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Patriots Decide Not To Use Franchise Tag

The Patriots did not place the franchise tag on CB Aqib Talib by Monday’s deadline.
(USA TODAY Images)

The NFL Franchise Tag deadline has come and gone. The New England Patriots decided not to use the franchise tag on Monday, paving the way for Aqib Talib to become a free agent.

All in all, six players were hit with a tag by Monday’s deadline. –

Franchise Tag: Jimmy Graham (Saints), Nick Folk (Jets), Brian Orakpo (Redskins), Greg Hardy (Panthers)

Transition Tag: Alex Mack (Browns), Jason Worilds (Steelers)

With NFL Free Agency beginning on Mar. 11 — on Mar. 8 teams are allowed to talk with players — cornerback Aqib Talib, wide receiver Julian Edelman and the rest of the Patriots free agents will hit the market in about a week. This does not rule out the team agreeing to terms with one of their players, though.

Earlier Monday morning, the Miami Dolphins signed cornerback Brent Grimes to a four-year deal, worth up to $32 million with $16 million guaranteed. This deal seems to have set the market for a guy like Talib.

For now, fans and analysts are in wait-and-see mode, but all eyes are on Talib as the off-season continues.

Quick Take: Patriots To Release Steve Gregory

The Patriots will release veteran safety Steve Gregory in their first cost-cutting move of the off-season.
(USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots are set to release safety Steve Gregory, according to his agent, David Canter.

Gregory is the first cap casualty of the season, as the Pats look to free up money heading into the off-season. By releasing Gregory, New England will save 2.4 million.

Gregory was a much better acquisition than I originally thought he would be, but he was more of a free safety, rotational guy than a starting strong safety. On the roster now, second-year player Duron Harmon may be in-line to start or be the third safety in mix going into next season. Of course, the answer could be in the draft or free agency.

As I have written in the past few weeks and discussed on our Patriots Fourth And Two podcast, the release of Gregory was to be expected. The Pats need to upgrade strong safety and could benefit from adding an enforcer to make opposing receivers think twice before going over the middle.

In cost-cutting moves on the horizon, I expect defensive lineman Issac Sopaga and safety Adrian Wilson to soon be let go as well.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Top Five Position Rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft

With the NFL Combine in the books, here is my position-by-position top five for the 2014 NFL Draft:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
2. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
3. Blake Bortles, Central Florida
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State
5. Zach Mettenberger, Louisiana State

- There’s no Andrew Luck type quarterback in this class, but there are several prospects that offer intriguing upside. For teams in need of a QB, it will come down to evaluations and fits, but there’s no telling who the first guy off the board will end up being.

Running back 
1. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
2. Tre Mason, Auburn
3. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
4. Andre Williams, Boston College
5. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor

- Last year was the first time in over a decade no running back was taken in the first round. Could we see a repeat? I wouldn’t rule it out. While there are some talented prospects, I’m not sure any player is worth taking in the top 32.

Wide receiver
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M
3. Marqise Lee, USC
4. Odell Beckham Jr., Louisiana State
5. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

- Watkins and Evans will be the first two players taken, after that, Lee is most likely the third after a disappointing season. The receiver class is tremendously deep and there will be players taken in the second, third and fourth round that could end up being starters early on. If you need a wide out, you’re in luck.

Tight end 
1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina
2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
3. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
5. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame

- Ebron is head and shoulders above the rest, but similar to wide receiver, the tight end class is very deep. There are some red flags around several players, however, there’s a bit of a gamble with some guys. That being said, in a league that looks for mismatches in the passing game, this is a good year to acquire talent.

Offensive tackle
1. Greg Robinson, Auburn
2. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
4. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
5. Billy Turner, North Dakota State

- Flip a coin for Robinson and Matthews, either could be the top tackle taken this year, while Martin offers tremendous versatility. After injury questions to Alabama’s Cyrus¬†Kouandjio and Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, there’s some serious medical decisions teams will need to make before the draft in May.

1.¬†Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
2. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
3. David Yankey, Stanford
4. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
5. Chris Watt, Notre Dame

- Unlike last year, I wouldn’t expect a guard in the top 20 overall — which speaks to the talent available at more important positions — but nevertheless, Su’a-Filo, Richardson and Yankey seem to be a cut above the rest.

