Patriots

Should Patriots trade for bubble quarterback Tom Savage?

Should Patriots trade for bubble quarterback Tom Savage?

Bill Belichick wasn't hiding it. The Patriots are examining all 31 opposing rosters in the NFL to try to track who will become available on cutdown day, and who might only be available via trade.

Sometimes the line separating those two categories is blurred. It's a guessing game to try to figure out which players will garner interest on waivers and which won't, which teams will be aggressive enough to make a trade and which won't. 

And while the Patriots are surely on the lookout for help at receiver, that won't be the only place they're looking. What about quarterback? 

NFL Media reported on Wednesday that there could be a handful of signal-callers available, and one of them has some experience in a Patriots-like system. 

Savage, 28, is the name that sticks out. A fourth-round pick of the Texans in 2014 (taken 73 picks after Jimmy Garoppolo), he signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with the Saints. 

The Patriots have seen their share of Savage, having practiced against him in joint sessions with the Texans last summer. Savage then looked good in their preseason matchup, completing eight of nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown. 

Coming from the Texans system under former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, Savage would have some familiarity with Patriots concepts. Now in New Orleans, he's with an organization that has shown in the past it's willing to deal with the Patriots. 

This preseason, Savage has completed 23 of 31 passes for 222 yards (7.2 yards per attempt), no touchdowns and no picks. Last regular season, in seven games as a starter, Savage completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,412 yards (6.3 yards per attempt), five touchdowns, six picks and 21 sacks. 

For his career in the regular season, Savage has completed 57.5 percent of his throws for exactly 2,000 yards (6.35 yards per attempt), five touchdowns and seven picks. He's started nine games total.

When it comes to any potential interest the Patriots might have in Savage, there are a number of questions that would need answering. 

Is he viewed as a starting-caliber player? Would he be a better option than 32-year-old Brian Hoyer (21-for-32, 268 yards, 8.4 yards per attempt, two touchdowns, one pick this preseason), now or in the near future? Would he be able to function relatively quickly in the Patriots offense? What do the Patriots think of Danny Etling's long-term potential?

While the Patriots don't have a glaring need for another passer, they should have enough information on Savage to have an idea of whether or not he has the ability to start someday. 

And they may very well feel he doesn't. But the Patriots exist in a league where capable quarterbacks rarely become available in free agency, and they deal with a draft that is consistently a crapshoot. 

Maybe Savage, if he can be had for a reasonable price, is worth a look for a team that doesn't yet appear to have its next in line. If he's truly on the bubble, he may be available for a song.

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To press or not to press, Patriots face conundrum at line with Chiefs WR Hill

To press or not to press, Patriots face conundrum at line with Chiefs WR Hill

KANSAS CITY -- Tyreek Hill has admitted that this season that he's still growing when it comes to his mastery of the nuances of the receiver position. But the Chiefs undersized speedster doesn't need to be Jerry Rice to know what it means for him when he faces press coverage.

"I just start smiling immediately," he said Friday. "That means the ball is coming up, man. That means I'm gonna get the ball. Probably not all the time, but there's a high chance I'm gonna get the ball. That's always a good sign."

How the Patriots defend Hill in the AFC Championship Game will be one of the game-plan choices that will determine which team represents the conference in Super Bowl LIII. It's one of those unstoppable-force-meets-immovable-object conversations. 

First, consider what Hill has done when a defensive back has gone facemask-to-facemask with him at the line of scrimmage and tried to disrupt his timing off the line of scrimmage. He's averaging a league-best 4.1 yards per route run against press coverage, according to NFL NextGen Stats. His quickness off the line and his acceleration, once he's free, makes him the toughest jam in the league.

Now, consider the Patriots love to play press coverage. No team in the league plays more man-to-man in the secondary, and Patriots corners -- Stephon Gilmore, JC Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones -- are all physical enough to mix it up at the line. Gilmore, in particular, has excelled as a press corner this year. He's allowed just one catch on 15 targets of 20 yards or more when pressing at the line. (When playing off, according to NextGen Stats, Gilmore has allowed four of eight deep targets to be completed this year.)

So what do you do if you're the Patriots?

They'll acknowledge that Hill is a special talent. Even after seeing Antonio Brown, Stefon Diggs and Davante Adams in man-to-man coverage this year -- and after locking them up -- Gilmore says Hill is unlike any other player the Patriots have seen. 

"Anytime you're fast like that, you're explosive, you can get him in space, and he can make people miss," Gilmore said earlier this week. "He's probably one of the best at it right now in space and making plays with the ball in his hands. And he's got good speed so that helps out a lot too."

Gilmore indicated he'd relish the challenge of running with Hill if it came to that. 

"I would. I would," he said. "But coach is gonna put a great game plan in and we'll see how it goes."

Whether it's Gilmore or Jackson or someone else on Hill -- we took a look at the potential matchups here -- the Patriots will have to determine how they can slow down Hill at the line while minimizing the risk that comes with an attempted jam. If you land a solid strike, that may be enough to disrupt the entire play. If you whiff, you might allow a 50-yard touchdown. 

At the very least, you'll end up on the internet featured in a GIF no defensive back wants to see on his Twitter timeline. 

The Patriots can't ratchet up the level of violence with their press technique against Hill. That might've worked in the NFL of yesteryear, but Hill is the kind of athlete who will make you pay for getting over-aggressive. 

But one way the Patriots could mitigate the risk they'd run by pressing Hill is to press him with someone who isn't assigned to the diminutive wideout in coverage. That's exactly what they did for much of their Week 6 matchup with the Chiefs in trying to slow down tight end Travis Kelce. 

Trey Flowers jammed Kelce. Dont'a Hightower jammed Kelce. Kyle Van Noy jammed Kelce. Then they'd pass him off to someone else better-suited to cover him and they'd continue up the field to get after Patrick Mahomes. 

On at least one snap in that October meeting, Flowers set up in a two-point stance near Kansas City's bunch formation -- a rarity for him -- and tried to get hands on both Kelce and Hill. 

Do the Patriots have the resources to get physical with both Kelce and Hill this way? Probably not without delaying their rush. But it's worth a shot because letting Hill get a free release off the line isn't a great option, either. 

He ended up with 142 yards and three touchdowns in Week 6, and on some of his biggest plays, he was hardly slowed at the snap. On a 27-yard gain in the second quarter, he ran past Van Noy's attempted jam and into open space in the secondary. On a 14-yard score in the third quarter, there was no jam and he had little trouble running by Devin McCourty. On his 75-yard score in the fourth, Hill had a free release and ran through New England's Cover 3 with ease. 

We're on the record here saying we feel as though the Patriots would be better off by playing even more man than they did in Week 6, as man-to-man looks helped hold the Chiefs to just nine first-half points. That could mean more opportunities to jam Hill at the line. And, yes, Hill's eyes might light up if the jammer is a defensive back. 

But if it's a bigger player -- one who might help Bill Belichick's defense reduce the risk typically associated with throwing hands at Hill -- then the Patriots might be better off than if they let him get into routes unimpeded.

 

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