Patriots

Curran: Brady takes a licking and keeps on ticking

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Curran: Brady takes a licking and keeps on ticking

FOXBORO -- Two telling things happened Sunday, when Whitney Mercilus exploded off the left edge, motored past Nate Solder and forced a strip-sack fumble that teammate Jadeveon Clowney returned for a touchdown. 

The first, everyone could see immediately. Mercilus -- the 6-4, 254-pound, 27-year-old -- remained on the field in a state of disrepair while the 40-year-old Brady dusted himself off and walked to the sideline. 

The second, well, you need to watch it again to see why Tom Brady rarely misses games.

Watch what Brady does when he realizes he’s in Mercilus’ grasp. Once the ball is out, he braces his fall with both hands. Then, as he nears the ground, he spins his body so that he lands on his left side. 

On Wednesday, when Brady met with the media just three days after getting whacked around by the Texans in an eventual 36-33 Patriots win, I asked him about the punishment he took. 

“I’m feeling pretty good today,” he began. “Honestly, I mean, I know you guys think I’m crazy when I say it, but probably when I was younger it was a lot harder for me. Now, I actually feel better, faster, just based on the things that I do. Today I feel good. I feel good.”

On the long list of things Brady is hailed for, toughness doesn’t show up early enough. The belief that Brady whines for flags on late and low hits (he does) overshadows the fact that the punishment he absorbs is astronomical. 

For instance? Before the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Denver, two Denver defenders lamented that Brady complains too much. It dominated a news cycle.

When the game was played, Brady absorbed -- by some counts -- 25 hits. Click on this for a refresher on the beating he took that day.

Recalling that game, Denver defensive end Demarcus Ware said, “A couple of years ago, we sacked Tom four times and we hit him 20 times. Twenty times. The thing was, every time we hit him, he got back up. We hit Tom more times than any quarterback had been hit in any game that season, and he still had his team a two-point conversion away from tying the game late in the fourth quarter. The dude is relentless. Everybody knows what Tom Brady can do with the football. He has great arm strength. He’s accurate. He throws a great deep ball. But he can also take a hit.”

The alleged skinny on beating Brady is that you have to beat him up. And quarterback pressure no doubt helps to bring him back to near-mortal. But driving him from the game by driving him to the turf doesn’t work. 

Brady actually practices falling. During some workouts with his body coach Alex Guerrero, Brady will allow himself to be whacked with pads as he falls to mimic the hits he’ll take as he falls. He also has learned not to fight when he’s going to the ground, instead trying to make his body relax instead of tensing up. 

Through three games this year, Brady’s been sacked 10 times and -- according to NFL stats -- has taken 20 quarterback hits. That puts him on pace for 53 sacks and 107 hits. In 16 regular-season games last year, Patriots quarterbacks took 24 sacks and were hit 73 times. Brady was hit 19 times and sacked 9 more in the playoffs. 

Here are the quarterback hits and sack numbers for the Patriots back to 2009. The top number is regular season, the bottom number is playoffs.

2015

97 and 38

17 and 4

2014

82 and 26

17 and 4

2013

81 and 40

8 and 4

2012

67 and 27

13 and 1

2011

71 and 32

13 and 3

2010

52 and 25

7 and 5

2009

70 and 18

4 and 3

Brady understands that discretion is the better part of valor. On Wednesday, he said, “I think decision-making is important for all players. I tell the receivers all of the time, ‘You catch the ball in traffic. You’re a 190-pound receiver. You’ve got 240-pound linebackers. To run and take that amount of force for one extra yard and then you miss three games -- I don’t think that helps us much.’ 

“It’s the same as a quarterback,” he continued. “You stand in the pocket. You do have to learn how to find the way down in a way that you’ll be able to get up and try to play the next play, especially with your right shoulder. I think for me more than anything I try to land more on my left shoulder than my right shoulder because you’ve only got one right shoulder and I need this for a lot of throws, and the more hits you take on it then the harder it is to take. I just do the best I can do. There’s some luck involved, but let’s go again, baby. Let’s line them up and play.”

The Patriots won’t see a defense like the Texans every week. And the offensive line -- which has been somewhat shaky early -- figures to improve. In other words, Brady’s not getting hit 100 times and sacked 50 in 2017. But the fact that, at 40, he can still shake it off like nobody else while around the league, younger quarterbacks -- and defensive ends like Mercilus -- wind up writhing is an amazing thing.  

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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.