Some news and notes on this Wednesday:
1) One offseason New England Patriots free agent has yet to sign a contract with the Patriots, or any other team for that matter, heading into 2022 and it sounds like it’s more of a personal choice at this point rather than a lack of options.
According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, Hightower is still trying to decide “what he wants to do” and that it still might be a while before the veteran linebacker makes a decision.
Hightower is still figuring out what he wants to do. If he wants to keep playing, he doesn’t need spring ball anyway. Could take a while longer.
Trading 76 would exacerbate an already thin spot. Pats coaches are committed to getting 15 more chances.
JC, TF decisions post-draft. https://t.co/re1o6S647w
— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) April 19, 2022
It’s not known if the Patriots want him back, but this report makes you think it’s potentially a possibility. The 32-year-old linebacker out of Alabama skipped the 2020 season after opting out due to COVID but returned in 2021, where it took him a little while to get settled back into the defense. Even still, it was obvious that the rigors of what was also the NFL’s first 17-game season took their toll, with Hightower clearly seeing a drop off in speed and his play down the stretch.
However, with the club making some changes defensively, there has been some discussion about potentially putting Hightower in as an edge rusher opposite Matt Judon, as Hightower has had success getting after the quarterback during his career.
In his 9 seasons in New England, he has 27 sacks, including having finished with a career-high 5.5 sacks in 2019. He only had 1.5 in 2021, but that was largely due to the fact his role didn’t see him utilized in the team’s pass rush as often compared to previous seasons.
For now, whether or not he’ll be back for 2022 – and in what capacity – remains up in the air. Belichick is no stranger to trying to shift how players are used to utilize their strengths. Needless to say, if Hightower is brought back, it will be interesting to see how his role might change moving forward.
2) The team posted photos on its website on Monday that showed a number of players who were in town to begin participating in the offseason program, but it looks like there’s one player who definitely isn’t there.
Embattled receiver N’Keal Harry posted a photo on his Instagram page which clearly shows him in what appears to be Arizona, with Harry clearly choosing not to come to Foxboro to get ready for the upcoming season.
Looks like N’Keal Harry is not participating in the start of the Patriots’ offseason program. He posted this on IG last night. pic.twitter.com/GeLypx2vto
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) April 20, 2022
Harry had a contentious offseason last year, with he and his agent at one point demanding a trade publicly, which seemingly was ignored by the team. He went on to spend much of 2021 in a blocking role, with his time as a receiver once again a disaster.
The veteran wideout still appeared lost at times, lining up wrong and having to be told by a rookie quarterback where to stand, failing to go in motion, along with being one of the last people off the snap. Despite an extra week in the season Harry seemingly regressed, including one game against Jacksonville in Week 17 where he was a healthy scratch.
Whether or not he’ll be on the team in 2022 became more doubtful following the acquisition of DeVante Parker, which seemed to signal the beginning of the end for Harry. However, should the team make a surprise move and part ways with Nelson Agholor, that would seemingly be the only way Harry might stick around.
Regardless, he’s not in town and appears just fine with that decision. Now the only question is whether or not the Patriots will remove the burden of coming back to Gillette Stadium from him altogether in the coming months.
3) The Hall presented by Raytheon Technologies announced the 2022 Patriots Hall of Fame Nominees, and there are definitely some solid names for this year’s group.
Former defensive tackle Vince Wilfork made his way onto the list, with former linebacker Mike Vrabel and Logan Mankins rounding out the three players who are on the fan voting ballot posted on the team’s website.
Despite being the earliest tenured Patriots out of these players, Wilfork is probably the most well-known due to his presence on social media and his relationship with the fans. He was one of the more active players on social media, with Wilfork and his wife Bianca often talking to fans as they shared family photos and just enjoyed being a part of it.
On the field, Wilfork was tough and reliable, showing some unvelievable athleticism considering his massive frame. He was a playmaker defensively and one of the most respected players in the locker room, with Belichick saying back in 2017 that he relied on Wilfork’s insight and called him “the voice of the team”.
“Vince was kind of the captain of the captains. He was the voice of the team,” Belichick said. “Sometimes, the captains individually wouldn’t want to bring stuff up to me. So they would say ‘Vince, you got to bring this up to Coach, because I’m not bringing it up. Vince would be the guy to do that. That would be how much respect they had for him, and I leaned on him very heavily.”
