Patriots off-season part three

Tom Brady throws the ball during Super Bowl XX...

Tom Brady throws the ball during Super Bowl XXXIX. Brady connected with game Most Valuable Player Deion Branch 11 times to tie a Super Bowl record. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Restructuring of Chad Johnson’s contract- I think that this was a great move by Ocho because it proved that he is not about the money, at least at this point in his career, and that he is determined to show that he can make it in this offense. It was a positive move and for those who think that they should just cut ties with him all together I just have to say that I do not agree. What would they lose by bringing him into training camp and having him compete with Deion Branch, Anthony Gonzalez, Donte Stallworth and Brandon Lloyd? So why not see what he can do with a full, real off-season and time to study. Last season it wasn’t just Chad “Ocho” Johnson who had trouble with his new team it was also Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Lee Evans, Steve Smith, Donovan McNabb, Zach Miller, Albert Haynesworth, and Shaun Ellis just to name a few. He can work in this system, he can be a contributor and an impact player but it is all on Chad to learn this system and Brady. Honesty, learning this system is not just about the playbook but it is also about learning Tom Brady and HIS playbook because they are different. Chad is smart and I think he will make the team. My prediction is that Gonzalez will get hurt and Stallworth will be underwhelming.

CB- Will Allen- He did not do much last season but this is a decent signing. They need some depth so that they do not have to rely on offensive players to jump in and play some important and major snaps. He will not be an impact player because he has lost a step or two but he can still make some plays. It is nice to be able to have a seasoned veteran to step in at nickel back or into the starting role if need be. Grade: B

FB/LB- Spencer Larsen– I am not so sure that Larsen will make the roster honestly. With that being said, it is not a bad signing. I have said, before this blog was created, that one of the biggest holes that they had was at FB. You remember what Heath Evans brought to the team when he was on our roster and what we were missing when he was gone and so that’s why I believe getting a half-way decent fullback is on the list for this season. I do not think that Larsen is a bad fullback but when you compare him to Lousaka Polite, who was just released, and the recent signing of Tony Fiammetta (see below) I think that either Polite or Fiammetta are better options. (Polite lost though sadly) Maybe he can contribute more as a defensive player and special teams player. In addition, Josh McDaniels being here now might help him make the roster in some position but maybe not FB.  Grade: C

WR- Deion Branch– A good signing because you do not know what Stallworth, Lloyd, Gonzalez and Ocho will bring you and so you need some insurance. In addition, Deion wants to be here and is a great locker room guy, which is a key with the new draft picks that will be coming in after the draft. I originally said that signing Branch would bring about the end to the Ocho experiment but it appears I am wrong, shocking, but training camp could weed out one or two of these guys so I can see why they signed all of these guys. This move will also assure them that Slater can concentrate on special teams and maybe even defense, which he is better at. Grade: A

FB- Tony Fiammetta– Bringing him in to compete with Larsen is a good move by the Patriots. Bringing in a FB will allow them to go back to a more traditional running game and help Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen next season. It will also open up the playbook more and give Brady more options if coverage down the field is good and needs to dump it off. To add an element like that just makes it harder for defenses to successfully stop the offense on a consistent basis. Even though the offense has been great, I think it was also a little too transparent and after a while, defenses knew how to stop them. All you did, really, was make Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski a non-factor by a double team or putting one of your best guys on them and force the Patriots to win with the rest of the guys. Also not having a real FB on the roster made them be creative with one and often-used DL, Aaron Hernandez or an OL but that did not really work. Grade: B

Mark Anderson signs with the Buffalo Bills- His goal I think was accomplished, which was to resurrect his career here in New England and he did. I say good for him but Bills have to know that he is not an every down guy and if they use him on every down, he loses his effectiveness. Just like when they had Aaron Maybin, he was not an every down player but they tried to use him like one and it didn’t work out… then Maybin found his calling with the Jets as a part time player in pass rushing situations. If they use him to his strengths, it will work out for them and he could make Brady’s life harder twice a year, especially with a lot of attention going to Mario Williams.

