Jesse Pantuosco

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Foxboro Happenings

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Do the Patriots ever just, you know, chill?

 

Bill Belichick led a “no days off” chant at the Patriots’ victory parade in February and so far he’s been a man of his word this offseason. The Patriots had a strong showing in free agency, poaching ace cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the division-rival Bills and re-signing All-Pro linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Rex Burkhead, a favorite of Evan Silva, also joined the fold at running back while perennial 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks arrived in a blockbuster trade with New Orleans.

 

But of course, there’s more. In New England, there’s always more. Maybe that’s why the Patriots have been so successful during the Bill Belichick Era. When the rest of the league is on autopilot, Bill continues to burn the midnight oil.

 

So here’s what’s new in Foxboro. Tuesday the Patriots extended a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Mike Gillislee. Buffalo, the team Gillislee has spent his last two seasons with, can match any offer he gets on the open market. That seems like a long shot, as the Bills are unlikely to commit $3.2 million annually to a change-of-pace back, especially with workhorse LeSean McCoy still in his prime. When the dust settles, Gillislee should be a Patriot, joining a New England backfield that already includes Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White.

 

The addition of Gillislee likely signals the end of LeGarrette Blount’s tenure in New England. Blount has been a fixture in Foxboro over the past few seasons, winning two Super Bowls and setting a team record with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016. The 30-year-old had a standing offer from New England but when he held out for a bigger deal, the Patriots quickly pivoted to Gillislee. Adrian Peterson and Damien Williams were other free agent candidates the Patriots considered before landing on the four-year veteran.

 

The Patriots lack a true workhorse but in collecting backfield pieces, they seem to have acquired a running back for every occasion. Sparsely used in the passing game, Gillislee found his niche as a pile pusher last season, often spelling McCoy on the goal line. He managed nine touchdowns (eight rushing, one receiving) in 2016, a stat made more impressive when you consider his limited workload (7.3 touches per game). Power backs like Gillislee (he’s listed at 219 pounds) are often utilized as short-yardage specialists but the 26-year-old showed that he was more than that by averaging 5.7 yards per carry last season.

 

Back in Buffalo, McCoy’s already sky-high fantasy value should be bursting at the seams with Gillislee no longer around to vulture goal-line carries. Draining the Bills’ resources has become an annual rite of passage for New England. The Patriots employed a similar maneuver last offseason by reaching a three-year deal with Bills restricted free agent Chris Hogan. All Hogan did was finish second in the league in yards per catch while dusting the Steelers for a career-high 180 yards in the AFC Championship. Because Gillislee was tendered at the original round level, the Patriots now owe the Bills a fifth-round pick.

 

Next up on New England’s agenda after getting Gillislee squared away was to sign James White to a long-term contract. Mission accomplished. White inked a three-year extension on Tuesday, keeping him in Foxboro through his age-28 season. White’s legacy will always be defined by his heroic performance against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, but the 25-year-old is more than a flash in the pan. His 60 catches were third-most among running backs in 2016, as were his 551 receiving yards.

 

White’s passing-game contributions did not go unnoticed by Pro Football Focus last season. Overall, he earned PFF’s second-highest receiving grade among 58 qualified running backs, trailing only Arizona’s David Johnson. White has only averaged 2.1 rushing attempts per game throughout his career, but obviously the Patriots valued his receiving chops enough to commit to him long-term.

 

The addition of Gillislee is a frustrating fantasy development—it clouds what was already a difficult backfield to predict—but the Patriots only stand to benefit from gathering as many offensive weapons as possible. No position is more prone to overuse and injury than running back and Belichick seems to understand that.

 

Dividing the workload among four backs instead of the usual one or two limits injury risk while preventing fatigue. Think of it like hockey where players are only on the ice in short bursts. We’ve seen how well the Patriots play when they work quickly. Having a fresh back in at all times should speed up New England’s already blistering pace on offense while wearing down opposing defenses. It’s brilliant and Belichick assembled it without breaking the bank. The Patriots have built a four-headed monster out of other teams’ spare parts. No wonder Belichick is No. 1 in RotoPat’s GM rankings every year.

 

Of course, it takes a certain type of player to buy into this way of thinking. Players are programmed to want the ball as often as possible, but with so many mouths to feed in New England, the “Patriot Way” requires you to put your ego aside. Danny Amendola is a player who perfectly embodies this mentality. Amendola took a pay cut to stay in New England on Tuesday, just as he did a year earlier.

 

The 31-year-old isn’t an exceptional talent—he’s essentially a watered-down version of Julian Edelman—but without his late touchdown and game-tying two-point conversion in Super Bowl LI (he also scored in New England’s previous Super Bowl two years earlier), the Vince Lombardi Trophy could very well belong to the Atlanta Falcons right now.

