Category Archives: 2017 Free Agency

Unless The Price Is Right, Patriots Should Hold On to Butler

Ian Logue
March 20, 2017 at 9:47 am ET

Anyone who has followed the Patriots over the last decade, there’s one thing we’ve learned when it’s come to finding reliable cornerbacks in Bill Belichick’s defense. It’s been a problem, and given all the discussions over the last week of jettisoning Malcolm Butler from the roster, it should definitely be something this team doesn’t do unless they’re being adequately compensated.

Some people are making the argument that the deal for Butler is simply a continuation of the trade involving receiver Brandin Cooks, which saw New England send the #32 overall selection in the first round, along with swapping selections in the 3rd and 4th rounds with New Orleans in exchange for adding Cooks to the roster.  But with time having passed since this escalated last week, the Saints need to realize that the value Butler brings in what is now a passing league is a valuable asset, and it should cost them a little more than they might have thought to get him.

Bill Belichick and Sean Payton may be friends but at the end of the day, both coaches understand that they’re each judged by wins and losses, and whatever deal they make needs to work well for both sides.  The Saints played hardball when it came to wanting more than just the Patriots #32 in order to feel fairly compensated for giving up Cooks, and you could make the argument that Butler is the equivalent in this trade and is certainly worth more than the rumored #32 selection that’s been speculated as currency to add Butler to their defense.


Letting Butler walk should come at a serious cost to whatever team wants him.

As for Butler, who is frustrated and has been working with his agent to orchestrate a deal out of New England, he has virtually no say in the matter.  He’s already been tendered at the first-round level for his restricted free agent contract, which would bump his salary up to $3.91 million and has New England in control of him for at least one more season.  As it stands right now, his current obligation is to suit up in Foxboro in 2017 before he’ll have an opportunity to take his talents elsewhere after the season.  While he hasn’t yet signed his tender, there will eventually come a deadline that will give the Patriots the right to reduce his salary if he doesn’t, much in the same way that it happened with Logan Mankins back in 2010 during a similar standoff.

Mankins didn’t care and his salary was cut, and he held out until the very end before he eventually signed the tender reported on November 7th just before the Browns game that season, which at the time was likely only done because it would have cost him the opportunity to become a free agent when the season ended.  The Patriots eventually reached an agreement on an extension for the veteran guard after they placed the franchise tag on him the following season, which put that situation to bed.

While Butler has said he won’t hold out, this whole mess still has a long way to play out should this deal with the Saints fall apart and the two sides, for now, seem too far apart to find common ground.

Make no mistake, Butler is one of the top corners of the game, having bucked the history here in New England of not enduring a second or third season slump that past players like Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, among others, each went through and caused a ripple effect in their secondary.  This is a football team that had gone through a rough stretch developing cornerbacks and it wasn’t until recently that they finally had some success after what we’ve seen from Butler, along with the recently departed Logan Ryan.

As a result, they had been forced to overcome that by relying on signing free agents, with Aqib Talib and Darrelle Revis being two keys to their recent run of success.  But that’s a formula that only goes so far and it’s no secret that the money they saved during Butler’s rise to becoming a restricted free agent helped pave the way for other personnel deals that also played a factor in winning their most recent championship.

To let him go doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the deal is just too good to pass up.  While they may have gone out and signed Stephon Gilmore, having already lost Ryan to free agency, the cornerback position remains one that is still going to require depth and there’s no guarantee that Gilmore is going to hit the ground running and match Butler’s level of play.  Not to mention the fact Gilmore has only played in 16 full games just once during his NFL career (2012), unlike Butler who has played in all 16 over each of the last two seasons.


The Patriots have already lost Ryan to free agency this offseason.

Belichick may have a plan in mind but he’s likely aware of the painstakingly frustrating stretch he went through before the Patriots finally got their secondary in order and started getting more consistent play from the group they’ve built over the past few seasons.  With Ryan now in Tennessee and Butler’s future in question, Belichick should make sure that as much as he’d like to help his friend Sean Payton out, he needs to make sure that New Orleans coughs up at least the #11 selection, or he’ll simply start planning on the prospect of having both Butler and Gilmore lining up opposite each other for 2017.

