Belichick's Coach of the Year honor worth debate

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Belichick's Coach of the Year honor worth debate

By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com

DALLAS --Bill Belichick's beennamed NFL Coach of the Year for the third time. He joins Chuck Knox and four-time winner Don Shula as the only coaches to be honored more than twice. Voting was done at the end of the regular season before the Patriots' faceplant against the Jets in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Would voters minds' have changed if the voting was done now? Probably. Hours before the award was announced, I spoke with a handful of folks who cover a lot of NFL. None of them would have picked Belichick thanks to the Patriots one-and-done season. "Based on the regular season, I would say Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris," said Mike Florio, owner-operator of Pro Football Talk.com. "Seeing as we're in the postseason, I'll say Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin. Belichick's near the top if you just factor the regular season, but if you don't and you look at the playoffs, it's another playoff loss for the Patriots and that's three straight. "Raheem Morris is a guy I like because he did a lot with a little," added Florio. "Even though they didn't make it to the postseason they had 10 wins in a tough division with a lot of young guys. They got the most out of what they had and Raheem Morris gets the credit for it. With Bill Belichick, 14-2 is nothing to sneeze at, but losing three straight postseason games is something that's alarming and that's got to stick to the coach at a certain level." Andrew Siciliano, host of DirecTV's Red Zone Channel, was a Morris guy as well. "With Raheem Morrisand the number of rookies Tampa Bay had,how little money they spent -- how far under thecap they would have been if there was a cap? -- that was a great job," said Siciliano. "You had an undraftedrookie at running back LeGarrette Blount. You had a kid who got kicked out of Syracuse catching all your passes Mike Williams. You had a second-year quarterback Josh Freeman and no one came to their games. They were blacked out almost every single week. Nobody came to their games and they did this in one of the toughest divisions in football. I think he absolutely deserves consideration." All year-end award decisions are subjective, whether it's MVP, Comeback Player of the Year or Coach of the Year. But for some reason, extra love is normally given to the coach who takes over a crap team and gets them halfway decent. Since 1991, only two coaches have won the Super Bowl the year they were named COY (Dick Vermeil, Rams, in 1999 and Belichick in 2003). Two coaches got to the Super Bowl and lost the year they were named COY (Belichick in 2007 and Dan Reeves, Falcons, 1998). That would lead one to conclude that sustained coaching excellence is less valued than renovation jobs. Or that the presumption exists that coaches of winning teams have better players and hence should win. Pat Kirwan of NFL.com and SIRIUS NFL Radio said, "I think there's a tendency to want to pick the hot guy that came out of nowhere. All the young kids did do great jobs this year. Belichick was in the middle of a youth movement and we really didn't recognize it because he was winning. "Philadelphia's Andy Reid has to be considered," Kirwan added. "The bold move of moving on from Donovan McNabb and putting his faith in Michael Vick? We also start to ignore the guys who get to these games. Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and Mike Tomlin. Tomlin to be without his quarterback at the start of the season, now back to his second Super Bowl in three seasons. The fact he really replaced a legend in Bill Cowher. But at the end of the day, I think Mike McCarthy's been building something for a while. He's got 15 guys on IR. Mike McCarthy's my guy." The Patriots weren't a classic renovation job in 2010. They were a 10-win playoff team in 2009. But the team went through a massive transformation in concrete and abstract ways, to the point where they were far and away the best team in football during the regular season. The fact they started four rookies on defense, two at the tight-end spots and had castoffs at running back was only part of the story. The jettisoning of Randy Moss -- the last and biggest move made by Belichick to recapture a team that had gone soft -- was a watershed moment. It took a lot of guts. And it worked. Voters recognized that. But one of them wanted a mulligan. Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News said, "I picked Bill Belichick. It should have been Mike McCarthy.McCarthy lost 91 games by starters and he's still playing in the Super Bowl. That's 19 more games lost by starters than anyother team. And there's only three teams since 2000 that lost more games by starters in a season and none of them finished above .500. To lose 91 games to starters and still be in the Super Bowl? They lost a Pro Bowl running back Ryan Grant, they lost a guy they thought would be a Pro Bowl tight end Jermichael Finley, they lost the leading tackler on a top-10 defense last year Nick Barnett. They lost a lot and they found a way to get through it, and that's coaching."So what was his rationale on Belichick? "Everybody thought the thing was gonna fall apart when they traded Randy Moss. It didn't. It got better . . . I think a lot of times Belichick gets overlooked because he's expected to win. But he remade his team on the fly. He changed the whole character of the team trading Moss and going to those two rookie tight ends," said Gosselin.
"I think there are a lot of good candidates. I would have considered the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo. You got a rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and you lose your top receiver Donnie Avery in training camp and you go into the final game of the season with a shot at a playoff spot?"The "games lost by starters" point by Gosselin -- who took the time to compile the full list -- is a great one. The Colts were theteam hit second-hardest by injury (72 games lost). The Panthers were at 69 and the Patriots were at 62. The Falcons led the NFL with onlynine games missed by starters. The Jets, it's interesting to note, had just three games missed by offensive starters, according to Gosselin. Belichick also won in 2003 and 2007. Arguably his best coaching job ever came in 2001, when he led the upstart Patriots to their first Super Bowl win. Belichick had 30 of the 50 votes (including mine). Morris had 11.5. Chiefs coach Todd Haley had 4.5. The Bears' Lovie Smith, the Falcons' Mike Smith, Spagnuolo and Reid received a vote apiece. Tom E. Curran canbe reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

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Malcom Brown already considered a leader for Patriots in second year

FOXBORO -- Late last year, Bill Belichick went out of his way to explain just how far then-rookie defensive lineman Malcom Brown had progressed over the course of his first professional season. 

