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.

Patriots off-season grades and thoughts part two

NEW ENGLAND Patriots Wallpaper

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

TE- Daniel Fells A good move for the Patriots because it adds some depth behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. It will also allow Hernandez to play in the WR position more, as he did last season and still have the option to have a 2 other TE’s on the field to help block or run a pattern or both. Grade: B

WR- Donte Stallworth It’s been about 4 seasons since Stallworth has played in a Patriots uniform and while he was good while he was here back in 2007, what does he have left? This gives the Patriots some insurance if and when Gonzalez gets hurt and could be the nail in the Ocho experiment. Although since leaving, the Patriots Stallworth has not exactly been lighting up the stat sheet. His best season since leaving was last season with 11 games played, 22 receptions, 309 yards and 2 touchdowns, that’s not much of an upgrade over what Chad Johnson but I still like the move. You know that Donte knows the system, so adjusting will not be a problem for him. The only thing I don’t like about this move is that it most likely pushes Deion Branch out of the picture, even if they did trade or release Chad. Grade: B

DB- Marquice Cole- Who? This is a depth move and a player who will play on special teams mainly. Not the move I wanted to see but at least they are improving the depth, something that they needed to do. Hopefully they don’t forget that they need playmakers not just roster fillers. Grade: D

OL- Robert Gallery- Robert, who played for Seattle last season and was a first round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders back in 2004, is a good depth signing. He was pretty healthy for both Oakland and Seattle, except towards the end of last season where he missed 4 games because of injury. Belichick apparently had some interest in him during that 2004 draft and claimed if he had the first overall pick he would have taken Gallery (he was selected 2nd overall) He could jump in and start depending on what happens with Brian Waters and Matt Light who have been toying with the idea of retirement and also could step in if someone gets injured. Definitely like this signing. Grade: A

Visit of DL Luis Castillo- This tells me that Bill is not done on defense and has a plan in mind and is just playing his game of chess. He is just 28 years old but is coming off an injury. He, however, is not a pass rushing type of player either with just 2.5 sacks in 2010 and 2 in 2009. Therefore, I can see why they put him in and tried to see what he had, he can add to the depth of the DL but is not a game changer in my opinion. Some names are still available: Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Shaun Rogers, Matt Roth, Aaron Smith, and Gerard Warren to name a few.

Jets sign LaRon Landry This is a blessing in disguise because Landry has a history with injuries for some reason (look up his recent photo and you’ll see why this is actually sarcasm). If he does well for the Jets, hey cool, but I’d rather give a chance and time to someone who can stay on it. Some interesting names still available on the market: OJ Atogwe, Melvin Bullitt, Bob Sanders, Jim Leonhard, Brian Dawkins, and Jarrad Page just to name a few.

Trade Rumors of Tim Tebow to the Patriots- While the Patriots were interested in Tim Tebow during the 2010 NFL Draft a lot has happened since then. Mainly, Brian Hoyer has got better and we drafted Ryan Mallett so I don’t know where he would fit. The idea though is intriguing and Josh McDaniels, who did draft him, is on the team and can share the ideas he had for using Tebow with Belichick. However if he came here he would have to change positions, to something like TE/RB/FB hybrid who can occasionally take a direct snap, or run a wild cat type offense. You can do many things with Tebow on this team but he would have to agree to be something other than a QB, even if you have to sell it to him that it’s just for now. You can have Tebow in the backfield with Brady and Woodhead, in the shotgun formation and Tebow can take the direct snap, Brady does his typical fake and then the Pats can run some form of the option-offense. Tebow can either throw it, run it, or hand it off to Danny but of course that’d be only one play but Tebow I think can fit as that TE/RB/FB type of hybrid. So many options, but I honestly don’t see him on this team because I don’t know if he’s ready to put his “dream” of being a QB aside, especially since Tom Brady is the main man and you don’t want to take the ball out of his hands. Message to Tim Tebow- don’t be stubborn, if Bill Belichick a Hall of Fame bound head coach wants you and asks you if you want to change positions… you change positions man. Also, just a fun fact, the Broncos need some WR help and the Patriots have an abundance of them and one in particular could be odd man out… sooo maybe you offer Chad Johnson and a pick to Denver for Tebow. I think that Chad has plenty left in him even though he is 34 and if he can’t prove it to New England fans on the Patriots then we will on another team… they I could be wrong but I just don’t see it that way. Do I see Tebow in a Patriots uniform? No.

The Patriots could also look at the draft to upgrade the pass rusher position but I am not going to hold my breath. Free Agency is not over so we’ll see what the Patriots do with the time they put into it but safety is not deep in this drafting according to some analysts so the only key I think would be getting some sort of impact DB. Belichick has done a good job this off-season focusing in on needs but getting mid-range players who aren’t horrible options. We’ll see what happens, so far it’s been pretty decent.