1. Marcus Martin, USC
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
3. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
4. Bryan Stork, Florida State
5. Tyler Larsen, Utah State

- Not a sure-fire center in this class, but some guys who should be able to develop. No concensous, but Richburg’s stock is rising in recent weeks.

Defensive tackle 
1. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
2. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
3.¬†Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
4. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
5. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

- A talented group up from that offers some versatility in multiple fronts. Florida’s Dominique Easley and Arizona State’s Will Sutton were both under consideration for the fifth spot, but both have some question marks — including Tuitt — over either rehab or weight gained in the last year.

Defensive end 
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
2. Dee Ford, Auburn
3. Kony Ealy, Missouri
4. Scott Crichton, Oregon State
5. Kareem Martin, North Carolina

- There seems to be more talent for 3-4 outside linebackers and pure 4-3 defensive ends this year, but each of the prospects above have incredible upside. Clowney is the biggest name, but there are some quality pass rushers available in this class.

1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
3. Anthony Barr, UCLA
4. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
5. Kyle Van Noy, BYU

- Mack, Mosley and Barr could all be top 10 or 12 picks come May 8. Shazier and Van Noy are my next two prospects, but it’s close. There are some athletic linebackers in this group that should translate well to NFL defenses looking for answers in a pass-happy league.

1. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
2. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
3. Bradley Roby, Ohio State
4. Jason Verrett, TCU
5. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech

- After Dennard and Gilbert, there’s some debate over the next cornerback this year. Several have some intriguing size — both tall and short — but there are some questions after the top two prospects.

1. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
2. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
3. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
4. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
5. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

- The safety class isn’t as strong as some of the others, but Pryor and Clinton-Dix seem to be first round talents. Joyner could be listed at CB, but despite his small frame, is being looked at to play safety; his versatility on the nation’s top team stood out in 2013.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Pre-Combine Top 100 Prospects for 2014 NFL Draft

My top 100 players in this year’s 2014 draft class:

1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
4. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
5. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
7. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
8. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
9. Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, Minnesota
10. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
11. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
12. CJ Mosley, LB, Alabama
13. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
14. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
15. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
16. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
17. Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame
18. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
19. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
20. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
21. Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
22. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
23. Hasean (Ha-Ha) Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
24. Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
25. Calvin Pryor S Louisville

26. Kadeem Carey, RB, Arizona
27. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
28. Aaron Donald, DL, Pittsburgh
29. Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
30. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
31. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
32. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
33. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
34. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
35. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
36. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
37. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
38. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
39. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
40. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
41. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
42. DaQuan Jones, DL, Penn State
43. Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
44. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
45. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
46. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
47. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
48. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
49. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
50. Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State

51. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
52. Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming
53. Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State
54. Ego Ferguson, DL, LSU
55. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
56. Tim Jernigan, DL, Florida State
57. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
58. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
59. Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
60. Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
61. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
62. Weston Richburg, OC, Colorado State
63. Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
64. Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
65. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
66. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
67. Jordan Zumwalt, OLB, UCLA
68. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
69. Odell Beckham Jr, WR, LSU
70. Trent Murphy, DE, Stanford
71. Anthony Johnson, DL, LSU
72. Caraun Reid, DL, Princeton
73. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
74. Kelcy Quarles, DL, South Carolina
75. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

76. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
77. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
78. Deanthony Thomas, OW, Oregon
79. Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
80. Yawin Smallwood, LB, UConn
81. Keith McGill, CB, Utah
82. Dion Bailey, S, USC
83. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
84. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
85. Anthony Steen, OL, Alabama
86. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
87. Trevor Reilly, DE, Utah
88. Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
89. Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida
90. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
91. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
92. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
93. David Fales, QB, San Jose State
94. Jimmie Ward, S, Northern Illinois
95. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
96. Devon Kennard, LB, USC
97. Deone Buchanon, S, Washington State
98. Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa
99. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
100. Deandre Coleman, DL, California

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

First Take: Five Thoughts on the Patriots NFL Draft Needs

Rob Gronkowski’s injury history leaves some uncertainty at the tight end position heading into this offseason. (USA TODAY Images)

The 2013 New England Patriots season is in the books, so it only makes sense we turn our attention to the NFL Draft.

