Patriots

Before leaving for San Francisco, Jimmy G. brought out the best in Brady

Before leaving for San Francisco, Jimmy G. brought out the best in Brady

The greatest draft pick during BIll Belichick’s ongoing tenure In New England is still plying his trade for the Patriots some 17 seasons after he got his first crack at the job. Arguably the second-best draft choice Belichick made barely played during his 3 1/2 seasons and is now a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Tom Brady's legacy was cemented long before Jimmy Garoppolo arrived, but it was the young quarterback’s presence that caught Brady’s attention like no player before and maybe no player will ever again.

“He’s a talented individual, was a great person to coach. I met with him weekly and, again, have a tremendous amount of respect for him.” 
-- Bill Belichick on today's conference call

Belichick’s conference call Tuesday began with a preemptive strike. He officially announced the trade of Garoppolo for San Francisco’s second-round pick in the 2018 draft. He then went on to speak in glowing terms about the soon-to-be 26-year-old and included the nugget about meeting with Garoppolo weekly. The Pats' on-field boss is no stranger to spending extra time with players. He tutored former running back Laurence Maroney for the entirety of a single season, watching film, trying to coach up Maroney to get more from the first-rounder. It didn’t appear to make a lasting impact; Maroney washed out of the league a year shortly thereafter. But Belichick has always been willing to go the extra mile . . .  with stars, middle-of-the-roster vets or the last guy on the practice squad. It’s part of what makes the coach elite.

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With Garoppolo, the relationship was different in part because of the shadow cast by the incumbent. Brady is intensely competitive and it has served him well. But for his backups, that competitive streak can make it difficult to operate. Jacoby Brissett recalled during one of his first days in the meeting rooms getting asked a question only to have Brady jump on it with the right answer. The explanation from Brady was simply that you’ll need to be quicker to play quarterback on this team -- his team being the real implication. Good luck trying to outfox the signal caller who is considered the greatest of all-time and who has spent so many years in the offense he “has all the answers to the test.” Brissett wasn’t the only one to experience moments like that . . . 

“We probably had, in my opinion, the best quarterback situation in the league for the last -- let’s call it two-and-a-half years . . . ” 
-- Belichick

Before Brissett’s arrival, it was just Brady and his understudy Garoppolo, who arrived in Foxboro with considerably more fanfare than previous quarterbacks selected or signed. He also drew an unusual amount of interest from the coach. Belichick was invested. This was his choice and Belichick’s comments after drafting the former Eastern Illinois star drew scrutiny league-wide. Did he really just mention Brady’s age and contract situation? That didn’t sit well with those in Brady’s camp. They likely didn’t form that opinion on their own. Plus, there were whispers about Brady’s performance. Some of the metrics used to evaluate quarterbacks inside the important offices at Foxboro indicated some decline as the 2014 draft approached. Maybe Brady’s time as an elite player were growing short. Or maybe Brady himself recognized it and was bound and determined to fight off his new and fiercest challenge. That led Ito an uneasy truce at first between star and backup. Brady did what was best for him, preparing for the season. Meanwhile Garoppolo was trying to find his footing as a rookie in a very complex and demanding system. He managed, but it wasn’t easy. There were more eyes on him than any backup in the Brady era. 

As that season progressed, however, teammates recognized the talent this kid QB had. His work on the scout team drew rave reviews and was singled out in the original “Do Your Job” documentary by NFL Films. The piece highlighted Garoppolo’s TD pass to Josh Boyce during the week leading up to Super Bowl 49 versus the Seahawks. Boyce beating Malcolm Butler. Seattle tried to run that same play from the one-yard line in the fourth quarter a few days later; I think we all remember how that ended.

But Brady wasn't about to be supplanted. He responded to a rugged start to the season by turning back the clock and playing as well as he ever had. His performance in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl was flawless. As good as it gets.

