Tag Archives: 2018 Free Agency

New England Patriots News 7-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-15, & AFC East Notes.

Quick Hitters:
Something you can file under either a slow news week or not very surprising news, Mark Wahlberg has placed “a hefty bet” on the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Boston-born and Pats diehard fan who played Vince Papale of the Eagles in a film has long been a good friend of Tom Brady. Oh and he placed a bet on the Eagles as well.

Tony Romo jumped into the Tom Brady – Bill Belichick ongoing discussion on how their relationship is, in his opinion just fine. “I just think when you work together for 15-20 years, whatever it is, I think that whenever you have the success that they have, people have to come up with stuff,” Romo said. “I’ve been upset with my coaches before, and then you come back and you’re fine.

Romo added, “I don’t really think that there’s a whole lot to it. I think they probably squabble just like any married couple for 20 years, and then they also love each other. So that’s my take there.”

Romo also made his early Super Bowl call of the Packers-Jaguars for this season.

Free Agents Still Out There That New England Can Target:

With training camp now right around the corner, the Patriots roster is right around 90 players but there are several guys still out there that may be able to help the team in 2018. The team has always targeted veterans that can step in contribute.

And these players would, in our opinion help out with some positions that could use the depth and while some were positions of need a year ago, others, while not a particular position of need per se, could benefit from the depth.

Kenny Vaccaro: The Patriots have three starting caliber safeties in Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, and Duron Harmon and frequently use all three on the field at the same time. Behind them is Jordan Richards and we’ve all seen what happens on defense when he plays a key role. With both McCourty and Chung starting to get up there in years, it may be time to bring in an eventual replacement in case of either a dropoff in play or injury.

Vaccaro is still just 27 and had a very solid 2017 until wrist and groin injuries landed him on IR. He made 60 tackles, had three Interceptions and broke up 12 more in 12 games. The former 2013 first round pick has had some issues staying on the field. The market for safeties didn’t play out the way he hoped it would and he’s still out there.

But Vaccaro is versatile and can be moved around, much like Bill Belichick likes to do with his safeties. Is a one-year flyer on a player of his caliber out of the question? Of course not and he’s a huge step up from Richards in the secondary.

NaVorro Bowman: Bowman is a 30-year old free agent middle linebacker who can help with the lack of depth inside. Is the team planning on moving Dont’a Hightower back inside after playing him on the edge a year ago? And given his injury history, it has been rare for him to play an entire season.

With Bowman returning to play strong for the Raiders in 2017 after being released by the 49ers last year, he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The Raiders made him an offer during the spring but he’s still out there in free agency and hasn’t signed with anyone although rumors suggest that he’ll return to Oakland.

Bowman could be brought in on a relatively cheap short-term deal and with Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley inside, Bowman would be an upgrade.

Connor Barwin: Barwin is a 31-year old edge rusher who has been remarkably durable over his career starting in 109 of 112 games for Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles (Rams). And while he’s still effective at rushing the quarterback and getting some offers, he has his sights set on goals other than money.

Barwin is in search of a team that is in contention for a Super Bowl and of course one that could use his skill set. Right now, he looks like he may be leaning towards a return to the Rams but as he’s still unsigned, he’s a player that could help the Pats.

We wrote about him in the spring, the Patriots lacked a consistent pass rusher to complement Trey Flowers in 2017. The team has brought in Adrian Clayborn and has high hopes for 2nd-year players Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. Rivers missed all of last season after tearing an ACL. Barwin is a savvy veteran who has always had good production getting after the passer and with the Patriots lack of depth and experience there, I still think it would be a good move to bring in a proven veteran edge rusher.

Robert Ayers: Another defensive end who is as good setting the edge as he is getting after the passer. Ayers will be 33 when the season rolls around and may be losing a step. He had just two sacks last season although he was providing some good pressure on the quarterback.

Ayers could be one of those one-year rentals who extends his career for one more season by coming in as part of the defensive end rotation and giving some good quality reps along with a veteran presence. With a chance to play for a winner in the twilight of his career could be a nice enticement where Belichick and Nick Caserio won’t have to break the bank for him.

Training Camp 2018, Who Needs to Step Up:

It doesn’t seem like football is right around the corner but a week from Thursday morning the Patriots will begin their 2018 training camp and then right around the corner the regular season will begin. So we’re looking at some players on the roster and thinking for the Patriots to make it back to the Super Bowl this season, these are the guys who’ll have to step up.

Adrian Clayborn: The Patriots are putting a lot of eggs in his basket and while they’re not an attacking style of defense where their edge rushers are pinning their ears back on every down, they still expect a lot from their edge players, especially from the veterans. And for Clayborn, a guy they brought in during FA, the pressure to produce will be there in 2018.

Clayborn, is thus far, doing all the right things. He’s always among the first to arrive on the field. He’s leading by example and playing hard during the spring workouts, which albeit are tougher for the big guys since there are no pads allowed.

Camp will be the beginning of a very interesting year for the veteran. A lot of eyes will be watching him all year and he’ll be expected to make a difference in the Patriots pass rush and overall defense.

Chris Hogan/Jordan Matthews: These two wide receivers will be especially looked to early in the season to provide the offense and QB Tom Brady with the confidence to replace the production of Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and Edelman (for the first four weeks) of 2018. Hogan has been a productive receiver for the Patriots and last year had some nagging injuries that cut into his season. But he’s healthy this summer and in a contract year should be primed for a good season.

I look for Hogan’s looks from Tom Brady to get a huge uptick this season, especially in the red zone where he was flourishing before his shoulder injury in 2017. Hogan isn’t a #1 WR but in the Patriots system, it is all about the matchups and Brady can move his WRs and TEs around to find them and Hogan should benefit from that big time in the first month of the season.

Matthews is a newcomer to the Patriots offense but expectations are already quite high for him (here too),  to not only to assimilate into the offense but be a key contributor as well. Matthews has the size that most slot receivers don’t have but has been a very productive receiver in several different schemes. This season, we’ll be watching him closely beginning on the 26th.

Derek Rivers: While he’ll only be part of the rotation and has yet to play an NFL game, the 2nd year edge rusher/linebacker already has high expectations following him. The team’s top draft choice of 2017, Rivers missed all of last year with a knee injury so expectations should be a bit tempered.

But much was expected from him a year ago and that hasn’t changed this season. In fact, there may be a bit more pressure on him to produce this fall. With the pass rush needing a boost in 2018, and the majority coming from Flowers and Clayborn, the next players in the rotation will be second-year players River and Deatrich Wise providing the QB pressure, setting the edge and occasionally dropping into the flat.

Rivers appeared healthy this spring and now will have to show even more once the pads come on. He started slowly last summer, but that was to be expected coming from a small school at Youngstown State. Things seemed to be just falling into place when he tore his ACL. Now with a year in the system, albeit not playing, he’s expected to provide the type of jump a typical second-year jump in play that Wise will be showing as well.

Trent Brown: Brown is a massive tackle who is listed at 6’8, 359 pounds but after seeing him this spring, he looks much larger. He’s one of the biggest players I’ve seen in the flesh that plays for the Patriots with a wingspan that rivaled Tommy Kelly. The Patriots picked him up from the 49ers this spring and that move got some raves from Von Miller who called him “the best right tackle in the NFL and one of the best tackles period.”

Brown will have big shoes to fill and will be tasked with protecting Tom Brady’s blindside. Brady has had Nate Solder and Matt Light during his career and now the job will fall to Brown. Not to put any undue pressure on him but ultimately he’ll have a lot to say about effective the Patriots passing game will be.

We’ll be watching him closely this summer as will everyone else as his every move will be dissected this summer. Welcome to Foxboro, Mr. Brown.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills McCoy Accused by ex-Girlfriend of Being Behind Home Invasion, Beating:
The Buffalo Bills LeSean McCoy’s ex-girlfriend was the victim of a home invasion and a vicious beating at her home in Atlanta this week. And she’s pulling no punches of her own and claiming that McCoy was behind the entire thing. The local police redacted her name from reports, however, attorneys for Delicia Cordon, McCoy’s former girlfriend, have previously identified her as the victim of the home invasion.

“I’m telling you, I’m telling you, that guy is [redacted],” the caller said in the 911 audio. “He must have known the camera system. LeSean must have told him. There’s no camera in the front.”

The armed intruder beat Cordon in the face with a firearm in trying to remove her bracelets, of interest to police since they were among items McCoy has been trying to recover from her in addition to other jewelry.

