Author Archives: Steve Balestrieri

Steve Balestrieri

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and writes as an Editor at and as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Patriots Draft Profile, Rashaan Evans, LB Alabama

Steve Balestrieri
March 23, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Evans New Breed of NFL Linebacker, Fast, Physical, Explosive

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots really need more depth and a dose of athleticism and speed at the Linebacker position. They were thin at the beginning of the 2017 season and injuries to key players set them back to where it became a glaring weakness in the Super Bowl loss.

The team lost Shea McClellin in the preseason due to concussions and he missed the entire season. Top draft choice Derek Rivers who they were playing in a tweener role bouncing back and forth at DE/OLB was lost to a torn ACL in training camp as well. Dont’a Hightower missed most of the season with different injuries and was placed on IR. He was the one guy the front seven could ill afford to lose. David Harris showed that he had lost too much speed and was barely used. James Harrison was added late in the year. Kyle Van Noy and Marquis Flowers  both played well and they return and help with the depth

Hightower and Rivers return which should help the depth but inside Elandon Roberts is better suited to be a backup than a starter. He frequently was out of position and is a liability in coverage. Will the team move Hightower back inside or will they leave him on the edge? Will the team use Harvey Langi, who was also lost to NFI (Car wreck) at linebacker or will they use him too on the edge? Lots of questions here.

Rashaan Evans from Alabama comes from a Pro-ready program with Nick Saban and can step in on Day 1 and be a key contributor. With the steady influx of talent with the Tide, Evans had to be patient. But despite not being a full-time starter until 2017, he played significant snaps on Special Teams as a freshman.

Evans put the time in and saw his snaps and production increase each year. During the two playoff games in 2016, he started both and was ready for his coming out party last year. He led the excellent Crimson Tide defense with tackles (74), with 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and three passes knocked down, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was All-SEC Second Team.

He’s 6’3, 234 pounds and has tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed.  He’s a quick twitch athlete who is versatile and can play inside at the Mike Linebacker position or outside as well as rush off the edge in sub-packages.

Watching the Alabama defense, he’d be an outstanding delayed Blitzer up the A-Gap. His speed would put an interior offensive lineman on their heels. He flies around the ball and is relentless. The one play that stands out was against Clemson in the national championship. He blitzed off the edge from the left. The quarterback threw a quick screen to the right. Evans after getting to the quarterback still chased down the running back for a minimal gain going across the field.


– Tremendous speed can easily go sideline to sideline

– Tough, explosive, and a very good tackler

– Versatile can play inside or outside on the edge

– Excellent blitzer up the inside gaps


– Can sometimes overrun plays

– Some durability concerns

– Only a full-time starter for one season

What his Role Will Be:

Evans role would be to immediately take over the inside linebacker position and is a big upgrade over Roberts inside. He can cover a tremendous amount of ground and will be a big addition not only in the running game but in coverage and blitz as well.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

Yes, with his ability to go from sideline-to-sideline, they can then explore the possibility of letting him call the defensive signals and as he grows more comfortable in the defense allow him to blitz more.

How Many Downs Can He Play?


What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He’ll bump Roberts for the starting role on Day 1. While Roberts spot on the 53-man roster is probably still secure, some of the other depth players may find themselves outside looking in.

What is his ST Value?

Very good, he can be an immediate contributor and played significant STs snaps since his freshman year in college.

Conclusion:’s Lance Zeirlein in his profile wrote about his versatility. “Evans is an ideal inside linebacker fit for a blitz-happy 3-4 unit, but he could easily fit as a 4-3 WILL with rush potential on sub-packages,” Zeirlein said. “Evans is an early starter with high-end potential if he can stay healthy.”

Evans is a smart, tremendously athletically gifted linebacker who has the perfect work ethic that teams will covet. He wants to play, improve and above all else, puts the team first. Nick Saban has a knack for finding some outstanding talented front sevens during his tenure at Alabama and Evans is the latest of talented linebackers to move to the pros.

He and Hightower would make a great team at linebacker and he’d immediately upgrade the unit. With a linebacking core desperately in need of speed and athleticism, Evans checks the block quite easily. He can cover tight ends, running backs and even slot receivers in a pinch. He ran the all-important 3-Cone Drill in 6.95.

The problem with him is where he falls in the draft. I’ve seen Evans drafted anywhere between 16 and 25 on mock drafts. There is no way, he falls to the Patriots at #31. So, if they like him and see an opportunity, then the Patriots are going to have to move up in the 1st round and swing a deal with someone to swoop in and steal him away from other teams.

Evans’ highlight reel tape from M&M Productions can be seen here: 

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 I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

After Initial Free Agent Frenzy, What’s Next For the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The initial burst of signings is over in free agency, the Patriots lost four key players and brought in four of their own new players while resigning a few of their own free agents. So, now the question is, where are they at this point in free agency and what are their needs right now with still plenty of free agents still out there before the NFL Draft starts.

They’ve already addressed some of their needs early in free agency. That doesn’t mean that they’re done at any position per se, we would still expect them to double down on some positions in the draft.

With that said, after the initial free agency period what the are the Patriots biggest needs moving forward that can be addressed in free agency, the draft or both?

Left Tackle: No one wants to downplay the losses of Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler or Dion Lewis, but the loss of Nate Solder arguably hurts the most because the team, at least initially has no replacement in place. With Marcus Cannon on the right side, the Patriots need a left tackle. Their two backup swing tackles, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are free agents. Ideally, the team would like to get both back.

