FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Gilmore “not surprised” at Brady’s departure: When reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore was talking on the other end of the telephone late last week, he wasn’t alone. His son, Sebastian, kept calling out to him to kick the soccer ball with him.
In that sense, Gilmore, currently at home in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife, Gabrielle, and their two children, is like many of us in these uncertain times.
“You kind of have to alter your time, with the kids at home 24/7. So I try to work out earlier in the morning, or when I put them down for nap time. You have to get creative, where you can’t go to a training gym and be around a lot of people,” he said. “Luckily it’s more open here and it’s not like I’m in a big city.”
Gilmore has kept close tabs on everything unfolding with the Patriots — another offseason of more defections than additions — but true to his personality and approach, he has kept an even keel.
His reaction to quarterback Tom Brady signing with the Buccaneers?
“Not surprised,” he said. “A player like him, playing somewhere that long, you never can see it, but it shows you that in the National Football League it can be anyone going somewhere. It’s a business, and that’s how you have to look at it.”
As for the business of replacing Brady, the Patriots have 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham, 11-year veteran Brian Hoyer and four-year veteran Cody Kessler on the quarterback depth chart. Gilmore, entering his ninth NFL season, became familiar with Stidham from competing against him during practice last season.
“He came in and worked hard and got better and better as the year went on. He has a strong arm,” Gilmore said. “He makes some tough throws. Definitely made it hard on me in practice each and every week, going against whoever I was covering, making some great throws. It allowed me to get better in practice to prepare for the games.”
One of the other hot-button questions surrounding the Patriots is how the leadership void will be filled with an 18-year captain no longer part of the mix. Captain Devin McCourty made the point last week that Brady’s presence might have led some to overlook the team’s other leaders.
“You have to earn that leadership and earn that trust every year — leading by example, leading by making plays,” Gilmore said. “That’s the type of thing once you come together, and see what type of team you have, you can see who can be that guy.
“You don’t know what you have until you actually get there. Everybody, it’s a clean slate right now. Everybody has to prove themselves, each and every year. No matter where you’re at, it starts over every year.”
2. Cap crunch dictates what’s next: With 67 players at the moment, the Patriots have 23 spots to fill on their 90-man roster. But with about $26 million in dead charges on their salary cap, and about $1 million in overall available space, the moves they can make are limited at this time. That’s why any talk of free-agent quarterbacks such as Cam Newton and Jameis Winston possibly landing in Foxborough — before even considering how they would fit scheme-wise — seems misplaced. The majority of the 23 open roster spots will be lower-cost rookies (the Patriots have 12 draft picks), but the bottom-line finances still dictate that more cap space is needed. Gilmore ($18.6 million cap charge), left guard Joe Thuney ($14.78 million) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower ($12.4 million) are prime candidates for extensions, while it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team explore how amenable right tackle Marcus Cannon ($9.6 million) and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($6.5 million) might be to pay reductions.
3. From the suggestion box on a possible tight end trade: The Patriots still have a glaring hole at TE, and with free agency not providing many attractive options, the other two avenues in play are trades and the 2020 NFL draft. So file this one in the “suggestion box” category: Give a call to Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace and see if Adam Shaheen might be available for a late-round pick. Chicago surprisingly gave veteran tight end Jimmy Graham a two-year, $16 million deal with $9 million guaranteed; signed Demetrius Harris (who played under coach Matt Nagy in Kansas City); and has the well-compensated Trey Burton on the depth chart along with (mostly) special-teamer Ben Braunecker, among others. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Shaheen, a 2017 second-round pick from small-school Ashland (Ohio), has been a disappointment to date. He might be fighting for a roster spot. The Patriots have a history of identifying undervalued players and then bringing out the best in them with their system. Maybe Shaheen could fit that mold.
4. McCourty brothers had different votes on CBA: Twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty might look alike and share many of the same beliefs, but one of the most interesting things I heard from the Patriots defensive backs over the past week was that they voted differently on the collective bargaining agreement. Jason voted no, Devin yes. While acknowledging that he had many of the same concerns with the CBA as his brother, Devin explained it this way on their “Double Coverage” podcast: “I didn’t like a lot of the deal. But I felt as players from a holistic standpoint, when I thought about every player, 2,400 members, I thought the best thing was to continue to play and not have a work stoppage.” Both stressed the same message: Because the vote was so close, there is a lot of work to be done among players over the next 10 years to best position the union for the next negotiation.
5. “Well done better than well said” meets Bruce Arians and Bucs: Of the many intriguing aspects of Brady’s beginning with the Buccaneers is how their culture contrasts with what he has lived the past 20 years. One culture doesn’t fit all, as different approaches can be successful, and Brady could find himself refreshed by a change. One example of the differences that stood out to me over the past week after Brady talked was about one of his favorite sayings — “well done is better than well said” — and a few days later Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians was pumping up Brady’s deep-ball capabilities by challenging those who think it’s a weak spot in Brady’s game. Arians is one of the game’s great talkers.
