Sunday kickoff: Flacco's better than you think

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Sunday kickoff: Flacco's better than you think

BALTIMORE -- Joe Flacco is either fifth or sixth in line when it comes to media tongue baths among Baltimore Ravens.

Theres, of course, Ray Lewis. Then Ed Reed. Then Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs. Then comes either Flacco or head coach John Harbaugh. By that time nobodys listening anymore.

Looking at his value as a fantasy football option or as a guy who will move the needle in terms of name recognition, hes weak. Just Joe.

But if you look at Flaccos actual resume record, hes better than okay or pretty good. Hes one of the leagues most effective quarterbacks.

The Patriots arent concerned tonight about how many fantasy points Flacco amasses. Theyre concerned about the player who is 45-21 as a regular-season starter, the guy who has thrown 83 touchdowns and 47 interceptions in his four-plus seasons (69 and 35 if you take away his rookie season, when he was a 23-year-old out of Delaware). He has never missed a game and his output is bizarrely consistent 3,613, 3,622 and 3,610 have been his regular-season yardage totals the past three season. At 27, Flacco has played in as many big games as any quarterback in the league in his first four years.

The Ravens have gone 5-4 in Flaccos nine postseason games. Hes played in two AFC Championship games 2008 as a rookie, and again in 2011 and while he spit the bit against Pittsburgh in 2008 with three picks, he did everything he could eight months ago to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl. The name Sterling Moore will forever haunt him if Flaccos career ends without a Super Bowl appearance.

Flacco got lampooned earlier this year when he asked where he ranks among quarterbacks. He said I think Im the best.

To me, that answer was less about hubris and more about Flacco articulating the mindset he believes EVERY quarterback has to have.

The whole response?

I assume everybody thinks theyre a top-five quarterback. I mean, I think Im the best. I dont think Im top five, I think Im the best. I dont think Id be very successful at my job if I didnt feel that way. I mean, cmon. Thats not really too tough of a question.

"But that doesnt mean that things are gonna work out that way. It just means that thats the way it is, thats the way I feel it is, and thats the way I feel it should be.

Flacco hasnt had to be the best in Baltimore because the team hasnt been constructed around the quarterback. Its been defense first and Ray Rice second. After that, its been Flacco throwing to old guys like Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap.

This year, more is on his plate as the Ravens have gone up-tempo offensively and Flaccos got some more talent on the outside, especially with promising young targets like wideout Torrey Smith (who may not play tonight after the tragic death of his brother in a motorcycle accident) and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Im not sure if Flacco is in the top-five, top-three or top-10. All that stuff is week-to-week anyway, it seems. What I do know is that, more often than not, Joe Flacco is part of the reason the Ravens win. And that as opposed to Q-rating is what matters.

When the Patriots started populating their roster with players Josh McDaniels coached in Denver or St. Louis (or, in some cases, both), the connection was duly noted. Now, the performance ought to be as well. So far, tight end Daniel Fells has been a non-contributor, Brandon Lloyd has been the Patriots' top target in the passing game but has a way to go to satisfy his potential, Greg Salas was released and re-signed to the practice squad, and Michael Hoomanawanui was horrendous last week. Im not sure what the expectation level for each of these players ultimately is, and theres a long way to go, but mining for gold on the roster of a 2-14 team (thats what the Rams were last year) is an aggressively counterintuitive move.

If the Patriots beat the Ravens tonight, the career record of Tom Brady as a starter including playoffs will be 142-42. The 142 wins (and counting) amassed by Brady and Bill Belichick is going to be extremely hard to break. And it would be even higher if the ACL injury of 2008 never occurred. Consider, Don Shula and Dan Marino are running in second place at 117 wins as a duo. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are 47-24. To get to 150 when Rodgers is 35, the pair would have to win 103 more games by 2018. Thats an average of 14.7 per year.

Waaaaayyyy too much air and interest expended on the way teams treat the kneeldown play. Think about it: The one play out of about 140 in each game on which there is literally almost nothing happening, and we get a weeks bluster and focus on it because its sensationalistic and conversation generating. A day? Two days? Sure. I like to see personalities revealed too Greg Schianos and Tom Coughlins being the two in this instance. But the inanity of fixating on it and asking coaches about the end-of-game KNEELDOWN play for a week? As my buddy Mike Reiss often says when the media poop hits the fan, What are we doing here? Can we step back for a second?

Can someone please make a cogent argument about why the Patriots would be pissed off at Wes Welker for signing the franchise tag and showing up for minicamp, training camp, preseason, etc? Like one that trumps this argument: The Patriots are NOT pissed because they can now go year-to-year with a 31-year-old slot receiver, they're not on the hook for 2013, and still get all of Welkers services in 2012 (such as they decide to use them). Co-hosting in August 2011 on WEEI, I said that Welker - while incredibly talented - was not a unique talent. That slot receiver is a replaceable position and that Julian Edelman could approximate Welkers work. After last years 122-catch season, I had to admit that Welker is unique. And maybe the best slot receiver ever. But my initial inclination that slots are replaceable remains the Patriots belief.

