Tag Archives: Cameron Fleming

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.

Top Areas That the Patriots Must Address in Free Agency

Steve Balestrieri
March 7, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Everyone was planted in front of a television over the weekend listening to Mike Mayock do his thing talking about the hundreds of NFL prospects over the weekend. And frankly, there is no one better. He puts an incredible amount of time preparing for the Combine and Draft and he and Rich Eisen are fantastic at what they do.

But before we get all gaga about players getting drafted and who going to get picked when and where free agency will have the most to say about what their true needs are to be addressed in the draft. Because free agency, or at least the vast majority of it will be done before the draft rolls around.

Then we’ll have a good idea of how Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio, and the staff will proceed. So, in a perfect world, the Patriots would get the majority of their problems worked out in free agency and then add pieces and depth during the draft and with undrafted free agents.

So when the league year opens at 4 pm on March 14. The Top 51 Rule takes effect and they’ll have to be under the salary cap and here are what we believe are the top few areas of need that they’ll have to address.

Resign Nate Solder and Add Another Tackle: This is numero uno, the big enchilada, the Patriots have to bring Solder back in the fold for at least 2018 but preferably for two years. Right now they have three of their top four tackles who are free agents. Solder, Cameron Fleming, and LaAdrian Waddle. Marcus Cannon remains on the roster but is coming off of IR in 2017.

Solder has been a very good left tackle and could continue to be on for the next couple of years. He’s had some injury and illness concerns but frankly, he’s the best option out there in free agency. The pickings are slim in free agency and it isn’t a great year for tackles in the draft. Solder is their best option out there and he won’t be cheap.

The depth the Patriots had at tackle served them well last year. Solder, Cannon, Fleming, and Waddle all played significant snaps. Waddle, in my opinion, is the better swing tackle than Fleming but he suffered a couple of injuries and Fleming’s performance in the Super Bowl may get him a nice payday. So if they can do it, the team should bring back Solder and one of the two. I was asked if Solder walked could they make do with Fleming, Waddle, and Cannon. I like their swing tackles but not as 16-game starters

They also have Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks who they kept around last year. The big question now is centered around Tony Garcia. They drafted him to be the possible successor to Solder but he suffered an illness that cost him 40 pounds and the entire season. Will he be ready to go, fully back to strength this summer? No one knows yet.

Extend Brady and Gronkowski to Keep Their Cap Hits Lower: The Patriots have a tad over $14 million in salary cap space as it now stands. They can generate some room by cutting a few players or re-doing their contracts. Alan Branch, Dwayne Allen, and Martellus Bennett are three players who will either be cut outright or have their deals done to limit their cap hit. But reworking the deals for Tom Brady especially and Rob Gronkowski if he decides to keep playing, will happen sooner rather than later.

They could get their salary cap up into the $30+ million dollar range with those moves, of which Solder will take up close to have of it (estimate? $12-13 million). That would still allow them to chase a medium priced free agent or two and still leave some room to sign their draft picks and leave some capital on the books for the invariable injuries which occur during the season.

And hopefully, in doing so, they can possibly lower the salary cap hits on Brady and Gronkowski for this year a little bit.

Get the Tight End Situation Sorted Out: As it stands right now, Gronkowski is contemplating retirement. Dwayne Allen is on the books for $5 million and Martellus Bennett is owed $6.2 million with a $2 million dollar roster bonus due on March 16. None of these scenarios are what the Patriots need to have right now.

According to Drew Rosenhaus, Gronk’s agent, he hasn’t made a decision one way or another about returning or retiring yet. Hopefully, that decision will come sooner rather than later as they can base their decisions, at least partly on whether or not to move on from Bennett or Allen or bring them back.

Regardless, neither of them will return for what they are owed right now. Both will have to take a big pay cut to remain on the team. I think they’ll cut ties completely with Allen and then make a decision on Bennett. Allen never became a factor in the passing game at all and they’ll look to move on. The Bennett situation will bear closer scrutiny.

The team has Jacob Hollister who showed good hands and the ability to stretch the seams of the defense a little bit but he’ll have to improve in the offense as well as a blocker too. The team also has Will Tye who has caught 95 passes in the NFL. He’ll get a longer look this summer.

