The news around the arrest of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has captivated the nation, as fans, media members and former players weigh in with their thoughts.
But believe it or not, there are other things going on in a division with three other teams in it.
With the Dolphins signing every free-agent under the Sun, the Bills dealing without their best defensive player and so much more going on around the AFC East, there's plenty else to talk about.
So let's take a look at what's on the reader's minds this week.
@ErikFrenz Just how good can NE's defense be? Top 15 or even top 10?— Ryan Pool (@ryan_mcfly) June 28, 2013
You mean, the Patriots have a defense? From the sound of it, they only have an offense, and that offense is going to really suck next year.
Once players had stopped jumbling about, things settled down.
With a front seven that returns six starters, and a secondary that returns all of its major players from last season minus safety Patrick Chung, there's a lot of continuity on the defense for the first time in a long time.
I won't guess what ranking the defense will have, because those are superficial and sometimes misleading in the grand scheme of things, but the pass defense can be much better than it's been in year's past as long as the unit continues to grow together.
The only sure-fire starters on this team in the passing game are Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski. Beyond that, it's largely a mystery.
They have been adding depth at tight end like wildfire for the past two years, so if they want to keep things the same, they could continue with a two-tight end offense, but the only reason they implemented it so heavily in the first place was because they had both Hernandez and Gronkowski.
Just like the defense, the offense may not have a "base" look in 2013.
It's more likely they'll mix it up between personnel groups until they find the group that makes them the toughest to defend.
One of the Patriots' biggest strengths over the past few years has been their ability to create mismatches from their two-tight end set depending on how a defense matched personnel -- checking to a run against nickel formations, or throwing the ball when the tight ends were matched up with linebackers. At present, it doesn't look like the Patriots have a similar matchup threat to Hernandez on the roster.
@ErikFrenz will the Fins O-Line be able to protect Tannehill long enough to establish the pass especially the deep ball? Thanks Erik— Spence (@Big_Spencer) June 28, 2013
This is the big question the Dolphins have faced this offseason: have they done enough on the offensive line to protect Ryan Tannehill?
All those new weapons at the skill positions won't do much good if Tannehill is constantly on his back.
First, the question at hand.
Tannehill was under pressure on 30.6 percent of his drop-backs in 2012, which ranked 15th out of 27 quarterbacks in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. After losing left tackle Jake Long in free agency, the Dolphins signed right tackle Tyson Clabo, and are moving right tackle Jonathan Martin to the left side.
Martin gave up more pressure on a per-snap basis at left tackle than right tackle, and while there's some debate as to the left tackle as the more important of the two spots, it's fair to wonder if the Dolphins got worse in pass protection this offseason.
There's a larger discussion here, though. The Dolphins witnessed Tannehill work some magic under pressure in 2012, as he ranked second in the NFL in accuracy percentage while under pressure. Part of his success was a result of his abilities in throwing on the move.
Certainly, the Dolphins would rather him not be under pressure, and Tannehill got knocked around a bit even with Martin playing on the right side.
There are other ways to buy time for Tannehill when he drops back to throw.
Some designed bootlegs can take advantage of his athleticism and get him away from pressure. The Dolphins must also be able to run the ball effectively, and could utilize some draw plays to get the defense to think twice about sending their rushers up the field.
If Tannehill faces consistent pressure, though, last season's numbers indicate he's up to the challenge.
@ErikFrenz Did the Fins do right, by replacing LB corps, to better fit evolving NFL landscape (faster, better cover LBs)?— Knish (@Knish42) June 28, 2013
More importantly than adjusting to the preponderance of pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, the Dolphins did what was best for their defense.
Both Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby were brought in to help execute the 3-4 defense, which calls for stay-at-home linebackers that defend the run well and can do some work in zone coverage. With Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe, though, the Dolphins think they have found more athleticism and speed at linebacker to help them execute a more aggressive scheme -- the two new linebackers are each three years younger than the linebacker they were brought in to replace.
