Patriots

Garoppolo's sizzling start fuels seller's remorse

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Garoppolo's sizzling start fuels seller's remorse

The No. 1 privilege a press pass gives you is access to go to people and say, "Help me understand  . . . ?" The job is to then pass on to you what I learned. Hopefully, you say, "Ohhh, now I get it."

When it comes to the Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo to the Niners for a second-round pick, it's clear most people still don't get it. That's okay. I really don't get it either.

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Bill Belichick distills his decision-making process into a simple phrase: "Just doing what's best for the football team." And that usually means maximizing value. Flipping Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round pick without putting a For Sale sign on him isn't maximizing value. Here are the caveats offered.

Garoppolo -- with his expiring contract -- is a rental for the Niners and could sign anywhere else at the end of the year unless San Fran franchises him. He wasn't completely gifted to the Niners. There is risk and cost involved for them. But they have guaranteed access to his services and it feels now like a second-round pick for those services seems light.

Also, Garoppolo was Lombardi insurance. The 2017 Patriots are the Super Bowl favorites. Say they had traded Garoppolo in April and then Tom Brady had gotten hurt in August, leaving the team in the hands of Jacoby Brissett. A Lombardi -- the reason these teams play -- would have been kicked away all for a couple of extra draft picks. So they hung on to Garoppolo as long as they could.

And then they were stuck.

Franchising Garoppolo was considered but, in the end, there was no way the team could make sense of sinking about $45 million into salary for Brady and Garoppolo in 2018. The accounting wouldn't work.

An extension? The Patriots didn't even make an official offer. They knew Garoppolo wanted to play, not watch.

Meanwhile, as Garoppolo continues to play astoundingly well for a horrible team in San Fran, we are watching a theory -- the idea that Robert Kraft told Bill Belichick that he couldn't trade Tom Brady -- morph into fact, at leasts in the public domain. I've been told that didn't happen. There was no conversation. I've also been told that if there were a conversation, a Brady trade would have probably been vetoed.

Was it never broached because Belichick knew which way the conversation would have gone? Or was it never broached because -- despite what Garoppolo's doing now and figures to do for the next decade -- he's not better than Tom Brady?

This much is a fact: None of this went as projected. The Patriots couldn't presume Brady would use the drafting of Garoppolo as the ultimate fuel and raise his level to the heights he has and win two more Super Bowls. And they couldn't predict that a kid from Eastern Illinois would improve to the point where it would be reasonable to discuss keeping him instead of the greatest there's ever been.

Talk about the ultimate high-class problem. But the solution's been messy. And there's no discounting the swirl of conversation and second-guessing as Garoppolo continues to light it up. There was no easy answer. And that's why the questions remain.

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NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

Chris Gasper and Michael Holley talk about the inconsistent messaging from NFL owners to their teams' players after they unanimously voted to change the league's policy regarding the national anthem. Watch the video above. 

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

FOXBORO -- Of all the observations made at Tuesday's OTA practice, one that stood out as sort of an under-the-radar takeaway was that the defensive end position for the Patriots looked nothing like it did back in early February.

Seeing a good deal of the workload on the edges were two players who didn't play a snap for the Patriots last season: Derek Rivers and Adrian Clayborn.

From this, we can deduce a couple of things.

First, a few of the team's most experienced edge defenders weren't available. Trey Flowers' absence from Tuesday's work is worth monitoring as we progress through the spring and move toward training camp. Arguably the team's top defensive lineman, Flowers is headed into the final year of his rookie contract. Dont'a Hightower, who's coming back from a season-ending pec injury and has on-the-line/off-the-line flexibility, was also missing Tuesday.

Second, the participation level from both Rivers and Clayborn would serve as an indication that both are feeling healthy enough to take on a healthy amount of work at this point in the year. Clayborn reportedly tweaked his quad in workouts earlier in the offseason program, but he appeared to be moving fine. Rivers, meanwhile, is back for his second pro season after missing all of last year following an ACL tear suffered in joint training camp practices with the Texans.

Rivers availability is particularly interesting, if unsurprising, since he could be a stabilizing factor for the Patriots' front in 2018. A third-round pick last year out of Youngstown State, Rivers was used as an end, as a stand-up player on the edge, as a pass-rusher and as a coverage player in camp before getting hurt.

Though he missed all of last season, he was able to maintain a positive approach in the Patriots locker room, attending meetings and working diligently on his upper-body strength while his leg healed.

"Nobody ever wants to have an injury, but praise God. It’s all in his plan," Rivers said Tuesday. "My faith helped me get through it. It was a good rehab process. I was able to learn the defense, and I wasn’t away from the building, so I could do everything but be out here on the field. So it was a blessing. It actually made me a better player."

Rivers played on the left side - opposite Clayborn, a right end - in Tuesday's work. That's a position the Patriots had some trouble filling all of last season following Rob Ninkovich's retirement. It requires good athleticism, an ability to set an edge, an ability to rush...but also an ability to track backs out of the backfield.

"I’d say it’s different playing on the left than playing on the right from a responsibilities standpoint," Bill Belichick said last summer. "There’s certainly some similarities, but it’s different. Some guys can play both. Some guys, I would say, are better suited at one or the other. Sometimes that’s a comfort thing. Sometimes it’s really a scheme thing and what we ask them to do. They’re the same, but they’re different more so than say right and left corner or right and left defensive tackle or that type of thing. It’s defensive scheme. It’s a little bit different...

"I think it really becomes more of a coverage discussion – how much and what type of coverage responsibilities would you put them in? You know, Chandler Jones versus Ninkovich or Trey Flowers versus Ninkovich. There’s some differences in their coverage responsibilities. Especially most teams are, for us, defensively left-handed formation teams. Not that they couldn’t do it the other way, but more times than not, there’s a high percentage of situations that come up on the left side that are different from the right side, especially with a right-handed quarterback, which most of them are.

"I mean, look, they both have to know them, they both have to do them, but I’d say there’s definitely more – it’s kind of like left tackle and right tackle. You don’t really see the same player at right tackle as left tackle. Some guys can do both, but there are quite a few guys that are better at one or the other, and that’s usually where they end up."

The Patriots used Hightower off the left side early in the season but eventually moved him back to the middle in what looked like an effort to improve the unit's overall communication. Cassius Marsh got a crack at the spot at times. Kyle Van Noy could be seen there. Eric Lee saw work on the left. It was a revolving door. 

The rotation was heavy at both edge spots, really. Deatrich Wise saw extensive work as a rookie. Harvey Langi looked like he might earn regular snaps before a car wreck ended his season. Trevor Reilly, Geneo Grissom, Marquis Flowers and James Harris all appeared on the edge as the Patriots hoped to find answers. 

In the athletic Rivers, they could have a player who is big enough (6-foot-5, 250) to handle work in the running game on the left edge and athletic enough to both rush (his specialty in college) and cover. It's just a matter of Rivers showing the team he can do it. 

"Obviously, coming in here, your rookie year is almost like your freshman year in college," Rivers said. "So now, it’s just listening to the coaches, staying in the playbook and just getting ready to roll for each practice and just try to get better each and every day.”

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