Patriots

Bill Belichick's masterstoke with Patriots: Getting them to move past anger of Malcolm Butler situation

Bill Belichick's masterstoke with Patriots: Getting them to move past anger of Malcolm Butler situation

Nobody was sweeping up confetti at this time last year, or complaining about the public using public transportation to get to another dangblasted parade.

We were taking the measure of how much damage the decision to bench Malcolm Butler would have on Bill Belichick’s coaching legacy.  

Scratched? Dented? Crumpled? Totaled?

It was going to leave some kind of mark. It had to. That’s what we thought.

We thought wrong. There’s been nary a mention that the Patriots, had it not been for the Butler benching, could very well be the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.

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There was barely a Butler mention in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.

That’s not because people didn’t want to be the turd in the punch bowl -- God knows there’s no reluctance to be that around here -- it’s because the Patriots’ Super Bowl return signified that, no matter what the Butler decision may have cost the Patriots last season, the agitation was eventually pocketed.

Why? Because, in the end, it wasn’t worth it to keep pulling out the grievance, staring at it, fixating on it, rolling it over in your hand, examining it and getting pissed off about it all over again.

Would it have been the same had Belichick gone through every facet of the decision to not use Butler? Opened the floor to questions? Solicited each player’s feelings?

Somehow, I doubt it.

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It’s ironic that the man who preceded Belichick, Pete Carroll, went about things very differently in Seattle after SB49. Everybody got to add their two cents on what the decision to throw instead of run cost them personally. Everybody got to hear explanation after explanation for why it happened.

Everybody got to pull out any other grudge they’d been holding prior to (again, ironically) Malcolm Butler’s interception and slap that on the table, too.

The sniping and bitterness never went away because it was allowed to get traction.

With the Patriots, it was Belichick the father taking the question, “Why?” from the family and saying, “Because I said so.”

And that was that.

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This highlights again a unique aspect of the Patriots dynasty that will be hard for another team to replicate. The ability to get buy-in from a team even when there is unresolved bitterness.

The ability to not just take a loss but take a preventable loss in the biggest game when players and coaches had the opportunity to reach the goal they’d worked for all season or their entire football lives.

Take it. Process it. Pocket it. Then start again.

Before Sunday, the last time a team lost the Super Bowl then returned the next season and won it was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. A team hadn’t even returned to the Super Bowl the season following a Super Bowl loss since the 1993 Buffalo Bills.

But this Patriots team, even after the agitations, even after losing three incredibly important skill position players from their offense (Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis), even after losing five times on the road and putting up non-competitive losses three times, this team which had every right to kick rocks about not winning last year and letting it carry over into this year . . . this team didn’t just get back to the Super Bowl, it won it.

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In the end, in a weird way, that actually burnishes Belichick’s legacy. It shows what an outlier he is as a leader, coach, team-builder and reader of team psychology.

Regardless of how poorly Butler practiced that week or played all season, when the Patriots had no answers in SB52, leaving him rotting on the bench after he’d played over 95 percent of the team’s snaps all season seemed an abomination. It was the polar opposite of “doing what’s best for the team.”

It didn’t make sense. Not just to the fans and media, to the players too. How could it not linger into this season?

The Malcolm Butler Decision is never going to disappear. It’s part of the New England Patriots’ story.

But what happened in the season after a Super Bowl win after a Super Bowl loss -- something that hadn’t occurred in almost 50 years -- that’s the rest of the story.

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Trading Antonio Brown to Colts could shake things up for Patriots, rest of AFC

Trading Antonio Brown to Colts could shake things up for Patriots, rest of AFC

After meeting with Steelers brass on Tuesday, it's a matter of "if" not "when" with Antonio Brown. 

Pittsburgh's star receiver, one of the league's best players of the last decade, is going to be traded. That much seems inevitable. But if the Steelers are reluctant to trade Brown within the division or -- as has been reported -- to the Patriots, then where might he end up? 

And where should Patriots fans want Brown to end up if they can't watch him in red, white and blue next season? 

If the Steelers are going to deal away their No. 1 wideout, there are some serious salary and salary-cap implications to consider. Brown is scheduled to count $22.1 million against the cap in 2019, and if the Steelers trade him before June 1 -- one would think the market for a trade would be impacted by what transpires in free agency and then the draft in early May -- they would carry over $21 million in dead money on their cap next season. If they trade him after the draft, after June 1, Brown's dead money would be a shade over $7 million. 

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OK so let's get into the candidates for Brown's services. Teams like the Niners, Lions and Seahawks have needs at receiver and the cap space to make the move.