Simply put, the Patriots are in the driver’s seat here and need to be smart.  Giving him away unless the deal is too sweet to turn down only benefits New Orleans, and the Patriots were more than fair by including another pick with the #32 pick when they acquired Cooks.  As great as that acquisition was, New England was already stacked with talent at receiver before making that deal and unfortunately, they don’t have that luxury right now at the cornerback position.

As a result, there’s really no room to do anyone any favors.  Now it’s just up to Belichick to take a tough stance and make sure the Patriots receive more than what they deserve in return for what they’d lose by not having Butler on the team next season.

VIDEO: Fitzy’s Wicked Pissah Free Agency-Cast

Robert Alvarez
at 5:00 am ET

New England Patriots superfan Fitzy returns with a new webcast featuring a recap and breakdown of the Pats busy free agency moves and what he expects moving forward into the 2017 season.

WARNING: NSFW, Language.

Video courtesy @FitzyGFY

Just Say No to Revis… Patriots Should Pass

Steve Balestrieri
March 18, 2017 at 4:10 pm ET

The Patriots made a big splash in free agency with the signing of CB Stephon Gilmore, formerly of the Bills and he’s locked up for the next several years. They’re also locked into an ugly struggle with Malcolm Butler their restricted free agent corner because of it.

They tendered Butler with a first round pick and the former UDFA corner is upset that the team paid Gilmore the money he feels he’s earned. Now he’s trying to find a home in New Orleans who may very well work out a deal for him. But if Butler goes, should New England bring back Darrelle Revis who was released by the Jets? I’d say a resounding no.

Revis came to New England on essentially a one-year deal and played very well during the Super Bowl run in 2014. He did everything that was asked of him and by all accounts was a good soldier and teammate that year. Butler himself stated that Revis was a big help to him and he credits Revis with helping him to become the player he is today. So, can the Patriots catch lightning in a bottle twice? Again, no.


Darelle Revis had a solid 2014 in helping the Patriots win a Super Bowl. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots tried to bring back Revis in 2015 and offered him a big money deal worth in the neighborhood of $35 million. But the Jets were intent on bringing him back, even to the point of tampering with Revis. They didn’t need to. Revis who in retrospect, really wanted to go back to New York, got twice that amount from Gang Green. But he didn’t just get his ring, his money, and be on his way. Revis took parting shots at both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Worse, during the Deflategate saga as it unfolded, Revis went out of his way to criticize Brady and the Patriots, basically calling them cheaters. Do you think that Bill Belichick may hold a little bit of a grudge there for this? It is possible. The backlash over his comments about Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots prompted Revis to send his mother to get his Super Bowl ring at the team ceremony in 2015. Except that the Patriots didn’t allow his mother into the celebration.

But the fans and even many members of the media are clamoring for a Revis – Patriots Part Deux, basically ignoring the fact that the past two years, Revis has been flat out awful, especially in 2016.

The 31-year old Revis has been a shadow of himself the past two years and in 2016, teams didn’t shy away from Revis, they attacked him, and sought his side of the field out. For the first time in his career, Revis allowed two touchdowns in a game to the same receiver. In this case, it was against New England and was rookie Malcolm Mitchell.

Revis was overweight, out-of-shape and lost a step. He claims to have already lost 10 pounds this off-season and wants a final shot at redemption. The Jets still owe him $6 million this year, so a one-year deal would be affordable. But would the Patriots pull the trigger again? If they’re smart…in a word no.

While Belichick can bring out the best in players, he doesn’t have a magic elixir that is going to make a player gain those steps he’s lost overnight. No doubt, he’s seen the decline in Revis and knows that he can’t do anything to stop the inevitable slide that has already begun in his game.

It never fails to amaze how fickle some people are. For the past two years, fans and media here in New England have been all over the “Revis is fading” storyline while touting Bill Belichick as brilliant for letting him walk to the Jets in 2015. Many of those same people now are clamoring for his return…And if he signs with his hometown Steelers, as he’s been politicking to do, watch those same people jump back on the “he’s finished” bandwagon.