There are also some players on the roster that they’ve stashed from 2017 Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks. They just signed Matt Tobin, who was a backup swing tackle from Seattle. Last season the Patriots moved up in the draft to snag Antonio Garcia in the 3rd round of the draft. But Garcia missed the season with an illness where he lost 40 pounds. He’s now cleared to resume his football career but will he be ready?

This year’s draft isn’t a great one for tackles and the one most associated with New England seems to be UCLA’s, Kolton Miller. And I’m not a fan of this if that is who they are targeting. He tends to play too upright and to me is too much of a finesse player which reminds me of last year’s pick also from UCLA Connor McDermott. Croston beat him out for a roster spot.

How they approach the next few weeks and the draft will tell a lot of how they feel about their current situation. If they resign Waddle or Fleming and then don’t draft a tackle high, then they believe that Garcia will be their guy and Waddle is insurance. If they go for a tackle early in the draft, then that answers that question.

Linebacker: The Patriots front seven needed a big upgrade this offseason. They will be getting back Dont’a Hightower, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi off of IR so that already increases the depth. But then they added a big defensive lineman in Danny Shelton, a two-gapping space eater who can take on the double teams and allow the linebackers to stuff the run. And they added Adrian Clayborn, a 280-pound defensive end that can set the edge in the running game and get pressure on the quarterback.

Now they need a linebacker inside with better athleticism than they have. The two guys in free agency that we liked, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were quickly signed elsewhere.There are some very intriguing names in the draft. The Patriots usually like their linebackers big, although the trend is going smaller, faster and more athletic. One big guy who is intriguing is Leighton Vander Esch. Bill Belichick was just at Alabama and they have a very impressive backer in Rashaan Evans but he’ll probably be gone before they pick at #31.

Belichick also scouted South Carolina’s Skai Moore, an undersized, smaller type player who led his team in tackles for four years. He’d be a mid-to-late round guy. Some others in that vein are Joe Ostman a DE/OLB from Central Michigan and Jack Cichy from Wisconsin.

Quarterback: So, do the Patriots like any of these quarterbacks in this season’s draft? Everyone is assuming that they’re going to draft one early and look for the successor to Tom Brady but would I be shocked if they pass? No. They always seem to do the opposite of what everyone is predicting for them.

Trying to predict which quarterback the Patriots will pick is another difficult proposition.  The ones who seem to fit what they do are Kyle Lauletta from Richmond who was a mid/late round prospect until his Senior Bowl performance turned some heads.

Other guys rumored to be on the Patriots radar are Luke Falk and Logan Woodside. But something to keep in mind if he’s still around when the Patriots pick is Louisville QB, Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals play in the same system, the Erhardt-Perkins system that New England uses.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is still slated to return this season. But we haven’t heard any confirmation on that. His agent had said that he was contemplating retirement. Regardless, the Patriots need to begin planning for his replacement, as crazy as that sounds with a 28-year old tight end who is still at the top of his game.

Dwayne Allen remains as does Jacob Hollister. Allen has a $5 million dollar contract and was a terrific blocker but offered very little in the passing game. Hollister flashed the ability to make some tough catches and to attack the seams but will need to make a big second-year step up in his play.

There are some good tight ends in the draft. The Patriots have met twice now with South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst. The former professional baseball pitcher is already 24 and maxed out physically but is an impressive player. He has excellent hands and above average speed. His production suffered from poor QB play on many occasions, having watched most of SC games.

Other excellent options in the draft include Dallas Goedert from S.Dakota St., Mike Gesicki, from Penn State, and Mark Andrews from Oklahoma among others.

And of course, Martellus Bennett may reappear on the scene. He hinted on social media that he may return to the Patriots at a lesser amount. But they should look to get younger at the position but it never hurts to have a player of his ability on the roster either.

Running Back: The Patriots resigned Rex Burkhead and added Jeremy Hill to a very team friendly contract and seem like they are well stocked. Hill and Mike Gillislee will battle it out for the big back, short-yardage role. James White is the passing back, strictly third down option while Burkhead can do a bit of both. Brandon Bolden is the depth piece who plays special teams.

I’d still believe that the Patriots need a younger back to add to the puzzle to build for the future. And this draft is chock full of them. Some running backs slotted for the 2nd round or later include, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines, and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams.

The Patriots met with Hines at the Combine and then recently attended NC State’s Pro Day and have been speaking about how he feels he fits with New England as others have told him also…which usually means the team won’t touch him.

The team will probably also dip into the draft for an edge player as well. With Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler coupled with the return of Hightower and Derek Rivers, they have much better depth than the team that went to the Super Bowl just in February.

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 I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Riley McCarron is one Option to Replace Amendola in the Slot in 2018

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The loss of Danny Amendola will hurt the Patriots offense in 2018. You just can’t plug and play a guy who has the clutch production he’s had in the Patriots offense. Especially a guy who had the absolute confidence of Tom Brady. So with the veterans on the roster, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt and running back, Rex Burkhead could join Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and the returning Julian Edelman as well as Malcolm Mitchell at the wide receiver position this season. If everyone is healthy, it will be a tough position to crack.

There is another player, a guy who is a dark horse to make the team that could be a guy to watch this spring and that is Riley McCarron.

McCarron is a 5’9’’, 185-lb slot receiver from Iowa who will draw comparisons to Wes Welker as soon as he catches a pass in training camp. That is bound to happen with just a look at him because he appears to be the prototypical slot receiver. And it isn’t fair nor right to compare him to Welker who had crazy production with the Patriots while here in Foxboro.

