Tag Archives: 2017 NFL Free Agency

Patriots’ Defense on the Edge Will Have a Different Look in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
May 3, 2017 at 10:50 am ET

 The Patriots didn’t have to make too many changes for a roster that had just won Super Bowl LI but one of the areas that underwent pretty dramatic change was at defensive end on the edge. With Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long leaving via free agency, it was considered the Patriots biggest area of need.

And the Patriots have addressed it, bringing in Kony Ealy in a trade with the Carolina Panthers and then drafting a pair of edge players Derek Rivers from Youngstown State and Deatrich Wise from Arkansas. Those three players will join Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich for the Patriots this season. The team signed UDFA linebacker Harvey Langi as well and he played the edge for BYU somewhat last year, but his best fit is at outside linebacker.

Flowers was arguably the best Patriots defensive lineman down the stretch last season. He’s guaranteed to be starting at RDE when the season starts. Ninkovich and Ealy will compete for the LDE spot. With Rivers and Wise providing rotational depth.

But this year’s unit has a much different feel to it because they have more versatility. Ealy is a bigger guy at 6’4, 275 pounds. He can set the edge in the running game, has the athleticism to get after the passer and is big and physical enough to kick inside as an interior pass rusher on third down. Flowers already does that frequently.

The Patriots brought in another free agent, Lawrence Guy who can be a sub-package interior pass rusher. That’s what they’ll get in Wise as well. He’s a big kid, at 6’5, 275 pounds with insanely long arms that he needs to learn to use better. When he extends his arms, with his upper body strength, he can push through tackles and get to the quarterback. He’s frequently been compared to Chandler Jones but isn’t nearly as athletic. He’s more of a big edge setter. But Wise can also kick inside and provide interior pass rush…Seeing a trend here?

Which brings us to the team’s first draft pick Derek Rivers. If there was one element the Patriots front seven lacked on the edge last season was speed. Rivers will bring that speed to the pass rush with an athleticism that should serve the team very well.

Rivers isn’t as big at 6’4, 250 pounds at the defensive end position but ran a 4:61 in the 40-Yard Dash, with a 1:61 10-Yard Split. His time in the 3-Cone Drill was third best at the position with 6:94. That shows he has the quick twitch athleticism, loose hips and the ability to change direction as well as bend off the edge to get to the QB. He showed his strength with 30 reps at the Bench Press.

He may need some time to find his feet in the NFL, similar to how Flowers progressed in his first campaign, but he has the potential to be a very good player in the league. The good part is, with the depth of the team, he won’t be pushed too hard too soon. They can let him develop and learn the nuances of the position at the NFL level.

With the added depth, the Patriots can move Ninkovich around and possibly let him take some snaps at OLB with Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and Langhi.

However, the edge will look quite different in 2017. How effective will it be? No one knows right now but I’d bet on Belichick having it figured out as the season winds along.

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.

Final Mock Draft 4.0 – Patriots Snag a Big Surprise at #72

Steve Balestrieri
April 26, 2017 at 9:14 am ET

The Patriots got their man with Mike Gillislee, signing the restricted free agent running back to a two-year deal and in the process, lost their 5th round draft pick to Buffalo. That effectively means that they won’t be drafting a back, we looked toward a bigger one this weekend.

There is a fascinating tool to use for doing a mock draft made possible by the guys over at Fanspeak.com that we touted last year and is, even more, fun to use in 2017.
In their “On the Clock” simulator, you are the GM for any NFL team. You can choose how many rounds you’d like to draft for (1-7), and pick one of nine different big boards to choose from.

The big boards for each site differ and the site has a random selection process that picks for the other 31 teams based on the best player available and team needs that are constantly updated until it is your time to pick.

For this final Mock Draft before tomorrow (4-25), I used the big board of CBS

Right now, the Patriots don’t pick until Round 3, #72 due to some of the trades that they’ve swung for Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy. Talk is still swirling that the Pats may swing a deal involving either Malcolm Butler or Jimmy Garoppolo. I don’t see either of them going anywhere in 2017. And if they were to trade Butler, then they’d be in the market for a cornerback. And with Belichick, he prefers the known commodity. The defense with Butler, Stephon Gillmore and Eric Rowe at corner is stacked.

Here is our Patriots Mock Draft 4.0:

Round 3, Pick #72 SS Obi Melifonwu, UConn:
Bill Belichick loves to draft safeties early in the draft and after the disappointing performance by Jordan Richards, they’ll be looking for a long-term replacement for Pat Chung at the strong safety position. Melifonwu is an athletic freak at 6’4, 225. He ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, with a 44-inch vertical.

