Point/Counterpoint: Do the Patriots have enough to convince Tom Brady to stay?

Point/Counterpoint: Do the Patriots have enough to convince Tom Brady to stay?

Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry are back for a special offseason edition of "Point/Counterpoint," where they go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. Today's topic, unsurprisingly, involves Tom Brady:

If the Patriots want to keep Tom Brady in New England -- and we can debate whether or not that's what they should want, given what it might cost in terms of money and player additions -- their best bet is to keep him from getting to free agency altogether. If he officially hits the market, the floodgates will be open, the bidding war will be well underway, and the Patriots will have an additional $6.75 million dead-money cap charge hitting their books. 

Convincing Brady to eschew the official start of free-agency will be no easy task. He wants to see what's out there for him. But the Patriots might be able to do it if they blow him out of the water by surrounding him with talent before the league year begins on Mar. 18. 

How? Trades. The Patriots and other clubs can come to agreements on trades well before the start of the new league year and then sign off on those deals as soon as the new league year kicks off. Signing players via free agency, and promising Brady they'll be able to lock those players down, would be a tougher road. 

For instance, telling Brady that they'll make a competitive offer to free-agent tight end Hunter Henry might not be enough for the Patriots to convince the 43-year-old to stay. There's simply no guarantee Henry will want to sign, especially if Brady's future is up in the air.

To overwhelm Brady with trades seems more feasible. The Patriots could potentially trade their top draft choice, No. 23 overall, for either Odell Beckham or Stefon Diggs. Both have four years remaining on their respective contracts. Both will count between $14 and $15 million on the cap in 2020. Both offer Brady a true No. 1, game-breaking target. Both have been disgruntled, and both are on teams with new offensive staffs. Seems plausible. 

But why stop there?

If the wideout position is a little crowded, and if the Patriots would like to clear some cap space to add Beckham or Diggs, they could potentially trade Mohamed Sanu and a third-round pick to Tampa Bay for tight end OJ Howard. Sanu would complement Bucs receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin underneath. Howard, meanwhile, has been a relative afterthought in Bruce Arians' downfield passing game. For him, going to New England would represent a fresh start as he goes into the final year of his rookie contract. The Patriots would pick up about $3 million in cap space with the move. The Bucs have oodles of space already and probably wouldn't mind taking on a little more dough to add a third-round pick. They also have another capable tight end on the roster in Cameron Brate.

Perhaps the Patriots could promise Brady they'll use another one of their third-round picks (they're projected to have three this year) to add a tight end in the draft. LSU's Thad Moss (Randy's son) might pique Brady's interest. Then they could tell Brady they're willing to make an offer to acquire his pal Danny Amendola, who's a free agent. 

Suddenly Brady would be looking at a receiver group that includes Beckham (or Diggs), Julian Edelman, N'Keal Harry and Danny Amendola. His tight ends would be Howard and Moss. The cost would be steep, but it might be enough to convince Brady to finish out his career in New England. Even if there are other clubs out there willing to pay him more.

  

“…and then we’ll see if Randy wants to come back and you never know about Gronk. I’m sure we can get the Browns to move on OBJ. Or Landry. Maybe both. Definitely both. We’ll get both. And we actually cloned Scar so don’t worry about the offensive line coach and you might not have heard but Ryan Izzo retired. So … whaddya think? Please, Tom? Please? We’re trying over here. Help us help you.” –

The fever dream scenarios in which Bill Belichick pitches plans to Make Tom Stay are flowing now.

These are the final days of Brady Limbo: the period between the disappointing end to a confusing 2019 season and the witching hour when the Patriots and Brady make their decision to run it back one more time or shut it down.

In a little more than three weeks we’ll know if the radical course change we talked about in December actually happens or not.

Until then, idle time is being filled with spitballing about what the Patriots might do to veer away from the scenario that – when looked at objectively – they’ve already chosen.

The notion that Belichick, in his 46th season as an NFL coach, is going to get sentimental or nostalgic enough to go “all-in” for 2020 to appease a 43-year-old quarterback is a little cuckoo.