McCoy has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has hired prominent Atlanta attorney Don Samuel who has not commented on the case publicly. It may turn out that McCoy does indeed have nothing to do with the home invasion, but regardless, after seeing Cordon’s face and hearing the accusations, it is a bad, bad look for McCoy, the Bills and the NFL. Stay tuned.

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 6-17, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 17, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-17, & AFC East Notes … Happy Fathers Day to all the great dads who make a difference in their kid’s lives. While many will point to football and the NFL as being part of what has been labeled “toxic masculinity”, we prefer the idea that a strong father figure in children’s raising is a sign for a good, stable upbringing.

Quick Hitters:
Robert Kraft showed why Patriots Nation is a special group of people. A fan posted on Twitter and asked for Patriots Nation to reach out to their Dad who unfortunately is very ill and not expected to live long. Not only did her request get re-tweeted numerous times but it reached the ears of Robert Kraft and he spoke to the man and the fans in general with a very nice video message. Well done…

Tom Brady, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, said that he respected his teammates who chose to kneel during the national anthem and the reasons that they were doing it.

“I’ve been playing sports long enough, everyone comes from something different, and I think showing respect for everybody, in a locker room, with a team of guys trying to go in the same direction … you better have that empathy for everybody. That’s what sports are about,” Brady said.  

The entire interview can be seen on Winfrey’s OWN Network.

Brady’s better half, his wife Gisele Bundchen did an interview with Vogue magazine and was asked about the most romantic thing Brady ever did for her. The quick-hitting “73 Questions” video segment was filmed at the couple’s home in Massachusetts while the QB was practicing his golf swing. So what was the most romantic deed by Brady? The way he proposed.

“He made up this whole story (about) how my apartment was flooding and I ran over there to try to fix the situation when I got there. The whole apartment had candles and rose petals everywhere,” Bundchen said.

And then he went down on his knees to propose. And I’m like “GET UP!” because he just had surgery and had three staph infections. I’m like, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I gotta go on my knees,” (he said). I’m like, “No no! Get up, please!”

James Develin was given a two-year contract extension this week. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team signed fullback James Develin to a two-year extension worth $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. The tough, hard-nosed and versatile Develin was named to his first Pro-Bowl last season. While he’s only had a handful of carries and catches in his five-year career, his STs ability as well as his opening holes as a lead blocker in the running game can’t be overlooked.

Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for him when he was announced on the Pro-Bowl roster last December.

“Nobody has worked hard than James has,” Belichick said. [He] has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively. His play time has increased. His production has increased.

“As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation. I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role and so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I’m happy for him.”

James Harrison was interviewed on CBS and was asked how he enjoyed  (everything revolves around fun lately) his short time with New England at the end of the season and his opinion on why the Patriots are so successful.

“Discipline. That’s the big thing,” Harrison said. “They’re not going to ask you to do anything that is outside of what they feel you are capable of doing. You learn the system and you go out there and you play it and like I said, very regimented. So if you’re a guy that’s not used to regimented discipline, you’re not going to like it there.”

“I didn’t have a problem with it. I enjoyed my time there. I thanked them for the opportunity they gave me to play there.”

The Patriots hosted free agent QB Christian Hackenberg on Thursday. The former Jets draft pick who was traded to the Raiders this offseason and then released by Oakland recently never really got a chance for reps in either place.

While this move for Bill Belichick raised eyebrows around Patriots Nation, it shouldn’t. This is nothing more than the Patriots doing their due diligence and kicking the tires on a player. Sometimes it results in a player being signed, others it is just compiling of a list for players who would fit in the event of injuries. And for many others, it is simply keeping a book on potential opponents down the road.  

Very disturbing news of former NFL tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. is charged with rape and kidnapping of several women in the Southern California area. Winslow was charged with two counts of kidnapping with the intent to commit rape, two counts of forcible rape, one count of forcible sodomy, one count of forcible oral copulation, two counts of residential burglary and one count of indecent exposure.

Winslow spent four seasons in Cleveland, three in Tampa Bay and one with the Jets. He played one game with the Patriots in 2012 after being signed in mid-September and then asked for and was given his release. But many of the headlines read…what? “Former Patriots TE….

Standard Operating Procedure – Belichick Cancels Final Two OTAs:
The Patriots last week during “voluntary” OTAs ended with a team-bonding trip to Fenway Park and the cancellation of the final two sessions to wrap up the spring on a low-key note. For those who are trying to read something into this….don’t.

This move by Bill Belichick is SOP (standing operating procedure) for the team under his watch. Belichick has always said the spring was a time for teaching and the summer during training camp was a time for competition and evaluation of the roster.

If Belichick is pleased with the way the spring practice sessions have gone, he’ll give the players some free time to get on with their summer break before training camp and the 2018 preseason begins in earnest.

The Patriots always have special guests visit the team during the spring, this year was Kobe Bryant, the team bonding trips are also SOP as well. Don’t read too much into the way events played out this week with the end of the spring workouts. There is nothing new or different in the way that the Patriots or Bill Belichick does business.

Patriots Taking Cautious Approach With Malcolm Mitchell:
One of the things that stood out during OTAs and minicamp was the absence of Malcolm Mitchell on the field for the vast majority of it.

Mitchell missed all of 2017 after a promising 2016 rookie season where he heated up down the stretch. He caught 32 passes for 406 yards as a rookie with most of them coming in the second half of the season. He hauled in 5 passes for 70 yards in the Patriots big comeback win in the Super Bowl over the Falcons.

However, Mitchell’s absence this spring, obviously a big one for the 3rd-year WR may not be as disconcerting as originally thought. Mark Daniels from the Providence Journal said sources inside the team relayed that the team is opting for a cautious approach with Mitchell and that the team is going to bring him along slowly so that he’s ready for training camp and beyond.

With Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola gone this season, the turnover in the WR position will be something to monitor as newer players to the system try to carve out a role and find a comfort level with QB Tom Brady that Mitchell already has.

If he’s ready to go once training camp opens in late July, it will be a big plus not only for Mitchell but for the offense as well. With the looming suspension for WR Julian Edelman (depending upon his appeal) it will also open up another roster spot for the first month of the season. It will bear close watching this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCarron Quietly Turning Heads at Bills Minicamp:
The Buffalo Bills have three QBs competing for reps this spring and that will continue into training camp and while normally that is viewed as a negative, that isn’t the case for the Bills this spring.

The Bills moved up to draft the talented but still raw Josh Allen with the 7th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He’s the QB of the future but not necessarily the one of the present. Most NFL pundits believe Allen will need time to fully develop into the QB the Bills believe that they have in the rookie from Wyoming. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is taking the correct approach in taking their time with Allen, leaving him as firmly in the #3 on the depth chart, allowing him to learn the NFL game.

But the emergence of veteran QB A.J. McCarron, acquired from the Bengals this spring has impressed the Bills coaches. While McCarron and Nathan Peterman have both had very strong springs, McDermott has been impressed the most by McCarron’s demeanor calling him “a heck of a teammate”.

The former Alabama QB looks like the starting gig at Buffalo is his to lose. Peterman is going to push him this summer, but competition is always a good thing.

Tannehill Finishes Strong Spring and is in Control of the Dolphins Offense:
The Miami Dolphins quarterback of 2018 is definitely Ryan Tannehill. Whether he is in 2019 and beyond remains to be seen. But after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL, Tannehill had a strong spring and seems poised to enter training camp and the 2018 season with high hopes.

He was impressive at the end of the spring sessions, including firing a bullet to Danny Amendola for a 30-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Tannehill has always had the potential but has never been able to string everything together, being the QB he was being paid to be.

This is a huge season for him, but he’ll also need much, much better play from his tackles, Laremy Tunsil had an awful 2017 and his teammate, RT Ja’waun James is now the top paid right tackle in the NFL. If Tannehill is going to have success in 2018, he’s going to need his tackles keeping him upright. Of course, having a safety blanket like Amendola helps loads in running the hot routes.

Jets Sign DL Courtney Upshaw. Waive Former Patriot Chris Jones:
The New York Jets have signed veteran free agent defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw and have waived defensive lineman Chris Jones.

Upshaw, 6’2, 272-pounds was originally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens with the 35th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He spent four years in Baltimore (2012-2015) before signing as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016. Upshaw played the past two seasons with Atlanta and was invited to the Jets’ spring sessions on a try-out basis.

In his six-year career, Upshaw has played in 90 regular-season games (56 starts) with 7.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, and 215 tackles. He played in two Super Bowls, XLVII where Baltimore defeated San Francisco and LI with the Falcons as Atlanta dropped the first overtime loss in Super Bowl history to New England. He registered a sack of Tom Brady in that game.

