Patriots

Curran: The Patriots, Tom Brady and the gathering storm

Curran: The Patriots, Tom Brady and the gathering storm

I’m not here to light the fire. I’m just here to acknowledge the pyre has been built. 

Today, on the three-year anniversary of the Patriots drafting Jimmy Garoppolo, the Jimmy over Tommy possibility remains real. 

More probable than not? Not quite. But with the draft passing and Garoppolo remaining in New England, the Tom Brady Doomsday Clock inched closer to midnight. 

The decision the greatest coach in NFL history will eventually make about the greatest quarterback in NFL history will alter their legacies and color the perception of all they built in a nearly two-decade collaboration with the Patriots. 

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Either they ride off into the sunset together (give or take a season) or Brady gets dealt and the repellent image of Brady in another uniform comes true . 

I don’t know where a “Tom Brady Traded!” story would rank in league history, but it would carry the force of a comet landing in the Common here in Boston. 

He’s a historical landmark now. To ship him out would be like sending Plymouth Rock to Dallas. 

There is no real precedent.

When the 49ers traded Joe Montana, he was a battered player who’d missed most of the previous two seasons. When the Colts released Peyton Manning, he’d missed the previous year because of neck surgery. When the Packers dealt Brett Favre, his Hamlet act had worn them down to a nub. 

In one sense, this situation is nothing like those. Brady is -- even at 39 -- full-go. He’s won two Super Bowls in the three seasons since Garoppolo got here, and went out on his shield in Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Even though Montana and Favre both made it to Conference Championship games after leaving the Niners and Packers and Manning won a Super Bowl in Denver, all of them were physical shells of what they had been. 

But in another very important way, the situations then and now are the same. Steve Young was taking over for Montana. Andrew Luck was on-deck for Manning. Aaron Rodgers was biding time behind Favre. 

In May of 2014, I called Garoppolo a wasted second-round pick. By August -- as Garoppolo was opening eyes in training camp and the dust was settling from the Logan Mankins got trade -- I declared Brady would probably be gone by 2017. The timing ain’t right but the landscape is unchanged. Watch the video and tell me where I’m wrong:

                        

The night Garoppolo was drafted and Belichick mentioned Brady’s age and contract situation, the endgame was underway. It’s taking a little longer to arrive because Brady has beaten back the Garoppolo challenge with the best football of his life, but that’s probably the only reason the Patriots haven’t pulled the ripcord already. 

The Patriots don’t necessarily trade a starter when his backup is better than him. They trade a starter when -- in a season or two -- the backup will be cheaper, approximately as good and the starter yields a return in a trade. 

Whether it’s Mankins or Richard Seymour or Jamie Collins, the equation was the same. 

Nobody in New England has their mind around this math better than Brady. 

“You can’t be around this long and not realize that the world will keep spinning and the sun will come up tomorrow without you,” Brady said last November after the Collins trade. “That’s just the way it goes. You enjoy the experiences you have and also understand that it just keeps going on. It could happen to anybody. You just have to show up to work, do the best you can every day and let your performance try to speak for itself.”

Separately, Brady told Kirk & Callahan

I hope it never happens. I don't think any player loves when that happens. But part of what I said last week was, when you've been around for as long as I have, you know . . . Michael Jordan played for a different team. Brett Favre played for a different team. Randy Moss played for a different team. Joe Montana played for a different team. There's been a lot of great players before me who have gone. Guys that I've played with. Rodney Harrison and Wes Welker.

All these guys that have been so spectacular. It's hard to imagine them ever playing different places, but it's part of sports. I hope I'm never in that situation because, like I said, this is where I love to play. This is where I want to play. This is the team I've played for my entire career. I've loved being the quarterback for this team, and hopefully I can continue to do it for as long as I can continue to perform at a high level. That's what my goal is. That's why I try to work hard at it and try to put myself in a position where I add a lot of value to the team. That's what you try to do as a player. 

There will be checkpoints along the way in the coming year. Garoppolo, who is a free agent at the end of the season, could be swapped at the trade deadline. The team could franchise him next March (a tag that will likely be in excess of $22 million) then trade him. It could sign him to an extension, working out a deal with his agent, Don Yee -- who also represents Brady

Is it in Garoppolo’s best interest to re-sign, then sit and wait for Brady to decide he’s had enough of the NFL? The impression I’ve gotten from Brady is that the quarterback position in New England will have to be pried from his cold, dead hand. 

Brady, meanwhile, is under contract through 2019 (he’ll be 41 when his deal expires) and his salary is an ultra-manageable $14 million. 

If Brady hadn’t won five Super Bowls, galvanized a fanbase in defiance of the NFL that persecuted him, helped make a few billion for the Family Kraft and given the region something to do with itself in the fall and winter for the past 18 years, he’d probably already be gone. 

