Tag Archives: 2017 Patriots Free Agency

New England Patriots News 6-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 25, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-25, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots have announced their first four days of training camp and this should come as welcome news to fans, especially those who live far away and make their travel/vacation plans according to the beginning of camp.

As of today, the schedule for the first four days will be as follows:
July 27 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public).

July 28 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public).

July 29 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public). Patriots Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at noon.

July 30 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public).

The following week the Jaguars come in, although the dates have been finalized, the times have not yet been. Be sure to check back with Patriots.com for details and/or changes that may happen to the schedule.

JOINT PRACTICES

August 7 – Joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars (time to be determined, open to the public).

August 8 – Joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars (time to be determined, open to the public).

When is a Roast Not a Roast? When the Patriots or Gronkowski is Involved:
For the latest in “let’s create a controversy” where there is none, go back to Thursday night and the Celebrity Roast for David Ortiz prior to having his number 34 retired by the Red Sox on Friday night. The roast was organized to raise money for the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.

And all of the faux outrage directed at Rob Gronkowski for his off-color remarks at the roast? Please. It seems every time Gronkowski or Tom Brady appear in public, someone is trying to put a negative spin on these things. Originally NESN was going to broadcast it, but due to the numerous F-bombs unleashed by both Gronkowski and Dustin Pedroia, they shelved that idea.

Has anyone ever been to a roast? And the name of the game is that everyone and everything is pretty much fair game in those things. Nobody takes any of it seriously and it is all in good fun. To suggest Rob Gronkowski is an anti-Semite or racist need to remember his owners and one of his best teammates are Jewish and the majority of the team is African-American.

For those of you who are too young to remember, check out the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Minus the F-bombs, those were more cutting and they were on national television. Besides, Gronkowski’s delivery of his scripted piece wasn’t the best and Pedroia was actually the better of the two.

Now I don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes, so it isn’t up to me to say who should or shouldn’t be offended and in talking with some Jewish friends this weekend, I know they were none too happy over this, however, I really doubt there was any malice intended on Gronkowski’s part.

So…What is the over/under that Gronk gets asked about this at training camp? Take the over.

Patriots Make It Official, Sign LB David Harris:
The Patriots made another splash in the free agent market this week by signing 33-year old linebacker David Harris who was unceremoniously dumped by the Jets last week after spending a decade with the team. In making room for Harris, the team released WR DeAndrew White.

Harris is a quintessential Bill Belichick signing. He is a smart veteran player who is well-known for his work ethic and steadiness on and off the field. He’s been remarkably durable over his career and still has some gas left in his tank. Belichick loves players who will buy in 100 percent and Harris is a guy who always put the team ahead of himself.

When veteran players leave teams, there will always be guys singing their praises but it is rare, very rare for a young player to equate a vet like Harris as a “father figure” as Darron Lee did. That speaks volumes about his character.

We wrote about why the team needed to kick the tires on Harris and why he’d be a great fit in New England, just a few hours before he was signed. You can read it here: The Jets are in a rebuild mode, we get that, but letting this guy go was a big boon for New England.

Patriots Go International, Brady in Asia, Edelman, and Amendola in Mexico:
With the team off until training camp, a few of the Patriots took some time to get some traveling in and Tom Brady and two of his favorite wide receivers were globe-trotting very visible last week.

Tom Brady made a three-city tour for Under Armour and flew on the company’s corporate jet to make stops in Beijing, and Shangai in China before going to Tokyo. On Father’s Day he played catch with his son and some Chinese fans on the Great Wall of China and in Japan, he posed and grappled with some Sumo wrestlers.

Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola made a quick trip down to Mexico City for a visit to the stadium that the Patriots will play the Raiders in this season. The did an autograph session with fans, and visited the pyramids of Teotihuacán, outside of Mexico City… it is a steep climb up to the top! After that, not to be outdone by Brady’s Sumo shenanigans, they donned the wrestling garb of the WWE and did their best “Nacho Libre” impression.

Carr’s Signing Puts Him Up as the Top Paid Players and Under the Gun:
First of all, let me preface this by saying that I like David Carr. When we saw him here a couple of seasons ago in Foxboro, I came away impressed and thought that he could be impactful if not an excellent quarterback in the NFL. And we’ve seen nothing from his play to change any of that.

The Raiders made a smart move, locking him up long term ($125 Million dollar contract) and backloading his contract so that a few of their other players (Kalil Mack, Gabe Jackson) can be signed as well. But if Carr were playing in another city, there would be a lot more talk about paying the most for a QB who hasn’t played a down in the postseason. It shows that at times, there is a double-standard for the QBs in the NFL. Brady and Aaron Rodgers now make far less than Carr. And we get it, it is all about the timing, but if Carr played in….say New York, the fact that someone was paying him $25 million a year without having tasted the postseason would be a talking point.

