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 SpecialOperations.com 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 2019 Draft Profiles – Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
March 28, 2019 at 7:42 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the wide receiver position. They finished the 2018 season thin at the position. Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely and may not play this season if ever again. Chris Hogan is a free agent and not expected to return. Phillip Dorsett was resigned to a one-year prove it. Deal. Julian Edelman and Braxton Berrios return, but Berrios didn’t play a snap last year, going on IR at the end of training camp.

During the initial phase of free agency, the team missed out on several big name free agents but signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris. But those two are more depth than anything else. So along with tight end, the WR position is currently one of the thinnest on the roster.

With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. Or add thru the draft….preferably both.

So, with that in mind here are a few prospects (BUT NOT ALL) that may be around for the Patriots to select from. We’ll list a couple of early rounds, mid-round and then late-round prospects who we feel would be a good fit in New England. This list isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, there are other players out there who would fit, this is just a few that we like here.

Deebo Samuel, South Carolina:

Samuel in our opinion, wouldn’t be a good fit in New England, he’d be a great fit. Samuel was the go-to guy for the Gamecocks and he can turn any pass on the field into a threat to score. With the ball in his hands, he’s more running back than wide receiver.

Pros :

  • Can separate right off the line of scrimmage
  • Plays inside in the slot or outside
  • He is a dangerous kick returner, returning four for TDs
  • Very productive, 2076 yards receiving, 23 TDs

Cons:

  • Doesn’t have ideal height (5’11)
  • Has injury history
  • Sometimes struggles against press coverage

What his Role Will Be: Samuel can compete for starting reps on Day 1. The Patriots can move him around with Julian Edelman to create mismatches.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? As he gains experience in the offense, he’ll have more and more put on his plate

How Many Downs Can He Play? Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He is a speedier version of Danny Amendola and I could see him fitting seamlessly into that role

What is his ST Value? He will immediately be a threat to return kicks and had four return TDs for the Gamecocks

Samuel went down to Mobile and turned heads all week during practice and then in the game. He’ll be a fan favorite immediately here in New England and he should enjoy an immediate rapport with Tom Brady. I really doubt however, he’ll last until pick #56, the Patriots may have to move up in Round 2 to get this guy.

Riley Ridley, Georgia:

Ridley is the younger brother of Calvin, the Falcons first-round pick from last year. He is a consistent chain mover and has good production in the red zone. Ridley is a very tough, possession receiver that runs very good routes with good body control.

Pros :

  • Very strong hands
  • Can win those contested catches
  • Very good at finding soft spots on the defense
  • Plays his best against the best competition

Cons:

  • Has occasional concentration drops
  • Run blocking needs work
  • Release off the line of scrimmage needs improvement

What his Role Will Be: Ridley will look initially to be a chain mover and red zone target

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Ridley can expect to see his role and looks in the passing game to expand with a year of experience

How Many Downs Can He Play? three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can look to replace Chris Hogan’s role on the team

What is his ST Value? None, no return experience

Ridley is one of those guys who, in the right situation and system become a better pro receiver than he was in college. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, but has enough speed for corners to respect. His ability to win contested catches and physicality should make him a starter really early. He is a late Round 2 or early Round 3 prospect.

Terry McLaurin, Ohio State:

McLaurin is a mid-round prospect with good size, excellent straight-line speed (4.38 in the 40), and a player who is just coming into his own. He’s got good physicality, is a very hard worker and a leader, he was voted as a two-time captain.

Pros :

  • Thickly built, physically strong
  • Very good blocker
  • Good, strong hands, route running is crisp
  • Special teams gunner

Cons:

  • Long strider, has to build up speed
  • Is a bit of a body catcher at times
  • Doesn’t have a huge catch radius

What his Role Will Be: McLaurin is a guy who can come in and compete for the #3-4 WR and immediately be a factor on STs as a gunner

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With experience, he can solidify the role as a #3 or even vie for #2 reps

How Many Downs Can He Play? Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can challenge Ellington and Harris for a roster spot and reps.

What is his ST Value? Excellent, he should get reps right away as a gunner

McLaurin had only so-so numbers at Ohio State, with 35 catches but he averaged 20 yards per catch and had 11 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. He was considered below average as a receiver and then went and put on an excellent showing during the Senior Bowl week. He looks like he’s beginning to come into his own. He’s a mid-round guy who will have an immediate impact on STs.

Miles Boykin, Notre Dame:

Boykin has tremendous size and length at 6’4 and 230 pounds who is a very good route runner with soft hands. He ran a 4.42 at the Combine and turned in a fantastic 6.77 time in the 3-Cone Drill.

Pros :

  • Height and length off the charts
  • Quick release for a big man
  • Huge catch radius
  • Can high point the ball over most defenders easily

Cons:

  • Has occasional concentration drops
  • Only one year of big production
  • Can sometimes let corners get into his chest and slow him down

What his Role Will Be: Boykin will try to earn reps as the Patriots “X” receiver

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Boykin can expect to see a huge uptick in passing game production to expand with a year of experience under his belt.

How Many Downs Can He Play? three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can look to replace some of the production that Josh Gordon had outside

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Boykin is a very intriguing guy. With his size, he reminds one of a young Calvin Johnson. But we’re not saying he’s going to have that kind of impact but that’s how big and physical he is in the passing game. He’s a size mismatch kind of player who can high point balls, win in contested areas with very strong hands. Boykin is another mid-round player who could immediately pay dividends for the Patriots.

Now for a couple of later round players…

Hunter Renfrow, Clemson:

Renfrow is… let’s see, too small, too slow, isn’t athletic enough, where have we heard this before? Yet, all he does is catch the ball at crunch time and move the chains. Every time Clemson was in a crunch situation, they looked Renfrow’s way and he delivered.

Pros :

  • Very clutch receiver
  • Excellent awareness when he’s the hot read
  • Outstanding at finding soft spots on the defense
  • Plays his best against the best competition

Cons:

  • Undersized, isn’t explosive
  • Quicker than fast
  • Obvious smaller catch radius

What his Role Will Be: Renfrow will immediately vie for reps in the slot

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Julian Edelman is beginning to get up there in years, Renfrow is the type of player that can be eased into the same type of role

How Many Downs Can He Play? three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios for a roster spot.

What is his ST Value? Minimal

Renfrow is a quintessential Patriots kind of guy, that people spend too much time telling you what he can’t do while they find ways of taking advantage of the things he does well. He’s a gifted route runner and always finds ways to get open. Production? In 53 college games, he caught 186 passes for 2133 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clutch? In two National Championship games against Alabama, Renfrow caught 17 passes for 180 yards and 4 touchdowns. Yeah, I’ll take that.

Penny Hart, Georgia State:

Hart is another small, even smaller than Renfrow, wide receiver at 5’8, 180 pounds. He played at a lower level of competition at Georgia State, but got an invite to the Senior Bowl and turned heads there. He was too quick, too fast and too twitchy for the corners there to get their hands on.

Pros :

  • Very good production
  • Versatile, 203 receptions, 13 rushing attempts, 17 kick, 15 punt returns
  • Excellent field vision
  • Soft hands and had very few drops

Cons:

  • Very undersized
  • Can be stopped in press coverage
  • Smaller catch radius and doesn’t win many contested catches

What his Role Will Be: Hart can vie for reps in the slot while carving out a role as a kick and punt returner

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he shows he can step it up against the pros, he could definitely see an uptick in targets in Year 2.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios, Bruce Ellington, and Maurice Harris for a roster spot.

What is his ST Value? Very good value as a kick or punt returner

Hart is a potential steal in the late rounds or even as an UDFA. He has had very good production and is a very versatile kind of player, he can run, catch and return kicks. He’s a natural slot receiver with outstanding change of direction. He’s going to land somewhere.

