Curran: Butler dishes it out, Brady takes it

Curran: Butler dishes it out, Brady takes it

I don’t know how long Malcolm Butler’s going to be a very good cornerback or how long he’s going to be in New England, but while he is, enjoy it. He is absolutely cutthroat. How, in a game where guys were getting flagged for even thinking about holding, he and DeSean Jackson avoided getting flagged for their end-of-half fracas is beyond me. I wouldn’t be surprised if there ends up being a modest fine for Jackson, who latched onto Butler’s facemask and wouldn’t release, and for Butler who flailed a punch at Jackson that wound up hitting Duron Harmon. Lightly. 


But the bigger point is that – even though Jackson caught five balls for 106 yards, including a 24-yarder to start the Bucs final drive, Butler’s physicality on the tackle drove the slender Jackson from the game after that catch and he was a non-factor after that. There was nothing dirty about it. Butler merely took Jackson down hard and finished the tackle – the same way defenders do on Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Tom Brady whenever they get a chance. Despite the heightened consciousness for player safety, there is no way to excise the reality that whoever takes the beatings best often wins. Which brings me to …

*Tom Brady. After the Houston game, I pointed out the eye-popping rate at which he was taking punishment and figured the beatings would subside. At that point, he’d been sacked 10 times and taken (by NFL accounting) 20 quarterback hits. In the past two games (over five days), Brady was sacked six more times and hit another 14. So, 16 sacks and 34 hits through five games, which means the punishment has actually accelerated. Good thing the dude is hydrated because – from my perspective – there’s not another quarterback in the league who’d still be playing after taking the same thrashing. What’s the deal? It starts with Julian Edelman. Last night, it was exacerbated by Rob Gronkowski. 

Not having them out there means more coverage can be devoted to players who take time to uncover, which is what Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks are. So, Brady waits. And waits. And waits. And sometimes he gets sacked, sometimes he gets rid of the ball late and takes the hit anyway, sometimes he runs and gets folded over like a chaise lounge. Additionally, it doesn’t feel like they’ve yet settled into a groove with their rushing attack. They throw it 57 percent of the time on first-and-10. On third-and-2, they throw it 86 percent of the time; on third-and-3, they throw 100 percent of the time; on third-and-4, they throw 86 percent of the time. They are still too inconsistent running the ball to rely on it. 

Finally, there are inevitably plays on which the offensive linemen get beat. It’s alarming that a team which had a total of one sack through its first three games was able to get to Brady as often as it did. With the Falcons, Broncos and Raiders coming up – three very fast defenses – the beatings may continue.

*A few other quick hits...Kyle Van Noy, at first glance, got wheeled around the field like he had soap on his cleats. The Patriots are fortunate Tampa drifted away from Doug Martin and their running game in the second half. … So far this season, kickers are 20-for-96 outside 40 yards. Bill Belichick went in-depth on his decision-making prior to letting Stephen Gostkowski’s final field goal which pushed the lead from two points to five. Given the grass surface, the way the Patriots defense has yielded yards and the fact Tampa would get the ball at their own 37 if Gostkowski missed, needing just 33 yards (for a normal kicker) to be in reasonable range for a game-winner, you can see why Belichick weighed going for the first down or trying to pin Tampa near its goal line. As it was, the Bucs still had a shot at the end zone to win and if Jameis Winston hadn’t overheated on the final play and thrown it at the open back of Cameron Brate instead of waiting for him to turn, the Bucs would have had a shot to win. It was one of those 51-49 decisions where there’s no right or wrong. … Podcast coming up later today with (fingers crossed) comedian Bill Burr as the guest. We’ll also move the Friday Bag to Sunday so we can your questions in and answered and we can put something on the site for people to read so we can go apple-picking as a group on Sunday. Thank you for your support.


Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 


Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

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 completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 


HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 


WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.