The Patriots begin training camp in just a few days and once that starts we’ll have football back with us until the winter and snow return with a vengeance. Hard to picture that right now with the heat index pushing 110.
Last year at this time, there were a lot of questions at the linebacker position. This season it is considered a position of strength heading into the 2019 season. The three main starters return, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts. The team also gets back last year’s promising rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who played very well all summer and began the season getting a lot of quality reps before getting injured and ending up on IR.
Another rookie from last season, Christian Sam, who spent the entire season on IR returns. Brandon King is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart but is essentially a special teams player only.
But the big surprise was in bringing back former Patriot Jamie Collins. It seemed like those bridges were burned when he was traded to Cleveland but the team added him back this spring. Collins was one of the better players on the field for the Patriots during OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp. Shilique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, and Terez Hall round out the players at the position.
Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp.
So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.
Current roster – Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Christian Sam, Brandon King, Shalique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, Terez Hall
Locks – Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, Collins
Near Locks – Roberts, King
Bubble – Sam, Calhoun
Long Shot – Munson, Hall
Discussion – With the return of their three main starters from the Super Bowl, the team is going to be looking very similar in 2019. Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, and Collins are all locks for the roster in 2019.
Hightower stayed healthy last year and played very well. What is a factor to be especially optimistic about is that it always seems Hightower saves his best plays and his best games for times when the games matter most and in the playoffs. He’s a fixture on this defense and what we’ve stated here many times rings true about him. Is he a perennial league All-Pro? No, but in the Patriots defense, he is.
Van Noy has blossomed in New England and is arguably one of their bigger chess pieces on the defensive side. He was even better than Hightower during the playoffs and despite what some talk-radio folks would have you believe, he’s a playmaker and one of the leaders of this defense.
Bentley had a fantastic summer followed by a pretty impressive start to his career before getting injured early last season and ended up on IR. It is interesting to wonder how his development would have played out last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. But he’s healthy now and should vie for plenty of work.
Collins is the wild card here. With an already solid cast around him, it will be interesting to see how the team decides to use him once the season starts. Collins was all over the field this spring, if the Patriots can find a way to showcase his talents with the cast already in place, he could be in line for a very solid season.
Roberts has been up and down in his career but had a very solid 2018. Consistency is the key for him. In mentioning the defensive line yesterday, we said that they may be better suited for a 3-4 than the 4-3. Roberts and Bentley could definitely benefit from that as well. Being an ILB in a 3-4, it would lend itself well to Roberts, downhill, run-thumping style. It would also create plenty of opportunities to move Hightower and Van Noy around, inside and outside and give them more chances to make plays.
King is technically (by the depth chart) a linebacker, but to my knowledge hasn’t played any time there. He is, however, a very solid, dependable special teams’ player. While maybe not a lock for the 53 per se, knocking him out of there will take a very big effort from someone beneath him on the team’s overall roster. Or him having an awful camp. Other than that, we’d expect to see him come September.
Christian Sam is a 2nd-year outside linebacker who never got to show what he can do last year, ending up on IR out of training camp. His value is a total unknown and he’ll have some work to do this summer. He’ll have to show he can contribute on special teams right away and then flash some ability on defense. Calhoun is a newcomer to New England but has been in the league for a while. Can the journeyman find himself a home and a role in New England? It has been done before, so he’s not a write off by any means but also has a lot of work to do.
Munson spent last year on the Patriots practice squad, so they like what they’ve seen from him. Hall is a real long shot and will have to flash big time on STs in order to stick. He and Munson are candidates for the practice squad.
So, entering 2019, the linebacker position, which was one full of questions a year ago, enters this year as a position of strength. There should be no movement at the top unless of injury, so there may be only one or two spots that are open for competition. But watching to see how the Patriots and new linebacker coach Jerod Mayo plans on using his troops this year will make camp another must-see event daily.
The Patriots ended their final OTA practice period of the spring in surprising fashion last week.
The team was originally scheduled to have two mandatory practices on June 10th and 11th but head coach Bill Belichick cancelled both and replaced them with a team bonding trip to play paintball instead.
Check out a recap of the trip courtesy of the Patriots twitter account.
Unfortunately it wasn’t all fun and games.
Check out the funny story linebacker Kyle Van Noy shared from paintballing while on Twitch with Dont’a Hightower.