But while the Pats possibly need another corner if Butler moves to New Orleans, they aren’t in a crisis. Gilmore, Eric Rowe can hold down the corners. And 2nd-year player Cyrus Jones should be much improved in 2017 or Justin Coleman can compete in the slot. And there is the draft.

But as much as Bill Belichick loves to stick it to the Jets, he knows what he sees. Revis is done, or very close to being done. That ship has sailed. And the Patriots should pass.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Re-sign Dont’a Hightower, Big Domino Falls

Steve Balestrieri
March 15, 2017 at 2:13 pm ET

The Patriots made their biggest move of an already busy free agent season by re-signing LB Dont’a Hightower to a 4-year deal worth $43.5 million dollars with a full $19 million guaranteed. The deal was first reported NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Hightower, 26 was drawing serious interest from the Jets, Steelers, and Titans but it was always thought that New England was the favorite to bring back their talented linebacker from Alabama.

A year ago, we wrote here that among the top three defenders on the Patriots with Hightower, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, that Hightower was the key cog in re-signing first. Collins and Jones have since been traded.

In 2016, Hightower appeared in 13 games for the Patriots and recorded 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two pass defenses and a safety. He was a first-round draft pick from Alabama in 2012.

With the Hightower deal done, the Patriots are in fantastic shape heading into the draft. They’ve more than recouped their losses in free agency, with the additions of Dwayne Allen, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy, Stephon Gilmore and now Hightower on the defensive side and adding the talented Brandin Cooks and Rex Burkhead on offense.

Heading into the NFL Draft, the Patriots are in tremendous position with cap space remaining to add additional depth. The only domino remaining is that of Malcolm Butler. If the Patriots can repair their relationship with him, there’s no reason to believe that this team isn’t the favorite to repeat as a Super Bowl champion in 2017.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Pittsburgh reactions to Dont’a Hightower visiting Steelers

John Morgan
March 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm ET

New England natives have strong opinions on Dont’a Hightower, with crucial plays from Super Bowls 49 and 51 etched in their memory. As the linebacker makes his free agency tour, how do western PA writers and fans view the potential of seeing Hightower wearing black and gold at Heinz Field?

 

Dont’a Hightower, Steelers to meet, according to report
Sean Gentille / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers, at some point, are going to have to replace Lawrence Timmons, and they’re reportedly setting their targets high. Like, “stealing a Pro Bowler from the team that beat them in the AFC championship” high.

The Steelers have the cap space necessary to make a competitive offer. Hightower is a better pass rusher than Timmons but probably worse in coverage, so it’d be an interesting trade-off; it’d likely take $50 million or so over five years to bring him in, but you’d also be keeping him away from New England. So, maybe call it a wash.

 

Analysis: Dont’a Hightower would be a good fit for Steelers
Chris Bradford / Beaver County Times

It’s not that the Steelers don’t like or don’t trust Vince Williams, the heir apparent to Lawrence Timmons, who signed a two-year, $12-million free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins last week. Williams, who received a three-year, $5.5 million extension in September, remains a viable option.

Hightower is an upgrade though. Hightower is seen as a three-down player who has saved some of his best performances for the biggest games, including two, game-changing plays in each of the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl wins.

A potential pairing with Ryan Shazier, another fast, physical inside linebacker, in Pittsburgh is intriguing.

The knock against Hightower is that he has yet to play a full 16 games. He has missed 13 regular-season games in career due to various injuries. He has 13 passes defensed and zero interceptions. Whatever flaws, however minor, are outweighed by Hightower’s 251 solo tackles and 17 sacks.

And there’s this: As they were in 2016, the Patriots are all that is standing in the way of the Steelers and a potential trip to Super Bowl 52. Anytime you can take a great player away from New England, it can only help the Steelers.

 

Keith Butler Could Be ‘Pounding The Table’ Again For Dont’a Hightower
Steelers Depot / Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently find themselves in an exploratory phase as they seek out their options on how to replace starting buck inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, and there are several options. The most immediate and readily available option to replace him is to simply plug Vince Williams into the starting lineup, but they do not seem content just yet to rely upon that.