According to PFF, the Dolphins defense blitzed on 38.7 percent of passing snaps in 2012, over the league average of 31.5 percent. Burnett and Dansby only rushed the passer on 10.4 and 11.2 percent of snaps, whereas Wheeler and Ellerbe rushed on and 12.8 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively.
An interesting chart from PFF details the strengths and weaknesses of all four linebackers, and we get a sense of why the Dolphins made the moves they did.
The Dolphins could be incredibly versatile on defense this year, and the athletic abilities of Wheeler and Ellerbe figure to contribute in that respect.
@ErikFrenz Obviously - thoughts on Byrd's contract status and effect on him not being involved in OTAs— Heavyweight Primate (@UG_Smedley) June 28, 2013
Why Byrd's contract still isn't done remains something of a mystery to me.
Look at the contract that safety Dashon Goldson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a comparison for what Byrd could earn. According to sports contracts website Spotrac, Goldson's contract is worth $41.5 million over the span of five years ($8.3 million per year), but all $18 million of his guaranteed money is earned in the first two years of the contract.
The Bills have roughly $16 million in cap space to work with for 2013, which is more than enough to work with. They are on the hook for $6.916 million guaranteed to Byrd on the franchise tag, which locks in if they don't get a long-term deal done for Byrd before July 14. Another $2 million in 2013 guarantees on top of what they'd already be giving him on the franchise tag would add up $8.916 million—roughly Goldson's 2013 guarantees. Where it might become tricky is next year, when the Bills are currently on the books for $114.3 million in salaries. That's roughly $8.7 million shy of this year's cap, which would be all but gone after signing Byrd.
The Bills have a few other important free-agents coming up, including center Eric Wood and tight end Scott Chandler, but so what? They can roll over some of their cap space from this year to help give them a little more room to work with. They could re-work a contract or two, as well, and could open up some more space by releasing wide receiver Brad Smith, who's set to count for $3.75 million against the cap in 2013 and $4 million in 2014. The Bills aren't held accountable for being under the 2014 cap until next year, so there's plenty of time for them to restructure a contract or two if they find one worth re-doing.
Got room for one more.
Before I write another word: Any sentence written about Dowling, at this point, comes with an implied "if he can stay healthy" attached somewhere in there.
He's going to have to really turn heads if he wants to make an impact as anything more than a nickel or dime defensive back. The Patriots have two cornerback spots locked down with Aqib Talib on the outside and Kyle Arrington in the slot, which leaves room for another outside corner and two more corners for depth.
Second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard played very well when given the opportunity, and was part of the aforementioned uptick in their performance down the stretch. Former Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan was drafted in the third round, and could make a push for playing time.
Dowling will have some stiff competition, but it seems he is rising to the occasion. While we should take OTA observations with a grain of salt, he stood out in the eyes of ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss.
At 6'1" and 210 pounds, Dowling is the biggest corner on the Patriots roster and has the tools to be a solid man cover cornerback. The Patriots thought highly enough of him to give him the start in the first two games of his rookie season, but those were the last two games he'd play that year after he suffered a hip injury.
Expectations were still high for Dowling entering his second year, as he had fully recovered from the injury, but he was slowed down in training camp by an injury before working his way back into the lineup. He earned 37 snaps in the season-opener against the Titans, but earned just 46 snaps the rest of the way out, before landing on injured reserve yet again with a torn quadriceps.
Dowling has just one year left on his rookie contract, and the Patriots just gave Kyle Arrington a four-year, $16 million contract this offseason, and will also have to address Aqib Talib once again next offseason.
Without a doubt, 2013 is a make-or-break year for Dowling.
Alright, everyone, thanks for the questions! Anything else can be asked in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter at the link below.
The Patriots released Aaron Hernandez less than two hours after he was escorted out of his house in handcuffs with his arms behind his back and under his v-neck white t-shirt in an image that's ingrained in everyone's mind at this point.
I posted my immediate analysis on Bleacher Report, but here are some extra thoughts that others may not be talking about.