Patriots release FB Lousaka Polite- Well you knew something had to give when they signed both Larsen and Fiammetta and Polite lost. Polite is a good player but was not going to make the roster most likely so he now has a chance to land with another team and I hope he does honestly. He is a good fullback and some teams in the league have some bad ones so he could step in and contribute.

The Patriots have still yet to make a move and get an impact player or two for defense. They need a pass rusher and a safety and the more they ignore that need the more other teams will take advantage of that. I would think that the strategy would be to go defense heavy in the draft or at least target some real potential talent in the first few rounds. After all, he did build a defensive line before that was one of the best and he did it through the draft, with Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork. The question is can he land an OLB/DE, a safety and a DL all in one draft? Maybe that is why Bill has been trading down all of these years, to fill positions with high-potential players a lot, sooner than he did before. The math makes sense; the odds go up with more picks but the odds of landing a dud also goes up so basically you’re in Las Vegas. Well the house always wins, or so I hear and that makes it difficult for the Patriots to land premium guys in a short pan obviously, because they have missed. The combination of trying to land great talent in one or two years means you might have to go after players who might have a lower ceiling but can still play at a higher level, to make them fit under the cap. Of course, this is just a theory, a theory of a shut in writer who thinks and analyzes things a little too much. I must say that this is a solid strategy if it is indeed true and one that if it worked would have kept the rotation of talent going and replacing Seymour, Warren, Bruschi, Law and others wouldn’t have been plaguing them still. I doubt that this theory of mine is true because well it is mine and I have not read it anywhere else, unless of course it is just blatantly obvious that any team would do that if they wanted to refill the talent pool faster.

My overall impression so far is that they have made some good moves to try to ensure that they do not have undrafted rookies as starters but have not really done much else. They went heavy on offense so far and bid farewell to some good players but also committed to some other young ones they believe in. I see the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a commitment to Ridley, Vereen and Woodhead and that is not a bad thing. Ridley and Vereen have both shown that they have the potential to fill the role left behind by Law Firm, also in my opinion they will surpass it. I did not mention Matt Light and whether or not he is going to retire because it is not confirmed yet and as a side note, I would like to see the Patriots bring in Kevin Faulk as a coach.

NFL Free Agency Frenzy and the Patriots options

New England Patriots logo

Image via Wikipedia

Free Agency is going to begin today and so let’s look at some of the options for the Patriots, in my eyes.

Wide Receiver: Brandon Lloyd is not your savior New England Patriots fans. Can he be productive in the Josh McDaniels offensive system? Yes, because of what he did in Denver during McDaniels’ time there as a Head Coach but do not forget that before that year he was a journeyman. No that doesn’t mean he followed Journey around, he was a fill-in, a role player and not an impact player by any means. He is almost 31 years old and had his career year just a few years ago and I ask 31 is when skills start to decline right? So what happens when your declining skills were limited anyway? Is he a good player? Yeah, he is a great role player and can fit into this system most likely but he is not going to be your savior in my opinion. I do still think that he could end up being a bust signing, much like Ocho. However, I do believe that Chad has a chance of having a good year to rebound his career.

Who’d I’d rather have?: Danny Amendola, has a 2nd round tender on him by the Rams but could be a Wes Welker type of WR. Mike Wallace, Eddie Royal, Donte Stallworth. I also hope that they bring back Deion Branch.

Running Back: The Law Firm needs a new client. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been a good player for the Patriots and considering he was an undrafted rookie when Belichick signed him, it was a steal. He out played the Patriots 1st round pick Laurence Maroney and most likely his play gave Bill the green light to cut ties with Maroney. He has not even fumbled yet, which makes you sit and think… how did every team miss this person in the draft? However, he is not a home run running back and not going to break any records or even really be a running back that will be the premier back.  The Patriots drafted last season Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the second and third round and played little last season but showed signs that they are both good running backs and deserve time with the ball. So, right now, you committed two picks to those two, you have Danny Woodhead, and all three of these players will make an impact on the offense so it makes Green-Ellis expendable. Maybe if you can get him cheap but honestly I think that signing him will just impact negatively on the development of Vereen and Ridley, who with consistent time on the field could be better than Green-Ellis. That is the last thing you want, to hinder any development, because I believe that is what happened with Taylor Price. They want Vereen and Ridley to get better? They need to actually see the field, and not just during practice.

