Week 10 of the 2019 NFL season may be a bye week for the New England Patriots, but it isn’t for Tom E. Curran. Our Patriots Insider is here to provide some five bye-week takes to hold you over until the Patriots are in action in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
1. Odell Beckham Jr. to the Patriots chatter? There will be a lot of it
I don’t know which of these two statements is more accurate. Fans will never lose their appetite for “Gronk Returning?!?!?!?!” rumors. The people in charge of cooking them up will never stop plating them and sliding them down the counter. Either way, when that business finally slows, the “OBJ to the Patriots” chatter is just going to take its place.
The Browns receiver – whose disenchantment with Cleveland has been thinly veiled – has played plenty of footsie with the Patriots already by word and deed. This past week, he alluded to 2020 shaping up to be the “best year” of his life and it’s hard to imagine that he’s envisioning that happening on the shores of Lake Erie. If that was meant to be another bread crumb, it worked.
The odds on where Beckham will play in 2020 are already being laid and the Patriots are the leading non-Cleveland favorite. How’s that going to work? First, one supposes Tom Brady would have to stick around. Then the Patriots would have to figure out how to take on Beckham’s contract which is, actually, quite doable. He has a $14.25M salary in 2020 of which $2.75M is guaranteed. The remaining $11.25 million of his 2020 salary fully guarantees on the third day of the 2020 league year.
After 2020, there’s a team opt-out clause and the remaining years are in the $15M range.
The Patriots are still dragging around dead cap money from Antonio Brown for this season and next so that’s a wrench in their books. And if Brady re-signs, that’s going to be at least a $25M cap hit, so that’s a concern as well. But if the Patriots have the same interest in him they reportedly did in the past, Beckham coming to New England next year is probably a better bet than Gronk coming back this year.
2. The Patriots defense is still on a historic pace
Even though they let up 30 points defensively last week against the Ravens, the Patriots defense – suddenly a suspect group that got fat on bad teams with horrible quarterbacks – is still very much on pace to set the record for fewest points allowed. They’ve now allowed 70. In nine games. Less than eight per game. The 2000 Ravens allowed 151. So the Patriots have an 80 point cushion over their last seven games to set the record. They are going against the meat of their schedule over the next four weeks with Philly, Dallas, Kansas City and Houston and that cushion could conceivably be gone by then. But if it’s not … history still beckons.
3. No. 1 seed is no guarantee for New England
For two months, it seemed the Patriots were going to run away and hide with the AFC’s top seed and that everyone else was playing for No. 2. The loss to the Ravens means the Patriots have to look in the rearview mirror a little bit now.
The Patriots are 8-1 while the Ravens, Chiefs and Texans are 6-2, 6-2 and 6-3 respectively. If the Patriots stub their toe against the Eagles next week and Baltimore gets past the Bengals and Texans, the Ravens would suddenly hold the top overall spot because of their head-to-head win against the Pats.
Houston, which has the Ravens and Colts before they play the Pats, could be 8-3 heading into their game with New England. They’d be sniffing around the Patriots tail as well if New England stumbles.
The Chiefs already have a win over Baltimore but a loss to the Texans, so their game against the Patriots is a must-win. They have the Titans, Chargers and Raiders before they visit New England.
4. N’Keal Harry brings up a Bill Belichick weakness
N’Keal Harry being inactive for the Ravens game caused a cascade of speculation as to whether or not the first-round rookie is a lost cause for 2019. He isn’t. Stuffing him into the lineup at Baltimore when the team was planning to go up-tempo all night was going to put him in position to fail. Besides that, the number of defensive linemen and linebackers the Patriots needed at their disposal to deal with the Ravens running game created a crunch. Harry will make an impact. Bet on that.
But Harry remaining on ice meant a revisitation of Bill Belichick’s track record at drafting wideouts which has been … not great. And it’s still mind-blowing to consider Belichick’s advice to Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff when the former Patriots exec asked for counsel about a blockbuster draft-day deal to move up for the chance to draft Julio Jones.
In Michael Holley’s book War Room, he detailed Belichick’s thinking this way:
“Belichick has a couple good reasons for his analysis, and he’s willing to share. He often says that the primary job of a receiver is to simply get open and catch the ball, and he doesn’t like what he sees from Jones in either department. He thinks the receiver struggles to get open on intermediate routes, doesn’t play as fast as his superb timed speed suggests, and too often displays inconsistent hands. There’s also the issue of value. When Belichick began studying the 2011 draft, he saw great depth at the receiver position. Why go all-out for someone like Jones when you can likely have a Jonathan Baldwin, who, as far as Belichick can see, is just as good if not better than Jones?”
Belichick also told Dimitroff the move would be forever dredged up if it didn’t work out, which was eye-opening considering Belichick’s unflinching exterior when it comes to making personnel decisions with the Patriots.
“It was an amazing discussion,” Dimitroff told NFL Media’s Michael Silver. “Bill was very open about it. He felt it was something he would not do. He said, ‘Thomas, are you sure you want to do this? You’re gonna be tied to this for the rest of your career.’
“We talked for 30 or 40 minutes. I remember coming back around at the end, saying, ‘All due respect — if and when you see we’re gonna pull the trigger on this tonight, your words didn’t fall on deaf ears.’ And in my mind I was thinking, F— it: We’re doing this. It was surreal. Here’s a Hall of Fame coach and team-builder telling me not to do it, and I’m doing this anyway!”
Jones has been more than Dimitroff and the Falcons could have hoped. Baldwin, meanwhile, played 33 games, made 44 catches and was out of the league in three years.
5. An addendum to the receiver conversation
There’s an addendum to Belichick’s oft-lamented blind spot when it comes to drafting wideouts (which I’ve done myself recently). While he may have fanned on a bunch of outside receivers over the years, it shouldn’t be ignored that in 2010 he drafted the most productive single-season tight end combo in NFL history with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both were dice rolls. One went on to become a Hall of Famer, the other went to jail for murder so the “How’d that work out for ya…” conversation is complicated, to say the least. But tallying up the pass-catchers he drafted that didn’t amount to anything in the NFL without noting two guys who amounted to quite a bit is not telling the full story.
One more point on those two: if Brady hates young receivers, how do you explain the work those two did with the quarterback in their first two seasons in the league when they combined for 256 catches and 40 touchdowns?
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Curran: Why the No. 1 seed is no guarantee and other Patriots bye-week takes originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston