Patriots To-Do List: Keep chumming the water for Jimmy G

Patriots To-Do List: Keep chumming the water for Jimmy G

With the glow of Super Bowl LI finally beginning to fade -- a little -- it's time to start looking ahead to 2017. Over the next few days, we'll look at the Patriots' to-do list: Things they need to care of as the offseason begins. Today: What to do with backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo.

First, a live look at speculation regarding the eventual landing spot for Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. 

And it’s not gonna slow down. Garoppolo is the best (or at least the most promising) quarterback in captivity without a starting job in the NFL.

Since “I dunno” is an unacceptable answer, all manner of Garoppolo-related speculation has been loosed since the start of the 2016 season.


This week, ESPN’s Ed Werder spitballed what he expected, which is similar to what MMQB poobah Peter King spitballed, both of which are different from what former Patriots front office man and Bill Belichick consigliere Mike Lombardi opined  during the season. 

Lombardi’s take, of course was similar to ESPN’s Adam Schefter’s guess, which was reported as fact, causing ESPN’s Trent Dilfer to say that Schefter was getting played by the Patriots, which caused Schefter to get rankled and say that he was just theorizing in the first place. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, meanwhile, had a measured take during the Super Bowl, which is precisely the same information I’ve been handing you since November.

The Patriots are not going to park Garoppolo on the front lawn with a “FOR SALE” sign tucked under the wiper. If some team wants to walk up the driveway, knock on the door and ask, “How much for the Garoppolo you got parked out there?”, the Patriots may invite said team in for lemonade and a conversation. But he isn’t burning a hole in their pocket.

Let’s talk “value” for a second because it’s what drives every Patriots personnel decision. The value of Garoppolo currently is that he’s a very solid backup quarterback on a team that won the Super Bowl and will challenge for it in 2017. Tom Brady hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2008, but Garoppolo is insurance that – if Brady gets visited by misfortune – the Patriots won’t be screwed. Jacoby Brissett, the third-stringer isn’t at a point yet to insure success.

Is the security of having Garoppolo around “just in case” more valuable than the first- or second-round pick the Patriots could wring from the Niners, Bears or Browns? That’s a close call. And the indefinite nature of what the compensation might be – is it the 12th from Cleveland? Is it the 36th from Chicago? – means the Patriots can’t fully weigh value until they have a definite offer.

As the draft approaches, the urgency for teams interested in Garoppolo is only going to grow. The water is sufficiently chummed right now so that Garoppolo is the No. 1 offseason story in ClevelandSan Francisco and Chicago.

The collection of Deshauns, DeShones, Trubiskys and Mahomes populating the top of the 2017 draft class are going to make the sphincters of certain GMs tighten as late April approaches. The best offers may not be seen until the week of the draft. Or the weeks following when teams look at what they’ve wrought. Or even in August when, though it would put Garoppolo behind the learning curve in a new system, he might be a better option that the backup if some team’s starter gets broken. (See: Vikings, 2016).   

Even if the Patriots don’t find “value” commensurate with keeping Garoppolo around, there’s always the 2018 offseason. The Patriots could do with Garoppolo what they did in 2009 with Matt Cassel – franchise Garoppolo and try to deal him.

The tag will be (ballpark) $23M in 2018 which means the Patriots would have to carry that amount on their cap until they move Garoppolo. Also, the team that dealt for him would have to have that cap space available prior to the deal being made, since the salary travels with the player. Garoppolo and his agent Don Yee would then work out a long-term deal with the new team.

The Patriots couldn’t pull the tag from Garoppolo after he signed it, so, it would be wise of Garoppolo to sign it the second it’s slid across to him. If that time comes. Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts in that particular scenario but the value in trading Garoppolo at that point – meaning they’re getting something for a guy who would otherwise leave – is clear.

Andrew Brandt of MMQB thinks anyone expecting a first-round pick in exchange for Garoppolo is “delusional.” 

That’s a take. It’s also a fact that since 2003, the only quarterbacks to start in the AFC Championship that weren’t first-round picks were Jake Plummer (2005, a second-rounder) and Brady (’03, ’04, 06, ’07, ’11, ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, a sixth-rounder) so valuing first-rounders is important.

But where a guy is taken should matter far less than what you can see (or have seen) he is capable of.

Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers and Mark Sanchez are the quarterbacks other than Brady and Plummer who’ve made it to the AFC title game since 2003. That’s 28 slots filled by eight guys. And there have been 40 quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2003.

Compared to any of the 40 selected (Eli Manning, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan among them), Garoppolo is the only one who demonstrated what he can do in a regular-season NFL game. That’s got to count for a lot.

I’ve been told to “not be surprised” if the Patriots don’t deal Garoppolo. And I won’t be. I also won’t be stunned if New England pulls a heist that has everyone saying, “Who knew?” 

So far, the Patriots are playing a “can’t lose” hand perfectly.

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.