But now the pressure will be on him to produce, even more so than he did in 2016 in leading Oakland to a 12-3 record before breaking an ankle down the stretch.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills OG Richie Incognito Not Happy With Making Top 20 Hated List:
Buffalo Bills offensive guard Richie Incognito was named by the Sporting News to their Top 20 most hated players in the NFL in a piece penned by SN’s Mike DeCourcy.

DeCourcy has Incognito as the 9th most hated man in the NFL in his article, and he’s drawn the ire of Incognito because of it. Incognito did come to Buffalo under a cloud after allegations of harassing a teammate while in Miami that had Ted Wells (yes that one) investigate the claims.

But Incognito has worked hard for the past couple of seasons and has been a good citizen and a model teammate. He took to Twitter to voice his displeasure and blasted the SN piece hard, stating that people “hate his passion for the game, that he lays it on the line for his brothers every week and that the city of Buffalo has accepted him as one of their own.”

Oh, and BTW, do you want to guess who’s first on the list for most hated? Yep. And DeCourcy used the dead deflated football schtick…Maybe Incognito is on to something.

Dolphins Reached Out to Peyton Manning Last Year When Tannehill Got Hurt :
Miami head coach Adam Gase coached the offense and Peyton Manning in Denver and when QB Ryan Tannehill partially tore his ACL late in the season, Gase had only Matt Moore and a couple of JAGs on the roster.

So Gase reached out to Manning and tried to get him to come on board for the duration of the season. Manning’s father Archie relayed the story this week and said,  “It started with Gase,” Archie said. He said, ‘Hey 18, Tannehill went down.’ He said, ‘I think he’s going to miss some time. The first question I’m going to get at the press conference in the morning is if I’m going to try to bring you to Miami. What do you want me to tell them?’

“The text message came back from Peyton: ‘You tell them I could probably come play, but there’s no way I can miss carpool the next two weeks.’ So, he was done.”

Moore played well in relief and won two of three games to get Miami into the playoffs but could only put up 12 points in the team’s loss to Pittsburgh.

Jets LB Lorenzo Mauldin Arrested After Alleged Nightclub Brawl:
New York Jets Lorenzo Mauldin was arrested Wednesday and charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly attacking a man in a nightclub fight back in April according to the New York Police Department.

Mauldin faces NFL suspension if convicted and could face up to a year in jail. He was accused of punching a 22-year old Queens man in the face according to the arrest report.

The NFL said that it will monitor the situation and investigate. “We have been monitoring developments and this matter is under review of the personal conduct policy,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The injured man, Jean Lopez claims he suffered several facial fractures after he accidentally spilled champagne on the Jets linebacker and Maulding responded by punching him.

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 myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 5-14, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 14, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-14, & AFC East Notes.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the great Moms out there. We hope you all enjoy a great family day and that it is a safe and happy one.

While the weather thus far this spring hasn’t been great, the rain we’ve got so far is making things nice and green and the fruit and vegetable gardens are getting plenty of irrigation. But the grapes are still pretty sour this time of year, right Bill Polian?

Brady “I don’t believe in curses” on the Cover of Madden 18:
A lot of people will wring their hands at just about anything these days. Now the (gasp!) “Madden Curse”? Gimme a break. Tom Brady tried to allay those irrational fears by poking fun at all those superstitions and posted a pretty funny video after being selected for the cover of the new EA Sports Madden 18.

Let’s just hope they don’t dust off an old horror genre this fall with “Hollywood 19 ½ Jason Takes Foxboro”. Seriously folks? Of course, the division rivals in the AFC East, eager for any straw to grasp at, were posting silly curse-related tweets in reaction to the news. It really begs the question to how far we’ve evolved as an educated people from the “world is flat” era of curses and silly superstitions.

Michael Williams’ Release, a Numbers Game Victim:
The Patriots release of TE Michael Williams after he missed all of 2016 after tearing his ACL last spring wasn’t really a big surprise. He didn’t fit into their plans in 2017 and this will give him a chance to catch on with a new club.

Williams, 6’6, and 305 pounds, appeared in 15 games in the 2015 season with nine starts. He was competing for the third tight end spot a year ago before being injured. He is more of a blocking tight end and extra tackle than a receiving threat.

He was just a victim of the numbers game as the Patriots will enter OTAs and mini-camp with six tight ends on the roster. Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O’Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel, Rob Housler, and Jacob Hollister.

