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Ask PFW: Super Bowl glory swiftly turns to offseason

WOW! What an incredible comeback from TB12 and the Pats. I'm still surprised how it is possible that the worst first-half performances came after a bye week. (Seahawks, Texans, Falcons)? In general should be the opposite.

Vincent Kaculini

This is an interesting question and storyline. There is no question that the Patriots weren't at their best to open Super Bowl LI, failing to score in the first quarter for the seventh straight Super Bowl under the leadership of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. In the past Belichick has told me emphatically that, "believe it or not, we always try to start fast." So, why hasn't that worked out coming out of byes of late? Is it a coincidence? I really can't answer it in a general sense. In relation to the battle with the Falcons, I firmly believe that New England was caught off guard a bit by Atlanta's impressive team speed on both sides of the ball. That was obvious on early LeGarrette Blount runs to nowhere as well as Devonta Freeman bursting for 37 yards on his first attempt of the night. The pass protection also struggled early, with two sacks killing a drive on the Patriots second possession. While I'm not willing to say that the Patriots are strangely a worse team coming out of bye weeks – they also happen to be playing good teams with good defenses coming out of recent byes – the reality is that slow starts have been less than ideal. Luckily, this time around, New England was able to overcome it with a miraculous comeback as the Falcons failed to finish the Patriots off despite the early advantage.

Andy Hart

Hi guys; Thanks for taking the time to respond to readers, even (or especially!) when you pick on them for dumb questions. Hopefully this one doesn't fall into that category: Am I crazy, or would it be a good trade for NE to package Garoppolo and Gronk to Cleveland for picks #1 and #12 (assuming CLE would go for it, maybe with a balance of lower picks on either side)? Don't get me wrong, I love Gronk and think he's the most talented TE of all-time, but he's only here on a discount for 1 more year. I bet THAT plays into it for Belichick more than the injuries - even though back injuries seem to "never go away" for the average person (which Gronk is certainly not, but still...).  If I'm BB, here's what I'm thinking: Re-sign Bennett for ~80%(?) of the cost, draft DE (Myles Garrett!) and an OT or LB (or trade down for both), save money, fewer injury concerns, re-stock on the fly while being able to say to people in the building "We just won the SB without Gronk, we can do it again." I know he doesn't care about opinions outside of the building, but I am curious about yours. It would pain me to say goodbye to Gronk, but it's basically getting great value on Jimmy G and trading Gronk for the #1 overall (again, hypothetically speaking, b/c I'm not sure Cleveland would actually go for it). Think BB would go for it? SHOULD he? Thanks!

Jeremy Hill

I don't think there is any way the Browns would go for this deal, but it's still fun to talk about from the Patriots perspective. For me, the question is whether Gronkowski is willing to play out his current contract. If he is, I'd be looking to retain him. If he's looking for some kind of raise for 2017, then I would very much be willing to consider dealing him, especially for such a lopsided deal as you suggest. I don't believe either guy is worthy of a high first-round pick at this point, and to get two would be potentially one of the bigger trade steals in NFL history. Three first-round picks with which to retool the roster of a Super Bowl champ would be fun to witness. That said, I think there is almost no chance of a deal like this happening. I'm still very much dubious that the Patriots could get a first-round pick for Garoppolo considering all that goes into such a deal. And it would stun me for a team to give up a first for Gronkowksi coming off back surgery. I also don't think you're going to get much of a discount on Bennett, who immediately after Super Bowl LI said he was happy to hit free agency because champions get overpaid on the open market. I'd much rather have Gronkowski, even with all the injuries, than Bennett anyway.

Andy Hart

Great win by the Pats in the SB... How is Dion Lewis with going down at the end of the game? Looked like he might have another knee injury to deal with.

Billy Salmon

When I saw Lewis fall to the turf on the Patriots bench on the final play of regulation my immediate reaction was that he suffered a knee injury. Thankfully, though, it was announced that Lewis had hamstring issue. I saw him after the game and he was walking without any noticeable issue. So, despite how it looked live, I believe Lewis avoided any sort of serious injury on the play.

Andy Hart

I'm still drooling over the improbable comeback win in the Super Bowl. One of the best moments in sports history, along with the Butler's interception in Super Bowl 49. Talking about that interception, what do you make of the second last play call: the nearly intercepted pass intended for Bennett? I'm referring to the first play at the goal line after the PI against Atlanta just before White ran it in for the game-winning touchdown. To me it almost felt like a cocky reference to Super Bowl 49, though a risky one. I'm pretty sure it wasn't an attempt to embarrass the Seahawks: "you failed, but we just nailed it," more than a gutsy call to catch the Falcons by surprise. Personally, I was called by surprise but in some way liked the call anyway despite it almost going horribly wrong.

