Tag Archives: 2016 NFL Free Agency

New England Patriots News 5-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 22, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 5-22 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

Congratulations to former running back Kevin Faulk who was elected to the Patriots Hall of Fame this week. Well-deserved and with three quality candidates this year it was a tough decision.

Injuries/Surgery to Edelman and Amendola Highlight Attention to WRs:
The Patriots added four wide receivers this spring, Chris Hogan and Nate Washington during free agency and Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien during the draft. Now we know why.

With the latest surgery for Julian Edelman to insert a screw in his injured foot and the offseason knee and ankle surgery for Danny Amendola, in a worst case scenario, the Patriots could begin training camp without either being ready to go.

But the team had this scenario well planned, however. The addition of Hogan who can play anywhere from the slot to the outside should address one of those issues and the veteran Washington, as well as Mitchell, will vie for the Brandon LaFell role outside.

One thing that will benefit the newcomers on the roster is that they’ll get more reps with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo this spring with the two vets on the shelf. No better way to build their rapport and trust factor with the QBs.

Arian Foster a Fit for the Patriots?
Foster the free agent, running back for the Texans set the tongues wagging this week when he was spotted at Logan Airport in Boston at a rental car booth and then on Friday evening taking in the Red Sox game against the Indians.

Later it was explained that Foster was in town on personal business which lends itself to the truth since if the Patriots were bringing him in for a visit, they’d have picked him up at the airport and not have required him to rent his own car.

However, as we’ve done on this column in the past, we’ll ask the question, could he be a fit for the Patriots offense? And the answer is…absolutely if he’s healthy. Foster suffered an Achilles injury which has really affected running backs ability to move, cut and change direction in the past. Other players have returned as good as new, but the team will have to ensure he’s healthy and check him out thoroughly with the team doctor’s first. If healthy, (a big if), he’d be a nice upgrade to the NE running game.

Full Padded Rookie Camp, Where’s the Outrage?
Chalk this one up as another arbitrary ruling by the league…this week it was reported that the Baltimore Ravens conducted part of their rookie mini-camp in full pads. That is a direct violation of the CBA which coach John Harbaugh is “more probable than not” “generally aware” of.

Such a clear violation of the rules and integrity of the game surely would invite the league to step in and protest against such practice…By the way, this is the second time that Baltimore has been caught doing this and as such would be considered a repeat offender.

But so far from the league….nary a peep, nor a blip from the national press. One can only imagine the orgy of outrage that would be falling now if that had been in Foxboro.

Easley Lands with the Rams but at the minimum:
Former Patriots 1st round Dominique Easley’s unemployment time is at an end. After just five weeks, the Rams have signed the former Patriots defensive lineman.

The Rams, who have a very talented defensive front seven could strike oil giving Easley a fresh start to the gifted but injury-prone disruptor. Reportedly the Rams are giving Easley on a $600,000 salary with no guaranteed money, no bonuses, and no incentives.

That is a pretty steep fall for a player entering just his third year in the league. But comments supposedly made by Easley to a fellow player stating he didn’t care if the Patriots won or lost the Super Bowl before opting to go to Vegas instead of with the team may have a play in that.

Brown and the 2nd year Jump:
The Patriots top draft pick from a year ago, DT Malcom Brown is in a totally different category. The talented big man from Texas caught on slowly in his rookie season but got better and better as the season went on and ended up with a solid first campaign.

Now Brown will be looking to make what Bill Belichick terms the big second-year jump in player development. “There’s a lot on his plate as a rookie in the different situations that he plays in and the number of things that we do on the front,” Belichick said of Brown.

“So it’s not easy, but he’s improved his techniques, his fundamental play and he’s improved his communication and overall understanding of the multiples that are involved. It’s been good.” Brown shook off early struggles and finished 2015 as the 4th best run-stuffing DL according to Pro Football Focus.

Brown played in about 47 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie. If his development follows that of fellow veterans who the Patriots brought in prior to his arrival, he should see a significant jump in time on the field. With Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Anthony Johnson and rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton, they should have quite a good rotation inside.

Steelers Experiment with a new MVP:
One way to minimize injuries in practice and still get in the practice of tackling is to do what the Pittsburgh Steelers are trying out is the Mobile Virtual Player (MVP).