- Hernandez is going to be tough to replace, but the Patriots got by without him for six games in 2012, and went 5-1 in those games. They lost to the Cardinals, when he went down with a high ankle sprain in the first half, and they lost to the Seahawks in his first game back from that injury, where he was clearly not 100 percent (yet somehow managed to make this amazing catch). They were able to put up 2,686 total yards in those games: 288.3 passing yards per game (season average of 291.4), and 159.8 rushing (season average of 136.5).
- One big reason Hernandez will be tough to replace is his size and athleticism, so how do the other tight ends on the roster measure up? As mentioned in last week's mailbag, Zach Sudfeld has turned heads at OTAs and minicamps, and has comparable measurables.
- In recent years, the Patriots have not been quite as bashful about re-signing key players before their contracts run up. Sure, they had classic standoffs with Logan Mankins and Wes Welker, but in re-signing Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots have proven they're willing to go to the bargaining table early for players who are important to the franchise. Mayo has been a shining beacon of what happens when that works to the Patriots advantage, but it's come back to bite them with Hernandez and Gronkowski. It's fair to wonder if this will influence the Patriots future thinking on such matters, but every situation is different, and very few (if any) others are like Hernandez's.
- On that note, here's a chart of the big-name upcoming free agents the Patriots will have to re-sign or replace in upcoming years.
- The Patriots had more rush attempts than any team other than the Seattle Seahawks last season. They also ran more total plays than any team in NFL history besides the 1994 Patriots, and fell short of their mark by just eight plays. They still ran 145 more pass plays than running plays. That being said, the running game was a noticeably bigger part of the offense in 2012 than recent years. They have a young core of backs in Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden, to which they added LeGarrette Blount in a trade with the Buccaneers. With one of the better offensive lines in football, the Patriots have all the resources they need to rely more on the run this year if they need.
- Here's colleague Ben Volin's story on the salary cap implications of the Patriots cutting Hernandez. To summarize, this is what happens: Hernandez's cap hit increases to $5.092 million in 2013 and $7.5 million in 2014. They already gave him $6 million up front and $3.25 million in 2013 as part of his $12.5 million signing bonus, and they will try to recoup some of that money and to void the rest of his contract including the final installment of $3.25 million due to Hernandez next year. Some seem to think the Patriots will not be able to void out the contract, but the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (Article 4, Section 9), which says that a "forfeitable breach" has taken place when a player "is unavailable to the team due to conduct by him that results in his incarceration." There will likely be a lot of debate between the Patriots, the NFL and the NFLPA as to what exactly that means, and what it means for the Patriots ability to recoup some of the money they paid Hernandez and avoid paying him some of the money they owe him.
- A lot's been made of how the avalanche of changes this offseason will affect Tom Brady -- outside of Rob Gronkowski, Brady threw just 46 of his 401 completed passes in 2012 to receivers currently on the Patriots roster. Two figureheads that are not in focus right now, that should be, are Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. Specifically, Belichick has engineered this two tight end set for the past three years. They have stockpiled the depth at tight end in that time. Will their past moves pay off in replacing Hernandez? Will they have to change their offense, evolving even further than they had planned? Can McDaniels work up some of the offensive magic that made his services desired in a rare reunion tour in New England? Brady will be under close watch in how he gets on the same page with these new receivers, but Belichick and McDaniels have to get back to the drawing board, and fast, if this offense is to keep moving.
There are positives and negatives to either decision, but Jets center Nick Mangold recently said he thinks Sanchez gives the team the best chance to win, and he doesn't think he's alone.
“I believe so," he told the New York Post. "I haven’t walked around with a pen and paper and taken a poll, but from the feeling I get, the locker room wants to win. Whoever gives us the best chance to do that, we want out there -- and at this point, Mark gives us that best chance."
Mangold may be right, but he's not the one charged with making that decision: that's head coach Rex Ryan's responsibility.
Rex has been known as a player's coach in the past, but with his job potentially on the line, he needs to make the decision that's best for the team, not best for his center or best for the morale of his players.
If Rex makes the right decision, and the Jets are winning, team morale will be just fine.
Sanchez has earned a majority of the first-team snaps in practice, according to ESPN, but neither he nor Geno Smith have done anything spectacular to separate themselves.
