Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-17 and AFC East Notes. We hope everyone has a great, happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.
Favorite St. Patrick’s Day memory? Taking the train into North Station in a blizzard and my Dad taking me, my brother and two cousins to my first Bruins game. Against the Montreal Canadiens.
Adrian Clayborn – the veteran pass rusher will only complete one season as a Patriots and was released on Friday as per his wishes. His release gives the team an extra almost $3.5 million dollars in salary cap room.
Clayborn wrote on Twitter a thank-you note to the Patriots.
“Thank you Patriots for my time with the organization. gained so much respect for how you do things and win championships. It’s done the right way through hard work. Thank you for granting my release. I’m ready for this next chapter.”
He garnered 2.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, and a forced fumble after signing a two-year free-agent deal last spring. He added a sack and five QB hits during the Patriots Super Bowl run. With Trey Flowers a member of the Detroit Lions and Clayborn released, the Patriots depth chart on the edge consists of Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise Jr., John Simon, Ufomba Kamalu, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, and Trent “Toolbox” Harris.
Michael Bennett – Speaking of the latest addition, Bennett spoke with Patriots.com
“I used to hate the Patriots,” he said. “I hated it because they would win so much. I hated it because Tom Brady’s hair was long. I hated that Belichick would wear sweaters. But now that I’m here, I love it. I love Tom Brady’s hair. I love being a Patriot obviously because it is all about winning. I think everything about the organization is being team-first, and just about doing what we need to do to get to where we want to go as a group. I love that.”
KC’s Hill Under Investigation For Child Abuse – Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill is under scrutiny by law enforcement personnel for battery against a minor. This is the second brush with the law in 10 days. Police were called to his home for a child abuse/neglect call on March 5 but closed the case without any charges being filed.
Again on March 14 police officers received a call at the same address and Hill’s three-year-old son was reportedly the victim with a broken arm. Hill has not been charged with any crime at this point.
Law enforcement officials won’t comment on an on-going investigation. Hill back in 2015 pleaded guilty of domestic assault and battery by strangulation in August 2015. He received three years probation.
He reportedly punched and choked Espinal, who was then eight weeks pregnant with their son, on Dec. 11, 2014. She is now pregnant with twins. Hill has been in negotiations with the Chiefs on a new deal that would make him among the highest players at his position. But for now, those negotiations are probably on hold. Both the Chiefs and the NFL said that they are aware of the incident.
“The club is aware of the investigation involving Tyreek Hill,” the Chiefs said in a statement. “We’re in the process of gathering information and have been in contact with the league and local authorities. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”
This isn’t good news for Hill, the Chiefs or the NFL. The league just suspended former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt for eight games in 2019 for violation of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. After he was captured on video kicking and shoving a woman in the hallway of a Cleveland hotel.
Bolden and McCourty Return – After a year in Miami, Patriots special teams ace and backup running back Brandon Bolden is returning to Foxboro on a two-year deal. The popular locker room presence spent the first six years of his career in Foxboro. Tom Brady responded to Bolden’s Instagram post about his return with an “F**k Yeah!”
Jason McCourty is also returning on a 2-year deal. The 31-year old, came on board with the team last year and played very well, giving the cornerback position another veteran presence along with Stephon Gilmore.
Dorsett and Simon Back – The Patriots also brought back two more of their own free agents by re-signing WR Phillip Dorsett and DE John Simon. Dorsett seemed primed for a big role in the offense after a solid training camp but he never really had a big impact, catching 32 passes for 290 yards and three TDs. Once the team brought in Josh Gordon, Dorsett lost most of his reps. He has a one-year, prove-it type deal in 2019. The one strange thing in this, however, was whenever his number was called, he generally came thru, with a 76 percent catch rate. Will the third season be a charm?
Simon was signed in late September after being released by the Colts. He was a valuable role player both defensively and on STs, where his role increased down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. He was one of the players who found a nice role when the team used their “Amoeba Defense.” The deal was for two years and $7.2 million dollars.
Melifonwu Surprised by Grafton High School Honor – Patriots reserve safety Obi Melifonwu was asked by his old high school in Grafton, Mass. to come in and speak with the students. I was covering it for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and the Grafton News.
He did and spoke about the importance of schoolwork and how it helped a freshman struggling to fit in find his way into a college where he not only starred in football but graduated with two degrees in 2017. But the school surprised Melifonwu by presenting him with his high school jersey which will be permanently displayed at the school. He was a star both offensively and defensively in CMass football before moving on to UConn and then the NFL.
