Tag Archives: 2015 Patriots

Today in Pats History: Happy Birthday Justin Coleman

John Morgan
March 27, 2017 at 9:00 am ET

Justin Coleman is one of five players in New England Patriots history to share today’s birth date. Here is a look at March 27 in Pats history.

 

Justin Coleman, 24 (3/27/1993)
Patriot CB 2015-
Uniform #22

Coleman started 38 games over four seasons at the University of Tennessee from 2011-14. He signed with the Vikings as an undrafted rookie but was cut near the end of training camp. Soon after Coleman was involved in four transactions over a six day period. The Patriots signed Coleman and then released him a day later. Seattle signed him to their practice squad. Bill Belichick apparently really liked Coleman though. With a spot available when Bryan Stork was placed on injured reserve, BB gave him a raise and signed Coleman to the 53-man roster.

In 2015 Coleman appeared in twelve games with two starts. He appeared primarily as a nickel back and was on the field for 45% of the defense’s snaps. Coleman finished the season with 17 tackles and five passes defensed. He also had seven tackles in the two playoff games. The following April the Patriots signed the exclusive rights free agent to a one-year, $525,000 contract.

Coleman played a bit more on special teams last year. He participated in 292 snaps over the course of the 2016 season. With the addition of Eric Rowe however, Coleman’s playing time dwindled. He appeared in only three games after the week 10 loss to Seattle and was a healthy inactive for each of the three playoff games. On March 16 Coleman signed his ERFA tender, a one-year deal for $625,000.

 

David Key, 49 (3/27/1968)
Patriot Safety, 1991
Uniform #26

Key led his Ohio high school team to a state championship in 1985. Surprisingly he turned down an offer from Ohio State and instead went to Michigan. While there he collected three Big Ten Championship Rings. The Wolverines finished in the top ten three times in his four years in Ann Arbor.

The Patriots selected Key 140th overall in the sixth round of the 1991 draft. He spent most of the season on the practice squad after being released in training camp. Key was activated for the final three games, appearing exclusively on special teams. In week 15 Key recovered a fumble in a 6-3 victory over the Jets.

Key decided to no no longer pursue an NFL career after he was released again prior to the 1992 season. With a degree in kinesiology he began his second career as a personal trainer. He is the owner of Key Body & Fitness Corporation and a professional body builder.

 

David Bavaro, 50 (3/27/1967)
Patriot LB, 1993-94
Uniform #52

The Danvers native is the brother of former Giants TE Mark Bavaro. David Bavaro was the leading tackler at Syracuse, when Dick MacPherson coached the Orange. The Phoenix Cardinals selected Bavaro with the 225th overall pick in the ninth round of the 1990 draft. After splitting time with the Cardinals, Bills and Vikings, the Patriots signed Bavaro in 1993. That season he played in twelve games, which was Bill Parcells first year with the Pats. Bavaro finished with one defensive tackle, six special teams tackles and a fumble recovery. The following year he started five games, with twelve defensive tackles.

In 1995 Bavaro signed with New Orleans as a free agent, but did not make the roster. He now teaches at Malden Catholic High School.

 

Gene Chilton, 53 (3/27/1964)
Patriot Center, 1990-92
Uniform #63

Strongman Gene Chilton was an integral part of a formidable offensive line that blocked for Earl Campbell at the University of Texas. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Chilton in the third round (59th overall) in the 1986 draft, the first center drafted that year. He played in all 16 games and was named to the All-Rookie team, splitting time between center and left guard. The Patriots picked Chilton up in 1990 and he was their starting center before a knee injury landed him on IR. Chilton started all 32 games at center for the Pats over the next two seasons.

With knee injuries taking a toll on his body, Chilton retired in 1993. Over three seasons he appeared in 36 games for the Patriots with 35 starts.