_______________________

The Patriots have to address the wide receiver position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran as well. The cupboard as it stands right now is too bare for the team to enter the 2019 season. However, it IS only March and like the TE position, they have plenty of time to rectify the situation. These players are some of the ones we feel would fit what they do. Obviously there are others.

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.

Patriot Draft Profiles -Tight End Is a Position of Need

Steve Balestrieri
March 25, 2019 at 6:00 am ET

As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is extremely hard.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And we’ll start with tight end. Dwayne Allen was released and Rob Gronkowski now finally deciding to retire, the Patriots are in dire need of a productive tight end. Regardless of whether he came back or not, the tight end position needs a shot of youth there.

I know, I know… it is getting increasingly hard to be a Patriots fan. There hasn’t been a Super Bowl parade for nearly two months. Right? SMH

With Gronkowski gone, the position consists of Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, and the newly signed Matt Lacosse. Lacosse will be an upgrade in the passing game but isn’t the blocker that Allen is. Hollister is a talented kid but can’t stay healthy. Izzo is a very good blocker while Anderson is the wildcard.

In the upcoming draft, we expect both T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant to be gone before the Patriots pick, despite our recent Mock Draft 1.0 where Hockenson was still there when we selected. So, who do they have a shot at? Could they now move up and take one of those players if they are still around in the #15-20 range? Yes, I’d think Hockenson may be that target.

Irv Smith, Alabama:

Smith is a slightly small TE at 6’2, 242, but had excellent production in 2018 with 710 yards, 16.1 yards per reception and seven touchdowns. He doesn’t have a ton of experience but he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.

Pros :

  • Excellent blend of speed and route running
  • Can attack the seams
  • Mismatch on linebackers
  • Good blocker outside in slot or as an H-Back

Cons:

  • Despite NFL pedigree, was a bit of a one-year wonder
  • Size isn’t ideal, not great as an in-line blocker

What his Role Will Be: Smith will be eased into the offense as a flex or “move” tight end initially or line up in the slot with two tight end sets.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Yes, with added strength and size, he could be ready to become a true three-down TE inline.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Smith could be the eventual “replacement” for Gronkowski, and we put that in quotes because no one can replace Gronk.

What is his ST Value? Minimal but he may find himself on the return team

Irv Smith could possibly be around at the end of the 1st round for the Patriots. He has the potential to be a very good pro receiver. He comes from an NFL background and is just scratching the surface of his professional potential. From our point of view, he’d be enjoy big production in this offense. Could the Patriots move up to get him in Round 1? It is now more than just an exercise in what-ifs.

Kaden Smith, Stanford:

Smith is a well-rounded, tough, customer. He’s the latest member of “Tight End U” to enter the NFL Draft. Smith (#2) has improved his run blocking by working with Stanford alums Zach Ertz and Dalton Schultz.

Pros :

  • Solid blocker in-line
  • Can catch balls in traffic
  • Good hand/eye coordination
  • Can work underneath and be a security blanket

Cons:

  • Blocking technique needs to be refined
  • Route running will need some work
  • Occasional concentration drops

What his Role Will Be: Smith can be eased into the Gronkowski “Y” tight end role gradually, especially if they swing a deal for an established veteran.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With improved route running and strength after a year in the conditioning program, he could become a productive #1 or #2 tight end.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

***See above***

What is his ST Value? Minimal

The Patriots should find Smith on the board during Day2/3. He isn’t the most athletic tight end but will be a solid blocker and should be fine working underneath moving the chains. While probably not ever becoming a dynamic receiver in the Gronkowski mold, he could be a very solid, move the chains type of guy.

Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M:

Sternberger is a talented pass catcher who comes from a very athletic family. His mom was a HOF basketball player from Southeast Oklahoma St. and his dad played football at Southeast Oklahoma. He’s 6’4, 252 pounds and had 48 catches, 832 yards and 10 touchdowns for A&M this year.

Pros :

  • Excellent route running
  • Plays like a big receiver
  • Very good hands
  • Can present matchup issues

Cons:

  • Willing but not great at blocking inside
  • Size isn’t ideal, he will have to beef up more
  • Can be misrouted at the line at times

What his Role Will Be: Sternberger could easily slide into a move TE role initially and give the Patriots a big target out of the slot.  

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he can improve his strength, he could possibly get more snaps at the “Y” position.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can eventually replace a lot of Gronkowski’s production, when he gets cut loose more in the passing game. He’s a very good athlete at the position and should give the team flexibility to be the move or the “Y” tight end.

What is his ST Value? He could find himself on the return teams right off the bat.

Sternberger could be found in the middle rounds and one AFC scout told NFL.com that he can easily become a 50-60 catch kind of player. Sternberger has a lot of upside with star potential as a receiver. I look for him as a Round 3 or 4 selection. If he’s there, he’d be hard-pressed to pass up.

Trevon Wesco, West Virginia:

Wesco has very good athleticism for a big man 6’3, 270. He’s part offensive lineman, part pass receiver who can block, run and catch the ball. He’s still very raw in the pass receiving department but could become a very good #2 tight end.

Pros :

  • Big upper body, strong, and agile
  • Punishing blocker
  • Can line up inline, as an H-Back, or a fullback
  • Soft hands caught 24 of 26 passes targeted to him in 2018

Cons:

  • Won’t beat man coverage consistently
  • Can lunge at times in his run blocking
  • Raw route running will be an issue to work on

What his Role Will Be: Wesco can easily compete for the #2 tight end role. His physicality and athleticism will provide him with the tools to take Allen’s role

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he can improve his skills in the pass-catching role, he can become a much more viable target in the passing game.

How Many Downs Can He Play? Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

He can replace Dwayne Allen’s role as a big, physical blocking tight end who can catch the occasional pass thrown his way.

What is his ST Value? He will immediately play on the return team as an athletic big man who can open holes for the returners.

Wesco is a player who will be there in the late rounds and has the capability to be a very good #2 tight end. If Gronkowski does indeed return for more one go-round with the Patriots, picking up a guy as Wesco sets them up for the #2 spot for some years ahead. But it is doubtful, he’d ever become a #1 guy.

_______________________

The Patriots need to address the tight end position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran. Reportedly, via Mike Reiss at ESPN, they were actively trying to bring Jared Cook in but he balked at the thought of Gronkowski returning and the two having to split reps. However, Cook hasn’t signed anything yet so he may get an 11th hour push from the Pats.

In regards to the draft, while there are other tight ends that may fit the Patriots offense, these are the ones we feel would be the best fit. We’ll continue to keep an eye on any developments as they unfold at Gillette.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at[email protected]


Listen to ourPatriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself fromPatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 3-24, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-24 and AFC East Notes.
Spring to a backseat to a snowstorm that hit the area on Saturday…A sight no one was happy to see except maybe the ski slopes still operating in the area.

We’ll begin our draft profiles on players that we feel would fit the team on Monday. Also, we’re doing a special Patriots 4th and 2 podcast early this week on some of the potential fits for the team in the draft. Be sure to check for that.  

ICYMI: Our first Mock Draft 1.0 attempt at building the 2019 Patriots roster is in the books. You can recap it here: You can expect the Patriots to be very active in this one, moving around the board due to having 12 draft picks and half of them in the first 101 picks.

Quick Hitters:

Bill Belichick was in Hollywood with Linda Holliday and as the pair came out from dinner and were awaiting their car from the valet, the paparazzi descended on Bill in force. While Ms. Holliday was gracious with some of the questions, Bill in a quintessential Belichick performance didn’t say a word to the ridiculous, inane questions thrown at him by the clueless TMZ staff. Listening to those questions, undoubtedly made Bill homesick for a press conference in the Gillette media workroom….ok maybe that is a stretch. So how was your week, Bill?

