Tag Archives: 2016 free agents

New England Patriots News 3-20, and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 20, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s New England Patriots news 3-20 notes and what’s happening around the division.

Tray Walker Case Highlights Dangers of Social Media: Earlier this week, Baltimore Ravens cornerback was involved in a serious motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his life. Reports then came out that a Patriots player was a witness to the accident and that the Miami police were “actively seeking this player who is nowhere to be found.”

That ignited a storm over social media and instead of focusing on the young player who was fighting for his life, it became another “Patriots scandal” that quickly took on a life of its own.

It wasn’t just fans but local and national media members called out the Patriots player to come forward and many openly speculated “who” the player was.  Aaron Dobson had to come out and post a video on his Instagram account stating that he never met Walker and wasn’t with him the night of the accident.

This is a prime example of sometimes it’s better to let the facts play out before making wild statements that were harmful to a certain player that he was on the run from the police. Being right always should take precedence over being “first”.

Patriots Free Agency Takes Off Quickly: After a quiet start Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the Patriots made some noise with some solid signings building depth and a couple of blockbusters in trades.

The team signed Chris Hogan filling a sorely needed hole at WR. But after that, the big move was to trade DE Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for G Jonathan Cooper and a 2nd round draft pick. While Jones had a career year in 2015, the Patriots had little chance of resigning him after his rookie contract was up after the upcoming 2016 season.

This trade freed up cap space, gave the team some valuable currency in the upcoming draft and added another interior offensive lineman. Cooper was a 1st round pick in 2013 but struggled mightily with ‘Zona. The Pats are hoping that getting some tutelage from Dante Scarnecchia as well as a fresh start will jump start his career.

The money saved from Jones’ contract allowed the Patriots to sign DE Chris Long. Long was cut loose from the Rams in a salary dump move and signed for a year with a small $2 million-dollar deal. Long joins Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers and Rufus Johnson at the edge in what is now a deep group.

Belichick then got TE Marcellus Bennett and a 6th round pick from the Bears for a 4th round pick. Bennett is a dynamic tight end who should pair well with Rob Gronkowski and give Tom Brady big targets in the red zone as well as excellent blockers in the running game. Bennett caught 90 passes two years ago but was injured in 2015.

But the team wasn’t done and signed RB Donald Brown and LB Shea McClellin to deals this week as well. While the jury is out on whether these two players will contribute much, both fill needs and McClellin especially seems tailor made for New England.

Steve Belichick Gets a Promotion to Safeties Coach: Belichick’s son Steve will become the third generation Belichick coach as he moves up from coaching assistant to the Pats safeties coach. Safeties coach Brian Flores will move over to Linebackers coach and seems to be getting groomed for more and deeper responsibilities.

Steve inherits a deep and talented group, arguably the Patriots deepest position. With smart veterans Devin McCourty and Pat Chung anchoring the position, the younger Belichick will have a great pair of players to help him at every turn. Having been on the staff for a few years already, it should be a seamless transition.

Deflategate Takes Another Bizarre Turn: When Troy Vincent spoke earlier this week about the new protocols that the league instituted in 2015 in response to the Deflategate flap, he raised eyebrows and contradicted the league’s statements about the new protocols from just a few months ago.

Vincent claimed “We focus on procedure, balls being brought to the stadium,” Vincent said. “There was no violation of game balls being checked in at the appropriate time. … It’s the procedure of the balls themselves.”

That’s NOT what they said back during the summer. The league said at the beginning of the year that “the League’s Security Representative will escort the KBC with the footballs to the Officials’ Locker room. During halftime, each game ball for both teams will be inspected in the locker room by designated members of the officiating and security crews, and the PSI results will be measured and recorded.  Once measured, those game balls will then be secured and removed from play.”

Furthermore, the results were to be tabulated and recorded by the league, presumably to prove that the Patriots claims about the Ideal Gas Law were false.

“All game ball information will be recorded on the Referee’s Report, which must be submitted to the League office by noon on the day following the game.”

Now Vincent is trying to say the protocols were never about air pressure but the “spot checks” that Roger Goodell mentioned were merely about the procedures and not the air pressure, which is the opposite of what Goodell said in February.

With each passing month the NFL’s story on this saga changes to whatever happens to suit them at the present time. Shame on the 31 other owners for letting this charade continue. Because this is hurting the “integrity of the game” that Goodell always champions and makes the league less transparent.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Lose Out on Anderson, Thin at RB: Miami had already lost Lamar Miller to the Texans during free agency and were hoping to nab one of the top free agents on the market.

