Several Patriots enhanced their legacies with the latest Super Bowl win. Tom Brady cemented his GOAT status. Bill Belichick joined George Halas and Curly Lambeau on hallowed ground. Julian Edelman built his case for the Hall of Fame. The defense had one of the greatest shutdown performances in Super Bowl history.
And Josh McDaniels got his redemption.
This time a year ago, he was a football pariah outside of New England for flip-flopping on the Colts. But McDaniels had one of the great postseason coaching runs in recent memory, showing the NFL world that he is one of the best in the league at solving problems and scoring points.
After an inconsistent end to the regular season, the Patriots scored 41 points with 498 total yards against the Chargers, and 37 points and 524 yards against the Chiefs. And while they only scored 13 points in the Super Bowl, McDaniels came up with the key adjustment in the fourth quarter that immediately triggered the Patriots’ five-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that ultimately won the game.
“I think the real key breakthrough came when Josh went to the — McDaniels made a great adjustment,” Belichick said immediately after the game. “We talked about that on the sideline. We went to a two-tight-end offense, but we spread them out. We were able to complete some passes to Julian and then to Rob [Gronkowski] at the goal line to score. It was really well executed. Not something we had, I’d say, anticipated doing a lot in this game. We did it against Kansas City, but it was kind of right time, right situation.”
The touchdown drive in a 3-3 game was a clinic in offensive coaching. As seen on the NFL Films show “Turning Point,” the first play of the drive was something McDaniels literally drew up on the sideline with a red marker. It was a play-action pass with Gronkowski staying in to block for a half-second, then sneaking up the field past the linebacker. Brady hit Gronk in stride for 18 yards.
Receiver Phillip Dorsett turned to James White on the sideline and asked, “When did we put that in?”
White replied: “Just on the sideline, literally like two seconds ago.”
On Thursday I asked running back Rex Burkhead how often McDaniels will draw up plays in the dirt, so to speak. “I wouldn’t say a lot, but it does happen every now and then,” Burkhead said by telephone from Dallas. “Josh, he just has a great eye for those things, and I think that’s why he’s so successful as a coordinator, just putting us in certain situations to execute and utilize our skills.
“That’s the great thing about playing in this offense is we do multiple things throughout the year, and certain things we may have run early in the year could come up later on. Josh does a great job recognizing when we should go back to something because it’s really going to fit into this series, this play or this game plan.”
McDaniels then made a key personnel adjustment on the next play, bringing in 22 personnel — two tight ends and two running backs with just one wide receiver. This put Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Edelman, fullback James Develin, and Burkhead on the field — a grouping that almost always says the offense is going to run.
Per Globe research, the Patriots used 22 personnel with Develin on just 88 of 1,295 offensive plays (6.8 percent) in the regular season and postseason, excluding kneeldowns. And of those 88 plays, they threw the ball just 15 times (17 percent).
But McDaniels spread them out in a shotgun, five-wide formation, with the running backs split out as wide receivers on each side, the tight ends in each slot, and Edelman in a tight slot.
The 22 personnel took some of the Rams’ quicker defensive backs off the field and replaced them with slower linebackers, and forced them into pass coverage. McDaniels then called the same play three times in a row — “Hoss-Y-Juke,” according to “Turning Point” — and it resulted in a 13-yard catch for Edelman over the middle, a 7-yard catch for Burkhead on a hitch to the outside, and a 29-yarder for Gronkowski down the left seam. Sony Michel then scored on a 2-yard run on the next play.
“It was a pretty amazing thing,’’ Allen told NBC’s Peter King. “Josh told us on the sideline, ‘We did not practice this at all coming into this game, and I realize that, but this is going off in my head, and it’s something I think we need to do.’ ”
The Patriots may never have practiced Hoss-Y-Juke with that personnel grouping before. But that’s how the Patriots operate under McDaniels — every player knows all the different assignments on each play.