Because the other side of why Brady’s been able to pilot the Patriots to greatness is that Belichick set the flight plan. And that plan includes an unflinching, unapologetic, simplistic mantra that he is in his role to do what’s best for the team. 

No matter how much it hurts. No matter how many people cry. No matter how personal the attacks become. Whether it’s making the hard, unpopular calls on Bernie Kosar or Drew Bledsoe or Lawyer Milloy, Belichick can make them because he’s got the belly for it. It is, in my opinion, part of his DNA because of how he was raised, a product of the Naval Academy even though he wasn’t a Midshipman. 

If it happens -- and I would rather it didn’t -- you hope it won’t be messy, but you know it probably will be. 

"It will end badly," Tom Brady Sr., said two years ago. "It does end badly. And I know that because I know what Tommy wants to do. He wants to play 'til he's 70 . . . It's a cold business. And for as much as you want it to be familial, it isn't."

On Monday, the Vegas odds were again adjusted and the Patriots’ 2017 win total is pegged at 12.5.

On Tuesday, Brandin Cooks was unveiled to the media. 

For Patriots fans, the sun’s out, it’s 85 degrees and we’re all playing volleyball and frolicking in the surf. 

Way offshore, a tsunami gathers. 

Chris Simms: Patriots' Jarrett Stidham 'reminds me a little of Tony Romo'

Chris Simms: Patriots' Jarrett Stidham 'reminds me a little of Tony Romo'

Jarrett Stidham is expected to take over the New England Patriots offense in the 2020 NFL season, and he's getting rave reviews from teammates, former coaches and several members of the media.

Despite having thrown only four career regular season passes, Stidham impressed people with his work in training camp and the preseason last year, and in practices during the 2019 regular season.

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Where does he rank among NFL quarterbacks? NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms placed Stidham at No. 35 on his latest list. While that isn't very high, Simms had plenty of good things to say about the Patriots quarterback.

"First off, I loved (Stidham) coming out of college," Simms said. "I saw a lot of him in preseason last year and loved the way he looked. Really, when you look at him, there's nothing to say or look at him physically and go, 'Oh, there's a weakness to his football game.' He reminds me a little of Tony Romo. He's a very pure thrower of the football. He's got great mechanics, he's natural that way. He's smart, and we know he's being well-schooled up there in New England.

"He doesn't have as strong of an arm as Tom Brady, but it's not far off -- it's right there in that range. It's a really good arm, and he's a good athlete. Not an athlete that's going to run for a ton of yards, but can move around the pocket and extend plays that way. That's what I'm excited about with Jarrett Stidham. He's got great feel. He's a natural at playing the quarterback position, let alone, he's got skills that can really shine and stand out as well."

The Romo mention is interesting. Say what you want about Romo -- sure, he didn't win a ton of playoff games, but he was a top-tier quarterback for a long time. If Stidham puts up similar stats to Romo, the Patriots should be quite pleased.

Watch the full segment with Simms in the video below:

While it's easy to like what Stidham has shown so far, he's still very much an unknown. The Auburn product will need to go out and prove these people right, and it looks like that opportunity will come soon for him.

The Patriots have not brought in a veteran quarterback this offseason, aside from Brian Hoyer, to give Stidham a tough competition for the starting job. So, unless something changes over the next few months, all signs point to the post-Tom Brady era in New England beginning with Stidham at quarterback.

Patriots Roster Reset: N'Keal Harry's improvement in Year 2 key to WR group

Patriots Roster Reset: N'Keal Harry's improvement in Year 2 key to WR group

The Patriots were desperate for receiver help in 2019.

They held onto Josh Gordon. They selected a wideout in the first round for the first time in Bill Belichick's tenure as head coach. They signed Antonio Brown. They traded a second-round pick mid-season to add a veteran with a year and a half left on his deal.

Very little stuck.

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With a loaded receiver class in this year's draft, it was a given they'd invest at the position again . . . right? They added four undrafted wideouts, but none went to New England on draft weekend.

Instead, it's clear the Patriots will rely on seeing improvement from that 2019 first-rounder, N'Keal Harry, and from the vet who cost a second-rounder, Mohamed Sanu.

"I'm sure all our young players will improve in year two," Belichick said after the draft. "Got a first-round pick on N'Keal last year, second-round pick on Sanu. That was really off this draft. Obviously have Julian [Edelman] and a number of other young players. I think that will be a very good group.

"There's a lot of different ways and times to build your team. The draft is one of them. As I mentioned, whether it's Sanu or free agents signing like [Damiere] Byrd, whatever the case might be, there's multiple ways to build your roster, and this is one of them."

