Patriots

Curran: Did the Patriots hesitate to show their cards vs. Ravens?

Curran: Did the Patriots hesitate to show their cards vs. Ravens?

It was such an uncommon sight: the Patriots defense – suffocating since last December – getting summarily stomped by the Ravens running game.

It was so foreign that, in trying to come up with a reason for the defense allowing 210 rushing yards and 30 points, more than a few people wondered whether the Patriots didn’t show their whole bag of defensive tricks against Lamar Jackson and Co.


My initial reaction to that theory was that it was nuts. To borrow from Herm Edwards, “You play. To win. The game. Hello?”

This was Week 9, not Week 17 or the last game of the preseason. You empty the tool chest trying to find the right wrench to tighten on a team that’s having its way with you like Baltimore was.

But just to be sure, I asked Matt Cassel on our Patriots Talk Podcast this week whether a team would ever hold something back in a game against an opponent it MIGHT see in the postseason.

“No,” said Cassel. “I’ve never been a part of (a plan) where they said, ‘Let’s save this play. It’s a really good play and it might be the difference maker, but let’s save this play because we might play them later.’

“It’s never been that type of situation where they’re holding anything back,” he added. “If they have something that’s going to put them in a good position to win or an advantageous situation when they’re out there and you have a great third-down concept that you want to use that week, you’re gonna use it.”

Another reason that would be a horrible idea, especially against the Ravens? The 8-1 Patriots are, in essence, now just one game ahead of 6-2 Baltimore in the AFC standings. Because the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England, if the two teams finish with identical records, the Ravens would be the higher seed.

The only time I can recall the Patriots planning for the postseason during games of import was in 2015. In Week 16, a banged-up Patriots team went to New York with a conservative game plan and lost in overtime to the Jets. The next week, they put wind in the sails of a 5-10 Dolphins team under an interim coach by trying to hammer the ball on the ground early. They ran it 21 times in the first half, threw it just five, lost 20-10 and had to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game which they lost, 20-18.

The logic then, though, seemed to be trying to keep players healthy for the postseason and establishing a ground game after losing LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Their hand was somewhat forced.

But against the Ravens with a fully healthy team? No. They wanted the win and needed the win.

Cassel did allow that there’s one scenario where a team would hesitate to use something.

“Sometimes if there’s a really good concept that comes up during the week … you might hold it for down the road because you haven’t had a lot of reps with it,” he explained. “Guys aren’t familiar with the route concept or what we’re trying to accomplish with the release pattern or something like that. So you might not feel as comfortable having repped it just once or twice a week in practice. You might hold that for the next week because guys may not understand how this concept or scheme itself is gonna play out.

“But there’s only so many games in an NFL season and everybody goes out week in and week out and puts together their best game plan that they think is going to work,” he added. “The only time I’ve ever seen anything held back is when teams haven’t had enough time to prepare it. Other than that, everything is full-go. When you put that game plan together, the reason you’re doing it is you want to go out and win that game.”

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Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

All’s quiet on the Tom Brady front at the moment.

Perfectly reasonable.

In contract negotiations, the Patriots are traditionally a team that waits … and waits … and waits … and then gets down to business clinically and dispassionately.

If an impasse hits, their approach is often, “See what’s out there. We’ll leave the light on for ya.”

They’ve done that with Moss, McCourty, Hightower, Bruschi and many others over the years. All came back and re-signed after brief free agent tours. Will they do the same with Brady?

Perhaps. But there are two big problems the team faces if it decides to do that.

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First, the Patriots can’t sit in the parking lot drumming their fingers on the steering wheel while every other team is in the store, trying Brady on for size.

They need to get in and shop for a quarterback too just in case Brady does decide to go to Indy, Tampa, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Carolina, Washington, Chicago or Miami. Saving Brady’s spot until he’s ready to answer? Dice roll. 

Second problem? The $13.5M that hits New England’s 2020 salary cap if/when Brady becomes a free agent on March 18 at 4 p.m. is a wrench in the works.