The past several seasons I’ve dissected and analyzed each class, just as I will this year.

New England currently sits at the No. 29 slot in the first round. This year’s draft class is deep and talented, most likely a correlation to the record breaking underclassman that have declared.

Here are five thoughts on the Patriots 2014 NFL Draft needs:

-¬†Deep Draft at Important Positions:¬†As aforementioned, this is a pretty deep class and offers some talented collegiate athletes. Luckily for the Patriots, many of the team’s needs are among the positions that offer high quality. Tight end, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back, returner, — however or whichever need you deem to be the most important, there are players that fit the system.

 - Targeting Needs on Offense: Some say New England’s biggest need is at wide receiver, but I look at the tight end position as a more glaring need. With Aaron Hernandez gone, Rob Gronkowski coming off another injury, the team needs to add another weapon that can make the offense more dynamic.

A veteran wide receiver should be targeted in free agency, but there are several young players who have potential.

The offensive line went through some injuries and many guys saw playing time in 2013, but the weak interior was exposed far too often. Logan Mankins play was subpar and his contract should be restructured; Ryan Wendell is a free agent; Dan Connolly is paid far too much for the level of play he displayed this past season — the entire middle of the line is in question.

- Targeting Needs on Defense: In a pass-happy NFL, getting after the quarterback is priority one. The Pats worst loss of the season came at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game when New England couldn’t get close to Manning. Adding help in the interior and exterior of the defensive line is key.

Aqib Talib’s impending free agency obviously could change how the team approaches the draft. If he stays, the team has a strong core of cornerbacks returning. but if he goes there is an immediate need at an important position.

Safety — upgrading over Steve Gregory — should be high when I glance over the roster. New England needs a player on the back end to take on the enforcer role and secure the middle of the field. Devin McCourty is a very good free safety, but more of a pure strong safety could go a long way.

 - Quality, Not Quantity: The past few seasons New England has transformed their roster and now is one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Gone are the days the team must draft 10 plus players. At this point, the Patriots need quality, not quantity. Playmakers are needed on both sides of the ball.

- Free Agency Plays a Role: Many fans and analysts have an idea of how the Patriots should or could upgrade this off-season. While the draft will be a great way for the team to continue to add young talent to the organization, free agency will play a big role in how the team addresses the May event.

If the team lands some quality players, they might be less inclined to be aggressive. On the other side, if the team swings and misses during the free agency period, the Pats could find themselves looking to make a splash. A lot could change over the next few weeks.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Thoughts on Upcoming Key NFL Dates

Another exciting NFL offseason has begun as teams around the league look to make changes to their rosters for next year. Contract decisions, franchise tags, the draft and free agency will continue to keep league personnel busy for the next few months. Here are key NFL dates to keep in mind moving forward:

Feb. 17: First Day For Teams To Use Franchise Tag

- All eyes will be on the team to see if they use the tag on impending free agents like Aqib Talib or Julian Edelman. The Patriots haven’t shied away from the franchise tag in the past, but they might look to work on long-term contracts first.

Feb. 19-25: NFL Scouting Combine, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

- A deep, talented class of players in this year’s draft class.¬†¬†The Patriots have seven selections.

March 11: New League Year, Free agency starts

- Teams must exercise player options, submit qualifying offers and be under the league salary cap by 4 p.m. ET.

March 23-26: Owners Meetings

- Usually some league news breaks, but in past seasons both Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick have addressed the media. This year the meetings will be held in Orlando, Fla.

May 2: Franchise Tag Deadline

- As I said before, the team will most likely look to hammer out a long-term contract before slapping the franchise tag on players. If a deal can’t be reached, however, this will be a date to circle on the calendar.

