Give Belichick a 'bell cow' back, he'll use him

843399.jpg

Give Belichick a 'bell cow' back, he'll use him

FOXBORO -- The perception is that the New England Patriots are two-back team. That they have no real "lead" running back. That the position is divided up fairly equitably between a couple of players.

Turns out, the numbers tell a different story.

The Patriots most relied-upon runner has carried the ball at least twice as many times as his backup in all but four of Bill Belichick's 12 seasons with the team.

And in the years where the ratio was less than 2:1, the "lead back" was in decline or on the verge of replacement.

(Check this out)
2000: Faulk 154; Redmond 125
2001: Smith 287; Faulk 41
2002: Smith 252; Faulk 52
2003: Smith 182; Faulk 178
2004: Dillon 345, Faulk 54
2005: Dillon 209; Pass 54
2006: Dillon 199; Maroney 175
2007: Maroney 185; Morris 85
2008: Morris 156; Faulk 83
2009: Maroney 194; Morris 73
2010: Green-Ellis 229; Woodhead 97
2011: Green-Ellis 181; Ridley 87

So before we consider the "Stevan Ridley-Shane Vereen" competition then wave it away figuring they'll both get the ball plenty, it does probably deserve a closer look.

Because history tells us one of these second-year players is going to be the fastball and the other will be the change-up. And this realization makes the post-Law Firm competition that much more compelling.

In their opening arguments Thursday night, both made strong cases. Ridley started and had 40 yards on eight carries; Vereen carried 11 times for 64 yards against mostly scrubs.

Over the remainder of the preseason, the scales will need to be tipped the other way with Vereen running against the 1s to get a good look. Because, to date, all we've seen from the back out of Cal was a good in-stadium practice last August, a decent cameo against the moribund Chiefs during the regular season and Thursday's game. And some nice practice reps.

"Its kind of hard to gauge a running back in practice because were not doing full-speed tackling, Belichick said. The last time he really got an opportunity to run like that was probably in the Kansas City game (last November) when he had some of those same kind of looking plays. Thats the good thing about the preseason games, you get a chance to evaluate skill players. Can you tackle them? Its a better picture in the game and he did a good job.

More and more teams around the league are going to, in essence, a three-back rotation. There's the first and second-down back, his changeup back and the third down back.

That's where the Patriots appear headed.

But Belichick wouldn't rule out the return of the lone-star backfield.

"Im for whatever helps us win, he said. If its 500 quarterback sneaks, if thats the best thing for us, then Im all for it. If thats the best thing we can do to win, then sign me up for it.

The last true workhorse the Patriots had was Corey Dillon. He carried the ball 345 times in the Super Bowl season of 2004.

"Corey Dillon was good enough to do it," Belichick reminded when asked about Dillon's workload. "If the Corey Dillon of 2004 was on this roster , Im sure hed get it 300 times too. I havent seen Corey out there lately.

Come to think of it, neither have I. Seen some Ridley and some Vereen, though. And -- if history is a guide -- I'll be seeing one of them much more than the other.

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

browns-collins-jamie-collins-012017x.jpg

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.