Tag Archives: 2016 Patriots season

Patriots  Week 6 Report Card, New England Holds Off Chiefs 43-40

Steve Balestrieri
October 16, 2018 at 7:03 am ET

The Patriots are on a bit of a roll and have won three in a row. Last night’s win over the Chiefs won’t win many style points, but at the end of a scrap, it doesn’t really matter. The “W” is what was important especially coming in at 3-2 and the Chiefs undefeated.

A loss would have put them far, far back in the standings, as early as it still is for the AFC’s top seed, instead, they’re right back in the mix of things once again. After a good first half, the defense at times got smoked by the fastest offensive unit in the NFL. The Patriots offense left some points on the board but still scored 43, which speaks volumes at the progress they’ve made on that side of the ball.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s blowout win.

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady knew that everyone was talking about Patrick Mahomes this week…and rightfully so. The second-year player but only starting his seventh game as a pro came in unbeaten and was lighting it up. Brady got off to a slow start this year but has been getting better.

On Sunday night, Brady completed 24-35 for 340 yards and 1 TD. He also ran for a late touchdown on a short scramble that won’t confuse anyone with Tyreek Hill speed but was effective none-the-less.

Brady was his vintage self, he had the offense in control and kept the Chiefs off balance all night. The Patriots rolled up 500 yards of offense and didn’t punt once. His only bad play was a poor decision to hold the ball far too long with no one open and was stripped sacked. Brady’s best pass was the touchdown to Edelman, on 3rd and 10, he dropped a dime in the corner of the end zone while under pressure.

But late in the game, his deep passes to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski were also beautifully thrown. While Mahomes impressed for the seventh straight game, Brady showed what he’s been doing for 18 years.

Running Backs: A-

The Patriots running backs had another very productive night. Sony Michel led the way on the ground with 24 carries for 106 yards and 2 scores. His ability to make those short-yardage conversions was very impressive. He hasn’t become a factor in the passing game…yet.

James White is so reliable that when he has another game like Sunday night, you begin to take them for granted. White had six carries for 39 yards and five catches for 53 more. Six yards a carry, and over 10 a pop in the air. White and Michel have become a dynamic tandem that is just what the Patriots need.

Kenjon Barner appeared for a series or two and chipped in with  3 carries for 16 yards as he is trying to assimilate in the offense. James Develin provided his usual hard nose in the blocking game and had a couple of pass receptions.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers were solid on Sunday night.  Josh Gordon is still working thru some growing pains with Brady, their chemistry on the deeper out routes or the comebacks is still a work in progress. But he has very good hands, isn’t afraid to go over the middle to do dirty work and is still a big, fast athletic receiver. He made 5 catches for 42 yards but also drew a big 37-yard pass interference penalty on the one-yard line.

Julian Edelman had 4 catches for 54 yards including that nice touchdown pass from Brady. He had a solid game and chipped in one run as well for 7 yards. For a smaller WR, Edelman is an effective blocker in the running game.

Chris Hogan has gotten a lot of negativity thrown his way lately. But on Sunday night, with a full complement of receivers on hand, Hogan was facing the 2nd and 3rd corners that he traditionally has gone up against. And he produced. Hogan was targeted just four times but caught all four for 78 yards. His big one was the 42-yard bomb from Brady where Hogan got separation and was being interfered with but still made the catch.

Cordarrelle Patterson had one catch for 13 yards, one run for three yards and a 30-yard kickoff return. Phillip Dorsett was MIA, we had to check twice to ensure he was active.

Tight Ends: B+

Rob Gronkowski was quiet most of the night, as the Chiefs, like other teams made it their focus to take him away. But in the fourth quarter, Gronkowski came up with two huge plays. A beautifully designed 42-yarder where Trent Brown shot out and blocked the corner on the line, allowing Gronk a free release. He then gave the safety a stiff arm that put him on his back.