 

Jerry Patton (3/27/1946-5/20/1983)
Patriot DT, 1975
Uniform #72

Patton was named MVP at Saginaw High School in not just football, but also basketball and track. He was then a three-year starter at defensive end at Nebraska. Undrafted, he played semi-pro football in the Continental Football League for two years. In 1971 Patton bucked odds and landed a spot on Minnesota’s roster. He started all but one game over the next three seasons, two with Buffalo and one in Philadelphia. He appeared in the final three games of the 1975 season for Chuck Fairbanks’ Patriots, but did not play in the NFL after that.

Patton then returned to Saginaw where he was active in community affairs. He was a president of the Saginaw Athletic Club, ran a Sickle Cell Celebrity Golf Tournament, organized a Midget Football League, and ran sports clinics at schools and rec centers. After a lengthy illness Patton passed away at the age of 37.

Video: Remembering Jerry Patton

 

Other March 27 birthdays of former NFL players include Eagle QB Randall Cunningham (54), four-time Pro Bowl MLB Mike Curtis (74) and three-time Charger Pro Bowl LG Doug Wilkerson (70).

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Patriots Defensive Season Grades

Russ Goldman
February 24, 2016 at 9:57 am ET

In this episode, we started by discussing the latest in Patriots news and speculation. After that we graded and analyzed the Patriots defense for the 2015 season, and then looked at each unit looking towards the 2016 season.

Patriots Free Agency Outlook, Tackles

Steve Balestrieri
February 23, 2016 at 8:28 am ET

The Patriots are set to enter the free agency phase of the 2016 off-season and we’ll explore some of the biggest needs of the team moving forward. And some of the names of their own free agents as well as some of their potential targets.

Next up on the free agency positional list: Tackles

Team Need: High

Returning players: Nate Solder (IR), Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Kaevon Milton, Kevin Hughes (IR),

Free Agents: Cameron Fleming (ERFA), LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots getting overwhelmed at the point of attack in Denver still has Pats fans scratching their heads. It shouldn’t; the Broncos dominated a much better offensive line in Carolina’s during the Super Bowl and got a well-deserved win.

The changes with the Pats began quickly. OL Coach Dave DeGuglielmo was not re-signed and rumors were that the team was ready to move on from him weeks before the AFC Championship Game over the poor play of the unit.

Former LT Matt Light laid a lot of the blame on their poor play by the line not having prepared enough in the silent snap count and mixing it up more to keep Denver guessing. That would rest squarely on DeGuglielmo’s shoulders if true.

Long-time coach Dante Scarnecchia has returned and that has to be a great sign for the offensive line as a whole. Coach Scar always seemed to be able to get the best out of his players and he’s either coached or had a hand in drafting nearly every member of the unit.

After Nate Solder went down with a torn biceps the tackle position suffered. Sebastian Vollmer also missed time as well. Marcus Cannon started for a time and was a lightning rod for criticism and he was especially ineffective down the stretch. Cameron Fleming fared little better. The team brought in LaAdrian Waddle but he too was hurt down the stretch.

So what else will happen in 2016? Solder will return and that is a big plus. He’s signed through 2017 and will be fine at left tackle. Vollmer is returning as the starting right tackle and is on the hook for $2 million. Cannon has a contract that will pay him $3.4 million in 2016. That is far too much for a player of his caliber.

Vollmer is a big guy with back and knee issues, if they can, the Patriots should find a younger, more athletic right tackle and then re-do Vollmer’s contract and move him to swing tackle. That falls in line with the Patriots way of thinking, which is to replace a player perhaps a year too soon rather than a year too late.  The move would also prolong Sea Bass’ career a bit as well. Cannon’s cap hit can be eliminated and Waddle, who is an intriguing player could be brought back as well.

If they decide that is the way to go…there are some outstanding tackles available in free agency as well as the draft that can be good fits for the Patriots. First up is a tackle who was rated the #1 right tackle by Pro Football Focus (PFF).

Patriots Free Agency Outlook, Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
February 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots are set to enter the free agency phase of the 2016 off-season and we’ll explore some of the biggest needs of the team moving forward. And some of the names of their own free agents as well as some of their potential targets.