K.J. Fokkens

Seeing Vic Beasley get his hands on Brady's pass toward Bennett was certainly a scary sight for Patriots Nation. It was a questionable call from the 2 but I don't think it had anything to do with sticking it to anyone. New England lined up in a tradition goal line set with James Develin at fullback and Blount deep. The idea was clearly to catch the Falcons offside with the pass out of such a run set. It didn't work and a guy more used to being in coverage could have very easily picked off Brady's pass to greatly alter the ending to the game. But it didn't happen and New England sealed the deal with the White touchdown run out of a spread set on the ensuing snap. Like it or not, there was certainly some luck and good fortune along the way to the Patriots historic comeback. There is no shame in taking advantage of the breaks, as some breaks the other way certainly helped the Falcons build the big early lead.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, greatest win ever. Was jumping for joy over here. Do you think the game revealed some big needs moving forward? Hightower, Branch, Harmon, White and Amendola seem more important to keep going onwards? A LB and DB in the draft?

Damon

U.K.

The biggest thing that stood out for me was the potential need to increase New England's team speed. I think the most likely spot for that would be linebacker and defensive end, though other spots like safety and running back could be an option for a boost. I would certainly make Hightower a major offseason a priority and can't envision him being allowed to walk away as a free agent. Branch would seem like a guy who enjoyed this season and might be re-signed at a very reasonable rate. Harmon is the type of young, complementary Patriots player who might lure a better offer in free agency from another team looking to upgrade his role. I wouldn't say he's as likely to walk as a guy like cornerback teammate Logan Ryan, but I'm not sure he'll be easy to re-sign. White is under contract for another season but I could see him getting an extension if he's so inclined. Amendola will have to restructure his deal for a third straight spring – he set to have a $6 million salary and nearly $8 million cap number for 2017 -- if he's looking to remain in Foxborough and that may not make a return a slam dunk. He came up with a few huge plays in the Super Bowl, but his durability, value and role moving forward are a concern.

Andy Hart

First, I thought James White should have been the MVP. I understand why Brady gets the nod, but White came up in so many must-have moments. His 2-pointer behind Mason was such a big moment. And I thought he was going to get stuffed when he cut back in on the game winner. Add that to his total TDs and Brady's inability to see red on the pick 6. That aside, ecstatic beyond belief with the win! And ecstatic that after biting the bullet on the suspension AND trading away Collins, we now got to have our cake (winning the SB) and eat it too with all those draft picks BB loves. I love how young our team is and how solid some of the "no-names" have become. I was curious how many guys will be free agents now and also when will you guys be ready to talk about the draft prospects. Thanks and congrats to all Patriots nation!

Kyle Jeffreys

White certainly deserved MVP consideration and was the most consistent, productive Patriots player from start to finish. If there was an offensive player of the game I think it would go to the third-year running back. There is no question New England doesn't win the game without White's contributions, including three touchdowns and the two-point play. But Brady's job as the quarterback is the key to everything. So even though he was off-mark at times and made some costly mistakes, in the end he gets credit for setting records for attempts, completions and yards on the way to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. As for free agency, New England has 13 players set to hit the open market, most of whom were key contributors at one point or another to eventual Super Bowl glory. It's going to be an interesting offseason. And PFW will be in full draft-talk mode when we return from the Combine in the first week of March. Much like Belichick said of the Patriots as a whole, we are five weeks behind in our usual offseason work!

Andy Hart

Epic comeback! Now, "onto offseason". I cannot think of any Patriots free agent who may be back due to prohibitive salary or value or age/declining production except perhaps Branch, Blount and Develin at close to current salaries. Can you? P.S. Even Harmon, if he gets $3M per year is gone - right?

Ben G.

