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AFC East Roundtable – Which Players to Watch For in 2015

Four AFC East websites get together each week to discuss the AFC East. This week we discuss one player on offense and defense for each team to watch in training camp. See what Matt Barbato of New York Jet Fuel, Ian Logue of, Steve Saslow of Bills Daily, and Luis Sung of Phin Maniacs has to say right here.

Matt Barbato (@NewYorkJetFuel): Offensively, I’m going with Eric Decker. This may not be exactly a breakout candidate, since he led the Jets in receptions last season, but I think Decker could exceed expectations this season. People may have been disappointed by Decker’s inaugural season in New York. He caught 74 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns. Many people doubt his ability as a number-one receiver, but he doesn’t have to be that anymore.

Brandon Marshall will draw the best coverage, which allows Decker to settle back into his number-two role, a role he thrived in with the Denver Broncos. In two seasons alongside Demaryius Thomas, Decker caught 172 passes for 2,352 yards and 24 touchdowns. Also, keep in mind that Decker is a 6-foot-3 target who should always posed as a red zone threat with the Broncos. He didn’t cash in as much with the Jets simply because teams keyed on him in the passing game. With Marshall in town, Decker should be able to get a couple more scores.

There’s no doubt Decker can get back to 80 catches and 1,000 yards even with Marshall getting more targets. Of course, this all depends on whether Geno Smith can finally develop into a competent starting quarterback.

Defensively, Quinton Coples is a prime candidate to surprise some people. He goes unmentioned when discussing the vaunted Jets defense because of bigger names such as Darrelle Revis, Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson.

Originally drafted as a defensive end, Coples plays primarily as an outside rusher in the 3-4 defense. He recorded 6.5 sacks in his second season at his new position.

The Jets have the defensive line and secondary to wreak havoc, but with Calvin Pace entering his 13th season, the onus will be on Coples to keep improving. The situation is perfect for Coples, he just has to continue his development.

Patriots WR Aaron Dobson has already stood out early on in training camp.

Ian Logue (@PatsFans): Heading into 2015, there are a couple of Patriots players that fans outside of New England may want to be concerned with this season.

This is a team that on the offensive side of the football may surprise people this year, and one of the main reasons could ultimately end up coming from wide receiver Aaron Dobson. Dobson, who was a second-round pick in 2013, had a productive rookie year two seasons ago but a foot injury ended his first season early. Offseason surgery set him back and kept him from really ever getting started in 2014, which saw the second-year wideout end up on injured reserve following an apparent hamstring injury against Green Bay that made him a spectator during the team’s championship run.

But Dobson showed a lot of promise in his first year, catching 37 passes for 519 yards, the second-most catches of any rookie wide receiver in Bill Belichick’s tenure behind Deion Branch’s 43 in 2002. The former Marshall standout is a player that has the physical tools. He’s a big receiver at 6’3″, which is something the Patriots have been lacking in past years. In an offense that has two big targets for Tom Brady with a 6’5″ Rob Gronkowski and a 6’7″ Scott Chandler, Dobson potentially provides another big target down in the red area. With Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, they’re already returning their entire receiving core from their championship season. If Dobson can return to form, Brady and the offense could be even more dangerous this season.

On defense, Logan Ryan is a player that was a forgotten man playing behind a secondary that featured Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner last season. With both players now with new teams, Ryan will have an opportunity to have a bigger role in New England’s defense in 2015 and that could work out pretty well. Ryan’s a solid player, and one of the things that has really stood out about him since the Patriots took him out of Rutgers in 2013 are his terrific instincts. He has a tendency to be around the football, with Ryan even leading the Patriots in his rookie season with 5 interceptions.

He wasn’t as productive last year after getting less playing time, but for those who have watched Ryan, the more he played in his rookie year, the better he looked. He was a little shaky in a limited role in 2014, but having more reps should allow him to hopefully settle back in and become a playmaker in 2015. If that’s the case, it will be great news for a team that lost two of them this offseason. But overall, Ryan does a lot of things well and while he’s not a big name player, there’s a good chance that by the end of this season opposing teams might end up knowing who he is.

Luis Sung (@PhinManiacs): The Dolphins have a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball, but there isn’t a lot of respect being given to these kids from the national media, and even some of the fans are wary about putting faith in these young people due to the fact that the Dolphins have broken the hearts of fans over the past three years by falling apart at the end of the season.