Next up on the free agency positional list: Cornerbacks

Team Need: Medium

Returning players: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Darryl Roberts (IR), Rashaan Melvin

Free Agents: Tarell Brown (IR), Justin Coleman (ERFA)

The Patriots entered 2015 with questions about their secondary especially the corner position having lost all three starters (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington) from the Super Bowl winning team in the off-season. Gloom and doom was the order of the day. Most thought the Patriots would be forced to win 38-35 shootouts and the secondary would revert to the earlier 2010’s when the secondary was the Achilles Heel. The position went from one of strength to one considered a weakness.

It didn’t turn out that way, Malcolm Butler parlayed his Super Bowl heroics into a very solid first season of starting, going from a player on a tryout basis, to their starting left corner. No one on the Patriots defense played more snaps than Butler in 2015. He’ll be the starting left corner again in 2016 and will be in-line for a big payday soon.

Logan Ryan rebounded well after a poor second season in 2014. He moved into the starting RCB slot and started 14 games. He was the #11 rated CB according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) in 2015. He too is in-line for a raise and like Butler will become a free agent in 2017.

Coleman is a restricted rights free agent and should return and played well as the slot corner. Roberts was a 7th Round Draft pick last year, and turned heads in training camp and started the first preseason game against Green Bay before injuring his wrist in that game and ending up on IR. A very physically gifted CB, Roberts will be a player to watch on Day 1 of training camp this year.

Brown flashed his potential in the first three games (2 starts), but never recovered from his foot injury in 2014 and ended up on IR.

What the Patriots would really like is an upgrade at the RCB position and move Ryan into the slot. Bill Belichick loves his veterans on the defense and would like to bring in a veteran presence and allow the others to compete and sort out the rest.

Roberts and Coleman will no doubt be bolstered by some names both during and after the NFL draft as they look to build depth. But there are some intriguing free agent options out there. Here are a few that could be nice fits for the Patriots defense.

Patriots Free Agency Outlook, Tight Ends

Steve Balestrieri
February 20, 2016 at 10:15 am ET

The Patriots are set to enter the free agency phase of the 2016 off-season and we’ll explore some of the biggest needs of the team moving forward. And some of the names of their own free agents as well as some of their potential targets.

Next up on the free agency positional list: Tight Ends

Team Need: Medium

Returning players: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Williams, Scott Chandler, A.J. Derby (IR)

Free Agents: none

The Patriots entered 2015 with a pair of big tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler and the hope that the “Twin Towers” would be able to improve on an already potent offense. QB Tom Brady worked with the two tirelessly over the spring and summer, as they worked on getting both involved, especially in the red zone.

Gronkowski was entering 2015 healthy for the first time in a few years and it was thought the addition of Chandler would be a difficult one to stop. Things didn’t work out that way. Gronkowski had a fantastic season and caught 72 passes for 1176 yards, good for a stellar 16.3-yards per catch average and 11 touchdowns. He battled injuries late in the year but was Brady’s go-to guy for much of the season.

Chandler had a disappointing 2015, his first with the team. He caught only 23 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns. After he had his best two statistical games against the Broncos and Eagles with Gronk out, he didn’t catch a single down the stretch and was relegated to the 3rd TE spot behind blocker Michael Williams.

Now the team has to decide whether to bring back Chandler who also battled injuries last season for a second go around and cover his cap hit of $3 million-dollars or cut him for a savings of $2.05 million. The value for that production says no but like Brandon LaFell, they’ll have to ask themselves if his lack of production was tied to not being completely healthy or was is just a poor fit?

After Gronkowski, the receiving options currently on the roster are limited to very little if they cut loose Chandler. Williams is a blocking tight end and Derby, a converted quarterback was never completely healthy and is pretty much an unknown quantity at this point.

If they delve into free agency here are a couple of names that could be of interest…

Patriots Free Agency Outlook, Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
February 18, 2016 at 7:45 am ET

The Patriots are set to enter the free agency phase of the 2016 off-season and we’ll explore some of the biggest needs of the team moving forward. And some of the names of their own free agents as well as some of their potential targets.

