Tag Archives: 2016 NFL Season

NFL Owners “Compromise” Is the Worst of All Possible Scenarios

Steve Balestrieri
May 25, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Opinion: Just when you thought the NFL couldn’t fall any lower after last fall, they hit rock bottom and began to dig. The NFL has passed a new policy about the entire standing for the national anthem, and now players will have the choice to either stand for the national anthem or remain in the locker room. If players on the field don’t stand for the national anthem, the teams not the players will be fined. This move is in direct response to the Colin Kaepernick protest.

Kaepernick began protesting the treatment of young men of color by the police and began kneeling during the national anthem. This began in the 2016 season and soon other players took up the cause as well. Regardless of how silly Kaepernick looked showing up to a press conference wearing a shirt of the biggest mass murderer and oppressor of people of color in the Western Hemisphere, there was a huge undercurrent of support, especially among the African-American players of the NFL.

Many have been told that they’ve abandoned their roots and have lost touch with their own people. Other players have experienced what Kaepernick was protesting first hand. The protesting reached a peak during Week 3 of the 2017 season. It remained a hot topic for about the next month and gradually faded away.

Why the NFL decided that this issue needed to be decided this spring was foolhardy at best. And let me say …again, I was against the protest, because of the manner in which they conducted it. It struck a nerve inside myself as a military person as it did many of the other veterans who’ve turned their backs on the NFL because of it. I hated it.

But the freedom of speech is one of the things we defend for the people of this country. I haven’t walked in any of those men’s shoes. If they truly feel that those issues are a problem, it isn’t up to us to dismiss them but to fix them. I thought there was a better way to protest, however, that opportunity is lost now. I wrote about it here: So, while I may have disagreed with the manner of the protest, I fully supported the idea that the players could protest.

As a veteran, the flag to me represents the beacon of freedom that most of the world, who rushed here to become part of our nation, had never known. It also gives you the right to peacefully protest perceived wrongs without the fear of retribution. That is what soldiers defend every day.

The prevailing attitude among many of the fans was that the players were unpatriotic, were disrespecting the military and the flag. Nothing was further from the truth.

And in coming to their “compromise”, the NFL and the league owners decided the outcome for everyone. And their method is completely un-American.

The compromise was made between the league and the owners where the players were not even consulted. If that isn’t a slap in the face to the NFL Players Association I don’t know what is.

They knew this entire thing stunk so badly that they didn’t even take an official vote on it. They took an informal consensus among the owners. This shows what a disconnected, fractured relationship the league has with its main employees. They’ve effectively decided that they can give or take away the players First Amendment rights.

In the end, the league voted with its wallets. Several sponsors have discussed their discomfort with the fan bases pushing back against the player protests and don’t forget the league’s “Salute to Service” that they pushed back in the 2015 season wasn’t done for free. The Department of Defense paid heavily for those ads.

That isn’t a brave act or even a smart one. It was a cowardly act that showed that the league and owners are hoping that if they ignore a problem it doesn’t exist. During my many years in the military, I served with men and women from all walks of life and every conceivable background one can imagine. America is a true melting pot. The NFL is different.

The NFL is predominantly made up of African-American young men. And many of them don’t feel they get treated the same way other citizens do. Unless you’ve walked in their shoes, then we can’t tell them their feelings are wrong. The First Amendment is more than just words on a piece of paper. It is one of the cornerstones of what our country is founded upon.

That’s what our veterans fought for and continue to fight for today. Of all weeks for the NFL to come up with this fiasco, on the week we celebrate the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service to this country, it is ludicrous. For a league that wraps itself around the flag and the military every week, they should have known better.

They could have easily let the issue alone and it would have been minor at worst this season. They could have opened a dialogue with the players to see what the two sides can work out while not stomping on the players First Amendment rights. But they chose Door #3, and arbitrarily decided what rights the players have or don’t have.

And that path is wrong, it is un-American and the league, not the players disrespects what the flag and the veterans represent.