He admitted he was shocked by the gesture and very appreciative. Afterward, he spoke about preparing for this upcoming season, he’s working with a trainer in Foxboro, outside the facility to prepare himself. He also spoke about learning how to better prepare his body, something he learned the hard way, after being injured for the first time and the resultant therapy.
“Sometimes you train a certain way thru high school and into college that you believe is preparing your body correctly,” he said. “But you learn that certain body parts have been neglected which can lead to overcompensating in certain areas, which ultimately lead to injuries.”
Asked about his Super Bowl experiences, he said, although he didn’t play, his focus was on helping his teammates. “I knew early in the week that I wasn’t going to play, so your focus is completely different,” he said. “Then, your entire mindset is to help the offense, by trying to emulate the Rams defense the best that you can in practice.”
While CMass Division III football isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL players, the Indians have had a few make their mark. Beside Melifonwu, another former Grafton alum, Steve Spagnuolo is now the Defensive Coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The draft and spring workouts will be an interesting one for Melifonwu. When the Patriots signed him it was for two years, with 2019 in mind. How they feel about the ridiculously athletic safety will be put to the test in April. They normally target a safety early in the draft. If they do or don’t take a strong safety early will probably tell you how they feel about his long-term viability in their system.
Patriots Add Five Free Agents But No Sexy Names…Surprised? Shouldn’t Be:
We knew this was coming…right? While teams were overpaying for the premium name free agents in a feeding frenzy before the actual free agency period even began, the Patriots stood pat. They did bid on a couple of free agent wide receivers, especially Adam Humphries and to a lesser extent Cole Beasley. But if you really expecting OBJ or Golden Tate, you were bound to be disappointed, just like nearly every other spring.
The team did add five free agents, but they weren’t any of the sexy names fans were clamoring for. The Patriots signed wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, special teams safety Terrence Brooks and defensive tackle Mike Pennel.
Fans shouldn’t be worried at this point in just mid-March about the state of the wide receiver position. Team building is just in the infantile stages here. Trades are still available and with 12 draft picks, there will be some deals to be made. And with 12 picks in the upcoming draft, they have the capital to move around or make a deal
Of all the players the biggest impact player may just be Mike Pennel. If you listen to our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts, you’d have heard me say, I believe the Patriots were going to add Pennel as a free agent. He’s a big, 6’4, 330-pound space eater who will be the nose tackle in 2019. With Malcom Brown a Saint and Danny Shelton a free agent, the team needed a big body to anchor the middle of the field, something they needed a year ago.
As Bill Belichick said a year ago before the Patriots played the Jets, guys who are 330 pounds don’t grow on trees. He’s big, very strong and will be a very good addition against the run. He’ll be a starter on Day 1.
Bruce Ellington is a small, 5’9 WR who has had trouble staying healthy and on the field. He has excellent speed and had 31 catches in just seven games a year ago. He has KR and PR ability and this may be why the team brought him in to replace Corrdarrelle Patterson this season. In 2017, he had a good game against the Patriots in Foxboro, catching four passes for 59 yards including a 29-yard touchdown from Deshaun Watson. Bill Belichick loves bringing in players who have done well against his team in the past.
Maurice Harris is a former Redskins WR who has never really put things together. He has very good size at 6’3, 200 pounds with some return ability as well. An UDFA in 2016, he seemed destined to break out last year after a big training camp. But he never did and gets a fresh start with New England. He had 28 catches for 304 yards a year ago, however, over half of those receptions (15) came in two back-to-back games.
Matt Lacosse from the Broncos has boom or bust written all over him. He signed a two-year deal worth $4.8 million dollars and has the frame (6’6, 255) to be a very good blocker in the running game.
He caught 24 passes for 250 yards and a TD last year after working his way from the #3 TE to being the starter after injuries hurt the position. He too will be getting a fresh start in New England. He’ll get the chance to be the #2 or #3 TE here in 2019.
Terrence Brooks is a safety but is more known for his special teams’ acumen. He was one of the standout players on one of the better STs units in the league last year. The Patriots struggled in the kicking game especially kickoff and punt coverage early last season. Once they brought in Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, both free agents, things solidified. Bringing back Bolden and signing Brooks should be a boost overall for the ST units in 2019.
