The top 5 storylines I’m most looking forward to at the NFL Draft

The first round of the NFL Draft takes place Thursday night, beginning at 8 P.M. Rounds 2 and 3 are on Friday night, followed by rounds 4-7 on Saturday. ESPN, Fox, and NFL Network will all carry coverage.

I can’t remember an NFL Draft with so much uncertainty. We still don’t know who the Browns are taking at #1. There are potentially 4 QBs who could go in the top 5. The amount of buzz among teams trying to trade up or down feels like it’s at an all-time high… in large part due to the fact there could be up to SIX quarterbacks taken in the first round. There’s a lot of anticipation among NFL fans. Everyone is waiting to see what will unfold over these 3 days.

With storylines all over the place, here are the top 5 developments I’m looking forward to:

1.What will the Patriots do with their picks?

The Patriots hold 2 first round picks and 2 second round picks. This is arguably their most important draft in the last 20 years and could determine the direction of the franchise after the Tom Brady era. There are 2 sides to look at from a Patriots’ perspective. On one side Tom Brady’s window is closing, no one will deny that anymore. There are numerous holes that need to be filled to put him in the best position to win over the next couple of years. They need a left tackle to replace Nate Solder, a pass rusher, help at linebacker, a tight end, wide receiver, running back, and yes a QB which leads me to my next point.

While they have to worry about maximizing Tom Brady’s window to try and win another Super Bowl or two, the flip side is that they need to start preparing for a future without TB12. If there’s a QB they really like, do they try and trade up for him in the first round or take one with one of their first round picks? If they do that, then they’re sacrificing the opportunity to quickly build a better team around Tom for the upcoming year.

2. What will the Browns do with their 1st and 4th overall picks?

The Browns are 1-31 over the last 2 years. They last made the playoffs back in 2002. In other words, they’ve pretty much been the laughing stock of the NFL for the last 10 years or so.

I have a great aunt who’s 90 years old and has had Browns season tickets for years. Every time we get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hear her displeasure with the Browns ownership, Johnny Manziel, and the franchise as a whole (for all their mistakes). Iris if you’re reading this, I hope this is the year. You’re draft rich with the 1st and 4th picks. You finally have the chance to evaluate and take the true QB of your future. You can also take a generational RB in Saquon Barkley, or an athletic freak like Bradley Chubb to create a dynamic pass rushing force comprised of him and last year’s first round pick, Myles Garrett. Another possibility is to trade one of their picks to a hungry team willing to give Cleveland a promising QB.

The options are endless for the Browns and this is their biggest draft in a long time. Finally, led by a new GM who seems to know what he’s doing (John Dorsey), this COULD just finally be the year the Browns start to turn a corner.

3. Where will all the QBs go?

Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Mason Rudolph. All 6 could potentially go in the first round. Darnold, Rosen, Mayfield, and Allen could all be picked in the top 5.

The top 4 QB’s have a number of strengths, but on and off the field questions as well – hence we don’t know who’s going to be drafted where. Lamar Jackson is arguably the most explosive player in the draft. There are questions about whether or not he can succeed as an NFL QB but if he ends up in the right place, with a coach and organization that really believes in him, the sky could be the limit. He’s already being compared to Deshaun Watson, who took the NFL by storm last year.

4. Seeing a parrot announce the Buccaneers 4th round pick

Zsa Zsa, an 8-year-old Catalina Macaw, poses with Stephanie

Photo credit: USA Today

Alright so this one is a bit of a joke, but I think it’s funny. For those who haven’t heard, Zsa Zsa the parrot (pictured above) will be announcing the 4th round pick of the Bucs from the pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium (where the Buccaneers play). Zsa Zsa is only 8 years old and has a life span of 70 to 90 years.

I think this is an interesting out-of-the-box PR move, to reveal a team’s NFL draft selection. The NFL Draft is easily the best and most watched of the major sports. Why not put a little spin on it here and there and make it fun?

 

5. Seeing Shaquem Griffin get drafted 

For those of you who don’t know Shaquem Griffin, he was a linebacker at the University of Central Florida. He had his left hand amputated when he was 4 years old due to an amniotic membrane that was wrapped around his hand when he was born.