Mobile Virtual Player, is a robotic tackling dummy on the cutting edge of technology that is operated by remote control. This was a program something designed and first implemented at Dartmouth College and is now being experimented with by the Steelers during their offseason workouts.

Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering took up the reins of the issue when head coach Buddy Teevens banned live tackling from practice to minimize injuries. Hence, the MVP was born.

“I imagine it’s a great tool from a tackling tech standpoint,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. In today’s NFL, with player safety the focus that it is, I think it’s going to provide opportunities to improve in that area without the hand to hand or man to man combat associated with that teaching.”

The “MVP” has the ability to cut, weave, stop and start, and it has speed. The test version the Steelers are experimenting on in practice is a prototype with the goal is to have it available everywhere in 2017.

Check out another video with the Dartmouth players putting it through its paces.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins, Jordan Play Waiting Game with the NFL on Reinstatement:
The Miami Dolphins are hoping that DE Dion Jordan can suit up for the team in 2016. The #8 overall pick of the 2014 draft was suspended for the entire 2015 NFL season due to numerous league infractions.

Eligible for reinstatement since April, Jordan and the Fins are forced to play the waiting game with Roger Goodell and the league. The team signed former Bills and Texans DE Mario Williams this spring and have Cameron Wake returning after tearing an Achilles tendon last year against New England.

The 6’6”, 280-pound Jordan would give Miami an added dose of youth and athleticism to the defense but for now, they are in a holding pattern.

Decker says Jets ready to Challenge Pats in AFC East:
New England has won the AFC East seven straight years and 13 of the past 15, but Eric Decker thinks this is the year that the Jets break thru and win the division for the first time since 2002.

In an interview with the NFL Network, Decker thinks the Tom Brady suspension will bring the Patriots back to the pack and open the door for the 10-6 Jets, who narrowly missed the postseason last year.

“I think we’re there, to be honest,” he said. “We’re set up with a tough schedule, a playoff team schedule. You’ve got to win your division games. With Brady being suspended four games, I think it makes the division up for grabs. I believe in this team and that we’re ready to make the run now.”

Bills Haven’t Heard from Archer:
The Bills a week ago, added one of the fastest players ever in the NFL when they claimed running back/return man Dri Archer off waivers from the New York Jets. Archer also spent time with the Steelers in 2015.

Then on Wednesday, the Bills placed Archer on the reserve/did not report list after he failed to show up. Not only that he won’t even return calls from the coach or the team.

“I never even talked to the kid, so we’ll see what happens,” Bills head coach Rex Ryan said.

“He won’t return a call. Is it him not wanting to be a Bill, or is it something else? I don’t know, but I guess there’s a reason Pittsburgh let him go [last November]. But when you find something out, let us know, because I’ve never even talked to him”.

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.

 

New England Patriots News 4-3 and AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 3, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s New England Patriots News 4-3 notes and what’s happening around the division.

Knighton Signing Big Move for Defense: The Patriots bringing in veteran DL Terrance Knighton was big news both figuratively and literally for the team this week. The 6’3, 354 pound Knighton whose nickname is ‘Pot Roast’, will turn 30 on July 4th but should have plenty left in the tank to help out the Patriots rotation at DT.

He’ll join Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Dominique Easley as the top four rotational players on the interior. With Sealver Siliga and Akiem Hicks gone this season, the Patriots were looking to add an interior presence that can stuff the run as well as push the pocket. Flip back to the 2013 AFC Championship Game and it is easy to see what Bill Belichick likes in Knighton.

His presence will allow the Patriots to use some of the hybrid looks that were so popular when Vince Wilfork patrolled the interior. Knighton would be able to two-gap over the nose and in a 4-3 ‘under’ look, so would the strong-side defensive end. The weak side DT and DE would one-gap and attack up-field.

The opposite would be true for the 4-3 ‘over’ look with the two-gap on the weak side. The advantage is that when done effectively it allows the linebackers much more freedom to blitz, and move from sideline to sideline to make plays. Dont’a Hightower has to be a very happy man to see Knighton in a New England uniform.