May 8-10: 2014 NFL Draft

-¬†A deep and talented class of players in this year’s draft class, filled with a record number of underclassman.¬†¬†The Patriots have seven selections as of now. How the prior off-season tasks play out will have an impact on the team’s agenda. It’s about quality, not quantity this year.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Reseting the Patriots Draft Selections

The New England Patriots selections in the 2014 NFL Draft:

First Round  - 29 overall
Second Round – 61 overall
Third Round – 93 overall
Fourth Round – 125 overall
Sixth Round Р * Acquired in Eagles Trade for Isaac Sopoaga
Sixth Round – **
Seventh Round – **

- * Patriots fifth Round traded to Philadelphia for Isaac Sopoaga

- **  No selection in the fifth round. Current picks in the sixth and seventh rounds are to be determined based on compensatory picks given out at a later time.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Analyzing the Patriots Upcoming Free Agents

Now that the NFL regular season has ended, this is a great time to evaluate the Patriots current roster.

New England has made re-signing their own veterans a priority over the last few years and I feel they should do the same this season. The following is a list of the Patriots free agents heading into the offseason. Here are my thoughts on each player’s stance with the team moving forward:

Aqib Talib, CB – The Pro Bowl cornerback had a strong season, but was injured in the AFC Championship game for a second year in a row. It’s clear he’s a valuable asset for the Patriots defense, but at what cost? He’s been a good locker room personality and kept himself out of trouble since being acquired, but has struggled with injuries.

Aqib Talib’s presence in the Patriots secondary is much needed, but it will likely come at a high cost.
(USA TODAY Images)

The Pats should look to re-sign him, as his presence is surely needed in the secondary, but breaking the bank for him comes with some risk given his up-and-down injury history. The franchise tag is an option, but priced at a hefty 10.4 million.

Julian Edelman, WR – Some may argue this is the most necessary re-signing the Patriots need to make this offseason. Edelman is coming off a tremendous season, hauling in 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He was the most consistent player on offense all season.

It makes sense for both sides to get a deal done, but the contract will be a tough negotiation. He has struggled staying healthy in past seasons, but his importance to the offense this year is inarguable. Expect Edelman to stay, but if he were to leave, it would leave the offense with a lot of holes to fill in the coming months.

LeGarrette Blount, RB – The veteran tailback made a late season surge and had some terrific performances, carrying the team into the playoffs. While Blount was solid, he did have a slow start and he may receive more on the open market than his real value.

With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen locked down for another season, it may be wise to see how free agency plays out. If Blount gets the same type of deal former running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis received from Cincinnati — 3 years, 9 million — it won’t be worth the investment.

Ryan Wendell, OL – Wendell provided some stability to the offensive line, playing every snap in the 2013 season. He was a serviceable lineman, but was over-powered several times. The Patriots could look to upgrade, but it would not be surprising to see Wendell back with the team next year.

Brandon Spikes, LB – After an odd ending to the season, with the team placing him on Injured-Reserve, it’s doubtful Spikes returns to the Patriots. The bruising linebacker made an impact on the defense, providing a toughness and attitude that was much needed during his stint with the team.

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins will most likely take over for Spikes as the starter for 2014 and New England may explore bringing in a veteran for a reserve role.

Michael Hoomanawanui, TE – “Hooman” had to restructure his contract last year as a restricted-free agent in order to return for 2013. He finished the season with 12 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.¬†Hoomanawanui was just average run blocking and it would not be a surprise to see him land on a new team as they may look to upgrade.

Matthew Mulligan, TE РThe veteran tight end stepped in this year and provided the offense with a solid backup to Rob Gronkowski. While he was not an asset as a receiver, he was more than solid run blocking. Mulligan could find himself in a similar role next year, but as stated with Hoomanawanui, the team will most likely look to upgrade at the position.

The Patriots offense could be left scrambling for answers if Julian Edelman leaves in free agency.
(USA TODAY Images)

Dane Fletcher, LB – The 27-year-old linebacker was in a reserve roll in 2013. Fletcher may be looking for a greater opportunity with a new team, but the Patriots will most likely offer him a contract to fulfill the same duty¬†next season. New England should have their starting linebacker corps intact with Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

Austin Collie, WR – Collie’s concussion history made it difficult to find a job, but he found a role for the Patriots and performed well. While he had some big catches in key moments, it’s hard to see a spot on the roster if the team re-signs Julian Edelman.