Jones had signed with the Jets as a sixth-year veteran free agent on June 5. He was drafted by Houston in the sixth round in 2013 and spent time with the Buccaneers, Patriots, Dolphins and 49ers. Most of his career was spent (28 games, 22 starts) as a DE, DT and special teamer with New England in 2013-14.

Jones had the key field goal block of a last second 58-yard game-winning attempt for the Patriots against the Jets in October 2014 getting his hand up and blocking Nick Folk’s attempt.

Jones was also the recipient of a never-before-called rule which cost the Patriots an overtime victory, also against the Jets in 2013.

Jones was called for “pushing” one of his teammates into the line on Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt in overtime, which Folk shanked wide to the left. The penalty, a 15-yarder incorrectly called for unsportsmanlike conduct, gave the Jets another game-winning possession and this time Folk hit a 42-yarder for the 30-27 overtime victory minutes later.

Incidentally, the pushing call has never been called since. That call cost New England home field advantage in the playoffs.

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 5-20, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 20, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, all the best to our friends at HMEA today and their annual “Walk/Run for Independence. This will be the first time in 10 years we can’t attend but a work trip beckons. Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-20, & AFC East Notes

Andy Johnson Was a Gem and Would Fit Right in Today:
So sad this week to learn that former Patriots running back Andy Johnson passed away after a long fight with cancer. Growing up in the Chuck Fairbanks era, the Patriots had a stable of excellent running backs and were fun to watch. They had Johnson, Sam Cunningham, Don Calhoun, Horace Ivory, Mosi Tatupu and others. The 1976 and 1978 teams were true running back by committee teams and the Patriots set the NFL rushing record without a back gaining more than 768 yards.

The 1976 Patriots team was a juggernaut on the ground, averaging 5.0 yards per rush and an incredible 210 yards per game rushing. The ‘78 team set the record for team rushing (3165 yards) in a season, but the 1976 squad was even better. Johnson rushed for 699 yards and six scored and caught 29 passes for four more touchdowns that year.

Johnson was drafted in the 5th round, (112th overall) in the 1974 draft. Johnson was a quarterback at the University of Georgia and led the Bulldogs to an 11-1 record as a sophomore. The Patriots converted him to running back and he was a very good rusher, and excellent pass receiver (he was the leading receiver for the 1976 team) and could throw the ball on a trick play here or there as well as play special teams.

He was the type of player Bill Belichick would have loved today.

When hearing the news of his passing, I reached out to Patriots Hall of Fame Linebacker Steve Nelson as the two were teammates for several years in New England. Nelson though saddened, wasn’t shocked by the news.

“It was really sad to hear that Andy passed on so young (65) today,” Nelson said. “We’d heard that his cancer ( Esophageal) had progressed so bad that he had trouble eating solid food for the past year and had dropped an incredible amount of weight.”

“Andy and I were drafted the same year (1974) and we were roommates on the road for the first three years in the league together. After he played for the Patriots for about eight years he finished up his football career for the Boston Breakers in the USFL in 1983.”

“He was a great football player and teammate and an even better guy.”

Johnson leaves behind his wife Charlotte and three children.

Matt Light Honored as the Newest Member of the Hall:
Former Patriot LT Matt Light is the latest member of the Patriots to be elected into the team’s Hall of Fame. Light, in a fan vote, outdistanced former LB Mike Vrabel and DL Richard Seymour this spring and will be inducted on September 29 during the 10th anniversary of the Hall at Patriots Place.

Light played left tackle for 11 years and started 153 of the 155 games he appeared in during his Patriots career, including another 20 playoff games. Light was an integral member of three Super Bowl titles and garnered three Pro Bowl selections, and a first-team All-Pro selection.

Light was always approachable and affable with a quick wit and that no doubt played into his selection. He said all the right things after being selected, stating, “I was extremely fortunate not only to make it to the NFL but make it to an organization that took winning first. Right behind that were so many other things that made my experience extremely special, whether it was the community service side and giving back, and the people that I got to meet, and raising my family here in New England.”

As I stated on our Patriots 4th & 2 podcast this week, I had no issue with any of the three finalists as they are all worthy. But as for Seymour, he belongs in Canton and should be wearing two jackets, one gold, one red.

Patriots OL line up helmets after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Shelton, “it kinda sucked at first” 5th Year Option Denied, But Ready to Run:
New Patriots defensive lineman Danny Shelton was a bit disappointed that the Patriots turned down his fifth-year option just after trading for him but looks upon it as a chance to excel.

“Obviously, it sucked at first,” Shelton said. “At the same time, you’ve got to think of it as an opportunity. For me, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be here for the year and to just try my best to dominate and put myself out there and see what happens after that.”

Shelton is trying to shed some extra weight and get to his playing weight of 335 and he’s been doing more running than ever before.

“I feel like my body is adjusted now to all the running, man. It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “But, I like it.”

He was asked about running the hill behind the Patriots practice facility and although he admitted he “waved at it”, hasn’t experienced it yet but knows the team places an extremely high premium on conditioning.

“That’s what I’m focusing on, and that’s why I like the change,” Shelton said, when asked about improving his endurance level. “I know my body will be more trained for endurance, and more trained for fourth quarter/overtime. I’m excited for the rest of the year.”

“I’m expecting to be at 335 and dominating at 335,” he added.

Patriots Football is back! (SBalestrieri photo)

Kraft, Latest Figurehead to be Deposed in Kaepernick Collusion Case:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the latest in a series of NFL owners and front office personnel to be deposed in the Colin Kaepernick vs the NFL collusion suit.

Lawyers have already spoken to John Elway of the Broncos, owner Bob McNair of the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and GM Ozzie Newsome, as well as Dallas owner Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league claiming collusion last fall, and remains unsigned by any team. His suit claims the league is blackballing him for kneeling in protest during the national anthem while playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

And all of these owners, coaches, and GMs had quarterback openings on their team.

Patriots Sign OL King Cut WR Lacy:
The Patriots re-signed offensive linemen Jason King and in a corresponding move have released UDFA rookie WR Chris Lacy. King had been signed to a futures contract on Feb. 6, 2018 and was released on May 10.

King is a 6’4, 310 pound OL from Purdue who was signed by the Patriots as a UDFA in 2017. He bounced between the Patriots active roster and the practice squads of both New England and Baltimore last season.

Lacy was a UDFA 6’3, 205-pound wide receiver from Oklahoma State who caught 20 passes for 264 yards as a senior.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Set to Retire Thurman Thomas’ #34 Jersey:
The Buffalo Bills announced this week that Thurman Thomas’ # 34 jersey will become the third number retired in franchise history when the Bills host the Patriots on Monday Night Football Oct. 29. Thomas will join quarterback Jim Kelly and defensive end Bruce Smith to receive the honor.

Thomas, already a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Bills’ Ring of Honor spent 12 seasons in Buffalo and one season with the Miami Dolphins, amassing 12,074 yards rushing and 65 touchdowns on 2,877 career attempts. A true dual-threat running back, Thomas added 4,458 yards and 23 touchdowns on 472 catches.

Thomas led the league in yards from scrimmage for four straight years and was a key part of the Bills K-Gun attack that went to four straight Super Bowls.

Dolphins Offense Plans on Playing Faster More UpTempo in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are planning on dusting off their early 2016 season offensive game plan on playing faster and more uptempo now that Ryan Tannehill is back under center. They tried it early in 2016 while the team was struggling and going 1-4 and then scrapped it for a more methodical approach.

But as a piece in the Palm Beach Post suggests, it was not without merit. The Dolphins trailed the Patriots 31-3 and then mounted a huge comeback that came up just short in the 31-24 loss.

“We get a lot of practice at a no-huddle offense,” Tannehill said after the game. “It’s kind of what we are. We have the ability to go huddle or no huddle and we kind of got the pressure on them. We kind of got them on their heels a little bit.”

The onus and all of the focus will be on Tannehill as this is it for him. He’ll have to prove he’s the franchise QB or the team will move on from him. He’ll have to get on the same page with several newcomers, including Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, as well as rookies Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.

Prosecutors Drop Felony Case Against Jets Robby Anderson:
The New York Jets WR Robby Anderson may have dodged a bullet in a felony case in Florida where he was facing four felony counts after leading police officers on a high-speed chase thru Miami-Dade County. After being pulled over by police officers, Anderson reportedly threatened to sexually assault the officer’s wife in retaliation for pulling him over.

He was also arrested in another case where he assaulted a security officer and pushing a police officer in May of last year at a concert in Miami.

