Patriots

Belichick wouldn't make a trade like the Julio Jones one; what if he did?

Belichick wouldn't make a trade like the Julio Jones one; what if he did?

This week, an excerpt from Michael Holley’s “War Room” resurfaced, as it ties two of the biggest names in Super Bowl LI together in a fascinating way. 

With the Falcons prepared to move up 21 slots in 2011 by trading two first-round picks, a second and two fourths across two drafts in order to select Julio Jones, Bill Belichick told former New England colleague and then/current Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff it was a bad idea. 

“Thomas, I’m just telling you as a friend,” Belichick said. “I wouldn’t do it.” 

Holley detailed that the Pats weren’t as blown away by Jones as other teams were, but he also noted that the Pats didn’t think taking a receiver that high provided great value considering the depth of that position in that draft class. Belichick thought Jonathan Baldwin, in Holley’s words, was "just as good if not better than Jones.” Whoops. 

(Tom E. Curran also shared a story about Belichick’s thoughts on drafting receivers high from 2001. During that season, Curran asked Belichick why he hadn’t opted to get Drew Bledsoe a receiver in the previous draft when David Terrell was on the board at No. 6. Belichick responded by asking Curran who the best rookie receiver was at the time and answering it himself: Chris Chambers, a late second-round pick. As Belichick saw it, it was harder to find an elite defensive lineman -- such as Richard Seymour, whom the Pats took with the pick -- at the top of the draft than a potentially elite receiver.) 

Right now (and especially considering how poorly the Browns spent those picks), Dimitroff’s gutsy trade is looking pretty smart, but was Belichick warranted in advising against it? He had teams far more stacked than the 2010 Falcons leading up to that point, yet he didn’t throw all his picks at one player, receiver or otherwise. 

What if he did? Who would have been where? Who would have won what? Admittedly, these are major hypotheticals that take giant steps into Nonsense Town. There’s no saying such trades could have even been made, but hey, this is a 13-day stretch without games. Plus, you read mock drafts. 

Using the pieces of that trade -- a late first-round pick, a second-round pick, a first the next year and fourths in two years -- here’s a look at which Patriots would have never ended up in New England had the Pats ever made a splash as big as the Falcons did in 2011. 

2004: Larry Fitzgerald, third overall

If the Pats traded the first of their two late firsts in 2004 (No. 21), they would have missed out on Vince Wilfork, who played a big role in two Super Bowl championships. The trickle-down effect would have been interesting as well, as having Larry Fitzgerald in 2006 might have meant another Super Bowl and, in turn, a lack of the receiver-heavy offseason that followed in which they added Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. 

But wait! That’s not it. If the Pats moved those picks, they also wouldn’t have gotten Logan Mankins in the first round the next year. They also spent a 2005 fourth-rounder on James Sanders, who proved to be a player. 

2005: Braylon Edwards, third overall

Man, thank goodness they didn’t have designs on anything like that. If the Pats traded a Jones-like haul to move up and take Edwards, it would have meant no Mankins, Sanders, Laurence Maroney (kind of a blessing) or Stephen Gostkowski. The Patriots ended up trading their second-rounder in 2005, but they drafted Ellis Hobbs with one of the picks they got back from the Ravens. 

And if there’s confusion as to why they’d be going for high-end wide receivers in these make-believe scenarios given that they had Deion Branch and David Givens, the Falcons had Roddy White in his prime. Tony Gonzalez wasn't a bad target either. Again, you read mock drafts. Ease up. 

2007: Calvin Johnson, second overall/LaRon Landry, sixth overall

This is roundabout as hell, but it would mean either no Brandon Meriweather (whom the Pats chose 24th that year) or no Jerod Mayo (the Pats traded the 28th pick to the 49ers for a 2008 first, which ended up being seventh overall; they moved down to take Mayo at No. 10). That 2008 draft in which they drafted Mayo also had the Spygate punishment, so they didn’t have the 31st overall pick. 

The Pats also didn’t have picks in the second or fourth rounds that year. They traded their second and a seventh for some guy named Welker. Their fourth went to Oakland for Moss. In the fourth round of the 2008 draft, they took Jonathan Wilhite. 

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

"I knew I had to have it totally taken off of my body."

In April, that's what Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser told WBZ's Steve Burton about a controversial Three Percenters tattoo on his left arm that gained instant notoriety after he was drafted by New England.

Well, it appears he has followed through on that promise.

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According to TMZ Sports, the 23-year-old has had the tattoo removed. The report states that Rohrwasser started the painful removal process right after the NFL Draft.

After the Patriots selected the Marshall kicker in the fifth round of the draft, there was a public outcry about the tattoo displaying the logo of the right-wing militia group, which has been described as racist and anti-government. Rohrwasser had said he got the tattoo when he was 18 as a way to support the military, but didn't realize its other use.

"It's shameful that I had it on there ignorantly," Rohrwasser told Burton. "I'm sorry for all my (friends) and family that have to defend me. Putting them in that compromising position is one of the biggest regrets I'll ever have. To them, I'm sorry. I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that's not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out."

Though he might still face questions about the tattoo when the Patriots open training camp later this month, removing the tattoo should keep the issue from being a huge distraction during his first NFL season.

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

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Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

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WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.