Patriots Free Agent Situation is an Edge-of-Your-Seat, High-Speed Thrill Ride

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins

Author’s Note: The Patriots free agent situation is nothing of the sort. In fact, it never is. This is the the beginning of the worst time of the year around here. But when Greenie is faced with losing his job and being banished back to Cube Life because his headlines are boring, you’ve got to read the room. So instead of “Ranking the Patriots Free Agent Priorities,” as a headline you pull a quote from the trailer of some piece of shit Gerard Butler action movie with 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s how you keep the page views up and show the kids you’re relevant, short of dying your hair and trying to pass and young and hep.

Creed Bratton

Later, Skater. Moving on. …

Today starts the two-week window of the Franchise Tag period, more or less the start of roster building for 2019. And, as always, the Pats are faced with their usual assortment of guys hitting the open market with the sweet, sweet, intoxicating aroma of newly-minted success all over them. Which is like a sex pheromone to shitty franchises who can’t resist the stench of a championship ring and will pay ridiculous sums of money for former Patriots. So Belichick and Nick Caserio once again have their work cut out for them as they offer sane deals to try and keep the 2018 band together.

As far as the Franchise Tag goes, don’t expect them to use it on anyone. It’s usually a terrible way to conduct business, unless you’re just using it to keep a player so you can trade him, like they did with Tebucky Jones in 2003 and Matt Cassel in 2009. Otherwise you’re generally way overpaying for a guy who’ll just resent you for costing him money on the open market. This is Belichick’s 20th offseason in Foxboro and he’s used the Tag a total of nine times, only four times since Cassel, and not at all since 2015. Which is a league-wide trend because it was only applied four times last year.

So with that, here’s the high-octane, adrenaline-pumping action thriller that is my priority of signing the major Patriots who are up this year:

Priority 7: Malcom Brown

I like Brown, for what he is: A big, space-eater as a nutritious part of a balanced defensive tackle rotation. And I agree with this Tweet that he stepped up in the postseason against some bruising inside runners like Damien Williams and CJ Anderson. But he’s not the every down stud they hoped he’d be when they used a 1st rounder on him in 2015. He disappears for stretches. Not uncommon for an interior lineman but not enough to pay him a lot. Not when LinkedIn is filled with Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy types looking for work. And I think the fact they let him get to free agency shows they feel the same way. Good enough to play to the end of his rookie deal (unlike Dominique Easley), not good enough to qualify for the all-important second deal (like Vince Wilfork).
Chance They Keep Him: 5 percent

Priority 6: Chris Hogan

This one goodbye that’ll leave a mark. It’s impossible not to look at Hogan’s Patriots career and remember the great moments. That insane catch against Kansas City. His 128 yards in losing to the Eagles last year. The surreal 9 receptions for 180 yards against Pittsburgh in the 2017 AFC title game. But it’s also impossible to overlook the fact that he’s seemed like Brady’s last option, with only 35 receptions on the season, despite Julian Edelman missing the first four games and Josh Gordon rediscovering his love for Ghost Train Haze in early December. Or how he struggled to gain separation against Marcus Peters in the Super Bowl on his way to zero catches on six targets. Maybe I’m reading it wrong. But nothing short of a major, Danny Amendola-like hometown discount will keep him here.
Chance They Keep Him: 15 percent

Priority 5: Cordarelle Patterson

Here’s one I don’t think will be a real tough sell. I don’t think he’s worth the $3.25 million the Patriots paid him last year. But unless I’m misreading the market, I don’t think anyone else will either. Patterson is a weird fit. He’s more than just a kick returner, but I think he proved this year he’s nobody’s idea of a route runner with wide receiver hands, either. It takes somebody with the creativity of Josh McDaniels to sort of retro-fit him into the team, the way Scotty once took that princess’s necklace and used it as Dilithium crystals to make the Enterprise’s warp engines go. (That’s a deep pull, I admit.) There aren’t many coordinators with the skills or patience to make something of a guy with Patterson’s skill set. And no team that values Special Teams as much. It’s close but I think he stays at a bargain price.
Chance They Keep Him: 51 percent