Patriots Fourth And Two Podcast: Texans vs. Patriots Preview

Russ Goldman
September 19, 2017 at 12:13 pm ET

In this episode we previewed the upcoming game for the Patriots against the Texans. However, we started the show by looking back at the Patriots victory against the Saints.

Podcast: Patriots Schedule Released And The Latest Patriots News

Russ Goldman
April 21, 2017 at 11:29 am ET

In this episode, we dicussed the latest in Patriots news, and then we shared our thoughts on the Patriots schedule for the upcoming season.

Malcolm Butler Looking For Other Avenues Than the Patriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Free Agency, Targeting Woods a Signal For Another Change?

Steve Balestrieri
March 7, 2017 at 7:41 am ET

The Patriots are entering the legal tampering phase of free agency on Tuesday and will be busy buyers with $60 million dollars to work with. And although WR isn’t a particular position of need this spring, the news that they tried to trade for New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks and one of their targets in free agency is Buffalo WR Robert Woods was interesting to note.

While everyone is talking about adding another tight end to complement Rob Gronkowski and replace Martellus Bennett in the two-tight end offense, could Bill Belichick be switching gears again and going to a three/four WR attack? More to that below.

While Belichick was particularly effusive in his praise of Cooks during the summer after he shined in joint practices and a preseason game, that’s his M.O. He likes targeting players who play well against him. Cooks did it in 2015 and last summer in Foxboro where he schooled Malcolm Butler on the first day of practice against the Saints.

The same is true for Woods who has always played well against the Patriots for the Bills despite not having a stellar group of quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Woods was taken in the 2nd round (41st overall), in the 2013 NFL Draft from USC.

He’s 6’1, 200 pounds and while not considered a burner on the outside, he has decent speed and athleticism. But where he’s excelled is in his route-running skills, where he’s shown the ability to gain separation and has flashed very good hands. Woods caught 51 passes for 613 yards, hauling in more than 67 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2016 for the Bills.

Bringing in Cooks or Woods certainly wouldn’t be great news for Danny Amendola. The 31-year old is certainly facing having his salary redone again but bringing in either one of these wide receivers could mean he’d be a cap casualty in New England. The Patriots would certainly like to get a bit younger at WR with both Amendola and Julian Edelman turning 31 this season.

Cooks is more of an explosive receiver, but Woods excels in the areas that the Patriots love to work in, the short to intermediate parts of the field. And most importantly, he is very good at working the middle of the field.

Watching the NFL Combine on Monday, one can’t help be impressed with the number of big corners coming out in the draft. These big guys are fast but the one area that they could struggle in is in the short area quickness, something the Patriots excel in.

So, while everyone is now going to the two, big tight end offense, could Belichick and Josh McDaniels be switching things up and going to a more three or four wide receiver attack in 2017? Or is the team’s targeting of Cooks and Woods just them trying to get younger and healthier at the position.

It is still much too early to tell that, but adding either one of these players in free agency may certainly be a clue that the offense will evolve again. Belichick is usually ahead of the trends in these things.

This will bear watching as the spring and summer unfolds.

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

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

New England Patriots News 3-5, AFC East Notes

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

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 3-5, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots released RT Sebastian Vollmer on Friday which wasn’t a surprise as he missed all of 2016 and was on the PUP List under the designation of a failed physical. The move will free up about $1.7 million dollars in salary cap space for the team.

Vollmer went from a 7th round “reach” in the 2nd Round of the 2009 NFL Draft to be a solid right tackle for the Patriots until injuries took their toll on the 6’8, 320-pounder.

All eyes are on Indy and the 2017 NFL Combine this weekend and as we watch the Under-Armor Olympics unfold, there are several players that will bear watching, especially from a Patriots perspective and we’ll get to those below. But the Combine has become a huge fan event as well as a media circus and it is an important part of the evaluation process.

Teams have the tape on these players, but now they get to check out their medicals, interview the players and find out what makes them tick and see how they perform in a pressure packed environment.

