Tag Archives: 2018 Patriots Free Agency

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.

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.

Patriots UDFA Class Is Good, But Jackson May Be a Keeper

Steve Balestrieri
May 3, 2018 at 7:46 am ET

Every year, like clockwork, the Patriots bring on a bevy of undrafted free agents and it seems at least one sticks on the roster, many times carving out a nice role for themselves. Malcolm Butler just left and signed a big contract with the Tennessee Titans but a few years ago he was an undrafted free agent like this latest crop and no one gave him much of a chance to make the roster.

We remember early in his first year after a training camp practice, he came over to the media area on the side of the practice field and was hardly spoken to until about midway thru training camp. No one believed he’d make the cut. He soon changed a lot of minds and was, after that, a popular player to interview. This year’s crop of free agents? Several look very intriguing but the best of the group may be former Maryland Terrapin cornerback J.C. Jackson.

Jackson started his college football career in Florida and almost ended up in prison. He was arrested for a felony, an armed home invasion but was later found not guilty. But that was the end of his career as a Gator. He went to a junior college and played his last two seasons at Maryland for head coach D.J. Durkin, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida during Jackson’s first college season

Durkin believed enough in Jackson to give him a fresh start and he made the most of it. Jackson himself believes that he’s a different person now and knew he was not on the right track. He’s straightened his life out and has made quite a turnaround.

He started in 23 of 24 games for Maryland and in 2017 made 40 tackles, three interceptions, with seven passes defensed. The Terps had a terrible season last year, but it had more to do with their rash of QB injuries as much as anything else. Because of this, Jackson largely flew under the radar.

But that is just scratching the surface. Jackson is a tough physical, if slightly undersized corner who is solid in run support, tackles well and provides very good man coverage.

Jackson has good athleticism and he will fight for the ball at the high point. While he isn’t a burner and doesn’t possess great top end speed, he’s quick off the line and at the snap he can lock up with a receiver and is very physical.

His first step quickness may lend itself to the slot if that is where the team decides to move him, something he’s already said that he isn’t averse to. He’s done a really good job of disrupting the timing of receivers, which is essential at the next level.

He’s solidly built and wants to get in on every tackle. Some of the things that he’ll have to work on with the Patriots, like many college corners, he tends to get grabby if he misses his jam at the line of scrimmage. While he’s shown good recovery, he is a bit stiff in the hips at times when a receiver is coming out of his breaks.

Jackson would immediately challenge for a role on the Patriots Special Teams, which everyone knows is the first step to making the team. But with his physicality, and ability to play either outside or in the slot, he has as good a chance at any at sticking on the roster.

The odds-on favorite to win the slot battle rest now with Jonathan Jones who played well there before ending up on IR with a foot injury, or recently drafted Florida corner Duke Dawson. But if he’s not completely ready to go when the Patriots on-field OTA work begins, it may open the door for some solid competition

The Patriots right now have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Jomal Wiltz, Ryan Lewis, as well as draft picks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen with Jackson makes a pretty crowded roster at the position but there will be some opportunities to turn some heads this spring.

I like his compete level, the ability to play either man coverage or zone and his willingness to fire up inside on run support. He’ shown the ability to undercut routes and has the ability to get better in all phases of his game.

Jackson is a guy whose best football may be in front of him. He’ll be a guy we’ll watch closely as minicamps and training camp is just around the corner.

His highlight film from 2017 courtesy of Sky Designs:

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.

New England Patriots News 3-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-18, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: The Patriots have given safety Pat Chung another short-term extension on his contract that ran through the current 2018 season. Terms are not available. But since he returned for his second stint with the team, Chung has been a valuable, dependable defender. Good move all around.

No Honey Badger in NE, tonight we learned that Tyrann Mathieu was heading to the Houston Texans on a one-year deal as what so often happens plays out. It seems every free agent is rumored to be going to New England. And frequently as in Mathieu and Richard Sherman, the Patriots weren’t even in the game.

Often times, I believe that the agents push this agenda to drive up the price and market for their clients. Just like the Patriots were supposedly “in on” Ndamukong Suh and Jordy Nelson which is borderline ridiculous at this point. With about $15.6 million dollars of cap space, how would the team afford to sign a player like Suh or Nelson, if they even wanted them?