But the Texans who signed him as an undrafted free agent last season did exactly that. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien called McCarron “the spitting image of Welker” in training camp. O’Brien would know a bit about that. Not only did he coach Welker as a member of the Patriots. He hired Welker as an assistant coach on the Texans staff.

McCarron made the Texans’ practice squad out of training camp before being released. The Patriots picked him up in late September and signed him to the practice squad. The Patriots kept him on the practice squad all season, so they think enough of him to give him a shot.

He is built like Amendola and tried to learn from him and pick his brain with every chance he got last season. When speaking to the media last fall, he spoke about the learning curve at the position.

“Obviously, Danny and I have kind of the same build,” McCarron said. “He’s in the slot, too. Any chance I can, I’ll try to pick his brain, ask him why he does one thing instead of another. I keep learning, and he always has an answer for something. … Trying to learn any way I can, especially guys who have done it and proven themselves for a long period of time.”

Unlike the perception of most white slot receivers, McCarron isn’t slow. In fact, his measurables were outstanding. He ran a 4.41 in the 40 at his Pro Day, some had it as low as a 4.36. He had a 40.5-inch vertical leap, a 10’4 in the Broad Jump and his 3-Cone Drill time was an outstanding 6.47.

McCarron was a walk-on at Iowa who saw very little playing time his first three years. In his senior year, he was the leading receiver and caught 42 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns in Iowa’s run-first offense. He excelled in the Hawkeye offense at getting open. And with his speed and athleticism, he could separate.

Look, McCarron like fellow WR Cody Hollister on the practice squad is a long shot to make the roster. But the Patriots just lost a guy who carved out a valuable niche in the slot and that position is still wide open. And he has the skill set to make it work.

His best chance is to turn heads during the spring OTAs, where even if Edelman and Mitchell are ready to go, will still be on a pitch-count where they’ll be reps to be had. There are a lot of veterans vying for the roster and he’ll face an uphill battle. But the rookie has another ace up his sleeve.

One of the other things Amendola did was return punts. With Edelman and Cyrus Jones on IR, he and Dion Lewis returned the kicks last season. Both are now gone. McCarron did return punts in a limited role at Iowa but had a 21.1-yard average and a 55-yard return for a touchdown. It all comes down to “the more you can do.”

The Patriots coaches, like Houston’s, are high on the kid, and it isn’t like we haven’t seen this before. With an opportunity, even among a crowded field at wide receiver, there is a chance to carve out a role and make the roster.

Check out some of McCarron’s highlight film from college:

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 discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Trade for KR/WR Cordarrelle Patterson From the Raiders

Steve Balestrieri
March 18, 2018 at 8:21 pm ET

The Patriots have found their new kick returner. The Patriots have traded for Cordarrelle Patterson from the Oakland Raiders while swapping draft picks. The Patriots will send their fifth-round pick and receive Patterson and the Raiders sixth-round selection.

Patterson, 27, was a former 1st round pick of the Minnesota Vikings (29th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft. That pick coincidentally belonged to the Patriots. The slid back and received four picks in return. In essence, Patterson’s NFL life has now come full circle.

Patterson is known primarily as a kick returner and that will be his main function with New England. Dion Lewis had kick return duties in 2017 and averaged 24.8 yards per return. Patterson averaged 28.3 yards per kick return for the Raiders last season, the previous two seasons with Minnesota, he averaged over 31.

Patterson caught 31 passes for 309 yards and rushed for another 121 on the ground for the Raiders. He is in the final year of his contract that pays him a modest $3.25 million dollars in 2018.

This was a win for the Patriots, with Lewis and Danny Amendola gone, they lost both their Kick and Punt Returners from 2017. Cyrus Jones and others (see our post in the morning) will vie for punt return duties in 2018. But it seems that the kick return block has been checked. He has world class speed and has been an electrifying kick returner in the NFL.

If they get any kind of production out of Patterson in the passing game, it will be a bonus. He did catch 52 passes two years ago for the Vikings. With the rushing yardage he amassed, they could use his speed on Jet sweeps or those shovel passes as well as outside the numbers.

The trade is not official pending a physical.

New England Patriots News 3-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-18, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: The Patriots have given safety Pat Chung another short-term extension on his contract that ran through the current 2018 season. Terms are not available. But since he returned for his second stint with the team, Chung has been a valuable, dependable defender. Good move all around.

No Honey Badger in NE, tonight we learned that Tyrann Mathieu was heading to the Houston Texans on a one-year deal as what so often happens plays out. It seems every free agent is rumored to be going to New England. And frequently as in Mathieu and Richard Sherman, the Patriots weren’t even in the game.

Often times, I believe that the agents push this agenda to drive up the price and market for their clients. Just like the Patriots were supposedly “in on” Ndamukong Suh and Jordy Nelson which is borderline ridiculous at this point. With about $15.6 million dollars of cap space, how would the team afford to sign a player like Suh or Nelson, if they even wanted them?

Free Agency- When will fans learn that the Patriots, unlike last year, much more often than not eschew the opening feeding frenzy of free agency where several players are in our opinion, are overpaid and then make the moves that they must to build the depth of the roster for the long haul.

This year, the cries of despair from the fan base have never been louder, as if the people that run the operation over at 1 Patriot Place all of a sudden forgot how to build a team. They’ve been to eight Super Bowls in the past 17 years. They know how to build a team that will be playing in February, not winning Day 1 of free agency in March.

And the intent of some to drive the narrative to question every move that Belichick makes like the Red Sox managers have had to endure since Dick Williams (Google his name) is laughable. “Grady Belichick” is the lamest yet, for some media members who are intent on forcing the issue.

