Patriots rookies quickly learning 'everything is earned'

Phil Perry photo

Patriots rookies quickly learning 'everything is earned'

FOXBORO -- It wasn't a big deal. It just seemed odd. 

When the Patriots posted photos of their rookie minicamp online last week, the shots were pretty typical of this time of year. Players running through bag drills. Players catching footballs. Players blocking other players holding pads. 

The jersey numbers, though, stood out. They were, you could say, atypical.

Danny Etling, a quarterback drafted in the seventh round, wore No. 58. Sixth-round receiver Braxton Berrios, who measures in at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, wore a number usually reserved for players about 50-60 pounds heavier: No. 55. Duke Dawson (pictured above), the team's second-round corner, was in jersey No. 52.

"We all got it," Dawson said of the funky-number treatment. "Everything is earned. It's not given. You've got to come in and earn everything."

That wasn't the spoken message from the coaching staff, Dawson explained, but that was what he took from the jersey assignments. 

"You can just sense it," he said. "You can feel it. That's how I look at it."

That's generally one of the major lessons Patriots rookies absorb after their first few days at Gillette Stadium: It doesn't matter how you got to Foxboro, whether it was through the draft, undrafted free agency or a rookie tryout. It's what you do when you arrive.

And when rookies arrived this year, they went to work in numbers that reminded them they had a long way to go before they earned more permanent digits. 

One player who had a jersey that matched his position was linebacker Christian Sam. He wore No. 54, which currently belongs to veteran 'backer Dont'a Hightower. 

Never mind the number, Sam said. Asked what it felt like to wear some gear with the Patriots logo attached, after a long pre-draft process of workouts and interviews, he replied, "Blessed."


Fantasy football Week 7 buy low/sell high: Trade Tom Brady

Fantasy football Week 7 buy low/sell high: Trade Tom Brady

We've reached the halfway point in the fantasy football regular season, which means time is of the essence when it comes to building a lineup that can propel you to and through the playoffs.

You don't want to be the guy in your league sitting back while everyone else makes trades to improve their rosters. Fantasy football championships aren't won during the draft, they're won now via smart waiver wire moves and risky blockbuster deals. It's time to be aggressive and separate yourself from the pack.

So with all of that being said, here's your list of buy-low and sell-high candidates for Week 7:


Le'Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets: Bell's been OK so far this season, but definitely disappointing to those who drafted him expecting the elite production he's shown in the past. Now's the time to capitalize on that disappointment as Bell's schedule for the rest of the season is extremely attractive. I wouldn't bet against him being a top-5 running back from here on out, especially now that Sam Darnold is back to stabilize the Jets offense.

Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills: Singletary is set to return from injury this week vs. the lowly Dolphins with Buffalo fresh off their bye. This may be the last week you'll be able to snag him for dirt cheap, so don't miss your opportunity.

Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints: Kamara's streak of underwhelming performances, combined with the "high ankle issue" he's currently dealing with, may have his fantasy owner feeling uneasy. Any time a player as talented as Kamara sees a dramatic dip in value, you should swoop in and take a chance on them. That's especially the case if your team is in good enough shape where you can afford a couple of regular-season losses.

A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: He should be returning soon from the ankle injury that has kept him sidelined all season. When he does, there's no reason to believe he won't be the top-tier receiver he's been throughout his career. Who knows, maybe Green will end up catching passes from Tom Brady. That'd certainly increase his value even further.

DeAndre Hopkins., WR, Houston Texans: The consensus No. 1 WR in 2019 fantasy football drafts has been a major disappointment through the first half of the season. But Hopkins is just far too talented to believe the struggles will continue. Buy low on him now and he could prove to be a league winner by the time playoffs come around.

John Brown, WR, Buffalo Bills: Brown is one of the more underrated wide receivers in fantasy football right now. He shouldn't be treated as a WR1, but I think a case can be made for Brown turning in WR2 value for the rest of the season. Josh Allen's primary target has an easy schedule in the coming weeks as he'll go up against Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, and then Miami again in his next five games.


Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Before the season, Brady was outside the top 20 in many fantasy football QB rankings. He's proven those rankings wrong up to this point as he's been a legitimate QB1, but that's largely due to the fact he's had phenomenal matchups. The schedule gets a bit tougher soon, and there are plenty of other serviceable options for QBs out there. So if you need depth at other positions, offer TB12 to a QB-needy owner in your league (or just a diehard Pats fan who surely will overpay) and see what you can get.

Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns: Before you yell at me because Chubb has been an absolute beast this season and is probably the heart of your fantasy team, hear me out. Kareem Hunt will return from his suspension in Week 10 and undoubtedly will eat into Chubb's workload, especially on passing downs. I'm not saying Chubb will suddenly stop being productive once Hunt enters the equation, but he'll no longer be the workhorse back he's been for the first half of the campaign. That being said, don't just trade Chubb for the sake of trading him. When I say sell high here, I mean sell high.

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Conner was stellar vs. the Chargers on Monday Night Football before leaving the game in the third quarter with a quad injury. Before that performance, you would have been hard-pressed to find a trade partner for the Steelers' feature back. That likely is no longer the case, so you should be actively looking for a way to get a nice return for Conner as he probably won't put up those kinds of numbers consistently in this unreliable offense. Especially given the fact he's been getting banged up all season.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons: Ridley's touchdowns make him difficult to part ways with but the volume simply hasn't been there for the Alabama product. Sell him now and get a decent haul before he puts up another string of dud weeks.

