was ruled out Friday afternoon. Here’s what I do believe: the Patriots, between the hashes, have labored relative to past seasons because of the absence of Julian Edelman. The biggest interior threat is Danny Amendola and he’s been the 12th Player Award winner for that offense. Hogan isn't an interior guy. They'll continue to miss Mitchell because he does as well as or better than Brandin Cooks. Hogan – despite his speed – doesn’t do great in straight line 1-on-1 in terms of separation. Mitchell does.
 

TC: The Patriots traded Jimmy G. because of Jimmy G. On a couple of levels. First, if he sucked, he wouldn’t have been tradeable and would have just wandered aimlessly into free agency like a latter-day Rohan Davey. But he learned the craft and apprenticed under Brady, had the acumen and drive to not be cowed by a pseudo-faceoff with the greatest ever and was nurtured into becoming as good as a quarterback who never plays could possibly be. It’s remarkable. Meanwhile, his mere presence and what he represented to Brady kicked Brady into overdrive. Garoppolo was the Brady to Brady’s Bledsoe. And Brady wasn’t falling for that banana in that particular tailpipe. So he beat back the challenge with two Super Bowls in three seasons and cemented his legacy. But your question is fun in that, without DeflateGate, there would have been no prime-time audition for Jimmy at the start of 2016. And that helped.

TC: Hey Denis! I think Harrison is going to be good for a few impactful plays in this playoff run. The praise he got from both Bill Belichick and the defensive coaching staff after the Jets game showed me that he gave buy-in and – in turn – the coaching staff will give the buy-in back. He’s glacial in terms of changing direction and that’s a liability. But he knows where he needs to go before anybody else in the front-seven because he’s been doing it so long. And when he arrives at

 

MG: I think more of what we’ve seen there Mr. Landry. A good balance between run and pass and a plan that will center around getting the ball to Gronk and Dion Lewis as much as possible. The Titans also struggle covering backs out of the backfield, so Rex Burkhead and/or James White could have nice nights catching the football assuming they’re active and at close to 100 percent. I don’t like the fact that the Pats haven’t changed the tempo as much as we’ve seen in the past and when they have -- see versus Oakland in Mexico City -- it works. I’ve asked around and never gotten an answer worth sharing, so there’s that . . . 

MG: That was my first thought, Tucker, but upon further review, why bother? I don’t think Walker is a game-breaking kind of receiver. Now don’t get me wrong -- he’s a good one, but I don’t think anyone is losing sleep over how to defend the tight end. If he catches six or seven passes, so be it. Just punish him after every catch and make him work as a blocker. That beating all adds up. And yes, it should be Pat Chung for the better part of the game.

MG: Locally, we know all the players so I don’t think that exists. But nationally I do believe the world is about to get a heavy dose of Dion Lewis and realize what I’ve been saying since September: the more Lewis, the better the offense runs. He’s been one of the premier backs in the league over the second half of the season and has helped alleviate some of the pressure that hangs around Tom Brady’s neck every week. Love his style, the shimmy and shake, but most of all, I appreciate the power he finishes runs with -- despite his size.

MG: Louis, Cooks has had a fine year. 65 catches. A thousand yards. Seven touchdowns. His ability to get vertical is close to elite, even if he doesn’t track the ball as well as some of the league’s better deep ball threats. The thing about Cooks is he’s more one-dimensional than believed prior to his arrival here. I mean, he caught 84 passes in year two with the Saints. I figured he’d get something along those lines here once Julian Edelman was lost for the season. Didn’t happen. Why? He just doesn’t run those short to intermediate routes with any real conviction and he’s certainly not anything special after the catch. I expect his playoff performance will mirror what we’ve seen for the first 16 games of his Pats career.

MG: Storm, it should. Harrison showed he still had the power at the point of attack in that game versus the Jets. I think that’s the real role they had in mind for him when they inked him the contract. Branch was playing better before his injury and adds depth to the interior that has leaned heavily on Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown here this last month or so. Van Noy has been their best linebacker and has grown in his role as a communicator. 

MG: Kyle, absolutely. The Patriots are banking on it. He’s fresh as lettuce, still strong as an ox (watch his instagram page for stupid feats of strength) and he’s certainly motivated. I think the player is chasing a ring and looking to rub Pittsburgh’s face in it. That should benefit the Pats.

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Brady: Consistency during playoffs makes Belichick 'so great'

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Brady: Consistency during playoffs makes Belichick 'so great'

FOXBORO -- While last week ended with a report detailing how Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft were allegedly at odds, this week ended with Brady calling Belichick "so great."

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Fresh off of the practice field on Thursday -- the last workout of what players called a competitive week of practice -- Brady was asked if Belichick comported himself any differently this time of year. Even though the intensity is ramped up, even though the urgency is at another level, Brady quickly pointed to Belichick's consistency regardless of what the calendar says.