Youre not going to find a bigger proponent of sleep than me. Im a world-class napper. I placed third in the Southeast Massachusetts Sleep-Off held in 2008, in which I had to fall asleep on a bed of nails while sailing on a garbage scow sailing through the Cape Cod Canal. I sleep while driving. And I still dont have any idea why the Jets would broadcast their consultations with a sleep specialist this week. It may do a world of good. So might a hypnotist, witch doctor or group cry. When youre running a team, you have to measure how news will reflect on the brand and be spun. For instance: It seems Bart Scott needs a nap.

Brady nutritional manual goes on sale, features avocado ice cream

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Brady nutritional manual goes on sale, features avocado ice cream

It was only a matter of time, right? You can finally eat the way Tom Brady does now that his nutritional manual has gone on sale. 

The Patriots quarterback excitedly shared the news with his fans Wednesday on Facebook, directing them to his website TB12store.com. There they could find a few snap-shot looks of the laser-etched maple cover -- natural maple, obviously -- and its contents.

I wanted to share with you guys another step toward achieving your peak performance. Check it out you will love it! #ididntcomethisfartoonlycomethisfar

Posted by Tom Brady on Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Brady's description of the $200 manual explains: "TB12™ Nutrition Manual is a limited-edition 'living document' containing information about our core TB12 nutritional philosophies and featuring a library of 89 seasonally-inspired recipes that you can use to support your TB12-aligned nutrition plan.

"The TB12 Nutrition Manual is designed to be modified and expanded over time using its unique screw post binding: as we periodically update this manual with new or modified recipes, we will send additional pages to all purchasers of the manual."

The recipes inside teach readers how to make such dishes as sweet potato gnocchi with escarole, carrot cake and avocado ice cream, the last of which has become one of Brady's most well-known indulgences ever since his "body coach" and business partner Alex Guerrero told the New York Times about it for a profile that was published last year. 

Patriots contract dance is a daunting one

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Patriots contract dance is a daunting one

We are in the Patriots’ silent spring. Aside from the ongoing mud wrestle Tom Brady’s engaged in with the NFL and the noise surrounding that, it’s quiet with the football team.

Minimal personnel outflow. An interesting haul of B-list free agents. A workmanlike draft of players who won’t likely make much impact in their rookie seasons.

But this calm precedes a roster storm the team is facing over the next nine months.

Nine players of major consequence are entering the final year of their contracts. On offense, it’s not a crisis. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is the only expiring contract.

Defensively? Different story. Linebackers Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, defensive backs Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Malcolm Butler (restricted free agent) are all expiring. As is special teams ace and captain Matthew Slater.

But wait, there’s still more. A bunch of the free agent/trade imports the Patriots made are here on one-year deals: tight ends Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor, defensive linemen Chris Long and Terrance Knighton and guard Jonathan Cooper.

Add in OL Marcus Cannon, RB LeGarrette Blount, DL Alan Branch, WR Aaron Dobson, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Jonathan Freeny, FB James Develin, WR Chris Harper, TE Michael Williams, G Cameron Fleming and lower-tier free agent signings like DT Markus Kuhn, WR Nate Washington, LB Ramon Humber, CB E.J. Biggers and DE Frank Kearse and overall there are 30 (!!) players with expiring deals.

A few of those players won’t even make it through the summer with the team. And the fact others, like Bennett, Long, Knighton, Cooper, Blount and Washington, are on one-year “show us” deals isn’t bad. It’s smart.

But the volume of consequential players – especially on defense – who’ll be looking for new deals means there’s an interesting dance for Bill Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio to engage in.

The Patriots have to do what’s best for their football team. But some of the players whose contracts are up are obligated to do what’s best for themselves business-wise.

And a lot of them are in line for their second contracts. They are facing what will probably be the most pivotal financial period in their lives over the next few months.

Consider a player like Jamie Collins. A second-round pick in 2013, his initial contract was for $3.76M. You take out taxes, agent fees, expenses, etc. and how much money do you think Collins has to show for the three seasons in which he’s been a rising star in the league? Certainly not enough to feel financially comfortable for the rest of his life.

But – barring catastrophic injury – Collins’ next contract is going to be a huge financial haul that should set up him and his family for decades.

By comparison, Lavonte David of the Buccaneers signed a five-year $50M contract with more than $25M guaranteed last August. Both play outside linebacker at a high level. Both were initially second-round picks (David, No. 58 in 2012; Collins, No. 52 in 2013).

Then there are players like Harmon and Ryan – good rising players who are not going to be paid like stars and may never be Pro Bowlers but are going to play in the league for a long time. Last season, Ryan took a huge step forward, starting opposite Malcolm Butler, putting up some outstanding advanced statistics and increasing his profile around the league. Harmon had a similar year. Ryan will have made $2.77M by the end of his rookie deal; Harmon will make $2.71M.