Despite the mark Belichick literally left behind, it appears the Patriots do in fact still have fun contrary to what Philadelphia linemen believe.
With the Patriots mandatory mini-camp over, it is time to a very early look at a New England Patriots 53-man roster projection. We were fortunate enough to be there for the entire three days this season. While there was no contact and no pads, it gave a good if albeit premature look at how the 2019 roster could play out.
Later this summer, we’ll post primers for each position but here is our first crack at a workable 53-man roster.
Offense – Quarterbacks: (3)
Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
The Patriots will once again go with three quarterbacks this summer. Hoyer is entrenched as the #2 for now and in minicamp the rookie Stidham was taking all of the #3 reps, at times on the final day, he even got #2 reps before Hoyer so the coaches could get a look at what he can do in the offense. He has a long way to go, but he’s clearly got the coaches intrigued with his down-the-road potential.
Bad news for Danny Etling who was working as the personal protector during minicamp. Oh and that Brady kid from Michigan? He’ll be okay and should stick….
Running backs: (6)
Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Sony Michel missed all of mini-camp which raises the question if he’s hurt. With the drafting of the impressive rookie Harris, he and Burkhead can spell Michel if he’s out for a while. James White isn’t going anywhere and the team brought back Bolden for STs and to fill in if needed. Develin is invaluable as the fullback who can block and catch the odd pass here or there.
Tight ends: (3) Matt Lacosse, Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson **Ben Watson Suspended**
The Patriots have Lacosse as the clear #1 heading into the season with Watson suspended for the first month of the season unless they make a trade. Izzo is the blocking (read Dwayne Allen) tight end who nudges out Andrew Beck while Anderson is the “move” tight end who may be on the block once Watson is eligible to return.
The position has been totally revamped since last season and it may take some time to gel once the regular season starts. Training camp will be invaluable for this group
Wide Receivers: (5) Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett, Maurice Harris, Jakobi Meyers **Josh Gordon Suspended** ***Demaryius Thomas PUP***
Edelman, Harry, and Dorsett are roster locks…barring injury. Meyers with his size and hands makes it yet another year with a UDFA making the roster out of training camp.
Thomas and Gordon (if reinstated), give the team some intriguing options. Berrios had a good spring and looks the part in the slot, he and Meyers will battle it out for the spot. Dontrelle Inman has a lot of ground to make up. He didn’t catch a single pass in team drills during mini-camp. Ryan Davis and Gunner Olszewski are practice squad candidates.
Offensive line: (8) Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Yodny Cajuste, Ted Karras, Hjalte Froholdt
The state of the offensive line centers around health. Wynn missed all of last year with an Achilles injury. He was at mini-camp but was held out of team drills. Cajuste who they drafted this spring had off-season surgery and it is hoped he’ll be ready to go by September.
In the meantime, Joe Thuney played left tackle this spring. Expect him to get some work there this summer, even if Wynn is a full go for training camp. Left tackle and swing tackle are the two question marks. Cole Croston heads to the practice squad. After that, the offensive line is solid.
Edge Players: (4) Michael Bennett, Deatrich Wise, John Simon, Chase Winovich
After losing Trey Flowers, the Patriots brought in Bennett. Wise is a solid if unspectacular veteran now and Simon played very well for them last season. They’re hoping Winovich can step in and play as advertised. I like his motor and relentlessness. This could be the end of the line for Derek Rivers this summer. He is going to be given an opportunity to show what he can do. He got reps with the 1st personnel grouping last week. Keionta Davis and Trent Harris may still be able to step up in case of an injury.
Interior Defensive Line: (4)
Lawrence Guy, Mike Pennel, Danny Shelton, Adam Butler
Guy and Pennel should be the Week 1 starting combination inside. Shelton returns, as the backup big man inside. Butler is the best pass rusher of the group. David Parry and Byron Cowart are on the outside but will have to turn some heads in August.
Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Elandon Roberts, Brandon King
Linebacker is a position of strength heading into training camp this summer. Hightower has slimmed down, gotten more pliable, and is moving well. Van Noy has been a jack of all trades, but the biggest surprise (pleasant) of the spring has been the play of Collins. He has been all over the field disrupting plays at the line and playing solid coverage
Roberts, coming off of a solid postseason and Bentley who shined early in 2018 before ending on IR, gives the group really good depth.