Frankly, we doubted that Melifonwu would be around in the 3rd. But the big board of CBS Sports has him falling all the way to New England at #72. He won’t be a free safety, he’ll be best in the box, where he has the size and athleticism to run with tight ends or step up in run support. The Patriots “big nickel”? He’s a perfect fit.

He has the speed and athleticism to run with the big wide receivers in certain situations as well. Huge steal for NE in the 3rd round.

Round 3, Pick #96 Edge, Tarrell Basham, Ohio:
The Patriots have scouted Basham and reportedly have a high level of interest. This would be a quintessential Belichick pick. In a draft chock full of talented edge players, taking a guy who has totally flown under the radar playing at Ohio.

He has an NFL-ready frame at 6’4, 269-pounds with long arms and big, strong hands. Basham was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year 50 tackle including 16 for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

He’s got the explosion off the ball with short area burst to get to the quarterback. He’s strong and sets the edge well. He’d project to be a third down sub-package player in his rookie year and a potential starter in Year 2.

Round 4, Pick #131 TE George Kittle, Iowa:
No change from Mock 3.0. Kittle is a 6’4, 247-pound tight end that will help build the depth they need at the position. Kittle was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, in 11 starts, he produced 22 catches for 314 yards and four TDs.

He’s got good size, has very good speed with a 4:52 time in the 40-yard dash with excellent hands. He had only one drop with 48 career receptions. He’s a good and willing blocker inside. Kittle has the speed to be a vertical threat down the seam, although his route-running needs polishing.

Round 5, Pick #183 OT Erik Magnuson, Michigan:
Magnuson is a 37-game starter for the Wolverines and is a solid run blocker who can get to the second level, has very good pass protection skills. He uses his hands well and can mirror pass rushers. He’s strong, physical and tough with good athleticism at the position.

He’s 6’4, 303-pounds, he’s never played left tackle but right tackle and guard while at Michigan. He’s a versatile kid with upside but like Joe Thuney before him, the Patriots may decide to kick him inside at center.

Round 6, Pick #200 LB Connor Harris, Lindenwood:
Harris is a throwback, an extremely versatile kid who can play linebacker, running back and punt in an emergency. A three-time captain his stats speak of an era when players played for 60 minutes. In 2016, he made an incredible 138 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss, two INT, one for a TD. During his career, Harris also contributed as a running back with 50 carries for 328 yards and seven TDs. As a punter, he had a 38.8-yard average, with six downed inside the 20-yard line in 2016.

While he doesn’t have the length, you’d like at linebacker at 5’11, 242-pounds, he is a film junkie who is extremely well prepared and has tremendous production. He’s an inspirational leader on and off the field (3-year captain), who can play all three downs. Non-stop motor, and the ability to make plays all over the field.

Round 7, Pick #231 Edge Keionta Davis, Chattanooga:
Davis had his second straight FCS All-American season in 2016, tallying 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6’3, 274-pounds he has the length and strength to take on offensive linemen in the trenches.

He plays low to the ground and sets the edge very well in the running game. However, he’s a bit stiff in the hips and doesn’t have the bend on the edge that you’d like to see in an edge rusher. The strength and conditioning coaches may have him bulk up another 10-15 pounds and kick him inside as a sub-package interior 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.

Patriots Get Their Man Again From Buffalo, Gillislee Now a Pat

Steve Balestrieri
April 24, 2017 at 6:32 pm ET

The Patriots added another nice piece to their roster when the Buffalo Bills decided not to match New England’s offer sheet and Mike Gillislee is now a member of the Patriots.

The cost? A fifth-round draft pick. But this is another case where with Brandin Cooks and Kony Ealy the Patriots and Bill Belichick decided to go with a known commodity. New England gave up their first rounder for Cooks who has been very productive for New Orleans and their second-round pick for Ealy and Carolina’s third rounder, a difference of eight slots.

Gillislee had 577 yards on 101 carries for a 5.7 yard per carry average with eight touchdowns in 2016 backing up LeSean McCoy. The 27-year old added nine receptions out of the backfield. Against the Patriots last year, he had 12 carries for 85 yards and a score in the game in Buffalo.