Garoppolo though, was undeterred. He grew as a player, not just in confidence, but stature, even though his opportunities were few and far between. We wouldn’t get an extended look at Garoppolo’s quick feet and hair-trigger release till his third year in the league. This, while fellow members of the 2014 draft class were starting or -- in the case of Derek Carr -- developing into up-and-comers at the position. The summer of 2016 was an odd one, for sure. Belichick had to balance getting Brady ready to play despite the four-game suspension he’d accepted to start the season, all the while working his backup into the mix as often as possible to prepare Garoppolo for the bright lights of the regular season. The mechanics of it were clunky at best, and neither quarterback was all that pleased with the way it was run. In Belichick’s defense, one player asked simply, “What the hell is he supposed to do?” Even teammates knew both players wanted the ball more often, but Brady’s wishes had to be met first. Meanwhile, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels spent extra time prepping their young charge, and the consensus was they appreciated the amount of work Garoppolo had put in away from the field. While others -- especially media -- wondered if Jimmy G was ready, the coaches knew and were summarily rewarded for it, at least for the first six quarters of the season.

“There were many things involved in this whole process and, again, on a number of levels; way too many to get into at this time .” 
-- Belichick

Garoppolo’s injury and the ensuing fallout -- was the player unwilling to return to the field even though the team leaked that he could?-- were just another piece to the Brady/Garoppolo puzzle. The constant chatter of ‘Brady would have played through this’ was heard loud and clear, not just by those in Garoppolo’s inner circle, but by his teammates as well. They rallied around Brissett and credited him for his toughness playing through a thumb injury that required surgery. Garoppolo just keep his head down and plowed through the noise. It was a tough blow for a player who had waited for his chance. The way he handled himself didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff, nor did his continued attention to detail long after Brady returned. 

“It’s definitely not something that we wanted to walk away from . . . ” 
-- Belichick

Despite his meticulous preparation and maniacal approach to his own health and wellness, Brady had to be managed by the Pats down the stretch of what turned out to be a second Super Bowl season in three years. During those missed practices, it was Garoppolo who seized control of the huddle, and his work during those sessions helped prepare a football team on the cusp of another Lombardi Trophy. In the grand scheme of things, it was a mere fraction of what went into the title, but it was important nonetheless to both player and those who coached him. 

Garoppolo also grew more at ease with Brady during this period. He appreciated all that Brady poured into the game and his intensity for everything it entailed: practice, workouts, prehab and rehab, and of course, Sundays. Their relationship softened. Of course, it was easier to get to that point because Garoppolo figured he was as good as gone in the offseason. And he wanted that. Wanted to play. With Brady once again turning back the clock -- or making it seem like the clock didn’t exist for him -- it made sense. There was the non-stop chatter about Garoppolo moving on. Would it QB-needy Cleveland? His hometown Bears? There was also buzz that Kyle Shanahan had long ago taken a shine to Jimmy and would want to acquire him in his new stop in San Francisco. 

While Adam Schefter proclaimed to the world that the Pats wouldn’t trade Garoppolo for “not one, not two, not three, not four . . . ” first-rounders, the player wasn’t sure. He had conversations with Belichick and his agency, headed by Don Yee, also spoke multiple times with the Pats. The team wanted him to stay. Enough to make multiple attempts at getting something done. Money and contract length were discussed, and it may have been closer than anyone will ever let on. But the Pats couldn’t offer Garoppolo the most important thing: Playing time. So, despite being a member of the most stable franchise in the NFL, with the best coach and an unprecedented track record of success in the salary-cap era, Garoppolo was on his way out.

“We, over a period of time, explored every option possible to try to sustain it, but just at this point felt like we had to make a decision.” 
-- Belichick

The words sounded somewhat pained coming out Belichick’s mouth. He wanted the player to remain in place, to be the eventual successor. It was to the point where Garoppolo felt comfortable enough with his situation that he didn’t expect anything to happen at the NFL trade deadline. He assumed he was here until the offseason and then this dance would continue: Get tagged, sign and trade, sign and stay. Three months of football is an eternity. Garoppolo felt that first-hand with the injury.

But Belichick did what he always claims to do (and usually does): What’s best for the team. And keeping Garoppolo was no longer the right thing, though it has and will be argued for days, weeks and -- who knows? -- maybe years to come.

Now Garoppolo is part of San Francisco’s future, while the shadow of Brady remains omnipresent at Gillette Stadium. This -- maybe more than ever -- is Brady's team, the best draft pick of the Belichick era, pushed to renewed heights by the man who was supposed to replace him but now will carve his own path in the Bay Area for the team Tom Terrific once rooted for.

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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. 

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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. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

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.

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