New England Patriots News 4-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-15, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: Some interesting NFL news this week, the league waves goodbye to those hideously awful “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night contests. Perhaps the only thing worse than the uniforms were the awful slate of games that fans were subjected to. Here’s hoping for a much better 2018 slate.

The league wants an independent investigator to look into the concussion settlement with the players, claiming that there is rampant fraud on-going isn’t a good look for the league or the players association.

And the Dez Bryant release by the Cowboys and reports that wants to play in the NFC East to play Dallas twice a year, makes for some interesting times ahead. Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal penned a piece earlier this week stating he’d be a great one-year rental for the Patriots. But now, that probably won’t happen.

The Patriots conducted a pre-draft press conference on Friday morning and Bill Belichick talked about how the team would prepare for the draft by conducting some in-house mock drafts to prepare themselves for the volatility of the draft boards.

He also spoke about trying to draft for need. “You can’t manufacture a guy. It’s a name on the board right now. Until that player gets on the field and performs, then you never really know for sure what that’s going to be.”

“You start talking about the third guard and the second corner, the third guard and the eighth corner, or however those grades will line up,” Belichick said. “Or, you talk about players that are specialty-type players, role players that are maybe very good at a certain role but they’re not three-down players. What are their values relative to other players who may be three-down players with a lesser skillset?”

The Patriots always move around the draft board with trades up and down and this year with two picks in each of the first two rounds promises to be an interesting time to watch how they approach those rounds.

Martellus Bennett had an interesting story on Belichick and his meticulous approach to game planning. Appearing on Fox Sports, Bennett spoke about a game against Buffalo.

“We’re getting ready to play against the Buffalo Bills. The scouting report on the Buffalo Bills punter is he doesn’t have the best hands, and it’s going to be raining,” Bennett said.

“So at practice we practice the punter dropping the ball, scooping and scoring because Bill’s like ‘it’s going to happen in the game.’ And I’m like ‘yeah, well, it might happen.’ You know how coaches say something, everyone’s doing it, right? Well, sure enough on Sunday, it’s drizzling and he drops the ball.”

Bennett was then asked if the Patriots scored.  “No, we didn’t do what (Belichick) said. But on the sideline, I looked at him like, ‘who is this guy?’ All the little things like that he prepares us. I don’t think there’s another team better at situational football.”

Garcia and Rivers are Kind of Hidden Draft Picks in 2018:
Last year the Patriots top two draft picks (taken at #83 and #85 overall) Edge Player Derek Rivers and Tackle Tony Garcia were both lost for the season during training camp and if not for Deatrich Wise, their 2017 draft would’ve been of zero help.

Tony Garcia blocks Kony Ealy during Patriots minicamp 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

Now they both Garcia and Rivers are slated to return and ready to compete. While they didn’t play any meaningful snaps in 2017, both were able to sit in the meetings and probably have a much better idea of the Patriots system this year.

Garcia spoke with Greg Bedard last week and said he’s feeling the best, he’s ever felt, and his weight is back up to 290 (his playing weight at Troy). He and LaAdrian Waddle will no doubt be competing for the starting role this summer of the Patriots left tackle position vacated by Nate Solder.

Derek Rivers returns ready to go in 2018. SBalestrieri photo

Rivers, who came from Division 2 Youngstown State, seemed a bit overwhelmed in the first few days of training camp. But once he got used to the speed of the NFL game, you could see the light gradually coming on and just as he was starting to flash a bit, was injured during a joint practice against the Texans.

This year I could see Rivers in kind of a hybrid OLB/DE role on the edge in the sub-packages, at least initially and see if he can maybe vie for a starting role later during the season.

Rivers doing an interview after an early TC practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Nate Solder’s Letter to New England Perfectly Stated:
Former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and now New York Giant penned a large thank you letter to the Patriots coaches, front office and fans this week and it was a poignant, heart-wrenching account of his son’s struggles with cancer and what he and his wife were going thru behind the scenes.

The characterization of the Patriots of this cold, hard-hearted organization takes a backseat to how he describes how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels allowed him to miss team meetings to be with his son during his cancer treatments.

It is a must-read piece by Solder and gives the reader a real up-close look at the man behind the number. The Giants are getting a very good player and Solder. They are getting an even better man.

Patriots Offer to Amendola, Wasn’t Close to Miami’s:  
Danny Amendola returned to New England this week and he was the featured guest of the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” event at Merrimack College, where ESPN’s Mike Reiss rode with him to the event.

Danny Amendola at training camp 2017. SBalestrieri photo

Amendola was very forthcoming in the piece, talking about his contract, “When free agency broke, I came to the realization that he wasn’t going to really come close to any of the other offers I had,” he said. “I had to make a decision for my family and go down to Miami and continue my career there.”

