Curran: Does soon-to-be-sidelined Brady feel threatened?

Curran: Does soon-to-be-sidelined Brady feel threatened?

FOXBORO -- This sounds absurd, I understand. But Tom Brady isn’t taking for granted that teammates will regard him as the team’s unquestioned leader in this tumultuous 2016.

If he did, he wouldn’t have stated on FOUR different occasions Monday how crushing it was to miss last Thursday’s game because it prevented him from fulfilling what he sees as his duty.

His irritation wasn’t simply about missing out on reps and getting in rhythm. It circled back to leadership, responsibility, the sand draining from his NFL hourglasss and his teammates counting on him.

To wit:

I feel like that’s what my job is and responsibility is to go out there and be with my team, so it was tough not to be out there.”

I’ve always felt like the team is counting on me to be out there, and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there playing. I wanted to go the other night, but I think Coach [Bill Belichick] made a great decision.”

“I’d like to be out there every time I get a chance to play, so you only get so many opportunities a year. I’m getting so many opportunities left in my life, so I’d like to take advantage of any opportunity, any and all of them if possible. When you see your teammates out there in their uniforms and ready to go, you want to be out there with them.”

“I was just, like I said, bummed that I couldn’t be out there with my teammates and taking the practice field, I love practicing, so to have the chance to go out there, you like, as a guy who’s been here for a long time, to show your leadership through example and be out there whenever you can be out there because that’s what the team is counting on.”

Is he crazy? Is he being insecure? How could he be perceived as anything but the alpha dog for the Patriots? They don’t need to see him out there to feel led by him. His resume doesn’t just speak for itself, just run the film from the AFC Championship Game and see possibly the most courageous performance of Brady’s career in Denver.

Why the urgency to pee on his territory?

Maybe it’s because Brady got the quarterback job in the first place because his predecessor treated the position like his birthright.

Brady knows the threatening, would-be replacement won’t come right out and say, “I’m the captain now.”

No, the would-be replacement shows up early with sharpened pencils and open ears and does everything he’s asked until -- one day -- the guy who owns the job isn’t there. And then, slowly, life with would-be replacement gets to feeling . . . almost normal. Livable even.

Jimmy G. may not know “Art of War” from arts and crafts, but Brady will presume he does and that the passage “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy” is tattooed inside Jimmy’s lower lip.

And Brady, knowing another Sun Tzu trope states: “A leader leads by example, not force,” has immediate concerns about how he can lead by example when he’s down until October, for God’s sake.

I asked Garoppolo on Wednesday if he has to step gently in taking control of a team temporarily that is/has been and will be Brady’s.

"It’s a tough situation at times,” admitted Garoppolo, who doesn’t seem to have a mutinous cell in his body. “It’s one of those thing where, if you start worrying about that then you can’t worry about whatever it is you’re supposed to be focused on. Your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have. I’m not trying to do something crazy that I’ve never done before. I’m just trying to be myself and do what I do.”

I asked Garoppolo if Brady has flat-out said to him that Garoppolo should just do his thing and take control.

In replay, Garoppolo said, “We have a ton of conversations on a day-in, day-out basis. We’re together 24-7. But he’s been helpful this whole way. Whether it’s encouragement, helping me with little things, he’s been nothing but help and I thank him for that.”

Brady is 10 days away from being sent out into the NFL desert to wander for a month. This is uncharted territory for him. He’s 39 and has -- for 16 years -- seen older teammates taken out behind the stables and not come back.

Ludicrous as it is on the face of it -- especially since Brady is signed through 2019 and Jimmy is up in 19 months -- adjusting to the reality of someone else squatting down in his huddle may be the hardest part of it all.

Patriots release Shea McClellin

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Patriots release Shea McClellin

Shea McClellin will be blocking kicks for somebody else next season. 

The Patriots announced Monday they've released the veteran linebacker, ending his tenure with the team after two seasons.  ESPN's Field Yates broke the news.

The Pats signed McClellin to a three-year deal prior to the 2016 season, but that was the only season in which he played for the team. McClellin missed all of last season due to injury. Prior to coming to New England, McClellin played four seasons with the Bears, who chose him 19th overall in 2012. 

McClellin's biggest contribution with the Pats came when he blocked a Justin Tucker kick in Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Ravens.

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

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Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton earlier this offseason, sending a 2019 third-rounder to Cleveland in exchange for the defensive tackle, they traded for a player who was already being mentored by one of their own. 

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Shelton explained that one of his agents put him in touch with former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so that Shelton could pick up some tips from one of the best defensive tackles in football of the past 15 years. 

"For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans," Shelton said. "I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him."

When Shelton was coming out of the University of Washington in 2015,'s Lance Zierlein's "NFL comparison" was Wilfork. Both carried similar builds -- Shelton is now listed at 335 pounds -- and both were viewed as surprisingly good athletes for their body types. Shelton was also viewed as the top two-gapping tackle in the draft that year, which is exactly what the Patriots ask their interior linemen to do. 

Shelton has made good on those projections over the last couple of years. Last season, he was a key part of a Browns defense that ranked fourth against the run by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA. In 2016, Shelton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its eighth-best interior lineman against the run. Per PFF, he was second that year -- behind only Damon Harrison -- in terms of the number of run stops he recorded from the interior.

It's clear that Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, understands what his strengths are. 

"Honestly, I’m just going to go with whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] wants me to do," Shelton said. "My best feature is stopping the run, so if he wants me to play at a specific position I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure I do my job for the team’s success."

So how can Wilfork help? If he has any tips on how to be a consistent player from the inside in Belichick's system, that could go a long way. Over the course of Wilfork's 13-year career, few defensive tackles were as effective from week to week and year to year. Wilfork played at least 830 snaps in four of his last five seasons with the Patriots (he was injured in 2013), and even during his two seasons with the Texans, he averaged about 600 snaps per year. He made five Pro Bowls with the Patriots and was named a First or Second-Team All-Pro four times.

In what form might Wilfork's advice on consistency be delivered? Would it be nutritional, which was an aspect of his preparation he embraced later in his career? Would it be technique-based? Would it be simply how to take the coaching dispensed inside the walls of Gillette Stadium? 

Shelton, who missed two games last season and played in 469 snaps, doesn't have a long-term contract with the Patriots to be able to prove his worth over multiple years the way Wilfork did. And he may not be asked to take on the myriad roles Wilfork was during his time under Belichick. But if Shelton can pick up some advice from Wilfork on how to stay on the field and how to help the Patriots win on first and second downs, that might make him the team's most valuable offseason addition. 

New England finished the season 20th in rush yards allowed per game, and they were 31st in yards per attempt allowed. In the Super Bowl, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch a healthy scratch, the Patriots allowed 6.1 yards per carry to the Eagles on their way to 164 yards rushing. 

Shelton is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.03 million this season. The Patriots may not be willing to pick up his hefty $11.7 million fifth-year option for 2019, but if he can continue his upward trajectory then maybe the Patriots will work to extend him before the end of the year. 

How Wilfork impacts that trajectory, if at all, remains to be seen. But he's certainly not a bad guy for Shelton to have in his corner as the 24-year-old embarks on life with the Patriots.