To do this effectively, the team needs a big, strong, athletic man in the middle. Knighton will be playing the Wilfork role, which is a big upgrade over Siliga. While he doesn’t have the pass rush ability of Hicks, he is still capable of pushing the pocket inside.

Reminds one of the Ted Washington signing a few years ago.

Pat Chung Showing You Can Go Home Again: In his second stint with the Patriots safety Pat Chung is showing that bringing him back was in fact a very smart decision. ESPN’s Field Yates reported that the Patriots awarded Chung, 28, a contract extension that will carry him thru the 2018 season.

Chung is now being used in a way that better emphasizes his strengths; playing down low in the box and matching up with opposing tight ends. He was the second leading tackler on the team last year with 85.

His deal pays him $5.7 million dollars in new money over the course of the three-year deal. He and fellow safety Devin McCourty are both locked up for the foreseeable future. McCourty is signed thru the 2019 season.


Pat Chung has excelled in his second stint with the Patriots and parlayed that into a nice extension. (USA TODAY Images)

Patriots FA Spree Allows More Flexibility for the Draft: The Patriots under Bill Belichick have traditionally stood pat in the early timeframe of free agency allowing other teams to overspend while they bide their time and sign veterans to balance out their depth. There’s no arguing with the success they’ve had in the past 15 years.

This year’s free agency crop, compounded with a couple of big trades have placed them in a good position once the draft rolls around. Now they are more free to move around and either up earlier in the second round or down in the 4th and 5th rounds. These moves were especially important considering the Pats have no 1st round pick this season.

While they still have some needs especially at RB and OT, overall the team is looking solid on paper, especially on defense where they seem poised for another deep playoff run.

While many are pointing to CB as a big area of need, I tend to disagree. If a top corner falls into their lap during the draft, then by all means that player should be picked up. But with both starting corners in Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, the team’s nickel corner Justin Coleman as well as last year’s rookie Darryl Roberts returning, the outlook for the position looks good. Roberts turned heads at training camp and earned a start in the 1st preseason game prior to suffering a wrist injury that placed him on IR.

While Roberts and Coleman are still largely unproven, don’t discard them from making a big jump in play in 2016. I believe Roberts will make a push for starting reps this year. I would still look for the team to bring in a veteran CB after the draft (Tarell Brown?) should the opportunity arise.

Offense Shaping up to be Fast, Dynamic: The addition of TE Martellus Bennett for the Patriots promises to be a very interesting one for both NE and the defenses that face them in 2016. Bennett is one of the most complete tight ends in the NFL and pairing him with Rob Gronkowski gives Josh McDaniels the most intriguing pairing since the Pats had bookend tight ends with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez.

The team looked to bring in Scott Chandler last season to bolster the tight end depth but it never materialized, despite extensive work with Brady and the tight ends all spring and summer. Bennett is a big upgrade over Chandler not only in the passing game but especially in the running game. He and Gronkowski are two of the best blocking tight ends in the game.

By mixing the formations, the Patriots can show run or pass on any down and will make things very difficult for opposing defenses to match up. Look for the up-tempo offense to make itself a much bigger part of the arsenal again in 2016. Opponents won’t be able to substitute defensively and there will be plenty of matchups to exploit.

Adding the bigger and faster Chris Hogan to the wide receiver core gives the Patriots a trio of receivers to go along with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola that can move inside or outside at will to take advantage of  favorable matchups in the passing game.

Add in a healthy Dion Lewis and the recently signed TE Clay Harbor and WR Nate Washington just adds to the versatility. Neither Harbor or Washington are locks, but provide…on paper more intriguing possibilities for the Patriots to utilize. Harbor is more of a move tight end than a traditional in-line one. Washington is an outside the numbers wide receiver that while aging, can still stretch the field both vertically and horizontally.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins Bring in Toler, looking for CB Help: Miami brought in free agent CB Greg Toler this week according to Dolphins’ beat writer Omar Kelly.

Toler, 31, started 25 games over the past two seasons for Indianapolis. Drafted by the Cardinals in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft, he played three seasons in Arizona before playing the past three with the Colts. Toler notched 51 tackles, had 10 passes defensed and forced one fumble in the 10 games in 2015.