He’ll join a stable of running backs including James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden. While Gillislee has never had to stand up for a whole season as a starter, with the Patriots, they have plenty of depth to carry them thru, plus he can contribute in the passing game.

This signing probably means the end of the line for LeGarrette Blount in New England as Gillislee’s role will undoubtedly be that of the “big back” in the Patriots offense. He had a stellar 2016 season with over 1100 yards and 18 touchdowns. Blount was never a fan favorite here in New England but in his seasons here, in all fairness, he was a model citizen, a great teammate and being paid around the veteran minimum, a tremendous value.

So the Patriots raid Buffalo again, Chris Hogan was a restricted free agent last season and Stephon Gilmore was an unrestricted free agent this spring. Gillislee won’t have to worry about knowing many players in the locker room in his first few days.

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.

How Lawrence Guy Fits In Patriots’ Defense May Influence the Draft

Steve Balestrieri
April 18, 2017 at 7:09 am ET

The Patriots, many are predicting will double-dip at the edge rusher position which may indeed be the case.  We’ve had multiple conversations on the podcasts about the edge and how they’ll approach it in the draft. But how they plan to use Lawrence Guy may have a bearing on those draft plans as well.

Guy has been kind of the under-the-radar signing that Bill Belichick has traditionally made during free agency. While the news of his signing wasn’t met with a ton of fanfare at the time in March, the four-year, $13.4 million-dollar contract certainly shows that they’re planning on using him in their system for the next several years.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive lineman has played in 67 games in his career, with 20 starts. He played in all 16 games for the Ravens in 2016 with 10 starts and played in 46 percent of the defensive snaps. He had a quarterback hit against Tom Brady on Monday Night Football last season. Guy had his most productive season in 2015 when he recorded 4.5 sacks and 46 tackles.

Guy’s most natural position is at the five-technique defensive end and he’d be a big body on the outside although he has the versatility to kick inside on passing downs and be a three-technique defensive tackle and provide an interior pass rush.

Unlike other players the Patriots have used in a kind of NASCAR-like package, Guy at 300 pounds isn’t an undersized guy but still has the athleticism to get after the quarterback. He’d provide them with plenty of versatility to play inside or outside. He’s not a space eater like Alan Branch but should be strong enough to hold up in the running game inside as well as push the pocket. At the age of 27, he’s just entering his prime as a player.

Guy’s former coach John Harbaugh thinks that the Patriots got a good player, and spoke highly of him at the league meetings last month.

“I just think they’re getting a great guy, and they’re going to love him because he’s a really good football player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a very under-rated, under-valued player. I thought it was very Patriot-like to recognize his value and to pay him the way they did. I think they paid him very well and in a way that’s going to change his life forever so I’m really happy for him.”

“They’re going to get a guy that plays equally well against the run and the pass, plays super hard, will be excellent in the locker room and in the meeting room,” Harbaugh added.

So where will Guy play, on the edge or inside? Both probably and special teams as well. Because since the league has ruled that Shea McClellin’s leaping over the line is a [gasp!] safety issue, they’ll need more of an interior push to block field goals and extra points.

But in regards to the draft, while they’re about set in the interior with Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo, and Guy, they will still be looking to add speed on the edge.

The Patriots have Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom on the edge. Flowers will have big expectations this year after a strong second half of the 2016 season. Ninkovich has always been a solid big-play contributor but at 33, is starting to slow down. Grissom was a special teamer. Ealy has the size and versatility to also play inside or outside on passing downs.

This gives Belichick and Matt Patricia plenty of options on the defense as they’ll be able to mix and match with a variety of fronts. At the end of April, they’ll look for a speed rusher in the draft. Of course, if the opportunity avails itself, another would be even better. One can never have enough talented ‘guys’ on the edge.

But as for Lawrence Guy, he’ll be one player to watch this spring/summer. He may be the ‘guy’ no one talks about in the spring, then will rave about what a great signing it was in December.

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.

VIDEO: Fitzy’s Wicked Pissah Free Agency-Cast

Robert Alvarez
March 20, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

New England Patriots superfan Fitzy returns with a new webcast featuring a recap and breakdown of the Pats busy free agency moves and what he expects moving forward into the 2017 season.

WARNING: NSFW, Language.

Video courtesy @FitzyGFY

Pittsburgh reactions to Dont’a Hightower visiting Steelers

John Morgan
March 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm ET

New England natives have strong opinions on Dont’a Hightower, with crucial plays from Super Bowls 49 and 51 etched in their memory. As the linebacker makes his free agency tour, how do western PA writers and fans view the potential of seeing Hightower wearing black and gold at Heinz Field?

