Patriots wary of another slip-up vs. Chip Kelly's team

Patriots wary of another slip-up vs. Chip Kelly's team

FOXBORO -- The Patriots loss to the Eagles last season sticks in the collective craw of Patriots fans. A 14-0 lead claimed by the Patriots in the second quarter turned into a 35-14 deficit early in the fourth.
In the mix were 21 Eagles points scored on defense and special teams -- an 83-yard punt return, a 24-yard return of a blocked punt and a 99-yard interception return in a 12-minute span of play.

That loss following on the heels of the team’s 30-24 overtime loss at Denver the previous week turned a 10-0 team into a 10-2 team and was part of the team’s 2-4 close to the season that cost it home-field advantage.

It sticks in Bill Belichick’s craw too. This week, the Patriots face the San Francisco 49ers and their head coach Chip Kelly, who was the man in charge of the Eagles last year.

“We’re gonna have to do a lot better job against their attack and their scheme than we did in that game,” said Belichick. “We didn’t do very well at all against the Eagles scheme last year so we’ll have to improve dramatically on that to be competitive.”

Preparation for the 1-8 Niners takes on an added air of urgency because the Patriots don’t lose much. The 31-24 loss to the Seahawks and the relative ease Seattle had in moving the ball against a team coming off its bye week rested and presumably well-prepared does not auger well for the state of the club.

Now, the Patriots will go cross-country to play a team that -- while its nobody’s idea of a powerhouse -- does present a complex enough offense to maybe challenge the Patriots flatlining defense.

The up-tempo Chip Kelly scheme will put the heat on the Patriots.

“I’d say the passing game San Francisco employs is unique because their running game is unique and it all ties in together,” Belichick explained. “They’re really not a first, second, third down team. A lot of their third-down plays they run on first down, a lot of their first-down plays they run on third down. They’re a fast-tempo team. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to keep track of down and distance when you’re out there going to the line trying to get the call, get lined up and sometimes defensively you lose track of whether its first-and-10 or second-and-8. They’re unique. They’re quite a bit different.”

This game -- and the next two -- are very good opportunities for the Patriots to fine-tune or reinvent themselves. Not where you want to be after nine games but that’s what it is. Going against Colin Kaepernick (53 percent completion percentage), rookie Jared Goff next week and young Bryce Petty and the Jets after that allows the Patriots to step into the 78 mph batting cage for a few swings.

Of course, this situation does present a downside as well. If San Francisco can pinpoint the problems the Patriots are having in coverage, execution and communication and exploit those, suddenly there’s a motivated team on an eight-game losing streak across the line of scrimmage. 
And the mobility Kaepernick brings adds an element to the mix that Sam Bradford really didn’t muster when the Patriots lost to the Eagles last year.

“That really wasn’t a big factor in the game last year,” said Belichick. “(The Eagles) still ran the ball with a lot of success against us in multiple formations or multiple types of runs, and then you add that to, now a quarterback, which gives you another dimension in the running game, we’re going to have to do a better job on what we saw last year, but in addition to that, just as you pointed out, defend the quarterback runs as well, or the quarterback keeps or bootlegs. They bootlegged with [Sam] Bradford some, but not as much as they do with Colin [Kaepernick]. The whole dynamic that the quarterback brings to the offense is definitely another dimension. It’s going to be challenging for us. Like I said, we didn’t do very well without that part of it, so we have a lot of work to do there.”

The loss to the Seahawks -- like the loss to Denver last year -- was a blow but understandable. Both are elite teams. The loss to Philly started a tailspin for New England. With the same coach and scheme facing them this year, it’s an interesting bit of irony.

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Cam Newton, Julian Edelman joke about Patriots' playbook on Instagram

Before Cam Newton suits up for the New England Patriots, he has some homework to do. And he's already opened his textbook.

The veteran quarterback, who reportedly signed a one-year contract with New England in late June, shared a photo Tuesday via Instagram of himself with a cup of coffee and what appears to be the Patriots' playbook.

"This s--- calculus!!" Newton joked.

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The Patriots have a notoriously complex playbook, and it appears Newton is finding that out after nine seasons in Carolina.

Our Tom E. Curran reported there's "no concern" in New England that Newton won't master his new offense, though, and the 31-year-old QB already digging into his playbook helps explain that confidence.

Newton also tagged Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, the team's longest-tenured offensive player (not counting special teamer Matthew Slater). Edelman responded on Instagram with his own acknowledgment that figuring out New England's playbook is like decoding a tricky math problem.

If Newton can return to full health after undergoing offseason foot surgery and pick up the offense quickly, that should add up to a successful season for the three-time Pro Bowler and 2015 NFL MVP.

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes contract will be an albatross for dynasty-chasing Chiefs

“We’re chasing a dynasty.”

That’s how Patrick Mahomes closed his ode of gratitude after signing the richest contract in pro sports history.

Of course you are, Patrick. You and everyone else.

But are you chasing “a” dynasty? Do you just want to be mentioned along with the Packers, Steelers, Niners, Cowboys and Patriots, the only dynasties of the Super Bowl era?

Or are you using chasing as in following? As in the dynasty that came immediately before you? Specifically, New England. The only dynasty of the salary cap era.