The Jets are introducing the West Coast offense under coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and while Sanchez has experience in the system at USC, the learning curve has been steep for the rookie, Smith.
"His system at West Virginia, there’s no similarities there whatsoever," quarterback coach David Lee said on Wednesday, adding, "It’s been a brand-new world every day, just struggling with the basic things."
There's plenty of time for that to change, but even if Smith hasn't learned the offense by Week 1, there's no need to rush him in, as there will likely be an assimilation period for the offense as a whole, as players get used to a new system as well as new teammates. The Jets will field two new starting guards, a new starting tight end and a new top running back in 2013.
The receivers have been a question mark this offseason, as well.
Stephen Hill needs to grow in his second year and quit dropping easy passes (dropped six passes according to Pro Football Focus). Santonio Holmes is in a contract year and is returning from a season-ending Lisfranc injury. Jeremy Kerley came into his own as the top receiving option on the roster last year, but he needs to have another big year to prove that wasn't a fluke. He's up for a new contract after the 2014 season.
Much like the quarterback position, wide receiver is a spot where the Jets are surrounded with long-term questions.
"Coaches brought [Sanchez] back and they kept him on this team for a reason," Holmes said, via ESPN. "He's a great leader and he's got great potential and he's excited about this season upcoming, and so am I."
Of course, the Jets may have brought Sanchez back for his $12.85 million cap hit in 2013, and the $17.15 million in dead money that would result from cutting him.
Make no mistake; after turning the ball over a league-leading 52 times over the past two years, this has to be Sanchez's last shot to prove himself as the starter. With Geno Smith in the fold, they got an early start on their new beginning.
When that new beginning comes should be decided by Rex and the coaching staff, not by the players.
What a crazy few days it's been for the New England Patriots.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez is under investigation involving the death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd. Details continue to pour forth (click here for Greg Bedard's most recent report) but Patriots fans have already begun to wonder how this will affect the team.
We get to that and a bit more in this week's mailbag.
@ErikFrenz hypothetically, if Aaron Hernandez were unable to play part or all of the season, what moves would you expect the Pats to make?— Damian Sharkey (@BradyMagic) June 20, 2013
It's too early to tell what the long-term future holds for Hernandez with the team, but it would be a shock at this point if Hernandez didn't miss some time, at least early in the season. The precedent was set with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger two years ago, and he was suspended the first four games of the 2010 season even though he was not found guilty of any charges.
The Patriots have done all they can do at this point to address the depth at tight end, and while they might look around for another camp body, they are five deep on the depth chart entering camp. Between Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui, Brandon Fells, Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford, the Patriots have options if they want to continue on with the two-tight end set.
As we explored earlier this offseason, Daniel Fells was the one who got the majority of the snaps with Hernandez out in 2012. Zach Sudfeld impressed reporters at OTAs and minicamps, but at 6'7" and 255 pounds, he more closely resembles Gronkowski. He also doesn't have Hernandez's short-area quickness.
Hernandez's combination of size (6'1", 245 pounds) and speed (4.64-second 40-yard dash) made him a matchup nightmare, and it would be tough to find a player that can replicate his abilities in the open field and when working the seam. Part of the problem with replacing Hernandez, though, is that it's not just about his abilities at tight end; the Patriots used him in the backfield, at fullback and elsewhere.
One under-the-radar name I'll be watching this offseason is rookie Brandon Ford. He ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash at 6'4" and 245, so he also has the size and speed to potentially cause matchup problems.
He's no stranger to lining up all over the field, either.
Much of Hernandez's role was as a de facto receiver, so there could also be increased pressure on the wide receiver group -- as if there wasn't enough already, in the wake of Wes Welker's departure and the complete turnover of the position.
A three-receiver set could feature Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson on the outsides with Danny Amendola in the slot and Gronkowski at tight end.
It's going to look different than it has in recent years, and it may not be the same Patriots offense that was good for 30-plus points a game, but they have some options and can tinker with it until they find what works best.
Well, good to see some Bills fans are cozying up to the idea of the Patriots slipping a bit this season.
