Catching Up On Patriots Comings And Goings
In the past couple of weeks there has been a lot going on. Sure, that seems ridiculous to say when we're all quarantined and the sports world has pretty much stopped but somehow, it's true. We all of course know by now that Tom Brady departed the Patriots organization for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (yep, still feels weird to type). However, that hasn't been the only transaction that has gone down involving a new or former Patriot. It's time to assess where we are as things in the NFL have slowed down. Here's a rundown of each name on the move...
Tom Brady - I don't really need to go over this one again, do I? I'm trying to heal that wound, not open it back up. The 6-time Super Bowl champ cannot be replaced, ever.
Kyle Van Noy - I mean, c'mon, if you didn't see the giant KVN contract coming from some also-ran team then I just don't know what to tell you. This is as predictable as death and taxes. Every single year there is a Patriots player that hits free agency that you know is going to get a boatload of money from a crappy team because they've made themselves into something here in New England. Kyle Van Noy was that guy in 2020 and he signed for four years and $51 million with the Miami Dolphins.
You know what's even more predictable? That player not being the same guy in his new spot and that contract looking awful in a year. It happens EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Shane Vereen, Jamie Collins, Dion Lewis and now Kyle Van Noy. There's even more but those are just the ones that immediately come to mind. I'm sorry KVN, I really appreciate the two Super Bowls you helped deliver but this is just the way it is.
Now, can you blame the Dolphins, or any of these teams that do this each year, for doing it? No. They are trying to build something and they need a veteran who has learned how to win to come in and hopefully help lead as they move forward and attempt to compete. Can you blame KVN or any of the players who take these deals? Noooo way. They've earned it and it's time to secure that bag, as the kids like to say. Okay, so can you blame the Patriots for not trying to re-sign him? No. Like I said, that deal is going to look ugly come this time next year and we will have the compensatory pick that comes with it. Win-win-win.
Jamie Collins - Oh, I mentioned Jamie Collins in that last bit about Van Noy? Yea, he wasn't a free agent at the time the Patriots dealt him to Cleveland, but he was an impending one. Instead of backing up the brinks truck, Belichick sent him away to rot in Ohio. Collins signed a fat deal with the Browns and wasn't heard from until the Pats brought him back and resurrected his career this past season.
So now, I do find it a little funny that the Super Bowl 49 champ is going to go out on his own again. You know when someone tells you not to touch the stove because it's hot? You touch it once, burn yourself and then you know not to do it again. Well, Jamie Collins wants to touch that stove again. He's got $30 million reasons to do so as he signs on with the Detroit Lions, so good for him. I look forward to remembering he exists sometime around Week 5 when Matt Patricia is fired and the Lions are talked about on television for a minute.
Ben Watson - So Ben Watson called it a career and I'd say that it was certainly time. Remember when the Pats cut him this season and then brought him right back because they had no tight ends? Good times! They still didn't really have any tight ends all year and it really stinks to think about how Watson, who was wayyy over the hill, was one of the only pass-catchers Tom Brady trusted.
He did have an awesome career as a Patriot ('04-'09 and '19), Brown ('10-'12), New Orleans Saint ('13-'15 and '18), and Baltimore Raven ('16-'18). Watson won a Super Bowl in his rookie year with the Pats.
Danny Shelton - Shelton was a little bit of a surprise departure as he went to the Lions on a two-year $8 million deal. While not a huge loss in terms of his production alone, as the number of experienced players from what was really a good defensive core continue to exit, things become more and more uncertain.
Duron Harmon - Another surprise departure comes in Duron Harmon, although this time the player did not leave on his own. Harmon, deemed "The Closer" by so many Patriots fans for his knack for making game-sealing interceptions, was dealt to the Lions where Matt Patricia is basically attempting to build Patriots mid-west.
The deal really looks like a salary dump as the Patriots sent Harmon and a late-round draft pick for only well, a late-round draft pick. So the Pats are trying to pick their spots and cut down on some cash with some aging players, which makes sense. It just stinks to see a well-liked and long-tenured Patriot like Harmon be a casualty of that.
Elandon Roberts - If there's two themes we really need to pick up on here, it's that the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions both really want to be the Patriots. It makes sense, considering both head coaches are former Patriots defensive coordinators. The other theme is that New England is letting the linebackers walk. Roberts signs with Miami to join Brian Flores and Kyle Van Noy while continuing to add to the Pats' in-division rival's rebuild.
Roberts was a great Patriot. He was elected captain in 2019 and seemed ready for any role that he had to play. Whether he was stuffing runs on defense, making a play of special teams, serving as an emergency full back or even catching a TD pass on a trick-play, Roberts was there to win. This is a tough loss to see.
