Patriots

Will Tom Brady's departure make these Patriots weapons better or worse in 2020?

Will Tom Brady's departure make these Patriots weapons better or worse in 2020?

Disappointing rookies and mostly underwhelming veterans marred the Patriots' offense last season.

So did having a pissy quarterback, injuries to the offensive line and no tight ends — but now the line is healed, the QB is gone and at least there are bodies at tight end. 

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So let's see where the arrow should realistically be pointing for the returning #weaponz. Will these individuals be better or worse in 2020? 

SONY MICHEL: BETTER

2019 stats: 247 carries, 912 yards (3.7 yards/carry), 7 TD

With major injuries at offensive line and fullback, Michel took a step backward in his second season. James Develin has since retired, but the offensive line is returning, including the surprise move of retaining Joe Thuney. 

DAMIEN HARRIS: BETTER

2019 stats: 2 games played, 4 carries, 12 yards

Boy, you'd have to think he'll be better, right? The 2019 third-round pick looked good in preseason, then played in only two games all season. His lack of usage was a season-long mystery, meaning either last year was some weird red-shirt year or the Patriots just think he stinks.

We'll find out, as five carries is all it will take for him to surpass his total from last season. 

JAMES WHITE: SAME

2019 stats: 67 carries, 263 yards (3.9 yards/carry), TD; 72 receptions, 645 yards, 5 TD

This is a coin toss. He'll be an awesome asset for Stidham, but Brady relied on him pretty heavily the last couple of years, so I can't see him being much better.

A repeat of his production in the receiving game would be fine, especially if Michel does more as a lead back. 

REX BURKHEAD: WORSE

2019 stats: 66 carries, 302 yards (4.6 yards/carry), 3 TD; 27 receptions, 279 yards 

The touchdowns weren't there, but last year was the best season yards-wise of Burkhead's Patriots career. He's a hard player to project because you don't know (a) Whether he'll be healthy or (b) Why the Patriots like him so much. 

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JULIAN EDELMAN: WORSE

2019 stats: 100 receptions, 1,117 yards, 6 TD

Tom Brady loved Julian Edelman. We don't know how a 33-year-old Edelman will click with Jarrett Stidham, but it's fair to assume he won't be fifth in the league in catches like he was last season. 

N'KEAL HARRY: BETTER

2019 stats: 7 games played, 7 receptions, 105 yards, 2 TD

Harry remains an unknown after missing the first half of the season and being a healthy scratch for a game once he came off IR. Missing part of training camp can really set a rookie back, so the question now is whether he gets any semblance of a regular camp in Year 2 given all that's going on with COVID-19. 

MOHAMED SANU: BETTER

2019 stats with NE: 8 games played, 26 receptions, 207 yards, TD

Sanu has been a pretty good receiver throughout his career. He was not that with the Patriots, even when you factor in that he was playing with a bad ankle. The hands weren't there, the blocking famously wasn't there on that jet sweep to N'Keal Harry against the Bills and overall his performance was not worth the steep price paid (the 55th overall pick, which the Falcons then traded for Hayden Hurst) for his services.  

All that is to say this: Sanu can't possibly be as bad as that, right? He's gotten surgery for that high ankle sprain and will be both healthy and better-adjusted to New England's offense. Unless the 30-year-old is just cooked, 600 yards should be a realistic mark. 

JAKOBI MEYERS: BETTER

2019 stats: 26 receptions, 359 yards

I'll be honest: I watched every Patriots game last season and do not remember him having 359 receiving yards. Anyway, we all saw that he and Stidham had a good rapport in the preseason, but that's the preseason. I think Meyers will be better because he's got a quarterback that trusts him.

If he can't improve given those circumstances, that could just about do it for the undrafted receiver. 

Patrick Mahomes sets sights on Tom Brady's Patriots Super Bowl record

Patrick Mahomes sets sights on Tom Brady's Patriots Super Bowl record

Not one; not two; not three...

Patrick Mahomes guided the Kansas City Chiefs to a Super Bowl title in just his third NFL season and was rewarded this offseason with the richest contract in North American sports, a 10-year deal worth a total of more than $500 million.

The Chiefs quarterback has lofty goals for those next 10 years -- one of which includes catching the GOAT.

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During an interview with ESPN over the weekend from the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament, Mahomes admitted he has his sights set on matching Tom Brady's six Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots, the most of any player in NFL history.

“I don’t know if there is a number," Mahomes told ESPN's Nicole Briscoe. "Obviously, you try and chase greatness and Tom has six. I'm going to try and do whatever I can to get to that number."

"I understand how hard that is, how it was a one-of-a-kind thing for Tom to be able to get to nine Super Bowls and win six of them. I'm just going to go about the process every single day of trying to make myself better and do whatever I can to make the Kansas City Chiefs better."

The 24-year-old Mahomes technically is on pace with Brady: The current Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB won his first title with New England at age 24. That said, Brady didn't win his sixth championship until his 19th NFL season at age 41, and that was while playing for the greatest coach in NFL history on arguably the greatest modern dynasty in professional sports.

