Giardi: Even though cuts are looming, Pats need to add


Giardi: Even though cuts are looming, Pats need to add

There’s a “Help Wanted” sign just outside Patriot Place. I assumed it was for one of the retail shops but after last night’s preseason finale for Bill Belichick’s team, maybe it was Bill himself who put that sign along Route 1.

PAPER THIN FRONT SIX/SEVEN: An unimpressive summer from bottom end of the roster players trying to make an impression. Defensive tackle Darius Kilgo got more snaps than any lineman. He didn’t make the most of them. We saw a lot of Caleb Kidder. He was the skinny end getting pushed around versus the run. Kidder’s already been released (injury designation). Josh Augusta is only noticeable because of his overall shape (it’s messy). That leaves Woodrow Hamilton as the best of the bunch. Very sound against the run throughout the preseason but not someone who makes you feel all warm and fuzzy should something happen to the quartet of Alan Branch, Lawrence Guy, Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine. 

On the edge, the combo platter of Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, Kony Ealy’s failure to fit in (or scouting’s inability to project him as a bad fit) and Derek Rivers torn ACL has left a lot of questions and very few secure answers. The “easy” fix is to let Dont’a Hightower play more on the edge than ever before. One problem: we didn’t see him for more than half of camp and Hightower didn’t take a snap in the preseason. Can he hold up outside? Can he help make up for the loss of production caused by the departures of Nink/Jabal Sheard/Chris Long? Hightower is a terrific football player but removing him from the middle may actually cause as much harm as putting him on the edge may help. Plus, he’s definitely more outside linebacker than defensive end. 

Undrafted rookie Adam Butler had a nice camp and got elevated status in the final preseason game, not having to play. But can you count on him for a full and productive season? In my best Belichick voice, ‘I’m not saying it can’t, but I’m not saying it can.’ The Pats will surely mix and match the likes of Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin (assuming he doesn’t end up on IR with an undisclosed injury) but there are obvious limitations with those players. And don’t get me started on Geneo Grissom, an excellent looking athlete but not one that’s ever proven to be a productive defensive player.

PUNT RETURN PROBLEMS: Yes, i feel bad for Cyrus Jones. The non-contact knee injury that knocked him out the Giants game Thursday night was tough to watch. And just when he was making strides. Assuming Cyrus is done for the year, and with Julian Edelman already lost, the Pats most experienced punt returner is Danny Amendola. He ran back 18 a season ago. But exposing  him to those extra plays seems like a recipe for disaster considering the depth at wide receiver. So then who? Patrick Chung was the only other roster player who field a punt in a game last season, and he did that exactly once. DJ Foster dabbled in the preseason last year (three times) and another undrafted kid, Will Likely, got a shot last night; he was the Big 10 Returner of the Year two years ago. This situation to me reeks of 2015 all over again. An inability to consistently handle kickoffs led to a mid-September trade for Keyshawn Martin. Problem solved. I see a repeat here in 2017, though with a massive amount of cuts forthcoming, a player for player deal -- your soon-to-be-cut for mine - would seem a real possibility.

WONDERING AT WIDEOUT (AND TIGHT END FOR THAT MATTER): My, oh my, how a deep group suddenly has as many questions as answers. What’s with Malcolm Mitchell and that knee? Can he make it though 16 games and the playoffs healthy? Hell, can he be ready for Week 1 after his stop-and-start summer? Inquiring minds want to know. Amendola is always a health risk. He plays like his pants are on fire but his body has betrayed him more than a couple times. Brandin Cooks is a proven player, and, at 23, appears to have his best days ahead of him. But Cooks proved himself in New Orleans. As complex a system as that is, the Pats' isn’t easy to grasp either. How quickly will he climb Tom Brady’s trust tree? That leaves Chris Hogan as Mr. Reliable, and he caught 38 passes last year. Now he’s being projected for 70-plus all across the internet. Hogan’s had a great camp and a leap is inevitable, but he’s never been asked to be that guy in his NFL career. So we shall see. 

Does that mean the Pats should keep everyone’s darling, Austin Carr, an undrafted rook out of Northwestern, or second-year pro and former seventh-rounder Devin Lucien? Maybe, if Mitchell’s availability is in question, but I think both players remain developmental projects and the idea of them assuming a heavy amount of snaps seems unlikely. Cody Hollister is better than you think. Skinny, but there’s a reason he didn’t get released and hit with an injury designation after Jacoby Brissett did his best to ruin the kid’s shoulder with an errant pass (he caught it, by the way). Hollister also does more on special teams than the other two. He might be the sneaky pick. Or he too could easily find himself getting through waivers and hanging out on the practice squad, just in case. Bet here is seeking out a veteran wideout who can also run back punts. Two birds with one stone.

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.