Re-Sign Danny Amendola to a 2-Year Deal: This one is kind of a no-brainer. Amendola isn’t going to light the world on fire and catch 100 passes, or anything close. But when it comes to crunch time, he’s absolute money. His moniker of “Playoff Danny” has been well-earned. In the 2017 playoffs, he caught 26 passes for 348 yards in three games which averages out to 8.7 catches a game for 116 yards. That is pretty elite territory.

Amendola has the best hands on the team and always can be counted on the make the most difficult catches when games are on the line. He’s versatile and can also return punts and kickoffs if the need arises. And with Cyrus Jones being placed on IR along with Julian Edelman this past preseason, the need arose.

He won’t break the bank to keep around, but he has the absolute trust of Brady, something that can’t be overstated. The “circle of trust” is something very real with Brady and he was included in the offseason work with Edelman that was included in the “Tom vs Time” docuseries last season. The three went Brady’s body coach Alex Guerrero to Montana before training camp to work on their timing and chemistry.

Replace Dion Lewis in the Patriots Backfield: As more time passes, it seems Lewis is less and less likely to return in 2018. The Patriots set a low bar on what they pay their running backs and it quite possible that a team will pay Lewis more than the Patriots will spend. It is being tossed around that he’ll be garnering in the neighborhood of $6.5 million a year in 2018. If that is the case, color Lewis gone.

The Patriots will want to replace him with a back that can not only run but catch the ball out of the backfield, something that hamstrung Mike Gillislee last season. Gillislee ran well but could never break into the passing game. Opponents quickly learned that Gillislee would either run or pass block. With Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White, they had to play a guessing game, making the offense much more difficult to stop.

Burkhead is also a free agent although one would have to assume that his asking price will be much more affordable than Lewis’ at this point. He has a much better chance at being retained at this point.

We heard thru the grapevine (a reliable grapevine) that with the Broncos expected to release C.J. Anderson soon, that the Patriots may make a move for him. Although it is doubtful, he commands any less than Lewis would. But that’s what we heard so, we’ll assume that it would be the case. A quick look at their numbers from 2017:
Lewis    – 180 carries,  896 yards, 5.0 avg. 6 TDs, 32 catches 214 yards, 3 TDs
Anderson – 245 carries, 1007 yards, 4.1 avg. 3 TDs, 28 catches 224 yards, 1 TD

I think this one could be nominally filled by resigning Burkhead and then drafting a young back who can catch and carry the ball. That is the Patriots usual M.O. The majority of the free agent running back class are filled with names that I don’t believe the team being interested in. But we shall see.

Adding Some Veteran Help on the Edge: The team should get back Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi this season from Injured Reserve, That alone should help the play on the edge. Although in the case of last season’s rookies, Rivers, and Langi, the team really doesn’t know what they have in them yet.

What Bill Belichick likes to do is bring in established veterans. Guys who can set the edge, get after the passer a bit and not break the bank. They aren’t going after the high priced, high profile free agents. But a guy who can do these things and isn’t a “name” everyone clamors for. Who would this be?

Connor Barwin is an established veteran who has played well with the Eagles, Texans, and last season with Rams. He could step in, help the defense and still has some juice left in the tank. He’s the kind of player that the team may look at once free agency begins.

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.

The Patriots Should Bring Back Both LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Steve Balestrieri
February 24, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

Like the old saying goes…you can never have enough tackles or cornerbacks. And the Patriots were indeed fortunate to have the depth they enjoyed in 2017. They started the season with starters Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon in place. They drafted what they hope to be their left tackle of the future with Tony Garcia.

And they had returning swing tackle backups LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming in place. It turned out all of those returning pieces were needed. Cannon was injured and placed on IR. Waddle stepped in and played very well. So well in fact, that they hardly missed a beat. He gave up a grand total of zero sacks on the season and seven QB hits in just under 350 offensive snaps this season.

Then Waddle got hurt and in stepped Fleming. He played very well in the playoffs and against the Eagles in the Super Bowl, he and Solder had very strong games. All four tackles played meaningful snaps during the season. And all, thanks to the superb coaching by Dante Scarnecchia, were very solid.

