Tag Archives: 2017 Patriots free agents

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]

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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.

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.

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.

 

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.

New England Patriots News 3-12, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 3-12, & AFC East Notes.

Big Splash: The Patriots uncharacteristically were major players in the first two days of free agency. Signing CB Stephon Gilmore for a big money contract, trading for TE Dwayne Allen, DE Kony Ealy, re-signing FAs Duron Harmon and Alan Branch and then trading for Saints WR Brandon Cooks. They paid a hefty price (32nd pick in the 1st round and the third-round pick #103) but in return got a very speedy WR in Cooks and the Saints 4th rounder (#118).

The Patriots have plenty of quickness at WR but not a ton of speed.  Cooks will fix that issue. He has blinding speed and had touchdowns in 2016 of 98 and 87 yards. The Pats struggled with Atlanta’s speed early in the Super Bowl. The addition of Cooks should alleviate that and give Tom Brady a target to air the ball out when the defense sells out trying to crowd the box.

By bringing back Alan Branch and Duron Harmon, the Patriots made moves that were very affordable and allowed them to keep two of their better defensive playmakers. Branch signed a two-year deal worth around $12 million and was very good at stuffing the run and filling the gaps. Harmon inked a four-year deal worth $20 million and provided excellent production as the deep safety when the Patriots go to their big nickel package. Low key moves but very valuable ones in the big picture.

Patriots Sign Guy, Former Ravens DL on Saturday:
The Patriots added more depth to their DL this weekend by signing former Ravens DL Lawrence Guy to a four-year contract worth $20 million dollars.

Guy a veteran of six NFL seasons is only 26 years old, is 6’4, 305-pounds and is considered a solid interior run stuffer. He joins Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Vincent Valentine, Woodrow Hamilton and Darius Kilgo on the Patriots’ interior defensive line.

The team could still use another defensive end, with Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Kony Ealy and Geneo Grissom on the roster at the present time.

Cooks, Allen Give Offense Shades of 2007 Feel:
The Patriots were going to lose TE Martellus Bennett in free agency so they went in on trading for a player that they’ve coveted for a few years in Dwayne Allen.  In adding Cooks, another Bill Belichick favorite, the offense has shades of the 2007 season when the team loaded up with Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and Donte Stallworth.

The 2017 version of the Patriots offense on paper looks ridiculously, scary good. Besides Rob Gronkowski and Allen at TE, the wide receiver position is stacked. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola (for now), return. Add in James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield and this becomes a pick your poison offensive unit.

Cooks brings an element of pure unadulterated speed to the table. He can split out wide or in the slot and is fast enough to blow by defenders if he gets a clean release. Depending on matchups, the Patriots can throw out a two-TE package, or a three or four wide receiver look.

While the price for Cooks was steep, he’s been a dynamic playmaker with QB Drew Brees. He had touchdowns of 98 and 87 yards a year ago, and his yards per reception have gone from 10 to 13.5 to 15.0 in 2016. He is still just 23 years old and should provide the offense with another viable weapon. Opposing defensive coordinators won’t get much sleep this season.

Ealy Trade a Low-Risk Win for the Patriots:
With the news of the Carolina Panthers signing Julius Peppers to a free agent contract on Friday, that made the talented but inconsistent DE Kony Ealy expendable. Ealy was a 2nd round pick (60th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ealy had a monster Super Bowl against the Broncos with three sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. But the Panthers felt he plateaued in 2016 and got only five sacks. In stepped Bill Belichick. Belichick offered to swap the Patriots 2nd round pick #64 for Ealy and Carolina’s 3rd round selection, #72. So by sliding just eight spots, the Patriots get a player with a tremendous amount of upside. Plus, his salary hardly puts a dent in the salary cap at $803,660 for 2017.

The Patriots ask their DEs to do different things than most other teams. They must set the edge in the running game, and occasionally drop into the passing lanes for opposing QBs hot routes on blitzes. The Patriots must feel that Ealy is a fit for what they do. Regardless of how this move turns out, it was a very low risk, high reward move by Belichick.  Ealy seems to be a very good fit for the Patriots defense and should augment their pass rush by joining the rotation.

Team Loses Bennett, Sheard, Mingo, and Logan Ryan in Free Agency:
Not all of the news was good however for the Patriots. They lost Martellus Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Logan Ryan during free agency. While not surprising with any of them, their losses will still resonate inside Foxboro.

Bennett signed with the Green Bay Packers, with a three-year $21 million-dollar deal. Sheard and Mingo were signed by the Colts, and Logan Ryan signed a contract with the Tennessee Titans that will pay him between $9 -10 million dollars per year.