Stephon Gilmore freed up $5.67 million dollars of cap space by converting $8.5 million dollars of his contract into a signing bonus, which was reported by Field Yates of ESPN. That move gives the Patriots some much-needed space and comes just at the right time as the team is supposedly in negotiations with kicker Stephen Gostkowski on a new contract.

Do you think Tom Brady is slow? Maybe on the football field, but watching Brady zip down the ski slopes in the Rockies faster than we can drive any morning on the Mass Pike was a bit disconcerting to watch…can’t imagine the team was thrilled to see that. While we’re all waiting on news of an extension for the Pats QB, he won’t sign anything until he gets back from vacation.

Ryan Allen has re-signed with the team and is coming back on a one-year deal. The veteran of six NFL seasons was just 20th in the NFL a year ago with a 45.1-average. However, Allen’s value lies in his directional punting and the ability to pin teams back inside their 20-yard line. In the Super Bowl against the Rams, he did so three times and could have been a candidate for the MVP of the game.

Malcolm Mitchell in his only NFL season

Malcolm Mitchell Forced to Call it a Career

Former Patriots WR Malcolm Mitchell had to finally come to the realization that his chronic knee woes won’t let him continue his fledgling NFL career and it was over just as it getting ready to take off. Mitchell had close to 10 surgeries on his knees between college and the NFL.

The Patriots knew his injury history when they drafted him in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie and only season in the league. But the vast majority came in the second half of the season.

In Super Bowl LI, during the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, Mitchell caught five passes for 63 in the fourth quarter, helping the Patriots tie and then beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime.

But another knee injury forced him to miss all of the 2017 season. When his knee didn’t respond to treatment, the Patriots released him in 2018. In January, he said he wanted to continue his football career, but sadly it was not to be. At an event at Georgia, he announced he was done with football.

After struggling with reading, he joined a women’s book club and later became an author of his own children’s book, “The Magician’s Hat”. He created the children’s literacy program, “Read with Malcolm” as well as the “Share the Magic Foundation.” Although his NFL career was painfully short, he is making a lasting impact off the field. And he’ll always have SB LI.

Expect the Patriots to Make a Tackle Selection Early in the Draft:

With the free agency losses of both Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, the tackle position on the Patriots offensive line has gotten much thinner. And with last year’s top draft choice, Isaiah Wynn (23rd overall selection) coming off of an Achilles injury, it makes things even more uncertain. That’s why we expect the Patriots to make a tackle selection early in the upcoming draft.

If Wynn is healthy and ready to go for the season, it would put he and veteran Marcus Cannon at the tackle positions. Wynn has yet to play a snap in the NFL and their backups are limited to practice squad player Cole Croston, Dan Skipper, and Ryker Matthews.

Even with the legendary Dante Scarnecchia coaching the offensive line, that leaves too much of an unknown factor in the mix. During our first mock draft, we had the Patriots taking Greg Little from Ole Miss as a tackle. He’s one of the best pass blockers in the draft and can play left or right tackle. He could be the swing tackle in 2019 and be prepared to take over for Cannon in the future if all works out well for Wynn.

Achilles injuries are different from everyone, Vince Wilfork told Mike Reiss that it took him a full year and a half before he felt right again.

Patriots Visible at Numerous Pro Day Workouts:

Bill Belichick was on hand at the recent Pro Day workouts in Alabama and Georgia getting an up-close look at several of the players who will hear their names called in the upcoming NFL Draft. Belichick, sporting an Alabama sweatshirt, no doubt courtesy of his buddy, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban seemed to be completely in his element.

Dante Scarnecchia, meanwhile, was working much closer to home, attending the workout for the Boston College players, who have several players who should be drafted next month. One player who was drawing interest from Scarnecchia is Eagles interior offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. Lindstrom is from Dudley and parlayed an outstanding high school career at Shepherd Hill under the coaching tutelage of his father Chris who played in the NFL,  into being a four-year starter for the Eagles.

In just a month, the Patriots will begin voluntary workouts at Gillette Stadium.

Four Patriots Throw Support for Education Bill at the Statehouse:

Four of the Patriots, Devin McCourty, his brother Jason, Duron Harmon and Matthew Slater, all members of the advocacy group, the Players Coalition, testified on Friday in support of Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz’s education bill, the PROMISE Act.

The Players Coalition stated goal is to make an impact on social justice and racial equality at the federal, state and local levels through advocacy, awareness, education, and allocation of resources.

Chang-Diaz’s bill, one of several,  has been backed by teachers, parents, mayors and education advocates. And she got the blessing of four of the Patriots star players. The goal of the bill is to bridge the gap in education spending between richer and poorer communities.

“These young people have inspired us in our day-to-day lives. We know that they are the future of our region, our nation, and our world,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “And we are confident that if we give them everything, we could give them a million things.”

“We are prepared to battle for our children,” said Devin McCourty.

Patriots Still Waiting on a  Gronkowski Decision:

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t decided whether to return for the 2019 NFL or to retire. Mike Giardi of the NFL Network said that several members of his family are worried about the long-term health of the big man, not just from the surgeries to his back, knee, and arm but also the blows to his head.

If Gronkowski does indeed retire, it would add nearly $10 million in salary cap space but also leave a tremendous hole at the tight end position. Regardless, the Patriots are expected to add the tight end position in the upcoming NFL draft where several intriguing options exist. They have to start grooming a potential successor even if he does return.

New TE Matt Lacosse was ecstatic after signing a two-year deal worth about $4.8 million last week. “It’s an honor to be here,” he said. “Great franchise, great players, great coaches. Just the history behind this franchise is unbelievable. Just to be here and to see all that happens here and to be a part of it is huge, it’s awesome.”

Lacosse will bring an immediate upgrade at the backup tight end position in the passing game as he should have little trouble passing Dwayne Allen’s 13 receptions in two years, including only 3 in 2018. However, Allen was one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. Lacosse has a long way to go there.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Continue to Add Depth:

The Buffalo Bills added a trio of players this week, signing guard Jon Feliciano from the Raiders as well as tight end Jake Fisher and linebacker Maurice Alexander as they continue to build the depth of their roster.

Feliciano is an intriguing player. Stuck on the depth charter behind center Rodney Hudson and guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson in Oakland, he started just eight games in four years but appeared in every one. Known as a very physical player who has a mean streak he’ll immediately vie for starting reps.

Fisher was an offensive tackle who lost some weight and converted to tight end. The former 2nd round draft pick is on a one-year contract. He’ll be used as a blocking tight end or an extra offensive lineman. Alexander came over from the Seahawks where he was a reserve safety and special teams’ contributor. He’ll probably be the “big nickel” linebacker and STs for the Bills.

Dolphins Sign Fitzpatrick, Host Edge Rusher:

The Miami Dolphins solved the immediate need for a quarterback by signing veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, making Miami the third AFC East team he’s played for. He’ll be the bridge QB for the time being while the team searches for hopefully their franchise QB. Miami watched Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock at their respective Pro Days.

Another big need is at the edge. Cameron Wake is gone, Robert Quinn is rumored to be gone also very shortly, which leaves Miami with just Charles Harris. So, the Dolphins are bringing in TCU edge rusher L.J. Collier, who is a shorter, more compact player who was considered a late-round prospect. But a good week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl may have changed the Dolphins perspective on him.

Jets Need Help At Center, Wisniewski on the Radar:

The New York Jets have struggled to run the ball the past two seasons and have given up an inordinate amount of pressure up the A-gap because of poor play at the center position. Spencer Long had a nightmarish season and was cut loose. Many expected the Jets to target Matt Paradis from Denver or Mitch Morse of the Chiefs in free agency.

While the Jets are thought to be looking for a long-term solution during the draft, they are also thought to be looking at Stefan Wisniewski who spent the last three years with the Eagles. He’d be a stop-gap measure but regardless would bring an immediate upgrade in talent at the position.

