Tag Archives: Dion Lewis

Podcast: Offensive Draft Preview For The Patriots

Russ Goldman
April 11, 2018 at 12:16 pm ET

In this episode, we discussed the recent signings for the Patriots. After that, we did our Offensive Draft Preview, as we shared our top three propsects at several offensive positions for the Patriots. Later on, we did our Patriots Mock Draft.

New England Patriots Draft Profile, Jaylen Samuels, NC State

Steve Balestrieri
April 9, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Hard to Pigeon Hole Samuels Into One Position

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots and specifically Bill Belichick likes versatile football players. Guys who can do more than one thing are valuable role players and will find their way onto the roster. Some guys who were multifaceted had the good fortune to be called a “Swiss Army knife” as they had some valuable and varied skills

Jaylen Samuels from North Carolina State is a prime example of that. Samuels played tight end for the most part for the Wolfpack but in reality was much more. He is a true jack-of-all-trades as he lined up as a running back, H-Back, Fullback, wide receiver, slot receiver, and took some direct snaps.

He’s not a Swiss Army Knife but more of a chameleon. His skill set is such that some NFL coaches will have a hard time actually deciding what position it is that he will be used at. He played every position on the offense for the Wolfpack except the offensive line. He was NC State’s leading receiver with 76 receptions for 597 yards with 4 touchdowns. He also rushed for 404 yards for another 12 touchdowns.

He is a good route runner with good short area quickness where he can separate from man coverage. He possesses sure hands and will extend with a nice catch radius on throws wide of the mark and haul them in. Samuels was good in short-yardage, showing a nice ability to see the cracks in the defense and find the sticks or the goalline.

Samuels is competitive to the nth degree and will sometimes go over the top and lose his cool, but is a tough competitor and will go all out for his coaches.

With the right coach and the right system, Samuels can line up anywhere and be a factor on offense. As a running back out in the flat, as an H-Back, or in the slot. He will probably become a core special teamer immediately.

Pros:

– Outstanding versatility

– Excellent hands

– Good at both coming out of the backfield and as a WR

– High Football I.Q.

Cons

– Slightly underpowered

– Average speed

– Blocking skills need work

What his Role Will Be:

That is the $64,000 question. He’s probably just best used as a varied weapon where ever the team senses a mismatch.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

It is possible that after a year in the system with the coaches and players that they will find a niche for him, but he may stay a jack of all trades in the offense where the defense can never know what is coming.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Take your pick, this guy fills so many shoes he could become a valuable player that he could make a bunch of special teams’ players expendable.  

What is his ST Value?

He’d immediately become a core special teams guy with his athleticism and physicality.

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his profile wrote that “Some may see Samuels as a valuable hybrid talent, while others may see a player who offers roster flexibility but lacks a position where he can win consistently. Samuels isn’t a tight end and has to prove he can handle blocking duties well enough to be a fullback. He will, however, appeal to teams looking to disguise their attacks with more diversified personnel groupings. Samuels best fit may be with a zone-scheme team as an RB/FB with the ability to play slot receiver and become a core special teamer.”

Samuels is a guy that you can’t help but root for. His varied skill set will have to be paired with a team that must be creative with his use. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry at NC State. The fact that he can do just about anything on offense could be seen by some as a detriment as some teams won’t be happy unless they can plug him into a specific hole.

What position is Samuels? I think I know how Bill Belichick will answer that. He’s a football player, he’d say and we’ll see how he’ll work out. But with the Patriots, I can see him as a third down running back that they can put in motion out to the slot. An H-Back or even as a flex or “move” tight end. In other words everywhere… and why not?

The kid can play a multitude of roles. After losing playmakers Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis this spring in free agency, Samuels can help in replacing both in the running as well as the passing game.

Does he fit a specific area of need? Not particularly. But his overall value will outweigh his specific value in any one area. Some team will draft themselves a football player on Day 3 and if they are creative, he will give them mismatches all over the field. Samuels will be a fit in New England because Belichick and McDaniels could definitely find a variety of roles for him to excel in.

Right now the team does not have a fourth or a fifth-round draft pick. I’m sure that will change once the draft begins. That will change. And if they would select him, Samuels would give them a reason every day to keep him around. The man with no true position will end up with several.

