Patriots

Great Patriots Debates: Is Patrick Chung a Patriots Hall of Famer?

Great Patriots Debates: Is Patrick Chung a Patriots Hall of Famer?

When he's talking about his own team, Bill Belichick doesn't typically toss around compliments cavalierly. He'll talk up opposing safeties and punters week after week, but his own guys have to work a little harder for their podium plaudits.

That's why it raised some eyebrows when Belichick called Patrick Chung "one of the best players in the league" back in 2018.

"Chung, I've talked about Chung a lot," Belichick said at the time. "The guy is a really good football player. He's one of the best players in the league, one of the best players on our team. He does a lot of things very well and has done them that way for a long time. We're lucky we have him. He's an outstanding player in all the things that he does. We put a lot on him, and he always comes through."

Belichick has called Chung one of the best tacklers he's ever coached, and Chung is consistently mentioned in the same breath as other core Patriots when Belichick waxes poetic about toughness or work ethic.

But Chung's importance to the Patriots has been highlighted in more tangible ways than compliments from his coach; he's signed four contract extensions with the team since re-signing in New England in 2014 after a year abroad with the Eagles.

Does all that equal a Patriots Hall of Fame nod, eventually? Let's delve a little further into Chung's qualifications.

A second-round pick in 2009, he was part of a wave of young additions that helped reboot the Patriots dynasty along with fellow second-round pick Sebastian Vollmer and 2010 selections Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman, another member of the 2009 draft class, of course made his presence felt a handful of years after being taken in the seventh round.

Chung was a Week 1 starter in his second season and remained a near every-down player until midway through 2012. It was then that he started to see his snap-count dialed back, and he played a total of three defensive snaps in two playoff games that year before the Patriots lost at home to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

A free agent after the season, Chung signed with the Eagles, reuniting him former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, but that relationship didn't last long. He was released after the 2013 season and came back to the Patriots with the promise that things would be different in his second go-round under Belichick. 

"For a combination of reasons -- I'd say a big part of it [being] mistakes that I personally made -- it just didn't work out the way that we had hoped it would," Belichick said of Chung's first four years. "But we got it right the second time."

No longer used as a deep safety -- Patriots fans will remember he was on the scene with Sterling Moore when Eli Manning threw the pass of his life to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI -- Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia deployed Chung closer to the line of scrimmage almost exclusively. There they could take advantage of Chung's aggressive demeanor, his tackling, and his desire to be closer to the action to use him as the queen piece on their defensive chess board week after week.

Need him to cover tight ends or running backs? Chung could do that. Want him to play in the slot? Done. He's a safety by trade but he's actually become a model of the new-age linebacker in the NFL. He can be found at the second level of the Patriots defense on a weekly basis, filling gaps in the running game and playing like an off-the-ball 'backer at about 210 pounds -- athletic enough to cover in the passing game but stout enough to swallow up runs in his direction.

Chung has rarely come off the field over the last four seasons, with his defensive playing-time percentages not dipping below 89 percent since 2015, yet he's found it in his reserves to serve as a core special-teamer as well. He's even returned kicks and punts in emergency scenarios.

Never made a Pro Bowl. Never been an All-Pro. But as one of only three defensive starters for each of the team's last three Super Bowl wins -- along with Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower -- Chung has undoubtedly been one of the most critical cogs in Belichick's defensive machine since his return from Philly. To me, that's a team Hall of Famer.

He's missing some of the personal honors many other team Hall of Famers have been given, you say? 

One of the subjects of one of our most recent Debates, Kevin Faulk, proved you don't have to have Pro Football Hall of Fame credentials to be considered exemplary of the traits necessary to don a red jacket. Like Faulk, Chung's on-the-field leadership and his fit in a vital role to championship teams makes him worthy. Like Faulk, who had a hard time early in his career getting a stranglehold on a role, the redemption portion of Chung's story might help his cause.

The only question (in my mind) is . . . when? 

There's already a bit of a logjam to enter the Hall. Patriots greats like Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour -- players with championships and individual accolades to their names -- have waited years for their inductions. Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski all should get in quickly after they're eligible. Then there are players who are still active -- Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater, Edelman, McCourty and Hightower -- who should be voted in in short order.

With only one player getting selected every year, all those names may all get their day before Chung. But just because he'll have to wait doesn't mean he's any less deserving.

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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.