Last year, disappointed that Patriots seemed to be limping to the playoffs yet again, I wrote to you asking why BB is not doing more to mitigate injuries and you dismissed my question. But it appears that BB is able to do something about minimizing injuries other than calling them bad luck. What is the key to his approach?
Well, Adam, I'm going to dismiss your question again. While the team has changed strength coaches – Moses Cabrera was promoted after years of assisting Harold Nash – I don't think a half season of solid health really proves anything. Belichick has lamented the numbers of injuries his team has dealt with over the years, whether it was under the watch of Nash or his predecessor, Mike Woicik. Certainly the team has made small changes to the training and medical programs along the way. Sure saline chambers and personalized shakes have a value, but they don't eliminate injuries. Injuries have and always will be part of managing an NFL team. Rob Gronkowski missed nearly two months to a hamstring. Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a shoulder sprain. Dont'a Hightower missed two weeks to a knee. Injuries are an inherent part of the game. Some players seem to be more injury-prone than others. But on a whole, I think all teams deal with injuries and I do firmly believe there is some luck involved. Cabrera is probably doing a great job. He's probably made some minor changes to the program. But I can't give him credit for solving some magic injury riddle. I don't believe it works that way. And Belichick expressed a similar wait-and-see approach on WEEI this week to an acknowledged half season of good health.
Does the Jamie Collins trade affect the ability of the team to re-sign Dont'a Hightower? Is he harboring ill will and looking to move on?
In terms of actual facts, the trade of Collins probably increases the chances of re-signing Hightower based on more available cap space and actual dollars. Hightower was and remains very close with Collins. He told the Boston Herald he was shocked by the trade but seemed to understand the business side of everything. Coming from Nick Saban's program at Alabama and rising to be a captain in Belichick's program in New England, I think the linebacker really "gets it." I still think there is a very good chance he will remain with the Patriots and wants to remain with the Patriots. But that is speculation on my part and it will certainly be interesting to see how things play out after this season as he heads toward free agency.
I grew up in Boston and come from generations of diehard Patriots fans. Despite leaving Boston in 1969, I'll always be rooting for the Pats and will be taking my daughter to her first game ever in two weeks when they come out to California. I'm the same age as Bill Belichick and have always thought he was one of the top two or three football coaches in history, but like many, I don't get the Collins trade, which is fine - I'm sure there's more to this than is visible to the outside world. But having been in the military, including two wars, I am pretty tuned in to the negative impact on team morale caused by the suddenness and lack of explanation. Any human being would have to be wondering if they're next, not to mention going from, "We're in this together, all for one and one for all, like brothers, one big family," and so on, to an empty locker and off to Cleveland in the blink of an eye. Knowing their coach doesn't trust them enough to fill them in doesn't help either. In the days leading up to the trade, now you find out that while your coach was looking you in the eye and saying great job, you're one of the family, he was secretly having conversations behind your back to get rid of you. How does the rest of the team feel they can completely trust someone in that environment?
I may be wrong, but I believe that the players trust that Belichick does what he believes is in the best interests of the football team. They may not always like or even understand his decisions, and that value of him explaining himself to his troops can be debated, but I think for the most part Belichick has earned the benefit of the doubt, even with his players. Clearly there will be some personal feelings to move past, but I think the bye week helps in that process. Also, we all seem to be assuming there were issues beyond our knowledge that played into the trade. The players, in their lives behind the scenes, may be privy to some of that information that Belichick used when deciding to trade the linebacker. The other players see and hear things all the time. Though they may not talk about it publicly, they may have reason to understand the trade more than we do as outsiders. I don't see this trade upsetting the locker room to the point where it has an adverse effect on the team. To the contrary, I think Belichick is counting on the deal being some form of addition by subtraction. At least that's how I read it from the outside. Seems to be the best way to explain the shocking move.
