Will the Patriots be able to pull out of this swoon?


Will the Patriots be able to pull out of this swoon?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Which phrase best describes the New England Patriots' approach on Sunday against the Dolphins?

Choice 1: The Patriots tried desperately to win and the fact they couldn’t is humiliating, damning and cause for panic. Concern level: This.

Choice 2: The Patriots didn’t care if they won or lost and the fact that they did indeed lose to a five-win team that quit on its season weeks ago is not the least bit concerning to the Patriots and shouldn’t be for anyone else either. Concern level: This

Choice 3: The Patriots wanted to win but they were going to do it on their very specific terms. If they did win, terrific. But if they didn’t, they were very prepared for that eventuality, having left two of their best defenders at home and running an offense ripped from the 1940s. Concern level: This.

Did you go with 3? Tell me you went with 3. Because it had to be 3.

Tom Brady practically announced it was 3 on Wednesday during his press conference when he was asked about home-field advantage and said, “I think it’s better to win this game than to lose this game because you obviously love to always play at home because of communication and so forth. But whoever wins in the playoffs is the team that plays the best on that day, not whether home or away. It’s going to be who plays the best.”

Sunday, with an exasperated smile, Brady said something similar when asked about the fact the Patriots are stumbling into the playoffs.

“We just gotta play well two weeks from now,” he said. “That’s all that really matters. It’s gonna be one game, we gotta play well. That’s what our whole season’s gonna come down to. Nothing over the last six weeks is gonna matter. Nothing over the last 16 weeks is gonna matter. What’s gonna matter is how well we play in two weeks and we gotta play as well as we can.”

Allow me to take some liberties and expand on what I imagine Brady would have liked to say . . . 

“If you want to be stupid enough to think that crap-ass team beating us today is going to have lasting impact, have fun with that. But we aren’t ‘us.’ We haven’t been ‘us’ since Julian left. I don’t know if we’ll ever be ‘us’ again this year -- probably we won’t -- but I think we’ll be closer to ‘us’ when we play whatever passes for an AFC playoff team this season waddles into Foxboro. So we’ll take our chances then. I’ll also tell you this: if I see anybody affiliated with our team peeing down his leg because now we may have to go out to Denver with a chance to get to the Super Bowl, then s***, I don’t even know if I won’t to go to the Super Bowl with a team like that. Because we can kick their ass too. Here. There. Foxboro High. We’ll be fine because we have a coach who knows how to go to the whip better than any coach you’ve ever seen. And believe me, he’s going to the whip now. Not guaranteeing anything. But I’ve played in almost 250 regular-season games and this one probably comes in around 239 in terms of being representative of who we are and what we can do. We left Hightower at HOME, for God's sake! And Jones. And we gave the ball to Steven Jackson -- bless his soul -- 14 times and let Diamond Jimmy finish the game. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to win. It was that we didn’t have the horses. So we scuffled along and hoped we’d pull it out. We didn’t. But I’d still caution you to not bet against us in two weeks. Or ever.”

Here’s the issue, though. Will the Patriots be able to shake loose from the Great Post-Thanksgiving Swoon once the injured guys get better?

By how much do they improve defensively when Hightower, Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Rob Ninkovich take the field with two weeks of healing behind them?

A lot.

Offensively, will the return of Edelman and the physical improvement of Danny Amendola give Brady more options, and will the return of Sebastian Vollmer help give him more time?

That proposition is more dubious.

The dropoff has been so precipitous and the current situation is so bleak -- especially in terms of protection and run-blocking -- that the return of Edelman probably won’t be the magic bullet we all thought it would be a few weeks ago. That the Patriots could employ the game plan they did Sunday and then -- when they have Brady drop back for the first time all day -- practically turn Ndamukong Suh loose is incomprehensible.

That would be one of the many things the Patriots “need to work on” as player after player said after the game.

“We need the week to work on a lot of things we haven’t been doing well in the second half of the season,” said Brandon LaFell. “Getting those guys back healthy, that’ll be a big plus, but we still need to work on a lot of things. The guys that are healthy, the guys that have been playing, too many mistakes on offense, defense and special teams. Luckily we got the bye week we can work on a lot of stuff and get better.”

The Patriots have been waiting for the playoff cavalry to come over the hill for a while.

Brady summed it up quite nicely when he said, “We have to play well going forward. We’re at where we’re at based on a lot of things and we have to play well going forward if we want to make anything of our season.” 

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.