While most people salivate over the players’ times in the 40-yard dash, the Patriots have always favored the 3-Cone Drill. The 3-Cone is used to evaluate the agility, quickness, and fluidity of movement of players. It measures power and agility and closely mirrors football type movements on the field.

Free Agency No Clearer Just Yet:
The Patriots are reported to be in deep discussions with LB Dont’a Hightower in working out a long-term deal, but the veteran LB may not do anything until he sees what he can bring in free agency.

The team also has made an offer to DL Alan Branch and they’re waiting to see if he accepts it or opts for the open market. CB Logan Ryan and S Duron Harmon have informed the Patriots that they will test free agency and give the Patriots the right of matching those. But I’d consider both gone at this point.

FB James Develin is rumored to be re-signed in the upcoming days and as of Saturday, there has been no word of any kind of movement in Malcolm Butler’s contract. The team did host free agent DE Jared Odrick last week and it was reported that he passed his physical but no contracts were being reported.

While the rumors persist about Brandon Marshall, Jamaal Charles, and Adrian Peterson, don’t hold your breath there. WR isn’t a position of need and if they do, they’d no doubt opt for a younger player. And just as a reminder, in 2009 when Josh McDaniels was the Broncos head coach, Marshall refused to catch passes in practice and forced a trade to Miami because he couldn’t get along with McDaniels. Mutual interest? I doubt McDaniels wants him around. Time heals all wounds, but this one?

Charles and Peterson are intriguing but will likely price themselves far out of range. The Patriots haven’t paid a RB $2 million dollars or more since Fred Taylor. Doubt either will come at a bargain.

Some Names to Watch for the Patriots in the Draft:
The Patriots are slated to pick (right now), at #32 in the upcoming NFL Draft. That could easily change and many times does but here are a few players that IMHO would fit for the Patriots.

RB Jamaal Williams, BYU –  With LeGarrette Blount a free agent, the Pats could use a dose of youth injected into the running game. Williams will probably be a late Day 2 (3rd Round) pick and is a physical downhill runner between the tackles. He’d fit well in the rotation with James White and Dion Lewis. He’s 6’1, 215, and is tough to bring down.

RB D’Onta Foreman, Texas – Foreman had an outstanding 2016 for the Longhorns rushing for 2,028 yards with a 6.3 yard per carry average and 15 touchdowns. He’s big, 6’1, 245 pounds and can run between the tackles. He’s not much of a pass receiver, though.

TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland – Who you say? The Patriots met with Shaheen on Friday night with the big, 6’7, 277-pound tight end from Division 2 Ashland. He’s surprisingly athletic for a big man and although he played against lesser competition in Division 2, he dominated. Check out some of his highlight tape.

TE David Njoku, Miami – While most people agree that O.J. Howard is the best TE in the draft, he’ll be long gone by the time New England picks. Njoku is very athletic, has great burst off the line and runs tight, precise routes. Still a work in progress, especially blocking but has tremendous YAC potential.

DE DeMarcus Walker, FSU – Walker has the versatility that Bill Belichick salivates over. He’s big for a DE, 6’4, 285 pounds and can play on the edge or kick inside as an interior pass rusher. Had 16 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss in 2016.

DE Takarist McKinney, UCLA – McKinney needs surgery after the combine so he may drop into the mid rounds if NE wants to take a chance on him. He has a great motor, is strong at 6’3, 265 with a very good burst off the line. Still raw and doesn’t have great bend coming off the edge.

LB Tim Williams, Alabama – Williams is a very talented player with some off-field red flags that may fall in the draft. Has tremendous burst off the edge with the necessary bend to get around tackles when blitzing. Has good lateral quickness and can drop into coverage although was used primarily as a pass rusher.

LB Jayon Brown, UCLA – Brown is an undersized Will linebacker but can make plays from sideline to sideline and has good coverage and special teams’ skills. He may be an intriguing option in the middle rounds and is an active downhill player against RBs.

