FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Gilmore “not surprised” at Brady’s departure: When reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore was talking on the other end of the telephone late last week, he wasn’t alone. His son, Sebastian, kept calling out to him to kick the soccer ball with him.
In that sense, Gilmore, currently at home in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, Gabrielle, and their two children, is like many of us in these uncertain times.
“You kind of have to alter your time, with the kids at home 24/7. So I try to work out earlier in the morning, or when I put them down for nap time. You have to get creative, where you can’t go to a training gym and be around a lot of people,” he said. “Luckily it’s more open here and it’s not like I’m in a big city.”
Gilmore has kept close tabs on everything unfolding with the Patriots — another offseason of more defections than additions — but true to his personality and approach, he has kept an even keel.
His reaction to quarterback Tom Brady signing with the Buccaneers?
“Not surprised,” he said. “A player like him, playing somewhere that long, you never can see it, but it shows you that in the National Football League it can be anyone going somewhere. It’s a business, and that’s how you have to look at it.”
As for the business of replacing Brady, the Patriots have 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham, 11-year veteran Brian Hoyer and four-year veteran Cody Kessler on the quarterback depth chart. Gilmore, entering his ninth NFL season, became familiar with Stidham from competing against him during practice last season.
“He came in and worked hard and got better and better as the year went on. He has a strong arm,” Gilmore said. “He makes some tough throws. Definitely made it hard on me in practice each and every week, going against whoever I was covering, making some great throws. It allowed me to get better in practice to prepare for the games.”
One of the other hot-button questions surrounding the Patriots is how the leadership void will be filled with an 18-year captain no longer part of the mix. Captain Devin McCourty made the point last week that Brady’s presence might have led some to overlook the team’s other leaders.
“You have to earn that leadership and earn that trust every year — leading by example, leading by making plays,” Gilmore said. “That’s the type of thing once you come together, and see what type of team you have, you can see who can be that guy.
“You don’t know what you have until you actually get there. Everybody, it’s a clean slate right now. Everybody has to prove themselves, each and every year. No matter where you’re at, it starts over every year.”
2. Cap crunch dictates what’s next: With 67 players at the moment, the Patriots have 23 spots to fill on their 90-man roster. But with about $26 million in dead charges on their salary cap, and about $1 million in overall available space, the moves they can make are limited at this time. That’s why any talk of free-agent quarterbacks such as Cam Newton and Jameis Winston possibly landing in Foxborough — before even considering how they would fit scheme-wise — seems misplaced. The majority of the 23 open roster spots will be lower-cost rookies (the Patriots have 12 draft picks), but the bottom-line finances still dictate that more cap space is needed. Gilmore ($18.6 million cap charge), left guard Joe Thuney ($14.78 million) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower ($12.4 million) are prime candidates for extensions, while it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team explore how amenable right tackle Marcus Cannon ($9.6 million) and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($6.5 million) might be to pay reductions.
3. From the suggestion box on a possible tight end trade: The Patriots still have a glaring hole at TE, and with free agency not providing many attractive options, the other two avenues in play are trades and the 2020 NFL draft. So file this one in the “suggestion box” category: Give a call to Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace and see if Adam Shaheen might be available for a late-round pick. Chicago surprisingly gave veteran tight end Jimmy Graham a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed; signed Demetrius Harris (who played under coach Matt Nagy in Kansas City); and has the well-compensated Trey Burton on the depth chart along with (mostly) special-teamer Ben Braunecker, among others. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Shaheen, a 2017 second-round pick from small-school Ashland (Ohio), has been a disappointment to date. He might be fighting for a roster spot. The Patriots have a history of identifying undervalued players and then bringing out the best in them with their system. Maybe Shaheen could fit that mold.
