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New England Patriots News 4-3 and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
April 3, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

New England Patriots News 4-3 and AFC East Notes(PHOTO: Steve Balestrieri -
Posted: Apr 03, 2016 05:00
🕑 Read Time: 6 minutes

Good morning, here are Sunday’s New England Patriots News 4-3 notes and what’s happening around the division.

Knighton Signing Big Move for Defense: The Patriots bringing in veteran DL Terrance Knighton was big news both figuratively and literally for the team this week. The 6’3, 354 pound Knighton whose nickname is ‘Pot Roast’, will turn 30 on July 4th but should have plenty left in the tank to help out the Patriots rotation at DT.

He’ll join Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Dominique Easley as the top four rotational players on the interior. With Sealver Siliga and Akiem Hicks gone this season, the Patriots were looking to add an interior presence that can stuff the run as well as push the pocket. Flip back to the 2013 AFC Championship Game and it is easy to see what Bill Belichick likes in Knighton.

His presence will allow the Patriots to use some of the hybrid looks that were so popular when Vince Wilfork patrolled the interior. Knighton would be able to two-gap over the nose and in a 4-3 ‘under’ look, so would the strong-side defensive end. The weak side DT and DE would one-gap and attack up-field.

The opposite would be true for the 4-3 ‘over’ look with the two-gap on the weak side. The advantage is that when done effectively it allows the linebackers much more freedom to blitz, and move from sideline to sideline to make plays. Dont’a Hightower has to be a very happy man to see Knighton in a New England uniform.

To do this effectively, the team needs a big, strong, athletic man in the middle. Knighton will be playing the Wilfork role, which is a big upgrade over Siliga. While he doesn’t have the pass rush ability of Hicks, he is still capable of pushing the pocket inside.

Reminds one of the Ted Washington signing a few years ago.

Pat Chung Showing You Can Go Home Again: In his second stint with the Patriots safety Pat Chung is showing that bringing him back was in fact a very smart decision. ESPN’s Field Yates reported that the Patriots awarded Chung, 28, a contract extension that will carry him thru the 2018 season.

Chung is now being used in a way that better emphasizes his strengths; playing down low in the box and matching up with opposing tight ends. He was the second leading tackler on the team last year with 85.

His deal pays him $5.7 million dollars in new money over the course of the three-year deal. He and fellow safety Devin McCourty are both locked up for the foreseeable future. McCourty is signed thru the 2019 season.

Pat Chung has excelled in his second stint with the Patriots and parlayed that into a nice extension. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots FA Spree Allows More Flexibility for the Draft: The Patriots under Bill Belichick have traditionally stood pat in the early timeframe of free agency allowing other teams to overspend while they bide their time and sign veterans to balance out their depth. There’s no arguing with the success they’ve had in the past 15 years.

This year’s free agency crop, compounded with a couple of big trades have placed them in a good position once the draft rolls around. Now they are more free to move around and either up earlier in the second round or down in the 4th and 5th rounds. These moves were especially important considering the Pats have no 1st round pick this season.

While they still have some needs especially at RB and OT, overall the team is looking solid on paper, especially on defense where they seem poised for another deep playoff run.

While many are pointing to CB as a big area of need, I tend to disagree. If a top corner falls into their lap during the draft, then by all means that player should be picked up. But with both starting corners in Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, the team’s nickel corner Justin Coleman as well as last year’s rookie Darryl Roberts returning, the outlook for the position looks good. Roberts turned heads at training camp and earned a start in the 1st preseason game prior to suffering a wrist injury that placed him on IR.

While Roberts and Coleman are still largely unproven, don’t discard them from making a big jump in play in 2016. I believe Roberts will make a push for starting reps this year. I would still look for the team to bring in a veteran CB after the draft (Tarell Brown?) should the opportunity arise.

Offense Shaping up to be Fast, Dynamic: The addition of TE Martellus Bennett for the Patriots promises to be a very interesting one for both NE and the defenses that face them in 2016. Bennett is one of the most complete tight ends in the NFL and pairing him with Rob Gronkowski gives Josh McDaniels the most intriguing pairing since the Pats had bookend tight ends with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez.