Toler has played in 72 games, starting 47 in six seasons, and he has eight career interceptions. He’s scored three touchdowns on interception returns. The Dolphins released 2015 starting corners Brent Grimes and Brice McCain earlier this spring.

They brought in Byron Maxwell in a trade with Philadelphia and he’s expected to be the starting right corner in 2016.

Jets in Search of Cap Space: The Jets, after a big spending spree in 2015 are left with very little room (around $2 million) in the 2016 salary cap. That’s the bad news, the worse news is that they still don’t have a QB locked up and they’ll probably have to trade DL Muhammad Wilkerson to open up some space in order to either re-sign incumbent Ryan Fitzpatrick or bring in someone else.

Wilkerson has a $15.7 million-dollar cap hit in 2016 and the Jets will have to work a deal to dump his salary and be able to bring in a QB. One scenario being tossed about on social media was the trade with the Niners for QB Colin Kaepernick and the #7 selection in the draft. Doubtful SF would agree to that, and that would only save the Jets around $2.7 million in cap space.

Look for the Bears to offer the 11th overall pick for Mo, they have the cap space and he’d immediately upgrade their defense.

Bills Bring in LB Bruce Carter for a Visit: Buffalo, looking for help with their defense, hosted former Tampa Bay and Dallas LB Bruce Carter for a free agent visit.

Carter 28, was a 2nd round pick for the Cowboys in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. The athletic 6’2, 235 pound veteran would play inside linebacker in Rex Ryan’s system next to Preston Brown and immediately upgrade their defense if they can work a deal.

RIP To a Good Friend: One of our most avid readers and friends of this site, Patrice Philips passed away suddenly in her sleep last weekend, leaving behind her 10-year son Michael. Patrice was always the first to comment once our stories hit our Facebook page as she and her son were staunch Patriots fans. Just a few months ago we were able to get Michael through the kindness of the Patriots’ Stacey James and Chandler Jones, (Michael’s favorite player), quite a birthday present for him. Patrice and her son were very appreciative and sent us a video of Michael getting his gift. I kept her voice mails…because they were so heartfelt and thankful, never realizing a few months later what would unfold. All the best to her family and especially Michael in this trying time.

You’ll be missed Patrice. Heaven has just got another big Patriots fan.

 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 Add Depth, Sign TE Clay Harbor

Steve Balestrieri
March 31, 2016 at 6:05 am ET

The Patriots keep adding pieces to the offense and on Wednesday they signed another TE adding Clay Harbor who visited them early in free agency.

The signing was first reported by Adam Caplan of ESPN and gives the Patriots another weapon at the tight end position. Earlier the Patriots traded for the Bears Martellus Bennett.

Harbor saw his playing time cut in 2015 with the Jaguars when Marcedes Lewis returned to health as did Julius Thomas and caught just 14 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. But in the two seasons prior, he snagged 50 passes for 581 yards and three touchdowns.

Harbor who turns 29 in July, was taken by the Eagles in the 4th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He has 111 career receptions for 1,151 yards and eight touchdowns in 83 games.

Prior to the Jaguars coming to Foxboro last season in Week 3, Bill Belichick spoke highly of Harbor and the versatility that he brings to the table.

 I’d say that Harbor is kind of similar to (Raiders’ Marcel) Reece,” Belichick said. “He’s a fullback, tight end kind of guy, sort of lines up in a lot of different places. They use him in motion, change formations with him a bit.. Harbor is a good receiver.”

Clay Harbor Clay Harbor adds versatility to the Patriots TE position and will be more of a “Move” tight end. (USA TODAY Images)

Harbor caught 3 passes for 49 yards in that game, a 51-17 Patriots victory.

With the Patriots looking to keep the production up at the tight end position in 2016, they now have a logjam there with Rob Gronkowski, Bennett, Harbor as well as Michael Williams and 2nd year pro A.J. Derby.

It’s possible they keep four tight ends on the roster this season. When Gronkowski went down last year, Scott Chandler couldn’t respond with the production they were looking for and Williams is a blocker with limited value as a receiver.

Now with Bennett and Harbor added to the mix, the team will have on paper at least, the most productive group of tight ends they seen since Aaron Hernandez went to prison.

