Patriots

Bucs can't go all in on Patriots offense for Tom Brady, even with Bruce Arians

Bucs can't go all in on Patriots offense for Tom Brady, even with Bruce Arians

One of the most fascinating storylines to track this offseason, as we tried to determine where Tom Brady might end up, was who would be willing to absorb the Patriots offense and make it their own?

Scheme fit matters at the quarterback position. But the only two offenses in football that had play-callers with Patriots connections — Houston and Buffalo — had their quarterback jobs spoken for. 

What coaching staff, then, would be willing to take on the Patriots scheme for a 43-year-old quarterback? Because by all accounts, Brady would be wanting to take his scheme with him.

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"You don't, as Tom Brady, you don't go start all over somewhere else," Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, who played for three different teams, told me earlier this offseason. "That's not what you do when you're 42, 43 years old."

Even Brady's idol growing up, Joe Montana, said schematic familiarity would be critical.

"It's a process to go through, and it takes time to get used to the team," Montana told NFL Media's Mike Silver, describing a late-career transition from quarterbacking the 49ers to the Chiefs. 

"I was fortunate because (former Niners quarterbacks coach) Paul Hackett was there running the offense, and so I was pretty familiar with probably three-quarters of the offense going in. And, if they let [Brady] have his own offense, yeah, that makes it a little bit easier."

We know now that Tom Brady is headed to Tampa Bay. And we've been told that coach Bruce Arians will be a willing collaborator as he and Brady cook up the Bucs offense together. But that's exactly what it will be, it sounds like: a joint effort. 

Brady, in all likelihood, can't come in, plop down a binder with 20 years of Patriots terminology and concepts and expect it to be learned. Why? Because it wouldn't be up to only Arians to learn it. It'd be up to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and the rest of the offensive staff. It'd be up to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and every single one of Brady's new offensive teammates. 

"Without Josh McDaniels," former Niners and Lions coach Steve Mariucci told me in January, "what is Tom going to do? Go in and install the offense with the coaching staff?" 

That's, from a football operations perspective, the ugly side to acquiring Brady.

Even for Arians, who made it very clear at the combine last month that his team would pursue Brady, it's an issue. That's what he indicated in a conversation with Silver right around the same time he was openly tampering with Brady from a podium in Indianapolis.

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Silver, he relayed on Twitter this week, asked Arians if he would have to learn Brady's terminology if Brady signed with Tampa. 

"To paraphrase," Silver tweeted, "Arians said he would ask Brady if he wanted to master the Bucs' scheme... or if the QB wanted 20-plus players (some of whom, perhaps, were less gifted when it comes to football intelligence) to figure out the one to which he was accustomed."

"We'll probably meet in the middle," Arians told Silver. 

Does that mean that Brady will be executing seven-step drops and launching the football down the field at a high rate in 2020 — typically staples of Arians' offenses? Not necessarily. 

But Brady might have to pick up on his new team's verbiage and apply that to the concepts that he knows and loves rather than ask a couple dozen players to re-wire their brains. In an offseason where meeting and practice time could be limited due to COVID-19, that'd be a gargantuan ask.

So, then, on top of the hours he'll have to spend to get comfortable with his new coach, formulate a new routine, and get on the same page with new receivers, it sounds like Brady is going to have some homework to do.

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.