Did you know today (Tuesday) is the International Day of Happiness?
Cheese, willow trees, pool basketball in the pool, a newly-mowed-lawn and briefly turning off my headlights while driving down a dark, narrow street to scare my passengers. Those are things that make me happy.
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It’s good timing.
The first few days of NFL free agency (and the legalized flirting that preceded it) created a level of unhappiness in New England because of all the exports.
All made stupid money that the Patriots really couldn’t ante up, but the contributions of Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Butler were such that a shrug and “What are ya gonna do...?” would have been an insufficient response.
So there was flipping out.
But in honor of IDOH, let’s look at imports and rank them in order of projected usefulness. It’s a happy exercise because there’s upside to each of the six signings.
A league source told me this is a Patriots 1.0 type of signing – one of those high-character players who has a well-defined strength as an edge-setter/pass-rusher. When the Patriots brought in James Harrison at the end of the 2017 season, that was their acknowledgment they didn’t have a complementary edge player opposite Trey Flowers. Clayborn’s a decade younger than Harrison, has been durable and – at 6-3, 280 – has plenty of size to bow up when attacked on the ground. The team never sufficiently replaced Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long last year (their planned move of Dont'a Hightower to the edge went kaput when he had to move back to linebacker and then got hurt). Clayborn should help do that.
McCourty was having one of the best seasons of a good career in Cleveland before an ankle injury in practice knocked him out of action last October. So, it stands to reason that there’s plenty left in the tank for Devin McCourty’s twin brother as he joins the Patriots on a very manageable deal ($3 million). He’s a free agent at the end of the year. The Super Bowl was an embarrassment for the Patriots defense. For reasons still unexplained, the team couldn’t risk putting a former Pro Bowl corner who’d played 98 percent of his team’s snaps all year on the field. And the resulting Malcolm Butler Shuffle which put Patrick Chung out of position and Jordan Richards and Jonathan Bademosi on the field cost the team a title. It boils down to Bill Belichick not believing he could count on Butler. Whatever. Jason McCourty’s an Eagle Scout, he’s never played in a playoff game and he’s happy to be in New England. He could be equal to or better than Eric Rowe and his presence – along with Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones – gives the team nice corner depth.
This is like the McCourty deal in a way. Just as the Patriots' patience ran out with Butler, so too did it run out with Alan Branch. And vice versa, it seemed to me. The offbeat Branch was an incredibly impactful and valuable defensive tackle for the Patriots. Belichick gushed about how Branch was far-and-away their most impactful defensive lineman in 2016. And by 2017 he was a healthy scratch several times and was in street clothes for the Super Bowl while LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi ran wild. Shelton is a decade younger and while he’s smaller than the 6-6, 350-pound Branch (Shelton’s “just” 6-2, 335), he also isn’t world/NFL-weary in the same way Branch seemed to be. As the 12th overall pick in 2015, Shelton didn’t make the impact expected there. We’ve heard scheme and the Browns’ general suckitude as being the reason, but some of it has to come back to Shelton too who – Cleveland writers told me – has a tendency to lose technique in games and wear down. Huge upside potential at a position of need.
Kick returners have diminishing importance in the NFL thanks to the rule changes of the past few years but they aren’t extinct yet. And Patterson is among the most explosive in the league. Dion Lewis had a 103-yard kickoff return last year. He averaged 21.1 on his other 22 returns. Patterson averaged 26.3. He can also cover punts which the Patriots will need if they intend to let Matt Slater go. His presence on offense will command attention as a gadget guy (jet sweeps, jailbreak screens) and downfield decoy. He also has had some ballhandling issues so that’s worth watching as well. Here's Phil Perry on what the Patriots are getting in Patterson.
Tobin was a walk-on at the University of Iowa. He was an undrafted free agent that made the Eagles in 2013. I mention this as proof the guy – who has now spent five seasons in the NFL – has a penchant for doing more than anticipated. The 6-foot-6 Tobin isn’t going to replace Nate Solder. I don’t think the Patriots are pretending that he can. But with Solder gone and Cam Fleming/La’Adrian Waddle both still free agents, the Patriots need reinforcements not just at starter but as depth. Tobin will serve as that. Greg Bedard at the Boston Sports Journal (subscription required) went deep on Tobin. In short, Matt Tobin draws a shrug from me.
Poor Jeremy Hill. The fumble Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier forced Hill to commit in the 2016 AFC Divisional Playoffs led to impossibly anguished wailing from Hill and a satisfyingly painful loss for Hill’s detestable Bengals. It also allowed the Patriots to defeat the just-as-loathsome Steelers in the AFC Championship a week later. None of that has anything to do with what Hill may bring to the Patriots. But the fumble perhaps led to the drafting of Joe Mixon last April which led to Hill realizing his Cincy days were numbered and may have led to his deciding to have ankle surgery which Marvin Lewis strongly disagreed with Hill having. Hill, 25, comes to the Patriots as a goal-line, short-yardage threat who scored 29 touchdowns in 46 games for Cincy before last year’s abbreviated, low-impact season. He’ll either be better than Mike Gillislee or worse and the guy who loses that showdown probably gets released.