One need only look at some of the teams that struggled during the regular season, their offensive lines, particularly the tackle play was frequently a major issue. The Patriots not only used four but all of them did a good job overall during the season. They also have Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks who the team has high hopes for in the future as well as Garcia. Garcia, it turned out never took the field, he was on NFI list all season with an illness and we’ve read that he lost upwards of 40 pounds during the season.

Free Agency is Key to Continuity: Now three of those tackles are free agents. Solder, Waddle, and Fleming are all unrestricted free agents this spring. So the depth that they currently enjoy will be severely tested this spring.

We’ve already posted on how we feel about resigning Solder and what it may entail. You can re-read that here: In a perfect world, the Patriots would sign all three and enter the 2018 season intact again across the offensive line.

But they have to deal with the realistic scenario that Solder may either not return to the Patriots or retire this spring. Either could conceivably happen and if it does, then they have some decisions that they’ll be forced to make.

OL Cameron Fleming shares a laugh after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

While both Waddle and Fleming have played well as spot starters, do they want them playing on the edge for 16+ games as starters? Probably not. Then they’d be forced to look at free agency (not a great crop) or the NFL draft to find his replacement. Why? Garcia is still an unknown commodity. They haven’t seen him play yet. Compounded with his current medical condition, he’s a big question mark right now. And then they’d be looking at how to deal with the talented duo of swing tackle backups.  

Why Waddle and Fleming Will Resign:  The Patriots will probably try to resign both Waddle and Fleming. As last year showed, they were both needed and they each showed themselves valuable enough to play an important if limited role in their success.

Neither probably has a large enough body of work to be seriously considered for a starting position on another team. Would another team tempt either away with enough cash and an opportunity to start? The odds are against it but never say never. As we mentioned above, the tackle play around the league varied, and some teams were just awful.

It probably won’t break the bank with guaranteed money to bring back either. Both have familiarity with the system and coaches and like it here (much to the chagrin of Lane Johnson).

The absence of a bunch of guaranteed money will still allow the trio of Jelks, Croston, and Garcia to develop but leaves the team in a very good position in the event that there are the inevitable injuries.

They may decide on just one and let the other walk,  and deciding that either Jelks, Croston or Garcia is worthy of backup snaps with a chance to start down the road. In which case it would be a difficult decision. While Waddle has played the better of the two, his injury history this season may give the team some pause.

But the key from a Patriots’ perspective begins with getting Solder back in the fold. If they are able to do that, then getting their swing tackles back will be a nice addition. I think it is a no-brainer that they’ll try to bring back at least one and possibly both Waddle and Fleming.

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 Free Agent Profile Nate Solder

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

While the team has a limited amount of cap space, right now… they should be retooling a few contracts or cutting their ties with some players soon which will create more cap space.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the key players facing free agency is left tackle Nate Solder.

This is where things begin to get very interesting. Solder, and backup tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are all free agents this spring. That means three out of the four tackles utilized by the team in 2017 could conceivably be gone in 2018.

The Patriots thought they drafted their left tackle of the future last spring when they took Antonio Garcia in the draft. But Garcia never stepped foot on the field and spent the season on the NFI (non-football injury list) as a result of an illness. Garcia is down to only about 260 pounds right now, so not only is there uncertainty about his playing ability because they really don’t know what they have in him yet but medically as well. Will he even be ready to go this summer? That is a lot of question marks pertaining to the guy who must protect Tom Brady’s blind side.

Why Solder Will Return: The Patriots drafted Solder in the first round, (17th overall) in 2011. He’s started 95 of 98 games he’s appeared in and has been pretty durable, playing thru a variety of ailments including testicular cancer a few years ago. He did have a torn bicep in 2015, where he missed the last 11 games.

The Patriots need Solder this upcoming season. They have capable backups in Waddle and Fleming, who can fill in for a game or two, but as starting left tackles? No. And with the dearth of tackles in free agency this season, they know they can’t lowball Solder’s offer too much or risk losing him.  

Solder is still a very good left tackle, there was some thought that he may opt for retirement but he probably has one or possibly two years left before he decides to hang it up. With questions regarding his heir apparent, the team will either have to draft another tackle (a definite possibility) or retain Solder for one more year. Solder has played in four Super Bowls protecting Tom Brady’s blindside and has the big game experience that the team wants. He’s a proven performer and the Patriots will probably be able to retain his services for about the same amount of cash he earned in 2017.

