Patriots 3 & Out: Who was the best free agent addition this offseason?

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Patriots 3 & Out: Who was the best free agent addition this offseason?

The countdown to the Patriots' Week 1 matchup against the Steelers is on! (OK, fine, there are still 100 days until the Super Bowl champs begin play in the NFL's centennial season, so it's a long countdown, but still...)

Between OTA's, minicamps, free agent signings, and potential contract extensions, there's no offseason for Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry. So every Friday, they're going to tackle three Patriots-related questions. It could be issues facing the 2019 team, it could be league-wide debates, or it could be something a little more off-the-wall. Here we go for the inaugural edition of 3 & Out...

QUESTION 1: The most impactful free agent acquisition the Patriots made will be...

Curran: Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

The Patriots didn’t grab a big-ticket free agent you can easily put your chips on but they have a gaggle of guys who — if things break right — could be major contributors.

Most of them are on defense. Jamie Collins. Michael Bennett. Mike Pennel (I believe Senator Phil Perry already has several Mike Pennel jerseys on order). But I’m going with the former Buc, Jet and Jaguar with the injury history long as your arm.

Why him? Opportunity. Gronk’s gone, but the attractiveness of throwing to a big body down the seam will never go away. ASJ, a 26-year-old taken in the second round of the 2014 draft, has the size, athleticism and body control to somewhat replicate Gronk as a receiver. Are we talking Gronkian numbers? No. But when ASJ finishes with 58 catches for 877 yards and eight touchdowns, remember who told you he would. 

Perry: Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. You know me too well.

My only question is, if you knew where I was headed with this . . . why not go in that direction to begin with and make me squirm to come up with something different? I feel like you would've enjoyed that.

In any event, I appreciate you leaving me the correct choice here. Very kind of you. Pennel has to be the answer if you're playing the odds.

Which free-agent addition has a better chance than Pennel to start Week 1? He's coming off a strong year with the Jets. He received a $500,000 signing bonus. He has a well-defined role as a first- and second-down run-stuffer, and was a pretty obvious fit here as soon as he hit the market. Plus, he plays a position where the Patriots just lost Malcom Brown and where the next best options to start alongside Lawrence Guy are Danny Shelton and David Parry.

Seferian-Jenkins, meanwhile, signed a deal that gives him $50,000 guaranteed. I agree with you that the tight end's ceiling, in terms of overall impact, is higher than Pennel's. But, to me, Pennel looks like a starter from Day 1. I'm not positive Seferian-Jenkins makes the team.

If I was picking a tight end, I'd actually go with Ben Watson. Again, Watson's ceiling may not be as high. But follow the money. He got $600,000 guaranteed — and that was after the Patriots found out he was going to miss a quarter of the season. I can envision Watson having a real role down the stretch in December and January. With Seferian-Jenkins, the picture is a little less clear.

QUESTION 2: What’s been the goatiest play for the Patriots since 2001?

Curran: Despite the success – or maybe because of the success – there are actually a number of candidates for this one. 

In high stakes games between evenly-matched teams, a failure to execute is going to stick out and stick with people. Some large gaffes get lost on the wind — the failed hookup between Tom Brady and Troy Brown in the 2006 AFC Championship which would have given the Patriots first-and-10 at midfield with 2:30 left is an example. Another is rookie Patrick Chung calling for a fake punt in the Patriots 2010 AFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Jets which led to a touchdown.

But this really comes down to two would-be Super Bowl clinching catches not made: Wes Welker’s in the 2011 Super Bowl and Asante Samuel’s in the 2007 Super Bowl.

And I’m going with Welker’s. Was it a difficult catch? Yes. Was it a bad throw? No. It’s where it needed to be given the gap between the corners in the area and the approaching safety, Kenny Phillips. The pushback to put the lion’s share of the missed connection on Brady is predictable. People both locally and nationally begrudge the amount of praise he gets.

Why? I don’t know. Fatigue? But anyone saying that incompletion was Brady’s “fault” isn’t clear on football geometry. The ball was where it had to be. And Welker had both hands around it. Not the case with Asante. 

Perry: I have a hard time choosing between the two "goatiest" you mention.

Two drops. Welker is a receiver. Should've had it. Samuel is a corner. You don't excuse the stone hands . . . but you get it; he played on that side of the ball for a reason.

There's little doubt in my mind, though, that the Samuel play had a lower degree of difficulty. The ball was in front of him. He had to jump, but wasn't exactly fully-extended. He put up big interception numbers during his career. Welker and his three-foot wingspan trying to make a leaping back-shoulder catch is a lower-percentage play, in my view.

All that said, neither is my choice. I'm going to go with the Helmet Catch.

The reception itself was remarkable and flukey, but the Patriots had multiple opportunities to stop it before it ever came to be. Jarvis Green had Eli Manning. Richard Seymour had Manning's jersey in his grasp. Samuel stopped his feet during Manning's scramble. Rodney Harrison was there to break up the play and didn't. Historically David Tyree's mini-miracle isn't looked at as a "goat" moment for anyone on that Patriots defense. The focus lands more on the improbability of the play and what the Giants pulled off that night. But I think that it can safely be deemed "goaty," with multiple parties deserving some percentage of the blame.

QUESTION 3: The best alternate uniform for the Patriots would be…  

Curran: We’ve seen the all-white and all-blue color rush. Liked ‘em.

I didn’t love the Patriots traditional uniforms when I was a kid, but seeing them in the snow in 2009 and on Thanksgiving in 2004… I think it changed my mind.

But I think I’d most like to see a blood red, Pat Patriot color rush uniform. I’d like to see that. Yes, I would.

Perry: What an absolutely horrifying thought. I'm calling the police. The only answer is the Pat Patriot red jerseys WITH THE WHITE PANTS. Those were money.

Unfortunately there are some rules when it comes to helmets that complicate things. For safety reasons, the league wants players using only one helmet every year. (Unless you're Tom Brady, and your old helmet has been grandfathered into the rules, and you test out different helmets during a given season for the moment when the league forces you to settle on a new-age helmet once and for all.)

Patriots helmets are gray. Therein lies the issue. The full effect of Pat Patriot is really only complemented by a white lid.

My solution? Paint. Paint the gray helmets white. Peel the Flying Elvis decals off. Slap Pat Patriot on. When the game is over, remove the paint. Replace the decals. Good to go.

Is this totally unrealistic? Probably. Would it be an unreasonable number of man hours for the equipment staff? Certainly. Would be pretty sweet, though.

Tom's rebuttal: DAFUQ?!? That changes everything!

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Browns better than Patriots in 2020? Former NFL player makes bold claim

Browns better than Patriots in 2020? Former NFL player makes bold claim

The New England Patriots have spent much of the last 20 years at the summit of the NFL -- the most successful franchise of this century. Over that same time, the Cleveland Browns have been one of the league's worst teams, with only a single postseason appearance since 2000.

Could these teams begin to switch places in 2020?

Last season was supposed to be the Browns' return to the spotlight, and the playoffs. Expectations were high for quarterback Baker Mayfield, star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and an up-and-coming defense. Instead, Cleveland got off to a horrible start in 2019, losing six of their first eight games, including a Week 7 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. 

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Despite all that unfolded in Cleveland last season, many experts are still high on the Browns' chances in 2020. In fact, one of them is even willing to predict the Patriots will be worse than the Browns.

“When you look at those two teams and the difference in the trajectory of what we feel they’ll be, I believe that the Browns will be a better football team than the New England Patriots this year," ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark said on the "Get Up" morning show earlier this week. 

"I believe that the Browns young quarterback (Baker Mayfield) will play better than the young quarterback in New England. And when you put all of these things together, that leaves Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on the outside of the playoff picture and (Browns coach) Kevin Stefanski and the Cleveland Browns in.”

Oddsmakers don't agree with Clark. 

The Browns are underdogs to reach the playoffs with +137 odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook, while the Patriots are expected to make the postseason at -177 odds.

It's also hard to trust the Browns until they show the mental toughness required to play football into January. Bad penalties, turnovers, poor coaching and other avoidable mistakes have plagued the Browns for many years, and last season was no different.

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Another factor working against the Browns is their division. The AFC North is not a joke.

The reigning division champion Baltimore Ravens went 14-2 last year and should again be a top Super Bowl contender. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a playoff team for much of the last two decades, and they'll be aided by the healthy return of veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of 2019 due to injury. The Cincinnati Bengals are the worst team in the division, but selecting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft has renewed hope in Cincy.

It's not inconceivable for the Browns to be better than the Patriots in 2020. The Patriots will have plenty of challenges, too, most notably adjusting to a new starting quarterback. New England's schedule also is among the toughest in the league, and the defense lost several key players in free agency.

Still, it's hard to bet against a Belichick team, especially when the other team in the conversation is the Browns. The smart money in this debate is with the Patriots.

Patriots' Stephon Gilmore hard at work in new offseason training video

Patriots' Stephon Gilmore hard at work in new offseason training video

NFL teams have not been able to conduct normal offseason workouts, rookie camps and other activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but players are still finding ways to stay in shape and prepare for the 2020 season.

That includes New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who recently worked out with former NFL defensive back Dre Bly, who's currently the cornerbacks coach for the University of North Carolina football team.

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Check out some footage of Gilmore's workout in the tweet below:

Gilmore arguably is the Patriots' best player following quarterback Tom Brady's departure in free agency. In Pro Football Focus' recent ranking of the top 50 players gonig into the 2020 season, Gilmore was the only Patriot to make the list.

The veteran cornerback is coming off back-to-back seasons of first team All-Pro selections, and in February he was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award winner for the 2019 campaign.

The Patriots saw a lot of veteran players from their defense leave as free agents this offseason. Luckily for New England, its secondary remains one of the best groups in the league, and Gilmore's presence as the sport's premier shutdown cornerback is the primary reason for that.