With that said, I see a lot of potential for certain players on both sides of the ball to be great, and here’s who I have in mind for a serious breakout season.

Offense: RB Damien Williams

While the Miami Dolphins drafted running back Jay Ajayi, and his potential has a lot of fans excited. But not many remember that there was a surprise player out of training camp named Damien Williams, who as the year went on showed potential to be a very good player. He showed ability to be an excellent rusher as he fought to stay on his feet and never give up on a play, as well as his prowess as a receiver.

Most fans have already written off Williams in favor of the rookie Ajayi, but I for one am not willing to write off Williams just yet. I’ve often compared Damien Williams to Darren Sproles, in the sense that he would be more valuable to the Dolphins as a receiver coming out of the backfield than as an actual rusher. A weapon like Williams could be very valuable to the Dolphins, and I expect him to make a strong case this year that he deserves the number two spot behind Lamar Miller.

Defense: LB Chris McCain

Patriots fans will remember McCain as the one who blocked the punt and sacked Tom Brady in the first game of the 2014 season where the Dolphins upset the Patriots and gave the Dolphins fans worldwide a spark of hope. Of course, after that game, McCain’s playing time was severely limited despite the bright flashes he exhibited in that first game. Whether that was merely a choice of the coaching staff or a result of McCain’s self-admitted failure to fully understand the playbook is debatable.

However, with the departure of linebacker Philip Wheeler, McCain instantly became the favorite to win the starting job at SLB, and truth be told, the majority of Dolphins fans felt that McCain would’ve been an upgrade over Wheeler in his rookie year. Now he has a year of experience under his belt, and he has said that he now understands the playbook fully. His ability as a pass-rusher is excellent, and if his coverage skills improve as well, I believe McCain will be a star in the NFL, and with Suh and Wake and Vernon on the defensive line, anytime the Dolphins send a blitz, teams should be prepared for the battle of their lives.

Steve Saslow (@BillsDaily):

Offense: Tyrod Taylor: Rex Ryan loved the kid so much he tried to trade for him when he coached the Jets. Taylor spent four years behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore and has only 35 NFL passes under his belt to show for it. He got to learn from a solid quarterback and is considered one of the fastest quarterbacks in the league with an arm. Ryan says he has Russell Wilson type qualities.

Ryan has made it clear that the battle for the starting QB job is a three man competition with Taylor firmly in the discussion. He left a more lucrative offer from the Broncos on the table to sign with the Bills because he was promised he will have a chance to earn the starting spot. He said recently so far that has been the case.

While EJ Manuel was drafted by the former regime (with input from current GM Doug Whaley and current team President Russ Brandon), Ryan isn’t tied to him. This regime did bring in Matt Cassel in a trade with Minnesota for two low round picks. He would be the perfect choice for a game manager to get the ball in the hands of the abundant playmakers on offense while controlling the ball to allow the defense to win games for them. This was the formula Rex Ryan used to get to two straight AFC Championship games with Mark Sanchez at QB.

Cassel struggled in OTAs and isn’t a shoe-in to make the roster if he doesn’t win the starting job because of a high cap figure. This opens the door for Taylor who Ryan may favor and is likely the only one with a spot on the final 53 all but sewn up. If he performs well in camp people may be wondering who the new kid is leading the Bills offense on opening day.

Defense: Nickell Robey: Many people haven’t heard of the undersized nickel corner that packs a big punch. He has been the team’s slot corner for most of the two years he has been in the league after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He played much better in his rookie year than last year but that is because the defense used by former Ryan protégé Mike Pettine suited his skill set much better than the less aggressive Jim Schwartz defense of 2014.

Robey is the type of player Ryan loves and even though they drafted Ronald Darby in the 2nd round he will backup the outside starters of Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Robey will be the slot corner once again in 2015.

With Goodell, the Signs Were There Back in 2008 Trouble Was Coming

Coming off of the controversial 2007 season where the Patriots were caught for not adhering to the league’s policy that pertained to the use of video equipment on the sidelines, Roger Goodell went into that offseason fired up when it came to trying “to preserve the competitive integrity of the game.”

It came after the NFL Commissioner, heading into just his third season, was obviously reacting to what had happened with the Patriots.  However, looking closer, there were some things in his plans then that are hurting Tom Brady seven years later.