On the final drive of the game, Brady found Gronkowski down the right sideline for 39 yards, putting the Patriots in chip shot field goal range. His run blocking is outstanding and the big man was a key reason why they ran the ball down the Chiefs’ throats. Three catches, 97 yards, and his production came when they needed it.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line was outstanding against an arguably depleted Chiefs front seven. But it doesn’t matter, you dance with the ones who brought you. They pushed the Chiefs back consistently in the running game. Brady was sacked twice but one was his own fault, holding the ball too long. Only 1 QB hit. The Patriots held the ball for 36 minutes and averaged over 8 yards per play and rolled up 500 yards of offense.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line was able to bring some pressure in the first half but got no sacks. Although they did influence several throws, especially in the red zone where it could have resulted in touchdowns. In the second half, the pressure was down and they allowed Mahomes to break containment several times.

Kareem Hunt gashed them again garnering 80 yards on just 10 carries.  After a promising start, they faded down the stretch.

Linebackers: C

This was a tale of two halves as well for the linebackers as their performance was up and down. The KC offense was targeting Dont’a Hightower early in the game with RPOs but then he picked up his game a notch and had several key plays. The interception of Mahomes where he put the Pats in prime position to score was a huge turning point. After showing blitz, he dropped and sat in coverage right in the throwing lane.

At the end of the half, he had pressure on Mahomes and had a hold of his shirt where the hurried throw was picked off in the end zone by Duron Harmon. Kyle Van Noy had a couple of chances at big tackles for loss against Hunt but missed…which is hardly a surprise, Hunt makes a lot of people miss.

Elandon Roberts had a couple of splash plays, a big run stuff near the goal line, and a deflected pass. An up and down night, but as we put in our keys to the game, the Chiefs offense is predicated on stressing the linebackers, which they do quite well.

Secondary: C

The secondary also was a mixed bag. The corners played a very solid game with one exception while the worst of the Chiefs’ production was the result of burning the safeties. Jason McCourty had a good game, the one play that was bad was where he had Hunt coming out of the backfield and peeked back at Mahomes in the pocket. Hunt kept going and was wide open. Mahomes hit him in stride for a too-easy 67-yard touchdown. Stephon Gilmore was excellent. He was locked up with Sammie Watkins and held him to two catches for 19 yards. He had a nice pass deflection in the end zone. Jonathan Jones got a freebie when Hill blew by him but the pass was overthrown. But he too was good.

The safeties? Sunday night was a rough one. McCourty was victimized twice by Hill for touchdowns and Hill’s 75-yarder was the result of him blowing by Duron Harmon easily. The majority of the damage done by Hill was the result of the safeties breaking down. After a good first half, they had a disastrous final two quarters that nearly cost the Patriots the win.

Special Teams: C

Stephen Gostkowski saves this grade from being much lower. He was outstanding kicking 5-5 on his field goal attempts. The game-winner, although a chip shot is still a pressure kick as we saw in the earlier games on Sunday afternoon. Ryan Allen had the night off except to hold and never punted.

The coverage units allowed the Chiefs good field position consistently and then gave up a 97-yarder that put the Chiefs on the three and gave them the lead. Patterson had one decent return.

Coaches: B-

The Patriots had an excellent game plan coming in and they executed it to near perfection in the first half, heading into intermission with a 24-9 lead.  Bill Belichick had the team ready to go. The defense was aggressive and forced some errant throws by Mahomes early. The offense was clicking right from the start.

When the Chiefs adjusted in the second half, we started to see the coverage breakdowns and big plays that they hoped to avoid. They nearly lost a game that they had much in hand at halftime.

In the end, they made a few more plays than the Chiefs did and controlled the clock at the end to not give KC another shot. We’re on to Chicago.

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.

Patscap Podcast: Rob Gronkowski’s Contract

Russ Goldman
June 8, 2017 at 10:51 am ET

In this episode, Miguel shared his thoughts on the restructured contract for Rob Gronkowski. Later on, Miguel talked about the contract situation with Jimmy Garoppolo.

Today in Pats History: Happy Birthday Chris Long

John Morgan
March 28, 2017 at 7:00 am ET

Happy Birthday to Chris Long, who headlines March 28 in New England Patriots’ history.

 

Chris Long, 32 (3/28/1985)
Patriot DE, 2016
Uniform #95

The Longs are one of the premier NFL football families. Chris’ father Howie is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his brother Kyle is a starting RG for the Bears. At Virginia Chris Long was a unanimous All-American and first team All-ACC. He was also the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and won the Ted Hendricks Award for the nation’s best defensive end. The St. Louis Rams selected Long with the second overall pick of the 2008 draft.

