AFC East Q & A: How does Patriot deal with Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract?

 

Today’s question: Expectations and excitement surrounding the New England Patriots’ 2017 season are as high as they’ve ever been during Bill Belichick’s 18-year coaching tenure. Tom Brady, who turns 40 on Aug. 3, is still playing at a high level. Top backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who has flashed signs of potentially being a franchise quarterback, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

What should the Patriots do?

Rich Cimini, New York Jets reporter: This is the most fascinating personnel decision looming in the NFL. This is a tough one, but sometimes the tough ones work themselves out organically. Personally, I’d move on from Brady if he suffers a serious injury or experiences a decline in his play. After all, he will be 40 years old in August. In that case, I’d hand the 2018 job to Garoppolo and sign him to a new contract. If Brady maintains his current level of play … wow, that’s a tough one. The popular school of thought is to use the franchise tag on Garoppolo for 2018, but I don’t think it’s fiscally prudent to pay $21 million (probably more) for a backup. Besides, it’s not the Patriot way. Heck, they don’t like to pay anyone that much, let alone a backup with limited experience. I’d try to sign Garoppolo to a two-year deal, pushing a big guarantee into 2019 and promising him he’ll be the starter by then. It’s not ideal for any of the sides, but it’s the best way to stabilize the position for the long term. Some teams would let Brady play until he says “Uncle,” but the Patriots are cold and ruthless when it comes to personnel decisions, and I can’t see them letting sentimentality get in the way — not even for Brady.
James Walker, Miami Dolphins reporter: It seems to me the Patriots have made their decision to let Garoppolo walk in 2018. They’ve had numerous offseasons — including this year — to trade Garoppolo while his value was high, and the Patriots determined it was best to keep the quarterback insurance. That’s fine. What would not be wise is for New England to use the one-year franchise tag, reportedly worth $25 million, to keep him next year as a backup. That would be terribly shortsighted and un-Patriot like. The only way I see Garoppolo in a Patriots uniform next year is if Brady suffers a season-ending or career-threatening injury this season. Otherwise, they got four years out of Garoppolo as a second-round pick. Let someone else pay huge money for him next season.

Mike Rodak, Buffalo Bills reporter: This is, as owner Robert Kraft likes to say, a “high class” problem for the Patriots. Whether New England trades Garoppolo or keeps him around, I don’t think the team can go wrong. The Bills would sure like to have Garoppolo, who was available in the second round of the 2014 draft when they instead chose offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (who was released in May) at No. 44 overall. With quarterback-needy teams such as Buffalo ready to pounce if Garoppolo hits the open market, I don’t see the Patriots letting Garoppolo walk as a free agent for nothing. I think the most logical solution is to assign Garoppolo the franchise tag. If a team wants to trade for him, I am sure the Patriots will listen to any offers. If New England holds onto him, they could attempt to renegotiate his deal to smooth out his sizable salary-cap hit over multiple seasons. While the price tag is going to get significantly higher, I think it makes sense for the Patriots to hold serve with Garoppolo, particularly as Brady enters mostly uncharted territory as a 40-year-old starting quarterback.

How much longer will Jimmy Garoppolo be looking over Tom Brady's shoulder

How much longer will Jimmy Garoppolo be looking over Tom Brady’s shoulder

Cam Newton: I’m just missing the Super Bowl Champion

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if this has been an offseason of self-reflection for Cam Newton.

A year after dominating the NFL en route to MVP honors and a Super Bowl appearance (albeit one that ended in devastating fashion), the Panthers quarterback must look back on the most disappointing campaigns of his professional career.

Newton’s struggles in 2016 have been well-documented. He saw his completion percentage dip to a career-worst 52.9 percent and passing TDs fall from 35 to 19 as he took a weekly beating from opposing defenses overpowering a beleaguered offensive line.

Gone was his trademark smile. Instead were confessions that the game was becoming less fun amid a belief he wasn’t afforded the protection from suspect hits other marquee quarterbacks received. And then offseason shoulder surgery kept him from throwing in OTAs and minicamp.

