With Collins and defense, Pats had reached tipping point

With Collins and defense, Pats had reached tipping point

It’s not as strong as a direct answer to a direct question, but sometimes (oftentimes) you have to read between the lines during a Bill Belichick press conference.

On Wednesday, it was obvious that Belichick wasn’t going chapter-and-verse on the reasons the team traded Jamie Collins, saying, “I’m not going to talk about the 500 things that could be talked about relative to it. It’s just too long, too cumbersome of a conversation.”

In reality, we got zero discussion of the 500 things that could be talked about. That invited oodles of conjecture, theorizing and an open invitation to believe that what former Patriots exec Mike Lombardi said about Collins’ declining play was a belied the team held.

To which Belichick would say, “Have at it, I don’t care what you conjecture.”

A good ol’ standoff.  


But a question posed later about decision-making tipping points -- while not directly asked about Collins -- does give strong insight into Belichick and the Patriots’ philosophy.

That is, you let situations play out until enough information is submitted and then you act on the information with extreme decisiveness.

Responding to a question about whether the bye week was an opportune time to change schemes, Belichick said, “You have to answer that question every week, not just the bye week, and you do something that doesn’t work out well so what are your options, get rid of it or continue to do it and see if you can improve it.

“If you really feel convicted that you can do it well then you put more resources into it and try to improve it. At some point if it doesn’t go well then you might decide that ‘We’ve tried, we’ve invested a lot of time. We’ve invested in this and it’s still not working. Maybe it’s time to move on to something else.’ And then you make that decision.

“I can’t sit there and tell you what the book on that is,” he offered. “I think you evaluate each one individually but that’s what coaches do. That’s what we do. We evaluate it, we look at it and maybe it’s a difference of opinion in the room on the staff like ‘Look, I still think we can do it if we just work harder on it,’ versus ‘We’ve put a lot into it. Let’s do something else. We seem to be on a dead end here,’ for whatever the reasons are and there could be a multitude of reasons.”

Which returns us to Collins. There are a multitude of reasons he’ll spend the rest of the season in a bland orange helmet.


First, his production. He was edging toward becoming a platoon player, as last week’s personnel decision against Buffalo showed when rookie Elandon Roberts started against the run-happy Bills.

Second, his contract. He’s up at the end of the year and he ought to be seeking $10M per season based on his career arc prior to 2016. The Patriots weren’t paying a platoon player $10M per year. So they moved him early to get something in return.

Third, locker room peace. When an underpaid player is seeing his imagined pot of gold being moved out of reach to a higher shelf because of whatever – coaching decisions, playing time, production, his own attitude -- that player is going to be agitated. Collins is making $900K. I wholly believed he’d be a $10M player by St. Patrick’s Day, 2017. But not the way things are going now. The first eight games of 2016 could conceivably cost Collins tens of millions of dollars. I haven’t been dropped any dimes telling me Collins was agitating over his contract but who wouldn’t? He missed the first day of training camp and, though I was told it was expected and not contract-related, it’s still noteworthy in hindsight. He materialized on the team’s injury report on the Thursday before the Bengals game with a hip injury and missed that game. Then, prior to his final game with the team against the Bills last week, he was removed entirely from the injury report so, presumably, 100 percent. And then played a reduced role. None of those things are unprecedented alone. And taken together, they are merely unusual but not alarming. But in the wake of the trade, it invites speculation that there was stuff going on behind the scenes, a participatory tug-of-war.

Belichick -- still responding to the scheme question -- said, “In the end you have to make that decision,” Belichick added. “It’s a bye week decision but it’s a weekly decision, too. You just have to decide what direction you want to go. I think in a lot of cases you can improve things. [For] some teams that’s just not their thing. You have to find something else but that’s true in every season. Each year I think you have to find a little bit of a different way to win. You can’t do everything exactly the same way you did it a previous year. Your team has changed and the teams that you’re playing may have changed or you may be playing different teams and maybe that dictates that you do something a little differently than you did it in the past against a different set of opponents.

“Those are the judgments that the head coach, the coordinators and the position coaches make whether it’s an overall scheme thing or whether it’s an individual technique thing,” he explained. “It can be a technique thing, too, like ‘Look, here’s the way we’re doing this technique but it’s not as effective for us as we want it to be.’ Do we keep working on it or do we modify the technique and do something a little bit different for whatever the reasons are; our players, their players, their scheme, whatever it happens to be.”

In Collins’ case -- and the case of a defense that’s been too permissive and is not playing at championship level despite the numbers -- a crossroads was reached after eight weeks and a full offseason of gathering intel.

And these words from Belichick can be directly applied to the defensive changes we may see after the bye.

“We’ve gotten to points, … it could be anytime really and just say ‘Look, I’m done with this.’ I’ve said that before -- ‘I’ve seen enough. I’m done with it. We’re going to do something else. We’ve tried and it just didn’t work,’ or ‘I believe in it. We should be better at it than we are.’ It’s maybe circumstantial why we don’t have production.

Eight guys are good, one guy is bad. The next time its eight guys are good and a different guy that [isn’t]. If we just get this right we’ll be OK but we just haven’t been able to do it. Well maybe you keep trying.”

Obviously, Belichick had seen enough from the defense as it was constituted and executed. And -- likely -- from Collins as well.

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

File Photo

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

AP Photo

How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.