Priority 4: Trent Brown

I loved Trent Brown this year. Some people disagree on his overall body of work, but I thought he was a godsend to a franchise that had had a total of three starting left tackles (Nate Solder, Matt Light and Bruce Armstrong) since 1987. He told Adam Schefter this week that he considers himself the best pass blocker in the league and would love to stay with the Patriots. Which is great. I’d like to see it happen. But he seems like the classic case of a veteran who does nothing with one team, comes to New England, gets coached up, and then cashes in elsewhere. Think Wes Welker or Mark Anderson. He’s got all sorts of leverage – the physical and the financial kind – with plenty of teams in the league. The Patriots just happen to not be one of them since they drafted their pass blocking LT of the future in Isaiah Wynn. It’d be nice to be wrong on this one.
Chance They Keep Him: 20 percent

Priority 3: Jason McCourty

It was a bizarro season for the Other McCourty Brother. He seemed like the perfect signing to replace Malcolm Butler. Was hardly used in preseason and most of the beat writers were convinced he could be a camp cut. He then became indispensable. Until he seemed to give way to JC Jackson late in the season. Until becoming a huge factor in one of the great defensive performances in modern NFL history. He played every snap as the Pats held the 11th most prolific offense of all time to a 3-point jumpshot. Including one of the biggest plays of the entire season breaking up Brandin Cooks in the end zone. I suppose a lot will depend on whether Devin McCourty comes back, and he was non-committal during Super Bowl week. But when you go from the 0-16 Browns to making a play to win the Super Bowl, it’s hard to imagine wanting to walk away from that. I have no doubt the feeling is mutual.
Chance They Keep Him: 80 percent

Priority 2: Trey Flowers

Losing Flowers would truly blow. But watching him continue to grow, get better and make critical plays and win games (he had 2.5 sacks of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl LI) has been a sort of slow motion trainwreck as you know he was just upping his market value as he went along. At a position that gets overpaid by its nature. Flowers is like Trent Brown in that he’s at at a high value position that is a need for a lot of teams. Some of whom like Tennessee, Detroit and Miami, are GM’ed or coached by men who owe their championship rings to Flowers. Pro Football Talk has him ranked as the third most valuable free agent on the market. Franchising him in order to sign him to a long term deal is always a possibility. But with the Tag for defensive ends north of $18 million, it’s more likely they’d franchise an Amazon HQ in the Bronx. God, would I love to see it happen though.
Chance They Keep Him: 25 percent

Priority 1: Stephen Gostkowski

I’ll pause here to give you time to laugh in my face and shun me from polite society. Everyone remembers the missed kicks, including the one he shanked against the Rams. Not many bother to pull back far enough to see that from Google Earth distance, we are witnessing one of the great careers at his position of all time. I see your Adam Vinatieri and I raise you this. These are the numbers of all the top kickers in NFL history over their careers:

Vinatieri has the big clutch kicks and will forever more. But by percentage, when it comes to hitting late-and-close kicks, Gostkowski is the best ever and it’s not even close. And just to repeat what I said earlier about Corduroy, no franchise invests more in Special Teamers. This team philosophically makes a priority of field position. And no kicker can either boom it out of the back of the end zone or drop a Phil Mickelson lob wedge down inside the 5 depending on what the game plan calls for the way he does. He didn’t get the opportunities against the Rams, but never forget that late in the Super Bowl against the Falcons, he twice pinned them at their own 10. And he could very likely still be doing this at Vinatieri’s age. The latest rumor has the Pats putting the tag on him. I hope they do. I say that because you don’t find kickers like him in every draft, and not just because he and I are boys from way back.

Me & Gostkowski

Chance They Keep Him: 99.9 percent