And then about the Malcolm Butler benching,  “I have my thoughts about it because I was out there putting my blood, sweat, and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn’t on the field,” he told Reiss.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why. I did ask, but I didn’t get any answers. I can’t make decisions like that, so I don’t necessarily worry about it, but I know Malcolm is a great player and he could have helped us win. For whatever reason, he wasn’t out there. He’s going to play more football in his career, and he’s going to be a great player for a long time.”

But at the event, Amendola called Belichick, “the best coach to ever coach in the game” and even said that he respected the hard work that went into getting to the Super Bowl. “I didn’t like practicing in the snow, I didn’t like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team and that was going to make me a better football player. It wasn’t easy, and he’d be the first to admit, at the [Super Bowl] ring ceremony, that it wasn’t easy playing for him. The silver lining was that we were at the ring ceremony.”

Jordan Matthews Signing Keeps Looking Better:
The signing of former Bills and Eagles WR Jordan Matthews continues to look better and better on paper as we wait for the off-season workouts to start. Matthews bet on himself, knowing how tough a place New England is to play, and with the Patriots already having a slew of wide receivers on the roster, he picked the Patriots.

He spoke AL.com about his decision this week and said, “I don’t feel like I’m called to be comfortable, and I knew this would be a great place for me to grow, not only as a player, but as a man in general.”

“When I walked into the building I could feel that there was an aura of ‘Let’s get better every day,'” Matthews said. “I think sometimes in the offseason it’s easy to kind of slip into that kind of monotonous mindset and just saying, ‘OK, we’re just bringing people in,’ or whatever. But there was a lot of intentionality during the visit. They were very detailed. They were very specific with me on what they thought about me and areas that they thought I could grow in. I appreciated that more than anything. I appreciated that type of honesty.”

Matthews knows how tough the Patriots’ offense can be to pick up, but having played at Vanderbilt, considered the “Harvard of the South” he should be plenty smart enough. He also knows that with a solid 2018 season, he’s setting himself up for a nice payday.

Matthews was a very productive receiver for the Eagles, averaging 75 catches a year for three years before being traded to Buffalo last year. He was injured three times and his production plummeted. But it takes two to tango. A receiver has to have an innovative system and a good QB to be productive. Buffalo had neither last year. He can play outside the numbers or in the slot so, he’s a guy we’ll be looking at closely this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCoy Wants the Bills to Sign Dez Bryant
The Buffalo Bills definitely need help at wide receiver, right now having only Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Andre Holmes on the roster. With A.J. McCarron and no doubt a rookie QB on the roster this summer, adding a veteran WR would definitely help whoever is under center. This is why RB LeSean McCoy is stepping up.

McCoy tweeted out asking Bills management to sign recently released Dallas Cowboys’ WR Dez Bryant. He doesn’t seem to be a fit, either in the Buffalo offense or in the city but he does make things intriguing if the Bills would throw their hat into the ring.

Richie Incognito had stated earlier this week that due to physical ailments that he was retiring. “I’m done. That’s it. It’s been a long career. Went to the doctor. My liver and kidneys are shutting down. The stress is killing me. It’s just about doing what’s right. I just want to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Now he’s saying that he’ll be at the Bills off-season workouts starting on Monday. This too will bear watching tomorrow.

Dolphins Bringing in Kenny Vaccaro for an FA Visit:
There are still some quality free agents out there despite the draft being right around the corner. The  Miami Dolphins are bringing in former Saints first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro for a free agent visit. The Fins are pretty much set at safety with Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald and courting Vaccaro, while a high impact player, doesn’t really have a position to fill unless they envision him in a role that the Patriots characterize as the “big nickel” in a linebacker kind of slot.

Vaccaro, 6’0, 214 pounds, had played that type of role as well as nickel, strong safety, and free safety while with the New Orleans Saints.  

Even more intriguing is that ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Dolphins drafting another safety, FSU’s Kerwin James in the first round. That would be a surprise. However, what isn’t a surprise is that the Dolphins struggle covering tight ends, especially Rob Gronkowski.

But Vaccaro was smoked for a pair of touchdowns last year during Week 2 by Gronkowski, hardly the only one that has happened to, however.

Latest Kiper Mock Has Jets Taking Rosen:
The New York Jets moved up in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft to the #3 spot in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts and now the only question is, which QB will they draft. And Mel Kiper is sticking with Josh Rosen.

Kiper has stuck with his guns all winter long and has been touting Rosen as the next franchise QB for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. Many draft pundits have been touting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield for Gang Green.

Each has their strong points, and Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner makes some people pause with his offbeat persona but he’s a tremendous talent. The first round of the draft is shaping up to be a very intriguing night. In our humble opinion, Mayfield would be a great fit in New York and has the persona to handle the rough times.  

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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