To answer this question, we first have to ask how one would go about unseating the Patriots. Besides counting on injuries, or lack of continuity in their offense being a huge downfall, it's a three-step process:
- score points
- create pressure on Tom Brady
- score more points
The Jets took some major steps back last year, and although they added some nice pieces this offseason, they lost their best piece in Darrelle Revis. Their offense could take some steps forward under Marty Mornhinweg, but if the Patriots have weaknesses on the back end, the Jets don't have the personnel to exploit them.
To me, the race for No. 2 is down to the Bills and the Dolphins.
The Dolphins are a trendy pick because of the offseason splashes they made to add wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebackers Danell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, cornerback Brent Grimes, tackle Tyson Clabo and others. In addition to what was a growing defense and what they hope will be a maturation year for Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins could make a big jump if things go right.
The Bills are an unconventional pick here, but there's some merit.
Some teams have done well with the new quarterback-head coach combo in their first year. The Bills already have talent on defense, and now they have a great young defensive mind in Mike Pettine to lead the charge and spice things up for what was a vanilla defense last year. They already have skill position talent on offense in running back C.J. Spiller and wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods.
Of course, a lot of this will fall on the shoulders of EJ Manuel and whether he is up to the challenge of leading an offense his first year. Scouting reports indicate he had trouble with decision-making and going through his progressions, and that he didn't make many pre-snap checks.
The Dolphins weren't a high-scoring offense last year, but adding a bevy of receivers might help. The Bills, however, already have the offensive talent to put up points, and defensively could be better equipped to slow down Brady and the Patriots with Pettine now in charge of the defense.
I'll go with the Dolphins. Tannehill has shown the ability to make all the throws in the NFL, and if the Dolphins open up the offense, they could be fun to watch in 2013.
@ErikFrenz how big of an impact could a fully healthy keller have for the Dolphins, if Hartline and Wallace cause issues for defences at WR— Darren (@Bannsiders) June 20, 2013
Keller became one of Mark Sanchez's favorite targets in the passing game, and that wasn't by mistake. From 2009 to 2011 (48 games, 38 starts) Keller was targeted on 297 of Sanchez's 1,414 throws.
He was also a frequent red zone target, with 45 of 185 targets inside the 20-yard line, the most on the team.
He could get favorable matchups if Hartline and Wallace are attracting the attention of a defense, but Keller isn't considered much of a threat as a blocker, so opposing defenses might just put a cornerback on him even when he lines up as a true tight end.
If healthy, though, Keller could be the third or fourth option in the Dolphins passing game.
That'll do for this week. Thanks for the questions, folks!
Tim Tebow can be a successful NFL quarterback, and he couldn't have found a better team than the New England Patriots to help him get back on the right track.
Those are the thoughts of former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke, who has been working with Tebow at IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Weinke, formerly of the Carolina Panthers (2001-2006) and San Francisco 49ers (2007), has been helping Tebow improve his mechanics over the past five weeks since Tebow's release from the New York Jets.
Along with footwork, trajectory and release speed, Weinke and Tebow worked on the mental aspect of the quarterback position, as well. All in all, Weinke thinks Tebow has made strides in mechanics and consistency.
Weinke's thoughts follow.FULL ENTRY
First, there was no chance it would happen.
Then, there wasn't no chance it would happen.
Then, it happened.
A report by Ed Werder of ESPN served as the coup de grâce.
I gave my thoughts on what Tebow's role will be with the Patriots, and I didn't want to write the same thing again, so here are just some quick general thoughts on Tebow signing with the Patriots.
- How didn't I see this coming a mile away? Former protégés of Josh McDaniels have frequently found a home with the Patriots. So have former Florida Gators and protégés of Urban Meyer. Just off the top of my head, Meyer products include linebacker Brandon Spikes, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, tight end Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Chad Jackson. McDaniels players include Michael Hoomanawanui, wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola and Greg Salas and linebacker/fullback Spencer Larsen.