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 27: Linebacker Shaquem Griffin #18 from Central Florida on the South Team during the 2018 Resse's Senior Bowl game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 27, 2018 in Mobile, Alabama. The South defeated the North 45 to 16. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Photo credit: Bleacher Report

He blew people away at the NFL combine by running a 4.38 40 yard dash and bench pressing 20 Reps of 225 lbs with a prosthetic hand. He’s now projected to be drafted somewhere around the 3rd or 4th round. The NFL has invited him to the draft and to walk the stage to shake Rodger Goodell’s hand when his name gets called. I can’t imagine the emotion that will run through his mind and the extreme pride his family will feel when his name is called. This is truly an incredible story and if you don’t root to see him succeed in the NFL, then why do you even watch sports?

 

Should Patriots fans be a little frustrated with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski?

Let me preface this by saying I obviously love Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski as much as anyone. I will be devastated the day Tom retires. If Gronk isn’t wearing a Pats jersey on week 1 next season, I will be absolutely crushed. Bill better not pull a fast one, by trying to trade him at the draft.

With that said, I have to be honest – I’m starting to get a little frustrated with TB12 and Gronk’s actions this off-season. Hot take I know – to personally call out everybody’s favorite 2 players on the Pats. I make it a point to stay level headed and non-biased on SportsChatterMJD.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to Tom and Gronk this offseason, let me get you up to date.  Both have been extremely active on social media. It’s at the point where it seems that they’re almost taking subtle shots at head coach Bill Belichick.

It all started in February, two days after the Super Bowl, when Malcolm Butler posted a long Instagram defending himself for inaccurate reports about why he didn’t play in the game. He also thanked the Patriots organization. Tom was quick to comment saying, “Love you Malcolm. You are an incredible player and a teammate and friend. Always!!!!!”. Surely Bill couldn’t have been too happy that Tom was quick to chime in on Malcolm’s post. Tom could have just texted or called Butler … if he hadn’t already talked to him. I wasn’t too irked by Tom commenting on the post though, because I think it was genuine.

Gronkowski has taken his jabs at Bill as well. For example, he posted the Instagram below for Danny Amendola. He put an emphasis on “Be FREE and Be HAPPY”.

Gronk Amendola

I don’t think it was a coincidence that he put such an emphasis on “Be FREE and Be HAPPY”.  Multiple reports this off-season indicate that Tom and Gronk are not exactly HAPPY playing under Bill. It seems as if his demanding coaching style has started to take a toll on them.

Tom Brady commented on the Instagram as well saying “well said Gronk!!!!”

It also became clear that Danny Amendola didn’t love Bill by the end of his tenure with the Pats, per this very eye-opening interview with Mike Reiss that was released over the weekend. I strongly recommend checking it out if you haven’t yet.

Yet another Gronk social media statement was made the other day when retweeted a Deion Sanders tweet…

dion sanders

Is Gronk implying that his “contemplating if he’s going to retire” is more of a power play to try and get a new contract? Gronk wanting a new contract is 100% understandable and warranted. He was only the 4th highest paid tight end last year. Everyone knows he’s the best tight end in the league. He should easily be the highest paid player at his position.

The issue is there were reports over the weekend stating that Gronk is skipping the start of the Patriots off-season program (OTAs) because he’s still considering whether to retire before the upcoming 2018 season.

If Gronk does indeed retire, it would be catastrophic to the team. If he’s really serious about it, then I hope he’s been extremely transparent with the team because the upcoming NFL Draft on April 26th-28th is probably one of the most critical for the organization in a long time. They need to once again find their QB of the future, a new left tackle, and fill many holes on defense.

Losing Gronk to retirement would prioritize the tight end position as one of the top needs for the team. With 5 picks in the top 95, the Pats would have a good chance to address this need if Gronk was indeed retiring. This is why it is imperative that he’s being very transparent about his plans with the team. It’ll be very interesting to see if they use a high pick on a tight end next week.

Let’s get back to Brady now because I think he’s the bigger story. ESPN recently reported that TB12 will not be a “regular participant” in the team’s offseason program, even after he returns from his trip to Qatar. The trip was for the “Best Buddies” charity and was his stated reason for originally missing the first few days of OTAs. We know now he’ll be skipping out on the entire first phase. This will be the first time in 8 years Tom is missing the program. He last missed it back in 2008, 2009, and 2010, when he lived in LA.

It sounds like there are 2 big reasons he’ll be missing the entirety of the first phase of OTAs. The first is Tom wants to spend more time with his family. We all saw in Tom vs. Time, that his family is an extremely important priority. He seemed pretty beat up in the final episode and Giselle said, “He just wants to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun”. If you’re connecting the dots, this would seem to correlate with a lot of reports over the last few months indicating that Tom felt underappreciated by Bill and is feeling worn out by him.