With the Jets looking to make a big step in rebuilding the team with a young QB in Sam Darnold, they can’t have running for his life every week.

So, how was your week?

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.

2019 Mock Draft 1.0, Post FA Feeding Frenzy Edition

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

It is time to take a look at conducting our first Patriots seven-round mock draft. Now that the initial FA feeding frenzy is over with and teams have gone crazy spending some salary cap space, we have a little bit better idea where the Patriots are at.

So, with that said, are the Patriots going to make 12 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft? I doubt it very seriously, but for our purposes, we didn’t make any trades, which we’ll try t do later in a different mock.

I used the outstanding Fanspeak Your On the Clock draft simulator again this year. And once again depending upon the Big Board that you use…your results will differ enormously. So Let’s Go Drafting…

Patriots Mock Draft 1.0:

Round 1, Pick 32 – T.J. Hockenson, TE Iowa:  Shocking to find him here at #32, while I personally believe him to go much, much higher, the fact that he was still here was far too good an opportunity to pass up.

Hockenson to me is the best overall TE in the draft, I know that his teammate Noah Fant is the most popular guy in many mocks right now but Hockenson is the total package. A tremendous blocker, he can line up inside, outside, as an H-back …wherever you need him to be.

He can attack down the seams or be a QB’s security blanket, a mismatch against linebackers and most safeties. Despite being very young, he can be a Day 1 starter. The eventual replacement for Rob Gronkowski in 2019 if he retires or 2020, if he comes back.

Round 2, Pick 56 – Deebo Samuel, WR South Carolina: Samuel is a perfect fit for the Patriots offense. Samuel has the flexibility of lining up as the “Z” (when Julian Edelman moves on) or in the slot. He’s capable of taking a short/medium pass and taking it to the house.

He doesn’t have great size and is built more like a running back than WR but is very tough, not afraid to go into dangerous spaces and is hard to bring down. Samuel is also a kick returner and brought four back to the house for the Gamecocks.

If he’s still there at #56, the Patriots should take him quickly and he’ll be an immediate contributor on both the offense and special teams.

Round 2, Pick 64 – Greg Little, T Ole Miss: With both Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle gone in free agency and Isaiah Wynn recovering from an Achilles injury, tackle is a position that has now increased in scope for the Patriots.

Little is a big prototypical size tackle with the length, and girth you want at left tackle. Another shocker that Little was still on the board at #64 here. He’s got very long arms, is very strong and at times looks positively dominant in the excellent SEC.

But the knock on him is that he at times looks like he’s just going thru the motions. And that lackadaisical attitude won’t cut it in the NFL. But for that, I have two words…Dante. Scarnecchia.

Round 3, Pick 73 – Joe Jackson, Edge Miami: Jackson is another guy who just looks like a guy the Patriots would love. 6’4, 275 and looks like he’s sculpted out of marble. He can play the run and sets the edge well, he is still learning as a pass rusher, but some scouts think he’ll be a better pro pass rusher than he was in college.

He’s not great at any one thing but does everything well. He has a non-stop motor and makes the defense account for him on every snap. Looks like he has good bend around the edge and has good lateral agility which equates to tackles for loss and sack production.

Round 3, Pick 97 – Terry McLaurin, WR Ohio State: McLaurin has good size for a WR at 6’0, 208 with excellent straight-line speed with a 4.35, 40-yard dash at the Combine. He’s physical, an outstanding blocker; is strong after the catch and very capable of breaking tackles.

He’s a two-time Captain, which is something the Patriots always value. He’s considered very coachable with strong hands and is an outstanding gunner on the special teams. Because of the strong roster at Ohio State, he was often overlooked but would fit into the Patriots offense very well.

Round 3, Pick 101 – Isaiah Buggs, DT Alabama: We had a chance to pick Dexter Lawrence in Round 1, but after his suspension for the National Championship Game and the playoffs for PEDs, we passed. However, even with the Patriots signing Mike Pennel, they still need another big body inside to go along with him, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler.

The question is would Buggs fit the Patriots system? I think the answer is yes. He has good but not great size at 6’2, 295 but is very strong at the point of attack. As an interior pass rusher, he had 9.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide in 2018 but is strong enough to play a two-gap style. He’s limited by short arms but makes up for it with outstanding upper body strength where he can stack and shed blockers.

Round 4, Pick 134 – Saquon Hampton S Rutgers: A strong performance in the East-West week propels him up the board. Hey, the Patriots always seem to reach for a safety and this is probably too early. I really was hoping for Ugochukwu Amadi here but he was selected just a bit before we were on the clock.

Hampton has good size at 6’1, 205 and ran a very good 4.48 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine. He could play the “Big Nickel” or Dime linebacker role. Another two-time captain from the Patriots pipeline of Rutgers…Core special teamer, Welcome to NE.

Round 6, Pick 205 – Tre Lamar, LB Clemson: Another guy who really fits how the Patriots like to picture a linebacker. He’s huge at 6’3, 255 so he nearly fits the Hightower, Bentley mold inside. He’s a run-stuffing monster in the middle of the field, something the Patriots value. He’s bigger than several of the edge prospects.

He doesn’t have sideline-to-sideline speed although for a big man he’s pretty good in coverage, but his change of direction and stop/start quickness are not great. But the Patriots like thumpers in the middle and Lamar is quick to diagnose and has tremendous strength and straight-line speed. Patriots fans will like his style of play

Round 7, Pick 239 – Kingsley Keke, DL Texas A&M: Keke is a slightly undersized DT in the same vein as Adam Butler. He’s a 6’3, 288 interior lineman, the Aggies had him drop 20 pounds to move from the interior to the edge. But his value in the NFL will be as a subpackage pass rusher. However, he has the strength and flexibility to defend the run as well.

Round 7, Pick 243 – Anthony Ratliff- Williams, WR North Carolina: Ratliff-Williams has good size at 6’0, 205 and is versatile, lining up outside, in the slot and even in the backfield. His route tree was limited, however, he showed nice progress in 2018 in his game. He’s a good physical blocker and has the ability to break tackles and is a very good returner.

Round 7, Pick 246 – Trevon Wescoe, TE West Virginia: Another big blocking TE at 6’3, 267, he’s strong and tough as nails but is still very much a work in progress in the passing game. He’s versatile, lining up as an in-line tight end, H-back and a fullback.

Round 7, Pick 252 – Gerri Green, LB/edge  Miss. St: Green was moved to DE in 2018 but was better in 2017 when played on the edge as a linebacker. At 6’4, 252, Green may need a red-shirt rookie season to gain a bit more size and strength. He would be a practice squad candidate with the chance to develop further.

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

Patriots Roster Building is Just Beginning, Including the WR Position

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2019 at 8:29 am ET

The Patriots are just in the infancy stages of building their roster and regardless of the big fish that got away in the hours and days before free agency even actually began, it is rarely if ever the way this team builds its roster.

The roster, as it currently stands will in no way resemble that which will take the field in Week 1 of the regular season nor at the end of the season. That especially will hold true for the Wide Receiver position.

We have seen the angst that many fans and media members have been feeling about the group of players that Tom Brady will be throwing to and rest assured, the team is not done addressing those issues. The team signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris after bringing back Phillip Dorsett and while those two players aren’t the names that people were looking for, they will add depth to the roster and in the case of Ellington, he’s a guy who has had some degree of success against the Patriots a few times with the Texans. Bill Belichick loves to bring in guys like that.

So, with 12 picks, including six in the first 101 of the upcoming NFL Draft, the Patriots approach to building up more production and depth at wide receiver will probably be two-fold. They will most assuredly draft a wide receiver …or two in April. But they probably will try to swing a trade with a team that has a wide receiver on the final year of his contract, much like how they got Brandin Cooks two years ago.