Harbor is more of a move tight end at 6’3, 250 pounds that Josh McDaniels can use flexed outside, as an H-back or even in a fullback mode. Gronkowski and Bennett are more in-line tight ends with the ability to move outside. With these additions it appears that the Bill Belichick and McDaniels are looking to go bigger and more physical on offense in 2016. And having a trio of big, physical and athletic tight ends will make the red zone offense pretty versatile.

Harbor also can be used to great effect in short yardage as either a fullback or H-back where play action passes from Tom Brady will be much more effective if they decide to utilize a 13 personnel package (1RB,1 WR, 3TE).

Rumors were flying that this signing may be the end of the road for the primarily run blocker Williams. While his skill set is much different, it may come down to a numbers game between he and Derby unless the team does opt for a 4th tight end where a cut will have to come from somewhere else.

 

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.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, WR Leonte Carroo

Steve Balestrieri
March 29, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Caroo can be a Potential Patriots draft target and keep the Rutgers pipeline going

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots have addressed the wide receiver position in free agency signing Chris Hogan away from the Bills and Nate Washington who was with Houston in 2015.  But they still have a need for some more depth at the position and could use an influx of youth in there.

With Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Hogan, Washington and Aaron Dobson at WR, with Rob Gronkowski and new addition Martellus Bennet added into the mix at tight end, the targets for QB Tom Brady appear to be on paper formidable. Add in a healthy Dion Lewis out of the backfield and the offense looks to be one of the best in the league.

With the upcoming draft they can select a player that will fit the system and they won’t be putting pressure on him to produce right away, but to develop the way the team wants.

Leonte Carroo from Rutgers could be the next player to keep the Scarlet Knights pipeline to New England alive. His skill set makes him an attractive possible Patriots WR target in the draft.  He’s been a very consistent productive receiver for the past three seasons in New Jersey where he’s averaged over 20 yards per reception the last two seasons. Had 217 career catches at Rutgers, of which 31 went for 25 yards or more.

Carroo has good size at 6’0, 212 pounds and is a muscled, strong receiver with very good athleticism despite not being the fastest WR (4.50, 40 time). He has good body control and vision and can find holes to make yards after the catch.

Plays taller than his height due to very good leaping ability, very good hands, he’ll catch the ball away from his body and snatch it out of the air. Despite an off-field incident, has leadership and was a team captain. Also plays STs and was on Rutgers’ coverage unit.

The Patriots not surprisingly, conducted a formal interview with Carroo recently.

Pros:

– Very athletic receiver, can break off verticals to come back and make catches

– Cuts well and will gain separation with sharp moves inside

– Adjusts very well while the ball is in the air

– Outstanding leaping ability

Cons

– Had an arrest for assault (charges dropped) but a red flag

– Has decent but not breakaway speed, won’t run by corners

– Improved but can still struggle with press coverage

What his Role Will Be:
His role will be as an outside wide receiver with the Patriots offense. He’ll compete for the Brandon LaFell role the past two years. Working the sidelines, deep slants and the comebacks. With his size and athleticism, he should be well suited for it.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with improved route running and experience in the Patriots offense, he’ll be looked to in Year 2 to provide a big jump in production.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
The already departed LaFell and he’ll compete with Aaron Dobson for a roster spot.

What is his ST Value?
Good, worked on the coverage units for Rutgers

Conclusion:
Carroo, in addition to the obvious Rutgers’ connection seems like a great fit for the Patriots offense. With good size and very good athleticism, he’ll fit perfectly in the New England short to intermediate passing game.

His route running and learning the Patriots complicated route tree will need some work but with the depth they have at the present time, the Patriots can take some time to develop him slowly.

But he’s a good and willing blocker in the running game, will play special teams and has good reliable hands. Add in his leaping ability and the desire to consistently get extra yards after the catch makes him an attractive target for the Patriots.

The team will have to check out his background closely after the off-field incident that caused him to miss two games in 2015. But barring any red flags, Josh McDaniels could find a nice role for him as an outside receiver in the offense.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Potential Starter with time. He should be available in the middle rounds of the draft and the Patriots with a pair of Round 3 selections could snatch him there.