Long was a steady starter on a solid Ram defense for several years. However he missed ten games in 2014 with an ankle injury and four more in 2015 due to a knee injury. Upon his return Jeff Fisher kept William Hayes as his starter, leaving Long as a situational reserve. The Rams had previously restructured Long’s contract which created a cap number of $14 million for 2016. Not surprisingly he was cut as one of several cap saving moves.

Long visited with Dallas, Washington and Atlanta, and then signed a one-year deal for $2 million with the Patriots on March 18, 2016. Having previously cashed in with two large contracts, Long was secure with leaving some money on the table in order to play for a Superbowl contender.

After eight years of wallowing in St. Louis Ram mediocrity, Long finally not only experienced a winning season but also the playoffs and a Superbowl victory. Though it did not show up in the stat sheet Long did have key plays in the improbable comeback victory over Atlanta. On one key play his bull rush over Jake Matthews applied pressure from the right, so Matt Ryan could not turn that way. This was on Dont’a Hightower’s oft-replayed strip sack and fumble recovered by Alan Branch. That play may have been a big reason why Long was able to draw Matthews into a holding penalty on the subsequent drive. That flag resulted in a loss of ten yards and kept Atlanta out of field goal range. It was one of several plays that was the difference between a Superbowl win or loss.

Long played in every Pats game in 2016, with seven starts. However his playing time decreased as the season progressed. In the first eight games Long was in for about 70% of the defensive plays, averaging 49 snaps per game. Down the stretch that dropped to just over 50%, averaging 34 snaps in the final six games of the regular season. In the playoffs Long had 27 snaps versus Houston, 20 plays (29%) against Pittsburgh and then only 15 snaps in the Superbowl. With that in mind it is understandable that he has elected to explore other options in free agency. Long finished the season with 35 combined tackles (22 solo), four sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. Despite his short time in Foxboro all of Patriot Nation is grateful for his hard work and contribution.

Off the field the Chris Long Foundation’s signature project is The Waterboys. It unites NFL players and fans to raise awareness and funds with a goal to install 32 deep borehole wells in East Africa. Each well costs $45,000 and serves up to 7,500 people.

3/28 12:05 pm update: Long has reportedly signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

Reche Caldwell – Patriot WR, 2006

Reche Caldwell, 38 (3/28/1979)
Uniform #87

Like many pro athletes, Caldwell excelled in multiple sports as a youth. In high school he threw 77 touchdown passes and also set several school records in baseball. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1998 but opted to play football instead. Caldwell stayed in state and went to the University of Florida. There he played for Steve Spurrier at the end of the Fun-n-Gun era. On offense he played alongside future NFL players such as Rex Grossman, Jabar Gaffney and Earnest Graham.

Caldwell finished his junior year with 65 receptions for 1,059 yards and ten touchdowns. San Diego then selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft, 48th overall. He spent four years with the Chargers, never quite living up to his draft status. Over that span Caldwell had 76 catches for 950 yards and seven touchdowns.

Following the 2005 season Patriot free agent David Givens signed with Tennessee. Troy Brown would soon turn 35. Depth at the wide receiver position needed to be replenished, and the Pats signed UFA Caldwell. At the same time Deion Branch was in the last year of his rookie contract. He held out and was eventually traded after lengthy and bitter negotiations. Rookie Chad Jackson injured his hamstring in training camp. Rather than being a third or fourth option at WR, Caldwell was suddenly by default forced to be the primary receiver.

In that 2006 season Caldwell had 61 receptions (on 101 targets) for 760 yards and four touchdowns. The playoffs started well as he caught 12 of the 15 passes thrown his way over two games, for 130 yards. That included a TD against his old team in a 24-21 victory at San Diego.

2006 AFCCG at Indianapolis

Reche Caldwell Eyes

Caldwell was targeted nine times against Indy, catching just four passes. At one point Caldwell muffed a perfectly thrown pass in the corner of the end zone. Then with under ten minutes to go and the score tied, Caldwell was left uncovered on a botched Colt defensive assignment. Brady threw to Caldwell for what should have been an easy catch and an 18 yard waltz into the end zone. Caldwell became overanxious and turned too soon – even though no defender was remotely close to him – and dropped the ball. Two plays later he was unable to catch another pass and the Patriots had to settle for a field goal. The Colts came back to win the AFCCG 38-34. The NFC was weak that year; the winner of that game was the defacto Superbowl champion. It was a huge missed opportunity for the Patriots.

