New England Patriots News 5-28, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 28, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-28, & AFC East Notes.

From all us here at PatsFans.com, we hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day Weekend. We’ll be paying homage to our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice, our true heroes on Sunday morning at a church service. And then the annual parade on Monday. Any of our readers out there who are veterans we salute you, especially those Gold Star families.

We applaud the NFL for coming to its collective senses and putting a stop to the ridiculous penalties for celebrating a touchdown and easing the rules on that a bit in 2017. Isn’t that the point of the game, to score? Players can once again use the ball as a prop in their end zone celebratory choreography.

The other interesting development this year is the cutting of the overtime period from 15 to 10 minutes. Ushered in under the “players’ safety” mantra, it was also done to shorten the games and encourage teams to be a bit more aggressive in the extra session. We’ll see how that turns out, but it will be intriguing to see how the second development is game planned by coaches this season.

Clayborn Gets the Call…and About Time:
The Patriots fan voters have spoken and CB Raymond Clayborn will be the newest inductee into the team’s Hall of Fame this summer. Clayborn played for the Pats for 13 seasons (1977-1989), was named to three Pro Bowls and is tied for the team’s all-time lead in interceptions (36) with Ty Law.

Drafted in the first round (#16 overall) in the 1977 NFL Draft, Clayborn teamed with Mike Haynes to give the Patriots a tremendous starting tandem at corner. Clayborn was a member of the Patriots All-1970s Team, the Pats ALL-1980s Team and the Patriots 35th Anniversary Team. He also set the team record with 161 consecutive starts, so he was always healthy and on the field.

Congratulations to Clayborn, we look forward to seeing him presented his red jacket this August by owner Robert Kraft.

Brady Fired up for practice? Now There’s a Surprise:
Phil Perry from CSNNE reported on Thursday’s OTA session that Tom Brady was very fired up for the session and that he celebrated a late practice touchdown to reserve RB D.J. Foster as if it was a January playoff contest. That should surprise no one.

Tom Brady didn’t let another Super Bowl win temper his fiery competitiveness even in OTAs this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

When Brady steps into the building at Gillette, he’s got laser focus and is as competitive as they come, something Brandin Cooks remarked on after the session. That’s part of the reason the Patriots and Brady have been so successful. The work that they put in and the attention to detail on the practice fields of May, June, and July, will win games in November and December.

Of course, maybe the weather from Thursday’s session just made Brady think it was January as the cool, raw, rainy weather from last week belied the fact that we’re in the end of May instead of January.

Butler Taking the High…and Smart Road:
The media crowded around Patriots CB Malcolm Butler, it was after all the first time anyone’s had the opportunity to speak with him since his much-ballyhooed contract situation resulted in him signing his one-year $3.91million-dollar tender. But if anyone expected Butler to pass on “voluntary” OTAs, they were sadly mistaken. Butler, as he has been in his entire, albeit brief career is all in for 2017.

Malcolm Butler speaks with the Patriots media after spring practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

“I wasn’t going to hurt nobody but myself if I missed this,” he said. “This is time to get better. That’s what I’m out here to do. Get better. Have another great year. Anything to help the team. Present a positive image. Whatever happens, happens.”

I’m here. This is my team,” he added. “Ignore the noise. Keep working no matter what. You’ve got a job to do no matter where you’re at. I’m glad to be here to do this job.”

Gronkowski is a Healthy Participant:
Another bit of good news this spring are the pictures of Rob Gronkowski, seemingly fully healed up from last season’s back surgery that landed him on IR, running routes and catching passes high up over defenders. A healthy Gronk is always a good sign for the offense and he makes this unit offensive unit even more dangerous.

Rob Gronkowski is apparently healthy and ready to roll…with a new contract in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

With him being seen seemingly everywhere this spring, including a new video where he’s obviously enjoying himself, it is another good sign that he’s healthy and ready to go this summer.  The Patriots also re-did Gronkowski’s contract. With incentives reached, he could increase his salary from $5.25 million dollars to $10.75 million. The money breaks down as follows:

  • NE shells out a $10.75 million payout if Gronkowski records 90 percent playing time, 80 catches, 1,200 receiving yards, or is named to the All-Pro team.
  • That drops to $8.75 million if Gronkowski totals 80 percent play time, 70 catches, 1,000 receiving yards, or 12 touchdowns.
  • And lastly, $6.75 million if Gronkowski hits the marks of 70 percent playing time, 60 receptions, 800 receiving yards, or 10 touchdowns.