The second reason is that this phase of OTAs is led by the strength and conditioning coaches. Tom will instead workout with none other than his own trainer Alex Guerrero. Everyone knows by now that Guerrero has been the source of the Belichick and Brady tension.

It’s not exactly comforting to know that the team’s two best and most important players are going to miss out on the first round of the teams off-season program. I really wonder if Jimmy G was still around, would Tom skip any time? It’s something to ponder… my gut tells me no way. It’s evident that Tom felt threatened by Jimmy G.

The other eye-opening statement in the report from ESPN was the following quote from Jeff Darlington… “I would call it unlikely, at this point, that he is a part of any of the voluntary programs this offseason,” the reporter said Monday. “How far he extends that is a major question, one that I don’t know that even Brady has the answer to.” Some people think he’s implying that Tom won’t be joining the Pats in May and June for the later phases in OTAs. I don’t want to read too much into the statement because I’m not sure Darlington truly knew how that came off to people. If Brady skips out on phase 2 or 3, which are on-field workouts, it’ll be a major red flag with respect to the Brady vs. Bill relationship.

Last month, Gotham Chopra the director of Tom vs. Time, who spent a great deal of time with Tom over the last year, went on record saying the following about Tom…  “This idea that he’s going to play for four or five more seasons … I mean, this is just me, the guy who’s been around him for a while now. I just have a hard time envisioning that,” Chopra said. “But we’ll see. I do think that these next few weeks and months are a critical time for him.”

Tom has gone on record multiple times over the last 2 years saying he’ll play into his mid 40’s… and maybe even as much as 10 years. If Tom does indeed retire in the next year or so it makes you wonder why he was so adamant about playing for several more years. As a Patriots fan you have to hope that Tom has been transparent as well with Kraft and Bill, telling them how much longer he really has left, so they can continue to plan for the future.

Unfortunately I don’t think the drama in the Patriots offseason is over yet. I’m sure we’ll hear more stories and reports in the coming weeks/months. The bottom line is that the Patriots will need their 2 best players to get on the same page as Bill Belichick, sooner rather than later, so they can finally begin to put all this drama behind them.

 

The curious case of Malcolm Butler

There’s a lot to talk about today after last night’s loss, but nothing more noteworthy than the absence of one Malcolm Butler.

Malcolm played 98% of the defensive snaps in the first 18 games of this season. Last night he played zero. He did play one snap on special teams.

So the question is… why didn’t Butler play?  There’s been a few theories on this.

The first is taking Belichick for his word that Butler’s benching wasn’t a disciplinary reason. When asked about it after the game Bill said “We put the best players out there and the game plan out there because we thought it’d be the best to win.”

Personally, I think this is complete BS. I don’t think there’s a single Pats fan who felt this was “the best decision for the team.” It’s also clear that some Patriot players feel that the benching of Butler did not put the team in the best position to win.

Former Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner put up numerous Instagram posts during the game which displayed how he was highly critical of Bill’s decision to bench Malcolm. One of them which can be seen below, was liked by defensive captain and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. It’s pretty eye opening to see a leader on the team like an Instagram post critical of his own coach (his username is boomtower). I can’t imagine Bill is too happy about this.

The other theory is that Belichick lied to everyone and the benching WAS disciplinary related. I think this was more likely. There’s already been some whispers that he missed curfew one night last week and got caught with weed when he came back late to the hotel. There haven’t been any Patriots insiders to report this yet so nothing is official on this front.

The argument against this would be then why didn’t Malcolm come out after the game and say this or hint it in his post-game comments. He knew it was the last time he’d be in the Pats locker room and he won’t be back with the team.

Instead when asked was he given a reason on why he didn’t play, Malcolm said “No.” He also said, “They gave up on me. F*** It is what it is”. He clearly was very emotional and it is interesting looking back at it that he didn’t give the media anything and basically said he doesn’t know why he was benched.

If he was indeed benched for disciplinary reasons and something to do with weed or being intoxicated, then why dress him at all for the game? Why let him play a snap on special teams? Bill should of just sent him home and put him on the inactive list for the game if he really wanted to prove a point. They had 2 corners on their practice squad they could of activated for the game.

I reserve the right to change my opinion on the following take if we get more information that Butler really crossed the line, but if he was benched because Bill really thought the combination of Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi, and Jordan Richards were better… or he was benched the entire game because he missed curfew and got caught with some weed, then you could make the argument Bill potentially cost them a Super Bowl victory. Of course he’s still the best coach in NFL history and I want him to come back next year, but this is something I know I won’t ever forget when looking back at this Patriots run/game and I would assume a lot of other people would agree with me as well.