4. McCourty brothers had different votes on CBA: Twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty might look alike and share many of the same beliefs, but one of the most interesting things I heard from the Patriots defensive backs over the past week was that they voted differently on the collective bargaining agreement. Jason voted no, Devin yes. While acknowledging that he had many of the same concerns with the CBA as his brother, Devin explained it this way on their “Double Coverage” podcast: “I didn’t like a lot of the deal. But I felt as players from a holistic standpoint, when I thought about every player, 2,400 members, I thought the best thing was to continue to play and not have a work stoppage.” Both stressed the same message: Because the vote was so close, there is a lot of work to be done among players over the next 10 years to best position the union for the next negotiation.
5. “Well done better than well said” meets Bruce Arians and Bucs: Of the many intriguing aspects of Brady’s beginning with the Buccaneers is how their culture contrasts with what he has lived the past 20 years. One culture doesn’t fit all, as different approaches can be successful, and Brady could find himself refreshed by a change. One example of the differences that stood out to me over the past week after Brady talked was about one of his favorite sayings — “well done is better than well said” — and a few days later Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians was pumping up Brady’s deep-ball capabilities by challenging those who think it’s a weak spot in Brady’s game. Arians is one of the game’s great talkers.
6. The one game Brady was the holder: Talk to almost any player who has shared a locker room with Brady and he will relay how Brady is one of the greatest teammates he has had. It’s those connections with teammates that Brady referenced as probably the greatest gift football has given him, which he highlighted in a salute to released kicker Stephen Gostkowski last week in an Instagram story. The picture sparked a question: When did Brady hold for Gostkowski? Other than the preseason, the only time was the divisional round of the 2013 playoffs against the Colts — on two point-after attempts in the fourth quarter — when Ryan Allen was injured.
In one week, the Patriots’ two longest-tenured players have departed.
Players often talk about the special bonds formed in the locker room, and Tom Brady’s Instagram story to Stephen Gostkowski reflects that. pic.twitter.com/TwGXZ080j3
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 24, 2020
7a. Players adjust with training: With no traditional offseason training options available to them because of the coronavirus pandemic, players across the NFL have had to get creative with their workouts. Former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins told Detroit media that growing up in the country, he’s used to doing that. Devin McCourty, for one, said the Peloton bicycle he purchased this year has been important for him, while former Patriots offensive lineman Ted Karras made me chuckle when he described how he’s managing. “I’m here in just a little town outside of Foxborough — my neighbor has a [weight] rack in his garage right across the street [and] I’m just running up and down the street,” he told the Miami media. Picturing the 305-pound Karras doing sprints up his street, after opening his neighbor’s garage door to lift some weights, brought a smile amid these challenging times.
7b. Patriots’ theme — together while apart: Nice touch from the Patriots, who launched a page on their official website dedicated to COVID-19. The theme is “together while apart”, promoting the idea that everyone in the organization, including its fans, can navigate through these challenging times as a team.
8. Shelton vs. Allen contracts: One day after the Patriots lost defensive tackle Danny Shelton to the Lions on a two-year, $8 million deal in free agency, the team reached an agreement with Buccaneers defensive tackle Beau Allen on a two-year contract with a maximum value of nearly $8 million. On the surface, that sparked a question as to why the Patriots would extend for Allen, but not Shelton, who played well for them last season. As always, the answer is in the details, with Allen having to perform to earn the full value. So that protects the Patriots more financially, as they obviously are projecting Allen can perform at a close enough level to Shelton.
Signing bonus: $1.7 million
2020 base: $1.3 million
2021 base: $2.2 million
2020 roster bonus: $900,000 ($56,250 per game)
2021 roster bonus: $900,000 ($56,250 per game if 16 games)
2020 incentives: $250,000 (playing time)
2021 incentives: $250,000 (playing time)
9. Did You Know: Recently signed Patriots outside linebacker Brandon Copeland, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, has been a co-professor of a class at his alma mater: URBS 140 — Inequity and Empowerment: Urban Financial Literacy. Students refer to him as “Professor Cope.”
10. Final word: “Of course, it was a great award, but you have to put it behind you. You have to prove yourself every year. No one cares what you did last year. I try to take that mindset each and every year, and show everyone that I can be the player I want to be.” — Gilmore, on wiping the slate clean after being named 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.