It pains me to say it, but Elway is a better GM than BB. Look how he has built his defense: he signed Talib away from Pats, he signed Ward for half the money of McCourty, he drafted Roby who is a star CB in a making while Bill got Jones and Richards sitting on the bench, he signed Von Miller while BB let his sack leader go, his top talent never quit on him like Collins did on BB., and his rookie QB is better than Brissett. These are some examples why it looks like Patriots will always have a hard time getting by Denver even this year when Broncos are in a transition at QB. Can you be objective and offer your take?
I do believe that Elway has done an impressive job in his time running the team in Denver. But his shorter run as GM is by no means enough to wipe out Belichick's impressive team building over nearly two decades in New England. The two teams have the same number of Super Bowl wins in recent years. They've each had moves adding players, letting them go, re-signing them and hits/misses in the draft. To clarify, Trevor Siemian is not a rookie, this is his second season. And I hope you are not trying to compare Miller to Chandler Jones, because there is not a realistic comparison to be made. While record isn't the be-all, end-all, last time I checked the Patriots have a better record and are poised to have home field in the playoff, almost regardless of what happens when the team play in Denver in December. Call me a homer – which would probably be the first time -- but I still think Belichick is the best coach and GM in the game today.
Try to have an open mind on this. Has Bill lost his mind? He got rid of Logan Mankins and our line sucked, He supported the idea of changing the extra point and then our kicker missed the extra point in the AFC championship game last year and we lost. He chose to give the Jets the ball in the beginning of overtime last year and we lost (all we needed was one more win to get home-field advantage for the playoffs which we didn't get and lost in the playoffs), he got rid of Chandler Jones and Dominique Easley and now our defensive line sucks and now he got rid of possibly the best linebacker in the league not named Luke Kuechly in Jamie Collins. Does our next "crazy move" need to be to get rid of him?
Robert is a regular emailer here at Ask PFW, so I'll try to be nice. Simply put, this is a "crazy" email, though parts of it are indeed based in fact. First, New England won the Super Bowl after trading Mankins, showing just how much it killed the team. And I think the rule change on PATs was a genuine interest to improve the game from a coach who had the best kicker in the game at the time. Easley is a bust of a first-round pick who I never saw do much and isn't doing much in L.A. from what I've seen. Certainly the Jones and Collins deals are worth analyzing, but not to the point that part of the process should be considering getting rid of the most successful football mind in all of modern football, and it's not even close. Belichick made questionable game plan and in-game decisions last year, as he's done throughout his career while leading the most successful, consistent franchise in the NFL since 2000. Dealing two young, Pro Bowl defenders in less than a year with little to show for it doesn't look or feel great from afar – and maybe whatever transpired with Collins would have changed Belichick's thoughts on Jones had he known what was going to happen – but let's allow things to play out. Because right now they are playing out quite well for Belichick and the Patriots yet again.
In all the media analysis of why Collins was traded, nobody asked a more basic question - how did it get to this? How a Coach/GM BB known for his motivational skills and his ability to turn-around players, could not find a way to get a very talented player to "do his job"? Also, I don't recall other SB-bound teams having such problem with their elite player quitting on them in his last year of the contract and a SB within reach. Do you?
I have no idea how it got to the point where Collins had to go, but it clearly did. Belichick made it quite clear that in his professional opinion the Patriots were better off moving forward in 2016 without the Pro Bowl linebacker. I can't think of a specific player on a Super Bowl team, but there are plenty of player vs. coach/team issues that have come up over the years. Terrell Owens with Andy Reid and the Eagles. Mike Singletary with Vernon Davis. Eric Weddle with the Chargers. This year with Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants. Those are just a few that immediately popped into my head. But dealing with professional athletes, contracts and egos leads to these kinds of issues all the time. Sometimes we hear about them. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes they work out. Sometimes they don't.
The Jaime Collins trade has been digested pretty well. It follows along the path of Chandler Jones, Mankins, etc. Anyone can understand a trade when performance starts to decline. But is there any correlation between players finally landing a big contract and having their performance fall off - as in, "I've made it, now I can coast"?
