Patriots

Patriots midseason awards: Part Three

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Patriots midseason awards: Part Three

The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the third of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi tell you what's worked so far . . . and what hasn't.

PART ONE Best and worst on-field happenings | PART TWO: Midseason awards

REASON TO BELIEVE

PHIL PERRY: Rob Gronkowski's health. Yes, the workload has been hefty. But Gronkowski looks explosive, and he's made it through a half-season as Brady's best weapon in the passing game and one of the team's most impactful blockers. If he and Brady are healthy, they still have the ability to keep pace with most NFL offenses. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: An effective running game. Four backs of varying skills who can keep the heat off Brady’s arm, make play-action useful and pick up the hard yards? If they keep improving, they’ll be the key to this offense.

 

MIKE GIARDI: There’s a bunch, but I’ll just drop these two names: Brady and Belichick. As long as Brady is operating at this level, the Pats have a chance (boy, I bet you’ve never heard that before). I still think, even with a somewhat uneven performance in the first half, that the offense will score every time it has the ball. That’s all about Brady. I’ve seen it too often not to believe. As for Belichick, he routinely coaches circles around the rest of these clowns in the NFL. His teams are generally smarter and almost always better prepared. This run of success in the salary cap league is unprecedented. It starts with the coach and he’s closely followed by the quarterback.


REASON TO DESPAIR

PHIL PERRY:  Lack of pass-rush options. It won't matter all that much who is in the secondary or how well they're playing if the Patriots pass rush isn't a threat to speed up opposing passers. They're thin on the edge, and they'll need the likes of Deatrich Wise, Cassius Marsh, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy to provide them something in the way of disruption. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Scattershot Steve. My confidence in Stephen Gostkowski is diminishing and this Patriots team won’t be blowing people out. He needs to be a consistent asset rather than a dice roll.

 

MIKE GIARDI: The Pats have lost two of the most irreplaceable players on their roster, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman. They are dangerously thin on the defensive line, at wide receiver, at tight end, at linebacker and now at quarterback. I realize that every team can’t have backups who are NFL-caliber starters at every position. That’s not how the league works. But it’s been a long time since you can run down a list of depth issues at so many spots. I don’t care how good the coaching is, if a Rob Gronkowski goes down, this team is in deep doodoo. Ditto for Trey Flowers. Did you ever think an injury to Kyle Van Noy could derail the season? Yeah, me neither. Wait, actually I still don’t, but you get the point. Health is critical down the stretch.


BEST PERSONNEL HIT

PHIL PERRY: Brandin Cooks The Patriots had to hit if they were willing to give up a first-rounder, and they have. He isn't a middle-of-the-field dynamo, but on the outside Cooks is electric. He's averaging 17.1 yards per catch, and he's on pace for over 1,200 yards receiving and six touchdowns. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Johnson Bademosi. The Patriots tracked the former Stanford corner since 2012 and spent a sixth-round pick in the offseason to get him away from the Lions. He’s filled in stunningly well for the injured Stephon Gilmore.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Johnson Bademosi. He’s been a saving grace for a secondary and a defense that had been struggling mightily during the first month or so . Normally a special-teams player and special-teamer alone, Bademosi has expanded his role to become the starting corner opposite Malcolm Butler, filling in ably for Stephon Gilmore. Okay, he’s actually been far more consistent than Gilmore was before his injury. No, Bademosi isn’t better than Gilmore but he’s performed better in this short sample and at the very least has given Matt Patricia another viable option at corner. All for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick. I’d say it’s already been worth it.


BIGGEST PERSONNEL BLUNDER

PHIL PERRY: Dwayne Allen. The Patriots swapped a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder in order to acquire Allen, so it's not as though they sold the farm to snag him from the Colts. But his role could have been a crucial one in the Patriots offense, and now it's the opposite. Allen hasn't seen a target since Week 4 and he doesn't have a catch on the season. Undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister was playing over Allen in the two-minute drill in the first half last Sunday. 

TOM E. CURRAN: Lack of left-tackle attention. The Patriots are foot-dragging on finding Nate Solder’s understudy in a way they didn’t with Matt Light. And they are nickel-and-diming the search in a way they didn’t with Light. Solder’s not playing great and the Patriots have poor tackle depth. It concerns.

 

MIKE GIARDI: The list is a hell of a lot longer than normal in the Belichick-era. Stephen Gilmore is an easy target. I’m not going there. The last game he played was a good one. Dwayne Allen? Yeah, he’s been average at best. But I wasn’t expecting him to be an impact player so I rule him out. Trading Jimmy Garoppolo? That wasn’t my favorite but with Brady playing the way he’s playing, fine. That takes me all the back to the trade for Kony Ealy. I hear all this talk about just moving down eight spots in the draft and it was a low-risk, high-reward move. Really? They made the trade expecting Ealy to play an important role along the defensive line. Their failure to see it wasn’t a good fit, or to motivate the player, led to Ealy getting chopped before cutdown day. That’s how bad it was. Do you think they could use a player of his talent level right now? That was a rhetorical question. The answer is yes. And as the Pats struggle to get to the QB, and have to play Cassius Marsh or use Kyle Van Noy on the edge or even turn to the Flowers not named Trey, you can’t help but think “man, it sure would be nice to have Kony Ealy on the field right about now" . . . 


ASSISTANT OF THE HALF-YEAR

PHIL PERRY: Joe Judge. The Patriots' kick-coverage units have been perhaps the most consistent of any unit on the team through eight weeks. And that's with Matthew Slater missing the first quarter of the year. Credit goes to Judge and his assistant Bubba Ventrone for getting these groups, comprised of many first-year Patriots, on the same page so quickly. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Ivan Fears. The Patriots’ running back coach has James White, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead under his supervision and the way those players have improved over time is due notice.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Ivan Fears. Aside from quarterback, what position on the team has performed to or above expected levels? To me, it’s one spot and one spot alone: running back. Of the quartet of Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, only the latter hasn’t quite taken off but it’s not like Gillislee has sucked. Fears has managed to -- generally -- keep everyone happy in that group. He wins the award and I’m sure he’s already carving out space on his mantel. 

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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.