Brandin Cooks on Pats, “A New Journey”:
In an interview with the media this week, new Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks showed that he’s focusing on looking forward not backward with his new team. Cooks was asked about not asking Jimmy Garoppolo for the #10, what Cooks wore in New Orleans. Cooks claimed he didn’t even ask for it.

No, I didn’t even try,” Cooks told reporters. “I didn’t even think about asking him. (It’s) a new journey, new opportunity, so I wanted something different.”

Cooks wore #7 at Oregon State and said he’s going a throwback look …kind of. “I was (No.) 7 in college,” said Cooks, “So the way that I like to think about it is double-7.”

After a couple of solid seasons with over 1100 yards receiving in New Orleans, expectations are high for the 23-year old WR. He’ll join an eclectic group of receivers including Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, and running backs James White and Dion Lewis.

Gillette Stadium, Upgrades to the Most Technologically Advanced Field Turf:
The Patriots have upgraded the Gillette Stadium surface with the most up-to-date field turf. The synthetic turf surface upgrade has been completed and will make its debut when the New England Revolution play Real Salt Lake on May 13.

From the Patriots website:

Gillette Stadium’s new field will feature FieldTurf’s revolutionary new premium system, featuring the industry’s highest-performing monofilament fiber that makes the surface player-friendly, resilient and durable. Along with the most innovative fiber technology in the industry, this state-of-the-art turf system features FieldTurf’s proprietary heavy infill system, which is critical to performance and playability. The result is a surface that plays soft, feels real, looks great and hangs tough.

“We are excited to upgrade our game field to the latest FieldTurf technology” said Jim Nolan, Senior Vice President of Gillette Stadium. “It is our goal each year to provide the highest quality surface for the both the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, and we were eager to take advantage of FieldTurf’s latest innovations for the 2017 season.”

“Keeping in line with our commitment to ensure that the Patriots and Revolution consistently have the latest in synthetic field technology, we are pleased to have been selected once again by Gillette Stadium,” said Eric Daliere, President of Tarkett Sports. “It is an honor and a testimony to the quality of our products that such prestigious organizations continue to put their trust in our company. We look forward to continuing this longstanding relationship with the Patriots, Revolution and Gillette Stadium for many years to come.”

Now that the FieldTurf is complete, can they do something to fix the awful WiFi Connection in the stadium and Patriots’ Place?

Trying to Make Sense of the Blount Situation:
Patriots FA running back LeGarrette Blount’s free agency status took a very weird twist on Tuesday as the Patriots made the rarely used tactic of placing a tender at 110 percent of his 2016 salary ($1.1 million dollars) on him.

The timing of this bizarro twist means that the Patriots could still receive compensation in the form of a compensatory pick in the 2018 draft if Blount signs elsewhere. He’s been rumored to be in talks with both the Giants and Ravens.

The timing also means that if Blount doesn’t sign with another team by July 22, his only hope of playing this season is signing his tender with New England. In order to receive a compensatory pick, Blount would have to produce with his new team.

The tender, with a $1.1 million base salary, $110,000 signing bonus and $1 million in incentives could add up to a $2.2 million-dollar payday for Blount if he signs his tender, returns and plays well.

But with the signing of Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead this offseason, the writing was on the wall that the Patriots were moving on from Blount. That’s why Tuesday’s move was a pretty ruthless business decision by the Patriots.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Hire Brandon Beane as new GM:
The Buffalo Bills finally have a new regime in place for 2017. New GM Brandon Beane met with the media on Friday morning. He’ll join new coach Sean McDermott in an attempt to bring the Bills back to the postseason, something they haven’t done since 1999.

Both worked together in Carolina and have a built-in trust factor. They will share personnel responsibilities but Beane has the final say on the 53-man roster. Beane also stated that he is a big believer in the running game so the Bills offense will be sure to feature a lot of LeSean McCoy next season.

Miami’s Revamped Offensive Line Structure a Key to Watch for in 2017:
The Miami Dolphins made some moves in the offseason to bring more stability to their offensive line, which was a key point in their turnaround in 2016. The Dolphins running game was much improved as was their pass protection for the quarterbacks. But rather than standing pat, the Fins are making some changes to their OL in 2017.

Brandon Albert was dealt to Jacksonville for a 2018 7th round draft pick. They signed free agents Ted Larsen and Avery Young to offseason deals and then drafted Isaac Asiata in the 5th round of the NFL draft two weeks ago.

With last year’s first-round pick Laremy Tunsil moving from left guard to left tackle, there will be some growing pains associated with this unit but the coaching staff believes that they can be much better.

One area they’ll have to cut down on is penalties. That was an issue that plagued the offense as a whole all season. The Dolphins were in the middle of the pack in terms of yards rushing and passing but Miami’s offense had the least amount of snaps of any unit in the NFL in 2016 averaging just 57.6 snaps per game.

One reason? Penalties. It is an issue that they’ll have to cut down on, which is why it is curious that they brought in the solid but penalty prone Larsen in this spring. The key for the offense was third down where the Dolphins clicked at just 36.7 percent, the eighth-worst mark in the NFL last season.

Journey for Jets Adams Starts with Father’s Injury:
The New York Jets drafted the safety Jamal Adams with the 6th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and he’s one of the top safeties in his class. But a weird twist of fate may have changed his path to the NFL.

His father George was a first-round pick of the Giants back in 1986 and was thought to be the next big back in the Giants’ offense that won the Super Bowl that season. But a broken pelvis changed everything for his dad, who was never the same.

So when his son was in high school, George changed Jamal’s position to safety and everything changed for the young star. Now he’s a first-round pick.

Check out the excellent piece by ESPN’s Rich Cimini here:

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 myself 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.

Patriots Learn Today If They Get Gillislee, Close Door on Blount

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:23 am ET

 The Patriots will know no later than 4 p.m. if restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee will be suiting up for them this season. The Patriots signed the Bills running back to a 2-year $6.4 million dollar offer sheet with $4 million of it front-loaded into the first year. Buffalo has until the 4 p.m. deadline to either match the Patriots offer or decline it.

If the Bills decline, Gillislee becomes part of the Patriots stable of running backs which includes James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden under contract. The Patriots would also have to give up one of their fifth-round draft picks, as the Bills placed a fifth-round tender on Gillislee this offseason.

Gillislee would inherit the “big back” reps in the Patriots offense. With a slew of pass-catchers and the New England offense being a pass-first unit, he wouldn’t be consistently asked to carry a heavy load. But he’s a physical, downhill runner who can also be a factor in the passing game.

Gillislee earned the praise of Bill Belichick last year and in the second meeting between the two teams in Buffalo had a very solid outing. He carried the ball 12 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. He also added three catches out of the backfield.

The Bills are tight under the salary cap and also have been rumored to be looking to add some picks in this week’s upcoming draft. Part of the reason the Patriots front loaded the deal for Gillislee is to make it harder for the Bills to match. They’d have to do some shifting around of monies under the cap but could make it work if they feel it is in their best interests to do so.

If the Bills match the Patriots offer, then Gillislee returns to them for the next two years and the Patriots will probably use one of their draft picks on a running back. They currently have seven picks. Two 3rd -round picks, a 4th, two 5th-round picks, a 6th and a 7th.

One player who will be watching the events of today unfold will be free agent RB LeGarrette Blount. If the Patriots sign Gillislee, then that would probably end the run of Blount in New England. But if the Bills decide to match, it would open the door for Blount to return for at least one more season, although it would still be expected that they’d entertain drafting a big running back this weekend.

Blount was visible over the weekend and is still making personal appearances for the team. He appeared at a charity basketball game with the Patriots in Grafton on Friday night. So there is plenty of reason to believe, that the door is not closed yet.

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.

Unless The Price Is Right, Patriots Should Hold On to Butler

Ian Logue
March 20, 2017 at 9:47 am ET

Anyone who has followed the Patriots over the last decade, there’s one thing we’ve learned when it’s come to finding reliable cornerbacks in Bill Belichick’s defense. It’s been a problem, and given all the discussions over the last week of jettisoning Malcolm Butler from the roster, it should definitely be something this team doesn’t do unless they’re being adequately compensated.

Some people are making the argument that the deal for Butler is simply a continuation of the trade involving receiver Brandin Cooks, which saw New England send the #32 overall selection in the first round, along with swapping selections in the 3rd and 4th rounds with New Orleans in exchange for adding Cooks to the roster.  But with time having passed since this escalated last week, the Saints need to realize that the value Butler brings in what is now a passing league is a valuable asset, and it should cost them a little more than they might have thought to get him.

Bill Belichick and Sean Payton may be friends but at the end of the day, both coaches understand that they’re each judged by wins and losses, and whatever deal they make needs to work well for both sides.  The Saints played hardball when it came to wanting more than just the Patriots #32 in order to feel fairly compensated for giving up Cooks, and you could make the argument that Butler is the equivalent in this trade and is certainly worth more than the rumored #32 selection that’s been speculated as currency to add Butler to their defense.


Letting Butler walk should come at a serious cost to whatever team wants him.