Cornerback: (6) Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty, Joejuan Williams, Jonathan Jones, Duke Dawson
Gilmore and Jackson are the starters for Week 1. But this group is really deep and very talented. Jones and Dawson (who beats out Crossen) can play in the slot and McCourty can play safety, outside or inside. Williams is a big corner (6’4) that allows him to play against the bigger WRs or even tight ends. The versatility of this group provides them with the matchups they can roll against nearly every opponent.
Safety: (4) Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner
Ebner beats out Terrence Brooks …on paper for now. Brooks has superior defensive skills but Ebner is a Belichick favorite on Special Teams. Obi Melifonwu played STs and has the size and athleticism but seems far back on the depth chart right now. He’ll need a big summer to push Ebner and Brooks off the roster. Malik Grant is a candidate for the practice squad.
Specialists: (4) Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Jake Bailey, long-snapper Joe Cardona, Gunner Matthew Slater
Gostkowski returns and has no camp competition. He and long snapper Joe Cardona are both locks for the 53-man roster. The big competition is at punter. The team brought back the steady Ryan Allen on a one-year deal but they moved up to draft Jake Bailey, the big-legged punter and kick off specialist from Stanford. By now you’ve no doubt heard about the charge he puts into the ball. If he gets his consistency down, he’ll make the roster.
Slater isn’t going anywhere. Watching him race up and down the field this spring, practicing his moves on his own shows the fire still burns very bright for him.
With the Patriots coming off of a productive week of practice and just a couple of sessions left before the countdown to training camp begins, here are some thoughts as we kick off this week.
1) One of the more frustrating topics of discussions last week was former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason opting to publicly go after Tom Brady for Brady’s reported decision to pursue the trademark for “Tom Terrific”, which drew the ire of the retired quarterback.
Esiason, for the most part, has always had nothing but positive comments for Brady both on television and in his weekly interviews on WEEI. But Esiason went off the rails last week, attacking Brady after his strong feelings against the idea of trademarking that term apparently stemmed from the fact he credited his childhood hero, Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, as being the player who, in his mind, is the one worthy of that moniker since that’s how Mets fans referred to Seaver during his career.
Needless to say, the idea of Brady trademarking the nickname got Esiason all fired up, with the generally level-headed former player making some ridiculous comments to WFAN last week.
“When you’ve got so much goddamned money, you can do whatever you want, and this is now what Tom Brady wants to take — “Tom Terrific” as his nickname,” said Esiason via WFAN. “Maybe in New England they call him that, I guess. But you know what? We’ve been calling Tom Seaver “Tom Terrific” forever, for as long as I can remember, for 50 years. That’s who Tom Terrific has always been.”
“I am disgusted,” continued Esiason. “And I’m really surprised, and I’m really — I don’t know, it just feels sleazy to me, you know?”
While Esiason’s home market is now New York, it’s surprising that if he truly felt that way, it seems like it would have made more sense for him to at least do the right thing and reach out privately to Brady for more context, which would have been the smarter move. Instead, Esiason made assumptions and disparaged Brady publicly, which simply wasn’t the right move and was certainly disappointing.
Brady was asked about the situation this week, but explained that the decision was really over the fact he didn’t like the nickname, which he’s heard used when some have referred to him. Unfortunately, it got blown way out of proportion and he was disappointed with what it turned into.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Brady, referring to the overall backlash over the situation. “I was actually trying to do something because I didn’t like the nickname and I wanted to make sure no one used it because some people wanted to use it.”
“I was trying to keep people from using it and then it got spun around to something different than what it was. Good lesson learned and try to do things a little different in the future.”
Seems simple enough. Unfortunately, Esiason’s comments may have potentially damaged any relationship the two may have had for stupid reasons. Brady said it’s a lesson learned. Hopefully, Esiason learned one as well.
Hightower has been a clutch performer in the postseason.
2) One of the things that stood out from Thursday night’s presentation of the Super Bowl rings to the players were Bill Belichick’s comments about Dont’a Hightower, where Mike Reiss said that Belichick referred to the veteran as “Mr. February”, stemming from the big performances the linebacker always seems to come up with during each of the team’s Super Bowl victories.