Bill Belichick retooled his offense the following season with the additions of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Caldwell was cut on September 3, 2007 and spent one final NFL season with Washington. His post-NFL career did not go well.

Caldwell returned to his old Tampa neighborhood and opened up a gambling parlor. His problem was that it was successful, and he never considered that perhaps he should keep a low profile. After the inevitable arrest for bookmaking and running a gambling house, Caldwell posted bond. He kept hanging out with his old crew and saw how popular Ecstasy was at the clubs. Caldwell made the absurdly foolish decision to buy some Molly over the internet as his next business venture. That resulted in a 27-month prison sentence.

How Reche Caldwell Googled his way from the Patriots to prison | ABC News

 

Greg ‘Truck’ Moore – Patriot LB, 1987

Greg Moore, 52 (3/28/1965)
Uniform #54

The 6’1, 240 lb linebacker went to college at Tennessee-Chattanooga. He was one of the replacement players in 1987 when the NFLPA went on strike. Moore started in all three of those replacement games, with one fumble recovery.

With his brief NFL career over, Moore returned to his native Georgia. He is the owner of Elite Realty Specialists.

Greg Moore

 

Bryan Wagner – Patriot P, 1991 and 1995

Bryan Wagner, 55 (3/28/1962)
Uniform #8 and #9

Wagner was with five different teams over nine season in the NFL. With the Browns in 1997 he led the league in number of punts with 97; the following season he led the NFL with four punts blocked. He signed with the Patriots in 1991 but was released after three games. Wagner was averaging a mere 29.1 net yards on his 14 punts.

The Patriots re-signed him in 1995. He punted 37 times over eight games, with a carer-high 42.1 yards per punt. He now teaches phys ed and is a high school football coach in Ohio.

1/12/1986: Bryan Wagner Is Alive and Hopes to Be Kicking in the NFL

1/25/1995: Super Bowl XXIX : Persistence Lands Him on His Feet

5/31/2005: Ex-punter lands coaching job

 

Steve Doig – Patriot LB, 1986-87

Steve Doig, 57 (3/28/1960)
Uniform #59

Doig is a New England native. He was born in Melrose, played hockey at North Reading High School and went to the University of New Hampshire. At UNH he was the ECAC player of the year. Detroit selected Doig in the third round of the 1982 draft, 69th overall. Over three seasons with the Lions he appeared in 34 games with four starts.

The Patriots signed Doig in 1986, after he had not played at all the previous season. He played in five games for the Pats in ’86, and one more in 1987. Doig also appeared in the playoff loss to Denver following the 1986 season. The Pats waived Doig on September 8, 1987.

Doig’s biggest highlight came in the last game played at the Orange Bowl. In the ’86 season finale Doig recovered a fumbled kickoff to give the Patriots the ball at the Miami 24. On the next play Craig James fumbled the ball away, and Tony Eason injured his shoulder making the tackle. Steve Grogan replaced Eason and later threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan with 44 seconds remaining. That gave the Patriots a 34-27 victory, and the AFC East title.

 

Lonnie Farmer – Patriot LB, 1964-66

Lonnie Farmer, 77 (3/28/1940)
Uniform #55

Farmer played in 31 games over three seasons for the Pats, but his carer was cut short by a knee injury. This is from the 1966 Patriots Media Guide:

This rebel belter from Lookout Mountain, Tenn., enters his third pro season with best prospects ever … lost last season with a knee injury … otherwise would have been a regular … is one of the surest, toughest tacklers on Patriots team … is one of Coach Holovak’s best on the suicide squad … was brought to Boston’s pros by fellow Chattanooga alumnus Charley Long … was Williamson All-American and AP second team All-American in ’63 … has a real taste for action … intense competitor … injury free season could give Lonnie a shot at All-Star honors.

Lonnie Farmer
Left to right: defensive tackle Jim Lee Hunt, safety Ron Hall, and linebacker Lonnie Farmer.