Next up on the free agency positional list: Linebackers

Team Need: Medium

Returning players: Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jonathan Freeny, Jon Bostic, Darius Fleming, Kevin Snyder

Free Agents: Dane Fletcher (IR), Dekoda Watson (UFA), Rufus Johnson (ERFA,IR)

The Patriots lost an iconic figure with the retirement of Jerod Mayo this week, and while it wasn’t entirely unsuspected it leaves the Patriots with a depth issue behind starters Hightower and Collins. Those two are arguably the best pair of linebackers in the league and the team’s immediate concern is locking them up long-term.

When each missed time last season, the team relied upon both Mayo and Freeny who was primarily known for his special teams play. With Mayo now retired, who will they look at to play some important snaps and keep Hightower and Collins fresh.

Bostic would seem a likely choice, he was a starter in Chicago before coming over last season but played primarily on STs. With a year in the system could his role increase? Surely, but at this point, I wouldn’t expect the team to be banking on his rise.

Fleming, Snyder along with Fletcher, Watson and Johnson if they return are strictly depth type players. Which leaves the Patriots in a position to fill an important slot before training camp begins in July. They could address this in the draft or via free agency.

Here are a few free agents that could be on their radar, beginning with a guy that they’ve targeted in the past.

New England Patriots News 2-14 and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, and a very Happy Valentine’s Day to our friends and readers. Here are Sunday’s Patriots news notes and what’s happening around the division.

Brady Takes the High Road and Gets Booed: Well the NFL had a nice little ceremony prior to Super Bowl L honoring the prior MVPs from the previous 49 before this one got underway between Denver and Carolina.

Much was made of whether or not Tom Brady would show up for the festivities considering the slander job that the league and Roger Goodell threw on his doorstep in the Deflategate saga. “Take the high road” was the mantra heard all week when the media was discussing Brady. “Show respect for the game” was another.

Brady did go and taking the high road got him not a loud ovation of cheers like the other MVPs but a loud chorus of boos as he was introduced unlike any other of the 43 players introduced.

Pats owner Bob Kraft did an interview with WCVB’s Maria Stephanos this week and had this to say, “All the social media chatter, and I think there were a lot of Denver fans and Raider fans in the audience since it was so close. I don’t know. I think they see us as a big rival.

“He is such a classy, wonderful guy. He went there representing our team, our coaches, our fans.”

Hometown Son: Kraft did add later, “I happened to see Archie [Manning] there. He has two sons now who have won two Super Bowls, but with all due respect, we’ve got one son who has won four.”

Brady took the high road also before the game telling Westwood One Radio’s Jim Gray, ““It’s really a celebration of the great teams that I have been a part of and for me I am really proud to represent all those teams that won these great championships. They are hard to win. Any number of guys could have won this award, any number of years that we’ve won it. I stand up here representing all those other guys too,” he said.

NFL Combine Bans Players Convicted of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence: In an attempt to clean up their image, the NFL will no longer allow players with convictions for domestic violence, sexual assault or weapons offenses to attend the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

The league came to this decision about a month ago and let teams be aware of this change. The NFL’s executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent wrote that invited prospects would be barred from “any league-related event” if a background check turns up a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Players that refuse to submit to a background check are also to be uninvited. This ban will include the NFL Draft as well.

Players who are barred from the combine will have no restrictions from attending other private team workouts, pro days and regional combines according to the league, and of course they’ll still be eligible to be drafted.

In related news, the Patriots wasted little time in jettisoning running back Montee Ball after he was arrested in a dispute with his girlfriend in a disturbance at a Madison, WI hotel last week. Ball was charged after reportedly striking his girlfriend in the face. He spent time on the Patriots practice squad in 2015 and signed a future’s contract with NE on Feb. 1.

Teaser for a Guy with the “Right Stuff”: Unlike the players that could be listed in the above paragraphs, check back with us soon for an interview with small school linebacker Larry Butler III.  Butler was the 2nd ranked linebacker coming out of JUCO and although had a commitment at Tennessee, opted for Div. 2 due to a technicality.