Patriots ST’s Kickers Remain Unsigned:
The Patriots are getting a lot of air time with the usual hot take hosts about their lack of depth at wide receiver. But right now, they have no players in the kicking game with the exception of long-snapper Joe Cardona.
Both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen remain unsigned. Gostkowski has been with the team for longer than Adam Vinatieri was and is one of the top kickers in the league. Allen, while in the middle of the road in terms of gross punting average is outstanding at directional punting and could have been a legitimate Super Bowl MVP candidate by pinning the Rams back deep in their zone all game long.
Bottom line here is there isn’t a better kicker on the market than Gostkowski. We still expect both to return at some point, but it remains an area to monitor.
Patriots Still “Tentatively Planning” on Having Gronk Back in 2019:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced his decision on whether to return to the team in 2019 or retire. He’s openly talked retirement in the past but the opportunity to have one last shot at the team’s seventh Super Bowl championship may be a big draw for him.
Of course, Gronkowski can also point to the cash he’s due, he’ll count for $11,859,375 against the salary cap in 2019. If he retires, the team will have an additional $9,859,375 to spend this year.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported, “My understanding is when you talk to people close to him, they think there is a better chance that he comes back again than he doesn’t. And I do believe that the Patriots are at least tentatively planning as if they will have Gronk for the 2019 season.”
With the release of Dwayne Allen, the Patriots depth chart at tight end consists of the newly signed Matt Lacosse, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, and Ryan Izzo.
Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:
Bills Bring In Weapons for Josh Allen:
The Buffalo Bills signed some very needed receivers for their offense in free agency inking WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley, tight end Tyler Kroft as well as offensive line help in Mitch Morse and Ty Nsekhe. This should aid in helping QB Josh Allen in helping transform what was a moribund offense in 2018.
The team also inked the ageless Frank Gore at running back on a one-year deal, giving Buffalo the oldest RB group with Gore who will be 36 along with Chris Ivory (30) and LeSean McCoy (30). It should be noted, however, that Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year with the Dolphins.
Brown gives the Bills the deep speed they lack and he had his best season last year in Baltimore catching 65 passes for 1003 yards. Beasley is a Julian Edelman clone, who the Bills hope will transform their short passing game, where Allen was 32nd in the league a year ago. Kroft had a breakout season with 42 catches in 2017 but broke his foot and played in only five games a year ago.
This will be an interesting year to see how much Allen can progress, the Bills spent a lot of cash to upgrade their weapons for him and added two WRs and a badly needed TE. With the draft upcoming, the Bills will probably still address WR and RB to get a bit younger there.
Dolphins Trade QB Tannehill to the Titans:
The Miami Dolphins have traded their seven-year starter at QB, Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans on Friday. The Dolphins packaged a 6th round draft pick in 2019 along with Tannehill for the Titans 7th round pick in 2019 and a 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Tannehill had his moments but could never put it all together for Miami who paid him a few years ago as their franchise QB. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,979 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games last year. Now he’ll serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is playing on a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The one-year deal goes to $12 million+ with playtime and other incentives. The Dolphins are on the hook for $5 million of the $7 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus.
Miami, which tried to bring in QB Teddy Bridgewater, now has only Jake Rudock and Luke Falk at QB. They’ll either try to swing a trade for an established QB, or draft a young one in the NFL Draft, perhaps both.
Jets Go All in On Free Agency:
The New York Jets were expected to make a splash in free agency with a ton of cap space to spend it on and they didn’t disappoint. The laid out big money for RB Le’Veon Bell, ILB C.J. Mosely, slot receiver Jamison Crowder and then added slot corner Brian Poole who came over after spending three years with the Falcons.
Bell, is the most notable free agent having sat out 2018 in a contract dispute with the Steelers, and the money he signed for is actually less than the Steelers offer of five-years and $70 million. Bell signed for four years and $52 million with $25 million guaranteed. He has a ton of wear on his tires but after taking a year off, he may go into the season refreshed. But the Jets offensive line scarcely resembles the Steelers unit that helped Bell launch in his career. The Jets did make a move in that direction by trading for LG Kelechi Osemele from Oakland.
Mosely is one of the best interior linebackers in the league, a true leader for the defense and a smart, physical player who will be on the field for all three downs. He’s an instant upgrade for them at the position, but the Jets ponied up a ton of money, guaranteeing a whopping $51 million. They also had Anthony Barr agree to a deal but he ended up getting cold feet and ultimately left the Jets at the altar.