Leonard’s highlight reel tape from the ACC Digital Network can be seen here: 

His official highlight tape also by the ACC Digital Network can be seen here: 

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.

Podcast: The Recent Subtractions And Additions To The Patriots Roster

Russ Goldman
March 20, 2018 at 12:25 pm ET

In this episode, we talked about the Patriots players who have recently left, and the addtitions to the 2018 Patriots roster so far.

Patriots Trade for KR/WR Cordarrelle Patterson From the Raiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trade is not official pending a physical.

New England Patriots News 3-11, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 11, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-11, & AFC East Notes

*** Trade  Alert***: The Patriots just minutes ago (Saturday afternoon) traded a third-round draft pick in 2019 for DT Danny Shelton of the Cleveland Browns and a 5th round selection in 2018. This is a good move for solidifying the Patriots run defense in 2018.

Shelton was a first-round draft pick for the Browns (12th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s a 6’2, 335-pound run stuffer who can play over the nose or the 1-technique. He’s the classic two-gapper that the Patriots like in the middle of the defense. When he was going thru the draft process, he drew some comparisons to Vince Wilfork. While maybe those aren’t quite fair to the guy coming to New England, he’s the same body type.

He’s not going to upgrade the pass rush, he’s a two-down run stopper. But if he can maintain his weight. (It fluctuated as high as 363 pounds in 2015) then he’ll be a very nice addition to the defense. He’s in the fourth year of his rookie deal, the Patriots have until May 2 to kick in the final option year (around $7 million) for 2019. With Alan Branch and Ricky Jean Francois gone, the Patriots needed another big body in the middle and now their big guy rotation has Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Vincent Valentine.

Quick Hitters: Sorry to hear that Sean McDonough won’t be returning to Monday Night Football on ESPN. He’s returning to the college circuit for the network and with Jon Gruden returning to the sidelines with the Raiders, ESPN will have a new crew on tap for next year. McDonough, in our opinion, was fantastic as the play-by-play man and will be missed.

The Patriots resigned STs ace Brandon King to a new deal that wasn’t unexpected. Also included in that was the release of TE Martellus Bennett who was due a $2 million dollar roster bonus as well as counting $6.2 million against the cap. Also being jettisoned is DT Alan Branch whose play slipped mightily in 2017

DT Ricky Jean Francois announced that he wouldn’t return to the team in 2018 and thanked the coaches for the opportunity. His leaving opens up another spot on the front seven that will need upgrading this spring.

LBs Coach Brian Flores will call the defensive signals this season but will not get the title of Defensive Coordinator. While sounding a bit odd, this was exactly the same thing that Bill Belichick did with Matt Patricia initially a few seasons ago.

And finally, Tom Brady had all of his locks shorn for charity this week along with Mass. governor Charlie Baker. But he did release his trailer for the final episode of the “Tom vs Time” docu-series that will be released on Facebook Monday.  

Sherman Case, Hardly a Slam Dunk: This week, as was expected the Seahawks cut Richard Sherman who is coming off an Achilles injury in 2017 and will be 30 years old during the 2018 season.

Sherman was an obscure 5th round draft pick who became a cornerstone for the “Legion of Boom” defense in Seattle. The two-time All-Pro, when healthy is one of the best cornerbacks in the business. Immediately tongues started to wag about a fit with the Patriots, who have not yet reached out to Sherman.

Are the Patriots interested? Of course, but it hardly means that it is a done deal. And the first thing to temper expectations is money. Fans automatically assume that every big name star will sign on the cheap to “win a ring with Bill” when the situation, especially here doesn’t fit the reality.

Sherman already has a ring, and now he wants to get paid. While the Patriots aren’t swimming in cash this offseason, Sherman could legitimately be reciprocal in wanting to come here. But the money is the issue. Our old friend Miguel Benzan, aka @Patscap, stated,  “Richard Sherman is on the NFLPA Executive Board making it likely that he will look to max his dollars as an example for his fellow union members.”

Sherman is scheduled to meet with the 49ers today (Saturday a.m.)

Talib Trade Left the Pats No Chance:
Besides Sherman, the rumor mill was also hot for former Broncos CB Aqib Talib. Talib made it clear that if he were released, one of the teams he was very interested in returning to would be the Patriots.