One of the things that stands out in a report by the Washington Post in from March of 2008 was that one person familiar Goodell’s plans revealed that the Commissioner was trying to put in place a threshold for imposing punishment for a rule violation, and looking closer, it’s something that fits perfectly with what’s transpired over the past few months.

According to the report, that threshold only need to be “closer to a preponderance of the evidence than beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Sound familiar?

“Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking,” Goodell wrote via the Washington Post. “I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established. And where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s). I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis.”

So there you go.  That laid the groundwork for where we are now, with the commissioner trying to prevent any obstacles in establishing guilt while being able to drop the hammer.

Reading that is definitely frustrating, especially in seeing how it foreshadowed what’s gone down since this whole mess began.  In the recent cases we’ve seen in the domestic violence cases with other players, there was concrete evidence that at least established proof of guilt.  In this case, all there seems to be is a hunch and some theories.

Unfortunately, what happened in 2008 helped make it possible for Goodell not to need definitive proof in order to punish a player who has been a solid representative of the league for 15-years, and that’s one of the things Brady’s legal team and the NFLPA will have to try and overcome now that this is seemingly headed to federal court.

Congratulations Commissioner – You Got Him

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally got his man on Tuesday, opting to let Tom Brady’s suspension stand at four games despite Brady’s appeal last month, hanging guilt on the veteran quarterback for reportedly destroying his cell phone shortly after the investigation into this whole entire ridiculous mess began earlier this year.

In Goodell’s ruling, which spans 20 similarly glorious pages filled with all kinds of fun facts just like the Wells Report (and an astonishing amount of footnotes to try and combat almost every argument made against him during this debacle), the NFL commissioner seemingly ignored the 10 hours of testimony and evidence that was given during last month’s appeal on June 23rd, which he said resulted in a transcript that spanned more than 450 pages long.  Instead he fixated on what he felt was “the most significant new information that emerged in connection with the appeal evidence.”

According to Goodell, Brady instructed his assistant to destroy the cellphone that he had been using since early November 2014, which was “a period that included the AFC Championship Game and the initial weeks of the subsequent investigation.”  The report states, “Mr. Brady knew that Mr. Wells and his team had requested information from that cellphone in connection with their investigation,” and the fact that his cellphone was destroyed wasn’t disclosed until months later during the hearing appears to be the deciding factor.

So at the end of the day, much like how this all started, Goodell and Ted Wells were hung up on the contents of what might have been on the quarterback’s phone. This despite the fact they got everything they wanted in the early part of the investigation from both Patriots employees John Jastremski and James McNally and the fact that none of the messages mentioned in the report ever deliberately talked about breaking league rules.

Brady has remained quiet throughout this entire process, only stating during an appearance at Salem State that he would say something “soon.”  But following the announcement by the NFL on Tuesday, his agent, Don Yee, had some scathing words about how this has been handled.

“The appeal process was a sham, resulting in the Commissioner rubber-stamping his own decision,” said Yee in his statement via ESPN Boston.   “For example, the Wells investigative team was given over 100 days to conduct its investigation. Just days prior to the appeal hearing, we were notified that we would only have four hours to present a defense; therefore, we didn’t have enough time to examine important witnesses. Likewise, it was represented to the public that the Wells team was ‘independent’; however, when we requested documents from Wells, our request was rejected on the basis of privilege. We therefore had no idea as to what Wells found from other witnesses, nor did we know what those other witnesses said.  These are just two examples of how the Commissioner failed to ensure a fair process.”

But the other issue of cooperation and being transparent, which seems to be the basket Goodell is placing all his eggs in as he continues working to bring down the guy he handed the Lombardi Trophy to just a few months ago, is what he’s seemingly deeming to be the biggest problem he had with Brady and gives that as his reason in being able to impose the suspension.  Yee appears to vehemently disagree, pointing out it’s a fact which seems to make little sense as he said they turned over an “unprecedented amount of electronic data”.

“Finally, as to the issue of cooperation, we presented the Commissioner with an unprecedented amount of electronic data, all of which is incontrovertible,” said Yee.  “I do not think that any private citizen would have agreed to provide anyone with the amount of information that Tom was willing to reveal to the Commissioner. Tom was completely transparent. All of the electronic information was ignored; we don’t know why. ”

However, it appears there will be a response coming, with Yee saying, “The extent to which Tom opened up his private life to the Commissioner will become clear in the coming days.”