At 30 years old this fall, Solder still has plenty of tread left on the tires.

Why Solder Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here. One is Solder was contemplating retirement according to some rumors this fall. His own health issues coupled with the return of cancer to his young son, reportedly had him thinking about possibly hanging it up. If so, that would be the one situation where he’d be adamant about not returning.

As we mentioned above, there is a lack of quality tackles hitting free agency this season. With Solder just about to turn 30 in April, he could command some very decent offers. One team in dire need of a tackle is the Denver Broncos, and Solder played his college football in Colorado. They’d love to steal Solder away from New England.

The Patriots aren’t in a great position salary cap wise, so they won’t be able to overspend for Solder or anyone else this spring unless they start cutting other players or redoing some of the other contracts out there.

Bottom Line: The Patriots would like to have Solder back this season and truth be told, much like Josh McDaniels, family considerations may play a very large part in Nate Solder’s decision to remain in New England or to leave either in free agency or retirement.

With his son going thru another bout of chemotherapy, he and wife may want to keep their family close to the doctors that have treated his son Hudson at Boston Children’s Hospital. They have trust in the staff there and tied to them in the community as well.

He’s a very well respected member of the team by both the players and coaches. The 6’8, the 320-pound left tackle has been very good since entering the NFL. He’s sure to generate plenty of interest from other teams. And a few may opt to throw big money dollars in his direction. There is a stipulation in his contract that he can’t be franchised, so, that option is off the table.

Our feeling here is that he will return to New England or retire. While we may be way off on this one (not like we are batting 1.000 on these things), that is how we see it playing out. I think if the Patriots offer him close to what he earned in 2017, then the chances of Solder returning are much better and seeing him in a Patriots uniform in 2018.

We feel that the chances of him returning to New England are better than 50/50 this summer. Somewhere around 60/40 in favor of him playing at least one more season protecting Brady. Now the question remains, who else (Waddle or Fleming) will the Patriots resign and will Garica be able to resume his football career, which means working himself back up to weight and gaining the 40-50 pounds he lost?

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 Training Camp Primer Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

Continuity and Preparing for 2018 are Keys

The Patriots head into training camp in less than two weeks and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. 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 is the Offensive Line position.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So we’re going to take a look at the Patriots Offensive Line. One of the keys to the 2016 success and part of the struggle down the stretch in 2015 had to do with continuity. The Patriots five starters played together nearly wire-to-wire last year and their performance showed. In 2015 injuries decimated the unit and the team couldn’t get any kind of cohesiveness going.

The good news is that five starters return as well as some of their top backups. But the team didn’t neglect their offensive line this offseason. With an eye to the future, they drafted two tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft, Tony Garcia, and Connor McDermott. Garcia in particular looks to have been drafted with 2018 and beyond in mind.

Although the team lost RT Sebastian Vollmer to retirement this spring, he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury and with the ascendance of Marcus Cannon, the team looks to be in good shape there.
So, with that in mind who is locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Tony Garcia
The starting five returns, seem to be healthy and are locked on the roster this summer. Solder returned from IR in 2015 to play very solidly last year. He’s in the last year of his contract and with that in mind, the team has drafted two possible replacements.

Moving up and using multiple picks to draft Garcia, he’s obviously someone who Dante Scarnecchia feels can be a left tackle of the future. With Solder in place for at least 2017, there is no pressure on Garcia to produce early. This will be a red-shirt type of year for him to learn the system and develop under the tutelage of Coach Scar.

Cannon came out of the doghouse to play very well in 2016. Guards Mason and Thuney are young and physical and should only improve. Andrews is an undersized but smart center and he’s not going anywhere.

Unless there is an injury somewhere, I see no changes happening along the starting lineup for the Patriots offensive line in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Last season both Fleming and Karras were the top backups for the tackles and the interior line last year. They both have the inside track for the top backup positions again as well. Karras has the versatility to play either guard or back-up the center David Andrews. He’s not the most athletic guy but he’s physical and tough.

Fleming was the swing tackle last year and will be trying to hold off the rookies Garcia and McDermott from taking that job away from him. He’s versatile and can fill in at either left or right tackle, something that is easier said than done.