 

Other NFL notables born on March 28 include:
Geno Atkins (29), five-time Pro Bowl DT for Cincinnati Bengals.
NaVorro Bowman (29), four-time All Pro LB for San Francisco 49ers.
Derek Carr (26), two-time Pro Bowl QB for the Oakland  Las Vegas Raiders.
Jim Turner (76), AFL-AFC kicker for the Jets and Broncos

 

There is only one March 29 Patriot birthday, so I will insert it here.

Chris Calloway – Patriot WR, 2000

Chris Calloway, 49 (3/29/1968)
Uniform #82

Calloway is most well known for seven years with the Giants. He was their leading receiver for four straight years. Calloway had receptions in a team record 47 straight games, and at the time he ranked third in franchise history with 334 receptions. He was originally drafted by Pittsburgh in 1990, but only spent two seasons with the Steelers.

In 1999 the Giants released Calloway, attempting to get younger and also save money. Calloway signed a $4 million contract with Atlanta, which was very big money at that time. He caught only 22 passes and the Falcons let him go after one season.

During training camp in 2000 Bill Belichick axed Vincent Brisby and signed Calloway. By that time though he was 32 and his best days were behind him. Calloway appeared in seven games with two starts for New England. He had only five receptions for 95 yards while with the Patriots. The Pats cut him on October 21, 2000. Calloway finished his NFL career with 386 receptions for 5497 yards and 30 touchdowns.

11/28/2009: Former New York Giants wide receiver Chris Calloway trying to hang on

Chris Calloway

 

Other NFL notables born on March 29 include:
Earl Campbell (62), Houston Oiler Hall of Fame running back.
Ryan Kalil (32), Carolina Panther five time Pro Bowl center.
Justin Tuck (34), two time Pro Bowl defensive end.

 

Today in Pats History: Happy Birthday Justin Coleman

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Video: Remembering Jerry Patton

 

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

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.

Wild Start To Free Agency For the Patriots Featured Surprising Moves

Ian Logue
March 10, 2017 at 7:14 am ET

When it comes to figuring out the offseason moves for the Patriots, saying that they’re one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL would be an understatement.

Thursday’s start to free agency only further reinforced that, with the team making more headlines thanks to the trade the Patriots pulled off to replace Martellus Bennett, which leaked out  just one day earlier that they were acquiring tight end Dwayne Allen from the Colts.

The fact Bennett wasn’t coming back wasn’t nearly the surprise that learning the Patriots had found common ground with the rival Indianapolis Colts was.  Yet New England managed to fill a key need yet again, setting themselves up to have another offensive weapon in Tom Brady’s arsenal heading into 2017 and it cost them just a 4th-round draft pick.

Bennett said goodbye to the fans on Twitter Thursday and he’s reportedly receiving interest from the Oakland Raiders as well as the 49ers.  As a result, it sounds like he’s headed to the West Coast, with warm weather and a big payday likely in his future.

BUTLER ON THE BLOCK?

But the bigger shock came on Thursday with the news that negotiations of a potential contract extension with Malcolm Butler have seemingly turned sour enough that the Patriots are potentially exploring trading him to New Orleans in a deal for receiver Brandin Cooks.  That in itself is hard to fathom, especially given what a big part of their defense that he’s been.

However, things apparently haven’t been great behind the scenes with New England’s number one defensive back.  According to a report from Mike Giardi, Butler hasn’t been happy with his salary since last spring and the offer he received during the year on a potential extension apparently wasn’t enough and despite being a key part to them winning their fifth title, it didn’t go up after the season ended.  That leaves Butler where he is right now, without the raise he’s looking for and not in control of his immediate future.  As a restricted free agent, the team placed a first-round tender on him, which puts them in the driver’s seat heading into next season, unless another team is willing to give up a first-round pick to obtain him.

The situation got even more interesting Thursday and Butler should really be seething, having learned the Patriots signed former Bills CB Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year deal worth an astonishing $65 million, $40 of which is reportedly guaranteed.  Gilmore, you may recall, was the cornerback in coverage on the bomb Brady threw to Chris Hogan when the Patriots played the Bills on the road this season, who blew by him for the touchdown.

Not that the play was entirely his fault, but the fact the Patriots chose to break the bank for a player who has yet to prove anything in their defense over a guy who has done everything he’s been asked to do doesn’t make a lot of sense.  It’s definitely a puzzling decision and one which likely sends a mixed message to other players in the locker room.