So far this offseason, things seem to be going well for Hightower, who has dealt with his fair share of injuries during his career. However, it appears the work he’s doing is paying off as he’s been focused on getting his body healthy, having lost weight along with spending time working on his flexibility. According to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald, that time has also been spent with offensive lineman Shaq Mason, with the two training in Tennessee as Hightower continues working toward trying to make sure he’s able to stay on the field in 2019.
“Things haven’t changed. I’m just trying to stay lean. That’s what I focused on last year, trying to stay healthy a majority of the year,” said Hightower. “I just want to stay on top of that, and keep going that route. I don’t want to change anything, because I want to stay on the field.”
One of Hightower’s strengths has been his ability to get after the quarterback, most notably, in the playoffs. He came up big against the Rams, finishing with two sacks and three total quarterback hits against Jared Goff during their most recent championship run. Whether or not he’ll see more of that type of role now that Trey Flowers is gone remains to be seen but Hightower said he’s ready to do whatever Belichick needs him to this season and he’s hopeful all this work will pay dividends.
“Whatever Bill wants me to do, wherever he wants me to play, that’s where I’ll be,” said Hightower, “but again, my body feels a lot better. My knees are a lot better. The yoga helps with my core, strengthens my quads, all my limbs have more flexibility. If all that ties together (with getting to the quarterback), I’m down for it. But I feel good. I just want to stay on top of it.”
Edelman has come a long way as a player since being drafted in 2009. (USA TODAY Images)
3) The initial reports coming out of minicamp seem to point to good things for rookie receiver N’Keal Harry, which is certainly a positive. But one of the even more interesting aspects of this story is the involvement of Julian Edelman, who reportedly spent some time working with the rookie on the finer points of playing in New England’s offense.
According to Reiss, Edelman spent some time during the recent sessions talking to the rookie following a route he ran, which the next time around saw Harry do it a little differently and more precise, leading to praise from quarterback Tom Brady.
It’s amazing when you think back to where Edelman started to where he is now, having evolved into one of the best players at his position in a league where he’s generally not even mentioned among the top receivers in the NFL. The latter fact is the one that likely continues to motivate him and here he is, helping another up-and-coming player who will hopefully help him get another opportunity at a championship next February.
Reiss noted in his Sunday column that one of Edelman’s own mentors was former Patriot Fred Taylor, who spent a lot of time with him in his early years. The two would spend car rides together talking and developed a good relationship.
“I saw a lot of myself in him. Julian was so hard on himself, and when the coaches were hard on him, he would get down. Way down,” Taylor told Reiss. “Going to New England can be tough for rookies, with [Bill Belichick’s] coaching style, but I would say, ‘You don’t know how good you got it. You all have to appreciate this.’ Julian thought Coach was being a hardass, and tough on him. But that’s because he saw something in Julian. Some people don’t recognize that until it’s too late, but fortunately for Julian, he figured it out.”
Taylor’s comments sparked a reminder of Edelman’s attitude when it came to that sort of tough treatment, which stems from a mention in the book “Relentless”, authored by Edelman and NBC Sports Boston’s Tom Curran, which gave a really great glimpse into the receiver’s life. But one area that stood out was Edelman talking about the fact he preferred people being straight with him, especially if he wasn’t doing things correctly.
“You need to be called out and told the hard truths. You need to be shown the consequences of what will happen if you screw up,” explained Edleman. “You need people who won’t say, “Everything’s OK…” when it really isn’t. My father pointed out the bad more than the good. And Coach Belichick spends a lot more time telling us what we need to further improve on instead of patting us on the ass for something we’re supposed to be doing anyway. You have to have thick skin in this world.”
It’s a good mentality to have and it’s great to seeing him having a positive influence on someone like Harry, who they likely have high expectations for. It’s a little early to read too much into it, but let’s just hope Harry is filing away this information and will build on it by the time training camp begins.
Brady once promised he’d take advantage of any opportunity prior to becoming a starter.
4) I stumbled upon an interesting article by Jaclyn Galvin and Sam Gordon over at PrimeTimeSportsTalk.com, with the two having caught up with former Patriots quarterback Michael Bishop.