We sat down with this impressive young man and spoke to him, his head coach and defensive coordinator. He’s a small school stud that could find himself a home being a MLB/ILB in the NFL if given a shot.

Patriots WRs Need an influx of Youth, Speed: The Patriots are once again facing a lot of questions around their wide receiving core. The only players that are a definite for the 2016 roster is Julian Edelman and Keshawn Martin. Edelman was on pace for career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns before breaking his foot. Edelman turns 30 in May and isn’t alone as the team needs to be upgraded with a dose of youth and speed.

Danny Amendola had career highs in catches (65) but he too had injury woes of his own (knee) during the second half of the season. Amendola who will turn 31 in November has a $6.8 million-dollar cap hit this season and will probably have to restructure to remain a Patriot.

Brandon LaFell will turn 30 in November and had a forgettable season where he began on PUP and never caught on as his season was filled with drops, misrun routes and where 12 months after a 1000-yard season found himself replaced as the 4th option and had zero touchdowns in 2015. He may find himself cut if the team feels his $3.7 million-dollar cap hit can be replaced via free agency and/or the draft.

Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce were injured again in 2015 and have done little to justify confidence that they can ever be viable to this offense. Brian Tyms and Brandon Gibson were on their way to securing roster spots last season before injuries derailed them in preseason. DeAndre Carter signed a future’s deal, Chris Harper flashed in training camp and Martin showed to be a valued kick returner and has some upside as a wide receiver.

There is room for a lot of turnover here and the team desperately needs a wide receiver with size and speed. That is not to mean a “deep threat” that every season the fans clamor for. That isn’t the Patriots offense; but they do need a guy who with players like Edelman and Rob Gronkowski who open up large tracts of terrain for them underneath, can catch the ball and use his speed to make yards after catch (YAC).

Mexico City game a tipping point? The NFL’s latest foray into the league’s “International Series in 2016 will include three games in London and one in Mexico City.

On October 2, the Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Indianapolis Colts at Wembley Stadium. On October 23, the Los Angeles Rams will host the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium, and finally, on October 30, the Cincinnati Bengals will host the Washington Redskins at Wembley Stadium. All three of those games will take place in London.

On February 5, 2016, the league also announced that the Oakland Raiders will host the Houston Texans on Monday November 21, 2016 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. This will be the first time Monday Night Football has been held outside the US.

Having traveled extensively I can speak first hand for the passion that the people of both cities have for the sport. I lived in Mexico City a couple of different times and the NFL there is hugely popular.

But without trying to insult our overseas friends, how much is too much. The four games already going outside the US will be four home games, that NFL fans of those teams lose out on. I have no problem with growing the game in overseas’ markets but the last thing you want is to alienate your own fan bases while doing so.

Perhaps have some preseason games and training camp practices in each location would be an alternative. Those aren’t traditionally sold out anyway and wouldn’t be a drain on the USA’s fans.

That way then the fans in outside the US markets could see the players up close and get to interact with them much more for about a week rather than just a Sunday game.

East Bound and Down, AFC East Notes:
Bills McCoy involved in club assault with off-duty cops:
Philadelphia police have confirmed that Bills RB LeSean McCoy was definitely involved in a scuffle in a nightclub where two policemen were injured, one seriously.

McCoy is one of four individuals under investigation for allegedly assaulting two off-duty police officers early Sunday at the Recess Lounge, reportedly over a bottle of champagne.

Police reports stated that “pushing and shoving” over the bottle led to one of the off-duty officers being knocked down, and while he was on the ground, he was “punched, kicked and stomped about his body and head multiple times by all four suspects.”

The officer knocked to the ground, Roland Butler, went to a hospital, where he was treated and released for a cuts, a broken nose, broken ribs and a sprained thumb. The officer who broke up the fight was more seriously injured and was admitted to the hospital, where he received eight stitches over his left eye and a possible skull fracture, police said.

No charges have been filed as of yet, but some are expected as early as Wednesday.

Kerley on the outs in NJ could mean a release: Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley may quickly find himself out of a job, and if I’m the Patriots, I am paying close attention.

