Offensive line is the only thing that can derail Patriots

Offensive line is the only thing that can derail Patriots

Antonio Brown is more buzzworthy than Isaiah Wynn, but even he might not have as a big a make-or-break effect on the New England Patriots' stroll to the Super Bowl as the redshirt freshman tackle.

The Patriots are placing Wynn, who injured his foot Sunday against the Dolphins, on injured reserve. He'll miss at least eight weeks. The most important position as it relates to protecting Tom Brady isn't just a question mark, it's and bold and italicized font. Big as hell.

It's hard to look at the Patriots right now and worry -- they're not going to, like, lose a game soon or anything -- but how the Patriots fare in the regular season is never really in question. They're going to tear it up against a bunch of inferior opponents, then play a few difficult games late in the season and finish with a bye. Tale as old as time.

But we measure success in championships here, and going into the season, the only thing that could put the Patriots' championship hopes at risk would be if Wynn, coming off a rookie season lost to injury and replacing the now-highest-paid-lineman-in-the-league Trent Brown (who signed with the Raiders), was either ineffective or hurt.

He looked like a stud in the preseason, so questions about whether he could play were quelled a bit. Then starting center David Andrews was lost for the season with blood clots and right tackle Marcus Cannon got hurt. The Pats were already down two guys on the offensive line before Wynn got hurt.

I don't understand Pro Football Focus' grades and neither do you, but through the first two weeks, Wynn is graded as the 11th-best pass-blocking left tackle. He's passed the eye test, too.

We don't know how Marshall Newhouse (the guy who played in his place) did because he was playing against the stupid Dolphins. The Pats reportedly signed another guy, Caleb Benenoch, on Tuesday. The sooner Cannon gets back, the better, but even when Wynn returns, he'll have still missed at least 24 of 26 career regular-season games since entering the league. Can a team that's so well set-up otherwise to win a Super Bowl just cross its fingers that the left tackle can stay healthy long enough to get them through a playoff run?

Teams are trading first-round picks like hotcakes these days. Granted, that's because the players getting traded are first-round picks on their rookie deals, but the point stands. Big deals are happening.

And for a team that's so clearly built to win the Super Bowl, it would be worth making a big splash to stabilize things at left tackle. Trent Williams, 31, is holding out for Washington and they're 0-2 to start the season. With an estimated $7.53 million in cap space according to Spotrac, the Patriots would probably need to create space to fit him, but the Patriots should at least look into it. They're too good across the board to just hope for the best up front.

Make no mistake, Dante Scarnecchia has his reputation for a reason. He turns offensive linemen who might burn out elsewhere into stars. But this is a thin, injury-riddled group that's being tasked with blocking for (earmuffs) a quarterback in his 40s who could naturally begin to sense pressure when it isn't there more and more.

AB's antics? They can just cut him if he gets bad enough. Tight end? They can make do. Stephen Gostkowski missing a couple of kicks? Please. The offensive line is a different story, and really the only thing that could get in the way of another Super Bowl.  

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Bruins playing with fire with Charlie McAvoy bridge deal

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Bruins playing with fire with Charlie McAvoy bridge deal

I think Charlie McAvoy is going to be really good, so naturally, I don’t like his new deal.

That will be an unpopular opinion. For the cash-strapped 2019-20 Bruins, this contract rules. The AAV is very low ($4.9 million), which means the Bruins don't have to subtract from their roster as they try to make one or two more Cup runs during the Chara era. It lets them keep Torey Krug for at least the final year of his contract. You can understand why this pact works for them.

But that sweet cap hit comes at a price, which is that, if all goes according to plan and McAvoy becomes the player we all think he’ll be, the Bruins will be paying huge dough for his services when it expires in three years.

McAvoy will be 24 when this contract ends. He’ll be in the prime of his career, two years from unrestricted eligibility and will have received Norris votes. Maybe he’ll even have a Norris win, and you don’t want to have to be negotiating with a young franchise player who’s already won a Norris. Ask the Canadiens how that worked out.

Of course, I’m projecting. The Norris talk is hypothetical. His development could stall or he could struggle to stay on the ice. He’s missed at least 19 games a season thus far.

But if you think this is a good contract, you're projecting, too. You're projecting that McAvoy will stay where he is, which is a guy who will lead the team in ice time, play in all situations, average half a point per game and miss a good chunk of time each season. You don't think, as Bruce Cassidy said, that he'll get stronger. You don't think, as Cassidy said, that he'll become a more aggressive offensive player. 

If you do think he's going to keep improving and become one of the top defensemen in the league, you should be worried about what he's going to cost next. There are currently seven defensemen in the league with an average annual value of $8 million. If McAvoy is a superstar when he signs his next deal, he'll enter that club and then some. Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty are at the top of the list at $11.5 million and $11 million, respectively. 

