Patriots

Behind Brady, will Patriots stick with Hoyer? Keep Etling?

Behind Brady, will Patriots stick with Hoyer? Keep Etling?

We begin our series of Patriots' post-mini-camp, pre-training camp position-by-position assessments: Current situation, spots available, who’s vying for those spots. Today, quarterback:

THE SITUATION
Tom Brady was the league MVP for the third time, and his play at 40 years old was good enough that the Patriots took a pass on grabbing his successor in the first couple of rounds of this year's draft. Despite taking a beating early in the season, and despite battling through a variety of injuries throughout 2017, Brady led the league in passing yardage and was third when it came to quarterback rating. He was fifth in completion percentage and fifth in yards per attempt. He's said before he'll retire when he sucks. He's a long way off. Backing him up are Brian Hoyer and seventh-round pick Danny Etling, who hails from LSU. 

SPOTS CLAIMED
One, really. Brady is the starter. After that...? The Patriots will obviously carry a backup. And they could carry two, although in recent seasons they've opted to minimize the clutter at this position. In 2016, the Patriots carried Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. It was the first time they'd carried three quarterbacks since 2011, when Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett sat behind Brady. They could roll with three again. But seeing as how the league-wide interest in Etling before the draft wasn't exactly overwhelming, perhaps the Patriots will be able to stash him on the practice squad following training camp. Hoyer is the clear favorite to serve as Brady's backup. 

WHO'S DOING WHAT
So is there any chance Etling actually supplants Hoyer as the No. 2? With a good arm and a turnover allergy (two picks in 13 games as a senior for the Tigers), Etling has some interesting qualities to work with. Plus his intangibles seem to be excellent. He's a worker. (He's an Eagle Scout. Seriously.) And he's gone out of his way to get in some extra reps after practice - usually with fellow rookie Braxton Berrios -- in order to squeeze as much as possible from his time on the field. Etling dealt with four different offenses in college (he transferred from Purdue to LSU in 2015), and he's thought to have a strong football IQ. Still, it's going to be Hoyer's job in all likelihood. The 32-year-old's experience in the system and NFL starting experience (37 career starts) make him a valuable asset. Hoyer's also shown a willingness to take a leadership role in practices Brady hasn't participated in. He's been the No. 1 in those sessions and acted like it -- correcting teammates when they run an incorrect route, celebrating with them when they execute. That may help him if he's thrown into an emergency situation as Patriots starter at some point in 2018. 

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Eric Decker sees a "good fit" with the New England Patriots

Eric Decker sees a "good fit" with the New England Patriots

With less than a month until the start of training camp, free agent wide receiver Eric Decker is still without a team. Speaking with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Decker mentioned the New England Patriots as potentially a great fit playing under Josh McDaniels. 

Decker, 31, was selected by the Denver Broncos in the third round (87th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft when McDaniels was head coach. He spent his first four seasons with the Broncos, accumulating over 3000 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns. His last season with the team was the year they lost in the Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks. 

Decker then signed a five-year $36.25 million contract with the New York Jets. He played two full seasons with the Jets before suffering a season ending shoulder injury in the early part of the 2016 season. He was cut later that summer and signed a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans. 

Last season with the Titans, Decker played in 16 games, pulling in 54 receptions for 563 yards and one touchdown. 

The Patriots are projected to have a completely different receiving core than a year ago. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola are gone via trade and free agency respectively. Julian Edelman missed the entirety of last season with a knee injury, and faces a four-game suspension after testing positive for PED's. Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and Cordarrelle Patterson are the new additions joining Rob Gronkowski and Malcolm Mitchell in the passing game. 

There is no information confirming the Patriots mutual interest in Decker, while the veteran wideout has reportedly met with the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders regarding his services next season. 

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Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Curran: Brady's waffling is a little wearying

Somebody needs to tug on Tom Brady’s sleeve and let him know that fun’s fun, but he’s drifting into Brett Favre territory now.

Forty-eight hours hadn’t passed since the Oprah Orchard Interview in which Brady said his retirement was coming “sooner rather than later” and there he was on Instagram Tuesday afternoon insinuating in Spanish that he’s back to playing until he’s 45

Given that he’s 40 right now and his contract expires at the end of the 2019 season, 45 seems like later not sooner.

