Point/Counterpoint

Point/Counterpoint: Will Sanu or Harry be more valuable to Patriots this season?

Point/Counterpoint: Will Sanu or Harry be more valuable to Patriots this season?

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. Here's this week's topic:

Which receiver will be more valuable to the Patriots the rest of the way, N'Keal Harry or Mohamed Sanu?
 

I can get 1,000 percent behind the idea that the physicality of N’Keal Harry, his YAC ability, his gift for making acrobatic catches in traffic are singular talents he brings to the Patriots offense. 

He is their strongest and most explosive receiver and he’s barely peed a drop in the NFL. So why is Mohamed Sanu more valuable than Harry? You’ll never get the Which way do I go, which way do I go, Tom??” component from Sanu that Harry will bring in his first season in the NFL. I know that the returns from Sanu have been modest since he got here. He had that terrific game against the Ravens, injured his ankle, returned ASAP and hasn’t been the same player since with just 23 catches in seven games (10 of those coming against Baltimore). 

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He’s only catching 54.8 percent of the passes sent his way and on third and fourth-and-short, he’s been a disappointment on three different occasions. But I’m going to bet on two things with Sanu. 

First, he’s still getting back from the ankle and we haven’t seen him unimpeded. Second, he’s too good to go away from. If a defense takes away Julian Edelman – and they will try – Sanu is the only other receiver the Patriots could possibly feel comfortable targeting a dozen times and presuming to get a return on their investment.

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I was told there would be no math. You were told there would be no math. And yet, let's incorporate some math into the discussion. Think about the geometry involved when it comes to defending the Patriots. Think about the number of weapons the Patriots have to stress the short-to-intermediate area of the field: Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, James White, Rex Burkhead. Think of the players who offer real value outside the numbers and down the field.

We haven't seen a significant body of work from Harry to this point, but we've seen enough to know that he is a rarity in this offense. He has the ability to make contested catches outside the numbers. He has the ability to go down the field and use his frame and body control to stress defensive backs for deeper shots. In the red zone, we've seen him execute an indefensible back-shoulder completion for a score.

There simply aren't many others on this team who can do the things he does. That's why the rookie will be the more valuable piece moving forward. Sanu may have more catches the rest of the way. He may end up with more yards. But I'm still willing to bank on the fact that Harry's contributions will be more explosive, and more instrumental in getting points on the board. Plus, at this point, I'm not so sure Sanu has the clear advantage in one area where you do.

At times he's looked like he's gone through some of the same brain cramps Harry had earlier this season. If Sanu being unaware of the timing of two separate fourth-down throws -- and being unaware of his blocking assignment on a fourth-down play last weekend -- isn't an example of, "Which way do I go, which way do I go, Tom??" then what is?

 

 
 
 

Patriots Point/Counterpoint: Where's Josh McDaniels best landing spot if he leaves Pats?

Patriots Point/Counterpoint: Where's Josh McDaniels best landing spot if he leaves Pats?

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will  debate a topic on the minds of Patriots fans.

If Josh McDaniels leaves the Patriots this offseason, where's the best landing spot?

Two years ago, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was far and away the hottest head coaching prospect on the market. But when he left the Indianapolis Colts at the altar, a cooling ensued.

Last offseason, the only interview he had was with the Green Bay Packers. That job went to Matt LaFleur. But the fact remains the 43-year-old McDaniels is still regarded as one of the NFL’s best offensive minds. His résumé backs that up.

The Patriots, despite being undermanned offensively the past two years, won a Super Bowl last season when they morphed to a power-running team and are 10-3 this season. As the Patriots offense this season has declined, McDaniels has been forced to innovate. He’s come up with gadget plays in an effort to put points on the board while the running game spins its tires and protection for Tom Brady has vanished.

With Brady possibly leaving after this season and a full-on offensive reboot likely awaiting next season, now may be the right time for McDaniels to follow through on taking one of the opportunities available. But where? The only definite openings right now are in Carolina and Washington. Dallas and the Giants may also open up. The Jaguars, Falcons, Lions and Chargers could have vacancies as well.

Every one of those spots is fraught with some kind of obstacle. In Dallas, Jerry Jones is an extreme overlord who seems to want a puppet rather than a leader. Washington is an annual disaster and is unappealing unless longtime GM Bruce Allen is let go. The Giants have a headstrong GM in Dave Gettleman in place. Carolina has a new and aggressive owner in David Tepper.

The Jaguars? Well, they may be the most attractive on the surface but they are in steep decline from 2017 when they made the AFC Championship Game and have quarterback questions. Detroit probably won’t want to go back to the Patriots' tree for coaching fruit after Matt Patricia. And the Chargers may not be entirely ready to move on from Anthony Lynn.

The best spot for success in my eyes? The Giants. They have stable ownership, obviously. They have a decent young quarterback in Daniel Jones who outplayed the doom-laden projections dropped on him when he was drafted. What about Gettleman? Well, there’s a good chance he won’t survive the offseason either so McDaniels and a personnel man he’s comfortable with could go there as a package deal and start fresh together.