 

Dont’a Hightower, Steelers to meet, according to report
Sean Gentille / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers, at some point, are going to have to replace Lawrence Timmons, and they’re reportedly setting their targets high. Like, “stealing a Pro Bowler from the team that beat them in the AFC championship” high.

The Steelers have the cap space necessary to make a competitive offer. Hightower is a better pass rusher than Timmons but probably worse in coverage, so it’d be an interesting trade-off; it’d likely take $50 million or so over five years to bring him in, but you’d also be keeping him away from New England. So, maybe call it a wash.

 

Analysis: Dont’a Hightower would be a good fit for Steelers
Chris Bradford / Beaver County Times

It’s not that the Steelers don’t like or don’t trust Vince Williams, the heir apparent to Lawrence Timmons, who signed a two-year, $12-million free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins last week. Williams, who received a three-year, $5.5 million extension in September, remains a viable option.

Hightower is an upgrade though. Hightower is seen as a three-down player who has saved some of his best performances for the biggest games, including two, game-changing plays in each of the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl wins.

A potential pairing with Ryan Shazier, another fast, physical inside linebacker, in Pittsburgh is intriguing.

The knock against Hightower is that he has yet to play a full 16 games. He has missed 13 regular-season games in career due to various injuries. He has 13 passes defensed and zero interceptions. Whatever flaws, however minor, are outweighed by Hightower’s 251 solo tackles and 17 sacks.

And there’s this: As they were in 2016, the Patriots are all that is standing in the way of the Steelers and a potential trip to Super Bowl 52. Anytime you can take a great player away from New England, it can only help the Steelers.

 

Keith Butler Could Be ‘Pounding The Table’ Again For Dont’a Hightower
Steelers Depot / Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently find themselves in an exploratory phase as they seek out their options on how to replace starting buck inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, and there are several options. The most immediate and readily available option to replace him is to simply plug Vince Williams into the starting lineup, but they do not seem content just yet to rely upon that.

They could use the draft to replace him, but they have perhaps an even bigger immediate—and certainly long-term—need at the outside linebacker position, and this is with consideration of the fact that they have used their past three first-round draft picks prior to last season on linebackers.

Or they could replace (Timmons) the same way that they lost him—free agency. And they are bringing in for a visit a player that their defensive coordinator once “pounded the table” for in the draft room in 2012: Patriots free agent Dont’a Hightower.

Keith Butler was the linebackers coach at that time in 2012, but he admitted in training camp later that year that he wanted Hightower in that draft, with the team instead taking David DeCastro. This was just a month or so after the Steelers released James Farrior, one should keep in mind.

 

Why The Steelers Need To Sign Dont’a Hightower Immediately
Ryan Lippert / Sports Junkies

The addition of Hightower would be a huge upgrade for the Steelers defense. With the defense improving with its young core of players such as Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, Hightower would provide experience and leadership. Hightower has played five seasons in the league for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. With that being said, he can help to show the young guys what it takes to win.

With Lawrence Timmons leaving for Miami, the Steelers need to find another inside linebacker to pair with Shazier. Timmons was one of the leading tacklers for Pittsburgh over the past ten years as he accounted for 981 tackles and 12 interceptions (one for a touchdown). The next man up at the inside linebacker position would be Vince Williams who has had some experience. However, it has mainly been on special teams and sparingly in the linebacker rotation. With that being said, Timmons will be leaving behind big shoes to fill. However, I believe that Hightower would be the perfect replacement.

 

Dont’a Hightower Rumored to Visit Steelers as Jarvis Jones Visits Cardinals
Timothy Rapp / Bleacher Report

Even if Hightower did join the Steelers, he wouldn’t be a like-for-like replacement for (Jarvis) Jones, who plays on the edge, while Hightower generally plays inside. And Jones has never quite lived up to being the No. 17 overall pick in the 2013 draft, either.

Last season, (Jones) registered 43 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. In four seasons, he’s managed just six sacks and has never been more than a rotational outside linebacker for the Steelers. While he is solid against the run, he doesn’t provide the sort of game-changing ability to pressure the passer he was drafted to provide.

So the Steelers could see some big changes in the linebacker group next year, and while Hightower seems likely to return to New England, the thought of pairing him with Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh’s defense has to send shivers running down the spines of NFL offensive coordinators.

