Patriots

Belichick on final cuts: Always hard, but it can't work out for everybody

Belichick on final cuts: Always hard, but it can't work out for everybody

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick feels for players at this time of year because he knows what it's like. He knows what it's like to empty the bucket, give yourself over to a job, and then get fired. 

He also knows he's going to have to be the man who swings the sword, so to speak, when he cuts his roster down to 53 players before this weekend's deadline. It's not something he enjoys. 

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"It’s always hard to have to release players, yeah," Belichick said following Thursday's preseason finale. "Personally, that’s always tough. Guys gave you everything they got and, I mean, we have 90 players and we have to get down to 53, so it will be hard to tell whoever it is – I don’t even know who it’s going to be – but whoever it is, it will be hard to tell some of those players that we won’t be able to keep them.

"We all knew that situation at the beginning. There’s nothing new with that. It’s just hard. Guys put a lot into it and they give it their best and it can’t work out for everybody. But I’ve been on the other side of the table, too."

Despite having one of the most talented rosters in the league, there are a handful of players who represent "bubble" options for the Patriots. The receiver position, in particular, is an interesting one now that the team knows it will be without Julian Edelman for the entirety of the 2017 season. 

Does that mean there's room for an extra receiver to be brought aboard? What about a pass-catching tight end?

We spoke to a few of the standout players from Thursday's game about dealing with their uncertain futures and the pressures of the unknown. 

Devin Lucien, second-year wide receiver, who caught five passes for 96 yards and a touchdown: "I thought it went OK. It's that time of the season where you start to figure out the reality of the situation. They pushed back the cutdowns so you get kind of lost in everything thinking you're going to be here the whole time, but you really don't know. I just hope I was able to put on a good performance this last game . . . 

"I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say it's not on my mind. It's on my mind all the time. But, you know, when you're in practice that's kind of the time to let go of that and just practice. If you think about that while you're on the practice field, you're going to just start messing up. You start messing up, you're really going to be far from staying on the team like this. That's another thing I really wanted to prove. I want to be here. Being on a team for the whole year on a practice squad and then winning the Super Bowl. You see Tom Brady, the GOAT, Julian Edelman make the catch like that. Danny make the touchdown. Malcolm's making catches and all you want to do is you want to be the next one up."

Cody Hollister, undrafted rookie receiver, who caught a nine-yard touchdown pass: "Me and [twin brother Jacob Hollister] have talked about it all the time. Control the controllables, and leave the uncontrollables up to God. I feel like we've done that. Go out there asnd control your attitude and your effort, and then leave the rest up to the Lord. That's what we did today, I feel like. There was mistakes, and there was good plays but we controlled what we could control. We trust in the coaches and their decisions, and we trust God with the stuff we can't control."

Jacob Hollister, undrafted rookie tight end, who caught four passes for 26 yards and a touchdown: "It's unbelievable [going through the process with Cody]. Just being able to lean on each other is just crazy. Having your best friend out here, it's such a blessing. It's been an awesome few months being here together. It's just crazy how it worked out."

Austin Carr, undrafted rookie receiver, who caught three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown: "Emotional. No matter what, there’s going to be highs and lows. It almost feels like draft day all over again where you don’t know where you’re going to end up. Again, I’m praying and trusting God. I know that I left it all out there and I’m hoping for another shot."

When the scrum of reporters around Carr began to dissipate following his question-and-answer period, he said, "Hope to stick around."

Patriots 2020 NFL free agency primer: How will team address wide receivers?

Patriots 2020 NFL free agency primer: How will team address wide receivers?

Editor's Note: Phil Perry will be taking an in-depth look at each of the Patriots' position groups between now and when the NFL's 2020 free agency period begins, spotlighting the current roster and what names might be available on the market.

Like the running back position in New England, the Patriots could roll into 2020 with just about the same group if they so choose.

Julian Edelman is back. Same goes for Mohamed Sanu, N'Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski. Phillip Dorsett is the lone regular contributor from the 2019 receiver room who's set to hit free agency. Matthew Slater, almost exclusively a special-teamer, is scheduled to be a free agent as well. Though Meyers showed promise in spurts throughout his rookie season, only Edelman, Sanu and Harry look like guarantees to be on the roster. 

Will the Patriots be OK with that trio as their top three?

Does Meyers make sense as the No. 4? Or does there need to be a significant upgrade talent-wise made to this unit via free agency, shuffling the depth chart and giving whoever's playing quarterback -- Tom Brady or someone else -- better weapons to work with? What was available at times last season was ugly.

BREAKING DOWN THE CURRENT ROSTER

Julian Edelman: Headed into his 34-year-old season, it's worth wondering exactly how much the Patriots will be able to depend on Edelman. He did -- despite injuries to his ribs, shoulder and knee -- put up one of the most productive seasons of his career, cracking 1,000 yards.

Mohamed Sanu: After a promising start to his Patriots career, including a 10-catch performance against the Ravens midseason, Sanu tailed off. He suffered a high-ankle sprain and had just 14 catches on 26 targets following that game in Baltimore. The Patriots dealt a second-round pick to get him so he's probably not going anywhere ahead of the 2020 season. They'll just have to hope more time in the system, and better health, yields better outcomes. 

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N'Keal Harry: The rookie first-round pick lost the first half of his season to injured reserve and had trouble finding his footing upon his return. He finished the year with 12 catches for 105 yards on 24 targets in seven games. He flashed contested-catch promise with a touchdown against the Cowboys and a leaping grab in Cincinnati that was called back due to penalty -- he was also an effective runner on end-around plays -- but the Patriots will be looking for much more consistency in Year 2. 

