Without Prater, no legend of Tebow

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Without Prater, no legend of Tebow

FOXBORO -- Without Matt Prater, there is no Tebowmania.

Lost in hubbub over the Broncos' quarterback is the fact that Denver's kicker has been the most clutch in the NFL this season. Prater has kicked three game-winning field goals in the Broncos' last three contests. Last week he kicked a 59-yarder to send his team to overtime against the Bears. Then he knocked down a 51-yard bomb in overtime to win, further contributing to Tebow's legend, hardly his own.

Make no mistake, Tebow, dubbed "The Mile High Messiah," has done plenty to contribute to his team's seven wins in its last eight games -- both with his play on the field, and it appears, his attitude. But if not for Prater, who has four game-winners in all this season, Tebow's Tebowing may have gone unanswered.

None of this is lost on Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who knows just how important a good kicker can be to his team's success. In the NFL Network documentary, A Football LifeBelichick called Adam Vinatieri the best player on the Patriots when they won Super Bowl XXXVI.

"He's got a leg, but he's also an accurate kicker," Belichick said. "He's hit a lot of long ones. Special teams coach Scott O'Brien coached him out there, so we know him. He knows him. Absolutely it extends your defense in those field goal situations.

"To protect against the field goal, you have to extend out a little bit further... Especially at the end of the game because then they'll take a shot at anything."

And especially at Invesco Field, where the mile-high air may contribute to the completion of longer field goals. Two of Prater's three field goals of 50 yards or longer this season have come in Denver. In his career, he's 12-of-16 from beyond 50 yards.

Prater's leg also comes into play on kickoffs. He has recorded 40 touchbacks this season, but Belichick has paid close attention to Prater's talent for onside kicks. The Broncos beat the Dolphins in Week 7 after recovering a Prater onside kick. They nearly recovered another last week against the Bears. It was essentially a jump ball, placed perfectly by Prater, but Chicago recovered.

"He does a great job of spiking it, putting it up there, giving them a chance to get under it," Belichick said. "He has great touch on those kicks."

If the Broncos find themselves in yet another situation when a Prater onside kick may give them a chance to win the game, the Patriots will be ready for it. Belichick said it's a situation they prepare for every week.

"It's just another thing to prepare for," Belichick said. "It's another thing you've gotta work on. It's a critical play if it comes up. It doesn't come up every week. You dont know when it's going to come up. But when it does, you gotta cover it."

When the Pats say (again and again) that the Broncos are not a one-man team, they mean it. It's not all about Tebow, or the Broncos' running backs, or their defense.

It's also partly about a kicker. And while the rest of the country may be wrapped up Tebow's story, it's clear, Prater is not a forgotten man in Foxboro.

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.