Patriots

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

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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?

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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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.