Kerley was phased out of the Jets offense in 2015 as the team moved Eric Decker into the slot with the addition of Brandon Marshall. That left Kerley out of mix and into the cold. This could that mean his time with the Jets is over, and the management cutting him loose. Kerley has always been an intriguing if underwhelming receiver.

His best season came in 2012 with 56 receptions for 827 yards and two touchdowns. He only had 16 receptions in 2016, but is a solid and dependable punt returner. He returned 48 punts in 2015 for 411 yards with a long of 58.

If the Jets do decide to cut ties with him, he could be an intriguing option working with Tom Brady especially out of the slot.

Dolphins Cut Coples, Brice McCain: Miami wasted no time in getting the new regime situated before cutting two of their players this week. The team axed former Jets first round pick Quinton Coples and CB Brice McCain.

McCain played in the slot for Miami and had a generally forgettable season. His cutting saves the team $2.5 million in salary cap space. Coples had a bloated cap hit of $7.8 million and was trying to catch on as an edge rusher with the Fins.

There should be a few teams interested in Coples, seeing if he can jump start his career but it will be far less than his current cap hit. The 6’6, 290-pound Coples had a career high 6.5 sacks for the Jets in 2014 but had zero and only eight tackles in 15 games for the Dolphins and Jets this season.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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 Free Agent Profile – Nate Ebner

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 2016 at 9:34 am ET

The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this off-season, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.

The Patriots are deepest at the safety position with Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Tavon Wilson, S/LB Brandon King and Nate Ebner on the roster during the 2015.

But Ebner like Wilson and King makes his living (and very well) as being a core special teams player. Since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, no one has played more STs snaps than Ebner.  He plays few snaps on defense but it one of the team’s more valued players there besides Matthew Slater. The Patriots have long coveted those type of players dating back to Larry Izzo, Chris and Tracy White under Bill Belichick.

The 6’0, 200-pound Ohio State product is as tough as they come, being a former member of the US National Rugby Team. While a Buckeye, his prowess on kickoffs is stuff of legend as he was compared to “a heat seeking missile.”  He and fellow former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne are making the NFL much more visible for the game’s closely related cousin.

“Maybe it’s the physical nature of what both sports bring that allows some transition there, but I think it all comes down to a personal mindset,” Ebner said to Patriots.com back in preseason. “Whoever it is, I just think it’s a personal mindset. The role you take, how you play the game. I think it depends on the person, man.”

Still young, Ebner will be 27 when the season starts in September. Although his 40-time (4.53) isn’t fantastic, his athletic change of direction in the all-important three-cone (6.59 seconds), strength (23 reps) and explosion (39-inch vertical leap, 10’8″ broad jump) are in rarified air for a safety.

Why Ebner Will Return: Ebner is one of the Patriots’ toughest hombres on the field. Anyone who’s played at a high level of rugby has that block checked. His special teams value is right up there with Slater and Belichick, coming from a STs background, has always placed a high premium on their play.

A new contract for him shouldn’t break the bank, the team could probably re-sign him for around the $1million-dollar mark. Given that he’s a core special teamer who can fill in as a sub-linebacker or safety in short yardage or goal line, it is a bargain.

Bill Belichick certainly has a lot to say on whether they bring him back, he’s what he had to say about Ebner prior to Super Bowl XLIX, “His development has really been outstanding. I would probably put him in the, not the all-time top, but maybe in the top-five percent all time of players that I’ve coached, from where they were in college to how they grew in the NFL,” Belichick said.

“He has adapted in a relatively short amount of time to the knowledge of our defense, to the understanding of opponents’ offenses, to instinctiveness and reading and recognition at a position that he plays right in the middle of the field, which is among the most difficult – inside linebacker and safety – where the number of things that can happen is the greatest.

Why Ebner Won’t Return: The Patriots would probably try to match anything up to a certain degree if they were to get into a bidding war for Ebner’s services. Where he has a very limited value on defense, the biggest threat to his not returning would be if a Special Teams needy team wants him to anchor down their unit, in the manner of Slater and wants to pay him for that.