So who is out there in the final year of their contracts? Let’s look:

A.J. Green, Bengals: With Cincinnati in the rebuild mode, Green who is now 30, is the name you’ve seen most circled as a “Patriots target” for a trade. It makes sense on a couple of points. Green is 30 and probably isn’t circled by the Bengals as being part of their longterm plans. He’s also been very productive in his career but has never tasted a playoff victory.

But Green to New England isn’t happening. Why? I can give you 15 million reasons why. That’s what his salary is for 2019. With the Patriots already strapped for cash, they need to re-do a couple of contracts anyway to get themselves prepared for the rest of 2019 and the draft. Bringing in Green without the Bengals eating a significant amount of his contract would put them in a huge bind… That’s a non-starter.

Tyler Boyd, Bengals: If there is a guy on Cincinnati, I’d rather have its Boyd. When he came out in the draft a few years ago, our 4th & 2 podcast member Derek Havens and I both really liked Boyd and thought he’d be a great fit in the Patriots offense.

Boyd had a terrific 2018 catching 76 passes for 1028 yards and 7 TDs, even better, his contract for 2019, his last on a rookie deal pays him just $1,064,742. Which is peanuts for a player of his ability. However, if I am the Bengals, why would I want to trade him? He’s just 26, and unless I felt there was no way, he returns in 2020.

Allen Hurns, Cowboys: Most people remember the gruesome injury Hurns suffered in the playoffs when his ankle was dislocated in the Seahawks game. Hurns is considered a very good teammate and a popular one in the locker room. He is expected to be fully healthy to take part in training camp and the regular season.

He had 1000 yard season a few years ago in Jacksonville and can play all three receiver positions including the slot. He’s got good size at 6’3, 201 and will turn 28 in November. He’s due $6.000,000 in 2019.

He didn’t have a great first season in Dallas with just 20 catches as he saw his playing time take a nose dive after the team acquired Amani Cooper. The Patriots could possibly pry him away as Dallas may opt for a slot receiver in the draft.

Laquon Treadwell, Vikings: Treadwell was thought to be the next great one when the Vikings drafted him in the first round #23 in the 2016 NFL Draft. But it has never materialized for him, he struggled to get production and was a healthy scratch in late December when the Vikes were fighting for a playoff spot. He had just 35 catches for 302 yards and a TD in 2018.

His cap hit is just $3,161,132 in 2019 with a team option for a fifth season. He’s not going to be picked up by Minnesota who have to deal with Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen at the position. The question is, can Treadwell, who is just 23, turn his career around with a fresh start?

Sterling Shepard, Giants: Shepard plays both primarily in the slot and outside, and was thought to be possibly expendable with the Giants picking up Golden Tate recently. He caught 66 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal where he’s making just $1,891,464 in 2019.

Would the Giants let him go in a trade? It seems like the answer is no to that. Dave Gettleman, the Giants GM who has made some head scratching moves this spring, first by trading Odell Beckham Jr. and releasing Landon Collins, then signing Tate to a big money contract is saying their keeping both.

“Sterling played outside last year and did fine,” he said on a recent radio interview.” Will work well together with Tate.”

Shepard or Boyd remain the best case scenarios for the Patriots. Others like Emanuel Sanders of the Broncos is a very long shot. John Elway won’t trade him to New England. Another name to consider may be Josh Doctson of the Redskins. He’s another 1st round draft pick who thus far has been a bust in Washington. He’s never had more than six passes caught or gained more than 84 yards in any game thru his first three seasons.

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

New England Patriots News, 3-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 17, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-17 and AFC East Notes.
We hope everyone has a great, happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.

Favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory? Taking the train into North Station in a blizzard and my Dad taking me, my brother and two cousins to my first Bruins game. Against the Montreal Canadiens.

Quick Hitters:

Adrian Clayborn – the veteran pass rusher will only complete one season as a Patriots and was released on Friday as per his wishes. His release gives the team an extra almost $3.5 million dollars in salary cap room.

Clayborn wrote on Twitter a thank-you note to the Patriots.

“Thank you Patriots for my time with the organization. gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.”

He garnered 2.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, and a forced fumble after signing a two-year free-agent deal last spring. He added a sack and five QB hits during the Patriots Super Bowl run. With Trey Flowers a member of the Detroit Lions and Clayborn released, the Patriots depth chart on the edge consists of Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., John Simon, Ufomba Kamalu, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Trent  “Toolbox” Harris.

Michael Bennett – Speaking of the latest addition, Bennett spoke with Patriots.com

“I used to hate the Patriots,” he said. “I hated it because they would win so much. I hated it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I hated that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love it. I love Tom Brady’s hair. I love being a Patriot obviously because it is all about winning. I think everything about the organization is being team-first, and just about doing what we need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I love that.”

KC’s Hill Under Investigation For Child Abuse – Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is under scrutiny by law enforcement personnel for battery against a minor. This is the second brush with the law in 10 days. Police were called to his home for a child abuse/neglect call on March 5 but closed the case without any charges being filed.

Again on March 14 police officers received a call at the same address and Hill’s three-year-old son was reportedly the victim with a broken arm. Hill has not been charged with any crime at this point.

Law enforcement officials won’t comment on an on-going investigation. Hill back in 2015 pleaded guilty of  domestic assault and battery by strangulation in August 2015. He received three years probation.

He reportedly punched and choked Espinal, who was then eight weeks pregnant with their son, on Dec. 11, 2014.  She is now pregnant with twins. Hill has been in negotiations with the Chiefs on a new deal that would make him among the highest players at his position. But for now, those negotiations are probably on hold. Both the Chiefs and the NFL said that they are aware of the incident.

“The club is aware of the investigation involving Tyreek Hill,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “We’re in the process of gathering information and have been in contact with the league and local authorities. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

This isn’t good news for Hill, the Chiefs or the NFL. The league just suspended former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt for eight games in 2019 for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. After he was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel. 

Bolden and McCourty Return – After a year in Miami, Patriots special teams ace and backup running back Brandon Bolden is returning to Foxboro on a two-year deal. The popular locker room presence spent the first six years of his career in Foxboro. Tom Brady responded to Bolden’s Instagram post about his return with an “F**k Yeah!”

Jason McCourty is also returning on a 2-year deal. The 31-year old, came on board with the team last year and played very well, giving the cornerback position another veteran presence along with Stephon Gilmore.

Dorsett and Simon Back – The Patriots also brought back two more of their own free agents by re-signing WR Phillip Dorsett and DE John Simon.  Dorsett seemed primed for a big role in the offense after a solid training camp but he never really had a big impact, catching 32 passes for 290 yards and three TDs. Once the team brought in Josh Gordon, Dorsett lost most of his reps. He has a one-year, prove-it type deal in 2019. The one strange thing in this, however, was whenever his number was called, he generally came thru, with a 76 percent catch rate. Will the third season be a charm?

Simon was signed in late September after being released by the Colts. He was a valuable role player both defensively and on STs, where his role increased down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. He was one of the players who found a nice role when the team used their “Amoeba Defense.” The deal was for two years and $7.2 million dollars.

Melifonwu Surprised by Grafton High School Honor – Patriots reserve safety Obi Melifonwu was asked by his old high school in Grafton, Mass. to come in and speak with the students. I was covering it for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Grafton News.

He did and spoke about the importance of schoolwork and how it helped a freshman struggling to fit in find his way into a college where he not only starred in football but graduated with two degrees in 2017. But the school surprised Melifonwu by presenting him with his high school jersey which will be permanently displayed at the school. He was a star both offensively and defensively in CMass football before moving on to UConn and then the NFL.