 

$10 million per year for Dont’a Hightower? Hard pass
Curt Popejoy / Steelers Wire (USA Today)

The latest marquee free agent to be linked to the Pittsburgh Steelers is former New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Outside linebacker and cornerback are the two primary needs of the Steelers and so it makes sense there would be interest. But if you believe the projected money figure floating around, there’s little chance the Steelers will be interested.

Hightower has started at outside linebacker for the Patriots for the bulk of his five seasons. He’s been a steady contributor but in terms of impact plays, he really hasn’t stood out. The Steelers need to bring in an outside linebacker who can rush the passer on a consistent basis. 17 sacks in five seasons does not scream pass rusher to me.

This really feels like Hightower is making the rounds just to come back and get paid from the Patriots. If the Steelers weren’t going to pay $10 million per season for a top-tier cornerback, would they do it for a run-stuffing linebacker with limited pass-rush skills.

Perhaps the author was out in the kitchen grabbing a brew and some grub during SB 49 and 51, and missed certain ‘impact plays’ . He may also want to dig a bit deeper in his research on how Hightower is utilized in Foxboro, the contrast between the defensive schemes in Pittsburgh and New England, and brush up on the differences between 3-4 and 4-3 (or 4-2) defenses.

 

To see how Steeler fans feel about Hightower, check out the comments sections on the articles linked above. The most common sentiment seems to be that Pittsburgh will not sign Hightower, as the Steelers are traditionally not a big player in free agency.

 

Patriots Trade For New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks, Give Up 1st Rd Pick

Steve Balestrieri
March 10, 2017 at 8:31 pm ET

The Patriots made another big trade on Friday evening. Diana Russini of ESPN has reported the Patriots have landed WR Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints and the Saints 4th round draft pick #118 for the Patriots 1st round pick, #32 and the Patriots third rounder #103.

Cooks was the subject of an earlier trade rumor concerning Patriots CB Malcolm Butler. Butler wasn’t included in the deal and now one must wonder if the Pats have mended their fences with Butler or is there another trade coming?

The Saints selected Cooks with the 20th pick in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Oregon State. In 2016 he caught 78 passes for 1173 yards (15.0-yard average) and eight touchdowns including a 98-yarder from Drew Brees.

Cooks 23, will join a Patriots offense that features Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman with James White, and Dion Lewis out of the backfield. Brady had a 124.4 QB throwing the deep ball in 2016 to Chris Hogan. With Cooks now working the outside, the Patriots offense just got a lot more dangerous.

Bill Belichick raved about Cooks two years ago during the preseason, and Cooks’ performance during joint practices last year in Gillette did nothing to change his mind. The first day of practices, he had his way with Butler, which the corner freely admitted afterward. Now, Cooks joins New England and is on the final year of his rookie deal although the Patriots hold a fifth-year option.

This free agency period has been crazy thus far with a number of moves the Patriots are making….what’s next?

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 Add Depth to DE With Trade for Carolina’s Kony Ealy

Steve Balestrieri
at 4:28 pm ET

The Patriots made a trade with the Carolina Panthers on Friday afternoon acquiring DE Kony Ealy and the Panthers’ 3rd round draft pick in exchange for the Patriots 2nd rounder. The deal was first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Ealy was a 2nd round draft pick (60th overall) for the Panthers during the 2014 NFL Draft. The 6’4, 275-pound Ealy was a top performer in the 3-Cone Drill during the Combine that year. He was named to the All-Rookie team of 2014.

In 2015, he recorded five sacks but was unblockable in the Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. In just 23 snaps, he recorded three sacks, got an interception and forced a fumble.

He didn’t make the big leap forward in 2016 that was envisioned, however, and logged just 32 tackles, 5 sacks and an interception in 2016. Ealy’s issues have been ones of consistency when he’s on, he’s virtually unstoppable. But the light hasn’t really come on for him.

Perhaps getting a fresh start in New England will allow him to do just that. He’s just 25 years old and has done a good job of stopping the run. The Patriots will ask him to do that and rush the passer, something he excelled at while in Missouri.

With Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard leaving in free agency, it leaves the Patriots thin at DE with Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich who is closer to the end of his career at this point. Ealy immediately improves their depth and we look for the Patriots to add another edge rusher during the upcoming draft where the stock is deep.

The value of the trade is a good one for New England. They get Ealy and only move down 8 spots from the #64 to the #72 pick in the third round.

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.

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.

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.