Anderson, who had career highs with the Jets had 63 receptions, 941 yards and seven TDs in 2017 and although rumors were swirling that he’d be cut loose, the Jets are standing by him with CEO Christopher Johnson stating at the league meeting this spring that he believes Anderson will turn over a new leaf.

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.

Best and Most Important Off-season Additions for the Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
May 16, 2018 at 2:48 pm ET

Sometimes it is unfair to base everything on the previous season on just one game but when that game is the Super Bowl, it is hard to erase those memories. And for the Patriots, the problems that were plain to see in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia were symptomatic of problems the team faced all season and was able to overcome.

But against a team with a hot quarterback and an offense that blew out the prevailing #1 defense in the NFL, perhaps we should not have been so surprised at the outcome. Specifically, the defense all season struggled to stop the run, especially inside, they struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback as well as setting the edge and the coverage by the linebackers was spotty at best.

So how did the team address these deficiencies? It is important to note that the Patriots consider free agency and the draft inexorably linked. They use their draft capital for veteran players as the feeling is, their quality is a more known value than a college player who has yet to play in the NFL. So when looking at the offseason and the draft, for New England, it is always important to use Free Agency when judging the merits of the General Manager’s prowess at team building. (clears throat)

So who is the most important off-season addition in 2018? Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn checks the block for two of the most important areas that need to be addressed. Setting the edge and getting after the quarterback. The Patriots like their edge guys to be a bit bigger than the greyhounds that populate the NFL landscape today. Because the value setting the edge as a priority. And Clayborn is big, 6’5, 280 pounds of relentless

After an offseason of losing Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long to free agency, Rob Ninkovich to retirement and Dont’a Hightower, top 2017 draft choice Derek Rivers as well as rookie Harvey Langi on IR last year, they were notoriously thin at the position.

One bright spot was the play of rookie Deatrich Wise who chipped in 26 total tackles and five sacks. He added an additional four tackles and two sacks in three playoff games. Less impressive, however, was the play of Cassius Marsh, who wasn’t a fit in the Patriots system and Eric Lee, both of whom had issues setting the edge. That’s why they brought James Harrison late in the season. It put too much pressure on Trey Flowers and the defense suffered for it.

Hightower, Langi, and Rivers are back, which is huge. Wise will be better in Year 2 which helps but in getting Clayborn, the Patriots should have plenty of depth, and production…if everyone can stay healthy.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick have known Clayborn’s value for some time now. He played at Iowa under Belichick close friend Kirk Ferentz, they watched him in joint practices where he played for another Belichick close confidant in Greg Schiano.

“He’s had a good career,” head coach Bill Belichick told Patriots.com. “He’s been a very productive player in multiple positions. So, again, look forward to working with him. I know he’s a solid person, works hard, tough kid. I think he’ll be a good addition to our program. We’ll see how it all goes.”

He’s had injury issues over his career but was healthy for all of 2017 and had a career-high 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Falcons. He’s yet another former 1st round draft pick (#20 overall in 2011), that the Patriots have brought in later in their career.

With the addition of Danny Shelton inside with Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and the return of Vincent Valentine, the interior of the defensive line should be much improved over 2017. They also double-dipped at linebacker in Rounds 5-6 in the 2018 NFL Draft with Ja’Whaun Bentley (#143) and Christian Sam (#178) which should also help the issues with the position.

Overall on paper, the unit they have now, with the additional players they’ve added in the secondary looks much, much better than the squad that took the field in the Super Bowl. So who is the most important addition to the defense?

He actually isn’t an addition at all, but his responsibilities are added on to. Brian Flores.

With Matt Patricia now a head coach in Detroit, Flores has the play-calling responsibilities as a defensive coordinator but not the title, which he doesn’t care for anyway. Flores himself, the Patriots linebacker coach/defensive coordinator has gotten consideration from the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching position. Flores has been with the Pats since 2004 and will be watched closely in 2018 to see how he handles the pressure.

When he met with the media about a week ago, it is pretty obvious why so many speak so highly of him. He says all the right things and has his head screwed on straight. His main defensive philosophy is to help the players become the best version of themselves — on and off the field.

Belichick had to be smiling when he saw that Flores, after being asked many times about putting his own personal stamp on the defense, deferred. Instead, he mentioned making a “team imprint” on defense.

Flores said that he’s hard on the players but gets the best out of them. “I’m tough on the players. I think you need to be tough on them so they can be disciplined. You need the discipline to play this game.”

His goal he said, is “going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team.” Flores spoke about playing under pressure, being tough, smart and dependable. All of these things are exactly the right thing to say if you’re Flores. Now he’ll have to do it on the field and prove that he’s up to the task. Something about that leads one to believe that he will be just fine as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

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.

Trent Harris, “Toolbox Trent” Fits the Mold, For a Patriots UDFA

Steve Balestrieri
May 8, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before. This guy is too small, too slow, is easily blocked in the running game too often and has little chance to make the team. Except that all he does is make plays and keeps showing up on the highlight reel tape.

“That guy”, in this case, is former Miami Hurricane DE Trent Harris, a UDFA defensive end who wasn’t invited to the 2018 NFL Combine and went undrafted in last month’s 2018 NFL Draft, despite leading the Canes in sacks in 2017.

Harris logged 8.5 sacks, six QB hurries, 37 tackles with 10.5 for a loss. He finished his UM career with 126 tackles (26.5 for loss) and 15 sacks.

Standing at 6’2, 250 pounds, Harris doesn’t have the length that the Patriots and most teams are looking for and he’s light, especially in a Patriots system that requires the defensive end to set the edge first and then rush the passer.

But despite those limitations, he’s been amazingly adept at rushing the passer. At the “U” his teammates nicknamed him “Toolbox Trent” because he had a vast array of moves and used his smarts and football savvy to beat defenders rather than just raw speed and athleticism.

He was also versatile for Miami. During one possession sequence, he lined up as a defensive end, middle linebacker (Mike), and a strong-side linebacker (SAM). Those are the kind of small things that will get you noticed and may keep you around during the dog days of training camp. He has played all three linebacker positions as well as a rush end. Plus he’d immediately play on Special Teams.

“I love defensive end, hand in the dirt, getting to the quarterback,” he said. “Who doesn’t love getting to the quarterback? But I’m pretty versatile, so wherever the coach needs me, that’s where I’m happy to play.”

Often you’ll the term, “his tape doesn’t measure his timed speed.” Which means although a player may run well in the 40-yard dash but his playing speed is much slower. For Harris, the opposite may well be true. He ran a slow 5.02 time in the 40 at his Pro Day. But watching his tape, while he’s not a burner by any stretch, he’s quick off the ball and relentless. He uses his hands well and has a nice closing burst.

His former defensive line coach at Miami Craig Kuligowski, now with Alabama, told the media back before the draft that Harris will play in the NFL.


“He’s got special pass-rushing skills,” Kuligowski said. “He’s a guy that can play on every special teams. He’s very smart. If Trent gets drafted late, he’ll be a steal.”

How the Patriots envision Harris will be interesting to see. He could be sub-package defensive end who gets after the quarterback or they could envision him as a linebacker that is able to blitz off the edge or up the interior gaps.

The patriotic Harris (already a perfect fit) honored his brother by saluting every time he sacked an opposing QB. His brother is a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, NC.

Harris is a longshot to make the roster right now, but as we’ve seen before, UDFAs have a way of getting a chance to show what they’ve got with the Patriots. Every year at least one seems to make the roster and many provide significant snaps. Will Harris be that guy? Time will tell.

For the kid who is too small, and too slow, this may be the perfect place to get noticed. All he does is make plays. We’ll be watching him this spring and summer and watch him empty the “toolbox” in an attempt to make the roster.

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 5-6 & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 6, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-6, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: One of the nicer stories to see this week was about a woman in the Philadelphia area who is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan needed a kidney transplant. She found a matched donor from the New Haven, CT area who, you guessed it is a life-long Patriots fan.

The woman, Patricia Pizzimenti,  recognized the irony of all of it, just after their transplant on March 8 and after meeting her donor, Michael Houlihan made up t-shirts that captured the humanity of the moment and the humor in it all. Well done all around.

Bill Belichick was named to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition by Donald Trump as was former Yankee great Mariano Rivera, Herschel Walker, Misty May-Treanor, Natalie Gulbis and Dr. Oz.

This is a tradition that has been going on since probably the late 1950s and of course set off quick hot takes that seek to politicize everything between “the Donald” and the Patriots ever since that “MAGA” hat was seen in a locker in Foxboro a couple of years ago. Does this mean that the Yankees have a “Trump Problem” like a well-known media outlet decried about the Patriots? How did Bill react?