Wilfork was beloved here in New England, clogging the middle of the defense and playing a key role as a rookie, finishing with 42 tackles, and 2 sacks, as well as 3 deflected passes during the club’s 2004 championship run.
The former 2004 first-round draft pick out of Miami spent 13 seasons with the Patriots, with Wilfork departing to Houston following the 2014 season. He spent two seasons with the Texans before retiring.
As for Vrabel, he was a dynamic player on the defense, but many casual fans likely recall his pass-catching abilities down near the goal line moreso than his play on defense. Vrabel finished his career with 12 receptions, which were all touchdowns. Two of those came in Super Bowls, with the former linebacker catching one in each of the Patriots wins over the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Meanwhile, Logan Mankins was one of the toughest offensive lineman in recent memory, playing with even more fire and intensity than center David Andrews, which tells you all you need to know.
Mankins was a dedicated player and a hard worker, putting the team ahead of himself, even to a fault after gutting out the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL. But the former Fresno State player made his mark during his tenure, although offensive linemen don’t exactly tend to earn a lot of accolades.
He was one of the best guards in team history, ranking up there with guys like former lineman John Hannah. However, he had multiple contentious contract negotiations toward the end of his career, which eventually saw him traded to Tampa Bay at the end of the 2014 training camp, which seemingly happened at the last minute.
The trade also reportedly didn’t go over well with former Patriots QB Tom Brady, who was said to be “very upset” following the move. Fortunately, the team would go on to win their first championship in a decade that season, although it’s too bad that given all his contributions that Mankins wasn’t part of it.
He probably faces the most difficult road of the three in the fan voting, which is now open and will be announced, “later this spring”.
4) Shifting gears, there’s an interesting story going on with the state of South Carolina, which is apparently facing quite the disaster thanks to a deal that seems to have gone south with the Carolina Panthers.
According to multiple reports, the state had apparently wooed the Panthers to agree to build a practice facility in Rock Hill, SC, with construction well underway on the new structure. Everything had seemingly been in place to get the state of South Carolina involved with the NFL and up until recently, all appeared well.
But according to reports, Panthers owner David Tepper has opted to terminate the agreement, saying that the city of Rock Hill “became delinquent on their obligation to fund the public infrastructure”.
That amount is said to be about $225 million, which the county wasn’t able to provide. The city was reportedly given the notice of default back on March 18th and seemingly didn’t meet the obligations to resolve it within the 30-days needed, which appears to be what brought them to this point.
Whether or not it gets resolved is now a major question mark as the facility, which is located about 32 minutes south of Charlotte, North Carolina, is reportedly half-built and quite a bit of construction had already been completed with the nearby infrastructure.
Tepper has said he’s willing to sit down and “discuss the significant challenges ahead”, which makes it seem like the deal isn’t quite dead yet. But clearly, this has become a messy situation that appears to be far from getting worked out.
5) Out in San Francisco, it looks like the 49ers might have to move forward without one of their best players.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Deebo Samuel’s recent move to remove all 49ers associations from his social media account doesn’t appear to be a negotiating ploy. He’s reportedly halted discussions with the club, which seems to have ended any hope of a new deal between the two sides.
The disgruntled receiver reportedly wants to be traded, which sets up a difficult situation moving forward for a team that already has quite a few questions this offseason.
Samuel, who is in the final year of his deal, is said to be looking to become the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league, which has left the two sides at an impasse.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan is now left with trying to figure out how they’ll handle it. He’s stranger to being in a tough spot, although he himself has also seen his own demands leave him with nothing to show for it after seeing how he tried to get a king’s ransom for Jimmy Garoppolo last offseason, only to come up empty.
Samuel is a talented player who finished this past season with a career-high 77 receptions for 1405 yards and six touchdowns, as well as carrying the football 59 times for 365 yards while scoring 8 touchdowns.
That’s a lot of offense for a player who was such a big part of San Francisco’s success in 2021. Whether or not he’s doing it for someone else this season will be something to keep an eye on, as his time in the Bay Area definitely appears to be in doubt.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 2022 Patriots Hall of Fame Bill Belichick Carolina Panthers Deebo Samuel Devante Parker Dont'a Hightower Jimmy Garoppolo Kyle Shanahan Logan Mankins Mike Vrabel N'Keal Harry New England Patriots San Francisco 49ers The Hall Presented By Raytheon Technologies Vince Wilfork