In four NFL seasons, Trey Flowers has made $4,152,357.
That would put him in the 99th percentile of earnings among college attendees in their first four years out of school and I'm not even gonna check.
But where would $1M per year put him among high-impact players on elite NFL teams? Not that high.
Flowers has arguably been the biggest defensive bargain in the NFL the past four years. Such a bargain that the Patriots could still pay him that top-of-the-line, $16M/year deal and not kick themselves over not getting great "value."
For a few more days, the Patriots have (presumably) exclusive access to Flowers and his agent Neil Cornrich. They can use it and lock Flowers up before he hits the market and things get stupid.
Or they can let a homegrown player who's done everything by the book and been a big reason the Patriots have been to the Super Bowl in each of his three healthy seasons go someplace else. There – whether it be in Detroit with Matt Patricia or Miami with Brian Flores – Flowers will make a crap-ton of money but be forever underappreciated because he's not getting 13 sacks a season.
I'm pretty sure it dawned on the Patriots before I sat down to write this column that there is upside in paying Flowers and making sure he stays.
The list of "pros" is as long as one of Flowers' pterodactyl arms:
Durable (he's missed three games in three years)
System familiarity with a new fleet of defensive coaches taking over
Versatility to play the edge or inside
Elite run-stopping ability among edge players
Wouldn't say "poop" if he had a mouthful
He'll be 26 when the 2019 season starts
Ain't nobody on the roster currently who can replace him.
He's going to be expensive.
The Patriots, generally speaking, don't like things to get rancorous with their players and their agents when they are about to hit the market.
Instead of insulting with an offer that the player/agent can perceive as a lowball effort, the team has in the past encouraged players like Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower or (going way back) Randy Moss to see what's out there, then please bring said offer back to see if the Patriots can meet or beat it.
With McCourty, that worked out great in 2014. The Patriots had to get in the ballpark of what the Eagles, Jaguars and Giants offered and they did. With Hightower, it wasn't as great. There was interest but not nearly what was anticipated and he returned to the Patriots for less than most figured he'd command.
This way the Patriots don't look like the bad guy if a player gets less than he supposed he would.
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Flowers' agent, Neil Cornrich (who for a long time was Bill Belichick's agent and may still be for all I know …) understands the landscape well. It's quite likely he'll want to follow the Patriots "shop us last, you'll love us" demand. But if you're a GM for another team, do you want to merely be New England's stalking horse? Or do you advise Flowers that the $20M/year deal (hypothetically) comes off the table if he doesn't sign before contacting the Patriots?
Every year going back to Tom Ashworth, Patriots players hit the market after Super Bowl wins and rocket to the top of opposing team's shopping lists.
The 2018 offseason was a banner year for teams overspending on New England products as Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis all got deals that were too rich for the blood of any sane team.
But Flowers isn't like them. And he isn't like too many Patriots who preceded him. Tom Brady might be the best comp. Like Brady, Flowers was drafted late. He sat his first year. He flourished and helped win a Super Bowl his second year.
Brady earned an easy pay raise in 2002, but when it came time to re-up in 2005, it was a labor for Brady and the Patriots to come to an agreement. The Patriots didn't want to spend stupid in guaranteed money like the Colts did with Peyton Manning and the Falcons did with Michael Vick. The sides hammered it out, but the fact Brady wanted to stay here (and has continued to hold that opinion for the 15 years since) was a huge advantage for the Patriots.
Have the Patriots made it clear to Flowers that they absolutely, positively want him around?
Or have they been lukewarm with a "see what's out there" attitude that may make him wonder whether the team appreciates what he's done or whether it sees him as a widget that was just as replaceable as Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins turned out to be?
A couple of years ago, the Patriots opened the vault for Stephon Gilmore. A semi-disappointment in Buffalo, the Patriots gave him a five-year, $65 million deal because they bet that he had a unique set of skills that could make their entire defense better.
They nailed it on Gilmore.
And that's the question they grapple with now when it comes to Flowers. Unique or replaceable?
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