- In two starts against the Patriots, Tebow went 20-of-48 passing (41.7 percent) for 330 yards (6.9 YPA), with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He rushed 17 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns in those games, but only five times for 13 yards in a 45-10 playoff loss. He exceeded his 2011 per-game averages in every area except passing touchdowns.
- Remember all that stuff I said last week about the Patriots beginning their search for a quarterback of the future? I would call this the earliest phase of that search. Let's wait until he makes the roster, but Werder added that Tebow will be given an opportunity to develop as a quarterback.
- The Patriots would be foolish to take Tom Brady off the field and to put Tebow in at quarterback in the Wildcat, or in goal line and short-yardage situations. Not only did Brady have the second-most red zone passing touchdowns of any quarterback over the past three years, but the Patriots were also the best team at converting on third-and-2 or less. They might be more foolish to line him up at tight end and expect him to block, which he's never done well, or catch passes, which he's never done at all. The experiment on special teams didn't work, either. Tebow's versatility is overplayed, at least to this juncture. For that reason, it's entirely likely the Patriots could cut Tebow before the season begins.
- Of course, it's never just about the role with Tebow. There's a whole element of outside scrutiny that comes with the move. As we all know, the Patriots don't like a lot of noise. Don't expect Tebow to be making a welcome press conference at Gillette Stadium any time soon, no matter how excited he is.
- Let it be understood that he will be utilized multiple spots as the Patriots try to figure out what the best role will be for him outside of his role as a backup quarterback. This way, it won't be breaking news every time he lines up at a different spot.
- Where do I put Tebow's chances of making the roster? I'd say 50 percent. Just so I can sit square on the fence until I see him play.
- Final thought: if there is any chance for Tebow to be successful in the NFL, it's with the Patriots. He didn't look capable of carrying out the various other roles the Jets had in mind for him last season, but if there's any other way he can be utilized, the Patriots will find it. Most importantly, it's a situation that allows him to be out of the media eye, because that's where he'll be kept. If he can develop as an NFL quarterback, this is the situation for it: with a future Hall of Fame passer, where he won't be expected to start for at least three to four years.
"Tom Brady's not walking through that door."
Get ready to see that lede quite a bit down the road.
Of course, it won't be for some time now, especially considering the Patriots quarterback just signed an extension that keeps him in New England until he's 40.
The same age until which he has often said he would like to play.
Maybe, probably, but who knows what the future holds. The Patriots are no strangers to making "the tough decision," but at that point, Brady may have a tough decision of his own regarding the future of his career.
What can the Patriots do to make sure they are the most prepared when that time comes?
They could take a page out of the Colts' book, and wait until everything comes unraveled to earn the first overall pick in the draft and take a once-in-a-decade prospect at quarterback.
Wouldn't exactly call that being "prepared," but hey, it seems to have worked for Indianapolis.
Perhaps the Patriots could have a quarterback back up Brady and learn from the future Hall of Famer before taking the job.
They drafted Ryan Mallett in the third round in 2011, and as we speak, he is square in the middle of his four-year rookie contract. To this point, he has not overwhelmed anyone with confidence in his practice performances, and although his preseason career got started with a bang against the Jaguars, his numbers have been fairly pedestrian overall in his two preseasons -- not to mention taking a step back in 2012.
While he has some value on the trade market (multiple teams were reported to be interested before the 2013 draft), it's fair to say the odds of him eventually replacing Brady are slim.
He is set to become a free agent after the 2014 season, so it will be up to the Patriots to make a decision on his future with the team by that point -- or sooner. At that point, however, he'll be going on 27 years old, and Brady will still have three years left on his shiny new contract extension.
Following the same path, Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre at quarterback for the Packers, but he earned the starting mantle at the age of 24.
Would it be worth it to wait on Mallett? Unfortunately, the only way of finding out is in the worst of circumstances for the Patriots: an injury to Brady. This offseason is huge for Mallett, and it doesn't appear to be off to a great start according to colleague Zuri Berry, who said that Mallett "appeared to be rusty" at OTAs.
Yes, former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel experienced similar growing pains before he was thrust into the starting role in 2008, so it's not out of the question for Mallett to turn things around. To make that the expectation, however, is false causality at its finest.