Free Agency- When will fans learn that the Patriots, unlike last year, much more often than not eschew the opening feeding frenzy of free agency where several players are in our opinion, are overpaid and then make the moves that they must to build the depth of the roster for the long haul.

This year, the cries of despair from the fan base have never been louder, as if the people that run the operation over at 1 Patriot Place all of a sudden forgot how to build a team. They’ve been to eight Super Bowls in the past 17 years. They know how to build a team that will be playing in February, not winning Day 1 of free agency in March.

And the intent of some to drive the narrative to question every move that Belichick makes like the Red Sox managers have had to endure since Dick Williams (Google his name) is laughable. “Grady Belichick” is the lamest yet, for some media members who are intent on forcing the issue.

Pats Lose Four Key Players Early in Free Agency:
Right after the season ended, we didn’t think there was a chance of Malcolm Butler returning in 2018, and that wasn’t a surprise when he left, for a big payday with the Titans. And with the draft class strong at running back, we’d didn’t feel the market would be that great for Dion Lewis, even though he’s shown how electrifying he can be. He’s had only one healthy season, 2017, but the market heated up for him and he too signed with a nice deal from Tennessee.

But the loss of Danny Amendola and Nate Solder hurt especially. Partly because we expected both to be back. Amendola because he was so clutch at crunch time for the past several years and was their punt returner as well as a go-to guy in the playoffs.  And Solder, because he’s protected Brady’s blind side for the past seven years and they really don’t have a replacement plan in place.

LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are fine swing tackles. But over a 16-game season? I don’t know that they’re the best options and both are free agents anyway. Tony Garcia? After missing all of 2017 with an illness, we’re not even sure he’ll be ready to play, much less be a capable player yet. The other alternatives (for now) are recently signed Matt Tobin, (depth player) Andrew Jelks and Cole Croston. So the loss of Solder hurt.

But it hard to find fault there, the deals for Amendola and Solder were much more than the Patriots could or would be willing to offer. The Patriots offer to Solder was 4 years, $50 million, while more than $12 million a year, was a full $12 million less than the Giants offered. That is substantial.

While the frustration level of losing those key players is understandable, it has to be tempered with the realization that the business model that the Patriots have stuck to for so long is the reason that they are able to remain so competitive for so long.

Patriots Add Five Players Including McCourty, Clayborn, and Hill:
The news wasn’t all bad, as usual, the team began building their roster depth, resigning special teamers Brandon King and Nate Ebner and running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead was an intriguing, New England kind of player. While he’s not outstanding in any one facet of his game, he does everything well. He runs between the tackles, can catch the ball, pass protect and be a key special teams guy.

The trade for Danny Shelton became official, which will immediately impact the Patriots rush defense. With an interior rotation of Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (who returns from IR) and Adam Butler, who is more of an interior sub rusher, they depth is much stronger now.

The Patriots addressed cornerback with the trade of Jason McCourty which we covered in a piece here:  I still believe that the team will add another corner in the upcoming draft, but they are building depth while adding a veteran presence there.

Then the team signed DE Adrian Clayborn as well as RB Jeremy Hill. So the Patriots have hardly been stagnant during free agency. Were they the splash moves everyone clamors for? No, but the roster is building up for the 90 man limit. And there is still a long, long way to go. We’ll give our thoughts on the newest additions below.

Adrian Clayborn Immediately Upgrades the Front Seven:
The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries along the front seven last season, coupled with the loss of Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency as well as the sudden retirement of Rob Ninkovich left them in a bind all season long.

Getting Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Valentine, and Derek Rivers back will no doubt help. But the team added another very nice piece in signing DE Adrian Clayborn the free agent from the Atlanta Falcons.

Clayborn who will turn 30 in July, is coming off of a 9.0 sack season (six in one game against Dallas) and is a very good but not great pass rusher. But what he does extremely well is set the edge in the running game. And in the Patriots defense, that is paramount. They aren’t, nor ever will be, that pin your ears back, attacking defense.

One play that Patriots fans may remember well with Clayborn is back during the joint practices in 2013. Clayborn bullrushed Nate Solder and their feet got tangled up and Tom Brady went down in a heap. It was an accidental play. Brady held his knee and was down for several moments before walking off. My pic from the practice was carried by Boston.com for their column that day.