 

Just as Gillislee is entering a talent-stuffed backfield, Amendola is returning to a busy receiving corps. Competition for targets will be fierce among Edelman, Cooks, Hogan, Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell as well as tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen. With so many heavy-hitters around him, Amendola could be hard-pressed to match the four touchdowns he tallied last season, but that’s okay. In Foxboro, winning is the only currency that matters.

 

Tuesday marked a pivotal day in the ongoing Malcolm Butler saga as the 27-year-old finally got around to signing his restricted free agent tender. Butler has spent much of the last month sulking about the addition of Stephon Gilmore and won’t be present for the team’s upcoming workouts. New England couldn’t trade Butler until he was under contract (he had until Friday’s deadline to sign), but now that that bridge has been crossed, the Patriots are free to shop their disgruntled cornerback.

 

Butler visited New Orleans last month and many still consider that to be his most likely landing spot. If the long-rumored swap gets green-lighted, adding a cornerback to replace Butler would become the Patriots’ top priority. Re-engaging with the Seahawks might not be a bad idea with Richard Sherman on the block. A reunion with Darrelle Revis is a possibility as well while the Patriots could also pursue Devin McCourty’s twin brother Jason, who was just let go by Tennessee. Whatever the next move is, Belichick will be on top of it, because there are no days off in Foxboro.

 

Quick Hits: Former Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in his prison cell early Wednesday morning. Hernandez had just been acquitted of a double-murder last week. The 27-year-old was serving a life sentence at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Massachusetts without the possibility of parole … Derek Carr has been a full participant at OTAs. He broke his fibula in Week 16, missing the final game of the regular season and Oakland’s playoff loss to Houston. The former second-round pick is entering the last year of his rookie contract … Harry Douglas accepted a pay cut to stay with the Titans. The 32-year-old reeled in 15 catches for 210 yards over 236 offensive snaps in 2016 … The Seahawks are holding workouts this week but Richard Sherman will not be in attendance. Many veterans choose not to participate in voluntary workouts but Sherman’s absence is notable because of his request to be traded … The Broncos have exercised Bradley Roby’s fifth-year option for 2018. The fourth-year corner started four games for Denver in 2016 … Emmanuel Sanders expects the Broncos to feature a “pass-happy” offense this season. That’s good news for Sanders, who has topped 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons with Denver … Aqib Talib will not be punished by the league for a shooting incident that occurred last offseason. Talib accidentally shot himself in the leg in a Dallas club last summer, suffering only minor injuries … The Buccaneers will be featured on the upcoming season of HBO’s Hard Knocks. This will be Tampa Bay’s first appearance on Hard Knocks … 11-year veteran Stephen Tulloch has decided to hang up his cleats. The 32-year-old tallied 949 tackles, 14.5 sacks and five interceptions over 159 games for the Titans, Lions and Eagles … The Cowboys picked up Zack Martin’s fifth-year option for 2018. The Notre Dame alum has been an All-Pro selection at guard in each of his three seasons … Matthew Stafford was bothered by a finger injury in the second half of last season but says he resumed throwing about a month and a half ago. The injury did not require surgery … Garry Gilliam is headed to the 49ers on a one-year, $2.2 million deal. As a restricted free agent, the Seahawks had an opportunity to match San Francisco’s offer, but they declined … According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Raiders are treating the draft as the deadline to get a deal done with Marshawn Lynch. If the two sides can’t strike a deal, the Raiders could pursue a running back in the draft … Vikings coach Mike Zimmer underwent his fifth eye operation on Monday and will have another procedure done later this offseason. Zimmer missed the Vikings’ Week 13 game against the Cowboys last season due to a detached retina in his right eye … Alex Smith expects the Chiefs to add a quarterback in the upcoming draft. Apparently so does Josh Norris. He had the Chiefs trading up for Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes in his latest mock draft … The Browns are still working to trade Brock Osweiler, though he was present for the start of team workouts earlier this week. Coming off a miserable year in Houston, Osweiler is set to earn $16 million in 2017 … Tyler Eifert admitted he’s not sure if he’ll be ready for the start of training camp. The Bengals tight end is about four months removed from back surgery … ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio is hearing that Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon “could linger much longer than expected” in next week’s draft. Several teams including the Dolphins and Patriots have already said they won’t draft Mixon following his 2014 assault at a restaurant on campus. Mixon was not invited to last month’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis … NFL Network’s Rich Eisen wanted to know the strangest question Clemson receiver Mike Williams has encountered during the draft process. His answer was a doozy …  J.J. Watt was in the house for the Rockets’ playoff opener against Oklahoma City and tried to get away with not wearing a Rockets t-shirt. After the team embarrassed him on the jumbo-tron he finally put it on, though it looked to be a few sizes too small.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
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