The team looked to bring in Scott Chandler last season to bolster the tight end depth but it never materialized, despite extensive work with Brady and the tight ends all spring and summer. Bennett is a big upgrade over Chandler not only in the passing game but especially in the running game. He and Gronkowski are two of the best blocking tight ends in the game.

By mixing the formations, the Patriots can show run or pass on any down and will make things very difficult for opposing defenses to match up. Look for the up-tempo offense to make itself a much bigger part of the arsenal again in 2016. Opponents won’t be able to substitute defensively and there will be plenty of matchups to exploit.

Adding the bigger and faster Chris Hogan to the wide receiver core gives the Patriots a trio of receivers to go along with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola that can move inside or outside at will to take advantage of  favorable matchups in the passing game.

Add in a healthy Dion Lewis and the recently signed TE Clay Harbor and WR Nate Washington just adds to the versatility. Neither Harbor or Washington are locks, but provide…on paper more intriguing possibilities for the Patriots to utilize. Harbor is more of a move tight end than a traditional in-line one. Washington is an outside the numbers wide receiver that while aging, can still stretch the field both vertically and horizontally.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Bring in Toler, looking for CB Help: Miami brought in free agent CB Greg Toler this week according to Dolphins’ beat writer Omar Kelly.

Toler, 31, started 25 games over the past two seasons for Indianapolis. Drafted by the Cardinals in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft, he played three seasons in Arizona before playing the past three with the Colts. Toler notched 51 tackles, had 10 passes defensed and forced one fumble in the 10 games in 2015.

Toler has played in 72 games, starting 47 in six seasons, and he has eight career interceptions. He’s scored three touchdowns on interception returns. The Dolphins released 2015 starting corners Brent Grimes and Brice McCain earlier this spring.

They brought in Byron Maxwell in a trade with Philadelphia and he’s expected to be the starting right corner in 2016.

Jets in Search of Cap Space: The Jets, after a big spending spree in 2015 are left with very little room (around $2 million) in the 2016 salary cap. That’s the bad news, the worse news is that they still don’t have a QB locked up and they’ll probably have to trade DL Muhammad Wilkerson to open up some space in order to either re-sign incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick or bring in someone else.

Wilkerson has a $15.7 million-dollar cap hit in 2016 and the Jets will have to work a deal to dump his salary and be able to bring in a QB. One scenario being tossed about on social media was the trade with the Niners for QB Colin Kaepernick and the #7 selection in the draft. Doubtful SF would agree to that, and that would only save the Jets around $2.7 million in cap space.

Look for the Bears to offer the 11th overall pick for Mo, they have the cap space and he’d immediately upgrade their defense.

Bills Bring in LB Bruce Carter for a Visit: Buffalo, looking for help with their defense, hosted former Tampa Bay and Dallas LB Bruce Carter for a free agent visit.

Carter 28, was a 2nd round pick for the Cowboys in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. The athletic 6’2, 235 pound veteran would play inside linebacker in Rex Ryan’s system next to Preston Brown and immediately upgrade their defense if they can work a deal.

RIP To a Good Friend: One of our most avid readers and friends of this site, Patrice Philips passed away suddenly in her sleep last weekend, leaving behind her 10-year son Michael. Patrice was always the first to comment once our stories hit our Facebook page as she and her son were staunch Patriots fans. Just a few months ago we were able to get Michael through the kindness of the Patriots’ Stacey James and Chandler Jones, (Michael’s favorite player), quite a birthday present for him. Patrice and her son were very appreciative and sent us a video of Michael getting his gift. I kept her voice mails…because they were so heartfelt and thankful, never realizing a few months later what would unfold. All the best to her family and especially Michael in this trying time.

You’ll be missed Patrice. Heaven has just got another big Patriots fan.

 Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 2016 Free Agency 2016 NFL Combine 2016 NFL Draft 2016 NFL Free Agency 2016 Patriots Draft 2016 Patriots Roster 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chandler Jones Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Darryl Roberts Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman Logan Ryan Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots news Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Terrance Knighton Tom Brady

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