S Jabril Peppers, Michigan – Many draft pundits have Peppers going to NE and his versatility is a big reason why. He can play SS or as a nickel linebacker and as a corner. He was used on offense as well, can run the ball, catch out of the backfield and return kicks. He’s a Belichick dream player, but he’ll probably go early.

S Obi Melifonwu, UConn – Been harping on this guy since last fall. If Duron Harmon leaves in free agency, the Patriots will need another safety and Melifonwu would be a great pickup. Tremendous size (6’4,220) and athleticism. Would be best served as a Pat Chung type role close to the box and covering tight ends.

Garoppolo Circus Won’t Die Soon:
The Jimmy G. “will they or won’t they” trade him carousel continues to spin at a furious rate. Adam Schefter of ESPN stated that the Patriots weren’t going to trade him anywhere this season which instead of putting the rumors to bed, simply accelerated them.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Jeff Howe among many others put out pieces that the dealing for Garoppolo may not be dead yet, while guys like Tom E. Curran have been adamant since the fall that he’s not going anywhere.

Either way, until Bill Belichick says publicly that he’s off the market, (not likely), or they announce a deal for him, this story won’t die until the first night of the NFL Draft. Garoppolo may have inadvertently thrown gas on the fire with an Instagram post on Friday where he (again depending on your view), may have been waving goodbye to the Patriots fan base… May you live in interesting times.

Patriots Must Have a Super Bowl, the Rules they are a-changing:
Does it seem a coincidence that every time New England wins a Super Bowl, the NFL tries to change a rule that the Patriots took advantage of during the season?

Back in 2003-2004, Colts GM Bill Polian used his position as the head of the NFL Rules committee to change how the referees were calling illegal contact after Ty Law and the Patriots beat up the Colts WRs in the playoffs. That is another reason Law belongs in the HOF but that is a story for another time.

In 2014, the Patriots used their personnel packages to thoroughly confuse the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Playoff game. Even to the point where the referees told the Ravens’ defenders, “Don’t cover 34”, But John Harbaugh got the league to change the rules on that, even though Baltimore used a similar tactic in 2015…hmm.

Now the league wants to change the field goal block that the Patriots used twice to great effect in 2016. Shea McClellin timed a leap perfectly against the Ravens on Monday Night Football and blocked an attempt by Justin Tucker that was his first miss of the season. McClellin had another in the Super Bowl that should have been a block but the referees mistakenly blew the play dead and penalized McClellin for illegally vaulting over the center when it clear, he vaulted over the guard.

Now the NFLPA and the league want to outlaw the play in the name of player safety. Which seems rather ludicrous with a number of other issues that both sides could work on to make the game safer….say Thursday Night Football?

Bell says the Steelers Win the AFCCG if He was Healthy:
It seems the Steelers never miss an opportunity to complain about their losses to the Patriots. This one was no exception. Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell said this week, that if he was healthy in the AFC Championship Game in New England that the Steelers would have won. Ah, I’d pump the brakes on that one Mr. Bell.

While it is widely acknowledged that Bell is one of the best RBs in the league, his absence would have made no difference to the outcome on this one, unless he planned on playing in the secondary.

Tom Brady did what he always does to Pittsburgh’s defense, he eviscerated them to the tune of 32-42 for 384 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions without Rob Gronkowski and put up 36 points on the Steelers. Pittsburgh had nine points until a garbage time touchdown with 3 minutes left. Was Bell going to make that big a difference? No.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Reportedly are Targeting QB Trevor Siemian, if Romo Goes to Denver:
The QB carousel game continues, at least in the talking stage as the latest has Buffalo reportedly being interested in QB Trevor Siemian if Tony Romo ends up in the Mile High City this spring.

Siemian, 25, started 14 games for Denver in 2016, throwing for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. New Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison held the same position for Denver in 2016 so Siemian would know the offense already and his integration would be seamless.