Adrian Clayborn and Nate Solder got tied up and Solder fell into Brady but he wasn’t seriously injured. (SBalestrieri photo)

Clayborn will be just fine here, he has a relentless motor and will take a lot of heat off of Trey Flowers on the other side of the defensive line. After four seasons with the Bucs, he spent the last two with the Falcons. He’s had injury problems during his career but a healthy 2018 will be a successful one for the veteran in this scheme.

Jeremy Hill,  Gives the Patriots Needed Depth at RB:
When the Bengals drafted Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft, Hill became expendable. And at just 25-years old, Hill has plenty left in the tank. At 230 pounds, he is the big back that the Patriots had in LeGarrette Blount. And short yardage was a sore spot for the Patriots offense in 2017. The Pats ranked a lowly 24th in the league on converting third or fourth and one last season. Hill will definitely help in that aspect.

But for the immediate future, he gives the team options, he and Mike Gillislee will compete for the big back role in the Patriots offense. He’s had issues with ball security in the past but he knows how Belichick feels about those and it will be a key area for him to work on. Eventually, in camp, the team may have to decide whether to keep one or the other as the team’s big back. But for now, the team just added two much-needed depth backs with him and Burkhead, who were teammates in Cincinnati.

One area that may be in Hill’s favor is that he’s a decent pass receiver, something the Patriots like their running backs to do in their offense. It is the case of the more you can do which helps to secure a roster spot on the Patriots. So we’ll see what a fresh slate can do for Hill.

While the Patriots will still probably draft a running back this season, it now probably won’t be one in the top rounds, it will probably be a later round, developmental pick.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Are Very Active in Free Agency:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been shy about making a slew of moves in free agency. After signing CB Vontae Davis, they shipped off LT Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and now have picks #12 and #22 in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

But that was hardly the tip of the iceberg as the Bills signed DT Star Lotulelei, re-signed DT Kyle Williams, then signed DE Trent Murphy from the Redskins strengthening their pass rush.

The Bills added depth to the running back position by signing veterans Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. And then after unloading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, they signed their bridge QB, A.J. McCarron for a 2-year, $10 million dollar price tag from the Bengals.

It has been a busy off-season for the Bills and they are far from done. It will be an interesting draft season in Buffalo. While I may think they overpaid Murphy and question the trade of Glenn, the Bills are still in much better shape than they were after their playoff loss to the Jaguars.

Dolphins Plan to be “Straight Up Flying” in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are never ones to lack for confidence in the offseason. After trading Jarvis Landry to the Browns, the team has addressed his loss by adding former Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs and confidence is high in South Beach.

.“We’re straight up flying,” said Wilson. “I feel like the way we’re going to put the stretch on some defense is going to be crazy. The speed outright shows itself.”  Both Wilson and Amendola can play the slot or move outside. That will present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Wilson, who was the fourth or fifth option in Kansas City, now will get a chance to see the ball a lot more. And with Amendola setting the table by making the chain moving catches, why shouldn’t the Fins be confident? Ryan Tannehill got an early Christmas present with his two new toys in the offense.

Plan “B” for the Jets, No Cousins? They Move Up to #3 in the Draft:
The New York Jets made a huge pitch to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency and they failed to bring him in. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Now they move on to their Plan B and it is to draft the best available quarterback.

So, on Saturday, the Jets moved from the 6th position to the #3 spot in the 2018 NFL Draft by trading for the Colts pick. But it won’t come cheap.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets are giving the Colts the sixth pick, the 37th overall selection, the 49th overall pick, and a 2019 second-round pick. That is some pretty steep compensation for sliding up just three spots. The Colts hit a homer there in terms of compensation.

By signing bridge QBs Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets get to draft their QB of the future and groom him and allow him time to develop.With Buffalo thought to be ready to pick a QB at #6, the Jets have leapfrogged them and now are poised to pick ahead of the Bills. The next and most important question now becomes, WHO will be the Jets QB of the future with the #3 pick?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Signing of Jason McCourty a Good Low-Risk Move

Steve Balestrieri
March 16, 2018 at 9:48 am ET

The McCourty twins are finally getting a chance to play together when the Patriots traded for Jason McCourty in a very low cost/risk, high-reward type of deal. McCourty was about to released by the Browns in a cost-cutting move when the Patriots approached the Browns and offered their sixth-round pick for the Browns’ 7th rounder and McCourty.