Even if Mallett shows potential this season, can the Patriots hang onto him long enough to hope that he one day beats out Brady?
That will be the question we'll ask of just about any quarterback that comes through the doors of Gillette Stadium between now and 2017.
Rarely does a quarterback transition go as smoothly as for the Colts between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the 49ers between Joe Montana and Steve Young, or the Packers between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
The Patriots have to continue searching for talented depth at quarterback, but the timing has to be right.
Their best bet would be to draft a quarterback in 2014. That would give the Patriots the best of both worlds: Mallett's experience and knowledge of the system would likely make him the de facto No. 2 in the event Brady is injured, while another quarterback could develop on the bench. From there, the Patriots could have an open competition for the backup spot.
One underrated tool the Patriots can use to help their transition at quarterback is the talent on offense.
They made a clear effort to focus the offense around tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski now and for the future, signing both to deals that keep them with the team through 2018 and 2019 respectively. Their offensive line remains in tact following the 2012 season, and age is not a huge concern (yet) on a line where three of five starters are under the age of 30. They have a young group of running backs, led by Stevan Ridley, that provides a serviceable punch on the ground.
Developing a talented core of receivers is the next step, and a vital one regardless of who is the Patriots' next signal-caller.
Whoever the next quarterback is, they will greatly benefit from the Patriots doing their due diligence to keep the cupboards stocked on offense now and in years to come.
At this stage, it's not necessary for the Patriots to go wild in pursuit of the heir to Brady, but it should definitely be in the back of their mind, and the contingency plan should start unfolding soon. Brady still hasn't taken his foot off the gas, but no one knows how far ahead the "Reduced Speed Limit" sign will appear.
We have reached the conclusion of our countdown of the AFC East's top 25 players. View the whole list here.
Why Tom Brady?
I thought about just putting "duh" here, but that seemed like a copout for obvious reasons.
Instead, chew on this: Brady is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 34 or more touchdown passes and 12 or fewer interceptions in four career seasons. That's twice as many seasons as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and 49ers legend Steve Young. Those single-season numbers have been achieved by only eight other quarterbacks in NFL history, and Brady has made it part of his yearly routine.
His career accomplishments read like a resumé for a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. We all know about the three Super Bowl wins, the two Super Bowl MVPs and the two regular season MVPs, but his accomplishments span over a decade:
- 334 career touchdown passes ranks fifth all-time
- 2.1 career interception percentage is tied for seventh all-time
- 63.7 career completion percentage ranks ninth all-time
- 44,806 career passing yards ranks ninth all-time
- NFL-record 50 touchdown passes in 2007
- NFL-record 358 regular-season passes without an interception from 2010 to 2011
- NFL-record 0.8 interception percentage in 2010 (for any quarterback with over eight starts in the season)
He has put together these remarkable achievements despite a constantly changing set of circumstances and players around him -- especially on the offensive line and at wide receiver over the past five years.
All those things happened in the past, but Brady is still spinning it with the best of them, ranking eighth in yards per attempt (7.6), sixth in passer rating (98.7), fourth in touchdowns (34) and first in interception percentage (1.26) last season.
He has been one of the best in late-game situations, as well. He is tied for ninth all-time with 26 career fourth-quarter comeback victories, and tied for fifth with 37 career game-winning drives when his team was not trailing in the fourth quarter.
As analysts, it's our job to nitpick, but Brady has left us with very few nits to pick except for questions about waning deep accuracy -- questions which are better addressed in the context that a) Brady hasn't had a deep threat since 2010 and b) he's been throwing more, not fewer, deep passes over the past few seasons.
There's nothing left for Brady to accomplish; at this point, anything else is simply adding to a legacy that's long been cemented.
Did you know?
Brady set a postseason record with a 92.9 completion percentage (26-of-28) against the Jaguars in the '07-'08 Divisional Round.
Carve out 10 minutes to read this amazing post by Peter King of Sports Illustrated, where Brady says he has "never felt better throwing the ball."