Belichick began laying the Brady succession plan six years ago in 2014. Brady – to his credit and to the benefit of Belichick’s “greatest coach ever” legacy – blew that succession plan to bits. Good for Brady. Good for Belichick realizing that – as much as he loved Jimmy Garoppolo – Brady still had more good miles in him no matter what the odometer said.

But rather than a full-on offensive overhaul, it’s a lot more realistic to imagine the Patriots making tweaks for 2020: tweaks that will happen whether Brady is a Patriot or not.

They've been busy spending on offense. They’ve spent three first-round picks on Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel and N’Keal Harry and a 2020 second-rounder on Mohamed Sanu.

Wynn will be a Pro Bowl-level player if he can catch a break health-wise. Michel showed as a rookie what he can do given a sufficient array of blocking talent in front of him. Harry barely took his first steps as an NFL player and – looking objectively at what he showed over the eight games (including playoffs) – there were plenty of plays to like.

Sanu’s ankle was a mess, and he and Brady couldn’t get things ironed out. Meanwhile, Julian Edelman was beaten down to sawdust, could barely raise one arm, couldn’t cut and still wound up with 100 catches. He’s got more gas in his tank too.  

Any idiot can tell the Patriots blew it at tight end by ignoring the spot in Gronk’s final seasons. That was their No. 1 offensive issue in 2019 because their reliance on the position in both the running and passing game meant the dropoff was from elite to non-existent. Losing James Develin and David Andrews were kicks to the ribs after the Patriots were already down. Maybe both are back at the level they were. Maybe not. It’s a point of concern as is the possible departure of left guard Joe Thuney.

The Patriots have to address those spots or change their scheme to fit the players they do have a helluva lot better than they did last year. And, again, that’s going to happen, Brady or not.

Believing that Belichick is going to have an epiphany in which he says, “We’ve been doing it all wrong! Let’s go bananas and load up for this year!” is just not realistic.

More realistic? Belichick saying to Brady, “Look, we have the people in house. We have the coaching. We had bad luck with health and personnel plans fell through. As you know. I don’t have some big list of players I’m going to buy. I’m not Santa Claus and I don’t want you on my lap telling me which receiver you want. All I want to know is, are you in or are you out?"

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Is now the time for Patriots' Josh McDaniels to be an NFL head coach?

Is now the time for Patriots' Josh McDaniels to be an NFL head coach?

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. Here's this week's topic:

Is now the time for Josh McDaniels to take a new head coaching gig?

Indeed it is. It’s not just about the opportunity afforded at two of the franchises looking to interview McDaniels — Cleveland and Carolina — it’s about the way things are headed here in New England. Start there.

The story of the 2019 Patriots is one of a team with a very good defense and an understaffed offense trying to land punches with a hand tied behind its back. The too-little, too-late efforts to staff tight end and wide receiver didn’t work. The offensive line regressed.

David Andrews and James Develin had fairly serious injuries and their availability going forward isn’t assured. Their most important skill position player is 33-year-old Julian Edelman and the expiring contract of Tom Brady puts into question the direction of the most important position in pro sports.

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Dante Scarnecchia is turning 72 and at some point, the OL whisperer is going to retire for good. Ivan Fears, the running backs coach, is going to be 66 next November. This season, wide receivers coach Joe Judge was splitting time between getting a fleet of guys who’d never played in the NFL up to speed in his first year coaching that spot. And he was running special teams.

Bill Belichick has given no indications he’s planning on going anywhere and even if he were, there’s no certainty McDaniels would be his successor. Even if he were, does one really want to step into the quicksand of replacing the greatest coach of all time?

Cleveland should have hired McDaniels last year. They didn’t even interview him. Now, perhaps, owner Jimmy Haslam has learned he has to stop trying to build a better mousetrap by having a whole mess of guys who think they are the boss of the football and hire one guy to be the boss of the football and let everyone do their thing with his blessing.

There’s more than enough talent on that roster to succeed. Hell, they almost had a good season record-wise this year with as much organization as a three-year-old’s birthday party.  

Time to go. 

I wouldn't be willing to make that leap just yet. Let's start in New England, as you did.

The offense has just about reached its nadir. Is there still a little bit of room for them to dip in terms of their efficiency? Sure. They could become the Kyle Allen Panthers. Or the Duck Hodges Steelers. But they're already sniffing that territory.