Pats Lose Four Key Players Early in Free Agency:
Right after the season ended, we didn’t think there was a chance of Malcolm Butler returning in 2018, and that wasn’t a surprise when he left, for a big payday with the Titans. And with the draft class strong at running back, we’d didn’t feel the market would be that great for Dion Lewis, even though he’s shown how electrifying he can be. He’s had only one healthy season, 2017, but the market heated up for him and he too signed with a nice deal from Tennessee.

But the loss of Danny Amendola and Nate Solder hurt especially. Partly because we expected both to be back. Amendola because he was so clutch at crunch time for the past several years and was their punt returner as well as a go-to guy in the playoffs.  And Solder, because he’s protected Brady’s blind side for the past seven years and they really don’t have a replacement plan in place.

LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are fine swing tackles. But over a 16-game season? I don’t know that they’re the best options and both are free agents anyway. Tony Garcia? After missing all of 2017 with an illness, we’re not even sure he’ll be ready to play, much less be a capable player yet. The other alternatives (for now) are recently signed Matt Tobin, (depth player) Andrew Jelks and Cole Croston. So the loss of Solder hurt.

But it hard to find fault there, the deals for Amendola and Solder were much more than the Patriots could or would be willing to offer. The Patriots offer to Solder was 4 years, $50 million, while more than $12 million a year, was a full $12 million less than the Giants offered. That is substantial.

While the frustration level of losing those key players is understandable, it has to be tempered with the realization that the business model that the Patriots have stuck to for so long is the reason that they are able to remain so competitive for so long.

Patriots Add Five Players Including McCourty, Clayborn, and Hill:
The news wasn’t all bad, as usual, the team began building their roster depth, resigning special teamers Brandon King and Nate Ebner and running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead was an intriguing, New England kind of player. While he’s not outstanding in any one facet of his game, he does everything well. He runs between the tackles, can catch the ball, pass protect and be a key special teams guy.

The trade for Danny Shelton became official, which will immediately impact the Patriots rush defense. With an interior rotation of Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (who returns from IR) and Adam Butler, who is more of an interior sub rusher, they depth is much stronger now.

The Patriots addressed cornerback with the trade of Jason McCourty which we covered in a piece here:  I still believe that the team will add another corner in the upcoming draft, but they are building depth while adding a veteran presence there.

Then the team signed DE Adrian Clayborn as well as RB Jeremy Hill. So the Patriots have hardly been stagnant during free agency. Were they the splash moves everyone clamors for? No, but the roster is building up for the 90 man limit. And there is still a long, long way to go. We’ll give our thoughts on the newest additions below.

Adrian Clayborn Immediately Upgrades the Front Seven:
The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries along the front seven last season, coupled with the loss of Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency as well as the sudden retirement of Rob Ninkovich left them in a bind all season long.

Getting Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Valentine, and Derek Rivers back will no doubt help. But the team added another very nice piece in signing DE Adrian Clayborn the free agent from the Atlanta Falcons.

Clayborn who will turn 30 in July, is coming off of a 9.0 sack season (six in one game against Dallas) and is a very good but not great pass rusher. But what he does extremely well is set the edge in the running game. And in the Patriots defense, that is paramount. They aren’t, nor ever will be, that pin your ears back, attacking defense.

One play that Patriots fans may remember well with Clayborn is back during the joint practices in 2013. Clayborn bullrushed Nate Solder and their feet got tangled up and Tom Brady went down in a heap. It was an accidental play. Brady held his knee and was down for several moments before walking off. My pic from the practice was carried by for their column that day.

Adrian Clayborn and Nate Solder got tied up and Solder fell into Brady but he wasn’t seriously injured. (SBalestrieri photo)

Clayborn will be just fine here, he has a relentless motor and will take a lot of heat off of Trey Flowers on the other side of the defensive line. After four seasons with the Bucs, he spent the last two with the Falcons. He’s had injury problems during his career but a healthy 2018 will be a successful one for the veteran in this scheme.

Jeremy Hill,  Gives the Patriots Needed Depth at RB:
When the Bengals drafted Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft, Hill became expendable. And at just 25-years old, Hill has plenty left in the tank. At 230 pounds, he is the big back that the Patriots had in LeGarrette Blount. And short yardage was a sore spot for the Patriots offense in 2017. The Pats ranked a lowly 24th in the league on converting third or fourth and one last season. Hill will definitely help in that aspect.

But for the immediate future, he gives the team options, he and Mike Gillislee will compete for the big back role in the Patriots offense. He’s had issues with ball security in the past but he knows how Belichick feels about those and it will be a key area for him to work on. Eventually, in camp, the team may have to decide whether to keep one or the other as the team’s big back. But for now, the team just added two much-needed depth backs with him and Burkhead, who were teammates in Cincinnati.

One area that may be in Hill’s favor is that he’s a decent pass receiver, something the Patriots like their running backs to do in their offense. It is the case of the more you can do which helps to secure a roster spot on the Patriots. So we’ll see what a fresh slate can do for Hill.

While the Patriots will still probably draft a running back this season, it now probably won’t be one in the top rounds, it will probably be a later round, developmental pick.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Are Very Active in Free Agency:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been shy about making a slew of moves in free agency. After signing CB Vontae Davis, they shipped off LT Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and now have picks #12 and #22 in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

But that was hardly the tip of the iceberg as the Bills signed DT Star Lotulelei, re-signed DT Kyle Williams, then signed DE Trent Murphy from the Redskins strengthening their pass rush.

