Day one of free agency, nothing. Bill sat patiently allowing other teams to dictate the market. Educated Patriot fans should have come to expect this approach.
Day two, still crickets. At this point, the silence was becoming deafening…the top names on everyone’s “wish-lists” were getting plucked one by one off the wire…and the Patriots soundlessly answered by signing special teams contributor linebacker Ramon Humber…Hello, Bill? Is anyone home? The offseason has started (gulp), you do know that right?
Day three, wide receiver Chris Hogan is pried from the Bills, agreeing to a 3-year deal, and depth defensive tackle Frank Kearse is signed from the Redskins. I mean, nice, but is that it? Is that the best we can do?
Then, all of the sudden…BOOM!
The first domino to fall was defensive end Chandler Jones being shipped to Arizona for former first round guard Jonathan Cooper and a 2nd round draft pick. Shortly thereafter, to alleviate the loss of the aforementioned Jones, the Pats agreed to terms on a team friendly 1-year 2-million dollar deal with defensive end Chris Long, formerly of the Rams. Ok, now we’re talking…We’re onto the draft, right?
Wrong! The following evening (after a one-year deal was reached with ex-Charger running back Donald Brown) Bill flipped a 4th rounder to the Chicago Bears for 6’6 former Pro-Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett (and a 6th rounder) to add to TB12’s arsenal of weapons…
Gronk, Edelman, Lewis, Hogan…Bennett… Make it stop! Make it stop!
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!
No? Good, because Belichick wasn’t done tapping into the well of our triple-A affiliate Bears club, bringing ex-Bear linebacker/defensive end Shea Mcclellin on board with a 3-year deal to shore up the depth behind Collins and Hightower.
This is chess, not checkers, ladies and gentleman. IN BILL WE TRUST.
Let’s take it around the table and see what the BBS staff thinks of the Patriots’ offseason thus far….
What would you say has been the best move thus far this offseason?
Niko: The best move of the offseason wasn’t even one the Pats made, it was sitting tight and watching as Broncos President John Elway puked all over himself. Between the low-ball tendering of CJ Anderson (to match cost them almost 5 million per), and allowing Osweiler, Danny Trevathan, Evan Mathis, and Malik Jackson to walk, Denver has gotten markedly worse on paper. I’m not even going to get started on their Plan B at quarterback, Mark Sanchez. This offense could very well struggle to consistently put up double digits. Let’s see if that defense can continue to carry them over the course of a long, 16-game season. I have my doubts.
Pete: Ahhh. It is good to be back. Seems like only yesterday Niko and I were left crying in our Cheerios after picking the Pats to make it into the Super Bowl. But the past, and multiple bottles of Jameson, are staying in January. Time to look towards Super Bowl 51. I think the best move for New England was not overpaying for a running back. Look, I loved hearing about Matt Forte, CJ Anderson or Bilal Powell possibly suiting up for the Patriots, but the fact of the matter is that the Patriots have the best quarterback on the God damn planet. Brady doesn't need a 1,200-yard rusher. Would it help? I guess so, but it would also change this offense. Keep the cash, extend your Big 3 (Hightower, Collins, Butler) and go win us another Super Bowl.
Doug: Trading Chandler Jones. Not saying for one second that Jones is someone that needed to go, but rather someone that we knew wouldn’t be back with the team after next season. The Patriots have some great players that all deserve/need contract extensions including Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard and even Logan Ryan. Someone was going to give and Chandler Jones didn’t appear to be a player New England wanted to give a ton of money too after seeing the type of deals that Olivier Vernon and Malik Jackson got this offseason. Adding a 2nd round pick along with Jonathan Cooper (a former top 10 overall pick, who happens to play at an area of need) was a solid haul for Jones, who was going into the last deal of his rookie deal. Plus, the Patriots now have four picks in the first three rounds where it is very deep at defensive line. Spending a pick or two won’t hurt.
How about the worst move thus far?
Niko: Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of the Chris Hogan move, and think he’ll fit the offense and build a nice rapport with Brady right away. I do hesitate to call it a “great” deal however, due to the rich (albeit necessary, Hogan was a restricted free agent, the Bills held his rights) 5.5 million dollar year 1 cap hit. It’s certainly not a bad deal, or gross overpay, but it isn’t a bargain either.
Pete: To be honest, I really haven't seen the Patriots make a stupid or bad move. However, if I had to pick one, I would say the return on the trade of Chandler Jones. Again, I am happy they traded him, and I really am not even that upset with the return, but I feel like the Pats could have gotten more. A late second rounder and a rotational guard for a 12.5 sack kid going into his prime? I would have like a higher second round pick, but again I am perfectly fine with the return. It was time to move on from Jones and Belichick got a decent-enough return.
Doug: Not making more of an effort to re-sign Akiem Hicks. I know the Patriots met with him and also made a move at the eleventh hour to try and bring him back, but it still didn’t work. He is only 26 years old, can play both defensive tackle & defensive end in New England’s system and performed very well in his limited time. Considering Hicks only signed for two years and 10 million dollars, it’s even harder to rationalize this move (or lack of) by New England. With Alan Branch & Rob Ninkovich getting up past 30 years old and Dominique Easley dealing with health issues, Hicks would’ve been a solid if not great player to keep for a few more years.
Most surprising move?
Niko: Has to be the Bennett acquisition. Between the disappearing act over the last 6-8 weeks of the season, the synthetic weed incident 3 days before the divisional playoff round, and the priority to re-up Collins, Hightower, and Butler, the writing was on the wall for Chandler Jones to be dealt. When healthy and motivated, Bennett is arguably a top 5 tight end in football, and we all know how much the McOffense likes its tight ends. Plus, the guy can actually block, unlike our old friend Scott Chandler.