Danny Aiken, LS – Aiken is New England’s only restricted-free agent this offseason. As the team’s long snapper, Aiken performed well, but had a few mishaps along the way. Because he has no other real value at another position, expect the team to look to upgrade or at least bring in competition for training camp.

Will Svitek, OL – The tackle was seen as a valuable commodity when he signed last season, but when he was thrown into action this year he was mediocre at best. Marcus Cannon stepped in admirably and with Sebastian Vollmer coming back next season, Svitek will most likely be looking for work over the offseason.

Andre Carter, DE – After Carter joined the team in week eight, he was thrown right into the mix. He registered two sacks, but was held in check more often than not. As much as the 12-year veteran was well received by the team and fans, look for the Patriots to turn the roll over to Michael Buchanan next season.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Patriots Positional Grades For The 2013 Season

The 2013 NFL season has come to a close for the New England Patriots.

With another year in the books, it’s time to look back and grade each position. The grades are based on production, achievement level, expectation and overall¬†performance.

Tom Brady lifted the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game, but the team’s offense was limited this season.
(USA TODAY Images)

Quarterback: A - 

Analysis: The season ended on a disappointing note, but Tom Brady lifted a limited offense to greater heights throughout the year. Even more impressive, he did it with ligament damage in his throwing hand suffered back in October. Brady may be 36, but he hasn’t shown he’s ready to hang it up quite yet.

Running backs: B Р 

Analysis:¬†¬†Stevan Ridley’s fumbling woes continued to plague him, Shane Vereen missed a large chunk of the season to injury, Brandon Bolden was an afterthought, but LeGarrette Blount made Pats fans forget most of that with his late season performance. While the overall unit could have been better and more consistent, flashes of great play gave the offense a significant boost.

Wide Receivers: C - 

Analysis:¬†Julian Edelman proved doubters wrong — including myself — and was one of the most consistent players for the team all year. Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce all showed promise, but were hampered by injuries and disappeared for stretches.

Danny Amendola’s struggle with an injured groin muscle hindered him the entire year, which weakened the unit as a whole. Austin Collie had a few key grabs and was a solid contributor in his role. Unfortunately we never really saw the full potential of the receivers. Changes could and should be coming.

Tight End: C 

Analysis: Going into the season, tight end was expected to be a position of strength as New England had both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Well, Gronkowski started and ended the season with injuries issues while Hernandez was released after being charged with murder.

Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan were left as the team’s options at tight end — talk about a drop off. While Hoomanawanui, Mulligan, James Develin — who played fullback as well — were serviceable, the position was invisible at times and left a huge void in the Pats offense. Expect the team to reload over the offseason.

Offensive Line: C +

Analysis: Despite the offensive line continuity, the unit struggled more than expected in 2013. Dante Scarnecchia did what he could, but players like Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly did not play as well as the previous year. Marcus Cannon stepped in admirably for Sebastian Vollmer, but overall the line was just slightly better than average on the year.

Defensive Line: B - 

Analysis: Chander Jones and Rob Ninkovich stayed healthy all season, which was huge after both tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly ended the year on injured reserve. The pass rush was improved, but still lacked a killer instinct and was more quiet at the end of the season; a result of lack of depth and more attention by opponents.

Interior lineman Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga all made plays at some point, but the losses of two big-bodied veterans left a mark on the team that couldn’t be over-looked.

Linebackers: C +

Analysis: Similar to the defensive line, injuries hit the line-backing core hard during the season. The loss of defensive captain Jerod Mayo forced the team to give players like Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins more snaps than originally expected.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty stabilized the back end of New England’s defense all year.
(USA TODAY Images)

Collins broke out towards the end of the year and seems poised for a staring role in 2014, while Dont’a Hightower had an up-and-down season leaving spectators wondering if he was worth his draft position. Even though Brandon Spikes will most likely leave in free agency, the line-backing core should be a strength next season.

Secondary: B

Analysis:¬†Aqib Talib started the year on a Defensive Player of the Year pace, but ended it on the sidelines watching the unit get picked apart by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington had moments of greatness as well as their struggles throughout the year. Rookie Logan Ryan showed he could be a keeper after year’s of searching for quality defensive backs.