Bottom Line:  This one is a no-brainer; there is virtually no way other than the above scenario that the Patriots wouldn’t want to bring Ebner back. He, Slater and King are the cornerstones of a very solid unit that is already set in the kicking department with Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen and long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Ebner along with Akiem Hicks has been tagged all along as the Patriots two most prized free agents to bring back this season.

Chances are around 90 percent that the Patriots bring him back in 2016.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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 Free Agent Profile – Dekoda Watson

Steve Balestrieri
February 6, 2016 at 8:45 am ET

The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this off-season, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.

One of their free agent signings this offseason and a player who spent three different stints with the team in 2015 was linebacker Dekoda Watson.

Watson spent time with the Bucs, Jaguars and Cowboys before being signed by the Patriots in May of 2015 bringing the roster to the 90-man limit at that time. He was originally drafted by the Bucs in the 7th round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 217th pick from Florida State.

He was released at the end of training camp, signed in mid-September, released again a few weeks later and was re-signed in December and played well down the stretch for the Patriots. He kept in shape and was ready once he got the call to come back.

His best season came in 2013 with Tampa Bay where he produced 42 tackles, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one pass defensed, three tackles for loss and one blocked kick. He’s a fast, disruptive linebacker who can be a liability in coverage against running backs.

He ended up with New England after undergoing double groin surgery which slowed his 2014 progress and eventually was the call for his release from Jacksonville and Dallas. “I came off the surgery and they were expecting something more once I came back and it kind of lingered a little bit,” Watson told the media at the time. “Once I was at my peak, I was able to play against Dallas and I played with high energy, I felt good about it and I came with a lot of confidence.”

The 6’2, 240-pound linebacker is slightly undersized but runs with good speed, logging a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. And despite his stature, he’s a physical downhill player, a good tackler and plays off blocks pretty well.

He can blitz off the edge and has a good initial burst. Watson also has good play recognition and has a quick reaction time. During the AFC Divisional Round against Kansas City, when Chandler Jones left with an injury, Watson filled in at defensive end. “Dekoda gave us some good rushes there on the edge,” Bill Belichick said after the game.

Given his versatility, besides filling in for Jones at defensive end, he can play either the SAM or WILL linebacker positions and is a core special teamer. He sprung Danny Amendola for a big punt return against the Chiefs.

“It’s great to be back,” Watson said to Phil Perry of CSNNE. “It’s great to be back in this environment. It’s not necessarily the football part of it, but just the camaraderie with the players, just seeing old friends and things like that. Being able to just sit in a meeting room is a blessing.”

“People don’t understand that. Just to be able to do things like that, it’s the small things. To come back, they show you love, everybody’s excited to see you and things like that. There’s just some things that you’ll never be able to take away when it comes to football. It’s just good. It’s a great blessing. A great opportunity.”

Why Watson Will Return: Watson is the kind of versatile depth player that Bill Belichick loves to fill the bottom of the roster with. He can play WILL/SAM linebacker positions and as he showed in the playoffs, can even jump in at defensive end.

He’s always been known as a good special team player and that aspect of his game served him and the team well against the Chiefs. The Patriots need depth at linebacker after starters Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower especially with the uncertain return of Jerod Mayo given his three successive years of major injury and his $11 million-dollar cap hit in 2016.If he is resigned, he’ll join Jonathan Freeny, Jon Bostic and Darius Fleming as the team’s depth players.

Watson won’t break the bank and he can be signed pretty inexpensively. He has got good speed and is still relatively young, turning just 28 on March 3.

Why Watson Won’t Return: The Patriots may look to get younger and get another bigger run stuffer in the draft already having Fleming and Freeny on the squad. When Hightower went down with an injury, Mayo filled in but has been slowed by injuries and the run defense suffered. The team lacked that big, physical presence inside.

Bottom Line:  The money will drive the train here in relation to his coming back, if he wants too much money, which isn’t likely, the Patriots would most likely pass.