Phillip Dorsett - Remember when the Pats traded Jacoby Brissett to Indy for Dorsett and everyone hated it? I do. Dorsett was struggling in Indy after initially having some success when he first came on the scene. He had been a first-round pick and wasn't living up to his potential, so why are we dealing the most valuable asset in football, a QB that can start, for him? Well, we got our answer when Dorsett earned Tom Brady's trust and came up huge in the 2018 Super Bowl run.
Did he tail off last year? Yea, he definitely did. It was kind of tough to tell what exactly happened but maybe he's just streaky. We'll find out now as he goes out to the Pacific Northwest to catch passes from Russell Wilson.
Ted Karras - Ted Karras has been a productive and versatile member of the team since he was drafted in 2016. His biggest role came in 2019 when he filled in for the injured David Andrews at center. While he may need to get his shotgun snaps off a little quicker, he earned his new 1 year, $4 million deal with the Dolphins. Hopefully, with the Pats not choosing to retain him, that means they feel good about an Andrews return.
Nate Ebner - Did you ever think Bill Belichick would let Nate Ebner go? I sure didn't. Ebner heads to the New York Giants to join new head coach and former Patriots special team's coordinator, Joe Judge. It's one of the only spots out there that I can see making sense for him but I'm still blown away that he won't be a Patriot anymore.
Bill Belichick loves certain types of players and Nate Ebner probably hits every single criteria. Will Bill be able to replace him on the field? Yes and he already has started that process (more to come on that in a few minutes) but the former rugby star and current special teams expert just seemed like a Patriot lifer. I might actually be more shocked about this than Tom Brady.
Stephen Gostkowski - Gostkowski almost deserves his own article. That's how much he's meant to the Patriots for the last gee, 14 seasons. When the Patriots lost one all-time great kicker, Adam Vinatieri, to the Colts via free agency, they drafted Gostkowski in fourth round out of Memphis. Amazingly, they never really skipped a beat. Gostkowski was lights out. He was the best kicker in the NFL from '06-'14, at least in my book.
Something happened in the last couple of years though, and Gostkowski slipped. He started missing a lot in big moments and then even became shaky in small ones. A lot of people, including myself, lost faith. I want to say now, that I was dumb. Gostkowski's bad moments were still better than every other kicker out there not named Justin Tucker. All of the times that I wished for another kicker, I couldn't have been more wrong and I found out this season.
Gostkowski missed all but four games due to injury and what we replaced him with was a human-pile of crap. I spent a lot of time over the last couple of years wishing the Pats would move on to another kicker, foolishly thinking they could transition to another great one as they had before. Instead, we saw what life was like on the other side and it ain't pretty. Sadly, I don't think New England believes Gostkowski still has it and that may be due to his injury history. They released him a week ago and sent out glowing statements about his tenure.
Whether he goes on to play somewhere else or retires, he's a Hall of Famer. Gostkowski leaves the Pats as the franchise's all-time leading scorer and 12th in NFL history. His 87.4% field goal accuracy rate is the highest in Patriots history and fifth in NFL history. His 205 postseason points are second only to Vinatieri's 238. His last kick was his biggest...and he'll be missed greatly.
Devin McCourty - D-Mac wrote a piece for "The Player's Tribune" last week detailing his decision making process this offseason. Apparently, he initially intended on leaving New England in search of a "new challenge." Once his brother Jason was re-signed, he felt the urge to stay. Then, once Tom Brady left, he realized staying in New England actually presented that new challenge he was looking for and he decided to remain a Patriot.
He signed for 2 years and $23 million ($17 million guaranteed) which at 32 years old, likely keeps him in New England for the rest of his career. It's not a cheap contract for the team to dole out to a 10-year vet who's best days are likely behind him, but I think most people support the move. McCourty has been a fan favorite, a locker room leader, a 3-time All Pro, and Super Bowl champion multiple times over. He'll be needed to help guide us into a new era of Patriots football.
Jason McCourty - Devin's twin-brother, Jason, had his option picked up by the Patriots to bring him back in 2020. After playing together through college, Jason and Devin went on different football paths in the NFL with Devin knowing only winning with the Patriots and Jason knowing only losing with the Tennessee Titans and the Browns. Finally, Jason was able to join Devin in 2018 and they've loved sharing the same field and even winning a Super Bowl together. It makes sense for them to stick together.
It also made sense for the Pats to pick up Jason's option. It helped bring Devin back and will keep another veteran leader in the locker room. Add in that Jason's likely replacement, JoeJuan Johnson, got arrested this offseason and faces uncertainty in his future, and Jason as a Patriot had to happen. New England has fully invested in their defensive backs.
Joe Thuney - Well, they couldn't franchise tag Tom Brady so they needed to use it somewhere. Using the tag (which locks a player in for another year with his current team) on Joe Thuney was a big move. Rather than letting Thuney go out on the market and fetch a big deal as one of the most sought after offensive linemen, the Pats retained his rights for 2020 and now have some options.