Carroo’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of Kyle Haigh:

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.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, CB Artie Burns

Steve Balestrieri
March 24, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Artie Burns could be a Patriots draft target and is a talented corner who would fight for starting reps immediately

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries in 2015 but one area where they were rather fortunate was at the cornerback position. Although Tarell Brown ended up on IR and Justin Coleman was banged up during the season, the fact that Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan stayed healthy all year long was a blessing.

Now the Patriots are faced with the 2016 season and needing more depth. Butler and Ryan return as does Coleman and last season’s injured rookie Darryl Roberts. Roberts turned some heads in training camp and started the first preseason game but was injured in that contest and ended up on IR.

He and Coleman are unproven at this point and with Brown now a free agent, the team needs to add some new blood. Brown or another free agent can still be brought in anytime between now and the beginning of training camp but the draft will bring some intriguing options.

In the upcoming days we’ll highlight some names that could be on the Patriots radar. While we all know the top guys like Vernon Hargreaves or Eli Apple will be long gone by the time the Pats pick at #60, we’ll focus on some of the guys who still at least have a chance of being around by then.

Artie Burns from Miami is a kind of under-the-radar player despite playing for the “U”. He’s a supremely talented athlete who ran track as well as playing football. Possessing ideal size at 6’0 and 193 pounds, he has the frame to add some weight without losing any of his athleticism. Burns plays much faster than his 4.46 time in the 40-yard dash recorded at the NFL Combine.

Burns is a playmaker who led the ACC with six interceptions in 2015. He’s still raw with his technique at times but with his long arms, he very effective at jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. He has experience at corner as well as free safety but is best suited at the next level as a cornerback.

Pros:

– Proto-typical size for an NFL cornerback

– Excellent ball skills

–  Able to play press-man or zone coverage

– Excellent body control; can adjust to the ball in the air and make plays

Cons

– Tackling is sloppy, and needs work

– Aggressive style of play will draw plenty of flags

– Needs to add some bulk at the NFL level

What his Role Will Be:
His role will be competing for one of the starting cornerback roles. With his size, speed and physical, aggressive nature he would be ideally suited for the outside corner role in the Patriots man coverage schemes.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with a little polish he could be a starting left corner if the need arises

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
His roster slot would be in competition with Coleman or Roberts. If he shows he’s ready to play a bigger role, the team could move Ryan into the slot and play him outside with Butler.

What is his ST Value?
Good, he had experience as a kick returner at Miami

Conclusion:
Burns is not just a track star who wants to play football. He has legitimate cornerback skills and he got a reputation for making QBs pay who tried to test him in the ACC. He’s a physical defender that is best served to play in man coverage.  He can use his length to get his hands on opponent’s wide receivers and jam them up at the line, but has the speed to turn and run with them into the secondary.

Shows good awareness, can read the play and slip by would-be blockers in the running game and showed some decent timing by blitzing on occasion. His tackling is his weak spot and he could suffer in run support initially.

He’s a mature young man who had to forego his senior year at Miami to care for his two younger brothers and his son after his mother died of a heart attack in October. His father is incarcerated. He’s the kind of young man that Bill Belichick will love; a mature young man who is passionate to learn his craft and a smart, aggressive football player.

While he could add a few pounds, he’s a very talented player and with some hard work, that he undoubtedly put in, he can be a very good NFL corner. He’s slotted to go somewhere between Rounds 2-3. If he’s still around at pick #60, the Patriots should pounce.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Potential Starter on Day 1. He should fit in very well into the NE defense.

 

Burns highlight film can be found here, courtesy of Harris Highlights:

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.

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)

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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 Sign LB Shea McClellin to 3-Year Deal, Add Depth to Defense

Steve Balestrieri
March 17, 2016 at 6:21 am ET

The Patriots made big trades for the past two days and now have added some much-needed depth at linebacker by signing former Bears 1st round pick Shea McClellin to a 3-year contract on Wednesday night. The news was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

In a year that the Patriots have been stripped of their first round draft pick by the league with the Deflategate nonsense, the team has added four former first round picks in G Jonathan Cooper, DE Chris Long, RB Donald Brown and now McClellin.