6. The one game Brady was the holder: Talk to almost any player who has shared a locker room with Brady and he will relay how Brady is one of the greatest teammates he has had. It’s those connections with teammates that Brady referenced as probably the greatest gift football has given him, which he highlighted in a salute to released kicker Stephen Gostkowski last week in an Instagram story. The picture sparked a question: When did Brady hold for Gostkowski? Other than the preseason, the only time was the divisional round of the 2013 playoffs against the Colts — on two point-after attempts in the fourth quarter — when Ryan Allen was injured.
In one week, the Patriots’ two longest-tenured players have departed.
Players often talk about the special bonds formed in the locker room, and Tom Brady’s Instagram story to Stephen Gostkowski reflects that. pic.twitter.com/TwGXZ080j3
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 24, 2020
7a. Players adjust with training: With no traditional offseason training options available to them because of the coronavirus pandemic, players across the NFL have had to get creative with their workouts. Former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins told Detroit media that growing up in the country, he’s used to doing that. Devin McCourty, for one, said the Peloton bicycle he purchased this year has been important for him, while former Patriots offensive lineman Ted Karras made me chuckle when he described how he’s managing. “I’m here in just a little town outside of Foxborough — my neighbor has a [weight] rack in his garage right across the street [and] I’m just running up and down the street,” he told the Miami media. Picturing the 305-pound Karras doing sprints up his street, after opening his neighbor’s garage door to lift some weights, brought a smile amid these challenging times.
7b. Patriots’ theme — together while apart: Nice touch from the Patriots, who launched a page on their official website dedicated to COVID-19. The theme is “together while apart”, promoting the idea that everyone in the organization, including its fans, can navigate through these challenging times as a team.
8. Shelton vs. Allen contracts: One day after the Patriots lost defensive tackle Danny Shelton to the Lions on a two-year, $8 million deal in free agency, the team reached an agreement with Buccaneers defensive tackle Beau Allen on a two-year contract with a maximum value of nearly $8 million. On the surface, that sparked a question as to why the Patriots would extend for Allen, but not Shelton, who played well for them last season. As always, the answer is in the details, with Allen having to perform to earn the full value. So that protects the Patriots more financially, as they obviously are projecting Allen can perform at a close enough level to Shelton.
Signing bonus: $1.7 million
2020 base: $1.3 million
2021 base: $2.2 million
2020 roster bonus: $900,000 ($56,250 per game)
2021 roster bonus: $900,000 ($56,250 per game if 16 games)
2020 incentives: $250,000 (playing time)
2021 incentives: $250,000 (playing time)
9. Did You Know: Recently signed Patriots outside linebacker Brandon Copeland, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, has been a co-professor of a class at his alma mater: URBS 140 — Inequity and Empowerment: Urban Financial Literacy. Students refer to him as “Professor Cope.”
10. Final word: “Of course, it was a great award, but you have to put it behind you. You have to prove yourself every year. No one cares what you did last year. I try to take that mindset each and every year, and show everyone that I can be the player I want to be.” — Gilmore, on wiping the slate clean after being named 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Drew Brees stands by apology over flag comments in response to President Trump
In a message addressed to President Donald Trump on Friday night, Drew Brees stood by his apology for earlier comments on “disrespecting the flag,” after Trump wrote that the New Orleans Saints quarterback should not have changed his stance.
“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote on Instagram. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.
“We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?
“We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.”
Brees’ statement came about six hours after Trump said Brees “should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag.”
“OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets. “We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”
Brees rekindled the issue earlier this week amid the national unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, for which one police officer has been charged with second-degree murder. Three others have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Asked what he would think if players kneeled this season to protest the death of Floyd and others at the hands of police, Brees said: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.”
Brees’ reference of the flag, rather than the death of Floyd or the anguish of black people around the country, drew heated backlash from dozens of players across multiple sports. He apologized in multiple social media posts, but the issue remains raw among players throughout the NFL.
His latest statement in defense of players’ protests comes on the heels of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s message Friday in which he admitted that the league has erred in how it has dealt with players’ feelings toward police brutality, social inequalities and systemic racism over the past few years.
Minnesota Vikings’ Kyle Rudolph organizes essential goods drive with Timberwolves, Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Rudolph was 24 hours too late.
By the time the Minnesota Vikings tight end drove around Monday to look for places in need of organized clean-up efforts after looting and riots took place throughout the Twin Cities following George Floyd’s death, the 30-year-old witnessed his favorite element of the community he’s been a part of for the last nine years.
With broken glass and debris already cleaned up, the efforts to rebuild were underway. So when Rudolph pivoted to the idea of an essential goods drive to benefit residents like a woman named Stephanie, whose TV interview went viral after most of the stores near her home were destroyed, he chose to go to the area impacted the hardest.