First, I think the comparison to Jones is far more apt than Mankins, who got his huge deal in New England as a captain and elite talent. The two young defenders were on the verge of needing to get paid and shipped out of town. As for the last part, it's a common theory in all sports that some players get fat and happy with a big contract and don't bring the same fire after getting the financial security. But, I think there are other guys who work as hard or harder to justify their paycheck and prove their continued worth. Obviously the goal for a team is to have many more of the latter players and avoid the former as often as possible. But that can be easier said than done.
Why are our fans and the media in general is such an uproar about this? The fans & press cannot understand why Belichick would trade Collins in the middle of the season. The answer is simple. Once the decision was made not to sign Collins, a trade now to Cleveland gives us a 3rd-round compensatory pick in the upcoming 2017 draft with a team that will probably have the first pick in each round. If they waited to the end of the year we would have to our pick in 2018 and most likely somewhere lower in the draft.
Hi Guys. I was as shocked as anyone when I heard about the Collins trade, but on further reflection it makes sense. I assume there were proper reasons for wanting to unload him (be that inconsistent play/freelancing, or, more likely stalled contract negotiations). If Belichick was resigned to losing him at the end of the season, he'd have been faced with, at best, a compensatory pick at the very end of the third round in 2018 draft. By getting the Browns' third rounder in 2017, we get a pick at the beginning of the third round probably in the region of 32 selections higher than the compensatory pick would have been and we make that pick a year earlier. Do you think there's anything in that logic?
I've been a fan since the inception of the Patriots in 1960. I've seen a lot of ups and downs since then. I can understand most of the player transactions over the years, but this one has me confused. In the case of Collins, what does "compensatory" mean? If the Browns continue their poor showing, they'll have the first pick in each round plus, probably, additional compensatory picks from the third round on. Wouldn't these be added to the end of each round? If so, we might only get a pick at the end of round three.
The Collins trade, as I understand it from various reports, was for Cleveland's theoretical compensatory third-round selection in 2017 that the Browns expect after losing Alex Mack last spring free agency. Compensatory picks come after the conclusion of the third round and have nothing to do with a team's record but rather its net losses in the previous year in free agency. Those who have mastered projecting these picks have projected that the pick in question could be No. 104 overall. If, by chance, the Browns don't get the third-round compensatory pick this spring then the trade will be for Cleveland's 2018 fourth-round pick. Either way, the Patriots did not get a traditional third-round pick (which I consider the first 96 selections in the draft) but rather something a bit further down the board. The other aspect at play here is the fact that as part of the Deflategate penalty the Patriots lose their highest fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, which is why they wouldn't necessarily want Cleveland's pick this year, which might be the first pick of that round.
Could a traded player be forced to play in 17 regular season games? If a team trades a player before their bye week to a team that already had their bye week, is it possible for a player to play in 17 regular season games, rather than 16? Would the player receive some type of extra compensation and does the CBA address this very real possibility? It isn't the case with Collins since Cleveland has their bye coming up in a few weeks, but it could have been the case if NE traded him to a team that already had their bye week.
This is very much possible. Players' salaries are broken into 17 checks for the season. So there is no extra compensation if a random circumstance leads to a 17th game played. Randy Moss actually had the opportunity when he was traded away from the Patriots to the Vikings after Minnesota's bye week in 2010. But it didn't actually work out for him to play 17 games as he was later released by Minnesota and actually ended up in Tennessee during that team's bye week. Doing a little research on Google, five players played in 17 games in the span from 1993 to 2009, including former Patriots linebacker Chris Singleton in 1993.
First I'd like to say thank you for always answering us diehard Patriots fan questions. I have a few questions of my own. With Collins now in Cleveland do you think Bill and the Patriots are sold on Hightower as our defensive signal caller of the future? I always thought he was going to be our main priority to re-sign when his contract expires. Also as we got through midseason and players will soon sign contract extensions, do you believe Blount is on the top of the list to receive one?
