Patriots

For the NFL, the smart move would be to tap the brakes on 2020 season

For the NFL, the smart move would be to tap the brakes on 2020 season

Maybe tap the brakes for a month, NFL? Wouldn’t that make sense? A little “discretion is the better part of valor” being exercised?

Knock everything back 30 days. The start of training camp, Week 1, all of it. If you need to lose some games to get the Super Bowl in on time, lose some games. If you want to push into early March, you can do that too.

Deciding to put off a decision isn't necessarily indecision. Sometimes it's smart.

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Right now, you’re scrambling. You pulled it off with free agency and the draft. Good. Great. But don’t mistake success holding virtual events as an indicator that you’re the outlier American sport that’s got it all figured out. You don’t. And all non-Mahomes headlines this week have shown that.

We have a financial skirmish.

We have a preseason skirmish.

We have a size of roster skirmish.

We have a skirmish over face shields.

We have a mess of players that live and train in states that are in the grip of the virus the way Massachusetts was in April and May. And those players are going to be relocating to their respective cities all over the country.

The proposed date for rookies to report? July 19. Ten days away. Which means — if they’re smart — they’re arriving in their new towns by this weekend, limiting contacts and getting ready for their tests. And a few will come back positive, which will surprise the players but shouldn’t since, as Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have been saying for months, as much as 50 percent of cases can be asymptomatic.

And while the likelihood any player would even need hospitalization is infinitesimally small, there’s a whole boatload of people the young, vibrant and healthy are going to be in close contact with who are not so young, vibrant and healthy.

The Patriots have coaches on their staff who’ve battled cancer.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, a 67-year-old cancer survivor, said on Monday, “The players, they’re going to all get sick, that’s for sure. It’s just a matter of how sick they get.”

Players will be going home to spouses, girlfriends and kids and inevitably some of them are going to have conditions which put them at greater risk than the average person if they contract COVID-19.

Can those players simply opt out of the season? Well, according to NFLPA Vice President Sam Acho, the league is trying to prevent that.

“The league is very hesitant to have any player opt out,” Acho said on SIRIUS XM NFL Radio. “Their position is if the player doesn’t want to go to training camp, well that’s their decision. Obviously, fines could take player and you could lose your starting spot, all those things could take place.”

Which, to me, is an insane stance. If a guy doesn’t want to play, passively threatening, cajoling or bribing him into playing is an absurd idea.

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Chris Simms optimistic about Newton's potential | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Not that the NFLPA is flawless in its logic either.

NFLPA President J.C. Tretter of the Browns took issue with the number of preseason games.

“The NFL has recently stated it wants to play two preseason games,” Tretter wrote. “When we asked for a medical reason to play games that don’t count in the standings during an ongoing pandemic, the NFL failed to provide one. The league did provide a football reason, though — to evaluate rosters. The NFL also stated that it was important to stage preseason games to check how our game protocols will work.”

There’s no medical reason to play any games, J.C., whether they count or not, pandemic or not. Playing football is the wrong thing to do medically. Period. Has been since the country tried to ban it last century.

But if it’s going to be played — and it will be — being able to judge participants in a game setting is kind of a baseline ask.

Players, coaches, agents and executives I’ve been in contact with as the season looms have a default answer to almost everything: “Dunno.”

Nobody in their right mind is asking for guarantees that there are no cases. Nobody in their right mind should need the entirety of the season mapped out through the Super Bowl.

But with the proposed start of camp barely two weeks away, not enough is pinned down. Actually, it seems like almost nothing is. It’s nobody’s fault. Standing down isn’t an admission of failure.

Committing to getting it right rather than committing to getting it going would actually be a show of strength, decisiveness and leadership. Never a bad time for that.

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

How Julian Edelman let Cam Newton know about Patriots' complex playbook

Remember when Cam Newton jokingly compared the Patriots' playbook to "calculus" after signing with New England last month?

Turns out that wasn't his own assessment. (Not yet, anyway.)

Rather, it was Julian Edelman who made Newton aware of what he was dealing when the quarterback called his new Patriots wide receiver for the first time.

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"We were both excited just to be on the phone with each other," Newton told reporters Friday in a video conference. "Then all of a sudden he just said, 'Hey bro, this (explicit) is calculus.'

"He said it and it was just funny. From that whole 15-minute conversation, that's the only thing that I just remembered: Calculus."

The Patriots playbook that Tom Brady spent 20 years mastering is notoriously complex and has stumped talented veterans like Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne. Edelman has dealt with that playbook for a whole decade, so it's no wonder his comparison stuck with Newton.