Well, John Elway certainly didn’t want to see that, so he agreed to ship Talib to the LA Rams for a 5th round draft pick. The Patriots were also supposedly involved, but no one expected Talib to come here in a trade since by trading him, his contract is on the books for an $11 million dollar cap hit in 2018.

The Patriots couldn’t pay that so it really left them out in the cold. Which leads us to point #3 today…

Cornerback Isn’t As Big A Need as Thought:
With Malcolm Butler as good as gone, the Patriots have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones still at corner. Gilmore and Rowe are just fine as a pair of starters. The issue is in the slot. If Jones (Jonathan) isn’t ready to go after suffering an injury last season, then they’re really thin. Cyrus Jones is still an unknown quantity.

Expect them to address this need in the draft for sure, where there are several good corners who excel in the slot. If they nab Sherman, that is fine, but he’s not a need per se, the real issue is with the front seven and getting them up to speed.

Picking Up Britt Option a Smart, No Risk Move:
The Patriots signed Kenny Britt to a two-year deal when they picked him up on December 13. He didn’t show much in his limited time in the offense and picked up just two catches. Many fans expected the Patriots to cut their ties with him and save a few dollars on the salary cap, but to do so would’ve been ignoring that they signed him for 2018, not 2017.

Britt was cut loose after signing a four-year deal with Cleveland in the spring that saw him catch just 18 passes in a nightmarish season. The Patriots signed him with 2018 in mind. While he possesses decent enough straight-line speed, what sets apart the 29-year old wide receiver is his size. He’s the biggest Patriot wide receiver on the roster at 6’3, 223 pounds. That is something the team can use.

While the Patriots have a plethora of smaller receivers in the mode of Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan is the only receiver over six feet tall at 6’1. Britt now gives them a bigger option, something they can use in the red zone or in the short-yardage areas where he can use his size to box out opponents.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport has reported that the Patriots are expecting big things for the Patriots in 2018, and now with a crash course in the offense, the last few weeks of the season and the playoffs, he has a full off-season to acclimate himself into the offense.

Britt had his best season in 2016 with the Rams catching 68 passes for 1002 yards and five touchdowns. His career numbers are 329 catches, 5137 yards with 32 scores. He was originally a first-round pick (30th overall) of the Titans in the 2009 NFL Draft.

By picking up his option, the Patriots are on the hook for $150,000. That’s it. His option bonus is the only guaranteed money on the books. Even if he sticks thru training camp, his salary for 2018 is just $1,468,750. With bonus incentives, it could reach $2 million.

With that little-guaranteed money on the table, it is a no-brainer to bring him back. Especially with Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell coming off of serious injuries in 2017 resulting in them going on IR. Danny Amendola is an unrestricted free agent, and although he’s expected back, Britt’s option being picked up isn’t indicative one way or another of Amendola’s return.

The Patriots depth chart currently consists of Edelman, Cooks, Hogan, Britt, Dorsett, Mitchell, Cody Hollister, and Riley McCarron. Edelman, when he returns would obviously bolster the depth as would Matthew Slater who is a WR in name only and is a Special Team’s captain. But he too is a free agent. It will be interesting to see who the Patriots look to in the draft. There could be a market for an eventual slot receiver to replace Edelman/Amendola and there are some intriguing names out there.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Trade Taylor to the Browns, Need Two QBs:
The Buffalo Bills have traded QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns for a third-round draft choice. Now it leaves Buffalo with just one QB, Nathan Peterman on the roster. Realistically, now the Bills will have to add a pair of QBs to the team this spring. There are several free agents out there as well as plenty of depth in the draft.

It will be interesting to see how the Bills address the situation externally as well as with Peterman who got to see the field a bit last season. The Bills got a tremendous deal for Taylor, who was pretty much known not to be in the Bills plans this season.

For Taylor, he’ll be the placeholder for the Browns as they search once again for the elusive franchise quarterback. But he’ll at least have a very reliable outlet to throw the ball to next season…

Dolphins Trade Jarvis Landry to the Browns For Two Draft Picks:
The Miami Dolphins have traded WR Jarvis Landry for a 4th Round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, (123rd overall) and a seventh rounder in 2019.

Landry is a very reliable possession receiver with very good hands who led the league in catches in 2017 with 112. In contrast, all Browns receivers had 134. Landry had 987 yards receiving in 2017 but had 1,136 and 1,157 yards the previous two seasons.

