Patriots

How much of Harrison signing is about providing the Patriots with intel?

How much of Harrison signing is about providing the Patriots with intel?

FOXBORO -- James Harrison is here for a reason. That reason is not to provide the Patriots with Steelers intelligence. Not primarily, at least. 

We laid out the factors that led to Harrison's addition soon after the 39-year-old's signing was announced on Tuesday night. The long and short of it is that Patriots have had needs on the edge all season long. With Rob Ninkovich retired, Chris Long in Philadelphia, Jabaal Sheard in Indianapolis, Kony Ealy in Jersey with the Jets, and Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin and Derek Rivers injured, they've been searching for help at that spot for months. Harrison's signing could be critical for a group that has received valuable contributions recently from players like Eric Lee, Marquis Flowers and Deatrich Wise.

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"There’s been a lot of transition there," Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "We've put a lot of time into that position and the players themselves have put a lot of time in, even though it’s been a number of players. It’s probably getting close to double-digits now. We've got a lot of guys that have worked hard at those spots in various roles or assignments in different personnel groupings and so forth. We'll just keep working at it."

Rushing the passer. Setting the edge. Occasionally dropping into coverage when needed. That's why Harrison's in Foxboro. Not to unload the Steelers defensive playbook on Belichick's desk. 

"Well, we're playing the Jets this week," Belichick said when asked if Harrison could provide information leading up to a potential rematch between the AFC's top two teams. "I don’t really know what that has to do with it. Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t know."

The Patriots still have plenty to play for in Week 17. A hiccup against the Jets, though unlikely, could doom their chances at home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 

If the Patriots do happen to see the Steelers down the line, however, it would come as no surprise for the coaching staff to cross-reference some of their observations of Pittsburgh's defense with Harrison. Film study is the No. 1 indicator of what's to come -- the eye in the sky don't lie, as the saying goes -- and the Patriots have proven to be well-prepared offensively for the Steelers in recent years, averaging 34.6 points per game over their last five. Harrison could then fill in the gaps on any lingering questions Josh McDaniels or Tom Brady might have.

But even those types of nuggets aren't guaranteed to help. Take what happened in Week 14, for example. The Patriots were slated to face off with Jay Cutler and the Dolphins, and they had a valuable source of intel on Cutler in backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. The two spent the 2016 season together in Chicago, and Hoyer had some tidbits on his former teammate for Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. Cutler went on to have his best-ever game against the Patriots, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-20 win for Miami. 

ESPN analyst and former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma seemed to have it all figured out when he broke down the Harrison signing. 

"It's all intel," Vilma insisted. "James Harrison, you know how it is, great players, they're the last ones to know when they don't have it anymore. Everyone else sees it . . . Hell of a player, but right now he doesn't have it."

If Harrison ends up a healthy scratch through a run to the AFC title game, smiling in the Gillette Stadium press box all the while because he's screwing the team that screwed with his playing time, then Vilma will look prescient. But given the depth the Patriots have at Harrison's position, he could be in line to play -- and play fairly regularly -- in short order. Any intel he has on his former club seems like a side benefit.

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.