Honestly, the jobs opening up aren’t all that attractive. So, McDaniels will have a choice to make as to whether he jumps to a less-than-ideal spot where he can have some autonomy or stays in New England for what could be a bumpy post-Brady ride.

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If Josh McDaniels had his druthers, I would think he'd want to go somewhere where there is a known commodity in the owner's seat... somewhere where McDaniels would be allowed time to implement his vision... somewhere where there is talent in place to help him get his vision off the ground.

That somewhere, when it comes to the potential openings this coming offseason, is Atlanta. With Falcons owner Arthur Blank, McDaniels would have to feel comfortable that he'd have time to build the football operation to his liking. Blank has had just four coaches in 17 seasons, including Bobby Petrino who quit after one year.

Plus, in Atlanta, McDaniels would have a quarterback. Argue with Matt Ryan's effectiveness all you want, but he's a former MVP and a proven passer who should still have several years of good football ahead of him. Both Ryan and Julio Jones are under contract through 2023. Not a bad place to start for an offensive-minded head coach. A path to some success early on in his tenure, something not at all guaranteed with the roster in New York, should also buy McDaniels some patience with the Falcons fanbase.

The biggest issue there? The salary cap. The Falcons are one of a handful of teams who look like they're already butting right up against the projected 2020 cap, according to Over The Cap. McDaniels and whoever would be in charge of personnel — whether it's current Falcons general manager and former Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff or someone else — would have some difficult decisions to make.

But clearing up the salary cap is easier than finding a viable quarterback. And clearing up the salary cap is not the impossible obstacle to overcome that issues with ownership would be.

In Dallas, McDaniels would have a young and talented roster, but would have to deal with Jerry Jones making personnel calls. In New York, patience is already running thin and it'll take years to rebuild the botched rebuild happening there. In Cleveland, ownership has been so trigger-happy lately that it could be enough to scare off even an Ohio guy. Carolina is intriguing, but there's a big-time decision looming with the quarterback, and it's unclear just how patient new owner David Tepper would be with his first head-coaching hire.

Atlanta feels like the best fit. 

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Point/Counterpoint: What's biggest free-agent priority on Patriots defense?

Point/Counterpoint: What's biggest free-agent priority on Patriots defense?

Every week during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. Here's this week's topic:

The Patriots historic defensive season keeps rolling on but at the end of this season, three of their most important defenders — Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins — are going to be free agents. Which player should be the highest priority?

What’s fascinating to me is the path each of these three traveled to get to this point.

McCourty was a first-round pick in 2010. Now 32, he’s at the tail end of a five-year, $47.5M deal that had $28.5M guaranteed. After contemplating retirement in the offseason, he’s having one of the best years of his career.

Van Noy is 28 and he’s at the end of a two-year, $11.7 million deal signed in 2017 when he was still emerging as a Patriot. A second-round pick, he’s made $16.3M in his career. He’s playing at a Pro Bowl-level at least, arguably an All-Pro level. The contract he’s in line to sign is the “big one” for him.

Collins is 30. A second-round pick in 2013, he’s here on a one-year deal worth a total of $2M. He’s made $34M in his career, $27.4M of which came from Cleveland. He’s Pro Bowl-level as well.

All three are vital to the team’s success but — as we saw with Collins previously and Trey Flowers this season — the Patriots can restock, reshuffle and survive. The one thing that can’t be easily replicated by anyone is McCourty’s leadership and institutional knowledge. He could play until 36 if he decided to. There are no diminishing skills. Further, there’s nobody behind him near as I can tell.

To me, it goes McCourty, Van Noy, Collins.

The Devin McCourty selection makes all kinds of sense. Especially when you use the argument I did last week, which is that coverage is more important than pass-rush. McCourty is the central nervous system for the secondary in New England. (Fun example here of the kind of games he can play with opposing quarterbacks.) That's the team's strength. Pay him what he needs to stick around.

But I'm not sure he requires the "priority" label because I'm not sure how desperate he'll be to play elsewhere. His brother has a year left on his deal. McCourty flirted with the idea of retirement before last year's Super Bowl. It feels like he and the team should be able to figure out something that works for both sides relatively easily.

The same probably won't be true for Van Noy. I'd say that, because of his age and the position he plays, he should be the priority this offseason. Though the Patriots parted ways with guys like Chandler Jones and Trey Flowers in the past, Van Noy is a little different edge defender.

First, he's likely not going to command the same type of deal those players did. (The contract Preston Smith got with the Packers, which pays an average of $13 million per year, might make sense.) And what he does as a player who can work in all situations on the edge of the Patriots defense is invaluable. He can set against the run, track running backs in coverage, and get after quarterbacks — with or without the help of games up front.

Collins, 30, is a great communicator himself and a versatile athlete who can play on the edge or in the middle of the field. But Collins is a little older and not quite as stout in the run game as Van Noy. That matters. And there's no one behind Van Noy currently on the roster who can do the same things he does. (Chase Winovich is currently more a pass-game specialist.)

If the Patriots can figure out a way to take care of Van Noy first, then come to terms with McCourty and Collins, that'd make the most sense to me.

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