They bid on the Broncos’ C.J. Anderson hoping to snag the talented winner off of the Super Bowl champs roster. But Denver took its time before matching Miami’s offer. That put the Fins in a bind. By then Miller was already a Texan, and the other top free agents had already signed.

They reached out to second tier guys James Starks and Chris Johnson but both ended up resigning with their own teams. That leaves Miami thin with Jay Ajayi who’s had injury issues. Now without a Door #2 to go to, they’ll probably be forced to use their top pick #13 in the draft to address this issue.

Jets Revis Has Wrist Surgery: The Jets top cornerback Darrelle Revis had surgery on his right wrist to repair torn ligaments that may have happened as far back as Week 3. Revis continued to play with the injury believing it to be a sprain. Curious that it never showed up on an injury report. He should be sidelined for 2-3 months but is expected back for the start of training camp. Revis is scheduled to make $17 million dollars this season as part of his five-year, $70 million-dollar contract he signed a year ago.

In other news, the Jets are still far apart and “searching for middle ground” with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and signed DT Steve McLendon a free agent formerly with the Pittsburgh Steelers. McLendon signed a three-year contract worth $12 million dollars this week.

Bills Petition League for Rule Change: The Buffalo Bills were one of six teams that attempted to change the rules this season.; and for once, Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick see eye-to-eye.

Buffalo submitted a Playing Rule Proposal that involves replay review. They proposed to change Rule 15, Section 2, Articles 1, 4 and 5 (Instant Replay) to permit a coach to challenge any official’s decision except scoring plays and turnovers. It was the rule that Belichick attempted to change last year and was shot down.

Ryan was successful on six of his 10 coach’s challenges in 2016. Only Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis (63.64%) and Miami interim head coach Dan Campbell (80%) had a higher success rate than Ryan’s 60 percent (courtesy of Bills.com)

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 Lay Back Wisely on Day 1 of Free Agency

Steve Balestrieri
March 10, 2016 at 7:30 am ET

There was a flurry of activity on the first day of the NFL’s Free Agency period as teams rushed to sign the first batch of free agents to some huge contracts. The Patriots kicked the tires reportedly on several players available, but decided and wisely so, to sit back and let the overspending flurry play itself out. It is a familiar tactic they’ve used for several years.

The Patriots made very little noise in the opening hours, just re-signing a backup swing tackle, LaAdrian Waddle and a backup linebacker/special teams’ player Ramon Humber from the New Orleans Saints.

The team was supposedly in on negotiations with WR Marvin Jones, RB Matt Forte, WR Rishard Matthews who all ended up signing with other teams. Jones signed with the Lions in an attempt to be a #1A or #1B type receiver for Detroit now that Calvin Johnson has retired.

Forte was widely linked to New England since the end of 2015 but signed with the Jets who lost Chris Ivory and appears to be set to lose Bilal Powell as well. Matthews, the former Dolphin WR who was deemed a good fit for the Patriots agreed to a deal with the Titans last night.

The other WR linked to New England, Mohamed Sanu, another player who would fit the skill set, size and speed need for the Pats offense is visiting Atlanta today and reportedly will then come to Foxboro next. With the Falcons rumored to be ponying up in the neighborhood of $7 million dollars per year, that would knock the Pats right out of contention.

What’s in store for Day 2: The Patriots traditionally have made their moves on the second day of free agency after the initial frenzy of over-priced contracts dies down. Last year, they signed DE Jabaal Sheard on Day 2 and at the time, that generated little buzz on the NFL timeline but paid big dividends for the team.

Two years ago on Day 2 is when the entire Darrelle Revis deal fell to the team after they lost Aqib Talib on the opening day of free agency. So while fans were clamoring for something…anything to be done by the team, look for them to be more active today.

Who’s still out there? There is plenty of talent left in the pool and for the Patriots needs at running back, Powell is still in the mix as well as Alfred Morris, Arian Foster and RFAs Benny Cunningham, Khiry Robinson and C.J. Anderson of the Broncos. Of course, there’s still LaGarrette Blount who made it clear earlier this week he’s open to and very willing to return for a final season in Foxboro.

