Curran's best -- and worst -- of a quiet (?) offseason
Your Mid-Offseason Patriots and NFL Superlatives!
By Tom E. Curran
It's been less than two months since the Super Bowl and -- for the first time in a long time -- we find ourselves in a little NFL lull. Especially around here. In 2015 there were White House visits, parades, court dates, appeals, investigations, free-agent strife and a draft in which the Patriots were in possession of a first-round pick. This year? Tumbleweeds. At least it seems. But when you take the measure of the offseason to date, there's plenty to revisit. So I did. With this list of superlatives.
MOST LOADED TWEET
Gronk’s tweet saying (paraphrasing): “Hey, the Patriots picking up the option on my deal really means I’m taking a paycut. But that’s cool with me because I don’t play for money.” First, it isn’t in any way a pay cut. The $37M he’ll make from August 2015 through January 2019 may be way less than he’d command on the open market but it isn’t a “cut.” Second, if Gronk is cool with it, why run the pay cut misdirection up the flagpole in the first place? Third, because he is an anomaly, the chance truly exists that he doesn’t give a crap about the football paycheck but still wanted everyone apprised of what he thinks is benevolence. Beyond trying to interpret the tweet, the motivation for it is just as intriguing. Has Gronk been trying to get the Patriots to redo his deal – to no avail – and this was his way of airing them out? His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, wouldn’t comment when I asked him at the Annual Meeting if Gronk is pissed. Eventually, we’ll find out if this was cause for real concern.
ADDITION MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
Chris Hogan. It’s set up pretty well for him to have a 63-catch, 747-yard, five-touchdown season. The wide receiver comes to the Patriots from the Bills with slot and outside ability, a bigger frame than Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman and less wear on him. His arrival should mean fewer targets for both Edelman and Amendola but that’s not a bad thing. The volume of throws they’ve seen and their use on special teams needs to be shaved back because they are being ground into dust.
BETTER OFF HE GOT AWAY WINNER
Mohamed Sanu. I bought, serviced and drove the Sanu bus starting in 2012 when Sanu was coming out of Rutgers. And I revved it back up when he was hitting free agency. But when the Patriots lost out on Sanu thanks to a five-year, $32.5 million offer from the Falcons and New England instead scooped up Chris Hogan for four years and $12M that seemed like a win for the Patriots between similarly skilled players.
LIKELIEST RECEPTACLE OF MISPLACED OPTIMISM
Donald Brown. While at the NFL Annual Meeting I dutifully rounded up quotes from Brown’s former employers in San Diego about the running back’s chances of making an impact in New England (LINK). John Spanos obliged, predicting big things for Brown. But the reality is that Brown being a big contributor would be a major departure from what he’s done in his career. Not that he won’t. Maybe it’s just been wrong place, wrong time since he got to the league. But keep your guard up.
SAFEST RECEPTACLE FOR GUARDED OPTIMISM
Chris Long. Talk about a guy getting paroled from an NFL halfway house. Since coming into the league as the No. 2 overall selection in 2008, Long has yet to play in a playoff game. The Rams finished in fourth place in the usually-feeble NFC West five times. Now, at 31 (just turned), Long comes to a team that’s balanced, well-coached and as accustomed to being in the NFL’s Final Four as the Rams are to finishing fourth. Once his role is defined and it’s determined what – if anything – he’s no longer capable of doing at a high level, the arrow points up. He has the potential to be a really positive influence on the young defensive linemen as well, since he’s a player who knows what it’s like to be a first-rounder and be personally successful but hasn’t played as many postseason games as Malcom Brown.
BIGGEST WILD CARD
Martellus Bennett. In terms of athleticism, size, run-after-the-catch ability and catch radius, the only tight end that really compares to Rob Gronkowski might be Bennett. They’re also probably the goofiest players at their position, but they have two different strains of goofy. Gronk seems to only have a passing awareness of the world outside of football, video games and going to the club with his bros. Bennett’s goofiness is a whole lot more self-aware and tied to creativity. Read this in-depth piece on Bennett from Chicago Magazine last August (LINK) to get a better appreciation. One quote from the piece: “Honestly, you have to consider retirement every year. I’m an essentialist. I only do the things that are essential to my life. And one day, football won’t be anymore.” How will a guy so devotedly free-spirited and inclined to view football as a means to an end and not the end in itself adjust in New England? It might be a perfect fit. The Patriots may seem boring and controlling from the outside but closer inspection has revealed time after time how unique and fascinating their approach is. Maybe Bennett gets engaged by that. Or maybe he gets turned off by a place that doesn’t see the game as a means of individual expression. Could be some creative tension there.