They could use the draft to replace him, but they have perhaps an even bigger immediate—and certainly long-term—need at the outside linebacker position, and this is with consideration of the fact that they have used their past three first-round draft picks prior to last season on linebackers.

Or they could replace (Timmons) the same way that they lost him—free agency. And they are bringing in for a visit a player that their defensive coordinator once “pounded the table” for in the draft room in 2012: Patriots free agent Dont’a Hightower.

Keith Butler was the linebackers coach at that time in 2012, but he admitted in training camp later that year that he wanted Hightower in that draft, with the team instead taking David DeCastro. This was just a month or so after the Steelers released James Farrior, one should keep in mind.

 

Why The Steelers Need To Sign Dont’a Hightower Immediately
Ryan Lippert / Sports Junkies

The addition of Hightower would be a huge upgrade for the Steelers defense. With the defense improving with its young core of players such as Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, Hightower would provide experience and leadership. Hightower has played five seasons in the league for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. With that being said, he can help to show the young guys what it takes to win.

With Lawrence Timmons leaving for Miami, the Steelers need to find another inside linebacker to pair with Shazier. Timmons was one of the leading tacklers for Pittsburgh over the past ten years as he accounted for 981 tackles and 12 interceptions (one for a touchdown). The next man up at the inside linebacker position would be Vince Williams who has had some experience. However, it has mainly been on special teams and sparingly in the linebacker rotation. With that being said, Timmons will be leaving behind big shoes to fill. However, I believe that Hightower would be the perfect replacement.

 

Dont’a Hightower Rumored to Visit Steelers as Jarvis Jones Visits Cardinals
Timothy Rapp / Bleacher Report

Even if Hightower did join the Steelers, he wouldn’t be a like-for-like replacement for (Jarvis) Jones, who plays on the edge, while Hightower generally plays inside. And Jones has never quite lived up to being the No. 17 overall pick in the 2013 draft, either.

Last season, (Jones) registered 43 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. In four seasons, he’s managed just six sacks and has never been more than a rotational outside linebacker for the Steelers. While he is solid against the run, he doesn’t provide the sort of game-changing ability to pressure the passer he was drafted to provide.

So the Steelers could see some big changes in the linebacker group next year, and while Hightower seems likely to return to New England, the thought of pairing him with Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh’s defense has to send shivers running down the spines of NFL offensive coordinators.

 

$10 million per year for Dont’a Hightower? Hard pass
Curt Popejoy / Steelers Wire (USA Today)

The latest marquee free agent to be linked to the Pittsburgh Steelers is former New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Outside linebacker and cornerback are the two primary needs of the Steelers and so it makes sense there would be interest. But if you believe the projected money figure floating around, there’s little chance the Steelers will be interested.

Hightower has started at outside linebacker for the Patriots for the bulk of his five seasons. He’s been a steady contributor but in terms of impact plays, he really hasn’t stood out. The Steelers need to bring in an outside linebacker who can rush the passer on a consistent basis. 17 sacks in five seasons does not scream pass rusher to me.

This really feels like Hightower is making the rounds just to come back and get paid from the Patriots. If the Steelers weren’t going to pay $10 million per season for a top-tier cornerback, would they do it for a run-stuffing linebacker with limited pass-rush skills.

Perhaps the author was out in the kitchen grabbing a brew and some grub during SB 49 and 51, and missed certain ‘impact plays’ . He may also want to dig a bit deeper in his research on how Hightower is utilized in Foxboro, the contrast between the defensive schemes in Pittsburgh and New England, and brush up on the differences between 3-4 and 4-3 (or 4-2) defenses.

 

To see how Steeler fans feel about Hightower, check out the comments sections on the articles linked above. The most common sentiment seems to be that Pittsburgh will not sign Hightower, as the Steelers are traditionally not a big player in free agency.

 

Malcolm Butler Looking For Other Avenues Than the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2017 at 6:43 am ET

The Patriots and Malcolm Butler seem to a couple heading for divorce. Numerous reports have Butler and his agent growing extremely frustrated with the Patriots and seeking another team to take him on and leave the Patriots.

While Butler would be an attractive target for a lot of teams looking for a very solid, physical cornerback, there is a sticking point that will make it very difficult for him to find a new home this season. Butler is not an unrestricted free agent. He’s still restricted and essentially belongs to New England for at least the 2017 season.