He and Taylor should make a good team and one would expect that those two will soon be seen somewhere working out together building some chemistry. But the Browns are in need of other help at WR.

The Dolphins will be hard-pressed to replace the 100 catches a year with Landry but the draft will have some intriguing options and the Fins just gained $16 million dollars in cap space.

Never a Dull Moment with the Jets:
The New York Jets, like the Patriots, can be accused of many things but boring isn’t one of them. First, Muhammad Wilkerson’s mom called into the “Boomer and Gio” show on WFAN 660 to complain about the negative reporting going on with Manish Mehta about her son.

“He’s always written horrible things about my son,” Wilkerson’s mother Ka’idah said on the show Friday. “Muhammad does not pay Manish any attention, so therefore he always has something against him. Where’s his proof? Where’s your proof, Manish? … I’m just livid. I’m just livid with him.”

Mehta, as many Patriots fans know, is prone to some outlandish assumptions, not surprisingly doubled down on his “Wilkerson has an alcohol problem” line of reasoning when he called in to counter Mehta’s mom. Wilkerson, he said was having “issues with alcohol and drinking in the past.”

In the second incident, Jets safety Jamal Adams blasted Rivals.com writer Mike Farrell after Farrell questioned whether any team should draft NFL Combine star, Shaquem Griffin. Griffin, who had his left hand amputated at age 4 because of amniotic band syndrome.

Adams was livid on Twitter. “Shut up you clown!” Adams tweeted. “What makes you think you can evaluate NFL prospects when you can’t even do your job and evaluate HS players. You’re the same clown who had me as the 38th player in the country, 3rd best safety, no one cares what you have to say!

“Don’t ever sell a kid short.” And the beat goes on…

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

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

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.

New England Patriots News 3-4, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 4, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-4, & AFC East Notes

This week some light was finally shed on what the illness was that sidelined Patriots offensive tackle Tony Garcia last season. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Garcia suffered from blood clots in his lungs citing a source. Because of that, Garcia was placed on NFI and was lost for the season.

He was placed on blood thinners which caused him to lose 40 pounds. Supposedly, he’s back in the weight room and is expected to make a full recovery. However, his return to the field is uncertain at this time.

Some other good news is that LB Harvey Langi is expected to be a full-participant in the Patriots off-season workouts. Langi too was placed on NFI after both he and his wife were severely injured when their car was rear-ended at a traffic light in Foxboro. Langi and his wife are reportedly fully recovered and he’s expected back on the field.

Combine Fast Trackers: Things are beginning to heat up at the 2018 NFL Combine. It is always intriguing to watch some player’s stock rise or fall depending on their performance there. Although most coaches believe that the most important factors are the medicals and/or the interviews.

One player whose stock rose quickly last season was Grafton, Massachusetts native and UConn alum Obi Melifonwu who drafted by the Raiders. His first NFL season was marred by injuries and he appeared in just five games. He was placed on IR with a hip injury that required surgery. We ran into him this week, as he was back in Mass. and he’s almost fully healed now and said that he should be ready to go once the Raiders kick off their workouts.  

Patriots Receive 4th Round Compensatory Pick in the NFL Draft:
The NFL conducted the coin flip between the Raiders and the 49ers in regards to the upcoming NFL Draft and the Patriots compensation in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade is now settled. The coin flip was done at the NFL Combine and the 49ers won the toss which means they’ll get the 9th overall pick in the draft. The teams will rotate picks in the second round which means the Patriots 2nd round pick via SF will be # 43.

With the added selection, it brings their total draft picks to just six this season.
#31 (round 1)
#43 (round 2)
#63 (round 2)
#95 (round 3)
#136 (round 4)
#205 (round 6)

Deep Running Back Class May Help The Pats in Lewis/Burkhead Situation:
A lot of people are already salivating over the group of talented running backs in this year’s deep class at the NFL Draft in the event that the Patriots will lose either Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead, perhaps both.

We’ve read that the free agent hype on both is heating up. It is often difficult to gauge that before free agency starts because often times it is created by the players’ agents trying to inflate the players’ worth. We aren’t saying that it the case here, just that it has happened before, we won’t really know until the official tampering period begins.