Hightower is clearly the man in the middle for the here and now. I would think he could keep that role moving forward if he wants it and can come to an agreement on a contract, but that's always a dangerous assumption in the world of NFL contracts. My gut tells me Hightower will get a deal done at some point, but I was a little surprised we reached this point without anything on the contract front for Collins, Hightower or Butler. So what do I know? He does seem to be very much in line and entrenched in the program, as they say. That's led to deals for guys like Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty in the past. As for Blount, I think he's had a great first half. But he's well on his way to blowing away his career-high for carries, has an injury history and will turn 30 in December. All those factors are very much against him getting an extension, even if he might deserve a little bump in pay for his role early this season. I think it would be more likely for him to get some kind of bonus or raise for this year more than an extension at this point.
I truly believe that the Patriots need more help along the offensive line if they are to win a Super Bowl this year. What are the chances that the Patriots get Tre' Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer back this season, and if they do get them back how effective might they be? Thank you so very much for your response.
It seems to be growing less likely by the day that we'll see Vollmer return to the Patriots this season, or maybe ever. It was reported when he went on PUP to open the season that he would end up on IR due to the hip issue and that seems to still be likely. Jackson, on the other hand, has been seen at practice stretching and doing things with his teammates even though he's not yet been activated to practice fully with the team. He's still working back from a knee injury and there are still three weeks left to decide his fate for this season. Even if he does return, the longer it goes the less I think he has a great chance of making a big positive impact on the line. I still believe the five guys that have been on the field the most together this fall are the five guys that need to start getting the job done at a higher level more consistently. I think it's unlikely a change in the lineup will fix the issues with the group.
In his Press Conference, BB alluded to players who were brought in perhaps in positional replacement for Collins. Let's look at these players: Mingo, McClellin and Van Noy. All of them have been reportedly used as ILBs at the other clubs and all of them have been reportedly misused at this position having more suitability at OLB. So how can they be looked at adequate ILBs? Also while Patriots have eight players: Sheard, Long, Ninkovich, Flowers, Mingo, McClellin, Grissom and Van Noy who are "outside guys", they have only two players as proven ILBs and one of them is an undersized rookie. Which of these eight "outside" players likely to step into ILB role if needed and whoever that is - what gives BB confidence that he will "do the job"?
First, Belichick downplayed the idea that the Collins trade was related in any way to the Van Noy deal or those guys being ready to fill the void. He seemed to indicate it was a case of Collins had to go and the plan to fill his role would be figured out in the aftermath of the deal. I agree with much of what you said about the bulk of the players you mentioned being more suited for the outside. The two guys I'd point to as most likely to see increased reps as more of an inside linebacker are Ninkovich and McClellin. Ninkovich did a lot of work at the spot in the spring and summer, possibly preparing for such during the season. McClellin transitioned to an inside role last year in Chicago and given his lack of impact on the outside I could see him doing more of that moving forward now in New England.
So Van Noy for Collins, Lengel for Derby and Gaffney for Sankey and this is best for the team? In my "unprofessional judgement" it is not. And in yours?
The Patriots are the best team in football. They have the best record. They have the best all-around talent. They have the fewest major flaws. Two of the three player comparisons you make are borderline irrelevant. And Van Noy is not a swap for Collins. Belichick decided Collins had to go, independent of other moves or players. Unless major injuries hit, New England is the clear favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and probably to win the biggest game in sports.
Bishop Sankey was picked up off our practice squad. Aren't they under contract? Don't we get something in trade?
They are under practice squad contracts, but that basically makes them free agents. Any player on a practice squad can choose to sign to any team's active roster at any time. They can also decline to sign to another team's roster, as well. There is no compensation. The Patriots lost Sankey but then signed tight end Matt Lengel from the Cincy practice squad. Happens all the time.