As for Butler, who is frustrated and has been working with his agent to orchestrate a deal out of New England, he has virtually no say in the matter.  He’s already been tendered at the first-round level for his restricted free agent contract, which would bump his salary up to $3.91 million and has New England in control of him for at least one more season.  As it stands right now, his current obligation is to suit up in Foxboro in 2017 before he’ll have an opportunity to take his talents elsewhere after the season.  While he hasn’t yet signed his tender, there will eventually come a deadline that will give the Patriots the right to reduce his salary if he doesn’t, much in the same way that it happened with Logan Mankins back in 2010 during a similar standoff.

Mankins didn’t care and his salary was cut, and he held out until the very end before he eventually signed the tender reported on November 7th just before the Browns game that season, which at the time was likely only done because it would have cost him the opportunity to become a free agent when the season ended.  The Patriots eventually reached an agreement on an extension for the veteran guard after they placed the franchise tag on him the following season, which put that situation to bed.

While Butler has said he won’t hold out, this whole mess still has a long way to play out should this deal with the Saints fall apart and the two sides, for now, seem too far apart to find common ground.

Make no mistake, Butler is one of the top corners of the game, having bucked the history here in New England of not enduring a second or third season slump that past players like Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, among others, each went through and caused a ripple effect in their secondary.  This is a football team that had gone through a rough stretch developing cornerbacks and it wasn’t until recently that they finally had some success after what we’ve seen from Butler, along with the recently departed Logan Ryan.

As a result, they had been forced to overcome that by relying on signing free agents, with Aqib Talib and Darrelle Revis being two keys to their recent run of success.  But that’s a formula that only goes so far and it’s no secret that the money they saved during Butler’s rise to becoming a restricted free agent helped pave the way for other personnel deals that also played a factor in winning their most recent championship.

To let him go doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the deal is just too good to pass up.  While they may have gone out and signed Stephon Gilmore, having already lost Ryan to free agency, the cornerback position remains one that is still going to require depth and there’s no guarantee that Gilmore is going to hit the ground running and match Butler’s level of play.  Not to mention the fact Gilmore has only played in 16 full games just once during his NFL career (2012), unlike Butler who has played in all 16 over each of the last two seasons.


The Patriots have already lost Ryan to free agency this offseason.

Belichick may have a plan in mind but he’s likely aware of the painstakingly frustrating stretch he went through before the Patriots finally got their secondary in order and started getting more consistent play from the group they’ve built over the past few seasons.  With Ryan now in Tennessee and Butler’s future in question, Belichick should make sure that as much as he’d like to help his friend Sean Payton out, he needs to make sure that New Orleans coughs up at least the #11 selection, or he’ll simply start planning on the prospect of having both Butler and Gilmore lining up opposite each other for 2017.

Simply put, the Patriots are in the driver’s seat here and need to be smart.  Giving him away unless the deal is too sweet to turn down only benefits New Orleans, and the Patriots were more than fair by including another pick with the #32 pick when they acquired Cooks.  As great as that acquisition was, New England was already stacked with talent at receiver before making that deal and unfortunately, they don’t have that luxury right now at the cornerback position.

As a result, there’s really no room to do anyone any favors.  Now it’s just up to Belichick to take a tough stance and make sure the Patriots receive more than what they deserve in return for what they’d lose by not having Butler on the team next season.

New England Patriots News 3-19, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 19, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 3-19, & AFC East Notes.

Some guys just seem to pay attention more…was it just me or did Kony Ealy get the memo before ever stepping on the practice field for the Patriots? In his introductory conference call with the Patriots’ beat writers, Ealy must have mentioned the catch phrase “Do Your Job” about half a dozen times. If Bill Belichick was listening, he must have been smiling.

The Patriots have been one of the most active teams in free agency, but entering the period with $60 million in cap space and a slew of free agents this season, it really shouldn’t come as a big surprise. They’ve already addressed several spots on the roster and with nearly $27 million remaining in salary cap space, they have the flexibility to still be active.

With free agency and the draft coming up next month, what are some of the areas still needing additional depth for New England? The feeling here is DE, RB (big back), S, LB, CB.

Butler Situation Far from Resolved:
Malcolm Butler met with the Saints this week and afterward, New Orleans coach Sean Payton spoke highly of the Patriots restricted free agent cornerback. But don’t expect the Saints to be making him an offer anytime soon.

That situation would be the easiest for the Patriots, they could either match Butler’s offer or refuse to and get the Saints first round draft pick, which is #11 in the upcoming draft. There’s been some significant talk of the Saints offering the #32 pick, which the Patriots shipped to New Orleans for Brandin Cooks. The Patriots put a first round tender on Butler so that’s where negotiations would begin.