So, while the blow could definitely be softened by dipping into this class of backs that are out there in the draft if either or both Lewis and Burkhead move on, it can also work in the Patriots favor in the opposite way. It could help them retain their services.

The free agent market may not lend itself to overpaying and high bidding on running backs since the draft class is so deep. So that may work in the team’s favor if they decide to make a play to retain their services. If history is any indication, the Patriots will let the players test the market and find what their worth is, and then make a move to keep them here in Foxboro for 2018 and beyond.

Will He or Won’t He? Gronkowski Situation No Clearer:
Last week we wrote that the decision by Rob Gronkowski on whether to retire would be best served if he made it earlier rather than later. Despite reports from national media sources that they expect Gronkowski to be in uniform in 2018, his agent Drew Rosenhaus has stated that he hasn’t made his decision yet and that it was going to take some time.

Rosenhaus appeared with Mike Florio on his “ProFootballTalk Live” show and threw water on the reports that Gronkowski is all set to return. The team has decisions to make with both Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen, neither will be back for what their contracts are calling for but regardless, they’ll have to look to the future.

A couple of names to check out in Indianapolis include Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews, who caught 62 passes for 958 yards and eight TDs last year in Norman. South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert is an intriguing player with the Gronkowski-like style of catching and blocking. Despite being from a smaller school, he’s one of the top prospects at the position. And I’d be remiss without mentioning a Gamecock and the SC offense has a good tight end coming out, in Hayden Hurst, who is a bit older due to a baseball career as a pitcher that flamed out due to control issues but he’s a very good receiver with one drop (1) against 100 receptions.

Pats Need to Get Younger at WR This Season:
It appears that Julian Edelman is rehabbing extremely well from his preseason ACL surgery in 2017. With he and Malcolm Mitchell due back from their respective injuries, the Patriots, on paper, would be fairly set at wide receiver.

Edelman, Mitchell, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Kenny Britt return. Danny Amendola is a free agent but is expected to be at least courted to return in 2018. But age is creeping up on this group. Edelman will turn 32 in May, Amendola, 33 during the season, Britt turns 30 and Hogan will turn 31 this season. Cooks is the only youngster of the group. Dorsett is also young but he had trouble catching on with the offense a year ago and was barely used. Mitchell’s knee issues may be chronic and will be monitored moving forward. That was the big knock on him coming out of college.

One receiver to keep an eye on is NC State’s, Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is actually listed as a tight end but will probably be a slot receiver in the NFL. NESN’s Doug Kyed wrote an intriguing piece on the Wolf Pack’s Swiss Army knife. Why will he change positions? Samuels is 5’11, 223 pounds. He caught 77 passes in his final season, but he can run the ball, catch it, block and even throw it, completing 2-3 passes. He’s a guy that can do a bit of everything…even running back kicks. Bill Belichick loves versatile players and Samuels fits the bill (no pun intended) to a tee.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Sign Davis, “the right place to be”:
The Buffalo Bills have signed FA Vontae Davis to a one-year deal that has $3.5 million in guaranteed money. Davis signed because he was released last season and was allowed to sign anywhere he chose immediately.

For Davis, the selling point was the young talent that coach Sean McDermott is assembling around Orchard Park and his belief that he can help. Davis on speaking to the media this week said although it was his first visit, his mind kept returning to Buffalo.

“They made me feel at home. As I went on my visit and kind of evaluated, it felt like I was just drawn to Buffalo because of how everybody made me feel. I feel like they run their organization with a lot of integrity. They respect their players. I just felt like it was the place to be.

“Even though Buffalo was one of my first visits, as I evaluated things, it seems like it just stuck with me throughout all my visits. It had a huge impression on me.”

The Bills also interviewed Louisville QB Lamar Jackson at the NFL Combine. It is intriguing because the system that Buffalo will use on offense, the Erhardt-Perkins system that Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll will use, is what Jackson ran at Louisville so, if the Bills do select him, he’ll fit seamlessly into it.

Dolphins Swing Big Trade to Nab Edge Rusher Robert Quinn:
The Miami Dolphins have swapped a reported fourth-round draft pick to the LA Rams for edge rusher Robert Quinn. The two teams also swapped sixth-round picks. The trade will not become official until the league year begins on March 14.

Quinn, 27, had 8.5 sacks for the Rams and has two years remaining on his deal which is set to pay him approximately $24 million over the course of the deal. The Rams dealt him in essence for salary cap space.