Wide receivers still on the market include Sanu, although it is doubtful he leaves Atlanta without a contract. Jermaine Kearse, Anquan Boldin, Rueben Randle, James Jones, Percy Harvin as well as recently released Jeremy Kerley and Mike Wallace may interest New England.

For tight ends, the pickings are a bit slimmer with Jacksonville’s Clay Harbor and former Bengal and Cardinal Jermaine Gresham still out there as players who may interest the Pats.

One player who is still on the market that will bear watching is the Patriots Akiem Hicks. The Patriots are still interested in bringing the interior defensive lineman back and he was sitting back and watching things unfold yesterday. But Hicks has to be pleased seeing the huge contracts given to both Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon. If those contracts are any indication, Hicks too will be moving on as those contracts are way over what the Patriots will be willing to spend.

There is still time to get long-term deals done with their own players Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Malcolm Butler. The team would be smart to lock up Sheard with a long-term deal as well this offseason.

The Patriots took the smart approach and stayed away from the massive over-spending that the bottom-feeders traditionally do on Day 1. Now is when the work really begins.

Stay tuned…

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 Approach to Free Agency is the Correct One

Steve Balestrieri
March 8, 2016 at 7:37 am ET

See Philadelphia’s mistakes as a cautionary tale, winning March doesn’t translate to winning in February

The NFL’s Legal Tampering Period is underway and already we’re seeing the same comments on social media that we see every spring.

“What are the Pats/BB waiting for?” “They need to get (insert any name) asap.” “Brady’s window is closing and if they’re asleep, they’ll miss out on the best free agents and miss the playoffs.” Any of these sound familiar? They should. But to quote Packers QB Aaron Rodgers… RELAX.

Teams that jump both feet into free agency on Day 1 and win the day, rarely are around when the smoke clears in January. In fact, usually, the opposite is true. Look at the mistakes of the Philadelphia Eagles which should be a beacon to those who want to sign everybody…now, asap.

The old adage, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) is the rule of the day.

In 2011, the Eagles had Mike Vick as their QB and the electrifying if injury prone and inconsistent signal caller had Philly abuzz entering the offseason. Andy Reid and the Eagles pushed all their chips into the middle of the table and tried to sign every big name free agent out there.

Backup QB Vince Young, CBs Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DE Jason Babin, RB Ronnie Brown, DT Cullen Jenkins, WR Donald Lee and G Evan Mathis were quickly signed by Philly. Young quickly dubbed the Eagles the “Dream Team” and talk was of multiple championships not just one in store for them.

The reality was much different, the Eagles started off 1-4 and slept walked thru an 8-8 season, missing the playoffs.

Fast forward to 2015, just four years later. With Andy Reid now in Kansas City, Chip Kelly was going to dismantle the team and create a new powerhouse in his image, jettisoning several players including Mathis, the last of the former “Dream Team” members, QB Nick Foles, Trent Cole, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin.

They brought in QB Sam Bradford, RBs Demarco Murray and Ryan Matthews, LB Kiko Alonso WR Miles Austin, and CB Walter Thurmond III. Once again, reality set in and the Eagles were a mess, starting 1-3 and limping to a 7-9 finish, out of the playoffs. Kelly was fired in December.

Now the team is already trading away those big contracts shipping Alonso and Maxwell to Miami. Late last night Murray’s agent was tweeting that he’s being traded to the Titans and rumors persist that Matthews is on the trading block as well.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick are beginning the free agency period like they always do; they released or told some of their restricted free agent players that aren’t in their plans for the year to allow them plenty of time to find a new home, (Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler, Darius Fleming, Brian Tyms, Sealver Siliga), and re-did the contract of QB Tom Brady extending him out through the 2019 season. They picked up the option for TE Rob Gronkowski keeping him likewise through the 2019 league year.

They offered tenders to some of their prized role players, bringing back FB James Develin, CB Justin Coleman, S/LB/STs Brandon King and have cleared up some money to allow them some flexibility to approach free agency with fiscal responsibility, not reckless abandon.

Are there some big name free agents out there that interest them? Of course, and they’ll kick the tires but don’t expect them to make a bunch of splash moves on Wednesday. There are plenty of RBs that would be a nice fit with the Pats but don’t be shocked if the team brings back LaGarrette Blount and then looks to the draft for a player in the mid rounds if the asking money gets too high and the bidding gets out of control.

