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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Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Dissecting the offense with the addition of Antonio Brown

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Dissecting the offense with the addition of Antonio Brown

1:36 - Tom Curran starts off by asking a simple question: 'What keeps Antonio Brown on this team?' As of now, it's the fact that he's valuable enough on the gridiron, but when will that not be enough?

7:09 - Matt Cassel joins Tom to talk about a variety of topics: Antonio Brown's explosiveness making the Patriots offense look like that of the 2007 team; (14:38) How the offense attacks man vs. zone coverage; (21:41) How to approach Greg Williams' defense next week against the Jets; (27:25) and a pair of Hall of Fame debates.

32:26 - Tom catches up with Kyle Van Noy after his season debut in Miami, talking about the linebacker's newborn son, the dominance of the Patriots defense and how Josh Gordon is getting more comfortable in New England.


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Bill Belichick praises Joe Thuney's versatility amid Patriots' o-line injuries

Bill Belichick praises Joe Thuney's versatility amid Patriots' o-line injuries

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has found several quality offensive lineman in the middle to late rounds of the NFL Draft, and Joe Thuney is one of the best examples.

Thuney has established himself as a key member of the Patriots o-line as the starting left guard for all of his three seasons in New England. The 2016 third-round pick was one of the Patriots' most important players in their Super Bowl LIII victory, where he helped slow down elite Los Angeles Rams pass rusher Aaron Donald.

You cannot explain Thuney's true value without mentioning his versatility. The North Carolina State product is able to play just about every position along the offensive line, and with the Patriots losing both starting tackles to injuries over the last two weeks, Thuney's versatility has become a huge asset for Belichick.

"Very valuable. Somebody has to have versatility on that group," Belichick told reporters Tuesday. "If you take seven linemen to the game, you can't have a backup for every position, so somebody has to move. Either one of your starters has to move or your two backups have to cover all five spots in some combination of that. We need somebody that can do that and Joe's our most versatile lineman on the team, so that is an important role for us to have in terms of maintaining our depth with the group."

The latest blow to the Patriots offensive line came Tuesday, when starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. He isn't eligible to return for eight weeks. New England also lost starting right tackle Marcus Cannon to a shoulder injury in Week 1, and he missed Sunday's win over the Miami Dolphins.

The Patriots signed free agent offensive linemen Marshall Newhouse and Caleb Benenoch over the last two weeks to bolster their depth, and both of them are options at the tackles spots.

Left tackle is one of the most important positions on the field. This player protects quarterback Tom Brady's blind side and regularly goes up against the league's best pass rushers. Thuney's familiarity with the offense and overall skill set make him a logical fit at left tackle while Wynn is out, and the Patriots could always shift guys around once Newhouse and Benenoch are more comfortable with the playbook.

Replacing a player like Wynn is going to be difficult for the Patriots, but it's nice to have lineman such as Thuney who can fill in at several spots and perform at a high level playing out of position. He's one of the most valuable Patriots players not named Tom Brady.

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