Patriots

You haven't been wrong to question Tom Brady the last couple years

You haven't been wrong to question Tom Brady the last couple years

The last couple of years were a bit of a headache if you dared to be even one drop critical of Tom Brady.

I say this because I was in this camp and was extremely surprised by how little tolerance there was for such talk.

Brady, I was reminded by colleagues and readers alike, was the GOAT, which I understood, but felt was kind of irrelevant. After all, if we couldn't acknowledge that Brady's play was worse, we were saying that recent Brady — someone who was not even the best quarterback in the league — was the same as vintage Brady, which would be to say that Brady was not the greatest QB of all time.

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I thought crying "But the weaponz!" ignored a large part of the story, which was that Brady didn't seem to care to make it work with the guys he had. I said all last season if he was in the right offense he could still be an MVP, but that it wasn't going to be in New England because he had turned into a bit of a pill after a lengthy stay.

Along the way, I grew so frustrated with this apparent "you're never allowed to criticize Brady" rule that I guess I became a little anti-Brady.

And looking at it now? I've gotta say it's not such a bad place to be. Thirty teams, including the Patriots, agreed he's not the same player he's always been, even if he's still a Top 10 quarterback. And to defend him at every turn with all the practice/COVID stuff? Sounds awful.

First of all, free agency was hilarious. All that "just you wait and see the list of teams that'll kick their quarterback to the curb for him!" that we heard? Yep, two teams wanted him.

Two. Out of 32.

The stuff about the Patriots being willing to pay $30 million a year to keep him? Didn't happen.

The team he ended up choosing was the one we theorized could be a dark horse if they threw way more money at him than anyone else. They didn't have to throw crazy money at him, though. In fact, they signed him for less than the numbers we saw thrown around. Why? Perhaps because only two teams wanted Brady. Beggars can't be choosers.

Now, after the NFLPA recommended players not work out together for safety's sake, ol' Tommy Two Teams is in Florida doing all the workouts with Bucs teammates he possibly can. Know how we know he's doing that? Because he's posting about it on social media, including last week's post, which had the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself" quote.

In other words, "you fraidy cats might be doing as you're told on this one, but I don't have to because I'm the GOAT," or worse, "because I'm taking the right TB12 products to prevent this thing."

Not only is he thumbing his nose at his own Players Association and anyone who's taken precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19, he's thumbing his nose at you, the unwavering Brady/Pats fans who said extra sessions didn't matter.

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Because Brady disagrees with you. He finds them so important, in fact, that he's ignoring a pandemic in a state with spiking rates in order to do them. And no, these aren't OTAs, which is what Brady was skipping in New England, but considering the groups he's gotten together — quarterbacks, receivers, backs, offensive linemen? — he's essentially organizing his own OTAs.

And if you're still defending Brady putting in less time with the Pats and want to say "well duh, he has new teammates," you're ignoring that he had new teammates for the sessions he skipped last year. Perhaps the difference is that those new teammates were rookies and Brady typically doesn't like those.

There was plenty to criticize about how the Patriots handled Brady. They didn't show a ton of faith in him. But you can still say that while also acknowledging that it seemed like Brady wasn't giving the Patriots his all.

This offseason has confirmed that while also showing some sort of combination of selfishness and recklessness from Brady, which is to say this: Brady is human and the standard to which people held him made them look awfully silly. It's OK to back off that.

Tom Brady is the most accomplished quarterback of all time. That locals would defend him at every turn is understandable, as Patriots fans will forever be indebted to him. The last couple of years haven't been perfect, though, and noting it doesn't make you a "troll" or a "hater."

It just means you've read it right. 

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

"I knew I had to have it totally taken off of my body."

In April, that's what Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser told WBZ's Steve Burton about a controversial Three Percenters tattoo on his left arm that gained instant notoriety after he was drafted by New England.

Well, it appears he has followed through on that promise.

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According to TMZ Sports, the 23-year-old has had the tattoo removed. The report states that Rohrwasser started the painful removal process right after the NFL Draft.

After the Patriots selected the Marshall kicker in the fifth round of the draft, there was a public outcry about the tattoo displaying the logo of the right-wing militia group, which has been described as racist and anti-government. Rohrwasser had said he got the tattoo when he was 18 as a way to support the military, but didn't realize its other use.

"It's shameful that I had it on there ignorantly," Rohrwasser told Burton. "I'm sorry for all my (friends) and family that have to defend me. Putting them in that compromising position is one of the biggest regrets I'll ever have. To them, I'm sorry. I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that's not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out."

Though he might still face questions about the tattoo when the Patriots open training camp later this month, removing the tattoo should keep the issue from being a huge distraction during his first NFL season.

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

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Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

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WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.