Warren and Patriots: A perfect fit

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Warren and Patriots: A perfect fit

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Ask fans who the I-beams of the Patriots are right now and the answers will be predictable: Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker. Maybe even rookie corner Devin McCourty.

But ask the team about Gerard Warren.

The praise he gets from the guys who know him best speaks volumes. They'll tell you that the defensive lineman is invaluable to the 12-2 Patriots.

"He's brought a lot of experience,'' Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "He's a smart guy and a versatile player. He can play inside and outside. He can play it on the nose, both ends. He's a smart guy. He sees things. Very professional. Ready to work every day. Tough. He's banged up like a lot of guys are but he stays out there and fights through it. He's been a very dependable player for us.''

It has taken him a while to get here.

Gerard Warren was the third overall pick in 2001. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder was convinced the Patriots would draft him but he went earlier, selected by the Browns three picks before Richard Seymour.

For most of his first nine seasons in the NFL he was trapped in dysfunctional and unsuccessful franchises, bouncing from Cleveland to Denver to Oakland.

Finally, last March, a chance to sign with a new team surfaced. It was Seymour who recommended the Patriots. Warren was signed in April as a role player.

"I think when you sign a player like that, I don't know if you know what their role's going to be,'' Belichick said. "When you haven't had him before, and even if you have, you wait to see how their performance relates to everybody else that you have, put it all together and see how it works out. Kind of go back to that Roman Phifer situation."

The coach picked an apt comparison. Phifer was signed by the Patriots in 2001 after 11 seasons in the league. He'd played for Belichick in New York in 1999.

New England handed Phifer a veteran minimum contract and an unspecified role. By the end of the 2001 regular season, the outside linebacker had 93 tackles. By the end of the playoffs, he had a Super Bowl ring. He won two more rings in '03 and '04.

"I told Phifer that I thought he would have a limited role,'' Belichick said. "We had a role for him, I wasn't sure what it was. That role ended up being that he played 98 percent of the plays.

"You just don't know how it's all going to work out with your team from year to year. Some of that's a function of that player. Some of it's a function of what's going on around them. Some of it's a function of who you're playing."

The injury to Ty Warren forced Gerard Warren into more minutes. Despite a knee injury, he has played in all 14 games (9 starts) in New England's stunning 2010 season. He has racked up 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

What he wants is the hardware that Roman Phifer got his hands on.

"Wish I woulda had a lot more Super Bowl rings on my fingers,'' Warren said. "That's what I judge it on winning and losing. I been in the league for 10 years, so I'm blessed for that."

He has believed for a while now that playing for the Patriots is the solution. In May, Warren said he was tremendously impressed with New England's attitude.

"It's all business,'' he said. "Come in. Play winning football. Have fun. Family environment. When you walk in through the doors, its all business. Very appealing."

Six months later Warren cites his time in New England as "one of the most beautiful journeys" in his life. The defensive stats are nice, but the reason this is a great year is because he's playing for an organization "thats got a mission and a plan and a purpose." Because he's finally got a chance to make a difference with a Super Bowl contender.

"That's one guy that came here with all the intentions of helping this ball club win,'' Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "Great player. Great person. What he's done for us has been great. From his leadership standpoint, playing skills, you name it. However he can help he's helped."

Wilfork's especially high on his new teammate. Though Warren is listed as a defensive lineman, his ability to play over the center or at tackle has allowed the Patriots to be more exotic with how they use Wilfork.

So how come the folks buying Patriots jerseys aren't scrambling for Number 92? Without a Pro Bowl nod or Super Bowl ring, some might call him a bust. But Warren's been more a victim of circumstance.

Even now with the Patriots, the 3-4 defense isn't built to make stars of defensive lineman. Doesn't matter much if the fans don't notice him though. The players do.

"Sometimes I find myself asking him questions," Wilfork smiled. "He'll kind of look at me crazy like, 'Man, I just got here.' It's just a respect factor. He's been around the game for a long time. That's a guy that I've seen a lot of film on, if he was out in Denver, Cleveland or Oakland. I've watched a lot of film on him because there's something about his game I like."

Just another underrated acquisition for Bill Belichick.

"I never try to tell a player exactly what his situation's going to be because it's always subject to change," Belichick said. "This is where we're going to start. Where it ends up? Sometimes it's where you start and sometimes it isn't.''

Gerard Warren is seeing a hell of a lot more of the gridiron than anyone expected last spring. For both the player and the Patriots, this is a really good thing.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

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.