Pete: Agree with Niko on this one. I didn't even know Martellus Bennett was a possibility until the deal already happened. The Patriots have been trying to to bring back the two tight end set since our good friend, Aaron Hernandez, departed for the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center to become a wide receiver. While Bennett is not as quick as Hernandez, there is no denying Bennett's talent. The Patriots have the best tight end duo in the National Football League. It should be a fun year.
Doug: I’m with Niko, the Martellus Bennett trade was out of left field. The Patriots did certainly need a #2 tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Bennett was made available by the Bears, but New England was cap-strapped and Bennett had a relatively high cap hit for 2016. But, this was still a solid if not better move by the team, as it adds a solid receiving tight end for Tom Brady and gives them their best #2 tight end since Aaron Hernandez. Bennett could have a big role in New England for 2016.
What would you most like to see next?
Niko: I’d really like to see Danny Amendola back next season, but not at the cap number he currently has (about 6 million, which would be higher than Edelman’s…). My ideal next move would be restructuring Danny A to an incentive laden deal and using those savings to bring in massive defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton on board for a one year, about 3.5 million dollar deal. Knighton would shore up any questions about the run defense, and soften the impact of Akiem Hicks’ departure.
Pete: Like I mentioned before, I desperately want the Patriots to look up Butler, Collins and Hightower. Niko was mentioning restructuring Danny Amendola, which would free up some cap space. Along with DA, don't be surprised if guys like Cannon, and maybe even Vollmer, restructure to free up some money. Like it or not, folks, Tom Brady isn't getting any younger, and the Patriots need to start thinking about the future. Hightower, Butler and Collins are that future. Sidenote: I'd also like to see the Pats grab a deep threat. Bring in a bunch of veterans (Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, etc.), have them fight it out for a spot, and further develop an already stellar offense.
Doug: Again, got to say I agree with Niko. Amendola is a solid #3 wide receiver for the Patriots, but his cap hit is much too high for next season, considering New England wants to sign some players to extensions. It’s possible that he agrees to another contract restructuring/pay cut, but he may not. If that’s the case, the team definitely would need to look into trading him for maybe a 5th round draft or so. They could also look to acquire another young, underperforming player at an area of need (like Jonathan Cooper). Amendola could have a small market, but I’d suggest the team does everything they can before thinking about releasing him.
What’s your biggest question mark going into next season?
Niko: Has to be the O-line right? I mean, the majority of the defense is back, and on paper, the skill players on offense are off the charts. With the return of legendary O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia, the aforementioned acquisition of Cooper, and left tackle Nate Solder coming back from injury, this unit should vastly improve. I would be shocked if they didn’t also look to address the tackle position in the draft to provide depth behind, and eventually take over for Sebastian Vollmer. If the line can keep Brady upright this season, good luck to opposing defenses.
Pete: Again, I agree with Niko. This team has little hope of winning a Super Bowl if they cannot figure out their o-line situation. Thankfully, with the return of not only Dante Scarnecchia, but Nate Solder, the Patriots should have a much-improved. However, I would still like to see them snag some depth on the line incase Jonathan Cooper does not work out.
Doug: I’ll go one step further than Niko & say that offensive tackle is a huge question mark for the team. Also, as of right now, running back & interior defensive line is as well. The Patriots have Nate Solder coming off a major knee injury and Vollmer getting up there in age. They have done very little to improve that position and with Marcus Cannon (yikes) as their swing tackle, it’s obviously something that needs to be fixed right away. The draft would seem to be a great spot to do that.
Running back is also a mess with LaGarrette Blount not being re-signed, Dion Lewis coming off a major knee injury, James White proving to be a strict pass-catching running back, and Donald Brown being nothing but depth at this point. New England missed out on Chris Ivory, James Starks, Matt Forte, Bilal Powell and C.J. Anderson, there is not much left to choose from in the free agency market. Benny Cunningham (who the team had in for a visit) & Alfred Morris are possibilities, but it’s still a need regardless.
Lastly, as mentioned above, interior defensive line is a big question mark. Malcolm Brown is coming off a solid rookie season & is locked in as a starter. Alan Branch is back and was great last season, but he is getting older and is a free agent after 2016. Dominique Easley is coming off another season-ending injury and his ability to stay healthy is in major question. The team will have to do more to address the position in the draft if they want to be in a good position for the start of the season.
Grade the offseason thus far (A-F):
Niko: B+/A- so far. More holes have been filled than made, but there are still some areas of concern: a legitimate early down running back, a swing offensive tackle, a wide receiver, a defensive tackle, and a depth corner. I think the majority of these can and will be filled via the draft, and knowing the always working Belichick, expect constant tinkering, even during the season (see: Akiem Hicks, Akeem Ayers, Jonathan Casillas). All things considered, the Patriots should enter the 2016-2017 exactly how we all want them to be, as Super Bowl contenders and favorites. We’re onto Houston.
Pete: ^ Took the words right out of my mouth. I knew there was a reason I hired this guy.
Doug: A solid B+. The team has added a #2/3 wide receiver in Chris Hogan, traded for a #2 tight end in Martellus Bennett, traded Chandler Jones & got Jonathan Cooper, and got depth at inside linebacker with Shea McClellin. The team also has 11 draft picks this year, including four in the top 100 & FIVE in the sixth round. They’ll need to figure out what to do with Danny Amendola, try to trade Jimmy Garappolo (yes, he needs to be traded), sign their young defensive studs to extensions, and draft right. But they are having a solid if not great offseason so far and are on the path to being a solid Super Bowl favorite for 2016.