Patriots try to adjust after Hernandez (ankle) goes down

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Patriots try to adjust after Hernandez (ankle) goes down

FOXBORO -- As the Patriots are wont to do after any injury, they downplayed what happened to Aaron Hernandez Sunday. He is but one player in the larger machine that is the New England offense, and there will be no excuses made as to why things didn't go according to plan against the Cardinals.

That next-man-up philosophy is essential to the Patriot Way, but the results on the field after Hernandez hobbled off told a different story: His loss was a game-changer.

In the first quarter Hernandez's right leg got caught awkwardly underneath a mass of bodies as he blocked following a completion to Julian Edelman. The tight end had to be helped off the field and did not return, having suffered what the team announced as an ankle injury.

According to in-game reports, his ankle is not broken. Pro Football Talk reported Sunday night that Hernandez could miss up to six weeks with the injury.

Without Hernandez on the field, the Patriots offense looked out of sync for much of the afternoon.

Instead of the two- and sometimes three-tight end sets the Patriots have run in order to feature Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels opted for more three wide receivers sets as the game wore on.

The Patriots have a glut of receiving weapons even without Hernandez -- Gronkowski, Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman -- but the offense appeared far different from the one that ran up 35 points last week in Tennessee.

With just one touchdown-scoring drive late in the game, it was a performance that left the Patriots offense wanting more.

Quarterback Tom Brady wouldn't admit that Hernandez's absence had much to do with it.

"We have an offense with Hernandez in the game and without him in the game," Brady said. "Guys go in and out and you lose guys over the course of a game and you have to be able to adjust. Im sure hes not going to be the only one we lose this year at some point, but we have to figure out a way to still move the ball effectively throughout the course of the game enough where we can score more than 18 points."

Coach Bill Belichick also emphasized the fact that New England needs to be able to change on the fly, no matter who leaves injured.

"Well you can't go into the game just counting on one guy, any guy," Belichick said. "Everybody has to be ready to adjust. It's not the first time a player has been injured in the game."

The Patriots, who have stockpiled several players at the tight end position, had three dressed for Sunday's game. In the first half, following Hernandez's injury, Michael Hoomanawanui played at tight end and very sparingly appeared in the backfield -- much in the way Hernandez might.

Though he's been in New England for just over a week, Hoomanawanui said he was ready to step in when Hernandez went down.

"I'm confident in myself and my abilities," Hoomanawanui said. "The game plan we put in, if someone were to go down, that's the way it played out. That's why we went with it.

"Hopefully Aaron's alright. We gotta move on. One guy goes down, someone's gotta step up."

Replacing Hernandez's production will be a difficult task. But even more than his numbers, it's the mismatches he provides and the formations he allows the Patriots to run that make him so dangerous.

The offense looked different without Hernandez on Sunday, and it will have to continue to adjust if he's forced to miss significant time. More so than either Brady or Belichick, Welker admitted as much after the game on Sunday.

"He's a great player," Welker said of Hernandez. "He makes so many plays for us and he's really come into this training camp and really done really well. He's a really tough guy to match up against and I think everybody across the board has got to pick up the slack and make some plays out there in his place."

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.

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Patriots release camp dates; open practices begin July 27

Football is coming.

The Patriots announced on Thursday that veterans will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 26 and that the first public practice will take place the following day.

Each of the team's first four practices -- from July 27-30 -- are scheduled to take place on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium "in the nine o'clock hour," according to the Patriots. Updates to the training camp schedule, including more specific start times for practices, can be found at patriots.com/trainingcamp.

The Patriots Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony for former corner Raymond Clayborn on Saturday, July 29 around midday following that morning's training camp practice. Held on the plaza outside the Hall at Patriot Place, the ceremony will be free and open to the public.

The Patriots will host the Jaguars for two days of joint practices open to the public on Monday, Aug. 7 and Tuesday, Aug. 8. The preseason opener for both clubs will take place at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10.