(SKIP ON DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT THE BUSINESS BLAH, BLAH)

Need a refresher on why exactly that hit even exists? Here’s the simple summation from CBS’ Joel Corry where he explains the Patriots borrowing a bookkeeping strategy the Saints used with Drew Brees to give Brady a raise (not an extension) last August:

The Saints restructured Brees' contract last March for salary cap purposes by converting $16.2 million of Brees' $23 million in 2019 compensation into a fully guaranteed third day of the league year roster bonus. Since the roster bonus was fully guaranteed, it was treated like signing bonus under the salary cap where it was prorated over the life of the contract. The Saints added a 2021 contract year that also automatically voids on the last day of the 2019 league year. 

Brady's contract was reworked last August to raise his 2019 salary from $15 million to $23 million. Brees' most recent contracts with the Saints were seemingly used as a template in Brady's renegotiation. Two contract years for 2020 and 2021 with $30 million and $32 million salaries automatically voiding on the last day of the 2019 league year were included for cap purposes, so Brady's fully guaranteed $20.25 million roster bonus could be prorated over three years at $6.75 million annually through 2021 instead of just 2019. The renegotiated contract also contains a clause prohibiting the Patriots from designating Brady as a franchise or transition player.

The Patriots can’t play the same financial shell game. The expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement means teams can’t kick the financial can down the road into phony future years as the Patriots and Saints did with Brady and Brees.

If a new CBA is agreed to prior to free agency, that’s good news.

If not, they can play a new game with different toys using option bonuses or completion bonuses.

The issue with that is, the $13.5M cap hit from the voidable years and a competitive compensation plus making sure there’s room to get Brady better offensive support means a multi-year deal has to be done because his 2020 cap hit would be astronomical.

If a multi-year pact wasn’t what the Patriots wanted to do with a 42-year-old, they won’t love doing it with a 43-year-old. And if they do agree to a three-year deal, the team will then be in the uncomfortable spot of having to release Brady if he wants to keep on past 2020.

There is an existing sliver of cap-relief hope for the Patriots. According to our friend Miguel Benzan of the Boston Sports Journal (a crutch for me whenever I write cap-related stories), the Patriots could get credited for past charges against the cap related to Antonio Brown ($9M) and Aaron Hernandez ($3.25M).

I’m trying to find out if the team is anticipating that and/or actively trying to recoup. It would be a boon if that $12.25M were credited back before March 16, though, since it would nearly offset the Brady dead dough.

(REJOIN HERE IF YOU SKIPPED THE BUSINESS BLAH, BLAH)

So where do things currently stand? After conversations over the past few days, this is my understanding of where things are.

Negotiations will begin "in a couple of weeks." I interpret that as during or immediately after the NFL Combine which starts about February 26 and concludes March 1.

By that time, Brady should have back-channeled his way to an understanding of what’s out there. Last week, I wondered whether it was advantageous for the Patriots if teams did make their pitches to Brady before "legal tampering" begins on March 16.

My understanding is that the Patriots aren’t worried about other team’s financial pitches. Their business with Brady revolves around the direction of the 2020 offensive personnel,  Brady getting some input on that and Brady’s role in the team’s future. They aren’t going to be super-vigilant about tampering. 

Something worth noting is there is very little rancor right now. The situation is what it is. The sides are going to work to make it work. Why they are here, what could have been done to avoid this, who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s to blame? I’m not sensing it.

There’s been plenty in the past. Now – with Brady having the freedom to say, “No thanks, it’s been great…” and the team truly being in the “year-to-year” contractual situation they wanted, nobody seems to have an active resentment. Also, I think the gravity of what may loom – the specter of a historic 20-year run ending – has added an air of solemnity.

I’ve also heard we shouldn’t be expecting TOM BRADY FREE AGENT TOUR 2020: COAST-TO-COAST WITH THE GOAT! If Brady hits free agency, he may try to set up meetings at one location instead of creating a circus. That’s a “what I’m hearing…” so take it for what that’s worth.

Reiterating what I’ve previously reported but have had again mentioned, the “Patriots are willing to go north of $30M” report wasn’t something either side loved.

For the Patriots, it created a false expectation before any negotiations began and, from the perspective of the Brady camp, it missed the point of what his main issue is. 

Also, while negotiations haven’t begun, the team is plotting a course for adding players that fit Brady’s strengths to help on offense whether through free agency or trade. Tight end is a position of emphasis.

Finally, if Brady goes to another team? The people he’ll leave behind in Foxboro will be highly, highly motivated to have a 2020 season that will make Brady wonder if he made the right decision.

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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