For anyone who doesn’t recognize that name, Bishop was a former New England quarterback and a 7th round draft pick selected by then Patriots head coach Pete Carroll, who took the Kansas State standout with the 227th overall pick in 1999.
Belichick inherited Bishop when he took over in 2000 following Carroll’s firing after an 8-8 finish in 1999. Brady was selected in the 6th round that year during Belichick’s first NFL Draft as Patriots head coach, joining Bishop behind then-starter Drew Bledsoe.
The two apparently developed a good relationship, with Bishop saying that they each talked about how they expected the other to make the most of an opportunity if it ever came.
“We made a promise to each other, he said to me ‘If you get an opportunity, don’t give it back,'” Bishop said. “I said the same thing if he gets an opportunity to play don’t give it back and his opportunity came up.”
Off the field, the two apparently spent a lot of time together, talking about their goals and what they hoped to accomplish.
“From the time I was [in New England], me and Brady used to hangout. We used go to this place called ‘The Rack,’ and I got some stories I can’t tell you,” Bishop said. “But from actually being around Brady, at the time [Drew] Bledsoe was the starter and I finally got moved up to backup, me and Brady spent a lot time before practice and after practice, we shared a lot of stories and goals we both had.”
Bishop didn’t get to see Brady’s ascension first-hand. He was cut in training camp the following season in 2001, with Brady moving ahead of him on the depth chart behind Bledsoe, while free agent quarterback Damon Huard held the other spot.
Obviously the rest is history, but it’s interesting to learn that Bishop and Brady were as friendly as they were. Kudos to Galvin and Gordon for providing a nice walk down memory lane and the rest of the piece is definitely worth checking out, as it has some other terrific bits of information as well.
On Thursday, free agent running back Brandon Bolden signed a two-year, $47 million contract to return to the New England Patriots.
Bolden, originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2012, spent 2018 with the Miami Dolphins after spending his first six years in New England primarily on special teams and emergency running back.
In 2018, Bolden played all 16 games for Miami and 65.9% of special teams snaps.
Bolden’s was limited on offense, but scored two of his three 2018 touchdowns against the Patriots during their “Miami Miracle” victory.
After the signing was official, Bolden took to Instagram with a post that read “Remember Me? I’m bbackkkkkk”
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower voiced his excitement a short time later.
Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 03-03 and AFC East Notes. Sorry, no AFC East notes this week, we’ll bring them back in the days following the 2019 NFL Combine.
Adam Schefter is reporting that the Patriots have told Dwayne Allen that they plan on releasing him. They’d like to have him back, but at less money. But for now, he’s free to sign with anyone. Normally, a move like this means that the team is freeing up cap space to sign one of their own to an extension…stay tuned.
Youth? – Isn’t it strange that when all of the talk about the Patriots getting younger at wide receiver goes right out the window when veterans like Demaryius Thomas and Golden Tate become topics of discussion?
Local Talent: One local small school player, that we’d love to see get a chance to show what he can do is DE Ray Sarkodieh from Assumption College. The Worcester native who played locally at St. Peter Marian is a mathematics major. He’s a 6’2, 260 pass rusher who was the NE10 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Another local player being linked to the Patriots in the NFL Combine thus far is Boston College and Shepherd Hill offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom. Lindstrom is one of the top five rated guards coming out this spring.
Super Bowl Trailer: Patriots fans will soon be able to purchase the team’s Super Bowl season highlight film. The NFL Films production will feature all 16 regular season games as well as their three playoff victories including the 13-3 triumph over the Los Angeles in Super Bowl LIII.
NFL Films and entertainment company Cinedigm will release Super Bowl LIII Champions: New England Patriots on Blu-Ray Combo Pack, DVD, as well as digitally on March 5. The trailer for the video can be seen here:
Chiefs, Reid, Latest To Lobby For Rule Changes After Losing to NE:
We knew this was coming…right? Hardly a year goes by where a team that loses to the Patriots doesn’t go to the league to change a rule in protest of what they perceive to be an “unfair playing field” in the NFL.
So, Andy Reid and Kansas City GM Brett Veach are the latest to join the crowd. The Chiefs are mad that their offense wasn’t allowed a possession in overtime of the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots won the OT coin toss and moved down the field and scored a TD that vaulted them into the Super Bowl.