On the Bubble: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Max Rich, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris, Jason King, James Ferentz
The Patriots have plenty of depth at the backup positions and these players are likely to be fighting for reps in training camp and a most likely only one or two slots.

Waddle has been a backup tackle and a blocking tight end but with the depth, at that position, he’ll be pushed hard for a roster spot. McDermott is another intriguing prospect. He’s a guy that the Patriots used a pair of picks to get, albeit in the sixth round of the draft. Would he pass thru waivers if the team tries to stash him on the practice squad? That would seem to be his best bet to make the roster, at least this summer, unless the inevitable injuries occur.

With a lot of bodies in camp, this will be an intriguing group to watch. They’ll have the entire preseason to make a case for sticking, so staying healthy and on the field, will be of primary importance.

Our next primer will have the Patriots defensive line… stay tuned.

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

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

Patriots Have a Long List of Free Agents in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
February 9, 2017 at 9:28 am ET

The Patriots will enter the 2017 offseason with a ton of cap space ($61,248,593 according to our own salary cap guru in Miguel @patscap) but have a lot of players hitting free agency.  There is a total of 19 players that are free agents this spring. It begins with 13 unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents, and three exclusive-rights free agents.

Here is a list of the Patriots free agents and their ages in parenthesis:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
TE Martellus Bennett (30)
RB LeGarrette Blount (30)
RB Brandon Bolden (27)
DT Alan Branch (32)
FB James Develin (28)
WR Michael Floyd (27)
FS Duron Harmon (26)
LB Dont’a Hightower (26)
DE Chris Long (31)
LB Barkevious Mingo (26)
CB Logan Ryan (26)
TE Greg Scruggs (26)
DE Jabaal Sheard (27)

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
CB Malcolm Butler (26)
OT Cameron Fleming (24)
LB Trevor Reilly (29)

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:
CB Justin Coleman (23)
LB Brandon King (23)
TE Matt Lengel (26)

So, what are the differences in the categories you ask? Well, I’m glad you did… sort of. The Patriots can extend any of the players below to a new deal prior to the March 9th deadline. Once the deadline hits, then that is when the different categories come into play.

The Unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team for basically the best deal for the player, whether it be the money, the team or any other reason.

Restricted free agents can be offered one of three “tenders” by the team holding their rights. They are for players with just three years of accrued service in the league. Since most rookie contracts run for four years now, they are becoming rarer.

A tender is a one-year contract for a pre-determined amount and here are the categories: (note the amounts listed here are in 2016 money and will be subject to change.)

First round tender: 1 year, about $3.582 million
Second round tender: 1 year, about $2.516 million
Right of first refusal/Original round tender: 1 year, about $1.647 million

The original round tender means that if another team swoops in and signs a player, his last team would get a draft pick from the round that player was drafted in. In the case of a UDFA, the team would get nothing.

The team has the right of first refusal as well if a team were to offer a restricted free agent an offer, the Patriots have the right to match it.

Exclusive rights free agents haven’t accrued three years of NFL service and if the team extends them an offer sheet, they have to sign it.

So while the Patriots have tons of cap room, they also have some big decisions to make in regards to 21 free agents. The ERFAs are the most easily done if they want to keep them they are the easiest to retain. But from there the questions become a bit stickier.

We’ll be looking at some of the free agents in depth in the upcoming days. Who may stay and who may go.

Any questions regarding the salary cap and the inner workings of it should be addressed to Miguel aka @Patscap who covers the salary cap of the Patriots better than anyone else anywhere. We are fortunate to have him here at PatsFans.com and he has the breakdowns of the deals and how it all works.

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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 Get More Bad Injury News, Sebastian Vollmer Headed to IR

Steve Balestrieri
August 21, 2016 at 2:57 pm ET

Well, a quiet Sunday afternoon suddenly isn’t. The Patriots got a double whammy on Sunday when they learned to Dion Lewis needs another surgery and will be out an additional 8-10 weeks, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is likely headed to IR for a bad hip as well as a balky shoulder. Vollmer has been on PUP since training camp began.  The news was first reported by Jim McBride of the Boston Globe.

