NFL: New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans

The Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick will be survive quite nicely without some recent free agent defections, writes columnist Mike Shalin.

Free agency: Flowers, Brown and Allen are gone, but does it matter as long as No. 12 is still around?

IT HAS BECOME a rite of spring.

The Patriots, coming off a championship or near-championship, watch as people walk away and their fans get all kinds of worried — as Bill Belichick goes on vacation.

Trey Flowers was the team’s best pass rusher, playing his way into free agency and then on to Detroit and Matt Patricia.

Trent Brown had a big year in his only season in Foxborough, Mass., helping keep a 41-year-old quarterback mostly upright. He will be an Oakland Raider.

Blocking tight end Dwayne Allen is a Dolphin.

Then, Tuesday night, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Bears were signing return man/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to a two-year deal worth $5 million a year.

Plenty of bulk and toughness gone. But haven’t we learned by now that it really doesn’t matter? Haven’t we learned that whatever groceries Belichick gets to work with, the dinner is always outstanding?

Veteran NFL scribe Gary Myers of The Athletic tweets: “When was the last time the Patriots lost a player or coach and regretted it? Today they lost their LT Trent Brown and best pass rusher Trey Flowers and Bill Belichick will just develop replacements. All replaceable parts in NE except No. 12.”

Perfectly put.

Now, we get to the NFL’s Wacky Wednesday, where all these signings become official. Stay tuned.

Free speech

Michael Bennett, who hasn’t always said nice things about new defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, is on board and it’s clear he’s happy to be here and wants to play for Belichick.

Trading for the veteran pass rusher represents an oil and water mix. Bennett was part of the Colin Kaepernick racial protest and plans to stay in the locker room for the national anthem. Now he’s playing for a team management that has been aligned with a President critical of players voicing their grievances.

“I think it’s important not to run away from those conversations, or not hear their ideas about why they think the way they do,” Bennett said at Princeton University. “I think it’s an opportunity for growth to have those conversations. ... If we don’t allow ourselves to have those conversations, we’re stunting our growth.”

As far as playing for Belichick, Bennett said, “From a football perspective there’s a respect for Belichick. I consider him the Yoda of football when it comes to the ins and outs of what’s happening around how to prepare for a game.”

Regarding: Flowers, the latest to win a title in Foxborough and then split, our buddy Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal tweeted: “Think about this: Since 2006, there’s one Patriots player to have 20 or more QB hits in back-to-back seasons — Flowers.”

With people thinking reunion, Danny Amendola will NOT be coming back to New England, also signing with the Lions, but it looks like troubled WR Josh Gordon will be back. The Pats placed the RFA tender on Gordon, meaning a signing team would have to give New England a second-round pick if they sign him. Just can’t see that happening, so Gordon will be back.

On Gordon, Tom Pelissaro of tweeted: The #Patriots put an RFA tender on Josh Gordon as a placeholder. Remember, he’s suspended, not banished, so there’s a chance he can play in 2019. Lot of steps left first, though, and focus remains on health.”

Three steps forward

Brian Scalabrine summed up the enigmatic Celtics near the end of Monday night’s trip-ending blowout loss to the Clippers.

“The one thing I know about this team is I don’t know, man,” Scal said, perfectly.

On more than one occasion during the broadcast, Scalabrine seemed to be jokingly referring to the long plane trip that is being credited by some for turning things around.

But are they indeed turned around? Simply put, there’s no way of knowing.

They started the trip with an impressive blowout of the champion Warriors, who were without Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston and played like they really didn’t care. Kevin Durant looked more like a guy thinking about next year.

Then, without Kyrie Irving, the Celtics beat a mediocre Sacramento team, before going down for a long stay in L.A. and clubbed the decimated Lakers.

Just like that, all was well in Celtics world.

Then came Monday night, leading radio voice Sean Grande to tweet: “The Clippers tonight ... Score 140 points...most against the Celtics in 25 years (April, 1994); Shoot against the Celtics in 5 years (April 2014); Outrebound the Celtics by 19..matching a season-low for Boston; Led by 30...2nd largest Celtics deficit this year.”

The trip started with Gordon Hayward looking like the old Gordon Hayward. He had 30 points at Golden State and went 24-for-34 from the floor in scoring 57 points in the first three games of the trip. Then, after Stephen A. Smith said Hayward was getting great treatment because he’s white (we’re not past that yet), Hayward had eight points and took seven shots in 22 minutes Monday.

Said Smith: “Then there’s the element of Boston, Massachusetts. They don’t just want a star. Of course, they’ll take any star that they can get, because their priority is winning. But everybody and their mother knows that particularly when it comes to Boston, if we can have a white superstar, that would be even better. And they view Gordon Hayward as having that kind of potential. So, all of those things considered, the players recognize this, were aware of this. And ultimately those who were compromised by having to be on a court with Gordon Hayward were sensitive to it.”

History dies hard, folks.

Kyrie takes

The week also featured the latest roller coast ride for Irving and his dealing with the media.

…March 4: “I didn’t really come into this game to be cameras in my face, be famous, be a celebrity, whatever embodies that. It’s a little hard for me. I wanted those things when I was younger, but now ... I just want to play basketball at a very high level.”

…March 10 (to Yahoo): “The way I’ve handled things, it hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I take full responsibility for. I apologize. I haven’t done it perfectly. I haven’t said the right things all the time. I don’t want to sit on a place like I’m on a pedestal from anybody. I’m a normal human being that makes mistakes. For me, I think because of how fixated I was on trying to prove other people wrong, I got into a lot of habits that were bad, like reading stuff and reacting emotionally. That’s just not who I am.”

…March 12: “We need to get out of here. No disrespect to any L.A. natives, but we need to get out of here.”

Speaking of Irving, Charles Barkley says Irving and Kevin Durant should stay away from signing with the Knicks. Why? “You ain’t tough enough to play in New York,” Barkley said of Durant. “I don’t think him or Kyrie are tough enough to play in New York.

“Kyrie’s a very good player, Kevin’s a great, great player, but I’m not sure they have the mental makeup to play in New York. “There’s a lot that comes with playing in New York. And those guys are complaining about media asking questions and things like that, maybe New York isn’t for them.”

Thinking big

Brock Holt offered an interesting take on what Dustin Pedroia is liable to do in 2019. With one little Red Soxer talking about another, Holt, who will play a lot if Pedroia can’t, says, “Maybe 45 homers, 120 RBIs, 40 stolen bases, a Gold Glove, Comeback Player of the Year, and MVP? I wouldn’t put it past him. … I’m excited for him. He looks good. I think he’s ready to go. I’m happy for him. It’s been a while. We’re excited to have him back, for sure.”

The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham projected his opening Red Sox roster Tuesday. Not a lot of drama here but he had two catchers, meaning something has to be done with Blake Swihart.

The only lefty in Abraham’s pen was Brian Johnson, but Johnson will be needed to start the sixth game of the opening 11-game road trip.

Jerry Remy says his Red Sox book, “If These Walls Could Talk,” done with the late Nick Cafardo, will be out in June or July.

“Nick was a great guy,” Remy said. “As we all know. Friendly with everybody. He was very honest. Hard worker. A lot of sources. Did a great job nationally and locally. Had a local touch to his writing in Boston. He’ll certainly be missed.”

Finally, this from WEEI’s Ty Anderson: “Bruins vs. Penguins on Sunday on NBCSN registered a TAD average of 733,000 viewers to rank as the most-watched NHL regular-season game on NBCSN since the 2017-18 season opener. Also most-watched Sunday night regular-season game on NBCSN in more than three years.”


Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.