Mike Florio: If Patriots don’t sign Antonio Brown, 'somebody else will’

Mike Florio: If Patriots don’t sign Antonio Brown, 'somebody else will’

There’s no better port in an NFL legal storm than Mike Florio’s.

The ProFootballTalk founder and talking head on NBC’s Football Night in America helped us make sense of the countersuit filed by Antonio Brown this week against his alleged victim Britney Taylor when he came on Tom Curran’s Patriots Talk Podcast.

Brown’s situation seems to be building to some kind of crescendo in the past week. He met with NFL investigators last week. Earlier this week he — out of nowhere — apologized to Patriots owner Robert Kraft for the “bad media” he caused when he lit into the owner following his September release. And now, the countersuit which Florio said hinges on a confidentiality agreement. Florio also reported that Brown’s camp is “optimistic” the mercurial wide receiver’s name will be cleared by the league.

If that happens, the specter of Brown being placed on the NFL’s exempt list should disappear and teams will stop treating him as if he’s radioactive.

The crescendo would be Brown rejoining the Patriots.

Discussing that, Florio said, “I’m not so sure the Patriots will bring him back.”

In order for the Patriots to bend, Florio said, “If the NFL were to issue a statement that said, ‘We’ve investigated this situation, no criminal charges were ever filed. No criminal charges will be filed. A lawsuit was filed. We’ve spoken to the alleged victim. We’ve spoken to him. We’ve investigated any of the other leads that are out there and we’ve decided there is no violation of the personal conduct policy,’ that changes everything.

“And then the Patriots could bring him back in theory,” Florio added, “if they were willing to let bygones be bygones over the dumb things that he said on social media about Robert Kraft.”

When weighing the possibility of Brown being available, Florio said it’s not just about whether or not the receiver can help New England.

“Here’s the other side of it, and this is a very important dynamic,” Florio pointed out. “It comes down to how badly you want to win Super Bowl No. 7 for the Patriots. Because if you don’t sign him, it’s not an up-or-down, binary choice where it’s either, ‘We have him or we don’t.’

“There’s a much more important net loss here. And that’s if you don’t sign him, somebody else will,” Florio warned. “Somebody else may be the Ravens or the Chiefs. Or some other team you’ll have to deal with in early February. Maybe you see him in the Super Bowl. Maybe he’ll be playing for the Seahawks then. So that’s where the Patriots really need to think long and hard about whether they want to deal with Antonio Brown on another team. Because it’s not, ‘We either use him or we don’t use him.’ It’s, ‘Either we use him or somebody else is gonna use him and make it harder for us to try and do what we’re trying to do.’ ”

Listen to the whole conversation with Florio here. We also spoke on the pod to Mark Leibovich, who wrote "Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times," a book which highlighted the fascinating rivalry between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

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Patriots players share early Cam Newton impressions: 'A lot of great energy'

Patriots players share early Cam Newton impressions: 'A lot of great energy'

We've heard a lot about Cam Newton and watched plenty of his Instagram workout videos. But what's the New England Patriots quarterback like once he joins his new teammates?

We're starting to find out this week, as Newton and the Patriots have reported to Gillette Stadium to begin their slow ramp-up to training camp.

While the Patriots haven't begun formal practices yet, it sounds like the 31-year-old QB is making a good first impression.

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"Yeah, he's been great. A lot of great energy," offensive guard Joe Thuney said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. "Just works hard so far. It's been great to meet him and everything, and looking forward to seeing what happens."

Others are excited to have Newton aboard for more selfish reasons.

"It feels good to have more Auburn guys than (Alabama) guys now," Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones said Wednesday in his virtual media session.

Newton and Jones join quarterback Jarrett Stidham and wide receiver Will Hastings as the four Auburn Tigers on New England's roster, surpassing the Patriots' three Alabama players in Dont'a Hightower, Damien Harris and Anfernee Jennings.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Should Pats give Newton a raise with newfound cap space? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Jones didn't overlap with Newton at Auburn -- he arrived on campus in 2012, while Newton's lone season was in 2010 -- but has spoken with the Heisman Trophy winner in the past. In fact, Jones admitted Newton's success at Auburn was a big reason why he picked the Tigers as a high school recruit.

"I could see (he was) the face of the program," Jones said. "... Just the foundation that they were laying with that program -- when he was there it was definitely a turning point for Auburn. So as a junior coming out (of high school) and going to those recruiting visits and watching them play and seeing that foundation, it meant a lot to me coming out."