However, the Bills still have to decide whether or not to pick up incumbent starting QB Tyrod Taylor’s contract option this spring. Buffalo has until March 11 to decide whether to exercise the option, which would trigger nearly $31 million in guaranteed money. Siemian, with cap hits of $650,000 in 2017 and $720,000 in 2018, would be a much more affordable, if a less dependable option.

Miami Looking for “Players Who Love Football”:
The Miami Dolphins GM is at the NFL Combine and his focus this spring is finding players that fit the team and have a love for the game.

“We get to spend time with people face-to-face, the players, trying to get to know the core — do they love football, and the football intelligence and stuff,” Grier said to the Miami Sun Sentinel in Indianapolis.

“The workout stuff is fine, but as [Bill Parcells] calls it, the combine is the Underwear Olympics. The tape is really who the player is. This part is just getting to know the player.”

“Nowadays, with the money and what the kids are getting paid, you see a lot of these juniors leaving school early,” Grier said. “A lot of times now you’re not sure if it’s the right reason why they’re leaving. They all want to get to that second contract first.

“But for us, that’s not important. We want to hear, ‘I love football. This is what I want to do.’” Miami has swung and missed on a few players recently and Grier is looking to rectify that situation by drafting football junkies, something Bill Belichick has long advocated with the Pats.

 

Jets Release Marshall, and Will Deal “In Every Round” of the Draft:
The New York Jets have released veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall, purging the bloated contracts of several veterans including Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Nick Folk and Breno Giacomini, the Jets have plenty of gaps to fill.

Appearing in 15 games, Marshall logged 59 receptions and 788 receiving yards led the Jets and had three receiving TDs. The moves so far have cleared $46 million dollars in salary cap space but with the draft upcoming, the Jets are willing to deal any pick.

“We’re open for business in every round,” GM Mike Maccagnan told the media in Indianapolis. “If somebody wants to move up in any round and we have a pick in that round, call us up.”

One area that the Jets have a big hole is at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are free agents and that leaves them with Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty. Will they either reach for a QB early or try to sign a veteran free agent? Time will tell but it seems they’re doing a total house cleaning.

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

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

So Long… Chris Long Won’t Return to the Patriots in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
March 1, 2017 at 5:37 pm ET

The Patriots will part ways with veteran DE Chris Long and he will play elsewhere in 2017after winning a Super Bowl with New England. Long signed a modest one-year deal with the Pats in 2016, in part to having a chance to play for a winner and to reignite his game after the back-to-back injury plagued years.

Long took to social media to announce his decision, thank the fans of New England and to explain his decision about moving on. It sounded like Long, although he bought in completely with how he was utilized with the Patriots, wasn’t happy inside about his role and was wanting to do what he’d always done. “This has zero to do with money … it’s the right move in my heart because I want to get back to being the player I was before. I’m thankful for my role this year, but as a competitor, I’m itching to do what I do best.”

Long was immediately welcomed as an established, respected veteran in the Patriots locker room and seemed like a perfect fit both on and off the field. He signed for just $2.35 million dollars last spring and later said, he’d have played for nothing.

He worked his way into being a starter in New England and played about 65 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season. Long led the Patriots with 29 combined QB sacks (4), hits (8) and pressures with 17 in 2016. Although he played only 15 snaps in the Super Bowl against Atlanta, he had a big impact on the plays where he was on the field.

Chris Long will not be returning to the Patriots in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

He drew a key holding penalty with the Falcons in field goal range that could have iced the game for Atlanta. Instead, after the call, it knocked them out of range. He also was right in Matt Ryan’s face as well as Dont’a Hightower on the sack where Hightower stripped the ball loose late in the game.

Long, a 6’3, 270-pound defensive end will turn 32 later this month. And although he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, still has enough left in the tank to bring another team a veteran, professional presence as a pass rusher.

