Patriots

Could Hernandez be considered a wide receiver?

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Could Hernandez be considered a wide receiver?

Rob Gronkowski signed his new deal just about a month ago and already folks have begun to wonder what kind of contract will be given to New England's other young tight end, Aaron Hernandez.

We may not know the answer for quite some time given that Hernandez is under contract with the Patriots through the 2013 season, but it's still an interesting question nonetheless.

With Hernandez and Gronkowski as two of the focal points of New England's offense last season, they set all kinds of records and helped the Patriots make Super Bowl XLVI. In all likelihood, Bill Belichick would like to keep those guys around for as long as possible.

What makes Hernandez's case special is that although he is listed as a tight end on the team's roster, he could be considered a wide receiver given the variety of spots at which he lines up in New England's offensive sets.

He's such a unique player that defining his position on the field is difficult. At the negotiating table, it may be even tougher.

If the Patriots want to slap Hernandez with the franchise tag after the 2013 season, they would want to pay him as a tight end since the franchise number for those big guys is less than that for receivers. Hernandez's next contract negotiations could get complicated if he demands to be paid like a wide receiver.

The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard touched on that issue today. He spoke with someone who's dealt with the Tight End vs. Wideout debate before: Jermichael Finley's agent, Blake Baratz.

The team is going to argue it doesnt matter where the guy lines up and what he does, hes a tight end. Our argument was, when you make an argument on where they are lining up, what kind of stance theyre in, whether theyre running routes and the percentages that Jermichael was doing that. To me, thats no different than if Wes Welker is in the slot or James Jones is in the slot, Baratz told Bedard.

The teams going to say he was a tight end in college, he sits in the tight end meeting room, and hes a tight end in the media guide, and on websites hes a tight end. Thats all great, but our argument was whats the definition of a tight end? To us, that says he plays tight to the end, which is the traditional definition.

When Finley was up for a new deal last year, he made an argument that he should be considered a wide receiver if he was to be franchised. The Packers eventually came to terms with Finley, giving him a two-year 15 million deal, essentially splitting the difference between the values for franchised tight ends (5.446 million) and franchised receivers (9.515 million).

If Hernandez feels like he might get franchised a couple seasons down the road, will he ask to be paid like a wideout? And will that help him at the negotiating table? No way to know just yet. But there is an argument to be made, and it will be interesting to see if that changes the way we label players' positions.

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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