Crowder gives the Jets a big play option in the slot with the speed to make a ton of YAC. This should allow them to move Quincy Enunwa to the outside. But the question with Crowder is can he stay healthy? He missed seven games a year ago.
The Jets made a big splash, but will these moves pay off? We’ll see, but it never stops Manish Mehta from making one of his patented silly predictions. In Manish’s latest “look at me” moment, he made his prediction for the top QBs for the AFC East in 2019.
Current starting QBs in the AFC East… from projected best to worst in 2019:
1) Sam Darnold 2) Tom Brady 3) Josh Allen 4) Luke Falk
But before you get too hard on Manish, he got exactly what he was looking for as Boston sports radio couldn’t wait to get him on to defend his position…hmm
On Thursday, free agent running back Brandon Bolden signed a two-year, $47 million contract to return to the New England Patriots.
Bolden, originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, spent 2018 with the Miami Dolphins after spending his first six years in New England primarily on special teams and emergency running back.
In 2018, Bolden played all 16 games for Miami and 65.9% of special teams snaps.
Bolden’s was limited on offense, but scored two of his three 2018 touchdowns against the Patriots during their “Miami Miracle” victory.
After the signing was official, Bolden took to Instagram with a post that read “Remember Me? I’m bbackkkkkk”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower voiced his excitement a short time later.
Sunday’s Patriots practice session began shortly after 9 a.m. with sunny and clear conditions. The heat and humidity were dialed back a bit this morning and so was the tempo and intensity of practice.
The majority of the fully padded session was conducted in a slower, methodical manner and the hitting was not noteworthy until the end of practice when the Patriots defense absolutely stoned the offense four straight times in goalline.
The same players on PUP were missing, of note today was the absence of both RB Mike Gillislee and CB Keion Crossen, who reportedly has been having back spasms. The offense took another hit when Jordan Matthews tweaked a hamstring and left practice. Trey Flowers returned today after leaving the session yesterday with a towel on his forehead. Flowers had a big bandage in the middle of his forehead so he obviously had a pretty good gash there.
Play of the Day: At the end of practice, the defense stopped the offense three straight times from the goal line. On the fourth attempt, running back Brandon Bolden had nowhere to go and tried to bounce it outside. Elandon Roberts flew over and popped Bolden good, knocking him backward for a loss. It was a superb way to end the practice.
Play of the Day ***Honorable Mention***: Cordarrelle Patterson made a fantastic catch with Eric Rowe draped all over him. Patterson ran a 12-yard pattern where Brady hit him with a back shoulder throw. Rowe read it perfectly and was in perfect position to knock it away. Patterson used his long reach to get his hands on the ball and as he fell to the ground was able to haul it in.
Patterson continues his strong summer. SBalestrieri photo)
He’s been good thru the first four days of camp. And plays like this and the others he’s doing during the first few days of camp will get him the trust of the quarterback. And building that trust is key for the new guys.
Other observations include:
Stephon Gilmore continues his outstanding offseason. During individual drills, he knocked away a pair of passes. He was ignored during the 11-on-11 drills. Not one pass came his way.
Nicholas Grigsby was rocking a hooded sweatshirt under his uniform today at practice. While it wasn’t as hot as some days last week, it wasn’t sweatshirt weather. He must like to sweat.
Jordan Matthews gave a nice effort, going horizontal and diving for a deep pass from Tom Brady and coming up just short of the ball.
Will Tye ran a nice corner route in the end zone and Brady showed a deft touch and lobbed it right in the bucket for a quick score. Tye had a nice day.
The Patriots were working on the screen and running games a lot in the session today. During 11-on-11 Brady only attempted seven passes, completing five.
Brady attempted two deep passes in a row, the first to Chris Hogan, where the WR was open but Jomal Wiltz got there a second before the ball arrived and the second, Julian Edelman ran a deep cross and was wide open down the right side of the field.
Riley McCarron was wide open on a deep pattern but Brian Hoyer was late in seeing it and then getting the ball to him. Recognizing it, Jordan Richards raced over and knocked it away.
Hogan got shaken up after running a quick slant and getting into a big collision with Rowe but he shook it off and remained out there on the field.
Sony Michel caught a screen pass from Brady and took it to the house. The crowd roared. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of yet, however.
Jacob Hollister continues to impress, he ran a seam route into the end zone where he caught a nice back shoulder throw from Hoyer.
