Patriots

Patriots rise to the situation against unbeaten Chiefs

Patriots rise to the situation against unbeaten Chiefs

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady had a thought when Tyreek Hill sprinted down the sideline in front of the Patriots bench for a 75-yard touchdown:

"Good. Score quick."

With just over three minutes remaining, Hill's electric catch-and-run tied the back-and-forth shootout, 40-40. But taking a glass-half-full approach, Brady viewed it as more time for him and his teammates to drive the field and score to win the game.

He was right. Seven plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal as time expired that made the Patriots the only team to knock off Kansas City so far this season.

"We had enough time," Brady said. "They had one timeout left and it gave us enough time to go down and kick the field goal. I don't know if we punted tonight (NOTE: They didn't) . . . Still think we missed some opportunities out there. Made some situational plays when we needed it, the short yardage. We really lost the game (to the Chiefs) last year on short-yardages. I thought we were pretty good in that tonight, so that was real positive."

The critical short-yardage play of the game-winning drive came just after the two-minute warning. Sony Michel, who'd racked up over 100 yards for the second time in his young career, took a handoff on third-and-one at the Patriots 34-yard line, ran off left tackle Trent Brown and picked up two.

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The clock was ticking and the Patriots were off and running.

"That was great," Brady said. "I was happy we made the third-and-one. You know, that gave us a great opportunity, and then we hit some other plays."

"Situational football," center David Andrews said. "We practice it so much. Talk about it. Walk through it. We knew we didn't want to give him the ball back. That was the third-and-short, right? To start the drive? That was a big play.

"We kind of knew what they were going to be in. We executed it. That was a big play right there. Sony did a great job of going downhill and getting the first down."

In last year's season opener, the Patriots failed on two fourth-and-one plays. On Sunday night, Michel converted a third-and-one at the goal line in the first quarter, James White ran for 10 on a third-and-2 in the second, Michel picked up enough on a third-and-one in the third, and later in that quarter Brady rushed for a touchdown on a third-and-four from the four.

The Patriots were 7-for-13 on third down in the game, and they went 6-for-7 on third-and-less-than-five. One of those conversions was a little atypical, with Brady hitting Chris Hogan for a 42-yard pass on third-and-one in the fourth. The Patriots were down 33-30 at the time.

"I think it's a confidence thing," Hogan said of his team's late-game execution. "We practice these things, and we're in these situations sometimes in games. When we're in those situations, our poise is good. Tommy obviously being in the huddle really commands us. Our attention and our detail and our sense of urgency has to go up in those situations, and you gotta execute. We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game."

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Once Michel had picked up the final third-and-short of the game, Brady went to his most reliable weapons in the passing game. He hit White for 16 yards and a first down. Then he found Rob Gronkowski in one-on-one coverage for 39 yards up the right sideline.

"He got a matchup and made a big play," Brady said. "He’s been making a lot of those in his career. I’ll keep throwing to him in the biggest moments."

One snap to center the football for Gostkowski was all that was left to do. The game-winner might've been Gostkowski's easiest kick of the night, but he never would've been put in that position had he not made four field goals prior to that one, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter that was as clutch as any late-game play the Patriots were able to execute.

"That's a guy that's certainly taken for granted around here," Matthew Slater said after the game. "Kicker is a funny position in the league. Nobody starts paying attention to you until you start missing kicks. That guy's been so reliable, so consistent for the last 13 years . . . Really no surprise there. He does it in practice. His approach is the same. His mentality never changes. He came up big for us tonight."

Gostkowski. Gronkowski. Brady. White. Hogan. Michel and the offensive line. There were plenty who came up big to finish off the biggest test the Patriots have faced to this point in the year.

If every season is different, every team is different, as Bill Belichick and his players tell us annually, then Sunday -- and in particular that final drive -- must have taught them something about themselves. There are all sorts of players on the roster have been in that kind of late-game spot many times before. But this team hadn't.

"I think we have a lot of clutch players," Brady said. "I think we have no problem grinding it out. That’s what the football season’s all about. I don’t think we’ve seen our best. I think we can all play a lot better, and I think that’s what we plan to do."

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Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

Where things stand between Tom Brady and Patriots as free agency looms

All’s quiet on the Tom Brady front at the moment.

Perfectly reasonable.

In contract negotiations, the Patriots are traditionally a team that waits … and waits … and waits … and then gets down to business clinically and dispassionately.

If an impasse hits, their approach is often, “See what’s out there. We’ll leave the light on for ya.”

They’ve done that with Moss, McCourty, Hightower, Bruschi and many others over the years. All came back and re-signed after brief free agent tours. Will they do the same with Brady?

Perhaps. But there are two big problems the team faces if it decides to do that.

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First, the Patriots can’t sit in the parking lot drumming their fingers on the steering wheel while every other team is in the store, trying Brady on for size.