Blount may end up back as a member of the Patriots as they approach Free Agency fiscally conservative. (USA TODAY Images)

A great example of that is TE Dwayne Allen who was on many writers’ radar as a possible target for the Patriots in free agency. The Colts re-signed Allen on Monday with a 4-year deal worth around $29.4 million dollars. While he may be worth that for the Colts to keep around, paying more than Rob Gronkowski for a guy who had 16 catches for 109 yards and 1 touchdown in 2015? That’s just bad business and the kind of moves the Pats rarely make.

The same can be said for the wide receivers out there. The teams that overspend on Day 1 invariably end up eating some of those high priced contracts (see Maxwell), who while is a very good player, isn’t worth the price Philly paid last year and now has been dealt to the Miami Dolphins where Mike Tannenbaum never met a big money contract he didn’t like.

Belichick has a plan, there are players they will obviously want to bring in during free agency, but there’s always a ceiling, a fiscal threshold they won’t cross. And if that is crossed, they’ll look elsewhere for help. The Patriots don’t build Dream Teams, but solid team foundations that take into account all 53 men on the roster.

So while it may get frustrating at times for Pats fans, remember this nobody has had the kind of success the Patriots have since Belichick took over in Foxboro…and it isn’t even close.

“C-mon Bill get off your duff and sign somebody!”

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.

NFL Legal Tampering Window Opens March 7

Steve Balestrieri
March 5, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The NFL’s much talked about three-day negotiating window leading into free agency opens on Monday, March 7 and remains an interesting topic and a source of debate.

The basically farcical Legal Tampering Window begins on March 7 will continue until free agency begins on March 9 at 4 p.m. The NFL sent out a memo in 2013 when they first allowed this window of honeymooning free agents spelling out the parameters of what is and isn’t allowed during these negotiations.

Clubs were advised in PP-26-13 that during the three-day negotiating period for prospective Unrestricted Free Agents, they are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2012 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12, and that no contract can be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 12.

Clubs are further advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year. Any announcement of an agreement or an agreement in principle by a club or another party, including, but not limited to, a certified agent, player, or media organization may subject the club to a tampering investigation.

The league talked of shortening the window down from three days to just two, ostensibly to cut down on the amount of leaked information that is being learned about the contracts that are already signed, sealed and delivered prior to actual free agency beginning. But the official word was to allow better negotiations between agents and teams.

The Dolphins six-year, $114 million-dollar deal with Ndamakong Suh was widely reported prior to free agency starting in 2015…and they weren’t the only ones. Which prompted the league to send out a memo to all the teams to stop the practice of making monetary pledges to players prior to free agency.

“Any attempt to undermine the purpose of this negotiating period may be considered conduct detrimental to the League.’ At this time, the League office is beginning investigations into a number of reported agreements with clubs. Violations will be dealt with accordingly.” Uh huh.

What does this mean for the Patriots? Not much. Their biggest free agent Akiem Hicks is set to test free agency and he’ll be sure to get some interest from several teams among them the Pats. Safety Nate Ebner isn’t expected to draw much interest, although players already released such as Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler and Darius Fleming are free to sign with another team immediately.

The Patriots will do their due diligence and interview a free agent or two but don’t expect to hear much about how those visits go. They are notoriously closed lipped about these things.

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 Cut LaFell, Chandler, Increasing Receiver Need

Steve Balestrieri
March 3, 2016 at 7:07 am ET

The Patriots wasted little time after the NFL Combine in trimming the roster, the traditional time to do so, first informing Brian Tyms that he won’t be offered a Restricted Free Agent offer, then cutting WR Brandon LaFell and TE Scott Chandler on Wednesday.

LaFell was in the third and final year of a deal that was to pay him $2.8 million. The Patriots will take a $1 million-dollar cap hit with his release. LaFell had a very successful 2014 season where he had over 1000 yards receiving combined in the regular season and playoffs. He had the game winning catch against the Ravens in the Divisional Playoff Game, and then had the opening score in Super Bowl XLIX.

He suffered a foot injury that required surgery in the off-season and missed all of spring and summer workouts, and the loss of training camp time was crucial. His first game back against the Jets in Foxboro was a disaster, dropping six balls. It was a slow start that he never seemed to recover from. He finished with 37 catches for 515 yards and most importantly zero touchdowns on the season.