Then there are the Jets, the team that Patriots fans may first gravitate toward when asked to fill in the blank: "I'd be OK with Brown going anywhere but . . . " 

And that makes sense. Why would any self-professed Patriots fan be amenable to the Jets adding one of the best weapons in the league? Brown will be 31 next season, but he's a four-time First Team All-Pro and he's racked up six straight 100-catch, 1,200-yard seasons. Unpredictable as he's been off the field of late, he's been the definition of a sure thing at the position over the last half-dozen years. 

But even with Brown in the mix in New York, and even with oodles of cap space, there's no guarantee the Jets become a real threat to the Patriots in the division after that kind of acquisition. Sam Darnold could make "the leap" as a second-year quarterback, but he'd still have very little else in the way of weaponry around Brown, and new coach Adam Gase would have to come up with a way to make it all work. Plenty of uncertainty there. 

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That's why Patriots fans might want to hope that Brown doesn't land in Indianapolis. The Colts won a playoff game last season with a young roster that is built around Andrew Luck and poised to improve. Not only should players like Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard continue to trend upward after impressive rookie seasons, but general manager Chris Ballard will have more cap space to play with than any other franchise this offseason ($118 million). 

If the Steelers are wary of contributing to a conference contender, then they wouldn't want to send Brown to Indianapolis. But if the Colts are still in the mix, Brown would make T.Y. Hilton a top-tier No. 2 target, and he'd potentially open up more room for tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle to work the middle of the field. 

Our buddy Albert Breer from Sports Illustrated said many times last season that the Colts had "dynasty potential" because of their young talent, their legitimate franchise quarterback, and their cap situation. Trading for Brown could very well accelerate the process.

Would it make Indianapolis the favorite to come out of the AFC next season? If not, it would almost certainly help them narrow the gap between themselves and the 2018 champs.

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One agent's view on Tom Brady's extension: Will the Patriots get a big discount?

One agent's view on Tom Brady's extension: Will the Patriots get a big discount?

We're not sure what Tom Brady's contract is going to look like for 2019. We anticipate the Patriots and their 41-year-old quarterback will get together to come to some kind of agreement on an extension in order to reduce what's scheduled to be a $27 million cap hit next season.

Robert and Jonathan Kraft joined Boston Sports Tonight during Super Bowl week and tried to assuage any concerns that the team and Brady wouldn't have a new deal in place by the fall. 

"Let's see what happens," Jonathan Kraft said, "when training camp starts."

Based on how Brady has handled contract negotiations previously, the assumption in many corners is that Brady will allow for an extension that will pay him below market value. Former NFL agent and CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry is firmly in that camp, telling us on The Next Pats Podcast that even though Brady has leverage, he probably won't maximize it. 

"I anticipate that Tom Brady's going to give them a discount again," Corry said. "Last time he got his market value was 2010. He signed an extension which made him the highest-paid player in the league at $18 million per year. Then when he started doing renegotiations -- which weren't just cap maneuvers -- in 2013, he started undercutting the market. He's at an age where you don't expect him to reverse course. So it's not a question of will he [give them a] discount, in my opinion. It's a question of how big of [a discount] will it be?"

Corry added: "I would be shocked if Tom Brady played hardball, but he does have leverage because he has the fifth-highest cap number in the league at $27 million, and if he played it out, then they'd have to stick a franchise tag on him as long as Father Time didn't catch up to him in a major way. And if they wanted to franchise him next year, it would be $32.4 million, and it's not like the Patriots have a ton of cap room to begin with . . . They will be getting a $5 million cap credit from the incentives added to Brady's contract that he didn't earn [in 2018] because the threshold was really high . . . Still, they're not in great shape cap-wise. Anything they can get to lower the cap number, which would be through an extension, they could really use the room."

For the Patriots, Corry argued, Brady's willingness to negotiate terms that benefit both sides has undoubtedly helped the team build around him. 

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"It's almost the equivalent of having a quarterback on a rookie contract from the standpoint of not taking what he's supposed to get," Corry said. "It works twofold: One, they have more cap room available than they ever would've had if he'd taken the route of practically every other quarterback in the league; and two, I know for a fact that they use it against other players in negotiations. It's like, 'Tom's not taking his full market value, so if he's not doing it why should you do it?' Some buy into it. Some don't. But that's another benefit that New England gets is that they get to use that in negotiations against other players."

So what kind of deal would give the Patriots some cap relief but still be in Brady's desired neighborhood? 

"If," Corry explained, "you chopped his base salary down to close to minimum and gave him a signing bonus similar to ones he's gotten in past extensions, $25-30 million, you could get probably $5, $6, $7 million in cap room for this year doing something that way."

Corry gets into greater detail on the types of extensions Brady could receive -- is a fully-guaranteed deal that would save the Patriots some money in play, is a rare salary de-escalator model worth pursuing? -- in The Next Pats Podcast, which you can listen to right here

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