The Patriots’ switch flipping at the tail end of the 2018 season has draped them in an invincibility cloak.
No matter how bleak it looks – and it looked bleaker than it had in a decade after their December 16 loss to the Steelers left them at 9-5 – they will figure it out.
Their transformation from the team we supposed they were after that game into the one that steamrolled the Chargers, outlasted the Chiefs and defanged the Rams in the playoffs has resulted in mass surrender.
Nobody wants to edge out onto thin ice and proclaim that the loss of a Hall of Fame tight end, multiple free agency swings and misses, myriad coaching departures and the cold feet of Greg Schiano will doom them in 2019.
Because they’ll figure it out. They always do (knock wood, cross fingers, salt over the shoulder).
All that aside, the offseason so far for the six-time Super Bowl champions has been an Excedrin headache with Schiano’s decision to pass on becoming the team’s defensive coordinator being the latest irritation.
Aside from the presence of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, one thing that we can ascribe the Patriots annual success to is continuity. And that’s been broken.
The defensive coaching staff is going to go through a thorough rebuild as it replaces defensive line coach Brendan Daly, corners coach Josh Boyer and linebackers coach/defensive playcaller Brian Flores. This, after Matt Patricia left last year.
Jerod Mayo is a football savant but there’s a learning curve for anyone in a new job as they assimilate to its obligations so to expect him to walk in and become the defensive coordinator as many wondered this week is unrealistic.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have one wide receiver who is a bona fide NFL starter. They have no tight ends who fit that description. Their wide receivers coach, Chad O’Shea, has gone to the Dolphins and needs replacing as well. Their presumed left tackle is coming off a torn Achilles and has barely played pro football.
On the bright side, the player-acquisition party is far from over. With the amount of draft collateral the Patriots have, you can almost count on a trade of major consequence between now and the end of the month.
But turning this team from where it currently stands on April Fool’s Eve into a team covered in confetti next February – as Belichick memorably predicted in the Super Bowl afterglow just last month – is a major, major renovation project.
Unless you’re dying to wind up on the Freezing Cold Takes’ twitter feed, you’ve learned to either keep your doubts to yourself or express them with a caveat.
Regardless of how the 2019 season ends up, the degree of difficulty the Patriots have facing them is as high as it’s ever been.
* If Tom Brady follows the same offseason routine he did in 2018, the Patriots won’t see much of him before June’s minicamp. Brady indicated to me at the Super Bowl he’d continue to put family first in the offseason and said the same to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that week as well. ESPN’s Mike Reiss noted last week the plan remains the same. While the end – another Super Bowl win – certainly justified the means Brady took in the offseason, it wasn’t a smooth ride offensively for much of the year. What would Brady’s presence have done to make Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews or Kenny Britt healthy or effective enough to help in 2018? Probably nothing. But the case can be made that better chemistry with Phillip Dorsett or Cordarelle Patterson would have resulted. The same case can be made this year that Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington and whoever else the Patriots bring in would be much better served if they met Brady in April instead of for a weekend in June. Especially with wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea now in Miami as the Dolphins offensive coordinator (we still don’t know who the new receivers coach is), Brady’s input with his skill position players sure as hell wouldn’t hurt. But, at the doorstep of 42, if Brady chooses to prioritize his offseason in a way that keeps him away from OTAs, that’s his earned right. In the end, it’s on the coaching staff to coach the players and if you were Brady – still waiting on a new deal that seems to be in the “we’ll get to it” pile rather than “highest priority” – you might take a similar approach.
* Bill Belichick’s disengaged meeting with media Tuesday at the league meetings was SOP. No need to plumb the whys of it. It is what it is. But it does stand in contrast to his 2018 approach at the league meetings. He wasn’t great at the breakfast, but he did meet with New England media on Sunday before the meetings officially kicked off. There was a lot more to kick through at that time – Malcolm Butler's benching, status reports on the then-disenchanted Brady and Gronkowski, the retention of Josh McDaniels – and Belichick hit it all in a 15-minute session. There was no Sunday confab this time. With Gronk announcing his retirement earlier that evening – probably two weeks later than Belichick would have liked to have gotten the news – there would have been a lot of meat on the bone.