CB Malcolm Butler is not happy with his contract situation and is looking for another team to make him an offer. (SBalestrieri photo)

The Patriots placed a first round tender on Butler just prior to the deadline and he’ll get paid $3.91 million dollars by the Patriots if he signs his tender and plays for them in the 2017 season. Or he can get another offer from an opposing team in the league and the Patriots have the first right of refusal. But the big sticking point is, if the Patriots decline, that team will forfeit its first-round draft pick to the Patriots. That’s why it isn’t likely to happen that Butler will generate much interest.

The other avenue is that the Patriots trade Butler elsewhere. Apparently, that is exactly what they tried to do this weekend with the Saints in the Brandin Cooks deal. But the sticking point is the Patriots can’t trade Butler until he signs his tender. It is a classic Catch-22 situation.

Butler has reportedly stated that he wants the type of deal that Stephon Gilmore got from the Patriots, close to $40 million. The Patriots protected themselves against Butler leaving in signing Gilmore to a long-term deal. While he is arguably one of the top corners in the league, and definitely the top one available right now, he may find himself in a tough spot because he’s probably not going to find that kind of market for his services this season.

Will another team opt to give up its first-rounder for Butler? I find that scenario a bit hard to believe. While possible, I think a better scenario is that the teams that his agent is courting may be much more willing to give up a 2nd rounder for Butler in a trade. Whether or not the Patriots would agree is another story.

Butler is 27 and doesn’t want to hit his big payday at the age of 28 where he’d probably only get a three-year deal as an unrestricted free agent in his one big payday. You can certainly sympathize with his camp there. He’s earned his payday but the circumstances surrounding it have ultimately worked against him thru no fault of his own.

The Patriots would love to trot he and Gilmore out as a 1-2 punch at cornerback in 2017. Can it still happen? Possibly but unless they change their mind and pony up some serious cash, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now as Butler wants out.

But he may ultimately decide that he’s stuck in a difficult position and will have to play one final season in New England before moving on and getting his payday elsewhere. Regardless of how it turns out, it doesn’t seem like Butler will be in a Patriots uniform for the long term.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 3-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 3-12, & AFC East Notes.

Big Splash: The Patriots uncharacteristically were major players in the first two days of free agency. Signing CB Stephon Gilmore for a big money contract, trading for TE Dwayne Allen, DE Kony Ealy, re-signing FAs Duron Harmon and Alan Branch and then trading for Saints WR Brandon Cooks. They paid a hefty price (32nd pick in the 1st round and the third-round pick #103) but in return got a very speedy WR in Cooks and the Saints 4th rounder (#118).

The Patriots have plenty of quickness at WR but not a ton of speed.  Cooks will fix that issue. He has blinding speed and had touchdowns in 2016 of 98 and 87 yards. The Pats struggled with Atlanta’s speed early in the Super Bowl. The addition of Cooks should alleviate that and give Tom Brady a target to air the ball out when the defense sells out trying to crowd the box.

By bringing back Alan Branch and Duron Harmon, the Patriots made moves that were very affordable and allowed them to keep two of their better defensive playmakers. Branch signed a two-year deal worth around $12 million and was very good at stuffing the run and filling the gaps. Harmon inked a four-year deal worth $20 million and provided excellent production as the deep safety when the Patriots go to their big nickel package. Low key moves but very valuable ones in the big picture.

Patriots Sign Guy, Former Ravens DL on Saturday:
The Patriots added more depth to their DL this weekend by signing former Ravens DL Lawrence Guy to a four-year contract worth $20 million dollars.

Guy a veteran of six NFL seasons is only 26 years old, is 6’4, 305-pounds and is considered a solid interior run stuffer. He joins Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton and Darius Kilgo on the Patriots’ interior defensive line.

The team could still use another defensive end, with Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom on the roster at the present time.

Cooks, Allen Give Offense Shades of 2007 Feel:
The Patriots were going to lose TE Martellus Bennett in free agency so they went in on trading for a player that they’ve coveted for a few years in Dwayne Allen.  In adding Cooks, another Bill Belichick favorite, the offense has shades of the 2007 season when the team loaded up with Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and Donte Stallworth.

