New England Patriots News 3-03, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 3, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-03 and AFC East Notes.
Sorry, no AFC East notes this week, we’ll bring them back in the days following the 2019 NFL Combine.

Quick Hitters:

Adam Schefter is reporting that the Patriots have told Dwayne Allen that they plan on releasing him. They’d like to have him back, but at less money. But for now, he’s free to sign with anyone. Normally, a move like this means that the team is freeing up cap space to sign one of their own to an extension…stay tuned.

Youth? – Isn’t it strange that when all of the talk about the Patriots getting younger at wide receiver goes right out the window when veterans like Demaryius Thomas and Golden Tate become topics of discussion?

Local Talent: One local small school player, that we’d love to see get a chance to show what he can do is DE Ray Sarkodieh from Assumption College. The Worcester native who played locally at St. Peter Marian is a mathematics major. He’s a 6’2, 260 pass rusher who was the NE10 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Another local player being linked to the Patriots in the NFL Combine thus far is Boston College and Shepherd Hill offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. Lindstrom is one of the top five rated guards coming out this spring.

Super Bowl Trailer: Patriots fans will soon be able to purchase the team’s Super Bowl season highlight film. The NFL Films production will feature all 16 regular season games as well as their three playoff victories including the 13-3 triumph over the Los Angeles in Super Bowl LIII.

NFL Films and entertainment company Cinedigm will release Super Bowl LIII Champions: New England Patriots on Blu-Ray Combo Pack, DVD, as well as digitally on March 5. The trailer for the video can be seen here:

Chiefs, Reid, Latest To Lobby For Rule Changes After Losing to NE:

We knew this was coming…right? Hardly a year goes by where a team that loses to the Patriots doesn’t go to the league to change a rule in protest of what they perceive to be an “unfair playing field” in the NFL.

So, Andy Reid and Kansas City GM Brett Veach are the latest to join the crowd. The Chiefs are mad that their offense wasn’t allowed a possession in overtime of the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots won the OT coin toss and moved down the field and scored a TD that vaulted them into the Super Bowl.

There was a similar call for this after SB LI when the Patriots beat the Falcons. The Patriots also won the toss and Tom Brady eviscerated the Falcons easily to win the game while Matt Ryan was left to wonder what happened to a 28-3 lead on the bench.

This year was different. The Patriots faced three 3rd and 10s during the overtime drive, any of which would result in the Chiefs getting the ball. KC’s defense, which was porous all season long, showed once again why they weren’t Super Bowl ready. But now it is the rules that need changing.

Leach was a guest on Pro Football Talk Live and had this to say:  “I think everybody wants a chance for guys to do what they do. I don’t really see the downside of having that,” Veach said. “Especially when you have a player like Pat Mahomes. It would have been a lot of fun. I think people, if they weren’t already tuned in for a great game, would have turned on that overtime.”

One has to wonder how much “fun” it would have been for Leach if the Chiefs had won the toss and gone on to score and Brady was allowed to touch the ball in OT. I’ll take the under.

The current O.T. rules were changed from a true sudden death where any score would end the game to each team having “a chance” for possession in overtime. That chance is neither allowing a touchdown or a safety on the opening possession.

The Chiefs will need 24 of the 32 teams to agree to change the rules. Reid and Leach now join Bill Polian who as a member of the Competition Committee lobbied for changes to the rules on how teams play defense after his Colts receivers got beat up in back-to-back years in the playoffs in New England.  John Harbaugh of the Ravens, who was incensed at the wacky formations the Patriots ran in the 2014 Divisional Playoffs that he tried to change the rules, then smugly smiled in a post-game celebration when he ran the same type of formation. Let’s not forget the calls for “player safety” after Shea McClellan blocked several field goals by leaping over the kicking team’s blockers.

Just imagine the angst next year, if the rules are changed and Brady and the Patriots use that to come back and win a game in OT after allowing a touchdown to start the session.

Patriots “ Character Coach” Jack Easterby Leaving:

The Patriots are losing Jack Easterby who is labeled the team’s “character coach/team development,” in a situation first reported by the Boston Globe. Easterby was brought in the 2013 season to help the players navigate thru the Aaron Hernandez fiasco.

Easterby, whose contract expired after the Super Bowl stated that he felt his position had “run its course” and that he’d be exploring new opportunities elsewhere. But this is the first true fallout from the Robert Kraft scenario.

Easterby was deeply troubled by the allegations surrounding Kraft and he retweeted a post from former Patriot Ben Watson that human trafficking is an“entrenched evil.’’ He’ll be missed in the locker room as he was considered a very important piece of the puzzle behind the scenes.

Hightower Won’t Budge on His Salary:

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower hasn’t been approached by the team about taking a pay cut in 2019 and reportedly won’t be in favor of doing so either. Doug Kyed of NESN first reported that Hightower won’t be accepting any overtures from the team about taking a pay cut this season.

Hightower played in 15 games in 2018, the most he’s played in since the 2013 season. He and fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy keyed a defensive resurgence down the stretch and into the playoffs where the New England defense was the key into winning the team’s sixth Super Bowl.

And in this case, we’re going to fall within Hightower’s line of thinking here. Although Hightower has a cap hit of $11 million this season, his salary is $7 million. Linebackers eligible for the franchise tag are getting $15.4 million in 2019. That puts Hightower among the bargains for the league.