The Patriots will hit the offseason with more than $60 million in cap room to work with. That and some retooling of the books make it very possible for the team to do just about whatever it wants in free agency, both with its own players and on the open market. For example guys like an injured Sebastian Vollmer and little-used Barkevious Mingo took up more than $8 million total on this year's cap. That money could be reallocated in more productive ways moving forward. Certainly Hightower has to be a priority, a deal that could easily be worth north of $50 million. Dealing with restricted free agent Malcolm Butler for both the short and long term will be another key part of the agenda. Many others, though, could return on reasonable deals. That would likely include Blount, Develin and Branch, as you suggest. The trickiest deals are probably for the likes of Martellus Bennett, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Jabaal Sheard and, if interested, Michael Floyd. It's not hard to imagine that all of those guys leaving for more lucrative futures elsewhere. It's part of the process each offseason, especially for title teams.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, I have 3 questions about defense: 1) What do you think about this linebacker by committee approach? Do we need a player to substitute for Jamie Collins next Season? Or is Elandon Roberts supposed to be that one if he improves his coverage? 2) Probably next season we will not see Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long returning, so, do you see Shea McClellin or Kyle Van Noy being a defensive end? 3) Is Geneo Grissom a defensive end or a 3 technique?

Gregorio Ladeira

Linebacker depth is a legitimate concern, although the primary issue at the position is keeping Hightower in his role in the middle of it all for the New England front. Roberts had a nice rookie season but is more of a run player and likely will never be in the Collins mold of working in coverage and down the field. That said, both McClellin and Van Noy did a nice job in a platoon role and will be back under contract. Neither of those guys is much of an option on the edge, as they've proven previously in both New England and elsewhere. Jonathan Freeny could also return as a depth option after missing 2016 on IR. I would not close the door on a possible Long return, although I also wouldn't be surprised if he decided to retire after a Super Bowl win in his first career postseason run. Grissom is an end in name only, as he's never really been able to prove himself worthy of a role on defense. With Rob Ninkovich aging and the lack of depth beyond the burgeoning Trey Flowers, the end spot is one to watch in both free agency and the draft.

Andy Hart

Let me first apologize for being one of the blog/fans who was very despondent in his commentary until Q4. The emotional rollercoaster of this game was almost too much. Regardless of what is said publicly and the gracious way TB12 greeted Goddell - what are your thoughts on how motivating the suspension was in driving TB in 2017? More than winning, how important was it for him to have a ring that did not accompany some side story on tactics?

Pasadena Chris

First, no problem about the emotion during the game. It was a stressful time for many and it was hard not to get down after the way the first half of Super Bowl LI played out. Luckily, the team was able to stay more confident and focused than many fans and media. As for Brady, I kind of look at it the same way that Belichick described at his press conference on Monday. I think Brady has been one of the most motivated and hardest-working athletes since the day he arrived in New England. That's a big part of why he's the greatest to ever play the game. Therefore it's hard for me to believe he was somehow more motivated or working harder this season. That might be possible for other players whose motivations or work ebb and flow. I think Brady's drive is unflappable and almost unprecedented. That's why he's doing things that are unprecedented, too.

Andy Hart

At the end of regulation in SB LI New England took a fair catch on its own 35, score tied with three seconds left. Do you think that Ghost could have hit the 75-yard fair catch kick to win the game in regulation? No pass rush, Atlanta 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, time would have expired with the ball in the air if he missed. All that is needed is to think of the play.

Frederick Stockton

I wondered this at the time but Paul Perillo convinced me that the potential for a Falcons return was too dangerous risk for the possible reward of the very long kick. Atlanta could have positioned a player or two at the back line and gotten a return ready if Stephen Gostkowski came up short on the free-kick attempt. Both teams could have prepared for such a concern with blockers and coverage guys, but it could have given the Falcons a chaotic chance to win as well. The potential was there for one of the most unique, curious conclusions to a game in Super Bowl history, but the distance was probably just too far for the try to be worth the risk. And things certainly worked out OK in the end for New England. Interestingly, though, Belichick was actually asked about potential fair-catch free kicks in his final media availability last week and he talked about how such an opportunity so rarely comes up in a career, never mind a season or a Super Bowl game. This time it was just too far to try it.

Andy Hart

Hi Guys,

I just wanted to give props to Dan Quinn for giving an interview after the Super Bowl. While I don't think anyone from the losing team should have to do interviews until the following day, it was very classy of him to do it. I'm glad the Pats won, but I now have a ton of respect for the Atlanta organization.

Monty Borrowman

I was actually quite impressed with the Atlanta players and organization throughout the entire Super Bowl process. They had to have been extremely disappointed with the loss and blowing the huge lead. But they were true professionals. Cam Newton and others could learn a thing or two from Quinn, Matt Ryan and the rest.

Andy Hart

Dont'a Hightower will most likely be looking for a Jamie Collins-type deal. Will the Patriots pony up and pay the man?