“The physical fitness of children in our country is an apolitical issue that is extremely important to our future. … I was humbled to be asked and honored to accept, as I would have done for any administration.”

Belichick’s statement attempted to depoliticize this but, I guarantee this will be raised in his next press conference, not as an honor but about his political connection with #45.

Robert Kraft was courtside at the Celtics Game 2 against the 76ers with recently freed rapper Meek Mill, and Gucci Mane (Mane is a C’s Fan and a friend of Jaylen Brown) and the three were seen having an animated discussion. Chalk that one up to something you would have never dreamed as a possible scenario a few months ago.

So, on to the news this week, but first …

The Culture of Winning, the Biggest Cause of Tension in the Patriots Locker Room:
After hearing ad nauseum the latest daily dose of the “tension in the Patriots” between the coach and two of his star players as everyone becomes an amateur profiler from watching “Criminal Minds” and are psychoanalyzing Gronk’s tweets, and Brady’s body language and piecing together the subliminal messages that may have passed between all three…please.

Is there tension in Foxboro? You betcha there is. Is it new or anything more so than they’ve ever had before? No. So why is there so much tension there?

It is called a culture of winning. Bill Belichick knows and has witnessed, in his 35+ years in the NFL, the first thing that will destroy a great football team is being self-satisfied and complacent. The “we’re the best” and we’ve earned it” smug attitude will get a team knocked off their perch faster than a speeding bullet.

And this isn’t anything new or unique, as I pointed out in a recent Patriots 4th and 2 podcast, while I was never a professional athlete, I spent more than a dozen years as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces. If there is a bigger testosterone-driven, Type A personality atmosphere bigger than a professional sports team, that is it.

After everything we did, we’d do an After-Action Review, (Hot washes, we’d call them) and they were very critical of every minutia of the operation. If you had a thin skin, you wouldn’t last long. There was tension every day. That is what made us so close to one another. It is also what made the unit so great.  

So, how does Belichick stop the Patriots from falling into this trap, and has succeeded far beyond any of his contemporaries? He doesn’t allow any complacency or self-satisfaction. As Brady said in the Jim Gray interview, if anyone bothered to watch the entire thing, besides the “I PLEAD THE FIFTH,” comment, Brady explained how Belichick would constantly harp in film studies on the things the team did wrong to keep them sharp, even during an 18-0 run during the 2007 season.

Brady did a pretty good Belichick impression and then followed it up with saying, “Humble pie was served,” adding “it was a very grounding force for all of us.” And this isn’t anything new, the Patriots and Belichick have always been known as the never satisfied bunch because Belichick is always working on keeping the players moving forward.

Because once a player or a team is satisfied, they stop growing and will start losing. Is it a difficult environment to play in, feeling like you’re constantly on the cusp of being cut and having to prove yourself day after day. Of course, it is. Do players, even great ones like Brady and Gronkowski chafe at that treatment? No doubt. But while they’ll chafe at it, they know, they won’t reach their full potential without it.

The Patriots have won at least 10 games for 15 years in a row. No one else in this era can come close to touching that. Russ Goldman, our host of the “4th and 2” podcast did a soccer show recently where he interviewed one of the top goaltenders of the English premier league, Asmir Begovic who won a championship and is coincidentally a die-hard Patriots fan. He asked Begovic if he’s had tension in a locker room in the EPL (English Premier League) and he laughed. He told him every day there is tension and it comes from trying to win championships.

Hopefully, Russ will schedule Begovic on our podcast again soon and we can revisit that conversation for our listeners. Much rather do that than to respond to quotes from the ultracrepidarianism that seem to be rampant on certain sports talk radio shows.

Matt Ryan’s Contract Is Testament on How Difficult it is to Find a Franchise QB:
The Falcons have given QB Matt Ryan a mammoth five-year, $100 million dollar deal with $94.5 million of it fully guaranteed. The other $5.5million is guaranteed for injury only. Ryan’s contract will pay him $30 million dollars this season. He is now the highest paid QB in the NFL. For comparison purposes, Tom Brady will make $20.5 million in 2018.

Ryan has always been a good but not great quarterback in his 10-year NFL career since coming out of Boston College. That changed in 2016 when he had a career year and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl where they narrowly lost to the Patriots in the first overtime game in NFL history.

But it is telling on how hard it is to find…and keep franchise QBs in the league. Of the top five paid NFL QBs in 2018, (Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr) only Ryan has a playoff win (4-6 career record in the postseason). Carr and Garoppolo have yet to appear in the postseason and the other two are 0-4.

Aaron Rodgers has to be looking at this and smiling as he’s soon due for a new contract and will most certainly command more money than any of those five. Brady at $20.5 million? Is an absolute bargain

Patriots Decline Options on Shelton, Brown, Dorsett for 2019:
More than a few eyebrows were raised this week when the Patriots declined their fifth-year options on defensive tackles, Danny Shelton, Malcolm Brown, and Phillip Dorsett.

On the Wednesday deadline, the Patriots are betting on the market for the defensive tackles being less than the $7.1 million that would be their financial boon in the final year of their rookie deals. And call it what it is. This is a financial decision, not one based on performance.

Brown has been generally good for the Patriots on the field and Shelton hasn’t played a down yet. The team still has the option of signing one or both with extensions during the regular season. Dorsett, on the other hand, is more of an open and shut case. He’s hardly a lock for even making the roster at this point with a crowded field during the upcoming training camp. Dorsett had trouble getting in tune with Tom Brady and the offense in 2017. He had only 12 catches on the season.

Reps are going to be hard to come by in the Patriots offense next season. With Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back, Chris Hogan healthy, and Rob Gronkowski back in the fold, reps will be earned. My player to watch is Jordan Matthews for the wide receivers, but we shall see who earns the looks this summer.

Spring Reps at Tackle Will Be Interesting to Chart:
Right now, on paper, the Patriots have a ton of depth at tackle. Tackles like cornerbacks is something you can never have too many of. But when the OTAs and minicamp begins, don’t expect to hear of too many of them being on the field.

Although Tony Garcia was supposedly given a clean bill of health after his blood clot issues in his lungs, expect the Patriots to be particularly cautious with him in the spring and allow him to acclimate back into playing shape.

Ditto for top draft pick Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown who the team recently drafted in the 1st round and then traded for soon after. Both had shoulder surgery in the winter and while they both claim to be healthy, the team will probably take things slow with both. And Marcus Cannon, the team’s starting right tackle from 2017?

He was placed on IR due to a foot/ankle injury late last season and isn’t expected to be ready until June, which probably puts everything thru the team’s minicamp out of the question.

The first time we’ll probably see all of these players on the field at the same time will be training camp. That will give them time to carve out roles for themselves. But at the same time, the other players on the roster, who will be fighting for reps/roster spots will get a leg up on the competition.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Hire Dan Morgan as Director of Player Personnel:
The Buffalo Bills have made a solid hire with the signing of Dan Morgan who will head up Buffalo’s scouting department.  Morgan was an All-Pro linebacker for the Carolina Panthers during his seven-year playing career.

He became a scouting intern for the Seattle Seahawks and worked his way up through the ranks as a pro scout and was eventually promoted to Assistant Director of Pro Personnel in 2013, and the Director of Pro Personnel in 2015.

He takes the place of Brian Gaine who left to become the Houston Texans General Manager. Bills GM Brandon Beane spoke to the media about Morgan and believes he is prepared for the job.

“The great thing about Seattle is they allowed him to get out on the road some. So even though he was doing pro, he was on the road doing college stuff. His main background is on the pro side, but he’s touched college as well and that makes him a good fit for the role.”

Dolphins Claim QB Bryce Petty Off Waivers From the Jets:
The Miami Dolphins didn’t wait long to snag QB Bryce Petty after he was released by the New York Jets. Petty was without a team less than 24 hours when he was scooped up by Miami.

Many had the Dolphins targeting a QB early in the 2018 NFL, but they eschewed that and didn’t even take a developmental one. Instead, turning their picks in the first two rounds into DB Minkah Fitzpatrick and TE Mike Gesicki

Petty has started in seven career games while with the Jets going 1-6 and completing just 53 percent of his passes. With Ryan Tannehill expected to be fully healthy this summer after missing all of 2017, Petty will be battling Brock Osweiler and David Fales for backup QB duties.

