FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ season ended in a wild-card loss on Jan. 4, and since that time, not a day has passed in which quarterback Tom Brady’s uncertain future hasn’t been a hot topic.
It’s understandable given his iconic status. The myriad possibilities spark widespread speculation and intrigue.
But for all the media-based chatter, not much has changed over the past five-plus weeks, with a few nuggets of insight and news helping to form an updated snapshot.
Here is a mid-February Brady free-agency check-in:
What type of progress has been made in contract negotiations?
None. As of late last week, the sides had not engaged in contract talks, per sources. But as Brady noted in his Super Bowl LIV interview on Westwood One, there is open dialogue between him and the Patriots, which reflects that the situation is without animosity. “They know how I feel about them. I know how they feel about me. We’ve always had a great relationship. We always will,” Brady said.
How surprising is it that there haven’t been negotiations?
This is commonplace based on the general flow of the offseason for most teams. The first priority is to close the book on the season. Then coaches usually take some time off. There is Senior Bowl and combine preparation. And soon enough, the focus will shift to free agency. This week, for example, the Patriots’ coaching staff is off.
So what is the most realistic timetable for substantial contract talks?
Because the Patriots will absorb a $13.5 million salary-cap charge if Brady is not on the roster when the 2020 league year begins on March 18 at 4 p.m. ET — which would account for the acceleration of his previous signing bonus — owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick are expected to push for substantial discussions before that point.
Simply put, the Patriots will want clarity about Brady’s intentions and willingness to return as they enter free agency, as that will be the first major domino to fall in the team’s planning.
The Patriots project to have about $29 million in cap space, per sources. But if Brady’s contract is extended before the 2020 league year begins, it would lessen the dead money on the team’s 2020 cap because it could be accounted for over multiple years.
How does that timeline mesh with the possibility of Brady taking visits to other teams?
If Brady is committed to visiting other teams, which can happen only once the 2020 league year begins, it puts the Patriots in a tough financial spot and decreases the likelihood of his return. That would mean the Patriots would have to absorb a $13.5 million cap charge regardless.
So taking that $13.5 million hit, and then signing Brady to a different deal that would add more charges to the cap, would not be a favorable scenario for the Patriots.
Some view Brady’s decision to put a provision in his last contract not to be franchise-tagged as an indication he’d like to visit other teams. Others view it as a vehicle for him to create leverage/urgency in discussions with the Patriots, something he didn’t have on his side in the past two negotiations.
One other key point as it relates to free-agent visits: Brady’s agents can negotiate with other teams in the legal tampering period, which begins on March 16 at 4 p.m. ET. So Brady can still get a sense of the free-agent market for 48 hours before the 2020 league year begins without taking an official visit with another club.
What is most important to Brady?
Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is one of Brady’s top football mentors — Brady was at Weis’ bedside when he had complications from gastric bypass surgery — and Weis relayed a recent exchange they had as part of his daily “Opening Drive” program on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
“I texted him when they picked the top 100 … and said ‘Congrats.’ He said ‘For what?’ I said for being part of the top 100 and then on top of it, [some in the media] picked you to be the starter. He goes, ‘You know the only thing I’m worrying about is a ring.’ That kind of sums it up. He wants to win another championship. That’s why he’s still playing. He wouldn’t play for money at this point.”
This is consistent with how Brady has approached his career but is timely confirmation that his mindset hasn’t changed.
What is most important to the Patriots?
Kraft has said he hopes Brady returns. And Brady still gives the Patriots the best chance to win, which is usually the foundation for most of Belichick’s decisions. So in a perfect world, they would re-sign Brady to a deal that works for both sides and gives him a chance to finish his career in New England.
But there is also an acknowledgment, regardless of how things unfold with Brady, that the franchise will be facing a transition at quarterback sometime within the next three years. So if the sides can’t find common ground, or if Brady’s demands are deemed excessive, it would simply accelerate the time frame for the transition.
How does backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham fit into the Patriots’ thinking?
