Patriots

Matt Cassel: Why Mike Vrabel's familiarity with Patriots can't be overstated

Matt Cassel: Why Mike Vrabel's familiarity with Patriots can't be overstated

I’ve known Mike Vrabel since I came into the league in 2005.

He’s been a good friend of mine, and my family is really close with his. When we both got traded from the Patriots to the Chiefs in 2008, I was excited because I knew my buddy was coming with me. 

We actually lived right down the street from each other, and it was a blast.

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We all knew Mike would become a coach at the end of his playing career. He knew the game so well and was so smart that he was always a coach on the field.

When we were in New England, he would join the scout team against the starting offense. He didn’t have to; he was a starter on defense. 

But he would love playing safety in 7-on-7 drills and messing with the quarterbacks, giving a disguise, all that stuff. He did it all.

He was one of those guys who just knew the game. So, none of us were surprised when he went into coaching.

I know that around the building, these coaches take a lot of pride in getting their team prepared for a game like this.

I'm sure Bill Belichick had a huge influence on Mike as he came up the coaching ranks to land with the Tennessee Titans. I can’t speak to whether or not they still speak regularly, but I'm sure they have a good relationship.

That said, any coach who comes from Belichick's coaching tree takes a lot of pride in going up against him. Not only because he's their mentor, but also because they understand that to be considered an elite program, you have to beat the best, and the best has been New England.

The other part of it? Mike and Bill have a lot of familiarity with each others' systems -- their defensive schemes and even in many cases their offensive schemes. You've seen it throughout the course of Belichick’s career: He's just above .500 (14-13) against his former assistants and players. 

It’s an interesting concept, because nobody else has had that success playing the Patriots. I can’t put my finger on one thing, but I know that around the building, these coaches take a lot of pride in getting their team prepared for a game like this.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Mike should have a better understanding of Belichick’s general philosophy: Will he try to eliminate a certain player? Are they going to go after this kid A.J. Brown and double him to force Tennessee to utilize the tight end and the running back?

On the other side of the ball, Mike and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was also with the Patriots for a number of years, should have a good feel for New England's protection schemes and the different blitzes they can use against it.

You definitely have a better knowledge of all that stuff having been in the Patriots' system.

It's always a chess match, though.

Since both teams know each other very well and are familiar with each others' schemes, there are little wrinkles they can throw in.

The Patriots' offense, for example, might use more seven-man protection because they know Tennessee is a heavy blitzing team.

The coaches might watch the film and say to the offensive line, "This guy is a known blitzer, so we'll base our protection scheme off him."

Based on that familiarity, I think we'll see a really good game Saturday night. The Titans are 7-3 since Ryan Tannehill took over, so this is a good football team that's going to give the Patriots a really tough challenge.

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Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.

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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In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

If Robert Kraft ever commissioned a sculptor to carve “10 Patriots Commandments” you’d be sure to find, “Thou Shalt Not Tamper With Our Employees” somewhere on that stone tablet.

Throughout Kraft’s ownership and Bill Belichick’s stewardship of the football operations, loyalty has been rewarded and betrayal punished.

From January 1997, when the Jets were monkeying around with Bill Parcells when the Patriots were getting ready for Super Bowl 31 against the Packers, through June 2019, when the Texans made their overtures to Nick Caserio, the Patriots have made one thing very clear: they aren’t going to be patsies when it comes to other teams trying to lure their people away.

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Which brings us to Tom Brady. As everything does. Do the Patriots care that a stealth parade of suitors is probably all up on him already?

Is this uber-protective organization fine with half of the league’s teams sniffing under the tail of the most important player in franchise history before they’re supposed to?

Rampant tampering with prospective free agents isn’t the NFL’s dirty little secret.

It’s not dirty since it’s somewhat necessary.

It’s not little since every team does it.

And it’s not even treated as a secret.

This week, the estimable and honorable Tedy Bruschi was asked about Brady on ESPN.
 

“I think he’s gonna see what’s out there for himself,” said Bruschi. “Matter of fact, I know he will. But I don’t think he’s going to have to wait until March 16 because you’ve got agents, you’ve got talk going on behind the scenes and I think he has an idea on the teams that are highly interested in him ... He will explore his options and he has the right to do so.”

The question then becomes what’s the league office going to do about it?

We all know the NFL’s penchant for selective rules enforcement. We all know they’ll happily string the Patriots up for transgressions real or imagined and let them twist in the wind. We all know the so-called Spygate II investigation that could have been cleared up in 20 minutes is still ongoing.

So, even if everybody’s doing it, isn’t it a little (a lot) hypocritical for the league to turn a blind eye to teams crawling up the trellis to slip in Brady’s window after dark?

Yes, it is. But a little hypocrisy never slowed the league down from doing anything.

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Besides, they might say, tampering with Tom Brady is actually a victimless crime. It actually does the Patriots a favor.

If Brady and his agent Don Yee have a sense of what’s out there before they start negotiating with New England, then the need for Brady to go on a free-agent tour is eliminated.

If Team Brady has no clue, then Yee starts from scratch when the legal tampering period begins March 16 at noon. 

There’s no way to vet each of the opportunities -- a source close to the situation figures there will be 10 teams expressing interest -- before free agency starts March 18 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, how are the Patriots supposed to convince free-agent tight ends or wideouts to come aboard if those players don’t know whether or not Tom Brady will be a Patriot? It’s easily argued that outside teams tampering with Brady is in the Patriots’ best interests.

Besides, if this really isn’t about the money -- and I’ve been told often enough that it isn’t -- it won’t matter if some crap-ass team is offering $70 million over two years.

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.

All that said, it will still seem odd to me if the Patriots -- whether it be Kraft or Belichick -- don’t somehow have their sense of honor offended by all the predicted sneaking around.

It’s always offended their sensibilities going back to January 1997 when it came to light that Bill Parcells spent the week leading up to Super Bowl 31 ringing up the Jets from his New Orleans hotel room instead of getting the Patriots ready to play the Packers.

The Krafts were apoplectic. Belichick, an assistant on that 1996 Patriots team, was pissed too.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around," Belichick told our Michael Holley for Holley’s book Patriot Reign. "I can tell you first hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Every situation’s different, I guess. In this case, the tampering rules were made to be broken.