Patriots

Patriots desperately need to upgrade their speed, especially on offense

Patriots desperately need to upgrade their speed, especially on offense

The New England Patriots have a need ... for speed.

Everywhere.

On offense, their two most productive players — James White and Julian Edelman — are more quick than fast. And at 28 and 34 respectively, they aren’t getting any faster.

The other wideouts? Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers are — compared to the rest of the league — plodding. Harry ran a 4.53 at the Combine. Meyers ran a 4.63. I don’t know how fast their tight ends are. I do know they aren’t that good. 

As a whole, the group is pretty easy to defend. Double Edelman. Put a corner or safety on White. Press the other guys. And feel free to creep the safeties up because nobody can run past them.

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Slow on offense is not something you want to be in 2020. 

Meanwhile, take a look at the two teams at the top of the conference — a place New England called home until last year. 

The best regular-season team in the AFC last year was the Ravens. They became that because of the rare speed of Lamar Jackson. His speed didn’t just change games. It changed the balance of power in the conference. The Ravens were the best team in football for much of the season because they embraced Jackson’s speed and exploited defenses with it.

And the AFC team that went to the Super Bowl? The Kansas City Chiefs wouldn't have been there without the fastest in-game player in the NFL, Tyreek Hill. Last April, the Chiefs got even faster, drafting receiver Mecole Hardman who ran a 4.33. 

Hardman was on the board when the Patriots drafted last season at No. 32 and took N’Keal Harry.

Also on the board? Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, Parris Campbell, D.K. Metcalf, Myles Boykin and Terry McLaurin. Campbell, Metcalf, Hardman and McLaurin all ran in the 4.3s. Boykin, Brown and Samuel were in the 4.4s. 

Basically, the Patriots overlooked Harry’s relative lack of speed and put their chips on his size, strength and ability to attack the ball in the air. 

As it turned out, every single player I mentioned was more productive than Harry, who battled injuries as a rookie. 

Could the Patriots have come back in the second round and doubled up at wideout getting a faster target for Tom Brady with more varied skills? Sure. When the Patriots selected again at 45, all those players were still on the board except Deebo. 

But the Patriots took cornerback Joejuan Williams. He barely played. 

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On defense, where the players charged with stopping the Jacksons and Hills of the AFC reside, the Patriots aren’t lacking for wheels in the secondary. Devin and Jason McCourty are two of the fastest secondary players in the league. Patrick Chung and newly-added Adrian Phillips can fly. Their corner depth — Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson — have elite speed. 

But the McCourtys and Chung have been in the NFL for a decade or more. 

At the second level? Jamie Collins was their fastest linebacker and he’s gone to Detroit. Kyle Van Noy was their best pass-rusher. He’s in Miami. John Simon is probably the fastest guy now. As a group their speed is average. Which would be fine if they were trading that lack of speed for a crushing front-seven that choked out rushing attacks. 

The way they closed their season — with Derrick Henry’s cleatmarks all over their sternums — showed that they aren’t at that level right now. 

If they want to compete in an ever-quickening AFC, the Patriots need to get faster. In a hurry. 

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

"I knew I had to have it totally taken off of my body."

In April, that's what Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser told WBZ's Steve Burton about a controversial Three Percenters tattoo on his left arm that gained instant notoriety after he was drafted by New England.

Well, it appears he has followed through on that promise.

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According to TMZ Sports, the 23-year-old has had the tattoo removed. The report states that Rohrwasser started the painful removal process right after the NFL Draft.

After the Patriots selected the Marshall kicker in the fifth round of the draft, there was a public outcry about the tattoo displaying the logo of the right-wing militia group, which has been described as racist and anti-government. Rohrwasser had said he got the tattoo when he was 18 as a way to support the military, but didn't realize its other use.

"It's shameful that I had it on there ignorantly," Rohrwasser told Burton. "I'm sorry for all my (friends) and family that have to defend me. Putting them in that compromising position is one of the biggest regrets I'll ever have. To them, I'm sorry. I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that's not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out."

Though he might still face questions about the tattoo when the Patriots open training camp later this month, removing the tattoo should keep the issue from being a huge distraction during his first NFL season.

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

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Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

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WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.