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

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

New England Patriots Won’t Use Franchise Tag on Hightower

Steve Balestrieri
February 28, 2017 at 3:42 pm ET

Well this isn’t the news everyone was waiting for. The Patriots have informed Dont’a Hightower’s agents that they will not be using the franchise tag on him and that the Patriots LB will test the open market.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that although New England will not tag Hightower, they still have plans to bring him back in a Patriots uniform.

Hightower is the glue of the Patriots front seven and they frankly have no one on the roster at this point that is capable of replacing him. Hightower is big (6’3, 265-pounds), and very athletic for a man of his size. He’s a downhill, physical run-stuffer that is capable of blitzing up the A-gaps or from the edge and is surprisingly good in coverage considering his size.

Dont’a Hightower stuffs a run at the goal line by LeGarrette Blount during training camp 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

In both Super Bowl LI and XLIX, Hightower made big plays at crunch time to allow the Patriots to escape with the victory. In the latter, he stuffed Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line which set up the Malcolm Butler interception that sealed the win.

Just a few weeks ago, he stripped sacked Matt Ryan which gave the Patriots a short field, that resulted in a touchdown where the Patriots roared back from a 28-3 deficit to tie things up late in regulation before winning the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.

Hightower will turn 27 in March and was a 1st round draft pick, 25th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was named a captain this season for the first time in his career.

He logged 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a safety, eight QB hits and 2 passes defensed this season. He was the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 6 when he made 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits and a safety against Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals.

While the Patriots are justifiably concerned with Hightower’s injury history, he’s missed time in every season but 2013, they don’t have another player of his caliber at the position. The team still has nine days to work out a long-term deal with him. If he reaches free agency on March 9 at 4:00 p.m., he’s as good as gone.

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

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

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Brandon Bolden

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:58 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players facing free agency is the reserve running back Brandon Bolden.

The Patriots signed the running back as an UDFA from Mississippi in 2012 and Bolden the 5’11, 220-pound running back has been a fixture of the Patriots special teams ever since. But the Patriots need some depth at the position with Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, and James Develin all free agents this season. They also have two backs (James White and Dion Lewis) in the final year of their contracts.

Brandon Bolden takes a handoff in training camp in August of last year.(SBalestrieri photo)

Bolden’s roster spot has always been tied to his being a core special teamer who could contribute when needed on offense. With the overall health of the backs better this season he had the least production of any year of his career in 2016 with just one carry for four yards and two receptions for 15 yards.

The 27-year old, however, is always prepared to enter a game when needed and play some important snaps on offense when his number is called. That’s why he remains a trusted teammate and player on the 53-man roster.

Why Bolden Will Return: The Patriots have always valued Bolden and his versatility. He’s a good runner that can show power, a good pass receiver out of the backfield as well as a core special teams player that plays on all four units in the kicking game. Bolden’s versatility to fulfill multiple roles is a reason he’s always active on the 46-man game day roster. He frees up the coaches to use another player elsewhere.

The Patriots know his usefulness and should be able to re-sign him easily back to the team without breaking the bank. He’s still young at 27 with very little tread wear on his tires and could be counted upon to continue his role for the next couple of seasons.

Bill Belichick has always valued his special teams’ performers and Bolden is one of the standout every season. He logged special teams tackles in the divisional playoff win over Houston and the Super Bowl victory over Atlanta.

Why Bolden Won’t Return: There is a chance that the Patriots will want to upgrade and get younger at the running back position overall in 2017. This year’s draft class is deep and there will be a number of prospects both early and in the middle rounds that could be of interest to the team.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss pointed to Rams’ RB Benny Cunningham may be on the Patriots radar again as a free agent. As a restricted free agent last year, he took a visit to New England. Like Bolden, he’s a core special teamer with good return ability and at 26, is a bit younger. He’s also an upgrade offensively as he’s a bit better as a runner and much more productive as a receiver.

Bottom Line: The Patriots and Belichick have always valued Bolden’s STs ability and his versatility. He’s been a key ST’s member of two Super Bowl winning teams and comes from a football background. His grandfather played in two SBs with the Chiefs, winning SB IV over the Vikings.