Guard Shaq Mason it has been reported missed the Chicago Bears preseason game with a broken hand. Mason was one of the team’s most reliable offensive linemen in 2015.

Vollmer could conceivably still play in 2016. If the Patriots decide to place Vollmer on the IR, under the new rules, he could return later in the season. Each team is only allowed one such move per year and they don’t have to designate which player will return as in the past. We had Vollmer as starting the season on PUP in our latest roster projection but now it looks like he could be gone for the entire year.

Now Marcus Cannon, who has been getting most of the starting reps during training camp will begin the season as the team’s starting right tackle opposite of Nate Solder. We posted numerous times this spring that the team needed to address the RT of the future. The Patriots, however, opted to stand pat and this is one decision that may come back to haunt them.

They also have Cameron Fleming, La Adrian Waddle and Keavon Milton as backups.

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Return of Scarnecchia and Health Two Biggest Issues

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. 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 is the Offensive Line.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So next on deck are the big bodies on the Offensive Line. The team is banking heavily on the return of positional coach Dante Scarnecchia who was retired for two years. He’s a tough taskmaster who demands the most from his charges. The health of this group is a big question mark; injuries ravaged them and the protection of QB Tom Brady steadily got worse as the season progressed.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?


Dante Scarnecchia returns to be the Pats OL coach after he retired two years ago. (USA TODAY Images)

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper
Health is the key here, Solder was lost in Dallas Week 5 for the season with a torn bicep. Vollmer battled injuries throughout the campaign and has knee and back issues. But if both are healthy they’ll be your starting tackles. One would have thought that the tackle position would have been addressed in either free agency and the draft but it was not. We’ll see how that turns out later this year.

The Pats didn’t draft Thuney to sit on the pine, and with Mason, Jackson and Kline MIA this spring, he took the starting reps at left guard whenever Brady or Garoppolo was on the field. He even took a few at center. Mason finally appeared in the last spring workout and had 10 starts as a rookie. Coming from the running game of Georgia Tech, he’s an excellent drive blocker but as one would expect, had issues with his pass blocking.  Andrews, who started all the games early last season and played fairly well is undersized but tough. In a surprise move, he was getting the starting reps over Bryan Stork this spring…something to keep an eye on.

Cooper was a top draft pick for the Cardinals before injuries derailed his career there. With the aforementioned players out this spring, he got the starter’s reps at right guard. The Pats are hoping that Scarnecchia can rekindle his professional career.


Nate Solder returns after going on IR after Week 5 in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

Near Roster Locks: Bryan Stork, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle
Stork, who played so well as a rookie at center, missed the first six weeks of the season on IR-Designated to Return and struggled as he had health issues of his own last year. Stork even played at right tackle against the Giants as Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon struggled. It will be interesting to watch the competition between Stork and Andrews this summer. With Thuney providing added insurance, the pivot position should be in good shape.

Cannon, is the ultimate head scratcher for this team, but Bill Belichick and Scarnecchia love this kid.  He was ineffective last season when pressed into starting duty and was just abused in the AFC Championship Game in Denver. As the saying goes, we’ll see how it plays out on the field.

Waddle has the opportunity to seize the swing tackle position. He too was hurt against the Cowboys and his shoulder injury sidelined him. But the Patriots gave him a two-year contract this offseason and he also has the capability to be an extra blocking tight end in short yardage.

On the Bubble: Tre’ Jackson, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Jackson was a rookie draft pick (4th Rd, 111th overall), a year ago and had nine starts while appearing in 13 games. Prior to coming out in the 2015 NFL Draft, he had knee issues and he missed time with those during the season as well as missing both playoff games. If he’s healthy he’ll compete for the right guard spot, where he saw all of his action a year ago. But he missed all of the spring, so his status will bear watching once training camp begins.

Kline is a guy who the Patriots traditionally love, an undersized but tough player. He too missed all of the spring. With the additions of Thuney and Cooper along the interior of the line, he may find himself on the outside looking in.

Fleming flopped as a swing tackle a year ago, like Cannon was ineffective when pressed into service. But the last offseason, the Patriots fiddled with the idea of moving him to guard. He was training to do just that, cutting down on his weight a bit and improving his quickness. We saw the video of his workouts last spring and it seemed he was destined to move inside.

