Patriots

Much undue ado about Brian Waters

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Much undue ado about Brian Waters

There was an alarming amount of hand-wringing on Friday about the Patriots screwing over a guy who apparently can't decide whether he wants to play this year. Brian Waters, who was contracted to play for 1.4 million in 2012, hasn't shown up. Not for offseason training, not for minicamp, not for training camp, the preseason or - at the very least - the first regular season game. But the report by the Boston Herald that the Patriots want to shave Waters' salary down to 950,000 brought people out of the woodwork to decry this as another example of the Patriots squeezing a player.

Which is odd, because last week Aaron Hernandez got a fat new contract and people were hurtling over the barricades to salute the Patriots' generosity. But back to Waters. There's a lot of backstory to the situation that's unknown. For instance, a sourcetold me by text Friday night that "what was reported today is not true." Since the reports - or at least the details - have been foggy, I asked whether every report, including the Boston Globe saying it learned "months ago" that Waters agreed to a deal that would cut his salary but pay him bonuses for every time he was on the 46-man active gameday roster, was untrue as well. The source said he didn't know everything that's been reported. I've had multiple sources tell me the notion of a pay cut is inaccurate. But,perhaps contrary towidely held beliefs, solid sportswriters don't just say, "Maybe I'll make up a story about the Patriots requesting Waters take a pay cut" and go with it. The information was passed on in seemingly vague terms to Jeff Howe who reported it for the Herald. Is the "pay cut" Howe reported part of the deal Waters agreed to where he'd be paid for being on the 46? Seems plausible. Frankly, I'd never heard of that agreement nor was it reported locally although the Globe says it knew about it "for months." My take is that the team's been exceptionally accommodating to a player who has shown no inclination to return and has cold feet about leaving home. I also heard rumblings that, at some point in the offseason, Waters was offered much more to return than the 1.4M but he didn't budge. But there's been nothing concrete enough around that to build a story around. As it's been for much of this odd impasse. Additional reasons for Waters' not wanting to leave Texas have been quietly alluded to.As a result,I think it's wise to tread lightly on questioning his commitment to football too strongly because of that. Nobody's indicated if it's a family illness or some other dynamic but a wide berth has been given.

But the fact he's past the point where he was expected to come in - clearly - means the Patriots are at peace with moving on. They've gone through six weeks of work without him. Might the offensive line be best if Dan Connolly was at center and Waters was at right guard? Definitely, presuming Waters has kept himself in football shape. But Connolly is no slouch and he's shown that in subbing for Logan Mankins in 2010 and locking down the center spot after Dan Koppen went down last year.
The offensive line was nobody's idea of a dominant group in the preseason. But the interior wasn't a glaring problem, it was the edges - most troublingly the right edge when Marcus Cannon was over at right tackle. So where are we? There's a 35-year-old guard who can play for the Patriots if he chooses. The Patriots have moved on but they've left the light on for him. It comes down to this: the Patriots have addressed the position. They don't have aneed for Brian Waters. And he needs them even less.

Patriots' Gillislee a healthy scratch for second straight game

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Patriots' Gillislee a healthy scratch for second straight game

For the second straight week, Mike Gillislee is a healthy scratch as the Patriots prepare to play the Raiders in Mexico City. Because he doesn't contribute in the kicking game, and because he doesn't have as much situational versatility as Dion Lewis or Rex Burkhead, Gillislee finds himself on the outside looking in. 

Does this mean that if the Patriots running back group remains healthy for the rest of the year that Gillilslee will continue to sit? Not necessarily. That will change from week to week based on the matchup and the overall health of the rest of the roster. But for right now, he's not viewed as an essential game-day option the same way Lewis, Burkhead, James White and Brandon Bolden are. 

The Patriots will have seven linemen active, as they do most weeks, but this week they're without two of their starters -- Marcus Cannon and David Andrews -- so Cole Croston and Cameron Fleming will be in uniform against the Raiders. Both players are candidates to be healthy scratches when other linemen are healthy. For Croston, it will be his NFL debut. He's been on the active roster all season but has been a weekly scratch. 

Malcom Brown (ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) practiced all week but will continue to miss time with their respective injuries. Matthew Slater (hamstring) left last week's game against the Broncos and will need more time to let his ailment heal. He missed the first four weeks of the season and most of training camp with a hamstring issue. 

Cassius Marsh, who was inactive last werek due to a shoulder injury, will be back in uniform to give the Patriots some depth on the edge. They need it; after Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy and Deatrich Wise, they were wafer thin at that spot in Denver. 

RB Mike Gillislee
C David Andrews
OL Marcus Cannon
WR Chris Hogan
WR Matthew Slater
DL Malcom Brown
CB Eric Rowe

With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

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With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish. 

They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. 

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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out. 

On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?

The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.

Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.

"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."

Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins. 

The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line. 

However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks. 

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