Plenty of Flexibility For the Patriots to Still Be Players in FA and the Draft:
Despite all the moves so early in free agency, the Patriots still have nearly $40 million dollars in cap space to work with, and even with the contract of Dont’a Hightower still lingering out there, they have lots of room to still sign some very good free agents on the market.

Having already added Kony Ealy at defensive end, the team could still use some added depth. Recently released DE Connor Barwin from the Eagles could garner a look as well as DeMarcus Ware. Ware may be looking at a one-year deal similar to Chris Long’s a year ago.

Even if they bring Hightower back, they could use some extra help at the position. They currently have Jonathan Freeny (IR in 2016), Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy. Roberts is a very good run stuffer but limited in coverage and McClellin and Van Noy are sub-backers on passing downs. A couple of interesting names out there include Datone Jones from Green Bay and Kevin Minter from Arizona. If Hightower leaves, Zach Brown from the Bills could be a fall-back option.

Butler Situation Will Remain a Sticky One:
Malcolm Butler has earned his payday; No one, not even the Patriots are arguing that. However, what remains a situation is how much he’s going to get paid. Butler, an UDFA who worked at Popeye’s before he got a chance with New England, doesn’t have the big college or high draft status pedigree that others (Gilmore for instance) have.

It sucks for him but it is what it is. The fact that he is a restricted free agent this season is another huge sticking point. The Patriots want to pay him as a restricted free agent and not an unrestricted one…which is a big, big difference.

He wants his money now, and no one can fault him for that and doesn’t want to wait until he’s 28 to get his big payday. The Patriots offered him an extension last year which was turned down and supposedly Butler was peeved at the amount offered. His agent, Derek Simpson has taken to social media to plead his case and reiterate that they’re not asking for the moon. But the Patriots haven’t budged. So now what?

If the situation is untenable and the two sides can’t work it out, then a trade becomes a very real possibility, but Butler would still have to sign his tender in order to get the trade approved. There were talks of the Patriots and Saints in the Cooks deal having Butler as part of the package. Those talks could resume. Or they could trade him elsewhere.

Butler could sign his tender, pocket $4 million for 2017 and go and become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Of course, Butler and the Patriots could work out a long-term deal that would make everyone happy.

Simpson and Butler have until April 21st to find a suitor to sign him to a free agent deal which isn’t likely since that team would have to cede their first-round pick to New England. That would put him in limbo unless he signs his tender.

The situation sucks….no ifs, and’s or buts about it. Butler has earned his payday but that is the system they play in. If the Patriots do work out a trade for him, they could opt for another free agent corner on the market, (Alteraun Verner, Nickell Robey-Coleman) or wait for the draft.

Currently, they have Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones and Justin Coleman on the roster.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Active in Free Agency, Beef Up Depth:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been getting the headline of their divisional counterparts in New England but they’ve been very active thus far in free agency. After working out a revised contract with QB Tyrod Taylor, the Bills have signed K Steven Hauschka, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, offensive lineman Vladimir Ducasse, and fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco.

But the big news on Saturday was that LB Lorenzo Alexander was coming back. Alexander who had a breakout season in 2016 with 12.5 sacks and he was rewarded with a two-year contract.

The Bills, however have lost several free agents including safeties Corey Graham and Aaron Williams, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore, and Nickell Robey-Coleman, kicker Dan Carpenter, wide receiver Marcus Easley, and long-snapper Garrison Sanborn.

Miami Also Active Early in Free Agency:
The Miami Dolphins had a pretty productive start to free agency with a flurry of signings. The biggest was perhaps LB Lawrence Timmons who came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers, an area that the Dolphins needed to upgrade.

But they also acquired two starting-caliber defensive ends Andre Branch, and William Hayes, tight end Julius Thomas, safety Nate Allen, guard Ted Larsen, and re-signed wide receiver Kenny Stills and added a backup tight end, Anthony Fasano.

Jets Sign OL Kelvin Beachum:
The New York Jets signed free agent OL Kelvin Beachum on Friday. Terms were for three years and a reported $24 million dollars. Beachum battled injuries in his 2016 season with Jacksonville but is a solid OL and is expected to play left tackle for the Jets.

The Jaguars declined a long-term option in Beachum’s contract in February. He was slated to receive a $5 million roster bonus on Feb. 15 as part of a five-year, $45 million deal he signed in March 2016, which featured a cap hit that steadily rose to $11 million by 2020, per Spotrac.

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]

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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.