With all of that in his rear view, however, Newton is refocusing on the one thing that eluded him back when he was on top of the NFL.

“I’m looking at my life right now and I’m saying, ‘I’m missing one thing: I want a Super Bowl,’” Newton told campers Saturday at his annual 7-on-7 passing tournament, per the Charlotte Observer. “Yeah, but it’s really certain things that you have to really fine-tune and say, ‘Am I deserving to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback? How can I push myself to be a better me?’”

The Panthers believe they know how Newton can do just that.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera emphasized at the end of the 2016 season his offense needed to evolve away from the zone-read and find better ways to protect his franchise QB. The team’s offseason moves reinforce that philosophy. The Panthers invested in the offensive line by signing Matt Kalil to a $55 million deal in March (time will tell if this was wise) and drafting Taylor Moton in the second-round. More importantly, they diversified their skill positions with a pair of rookie dynamos in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel to rejuvenate their attack.

We’re a long way off from knowing if these moves will lead to the evolution Rivera seeks, but if Newton plans to be a better Cam in 2017, he has the tools at his disposal to do it.

Odell Beckham: Never prepared for the season

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could tell he was ready for the season even while hosting his second annual football camp. In fact, he claimed to have never felt quite this good.

“I don’t think so,” he said at the Citi Odell Beckham Jr. Football ProCamp at Kean University, which attracted close to 600 campers. “I think this might be the most [I've been ready] in my lifetime. In every which way, I just feel it there. … I’ve really been training, and to have these next six weeks to get another opportunity to train, it’s going to be great.

 

Odell Beckham Jr. is the only player in NFL history to top 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three professional seasons.
“Just like you said — mentally, physically, spiritually, everything. I don’t think I’ve been as ready as I am now.

Beckham elected to skip voluntary OTAs this year. He remained in Los Angeles and worked with his trainer, Jamal Liggin. The Giants were extremely complimentary of the receiver’s conditioning at minicamp this past week.

Even when Beckham was racing campers in a 40-yard dash on Saturday, his mother, Heather Van Norman, a former track star and coach, noted he was running well. Beckham said she was impressed with the way he was driving and in “drive phase” for 40 yards, even though he said he wasn’t really running.

How will this translate to the season after three record-breaking Pro Bowl efforts?

“I guess you have to wait and see,” said Beckham, who is the only player in NFL history to top 90 catches, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three professional seasons. “Words can only do so much — you have to wait to see what happens.”

Beckham spent almost seven hours Saturday putting smiles on kids’ faces at his camp before heading back to Los Angeles. The camp is something he started last year and plans on continuing, and possibly even expanding. There are thoughts of potentially doing something with his close friends and former LSU teammates Jeremy Hill and Jarvis Landry in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Beckham matched up against children in grades one through eight on offense and defense on Saturday in New Jersey, and despite him being in prime shape, he admitted he got shook once. More often than not, though, he got the better of the 1-on-1 matchups, just as he does on Sundays.

It was a gratifying experience no matter the result.

“It’s just so much fun being out here,” he said. “Each one of them has a smile on their face. Just out here having fun. This is what it’s about. It kind of reminds you why you do it. The same love and joy that they have is what got me to where I’m at.”

Beckham’s at the point in his career where he is an established player trying to take his game to the next level. His 2016 season ended with a disappointing performance during a playoff loss in Green Bay.

But the bouncing back is part of the message he was hoping to pass along to the kids. It’s what he tried to show them on the field Saturday and plans to put on display in the fall.

“Just show them [to] come out and play and give it your best every single time — win, lose or draw,” he said. “Teach them how to come back after losing. Teach them not how to accept losing but how to get better from it. Just always keep continuing to grow, and most importantly, have fun.”

Transactions: Baltimore Ravens sign Brandon Boykin

The Baltimore Ravens are shuffling the deck in their secondary, less than week after losing one of their key contributors.