The fact Brady destroyed his cell phone may appear damning on the outside, but Brady admitted that anytime he gets a new phone it’s a common practice for him to request an assistant to destroy the phone and SIM card.  Given what celebrities and public figures can be subjected to, it seems fairly logical.

But if you want to look at it the other way and question the validity of that argument, you can, but given everything that’s already transpired, this was simply a no-win situation.  After all, look at the seemingly harmless information and texts that have already been misconstrued to this point that have put Brady in this situation, and the league already had access to those through Jastremski and McNally’s phones.  They didn’t need Brady’s phone for that.

Yet that’s what seems to have made up Goodell’s mind when he oversaw the appeal and he wasted no time in making sure the NFLPA will have a rough road ahead in overturning the decision in federal court.  According to Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg, the league struck fast after the announcement, filing a preemptive lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan, trying to solidify the outcome of the appeal and effectively slam the door on getting it overturned.

In the ruling Goodell said that his findings “more than satisfy” the “more probable than not” standard needed to suspend the Patriots QB, “especially taking into account the credibility of the witnesses, including Mr. Brady, which I had ample opportunity to evaluate at the hearing.”

So there you go.  He thinks Brady is a liar and for now he’s nailed him, unless the NFLPA can overturn it.

“I find that with respect to the game balls used in the AFC Championship Game and the subsequent investigation, Mr. Brady engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football,” said Goodell in the ruling.

In Goodell’s mind, he views the discipline imposed as “not excessive or without precedent”, comparing it to New Orleans Saints Joe Vitt’s six-game suspension during BountyGate and saying it helps “reinforce my conclusion” when it comes to Brady’s four-game ban.

Somewhere he’s likely sitting there feeling pretty good about how this all played out.  After all, he didn’t fare well in those recent appeal cases against players involving domestic violence of women and children or guys within the game who were physically trying to injure other players, so he made sure he didn’t make that same mistake this time.

Instead, he was thorough, took over a month to make sure he got everything absolutely perfect, and then showed the world how in charge he is by nailing a guy he thinks might have “been generally aware” of someone potentially letting 1 psi out of a football without any concrete evidence that it actually occurred.

Well done, Commissioner.

So for now, he got his man, while proving even further that it’s “more probable than not” his priorities are too far gone to try and make sense of any of anything he does any more.

And for Brady, it looks like it’s on to federal court.

Patriots LB Hightower: “Hell Yeah, I Want to Play in the First Game”

Malcolm Butler may be the Super Bowl hero after his game-clinching interception against the Seahawks back in February, but Dont’a Hightower’s game-saving tackle against Marshawn Lynch the play before was the one that made it possible, playing an intricate part in New England winning their fourth championship.

When the game was over fans learned that Hightower made that play with only one good arm, with the veteran linebacker having undergone surgery this offseason to repair a torn labrum.  The initial prognosis didn’t seem promising after it seemed he might be sidelined six to seven months, but it appears that he’s pushing to be out there when the Patriots take the field in the season opener.

Hightower took part in a local football camp in Lowell, Mass on Monday and told ESPN’s Joe McDonald that he’s making progress and so far, everything is going well with his rehabilitation.

“Honestly, I don’t have a target date,” said Hightower. “I’ve seen doc, and everything is going great right now. I’m right on track, if not a little ahead of schedule. It’s something that’s going to take time. I can’t say ‘three weeks’ or whatever. It feels great. I’m doing good. Doc loved everything. He said I’m ahead of schedule, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”

That’s good news considering how valuable he is to New England’s defense.  Hightower finished tied for second with Chandler Jones in sacks with six during the regular season in 2014 and also combined for 89 tackles (also second on the team behind Jamie Collins’ 115), 13 quarterback hits (2nd behind Rob Ninkovich’s 16), two passes defensed, and a forced fumble.

In the playoffs he finished second in tackles with 16, as well as a team-leading two tackles for a loss.

For now he’ll have to take it one week at a time, but there’s still plenty of time before the season starts.  At this point his road back seems to be going according to plan and if that continues, Hightower hopes he’ll be out there.

“Oh, hell yeah, I wanna play in the first game,” said Hightower.  “I wish we could go out and start in a couple of weeks and bang around. It’s just something that takes time. It’s going great.”