“For us, it’s usually something we’ve done all year long or practiced, so it’s not that big of an adjustment,” White said on Friday. “Everybody does a little bit of everything, so the coaches can call any play in pretty much any personnel group and guys can execute it.”
While it may be ordinary to White, it’s not common in the NFL for coaches to completely change the game plan on the fly, especially in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. As linebacker Kyle Van Noy noted this past week on the “Pardon My Take” podcast, the Rams’ offense had “not one wrinkle. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ ”
McDaniels will be back with the Patriots again in 2019, after receiving only tepid interest in the head coaching market this year. But the impressive run that McDaniels put together this postseason should get the attention of any NFL owner seeking an offensive-minded coach next year.
“Josh McDaniels did an — as usual — outstanding job of play-calling and eventually finding things that worked and made some big drives for us,” Belichick said.
Kaepernick, Reid settle with league
In a classic Friday news dump, the NFL announced that it had resolved the collusion grievances filed by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid in October 2017. The settlement, of course, has a strict confidentiality agreement, making it unlikely that details will emerge (at least for now). Reid is currently signed with the Panthers, and Kaepernick still hopes to play.
On the surface, a settlement seems a bit surprising on both sides. The NFL is all but admitting that there was indeed collusion keeping Kaepernick and Reid out of the league. Meanwhile, Kaepernick and Reid have taken some criticism for accepting a dollar amount instead of keeping up the fight. But in retrospect a settlement is a big win for both sides.
Kaepernick and Reid likely received huge windfalls — $50 million? $75 million? More? Kaepernick would likely get compensated for lost wages at the NFL’s highest-paid position, plus punitive damages, plus his silence on the settlement. It’s got to be an enormous number.
And the NFL avoids having to go to court and the discovery process, which could have brought any number of unflattering facts and documents from the league into the public arena. Plus, what’s $75 million to the NFL ($14 billion in annual revenue) and its collection of billionaire owners?
In the end, the NFL threw money at its problem to make it go away. And Kaepernick and Reid achieved an impressive victory.
Brown, Beckham in the rumor mill
The NFL may be in a quiet period, but two star wide receivers were in the headlines about possibly switching teams this year:
■ Antonio Brown continues to make a nuisance of himself, posting a video to Twitter on Tuesday saying goodbye to Steelers fans. Brown’s farewell is premature, as the Steelers can’t trade him until at least March 13, and to this point have made no promises to do so. Brown also reportedly has agreed to meet with owner Art Rooney in Florida. As we wrote in January, Brown’s contract is a major hindrance to him being traded this year.
If the Steelers trade Brown between March 13-17, they would take a whopping $21 million dead money charge against the salary cap for 2019. The other option is to pay Brown his $2.5 million bonus on March 17, trade him after June 1, and take dead cap hits of $9.5 million this year and $14 million next year.
But it’s the third option that makes the most sense — sit tight and let the situation resolve itself. The Steelers hold all the cards, and if Brown doesn’t report for training camp, they can fine him, suspend him, and generally make his life miserable. More likely, Brown won’t want to miss out on a $12.625 million base salary, and he’ll show up and behave when it counts.
As an aside, it is curious that Brown seems to want out of Pittsburgh so badly. Few teams across the league would put up with his antics or give him the freedom that Rooney and coach Mike Tomlin have with the Steelers. The bet here is that this is all about money, and that the Steelers and Brown will put their differences aside by training camp, and Brown will report and get a raise.
■ Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer made some news on Wednesday, tweeting that he believes the Giants will trade Odell Beckham Jr. this year. That would certainly be interesting, as the Giants just signed Beckham to a six-year, $98.4 million deal last August that runs through 2023.
Beckham’s contract also seems prohibitive of a trade. If traded before June 1, Beckham would count $16 million in dead cap money against the Giants’ salary cap, which is a lot for one player. An acquiring team would also have to really want Beckham, as he is due $31 million in salary over the next two years.