Unlike Collins, who is a freak talent and is going to get teams throwing tens of millions at him, Ryan and Harmon have a little more uncertainty. If the Patriots present them with offers prior to this year, do they take the security of knowing they are program mainstays or do they wait it out and test the market.

Ryan can look at a player like Buster Skrine who signed a $25M deal with the Jets last year and say, “Whoa… that could be me.” Harmon will have to see the offer he gets from the Patriots and compare it to the one the team gave his good friend Devin McCourty last year ($47.5M). Is Harmon half the player McCourty is? One-third? Will another team see in Harmon the potential to be comparable to McCourty?

Hightower, a former first-round pick, is more financially set than the other guys staring at second contracts. Hightower was down to make $7.724M from 2012-15. The Patriots picked up his fifth-year option for 2016 which will pay him $7.75M. So he’s in position to make more than $15M by the end of the season. He’s another player who could command more than $50M in a new deal if he goes to free agency. Would he be willing to take the security of staying in New England for a deal that may not be as lucrative as what he could command on the open market?

That’s what Jerod Mayo did and it proved to be the right move. Mayo – who came into the league under the previous CBA that was more lucrative for rookie first-rounders – agreed to a five-year extension in December of 2011 before his fourth NFL season was up, 15 months before he would have become a free agent. The extension was worth $48.5M. Mayo wound up on season-ending IR in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and he renegotiated his deal a couple of times but there was good security built into that deal. He retired recently having made more than $42M in the NFL.

We could go on with individual situations – Malcolm Butler could reasonably expect to make more than Janoris Jenkins who signed with the Giants for $62M this offseason, but Butler’s two years from unrestricted free agency and making less than $1M in salary this year; Jabaal Sheard needed to prove himself after a slow start to his career in Cleveland led him to a the two-year, $11M deal he signed with the Patriots. He’s en route to doing that and is – thanks to signing that short-term deal – in line to get another crack to cash in while in his prime.

And nobody should begrudge these players for doing so. We all know by now the future physical peril they put themselves in and we will never run out of stories related to young men who blew their money thinking it would never dry up. The players owe it to themselves and their families to make sure they are compensated as well as they can be.

Belichick, Caserio and the Krafts are aware of that too. Their chore is to do right by as many of these guys as they can against a hard salary cap and make sure the team isn’t mortgaged to its eyeballs.

It’s as complex a contractual puzzle as I can recall.

Stork: 'So far so good' working with Scarnecchia

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Stork: 'So far so good' working with Scarnecchia

CAMBRIDGE -- Brian Stork and several of his teammates on the Patriots offensive line will have to deal with a new voice in their positional meetings this season.

As a fourth-round draft pick in 2014, Stork is one of a handful of Tom Brady's personal protectors who've never played for Dante Scarnecchia before this season. Now that Scarnecchia is back on staff as Patriots offensive line chief after two years of retirement, the third-year center and his teammates are getting accustomed to their new boss. 

"So far so good," said Stork, who spoke to reporters at Harvard Satdium following a football clinic for disabled students run by AccesSportAmerica. "Just do what I'm told and try to get better."

Patriots offensive tackles Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon as well as guard Josh Kline were all on the team during Scarnecchia's last season in 2013 so they have some sense of what they're in for.

The others -- including Stork, center David Andrews, guards Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson, Joe Thuney and Ted Karras and tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming -- will find themselves following orders from someone other than Dave DeGuglielmo, whose contract wasn't renewed at the end of last season, for the first time in their pro careers. 

It might be a bit of a wakeup call, according to one former Patriots offensive lineman who knows Scarnecchia well.

“[Scarnecchia will] just [bring] a demanding style, which he coaches with," Logan Mankins told the Providence Journal earlier this offseason. "He’ll always have his guys prepared and if they’re not prepared he’ll find someone that is prepared. That’s the best thing about Dante. Those young guys have a rude awakening coming. They have never had anyone like him. They better be in shape because he’s going to test you."

Though many of the offensive linemen on the Patriots haven't played for Scarnecchia, they knew who he was before he was re-hired. Even in retirement, he helped the Patriots during the pre-draft process in each of the last two years, working out linemen and reporting back to coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. 

Scarnecchia is close with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett so both Stork and Jackson have interacted with him in the past. He also worked out Mason during Mason's pro day last year. 

Phase Two of the Patriots offseason training program began on Monday, meaning that coaches and players are now able to work together on the practice field to perform drills and do some instruction. While offense versus defense sessions are prohibited, it's the first time Scarnecchia will be able to teach some of his new pupils. 

From the sounds of it, Stork likes the way it's going.

"It's nice to be home," he said. "I definitely missed it. It's great to be back with all the guys and just getting ready for next year. Definitely really excited."