Patriots

Odds of Kyle Rudolph joining Patriots take hit with latest contract development

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USA TODAY Sports

Odds of Kyle Rudolph joining Patriots take hit with latest contract development

Kyle Rudolph is about to enter the final year of his contract with the Vikings, and while there's been speculation that Minnesota could trade the veteran tight end, it sounds like progress is being made to keep him with the franchise long-term.

Rudolph revealed Wednesday he has been offered an extension from the Vikings. 

The New England Patriots need to upgrade their talent and depth at tight end after the recent retirement of Rob Gronkowski, and Rudolph certainly would be a strong replacement for the future Hall of Famer. The Patriots and Vikings reportedly have had discussions on Rudolph, too. 

Rudolph has spent his entire eight-year NFL career with the Vikings. The 29-year-old tallied 64 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns last season. He's also been quite durable, having not missed a single game in the last four seasons. The Vikings, however, selected Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, so they do have a replacement if they decide to part ways with Rudolph.

If the Patriots don't acquire Rudolph or any other tight ends between now and training camp, they'll enter camp with Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck and Jakob Johnson at the position.

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The stats tell us the Patriots have the best guard tandem in the NFL with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason

The stats tell us the Patriots have the best guard tandem in the NFL with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason

More than any other sport, football is a game of inches. As much as we love to focus on superstar wide receivers and hard-hitting defensive players, games are won and lost based on the little things. The Patriots thrive on maximizing every aspect of their team to continually narrow down ways for them to lose games. 

Most of the best Patriots teams run by Bill Belichick have featured strong interior offensive line play, and a Pro Football Focus stat has the 2018 guard tandem of Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney as the best in the NFL. 

Mason, a four-year veteran who has started 55 games for the Patriots dating back to his rookie season, graded out as the best run-blocking guard in the league and the eighth-best in pass protection. Mason signed a five-year contract extension in April, so the Patriots can sleep easy knowing they have a terrific right guard for years to come. 

Thuney turned in an equally strong 2018 campaign. He was ranked the fifth-best pass blocking guard and was second in run blocking right behind Mason. The Patriots running game carried their offense in 2018 when Tom Brady struggled and it's likely they'll lean on Thuney and Mason again with Sony Michel leading the charge in the backfield. 

A key variable missing from the Patriots' strong running game in 2018 won't be there when their Super Bowl championship defense kicks off this September. With Rob Gronkowski's retirement, Thuney and Mason will have to step up and be relied upon even more than last year to get a solid push on opponent's defensive lines. 

New England has invested a bit more into their outside receiving corps in drafting N'Keal Harry and bringing on Demaryius Thomas, so maybe we'll see more of a vertical passing game in 2019, forcing Mason and Thuney to hold up in pass protection. As we can see in PFF's grades, that shouldn't be a problem.

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Tom Brady is just one of a multitude helping Josh Gordon

Tom Brady is just one of a multitude helping Josh Gordon

Anyone dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues needs a web of people to help him or her get “better.”

Josh Gordon’s no different. Professionals play a vital role but then – for a person like Gordon – friends, family, coaches, confidantes, teammates and concerned citizens also have value.

Last week, Tom Brady posted an Instagram video of him throwing with the still indefinitely-suspended Gordon. It’s the latest instance demonstrating that – despite the suspension – the team has kept him involved as much as they can.

Brady’s a pretty persistent poster so – to me – it seemed like a, “Hey, this is what I’m doing today…” share. Gordon is a teammate. Brady cares about him. Wants him to play again. Is including him in an informal workout.

But since the video, the narrative since has grown to make it seem as if Brady’s role currently and in the future is to “foster” Gordon. Which seems an overstatement.

How did we get to that?

A couple of days after the post, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington – who has a good relationship with Brady – was asked about the video on NFL Live. Darlington reiterated what was often reported locally after the Patriots traded for Gordon last September.

“When Josh Gordon got to the Patriots, Tom recognized that Josh Gordon made the team better and recognized that he was going to need some attention,” Darlington said, via Dov Kleiman, who tweeted the transcript of the reply on Saturday morning.

Darlington added that, “Josh Gordon was going out to dinner with Tom Brady and Gisele [Bundchen] at times because Tom recognized that he needs to bring this guy in, foster him, make him feel like he is at home, recognizing some of the issues that Josh Gordon goes through.

“While that is, in part, a guy just trying to get better, it’s also Tom Brady being a really good person, continuing to try to help out and manifest Josh Gordon. . . .Tom Brady, to this day, really respects Josh Gordon and would love to see him live a better life.”

After Darlington’s observation and Kleiman’s tweet came a Pro Football Talk story saying Brady “intends” to foster Josh Gordon.

There’s surely no harm in lauding Brady for being welcoming last year and continuing to be now. But Brady is among a number of people – teammates and team personnel included – who took an interest in Gordon. The initial use of the word “foster” and the addition of the tidbit Brady intends to keep on fostering conjures an image of Brady taking on a quasi-parental role for Gordon.

And far as I know, they’re not out there hiking Mount Monadnock together and cooking up S’mores on the campfire.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs but – as with so much related to Gordon – there’s already enough presumption out there about has and hasn’t happened and what will and won’t.

For instance, Gordon was not at the Patriots ring ceremony, according to Paul Perillo of Patriots.com but someone wrote his name on a small piece of paper and put it at a place-setting in an apparent attempt to let him know he was on their minds.

That turned into hopeful reports that Gordon was at the ring ceremony. He wasn’t. He wouldn’t be allowed there. It would have been a nice story. But it wasn’t real.

I’ve been delving – or trying to delve – into the intricacies of Gordon story for the past few weeks. It’s complicated.

There are substance abuse and mental health components. Gordon’s right to privacy. The gradual acceptance of marijuana’s medicinal value – the substance which reportedly landed Gordon in trouble in the first place. The blurred line between Josh Gordon the man and Josh Gordon the football player and the realization that the help he gets comes with an unspoken quid pro quo that he produce as an employee as well. The question of who gets a second (or fifth) chance and why.

In short, it’s messy. And placing one person above anyone else as Josh Gordon’s white knight really oversimplifies and overstates what’s truly going on.

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