WORST NAME TO HAVE
Chandler. Scott Chandler was untethered after a disappointing season as the team’s second tight end. Chandler Jones got shipped to Arizona in exchange for a second-round draft pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. This category becomes an excuse for me to mention my favorite NFL Chandler, Wes Chandler (LINK), a great downfield receiver in the 1970s and ‘80s with the Saints and Chargers. Here he is in action (LINK). And showing an impressive level of patience (LINK).
PLAYER MOST NEEDING TO GET COMFY IN FOOTBALL PURGATORY
Jimmy Garoppolo. The instant Tom Brady’s deal was extended through 2019, Garoppolo’s fate was sealed. The countdown to roster drama between Brady and Jimmy G that loomed once their contracts expired in 2017 ended at that point. Now, unless Garoppolo gets dealt, he’ll do a four-year New England apprenticeship and leave town after 2017. It doesn’t mean picking a quarterback in the 2014 draft was a bad idea, but I’ll keep maintaining that the second-round was too high for the Patriots to pull the trigger.
TONE DEAF QUOTE OF THE OFFSEASON
During his retirement press conference, Peyton Manning closed his response to a question about sexual assault allegations while at the University of Tennessee by quoting Forrest Gump (LINK). As impressive, thoughtful and poised as the rest of the press conference may have been, choosing to channel a dim-witted fictional character in giving the last word on a serious allegation was jaw-droppingly dumb.
IRONY-OOZING QUOTE OF THE OFFSEASON
In a letter aimed at forcing the New York Times to retract a story about the NFL being less-than-candid about concussion numbers in a study performed in the 1990s (LINK), league lawyers complained that: “By publishing the story, fully aware of the falsity of the underlying facts, the Times recklessly disregarded the truth and defamed the NFL …”. If anyone would know anything about disregarding the truth and defamation it would be NFL attorneys.
OCCASION MOST RIPE FOR AUDIBLE GASPING
When NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler got cuffed around by the barristers hearing the NFL’s appeal of Judge Richard Berman’s vacation (?) of Tom Brady’s suspension (LINK). It put the potential of the NFL having its original decision back in play and Brady having to fight for a stay prior to the 2016 season.
SUBTLEST KNIFE TURN BY DER KOMMISSAR
After Robert Kraft divulged at the NFL Annual Meeting that he fired off a missive to Roger Goodell requesting the Patriots confiscated draft picks be returned, Goodell made it known two days later that the request had been answered prior to Kraft saying he was praying for the return of the picks. In other words, Goodell pantsed Kraft a little bit.
MOST IDIOTIC RULE CHANGE PROPOSAL
The Ravens proposing that (LINK) “an ineligible player (numbers 50-79 and 90-99) who goes into the game as an eligible receiver to wear a jersey vest matching the team uniform, with an appropriate number for his eligible or ineligible status that has not already been assigned to another teammate.”
Never mind that the Ravens – after being undressed and embarrassed in the playoffs in 2014 by the Patriots eligible/ineligible skullduggery (LINK) – rules proposal practically announces that they believe either their staff or their players are ill-equipped to adjust on the fly. Fortunately, the thing died in committee.
WEASELLY ESPN MOVE OF THE OFFSEASON
On the day the Patriots swung the deal with the Cardinals, shipping Chandler Jones to the desert in exchange for a second-round pick and Jonathan Cooper, ESPN aired a two-year-old interview with Ty Law in which Law posited that the Patriots’ personnel moves cost them championships (LINK). The quotes were quickly passed around the web (LINK) and the fact it was a two-year-old interview fell away, making Law’s critique seem fresh and related to the Jones deal. There’s nothing wrong with Law’s contention. I spent eight days enumerating the reasons for missed Lombardis (LINK) earlier this offseason and personnel calls were certainly a part of some. But it just feels very ESPN-y to be a leeeeettttlllleee misleading and then say, “Who, us?” Interestingly, the Patriots won their first championship since 2004 less than a year after Law’s interview which came on the heels of Aqib Talib leaving town.