Loved what I saw in goalline from Danny Shelton. He’s a load in the middle. It allows the linebackers to fill and make plays. He and Lawrence Guy were really strong, especially late.
During a special teams segment, Brady threw on the side with Rob Gronkowski, James White, Hogan, Dorsett, and Hollister. Things that make you go hmm.
Tiquan Underwood was present for the third straight day of practice. You can’t mistake that hair anywhere.
After the session, Sony Michel, Hollister and Deatrich Wise were among the players over speaking with the media. We’ll have more on Wise later…check back on PatsFans.com.
***NOTE*** Tomorrow’s practice session will be a night practice in Gillette Stadium open to Patriots season ticket holders and Foxboro residents.
The wait is nearly over as the Patriots head into training camp tomorrow. NFL Football is back among us until February, and not a moment too soon.
The Patriots offseason has been mired in innuendo, speculation, with an almost soap opera-like aura that seems more like “keeping up with the Kardashians” than the Patriot Way. So now we can fill the airwaves of football talk again.
There should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. But for our final position there shouldn’t be a lot of movement at the key spots. We’re on to the Special Teams.
So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?
Roster Locks- Stephen Gostkowski, Joe Cardona,
The team brought in no competition for their kicker and long snapper which speaks volumes in the confidence they have in both.
Gostkowski had a nice comeback season in 2017 in the kicking game. He was good on 92.5 percent of his field goals, hitting on 37 of 40 attempts including going 4 – 4 on attempts over 50 yards including career-long 62-yarder against the Raiders.
Gostkowski continues to be outstanding with his kickoffs. The Patriots were very good at pinning opponents back inside their 25-yard line or better during the season with the changes to the touchback rule. And Gostkowski had that developed into an art form, angling his kicks on one side of the field near the corner of the end zone. Opponents drives average start was their 24 yard line, the best in the NFL.
Cardona has been a solid accurate long-snapper since entering the league. A testament to his prowess is that you very, very rarely hear his name called in a game. Which means his snaps on field goals, extra points and punts are usually spot on. He’s done a terrific job of balancing his job with the Patriots and his duties as a Naval Officer which isn’t an easy task as well.
Facing no camp competition again this year, Gostkowski and Cardona need only worrying themselves to be ready to go for the season opener.
On the Bubble: Ryan Allen, Corey Bojorquez
Allen is facing competition for the first time in his tenure since besting Zoltan Mesko in the 2013. And while his punting average has gone down each year for the past three years, he has actually become more effective at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line.
Rewind to the 2nd half of the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Allen pinned the Jags offense inside the 10-yard line three times in the second half, flipping field position for the Patriots and having a big role in the comeback victory to send the team on to the Super Bowl.
But he’s in the last year of his contract, and this is something we’ve seen before with the Patriots, Bill Belichick will change things up every few years with his punters. We’ve seen Ken Walter, Josh Miller, Chris Hanson and Mesko, who lost his job to Allen. He’s been here five years but faces serious competition for the first time.
Bojorquez is another left-footed punter from New Mexico. Last season for the Lobos, he punted 67 times with an average of 47.3 yards, so he has a tremendously strong leg. He had 12 of those turn into touchbacks, which will need to be remedied. But despite his average, 25 of his punts were fair caught by the opposition which speaks highly of the amount of hang time.
We were witnesses to that during June’s minicamp. Bojorquez was absolutely booming the ball with incredible hang time. One punt which went well over 50 yards, hung up so long, punt returner Riley McCarron would have been forced to fair catch the ball during a game.
This should be a fantastic competition, while Bojorquez has the edge on leg strength and distance, Allen’s directional punting and consistency gives him the nod there. This should be fun to watch.
The Patriots place a premium on players who excel on Special Teams among them Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Geneo Grissom, Nicholas Grigsby among others. Those players were listed elsewhere as positional players but are truly more special team’s aces than offensive or defensive players.
Ebner in particular was missed for his expertise as the personal protector on punts after he went on IR last year.
Some of the new players or ones returning from injury are also special teams mavens such as Cordarrelle Patterson, who besides being the NFL’s best kick returner, is a very good gunner. Marquis Flowers was brought over last season for his STs experience but parlayed that into a role on defense as well.
What it means is that these players will be fighting for their roster spots every day as well as the positional players. Keep an eye on the kickoff and punt coverage units during training camp. Because those positions will ultimately tell the tale for some of the bottom of the roster players who will either make the team or be released. Bill Belichick and ST’s coach Joe Judge will have some interesting decisions to make.