Josh Lund

Asked last week if he was excited to see the four-year, $50 million deal with $26 million guaranteed that Collins got from the Browns, Hightower reportedly said, "Absolutely." He can certainly argue that he deserves more than that as he's the guy that New England chose to keep and maintain as the centerpiece of the defense. He's also coming off playing a key role in a Super Bowl win for the second time in three years. He's likely looking for north of the $50 million mark. I think he'll probably get it. The only real negative against him is his durability, having missed a handful of games in each of the last three seasons. Otherwise he's a Pro Bowl talent, captain and leader very much in the line of guys like Devin McCourty and Jerod Mayo who also got top-of-market deals to re-sign in New England. Maybe the team will try to go the franchise tag route, but I think it's more likely that Hightower gets the long-term deal he seemingly deserves at this point give his role and accomplishments.

Andy Hart

Three quick Q: Karma score 2-2? Why, a year-to-year improving James White, was in preseason "cut" discussion? Are Pats really well set up for more SBs as one blog suggested? My take: even in the QB-less AFC, Pats are aging on D, and have many holes to fill or upgrade with only 5 weeks before the draft.

Stan C.

I don't really get the karma question. Sorry. White was never really in the cut discussion for anyone with a true understanding of his skills, his value and how much he was respected after performing the way he did in 2015. He was a roster lock all along, some just didn't know it. Finally, yes the Patriots are well set to compete for future Super Bowls. They retain Brady, Belichick and coordinators on both sides of the ball. They retain the core of the passing attack. The offensive line will remain and likely improve given its youth. At the very least the defensive backfield will return Butler, McCourty and Chung. The front retains Ninkovich, Flowers, Brown and others. There will certainly be turnover on the roster. But there is also plenty of room for improvement at a lot of spots. Could Mitchell, Flowers, Butler and Brown be rising stars? Certainly. It won't be easy, but hard not project the Patriots competing for at least a seventh-straight AFC title game appearance as long as Brady stays healthy at the age of 40.

Andy Hart

Hello from N.B. Canada. Long time subscriber. Wondering what the criteria is for the issuing of SB rings? Who is eligible and who is not? Roster players released during the season and practice squad players? Keep up the great coverage. This team is more than N.E. it includes the Canadian Maritimes as well. A truly regional team.

Michael Lawlor

The process of giving out Super Bowl rings is basically up to the discretion of the team. Certainly guys who finished the year on the active roster and practice squad will get them. As will guys on injured reserve. The tricky part comes with guys who were on the active roster for an earlier portion of the season. That's where the decision is left up to the team.

Andy Hart

Alright, stay with me because I'm going by nicknames for these catches but which catch was the best between the helmet catch (Giants), the sideline catch (Giants) the juggling catch (Seahawks), Julio's catch on the sideline or Edelman's catch off the guy's leg?

Robert Miles

For me the best pure, skillful catch was the one that Julio Jones made on the sideline for the Falcons on Sunday night. It was a thing of beauty. I'd put the catches by the David Tyree and Jermaine Kearse much more in the category of luck or fluky. Edelman's catch was kind of a mix of luck and skill. He very much saw and attacked the ball with his hands as it fell with him entangled in three different Atlanta defenders. But he also needed the luck of it landing on the Falcons defender's leg to finish the job. It certainly was a crazy, circus catch and it was good to see the Patriots on the positive end of one of those for a change in the Super Bowl.

Andy Hart

Now that the world saw that the game plan in the first three and a half quarters was terrible by Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady took the game over with hurry-up offense. Do you think now they will get a offensive coach who can compete with a great defense? Please think and don't get caught up in the win.

Larry Kothe

The only reason McDaniels would not have returned to the Patriots for 2017 would have been if he'd gotten a head-coaching job with another team. That didn't happen. So, he's back to lead what will once again surely be one of the best offensive attacks in football next fall. Did I dislike some of the game plan? Sure. The early outside runs to Blount made little sense to me. I also didn't love the trick play with Edelman throwing the ball across the field. But, I still very much believe that McDaniels is one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL today. And let's not forget that when it comes to the game plan process, Belichick also plays a huge role throughout the build up to a game. McDaniels doesn't succeed or struggle in a vacuum. He's a part of a fine-tuned machine. That machine struggled at times on Sunday, but in the end it also produced the great comeback and victory in Super Bowl history. And let's remember, the other hot, young coordinator in the big game – Atlanta's Kyle Shanahan, who's leaving to become the 49ers head coach – also had some questionable play calls. But, you'll probably say I'm just caught up in the win. Maybe that's true. I'm OK with that. And I think everyone involved should be excited and feel fortunate that McDaniels will be returning to the Patriots again next season.

Andy Hart

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