Curran: Did trading Brissett tell us anything about Patriots future plans?


Curran: Did trading Brissett tell us anything about Patriots future plans?

The Patriots quarterback situation has us like antelopes on the Serengeti.

Every gust of wind, every twig snap, our heads snap to attention, we cease chewing our mouthful of grass and sniff the air. What’s out there … in the distance? 

A fake Jimmy G Instagram post in June? A well-aimed “I’m playing until my mid-40s” from Tom Brady? A trade that ships out Jacoby Brissett – would-be heir apparent to the heir apparent – what does it all meeeeaaaannnnn?

Do any of them give insight on what the Patriots plan for the future is? Do all of them give insight?


If this team were just an on-again, off-again playoff participant, handicapping the futures of the incumbent starter and promising backup would command attention.

But the Patriots aren’t just that.

They are on the greatest continuous run the league’s ever seen and are about to begin chasing their eighth Super Bowl appearance in 17 Brady-Belichick seasons.

Do the Patriots believe Brady – 42 when his current contract expires after the 2019 season – will still look like the greatest there’s ever been when that time comes?

Will Bill Belichick – who’ll retire someday as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history – be able to carry out a capstone ballsy, bloodless, fearless, ruthless decision and move on from Brady and on to Jimmy Garoppolo?

Will the Patriots try to have their cake and eat it too, franchising Jimmy G while watching Brady for signs of decline?

And how long is Garoppolo willing to stand there looking handsome and capable while never getting a chance to do anything but turn prematurely gray while Matt Stafford’s making $27 million a season?

The 2017 season opens in four days. The Patriots have larger immediate concerns than who’ll be starting for them in 2018 and beyond. But it’s hard not to speculate what trading Brissett – a seemingly decent enough quarterback prospect – means to the Brady-Garoppolo dance. This isn’t Joe Montana-Steve Young. This isn’t Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers. Brady isn’t broken like Joe was and he’s not ambivalent and daffy like Favre was. And he’s more accomplished than they were.

But the jettisoning of Brissett means that it’s just Tom and Jimmy now, and Jimmy’s got an expiration date in March that needs to be addressed.

I asked Belichick Sunday how much contract status weighs into roster decisions.

“You have to take that into consideration. As a head coach, and Nick [Caserio] as the personnel director, we have to have a vision on 2018-2019. We're going to have a team those years. We're going to have a schedule so we can't ignore that and we don't ignore it,” Belichick acknowledged. “You balance that with this current team – whichever year it is, in this case 2017 – and you try to strike a balance there. You look at each player and then you look at the overall composition of the team, where you're at on all of those things – players, contracts, draft choices, salary cap and so forth.

“Not that you’re making final decisions for future years, but I think you just want to have a general idea of what your position is and where you're going to need to go and what your options are going to be and if you feel comfortable with those or if you don't feel comfortable with them, how to make the most of them, or even if you do feel comfortable with them, still how to maximize them … certainly, I don’t think you can neglect next season. We're going to have a team next season.”

What does that mean for March when Garoppolo’s deal runs out?

“In the end, we're going to do what’s best for the team and make the decisions that we feel are best for the team. With all due respect, I don’t think there are any games scheduled in March. I don’t think there are any scheduled in April, so what a team looks like in March and April is relevant, but in the end, it’s more what the team looks like in September, or I'd say more importantly in December and January. We never try to build a team for March. We try to build a team for September and then most importantly November, December.”

My translation:

We will worry about it when it’s time to worry about it. Worst-case scenario is still pretty friggin’ good: We have Tom. And we have a handle on what everyone’s contract status is, thanks for checking. 

So what’s that tell us about Brissett? It tells us that – despite accounting for five touchdowns in Thursday’s preseason finale and leading the Patriots to a 27-0 prime-time win last September in his first NFL start – he wasn’t making the team.

He didn’t get jettisoned for one reason, but a mix of them.

In the immediate, the Patriots had a need at wideout/punt returner with Julian Edelman down and Malcolm Mitchell still dealing with an injury. Brissett was a luxury item on their roster but he had value to Indy. The same was true for Philip Dorsett in Indy. They didn’t need him. The Patriots might. They’ll see how it goes.

Was it worth getting rid of a potential Brady backup in 2018 in order to get Dorsett, who may or may not work? Apparently. By doing the deal, the Patriots are tacitly stating that they can find someone else to do what Brissett may have been asked to do next year. Watch.

Is that an indictment of Brissett? Kind of. I’d been told during the preseason that Brissett needed to show something to hold his spot on the roster. While Thursday looked great, it wasn’t enough to offset whatever he failed to show in practices or preparation prior to that. And it wasn’t enough to unseat Garoppolo, who Belichick is still bullish on. Asked Sunday by Mike Giardi if Garoppolo is still improving in his fourth season, Belichick replied immediately: “Absolutely.”

Answers like that and the dismissal of any and all trade offers for Garoppolo all offseason make me think the nuclear option of trading Brady is in play. Along with a few others.

The Patriots have their cards close to the vest and are puffing on a stogie while deciding how to play a hand like the league’s never seen. But discarding Jacoby Brissett on Saturday didn’t bring us any closer to knowing who the trump card will ultimately be.


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.