The Bills added depth to the running back position by signing veterans Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. And then after unloading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, they signed their bridge QB, A.J. McCarron for a 2-year, $10 million dollar price tag from the Bengals.

It has been a busy off-season for the Bills and they are far from done. It will be an interesting draft season in Buffalo. While I may think they overpaid Murphy and question the trade of Glenn, the Bills are still in much better shape than they were after their playoff loss to the Jaguars.

Dolphins Plan to be “Straight Up Flying” in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are never ones to lack for confidence in the offseason. After trading Jarvis Landry to the Browns, the team has addressed his loss by adding former Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs and confidence is high in South Beach.

.“We’re straight up flying,” said Wilson. “I feel like the way we’re going to put the stretch on some defense is going to be crazy. The speed outright shows itself.”  Both Wilson and Amendola can play the slot or move outside. That will present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Wilson, who was the fourth or fifth option in Kansas City, now will get a chance to see the ball a lot more. And with Amendola setting the table by making the chain moving catches, why shouldn’t the Fins be confident? Ryan Tannehill got an early Christmas present with his two new toys in the offense.

Plan “B” for the Jets, No Cousins? They Move Up to #3 in the Draft:
The New York Jets made a huge pitch to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency and they failed to bring him in. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Now they move on to their Plan B and it is to draft the best available quarterback.

So, on Saturday, the Jets moved from the 6th position to the #3 spot in the 2018 NFL Draft by trading for the Colts pick. But it won’t come cheap.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets are giving the Colts the sixth pick, the 37th overall selection, the 49th overall pick, and a 2019 second-round pick. That is some pretty steep compensation for sliding up just three spots. The Colts hit a homer there in terms of compensation.

By signing bridge QBs Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets get to draft their QB of the future and groom him and allow him time to develop.With Buffalo thought to be ready to pick a QB at #6, the Jets have leapfrogged them and now are poised to pick ahead of the Bills. The next and most important question now becomes, WHO will be the Jets QB of the future with the #3 pick?

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 discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Signing of Jason McCourty a Good Low-Risk Move

Steve Balestrieri
March 16, 2018 at 9:48 am ET

The McCourty twins are finally getting a chance to play together when the Patriots traded for Jason McCourty in a very low cost/risk, high-reward type of deal. McCourty was about to released by the Browns in a cost-cutting move when the Patriots approached the Browns and offered their sixth-round pick for the Browns’ 7th rounder and McCourty.

So for moving back 15 spots at the back end of the draft, the Patriots get a very serviceable corner and a guy that they tried to bring in more than once before.

McCourty, 30, was originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 6th round (203rd overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft. He is considered, (like his brother) as a great locker room influence on both the younger players and veterans alike. His $3 million dollar cap hit is extremely affordable.

What does it mean for the Patriots secondary? He’s another 6-foot tall corner that can play on the boundary or possibly be moved into the slot. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, the Patriots needed at least another corner with a veteran presence and now that block is checked. I still believe that they’ll draft a corner in the upcoming draft. Perhaps now it will be a mid-round pick.

It gives them options and much-needed depth at the position as they’ll be able to present different looks depending on matchups.

But for now, the cornerback situation has Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, as well as practice squad players Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz signed for 2018. The cupboard is hardly bare there and if both of the Jones are healthy to begin training camp, (especially Jonathan in the slot) then the team is in good shape moving forward.

It was interesting to see some of the comments pooh-poohing the Rutgers connection for the Patriots and former Scarlet Knight head coach Greg Schiano. The Rutgers connection has actually worked out quite well for the Patriots. The McCourty twins, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and yes, Steve Belichick, the current Patriots safeties coach were all Rutgers alums and played for Schiano. Hardly a collection of stiffs.Other names who played under Schiano and made brief stops in New England were Tiquan Underwood and Alex Silvestro.

While it wasn’t the splash signing that fans were clamoring for, it was a very low-risk, high reward type of deal. He was a guy the Patriots tried to bring in once before and it didn’t work out. Now they have their man and they can continue to move forward with re-tooling the defense.

Rumors are Adrian Clayborn is in town for a visit on Friday morning. They still need some much-needed depth and athleticism at the linebacker position.

But for the McCourty twins who haven’t played together since Rutgers, they’ll finally get the chance to suit up together in the NFL. The Patriots get a good corner who graded out well according to Pro Football Focus in 2017 in his only season with the Browns.

It isn’t a fantasy football squad they are building but a 53-man roster. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

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 I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Report: Danny Amendola Signing With the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2018 at 3:27 pm ET

The first of the big Patriots free agent domino’s has fallen, and it didn’t go the way anyone in New England wanted it to go. There are multiple reports but first detailed by Dan Hellie that the Miami Dolphins are signing Patriots free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola.

Terms of the deal are not yet available.

It was a devastating development for the Patriots, of the three big team free agents, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis and Amendola, it was he that was the most expected back in 2018. The man who has taken more than one pay cut to remain with the Patriots is now on his way to South Beach.

He was clutch for the Patriots, especially in the playoffs and will have saved his best for last. The three-game stretch of the playoffs was the best of his career. He caught for 26 passes for 348 yards during the Super Bowl run after catching 61 passes during the regular season.

Danny Amendola was one of the most clutch Patriots in the playoffs. (SBalestrieri photo)

Tom Brady loses not only one of his most clutch receivers in the past five years, but one of his closest friends. The Patriots lose much more. He was their primary punt returner, the emergency insurance policy with Julian Edelman down and possessed the best hands on the team.

At age 32, this was his last, best chance to cash in and his market will never be any higher. Needless to say, neither of the last two Super Bowl wins happen without the clutch play that Amendola produced for the Patriots.