Todd Bowles Cracks Up Media After First Jets Rookie Practice:
The New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles is usually a quiet, presence on the podium during the Jets press conferences. After Sam Darnold’s first rookie practice on the Jets, the media rushed to ask Bowles his first impressions of the Jets rookie QB.

Bowles, having fun with the moment, came out of character for a bit and in mock enthusiasm, slammed his open hand on the podium and shouted, “He was great! I want him to play right now!”

That cracked up the media members who have to ask these questions but it also diffused the questions for a bit…at least. As Bowles was saying, Darnold has a long way to go to learn the Jets offense and it is going to take time. But they won’t hold him back, they want him to progress at his own rate.

Darnold said all the right things, calling himself a naive rookie just trying to fit in, but in truth he’s anything but. Expectations are thru the roof with him, whether he wants it or is ready. The team will have patience but Darnold knows all eyes will be on him all summer.

“It’s just really cool how excited they are about me being here,” he said. “It’s really awesome to have that feeling, that you feel wanted. Whether I’m wanted or not, I’m going to come in here and do my thing.”

For now, Josh McCown is the starter and Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Hackenberg will be all in the mix, but once he’s deemed ready, the job will be his to lose. Jets fans, hungry for a franchise QB since the days of Joe Namath, are expecting much, much more.  

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 4-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-22, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: 

Rob Gronkowski had a bizarre press conference where he clearly was sending a message to Bill Belichick and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

It has been said that Gronkowski wants a new deal, there are ways to get that without resorting to what transpired. It wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, it was planned. Gronkowski’s dad was with him and laughing at his comments.  The Patriots gave him a long-term deal when his health was an issue. They backed him, and now he’s acting like the wronged party here. That could be a big miscalculation.

The weather this week for the Boston Marathon was hardly the ideal conditions for running that or any kind of race. A cold rain was falling with winds blowing right in the runners faces. Congratulations to all who participated in and finished this year’s race. The Patriots Marathon Team all finished this year and raised more than $223,000 for charity. Well done.

The 2018 NFL Schedule was released this week and of course the first thing everyone does is (and we’re all guilty of it), is to try to analyze the schedule and predict what the final outcome of the season will be. It is an exercise in futility of course. Before the draft, no one knows what the landscape across the league will look like yet.

But of course it never stops some, and the first on deck was the Washington Post to loudly proclaim that the Patriots once again have the easiest schedule in the league. Playing seven playoff teams and few others (Green Bay, Houston, and Detroit) who will no doubt again be in the mix hardly seems like a cupcake schedule, but it always seems that way. BTW the much-maligned AFC East had two playoff teams in both 2017 and 2016.

One thing that definitely stands out is the final month of the season, which is a carbon copy of the 2017 season. Road games at the Dolphins and the Steelers, followed by home games to finish the regular season versus the Bills and Jets.

James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL this week, citing the desire to spend more time with his family. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker was released at the end of the regular season and signed by the Patriots.

“I’ve missed way too much for way too long…and I’m done,” Harrison wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to my family, coaches, the fans, and everyone who played a role in my football life.”

Despite having to learn the defense on the fly, Harrison played very effectively, logging nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, having arguably the best game of anyone on the team’s front seven.

Kudos to Johnny Manziel and his agent, with the draft upcoming, the media buzz around him has noticeably cooled from a few weeks ago. So Manziel just happened to have himself photographed wearing Patriots garb this week. No other team will garner such a visceral reaction on social media. And Bingo!, he’s news again. Well played.

Quoteworthy Belichick Tidbits:
Bill Belichick was in a presser speaking about the team-building process last week and had this gem, that puts his philosophy out there…in case anyone forgot.

“So the preseason schedule was released and I noticed that there are no games in May, June, or July. Preseason games are in August, so it doesn’t look like the regular season is going to start until September this year.”

Patriots Lose an Icon From the Booth:
Late in the week, we got the very sad news that long-time Patriots radio announcer Gil Santos had passed away on his 80th birthday and also his 57th wedding anniversary.

Santos was the final announcer from the old AFL days, having begun his stint with the Patriots as their color man during the 1966 season. In 1970, he took over as the play-by-play man for the Patriots thru the 1979 season. Working for WBZ, the station lost the rights to the Patriots games from 1980-1990 and Santos was out. However, in 1991, they regained the rights to the Patriots broadcasts and Santos would be the “Voice of the Patriots from 1991 thru the 2012 season.

His final game was the 2012 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was his 759th Patriots game called on the air. He is a member of the Patriots’ Team Hall of Fame as a contributor. He and partner Gino Cappelletti worked the booth from 1972-79 and again from 1990-2011 when Cappelletti retired and was replaced by Scott Zolak.

Santos rich baritone and always exquisite timing made him one of the very best in the business. From all accounts, he was a very gracious man who never made the moment about himself and had a manner of announcing that made the listener feel that they were right in the booth with them. No one who follows the Patriots can forget the final drive call of his from Super Bowl XXXVI which will remain an icon for the team and the fans.

For a guy who saw the very lean years in the late ‘60s and early ‘90s to finally see the team win their first of five Super Bowls was one of those moments that transcend just the call of a football game. Santos was one of us and you could hear the emotion in his voice as well as Cappelletti, who played in those years. “Well New England, you have the best football team in the world now.”

Growing up in that era, Boston was blessed with some of the best radio voices ever. Santos covering the Patriots, Bob Wilson with the Bruins, Ned Martin calling the Red Sox and Johnny Most covering the Celtics. There were too many school nights to recall where we’d turn an old transistor radio down way low while we were supposed to be sleeping on a school night to hear Wilson or Martin calling a game from the West Coast.

Santos was a frequent guest in the family car on fall weekends when we’d travel to see relatives who lived all over the New England area. His work never changed whether the team was very good or very bad and many times in-between. The mark of a true professional. For those who may have missed it, I’d recommend the book Santos and Cappelletti wrote, “A View from the Booth” which was a great look behind the scenes.  

RIP Gil and thanks for so many great memories. And a call I never get tired of listening to, thanks to Kliff Kingsbury:

Decisions, Decisions, Trying to Decipher What the Pats Will Do in Round 1:
The Patriots have a lot of draft capital in the upcoming draft with two picks in both the first and second rounds. Now everyone is trying to predict what the team will do with all of that capital.

Will they trade up for an elite prospect or one of the quarterbacks, stay put at 23 and 31 and draft some impact players that will immediately help the team or trade back to acquire more draft capital for the middle-to-late rounds. One thing does appear certain, that the team will at one point trade back since they don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds.

Just some history here, this will be the 14th time in the Patriots history, (if they keep the picks) that they’ll use two or more picks in the first round. Back in the 1970s, the team under Chuck Fairbanks drafted exceptionally well. He had two (2), three pick first rounds taking John Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley in 1973, And Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox in 1976. Fairbanks then drafted Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan in the first round of 1977.

Bill Belichick has dipped twice in the first round on two different occasions. He took Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson in 2004 and Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the 2012 NFL Draft. How he decides to proceed on April 26, will depend on how the board plays out. But if he does decide to move up, two slots to keep an eye on are #9 currently held by the 49ers and # 14 held by the Packers. It should be quite an interesting night this week.

Team Hall of Fame Finalists Announced:
The Patriots announced their finalists for the 2018 Team Hall of Fame. All three were teammates on the early 2000’s three-time Super Bowl winning teams. Matt Light, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel are this year’s finalists.

This is the first time for Light to be named a finalist while Seymour is a finalist for the second straight year, while Vrabel is a finalist for the third straight year.

Fans can vote at patriots.com/2018hof through May 14. The Pats will announce the 2018 Patriots Hall of Fame selection that week.  

One interesting footnote is that if Vrabel were to get selected, he’d be the first former player, who also happened to be a head coach of a team the Patriots would play later in the season.

The Patriots have the only team Hall of Fame that is elected by the fan base, which is both a positive and a negative in the process. However, this year’s selection will be the 27th player or contributor to enter the team’s Hall. From the Pats’ website, the following greats are listed in alphabetical order and the year that they were inducted.

Houston Antwine (2015)
Bruce Armstrong (2001)
Raymond Clayborn (2017)
Drew Bledsoe (2011)
Troy Brown (2012)
Tedy Bruschi (2013)
Nick Buoniconti (1992)
Gino Cappelletti (1992)
Ben Coates (2008)
Sam Cunningham (2010)
Bob Dee (1993)
Kevin Faulk (2016)
Steve Grogan (1995)
John Hannah (1991)
Mike Haynes (1994)
Jim Lee Hunt (1993)
Ty Law (2014)
Willie McGinest (2015)
Stanley Morgan (2007)
Jon Morris (2011)
Jim Nance (2009)
Steve Nelson (1993)
Vito “Babe” Parilli (1993)
Andre Tippett (1999)

Contributors:
William H. “Billy” Sullivan, Jr. (2009)
Gil Santos (2013)

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Who Comes Up With This Stuff? Bills Already Picked to Be Worst:
The Buffalo Bills were a playoff team in 2017 but according to ESPN’s Mike Clay, they should stay home in 2018 because according to him, the Bills will own the #1 pick as the NFL’s worst team this season. This is before the draft takes place.