The 2019 fourth-round pick from Auburn made a favorable impression on Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as a rookie. He beat out veteran Brian Hoyer for the No. 2 job in the preseason and didn’t miss a practice. All that gives Stidham the best chance to become the heir apparent to Brady. But would Stidham be ready in 2020? There is no definitive answer at this point.
Which teams would make a play for Brady?
The Raiders, who are moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, are ready to put all their chips in the middle of the table for Brady, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Chargers, who announced Monday that Philip Rivers won’t be back, are another possibility, potentially pitting AFC West rivals in a competition for Brady.
While some viewed Miami as a possible suitor thanks to excessive salary-cap space, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said at Super Bowl LIV he couldn’t imagine why Brady would be interested, as their goals wouldn’t seem to be aligned. “We’re at the stage trying to really build a team for the future,” Ross said.
After Ramsey tweets trade ideas, Lions CB Darius Slay says, “If it happens, it happens” – Detroit Lions Blog
Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay said he doesn’t feel any different about possibly being traded — sticking with his stance he took back in October, when the Pro Bowler’s name was first floated for a possible trade.
On Sunday, he told ESPN “whatever happens, happens. I’m here to play ball,” when asked about the latest rumors about his future.
The 29-year-old said he figures there have been some discussions about his future and whether it would be in Detroit, but there haven’t been any substantive talks with him. Mostly, he sees those conversations on the internet and that things seem open for anything.
“I mean, they open for it so [the Lions] probably are having some talks,” Slay said. “Probably they just have to get the right, I’m guessing, whatever the right cost and then it can happen. That’s the only thing I can get from it, really. If they can get the right price for it, they’ll probably, most likely they do it.”
— Darius Slay (@_bigplayslay23) February 23, 2020
On Sunday, Slay would only say “if it happens, it happens.”
Slay has been the topic of trade conversations with the Lions since October, after Detroit dealt starting safety Quandre Diggs to Seattle at the deadline. He was outspoken about the trade then and said “nobody’s safe” when it comes to potentially being moved.
His name resurfaced as a possible trade target again last week when ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Lions were speaking with multiple teams about Slay but wanted to make sure they would get appropriate value in return for Slay, who is entering the final year of his deal in 2020.
Slay declined to say what he was looking for in a new contract, but his agent knows his worth and what he believes his worth is. He had previously tweeted that $15-to-$16 million per year might be too low.
Slay also said that he and his wife, Jennifer, have talked with their children about the possibility he won’t be playing for the Lions this year.
The three-time Pro Bowler also reiterated that he would like to play his entire career in Detroit, but understands the business side of the NFL as well.
“It’s a business so it should be looked at as a business aspect of it. If it was up to me, I would love to be here my whole career,” Slay said. “But one thing about a lot of stuff that comes, first is my family so I’ll do what’s best for my family, for them first and put my family in great position to never have to want for nothing.
“So that’s my goal, and if that’s being here, I’m here. If it ain’t, then I ain’t.”
NFL player leadership remains divided over 17-game season
NFL player leadership is still majorly divided over the thought of a 17-game season.
Player reps fell into three categories when discussing the proposed new Collective Bargaining Agreement, sources told ESPN — those who never want 17 games, those who will accept it with tweaks to the deal, and those who accept it as is.
Those reps held a conference call Friday and were set to vote on the deal, but getting the two-thirds majority was far from a slam dunk, a source said. NFLPA decided to postpone voting, giving all parties involved a few days to sleep on the proposal and meet at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
“Anything is possible at this point,” a source said.
The players are set to meet with NFL officials on Tuesday and could vote as early as Wednesday but hope to go back to owners and continue negotiations, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. The owners have no intentions to renegotiate the offer, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, who also reports the NFLPA and NFL Management Council have pushed back the start of the franchise tag designation period from Tuesday, Feb. 25 to Thursday, Feb. 27. Teams will now have until March 12 to decide whether to tag a player. NFL teams currently have the option to tag two players (using either the franchise or transition tag), but a new CBA would limit teams to one available tag.
Among the tweaks some players would like to see, according to sources: An increased revenue share, improved pension and further improvements to working conditions.