Here's how the Patriots depth chart at receiver is looking as things stand right now.

LOCK ‘EM IN

This group could end up being six or seven players deep, and yet the number of true locks currently on the roster? Two: Julian Edelman and N'Keal Harry.

Mohamed Sanu was mentioned by Bill Belichick earlier this offseason as being the team's second-round pick this year since that's what they traded away to land him. But the reality is he's a wideout in his 30s, coming off offseason ankle surgery, making $6.5 million on the salary cap. It'd be a second-round pick wasted if the Patriots ended up releasing Sanu — maybe they could pick up some value for him if they found a trade partner — but they were desperate for receiving help when they acquired him last season. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

That pick is now a sunk cost. If there's a younger player on the roster the Patriots feel could provide what Sanu does at a lower price, then it would not come as an overwhelming surprise if the Patriots moved on.

Matthew Slater, if you want to include him in this group, is a lock as a special-teams captain. The 34-year-old is coming off one of his best seasons and will provide the same steady leadership he has for a decade as the team navigates a season without Tom Brady.

ON THE BUBBLE

Let's start with the players from last year's roster who will look to reclaim roles after the Patriots re-tooled the back end of the depth chart this offseason.

Jakobi Meyers showed real chemistry with Jarrett Stidham when the two then-rookies embarked on their first pro preseason together. That could help him carve out a role as a depth piece, but his place on the 53-man roster can't be considered a sure thing.

Same goes for Gunner Olszewski. He made the club as a reserve wideout and the No. 1 punt returner before landing on IR last season.The team added a variety of punt-return options offseason — including second-round pick Kyle Dugger — which adds to the challenge Olszewski faces in making the roster.

Damiere Byrd is a 5-foot-9, 180-pound speedster who could bring a dynamic vertical element to the Patriots passing game if given the opportunity. He received $600,000 guaranteed to sign, according to the Boston Globe, which is more than some of the names you'll see under our "Long Shots" section, but it doesn't exactly guarantee him a roster spot.

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LONG SHOTS

Have to include all four undrafted rookies on this list just by the nature of their arrival to the Patriots.

Isaiah Zuber from Mississippi State pulled in the most guaranteed money among Patriots undrafted wideouts this year with $100,000. Jeff Thomas of Miami might be the most talented of the group, but he went undrafted after running into issues with two separate coaching staffs in college. Sean Riley — who like Zuber and Thomas could end up competing for a punt-return role — is an undersized interior option at 5-foot-8, 178 pounds out of Syracuse.

Auburn's Will Hastings is the player from this group we like as the favorite to make the roster at the moment. He lit up his pro day (one of the few this year that wasn't canceled) with elite-level agility numbers. He also has a built-in rapport with Stidham after their time together as Tigers teammates. Marqise Lee has to be included here after dealing with injury and being robbed of almost two full seasons. He did not play in 2018 and in 2019 he had just three catches in six games played.

Devin Ross and Quincy Adeboyejo, both of whom spent time on the Patriots practice squad last year, should be considered long shots as well.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

Jeff Thomas has talent. He's an NFL-caliber athlete. Listed at 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, he was a four-star high school recruit coming out of East St. Louis, Illinois — the No. 2 recruit in the state behind only edge defender A.J. Epenesa — and had offers from Alabama and Ohio State. His speed is instantaneous at the line of scrimmage and when he has the ball in his hands, he's able to hit another gear and pull away from defenders nearby.

His maturity level, meanwhile, has been an issue for him. He was dismissed from the Miami program by Mark Richt, who said at the time, "We have high standards for excellence, for conduct and for the commitment to the team for all of the young men who wear our uniform, and we will not waver from those standards." When a new coaching staff took over in 2019, he was welcomed back to the program . . . then suspended in October for two games for violating team rules.

If he can get with the Patriots program and adhere to everything they ask him to do, he has a real shot to make the roster and provide the team with an electric play-maker. But given his history, that's a sizable "if."

X-FACTOR

Marqise Lee told reporters earlier this month that he'd been working with Mick Lombardi as he gets caught up on the Patriots offense, and it sounded as though Lombardi had been handed the receiver coach's gig. There's been no official announcement by the team in terms of Lombardi's title, but if he has the receivers coach job then that's three in three years in New England. (Joe Judge, now head coach of the Giants, replaced Chad O'Shea as Patriots wideouts coach in 2019.)

Someone like Julian Edelman shouldn't be too severely impacted by the transition. But in a room that includes so much youth — including some intriguing undrafted rookies and the team's 2019 first-round pick — it'll be interesting to see how those players develop. Lombardi, son of former Patriots assistant Mike Lombardi, was most recently the assistant quarterbacks coach in New England. That's a title Lombardi held previously with the Jets.