UPDATE: Dolphins continue to go in the opposite direction by planning to cut starting Safety Yeremiah Bell. Um, sure, Ireland is nuts I think… this is like Timberwolves and Kahn… entertaining. I mean they went from maybe one, two or three pieces away to rebuilding… already.

New England Patriots off-season grades thus far.

New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker ...

Image via Wikipedia

WRWes Welker This was a must move for the Patriots. People can try to say or claim that Wes could be just a result of the system and if put into a different system wouldn’t be as good but why test that argument? He’s a good fit and it’s smart to sign him to a 2 or 3 year deal and get him off of that franchise tender contract that is tying up 9 million. Grade: A

WR/Special Teams- Matthew Slater This was a good signing and was a top priority for a good reason. Slater has really paved a place for himself with this team and if he keeps performing well then he could in the same class as a Troy Brown or a Kevin Faulk. Grade: A

DL- Jonathan Fanene– He is not an impact player and will not make the same impact as Anderson or Carter had, most likely but this was a good signing. He is a versatile veteran who can play DE or DT and will play in sub-packages mostly. He is a veteran presence and one that will only help the locker room. Grade: B

WR- Anthony Gonzalez I am not sold so much on this idea because while Gonzalez had some decent upside at one point, at this point I think he is too injury prone. Who knows, maybe he can turn his career around and give us some good production, but I think if I had to choose between Gonzalez or Branch I’d choose Deion but apparently the Patriots chose Gonzalez. Prediction for catches next season- 20. Grade: C

DE/OLB- Trevor Scott- This has the potential to be a great signing. Before his injury Trevor Scott was on his way to being a decent pass rusher. He was a better fit as a OLB than a DE but he wasn’t horrible at DE either. He’ll get his chance to play both positions in this system and has a chance to resurrect his career.Grade: A

OL- Dan Connolly- A good signing for sure since it doesn’t seem that they will bring back Dan Koppen, although I think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Connolly played very well after Koppen went down and really made it easier for the Patriots to even contemplate letting Koppen walk away. A nice surprise honestly, he was a solid back up but seems to be making a name of himself. Grade: A

S- Steve Gregory- He will play some sub-packages and shouldn’t be a starter honestly. He could be just a special teams player however depending on what the Patriots do with the rest of free agency and the draft. This was a depth signing for me, just because you can’t have Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman playing significant time on defense. It’s awesome that those two are versatile and willing to do whatever it takes but we need some true defensive guys. Grade: C

DL- Marcus Harrison- Probably just a depth/try out sort of deal just to see what he can bring to the table. I honestly don’t hate this signing but I don’t really like it either, if he makes the team then great… it means that Bill believes he can make an impact but I am just not sure he will make it to the final roster but if he does good for him because that will mean he worked hard for it. Grade: D

WR- Brandon Lloyd As I said before, Lloyd will not be the savior at WR that some Patriots fans want him to be. He had one good year in the Josh McDaniels system but it is overlooked that he did not play at that level in any of his previous seasons. I think anyone can have a good year, and that’s all I believe that his “productive” season was. Not saying he’ll be a complete bust but I just don’t see him being in the conversation of Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney or some others who have come in here and performed well. I think of Lloyd and I think of Reche Caldwell. Patriots fans can call me completely nuts for what I’m about to say but if I had to choose between him or Chad “Ocho” Johnson I’d take Johnson. Why you may ask? Well just because  Chad has a better record of consistency over the years. Just like someone can have a good season, they can also have a bad one. Chad needs to show what he can still do and bring to this team and win playing time over Gonzalez and Lloyd. Just as an add on I think it’s funny that I read some posts on ESPN saying that he is a beast, he will be good at getting behind the coverage and despite his past was always known for great catches. So why did other teams let him go? He was a part of 5 other teams and you mean to tell me that those coaches missed this “diamond in the rough”. I think the posts were a little over exaggerated, but that’s okay. He’s not a beast, but he’s not on the lowest rung either. Lloyd is a slightly above average WR and if he can stay consistent will be decent, but in the end whatever his production is, it’s replaceable. Prediction for catches next season- 50. Grade: C

Free Agent scouting report: Brandon Lloyd

So we’ll see what the next move is for the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. LaRon Landry visited over the weekend but will do his due diligence before signing to a team. I think this is a 50/50 shot for them, in terms of him being healthy. If we can get him cheap then let’s go but otherwise I’d work out OJ Atogwe instead. With the signing of Gonzalez and Lloyd however I can see that Chad Johnson’s time with the Patriots could be numbered, of course it depends on whether the Patriots will pursue Deion Branch, which they most likely will.

NFL Free Agency Frenzy and the Patriots options

New England Patriots logo

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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.