The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should no shortage of competition at several spots, especially at the back end of the roster. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up are the running backs.
The running back position will look very different in 2018. Dion Lewis is gone, He got a nice deal in free agency and will be in Tennessee this year. The team got back Rex Burkhead, James White returns but the big news is that the team invested a first-round draft pick to select Sony Michel (31st Overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The team is deep, talented and have four good players battling for two roster spots.
So… who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?
Roster Locks: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James Develin
The Patriots did the very unPatriot-like decision to draft a running back in the first round under Bill Belichick. But the selection of Sony Michel proves to be a very intriguing choice. He split the carries at Georgia with Nick Chubb, so playing in a New England backfield by committee won’t be a big exercise in adapting to the way the Patriots play.
But what stands out about Michel is that he’s a big-time playmaker and should be able to step in and contribute in both the running and passing games right away. He’s a different type of player than Lewis but the chiseled 5’11, 215-pound back has a boatload of potential.
Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)
Burkhead had a very good season in 2017 but appeared in only 10 games due to injuries. He’s back and can contribute in the running game, the passing game and on special teams. He’s a guy who will get about 500-600 combined yards rushing and receiving while being a solid contributor.
James Develin was just resigned to a two-year extension worth about $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. Develin played in about 30 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps a year ago and his value lies in his blocking. Rewatch the AFC Championship Game and look at the hole Develin blew open for Dion Lewis in the 4th quarter. That kind of smash-mouth football is invaluable in the running game.
Near Roster Locks: James White
White remains the Patriots go-to third-down running back, especially in the passing game. In 2017, White only had 43 carries but caught 56 passes for 429 yards with 3 touchdowns. His Super Bowl performance against the Falcons shows how hot he can get when getting the favored matchups (6 carries 29 yards 2 TDs, 14 catches 110 yards 1 TD and a 2PT conversion).
James White hauls in a pass during practice. (SBalestrieri photo)
On the Bubble: Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden
The Patriots invested in Gillislee last year and he ran okay but his lack of production in the passing game made him predictable while on the field and he was a healthy scratch in seven games.
Jeremy Hill was brought in because a change of scenery seemed like was needed for the veteran. He was an extremely productive running back in his first three seasons in the league, tallying up 27 TDs and 2700 yards rushing. But he fell out of favor in Cincinnati and is trying to restart his career here.
The Patriots could use a big physical back to churn up short yardage and be the closer in games. Could he be that guy? Possibly, but he’ll have to have a good summer and show that he still has some tread left on the tires.
Every year it seems, everyone has Brandon Bolden getting cut and every year, he’s back on the team and contributes a tremendous amount on Special Teams where he is a force out there. As a running back, he is a .260 hitter, he can run a bit and catch the odd pass here or there but is an excellent pass blocker. He will be either the 53rd player on the roster or the last guy cut.
Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Ralph Webb
The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Ralph Webb out of Vanderbilt. Webb is a straight-ahead power back with a lack of speed but with excellent vision to see where openings are. Webb is a lunch pail guy who is extremely durable, tough and consistent.
He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest but won’t be outworked. He was productive with 23 touchdowns the past two seasons. With a good summer, Webb could be looking at a practice squad slot and a chance to carve out a role for himself in the case of an injury in 2018 or in 2019.
He reminds one of a slightly smaller BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He won’t make a lot of people miss but his feet never stop and you’ll get 100 percent on every snap.
Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-25, & AFC East Notes
During our weekly PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th and 2” this week, we took one last look at the curious benching of Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. The reaction to that, as one would imagine was decidedly mixed. Some listeners took our host Russ Goldman to task for, lack of a better term, beating a dead horse.
We probably never will get the entire story, and as different players speak it gets more confusing. Devin McCourty said, the players knew all week that he wouldn’t start, but not play at all? And then Alan Branch reiterated that none of the players knew Butler was going to be benched. Anyway, thanks as always for the feedback, We’re on the NFL Combine.
Good Move By the Patriots to Bring Back Bolden: One of our favorite guys to hear during the season is Brandon Bolden. While Bolden isn’t even close to being a starter on offense, he is and always has been an outstanding STs contributor as well as the occasional contributor with the offense, albeit with the games well in hand. But it doesn’t matter.
Brandon Bolden after practice in Foxboro in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)
We sometimes forget these players are people too and Bolden is one of the outstanding ones. Always upbeat and positive, he’s a great, funny interview, as he had the media laughing last training camp in the rain when discussing his new baby girl.