If they can come to a modest salary cap hit there is no reason to believe that the Patriots wouldn’t entertain at least the possibility of Watson trying to earn a roster spot in training camp. Speaking of which, the biggest impression we remember of Watson during last year’s camp was of him wearing a hoodie under his uniform on those sweltering late July and early August days.

Watson is a versatile and speedy linebacker who can be a core special teamer. He won’t be a star, but the back end of the Patriots roster is always chock full of guys like him that have a role and do it well. Jonathan Casillas from the 2014 Super Bowl winning team comes immediately to mind. Watson fits that role to a tee.

For that reason and the fact that he already is very familiar with the system, I’d say there is a 70 percent chance that the Patriots resign him and bring him back in 2016.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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 Free Agent Profile – Brandon Gibson

Steve Balestrieri
February 3, 2016 at 12:00 pm ET

The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries in 2015, and ended up with 21 players on injured reserve. The wide receiver position was especially hard hit both early in the preseason and then during the regular season.

During the 2015 offseason the Patriots signed former Dolphin WR Brandon Gibson and the 28-year old 6’0 WR quickly caught on and was pushing hard for a roster spot before tearing his ACL in a preseason game with the Saints and being placed on IR.

Josh Boyce and Brian Tyms also were lost in preseason, Julian Edelman tweaked an ankle in early August and missed the entire preseason. Then Aaron Dobson lost another season to injury, Edelman broke his foot and missed the last two months of the regular season. Danny Amendola dealt with knee issues as did Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler. It wasn’t an easy season for the Patriots receiving core.

Gibson had two decent seasons as a Miami backup with 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, followed by 29 catches for 295 yards for a touchdown in 2014. He had a couple of solid seasons in St. Louis as well, catching 53 passes in 2010 and 51 for 691 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. From the early days of training camp, he put his nose to the grindstone and worked hard and strived to find that coveted comfort level with Brady.

It was in the second week of camp where due to injuries, he was getting a lot of work with Brady. On August 6, he was easily the best player on the field for the offense, catching seven catches from Brady including a beauty over the top of Malcolm Butler.

Brandon Gibson

From there on he seemed to be making plays every day on the hot, training camp practice fields. In the first preseason game he was targeted just four times but caught all four for 29 yards. In the second preseason game against New Orleans he was targeted nine times and caught eight for 68 yards.  Then came the injury.

“Just have to pray for the best, that’s all you can do,” Gibson said after the game that night.

Now the Patriots have decisions to make on not only Gibson but on Boyce and Dobson as well. They’re entering their fourth seasons and have yet to make an impact on the field as they were envisioned when they were drafted due to injuries. Tyms is another matter, as he seemed destined for a role as well as Gibson when he went down.

Why Gibson Will Return: Gibson has seen some success in the league with Miami and St. Louis and has shown he can put the work in and gain Brady’s trust. He won’t ever be a prolific receiver but he was and can be again a solid role player who can come in and contribute and can spot start when called upon.

He’ll only be 29 during training camp on August 13 and has a history with Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. He shouldn’t break the bank and at a minimum will provide solid competition for one of the backup wide receiver slots.

He’s the kind the veteran that the team needs as a backup that can step in and contribute whenever his number is called.

Why Gibson Won’t Return: The Patriots will undoubtedly look to upgrade their arsenal for Tom Brady in the 2016 and their plans may not involve Gibson. Especially if his knee isn’t all the way back yet once training camp starts.

There should be plenty of competition, Tyms, Boyce, Dobson as well as Chris Harper and DeAndre Carter will all be vying for spots on the roster. That is before they add any names via free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft.

In a numbers game, Gibson may find himself the odd man out.

Bottom Line: Gibson, barring any setback from his ACL tear should be ready to contribute in 2016. It makes sense to bring back the veteran who won’t cost much and is a proven NFL wide receiver.

For that reason, if he’s healthy this season there is a 70 percent chance that the team brings him back to the fold for this upcoming season. Then it will be up to him to once again show that he’s worthy of a roster spot.

Something tells me that he will be around in the beginning of September.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.