I think we all know Malcolm Butler will never play another down for the Patriots and although he had a down year by his standards, I’ll miss the guy a lot. Nobody will ever forget the interception he made to win Super Bowl 49 but his legacy is more than that in my opinion.

We all know its been a rocky year for him on and off the field but for the majority of his time with the Pats, he had been the ultimate example of the “Patriot way.”

He made the roster as an undrafted free agent. He’s never been the most athletic player, or the fastest (ran a 4.62 at the NFL Combine)… but this guy competed his ass off as much as any corner in the NFL. He became so easy to root for the last few years because of how hard he played, how well he played despite being grossly underpaid, and becoming one of the better cornerbacks in the league as an undrafted free agent.

It definitely hurts to see Malcolm’s career with the Patriots to come to an end like this. I hope he finds a way to get paid this off-season and success with his next team. In the meantime, I’ll try and hold back my tears as well Malcolm.

Malcolm Butler.gif

Dear Patriots Fans

Every Patriots Super Bowl article/ memory is better with NFL Films Music… Play while reading if you please.

Dear Patriots Fans,

While I don’t think this will be the Patriots’ final playoff appearance with Bill and TB12, there’s no denying the fact that the iconic duo is nearing the end of their record run. Nothing lasts forever and with Brady now 40 and Belichick 65, you have to think they only have a few years left together.

As we gear up to watch our favorite team play in their 8th Super Bowl this century, take a step back for a minute, take it all in and don’t take a second of it for granted.  Honestly, it’s almost easier said than done sometimes. The last time the team played on wildcard weekend was way back in the 2009 season, with a 33-14 home loss to Baltimore. The last time they missed the playoffs was in 2008, when TB12 tore his ACL in week one of the regular season against the Chiefs. The Pats still finished 11-5 and became the first team to have 11 wins and miss the playoffs. The last time they failed to reach double digit wins was 2002. I was 9 years old… today I’m 25. As Patriots fans, we’ve been spoiled to the max by this organization over the last 17 years….17 YEARS!

This isn’t supposed to happen in the NFL. It can maybe happen in the NBA where it’s easy for superstars to team up in free agency, or the MLB where there’s no salary cap and a team like the Yankees or Red Sox can quickly rebuild with their superior financial resources , But this isn’t supposed to happen in the NFL, the ultimate team sport. The salary cap era was supposed to prevent dynasties. Also, injuries occur frequently in the NFL and can catastrophically derail your favorite teams season. The Patriots have defied all those theories – year, after year, after year.

If you’re my age and reading this, talk to your parents about the team before B.B. and TB12 joined the organization. They’ll tell you about how bad the organization was for so many years. They’ll tell you just how much it meant to them to even make the Super Bowl back in 1997 against the Packers, even though they would fall 35-21.

That game was my first sports memory. I remember watching with my dad back when I lived right around the corner from the old Foxboro Stadium in Sharon, Mass. He was getting so angry and intense as he began to watch the game slip away from the Pats.

Now we watch as Patriots fans and expect to be in the Super Bowl and win every year.  Now we watch and a game that would be “slipping away” for the 31 other NFL teams, just feels like another chance for the organization to add to their prestigious history. As fans, we all know the game is far from over and we EXPECT them to pull off a comeback and win.

I remember watching a game against the Redskins during my freshman year of college back in 2011. Brady threw for 350 yards and 3 TDs and the Pats won by 7. This was back when he “only” had 3 Super Bowl ring’s but I recall thinking to myself, “Wow this isn’t going to last forever. This man is absolutely amazing. I need to make sure I appreciate every damn time Tom takes the field and tries to pave his way to become the best QB ever.” Fast forward a little over 7 years later and there’s no longer any doubt on who’s the best QB in NFL history. He’s playing in his 4th Super Bowl since that day and going for his 3rd ring in the last 4 years. Everything he and Bill have accomplished in their careers, remains unfathomable to me.

As fans, we no longer concern ourselves with the naysayers who call the team cheaters, or the Patriots haters who come up with any and every BS excuse on why we win/ why they hate us. At this point, the legacy of B.B., TB12, RKK (Robert Kenneth Kraft), and the entire organization is firmly cemented.  Now they get another chance to add to the accolades and history… and B.B. and Tom get another chance to display why they’re not only the best coach and QB in NFL history – but maybe the best coach and athlete in sports history.

Sincerely,

An extremely fortunate and grateful Patriots fan