By Tom E. CurranWhen Pro Football Talk ownerproprietorinternet strongman Mike Florio runs out of luminiscent guests for PFT Live, he calls me. Tuesday was such a day. We talked about why Ryan Mallett will have to pry the video clicker out of Tom Brady's cold, dead hand if he wants to take over as starting quarterback for the Patriots. Also, the notion that Brady is bigger than the team. (Added Bonus: A guitar solo from my front porch, lost in the NBCSports.com archives dredged up by former friend and PFT Live producer Matt Casey). We also got into the faulty notion that the players "walked away" from the bargaining table forcing the lockout (I'm going to post on that here later this morning) and why Roger Goodell might want to think about the example his father set when the elder Goodell stood up for a principle a long time ago.
Bill Belichick knows the data. Knows the risk involved in exposing a player to a waiver claim at this time of the year and long ago came to the uneasy truce that you can’t keep ‘em all and somebody else might snag ‘em.
This summer, the Patriots don’t have a mass of easy releases, especially among their rookies and first-year players.
There are a lot of very intriguing players who’ve looked good either in practices, games or both. Good enough to make the Pats think twice about whether they want to leave them exposed.
Top of mind for me there are corners Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc, linebacker Elandon Roberts, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and running back D.J. Foster who appear to be right on the roster bubble but are impressive.
“It’s something you take into consideration, it’s a hard thing to predict,” Belichick said when asked about weighing the risk of a released player the Patriots would like to re-sign to their practice squad getting claimed. “There’s going to be, I don’t know, certainly going to be a lot of players, probably over 1,000 players that will be exposed to waivers in the next eight calendar days or whatever it’ll be. I think the average claim is somewhere in the high 20s there…so that’s what the odds are. We’ve had years where we haven’t had any of our players claimed and we’ve had years where we’ve had multiple players claimed. I think at the end you just have to do what you think is best for your team.”
Belichick has given us terrific insight this week into how he and Nick Caserio strategize their roster decisions. When asked about the team’s releases in advance of the cutdown deadlines, Belichick mentioned the team wanted to have the ability to accommodate new players who may come available.
Enter the Barkevious.
He also got into projecting young players against established performance levels of veterans and weighing current contributions against future ones.
"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said on Tuesday. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?
"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."
As is the risk of having a player scooped.
“It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put players on the wire because in all honesty, you don’t know what the other  teams are going to do and who they’re going to put on the wire,” Belichick explained. “Even though you put a player out there that you don’t want to lose, if another team happens to put a player out there that may be a team that needs that position and would be better with your player, your player gets claimed. Sometimes we waive players that we didn’t think would get claimed and they were, so that’s really hard to predict.
“In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that you feel like is best for your football team, and if you really want that player and you just can’t bear to live without them, then you shouldn’t be exposing them to the wire,” he concluded. “That’s the reality of it. We keep an eye on them, but I don’t think it’s an overriding factor. If you’re prepared to waive them, then you’ve got to be prepared to lose them. That’s just the way it is.”
Back in May, when the Patriots drafted Cyrus Jones in the second round, Patriots director of player personel Nick Caserio made it very clear: Jones' ability to return punts is what made him their favorite player available at pick No. 60.
"I think the thing that tipped the scales in Cyrus’ favor a little bit," Caserio said at the time, "was his overall versatility -- punt return -- that’s a huge component of what we do and we thought he had the ability."
Jones broke out with a 60-yard return on Friday against the Panthers, flashing the kind of explosion in the kicking game that the Patriots anticipated when they made him their first selection this year.
Though Jones has admitted he has had his share of issues securing the football during punt-return periods in practice, he has not dropped a punt in a preseason game. And in a conference call on Saturday, Bill Belichick acknowledged that Jones could be the team's primary punt returner in Week 1 even though the team employs two accomplished players who have performed that well in the past.
"Yeah, I think that’s a consideration," Belichick said of using Jones as the No. 1 returner. "Obviously, Danny [Amendola] and Julian [Edelman] have a lot of experience returning punts for us as well as kickoffs in the past. We’ll see how it goes, but we have good depth at that position and that’s always a good thing to have.
"We have confidence in all of those guys back there. Last night we even had D.J. [Foster] who got a chance to handle the ball. We’ll see how it goes going forward, but I think we have good competition and good depth at that position."
Saving Edelman and Amendola from further wear-and-tear could help extend the careers of both 30-year-old receivers. Not long after Jones was drafted, we took a look at how many hits Edelman and/or Amendola could be saved on a weekly basis by using Jones in the kicking game.
When you check out the Patriots-Panthers game notes on Patriots.com, the lead bullet point is one of the least interesting: "The New England Patriots are off to a 3-0 start in the preseason for the sixth time in team history . . . and for the second time under Bill Belichick."
Belichick and the Patriots went undefeated in preseason play back in 2003. One of the best teams in Patriots history, that group went on to win the franchise's second Super Bowl in three years.
It's the preseason, though, so who cares about wins and losses? Well, Belichick does. During a conference call on Saturday he was asked if it was a big deal for him and his team to be winning these preseason games, and he responded by explaining his approach to exhibition football.
"I think what we tell our players and coaches is that we’re going to coach and play to win," he said. "We’re obviously not going to pull out all the stops in terms of every trick play we’ve ever used or things like that, but whatever the situation calls for, we’re going to play it as competitively as we can play it given the limitations that we have and based on the amount of experience our players have in the game at that certain point and what we’ve been able to cover."
It makes sense. Obviously teams don't want to reveal any surprise sets they may have saved for the regular season. And coaches aren't going to get exotic with their defensive calls or their offensive formations at this time of year. What basic plays they do run, however, they would like to execute successfully.
They want to win the fight, but they're going to try to do it with their jab and straight right. The combinations and the counters will have to wait.
"We haven’t covered every single thing that we would want to cover or hope to cover to start the season, especially situational football," Belichick added. "But as far as competing and playing, we’re doing everything we can to win., but within the context of doing what we’re capable of doing right now. We’re trying to win, we’re trying to do everything as well as we can do it, but not pulling out all the stops in terms of playing time, strategizing and so forth that we would do in the regular season."