He struggled all season and his frustration level in the playoffs rose after the win over Kansas City where he spoke very little after the win. The next week in Denver, he wasn’t targeted at all in the Patriots loss and the writing was on the wall.

His release was somewhat of a surprise as his struggles seemed injury related, but the team must have felt that it time to move on.

Chandler was released after reportedly failing his physical according to Mike Reiss of ESPN. He too was a major disappointment in 2015, after his signing last spring as a free agent. His release saves the Patriots $2.05 million and they will also carry a $1million-dollar cap hit on his contract.

There was hopes that the Patriots would use the two-tight end offense with the big targets of Chandler and Rob Gronkowski this past season, giving QB Tom Brady two huge targets, especially in the red zone.

After spending a lot of time working with the two in spring and summer workouts, the dual tight end threat never materialized. Chandler caught just 23 passes on 42 targets this season. He battled knee injuries down the stretch and it no doubt limited his effectiveness, but more production was expected.

Tyms was the underdog everyone rooted for and seemed to have a roster spot nailed down in training camp before an injury derailed his season.

Now the receiver position as we mentioned a month ago is even in a deeper state of need of an overhaul. With the contract situation of Danny Amendola still needing to be looked at, and his own roster position not a given yet, the need for youth, speed and size just got even more important.

As it stands now the Patriots Wide Receiver position has:
Julian Edelman
Danny Amendola
Aaron Dobson (IR)
Keshawn Martin
Josh Boyce (IR)
Chris Harper
DeAndre Carter
Matthew Slater (ST)

In our earlier piece we mentioned some free agents that could be of interest to the Patriots. Those may include Mohamed Sanu and/or Marvin Jones from Cincinnati, Rueben Randle from the Giants, Rishard Matthews from the Dolphins and Chris Hogan from the Bills. Brandon Gibson who was with the team in training camp before going on IR is a free agent and a candidate to return as well.  A longshot case could be made for the Seahawks Jermaine Kearse who is only 25 but his price tag will probably be out of the Patriots price range.

The team will most definitely need a secondary target behind Gronkowski at tight end now. The currently have him, blocker Michael Williams and converted QB A.J. Derby who was placed on IR last summer.

There are a number of intriguing WR options for the Patriots that will be available in the NFL Draft that seem like they’d be good fits. Both Braxton Miller and Michael Thomas from Ohio State, Josh Doctson from TCU although he’ll probably be long gone before the Patriots pick at #60.

One player who looks like he would be a great fit is Stanford’s Devon Cajuste. The 6’4, 234-pound wide receiver had little production in the Cardinal’s run-heavy offense but has great hands, is a willing, able blocker and ran a very impressive 6.49 in the 3-Cone Drill.

We’ll have more on these prospects as we get closer to the draft but with these moves on Wednesday, the need for better depth at the receiver position for Brady and the Patriots offense just got a little more pressing. They undoubtedly will address the position in both free agency and the draft. They can use an influx of youth, size and speed for Brady’s targets to go along with their smaller quicker ones now.

And so it begins…

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 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.

Patriots Free Agency Outlook – Wide Receivers

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2016 at 6:26 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.

First up on the free agency positional list: Wide Receivers

Team Need: High

Returning players: Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Keshawn Martin, Chris Harper, Josh Boyce (IR), Aaron Dobson (IR)

Free Agents: Brian Tyms (RFA/IR), Brandon Gibson (UFA)

The Patriots are entering another year with uncertainty pertaining to their wide receiving core. There is Julian Edelman and question marks. Keshawn Martin signed an extension and will definitely be back in 2016, but what about everyone else?

Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell are both slotted to return but Amendola will no doubt have to re-do his deal which is slotted to count $6.8 million against the salary cap. LaFell was never healthy and had a really bad year after a big 2014 season. He could find himself cut early this spring or if the team feels his poor season was due solely to his not being healthy, he could be back and be allowed to win back his job. LaFell is due to count $3.6 million against the cap in 2016.

Chris Harper flashed in training camp and preseason. Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson could each find themselves out after injuries derailed their third season for the Pats.  Brandon Gibson and Brian Tyms both seemed destined for the roster in 2015 before injuries cut short their seasons in camp.

The team needs some youth, size and speed on the outside. Not necessarily a deep threat, that everyone clamors for, since that isn’t their offense. But someone who can stretch the field horizontally as well as vertically and has the size to go up and grab those contested throws.

Up Next…some of the free agent wide receivers that can help the team: