Patriots

Scheme, culture fit: What the Patriots will be missing with Trey Flowers' departure

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Scheme, culture fit: What the Patriots will be missing with Trey Flowers' departure

The Michael Bennett trade might not have officially taken the Patriots out of the Trey Flowers sweepstakes, but they had to know that Flowers' market was going places they didn't want to be.

Now Flowers is headed to Detroit on a five-year contract with an average annual value in the $16-$17 million range, according to ESPN. And suddenly Bennett has gone from an ideal sidekick for Flowers to someone who will be viewed as the "next man up" to replace him.

Not that replacing Flowers is a one-man job. 

As a pass-rusher, Bennett projects to significantly cut into the production the Patriots will lose in losing Flowers, if not exceed it in some respects. He had 9.0 sacks last year, more than Flowers has ever had, and he racked up 20 hits and 37 hurries in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. Flowers, meanwhile, had 7.5 sacks last season to go along with 16 hits and 51 hurries, per PFF.

Flowers is 25 years old. Bennett is 33. The Patriots certainly lose some longevity at the position by opting not to re-sign their top pass-rushing talent. But even in the short-term, the Patriots will take a hit on first and second downs if the plan is to swap in Bennett (735 snaps in the 2018 regular season) for Flowers (732). 

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Flowers was one of the best in the league last season among edge defenders in PFF's run-stop percentage category. He made 25 "stops" on 215 snaps against the run for a run-stop percentage of 11.6, trailing only Demarcus Lawrence (12.3) and Calais Campbell (15.1). Bennett was no slouch against the run, ranking 16th with a run-stop percentage of 7.5 in 2018.

With a strong every-down option in Bennett, paying him $7.2 million — or less than half of what it looks like Flowers will make in Detroit on average — probably made more than enough financial sense for the Patriots to let Flowers walk.

This year's draft class is loaded with edge-defender talent — we had two go to the Patriots in our most recent seven-round mock — and the Patriots have a few young players who could take on larger roles moving forward: Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu and Trent Harris. How those players project in the Patriots system could factor into the decision to ultimately let Flowers link up with Matt Patricia.

When looking at a Bennett-for-Flowers trade-off, there are other areas to consider. Will Bennett thrive in New England's scheme the same way Flowers did? (Thanks to Chris Long, we know the Patriots use their defensive linemen much differently than the Eagles use theirs.) Will Bennett be a fit in the Patriots locker room? Flowers was universally respected at One Patriot place, mentored younger pass-rushers like Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers, and he'd become the voice of the defensive line.

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Those variables are difficult to project. Odds are Bennett won't be able to do everything Flowers did for the Patriots — on or off the field. But the Patriots probably knew that. Which could be the jumping-off point for an entirely different discussion.

On the one hand, the Patriots have left emotion out of their business dealings for a long time. On the other, they understand that culture matters and they work to cultivate it both with their in-house practices and their front-office maneuverings.

Flowers was someone everyone liked. He was someone who positively impacted the culture the Patriots espoused. How much are they willing to pay for that? 

Not as much as the Lions were willing to, apparently.

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Chiefs fan who shined laser in Tom Brady's face pleads guilty in court

Chiefs fan who shined laser in Tom Brady's face pleads guilty in court

The Chiefs fan who shined a laser pointer in Tom Brady's face during the AFC Championship game pled guilty to the charge in court on Wednesday.

Dwyan Morgan, 64, was charged with disturbing the peace for the Jan. 20 incident and faced time in prison. However, upon hearing Morgan's plea, the judge opted to hit him with a $500 fine instead, per TMZ Sports.

If convicted, the charge carried a maximum of one year behind bars plus a $1,000 fine.

Morgan was let off easy in court, but he was punished far more severely by the Chiefs, who banned him from Arrowhead Stadium shortly after the NFL's investigation.

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Will N'Keal Harry's contested-catch prowess translate to the NFL?

Will N'Keal Harry's contested-catch prowess translate to the NFL?

Leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we'll try to answer one question every day as a way of giving you a better idea of where we'll have our focus trained when practices begin. Today we take a look at Patriots first-round pick N'Keal Harry, the skill set that helped him light up the Pac-12, and whether or not that'll translate at the next level.

Tom Brady, for all the superlatives he's earned, isn't the most daring of quarterbacks. He's always cognizant of just how devastating an interception can be to his team's chances of winning, but he's been so careful at times that even he will occasionally admit he needs to take more risks.

“Maybe part of my problem as I’ve gotten older is I want to make so few mistakes,” he told WEEI last season. “Maybe there’s not as much aggressiveness as I would like because with aggressiveness comes more risk. We have, like, a 95 percent chance of winning when we don’t turn the ball over and I think that’s always in the back of my mind, being a little less fearful with the ball and a little more aggressive."

Still, Brady finished last season as one of the most risk-averse quarterbacks in football in 2018. Per NextGen Stats, he was the No. 27 passer (among quarterbacks with at least 150 attempts) when it came to their "aggressiveness" percentage metric, which tracks the number of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage, where there is a defender within one yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. 

Brady has the ability to thrive when he rolls the dice, though. According to Pro Football Focus, he's graded out as among the five best quarterbacks in football over the last three years when attempting "tight-window" throws.

The question now? How often will Brady be willing to gamble, particularly with two of his best tight-window receivers -- Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon -- currently out of the mix? 

The answer could depend on how well the rapport between Brady and first-round pick N'Keal Harry develops through training camp.

Harry's calling card at Arizona State was his ability to make contested catches. His highlight reel is littered with jump balls in the end zone and leaping catches -- sometimes one-handed -- deep down the middle of the field. His strength to fight off handsy defensive backs at the catch point (27 bench reps of 225 pounds, 99th percentile) and his eye-popping vertical (38.5-inches, 84th percentile) certainly help him in that regard.

"I would say that one of the things he does well is he plays the ball in the air," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the first night of the draft. 

"I'd say the coverage in this league is tight, regardless of the type of player or receiver that you are. The coverage is tight. You're going to have to make some plays in some tight quarters. Receivers have to do it. Tight ends have to do it. I mean, James White, I know he plays running back, but he's involved in the passing game, [he has to do it]. 

"The windows are smaller, the catches are going to be more contested. If a player has the ability to do that, that's maybe one of his strengths. It was one of Rob's strengths. He can make contested catches. Everybody has something that they do well . . . They have to maximize the attributes that they have."

According to Pro Football Focus, Harry reeled in 53.2 percent of his contested targets at Arizona State, which was the second-highest percentage among receivers in this year's draft class. (West Virginia's Gary Jennings was first at 54 percent.) Harry's 17 contested catches last season tied him for second (along with Patriots undrafted free-agent addition Jakobi Meyers) among draft-eligible receivers last year.

How often Brady gives Harry the opportunity to make those types of plays will be fascinating over the course of the next month or so. Brady traditionally hasn't leaned on rookie wideouts as one of his go-to options, but the Patriots have never taken a receiver in the first round during Brady's career. And one would think that camp is the perfect time for Brady to figure out when he can trust Harry to make a play on a 50-50 ball and when it might be best to lob one out of bounds. 

Harry's not thought of as a burner; he ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine. But if recent history is any indication, wideouts with contested-catch ability, even if they don't have track-star speed, can succeed in the NFL. 

DeAndre Hopkins is probably the league's best example of that phenomenon. He's not in the conversation for fastest wideout (4.57 40 in 2013), but he is in the conversation as one of the best receivers in the game because of his ability to use his body and play the ball in the air. He caught 58.1 percent of his contested targets last season, good enough for fifth in the league. 

Michael Thomas of the Saints (4.57 40 in 2016) showed "the ability to go up and win the ball" at Ohio State, according to Pro Football Focus' scouting report from three years ago. It's served him well as he's developed into one of the top pass-catchers in the game. He ranked eighth in the league last season by catching 56.7 percent of his contested targets.

Mike Williams of the Chargers (ninth, 56.5 percent) and Chris Godwin of the Bucs (10th, 52.0 percent) are among the best in the NFL at making plays in tight windows as well, and their scouting reports coming out of college were similar to those written up on Harry. 

NFL.com on Harry: "Wins jump balls with well-timed leaps and frame to shield the finish...Downhill speed fails to threaten most cornerbacks."

PFF on Williams: "May not create enough separation to fit with every quarterback style. Needs aggressive passer to allow him to win at the catch point in contested situations."

PFF on Godwin: "Catches the ball in traffic, using his frame to box out defensive backs...Does not consistently separate against man coverage."

Does that mean that as a rookie Harry will match the production of players like Williams, Godwin or any other established NFL wideout? Not at all. He acknowledged he has a long way to go saying back in May, "I haven't done anything in the NFL yet. It's my job to put in the work and perform and live up to expectations."

But it's clear with Gronkowski retired (for now) and Gordon's availability up in the air that the Patriots went after tight-window artists to help Brady, picking up Harry, Meyers and Demaryius Thomas (third among receivers at converting contested catches in 2017).

Harry, of course, will draw more attention on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium next week than any of the new acquisitions in Bill Belichick's receiver room. Can he get off of press coverage when the pads come on? Can he win jump balls against bigger and more athletic defenders than the ones he saw in college? 

What happens in camp will be far from the final word on Harry's evaluation, but how well his skills translate this summer may give us a window into just how involved he'll be come the fall.  

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