So for moving back 15 spots at the back end of the draft, the Patriots get a very serviceable corner and a guy that they tried to bring in more than once before.

McCourty, 30, was originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 6th round (203rd overall) in the 2009 NFL Draft. He is considered, (like his brother) as a great locker room influence on both the younger players and veterans alike. His $3 million dollar cap hit is extremely affordable.

What does it mean for the Patriots secondary? He’s another 6-foot tall corner that can play on the boundary or possibly be moved into the slot. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, the Patriots needed at least another corner with a veteran presence and now that block is checked. I still believe that they’ll draft a corner in the upcoming draft. Perhaps now it will be a mid-round pick.

It gives them options and much-needed depth at the position as they’ll be able to present different looks depending on matchups.

But for now, the cornerback situation has Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, as well as practice squad players Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz signed for 2018. The cupboard is hardly bare there and if both of the Jones are healthy to begin training camp, (especially Jonathan in the slot) then the team is in good shape moving forward.

It was interesting to see some of the comments pooh-poohing the Rutgers connection for the Patriots and former Scarlet Knight head coach Greg Schiano. The Rutgers connection has actually worked out quite well for the Patriots. The McCourty twins, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and yes, Steve Belichick, the current Patriots safeties coach were all Rutgers alums and played for Schiano. Hardly a collection of stiffs.Other names who played under Schiano and made brief stops in New England were Tiquan Underwood and Alex Silvestro.

While it wasn’t the splash signing that fans were clamoring for, it was a very low-risk, high reward type of deal. He was a guy the Patriots tried to bring in once before and it didn’t work out. Now they have their man and they can continue to move forward with re-tooling the defense.

Rumors are Adrian Clayborn is in town for a visit on Friday morning. They still need some much-needed depth and athleticism at the linebacker position.

But for the McCourty twins who haven’t played together since Rutgers, they’ll finally get the chance to suit up together in the NFL. The Patriots get a good corner who graded out well according to Pro Football Focus in 2017 in his only season with the Browns.

It isn’t a fantasy football squad they are building but a 53-man roster. “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

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.

Danny Amendola Thanks Patriots Organization Following Signing With Dolphins

Robert Alvarez
at 8:51 am ET

Taking to his Twitter account Thursday, newly signed Miami Dolphins wide receiver Danny Amendola sent out a thank you message to the Patriots organization and fans for five memorable seasons that saw “Dola” contribute to two Super Bowl championships and five AFC conference title game appearances.

During his stay in Foxborough he developed a reputation for his clutch play when it mattered most, in 13 playoff games Amendola hauled in 57 catches for 709 yards and six touchdowns.

In a tweet Amendola said; “To  Mr. Kraft, teammates, staff, and all of Patriots Nation, Thank You. 2x Champ.”

Report: Danny Amendola Signing With the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2018 at 3:27 pm ET

The first of the big Patriots free agent domino’s has fallen, and it didn’t go the way anyone in New England wanted it to go. There are multiple reports but first detailed by Dan Hellie that the Miami Dolphins are signing Patriots free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola.

Terms of the deal are not yet available.

It was a devastating development for the Patriots, of the three big team free agents, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis and Amendola, it was he that was the most expected back in 2018. The man who has taken more than one pay cut to remain with the Patriots is now on his way to South Beach.

He was clutch for the Patriots, especially in the playoffs and will have saved his best for last. The three-game stretch of the playoffs was the best of his career. He caught for 26 passes for 348 yards during the Super Bowl run after catching 61 passes during the regular season.

Danny Amendola was one of the most clutch Patriots in the playoffs. (SBalestrieri photo)

Tom Brady loses not only one of his most clutch receivers in the past five years, but one of his closest friends. The Patriots lose much more. He was their primary punt returner, the emergency insurance policy with Julian Edelman down and possessed the best hands on the team.

At age 32, this was his last, best chance to cash in and his market will never be any higher. Needless to say, neither of the last two Super Bowl wins happen without the clutch play that Amendola produced for the Patriots.

Miami needs a slot receiver, having just traded Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns. Ryan Tannehill just got an early free agency gift.