He admitted he was shocked by the gesture and very appreciative. Afterward, he spoke about preparing for this upcoming season, he’s working with a trainer in Foxboro, outside the facility to prepare himself. He also spoke about learning how to better prepare his body, something he learned the hard way, after being injured for the first time and the resultant therapy.

“Sometimes you train a certain way thru high school and into college that you believe is preparing your body correctly,” he said. “But you learn that certain body parts have been neglected which can lead to overcompensating in certain areas, which ultimately lead to injuries.”

Asked about his Super Bowl experiences, he said, although he didn’t play, his focus was on helping his teammates. “I knew early in the week that I wasn’t going to play, so your focus is completely different,” he said. “Then, your entire mindset is to help the offense, by trying to emulate the Rams defense the best that you can in practice.”

Obi Melifonwu poses with his high school jersey at Grafton High School. (SBalestrieri photo)

While CMass Division III football isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL players, the Indians have had a few make their mark. Beside Melifonwu, another former Grafton alum, Steve Spagnuolo is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

The draft and spring workouts will be an interesting one for Melifonwu. When the Patriots signed him it was for two years, with 2019 in mind. How they feel about the ridiculously athletic safety will be put to the test in April. They normally target a safety early in the draft. If they do or don’t take a strong safety early will probably tell you how they feel about his long-term viability in their system.

Patriots Add Five Free Agents But No Sexy Names…Surprised? Shouldn’t Be:

We knew this was coming…right? While teams were overpaying for the premium name free agents in a feeding frenzy before the actual free agency period even began, the Patriots stood pat. They did bid on a couple of free agent wide receivers, especially Adam Humphries and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley. But if you really expecting OBJ or Golden Tate, you were bound to be disappointed, just like nearly every other spring.

The team did add five free agents, but they weren’t any of the sexy names fans were clamoring for. The Patriots signed wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, special teams safety Terrence Brooks and defensive tackle Mike Pennel.

Fans shouldn’t be worried at this point in just mid-March about the state of the wide receiver position. Team building is just in the infantile stages here. Trades are still available and with 12 draft picks, there will be some deals to be made. And with 12 picks in the upcoming draft, they have the capital to move around or make a deal

Of all the players the biggest impact player may just be Mike Pennel. If you listen to our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts, you’d have heard me say, I believe the Patriots were going to add Pennel as a free agent. He’s a big, 6’4, 330-pound space eater who will be the nose tackle in 2019. With Malcom Brown a Saint and Danny Shelton a free agent, the team needed a big body to anchor the middle of the field, something they needed a year ago.

As Bill Belichick said a year ago before the Patriots played the Jets, guys who are 330 pounds don’t grow on trees. He’s big, very strong and will be a very good addition against the run. He’ll be a starter on Day 1.

Bruce Ellington is a small, 5’9 WR who has had trouble staying healthy and on the field. He has excellent speed and had 31 catches in just seven games a year ago. He has KR and PR ability and this may be why the team brought him in to replace Corrdarrelle Patterson this season. In 2017, he had a good game against the Patriots in Foxboro, catching four passes for 59 yards including a 29-yard touchdown from Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick loves bringing in players who have done well against his team in the past.

Maurice Harris is a former Redskins WR who has never really put things together. He has very good size at 6’3, 200 pounds with some return ability as well. An UDFA in 2016, he seemed destined to break out last year after a big training camp. But he never did and gets a fresh start with New England. He had 28 catches for 304 yards a year ago, however, over half of those receptions (15) came in two back-to-back games.

Matt Lacosse from the Broncos has boom or bust written all over him. He signed a two-year deal worth $4.8 million dollars and has the frame (6’6, 255) to be a very good blocker in the running game.

He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a TD last year after working his way from the #3 TE to being the starter after injuries hurt the position. He too will be getting a fresh start in New England. He’ll get the chance to be the #2 or #3 TE here in 2019.

Terrence Brooks is a safety but is more known for his special teams’ acumen. He was one of the standout players on one of the better STs units in the league last year. The Patriots struggled in the kicking game especially kickoff and punt coverage early last season. Once they brought in Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, both free agents, things solidified. Bringing back Bolden and signing Brooks should be a boost overall for the ST units in 2019.

Patriots ST’s Kickers Remain Unsigned:

The Patriots are getting a lot of air time with the usual hot take hosts about their lack of depth at wide receiver. But right now, they have no players in the kicking game with the exception of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen remain unsigned. Gostkowski has been with the team for longer than Adam Vinatieri was and is one of the top kickers in the league. Allen, while in the middle of the road in terms of gross punting average is outstanding at directional punting and could have been a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate by pinning the Rams back deep in their zone all game long.

Bottom line here is there isn’t a better kicker on the market than Gostkowski. We still expect both to return at some point, but it remains an area to monitor.

Patriots Still “Tentatively Planning” on Having Gronk Back in 2019:

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced his decision on whether to return to the team in 2019 or retire. He’s openly talked retirement in the past but the opportunity to have one last shot at the team’s seventh Super Bowl championship may be a big draw for him.

Of course, Gronkowski can also point to the cash he’s due, he’ll count for $11,859,375 against the salary cap in 2019. If he retires, the team will have an additional $9,859,375 to spend this year.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported, “My understanding is when you talk to people close to him, they think there is a better chance that he comes back again than he doesn’t. And I do believe that the Patriots are at least tentatively planning as if they will have Gronk for the 2019 season.”

With the release of Dwayne Allen, the Patriots depth chart at tight end consists of the newly signed Matt Lacosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Bring In Weapons for Josh Allen:

The Buffalo Bills signed some very needed receivers for their offense in free agency inking WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, tight end Tyler Kroft as well as offensive line help in Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe. This should aid in helping QB Josh Allen in helping transform what was a moribund offense in 2018.

The team also inked the ageless Frank Gore at running back on a one-year deal, giving Buffalo the oldest RB group with Gore who will be 36 along with Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30). It should be noted, however, that Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year with the Dolphins.

Brown gives the Bills the deep speed they lack and he had his best season last year in Baltimore catching 65 passes for 1003 yards. Beasley is a Julian Edelman clone, who the Bills hope will transform their short passing game, where Allen was 32nd in the league a year ago. Kroft had a breakout season with 42 catches in 2017 but broke his foot and played in only five games a year ago.

This will be an interesting year to see how much Allen can progress, the Bills spent a lot of cash to upgrade their weapons for him and added two WRs and a badly needed TE. With the draft upcoming, the Bills will probably still address WR and RB to get a bit younger there.

Dolphins Trade QB Tannehill to the Titans:

The Miami Dolphins have traded their seven-year starter at QB, Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. The Dolphins packaged a 6th round draft pick in 2019 along with Tannehill for the Titans 7th round pick in 2019 and a 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tannehill had his moments but could never put it all together for Miami who paid him a few years ago as their franchise QB. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,979 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games last year. Now he’ll serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is playing on a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The one-year deal goes to $12 million+ with playtime and other incentives. The Dolphins are on the hook for $5 million of the $7 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.

Miami, which tried to bring in QB Teddy Bridgewater, now has only Jake Rudock and Luke Falk at QB. They’ll either try to swing a trade for an established QB, or draft a young one in the NFL Draft, perhaps both.

Jets Go All in On Free Agency:

The New York Jets were expected to make a splash in free agency with a ton of cap space to spend it on and they didn’t disappoint. The laid out big money for RB Le’Veon Bell, ILB C.J. Mosely, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and then added slot corner Brian Poole who came over after spending three years with the Falcons.

Bell, is the most notable free agent having sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and the money he signed for is actually less than the Steelers offer of five-years and $70 million. Bell signed for four years and $52 million with $25 million guaranteed. He has a ton of wear on his tires but after taking a year off, he may go into the season refreshed. But the Jets offensive line scarcely resembles the Steelers unit that helped Bell launch in his career. The Jets did make a move in that direction by trading for LG Kelechi Osemele from Oakland.