The 2017 version of the Patriots offense on paper looks ridiculously, scary good. Besides Rob Gronkowski and Allen at TE, the wide receiver position is stacked. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola (for now), return. Add in James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield and this becomes a pick your poison offensive unit.

Cooks brings an element of pure unadulterated speed to the table. He can split out wide or in the slot and is fast enough to blow by defenders if he gets a clean release. Depending on matchups, the Patriots can throw out a two-TE package, or a three or four wide receiver look.

While the price for Cooks was steep, he’s been a dynamic playmaker with QB Drew Brees. He had touchdowns of 98 and 87 yards a year ago, and his yards per reception have gone from 10 to 13.5 to 15.0 in 2016. He is still just 23 years old and should provide the offense with another viable weapon. Opposing defensive coordinators won’t get much sleep this season.

Ealy Trade a Low-Risk Win for the Patriots:
With the news of the Carolina Panthers signing Julius Peppers to a free agent contract on Friday, that made the talented but inconsistent DE Kony Ealy expendable. Ealy was a 2nd round pick (60th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ealy had a monster Super Bowl against the Broncos with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. But the Panthers felt he plateaued in 2016 and got only five sacks. In stepped Bill Belichick. Belichick offered to swap the Patriots 2nd round pick #64 for Ealy and Carolina’s 3rd round selection, #72. So by sliding just eight spots, the Patriots get a player with a tremendous amount of upside. Plus, his salary hardly puts a dent in the salary cap at $803,660 for 2017.

The Patriots ask their DEs to do different things than most other teams. They must set the edge in the running game, and occasionally drop into the passing lanes for opposing QBs hot routes on blitzes. The Patriots must feel that Ealy is a fit for what they do. Regardless of how this move turns out, it was a very low risk, high reward move by Belichick.  Ealy seems to be a very good fit for the Patriots defense and should augment their pass rush by joining the rotation.

Team Loses Bennett, Sheard, Mingo, and Logan Ryan in Free Agency:
Not all of the news was good however for the Patriots. They lost Martellus Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Logan Ryan during free agency. While not surprising with any of them, their losses will still resonate inside Foxboro.

Bennett signed with the Green Bay Packers, with a three-year $21 million-dollar deal. Sheard and Mingo were signed by the Colts, and Logan Ryan signed a contract with the Tennessee Titans that will pay him between $9 -10 million dollars per year.

Plenty of Flexibility For the Patriots to Still Be Players in FA and the Draft:
Despite all the moves so early in free agency, the Patriots still have nearly $40 million dollars in cap space to work with, and even with the contract of Dont’a Hightower still lingering out there, they have lots of room to still sign some very good free agents on the market.

Having already added Kony Ealy at defensive end, the team could still use some added depth. Recently released DE Connor Barwin from the Eagles could garner a look as well as DeMarcus Ware. Ware may be looking at a one-year deal similar to Chris Long’s a year ago.

Even if they bring Hightower back, they could use some extra help at the position. They currently have Jonathan Freeny (IR in 2016), Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy. Roberts is a very good run stuffer but limited in coverage and McClellin and Van Noy are sub-backers on passing downs. A couple of interesting names out there include Datone Jones from Green Bay and Kevin Minter from Arizona. If Hightower leaves, Zach Brown from the Bills could be a fall-back option.

Butler Situation Will Remain a Sticky One:
Malcolm Butler has earned his payday; No one, not even the Patriots are arguing that. However, what remains a situation is how much he’s going to get paid. Butler, an UDFA who worked at Popeye’s before he got a chance with New England, doesn’t have the big college or high draft status pedigree that others (Gilmore for instance) have.

It sucks for him but it is what it is. The fact that he is a restricted free agent this season is another huge sticking point. The Patriots want to pay him as a restricted free agent and not an unrestricted one…which is a big, big difference.

He wants his money now, and no one can fault him for that and doesn’t want to wait until he’s 28 to get his big payday. The Patriots offered him an extension last year which was turned down and supposedly Butler was peeved at the amount offered. His agent, Derek Simpson has taken to social media to plead his case and reiterate that they’re not asking for the moon. But the Patriots haven’t budged. So now what?