The NFLPA executive committee voted 6-5 against recommending the proposal, which offers a guaranteed revenue share of 48 percent in 2021, with a potential increase to 48.5 percent upon the start of a 17-game season, which is yet to be determined.
The proposed CBA also offers at least $90,000 increases on minimum salaries, increased pay for offseason activities, expanded pension eligibility, a limit of 16 days in pads at training camp and mandated improvements to visiting team locker rooms.
The current CBA expires March 2021.
Retiring Patriots TE Ben Watson shares players’ view of critical CBA talks – New England Patriots Blog
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes from around the NFL and the New England Patriots:
1. Watson hopes for agreement with owners in which players are true “partners”: As a vice president on the 11-member NFL Players Association executive committee, retiring Patriots tight end Ben Watson has been at the heart of the most important story surrounding professional football the past week — the possibility of ratifying an extension of the collective bargaining agreement that owners have already agreed upon.
Watson, 39, and his wife, Kirsten, have seven children and should be enjoying the start of his football retirement, but the suddenness of CBA talks in recent weeks has thrust him back into the business side of the game.
I asked him why he remains so invested, with his playing career in the rearview mirror, and what type of workload the recent surge of negotiations has sparked.
“Throughout the history of pro football, players have always come together for the betterment of the collective past, present and future. It is imperative that every player concern themselves with the issues that affect the business of football,” he explained. “Our player leadership, myself included, has spent countless hours discussing the future of our workplace on calls and in face-to-face meetings with each other and ownership.”
One of those meetings two weeks ago, in Los Angeles, had Watson returning to Boston on a red-eye flight.
Of his specific role on the executive committee, which voted 6-5 not to recommend the current CBA proposal to players, he said, “My job is to serve the membership by being a voice, as well as a conduit of information, and acting in the best interest of players. There are tough decisions that have to be made that are sometimes not in one’s best personal interest.
“But the examples of sacrifice set before us compel us to do the same. It has been quite a process and we are hopeful for a favorable outcome. The league refers to players as partners. My intention is to encourage an agreement that accurately reflects that sentiment.”
The NFL Players Association intends to hold a vote of its full body of players this week, a source told ESPN’s Dan Graziano.
Specific to the Patriots, the team’s player representative is longtime special-teams captain Matthew Slater, who is supported by co-alternates Ted Karras and Joe Cardona. As part of their roles, they communicate with players to keep them informed before any vote. They also can address areas of concerns that players have during the process.
Desmond Howard and Marcus Spears discuss whether a Patriots trade for Stefon Diggs would persuade Tom Brady to re-sign with the team.
2. How a new CBA might help Patriots in Brady talks: Prior to last August’s “extension” of Tom Brady’s contract, when the Patriots added two voidable years on his pact for salary-cap purposes, the team had never used voidable years in a contract during Bill Belichick’s coaching tenure. So it was a precedent-setting decision, and while there is no guarantee the team would do it again, it currently wouldn’t be an option regardless. Teams can’t put voidable years in contracts in the final year of a collective bargaining agreement, and 2020 is the final year of the existing CBA. So for Patriots followers asking the question “How would a new CBA affect the Patriots,” this is one definitive example. If a CBA extension is struck, it would open the possibility of the Patriots discussing another “extension” for Brady with voidable years, if there was indeed mutual interest in doing something similar to last August.
3. Culture could play a role in Brady’s decision: An entertaining interview with ESPN NFL Insider Jeff Darlington on Thursday’s Golic and Wingo Show sparked a thought on what Brady might ultimately be wrestling with as it relates to his football future. “He loves the idea of going in and really creating and helping to impart a culture on an organization that maybe is not quite there yet,” Darlington said. That makes sense as a primary factor if Brady departs as a free agent. I also think something that tugs at Brady’s heart is the culture he’s helped create in New England over 20 years, and it won’t be easy for him to leave if the Patriots come to the negotiating table with emotion and the intention of keeping him. That last part, in my opinion, is the key, and it’s why the negotiating football is currently in the Patriots’ hands.