They could keep Thuney and try to work out a long-term deal for him to protect the next quarterback. They could also try to trade him and bring back better assets than the compensatory pick they would have gotten had he walked. Either way, slapping him with the tag was a smart move.
Shilique Calhoun - Calhoun played well in his first season in New England and with the losses of all the linebackers, he may see his role grow. There's nothing exciting to say, he's just good depth and obviously knows the system.
Matthew Slater - Slate was an extremely important player to bring back. First of all, he's the greatest special teamer of all time. Second of all, he's just the epitome of a Patriot. He's a captain and vocal leader who will help keep the culture going. At the beginning of free agency, he made it clear that he only wanted to play for the Patriots and I think the feeling was mutual with the team and the fans in New England.
Slater signed up for another two years and the 35 year old has been a Patriot for all 12 of his NFL seasons thus far. He's an 8-time Pro Bowler, 5-time First Team All Pro, Second Team All Pro, Bart Starr Award Winner and 3-time Super Bowl champion. He'll be a Patriot Hall of Famer, and should be a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Brian Hoyer - Well, the quarterback room in New England was suddenly down to two when Brady left town. The unexperienced sophomore Jarrett Stidham, and the journeyman Cody Kessler were all we had left on the depth chart and that had to change. Many people wondered, and continue to wonder, whether the Pats will roll with Stidham as the starter in the new season. Whether they do or not, they needed some level of competition for him and perhaps even more importantly, a veteran to help guide him.
That's where Brian Hoyer came in. Hoyer was here last year and got to know Stidham before being cut at the end of training camp. Hoyer went on to sign in Indianapolis as the backup for former Patriot's quarterback Jacoby Brissett. He played in four games (starting one) and produced about what he was expected to (mediocre but not awful play). He was cut by the Colts on March 21st as they made room for new starting QB, Phillip Rivers.
This is now Hoyer's third stint with the Patriots. He was an un-drafted free agent and spent his first three seasons ('09-'11) as Tom Brady's backup. He went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers before making it back to New England for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Hoyer has had some limited success starting games in the NFL and will at the very least provide some stability and leadership for a locker-room in transition. He came back for only $1 million guaranteed, but it's said that his desire was to be a Patriot and have a chance to compete for the starting gig. This signing seems like a win-win all around and I'll be excited to see Hoyer help hold down the fort while we wait to find out what our long-term answer at QB is.
Adrian Phillips - Count this signing as one that makes a lot of sense, yet not a lot of people saw coming. Phillips was out for most of last season after breaking his arm but he should come to New England ready to build on a breakout 2018 that saw him dominate on an awesome Chargers defense. Add in the fact that he went to the Pro Bowl that year for his work on special teams and you can see why he's a Bill Belichick guy.
With the losses of Nate Ebner to free agency and Duron Harmon via trade, the Pats needed to make this move for a younger, cheaper option. Phillips is 28 and comes with a chip on his shoulder after going un-drafted and spending a lot of time on Los Angeles' practice squad during his first few years.
The safety has been described as versatile, intelligent and athletic. I'd say this is the most exciting addition New England has made this offseason and I can't wait to see him fly around the field in a Pats jersey.
Danny Vitale - Fullbacks are making a comeback in football and the Patriots have been at the forefront of that movement. They brought in Vitale from Green Bay hopefully just as an extra body and not as a replacement for James Develin, who missed last year due to a neck injury. I would go on about Vitale, but fullbacks are not guys that like a lot of shine. He'll be a good add.
Beau Allen - Allen is a big boy at 6 foot 3 and almost 240 lbs. The Pats bring him in from Tampa Bay as retaliation for Tom Brady. Just kidding, in all seriousness, Allen comes to New England to help replace Shelton on the defensive line and stop the run. Want a not-so-fun-fact? Beau was on the Eagles team that beat the Pats in the 2017 Super Bowl. Ugh.
Damiere Byrd - Well, Brady leaves and NOW the Pats decide to bring in a weapon at wide receiver...Again, just kidding. Byrd is nothing more than an extra guy on the depth chart. If he is ever playing any type of role next season, things have gone poorly.
Brandon Copeland - They lost a bunch of linebackers. They needed to add one. That's all that happened here.
Cody Davis - Here is your Nate Ebner replacement. Davis is a special teams ace that has spent time with the Los Angeles Rams and more recently, the Jacksonville Jaguars. He'll be a name to know.
All in all, it's been a weird offseason for everyone and the Patriots especially. Besides losing Brady, I'd say they've done well. However if you want my overall grade, it's not pretty. When you let Tom Brady walk out the door, you're going to get a D+.