Miami needs a slot receiver, having just traded Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns. Ryan Tannehill just got an early free agency gift.

Free Agency Fits For the New England Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:23 am ET

The legal tampering window is upon us and with free agency and another blizzard right around the corner, it is a good time to kick back with a coffee and look at the free agency help that is out there. For this particular exercise, we’re looking at fits for the Patriots defense, specifically, the linebacking core as all but one of these are linebackers and one corner. Are there others out there? Absolutely. But these are the ones we like the fit to New England.

As always the price of the free agents will drive the train and the Patriots don’t have anywhere near the flexibility that they had a year ago. And many of these free agents, perhaps all of them may be out of their price range. But in terms of fit, in our opinion, these players would be good additions to the defense.

Again, there are other players out there who may either be of interest to the Patriots but here are some of the ones we believe will be a good fit in the defense.

Nickell Robey-Coleman: The Patriots are very familiar with him, having played for four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and he fits a very specific need of theirs, which is a slot corner. Coleman can play boundary corner but at 5’8, 165 pounds, he’s better suited for the slot where he’s flourished.

Coleman was an undrafted free agent in 2013 played on a one-year prove-it type deal with the Rams last season and there is plenty of talk that he wants to return to Los Angeles and that Rams want him back.

Coleman had a very good 2017 season logging 50 tackles, two tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one interception. The Patriots need a slot corner. Jonathan Jones was close to taking over that spot but then was injured and went on IR. He was missed in the Super Bowl, especially with Malcolm Butler being benched in the game.

Eric Rowe is better suited to be a boundary corner which would leave the slot wide open. Cyrus Jones is still in the mix, but at this point, he can’t be counted on as he’s still an unknown. I would still expect them to address the position in the draft as well.

Paul Worrilow: If the name sounds familiar, it should reportedly the Patriots kicked the tires on him last spring when he was a free agent from the Atlanta Falcons. The 27-year old linebacker signed a one-year, $3 million dollar contract with the Lions last season.

Worrilow was slowed by a knee sprain of his MCL and played in just 13 games, starting in eight. He put up only so-so numbers with 30 tackles, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery. He struggled with his tackling as well as in coverage.It doesn’t appear that Detroit is interested in bringing him back with new head coach Matt Patricia.  

Would the Patriots be interested in him a second time around? I’d say no at first glance but one can never be too sure. If they feel he’d fit better in Foxboro in what they’d ask him to do, he could be a middle of the road, lower cost free agent.

Avery Williamson: Another guy that the Patriots have liked in the past is Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson. The 26-year-old has just finished his rookie contract deal with Tennessee and wants to test the market.

Williamson would immediately upgrade the Patriots run defense in the middle as he led the Tennessee defense with 92 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He received a 90.1 grade in run defense from Pro Football Focus, which was sixth best in the league. He’s a very durable player who has missed only one game in four years and is decent but not great in coverage.

He turned down a four-year, $12 million dollar deal with Tennessee and according to Diane Russini from ESPN is drawing interest from both the Jets and Dolphins. Spotrac has reported that he’s due for a possible four-year, $36-million dollar deal which would put him probably right out of the Patriots market.

Nigel Bradham: We wrote about this about a month ago as he’d be a great fit for the defense. Bradham is a very durable, sure tackler in the middle of the defense who is very good in coverage.

After Jordan Hicks went down with a torn Achilles last year in Week 7, Bradham began calling the signals for the Eagles defense and was one of their leaders and a very well respected veteran in the locker room. The 28-year-old finished with 88 tackles, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

He’s one of the most highly sought free agents out there with sources within the NFL reporting that 8-10 teams are interested in his services. While Philadelphia would love to have him back, they are currently $17 million dollars over the cap. And the interest he’s being given, will no doubt drive his price out of the Patriots range, but in terms of fit. He’d be excellent in the Patriots defense.

Preston Brown: Brown has already made it clear that he would be open to signing with the New England Patriots as they’ve gotten a lot out of several former Bills players.

“I think I can definitely help the young guys they have,” Brown said. “They’ve got some good young talent at linebacker. They run pretty well. I know Harris retired. A lot of young guys were playing well, Van Noy and Roberts played well. They definitely have some things they can work on like we all do, but I think I can help that defense get better. “

The Patriots know him well having faced him twice a year in the division. Brown has never missed a game in his four-year NFL career and calls the plays in the Bills defense. He’s a tackling machine and led the league with 144 tackles in 2017.

He’s just 25 years old and would be an instant upgrade in the middle of the defense and a fantastic fit. He’s rumored to be in the market for about in the area of a $7 million a year range. If the Patriots can somehow make that work, Brown would be a tremendous addition to the front seven.

Alex Okafor: The Saints definitely had a free agent under the radar hit signing when they nabbed Okafor during free agency last year. He was playing very well for a rejuvenated defense that went back to the playoffs in 2017. He had 4.5 sacks, nine QB hits, and two forced fumbles in the first 10 games before tearing an Achilles that ended his season prematurely.

Okafor, 27, is expected to be fully healthy and is a versatile defender as the Saints used him both on the edge and kicked him inside as a sub-package interior rusher. The Patriots could some help on the edge.

With Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Derek Rivers all ending up on IR, it left the team thin with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler and Eric Lee. Okafor could be one of those veteran signings (we’ve already mention Connor Barwin) that won’t break the bank but would allow the team to rotate their players in and out, set the edge and get some pressure on the quarterback.