But I wouldn’t entirely discount a trade, either. If the Giants did it after June 1, it would cost them only $4 million in dead cap money this year, and $12 million next year — which is still a lot, but the NFL salary cap keeps increasing by $10 million each year.
The most likely scenario is Beckham remaining a Giant this year, but he seems more of a trade candidate than does Brown.
BACK WITH LEVERAGE
Hunt lands on feet with Browns
Many of us wondered if Kareem Hunt would ever play football again after the Chiefs released him in November in the wake of TMZ releasing a video showing Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel hallway. Not only is Hunt back in the league just three months later, but he seems to have been able to create some demand for his services.
Hunt signed a one-year deal with the Browns on Tuesday, which was the first sign of leverage. In theory, the Browns would rather sign Hunt to a multiyear deal, to lock him into a low-paying contract in case he has a breakout year in 2019. But a one-year deal is better for Hunt, allowing him to hit restricted free agency next year and potentially cash in if he has a big season.
Hunt also received more than league minimum from the Browns. His $645,000 base salary is the minimum for a third-year player, but he also will get a $25,000 roster bonus for every game he is active, and a $55,000 offseason workout bonus. The Browns aren’t giving Hunt those bonuses unless he had offers from other teams.
Hunt can make a total of $1.1 million in 2019, but he is going to be suspended, likely for around six games. Hunt is going to lose $62,941 for every game he is suspended — and a six-game suspension will cost him $377,647.
Still, Hunt certainly isn’t being punished too harshly for his actions. If Hunt does play in 10 games this year, he’ll make $722,353 – under his previous contract with the Chiefs, he was going to make $667,250 this year. He’ll be a free agent again after this coming season. And Hunt is going to be paid $55,000 to work out with his teammates this spring.
Yeah, that’ll teach him.
AAF free testing ground for NFL
The NFL doesn’t have an official investment into the newly launched Alliance of American Football, a developmental league that kicked off last weekend. But the NFL’s media arms — NFL.com and NFL Network — have provided plenty of headlines and updates about the league over the past week-plus, because it is in the NFL’s interest for the AAF to succeed.
Much like college football, the AAF as currently constituted is basically a free minor league system for the NFL. The AAF (and by extension the networks broadcasting the games) pays the players and for the infrastructure, and NFL teams get to scout the players without fronting any of the costs. The AAF is trying out new rules concerning kickoffs and instant replay, essentially giving the NFL a free testing ground. And the NFL Network is also broadcasting some of the games, providing the network with much-needed offseason programming.
“It’s a great idea,” Chargers GM Tom Telesco told ESPN. “Every department that touches a football team can get some real-life experience.”
And without having to pay for it, either.
Speaking of offseason programming, ABC/ESPN has gone all-in on the Scouting Combine, held two weeks from now in Indianapolis. The NFL Network first made the Combine into a made-for-TV event earlier this decade, and now the Combine will be aired on network television for the first time when ABC airs quarterback and wide receiver workouts from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. Watching draft prospects throw passes in shorts and T-shirts and without defenders doesn’t seem like the most scintillating television, but it will certainly get better ratings than whatever else ABC usually shows from 1-3 p.m. on a Saturday . . . Interesting comment from NFL Films guru Greg Cosell in his scouting report on Kyler Murray that he posted to Twitter: “Murray is a better thrower and more dynamically athletic than Russell Wilson,” which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Murray is going to get more and more buzz as the draft season progresses, and I will be surprised if he’s not a top-10 pick . . . Meanwhile, since Murray has a $4.66 million signing bonus on the table from the Oakland Athletics, salary-cap guru and former agent Joel Corry puts the break-even point for Murray at the 39th pick in the NFL Draft. Anything lower, and Murray is better off playing baseball. But this doesn’t take into account the fact that the A’s don’t have a pay ceiling and can offer Murray as much money as they want, with one rumor stating that Murray wants $15 million to join the A’s.