Phillip Dorsett: The Patriots signed Dorsett to a one-year deal last offseason, in all likelihood hoping he could reprise his 2018 role as a valuable reserve. Pressed into more regular action, he wasn't as efficient a target for Brady and by the end of the season he was ceding reps to rookies. He could return via free agency this offseason if the Patriots want a familiar face to come back and be able to fill in. But it feels as though both sides might be willing to find a fresh start. 

Jakobi Meyers: After a strong summer, Meyers didn't exactly hit the ground running, but he did end up as the team's most productive rookie wideout. He averaged 13.8 yards per catch -- 0.1 behind what Emmaunel Sanders did in San Fran and what Brandin Cooks did in Los Angeles -- and no rookie caught more contested targets (seven of 10), according to Pro Football Focus.

Gunner Olszewski: The Bemidji State product was the last to make the active roster out of camp but stuck around long enough to play in eight games before landing on injured reserve. He caught just two passes for 34 yards -- both against the Giants in Week 6 when the Patriots were hurting at the receiver spot -- but chipped in as the team's regular punt-returner before his injury. He returned 20 for 179 yards (9.0 yards per return, 20th in the NFL). 

Matthew Slater: Slater heads into free agency after another First Team All-Pro selection as a special-teamer, his fifth. He played 20 snaps in 2019 -- all as a run-blocker.

WHO IS POTENTIALLY ON THE OPEN MARKET?

Amari Cooper: This would be a Ruthian hack in free agency. Cooper might cost almost $20 million per year on whatever new deal he signs. The Patriots, though, have been bold in adding talent to their roster when they see glaring issues. Would they be this bold?

Seems unlikely that the Patriots would devote the necessary resources to land this one-time Nick Saban pupil, but it'd infuse the wideout room in New England with some much-needed, in-his-prime talent. If Tom Brady is willing to take pennies on the dollar to stick in New England with the promise that he'll have more to work with in 2020, Cooper should be the team's top-of-the-list item.

A.J. Green: The Patriots are in need of a vertical presence in the passing game. For years that was Rob Gronkowski. Hard to replicate that skill set at tight end, so it may have to be a receiver. After a year off, it's hard to know exactly how Green would fill this role . . . but it's what he's done for the majority of his career.

He'd be a much cheaper option than Cooper ($9 million per year might get it done), and he might be itching to play for a competitor. Green would make more sense than going after Emmanuel Sanders, another 30-something free agent this offseason, since the Patriots are already loaded up on interior veteran pass-catchers in Sanu and Edelman. 

POTENTIAL FREE-AGENT FIXES: FAMILIAR FACE

Danny Amendola: The Patriots might be set in the slot. But wouldn't it make sense to have a trusted option on the inside should Julian Edelman be forced to miss time due to injury? Amendola filled that role admirably in 2014 and 2016 when Edelman was healthy for the majority of the year. It allowed Amendola to sit back for portions of the year and then be used more liberally in the postseason.

He knows the offense. He wouldn't be looking to break the bank at this point in his career. He still holds respect for the organization, and anything he said upon his departure from New England in 2018 would be water under the bridge if Bill Belichick felt as though his receiver group would be better off with Amendola in it. 

POTENTIAL FREE-AGENT FIXES: UNDER-THE-RADAR OPTIONS

Breshad Perriman: It wasn't all that long ago that Perriman looked like the perfect Patriots reclamation project. They've had a long list of failed first-round draft picks come through their recevier room -- Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson -- and Perriman could've been the latest.

The only problem? He tore it up at the end of the 2019 season for the Bucs, finishing with career-highs in catches (36), yards (645) and touchdowns (6) while playing for his third team in his four-year career. He'd be a clever solution to New England's vertical issues, but he might've priced himself out of Patriots consideration with what he did at the end of the year.

Travis Benjamin: A much different type of vertical threat than Perriman (who stands 6-foot-2, 215 pounds), Benjamin is a mini-burner at 5-10, 175 pounds. He was placed on injured reserve in October of last season so his numbers were down across the board, but he's averaged over 15.0 yards per catch for his career and he has a wealth of return experience. He might be a cost-effective gamble at the position this offseason. 

Pharoh Cooper: The Rams took Cooper in the fourth round in 2016, and he went on to win First-Team All-Pro honors the following year for his work in the return game. For his career, he's returned 66 punts for 619 yards and 92 kicks for 2,213 yards.

The 5-foot-11, 200 pounder also finished with the eighth-best catch rate from the slot in 2019, according to PFF. He had 25 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown on the season. If the Patriots wanted some young depth in the slot, Cooper might be a good option. Sanu is in the final year of his deal and Edelman's contract runs out after 2021.

Sportsbook trolls 49ers coach with 28-3 Super Bowl prop bet odds

Sportsbook trolls 49ers coach with 28-3 Super Bowl prop bet odds

Kyle Shanahan was on the wrong side of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history three years ago, and sports fans will actually be able to bet on the San Francisco 49ers head coach finding himself in a similar situation against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

One sportsbook is giving bettors an opportunity to wager on the 49ers blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl, according to ESPN's David Purdum.

At sportsbook PointsBet, Shanahan is 100-1 to blow another 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, when they squandered a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

You might be surprised that PointsBet's odds of the 49ers blowing a 28-3 lead are only 100-1, but it actually makes sense.

If any team could erase that kind of deficit, it's the Kansas City Chiefs. They trailed the Houston Texans 24-0 in the second quarter of their AFC Divisional Round matchup two weeks ago and ultimately won 51-31 thanks to a playoff record eight consecutive touchdown drives. The Chiefs also fell behind 17-7 to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game before prevailing with a 35-24 victory. 

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is averaging 307.5 passing yards and four touchdowns through two playoff games, and his KC offense is averaging 32.7 points scored over the last seven games (including the postseason). These stats make it easy to understand why Mahomes is the betting favorite to win Super Bowl LIV MVP at +100 odds.

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