Whom would I rather have? Lousaka Polite or pretty much a FB who can help block and in short yardage situations. The Patriots offense can be a little predictable so making a real commitment to run the ball at least more than you have can make some real waves in your offense and open up that playbook.

Offense overall is a low priority to me with really just one position that needs one or two players and that’s Wide Receiver. All of the others are in pretty good condition.

What about on the defensive side of the ball? This is an area that is more important than any other in my opinion. Defensive End: Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, John Abraham, Jonathan Fanene, Kyle Love, Gerard Warren, Aaron Maybin (yes I did mean to type that name) Shaun Rogers, Aaron Smith. Why Maybin? Well, the Jets used him well as a pass rush role player and he did well; he was never going to be an every down guy but can do well if utilized correctly. Rogers, Fanene, Maybin and Warren could be some cheap talent who could make an impact. Abraham could be a little expensive but not Mario Williams money.

Safety: Melvin Bullitt, Bob Sanders, OJ Atogwe, Jim Leonhard, James Sanders. The Patriots could benefit from some guys who were just cut from other teams like Bullitt and Atogwe and should consider looking there way. LaRon Landry could also be a name to add to the interest list here but I don’t like how injury prone he has been. Sanders might never be the same guy he was with the Colts but if he can stay healthy he might be able to make an impact and will be cheap. Leonhard played well in Jets and Ravens defensive systems and will be an upgrade over who we have now.

Corner: Gibril Wilson, Eric Wright, Marcus Trufant, Sean Considine, Sterling Moore. Some of these guys are hybrids, sort of, between safety and corner, that can only help the Patriots since McCourty, and maybe even Dowling could play some snaps at safety. Versatility is a good thing in this system and if a guy can also sub in as a corner can really increase his value, at least in Belichick’s mind.

Linebacker: Manny Lawson, Jarret Johnson, Sergio Kindle, Ernie Sims, Mario Williams, James Farrior, Keith Brooking, Mike Peterson. I know that Farrior and Brooking are Inside Linebackers and that the Patriots have there starters with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes but Brooking or Farrior can be subbed in and make an impact and can make an impact on a young defense by teaching them off the field. Mario will be too expensive but you have to look his way. I think that the fact that Adalius Thomas burned Belichick doesn’t mean that he won’t spend on defense because in the case of Mario Williams, he is not Thomas. Kindle is still young and might develop into something, Sims is a tackler but has started to disappear since leaving Detriot but might be able to resurrect his career.

The wild card for linebackers? Kamerion Wimbley, who could be cut by the Oakland Radiers because of his big contract even though he was a producer for them.

Whom do the Patriots bring back? Deion Branch, Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, Dan Connolly, Matthew Slater, James Ihedigbo, and Kyle Love.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the big signing by the Patriots because they are most likely going to look for talented players but cheap(ish). They will spend but wisely just like only the Patriots can. I will also say this, I know that Tom Brady is a sure first ballot Hall of Famer and we’re lucky to have him playing for us but he needs to be more patient with new players. The Patriots have a complicated system and to expect everyone to be on board with it 100% right away is crazy. You can’t shut someone down and not look at them just because they made a mistake. Tom… don’t be Dan Marino or Peyton Manning because Marino never won a Super Bowl and Peyton only won because he was going up against the Chicago Bears. You’re better than they are and we all believe in you.

Where do the New England Patriots go from here?

NEW ENGLAND Patriots Wallpaper

NEW ENGLAND Patriots Wallpaper (Photo credit: Axel.Foley)

After losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl you have to think, where do they go from here? Well it was obvious, to me anyway, that the Patriots have some holes that really need to be filled if they want to win another Super Bowl ring. The score of the game cannot blind them, yes, if they scored a touchdown then they would have won and ESPN and other outlets would be swamped with comparisons of Tom Brady and Joe Montana, and we would be trying to find a channel that was not talking about it and most likely failing. However, the Patriots defense could not stop the Giants on that last drive and even on other drives made some crucial mistakes and they lacked playmakers on that defense. The Giants had 114 yards rushing and 282 through the air and they won the time of possession battle. So where do the Patriots go from here?