They need to get in and shop for a quarterback too just in case Brady does decide to go to Indy, Tampa, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Carolina, Washington, Chicago or Miami. Saving Brady’s spot until he’s ready to answer? Dice roll. 

Second problem? The $13.5M that hits New England’s 2020 salary cap if/when Brady becomes a free agent on March 18 at 4 p.m. is a wrench in the works.

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Need a refresher on why exactly that hit even exists? Here’s the simple summation from CBS’ Joel Corry where he explains the Patriots borrowing a bookkeeping strategy the Saints used with Drew Brees to give Brady a raise (not an extension) last August:

The Saints restructured Brees' contract last March for salary cap purposes by converting $16.2 million of Brees' $23 million in 2019 compensation into a fully guaranteed third day of the league year roster bonus. Since the roster bonus was fully guaranteed, it was treated like signing bonus under the salary cap where it was prorated over the life of the contract. The Saints added a 2021 contract year that also automatically voids on the last day of the 2019 league year. 

Brady's contract was reworked last August to raise his 2019 salary from $15 million to $23 million. Brees' most recent contracts with the Saints were seemingly used as a template in Brady's renegotiation. Two contract years for 2020 and 2021 with $30 million and $32 million salaries automatically voiding on the last day of the 2019 league year were included for cap purposes, so Brady's fully guaranteed $20.25 million roster bonus could be prorated over three years at $6.75 million annually through 2021 instead of just 2019. The renegotiated contract also contains a clause prohibiting the Patriots from designating Brady as a franchise or transition player.

The Patriots can’t play the same financial shell game. The expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement means teams can’t kick the financial can down the road into phony future years as the Patriots and Saints did with Brady and Brees.

If a new CBA is agreed to prior to free agency, that’s good news.

If not, they can play a new game with different toys using option bonuses or completion bonuses.

The issue with that is, the $13.5M cap hit from the voidable years and a competitive compensation plus making sure there’s room to get Brady better offensive support means a multi-year deal has to be done because his 2020 cap hit would be astronomical.

If a multi-year pact wasn’t what the Patriots wanted to do with a 42-year-old, they won’t love doing it with a 43-year-old. And if they do agree to a three-year deal, the team will then be in the uncomfortable spot of having to release Brady if he wants to keep on past 2020.

There is an existing sliver of cap-relief hope for the Patriots. According to our friend Miguel Benzan of the Boston Sports Journal (a crutch for me whenever I write cap-related stories), the Patriots could get credited for past charges against the cap related to Antonio Brown ($9M) and Aaron Hernandez ($3.25M).

I’m trying to find out if the team is anticipating that and/or actively trying to recoup. It would be a boon if that $12.25M were credited back before March 16, though, since it would nearly offset the Brady dead dough.

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So where do things currently stand? After conversations over the past few days, this is my understanding of where things are.

Negotiations will begin "in a couple of weeks." I interpret that as during or immediately after the NFL Combine which starts about February 26 and concludes March 1.

By that time, Brady should have back-channeled his way to an understanding of what’s out there. Last week, I wondered whether it was advantageous for the Patriots if teams did make their pitches to Brady before "legal tampering" begins on March 16.

My understanding is that the Patriots aren’t worried about other team’s financial pitches. Their business with Brady revolves around the direction of the 2020 offensive personnel,  Brady getting some input on that and Brady’s role in the team’s future. They aren’t going to be super-vigilant about tampering. 

Something worth noting is there is very little rancor right now. The situation is what it is. The sides are going to work to make it work. Why they are here, what could have been done to avoid this, who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s to blame? I’m not sensing it.

There’s been plenty in the past. Now – with Brady having the freedom to say, “No thanks, it’s been great…” and the team truly being in the “year-to-year” contractual situation they wanted, nobody seems to have an active resentment. Also, I think the gravity of what may loom – the specter of a historic 20-year run ending – has added an air of solemnity.

I’ve also heard we shouldn’t be expecting TOM BRADY FREE AGENT TOUR 2020: COAST-TO-COAST WITH THE GOAT! If Brady hits free agency, he may try to set up meetings at one location instead of creating a circus. That’s a “what I’m hearing…” so take it for what that’s worth.

Reiterating what I’ve previously reported but have had again mentioned, the “Patriots are willing to go north of $30M” report wasn’t something either side loved.

For the Patriots, it created a false expectation before any negotiations began and, from the perspective of the Brady camp, it missed the point of what his main issue is. 

Also, while negotiations haven’t begun, the team is plotting a course for adding players that fit Brady’s strengths to help on offense whether through free agency or trade. Tight end is a position of emphasis.

Finally, if Brady goes to another team? The people he’ll leave behind in Foxboro will be highly, highly motivated to have a 2020 season that will make Brady wonder if he made the right decision.

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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