New England Patriots News 2-24, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 24, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-24 and AFC East Notes. And as we’ve said before, the Patriots are many things, but boring is never one of them.

Kraft Opens Himself, and the Team Up For Unwanted Scrutiny:

Robert Kraft found himself in the center of a maelstrom on Friday morning as the Jupiter, Florida police busted a series of massage parlors that were tied to human trafficking. They had implanted surveillance cameras on the premises of each of those establishments and had 173 people on tape soliciting sex. About 200 people are to be charged and Kraft is one of them.

The Patriots immediately fired back with a release denying all charges and with the now very Patriot M.O. in the last line, “we will not be commenting further.”

Don’t worry, the rest of the NFL will, and have already done plenty of talking. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t matter if Kraft is guilty or not (as he claims), the old adage of “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t count much when the person charged is a celebrity, or in Kraft’s case, the owner of probably the most hated franchise in the NFL.

At a minimum, he was guilty of an extremely poor decision making by frequenting the establishment twice and once the video comes out on TMZ, because in this day and age the video always comes out, then there will be the devil to pay.

Kraft as the owner of the Patriots has not been a “behind the scenes” kind of guy. He’s always been upfront and very visible. He was instrumental in helping to end the player’s strike in 2011. He’s one of the most generous people in New England with his charities both here in the United States and in Israel. He lobbied hard for the release of rapper Meek Hill, and was seen with a championship gold and diamond chain that the rapper gave him as a gift after the Super Bowl. A life-long Democrat, he’s pals with President Trump and regularly golfs with him. And now, his reputation has taken a very big hit.

In the court of public opinion, he’s already guilty, and all of the social media feeding frenzy on his character has already begun. Some, such as the noted blowhard Bart Scott called for the NFL to take away all of the Patriots draft picks in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This time, the firestorm is placed right on Kraft’s doorstep and this isn’t going to be an easy time for the 77-year old owner, who has been one of the most popular people in New England. He’ll certainly face some kind of internal discipline from the NFL and Roger Goodell, regardless of whether he’s convicted or not. The NFL holds the owners to an even stricter conduct policy than the players.

It is coming and it isn’t going to be pretty. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…”

Patriots Receive Four Compensatory Picks in the Draft:

As expected the Patriots received multiple compensatory picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. They received two third round picks, a sixth, and a seventh. Now the team has 12 selections in the draft, including six in the first 101. With this many picks, the team is in prime position to move up in the draft if there is a prospect that they’re looking for.

1:  #32 Own

2a: #56 via the Bears

2b: #64 Own

3a: #74 via the Lions

3b: #97 Comp pick (Nate Solder)

3c: #101 Comp pick (Malcolm Butler)

4:  #134 Own

6: #205 Comp Pick (Danny Amendola)

7a: #237 via Eagles

7b: #243 Josh Gordon trade

7c: #246 Own

7d: #252 Comp pick (Cameron Fleming)

Flowers Should Be Allowed to Set His Own Worth:

Earlier we wrote that Flowers should be considered one of the top priorities for the Patriots to resign in 2019. And we’re not changing that. However, Flowers plays in a position that is frequently overpaid in the NFL and if he begins to receive offers, such as Nate Solder and others got a year ago, the Patriots would be correct in walking away from the table and looking to replace him elsewhere.

Flowers, in our opinion here, is an invaluable piece of the Patriots defense. He can do multiple things, set the edge against the run, rush the passer and kick inside and be a good interior pass rusher. But is Flowers an “elite” pass rusher to the tune of being worth $12-14 million dollars a year?  The feeling here is that the Patriots would say no and allow him to bolt for greener pastures.

After him, the Patriots have Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, and Derek Rivers. None have the versatility of Flowers. There are some intriguing edge rushers in the upcoming draft, and with a lot of draft capital, the Patriots could slide up and select one of them.

We’ll be watching how the rest of the league sets Flowers’ worth. He’ll probably give the Patriots the chance to match any offer on the table, but anything in that higher range will probably result in the team allowing him to walk.

Devin McCourty Returning in 2019:

In another bit of good news, Devin McCourty announced that he’ll be returning for his 10th season with the Patriots in 2019. McCourty’s steady hand on the back end of the defense, his leadership and his durability all contribute to how valuable he is to the Patriots defense.

If there is a downside to McCourty not retiring, it means that the Patriots will now have a difficult decision to make on McCourty’s contract, which pays him more than $9 million in base salary with a $13.4 million dollar cap hit in 2019.

He’s been a Patriots captain since 2011 and has missed only 5 games in his career. While the two sides will have to work out an agreement on the cap issue, it can be done and should be soon.  

Free Agency – Tight Ends That Could Be on NE’s Radar:

Rob Gronkowski is still sitting on the fence regarding retirement. Regardless of whether he decides to return for the 2019 season or not, the Patriots need to address the position this spring. Maybe in free agency or the draft, possibly both.