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Redskins: New head coach Bill Callahan wants to run the ball more. That, combined with the Redskins being a horrendous team with a tough schedule ahead, makes a talented player like McLaurin worth parting ways with while his value is still high.

Patriots D/ST: Everything we said in last week's buy-low, sell-high still applies.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

The Patriots have three options with Michael Bennett

AP Photo

The Patriots have three options with Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett says he got into it with defensive line coach Bret Bielema last Friday.

That would be the day after the Patriots improved to 6-0 with another vivisection of an opposing offense (the New York Giants).

Despite the team’s unprecedented defensive success, Bennett was — according to his version — irked enough to get into it with Bielema. We can presume — again, based on Bennett’s explanation — the conversation over what Bennett described as “philosophical differences” was pretty contentious.

Being suspended and docked a game check is a lot more serious than being sent to timeout and getting benched, which is what happened with former Patriots like Alan Branch (and probably others) in years past.

I’m not inclined to take Bennett’s characterization of the dustup at face value. Or even believe that it was just the position coach or was merely over philosophy (although a Hobbes vs. Locke discussion over the state of nature can escalate).

Just because he’s first out of the gate with a “statement” of what he says happened, that doesn’t mean we all just shrug and think that’s precisely what went down. Was it just Bennett and Bielema? Was it physical and philosophical? How many teammates did it take place in front of? You’ll notice Bennett’s apology didn’t extend to the coaches, just the teammates if he caused a distraction.

Bennett’ has played with four teams in his career.

He led the charge to get head coach Greg Schiano fired in Tampa. While in Seattle, he described Pete Carroll as Willy Wonka and reportedly was so disengaged from doing what the rest of the defensive linemen were doing that he would read during team meetings. In his single season with the Eagles in 2018, he went out of his way to talk about how head coach Doug Pederson “respects you like a man” and that — because of that — players needed to win to keep Pederson around. I mean, what’s the alternative? Lose on purpose so he gets fired?

You can’t fault the Patriots for acquiring him in early March. They’d just lost Trey Flowers. They couldn’t know that they’d get back a skinnier and much improved Danny Shelton, see the second-year jump they got from Adam Butler, add Jamie Collins, unearth a very good third-down pass-rusher in Chase Winovich and — in short — morph into a defense where Bennett’s playing style and body type are a poor match.

Bennett hasn’t been playing much. When he has played, he’s given effort but not been outstanding.

And while you absolutely can fault Bennett for being a dink last Friday (again, if that’s what truly happened), one can appreciate his frustration. The Patriots knew how he played. They traded for him. They gave him a two-year deal and a raise. If one takes pride in his craft, one wants to ply his craft. And Bennett is not being allowed to, regardless of the reason.

So what now? The options aren’t clear.

Ride It Out

There are 10 games left to play and there’s a damn good chance that number could be 13 (actually, nine and 12 for Bennett). I find it hard to believe that Bennett’s particular set of skills won’t be valuable at some point over the next four months. Against Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes or Dak Prescott — all quarterbacks more mobile than the majority of QBs the team has seen so far — Bennett may have more to offer than Deatrich Wise or Lawrence Guy in certain situations.

The Patriots can’t be loving the fact they’re paying Bennett to watch 45 plays a week. For two decades, they’ve shown an aptitude for finding roles for players. I have no doubt they’ve been trying to do that with Bennett and haven’t found the right formula yet. If Bennett’s tirade wasn’t a scorched-earth takedown of Bielema and one the two men can work past, this would probably be the preferred option.

It’s beneficial for teams to have good players. Bennett is a good player. How much do they have to suck it up to make him happy? Will he ever be happy unless everything’s going his way and he’s getting treated as he sees fit? The Patriots will have to answer that question first.

Trade Him

For years, Bennett has derided coaches for being mean like Bill Belichick. The Patriots took a chance, addressed a need, paid some money and it didn’t work out. It’s easy to read the direction things are going and where they’ve been: Bennett doesn’t like his role, doesn’t like the atmosphere and doesn’t like Bielema. So the Patriots should get while the getting’s semi-good, even though it’s another few million of Bob Kraft’s money that Belichick is taking a flamethrower to.

The hard part about trading a nearly 34-year-old player who needs to be featured in a specific style of defense is finding a partner willing. Then convincing said partner that Bennett won’t be detrimental to their team and that the $94K per game he’ll be paid is worth it. That team has to still be playing for something to take on Bennett, which will eliminate a good chunk of potential suitors.

The upside for the Patriots is in money saved against the cap — between $2.8M and $2.3M depending on when he’s dealt according to Patriots cap oracle Miguel Benzan and the chance to bring someone in at a position of need. On paper, sending Bennett to the Lions in exchange for Danny Amendola makes sense. And the money shouldn’t be a barrier relative to the cap. But will Bennett be any happier working for Matt Patricia in a Patriots-style system?

Also worth weighing, is whether or not Bennett agrees to report wherever he’s dealt. At this stage of his career, a wildcat strike in order to show his autonomy isn’t beyond imagining. Hell, his brother Martellus shot his way out of Green Bay to get to the Patriots last year!

Release Him

The upside is you’ve washed that man right out of your hair. The downside? You get nothing for the asset except sunk costs and dead money against the cap. Plus, some team the Patriots are directly competing with adds a piece at minimal cost and — potentially — gets better.

The Patriots have until October 29 to deal Bennett. Between now and then they have to decide whether, to borrow a phrase from LBJ, they want Bennett inside their tent pissing out or outside their tent pissing in.


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.