Amid burned buildings and shopping centers shut down because of excessive damage, Rudolph held a donation drive on Friday in the parking lot of a now-closed Cub Foods near East Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis where residents from the surrounding area could receive non-perishable food and other essential items.
“I think today is a perfect example of how times are different because you don’t just have people here who have been directly affected by the problem,” Rudolph told ESPN. “You have people that are here from all walks of life. You have people that have never dealt with racism a day in their life yet they know it’s a problem, they want to be here to support and they want to be part of the change.”
Friday’s event, which saw a steady stream of hundreds come out as early as 9:30 a.m., had a handful of Vikings players on hand to help hand out donations. Rudolph was joined by Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen, Garrett Bradbury, Aviante Collins, Chad Beebe, Cameron Smith and Jake Browning, all of whom were in attendance at Floyd’s memorial service Thursday.
Rudolph also sought the help of Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie, who was joined by coach Ryan Saunders and teammate Malik Beasley. Also on hand to lug cases of water and other goods from the donation stations to people’s cars were several members of the Minnesota football team and Gophers coach P.J. Fleck.
“What you’re seeing right now is a fair representation of Minnesota and what Minnesota can be,” Okogie said. “You see every different kind of race, ethnicity, religious (background) — it doesn’t really matter. We’re coming together. What I think is so symbolic of this whole thing is what we have right now is a whole bunch of hope, love, fun and opportunity. You look around and everything’s been destroyed. So if we can start right here and grow outwards, that’s what we have to do.”
Rudolph, who has previously served on the Vikings’ social justice committee which, among several of its initiatives, aims to foster relations between police departments and the communities they serve, believes the Vikings can continue to play a role in the fight against systemic racism and police brutality.
“To fix this, it’s going to take time,” Rudolph said. “It’s not something that when the protests stop, the change stops. It’s got to be something that’s sustainable. It’s got to be something that we can continue to do for years because just under 20 years ago I was in Cincinnati, Ohio, when Timothy Thomas was killed. There were riots and protesting and I never would have thought that just under 20 years later I would be still living in a similar situation. My hope is that 20 years from now when my kids are in their 20s, this isn’t a battle that they’re on the forefront and fighting.”
— Josh Okogie (@CallMe_NonStop) June 5, 2020
Across the Twin Cities, other teams are entrenched in efforts to give back. Minnesota Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon made donations to six charitable organizations, including the Gianna Floyd Fund, Black Women Speak and WeTheProtesters, Inc., to benefit the Black Lives Matter movement and local rebuilding efforts.
Spurgeon, who is in Canada with his family, noted the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery will prompt him and his wife to have an open dialogue about race with their young children.
“I don’t think there’s any age that’s too early to start teaching it,” Spurgeon said. “Growing up I think my parents tried to do that with myself but as you grow older with yourself you start realizing there are more things that you can do for your own children.”
Spurgeon said he hopes to see the community-wide efforts continue long after the city is rebuilt.
“From here on out, it can’t just be a one-week thing or a two-week thing where everybody’s doing it,” Spurgeon said. “It has to be a continued trend where we’re all trying to be better and get everyone equal rights.”
Elsewhere, the University of Minnesota is hosting a “United Are We” community drive Monday in the parking lot the athletic department where donations of essential supplies, toiletries, diapers and other non-perishables can be dropped off from 8-11 a.m.
Earlier this week, the Gophers’ athletic department launched an initiative called “Listen,” a forum used to amplify the voices of student-athletes, coaches and others for an open conversation on race. The site has several aggregated posts from student-athletes social media platforms in hopes of fostering an honest conversation throughout the entire athletic department.
“It’s not just a time of talk,” Gophers associate athletic director for external affairs Mike Wierzbicki said. “We need to create action. There’s action to this, there’s learning and then ultimately what are our steps to go forward from here.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says NFL was ‘wrong’ not to listen to its players about racism
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement Friday condemning racism, saying he admits the league was wrong to not listen to its players earlier and that it will try to do better.
“It has been a difficult time for our country, In particular, black people in our country,” Goodell said in a video released on social media. “First, my condolences to the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and all the families, who have endured police brutality.
“We, the National Football League, comdemn racism and the systematic oppression, of black people. We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe Black Lives Matter. I personally protest with you and wanted to be part of the much-needed change in this country.”
Goodell’s video comes almost 24 hours after more than a dozen NFL stars united to send a passionate 70-second video message to the league about racial inequality on Thursday night.
The players demanded that the NFL state it condemns “racism and the systemic oppression of black people. … We, the National Football League, admit wrong in silencing our players from peacefully protesting. … We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”
On Friday, Goodell did just that.
“Without black players, there would be no National Football League,” Goodell said in his video on Friday. “And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening. And I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”
New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas opened the players’ video with the statement: “It’s been 10 days since George Floyd was brutally murdered.” The players then took turns asking the question, “What if I was George Floyd?” The video closed with the players insisting they “will not be silenced.”
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died last week in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.
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