Malcolm Butler at 2016 Mini-camp (SBalestrieri photo)

Malcolm Butler at 2016 Mini-camp (SBalestrieri photo)

Will Bill Belichick dig in his heels for the #11 pick? Doubtful and the Saints will not want to pay that for Butler although he is a legit Top10 corner. Giving up the 32nd pick is where they’ll start. Will the Patriots want the equivalent value of #11 with 32 and added value?  Or will they accept a package of picks later down the line?

Ultimately the decision Bill Belichick is going to have to make is: Whatever the Saints decide to offer for Butler, is the value better than bringing him back under his $3.91 million tender? Then letting him play it out and walk next season in free agency and getting a 3rd round compensatory pick? This situation may play out until right before the NFL Draft.

Patriots Happy to Have ‘Overhyped, overrated’ Hightower Back:
The Patriots let free agent LB Don’t’a Hightower test the waters in free agency as the Patriots talented and tough linebacker wanted to see what his worth was on the open market. Hightower has said that he was disappointed in the offers but was happy with his deal, a 4-year, $43.5 million-dollar deal that returns him to New England.

Hightower received interest from the Saints, Titans, Jets, and Steelers with the final two making a push to sign the former #25 pick from the 2012 NFL Draft. Pittsburgh made an offer for him but told him that if he left without signing a deal, that the offer was off the table. It was then that Hightower decided to return to New England and remain a member of the Patriots.

Dont’a Hightower has re-signed with the Patriots for four years, $42.5 million dollars. (SBalestrieri photo)

The comments coming out of Pittsburgh, however, were interesting. Ed Bouchette, one of the most respected writers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seemingly took affront to Hightower rejecting the Steelers for New England. Bouchette wrote that Hightower “did the Steelers a favor” by rejecting their offer, calling him “overhyped’ and “overrated”. He said that the Steelers were better sticking with Vince Williams as their buck linebacker.

He cited stats to back up his claim that Hightower wasn’t a big-time player. We’ll respectively disagree here. This isn’t the fantasy football league and anyone who has watched the Patriots knows the value that 6’2, 265-pound linebacker brings to the defense. It isn’t about just sacks. The Patriots defense isn’t that type, but just like Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest, and Vince Wilfork before him, his value to the overall defense can’t be denied.

Just for kicks the leading sacker for the team was Trey Flowers with seven but New England’s defense was #1 in points allowed. And Hightower was the glue, in the middle. He’s more than an MLB/ILB, his sack of Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl came off the edge. The Patriots can and do move him around depending on the matchups. Belichick is surely happy to have his Pro Bowl/All Pro LB back in the fold. Overrated, overhyped and all.

Harmon Returns with a new 4-Year Contract:
Another one of the Patriots under the radar signings has been the re-inking of safety Duron Harmon. Harmon returned to the Patriots with a 4-year deal worth $17 million dollars this week and it was a good deal for both sides.

Harmon wasn’t a starter in his first four years here with New England but plays a valuable role in their ‘big nickel’ defense and has been productive. But most of all he loves it in New England and playing for Belichick. On a conference call with the team’s media this week, Harmon said the decision to return wasn’t a hard one.

“I love it here. I’ve built a lot of relationships here with people outside of football. My kids go to school here and just being a part of this organization – it means a lot to me. I really love playing for this organization. I love playing for Coach Belichick. I love being a part of Mr. Kraft’s team. In the end, just coming back here really wasn’t a hard decision. It was something that I ultimately wanted to do.

Burkhead Signing Another Intriguing Move By New England:
The Patriots other under the radar move this week was signing running back Rex Burkhead to a one-year deal worth $3.15 million dollars. He had a very solid season for the Bengals in 2016 carrying 74 times for 344 yards and adding 17 catches out of the backfield for 145 yards in limited action.

He’s a tough, no-nonsense player who will play special teams, can run the ball between the tackles and catch out of the backfield. He’s got good vision and can cut back against the grain and follows his blockers well. But at 5’10, 210, he’s about the same size as James White and just slightly bigger than Dion Lewis, (5’8,195).

The Patriots will probably still address the RB position; bringing back LeGarrette Blount or picking up another big back in the draft doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. But perhaps the coaching staff has decided that they know what works best for them. And having a trio of receiving backs that can run the ball a bit, (a fourth if you count D.J. Foster) and be very productive in the passing game may be the way they proceed in 2017?

Chris Long Explains His Decision to Move On in 2017:
Former Patriots defensive end Chris Long just returned from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and has yet to find a new team but has made it clear that he won’t be returning to New England just six weeks after winning a Super Bowl here.