Buffalo made great strides in 2017 and own five draft picks in the first 65 of the upcoming draft…but that didn’t let stop him from predicting the bottom to fall out. Clay didn’t stop there, he picked Buffalo to finish 2-14 along with Miami. And the Jets? Clay gives them a whopping four wins at 4-12. So the Bills and Jets will have the top two picks in 2019 with the Jets picking fourth. Wow.

And for anyone keeping score at home, Clay last year reported that Bills’ secondary was the fifth worst positional grouping in the NFL.

Dolphins Fans Remain Optimistic Despite Lackluster Predictions:
The Miami Dolphins as referenced above by ESPN’s Clay were picked to finish 2-14, they were considerably better in ESPN’s Mike Rodak prediction going 8-8 improving from last year’s 6-10.

The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser also went thru the Dolphins’ slate also going with a 8-8 record, predicting a New England Patriots sweep this season while predicting a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans were feeling much more confident than Clay, (they may not want to see his piece). Going thru each game, Dolphins fans picked how they saw the season playing out and gave the Fins a very respectable 10-6 record. A couple of surprises there as 79 percent feel that the Fins will beat the Titans in Week 1. In a close pick they mainly feel confident against the Jaguars 51-49, but much so against the Patriots at home, 64 percent predict a win.

Mayfield to the Jets Gaining Momentum:
The New York Jets with less than a week to go before the draft are still looking for that elusive franchise quarterback. And the rumors that they are going to go for Baker Mayfield over Josh Allen, who they just had in for a visit. We’re not going to lie, Mayfield would be a fun fit in New York and with his fiery demeanor would immediately put the Patriots – Jets rivalry right back where it should be. Thursday night can’t get here fast enough.

In other news, longtime Jets standout offensive lineman Nick Mangold announced his retirement. And the team announced that they have picked up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

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 4-1, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 1, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-1, & AFC East Notes

A happy April Fool’s Day and of course a Happy Easter to all our readers out there, for our Jewish friends, Happy Passover “chag Pesach sameach.”  From all of us here, we hope you enjoy the day with family and friends, healthy and safe.

Quick Hitters: Boston 25’s Butch Stearns had an informative sit down with former Patriot LT Nate Solder where the Giants recent addition spoke about how tough it was for him to leave the Patriots, calling it “bittersweet.”

“When I think of my team, I think of the Patriots,” he said. “I am transitioning into a new team, a new chapter in our lives. I think we will always be part of this community. We will always be part of the Patriot family because we have two championships here. We’ve done a lot here. Now, this is a new chapter and we’re going to be Giants. It’s exciting.”

So there is a racehorse name “Gronkowski” named after the Pats TE that is going to run in the Kentucky Derby? I can think of one person who will be betting heavily on that horse.

The Johnny Manziel story is still out there with the Patriots reportedly having another meeting with former Browns quarterback and the rumors continue to persist that the team will sign him to back up Tom Brady in 2018.

I’ve made my feelings on his fit here before but the Patriots and Bill Belichick have always gone to the beat of a different drummer. It would likely entail changing the offense to fit his skill set. Would he be exciting seeing running around the preseason field against a lot of players who won’t be on NFL rosters in September? No doubt. But I’ve never been a big believer that he’d have an impact in the NFL. So, we’ll see.

A lot of people have been asking about the possibility for the Patriots to trade for the Giants Odell Beckham Jr. Reportedly the Giants are asking for not one but two first-round draft picks for the talented WR. That’s far too rich for the Patriots to afford.  So in a trade? Who would you trade, Cooks? It is unlikely the Giants would go straight up and would want more consideration. Gronkowski? That is a lot to pay for a WR who is in the last year of his contract and will want to get paid and paid big. And for one who doesn’t know the offense. But most importantly of all, it isn’t a position of need. Far too expensive for a one-year rental.

Right after the Super Bowl, everyone was looking at where the team would be headed, personnel-wise in 2018. Almost universally everyone thought that the Patriots would either release Dwayne Allen or restructure his deal from his owed $5 million in 2018. Well, we’re less than a month away from the draft and Allen’s contract remains. Chalk that one up to a big surprise this spring.

Gronkowski on the Trading Block? Rumors Persist:
Another hot take item has been the “will he or won’t he” status of Pats TE Rob Gronkowski. His agent Drew Rosenhaus has stated that his client still hasn’t come to a decision on whether to play in 2018 and beyond. Which immediately opens up the rumor mill on whether it is a ploy to get more money for a new deal or if he’s seriously considering hanging it up and heading off to a new career as an action film star and WWE personality.

Gronk action film

If he is still truly waffling on retirement, then a trade scenario becomes a very real possibility. With Belichick, if you’re not 100 percent in…you know the rest. So this may not be as far-fetched as previously thought.

But Robert Kraft did say that he’s seen Gronkowski working out there after hours which is a good sign that he’s preparing for the offseason workouts that begin on April 16. Those will be interesting to see who is there and who isn’t.

But regardless, it won’t be a shock to see the team dip into the draft for an eventual replacement for Gronkowski who has two years left on his deal.

Belichick Losing the Locker Room? Perhaps Not After All:
In the aftermath of the Malcolm Butler interview with SI where he stated that he felt the Patriots could have won the Super Bowl had he played and wanted to confront the coaches during the game…but didn’t. The article opened up an entirely new conversation about the Patriots, their locker room, the recent free agent losses, and how “no one wants to go there in free agency”. There was also a renewal of the take that there is a deep rift in the locker room with Belichick needing to “clear the air” with the players. Not so fast.

NBC Sports Mike Giardi spoke with a couple of players offline about Butler’s interview and the answers weren’t what one would expect, given the recent storylines.

One current player said “we all wished it would have worked out better” but he (Butler) “should have focused on what mattered those 2 weeks.” Another player told Giardi “we didn’t like the decision but it wasn’t without merit.”

And Giardi added the following… worth a look and to ponder.

Sounds quite different from a fractured locker room but we’ll see. Belichick, at the league meetings and at various Pro Day workouts said he feels the energy of the team building phase of the offseason.

Kraft Doubles Down on Support of Belichick:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was asked about the Malcolm Butler question at the league meetings and had some very telling comments. He, like many others, had questions about the benching of Butler. But unlike many other meddling, non-football people owners, he spoke of trust.

“With my fan hat on, you can come up with all kinds of reasons or things, but here’s the deal: We in New England are privileged to have, I believe, the greatest coach in the history of coaching,” Kraft said. “We’re involved in a number of businesses in our family – we’re in 95 countries in the world – and we try to encourage to have good managers and we want them to be bold, we want them to take risks. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.”

“ I have faith in Bill as a coach that I don’t think there is anyone who has the football knowledge and expertise combined with understanding personnel – no one can merge those two worlds. He’s done pretty well for us over the last 18 years,” which was an understatement.

“So, as a fan, I can question some of the moves. As someone who is privileged to be the owner of this team, I encourage him to keep going with his instincts and doing what he thinks is right. There is no doubt in my mind, even if he made an error – and this is true with any of our managers – that if they’re doing it for the right reason, then I support it 100 percent,” he added.

“I’ve never had one instance in the 18 years where Bill hasn’t done what he believes is in the best interest of our team to help us win games.”

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Former Bills Coach Rex Ryan Expects Buffalo to Make a Push for the #2 Pick:
The Buffalo Bills under new coach Sean McDermott made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999. It was a testament to McDermott’s coaching that Buffalo made the postseason despite having the 26th rated defense and the 29th rated offense.

But the man McDermott replaced, Rex Ryan, believes the Bills may make a move to trade with the New York Giants to move up to the #2 spot in the NFL Draft looking for their franchise QB. And Ryan already thinks who it should be.

In an interview with the MMQB, Ryan said, “I do expect them to make a huge offer to the Giants and move up to No. 2. And if I was them, I would take Josh Allen. You need to have a guy to throw the ball in windy conditions, and no one has a bigger arm than that kid.”