Bolden got paid a very modest $800,000 with $170,000 in guarantees. Nonsensical reporting by foolish hot take artists aside, it was money well-spent. Bolden is a great locker room guy and a core ST’s player. And we’re glad to hear he’s coming back.
Second-Year Development By Hollister Could be Key For 2018: There is a lot of uncertainty with the Patriots tight end position heading into 2018. Rob Gronkowski is contemplating retirement and heading off into the sunset with the WWE. Martellus Bennett was also considering retirement but now has said he’d like to return for the 2018 season. And last season’s primary backup, Dwayne Allen is slated to return but for the tidy sum of $5,000,000 in 2018.
The team wants Gronkowski back but will have to make decisions on both Bennett and Allen where the cap figures will no doubt play a key factor in whether or not they return. The team has Will Tye on the practice squad, but an under-the-radar player is TE Jacob Hollister.
Hollister made the team out of camp from Wyoming and although he played sparingly, he turned some heads in his limited body of work with the ability to attack the seams and hold onto the ball while taking some big hits.
The 6’4, 240-pound Hollister, caught five passes last year, four in the regular season and one in the playoffs and is more of a Move-TE and not the traditional end of the line tight end. His blocking will have to improve next season. But with a full year under his belt in the system and learning from the best with Gronkowski, he could see an uptick in snaps and production this season. He’s one of the guys we’ll be keeping an eye on this spring.
TE Jacob Hollister could be an under-the-radar guy in the team’s plans in 2018. (SBalestrieri photo)
Harris Retirement, Not Unexpected But Frees Up Another Slot At LB: We saw that David Harris announced his retirement after 11 NFL season today (Friday) and it isn’t unexpected. Harris had lost a step and played very little over the course of the season and into the playoffs and the Patriots were expected to cut their ties to him before the March 1st deadline. His retirement saves the team about $1.65 million in salary cap space.
With James Harrison and Marquis Flowers free agents this spring it leaves the team (for now) with only three linebackers who were on the roster at the end of the year. Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and special teamer Nicholas Grisby. Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin, and top draft choice Derek Rivers ended the year on IR and Harvey Langi was placed on NFI due to a car accident.
We made our case for possibly pursuing Eagles free agent Nigel Bradham this spring. While not the outside linebacker that everyone is clamoring for, it would solidify the middle and allow those returning players and Van Noy to move between the OLB/DE spot on the edge.
Although he played a much smaller role on the field than envisioned, the Patriots praised his veteran presence and savvy and he was valuable in giving advice to the younger players on the roster. One of them, Van Noy, took to Twitter when Harris announced his retirement, calling for the Jets to put him in the Ring of Honor.
Will the Patriots to Pick Up 5th Year of Brown Contract? Mike Reiss of ESPN wrote an interesting piece on former 1st round draft pick Malcom Brown this week on the benefits for the team to pick up the fifth-year option for Brown, which for the first-round draft picks in the collective bargaining agreement is allowed. If the Patriots decide to do that, which would put Brown under their control for the next two years, it would also be fully guaranteed due to injury.
For Brown, who is due $1.472 million dollars in 2018 it wouldn’t be a long-term deal but would certainly be a nice payday increase. In selecting the fifth-year option, the Pats would have to pay him (32nd overall pick in 2015), an average of the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at the position. That would play out to around $7 million. It would be a nice raise for the player and guaranteed to keep Brown on the roster thru 2019.
Bennett Wants to Play in 2018 After All: When Martellus Bennett was being released by the Packers, he stated he was probably going to have surgery on his ailing shoulder and then retire. But after coming back to the Patriots he seemed to have changed his tune. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that :
“Despite publicly contemplating retirement last season, #Patriots TE Martellus Bennett does want to continue playing, I’m told. He’s due a $2M roster bonus on March 14, so New England has a decision… but his $6.2M cap hit isn’t bad.”
While the team may opt for Bennett to return in 2018, it probably will not be for the $6.2 million dollar cap hit that the team didn’t want to pay in 2017. He’s due a $2 million dollar roster bonus on March 14. If the team decides to cut him, they’d save $5.7 million from the salary cap.
The Patriots are going to probably push Rob Gronkowski for a decision during this time frame as their decision on Bennett may ultimately ride on whether Gronk decides to retire or return. Stay tuned.