Colts Luck on the Patriots – “We’d Like to Dethrone Them”

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck appears to be an innocent bystander when it comes to the deflategate controversy set off by his organization, which has dominated the headlines this offseason while also leaving Luck’s nemesis, New England QB Tom Brady, sidelined – for now – for the first four games of the season.

But the veteran QB made a little noise this week after answering fan questions for a forum in London, with Luck saying he’d like to see his team take the next step and knock the Patriots out.

“The Patriots are obviously the defending Super Bowl champs and our defending conference champs so there’s a high amount of respect for that team and what they do,” Luck told “They’re the kings of the league right now and everybody would like to dethrone them — we’d like to dethrone them but you have to look at the season as 16 games. There are fans and media who will hype up certain games and circle them in red on the calendar but, as a player, you lose sight of what’s important if you get into that mode.”

Luck hasn’t even come close to beating the Patriots in their recent meetings, with New England having scored over 40 points per game in every contest against them.   The closest margin?  Their postseason match-up in 2014 when New England beat them by a paltry 21 points in a 43-22 Divisional Playoff win back on January 11, 2014.

The fourth-year quarterback is just 25-years old and he’s off to a solid start during the regular season, having amassed a career record of 33-15 after three straight seasons of finishing 11-5.  However, he’s just 3-3 in the postseason, including two blowout losses to New England in each of the last two years. The most recent one should definitely be fresh in his mind after Tom Brady and the Patriots handed his team a 45-7 beating back in January, which included a second half clinic that saw New England outscore them 28-0 with perfectly inflated footballs.

To add insult to injury, Luck didn’t play well in that game against Bill Belichick’s defense, completing just 12-of-33 (36%) throwing the football including two interceptions while his team converted a measly 3-of-11 (27%) on third down.

If he plans on knocking off the Patriots, both he and his football team have a long way to go to get there.

For now Luck is confident, and he thinks his team has a shot to be in the mix in 2015.

“I’d like to think that we can get better and improve on 2014,” said Luck.  “That’s the goal for every team when hope springs eternal during the off-season. It’s everybody’s goal to go out and win the Super Bowl — I’d like to think we have a realistic chance. We certainly have the guys to get it done, the coaching staff and the support so that’s what we’re working for.”

Unfortunately the only problem if that happens is the road there may once again pass through Foxboro and after everything Brady’s been through this offseason, that’s certainly not going to help Luck’s chances.’s Adam Schein has his latest top 10 list and has some interesting decisions that he’s made in putting it together, including his top four players, two of which appear to be in error.

At least logic would lead you to believe it has to be a mistake, since no rational person could have come to a similar conclusion.

Schein has Patriots quarterback Tom Brady listed in the rankings, which is one thing in his corner in a list that, for the most part, contains players who are worthy of being mentioned among the league’s elite.  However, the bizarre part is the fact that he ranked Brady at #4 and Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck at #3.

Yes, I said the same thing you just did, provided you’re a New England fan.  If you’re a Colts fan, we probably don’t share the same sentiment.

The logical rationale behind it might be if he’s basing it on a possible 16 game performance for the upcoming season, which would make sense given that Brady is currently facing a four game suspension by the NFL for the ongoing DeflateGate debacle.  But the list is based on who he believes are the league’s best, and while Luck may be among the top quarterbacks in the game, ranking him ahead of Brady doesn’t make much sense.

Luck has started off his NFL career strong, with the Colts going 11-5 in each of his first three seasons.   Brady, on the other hand, has finished 12-4 in the last three seasons and has outscored Luck’s offense 189-73, including the 45-7 pummeling the Patriots put on Indianapolis during the AFC Championship Game back in January.

Schein offers no real explanation for the decision in his piece, saying positive things about both players.

His list shapes out this way:

10) Richard Sherman
9) Rob Gronkowski
8) Adrian Peterson
7) Luke Kuechly
6) Earl Thomas
5) Ndamukong Suh
4) Tom Brady
3) Andrew Luck
2) J.J. Watt
1) Aaron Rodgers

There’s an argument for where all of these players belong on this list, because they’re all terrific players.  Rob Gronkowski’s ranking at #9 can be disputed, but fans in New England are the only ones who get to experience seeing him play on a weekly basis so that’s probably why people in the national media don’t appreciate how good he really is.

But for now, placing Luck ahead of Brady makes little sense, although after looking at last year’s edition where he ranked Rodgers #1 as well, clearly there appears to be a little bit of a flaw in his decision making after rating the Packers’ QB there for two straight years.