Baltimore announced Monday that it has signed journeyman cornerback Brandon Boykin and Al-Hajj Shabazz and has released veteran defensive back Kyle Arrington.

After three serviceable seasons in Philadelphia, the Eagles traded Boykin to Pittsburgh in 2015 where he lasted just one season. Since then, Boykin bounced to Carolina for less than two months and then to Chicago where he was placed on injured reserve during training camp with a pectoral injury.

One year after joining Baltimore, Arrington missed all of 2016 with a concussion. The ninth-year cornerback played the bulk of his career in New England where he started 56 games over six seasons and won a Super Bowl. Cutting Arrington in the final year of his three-year deal saves the Ravens roughly $2.1 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.

Boykin and Shabazz will fill the void on Baltimore’s roster left by Tavon Young, a promising nickel cornerback entering his second season in Charm City who suffered a torn ACL during organized team activities last week. However, given the Ravens’ cornerback depth and the former’s injury history, there’s no guarantee either see significant playing time or is even on the roster by the end of the preseason.

Here are the other notable transactions from Monday:

1. In light of Colin Kaepernick-to-Seattle rumors, the Seahawks have decided to go in a different direction. Seattle signed backup quarterback Austin Davis on Monday. In a concurrent move, the Seahawks released third-string quarterback Jake Heaps.

2. The 49ers added pass rusher Elvis Dumervil to its promising front seven, agreeing to terms with the veteran on Monday.

3. The Jets signed wide receiver Devin Street after placing recent signing Quinton Patton on injured reserve. Street last saw action in five games for the Colts in 2016.

4. Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson returned to OTAs on Monday. He said that he was dealing with a personal matter last week and it was not a contract-related absence, according to the team. Johnson will play on the franchise tag in 2017.

5. The Cowboys swapped young quarterbacks on Monday, claiming former Cardinals quarterback Zac Dysert off of waivers and concurrently waiving rookie quarterback Austin Appleby.

Don’t expect to see Melvin Ingram, Le’Veon Bell on field soon

While all 32 NFL teams have returned to the practice field, some of them are a little short-handed. There are injured players, players staying off the field as they fight for new contracts and star players who received the franchise tag.

Chargers pass-rusher Melvin Ingram and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell still have not signed their franchise tags — the only two players not to do so.

Absent a long-term deal before or on the July 15 deadline, it wouldn’t be a surprise if neither participated in organized team activities or mandatory minicamp. History has shown that players in this situation can miss most of training camp, as Chiefs safety Eric Berry did last year. Ingram is more likely at this point to potentially miss minicamp and potentially part of training camp, but no firm decisions have been made.

While not unexpected, it does mean the Chargers and Steelers might not see one of their best players for awhile. Unlike most years, several tag issues were wrapped up early: Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short and Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones all already have extensions. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson have signed their tags and are participating in workouts.

For the Steelers and Bell, neither side seems particularly worried about it. Pittsburgh clearly prioritizes him, and though there hasn’t been an update for some time, it has engaged in some negotiations with him. Bell surely will want to be the highest-paid back on a long-term deal, though he already set to make $12.1 million on a one-year tag. His added ability to catch the ball out of the slot only increases his value.

For the Chargers and Ingram, there might be reason to worry.

The Chargers have identified Ingram ($14.6M on the tag) as a potential face of the defense. Their first major story as an L.A. team likely will be that one of their top players is not in the building. And in the past, the Chargers have struggled to strike deals for players on the tag — Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles are recent examples.

Ingram isn’t nearly the household name Bell is. But he has 18.5 sacks over the last two seasons and only two NFL players have 50-plus tackles and 8-plus sacks over the last two years — Ingram and Raiders star Khalil Mack.

There is the added question of how being in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s scheme will affect Ingram. But unlike Bell, Ingram might have a template for a deal. Jones, who plays the same position, signed a five-year, $82.5-million deal ($16.5M per year) with the Cardinals earlier this offseason. Pierre-Paul signed a four-year, $62-million deal ($15.5M per year), though that might not be a great comparison because he was injured at the time.