There was a similar call for this after SB LI when the Patriots beat the Falcons. The Patriots also won the toss and Tom Brady eviscerated the Falcons easily to win the game while Matt Ryan was left to wonder what happened to a 28-3 lead on the bench.
This year was different. The Patriots faced three 3rd and 10s during the overtime drive, any of which would result in the Chiefs getting the ball. KC’s defense, which was porous all season long, showed once again why they weren’t Super Bowl ready. But now it is the rules that need changing.
Leach was a guest on Pro Football Talk Live and had this to say: “I think everybody wants a chance for guys to do what they do. I don’t really see the downside of having that,” Veach said. “Especially when you have a player like Pat Mahomes. It would have been a lot of fun. I think people, if they weren’t already tuned in for a great game, would have turned on that overtime.”
One has to wonder how much “fun” it would have been for Leach if the Chiefs had won the toss and gone on to score and Brady was allowed to touch the ball in OT. I’ll take the under.
The current O.T. rules were changed from a true sudden death where any score would end the game to each team having “a chance” for possession in overtime. That chance is neither allowing a touchdown or a safety on the opening possession.
The Chiefs will need 24 of the 32 teams to agree to change the rules. Reid and Leach now join Bill Polian who as a member of the Competition Committee lobbied for changes to the rules on how teams play defense after his Colts receivers got beat up in back-to-back years in the playoffs in New England. John Harbaugh of the Ravens, who was incensed at the wacky formations the Patriots ran in the 2014 Divisional Playoffs that he tried to change the rules, then smugly smiled in a post-game celebration when he ran the same type of formation. Let’s not forget the calls for “player safety” after Shea McClellan blocked several field goals by leaping over the kicking team’s blockers.
Just imagine the angst next year, if the rules are changed and Brady and the Patriots use that to come back and win a game in OT after allowing a touchdown to start the session.
Patriots “ Character Coach” Jack Easterby Leaving:
The Patriots are losing Jack Easterby who is labeled the team’s “character coach/team development,” in a situation first reported by the Boston Globe. Easterby was brought in the 2013 season to help the players navigate thru the Aaron Hernandez fiasco.
Easterby, whose contract expired after the Super Bowl stated that he felt his position had “run its course” and that he’d be exploring new opportunities elsewhere. But this is the first true fallout from the Robert Kraft scenario.
Easterby was deeply troubled by the allegations surrounding Kraft and he retweeted a post from former Patriot Ben Watson that human trafficking is an“entrenched evil.’’ He’ll be missed in the locker room as he was considered a very important piece of the puzzle behind the scenes.
Hightower Won’t Budge on His Salary:
Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower hasn’t been approached by the team about taking a pay cut in 2019 and reportedly won’t be in favor of doing so either. Doug Kyed of NESN first reported that Hightower won’t be accepting any overtures from the team about taking a pay cut this season.
Hightower played in 15 games in 2018, the most he’s played in since the 2013 season. He and fellow linebacker Kyle Van Noy keyed a defensive resurgence down the stretch and into the playoffs where the New England defense was the key into winning the team’s sixth Super Bowl.
And in this case, we’re going to fall within Hightower’s line of thinking here. Although Hightower has a cap hit of $11 million this season, his salary is $7 million. Linebackers eligible for the franchise tag are getting $15.4 million in 2019. That puts Hightower among the bargains for the league.
As we’ve said on these pages many times before, is Hightower an All-Pro? No, but in THIS defense, his value is the same as one. And without him on the field, the last three Super Bowl wins don’t happen. He stopped Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line with the game on the line in Super Bowl XLIX. His strip sack of Matt Ryan ignited the Patriots to come from behind in Super Bowl LI. And he was outstanding in all three playoff wins this year, where he logged two sacks, four quarterbacks hits, three tackles for loss and a pass defensed.
The Patriots can work something out where his cap hit is lessened this season and his money still isn’t being cut. And we’d be all for that. Because moving forward, the 28-year old linebacker is still an extremely valuable piece on the team’s front seven.
Team Interested in Bringing Back Hogan/Dorsett in 2019:
The Patriots are supposedly talking with both Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett about returning in 2019. The free agent wide receivers are far from locks to bring back, however, depending on the deals involved, it may still happen.
Hogan, 30, played in about 72 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps in 2018 but his targets were way down. Since signing with the Pats before the 2016 season, he’s averaged 36 receptions and 550 receiving yards.