McClellin was originally drafted by the Bears in the first round of the 2012 draft from Boise State with the 19th overall and used as a defensive end. He was reportedly on the Patriots radar in the draft but the Bears selected him two picks before New England selected Chandler Jones.

The Bears envisioned him as a bookend pass rusher to Julius Peppers at the time, something that never materialized. It was that and perhaps a case of them reaching for him in the first round that permanently had McClellin the target of criticism in Chicago.

The Bears moved him to outside linebacker where he had limited success until they moved him to inside linebacker in 2014 in their 3-4 scheme where it all started to fall into place under the tutelage of Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

At that time, the Bears had Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher on the inside and it was just a case where they failed to utilize him in a position that he was better suited for.

Fangio whose straight from the hip, direct answers during interviews is well documented, made his feelings clear on McClellin’s prospects at inside linebacker last year when asked about his progress on the inside.

“I like him,” Fangio said. “His future is bright. He’s playing good for us. Obviously, we think he’ll play even better as we move on through this season and in the future. His future is bright here as a linebacker.”

McClellin is a good sized (6’3, 245 pound), linebacker with above average speed and athleticism. He’s probably best suited to be a strong-side linebacker covering tight ends in the 4-3 Patriots system either in base or in their sub-packages. He also has special teams experience as well which should definitely come into play with New England.

How Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia envision his use isn’t yet known, but they obviously felt like he can be a valuable piece of the depth here, hence the three-year deal. His versatility in being able to play a variety of roles had to be an enticing lure for the Pats.

He’ll join a stable coaching staff for the first time in his career, having gone thru three coaches in his four years with the Bears, another factor that may have limited his growth as a player.

With the retirement of Jerod Mayo and Dane Fletcher and the release of Darius Fleming, the Patriots have a need of depth at linebacker. They have a pair of outstanding ones in Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins. Now McClellin will join Jonathan Freeny, Kevin Snyder and former Bear Jon Bostic on the roster to beef up the depth.

With a fresh start with the Patriots and no longer having to live up to the pressure of being a first-round draft pick and being allowed to play to his strengths, McClellin should be able to find a nice niche in the New England defense.

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

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Patriots Add TE Martellus Bennett in a Trade With the Bears

Steve Balestrieri
March 16, 2016 at 7:52 pm ET

The Patriots added another big piece for the offense on Wednesday with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting that the Bears and Patriots agreed to a deal that will move TE Martellus Bennett to the Patriots.

With reports that the Bears and Bennett were heading for a split, it now appears that the two teams have made the deal for only draft considerations. Reports are surfacing that the teams will also swap draft picks. Schefter is reporting that the teams will swap mid-to-late draft picks.

Bennett 29, broke in with the Dallas Cowboys before moving on to the Chicago Bears where he’s spent the past three seasons. He has 348 career receptions for 3586 yards and 23 touchdowns. In 2015, he played only 11 games after suffering a fractured rib which eventually led to him being placed on IR. He caught 53 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns last season.

With Bennett in the fold, the Patriots can be expected to play with a lot of the two-TE offense once again. Two years ago, a healthy Bennett caught 90 passes for the Bears. The team was looking for depth at TE to back up Rob Gronkowski. Now they have bookend tight ends who have been very productive.

Bennett is slated to make $5.2 million dollars in 2016.  He will be a free agent in 2017.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Patriots signed former Colt and Charger RB Donald Brown to a one-year contract as well.

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Patriots Add Chris Long, Pure Belichick Move

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:41 am ET

The Patriots added DE Chris Long to the team, agreeing to a 1-year deal that is heavily laden with incentives according to reports first announced by ESPN’s Trey Wingo.

Adding Long was a master stroke by Bill Belichick as within hours he was able to swing a trade for DE Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd round draft pick as well as G Jonathan Cooper and then add Long to replace Jones on the roster.

While it is doubtful the Patriots could have retained Jones who was in the final year of his rookie contract, the deal does involve an element of risk. Jones is only 26, and coming off of his best statistical year with 12.5 sacks. With a high premium placed on edge rushers in this season’s free agency, Jones would have commanded big dollars that the Patriots probably wouldn’t be prepared to spend.