But the team drafted Mason and Jackson last spring and Fleming went back outside. The results were not good. Perhaps with a full offseason with Scarnecchia, Fleming can get his game back together. The swing tackle position will again go thru Cannon, Waddle and Fleming.

Karras is a tough kid that has a lot of upper body strength, completing 32 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day this spring. The 6th round draft pick has an NFL pedigree and is a good pass protector but isn’t very athletic and may find himself a practice squad candidate unless he can shine in limited opportunities.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Chris Barker, Keavon Milton
Both of these players have been let go in the past and face long odds of making the roster out of training camp.

Barker was originally claimed off of waivers from the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 season and appeared in four games. During the 2014 season, he split time between the practice squad and the active roster and appeared in two games. Last season he was signed to the active roster for the Week 10 game against the Giants before being released and signed back to the practice squad.

Milton was a UDFA in 2013 and was signed by the New Orleans Saints. He was among the final cuts of the Saints and was signed by the Browns and appeared in eight games with no starts that season. He then was released by the Browns at the end of training camp in 2014 and signed to Seattle’s practice squad. Released in September 2015 he was signed by the Patriots to their practice squad in November. The 6’4, 320-pound Milton was a blocking tight end at Louisiana-Monroe who made the transition to tackle

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Possible Patriots Draft Target, OT Le’Raven Clark

Steve Balestrieri
April 8, 2016 at 9:45 am ET

Patriots May Have to Move up Early in Day 2 For Clark

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots suffered a ton of injuries in 2015 and none of them were felt as badly as in the offensive line. There was a never-ending carousel of players in and out of the Patriots OL that eventually took its toll in the second half of the season and down the stretch. The Patriots used 37 different OL combinations last year and the QB, Tom Brady was the guy who paid the price as he was hit more than he has been in any year in his career.

Left tackle Nate Solder was lost for the year after Week 4 with a torn bicep. 2014’s starting center Bryan Stork missed the first seven weeks with concussion symptoms. Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason all missed significant time with injuries.

It got ridiculous down the stretch as the Patriots have used five left tackles, five left guards, two centers, seven right guards and five right tackles. Two things happened, their strength and conditioning coach and the offensive line coach’s contracts were not renewed. Solder and Vollmer are back but the team can use an influx of youth at the tackle position, preferably a young man that can come in and vie for snaps if not immediately, by year two in 2017.

Le’Raven Clark from Texas Tech is a player that would not only fit into the Patriots system but would push for reps at right tackle immediately. Clark was a three-year starter for the Red Raiders after moving over from guard and made 51 consecutive starts. He was an All Big-12 Selection for the past three years.

Possessing the size needed to play tackle in the NFL at 6’5, 316-pounds; he also has the agility to slide outside to protect the quarterback in a pass-first scheme. Texas Tech liked to air it out and the Patriots are very much the same. But he also has the versatility and strength to move inside at guard if needed and be a mauler in the running game.

Clark is athletic with a 30-inch vertical jump with a 9.1-foot broad jump to go along with outstanding foot speed and athleticism to get to the edge in the running game.

leraven clark

Pros:

– Elite level footwork and quickness, can react to speed rushers on the edge

– Exceptional length enables him to disrupt and seal inside moves

– Very good agility and quickness in the running game

– His strength and thickness allow him to anchor against bull rushers

Cons

– Technique needs some refining with hand and footwork

– Must adapt to the NFL Pro-style offense

– Needs to keep his pad level down in pass protection

What his Role Will Be:
His role will be competing for the swing tackle offensive line role in training camp but there is no reason that he can’t and won’t compete for starting reps at right tackle in 2016.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with a little technique work and adaption to the pro-style offense, he should be the starting right tackle in 2017. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to Clark to move to LT in the foreseeable future.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
His roster slot will be in direct competition with reserve offensive linemen Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon.

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Clark is the right tackle of the near future, possibly even the left if the Patriots can land him in the draft. He comes from a military family, something that always resonates well with Bill Belichick. He has elite, size, length and quickness as well as being a very smart player.

His transition to a pro-style offense may take a bit of time getting used to but once he adapts, he should become a dominant tackle in the NFL. Not a serviceable one, not a good one….a dominant one.