Yes, the NHL will have a new TV contract by the time McAvoy's deal is up, so the cap will in all likelihood spike. David Krejci's $7.25 million a year will be off the books. More importantly, so will David Backes' $6 million hit. It's tough to say what Tuukka Rask's next contract (he's up in two years) looks like, if it's even here.

So the Bruins should be in a better position to spend then than they are now. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be kicking themselves for having to go the bridge route with McAvoy now. 

McAvoy's contract is similar to that of Zach Werenski (three years at $5 million per), another big-name RFA who took forever to sign this offseason. The better bang for the Bruins' buck would have been a deal like the one Ivan Provorov just took (six years at $6.75 million annually). It would have taken him straight to unrestricted free agency, but the Bruins would have had two more years before a massive third contract kicked in. 

The B's couldn't swing that without clearing a good amount of space, and if they were going to trade a first-round pick to get rid of Backes' deal they probably would have done it earlier the offseason. They still have to sign Brandon Carlo and have only $3.2 million in cap room. 

Now, it's logical to argue that it makes sense to wait until McAvoy is a superstar before paying him like one, but the goal is to have great players on bargain deals during their best years. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all fit in this category. Two of those deals, Marchand and Pastrnak, were Don Sweeney signings. This McAvoy deal shouldn't get the gold sticker those deserve. 

Sweeney clearly thinks this Bruins team can make another Cup run. Otherwise, he would have moved guys off the roster to accommodate a longer, richer second deal for McAvoy. Instead, the Bruins will wait and see just how much their franchise defenseman will cost them in a few years.

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Bill Belichick a bit disingenuous to compare Antonio Brown to Randy Moss

Bill Belichick a bit disingenuous to compare Antonio Brown to Randy Moss

He probably didn't mean to, but Bill Belichick kiiiiiind of insulted the hell out of his buddy Randy Moss on Tuesday.

Finally addressing the signing of Antonio Brown on a conference call, Belichick shot back when Tom. E Curran mentioned how disruptive Brown had been in Pittsburgh and Oakland.

"It's the same thing you guys said about Randy Moss when we brought him in," Belichick responded.

And maybe that's true. Moss was disruptive in his previous stops and, behaviorally, was viewed as a risk. Questions were probably raised, but that was in 2007, before we knew about Antonio Brown. If Antonio Brown was in the league pulling his shenanigans when the Patriots traded for Moss, the commentary would probably be, "this Moss guy's a pain in the ass, but at least he's no Antonio Brown."

Moss was a reclamation project when the Pats got him. They gave up a fourth-round pick, tore up his contract and paid him peanuts ($2.5 million with a $500,000 roster bonus) to prove he could still do it. He had the "checkered past" of bouncing around colleges and run-ins with the law, had faux-mooned a stadium, admitted to smoking weed and said "straight cash, homie." He gave up on a bad Oakland team, giving him plummeting statistics and earning him the "quitter" label.

The two things to keep in mind here are that Moss came cheaper (yeah, it cost the extra fourth-rounder they had that year, but the dough was minimal), and there was never the feeling with Moss that they were giving a lot of responsibility to someone whose psyche and actions were wholly unpredictable.

That second one is where Moss should be offended. He wasn't threatening to punch his GM one day, apologizing the next and then claiming persecution upon being punished. He sure as hell wasn't recording his coach and posting it on YouTube. He didn't do any of these things, and he sure as hell didn't do them right after joining the team and receiving a three-year, $50.12 million contract. Moss' actions left observers shaking their heads. Brown's leave me with concern as to whether the guy is of sound mind.

And that's not an insult to Brown, it's merely an illustration of the difference between a diva receiver of yesteryear and a player who has time and again come up with new ways to burden their team.

The Patriots are guaranteeing Brown $10 million, with the contract also carrying $5 million in not-likely-to-be-earned incentives. That's not a flier. That's a real commitment.

The big thing that Brown has going for him relative to Moss is that he's coming with fewer questions as to what he has in the tank. Brown has been an All-Pro in four of his past five seasons (each season from 2014 through 2017). Moss hadn't been an All-Pro for three seasons when the Pats acquired him, and his 13-game, 553-yard age 29 season in Oakland warranted questions as to whether he was still a great player.

Unless that cryotherapy machine did worse than we thought, there is no question as to what Brown can do on the field; he's one of the best receivers in the league any way you slice it.

So while some (I just threw out my shoulder raising my hand) wouldn't have considered signing Brown, the reasons from a football standpoint are obvious.

But the unpredictability of the person is real. To compare Brown to Moss is misguided at best and disingenuous at worst.   

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