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Patriots Opening Drive: Sunday Morning Musings

Random reflections of varying relevance to Sunday’s match up between the Bears and Patriots.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Patriots maintained their ninth overall ranking in Football Outsiders’ overall team DVOA through six weeks of the NFL season, even after their adrenaline pumping victory last Sunday over the high-powered Chiefs. Interestingly enough, Kansas City went into Foxborough ranked third in overall DVOA, and, despite having taken the loss, rose to the league’s number one spot.

Naturally, critics of the metric and of football analytics as a whole are fueled by such hand-picked, small-sample-size-based narratives. Yet, they always fail to note how minor fluctuations in weekly rankings actually impact the overall figures at the end of the season. For example, the Patriots — a team who consistently “starts slow” each season — haven’t finished a season ranked worse than sixth in overall team efficiency (DVOA) since 2011 the current collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011.

2011 - Third

2012 - Third

2013 - Fifth

2014 - Fourth

2015 - Sixth

2016 - First

2017 - Sixth

For those skeptical of overall team DVOA’s correlation to actual team wins, we’ll just leave this here:

2. A tweet on Saturday morning by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero confirmed a suspected Patriots salary cap maneuver that had been predicted by Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan earlier in the week; $4.95 million of Stephon Gilmore’s remaining 2018 salary has been converted to a roster bonus. The proration of that bonus over the 2018-2021 seasons created $3,712,500 in 2018 cap space, and increased Gilmore’s future cap hits by $1,237,500 per season.

Stephon Gilmore’s new cap hits, by season:

2018 — $8,800,630, fourth-highest on the team (down from second-highest)

2019 — $14,837,500, second-highest on the team

2020 — $15,837,500, highest on the team

2021 — $16,837,500, highest on the team

For those not closely monitoring the Patriots’ cap situation, the natural reaction is to assume that the team performed the salary conversion to give themselves room to execute a potential trade prior to the deadline for a player with a larger salary. Realistically, the move was out of absolute necessity. With just over $1.6 million in cap space, the team did not have enough room for items such as “not likely to be earned” per-game roster bonuses that could end up being earned (which count towards the 2018 cap), and salaries for replacement players in the event that more Patriots are put on IR.

The team now has just over $5.4 million in cap space — plenty of room to cover expenses for the rest of the year. Is it theoretically enough to still acquire a player via trade before the deadline? Sure. But, that context shouldn’t be associated so closely the amount of space created by the move, as any additional space leftover at the end of the season will be rolled over to 2019. New England also demonstrates their confidence in Gilmore’s long-term ability to be the team’s lock-down, number-one corner, as they make him just the third Patriot in the Belichick era to have his salary converted to a bonus. Devin McCourty and Tom Brady are the other two.

The move — a direct result of how tight to the salary cap the Patriots have been operating this season — further highlights just how unrealistic the prospect of keeping Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster in 2018 was.

3. One of the more intrinsically-fascinating aspects of professional sports is the string theory-esque nature by which current circumstances are impacted by seemingly small events of the past. Every action or inaction by an organization has a domino (or butterfly) effect on a countless number of careers. Often times, hindsight-examination of such events and the intricate untangling of paths crossed by players, coaches, and teams can bring forth some interesting connections.

The 43rd overall selection in the 2018 draft was the sole piece of capital received by the Patriots from San Francisco in exchange for Jimmy Garoppolo in late 2017. During the draft, Bill Belichick — who was extraordinarily active with regard to trade-execution — traded the pick to Detroit for the Lions’ second-rounder (51st overall) and a fourth round selection (117th overall). As the Lions drafted running back Kerryon Johnson, Bill Belichick continued dealing. He quickly struck a deal with Chicago, sending the Bears the 51st overall selection (which he had just acquired for the “Garoppolo pick”) in exchange for the Bears’ fourth-rounder (105th overall) and a 2019 second round pick. Belichick would later parlay that fourth-rounder into a 2019 third round pick from Detroit.

On Sunday, the Patriots will face Bears rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller — Chicago’s selection with that 51st overall pick, and just one of the many players whose landing spots became one of the “domino effects” stemming from the Patriots’ trading of Jimmy Garoppolo. Miller — a talented pass-catcher from Memphis — was also seen by many as a potential day-two target for New England prior to the draft.

4. A win on Sunday in Chicago would bring Bill Belichick one notch closer to second place on the all-time regular season wins list by NFL head coaches. Unfortunately for Bill, he would still need 63 more victories to pull even with NFL legend George Halas. That means he’ll have to maintain his 11.5-regular season win average for 5.5 more years — or well into his age-72 season.

After playing football at the University of Illinois and a Navy Training Station during World War One, a young George Halas played minor league baseball and earned himself a short stint with 1919 New York Yankees. After an injury cost him his baseball career, he decided to return to football, becoming the player-coach of a company-sponsored football club in Decatur,IL that was named after the A. E. Staley Starch Company. In September of 1920, Halas represented the Decatur Staleys in Canton,OH at what is now considered the first official meeting of NFL teams.

98 years later, just two teams remain from that original meeting: the Arizona Cardinals and the Chicago Bears. Halas, nicknamed “Mr. Everything” for his simultaneous contributions as a player, coach, and owner, racked up 318 regular season wins and six NFL Championships. He is widely credited for such innovations as the implementation of a weekly practice schedule, the integration of film study into his team’s preparation, and the publishing of a team newspaper. Today, the NFC Championship Trophy is named after Halas, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame boasts an address on George Halas Drive in Canton,OH. At the age of 95, his daughter Virginia is currently the oldest principal owner of an NFL franchise.

5. On the morning of July 24th, 1915, on the south bank of the Chicago River, employees of the Western Electric Company and their families piled onto five top-heavy, steam-powered ships chartered to transport them across the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan to a corporate picnic in Michigan City,IN. One of the ships, the SS Eastman, tied to its dock and in calm waters, was boarded by over 2,500 passengers. At 7:28am, the SS Eastman suddenly rolled over on her port side and came to rest on the riverbed 20 feet below the water’s surface. 848 people perished.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Chicagoans learned of the deaths of their friends and loved ones from lists of names printed in the newspaper. A few college kids from a fraternity, having seen the name of one of their brothers listed, went to pay their respects a few days later. To their surprise, their friend was alive and well when they arrived. In an incredible stroke of luck, he had overslept and narrowly missed the disaster.

The young man’s name was George Halas.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB