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.

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Browns' GM John Dorsey says dumping Kenny Britt "was an easy decision"

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Browns' GM John Dorsey says dumping Kenny Britt "was an easy decision"

After a nearly ineffective performance against the Miami Dolphins, it appeared that injuries were finally catching up to the Patriots.

A few days after their dreadful Monday Night Football performance, the team moved to sign wide receiver Kenny Britt. The receiver has not had the most productive 2017 but put up 1,000 yards receiving as recently as last year.

Britt is healthy, and Patriots fans will look for him to help out a struggling offense immediately. But can the wide receiver put his troubled past in Cleveland behind him?

John Dorsey, during his first full day as GM, made it a priority to immediately cut Britt. Today on WKNR 850 Cleveland, Dorsey ripped into the former Browns wide receiver.

"I have no problem making that decision,'' Dorsey said today on "The Really Big Show'' with Aaron Goldhammer on WKNR, a radio partner of the Browns. "From a cultural standpoint, I don't think he fits in the prototypical character point of what I'm looking for in terms of a leader. He did not live up to his expectations as a player.''

Dorsey went on to add that Britt "may have a higher opinion of himself than I have of him as a player, so I thought that was easy.''

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Should the priority for Patriots D be Brown or Bell?

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Should the priority for Patriots D be Brown or Bell?

FOXBORO -- Listen to Bill Belichick long enough, and you may wonder if the Patriots defense has much of a chance this weekend. 

At his press conference earlier in the week, the Patriots coach made the Steelers offense sound like a high-powered windup toy that has steadily and unyieldingly waddled its way for touchdown after touchdown in pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

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On running back Le'Veon Bell, Belichick was effusive in his praise: "He's a tremendous player. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and that’s about really all you need to know...He does whatever he needs to do. If you want to see him run hard, run over people, run downhill then you can find plenty of plays of that. You can see him with his vision finding space in the defense. There’s plays on that. Catching the ball – plenty of plays on that. The guy doesn’t lead the league in yards from scrimmage by doing one thing, doing it a little bit. He does everything."

On receiver Antonio Brown, Belichick was equally complimentary when asked what makes Brown special: "Everything. Just make a list. He's on all of it."

The question is, which player will Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia consider the priority? Ideally, of course, they'd like to slow down both. But if they had to pick one, Bell or Brown, who would it be?

The answer, in my opinion, is Brown. And it's not really close.

Belichick and Patricia's plans to force opponents to string together long drives and execute in the red zone are well-established. Their defensive numbers from this season tell the story. The Patriots are 29th in the league in yards allowed, but they're fifth in points due in part to what they've done inside the 20s.

That strategy could be particularly useful this week as the Steelers are the No. 25 red-zone offense in football. If the Patriots can make Pittsburgh's offense work from an area where it's statistically below-average, they'd be giving themselves a better shot at success than if they're allowing huge chunks of yardage to be ripped off in a play or two.

Hand-offs to Bell would be preferred, it would stand to reason, over bombs to Brown.

Plus, there's the fact that the Steelers running game simply hasn't been very efficient in 2017. Bell leads the league in yards from scrimmage, but he's doing it by averaging 3.9 yards per carry. As a team, the Steelers have a yards-per-attempt average of 3.7, fifth-worst in the league.

Add it to the list of reasons for why it makes sense for the Patriots to encourage Pittsburgh to keep it on the ground - even if that means more touches for one of the most talented players in football.

The argument against this approach could be made by referencing one of Belichick's go-to adages: Tough football teams run the ball, stop the run and cover kicks. Stopping the run is a consistent focus from week to week for the Patriots.

But in certain situations, Belichick has proven he's perfectly fine with allowing explosive passing offenses to hand it off again and again. He has a game plan that's sitting in the Hall of Fame because as defensive coordinator of the Giants in Super Bowl XXV he was OK with Thurman Thomas running for 135 yards and a touchdown. As long as the "K-Gun" offense didn't chuck it all night, Belichick liked his chances.

"I felt like if we went into the game and just tried to shut down Thurman Thomas," Belichick said in ESPN's "Four Falls of Buffalo" 30 for 30 documentary, "it would be a 50-pass game. And I didn’t really think that’s where we wanted to be."

It would come as little surprise if Belichick felt the same way about the Steelers.

So, how would it look if the Patriots sold out to stop Brown, who is now considered the second-best bet (tied with Russell Wilson and behind only Tom Brady) to be named NFL MVP, according to Bovada, despite the fact that a receiver has never won the award?

Malcolm Butler has a history of checking Brown, and despite the fact that Butler has had an up-and-down season, their skill sets match up well enough. Using Butler underneath with Duron Harmon over the top could be the tactic. That would leave Stephon Gilmore to take the bigger and more physical JuJu Smith-Schuster, while Eric Rowe could be the choice to take on the long-and-lanky Martavis Bryant.

Whether it's Butler, Stephon Gilmore or Jonathan Jones as the corner on Brown, throwing obvious doubles that way and steering Ben
Roethlisberger in a different direction seems sensible, if not foolproof.

"Even if you get, at times, you get two guys on him, staying in front of him is tough," Devin McCourty said of Brown. "I think what you see him do -- which usually a lot of receivers that are not 6-[foot]-3 and 6-4 don’t get credit for it -- he makes catches in surrounding areas where there’s three guys around him. Or Ben throws it in between two guys and it looks there’s no way he’s going to come down with it . . .

"You’re not going to probably come out of this game [and] he has two catches for 10 [yards]. It’s just not going to happen. He’s too good of a player but you’ve got to try to contain him somewhat and not let him just ruin the game for you."

For the Patriots to follow-through on a plan that would encourage the Steelers to lean on Bell over Brown, their front-seven will have to play better than it has of late. If Trey Flowers (ribs) and Kyle Van  Noy (calf) could return to action, they'd be a boon for a group that has allowed 123.3 yards rushing the last three weeks and helped rookie Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake look like an All-Pro on Monday.

But even with banged-up personnel on the defensive line and at the linebacker level, encouraging the Steelers to run looks like a
decidedly better idea than the alternative.

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