Curran: Belichick uses Colts to further experiment

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Curran: Belichick uses Colts to further experiment

FOXBORO Lets get this out of the way right now: The Patriots didnt take the Indianapolis Colts seriously.

In fact, they were so amused by the 0-11 Colts ineptitude that they stuck a wide receiverkick coverage guy at safety for the day, started two other players they just signed, started a linebacker who had barely played linebacker and had him play corner on the games first third down play.

It was such a walkover that even Shaun Ellis and Jermaine Cunningham got in and Chad Ochocinco had a catch (and an offsetting drop).

In short, the Patriots were able to treat a regular-season game like a preseason game and still win. Good for them? Great for them!

To be able to get players real-time reps at spots theyd never played in the month of December and still win? Any coach would leap at that opportunity.

The irony it all is that Bill Belichick spent the week acting like the media was high for disrespecting the Colts' 0-11 record. He then went out and shamed the Colts worse than the media ever could have with his personnel moves.

On Wednesday, Belichick did everything but take off his shoe and pound the table to make everyone understand what a difficult challenge his team faced.

Meanwhile, he was tapping Matthew Slater on the shoulder and saying, Wanna play defense this week?

He was sticking newly signed Nate Jones out at corner and just-activated Nick McDonald in at center and putting Niko Koutovides in at linebacker and splitting him out to cover a wide receiver.

And still they won. They scored 31 points in six drives and rolled up a 31-3 lead by the end of the third.

That Indy scored three touchdowns during garbage time to make the score less humiliating will cause hands to wring.

But consider this: If the Patriots thought the game was in doubt and that theyd actually lose, would Tom Brady have been taken out of the game in favor of backup Brian Hoyer and run the ball three straight times with three minutes left?

How badly can you eviscerate the players for letting up in garbage time when the coaches were experimenting and putting in the backup quarterback in garbage time?

Putting all that aside, how did it all work out for the Patriots, this depth-building exercise?

Pretty well. Three of the top five tacklers against Indy were new (Nate Jones, 9 tackles), new to the team (Koutouvides, 6 tackles) or new to the position (Slater, 7 tackles).

I just thank God for the opportunity to be able to get out there and help the team win a football game today, said Slater.. Im just so thankful for the opportunity.

Slater said he learned hed be playing defense just this week. But, he added, Ive known since Ive been here to just be ready to do whatever they ask me to do. They approached me with it this week and I know Im a role player on this team and whatever role they give me, thats what Im going to do.

My career has been about me doing whatever theyve asked of me, he said.

With Slater getting safety reps, the Patriots now have Patrick Chung (who missed his fourth game Sunday), James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown and Sterling Moore to stick back there. Jones, meanwhile, showed to be an extremely sound tackler and a guy who plays fast. Hes now in the corner mix with Devin McCourty (shaky in his first game back from a shoulder separation), Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden, Moore, and another offensedefense convert Julian Edelman.

Bill always is saying that, anytime you can do more it helps the team, said Molden. If you can play different positions, it gives you a profound understanding of the game overall. I know that will definitely help us out in the long run.

Ihedigbo echoed that, saying, Versatility is a part of the game. The more you can do, the more you can help the defense . . . Whatever it is they want me to do, they do stuff in the best interest of us as players and us as a team.

When Belichick was asked why he had Slater at safety to start the game, he said, We tried to put the best people out there we could to be competitive. Its the same thing we do every week.

Asked if that meant that Slater is now better than other safety options, Belichick answered, We felt like that was the best thing we could do to win.

If putting a guy whos never played the spot before when regulars at the position was the quickest way to victory on Sunday, this teams in a bad way.

It took Ihedigbo to say what all the new faces in new places was really about.

Bill knows best, he said. Thats kind of the motto here and he knows what he wants to do in terms of getting guys reps and getting us as a secondary to have more depth and giving guys an opportunity to play. Its all in the best interests for our team and the best interest of our defense.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track. 

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again. 

What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals? 

Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.

They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.

So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo? 

Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games. 

Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.  

ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.

Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer. 

Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season. 

Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.