As we’ve said on these pages many times before, is Hightower an All-Pro? No, but in THIS defense, his value is the same as one. And without him on the field, the last three Super Bowl wins don’t happen. He stopped Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line with the game on the line in Super Bowl XLIX. His strip sack of Matt Ryan ignited the Patriots to come from behind in Super Bowl LI. And he was outstanding in all three playoff wins this year, where he logged two sacks, four quarterbacks hits, three tackles for loss and a pass defensed.

The Patriots can work something out where his cap hit is lessened this season and his money still isn’t being cut. And we’d be all for that. Because moving forward, the 28-year old linebacker is still an extremely valuable piece on the team’s front seven.

Team Interested in Bringing Back Hogan/Dorsett in 2019:

The Patriots are supposedly talking with both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett about returning in 2019. The free agent wide receivers are far from locks to bring back, however, depending on the deals involved, it may still happen.

Hogan, 30, played in about 72 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps in 2018 but his targets were way down. Since signing with the Pats before the 2016 season, he’s averaged  36 receptions and 550 receiving yards.

He seemed to lose a lot of the trust factor with Tom Brady during the season, but with a solid special teams player that can be an effective #3-4 Wide Receiver, there is expected to be no shortage of teams that come calling.

Dorsett is just 26 and was arguably the #2 WR when the season started and played well. When the team signed Josh Gordon, his snap totals went way down. On the season, Dorsett caught 32 passes for 290 yards and three scores. He also added a big touchdown in the AFC Championship Game.

The former 1st round pick of the Colts has stated that he wants to return to the Patriots but they’ll have to work out a deal that benefits both parties. What is key for Dorsett is being a starter somewhere.

“Obviously, I want to be a key contributor for a team — a starter, that’s always been my goal, a guy that can help a team win. I enjoy going out there, working hard and just playing football. I love the game. It’s the only thing I want to do.”

Who Are We Watching at the 2019 NFL Combine?

With the NFL Combine in full swing in Indianapolis this weekend, the Patriots have an abundance of draft picks this year (12) with six in the first 101 selections. While it is extremely doubtful that the team will use all 12 picks, they do, however, have enough draft capital that they will be able to maneuver around the draft board and address their needs this spring.

It is really too soon to judge how the team will approach the draft since free agency hasn’t started yet. After the initial feeding frenzy dies down, we should have a better idea of how they’ll approach this year’s holes to fill on the team.

With that being said, we’ll list a couple of players we feel would be a nice fit in New England and who we’re watching for this weekend in Indy.

Defensive tackles:
Christian Wilkins – Clemson: Wilkins was a key contributor for the Tigers two recent National Championship teams. A smart, locker room leader, Wilkins was a captain who graduated in just two and a half years. He was a first-team AP All-American and an All-ACC selection in 2018.

Wilkins is versatile and can play end or inside and would fit in well with the Patriots recent attacking style of defensive line play. He keeps his pad level low, has very good short-area agility and is good at shooting the gaps.

Gerald Willis – Miami: Like many players who’ve played for the Canes, Willis comes with some questionable red flags. He was dismissed from Florida for fighting with a teammate and then took off the 2017 season to work out personal issues. But returned in 2018 and played some tremendous football, leading the ACC with tackles for loss with 18.  

Willis projects as a one-gap pass rusher right now, but with some work with the coaches, he could be a very productive three-down player. He’s more of a mid-round prospect.

Tight Ends:
Noah Fant – Iowa: Fant has received a lot of noise as a possible Patriot. He’s more of a move tight end and at this point, isn’t a great blocker. But he has good length, excellent speed, and explosion off the snap to get separation. He could become an immediate weapon and matchup nightmare in the passing game.

Irv Smith – Alabama: Smith is another matchup winner in the passing game. He’s a very smooth route runner who runs crisp routes and has good hands and a knack for finding the open spots on the field. He’s very well rounded and will be an immediate impact player.

Quarterbacks: ***Note*** While we don’t believe the Patriots will pick a QB early in this draft, never say never.
Daniel Jones – Duke: Jones is a guy who seems like a really good fit for the Patriots and the offense that they run. Prototypical size at 6’5, 221, Jones doesn’t have a cannon for an arm but has good mechanics and goes thru his progessions quickly. His receivers dropped 38 passes in 2018 alone…

Brett Rypien – Boise State: Rypien is the nephew of former Redskin Mark Rypien. He projects as more of a project than a pro-ready QB. He doesn’t have great size or arm strength but he’s very accurate, keeps his eyes downfield and has a quick, compact release. He has excellent football intelligence and keeps his eyes downfield.

Wide Receivers:
Riley Ridley – Georgia: Ridley is a WR who should be a better pro than college player. While not a burner, he’s tough and will make the physical catches while still able to stretch the field when matched up one-on-one.

He runs precise routes, has very good hands and will make those tough contested catches in traffic.

Deebo Samuel – South Carolina: Samuel is a tough, competitive wide receiver, who thrives in working the middle of the field where the game is at its toughest. While he too isn’t a burner, he’ll make YAC (yards after the catch) with surprising changing of direction as well as excellent vision.

He’s got strong hands and will work back to the football. He could be used similarly to how the Patriots used Danny Amendola in the past.

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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