Long joined the MMQB podcast this week and explained his decision why he doesn’t want to be a situational player at this point in his career. He came across as honest and forthright and one can certainly respect his position. He did everything asked of him in 2016 and was well respected in the Patriots locker room as well as on the field.

Chris Long will not be back with the Patriots in 2017 and explained his reasoning on a MMQB podcast. (SBalestrieri photo)

“Well, I knew I wanted to go and have a chance to win a ring and see what that felt like to win, and I want to continue to win in the league,” Long said. “You have to work really hard no matter what team you’re on to win, so there’s no guarantee wherever you are you’re going to win. I just tried to go to the place that gave me the best opportunity. And I said I would do anything to make that possible and to help.”

“And I don’t know if they wanted me back or not, but it was one of those things where it’s like, I have too much respect for that organization to waste their time and go back and forth in negotiations or not tell them that I was planning on moving on. I have too much respect for them. It wasn’t a big deal that I was moving on for them. They’ll be just fine. But for me as a man, I just think I would hate to string them along, even if I was just depth at a position or just a piece of the puzzle. “So, that’s kind of why I said I need to move on. If I’m going to keep playing football, I’m not going to do certain things that I was doing there. I was happy to do them this year, but hey, I’m a year older. If I want to keep playing, I’ve got to do certain things differently.”

“But shoot, I can’t remember the last year where I didn’t miss a day of work, and that’s kind of where I was at this year. I feel very good.”

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Sign Three Free Agents:
The Bills have just six draft picks this spring and with about 30 spots remaining on the roster to begin their offseason with the 90 players to begin OTAs, they’re going to lean on free agency as well as UDFAs after the draft is over. They began filling out their roster by signing three free agents on Friday, RB Joe Banyard, CB Leonard Johnson, and WR Corey Washington.

Johnson as many will remember spent some time with the Patriots in 2015 and played in four games with three starts. He played well in a limited role. He also had a unique celebration dance on the team at the time. He played for the Panthers and new Bills coach Sean McDermott in 2016 and logged 22 tackles, a pass defended, and a sack after returning from injury a year ago.

The Bills hold the #10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and after losing free agent Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots may be looking for help at corner, although they have numerous holes to fill.

Timmons, Thomas Signings Highlight Miami’s FA Start:
The Miami Dolphins are looking to improve upon a 10-win season and a playoff berth in 2016 and have been adding pieces to their team in the hope to keep the arrow pointed upward. The team signed longtime Pittsburgh LB Lawrence Timmons and also brought in TE Julius Thomas from Jacksonville and each will fulfill a big need.

Timmons 32, plugs a big gap on the inside where the Dolphins were 30th against the run in 2016. He’s big and physical and came on the heels of a 2-year deal worth $12 million. One interesting fact is that the Patriots targeted Timmons the last two times the Patriots played the Steelers, however. So, this will bear watching two times in 2017.

Miami lost the under-used and underrated Dion Sims in free agency but Thomas, if he can stay on the field, should be a very good replacement. They also brought back blocking TE Anthony Fasano as well as bringing back their own FAs Kenny Stills, Andre Branch, and Rashad Jones. It’s been a good start for HC Adam Gase’s second season.

Jets “Concerns” With Hightower Didn’t Appear with Offer, Who’s at QB?
The Jets made a concerted push to sign LB Dont’a Hightower in free agency. According to Jason La Canfora, they made a ‘significantly’ higher offer than either the Steelers or the Patriots. The reported deal on the table was for five years for $55 million with a total compensation worth $62.5 million.

But after Hightower re-signed with New England, reports filtered out of the Jets camp by ESPN’s Rich Cimini that the Jets balked after giving Hightower a physical, citing his shoulder and knee issues and withdrew the offer. Smoking gun down the road, or just a smokescreen to cover a missed opportunity?

The Jets meanwhile haven’t made any inroads on their QB situation. They reportedly aren’t interested in Colin Kaepernick who remains unsigned but have some interest in Jay Cutler and Josh McCown. Cutler is coming off of shoulder surgery and has never been able to put it all together, McCown? He’s lost 20 of his last 22 starts in the NFL. While Kaepernick has four playoff wins on his resume including a Super Bowl appearance where the 49ers narrowly lost.

One has to question, as it would be in Boston where Robert Kraft’s friendship with President Trump is often cited, is the Jets’ non-interest in Kaepernick fueled by political leanings? After all, Jets owner Woody Johnson, like Kraft was a big supporter of Trump.

And unlike Kraft, his friendship has gone completely under the radar. The President nominated Johnson to be the US Ambassador to Great Britain. Kaepernick has struggled the past few seasons but is more than equal to McCown and worthy of a look, unless he’s being blackballed for another reason.