Inspired By His Sister, Patriots Easley Bringing Awareness to Illness

Patriots fans haven’t had the opportunity to see much of last year’s first round selection Dominique Easley, but off the field he’s proving to be the type of player who if his play can match the size of his heart, he should be fun to watch in the coming years.

The second-year defensive lineman is facing high expectations as New England starts making a youth movement up front on the Patriots’ defensive line.  But the biggest impact he’s been making so far have been coming from his efforts off the gridiron as he’s worked on bringing awareness to an illness that hits close to home.

According to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe, Easley’s sister, Destinee, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia five years ago, which is a chronic disorder that causes widespread pain and fatigue.  It’s been something which, at times, has left her too tired to go to get out of bed and go to school and now Easley is trying to use his new-found fame in the NFL to try and make a difference with a disorder that affects an estimated 5 million Americans.

“Just being at the stage that I’m at can really help bring awareness to the illness,” he told the newspaper. “If I wasn’t in the NFL, there wouldn’t be the awareness going on that I’m bringing because of the position that I’m in.”

Easley has established a website,, which states his mission is, “Destined to Cure Fibromyalgia through awareness and education.”  He encourages everyone to join him as he tries to fight this battle that will help people around the world.

Easley is scheduled to take part in an upcoming football camp on July 25th where Centers for Integrative Medicine and Healing will partner to help stomp out the disease through an NFL kids’ skills camp called ‘Champs Camp’.

The camp will be held for children ages six through 17 and will teach offensive and defensive skills. It’s scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 25 at Hormel Stadium in Medford, MA. Participants will compete in NFL combine style drills designed to increase speed, agility and stamina.

According to a recent press release, doctors from CIMH will be on site to perform free health screenings for children and their mothers, while also distributing health and prevention handouts.  They’ll also be administering free Acupuncture tests.  Portions of the proceeds from Champs Camp will go to Fibromyalgia research.

For now Easley’s motivation remains his sister, who he said inspires him to push forward during those times he thinks he potentially isn’t able to do something.

“That’s my baby sister. Seeing her go through pain every day and not be able to walk or even get out of bed sometimes, I have no excuse to say that I can’t do something,” Dominique told the newspaper. “She’s been fighting since she was 11. It’s really more of a motivation for me.”

Yet another great reason to be rooting for him when he takes the field this season.

Is a Long-Term Deal Ahead For Stephen Gostkowski?

Earlier this year Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was given the franchise tag designation, with the veteran signing his tender back on March 6th that will see him earn a guaranteed salary of $4.6 million for 2015.

That’s good news for New England, who now has him at least under contract for the 2015 season.  He’s coming off of a career season that ended with Gostkowski winning his first Super Bowl championship, while also quietly establishing himself as one of the best kickers in the game.

Gostkowski’s been an unbelievable replacement for former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, who had been a steady contributor before departing for Indianapolis via free agency following the 2005 season.  2014 was one of Gostkowski’s best seasons, with the veteran hitting an NFL-best 35-of-37 field goals (94.6%) which was a career high in accuracy.  He also became the seventh kicker to earn 100 points in the postseason and kicked touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

While Gostkowski signed his tender just four days after being the designation, one of the bigger questions now will be whether or not the Patriots have a long-term deal in the works for a player who should be considered a priority heading into this season.  July 15th marks the final days for players who received the franchise tag to be able to sign a multi-year extension with their current team.  While Gostkowski may have already signed his tender, that doesn’t rule out the possibility for him to get a longer deal if the two sides can reach an agreement.

Given how important the kicking game is, especially in a stadium as difficult to kick in as Gillette, it would be hard to imagine the Patriots trying to find a replacement for a guy who has been so consistent.  Kickers don’t tend to get a lot of credit but Gostkowski is now among the NFL’s elite, having actually lead all kickers in points in every season since 2012.

Now the biggest question will be whether or not he’ll get a deal that runs longer than this season.  He seemed pretty happy to sign the tender, which made him the highest paid kicker in the league.  Now it will be interesting to see if New England is able to extend him for the foreseeable future, which will be something to watch in the weeks ahead.

Gronkowski Proves He’s Smart On and Off the Field

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has already become an elite player on the gridiron since being drafted by New England, but despite his success, it hasn’t changed who he is off the field.