If the situation is untenable and the two sides can’t work it out, then a trade becomes a very real possibility, but Butler would still have to sign his tender in order to get the trade approved. There were talks of the Patriots and Saints in the Cooks deal having Butler as part of the package. Those talks could resume. Or they could trade him elsewhere.

Butler could sign his tender, pocket $4 million for 2017 and go and become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Of course, Butler and the Patriots could work out a long-term deal that would make everyone happy.

Simpson and Butler have until April 21st to find a suitor to sign him to a free agent deal which isn’t likely since that team would have to cede their first-round pick to New England. That would put him in limbo unless he signs his tender.

The situation sucks….no ifs, and’s or buts about it. Butler has earned his payday but that is the system they play in. If the Patriots do work out a trade for him, they could opt for another free agent corner on the market, (Alteraun Verner, Nickell Robey-Coleman) or wait for the draft.

Currently, they have Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones and Justin Coleman on the roster.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Active in Free Agency, Beef Up Depth:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been getting the headline of their divisional counterparts in New England but they’ve been very active thus far in free agency. After working out a revised contract with QB Tyrod Taylor, the Bills have signed K Steven Hauschka, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, and fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco.

But the big news on Saturday was that LB Lorenzo Alexander was coming back. Alexander who had a breakout season in 2016 with 12.5 sacks and he was rewarded with a two-year contract.

The Bills, however have lost several free agents including safeties Corey Graham and Aaron Williams, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, and Nickell Robey-Coleman, kicker Dan Carpenter, wide receiver Marcus Easley, and long-snapper Garrison Sanborn.

Miami Also Active Early in Free Agency:
The Miami Dolphins had a pretty productive start to free agency with a flurry of signings. The biggest was perhaps LB Lawrence Timmons who came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers, an area that the Dolphins needed to upgrade.

But they also acquired two starting-caliber defensive ends Andre Branch, and William Hayes, tight end Julius Thomas, safety Nate Allen, guard Ted Larsen, and re-signed wide receiver Kenny Stills and added a backup tight end, Anthony Fasano.

Jets Sign OL Kelvin Beachum:
The New York Jets signed free agent OL Kelvin Beachum on Friday. Terms were for three years and a reported $24 million dollars. Beachum battled injuries in his 2016 season with Jacksonville but is a solid OL and is expected to play left tackle for the Jets.

The Jaguars declined a long-term option in Beachum’s contract in February. He was slated to receive a $5 million roster bonus on Feb. 15 as part of a five-year, $45 million deal he signed in March 2016, which featured a cap hit that steadily rose to $11 million by 2020, per Spotrac.

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More Moves Coming? Patriots Without Draft Picks in Rounds 1-2

Ian Logue
March 11, 2017 at 11:01 am ET

The Patriots have been busy this week making moves to bolster their needs on both sides of the football, and so far Bill Belichick has seemingly used New England’s draft picks to gamble on players who are proven instead of guys who have yet to play a down of football in the NFL.

After sending their first-round and third-round pick to New Orleans on Friday to acquire dynamic receiver Brandin Cooks, along with sending their second-round pick to Carolina to acquire defensive end Kony Ealy,  the Patriots now find themselves in a situation where they’ll be spectators through the first 71 selections until they make their first with the 72nd 3rd-round pick they acquired from the Panthers.

As Mike Reiss of ESPN pointed out on Saturday morning, the Patriots now have seven selections in the draft, none of which will take place in the first two rounds.  One question will be which pick they’ll be able to make in the 4th round, with the NFL set to strip New England of a selection due to DeflateGate.  The only unknown will be whether or not it will be the higher of the two (the 118th) or the one they already had from the Seahawks at 132nd overall.

Here’s their current list:

3a) (72nd, from Carolina)

3b) (96th)

4) (118th, from New Orleans or 132nd selection from Seattle)

5a) (163rd)

5b) (183rd)

6) (200th, from Indianapolis)

7) (239th)

Knowing what we’ve seen in the past, the Patriots are likely far from done considering the fact they’re still sitting with nearly $50 million in cap space just one week into free agency.  Now it’s just a matter of whether or not they’ll try and replenish any of their early round selections.