Kaepernick’s political leanings and very public feelings on race would be touted in Boston as a big reason why the Patriots would pass. Why isn’t that the case in New York? Things that make you go hmmm.

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: Dont’a Hightower’s Mother Celebrates New Contract Some Dancing

Robert Alvarez
March 15, 2017 at 10:00 pm ET

When the New England Patriots announced the signing of linebacker Dont’a Hightower to a new four-year contract worth 43 million dollars, fans were not the only ones celebrating the news.

On his Instagram account Wednesday, Hightower shared video of his mother L’Tanya after she learned of his new deal.

“My son signed his deal makes his mama feel like this..”  L’Tanya said before she showed off some dance moves much to her sons enjoyment.

“And people wonder where I get it from lol!!” Don’ta said in the Instagram caption.

#repost @ltanyahightower and people wonder where I get it from lol!! #boomtower #blessed

A post shared by Donta Hightower (@_boomtower) on

Patriots Re-sign Dont’a Hightower, Big Domino Falls

Steve Balestrieri
at 2:13 pm ET

The Patriots made their biggest move of an already busy free agent season by re-signing LB Dont’a Hightower to a 4-year deal worth $43.5 million dollars with a full $19 million guaranteed. The deal was first reported NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Hightower, 26 was drawing serious interest from the Jets, Steelers, and Titans but it was always thought that New England was the favorite to bring back their talented linebacker from Alabama.

A year ago, we wrote here that among the top three defenders on the Patriots with Hightower, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, that Hightower was the key cog in re-signing first. Collins and Jones have since been traded.

In 2016, Hightower appeared in 13 games for the Patriots and recorded 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, two pass defenses and a safety. He was a first-round draft pick from Alabama in 2012.

With the Hightower deal done, the Patriots are in fantastic shape heading into the draft. They’ve more than recouped their losses in free agency, with the additions of Dwayne Allen, Kony Ealy, Lawrence Guy, Stephon Gilmore and now Hightower on the defensive side and adding the talented Brandin Cooks and Rex Burkhead on offense.

Heading into the NFL Draft, the Patriots are in tremendous position with cap space remaining to add additional depth. The only domino remaining is that of Malcolm Butler. If the Patriots can repair their relationship with him, there’s no reason to believe that this team isn’t the favorite to repeat as a Super Bowl champion 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.

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.

 

With Visit with Saints On Deck, Is Butler’s Time in New England Over?

Ian Logue
at 1:53 pm ET

It would have been hard to imagine as the confetti fell in Houston just over a month ago that Malcolm Butler would be on the verge of being out of New England just six weeks later, barely removed from winning his second championship as a member of the Patriots.

It’s amazing just how quickly things can change, and now Butler’s future is suddenly in doubt given how things have transpired over the last week.

According to the Associated Press, Butler is scheduled to meet with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday, with Ian Rapoport reporting that it’s more than just a discussion to explore the cornerback’s options.  Rapoport reports that the two sides have already begun negotiations on a new contract, with the hopes of consummating a deal this week.

Butler is currently a restricted free agent and has a first-round tender placed on him by the Patriots, which for now, he hasn’t signed.  However, if New Orleans is offering what he wants and the Patriots are O.K. with making a deal to send him there, it’s possible Butler could sign the tender, which would allow New England to deal him.

The next question would be the type of compensation the Bill Belichick would be willing to accept.  The Saints currently have the Patriots 32nd overall selection that they traded in exchange to bring receiver Brandin Cooks to New England, as well as the 11th overall pick in the draft.  While an offer sheet that the Patriots could decline to match would yield them a first round pick (the higher of the Staints’ two selections), the fact Belichick has such a good relationship with Saints head coach Sean Payton would more than likely see them skip that process and work out the compensation from there.


Two years ago, Butler was a Super Bowl hero. Now, he might be done in New England.

The only question will be what the Patriots would receive in return.  Having just signed free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore, New England at least has someone they feel can be a quality top corner on their roster if they were to lose Butler.  They currently sit without a draft pick in the first two rounds, and it’s possible that by moving Butler, they’ll get back something to change that should a deal come to pass.

Another team reportedly in the mix could be the Houston Texans, with Eric Edholm reporting that the Texans are interested in possibly giving up  second-round selection if they can work out a long-term deal.  That would seem unlikely given that Belichick’s preference would likely be to send Butler out of the conference, and the fact it might not be a strong enough depending on what the Saints come through with.

Needless to say things are about to get interesting after an already crazy start to free agency this offseason, and it appears that more change is certainly on the way as the Patriots continue building the 2017 version of their roster.