This kid needs only to put in the time and effort and if he’s selected by New England, he’ll have Dante Scarnecchia to push him to his fullest potential. Guys with his size, smarts and athleticism won’t last long in the NFL Draft.  He’s an outstanding protector in the passing game and one has to only remember how bad the Patriots struggled down the stretch and in the playoffs to see how seamless a fit he’d be with New England.

He has the versatility and experience at playing guard as well, something that always resonates well with the coaching staff.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Starter. He should fit in very well into the NE offense. He’s slotted to go early in the 2nd round, if the Patriots find themselves in the position, they’d be well-served by sliding up in the round and taking Clark.

Clark’s highlight film against Oklahoma State can be found here, courtesy of CFB Film Room:

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Possible Patriots Draft Target, OT Joe Haeg

Steve Balestrieri
April 4, 2016 at 10:00 am ET

Haeg Could be Targeted by the Patriots Early in Day 2

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots suffered a ton of injuries in 2015 and none of them were felt as badly as in the offensive line. There was a never-ending carousel of players in and out of the Patriots OL that eventually took its toll in the second half of the season and down the stretch. The Patriots used 37 different OL combinations last year and the QB, Tom Brady was the guy who paid the price as he was hit more than he has been in any year in his career.

Left tackle Nate Solder was lost for the year after Week 4 with a torn bicep. 2014’s starting center Bryan Stork missed the first seven weeks with concussion symptoms. Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason all missed significant time with injuries.

It got ridiculous down the stretch as the Patriots have used five left tackles, five left guards, two centers, seven right guards and five right tackles. Two things happened, their strength and conditioning coach and the offensive line coach’s contracts were not renewed. Solder and Vollmer are back but the team can use an influx of youth at the tackle position, preferably a young man that can come in and vie for snaps if not immediately, by year two in 2017.

Joe Haeg from North Dakota State is a player who would fit in well with the Patriots system. A former walk-on player, he blossomed on one of the FBS’ most successful teams. He’s started 60 of 61 possible games and has the versatility that Bill Belichick loves in his players, 32 at left tackle and 29 at right tackle.

Joe Haeg

Haeg received the Top Collegiate Offensive Lineman award from the FCS Athletic Directors Association in 2015, and was a two-time first team All-Missouri Valley Conference lineman.

He has an athletic build at 6’6, 304 pounds but has a frame that would allow him to add on additional weight with little loss of his agility. He uses his long arms very effectively in pass protection, keeping edge rushers away from his body.

He’s agile and quick off the snap in the running game and shows the lateral ability to get around the edge to the second level effectively. Shows good communication to recognize pressure

Pros:

– Squares up to pass rushers well, keeping them at bay

– Excellent quick reaction to pass rusher’s moves

– Very good agility and balance in the running game

Cons

– Has lean lower body, needs to beef up a bit at the next level

– Core strength is an issue and needs to be improved

– Hand strike on pass rushers tends to be too low at times

What his Role Will Be:
His role will be competing for one of the backup offensive line roles, which initially would be the swing tackle. As he finds his feet in the NFL game, he could compete for starting reps at the right tackle role.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with a little technique and size added in the Patriots strength and conditioning program he should be the starting RT tackle on Day 1 in 2017.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
His roster slot will be in direct competition with reserve offensive linemen Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon.

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Haeg is a guy the Patriots traditionally love, a self-made hard worker that has had to grind his way to where he is today. He’s a team leader and has been a part of five consecutive FBS college championship team. The Patriots reportedly spent quite a bit of time with him down in Mobile.

He’s been in big games, he knows his assignments and those around him. He sets up well in his base and has good balance while squaring himself in pass protection. He mirrors pass rushers very well. His quick feet and agility allow him to get to the second level in the running game.

Working with Dante Scarnecchia and the Patriots strength coaches should do him a world of good. If he can add some core strength and work on some technique issues, there is no reason why he couldn’t be an effective right tackle in the NFL for years to come. He may need some time to develop and it may take an entire season. He could be targeted early on Day 2 unless the team moves up in the 2nd round and drafts another prospect.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Potential Starter. He should fit in very well into the NE offense.

 

Haeg’s highlight film can be found here, courtesy of College FB Dude:

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.