Peoples' reactions to the Collins trade to me is too much. Elandon Roberts is playing better than Collins, especially against the run. LB Roberts bulled a Pro Bowl lineman Joe Thomas in the Cleveland game. Last year LB Collins looked good. But how many sacks did he have this season? The pass rush of the Patriots is absent. As far as the corner spot, we traded for Eric Rowe.
Ronald Andrews II
I agree that people have had pretty extreme, over-the-top reactions to the Collins trade. But that's probably understandable when such a shocking move happens with such a young, talented player who many thought would be at the core of a developing defense. Roberts has been a nice story and is a physical player against the run in his limited playing time. If you take a one- or two-game snapshot of play, maybe Roberts was better than Collins. But not more than that. Collins had a single sack when he was traded away. But middle linebackers don't make their money as pass rushers, per se. Luke Kuechly is seen as the measuring stick at the position in the league. He has two sacks this fall and his career-high is three. Blaming Collins for the Patriots lack of a pass rush, which is clearly an issue, is not fair. As for Rowe, he's been working his way into the mix. I think this could be an interesting week for him as a possible candidate to see time matching up with resurgent Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham who is now healthy and making plays in Seattle.
Will Bennett's catches improve because I really haven't seen much if him since Brady came back (besides the Browns game)? Do you think he just doing his job or becoming an trust issue with route running or chemistry with Tom Brady?? Also with Jamie Collins gone who would you rather have Hightower or Collins? Mine is Hightower. He is a run stopper and can cover. And sack the quarterback. And seem to be in the right place at the right time. Remember in the Super Bowl 49 he stopped Beast Mode on the 1-yard line and Collins gave up a 20-yard pass that was to Beast Mode during that last two minute Seahawks drive.
I think that the man reason that Bennett's catches have been down – though he did have three touchdowns in the Cleveland game – is due to the ankle injury he's dealt with. That's cut into his reps and his production. Two weeks to recover over the bye should help him immensely. I think you will see his production pick up and I don't have any concerns with him getting on the same page with Brady. As for the linebackers, I always struggled with this debate. There is no question that Hightower is the more consistent player and better player against the run. He's also dealt with more health issues. Collins has the better pure athleticism and new-age NFL upside. I think when they are healthy and play well they both can be Pro Bowl players. I'm not going to change my opinion, though, I probably would have signed Collins first. But I don't know what he's like behind closed doors and in the locker room. And, now, that ship has sailed.
My understanding is that teams can't trade compensatory picks. Is that still so?
Nope, they changed that rule last year starting with deals for 2017 compensatory selections. It will be interesting to see how teams put this new option to use. I'm sure Belichick and the Patriots will be at the forefront, as they already are with the Collins trade.
Been a Pats fan since 1982 and agree mostly with your column, keep it up. Maybe I'm rationalizing but I don't think Collins played with the same energy this year as the previous ones. Also despite his interception of Brock while playing in a zone defense, I always felt that (for a guy with his athletic ability) he was not a good cover guy. What is your opinion?
I didn't notice a drop in Collins energy this year and I'm not going to revise history now and say I did. Consistency has always been a problem for him, though it's always hard to tell if that has to do with energy, effort, etc. As for his coverage, it was always overrated. Just like it is for most players. I have always believed that the "coverage linebacker" is almost a myth. I think they are extremely rare and finding big guys at the position who can cover is almost impossible, especially if you ask them to do it with any consistency. Collins made his name in part covering Coby Fleener a couple years ago in the playoffs, but he's had plenty of lumps in that role as well. It's hard enough for cornerbacks and safeties to cover, never mind 260-pound linebackers.
How can we fix our pass rush? Is it an interior problem, an edge problem or both?
Both. There just hasn't been enough push or impact from any area of the front this season. Fix it? That's a great question. On some level guys need to start winning more one-on-one battles up front. They also need to get better efficiency in the times when they blitz, stunt or scheme up pressures. I'm not sure there really has been any area of the pass rush that's been playing well, some improvement from all player in all areas across the board would be a start.