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 I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 3-11, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 11, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-11, & AFC East Notes

*** Trade  Alert***: The Patriots just minutes ago (Saturday afternoon) traded a third-round draft pick in 2019 for DT Danny Shelton of the Cleveland Browns and a 5th round selection in 2018. This is a good move for solidifying the Patriots run defense in 2018.

Shelton was a first-round draft pick for the Browns (12th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s a 6’2, 335-pound run stuffer who can play over the nose or the 1-technique. He’s the classic two-gapper that the Patriots like in the middle of the defense. When he was going thru the draft process, he drew some comparisons to Vince Wilfork. While maybe those aren’t quite fair to the guy coming to New England, he’s the same body type.

He’s not going to upgrade the pass rush, he’s a two-down run stopper. But if he can maintain his weight. (It fluctuated as high as 363 pounds in 2015) then he’ll be a very nice addition to the defense. He’s in the fourth year of his rookie deal, the Patriots have until May 2 to kick in the final option year (around $7 million) for 2019. With Alan Branch and Ricky Jean Francois gone, the Patriots needed another big body in the middle and now their big guy rotation has Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Vincent Valentine.

Quick Hitters: Sorry to hear that Sean McDonough won’t be returning to Monday Night Football on ESPN. He’s returning to the college circuit for the network and with Jon Gruden returning to the sidelines with the Raiders, ESPN will have a new crew on tap for next year. McDonough, in our opinion, was fantastic as the play-by-play man and will be missed.

The Patriots resigned STs ace Brandon King to a new deal that wasn’t unexpected. Also included in that was the release of TE Martellus Bennett who was due a $2 million dollar roster bonus as well as counting $6.2 million against the cap. Also being jettisoned is DT Alan Branch whose play slipped mightily in 2017

DT Ricky Jean Francois announced that he wouldn’t return to the team in 2018 and thanked the coaches for the opportunity. His leaving opens up another spot on the front seven that will need upgrading this spring.

LBs Coach Brian Flores will call the defensive signals this season but will not get the title of Defensive Coordinator. While sounding a bit odd, this was exactly the same thing that Bill Belichick did with Matt Patricia initially a few seasons ago.

And finally, Tom Brady had all of his locks shorn for charity this week along with Mass. governor Charlie Baker. But he did release his trailer for the final episode of the “Tom vs Time” docu-series that will be released on Facebook Monday.  

Sherman Case, Hardly a Slam Dunk: This week, as was expected the Seahawks cut Richard Sherman who is coming off an Achilles injury in 2017 and will be 30 years old during the 2018 season.

Sherman was an obscure 5th round draft pick who became a cornerstone for the “Legion of Boom” defense in Seattle. The two-time All-Pro, when healthy is one of the best cornerbacks in the business. Immediately tongues started to wag about a fit with the Patriots, who have not yet reached out to Sherman.

Are the Patriots interested? Of course, but it hardly means that it is a done deal. And the first thing to temper expectations is money. Fans automatically assume that every big name star will sign on the cheap to “win a ring with Bill” when the situation, especially here doesn’t fit the reality.

Sherman already has a ring, and now he wants to get paid. While the Patriots aren’t swimming in cash this offseason, Sherman could legitimately be reciprocal in wanting to come here. But the money is the issue. Our old friend Miguel Benzan, aka @Patscap, stated,  “Richard Sherman is on the NFLPA Executive Board making it likely that he will look to max his dollars as an example for his fellow union members.”

Sherman is scheduled to meet with the 49ers today (Saturday a.m.)

Talib Trade Left the Pats No Chance:
Besides Sherman, the rumor mill was also hot for former Broncos CB Aqib Talib. Talib made it clear that if he were released, one of the teams he was very interested in returning to would be the Patriots.

Well, John Elway certainly didn’t want to see that, so he agreed to ship Talib to the LA Rams for a 5th round draft pick. The Patriots were also supposedly involved, but no one expected Talib to come here in a trade since by trading him, his contract is on the books for an $11 million dollar cap hit in 2018.

The Patriots couldn’t pay that so it really left them out in the cold. Which leads us to point #3 today…

Cornerback Isn’t As Big A Need as Thought:
With Malcolm Butler as good as gone, the Patriots have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones still at corner. Gilmore and Rowe are just fine as a pair of starters. The issue is in the slot. If Jones (Jonathan) isn’t ready to go after suffering an injury last season, then they’re really thin. Cyrus Jones is still an unknown quantity.

Expect them to address this need in the draft for sure, where there are several good corners who excel in the slot. If they nab Sherman, that is fine, but he’s not a need per se, the real issue is with the front seven and getting them up to speed.

Picking Up Britt Option a Smart, No Risk Move:
The Patriots signed Kenny Britt to a two-year deal when they picked him up on December 13. He didn’t show much in his limited time in the offense and picked up just two catches. Many fans expected the Patriots to cut their ties with him and save a few dollars on the salary cap, but to do so would’ve been ignoring that they signed him for 2018, not 2017.

Britt was cut loose after signing a four-year deal with Cleveland in the spring that saw him catch just 18 passes in a nightmarish season. The Patriots signed him with 2018 in mind. While he possesses decent enough straight-line speed, what sets apart the 29-year old wide receiver is his size. He’s the biggest Patriot wide receiver on the roster at 6’3, 223 pounds. That is something the team can use.

While the Patriots have a plethora of smaller receivers in the mode of Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan is the only receiver over six feet tall at 6’1. Britt now gives them a bigger option, something they can use in the red zone or in the short-yardage areas where he can use his size to box out opponents.’s Ian Rapoport has reported that the Patriots are expecting big things for the Patriots in 2018, and now with a crash course in the offense, the last few weeks of the season and the playoffs, he has a full off-season to acclimate himself into the offense.

Britt had his best season in 2016 with the Rams catching 68 passes for 1002 yards and five touchdowns. His career numbers are 329 catches, 5137 yards with 32 scores. He was originally a first-round pick (30th overall) of the Titans in the 2009 NFL Draft.

By picking up his option, the Patriots are on the hook for $150,000. That’s it. His option bonus is the only guaranteed money on the books. Even if he sticks thru training camp, his salary for 2018 is just $1,468,750. With bonus incentives, it could reach $2 million.

With that little-guaranteed money on the table, it is a no-brainer to bring him back. Especially with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell coming off of serious injuries in 2017 resulting in them going on IR. Danny Amendola is an unrestricted free agent, and although he’s expected back, Britt’s option being picked up isn’t indicative one way or another of Amendola’s return.

The Patriots depth chart currently consists of Edelman, Cooks, Hogan, Britt, Dorsett, Mitchell, Cody Hollister, and Riley McCarron. Edelman, when he returns would obviously bolster the depth as would Matthew Slater who is a WR in name only and is a Special Team’s captain. But he too is a free agent. It will be interesting to see who the Patriots look to in the draft. There could be a market for an eventual slot receiver to replace Edelman/Amendola and there are some intriguing names out there.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade Taylor to the Browns, Need Two QBs:
The Buffalo Bills have traded QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns for a third-round draft choice. Now it leaves Buffalo with just one QB, Nathan Peterman on the roster. Realistically, now the Bills will have to add a pair of QBs to the team this spring. There are several free agents out there as well as plenty of depth in the draft.

It will be interesting to see how the Bills address the situation externally as well as with Peterman who got to see the field a bit last season. The Bills got a tremendous deal for Taylor, who was pretty much known not to be in the Bills plans this season.

For Taylor, he’ll be the placeholder for the Browns as they search once again for the elusive franchise quarterback. But he’ll at least have a very reliable outlet to throw the ball to next season…

Dolphins Trade Jarvis Landry to the Browns For Two Draft Picks:
The Miami Dolphins have traded WR Jarvis Landry for a 4th Round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, (123rd overall) and a seventh rounder in 2019.

Landry is a very reliable possession receiver with very good hands who led the league in catches in 2017 with 112. In contrast, all Browns receivers had 134. Landry had 987 yards receiving in 2017 but had 1,136 and 1,157 yards the previous two seasons.

He and Taylor should make a good team and one would expect that those two will soon be seen somewhere working out together building some chemistry. But the Browns are in need of other help at WR.

The Dolphins will be hard-pressed to replace the 100 catches a year with Landry but the draft will have some intriguing options and the Fins just gained $16 million dollars in cap space.

Never a Dull Moment with the Jets:
The New York Jets, like the Patriots, can be accused of many things but boring isn’t one of them. First, Muhammad Wilkerson’s mom called into the “Boomer and Gio” show on WFAN 660 to complain about the negative reporting going on with Manish Mehta about her son.

“He’s always written horrible things about my son,” Wilkerson’s mother Ka’idah said on the show Friday. “Muhammad does not pay Manish any attention, so therefore he always has something against him. Where’s his proof? Where’s your proof, Manish? … I’m just livid. I’m just livid with him.”

Mehta, as many Patriots fans know, is prone to some outlandish assumptions, not surprisingly doubled down on his “Wilkerson has an alcohol problem” line of reasoning when he called in to counter Mehta’s mom. Wilkerson, he said was having “issues with alcohol and drinking in the past.”

In the second incident, Jets safety Jamal Adams blasted writer Mike Farrell after Farrell questioned whether any team should draft NFL Combine star, Shaquem Griffin. Griffin, who had his left hand amputated at age 4 because of amniotic band syndrome.

Adams was livid on Twitter. “Shut up you clown!” Adams tweeted. “What makes you think you can evaluate NFL prospects when you can’t even do your job and evaluate HS players. You’re the same clown who had me as the 38th player in the country, 3rd best safety, no one cares what you have to say!

“Don’t ever sell a kid short.” And the beat goes on…

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 discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Martellus Bennett Released by the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
March 7, 2018 at 5:35 pm ET

In an unsurprising move, the Patriots have released TE Martellus Bennett. Bennett had stated after the Super Bowl that he wants to continue to play football in 2018, but it won’t be, at least initially with the New England Patriots.

The Patriots released the veteran tight end on Wednesday afternoon. It is unknown whether they tried to work a deal to restructure his contract that would count for $6.2 million dollars against the salary cap. No one expected him back for that amount.

TE Martellus Bennett hauls a Brady pass in 2016 minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

The soon-to-be 31-year-old tight end hinted at retirement, especially after he struggled with the Packers and was bothered by a bad shoulder. In seven games, he caught just 24 passes for 233 yards with no touchdowns and was roundly criticized as the Packers showed him the door. Especially after returning to New England. He played in just two games for the Pats before going on injured reserve due to a hamstring issue as well as his previous shoulder issues.

With Bennett’s release, it would seem that either he wouldn’t consider a restructure or the Patriots expect Rob Gronkowski back …or they don’t believe that he can hold up any longer…possibly a combination of all three.

Bennett gets the benefit of being released early and he doesn’t have to wait for the feeding frenzy of free agency to sign anywhere. He can find himself a home anywhere, but it doesn’t appear to be in either New England or Green Bay in 2018.

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 I from discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.