That’s standard fare this offseason.

There was Couch Brady in the Super Bowl aftermath, wondering what he’s doing it for anyway.

We had Robert Kraft in May saying that “as recently as two days ago [Brady)] assured me he’d be willing to play six, seven more years.

MORE TOM E. CURRAN

Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, said in March, “I think this idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons -- I mean, this is just me, the guy who has been around him for a while now -- I’d have a hard time envisioning that, to be candid. But we’ll see.”

Last month, Brady said he’s negotiated “two more seasons” with his wife, Gisele Bundchen.

During TvT, he said he was chasing “two more Super Bowls. That can be shorter than five or six years.” 

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."

I’m not feeling the firm. Nor, it seems, are most people who have grown weary of the ping-ponging expiration dates Brady keeps floating.

I think you have to be either absent-minded or amazingly entitled to say with a straight face that Brady “owes” the Patriots, the fanbase or the media a hard answer on his retirement.

The guy has generated billions of dollars for the franchise. He’s provided 37 games -- more than three seasons -- of postseason football for the fans to revel in. He’s created almost two decades worth of content for us in the media to gravy train off of.

Until this past calendar year, Brady hasn’t outwardly put his family or personal “brand” anywhere near the top of the pedestal where football and the Patriots resided.

Now that he’s done so, some people (read: “morons”) don’t merely consider it jarring, they feel it rises to a betrayal of the bygone Brady, of Simple Tom and The Patriot Way, which was always a naïve concept anyway.

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Fortunately, Brady has a ways to go to match Favre’s Hamlet routine.

The former Packers quarterback started noodling about retirement after the 2005 season. Same thing after 2006. After the 2007 season -- in March of 2008 -- he actually announced his retirement.

Annnnnd by July he’d changed his mind and wanted back in. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers more than ready to succeed Favre, told Favre to screw. He did. Favre played three more seasons with the Jets and Vikings, then retired. The three-year post-Green Bay wandering hardly seemed worth it and the annual “is he in or is he out?” conversation was a tedious exercise.

By comparison, Brady has years of waffling to go. But he’s definitely come out of the blocks fast with crazy promises of longevity.

Last May, barely 13 months ago, Brady was telling ESPN’s Ian O’Connor that he didn’t see why he shouldn’t keep playing past 45 if he still felt good.

“I’ve always said my mid-40s,” Brady said. "And naturally that means around 45. If I get there and I still feel like I do today, I don't see why I wouldn't want to continue."

And 50? Why not?

"If you said 50, then you can say 60, too, then 70,” Brady said in the same interview. “I think 45 is a pretty good number for right now. I know the effort it takes to be 40. ... My love for the sport will never go away. I don't think at 45 it will go away. At some point, everybody moves on. Some people don't do it on their terms. I feel I want it to be on my terms.”

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That interview was one of a handful Brady did with the aim being to promote the TB12 Method. There was ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the book, the app and the Tom vs. Time docuseries, which began filming last summer. Having won his fifth ring, the time was right to maximize visibility. If that approach ran contrary to Patriots customs, well . . . sorry. What’s the worst that can happen?

How about a poorly-concealed, season-long pissing contest in which Brady was assailed for having changed and the coaching staff was assailed for being restrictive and unreasonable?

Which spawned Contemplative Tom, sitting on his couch during the final installment of TvT pondering what he’s doing it all for. 

I’m not sure Brady really appreciates how big this story -- his ultimate retirement -- truly is. Not just here but to sport in general. He should; he grew up rooting for Joe Montana. He understands Jordan and Tiger and Kobe.

Just before the Super Bowl, he was asked about retiring and he replied, “Why does everyone want me to retire?”

Was he being disingenuous? Or does he not get that his and the Patriots stranglehold on the NFL isn’t like Jordan’s on the NBA. It’s closer to Godzilla’s on Japan, and that every other NFL team and fanbase is counting the seconds until he walks.

That’s why every throat-clearing, every pause, every social media “like” is scrutinized for clues as to which way he’s ultimately leaning.

Maybe he doesn’t care. “Take Nothing Personal” is one of The Four Agreements. But the mixed messages -- over a period of time -- probably don’t help the brand.

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