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Because if you’re chasing the Patriots, modeling yourself after the Patriots, thinking you and the Chiefs might be the Patriots and go to four Super Bowls in one decade and five in the next, you and your team just made a fundamental mistake. You went “pig at the trough.”

That phrase is one I heard from key folks in the Patriots organization several times in the early 2000s. Tom Brady? Not a pig at the trough when it came to contract time. Peyton Manning? Pig at the trough.

What difference does it make?

Without a piggish quarterback, you can still go 11-5 because there’s talent all over the roster. The Patriots did that in 2008. But when you have to feed and feed and feed that position? The roster gets so thin elsewhere that – without the quarterback – a team might go, say, 2-14 after nine straight seasons of double-digit wins as the Colts did in 2011 without Manning.

This isn’t to say that the Chiefs did the wrong thing in signing Mahomes. Business-wise, they win. And Mahomes wins as well. But lack of funds because of fat cap hits will inevitably make the on-field product suffer and make the chase for a dynasty that much harder.

You can’t blame the Hunt family.

Mahomes is the most important and impactful player in the NFL.

What he authored in the 2019 playoffs is unprecedented - erasing a 24-0 deficit and winning 51-31 in the Divisional Playoffs, going on a 35-7 run in the AFCCG to erase a 10-point deficit then score 21 unanswered in the fourth to erase another 10-point deficit in the Super Bowl. All that coming after the AFCCG nut punch from the Patriots at Kansas City when Mahomes did all he could in the second half to resuscitate KC but came up short because the Chiefs defense sucked.

Having Mahomes sewn up for a dozen years makes their already-skyrocketing asset that much more valuable.  

Consider this: According to Forbes, the Chiefs were the 28th most valuable franchise in the NFL with a total value of $986 million in 2011. By 2018, they were 24th in the league worth $2.1 billion and last September they were still 24th worth $2.3 billion. That will likely rise to nearly $3 billion when Forbes' new list comes out given the Super Bowl win and the presence of Mahomes, which will bring in way more revenue over the next 12 years than the $503 million they pay him.

The Chiefs made the deal as easy-to-swallow as they could in the first two years. Plus, the so-called “guarantee mechanisms” give the Chiefs an escape hatch they can use basically every year.

As for Mahomes, what’s he going to do, turn down a half-billion? Take the money and run, especially since the NFL could be approaching a bit of a recession.

The cap is going down in 2021 because local revenues are going to suffer with the pandemic. The changing media landscape, the financial fallout networks may experience because of COVID-19 and the fact this season may not deliver the same product the networks signed up for all may serve to diminish the next TV deal. The wrangling over how to deal with the drops has just begun.

So the deal is good for the Hunts and it's good for Mahomes.

But the cap hits begin getting big in 2022 ($31.5 million) and they are around $40 million for the next five seasons after that before ballooning to $60 million. If the NFL spreads out the revenue loss and cap decline it’s going to realize this season over a three-year period to soften the blow, the cap is not going to rise at the anticipated level.

And that’s not that good for the football team. Right now, defensive end Chris Jones is playing on a $16 million franchise tag and is pissed about it. Travis Kelce will make about $9 million the next two years as the best tight end in football. The Chiefs have six players this year with cap hits over $15 million. They can do that because Mahomes is a bargain with a $5.3 million cap hit.

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“If the Kansas City Chiefs can keep all the players together, we’re going to be a dynasty,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said on Tuesday. Yeah, well, about that.

It’s virtually impossible to keep all the players together when A) one guy is making a huge percentage of the cap and B) your team starts getting pilfered because it plays well every year.

There will be pooh-poohing about Mahomes’ cap percentage and insistence on TV and gambling money rolling into the coffers. Again, post-pandemic, I don’t see the cap rebounding that quickly.

And if the cap gets to $225 million by the time Mahomes starts seeing his $40 million hits beginning in 2023? That’s 17.7 percent of the cap.

Tom Brady’s highest cap percentage in the past decade was 12.2 percent in 2018. His average cap hit since 2011 was 9.8 percent.

Brady’s willingness to take less for so long enabled the Patriots to pay Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephon Gilmore, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Donta’ Hightower really well (ever notice how many of the fat deals are on defense for Bill Belichick?). And it also allowed them to make sure the so-called middle class was squared away too.

By the end of it, when Belichick blanched at every Brady request to give him a bump, it was obvious the head coach was dying to be unburdened of a big-ticket quarterback.

We’ve gone over this at length already this offseason. And the benefit of Brady allowing himself to be lowballed was annually highlighted at Super Bowl time by national media.

People (Mike Felger) want to pretend the cap isn’t real. It is. You can ignore it. You can delay it. But eventually bills come due as they have for the Patriots this year.

New England’s stay in cap hell should be short. Meanwhile, a team like the Ravens who will now have Lamar Jackson using the Mahomes contract as a comp? Hell is on the horizon. Same for the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Teams like the Rams, Raiders, and Eagles are already in hell now or approaching it next year having paid maybe really good but maybe not first-round picks like Jared Goff, Derek Carr and Carson Wentz huge amounts.

Mahomes is a unicorn. We can all agree on that. But his contract is going to be an albatross.