TE Martellus Bennett hauls a Brady pass in. (SBalestrieri photo)
Patriots Receive 4th Round Compensatory Pick in the NFL Draft: The NFL released the compensatory picks for the 2018 NFL Draft this season and the Patriots added a pick in the 4th round (#136). For the first time this season, compensatory picks are allowed to be traded.
The Patriots losses in free agency (Logan Ryan, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo) were offset by the free agent signings (Stephon Gilmore, Rex Burkhead, and Lawrence Guy) and they ended up with the 4th round selection this year.
With the added selection, it brings their total draft picks to just six this season. #31 (round 1) #41 or 43 (round 2) depending on the coin flip #63 (round 2) #95 (round 3) #136 (round 4) #205 (round 6)
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills Incognito Threatened By Former Teammate Martin: Buffalo Bills guard Richie Incognito was threatened in a bizarre Instagram post by former Dolphins’ 2nd round draft pick Jonathan Martin along with Miami center Maurkice Pouncey as well as Martin’s high school.
His Instagram account posted a picture of a shotgun and shell casings spread around with words that read: “when you’re a bully victim and a coward, your options are suicide or revenge.” Superimposed were the Twitter addresses of Pouncey, Incognito, and the High School.
Pouncey and Incognito were accused by Martin of bullying him while a member of the Dolphins. Incognito sat out the 2014 season for it but then signed with Buffalo in 2015 and has since moved on successfully.
Shortly after the message was posted, the police were called to Martin’s home and took him for questioning. The high school in question was closed for the day on Friday over the incident. ESPN Sports Center reported early on Saturday morning that Martin was being held in a mental health facility undergoing an evaluation.
Dolphins Tag Landry, and Have Davis Back for a Visit: The Miami Dolphins have designated wide receiver Jarvis Landry with their non-exclusive franchise tag which means, for the time being, he remains a Dolphin while they try to either work out a long-term deal or trade him.
The current salary for wide receivers getting the franchise tag this offseason is expected to be around $16.2 million, which is a nice raise for Landry, who made $894,000 last season. Because it is non-exclusive, Landry is free to sign an offer sheet with another team where the Dolphins have the right to match. That is now nearly moot. If the Dolphins refused to match, the other team would owe Miami two 1st round draft picks.
The Dolphins also had former 1st round draft pick Vontae Davis in for a free agent visit on Friday. Davis was drafted in 2009 before being traded in 2012. And he’s at least open to returning to the Dolphins if they can agree to a salary cap number that isn’t too exorbitant
Jets Expected to Release Wilkerson Before Deal Becomes Finalized: The New York Jets once formidable run defense took a big step backward in 2017. They allowed the most yards rushing, 1887, on the ground since 2012. Their yards after contact allowed (951) was 29th in the league.
Part of the reason was the play and tackling of the defensive line. One of those players Muhammad Wilkerson is expected to be released when the league season opens in March. Wilkerson is due $16.8 million in salary on March 16 when it becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster. They will save $11 million in cap room if they release him.
They could save $17 million by designating him a post-June 1st cut but then they’d have to carry his almost $20 million in cap charges. Kony Ealy is also a free agent although he’s expected back with the Jets next season.
Brandon Bolden is returning to the New England Patriots for a seventh season.
In news first reported by ESPN’s Field Yates on Saturday , Bolden signed a one-year contract extension for $880,000.
Bolden, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, has spent most of the last two seasons on special teams after coming into the league as a running back. This past season, Bolden was with the kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage and punt return units, recording eight special teams tackles.
From 2012-2015, Bolden had over 200 carries with six touchdowns. In 2017, Bolden recorded just 13 carries for 67 yards but did score a touchdown during the Patriots AFC Divisional round victory over the Tennessee Titans.
“Brandon’s played for us on all three downs. He’s played on early downs, he’s played in sub situations. He’s a smart player, has a good set of skills, He can run, he can catch, he can pass protect. He’s given us a lot of production and leadership in the kicking game.”
“He does a good job in the room – whether it be in the running back room or the special teams room – of being prepared, helping out the younger guys,” Belichick continued. “He’s a good communicator, so things on the punt team, punt return where things can happen pretty fast and you need to make some adjustments – he’s good with that. Very good in blitz pickup, and in his understanding of the passing game. He’s a four-down player – three-down offensive player with versatility in the kicking game and all different phases.”
With Bolden back in the fold for 2018, he adds depth to a thin running back group with James White, as Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead enter free agency.