Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday's Updated Facts And Rumors - Belichick's Fiscal Genius Shining Through

There isn't a smarter and more decisive general manager in the NFL than Bill Belichick.

Knowing that he was likely going to lose defenders Chandler Jones and linebacker Jamie Collins, the Dark Master unloaded them in their contract years last season, replacing them on the fly with names like Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy - and in the process offering those replacements the experience in his system to hit the ground running in 2017 instead of going through the growing pains of learning said system in a structured environment like OTA's and minicamps.

What those moves accomplished on a financial basis, along with expiring contracts, is that it set the New England Patriots up with just over $60 million in cap space heading into free agency, shining a bright light on Belichick's genius in cap and roster manipulation.

He knew that there was little chance that he would be able to retain names like Martellus Bennett and Logan Ryan because play making tight ends and decent cover corners are in high demand throughout the league, meaning that some desperate team was going to overpay them, so Belichick instead set his sites on retaining the core of his defense and again gambling on the health of Rob Gronkowski.

With Bennett enjoying a whirlwind tour of potential suitors willing to pay him top dollar and Gronkowski announcing that he will be ready to go for training camp, Belichick undermined the entire process by trading a low-round draft pick to cap-strapped Indianapolis for tight end Dwayne Allen, who has been teasing Colts' fans with his potential for five seasons after being drafted as the reigning Mackey Award winner out of Clemson.

At 6' 4" and 260 pounds, Allen's style is more of a rough-and-tumble move tight end who excels in the short area as a chain moving "move" tight end, shielding defenders from the ball and with a short-area burst that makes him potentially explosive in the Patriots' offense.  So while not as dynamic as Bennett - Allen is nowhere near the blocker the Black Unicorn is - the onus will certainly be on Gronkowski to stay healthy as a seam buster and elite blocker in the run game.

Not usually given to exorbitant shopping sprees nor distracted by shiny beads and bobbles, Belichick decided to treat himself to a top cover corner, shelling out $15 million annually on former Buffalo Bills' cornerback Stephon Gilmore - and while considered a shocking move by those in the national media, it is seen a pure genius in Foxborough.

With Pro Bowl corner Malcolm Butler and third-year neophyte Eric Rowe already onboard, bringing in Gilmore suddenly makes an already very good Patriots secondary elite, considering that he already has the best, most versatile rotation of safeties in the league.

But Belichick's work is not done - though he is close.  He still has zero depth at the defensive end position and has a matter of trying to lure defensive captain linebacker Dont'a Hightower into some sort of a hometown discount, and still has over $32 million in cap space to play with.

Think about that for a second:  with only defensive end depth and retaining his playmaking middle linebacker left as priorities, the most shrewd wheeler and dealer in the league has $32 million left in his cap account.  If the season started today, he still has one of the best - if not the best - offense in the league returning intact, and he has already re-signed core defenders Alan Branch and Duron Harmon, leaving him with very few holes to fill and with a ton of cap dollars in which to do it.

Certainly, he is not finished making moves, as he typically waits until the second week of free agency to snatch up veterans that have over-valued their worth on the open market to line his depth chart.

Scary - or at least it should be to the other 31 teams in the National Football League who are all looking up at the Patriots' juggernaut that just won their second title in three years and were already the odds-on favorites with Las Vegas bookmakers to defend their championship - and they are only going to get better...

Breaking update:  Patriots have acquired defensive end Kony Ealy and a third-round pick from the Carolina Panthers in exchange for their second-round pick in the 2017 Draft.

6:30pm Packers signing Martellus Bennett

Potential Patriots moves:

Lawrence Guy (Ravens):  At 6' 4" and 305 pounds, Guy runs a 4.8 and is best fit as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 alignment.  A scrapper, Guy worked his way into a rotation on the Ravens' defensive line and earned a second contract from the team in 2015.  He is visiting Foxborough on Friday, where he would project as an inside technique run stuffer on obvious running downs.  If signed, Guy would be a typical Patriots' rotational signing.

Justin Hunter (Bills):  Another player standing 6' 4", Hunter has great speed and burst to be an outside receiver to take the lid off of a defense.  He has bounced around a bit after being drafted by the Titans in 2013, mostly due to the mental part of his game - he has never been the same after tearing an ACL in college and he appears at times to lose concentration when knowing that his knee is exposed to safeties.

Brandin Cooks:  The speedy wideout is still being connected to the Patriots, but it appears that the rumor involving the Patriots flipping cornerback Malcolm Butler in exchange for Cooks is just a pile of bad noise. It was thought that the Saints would make a decision on Cooks by the weekend - and it still may happen - but without Butler's name attached the Saints are looking for a first-round draft pick, and the Patriots have defensive needs that would be better served with that pick.

Logan Ryan:  As expected, Ryan has signed elsewhere, inking a three-year, $30 million contract with the Tennessee Titans, who have methodically put together an impressive roster the past couple of offseasons, and are contenders in the admittedly weak AFC South.

Dont'a Hightower:  The Patriots have had what Hightower calls "Positive talks" in retaining the Pro Bowl linebacker, and the longer he waits to accept an offer from other teams, the better the chances are that New England can retain him.

Jimmy Garoppolo:  After a wild morning that saw Jimmy Clipboard's Instagram account being hacked and posting a farewell message to Patriots' fans, sanity has been restored to New England to all but beat writers who insist that every move that they can't understand made by other teams has something to do with Garoppolo.  Many sources have revealed that the Patriots do not want to trade their back up.

Barkeveous Mingo:  Mingo didn't exactly cash in, but he did find a home with the Indianapolis Colts, signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Colts.

Jaball Sheard: The Colts are also interested in Sheard, who would have to play as a stand up, weakside linebacker in their 3-4 alignment if signed.  Sheard left a meeting in Miami with the Dolphins without a contract, so if the Indianapolis visit doesn't go well, could we see Sheard back in New England?  The big free agency money is gone, unless Cleveland or San Francisco are interested.

Update: Sheard has signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

Cameron Fleming:  Huge "sixth lineman" and restricted free agent was tendered at his original fourth round level, which is worth nearly $2 million in 2017 if not signed by another team.  If he is, the Patriots will receive that team's fourth round selection.

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