By TomE. Curran
On Sunday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft continued to sound more like a dove than a hawk on the labor front. Kraft, appearing at Gillette Stadium for Raytheon's "Science of Sports" Science Fair, told the media, "One of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fan base, and we have to be very careful. I think we're coming to that point now where we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans. In the end, the fans just want football. They don't want to hear about all this meaningless squabbling."Kraft's words are genuine. I asked him on the Friday before the Super Bowl if he would take it as a personal failing if a labor stoppage actually happened.
"I think I will have failed if I can't help get . . . I've never seen the health of a business be as bright as this one,"he said then. He later added, "There's no reason for us to have a lockout, I'll say it again. There's enough elements there that we can do a deal and everyone's going to come out a winner. We've just got to get the lawyers away from the table."Kraft reiterated that Sunday. "I don't think there is another industry in America that's in the court system," Kraft said. "I always believe that you don't solve things through litigation, you solve things by people who have a long-term vested interest in the game sitting down and finding ways to build it."Right now, unfortunately what's going on is that we have union attorneys who are controlling a litigation process, and three-to-five years from now they'll be working on other cases and we'll be sitting with the players and agents and people who care about the game, and trying to figure out how to grow it and make it better. So I think people with a vested interest in the game, and growing the game, should be the people dealing with how to solve the problem of our current dispute."Who can disagree with Kraft's call for getting the lawyers out of the room and having the principals on both sides get a deal done? But persistently alleging the players unilaterally brought this on with litigation is dubious. The owners had their fist back and aimed at the players' faces for about two years preparing for the lockout. Yet when the players threw the first punch - one they had to throw or risk having their hands tied for six months - the owners acted injured. And ever since the owners have alleged the players caused the work stoppage. It's a lockout. And the willingness of the players to work was really, really evident when the lockout was temporarily lifted last month.The convenient argument made time and again is that the players decertified and brought on the litigation. Then the owners locked them out. The fact is, the sand was falling out of the hourglass on the final day of negotitations. The CBA was set to expire at midnight. The owners brought an offer to the players thatafternoon that lowballed projections for revenue increases. If the revenue numbers they "pegged" were exceeded, owners wanted to take 100 percent of the profits above that. The players had to make a decision. Continue to negotiate to the 11th hour and pass on decertifying - a tactic they would have had to wait an additional six months to use again - and risk the certainty that the owners would lock them out at midnight absent a new CBA deal being reached. So they acted. But the owners had their lockout strategy in place long before the players decertified. They forced the players' hand. So when Robert Kraft laments union lawyers being involved or Jonathan Kraft says players were the ones who walked away from negotiations, they're not being forthright about the landscape on that day. The lockout was coming at midnight.Decertification was the players' only option aside from trusting the owners and, at that point, their capacity to do that was gone. So the players fired the one bullet they had. And the owners - backed by their superstar legal team - joined the battle on that front very, very prepared for battle. There's little doubt neither side wants to be in court. But they're both to blame for being there. Tom E. Curran canbe reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran
The Patriots opened a roster spot by waiving defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, but they won't be adding a quarterback to take his place.
According to Field Yates of ESPN, the team has swapped one defensive tackle for another by adding former Browns big man John Hughes, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder who played under former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi when Lombardi was Cleveland's general manager in 2013.
Hughes was released last week after spending just over four years with the team that drafted him in the third round in 2012. He signed a four-year extension with the Browns last season that was worth $12.8 million.
With the Patriots, Hughes figures to work in as part of the rotation on the interior of the defensive line along with Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and rookie third-round pick Vincent Valentine. Unlike Johnson, who was more of a penetrating pass-rusher, Hughes should factor in as more of a space-eating type. He has 5.5 career sacks in 53 games.
Johnson is the latest in a long line of Browns who played under Lombardi to end up in New England. The two most notable Patriots who spent 2013 in Cleveland are defensive end Jabaal Sheard and running back Dion Lewis. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who arrived in New England in a trade this summer, was drafted by Lombardi's front office as the No. 6 overall pick in 2013.
There’s no way to spin rookie Jacoby Brissett starting a game rather than three-year NFL veteran Jimmy Garoppolo or future Hall of Famer Tom Brady as preferable.
But can the disadvantages be mitigated? Can the fact there is no “book” on a player be helpful?
“I think there’s always an element of the unknown when you’re dealing with a player or something you haven’t seen or scouted as much,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I don’t know if there’s an advantage there, it’s just that you don’t have as much information on a player or on some scheme that they may use, which then forces you to figure some things out as the game goes along and do some quick self-scouting as you move through the first cquarter, the first half, whatever it is, just to make sure that if it is something new you haven’t seen before, if it is a player that you haven’t played against and don’t have a lot of volume of tape on, that you have an opportunity to evaluate quickly what is going on.
"What’s happening in the game? How much of an impact is that player having? Are they trying to do something that’s disrupting what you’re trying to do with their scheme? I think that happens a lot of weeks during the course of the year based on health and availability, new players, guys being called up, someone that just got signed and you don’t really have a lot of experience watching them play in their system. I would say that’s a common occurrence for us.”
With a fullback or UDFA guard pressed into duty, there’s not a helluva lot that will be altered in terms of scheme. With players like Garoppolo and Brissett, though, the Patriots' long-established offense can take on an entirely different look if different areas are emphasized.
For instance, jet sweep is a play the team won’t use much with Tom Brady except as a “keep ‘em honest” on the edges kind of play. With Garoppolo, quickness when he gets outside the pocket has to be respected so if he fakes that jet sweep and rolls to the outside, he’s a run-pass threat with speed and downfield accuracy. With Brissett, he’s a threat with elusiveness, size and power as a runner. Additionally, if the Patriots wanted to try the old Elway Throwback to the opposite sideline, Brissett may have more arm power than either Brady or Garoppolo.
McDaniels said the Patriots aren’t looking necessarily for ways to “surprise” opponents as much as they are looking for ways to accentuate players’ strengths.
“We’ve got to take the guys that we get to play with, based on health and other factors, and then we consider the defense that we’re getting ready to play against, and the great players and the scheme that they use, and then we try to formulate the right plan to allow our players to go out there and play fast, play well, and do the things that suit their talents the best,” McDaniels explained. “I don’t think that our mindset has changed.
"Some of the variables have changed from one week to the next, which is always the case, and of course, when you get a group of guys a plan and then you work so hard to get ready for Sunday or Thursday night and go out there and watch them play and execute and take care of the ball and do the things you need to do to try to win, and then they enjoy it so much, that’s really the thing that you take the most satisfaction from as a coach.”