"I think what makes him so great is that he’s so consistent, just in his approach and week to week," Brady explained. "I think you get to these points, you start doing things different and you've got to think, 'Man, why were we doing those things all year if these are the things that are working?'

"We've done a good job of just sticking to what we've kind of done all season. The tough part is there’s a finality to all these games. You’ve got to earn it if you’re going to move on. You’ve got to earn it if you’re going to practice again next week. We've got to go out there and play well."

Brady's words echoed sentiments relayed by his teammates earlier in the week. The message is clear: Don't forget what got you here. Leaning on that routine, believing it will be enough when kickoff rolls around, is something the Patriots have done for years under Belichick. And because the results have been the results, there's little reason not to trust in the approach.

Back in November, Brady was asked about what stands out to him about Belichick's coaching style. The first adjective he used should come as no surprise.

"Well, he's just so consistent," Brady said at the time. "I think he has such an approach and an urgency to his coaching and how he gets the whole staff prepared and the players. Everything is important -- the walkthroughs, the OTAs, minicamp, training camp. I don’t think you’d notice many times between an OTA day and a Super Bowl week in the way that he approaches the preparations. He gets us all ready to go.

"That urgency helps us get ready and keeps us focused and hopefully leads to a good practice that we can put together day after day. You try to make a lot of improvements and those improvements really show up in the game. I think he’s just a great coach and . . . he's been my only coach so it's been a lot of fun."

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Patriots' postseason first-timers have 2017 offseason approach to thank

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Patriots' postseason first-timers have 2017 offseason approach to thank

FOXBORO - There aren't many players inside the Patriots locker room who will be new to the postseason experience this weekend. But the do-or-die nature of the playoffs is completely foreign feeling for a few key first-year contributors, such as Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore. 

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That those players are finally getting a taste of football in mid-January is thanks in part to an evolving offseason approach in New England that saw the Patriots slot in as one of the NFL's top offseason spenders in 2017. 

The Ringer's Kevin Clark put together a fascinating piece on free-agent spending this week, pointing out which teams dealt out the most cash, why, and how they fared. The Patriots ended up as one of the top 10 spenders in free-agency, and they were one of six top 10 spenders that made the playoffs. 

It's a staggering number considering that free agency has long been viewed as an often-foolhardy last resort for NFL teams desperate to turn things around. But in recent years, organizations have had much more salary-cap space to play with, which has allowed front offices to be more aggressive. Those who have shown a willingness to spend have been rewarded as they've separated themselves from teams who've clung to the idea that thriftiness is key.

Where's the cap space coming from? The cap has ballooned from $120 million to $167 million in the past six years. Plus the 2011 collective bargaining agreement made two changes that have had an impact: 1) It reined in rookie contracts and 2) it allowed teams to roll over unused cap space from one year to the next.

The Patriots have long held a reputation as a team that prefers develop from within, as their list of long-term, high-priced, free-agent deals would indicate, with the 2007 addition of Adalius Thomas coming in as one of the few outliers in Bill Belichick's tenure. 

While the arrival of 2017 heralded a different approach, one doesn't need to go back all that far to find an example of the Patriots largely staying on the sidelines in free agency. Even though they came in as the No. 9 free-agent spenders in 2016, the vast majority of their money spent was a result of Tom Brady's contract extension. Without it, they would have placed among the NFL's bottom-third spenders, just a few spots ahead of the perennially free-agent averse Packers. (After shuffling their front office this offseason, even Green Bay has made a commitment to being more aggressive in the free-agent market, as bold an indication as any that teams are changing their stance on spending.) 

Then last offseason, the Patriots went on a shopping spree. They made Gilmore one of the highest-paid corners in the league. They went out and signed largely unheralded defensive tackle Lawrence Guy to a four-year deal. They invested (in the short term) at the running back position by grabbing unrestricted free agent Rex Burkhead and restricted free agent Mike Gillislee. They re-signed Duron Harmon and Dont'a Hightower. And they were willing to trade an opportunity to draft cost-effective rookies in order to acquire Cooks, and Dwayne Allen, both of whom would cost more against the cap in the short-term.

One could argue the effectiveness of their method, but not that it had a decidedly different look than the norm for them.

Will it continue into 2018? Will the Patriots have the money to add another playoff-starved free agent with a top-of-the-market deal?

They don't have much in the way of 2017 cap space to roll over next season (about $3 million), but the cap is expected to go up again. Over the Cap has projected it to land somewhere in the range of $178 million and for the Patriots to have around $17 million in cap space. Unless something changes, that's hardly a king's ransom that the Patriots will have available to them to spread around in March. 

But what the Patriots did last offseason -- shelling out for immediate help at expensive positions -- showed that when they have the ability to spend they're willing to do it. And in a league with a cap that's increasing annually, where it seems as safe to gamble on outside help as it's ever been, a prodigal approach isn't necessarily a bad one. Based on recent evidence, at least, fortune has favored the bold.

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