Quinn paired with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, gives the Dolphins three very good pass rushers for their defense in 2018.

In a Not-so-surprising Move, the Jets Release Wilkerson:
The New York Jets released defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Wednesday, after a seven-year hitch that ended badly for both parties. Wilkerson was benched for the final three games of the season for being perpetually late for and sometimes skipping meetings altogether. For a player of his caliber and what he’s being paid, it was unacceptable.

The Jets cut Wilkerson before March 16 or else his $16.75 million salary for 2018 would have become fully guaranteed.

Team officials question his passion for the game once he got paid. He was the recipient of a  five-year, $86 million contract that included $37 million fully guaranteed at signing in 2016 after a career year in 2015.

Since that time, his play has gone down while his absences from team meetings have gone up.

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

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

Podcast: Can We Turn The Page Yet To The Next Patriots Season?

Russ Goldman
February 22, 2018 at 11:17 am ET

In this episode, we looked forward to the next Patriots season by discussing the biggest positional needs for the team and sharing our thoughts on which Patriots free agents we would want back. However, we started the show by once again discussing Malcom Butler.

Can the New England Patriots Keep Free Agent Rex Burkhead?

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 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.

The Patriots have only $13.14 million dollars under the salary cap right now and will have to be creative in creating some room as well as decide who they want to retain. They’ll need to sign a few of their own free agents as well as grab some others who they covet from other teams. All the while knowing they have draft choices to sign.

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 more intriguing players facing free agency is running back Rex Burkhead.

The Patriots made a very nice move last spring grabbing Burkhead off of the free agency pile in an under-the-radar move from the Cincinnati Bengals. Burkhead was stuck behind two very talented backs and didn’t see the field much. They signed him for the modest price of $3.15 million dollars.

The team liked his versatility, he can run the ball between the tackles, catch it out of the backfield and play a key role on special teams. We knew he’d fit right in here and it was easy to see that the coaches liked what they saw as well.

Burkhead hauls in a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. SBalestrieri photo

Why Burkhead Will Return: The Patriots and especially Bill Belichick love players who can do more than one thing. And versatility is Burkhead’s middle name. His season production, 264 yards on the ground with five touchdowns, 254 yards in the air with three more touchdowns. A blocked kick on Special Teams…

When the Patriots made the backfield a combination of Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White, the offense was extremely difficult to stop. The trio made it hard for opposing defenses to expect a pass or a run. All three also do a very good job as pass blockers as well, something the Patriots demand of their running backs

Burkhead was injured a couple of times this season and played in just 10 games in the regular season. And that may work in the Patriots favor this season. He showed the team he is an excellent fit in what they do and his two injuries last season may scare away, would-be suitors from investing heavily in a guy that they’re not sure if he can hold up for the long term.

Why Burkhead Won’t Return: There are enough of Burkhead’s good work with the Patriots on tape to show other teams what he can do. And let’s face it, the Patriots don’t pay their running backs to retain their services. They let them walk to other teams.

Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead ring a bell? All of them had fairly good success here in New England. Then when it was time to get paid, they moved on, just like LeGarrette Blount did…twice.

Players like him are rare, he can play four downs and do it all. If a team comes in with an offer that blows him away, he’d be foolish not to consider it. Careers in the NFL are woefully short and so is the window of peak earning potential. And Burkhead is right there. He’ll be 28 this season.

And of course, the Patriots could have cold feet themselves. Burkhead was injured twice last season and a Belichick mantra is availability is very important. Could they decide to walk away because of injury concerns? Absolutely.

Bottom Line: The Patriots love the selfless, egoless attitude of Burkhead. Bill Belichick lauded his work ethic speaking of him before the Super Bowl.

“Rex is really is a four-down player. He can play on first, second, third and fourth down at a good level. And those players are hard to find in the National Football League. He’s a very reliable, dependable player.”

Burkhead saw that for the first time he was given a chance to play meaningful snaps in an offense. And he thrived in it, before getting dinged up. He seemed as happy here as the coaches and other players were to have him here.

Both he and Dion Lewis are free agents this spring. Lewis had much more production this past season and is extremely elusive in the open field. If there is one back who will get a lot of money offered upfront, it is him.

