Patriots legacy hangs in the balance

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Patriots legacy hangs in the balance

INDIANAPOLIS Help me out, because I might be getting this all wrong.

Am I to understand that, if Asante Samuel had closed his hands a little quicker at about 10 oclock on February 3, 2008, then Tom Brady would be the best quarterback that ever played and Bill Belichick would be the greatest coach in NFL history and the Patriots would stand above the '70s Steelers and the '90s Cowboys and the '60s Packers as the greatest dynasty in NFL history?

Because, apparently, thats what it boils down to. Sunday in Indianapolis, the Patriots will play the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI and if the Patriots win, Brady, Belichick and the entire franchise vault into greatest ever with little conversation position.

Four Super Bowl wins and five appearances in 10 seasons. The sixth ring for Belichick in his coaching career, Brady with a 141-40 lifetime record and a 17-5 postseason mark.

If they lose? Then Brady and Belichick go from a pair that won three Super Bowls in a four-year stretch but despite going 86-26 since their last Super Bowl win in 2004 and authoring the only undefeated, 16-game regular-season in NFL history they have had a blemished record since 2004 because . . . well, really because Asante Samuel didnt close his hands fast enough.

If Samuel had done so in Super Bowl 42 and picked off Eli Manning on that second-and-2 play with 80 seconds remaining and the Patriots up on the Giants 14-10, then New England would have won and this game Sunday would be all about adding another layer of icing to the best team ever cake.

But Samuels failure to come up with that pick and the resultant touchdown pass to cap that Giants' drive and the 17-14 New York win, thats what makes the Patriots of 2001-2011 just greatest-ever also-rans?

Apparently so.

Because Sundays game from a Patriots standpoint has been framed as an all-or-nothing proposition. Win and end the argument. Lose and invite being relegated to a lifetime of Yeah, buts . . .

Seems kind of odd, but thats what I gather.

Brady, if he never wins another game, is already a certified Hall of Famer, Bob Costas said last week. If somehow the Patriots had won the game four years ago, and Brady has the epic season he has and then completes a perfect season and then goes and wins this one, then the only real discussion is, Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback whos ever played? Hes still in that discussion as it is, but it might have been a 'case-closed' discussion if he could have won that one and then added this one.

And the Patriots? Would a win against the Giants make them the greatest team ever?

I think in the estimation of many, they would, said Costas. You have to remember that Walshs 49ers won three, and then won a couple more under George Seifert. Chuck
Noll was a perfect 4-for-4 in Super Bowls (with the '70s Steelers). People will contend that the league was different then and in many ways it may have been more difficult to win. You can also make the opposite case. There are always going to be apples and oranges. I dont think it would establish Bill Belichick and the Patriots as beyond question the greatest coach and the greatest team. But theyd be right there in the argument.

Costas perfectly sums up the prevailing opinion. If the Patriots win Sunday, they are then and only then in the discussion. Lose? No dice.

Which brings us back to Asante Samuel.

Which makes me wonder, is that all there is? Super Bowl wins? Thats the trump card? Even if the difference between a win and a loss in a Super Bowl is a few inches of skin and the head coach and quarterback did all they could?

Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, every Patriot coach and player had left the field at Lucas Oil Stadium expect for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

After all his teammates had left, Brady stood in one of the end zones, wearing a black jacket and black jeans, a camera dangling from his neck. He gathered in a small informal circle with his parents, Tom Brady Sr., and mother Galynn and three sisters, Maureen, Julie and Nancy. They spoke for a few minutes before Brady kissed them each and left the field.

Belichick left the field just before Brady, having spent his final minutes on the stadium turf talking to boyhood and college friends.

By 10:30 p.m. Sunday on the field they seemed almost reluctant to leave on Saturday their NFL legacies will be altered. For better or worse.

Till death and beyond.

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.