The difference in yards per pass attempt between the Patriots this year and those offenses: 0.2 and 0.4, respectively. Yet McDaniels still has oodles of interest. He has a résumé teams respect. A bad statistical season (or two) with sub-optimal personnel hasn't cratered his value (and shouldn't).

He's 43. He's well-compensated. No rush. Now consider the gigs for which he's being considered.

The Cleveland job that looks so good on paper has a couple of red flags. No. 1 is that ownership is conducting its fifth head-coaching search since 2012. Is McDaniels going to be afforded the time he needs to install a program? And what about roster control?

The man reportedly running the Browns coaching search, analytics guru Paul DePodesta, seems like he's in line to have more power than ever. The football operations hierarchy there is murky enough that it should provide McDaniels plenty of pause.

Same deal in New York. Dave Gettleman is still the general manager and has ownership's support. Carolina is intriguing, though GM Marty Hurney remains in place. Might owner David Tepper be willing to restructure things to McDaniels' liking? Perhaps. But Hurney has done a solid job and could be in for the long haul.

Even if McDaniels was in charge of the roster, would you want to be the one trying to figure out what to do at quarterback this offseason without being able to see a healthy Cam Newton until the summer? Not ideal.

None of these jobs are. That's how it looks right now, at least. McDaniels is in a spot where he can wait for something a little closer to perfect than what's out there at the moment.

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Point/Counterpoint: Will Sanu or Harry be more valuable to Patriots this season?

Point/Counterpoint: Will Sanu or Harry be more valuable to Patriots this season?

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. Here's this week's topic:

Which receiver will be more valuable to the Patriots the rest of the way, N'Keal Harry or Mohamed Sanu?
 

I can get 1,000 percent behind the idea that the physicality of N’Keal Harry, his YAC ability, his gift for making acrobatic catches in traffic are singular talents he brings to the Patriots offense. 

He is their strongest and most explosive receiver and he’s barely peed a drop in the NFL. So why is Mohamed Sanu more valuable than Harry? You’ll never get the Which way do I go, which way do I go, Tom??” component from Sanu that Harry will bring in his first season in the NFL. I know that the returns from Sanu have been modest since he got here. He had that terrific game against the Ravens, injured his ankle, returned ASAP and hasn’t been the same player since with just 23 catches in seven games (10 of those coming against Baltimore). 

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He’s only catching 54.8 percent of the passes sent his way and on third and fourth-and-short, he’s been a disappointment on three different occasions. But I’m going to bet on two things with Sanu. 

First, he’s still getting back from the ankle and we haven’t seen him unimpeded. Second, he’s too good to go away from. If a defense takes away Julian Edelman – and they will try – Sanu is the only other receiver the Patriots could possibly feel comfortable targeting a dozen times and presuming to get a return on their investment.

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I was told there would be no math. You were told there would be no math. And yet, let's incorporate some math into the discussion. Think about the geometry involved when it comes to defending the Patriots. Think about the number of weapons the Patriots have to stress the short-to-intermediate area of the field: Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, James White, Rex Burkhead. Think of the players who offer real value outside the numbers and down the field.

We haven't seen a significant body of work from Harry to this point, but we've seen enough to know that he is a rarity in this offense. He has the ability to make contested catches outside the numbers. He has the ability to go down the field and use his frame and body control to stress defensive backs for deeper shots. In the red zone, we've seen him execute an indefensible back-shoulder completion for a score.

There simply aren't many others on this team who can do the things he does. That's why the rookie will be the more valuable piece moving forward. Sanu may have more catches the rest of the way. He may end up with more yards. But I'm still willing to bank on the fact that Harry's contributions will be more explosive, and more instrumental in getting points on the board. Plus, at this point, I'm not so sure Sanu has the clear advantage in one area where you do.

At times he's looked like he's gone through some of the same brain cramps Harry had earlier this season. If Sanu being unaware of the timing of two separate fourth-down throws -- and being unaware of his blocking assignment on a fourth-down play last weekend -- isn't an example of, "Which way do I go, which way do I go, Tom??" then what is?