The Patriots currently have Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, who remains one of the best blocking TEs in the game but hasn’t been a factor at all in the passing game. For a player with a $7 million dollar salary cap hit, that far too much. They also have Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, and Stephen Anderson.

There are a couple of intriguing names in the draft and we’ll get to those players soon, but for now, who are the players that would fit in the Patriots scheme?

Jesse James – James was often the fifth option for the Steelers passing offense in a loaded offensive system. While not a dynamic receiving option, James has more potential than people are crediting him with, having 30 catches for 423 yards in 2018.

He’s a reliable good receiver with prototypical size, a tough, no-nonsense attitude and good blocker in the running game. In the Patriots “12” or “22” personnel, he’d immediately be a weapon that can be targeted, giving opposing defenses more options to worry about.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Jenkins had an outstanding 2017 with Jets catching 50 passes for 357 yards before moving on the Jaguars. He suffered two hernias and was placed on IR after just five games. He was due $4 million from Jacksonville but they decided to let him walk.

Jenkins is just 26 years old and has never really lived up to his high (2nd round) draft selection…sound familiar? The opportunity to play with Brady and the Patriots offense could be a powerful draw to bring him to New England.

Tyler Eifert – Eifert is easily the most talented TE on the list but has played the least due to injuries. He’s only suited up for 43 of a possible 96 games thus far in his NFL career. Eifert is another play with oodles of talent, was drafted in the 1st round but has only scratched the surface of his potential, catching 13 TDs from Andy Dalton in 2015.

But in the past three seasons, he’s played a total of 14 games. While the talent is obviously there, the Patriots may only offer a one-year, prove it type of deal. If they’re interested at all.

Charles Clay – Clay is a player that they’re very familiar with, playing him twice a year in the AFC East as he was a member of both the Bills and Dolphins. Clay had a very down year in 2018, playing in the moribund Bills offense and with a rookie QB.

The 30-year old has been a productive TE in the past, and it should be noted that Bill Belichick has always thought very highly of him. And we all know that Bill loves to bring in players that he respects.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills To Put Hughes on the Trade Block?

ESPN had an intriguing piece by Buffalo Bills beat writer Mike Rodak about whether the team may decide to trade edge player Jerry Hughes in 2019. Rodak wrote that Hughes, 30, is in the last year of his contract. Since being traded to the Bills from Indy, he’s played in all 96 games with 80 starts.

Hughes will turn 31 during training camp and is due $10.4 million against the salary cap this season. If they trade him now, they’ll save money against the cap, where they already have $79.4 million in cap space which would allow them to address one of the premier free agent pass rushers and get younger at the position.

The Bills already own the #9 pick in the draft, with added draft capital, they could decide to move up and make an effort to land one of the top names on the edge as well as sign a free agent.  

Flores, Graham Will Run More 3-4 Looks for the Dolphins Defense:

The Miami Dolphins have an entirely new coaching staff this season and many of their names will look familiar to Patriots fans. Brian Flores has hired Patrick Graham to be his defensive coordinator. The two spent seven years together as Patriots assistants, once sharing an office together. Now, they’re be building a defense in a manner that they both feel will fit their personnel.

“We want guys who are selfless, guys who are willing to work hard,” Graham said. “Aside from the character traits, you want guys who play with their hands and are heavy-handed. You want guys to play with good knee bend and good leverage, and you want guys who have good eye discipline.”

“In terms of the toughness, I want to have a way to measure the toughness. To me, you measure the toughness as a defensive player, and what we’re going to talk about to those guys is, ‘Can we stop the run, and can we stop the run when we know they’re going to run the ball?'”

While the Dolphins don’t have the personnel, yet to run more of 3-4 look which will help their ability to stop the run, it will take an overhaul, the coaches believe that is the correct way to go. They want a flexible, versatile defense that can change on the fly determined by who their opponent is…Sounds a lot like New England.

Gase Feels the Jets Can Turn Things Around Quickly:

The New York Jets new coach Adam Gase has a daunting task ahead of him, he’s inherited a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010, and has a fan base and media contingent hungry for a winner in New York that won’t be patient with him for very long. But he’s convinced that he and his staff can get things done.

Start with the fact that the team has a whopping $101 million dollars of salary cap space. The Jets can go after, and sign multiple big-name free agents this spring and still have flexibility under the salary cap.

But the most important piece, at quarterback, the Jets feel like they’ve finally found their franchise leader in Sam Darnold. Now they have the means to surround him with the talent he’ll need to succeed in the NFL.

“We have to find the right guys for us, the right fit, and make sure those guys want to be here,” Gase said during an interview this week with WFAN. “We have a lot of money right now, but at the same time there are going to be other teams pursuing certain guys and it’s not only going to be money. Guys want to know if this is the right place for me and do I fit into what they want.”

“We can improve quickly because we’re able to bring in players that have done it before. We’ve seen it in the NFL,” he said. There won’t be much of a grace period. He’ll be expected to win and be competitive right away.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

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