Patriots

Brady convinced Garoppolo - not Patriots - that it was time to move on

Brady convinced Garoppolo - not Patriots - that it was time to move on

Tom Brady won. What did you expect?

Forget about Mo Lewis’ watershed hit on Drew Bledsoe. The real reason Brady got the chance to become the best quarterback in NFL history is because Bledsoe fell asleep at the switch. He thought being the quarterback of the Patriots was a birthright.

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Brady had replaced Bledsoe before Drew even knew what happened. Brady made damn sure Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t going to do to him what he did to Bledsoe.

Of course, the Patriots did Brady a favor – it was never a guerrilla attack on his job. When Bill Belichick announced after drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 that “we all knew” Brady’s age and contract situation, that was like banging trash can lids together over Brady’s head in the middle of the night.

He’s coming. What are you gonna do about it?

What Brady’s done at the ages of 37, 38, 39 and 40 is throw 113 touchdowns and 20 picks in 52 regular season games while going 41-11. He went 7-1 in the playoffs, threw 20 touchdowns and nine picks and in the one playoff game he lost, withstood a merciless beating from the Broncos that would have left every one of the other “elite” quarterbacks in the league curled in the fetal position.

Garoppolo’s presence inspired a quarterback who’d been really good and often great from 2009 through 2013 to go incredible. All the time.

But it’s telling to realize who really blinked. Garoppolo.

In the first hours after the trade, my thinking was that the Patriots had seen enough to decide, “Yeah, he’s not getting any worse. Let’s make a move with Jimmy while we can.”

But the other evidence doesn’t support that. While the Patriots decided not to franchise Garoppolo because of the cap implications that would create, they did try to extend his contract. As Phil Perry pointed out to me Tuesday morning, “It’s Garoppolo that put up the white flag. Why sign an extension when the old guy looks the way he does?”

And maybe this is where Brady and Garoppolo sharing representation – Don Yee and Steve Dubin – helped both quarterbacks.

Even if Garoppolo agreed to the most lucrative contract a backup has ever signed here in New England, it would never approach what he’d make in starter’s money elsewhere. Garoppolo is getting paid. And he was wise to Brady’s true plans (which is to play until the wheels fall off or he “sucks” as he’s stated) because Brady’s agents know there are no plans for Brady to wrap it up.

Also, because Garoppolo’s leverage was indicating to potential suitors (i.e. Cleveland) that he wouldn’t do re-sign long term if he didn’t like the situation, the Patriots weren’t in the driver’s seat completely when it came to dealing him.

Belichick seemed to indicate as much on Tuesday.

“It is just not sustainable given the way that things are set up,” said Belichick on a conference call. “Definitely not something we wanted to walk away from and I felt we rode it out as long as we could. We’ve, over a period of time, explored every option possible to sustain it but, at this point, it felt like we had to make a decision. It’s a very complex situation on multiple levels. This is really the last window that we had and we did what we felt was best for the team.”

Being in the same locker room, meeting room and sideline with Brady for the past three-plus seasons, nobody had a better chance to bear witness to Brady’s greatness. If we can all recognize how maniacal Brady is in preparation and how possessive he is of his position, don’t you think Garoppolo got the same message?

The Patriots wanted Garoppolo to succeed Brady. He didn’t want to wait. Brady reminded him every day he was going to make it near-impossible to beat him out.

Brady smothered Garoppolo’s chances. Killed them in their crib. Garoppolo actually deserves immense credit for developing like he did behind Brady and not cowering. Make no mistake, the coaching staff gave him every chance to develop and they wouldn’t have been talking about bridge extensions if they truly wanted him gone, but Garoppolo’s own competitiveness is as important to his success as his quick release.

The upshot of all this is that Brady beat back a challenge that the Patriots didn’t think he could. No disrespect. And – judging from Belichick’s telling answer to a question during Tuesday’s conference call – his personal jury remains out on Brady playing to 45, never mind 42 (which would be the end of Brady’s current contract).

"I'd say when a player gets to a certain point in his career...at some point it becomes year to year,” Belichick said. “The expectations aren't over a long period of time or a longer window like they would be with a younger player coming into the league when you look at a player's growth from 3-5 years...When you get players that have reached a certain point, then it's their ability to maintain, although they can work to improve on little things, techniques, skills like that...But it's more of a maintenance and maintaining that high level of play, their maximum level of play, wherever that level is that they've reached and trying to sustain that. Trying to predict that, I don't think it's easy. It's not something I try to do a lot of. I try to look at it year to year. I learned that a long time ago. I'd say that advice has served me well."

Which means that – for Brady – the fight to keep his job as Patriots starter isn’t over. But this battle has been won.

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Anyone care to interpret this Rob Gronkowski tweet?

Anyone care to interpret this Rob Gronkowski tweet?

As he contemplates retirement to either become a wrestler or an action movie hero, Rob Gronkowski appears to be contemplating more than that.

OK, that's great. So, are you coming back to catch to touchdown passes from Tom Brady or not? 

Not quite as easy to translate as Gronk's famous "pay cut" tweet from spring 2016, is it?

The tweet doesn't shed much light on it and whether the retirement talk is for real or a "contract ploy", the Gronk question looms over the Patriots' offseason as much as the Malcolm Butler mystery. It's actually more impactful since Butler's days in Foxboro are over. Are Gronk's?

As NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it this week: 

They can’t just sit with their hands folded in their laps and wait until Gronk gets around to deciding. They need to know is he in or is he out? Or if he’s completely ambivalent, at which point, would trading him be a horrific idea?

"...your destiny will be not just be reached, it will just be starting." Hmmm. 

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Patriots can't overlook needs on special teams

Patriots can't overlook needs on special teams

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are constantly looking to add: special teams. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


Lucky for us, and for anyone who cares about assessing special-teams performance, Rick Gosselin of the Talk of Fame Network (formerly of the Dallas Morning News) compiles kicking-game rankings every year. Gosselin calculates scores for every NFL team by ranking them in 22 special teams categories and assigning points to their standing. Fewer points the better. The Patriots, according to Gosselin, ranking third in the NFL this year (231.5 points), just behind the Chiefs (229.5) and a ways off from the runaway winner Rams (196.5). The Patriots were excellent in terms of covering kicks, achieving the best mark in football for opponent starting field position. They were the only team in the league that, on average, had teams starting drives behind their 25-yard line. The average starting field position for New England's offense, meanwhile, was middle of the road (18th in the NFL). Stephen Gostkowski was once again highly effective on kickoffs and on field goals, ranking fourth in the league in kicks made and kick percentage. He didn't miss from inside 40 yards, and he was perfect on kicks of 50 yards or more, including a career-high (in Mexico City) of 62 yards. The operation among Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen and Gostkowski was generally very good all season, but in the Super Bowl, they faltered on their first field goal attempt. Gostkowski then missed an extra point at the end of the first half. Allen finished the season strong, with several well-placed kicks inside the 20, but he finished the regular season with 23 kicks downed inside the 20 (tied for 26th in football) and his net per punt was 40.5 (22nd). 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gostkowski, Brandon Bolden, Allen, Cardona, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Nicholas Grigsby, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones

WHO ISN'T?
Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Brandon King (restricted free agent), Marquis Flowers, Johnson Bademosi 

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


If you're looking purely at the three specialists here, the need isn't all that significant. People may want the Patriots to start sniffing around for a new kicker after Gostkowski hooked an extra point against the Eagles, but the reality is he's still one of the most accurate kickers in football, and his ability to place kickoffs is highly valued by the Patriots coaching staff. Cardona isn't going anywhere. Allen will also be back, in all likelihood. Belichick is a fan of some of the big-legged punters around the league, and Allen hasn't proven to be that kind of punter. But the fact that Allen was able to rebound from some eyebrow-raising punts early in the season to finish strong should have him back in 2018 without issue. The need here is in the kick-coverage and kick-returning areas. The Patriots are scheduled to have both of their returners (Amendola on punts and Lewis on kicks) hit free agency. Where will they end up? How much can Cyrus Jones take on after tearing his ACL last season? There are legitimate questions there. And when it comes to kick coverage, Belichick's two best players in that regard -- Slater and Ebner (coming off an ACL tear of his own) -- are slated to hit free agency. The Patriots have re-signed Bolden but other core kick-coverage players like Flowers, King and Bademosi are also scheduled to hit the market. Several could be back, but right now the core coverage units which served them so well in 2017 could have a significantly altered look next season. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


Arguably the best non-kicking, non-punting special-teamer in the game last season, Miami's Michael Thomas, is slated to be an unrestricted free agent. Arizona's Justin Bethel - in the top-10 in the league in terms of special teams tackles every year since 2012, according to Pro Football Focus - is also set to hit the market. Rontez Miles of the Jets and Nick Dzubnar of the Chargers, both among the league leaders in special-teams tackles, are restricted free agents. At kicker, there's plenty of experience out there. The Raiders have parted ways with Sebastian Janikowski. Graham Gano, praised by Belichick in the regular season before New England's matchup with Carolina, is a free agent. Same goes for Atlanta's Matt Bryant, Seattle's Blair Walsh, Washington's Dustin Hopkins, Tennessee's Ryan Succop and Philly's Caleb Sturgis. Punters available include Dustin Colquitt of the Chiefs, Houston's Shane Lechler and Cincy's Kevin Huber. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


Glad you asked! We've got multiple draftable punters coming out of the college ranks this year. Michael Dickson of Texas is already getting some Day 2 (!) draft buzz for his combination of power and control. An Australian Rules Football guy who won the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter last season, Dickson would be just the second punter taken inside the first three rounds in the past 10 years if it happens. Alabama's JK Scott (6-foot-6) and Bowling Green's Joseph Davidson (6-7) could also hear their names called on draft weekend. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Davidson is left-footed and could pique Belichick's interest, but Allen's finish to the 2017 campaign should earn him the chance to pick up where he left off. The Patriots will surely be looking to bolster their kick-coverage and return units throughout the draft so don't discount a player's ability to perform in those phases when looking for potential Patriots fits. The quickest way to ensure immediate contributions here would be to re-sign players Slater, Amendola and King. Ebner could also be back following his ACL tear, which was relatively clean and uncomplicated. One late-season injury that could impact whether or not the Patriots make a move for a special-teamer in free agency was the one suffered by Jonathan Jones. It was of the non-contact variety on the Gillette Stadium turf. The severity of his injury is unclear, but if he won't be ready by the time the season begins, the Patriots would have to find someone who can handle his myriad duties in the kicking game. Bottom line: With everyone focused on the offensive and defensive holes on the Patriots roster that need to be addressed, there are others in the kicking game that will also require attention this offseason.

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