There remains conflicting reports regarding Jimmy Garoppolo and a potential trade for New England’s coveted backup quarterback.  Rumors out of Cleveland are that they remain a potential landing spot for his services depending on the Patriots asking price, while Mike Reiss and Adam Schefter remain adamant that he’s not going anywhere.  Moving Garoppolo would clearly get New England back into round one, but it remains to be seen if the Patriots will be able to get an offer that’s too good to turn down in order for that to happen.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Butler’s situation remains one to keep an eye on after seeing how much things have seemed to deteriorate between the two sides.  If Butler forces their hand, he’ll also be a player who will recover one of those selections, but with newly-signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore now in the mix, having Butler in the fold heading into 2017 would obviously be ideal. If they can get something done beyond that, even better.

Either way, it’s been quite a week with what’s transpired and with the remaining cap space and other remaining needs, they’re certainly far from done.  Now the only question is going to be what moves Bill Belichick and the front office can come up with next, which should make for an interesting couple of months as they continue putting together the cast of the 2017 version of this football team.

Patriots Trade For New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks, Give Up 1st Rd Pick

Steve Balestrieri
March 10, 2017 at 8:31 pm ET

The Patriots made another big trade on Friday evening. Diana Russini of ESPN has reported the Patriots have landed WR Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints and the Saints 4th round draft pick #118 for the Patriots 1st round pick, #32 and the Patriots third rounder #103.

Cooks was the subject of an earlier trade rumor concerning Patriots CB Malcolm Butler. Butler wasn’t included in the deal and now one must wonder if the Pats have mended their fences with Butler or is there another trade coming?

The Saints selected Cooks with the 20th pick in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Oregon State. In 2016 he caught 78 passes for 1173 yards (15.0-yard average) and eight touchdowns including a 98-yarder from Drew Brees.

Cooks 23, will join a Patriots offense that features Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman with James White, and Dion Lewis out of the backfield. Brady had a 124.4 QB throwing the deep ball in 2016 to Chris Hogan. With Cooks now working the outside, the Patriots offense just got a lot more dangerous.

Bill Belichick raved about Cooks two years ago during the preseason, and Cooks’ performance during joint practices last year in Gillette did nothing to change his mind. The first day of practices, he had his way with Butler, which the corner freely admitted afterward. Now, Cooks joins New England and is on the final year of his rookie deal although the Patriots hold a fifth-year option.

This free agency period has been crazy thus far with a number of moves the Patriots are making….what’s next?

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Patriots Add Depth to DE With Trade for Carolina’s Kony Ealy

Steve Balestrieri
at 4:28 pm ET

The Patriots made a trade with the Carolina Panthers on Friday afternoon acquiring DE Kony Ealy and the Panthers’ 3rd round draft pick in exchange for the Patriots 2nd rounder. The deal was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Ealy was a 2nd round draft pick (60th overall) for the Panthers during the 2014 NFL Draft. The 6’4, 275-pound Ealy was a top performer in the 3-Cone Drill during the Combine that year. He was named to the All-Rookie team of 2014.

In 2015, he recorded five sacks but was unblockable in the Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. In just 23 snaps, he recorded three sacks, got an interception and forced a fumble.

He didn’t make the big leap forward in 2016 that was envisioned, however, and logged just 32 tackles, 5 sacks and an interception in 2016. Ealy’s issues have been ones of consistency when he’s on, he’s virtually unstoppable. But the light hasn’t really come on for him.

Perhaps getting a fresh start in New England will allow him to do just that. He’s just 25 years old and has done a good job of stopping the run. The Patriots will ask him to do that and rush the passer, something he excelled at while in Missouri.

With Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving in free agency, it leaves the Patriots thin at DE with Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich who is closer to the end of his career at this point. Ealy immediately improves their depth and we look for the Patriots to add another edge rusher during the upcoming draft where the stock is deep.

The value of the trade is a good one for New England. They get Ealy and only move down 8 spots from the #64 to the #72 pick in the third round.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.