Mahomes might as well set lofty goals, though: He's already won NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards and is the league's best quarterback on a Chiefs team returning much of its Super Bowl roster.

Mahomes has a very long way to go to reach Brady's level of success, but his comments are another reminder that the ex-Patriots QB has set the standard for greatness.

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What should the Patriots do with sudden cap windfall?

What should the Patriots do with sudden cap windfall?

The league stripped the Patriots of a third-round pick (still waiting for official announcement and explanation by the way) and restored $6.55M worth of cap space over the weekend.

This is not a “you win some, you lose some…” deal.

It’s more like “you lose some and … sometimes you get a refund that you are owed…”

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Regardless, the team now has $7.79M in cap space. Because of dead cap space gobbled up by Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski, Michael Bennett and Brown, the Patriots have had to scrimp this offseason.

Now that they’re a little bit flush, there are a lot of thoughts on how they should spend their dough. When news of the reimbursement was announced, Patriots Twitter echoed with pleas of “#CLOWNEY?!?!?!”

But Jadeveon Clowney — a 27-year-old, card-carrying, game-wrecker with an array of skills that would make Bill Belichick get tingly — isn’t real likely. Nor are Snacks Harrison and Markus Golden, two other talented defensive players still on the market.

The least sexy, most practical option — squatting on most of it — is the likeliest scenario. That’s because the $7.79M is going to evaporate pretty quickly.

Start with the “per game roster bonuses” the Patriots use as a staple of their contracts.

Cam Newton has $700,000 worth of those in his deal ($43,750 per game). Since he only played two games last season, most of the $700,000 isn’t included in the Patriots cap yet. Every game he plays past last year’s output will hit the cap.

Overall, the Patriots have $15.6M in per game roster bonuses allocated. For most guys, that’s no big deal cap-wise. Julian Edelman has $900,000 in per game bonuses but since he played 16 games last year, it’s expected he’ll earn that money so it’s already counting against the cap.

But the Patriots — in contrast to teams like the Ravens and Steelers who have no money allocated to players in per game roster bonuses — will have a few players like Newton, David Andrews ($400K total), and Adrian Phillips ($500K total) who will have money hitting the cap as the year progresses.

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I asked Jason Fitzgerald from OverTheCap.com about the per-game roster bonuses and the Pats newfound dough. 

“They should be OK with the (per game bonuses) since most are already counting on the cap,” he replied. “It would be more of a problem if most were not counting (i.e. a player missed all of 2019). … “Still, it’s not a ton of cap space. They will need to account for $1M or so for the practice squad. Another $2M or so for the increase from 51 to 55 players (through the offseason, only the 51 most expensive players count against the cap; all 55 on the active roster count once the first week of the season arrives). Players injured in preseason (will need settlements and payouts). Basically it’s cap room they need to function during the year. It’s not money to go out and spend everywhere.”

Clowney started his offseason hoping for $20M per year. He reportedly dropped his “asking price” to more than $17M. It was nice for the Patriots that Newton decided to sign the ultimate “prove-it” contract with the team for a base salary of $1.05M but that’s almost certainly not going to happen with Clowney.

First, he’s not coming off a three-year stretch of injuries as Newton is. Second, the outcry about how Newton got taken advantage of isn’t going to make the next big-name player likely to take pennies on the dollar to play for New England.

Besides all that, Clowney was all set with playing for Bill O’Brien and reportedly nixed a trade to the Dolphins because he didn’t want to play for Brian Flores, who also came up with the Patriots. Signing on to play for Belichick himself for a team-friendly contract?

Stranger things have happened but it will take all of Bill’s persuasiveness to pull off a Clowney signing.

And if that were to occur, the team would almost certainly have to get Joe Thuney to agree to a long-term deal, since he’s currently on the franchise tag and counting $14.78M against the cap.

The Patriots have until Wednesday to get a new deal done with Thuney or he’s locked in for the $14.78M for 2020. The team said in March it wanted to get a deal done but it hasn’t yet come to fruition which is the case with a lot of new deals. The problem? The pandemic.

Uncertainty over how great the revenue shortfall will be in 2020 because of missed games, fan-free stadiums, etc., has made teams reticent to write deals not knowing what the salary cap is going to look like.

Players like Thuney, meanwhile, are now facing the prospect of a cap that’s going to probably flatten and possibly drop over the next few seasons. And that may happen regardless of whether the new TV and gambling deals come in.

So it is a little bit of a buyer’s market for the Patriots when it comes to Thuney. If he wanted to avoid the uncertainty of the open market in 2021 and beyond, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do something now. He’d be selling his services low but he’d have certainty. But he’d also be missing out on the chance that a vaccine materializes in two months, all returns to normal, TV and gambling deals come in and the league is flush.

Right now — as we’ve all come to realize — there are no sure things. But if you want to make a bet? Bet on the Patriots being boring with this dough.