His versatility and the low cost of retaining his services make Bolden an attractive target to re-sign this spring. There will be little demand for his services as a Special Teams’ performer although there may be a team that really needs a boost in that department and would be willing to pay. Houston with former Pats STs standout Larry Izzo as their STs coach could be a destination. Especially with their dreadful showing in the playoffs.

With a deep crop of running backs in the draft, look for the Patriots to either pick one or two up with their picks or signing one as an UDFA in an attempt to get deeper and younger. Bolden’s chances of returning a bit better than 50/50 in 2017 but he should see some competition this spring and summer.

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New England Patriots Free Agent Profile James Develin

Steve Balestrieri
February 27, 2017 at 11:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players facing free agency is fullback James Develin.

The Patriots running game struggled in 2015 and much of that had to do with Develin missing the entire season after breaking his leg while catching a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo in Carolina during the preseason.

That year they ran the ball the 7th fewest in the league and ranked 30th in both rushing yardage and yards per attempt. But with Develin back in the fold in 2016 the Patriots rushing game was much more effective. They were 7th in rushing yardage and their 482 rushing attempts were the third most in the league.

While much of the credit belongs to improved play with the offensive line, Develin’s presence had much to do with their success as well.

Develin took a different path to the NFL. He played defensive end at Brown, not playing fullback until 2010 while playing for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League. He was signed by the Bengals and spent two seasons as a member of their practice squad. He was released near the end of the 2012 training camp and was quickly signed by the Patriots and has been a fixture ever since.

He is a versatile piece for the Patriots as fullbacks must be in the NFL. He is a very good lead blocker in the running game, can carry the ball the odd time here and there, is very good in pass protection, and can line up as an H-back or as a tight end. He’s also a valued member of the special teams.

Why Develin Will Return: The Patriots under Bill Belichick have always liked to have a fullback in the offense, especially one that can do as much as Develin can.

He won’t be looking for or command a huge salary to remain in New England. There shouldn’t be a tremendous market for him in free agency with many teams beating down his door.

He’s a trusted, valued member of the offense; as a lead blocker, the occasional short yardage run or catch as an H-back or split out as a tight end, Develin is an unheralded but important piece of the offense.

Why Develin Won’t Return: There is always a chance that the team will decide to move on and look to get younger. They’ve already signed insurance with Glenn Gronkowski being signed to a future’s contract.

And of course, another team can always swoop in and offer Develin more money than the Patriots will opt to spend on his value. As much as they value him, with baby Gronk and possibly another camp body added later this spring, there will undoubtedly be some competition there.

Bottom Line: The Patriots know what they have in Develin. Bill Belichick has heaped great praise on him in the past.

“He’s a very smart player, he has good instincts and in the running game when you’re the second-level blocker that he is as a fullback you have a lot of things you have to sort out,” Belichick said. “Even though you have a blocking assignment there are things that happen in front of you whereas if you’re an offensive lineman you’re blocking the guy in front of you where there’s nothing between you and him most of the time.

“When you’re a fullback there are a lot of things that can happen as you go to your assignment. There could be other things that maybe guys move, they twist, they change positions, there’s penetration and you have to make those decisions so a lot of that is decision making. Similar to a running back when he has the ball but in the fullback’s case he really is the running back or the eyes of the running back in terms of taking the right course to the entry point in the play and so forth.

“He does a really good job of making those decisions of doing the right thing, making the smart decision. Regardless of what his assignment is there is a decision-making process within the play that might trump that. Similar to a quarterback following his reads or progression that if something happens and you have to make an alternative decision based on the circumstances of that play then that’s what he has to do. I’d say he does a good job of that but I mean he’s a very smart guy.”

I think the Patriots get a deal done with Develin before free agency starts. It shouldn’t be an exceptionally tough one to do. However, even if he gets to free agency, the feeling here is there is 75 percent chance Develin returns in a Patriots uniform in 2017.

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

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