Tomlin/Steelers vs. Belichick/Patriots: Different strokes for different folks

Tomlin/Steelers vs. Belichick/Patriots: Different strokes for different folks

FOXBORO -- Mike Tomlin has been Pittsburgh’s head coach since 2007, named to the post at the ripe old age of 35. A year later, he and the Steelers won a Super Bowl.

More Lombardi Trophies seemed certain to follow, but -- despite a half-dozen seasons of 10 wins or more -- Pittsburgh and that stacked roster has come up short ever since, including an AFC Championship Game loss at New England last season.


You might think that would dim Tomlin’s confidence. No chance. He may be a decade older, but he still has oodles of swagger. We saw that earlier in the year when during an interview with Tony Dungy prior to Sunday Night Football, he admitted to looking ahead to the Steelers’ matchup with the Pats.

"I'm going to embrace the elephant in the room. (The game) going to be fireworks," Tomlin said in that conversation. "And it's probably going to be Part 1. That's going to be a big game. But probably, if we're both doing what we're supposed to, the second one is really going to be a big game. Then what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, which is going to determine the location of the second one."

You’d never hear Bill Belichick go that route and he’s won five Super Bowls here in New England. We are now conditioned to believe that’s not only the right way but the only way to do business. I would tend to agree. History doesn’t lie.

Tomlin, however. isn’t adopting Belichick’s public approach. He says he’ll be forthright with the media because he’s doing what he’s supposed to do in his job. Perhaps that’s a little jab at Belichick and the Pats, who have long been less than forthcoming.

“I don’t know if any of us were looking ahead, to be quite honest with you," he said "That was the way it was described by (the media). We were simply answering questions. We were doing our professional due diligence. When we do interviews and people ask us about potential big games down the road, we’re going to politely answer questions and do so honestly. That’s not us down the road, that is us simply performing our professional duties.”

An exuberant fellow, Tomlin thinks it’s foolish to not admit there are larger things at play during the course of a season.

“If you set out on the season to be world champs, obviously you’re going to play in significant games along the way,” he said. “The road gets increasingly narrower. That is part of being [on] the pursuit of a world championship play. It’s ridiculous to goal set and not to acknowledge natural things that occur along the way if you are committed to the pursuit of your goals.”

To reach those goals, Tomlin’s Steelers usually need to go through the Patriots. This season is no different. Right now, Pittsburgh is the top seed in the AFC. The Pats are number two but can reclaim that spot with a win Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots may not have a real rival in the AFC East, but what they have with the Steelers is real.

“It's an awesome thing to be a part of," said Tomlin. "Not something that I or we take for granted. To be in significant games is just part of chasing what it is that we're chasing and to have a routine dance partner that just speaks to their commitment and achievements in similar ways. We're excited to be a part of it. We don't take it for granted. We realize that these type games are just part of what we desire to be.”



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

AP Photo

How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason. 


Report: Patriots special teams ace Slater visiting Steelers

Report: Patriots special teams ace Slater visiting Steelers

Patriots seven-time Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater is in Pittsburgh on Saturday making a free-agent visit to the rival Steelers, according to an ESPN's Field Yates.

Slater, who turns 33 in September, has spent the past 10 seasons in a New England. The special teams captain and one of the leaders in the locker room signed a one-year, $1.8 million contract extension in 2016.

The Patriots lost special teamer Johnson Bademosi to the Texans in free agency on Friday but signed special teamers Brandon Bolden and Brandon King just before the free agency period began.

More to come...