— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) November 27, 2016
Running an empire is not easy. There’s never any time to rest. Every issue needs your attention. When Napoleon was leading armies into places like Italy and Egypt, he wrote dozens of letters back to France a day, dealing with everything from school curricula to establishing libraries to trying to get Josephine to quit giving the ol’ Royale with Cheese to every guy in Paris. Uneasy sleeps the head that wears the crown and all that.
And such is life for Bill Belichick. Give any other GM in football a 9-2 record and the tie breaker for top spot in his conference, and he’d be going into December feeling pretty good about things. But Belichick is running a dynasty here. He doesn’t have the luxury of just focusing on the Rams this Sunday. He’s got 2017, ’18 and beyond to worry about too. Because the sun never sets on his empire. To that end, the Patriots went into this past offseason with a few major pending free agent situations to address. And so far, not one of them has been worked out. Chandler Jones got traded for what eventually became Joe Thuney, Malcolm Mitchell and a mythical creature known only as Jonathan Cooper. Jamie Collins was traded to Cleveland for some Amazon rewards points. Beyond that? Nothing. The Patriots haven’t addressed any of the pending free agents still on the roster. But they have to. Starting now. This is how this Death Star was built and how it’s remained the ultimate power in the universe.
And since I’m The Belichick Whisperer – the guy who understands how The Hooded One thinks based on my career as the assistant defensive coach on a JV squad of 7th graders – I feel it’s my duty to tell you where the Patriots priorities are at:
It Would Be Nice: Chris Long. I’ll grant you, Long hasn’t been dominant. But he fights on every down, took a huge under-market deal to come here, and is your classic veteran who’s never been on a winner who’s hungry as hell. It shouldn’t be too much of an effort to extend him.
Kind of Important: Martellus Bennett. He’s fit in. Understands the system. Does everything asked of him. Is reliable in the receiving game (looking at you, Scott Chandler). Plays hurt. Has finally given Josh McDaniels the dual tight end threats he’s dreamed of since Aaron Hernandez went all Shooty McKiller on everyone. Less important, but still really cool, is he’s one of the most colorful and interesting cats they’ve ever hand in that locker room. And in case you haven’t noticed, Gronk gets hurt a lot. The Pats need to give Riggs and Murtaugh together for at least three more sequels.
Pretty Important: Dont’a Hightower. You can make the case that the run-stuffing linebacker is on the endangered species list, but you’d be wrong. And besides, this is not some Brandon Spikes 2-down ‘backer. Hightower is nobody’s idea of a guy you want covering David Johnson, but he’s not a liability in the passing game either. Once he made the switch to inside linebacker, got used to life in the middle and earned the green dot, Hightower has become just about essential to that defense. And someone they won’t be able to replace right away.
Wicked Important: Malcolm Butler. In a league that is two rule book tweaks away from outlawing pass defense altogether so housewives from Iowa can get all moist over their Fantasy point totals, elite cornerbacks are the rarest of commodities. I’m not saying Malcolm Butler is elite yet, though Pro Football Focus will disagree with me because as of last week they had him ranked No. 3 in the league. But he’s getting there. Yes, he’ll get overpowered by a freakishly athletic specimen like Brandon Marshall. Who doesn’t? But his compete is off the charts. He plays fearlessly. Never loses confidence like say, a second year Devin McCourty did. Is young, and still years away from his peak. He’s a restricted free agent after the season, but fuck that. Sign him.
Top Priority: Marcus Cannon. Go ahead, mock me. Do your worst. You’ve still got the horrible memories of the AFC Championship Game in your mind. When it looked like the whole Patriots offensive line was beta testing the first Mannequin Challenge. We all thought Marcus Cannon was the chief culprit and wanted him gone. When Sebastian Vollmer couldn’t take the field in training camp, we all predicted doom. Well, a funny thing happened while we’ve all been bitching about how something has to be done about Cannon. Something was done. He turned himself into an outstanding blocker. Whether it’s been the security of knowing he could just focus on right tackle for the first time in his career, or the Dante Scarnecchia or just simply the playing time, I don’t know. But the man can play tackle football. Remember J.J. Watt in the Houston game back in September? Yeah, neither do I. That’s because Cannon had him 24 times, 16 times solo-blocking him, and Watt made one tackle. Seriously, think back over the first 11 games and tell me one time you remember Cannon truly losing his man, having a read breakdown or getting beaten consistently? Seabass, unfortunately, is probably not coming back. Not at 33. Not with his chronic health issues. RTs who can pass protect and run block (see: LeGarrette Blount’s season so far) and are entering their prime command huge money when they hit free agency, as Cannon is due to. I say they need to make re-upping him Job One. The Belichick Whisperer has spoken.
— Patriots Português (@patsportugues) November 2, 2016