Moving up won’t be cheap but if the Bills believe that their guy will be gone then it is a no-brainer. They’ve been searching for that elusive franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired.

Dolphins Made the Right Move in Adding Quinn for Suh:
The Miami Dolphins had a cap hit with Ndamukong Suh for over $26 million in 2018. After paying him $60 million, he never really transformed the Miami defense, especially in the running game as he was envisioned.

They added Robert Quinn whose cap hit of $14 million is much more doable and he brings the element of a game changer to the table as a player out on the edge who can get to the QB. Miami is moving him back to his natural position as a 4-3 defensive end and teamed with Cameron Wake, Charles Harris, and Andre Branch, not only will Miami be able to generate a lot of pressure on opposing QBs, Quinn, in this defense, should have immediate double-digit sack potential.

Meanwhile, the Rams signed Suh to a $14 million-dollar one-year deal. Advantage Miami.

Jets Sign RB Thomas Rawls From the Seahawks:
The New York Jets have found a very depth option behind Bilal Powell at the running back position and have signed former Seattle Seahawks back Thomas Rawls. Terms were not immediately announced.

Rawls was an undrafted running back out of Central Michigan in 2015 and burst on the scene when he replaced an injured Marshawn Lynch for Seattle.  His downhill, physical running style quickly got him noticed. The 5’9 dynamo averaged 5.6 yards a pop in 2015 and produced 830 yards on the ground that season.

But his all-out physical style has taken a toll, he’s been unable to stay on the field the past two years. But backing up Powell, he should be a dynamic #2 option. Good move for the Jets if Rawls can stay healthy this year.

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.

After Initial Free Agent Frenzy, What’s Next For the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The initial burst of signings is over in free agency, the Patriots lost four key players and brought in four of their own new players while resigning a few of their own free agents. So, now the question is, where are they at this point in free agency and what are their needs right now with still plenty of free agents still out there before the NFL Draft starts.

They’ve already addressed some of their needs early in free agency. That doesn’t mean that they’re done at any position per se, we would still expect them to double down on some positions in the draft.

With that said, after the initial free agency period what the are the Patriots biggest needs moving forward that can be addressed in free agency, the draft or both?

Left Tackle: No one wants to downplay the losses of Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler or Dion Lewis, but the loss of Nate Solder arguably hurts the most because the team, at least initially has no replacement in place. With Marcus Cannon on the right side, the Patriots need a left tackle. Their two backup swing tackles, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are free agents. Ideally, the team would like to get both back.

There are also some players on the roster that they’ve stashed from 2017 Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks. They just signed Matt Tobin, who was a backup swing tackle from Seattle. Last season the Patriots moved up in the draft to snag Antonio Garcia in the 3rd round of the draft. But Garcia missed the season with an illness where he lost 40 pounds. He’s now cleared to resume his football career but will he be ready?

This year’s draft isn’t a great one for tackles and the one most associated with New England seems to be UCLA’s, Kolton Miller. And I’m not a fan of this if that is who they are targeting. He tends to play too upright and to me is too much of a finesse player which reminds me of last year’s pick also from UCLA Connor McDermott. Croston beat him out for a roster spot.

How they approach the next few weeks and the draft will tell a lot of how they feel about their current situation. If they resign Waddle or Fleming and then don’t draft a tackle high, then they believe that Garcia will be their guy and Waddle is insurance. If they go for a tackle early in the draft, then that answers that question.

Linebacker: The Patriots front seven needed a big upgrade this offseason. They will be getting back Dont’a Hightower, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi off of IR so that already increases the depth. But then they added a big defensive lineman in Danny Shelton, a two-gapping space eater who can take on the double teams and allow the linebackers to stuff the run. And they added Adrian Clayborn, a 280-pound defensive end that can set the edge in the running game and get pressure on the quarterback.

Now they need a linebacker inside with better athleticism than they have. The two guys in free agency that we liked, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were quickly signed elsewhere.There are some very intriguing names in the draft. The Patriots usually like their linebackers big, although the trend is going smaller, faster and more athletic. One big guy who is intriguing is Leighton Vander Esch. Bill Belichick was just at Alabama and they have a very impressive backer in Rashaan Evans but he’ll probably be gone before they pick at #31.

Belichick also scouted South Carolina’s Skai Moore, an undersized, smaller type player who led his team in tackles for four years. He’d be a mid-to-late round guy. Some others in that vein are Joe Ostman a DE/OLB from Central Michigan and Jack Cichy from Wisconsin.

Quarterback: So, do the Patriots like any of these quarterbacks in this season’s draft? Everyone is assuming that they’re going to draft one early and look for the successor to Tom Brady but would I be shocked if they pass? No. They always seem to do the opposite of what everyone is predicting for them.

Trying to predict which quarterback the Patriots will pick is another difficult proposition.  The ones who seem to fit what they do are Kyle Lauletta from Richmond who was a mid/late round prospect until his Senior Bowl performance turned some heads.

Other guys rumored to be on the Patriots radar are Luke Falk and Logan Woodside. But something to keep in mind if he’s still around when the Patriots pick is Louisville QB, Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals play in the same system, the Erhardt-Perkins system that New England uses.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is still slated to return this season. But we haven’t heard any confirmation on that. His agent had said that he was contemplating retirement. Regardless, the Patriots need to begin planning for his replacement, as crazy as that sounds with a 28-year old tight end who is still at the top of his game.

Dwayne Allen remains as does Jacob Hollister. Allen has a $5 million dollar contract and was a terrific blocker but offered very little in the passing game. Hollister flashed the ability to make some tough catches and to attack the seams but will need to make a big second-year step up in his play.

There are some good tight ends in the draft. The Patriots have met twice now with South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst. The former professional baseball pitcher is already 24 and maxed out physically but is an impressive player. He has excellent hands and above average speed. His production suffered from poor QB play on many occasions, having watched most of SC games.

Other excellent options in the draft include Dallas Goedert from S.Dakota St., Mike Gesicki, from Penn State, and Mark Andrews from Oklahoma among others.

And of course, Martellus Bennett may reappear on the scene. He hinted on social media that he may return to the Patriots at a lesser amount. But they should look to get younger at the position but it never hurts to have a player of his ability on the roster either.

Running Back: The Patriots resigned Rex Burkhead and added Jeremy Hill to a very team friendly contract and seem like they are well stocked. Hill and Mike Gillislee will battle it out for the big back, short-yardage role. James White is the passing back, strictly third down option while Burkhead can do a bit of both. Brandon Bolden is the depth piece who plays special teams.

I’d still believe that the Patriots need a younger back to add to the puzzle to build for the future. And this draft is chock full of them. Some running backs slotted for the 2nd round or later include, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines, and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams.

The Patriots met with Hines at the Combine and then recently attended NC State’s Pro Day and have been speaking about how he feels he fits with New England as others have told him also…which usually means the team won’t touch him.

The team will probably also dip into the draft for an edge player as well. With Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler coupled with the return of Hightower and Derek Rivers, they have much better depth than the team that went to the Super Bowl just in February.

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 Trade for KR/WR Cordarrelle Patterson From the Raiders

Steve Balestrieri
March 18, 2018 at 8:21 pm ET

The Patriots have found their new kick returner. The Patriots have traded for Cordarrelle Patterson from the Oakland Raiders while swapping draft picks. The Patriots will send their fifth-round pick and receive Patterson and the Raiders sixth-round selection.

Patterson, 27, was a former 1st round pick of the Minnesota Vikings (29th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft. That pick coincidentally belonged to the Patriots. The slid back and received four picks in return. In essence, Patterson’s NFL life has now come full circle.

Patterson is known primarily as a kick returner and that will be his main function with New England. Dion Lewis had kick return duties in 2017 and averaged 24.8 yards per return. Patterson averaged 28.3 yards per kick return for the Raiders last season, the previous two seasons with Minnesota, he averaged over 31.

Patterson caught 31 passes for 309 yards and rushed for another 121 on the ground for the Raiders. He is in the final year of his contract that pays him a modest $3.25 million dollars in 2018.

This was a win for the Patriots, with Lewis and Danny Amendola gone, they lost both their Kick and Punt Returners from 2017. Cyrus Jones and others (see our post in the morning) will vie for punt return duties in 2018. But it seems that the kick return block has been checked. He has world class speed and has been an electrifying kick returner in the NFL.

If they get any kind of production out of Patterson in the passing game, it will be a bonus. He did catch 52 passes two years ago for the Vikings. With the rushing yardage he amassed, they could use his speed on Jet sweeps or those shovel passes as well as outside the numbers.

The trade is not official pending a physical.