4. Cannon, Jackson, Shelton among Patriots switching agents: Veteran offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, third-year cornerback J.C. Jackson and sixth-year defensive tackle Danny Shelton have all switched agents this offseason, according to NFL Players Association documents. Cannon’s switch to Joby Branion and Eugene Lee seems to reflect that he intends to play a 10th NFL season despite some speculation that he might retire. Jackson and Shelton have both hooked on with veteran agent Drew Rosenhaus, with whom the Patriots have a history of making deals, for better (Rob Gronkowski) or worse (Antonio Brown). Such switches aren’t uncommon at this time of year, and there could be more to come. They are notable from a behind-the-scenes standpoint in that a reset button is hit on any prior contract talks.
5. Belichick created a buzz at Senior Bowl: Belichick’s presence in Mobile, Alabama, for Senior Bowl practices last month predictably generated some excitement and served as a reminder to prospects why being part of the game can be a great benefit. While some players skip it to protect against injuries, coaches like Belichick take note of who is there to compete. “It was different. Someone on the staff there said it had been 10 years since he had been to the Senior Bowl, which is an amazing run of them playing in the [conference] championship that many years,” said Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy. “He draws a crowd and got the fans down here buzzing. One day at practice, he spent the bulk of practice talking to [Alabama] Coach [Nick] Saban, which was great to see them on the Senior Bowl sideline together.”
6. Caserio, Belichick & Co. scheduled to attend combine this week: Belichick, as usual, is scheduled to attend the NFL combine this week. The big change for the event is a shift to prime time, with the first night featuring tight ends and receivers — two positions at which the Patriots could use a boost. ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick recently said, “If you need a wide receiver, there is zero doubt this is one of the best years to get one that I can remember in the past 20 seasons.” Meanwhile, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said this week that he wouldn’t be surprised if five receivers went in the first round and as many as eight landed in the second round. The combine schedule:
Thursday: QB, TE, WR (4 p.m.-11 p.m.)
Friday: RB, OL, ST (4 p.m.-11 p.m.)
Saturday: DL, LB (4 p.m.-11 p.m.)
Sunday: DBs (2 p.m.)
7. Edelman a reminder that scouting doesn’t stop at combine: While the NFL descends on Indianapolis for the combine, and media coverage promises to be plentiful, the daily presence of receiver Julian Edelman at Gillette Stadium this offseason (he’s one of the few players using the facility regularly) serves up a reminder that it isn’t the be-all and end-all for prospects. Edelman, center David Andrews, fullback James Develin and safety Duron Harmon are a few Patriots who weren’t even invited to the combine.
8. Did You Know: Edelman is second in Patriots history with 599 receptions, behind only Wes Welker’s 672.
9. Patriots turn to “kicking whisperer” in Houston: The Patriots are adding University of Alabama special-teams analyst Joe Houston to their coaching staff, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic reported Friday, which continues the well-established pipeline between Belichick and Saban. When I learned more about Houston’s background — he was a former kicker at USC and a 2018 article in the Des Moines Register referred to him as the “kicking whisperer” — it was easy to see how Belichick would value his perspective. Veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski is coming off left hip surgery and is entering the final year of his contract, so the Patriots — just as they were in 2006 when they drafted Gostkowski to replace Adam Vinatieri — are naturally going to keep their eyes open for his eventual heir apparent.
10. Seymour on meaning of Black History Month: One leftover from last week’s interview with former Patriots defensive tackle and two-time Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Richard Seymour, on what February being observed as Black History Month means to him.
“I think for me, the essence of Black History Month and having an opportunity to do something I love to do, I recognize it’s a lot of people before me that paved the way. They bridge the gap so I wouldn’t have the same struggles they had,” he said.
“In terms of what I’m doing now, I just want to help bridge that gap as well, because I think about guys like Bill Russell, we’ve had many talks. Jim Brown. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. For me, it’s all about reaching back. It’s bigger than yourself.
“I’ll say this too: Any time I do something like helping other guys out and giving them the blueprint, it’s also self-fulfillment. No matter what you’ve done, if you can help somebody else reach their goals, those are the types of things I think about. It’s not about talk, it’s about helping others.”
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