By the nature of his playing style, Gronkowski has had issues staying on the field. He’s averaged 73 catches for 1108 yards and 12 TDs over the course of 16 games in his NFL career. The Patriots would probably love to be forced into paying him option #1 in 2017 with a big year and playing in 90 percent of the snaps.

Welcome to New England Andrew Hawkins:
New Patriots wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was at OTAs this week. The diminutive 31-year old veteran wide receiver may have a tough road to make the roster but he’s already made the Patriots All-Star social media post of the offseason. Check out this hilarious post.

Well done Mr. Hawkins.

What’s the Rush? A New Year, Another Leading Rusher:
We were sorry to see LeGarrette Blount move on the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency this season, but it shouldn’t come as a big shock that he was moving on. In the 17 years that Bill Belichick has been the Patriots head coach, they’ve had nine different leading rushers in those 17 seasons.

Blount had a terrific 2016 season but slowed down the stretch. He carried 35 times in the playoffs for just 109 yards. Dion Lewis rushed 25 times for 79 yards. The Patriots as a team rushed for just 259 yards in their three playoff wins. But thanks to having a laser-focused Tom Brady under center the Pats scored 104 points in those three wins, 34 against Houston, 36 against Pittsburgh and 34 more against the Falcons.

That’s part of the reason why guys like Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead were brought in. Lewis and James White can catch the ball out of the backfield. Burkhead can do the same, but he and Gillislee will give the Patriots another leading rusher in 2018.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Beef Up LB Position, Sign Hodges:
The Buffalo Bills added some nice depth to their linebacker stable by inking former San Francisco 49er Gerald Hodges to a one-year deal on Friday.

Hodges tallied two interceptions, three sacks, one forced fumble and 80 combined tackles in 12 games started for the Niners in 2016. He had visited the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, and the Jacksonville Jaguars before signing with the Bills on Thursday.

After losing middle linebacker Zach Brown in the offseason, the Bills by adding Hodges will pair him up with Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander and redshirt rookie Reggie Ragland who is reportedly back on the road to being fully healthy in 2017.

Maxwell Recovered from a Slow Start, Ready to Star in Miami:
The Miami Dolphins traded for cornerback Byron Maxwell last spring, bringing the veteran corner over from the Eagles. At the time, the returns weren’t encouraging. Maxwell was burned early and often in the first few weeks of the season, playing soft and was benched by the Dolphins coaching staff.

But after a knee injury to Xavien Howard necessitated putting him back in the lineup, Maxwell shined. He defensed 15 passes and forced four fumbles, tied for second in the NFL in a remarkable turnaround.

Now the Dolphins are counting on Maxwell to improve from a year ago to being the productive pro he was down the stretch. Maxwell chalks it up to taking responsibility for his own play and playing better technique.

“I think it was just a change in technique and a change in mindset basically,” Maxwell said to the Miami media. “I just realized where I had to go at, what I had to do in order for this team to win or help this team win. That’s really what it was. I was just taking ownership and not looking at everybody else. It was on me.”

Jets Hire First Female Coaching Intern for 2017:
New York Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles has hired Collette Smith as a coaching intern for the 2017 training camp. A lifelong Jets fan and a Queens native, Smith is currently a coach and marketing executive with the New York Sharks, part of the Women’s Football Alliance.

Smith becomes the Jets female coaching intern and just the third in NFL history following Jen Welter with the Cardinals and Kathryn Smith who was with the Bills as a quality control special teams’ assistant in 2016.

“I’m over the top. I’m humbled and I’m proud,” Smith told the press. “This could have happened with any NFL team. But it just so happened that it was with my beloved New York Jets. This is bigger because of that. God forbid it would have been with the Patriots. But I still would have done it.”

Smith spent some time with the Jets on the practice field a year ago, Bowles gave her access and she was learning on the go with the Jets. Now she’s progressed enough to be named a coaching intern.

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

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



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