What the future holds for Butler remains to be seen and some believe the move to acquire Gilmore may have more to do with what’s happening with Logan Ryan (who is reportedly garnering interest from Tennessee).  But either way, the Patriots have now set the value of that position in their secondary, and it’s hard not to feel like Butler got the short end of the stick with what transpired Thursday.  It will be an interesting situation to watch because on paper, with Butler still part of the team, the Patriots have one of the best secondaries in football.

Now the only question is how things will play out and whether or not he’ll be a part of it in 2017.

HARMON, BRANCH BACK IN THE FOLD, SHEARD VISITS DOLPHINS

Meanwhile, the Patriots did have some success on Thursday, with Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reporting that safety Duron Harmon is back in the fold, with the veteran agreeing to a four-year deal worth $17-million, which includes incentives that would earn him up to $20-million.  Harmon has quietly been one of New England’s most consistent players in their secondary and the fact they were able to keep him is their first big success of the offseason.

Alan Branch is returning to the Patriots on a two-year deal that was agreed to on Thursday. (SBalestrieri photo)

Their second came when they managed to re-sign Alan Branch to a 2-year deal, keeping one of their most important players up front around for at least a couple of more seasons.

The deal is reportedly worth $12 million and allows New England to keep one of their key components on their defensive line intact for a couple of more seasons.

Meanwhile, Jabaal Sheard remains on the market, with Ian Rapoport reporting that he was in Miami visiting the Dolphins Thursday.

COMMUNICATION REMAINS GOOD BETWEEN PATS, HIGHTOWER

One of the biggest loose ends still hanging out there is linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who is reportedly receiving interest from Miami and Tennessee, seems to be closer to re-signing with New England.

Rapoport reports that the two sides are in good communication and so far, it sounds like the Patriots remain in range of his asking price.  New England reportedly offered him $10 million per season at the beginning of 2016 and so far, according to ESPN’s Ed Werder, the veteran is seeking between $10 million and $13 million.

Keeping Hightower remains one of the biggest keys of the offseason, as Bill Belichick would likely have a tough time trying to fill his shoes considering the fact he’s a respected leader in the locker room as well the guy who is essentially the quarterback of their defense.

For now, it sounds like his return is no longer as big of a long-shot as it might have seemed prior to the beginning of free agency, but there’s still a long way to go before this is over.  He’ll likely continue to receive interest from other teams and hopefully, the two sides can reach a common ground before another club does.

Butler For Cooks Deal Being Hashed Out Between NE-NO?

Steve Balestrieri
March 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm ET

Just when you resign yourself that the Patriots are going to be quiet on Day 1 of free agency, something like today happens. First, the team is reportedly signing Bills CB Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year deal in the neighborhood of $14 million dollars per year. Now comes the news that the Patriots are talking a trade with New Orleans with Malcolm Butler and Brandin Cooks being dealt straight up.

Dianna Russini of ESPN was the first to report that the player for a player deal is being discussed and after the Gilmore news, it isn’t surprising.

CB Malcolm Butler could possibly be traded to the Saints for WR Brandin Cooks via ESPN’s Diana Russini. (SBalestrieri photo)

It is just speculation at this point, but like the Wes Welker/Danny Amendola situation, the Patriots no doubt had a backup plan. There have been rumors that Butler’s agent wants him to be paid like an unrestricted free agent. Butler may have been refusing to sign his 1-year tender, so Bill Belichick pulled the deal with Gillmore out of his hat and now they’re trying to trade Butler for Cooks, who they coveted anyway.

The Saints need defensive help especially in their secondary and Butler would be an immediate upgrade. Cooks would make an already potent Patriots offense even scarier with a player that can go deep.

The sticking point is that Butler would have to either sign his tender with the Saints or do a long-term deal with New Orleans.

Again, it is just speculation here, but it seems the relationship has soured with Butler and the Patriots. Obviously trying to deal him signals that there is no way that the team is expecting that any deal can get done between the two sides and that Butler, will not sign his tender with New England.

If the Patriots make this deal and Logan Ryan leaves via free agency as is expected, it would leave New England with Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Justin Coleman at cornerback.

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.