From the sounds of it, the first-round defensive tackle's on-the-field growth was atypical. 

"I think he’s really come on through the season, which isn’t always the case with first-year players," Belichick said on Dec. 30. "It took him a while to get to that point through training camp and the early part of the season, but he’s become much better and more consistent in every phase of the game – running game, passing game, play recognition, communication, adjustments – just everything. It seems like every week he just builds on it.

"He’s really hit a good slope, good incline. He’s worked hard. There is a lot on every rookie’s plate. There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front, so it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good."

Brown finished the year as the Patriots interior defensive lineman with the most snaps played (his 517 snaps trailed only Jabaal Sheard, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich among defensive linemen), and he established himself as a trustworthy option in the team's steady rotation on the interior of its front. 

According to one of Brown's newest teammates, free-agent acquisition Terrance Knighton, Brown is now serving as a leader on the interior of the defensive line. Though he's only in his second season, Brown's understanding of the Patriots defense gives him a leg up on players who may have more experience in the league but are new to New England. 

"Malcom Brown has basically been leading the group," Knighton said after an OTA practice last Thursday. "Being in his second year, he's probably the most experienced guy in it right now as far as this team. I'm picking his brain to see how things are done around here."

 

Knighton acknowledged that once the Patriots have Alan Branch back on the field -- Branch was one of 17 players missing from Thursday's OTA -- they'll get another player with a sound understanding of the defense. But right now, Brown is looked to as a source of information for veterans like Knighton and Markus Kuhn as well as rookie fourth-rounder Vincent Valentine. 

"Young guy, obviously played at a high level last year and you can tell he's feeding off of that," Knighton said of Brown. "He's only continued, from what I've seen on tape to now. That's one of the things I try to talk to about with the young guys is being on the up, and not going up and down in your career. That's something I've been through in my career so I just try to share knowledge and help guys out."

Brown, who turned 22 in February, certainly ended last season "on the up." In the early going this offseason, it seems as though he's on track to continue that trajectory.

Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

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Patriots making contract statements with OTA absences?

Malcolm Butler was one of many not spotted during OTAs on Thursday when the media got a looksee at one of the practices.

Butler wasn’t the only one. But he did stand out as a missing player who hadn’t (to my knowledge) had a surgery but did have a contract that needs addressing. Another one? Rob Gronkowski. If we really want to extend it out, throw in Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan.

This is the point where it’s important to point out that these workouts are voluntary – VAW-LUN-TERR-EEEE! Players don’t have to be there. Additionally, I’m not even sure Butler or Gronkowski (or Ryan and Harmon) weren’t at the facility. All I know is they weren’t on the field. And, per usual, nobody’s tipping his hand as to why.

But we do have this, relative to Butler. ESPN’s Mike Reiss wrote Sunday that he “wouldn’t be surprised if it was related to his contract status.” Reiss said that Butler “told teammates and friends he plans to push for an adjustment to his contract before the 2016 season, and staying off the field in voluntary workouts would be a decision that limits injury risk and also could be viewed as a statement to the organization that he's unhappy with the status quo and/or the movement/specifics of contract talks.”

In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gronkowski opted out as well for the same reason, especially since he threw out a tweet that signaled dissatisfaction with his pact in March.

But in terms of a statement, not going to OTAs is more of a throat-clearing than a noisy proclamation.

Not to minimize the move if Butler, Gronkowski or anybody else is actually staying away because of business. The Patriots usually enjoy almost perfect OTA attendance. Also, there hasn’t been much contract strife around here for the past five seasons.

Money matters were an annual issue for the Patriots from about 2003 through 2010. Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Ty Warren, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Randy Moss, Adam Vinatieri, Mike Vrabel and – quietly – Tom Brady all had their contract dances back then. But the only one that got hairy in the recent past was Wes Welker.

It’s still too soon to know if any of these will get contentious. When will we know? When either a player or his agent spouts off. Or, when someone’s a no-show at mandatory minicamp beginning June 7.

That would amount to a shot across the bow. Of all the players likely to take that shot, Butler seems a reasonable bet. His base pay this season is $600K after a Pro Bowl campaign in 2015 that saw him check the opposition’s best wideout on a weekly basis. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year. He deserves longer-term security than he currently has. Gronkowski has a lot less to kick about. He may make less than lesser players, but he also was the league’s highest paid tight end when he was missing scads of games due to injury.

After Butler, Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower would figure to have the strongest cases to want new deals and want them snappy. Ryan and Harmon would be right behind those two. Then Jabaal Sheard.

Sheard, Hightower and Collins were all on the field Thursday. 

Can the Patriots get all these guys reupped? Will they even try? How do they have them prioritized? If the guy who howls loudest gets to the front of the line, the time to make some noise is close.

But we have yet to hear any of these players loud and clear.