Mosely is one of the best interior linebackers in the league, a true leader for the defense and a smart, physical player who will be on the field for all three downs. He’s an instant upgrade for them at the position, but the Jets ponied up a ton of money, guaranteeing a whopping $51 million. They also had Anthony Barr agree to a deal but he ended up getting cold feet and ultimately left the Jets at the altar.

Crowder gives the Jets a big play option in the slot with the speed to make a ton of YAC. This should allow them to move Quincy Enunwa to the outside. But the question with Crowder is can he stay healthy? He missed seven games a year ago.

The Jets made a big splash, but will these moves pay off? We’ll see, but it never stops Manish Mehta from making one of his patented silly predictions. In Manish’s latest “look at me” moment, he made his prediction for the top QBs for the AFC East in 2019.

Current starting QBs in the AFC East… from projected best to worst in 2019:

1) Sam Darnold
2) Tom Brady
3) Josh Allen
4) Luke Falk

But before you get too hard on Manish, he got exactly what he was looking for as Boston sports radio couldn’t wait to get him on to defend his position…hmm

So, how was your week?

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.

Patriots Not Unexpectedly Bid Adieu to Flowers, Brown

Steve Balestrieri
March 12, 2019 at 7:55 am ET

The Patriot Way Giveth and Taketh Away

While not shocking at all, it was nevertheless a blow to the Patriots as they waved goodbye and good luck to starting left tackle Trent Brown, who after one year is moving back to the Bay Area after agreeing to a big money deal with the Oakland Raiders.

It was more difficult, however, to part with Trey Flowers, the Patriots best defensive player on their front seven for the past several years and a consummate pro who spoke softly but led by his example on the field.

There is no way that the Patriots were going to match either offer. Call Brown and Flowers victims of the “Patriot Way”, where the team will not become enamored with any particular player. They’ll place a value on each player and will rarely if ever go over that amount when it comes to compensation.

It is why year after year, we watch players who came to Foxboro leave for big money contracts, much more than they would have received here. And it is also why, most of the big name, high-dollar free agents don’t sign here. So, every spring Patriots fans gnash their teeth in frustration over “the big fish that got away.”

It is also why, because the team won’t overspend for free agents that Patriots fans are glued to their television sets in late January and February every season. Because of their fiscal responsibility, they’ve been able to compete every year. The Patriots have been in the AFC Championship Game nine years in a row and have been in four of the past five Super Bowls. That isn’t a fluke. The Patriots build a complete team of 53 players every year. Because they won’t overspend and get into a bidding war over individual players, they’re able to sustain their success over the long haul.

It is why March is usually not fun to be a Patriots fan but February can be glorious. Which would you rather have?

Brown came to the Patriots with plenty of questions a year ago. Nobody…but the coaches were sure that he could play left tackle. But he hooked up OL coach Dante Scarnecchia and he parlayed that into a terrific 2018 season. Now he’s rewarded with a four-year deal worth $66 million dollars with $36.75 million guaranteed. He’s now the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL. Take a bow Dante…you’ve done it again.

Flowers came to the Patriots in the 2015 NFL Draft in the 4th round with the 101st pick that year. But he impressed right from the start and even when the Patriots had him tucked away in the far left corner of the locker room when they expand for training camp, one could sense that he wasn’t going to be tucked away for long.  

Flowers cashed in and has agreed to a four-year deal that is reportedly paying him between $16-17 million per year with the Detroit Lions and will join former NE defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who also signed former Pats WR Danny Amendola as well.

The Tennessee Titans supposedly outbid the Patriots for the services of free agent wide receiver Adam Humphries to the tune of a four-year deal worth $36 million. Humphries is a guy we said on these pages would have been a great fit in the Patriots offense. But he opted for the bigger payday with the Titans. It is the nature of the beast.

With the contracts of NFL players largely not guaranteed with their career spans in many cases woefully short, one should never fault the players for taking care of their future. In Brown and Flowers’ cases, the money they got was far beyond what the Patriots were going to offer. Nobody is going to argue that. How many of us would turn down millions of dollars? Not many I’d bet.

So what’s next for the Pats? Free agency in reality hasn’t even begun yet, because the league with their ridiculous “legal tampering period” has deemed that none of the deals are binding until 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday when the league year officially begins.

So, with free agency beginning and the draft around the corner, the team will try to address these as well as other holes to fill. In Brown’s case, his replacement is already here. Isaiah Wynn was the Patriots top draft choice a year ago and he’ll team up with Scarnecchia and get to work on becoming the new left tackle. He tore an Achilles tendon in preseason last year, but is expected to be ready to go once training camp begins this summer.

Brown’s departure will also impact on how the Patriots may value swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is also a free agent. A valuable, versatile, tough player, Waddle was re-signed a year ago but played little due to the offensive line remaining healthy in 2018. But now bringing him back makes a lot more sense. He can play on either side, is an established, solid veteran and now will be one of the team’s priorities.

Replacing Flowers is more problematic. His greatest gift was his versatility. He was very good at rushing from and setting the edge. But he really made hay by rushing from the interior when they’d slide him inside on passing downs. He was tailor-made for the Patriots defense and their style of playing.

The blow was lessened a bit by the trade for Michael Bennett who came over from the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7th round pick in 2020 for the Patriots fifth rounder next year. Bennett is more productive from a pure pass rusher perspective but will he be able to do all of the things Flowers was tasked? We’ll see. But at 33, while still very productive, his shelf life will probably be a year or two at the most here.

At least for now, Deatrich Wise will be looked at to provide more in terms of every down production. He played just under 60 percent of the snaps last year. The team also has Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris, and 2017 top draft choice Derek Rivers. Rivers tore his ACL in his rookie training camp and missed all of that year. Last year he came back but flashed very little. The 2019 season will be a very big year for him moving forward.

There are still some intriguing names in free agency in terms of pass rushing edge players including Justin Houston, Cameron Wake and Ezekiel Ansah. Although the prices for each of them may preclude any from coming to New England. The Patriots will no doubt be looking at the draft to find the next Flowers.

It is a fact of life, that when the team has success in February, others will try to poach your best players and coaches from your roster. It is the way of the league in March. And it is just beginning.

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.

New England Patriots News 3-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 10, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-10 and AFC East Notes.

Quick Hitters:

Van Noy Defense – As if Van Noy needed anything else to endear himself to the fan base. After Colts TE Eric Ebron took a veiled shot at the Patriots when he tweeted  “nobody wanna do that Patriot way bull- #COLTure.” But Van Noy quickly answered that by tweeting a picture of two rings with a winking emoticon.

Gronk Selling Condo: On a day with some exciting trade news, one item that could have people thinking worst case scenarios was the news that Rob Gronkowski is selling his Boston seaport condo. Gronk’s luxury condo located at 21 Wormwood St. located on the waterfront can be yours for a cool $2,375,000. Does this mean the big guy is retiring? Not so fast. While it could be just that, it should be noted that he bought the place just a few years ago for $1.8 million. Just another sound financial investment.

Jamie Collins redux? With the news that the Cleveland Browns were parting ways with linebacker Jamie Collins, many fans and media members were wondering about a reunion for the two. As we see it here, that ship has sailed and he won’t be returning to New England. We don’t see it as a need as the LBer position isn’t in bad shape.

Et Tu Amendola: Danny Amendola was released by the Dolphins on Friday. The cost-cutting move is expected to clear a salary-cap space that Miami may use to entice Trey Flowers to South Florida. Now many are hoping for a reunion with Amendola and the Patriots.

Well, no one has been a bigger Amendola supporter than we’ve been on these pages. While we’d love to see him back in Foxboro this spring, the situation may preclude that from happening. The team needs to get younger at the position and with the cupboard bare, they may play a waiting game to see how the rest of FA/Draft plays out before making a decision. By then, I’d expect Amendola to be signed elsewhere.