Now that he and Newton are teammates, Jones says he's "excited to have him" in New England and "ready to get to work." Even if the Patriots aren't quite sure what that work will look like.

"We've been so limited in what we can do outside," Thuney said when asked what "new elements" Newton can bring to the Patriots' offense. "It's so early, I'm not entirely sure."

Ready or not: Ja'Whaun Bentley will factor into Patriots plans after Dont'a Hightower opt-out

Ready or not: Ja'Whaun Bentley will factor into Patriots plans after Dont'a Hightower opt-out

Maybe it's not fair. But, as they say at One Patriot Place, it is what it is.

Ja'Whaun Bentley, in his third season, may be the primary fill-in for one of the most important Patriots defenders of the last decade.

Dont'a Hightower was one of the most indispensable Patriots in 2020 prior to opting out. He has long been the link between the front-seven and the secondary for the Patriots defense.

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He relays the plays. He directs traffic pre-snap, adjusting defensive linemen and reminding teammates of their coverage responsibilities with equal aplomb. And then there's his own personal unique skill set as a mauling run-defender, who also serves as the team's most talented pass-rusher. 

In Hightower's absence — he opted out after becoming a father in July — there is no one-for-one replacement available to Bill Belichick. Fair or unfair, Bentley will factor heavily into the equation. At the moment, he looks like the favorite to take over from Hightower the defensive play-calling duties.

"This wouldn't be the first time I'm wearing the green dot," Bentley said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, "but obviously that's the head communicator. That's the one who relays the calls to everybody. If that's the role I have to take on — which is highly likely — we have to be able to adjust to that. Everybody has a role to play. If that's what mine would be, I would have to do that and do it very well."

Bentley's career began inconspicuously enough, going to New England out of Purdue as a fifth-round draft choice. He wasn't even on the draft boards of some linebacker-needy teams in 2018, according to NFL sources, because his size (he was listed at 260 pounds at one point as a collegian) made him the antithesis of the "new age linebacker" who is smaller and excels in coverage. 

The Patriots didn't mind, of course. They like their linebackers beefy. And Bentley made an impact almost immediately — in the run and pass games. He stood out as one of their best players at the position in training camp that year, and he earned two starts in his first three games as a pro. In Week 3 of his rookie season, after picking off Matthew Stafford for his first-career interceptions, he suffered a season-ending injury. 

In his second year, his opportunities waned after the Patriots brought in Jamie Collins to serve as an off-the-ball linebacking partner to Hightower. 

Now, Bentley knows it'll be up to him to help make up for all the linebacker losses the Patriots will have to account for in 2020. Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts all departed via free agency prior to Hightower's opt-out.

"Shout out to Jamie and High, all those guys," Bentley said. "Obviously respect the decision that Hightower made, he had no choice but to do that. But nonetheless we gotta come in here, try to work, we gotta work, guys gotta figure out their roles and we gotta keep pushing forward."

Patriots Talk Podcast: Should Pats give Newton a raise with newfound cap space? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

However the Patriots linebacker room shakes out this season, Bentley has apparently done enough through two years to be viewed as one of the voices of the defense despite his inexperience. On the McCourty twins' "Double Coverage" podcast, they looked to Bentley as one of the young leaders of what's long been a veteran-laden defense.

In a linebacker group that'll include rookies Josh Uche and Cassh Maluia, Bentley has quickly become one of that unit's most experienced players.

"To me, Bentley's been a great player for us," Devin McCourty said on the July 26 episode. "Especially coming in as a rookie. He stood out right away, his knowledge. I think one of the best things about Bent is just his versatility. Whether it's against the run — obviously he's a stout, physical player — but even in the pass [game]. He was covering tight ends, covering backs out of the backfield. 

"I think for every guy in the NFL, when you come in, and there are other players who've played for a while, and you get some playing time and things change each year, I know he's excited to work his butt off . . . You look around, he's gonna be one of our young, kinda leadership-type of guys. We'll count on him to really kinda try to [work] with those young guys. He's always done a good job of that since he's been here. I'm excited for him, along with some other good players that we have, just to get an opportunity to get out there and play a little bit more."

For Bentley, as he treads into an unusual season, he knows he can call on Hightower to help guide him along. No better source to draw from if Bentley is in fact going to be the primary answer to Hightower's absence.

"We're always talking," Bentley said. "He's definitely on my list of people to talk to, whether that's on leadership or anything. We have a lot of great vets I've been surrounded with over my past two years in New England so you're always picking those guys' brains, seeing what you can bring to your game. That's been my approach since Day 1."