The veteran tight end may have taken some grief for his fun-loving lifestyle outside of football, but he’s spent much of this offseason at various charity events and football camps while also enjoying being able to workout and prepare for the upcoming season, something he hasn’t been able to do over the last couple of years due to a couple of significant injuries he’s been forced to deal with.

He’s grown up quite a bit since he got here, and he doesn’t get quite enough credit for the type of person he really is. In fact, Peter King of MMQB pointed out a couple of interesting excerpts from his upcoming autobiography “It’s Good to be Gronk”, which shows how smart Gronkowski really is in terms of how he lives his life and how he spends his money.

“To this day, I still haven’t touched one dime of my signing bonus or NFL contract money. I live off my marketing money and haven’t blown it on any big-money expensive cars, expensive jewelry or tattoos and still wear my favorite pair of jeans from high school… I don’t hurt anyone (except Gord with the occasional kick to the groin), I don’t do drugs, I don’t drive drunk, I don’t break the law… I’m a 23-year-old guy just looking to have a fun time.”

It was a nice look at a guy who despite some of the criticism has remained someone who has stayed true to himself while doing things the right way, and at just 26-years old hopefully still has plenty of great years in a Patriots uniform still ahead of him.

A suspension seems to be looming for Brady next week. (USA TODAY Images)

It appears we’re getting closer to finding out how far the NFL is willing to go over the Wells report, and for now it sounds like they’re ready to hand out punishment as soon as next week.

According to the New York Daily News, the NFL is planning on doling out a suspension to quarterback Tom Brady in the coming week, with the only apparent question hinging on the length of games he’ll be sidelined for.

Leaking the information before the weekend is an interesting move by the league office, which one would believe is being done to gauge the reaction as the speculation begins over the punishment he’ll receive.  There have already been several scenarios floated, including a Dolphins beat writer in Miami speculating he could miss all of 2015, while others, including Mike Giardi of CSNNE, think he could miss as many as 6-8 games.  Others seem to feel 2-4 is more realistic.

The fact there will be one at all is mind-boggling considering the league looks ready to damage a legacy of a player over what’s essentially a “maybe”.   The Wells report uses the term “more probable than not”, which the NFL is saying is the equivalent of guilty, and that’s what they’re going with.   The inexplicable part is the evidence they’re basing it on comes thanks to the texts between two nitwits, one of which complained about Brady constantly being on him to alert the refs to make sure the footballs weren’t over inflated during the season, and his 100 second bathroom break on the way to the field with the bag of footballs in tow. That’s the damning evidence that they’re using to suspend one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

One could challenge Wells to prove “it’s more probable than not” that Jim McNally, the Patriots employee whose failure to not use the facilities earlier might see Brady suffer a suspension over it, actually washed his hands.  The report can’t prove McNally’s hygiene any more than it can prove definitively that anything was done to that bag of footballs.

Yet the NFL appears ready to move forward and suspend Brady.  Now the next question will be how far they can go in their punishment.

More than one game is unacceptable, simply because of the fact that Ray Rice got just two for knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator.  Granted, Roger Goodell didn’t know the extent of how bad that incident was when it initially happened prior to the release of the video, but that doesn’t change the fact that his punishment essentially set a precedent.   Does Brady’s supposed “being generally aware” of the loss of 1 psi in a football meet the equivalent of assaulting a woman?  Because if he’s suspended for the same length as Rice, or even longer, that’s essentially what the league would be saying.

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, and the veteran’s father have already both come out swinging in the wake of the report, with Yee already making it clear that he and his client aren’t going to take this one lying down.  Brady was very calculated Thursday night during his appearance at Salem State and said that he’ll respond, “hopefully soon” because he wants to be “comfortable” in what he says.  Meanwhile, Yee sounds livid over the report and it’s going to be interesting to see how far he’s willing to go in this battle when it finally unfolds.

It seems we’ll find out this week what he’ll be up against.  Yee seems poised to try and make sure the NFL doesn’t damage his client’s legacy over a report full of assumptions and without any concrete facts.  As it stands right now the league’s case against Brady has more craters than the moon, and how it plays out will likely be watched by the NFLPA since they could see one of their own get punished without any real proof of any wrongdoing.

If you thought Spygate was bad, this will be far worse since there’s far more at stake.  Pray that Yee’s legal prowess and any other lawyers brought in are able to slay the NFL giant that seems ready to slaughter one of their own.  Let the fight begin.