Brown Has His Cake, But Won’t Share it With Buffalo: Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown may have effectively forced his way out of Pittsburgh by demanding a trade, and now is stipulating where he won’t go. The Steelers and Bills had a deal supposedly agreed to in principle but Brown put the kibosh on it, stating he won’t go to Buffalo.  

After a few tweets and videos that may have effectively ruined whatever compensation, the Steelers could have gotten for him, Brown now halted a trade. One has to wonder if he may paint himself into a corner where the Steelers (and rightfully so), give him the option to return to the team or sit out the season.

Bennett Trade, One The Team Couldn’t Bypass:

The Philadelphia Eagles are trading DL Michael Bennett and their 7th Round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Patriots for New England’s 5th round pick in 2020. In terms of compensation, the deal is a steal. Bennett is still a very productive player and even at 33 logged more sacks (9) and QB hits (30) than anyone on New England and fourth most (QB hits) in the league.  

Bennett’s contract isn’t going to break the bank either. He’s due $7.2 million in salary and game day bonuses and $8 million in 2020. The Patriots tried to swing a deal with the Seahawks to get Bennett last spring, but the Eagles had pounced first and he was dealt to Philadephia.

Does this mean that the team is washing their hands of Trey Flowers in free agency? Not necessarily. We’ve been of the mind here that Flowers’ chances of resigning here have been slim. Especially now with so many of the edge rushers being tagged by their respective teams. But that doesn’t mean the team won’t try to retain Flowers. Bennett’s trade was something that just popped up on the radar that was too good to pass up for a player that they tried to bring in last spring.

He wasn’t brought in as a replacement for Flowers, although it could seem like that if indeed he does walk in free agency. But the thought of watching the two on the field together in the Pats defense is an exciting one. Will it happen? Stay tuned.

Brady Extension Coming?

We heard thru someone we know (and someone who would know) that a contract extension for Tom Brady was going to be done soon and the team would lock him up for another three years, that would take him to the age 45 limit that he said he envisioned.  

The guys on “Patriots Unfiltered”, what used to be known as PFW in Progress on the Patriots team website invited me on the show on Thursday and we spoke about it for a few minutes. It can be heard here:

Free Agency “Legal Tampering” Season Is Here:

Now is when things get interesting. The Patriots still have a slew of free agents to either resign or let walk including both kickers and still look for ways to improve the team.  So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at certain positions and see who the team has out there and who they could bring in.

Interior Defensive Line:  With both Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton unrestricted free agents, there is certainly a case to be made that neither returns. However, if I had to pick one… I’d go with Brown as being the one player closer to return, but not by much. Like a 52-48 ratio.  

There are some intriguing free agents out there, Sheldon Richardson (Vikings), Brandon Mebane (Chargers), Johnathan Hankins (Raiders), but I don’t see the Patriots laying out the money that those guys would draw in free agency. On our 4th and 2 podcast, I mentioned Jets FA Mike Pennel as a guy the Patriots may target. A huge, 6’4, 330, two-gapping space eater, the Patriots are one of the few teams that still covet those type of players. Not a sexy signing, but one that will pay dividends in the season.

Tight End: Will he or won’t he? If Rob Gronkowski retires, it will free up $11.6 million in cap space, and the position becomes of critical need. if he doesn’t, it is still a position in dire need of young(er) blood. They currently have Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Ryan Izzo, and the sleeper Stephen Anderson under contract. Hollister has looked good but can’t stay on the field. Izzo was an intriguing kid and Anderson has unlocked potential.

With the release of Dwayne Allen, the team needs an injection of talent and youth. One guy who’ll be the perfect #2 TE with the team, (especially in the two-TE sets) is Pittsburgh’s, Jesse James. He’s been a favorite here to pick up all winter. He’s big  (6’7, 260), is a very good blocker and productive as a receiver. He’s only 25 and has 112 catches in three seasons being the #4 or lower target.

Wide Receiver: With a slew of free agents (Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson), and only Julian Edelman and untested Braxton Berrios coming back, adding youth at WR is also critical. Will they bring back any of those three? I could see Patterson and maybe one or the other to return but they need some talent to help Edelman and Brady in 2019.

Free agents rumored to be linked to the Patriots include Golden Tate, Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, Randall Cobb, Jamison Crowder, Eli Rogers,  and Danny Amendola. As much as we’d love to see Tate in this offense as well as Humphries, the money those two would be looking at may be prohibitive.

Look for the Patriots to make a move on Jamison Crowder. That still would be a difficult proposition, however, because even though he’s coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss seven games, he’s still expected to fetch in the neighborhood of $8-10 million dollars in free agency. The draft, which the Patriots have struggled to find suitable wide receivers, may end up being the answer here.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Beane Says Brown Trade to Bills “Didn’t Make Sense”:

The Buffalo Bills inquired about and were close to making a trade for disgruntled Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown earlier this week. Then Brown put any hopes of that deal materializing by stating that he wouldn’t commit to showing up if the trade went thru. In the end, Bills GM Brandon Beane took the high road and in a statement. “We had positive discussions, but ultimately it didn’t make sense for either side. As great a player as Antonio Brown is, we have moved on and our focus is on free agency.”

The trade for Brown would have made total sense, from a football perspective for the Bills. They invested heavily into a young QB last year in Josh Allen. But he had a dearth of viable weapons to throw to plus an aging RB in LeSean McCoy. It would have made less sense, as it will for any other team since no one knows if Brown will tow the line in his next assignment.

As we mentioned above, Brown is painting himself into a corner, trying to force a trade to where he wants to go. For the Bills, they’ll approach free agency with about $80 million and the opportunity to sign lesser talented players but who will be more about the team than themselves.

Dolphins Clearing Cap Space, Release Three Veterans:

The Miami Dolphins have done a house cleaning in South Florida. By bringing in Brian Flores as the new head coach, he’s starting from scratch. Miami is expected to move on from QB Ryan Tannehill and that will be the first order of business for the new regime. But the team released three veteran players which will aid their salary cap situation.

Miami released wide receiver Danny Amendola, 33, in the move toward youth as well as DE Andre Branch and G Ted Larsen. The release of Amendola frees up $6 million and coupled with the other two vets gives Miami $22 million in cap space. Miami is also expected to decline the 5th-year option for WR Devante Parker making him a free agent this week. That will add another $9.4 million in cap space.

Amendola led Miami with 59 catches and 575 receiving yards in 2018. Now, Miami drafting in the first round with the 13th pick will have to decide whether to move up in the draft to get a QB they like, hope one falls to them in their spot, or wait until next year when the QB class is expected to be better. Free agency has the most intriguing name in Nick Foles, but the Jacksonville Jaguars released a slew of players adding $30 million to their salary cap and are expected to make a big push for the 30-year old QB.

Jets Have Money to Spend in Free Agency:

The New York Jets have nearly $100 million in salary cap space in 2019 and are in a position to make some big splashes in free agency. With that amount of money, they can front load some of those contracts to make the Jets the favorites to any team that they may be bidding against. However, they also have several (as many as 10) starting positions that need to be addressed.

New York is rumored to be in on the LeVeon Bell sweepstakes and signing the very talented running back would ease the growing pains on young QB Sam Darnold. On the flip side of the ball, the Jets are also expected to make a run at the very versatile and talented LB Anthony Barr who has spent the first five years of his career with the Vikings. He’d fill a great need for the Jets.

Barr is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has been a Pro Bowler for the past four years with the Vikings. He’s adept at stopping the run, dropping into coverage and rushing off the edge. The team needs help at wide receiver as well as at edge rusher besides Barr. The Jets can be big players this spring with a ton of cap space. Look for them to make a splash or three.

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.

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.

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.

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