In adding Long who will turn 31 on March 28, the Patriots get a very talented DE who was the #2 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He’s logged 54.5 sacks in his career but in two injury-shortened seasons in 2014-2015, he’s only managed four. He and LB James Laurinitis were part of a big $24 million-dollar salary dump by the LA Rams earlier this offseason.

But by gaining a much needed 2nd round draft pick and the opportunity to revive the career of Cooper, also a position of need on the offensive line, the chance to strike was there with the Cardinals who desperately needed help with their pass rush.

As we said in our piece yesterday, coupled with Long’s visit on Monday, it was easy to connect the dots and see where this was headed.

Belichick loves adding veteran players on the defensive side of the ball who can come in and add that extra piece to the puzzle and Long who is talented as well as a strong locker room presence is a great fit. However, it isn’t an exact science and one never knows how it will ultimately work out.

Belichick hit on players like Rodney Harrison, Roman Phifer and Andre Carter as well as to an extent Junior Seau later in their careers but swung and missed on guys like Will Smith and Derrick Burgess.

The Patriots are deep at defensive end with veterans Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and last season’s rookie draft picks Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers. They also brought back Rufus Johnson who played well in preseason before ending up on IR.

Adding Long to the mix is a great move because, if he’s healthy once again, he can bring a dynamic element to the Patriots pass rush. And with their depth, they can limit his snaps to keep him and the others fresh to prevent them from breaking down later in the season and keep a constant stream of pass rushers on the opposition.

Within the space of a few hours, the Patriots sent Jones to the Cardinals, while adding about $5 million dollars in salary cap space, a much needed 2nd round draft pick, a former 1st round pick for their interior offensive line and another former first round pick for the defensive line. While there is no such animal as a sure thing, this was a win-win for both the Patriots and Cardinals and now the Pats have a great deal of flexibility in the upcoming draft.

With no first round draft pick, they have two picks in the second and third rounds, 4 picks in the first 100 and now could move around the board and possibly move up to earlier in the second round if they choose, depending upon how the board plays out.

Long who was scheduled to visit the Dallas Cowboys on his free agent visits canceled that and signed with the Pats. He seems excited for the opportunity and tweeted out, “See you soon Boston”.

Are the Patriots in a better place than they were just 24 hours ago? It most definitely seems that way after this series of events have unfolded. This is a deal that will have to be re-visited once the season is over. But it seems Bill Belichick the GM pulled off a great deal for Bill Belichick the coach in 2016.

So much for a boring free agency period.

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Patriots Trade Chandler Jones to AZ for Cooper, 2nd Rd Pick

Steve Balestrieri
March 15, 2016 at 3:29 pm ET

The Patriots free agency period is quiet no more. The Pats just completed a huge trade, moving former 1st round Draft Pick Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for G Jonathan Cooper and a 2nd Round Draft pick. This was first reported by ESPN’s Diana Russini and Adam Schefter.

The social media scene has been ripe with Jones talk since the 2015 season ended but picked up in intensity the past two days with the news of Chris Long visiting the Patriots yesterday. While no news of Long’s visit has borne reports of his imminent signing, one can connect the dots and see the possibilities unfold now.

Regardless, the trade is a win-win for both teams, Arizona is looking for a pass rusher now that Dwight Freeney is a free agent and the Patriots have questions with their offensive line and have lost their 1st round draft pick with Deflategate sanctions.

Jones, with 12.5 sacks in 2015 will certainly help the Cardinals in that regard although he struggled badly down the stretch with only a pair of sacks in the last seven games. He had two sacks in nine playoff contests, but with the huge contracts given to players at equal to or beneath his level of play this spring, the Patriots were not going to re-sign him after the 2016 season. Jones was scheduled to earn $7.79 million as part of the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

That is no longer in the cards and in getting an interior offensive lineman and an additional 2nd round draft pick, it is a no-brainer for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Regardless of the Long situation, the trade doesn’t leave the cupboard bare for New England with the team still boasting DE’s Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard (arguably their best DE in 2015), and last season’s draft picks Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers on the roster.

Cooper was a first round draft pick for the Cardinals in 2013. He should immediately contend for a starting role and is especially valuable with the news that last season’s draft pick Tre’ Jackson had off-season knee surgery.

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.