* The Patriots got lumped in earlier this week as one of the teams interested in trading for Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen. No reason to disbelieve that they would inquire. He was the 10th overall pick last year, he’s available and the Patriots have a need. But the fact Arizona’s allowed its interest in taking Kyler Murray No. 1 does absolutely nothing to create urgency for teams looking to deal for Rosen if they are looking to maximize value. The Cardinals have to get Rosen off their hands. It’s a buyer’s market. Teams can cool their heels and let Arizona sweat until the draft draws closer and the price drops. Arizona, meanwhile, needs suitors to create competition. The Patriots/Giants/Chargers report this week felt like a news drop aimed at accomplishing that.
* Gronk will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2024. If he stays retired. And that’s going to be a chew toy for all of us to gnaw on the next several months. While in Phoenix, I asked ESPN’s Booger McFarland if he believed teammates would have any issue with Gronk jumping on a moving train later in the year after OTAs, minicamp, training camp, etc. were done. His answer was a resounding “no.” Gronk’s resume, physical sacrifice and level of performance over the years speaks for itself, McFarland said. He couldn’t imagine a teammate having an issue with an in-season return.
Meanwhile, the video Bill (Moose) Messina got of Matt Patricia discussing his favorite Gronk story was outstanding. Moose (one half of The Camera Guys along with Glenn Gleason) got Patricia to detail an occasion where he whipped a trash can at Gronk during a drill.
Seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess.
* After the final press conference of the league meetings concluded, I caught up with Rich McKay, head of the competition committee with a couple of questions to clarify the replay rule as it relates to pass interference. I wondered if, for instance, in the course of a team asking for a review for defensive pass interference, a ruling for offensive pass interference could come back against the team that asked for the review. The answer is yes. Once the play is reviewed for a foul, whatever foul is found will be enforced. LOL. I also asked McKay about the idea of officiating czar Al Riveron coming over the top with a PI call that doesn’t really mesh with what’s been going on in the game. Belichick often advises players to “do business as business is being done” in a game. If PI or holding are being called tightly, conform to what the refs are calling and vice versa. McKay said that wasn’t his concern and added that – because he’s the one making the decisions – week-to-week consistency is ensured since its just one guy doing it. An added observation: concern has been expressed that we’ll see a fleet of challenges on Hail Mary plays. Maybe. Or maybe we’ll see more Hail Mary completions if DBs are concerned about being caught on film interfering and play less aggressively on jump balls. I also wonder if receivers may now consider “flopping” in a way they never have before when they knew they wouldn’t have recourse to draw a flag on review.
* The NFL and NFLPA have nearly two years to hammer out a new CBA and ESPN’s Dan Graziano did a nice job laying out the issues that need to be worked through before there hugs, handshakes and debates on who won or lost can be made. The players, of course, will fight for more money. And they should. But the fact the salary cap has risen from $120M to $188M since 2012 (the last CBA went through in 2011) is an indicator that they aren’t getting the financial hosing many predicted they’d gotten when the pie was split 51 to 47 in favor of the owners. If business is good – and the rising cap over the past six years is a great indicator it is, despite the “football is dying” consternation we heard the last 18 months – the players should always lobby for a bigger slice of the money they put their health on the line to ensure. But this CBA has worked much better for the vast majority of players than the last one.
* The rise and fall (especially the fall) of the Seattle Seahawks has been well-documented. But mixed in with the discreet mutiny that followed the SB49 loss to the Patriots and the blame laid at the feet of Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell for throwing instead of running on the fateful second-and-goal play that changed the history of both the Patriots and Seahawks is this: Carroll’s easy hand on the reins gave too many players the impression they were in charge. And, judging by recent comments from linebacker K.J. Wright, that impression hasn’t been altered. With Mychal Kendricks, Bobby Wagner and Wright at linebacker, Seattle is stocked. But Wright isn’t moving for the newly acquired Kendricks if that means Wright has to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
“I’m not going to SAM,” Wright said on Seattle radio. “If the SAM is off the ball, I’ll go to SAM but I’ve got to be off the ball. They’ve got to get creative with how they utilize everyone. But me on the ball is no-go.”
Good luck, Pete.
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