So out of all of the Patriots free agents, a list can be found here, who comes back? Wes Welker I believe is a given, Deion Branch, Dan Connolly, Matthew Slater, I do believe will all be back. Who is on the fence? Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and BenJarvus Green Ellis– all had decent seasons and could be offered contracts that the Patriots don’t want to match or beat. Especially with Green Ellis who hasn’t fumbled yet, what team wouldn’t want that and by letting him go you make a commitment to the two young running backs that you drafted last season, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, they deserve to play more than they did last season and bringing back Green Ellis will just stunt any production I believe. The top priority is obviously Wes Welker but Matthew Slater is also on top of that list as well and as for Branch, well if he is willing to take a reduced role then we should sign him.

So what positions should be looked at in free agency? They need a pass rusher we all noticed the impact Andre Carter had so to have that consistently and from both sides would really make a difference. Defensive backs- they need better corners and safety. Bringing some impact defensive backs can really turn around a defense and a game. I’m not sure any team respects our corners and safeties. They also need an explosive Wide Receiver, only one who is strictly a deep threat but just an explosive WR that will get teams to respect the talent and notice he can be a deep threat. Even with the pending retirement of Brian Waters, I believe the Patriots are okay with the offensive line but grabbing a player or two in free agency or the draft would not hurt.

As much as we say it’s an offensive league, a defense still wins championships. Since 2004, every team who won a Super Bowl had at least a good defense, except the Indianapolis Colts but they were against the Chicago Bears who probably should not have been there. Maybe it’s not all about where you rank but more about the players you have and the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers this season I believe proved that but they shouldn’t be fooled, The Patriots deserved to be last especially when they released Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders without getting anything in return.

So who do the Patriots look at in free agency? Well this is a little tricky because they will look for talent but most likely not top talent because they will command big money. So with that being said who could be on the radar? Well you have Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne, something that former Patriots Willie McGinest pointed out. I know he’s a top WR but I have him because he played with Peyton Manning in a complicated offense, so you know he will grasp the playbook and know what is expected of him from another future Hall of Fame Quarterback Tom Brady. So what other names jump off the page? Well Defensive End Aaron Smith is one name, if healthy, can provide some energy and make an impact. Also obviously, Mario Williams would also be worth looking into but who knows if the Houston Texans will franchise tag him. Corners and safeties that could be available- Rashean Mathis, Marcus Trufant, Eric Wright, LaRon Landry, Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux. Also some decent linebackers available, which could be on the radar as well. What should be watched is the situations in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Oakland because Pittsburgh and Philadelphia want to dump salary to make room for others and Oakland is going under a change in direction, strategy and everything since Al Davis passed away and is looking to release some “bad” contracts.

Some moves might be based on how they feel about Ras-I Dowling who was a 2nd round pick and was on injured reserve, also has a past of injuries. In addition, do they cut or keep Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham, Myron Pryor, and Chad “Ocho” Johnson and will they move Devin McCourty permanently to safety. This is certain though, Bill Belichick will make some moves, just as he did last off-season and with a whole off-season to teach the playbooks and system it will make a difference.

Key areas to improve- Cornerback, Safety, Defensive End, Outside Linebacker, Wide Receiver and Offensive Line.

Whom to target in the upcoming NFL draft? Safety Mark Barron from Alabama could drop to them since he has an injury and his time at the Scouting Combine will be limited. If he is still on the board at 20 or so, they should try to trade up and snag him. DT- Michael Brockers, DT- Dontari Poe, DE- Fletcher Cox, WR- Mohamed Sanu, OLB- Courtney Upshaw. It’s hard to predict what Bill will do in the draft but this is what I predict- Mark Barron will indeed fall to the Patriots at 27 but Bill will trade down for another second round pick and the Baltimore Ravens will pick Barron. Why? Well they will see someone else who maybe has the same skill set as Barron but with a lower ceiling and will be cheaper.

Franchise Tags can be applied- February 20th

Free Agency begins on March 13th

NFL Draft starts April 26th

Chad Ochocinco doesn’t know the playbook still? I don’t buy it!!