Not that the 31-year-old QB is intimidated by learning a challenging offense after nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"At the end of the day, football is still football and you just can’t make too much on it than what it already is,” Newton said of the playbook. "(Offensive coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) has been there every step of the way as well as (quarterbacks) coach Jedd (Fisch). Just been hammering away. All the quarterbacks have been trying to learn this whole system from what it is."

Newton admittedly faces a tall task picking up the Patriots' offense in short order without the benefit of the on-field workouts of a traditional training camp.

The three-time Pro Bowler has his means of getting up to speed, though: Newton is a "visual learner" who famously relied on a large three-ring binder in Carolina stuffed with notes on the Panthers' offense.

"We all have our different methods of how we (learn) and go about different ways to retain as much information as possible,” Newton said. "I don’t think the binder is actually here, but some type of retention methods have adapted towards New England."

Newton has a few more weeks to study, but his first test -- the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13 -- is rapidly approaching.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

For Josh McDaniels, adapting offense means tapping into Cam Newton's superpower

Josh McDaniels wouldn’t trade his time with Tom Brady for anything.

But the Patriots offensive coordinator did point out Friday that those times Brady wasn’t at his disposal are very valuable right now as the Patriots offense does its post-Brady pivot.

“I’m thankful for the experiences that I’ve had when I didn’t have Tom,” McDaniels said on a video conference call. “Believe me, no one was happier to have him out there when he was out there for all the years I was fortunate to coach him.

"But I would say I did have some experience with the Matt Cassel year (in 2008), which I learned a lot about how to tailor something to somebody else’s strengths, we had to play that four-game stretch (in 2016) with Jacoby (Brissett) and Jimmy (Garoppolo), I thought that was helpful. And I was away for three years. So trying to really adapt … it’s not changing your system, it’s adapting your system to the talents and strengths of your players.”

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How will the Patriots offense change now that Brady’s gone has been a dominant topic of discussion this offseason. The six-time Super Bowl winners' strengths are well-documented and hard to replicate – absurd accuracy, poise, pocket-presence and the ability to decipher and manipulate defenses at will. Part of the reason they’re hard to replicate is that it took him a dozen years of monkish devotion to get where he was. Nobody’s got time for that.

So, after a couple of decades building a tower out of wooden blocks, the blocks are knocked down and scattered. And McDaniels starts building again. Same blocks. Different-looking structure.  

“(We need to) adapt (the offense) to the players that we have,” said McDaniels. “So, again, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘Do I really want us to be good at this? Or are we good at this?’ There’s a fine line between really pushing hard to keep working at something that you’re just not showing much progress in vs. ‘Hey, you know what, we’re a lot better at A, B and C then we are D, E and F, why don’t we just do more A, B and C?” I think as a staff we’ve really had a lot of conversations about those kinds of things.”

McDaniels has discussed in past seasons how developing an offense is a trial-and-error process. The difference this year is there is no chance for the “trial” portion. No joint practices. No preseason games. Obviously, no OTAs or minicamps.

“We can’t make any declarations about what we’re good at yet because we haven’t practiced,” McDaniels acknowledged. “I think everybody’s chomping at the bit, eager to get out there and start to make a few decisions about some things that we want to try to get good at, and if we’re just not making a lot of progress then we just have to shift gears and go in a different direction.

“But I’m going to lean on my experience and then I’m going to lean on the staff, coach Belichick, just to, (say), ‘Let’s be real with ourselves. Yeah, we used to be good at that. We’re not doing so hot at it so let’s just scrap it for now and move in a different direction.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Obviously, a direction they’ll move in will most likely be powered by the mobility of whoever the starting quarterback is, Jarrett Stidham or Cam Newton.

McDaniels pointed out that a player with the size, power and mobility of Newton does change things.

“It’s certainly not something I’m accustomed to using a great deal but you use whatever the strengths of your players that are on the field allow you to use, to try to move the ball and score points,” he said. “So whatever that means relative to mobility at the QB position, size and power, quickness, length, height with receivers … you go through the same thing many different times.”

Newton, said McDaniels, is the same as any other player who brings a unique talent.  

“I remember when you get a new receiver group … our receivers have changed quite a bit in terms of some of them were bigger … Randy Moss was a bigger guy and then we’ve had some smaller guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, and then you have tight ends that are more fast straight-line players and then you have guys like Gronk and those kinds of players,” he pointed out.

“Regardless of what the position is, I think you try to use their strengths to allow them to make good plays and if that’s something we can figure out how to do well and get comfortable doing and feel like we can move the ball and be productive then we’re going to work as a staff to figure out how that works best, and try to utilize it if we can.”

In other words, when you have a player with a superpower - Moss' speed, Welker's quickness, Gronk's size, Brady's brain, Newton's power - , you tap into said superpower. ASAFP.