Again this could work in the Patriots favor. They aren’t going to break the bank for Lewis and if another team scoops him up, the team could throw some decent but not crazy money after Burkhead on a short-term (2 years) deal that could lock him up for the foreseeable future.

Various cap-based projections put Burkhead in the $3.3 million dollar range for 2018. That is a modest raise from what the Patriots paid him in 2017, but if they can work out a deal in that vicinity, then there is a very good chance of Burkhead returning.

This is another intriguing decision that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have to make this spring. On one hand, they both know what Burkhead brought to the table when he was available on the field. But they also know in his only season in New England, he missed a lot of time.

That’s why a short-term deal would work for both sides. They won’t be able to keep both Lewis and Burkhead. In the end, they may not be able to keep either. But keeping Burkhead is a financially more doable situation for the Patriots. If the money is right…

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 Dion Lewis

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 2018 at 9:00 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 at 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 running back Dion Lewis. Lewis put it all together in 2017 and proved that he can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season as well as three playoff games and at 27 years old, is in the great position to cash in on free agency. He’s won a Super Bowl and now he wants to get paid.

Lewis’ situation is a bit different than other notable free agents as he’s missed so much time due to injury in the past, it will be interesting to see if there is a great demand for his services on the open market.

But as always, the question remains, who does the team feel is one of their priority free agents? Will Lewis be one of the guys that the Patriots feel like they must re-sign him?

Why Lewis Will Return: The Patriots settled on Lewis in the second half of the season as their go-to back and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball 180 times for 896 yards with six touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 214 yards and three more touchdowns.

But the bottom line was, once they went with Lewis, the offense was much more difficult to stop. Opponents had to respect the run as well as the pass and his versatility was on full display. As we mentioned above, Lewis showed he can stand up to being a feature back. His previous career high for carries was 64 in 2016, this season he nearly tripled that.

Lewis displays the willingness to run the ball between the tackles and for a smaller back, showed remarkable ability to carry would-be tacklers for yards after contact. He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the open field.

Lewis is a well-respected player by his coaches and teammates and they know what he can bring to the table.

Why Lewis Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here in regards to Lewis and his tenure here. First, the Patriots have never highly valued the running back position. So, will they pony up the kind of cash that they’ll have to, to keep Lewis in the fold? That is the big question. It will all come down to how much?

Lewis isn’t going to sign anything quickly here. He’s earned his payday and will want to test the waters to see what he can bring in during free agency. The Patriots have allowed Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman to test the waters of free agency in the past with the stipulation that the player gives them a chance to match any offer out there. You can expect the same with the Patriots.

Will another team try to wow Lewis away from New England with a big money contract offer? That is a distinct possibility. Other teams could see the potential with him and with the run/pass option he presents. He could easily be a fit with several other teams out there. It all comes down to money and the amount others are willing to spend. I could easily see the Patriots wish Lewis the best and wave goodbye this spring.

Bottom Line: The Patriots, do, however, recognize what they have in Lewis and the dynamic playmaking ability that he possesses, especially in the open field. Does that mean, the Patriots will break their mold and pay top dollar for a running back? That part is doubtful.

Bill Belichick has always been especially reluctant to pay big bucks to a running back, and one with an injury history like Lewis’.So have most other teams. The NFL really doesn’t value the running back position like in days of yore.

The Patriots have always eschewed the idea of a “feature” running back with the exception of Corey Dillon and have relied on a running back by committee with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Antowain Smith. But this year was a bit different. Although they still used a committee, Lewis was the main guy down the stretch and he was equal to the task.

So what would it take to sign him to a new deal? Several sites have been throwing around the numbers of a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. If the Patriots are willing to pay Lewis that kind of cash, then I think the deal could definitely work.

Reliability? He caught 32 passes on just 35 targets in 2017, that is a 91 percent completion percentage when the ball is thrown his way. That isn’t good, that is outstanding. And of course, there is the little stat that the Patriots are 32-3 when Lewis is in the lineup and just 13-7 when he’s not.

So, the chances are good, better than 50/50 that Lewis returns to the Patriots for the next three years on a new contract. But it is far from a sure thing. He’s turned enough heads for other teams to look long and hard. And then Lewis will have to decide what is in his best interests for the long term before coming to a decision, but he’s earned that right. If the money is right, he’ll be back. If not, wish him well elsewhere.

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.