English: Chad Ochocinco praticed in 2011 New E...

Image via Wikipedia

Yes a bold statement from a guy who watches sports and maybe a little too much and has a blog who no one reads but still… I would like to think I have at least minimal knowledge. At least more knowledge gained from listening to the radio, reading about it, watching it, and etc. than some have who actually play football claiming that they learned what they know from Madden the video game. Madden, really? You learned about a team’s defense or offense by playing MADDEN and that’s how you see the NFL in real life? So if you let a corner beat you and coach asks you what happened you reply… what? That guy is an 86 overall, I’m only a 79 of course he beat me? You realize the coach is going to test you for drugs every hour after that right?

Anyway, sorry for the rant but I found that funny but annoying when I read that, back to the point. Chad Johnson has been less than productive this season for the New England Patriots and you hear a lot of chatter about him not knowing the playbook. You also hear that he doesn’t know where he is supposed to be on the field at a particular time and his 15 catches for 276 and a TD certainly does draw those conclusions but I do not agree, maybe it was that at first but I’m just not sure. I mean we are missing something, he is still on the team, still getting praised by his teammates and Bill, so I have to say… what are we missing? They didn’t defend Joey Galloway, Torry Holt, or any of the other epic failures that have worn a Patriots uniform, usually when asked they give a typical “Patriots answer” and move on but not with Chad. Is it because Bill, Tom and teammates respect Chad and genuinely like him as a person so they defend him more? Or is it because we are not seeing everything? Or is it both? It’s not like we are in the locker room all the time, or in Bill’s meetings with his players and coaches so we diagnose what we are seeing on the field quickly and assume and lean on this one idea until proven otherwise… and so do I.

I believe Chad knows the playbook, knows where he is supposed to be and even knows what Brady and Bill expects out of him but what holds him back? Could it be as simple as him trying too hard, being nervous and afraid to screw up? I think so. When you go from driving a 1980 P.O.S. that you’ve been driving since you got your license to years later owning your dream car, or a new car you don’t drive it the same way right? No, you drive paranoid, nervous and might make some stupid mistakes that you normally wouldn’t make because you’re thinking too much and 9 times out of 10 you think “crap, why did I just do that?”. So why is he still nervous, or thinking too much you ask? Well it’s because he is trying to prove himself, no not to us, but to Bill and Tom and is just making mistakes he wouldn’t normally make and when he does he gets pulled or not looked at when on the field. Is it right? No, but are they wrong for doing it? Not necessarily.

Chad went from being the number one guy for the Bengals to someone who is probably close to last looked at while he is on the field. Not his fault, Brady will look at Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez before Chad if all are on the field at the same time so sometimes he might have to get open 2-3 times on a play and by then he has abandoned the route but before Tom can get back to him he must dump it off or hit the hot receiver cause he doesn’t have forever back there, 2-3 seconds tops. What has stood out to me during his time here is that he has seemed to really buy into the Patriots Way. He’s been quite, hasn’t complained about anything really and has been a true professional and from what I can tell has done everything that they have asked, that stands out because if this was the Bengals I don’t think we could say that. Almost like when the Boston Celtics were in the playoffs two years ago and Nate Robinson came into the game and made an impact on defense, yet when he came here all you heard was he is “uncoachable“… Doc didn’t seem to have many issues coaching him… it just didn’t work out and he has become a solid role player for the Golden State Warriors and even contributed heavily in a win they had against the “almighty” Miami Heat.

Has Chad worked out as a Patriot? No he has not, I’m not denying that but I don’t believe that his lack of production is because he doesn’t know the playbook. The Patriots offensive system doesn’t help him much either, but I’ve already talked about that, you can check that out on my page. For you guys out there it’s like this: you’re in a relationship with a girl who is 7 out of 10 and then one day you meet a girl who is a 25 out of 10… You really don’t want to mess up the opportunity but yet with each mistake dig yourself into a deeper hole and after a while, you’re digging up and that is not easy. So in conclusion I will make this BOLD statement: I think the Patriots should bring Chad Johnson back next season and see if he is any more comfortable… after all what do they have to lose really? Not working out again then see you later.