Safety Devin McCourty was very good throughout the year, keeping the secondary in position and maintaining stability of the back end. Steve Gregory and rookie Duron Harmon both flashed, but were nothing to write home about. Overall, the spot next to McCourty could — and should — be upgraded for next season.

Special Teams: A - 

Analysis:¬†The special teams unit was exceptional for the majority of the season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a pro bowl year, punter Ryan Allen stepped in as a rookie and showed why he replaced Zoltan Mesko, as well as Matthew Slater leading the team’s strong coverage.

Long snapper Danny Aiken had a mediocre season. The return game is still lacking, which could be on the teams “want” list in the offseason.

Coaching: A - 

Analysis:¬†With all of the adversity on-and-off the field, this season was a testament to the coaching staff. Many argue this was head coach Bill Belichick’s finest season, after lifting a group of over-achieving players to the AFC Championship game.

Injuries put the coaching staff, especially coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, in a tough position, but the staff did a great job overall. Losing coaching assistants Dante Scarnecchia, Pepper Johnson and¬†George Godsey may hurt the team, but expect Belichick to replenish his staff just as he’s done throughout his tenure in New England.

Final Thought:¬†It’s hard not to be impressed with the job New England did this season. While it did not end with the Lombardi Trophy, the season was not a total failure.

There are some holes that need to be filled, but the Patriots are in good position moving forward. After year’s of overhaul, the roster has transformed into the second youngest team in the NFL and the team has stayed competitive — one of the hardest things to do in the modern sports era.

Wide receivers, tight end, offensive line, defensive line and secondary seem to be the most pressing needs — rank them in any order you’d like — but after New England has some big time players return from injury, they should once again find themselves in the mix for another championship run in 2014.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Dante Scarnecchia to Retire, New Offensive Line Coach Named For Patriots

After 30 years with the New England Patriots, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will retire.

With Scarnecchia on his way out, the team has named Dave DeGuglielmo the new offensive line coach. Patriots Owner Robert Kraft issued this statement. –

With Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring, the team suffers a significant loss.
(USA TODAY Images)

“Dante Scarnecchia has been the only coaching constant since I purchased the team in 1994. Not coincidentally, he retires as the only coach to have been a part of all seven Super Bowl teams in Patriots franchise history. I want to thank Dante for his leadership, professionalism and always putting the team first. For as long as I have known him, he was always the first to arrive in the morning and among the last to leave. He didn’t demand respect from his players. He earned it. I loved watching Dante lead by example, especially when he would run stride for stride with his players during their conditioning runs. He was a coach who always stressed technique and fundamentals and helped players reach their full potential. At training camp, his colorful, constructive, coaching critiques made him a fan favorite. His presence on the Patriots sidelines will be missed by our coaches, players and fans alike.”¬†

Head coach Bill Belichick had this to say,¬†“Dante Scarnecchia is a Patriot and NFL legend who defined the phrase ‚Äėnot for long. In an industry of constant change, Dante remained a fixture here for the simple reason that he helped every player reach his highest potential, regardless of who he was, how he was acquired or how much raw talent he had. In whatever category a coach can be assessed – evaluator, teacher, motivator, problem solver, disciplinarian, team player, winner ‚Äď Dante is as good as it gets. As many games as he helped us win and as much as we would like to work with Dante forever, we are blessed with the opportunity to have been with him as long as we were.”¬†

DeGuglielmo most recently spent time with the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. He’s been coaching for 22 years and even spent time with Lou Holtz at South Carolina.¬†DeGuglielmo’s teams have typically favored a power-run scheme, but of course, he will be adopting Belichick’s schemes and philosophy.

Quite Take: This is the second loss to the Patriots coaching staff, as defensive line coach Pepper Johnson left the team earlier this week. Two very significant coaching losses, on both sides of the ball. I consider both tremendous losses and Scarnecchia especially was so valuable because of his tenure with the organization.

Scarnecchia is widely regarded as one of the best positional coaches in the NFL today. This makes life tougher on Bill Belichick, but adding some new faces to the coaching ranks is something every organization must do at some point in time.

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