He seemed to lose a lot of the trust factor with Tom Brady during the season, but with a solid special teams player that can be an effective #3-4 Wide Receiver, there is expected to be no shortage of teams that come calling.
Dorsett is just 26 and was arguably the #2 WR when the season started and played well. When the team signed Josh Gordon, his snap totals went way down. On the season, Dorsett caught 32 passes for 290 yards and three scores. He also added a big touchdown in the AFC Championship Game.
The former 1st round pick of the Colts has stated that he wants to return to the Patriots but they’ll have to work out a deal that benefits both parties. What is key for Dorsett is being a starter somewhere.
“Obviously, I want to be a key contributor for a team — a starter, that’s always been my goal, a guy that can help a team win. I enjoy going out there, working hard and just playing football. I love the game. It’s the only thing I want to do.”
Who Are We Watching at the 2019 NFL Combine?
With the NFL Combine in full swing in Indianapolis this weekend, the Patriots have an abundance of draft picks this year (12) with six in the first 101 selections. While it is extremely doubtful that the team will use all 12 picks, they do, however, have enough draft capital that they will be able to maneuver around the draft board and address their needs this spring.
It is really too soon to judge how the team will approach the draft since free agency hasn’t started yet. After the initial feeding frenzy dies down, we should have a better idea of how they’ll approach this year’s holes to fill on the team.
With that being said, we’ll list a couple of players we feel would be a nice fit in New England and who we’re watching for this weekend in Indy.
Defensive tackles: Christian Wilkins – Clemson: Wilkins was a key contributor for the Tigers two recent National Championship teams. A smart, locker room leader, Wilkins was a captain who graduated in just two and a half years. He was a first-team AP All-American and an All-ACC selection in 2018.
Wilkins is versatile and can play end or inside and would fit in well with the Patriots recent attacking style of defensive line play. He keeps his pad level low, has very good short-area agility and is good at shooting the gaps.
Gerald Willis – Miami: Like many players who’ve played for the Canes, Willis comes with some questionable red flags. He was dismissed from Florida for fighting with a teammate and then took off the 2017 season to work out personal issues. But returned in 2018 and played some tremendous football, leading the ACC with tackles for loss with 18.
Willis projects as a one-gap pass rusher right now, but with some work with the coaches, he could be a very productive three-down player. He’s more of a mid-round prospect.
Tight Ends: Noah Fant – Iowa: Fant has received a lot of noise as a possible Patriot. He’s more of a move tight end and at this point, isn’t a great blocker. But he has good length, excellent speed, and explosion off the snap to get separation. He could become an immediate weapon and matchup nightmare in the passing game.
Irv Smith – Alabama: Smith is another matchup winner in the passing game. He’s a very smooth route runner who runs crisp routes and has good hands and a knack for finding the open spots on the field. He’s very well rounded and will be an immediate impact player.
Quarterbacks: ***Note*** While we don’t believe the Patriots will pick a QB early in this draft, never say never. Daniel Jones – Duke: Jones is a guy who seems like a really good fit for the Patriots and the offense that they run. Prototypical size at 6’5, 221, Jones doesn’t have a cannon for an arm but has good mechanics and goes thru his progessions quickly. His receivers dropped 38 passes in 2018 alone…
Brett Rypien – Boise State: Rypien is the nephew of former Redskin Mark Rypien. He projects as more of a project than a pro-ready QB. He doesn’t have great size or arm strength but he’s very accurate, keeps his eyes downfield and has a quick, compact release. He has excellent football intelligence and keeps his eyes downfield.
Wide Receivers: Riley Ridley – Georgia: Ridley is a WR who should be a better pro than college player. While not a burner, he’s tough and will make the physical catches while still able to stretch the field when matched up one-on-one.
He runs precise routes, has very good hands and will make those tough contested catches in traffic.
Deebo Samuel – South Carolina: Samuel is a tough, competitive wide receiver, who thrives in working the middle of the field where the game is at its toughest. While he too isn’t a burner, he’ll make YAC (yards after the catch) with surprising changing of direction as well as excellent vision.
He’s got strong hands and will work back to the football. He could be used similarly to how the Patriots used Danny Amendola in the past.