Tag Archives: Malcolm Butler

2018 Patriots Training Camp Primer – Cornerback

Steve Balestrieri
July 20, 2018 at 10:14 am ET

The Patriots begin training camp in less than a week and have many intriguing decisions to make at several positions on the roster. With 90 players on the current roster, many of them will be truly competing for roster slots and reps and are not just camp bodies.

The defense was much maligned in 2017 and there looks to be several different faces on the field from the team that played in the Super Bowl. Among them is the cornerback position. Malcolm Butler left via free agency to the Tennessee Titans after being benched for the Super Bowl. Jonathan Bademosi in now in Houston.

The team drafted Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen in the 2018 NFL Draft. They also brought in the intriguing rookie J.C. Jackson as a UDFA this spring. Jackson had a strong spring but now will have to prove it again once the pads come on. With several veterans and rookies, 11 players in all vying for probably six roster spots, reps will be valuable and possibly limited for some. This will be a fun position to watch next week.

So, with that in mind who is locked in and who is on the bubble?

Roster Locks- Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Duke Dawson

The team paid big bucks for Gilmore last season in free agency and after a little bit of a shaky start where he was struggling to find a comfort level, he quickly turned it around. Gilmore was the Patriots best corner, by far down the stretch and into the playoffs last year. His diving play, knocking the ball away on a 4th down against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, sealed the deal and sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

He followed that up with a stellar spring where he blanketed whoever was assigned to him to cover. Gilmore is locked in as the team’s starting left corner and they’ll be in good shape with him out there for the next few years.

Rowe has the size (6’1,205) they like to match up with bigger wide receivers and will vie for the starting spot opposite Gilmore. He has the versatility to play outside or in the slot, although with the players they’ve brought in, it seems they are intent on keeping Rowe on the perimeter.

Dawson was the team’s 2nd Round (56th Overall) selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Patriots have scouted him for quite some time and like the versatility for the soft-spoken corner. He can play on the perimeter, in the slot and even some safety. But given his size, 5’10, 202, he’s shorter but very stocky, he may be best suited for the slot.

Near Roster Locks: Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones

The Patriots brought in McCourty from Cleveland and after trying a few years to land the twin brother of Pats safety Devin, they’ve finally got their man. He was thought to be in the mix for the starting job immediately but then in the spring he barely played. Was it a nagging injury or something else? We’ll have to see.  But I think he will stick and play a key role.

Jonathan Jones played valuable snaps in the slot last season and generally fared well when he was on the field. He played sparingly in 2016 but then parlayed that into nearly 50 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago while being a regular valuable contributor on Special Teams.

He was hurt late in the year with an ankle injury that landed him on IR and the Patriots really missed him in the slot especially in the Super Bowl where they were gashed by the Eagles.

He missed all of the spring workouts and I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll begin training camp on PUP.

On the Bubble: Cyrus Jones, Jomal Wiltz, JC Jackson, Ryan Lewis

The Patriots used their top pick a couple of years ago on Cyrus Jones who, it was thought would be an immediate contributor on defense as well as in the punt return game. Neither happened as he struggled all season with fielding kicks cleanly.

He tore an ACL and meniscus during preseason last year and was placed on IR. In Year 3, he’s running out of time to show something. Unfortunately for him, he may not be ready to go either, missing all of the spring workouts and may begin camp on PUP.

The Patriots picked up Wiltz last season and he spent the entire season on the practice squad. He could be in line for a big jump in Year 2 but we’ll have to see if he can turn some heads in camp.

Jackson may be this season’s UDFA steal. He had a pretty impressive spring and earned reps next to Gilmore and went against the likes of Edelman, Hogan and the other starters. He looked strong and feisty and competed hard on every snap.

With the two Jones possibly on PUP, it may open the door a crack for the former Maryland corner to find his way onto the roster if he can continue his strong play.

Lewis is a very intriguing player. Undrafted last spring, he went thru camp with the Cardinals and played well. He was cut, signed to the Arizona practice squad and released on September 12. The Patriots signed him the next day to their practice squad.

Buffalo attempted to sign him off the practice squad to their 53-man roster but the Patriots convinced him to stay by paying him the salary of an active roster player. That speaks volumes about what the team thinks of him.

He’s certainly athletic, at his pro day in March 2017, Lewis ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash with a 6.87-second 3-cone, 35-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump and 4.34-second short shuttle. Those are all impressive numbers. With a strong second season, he too could force his way onto the roster.

Outside Looking in… Long Shots: Keion Crossen, AJ Moore

Without any untold injuries, it is hard to envision either the athletic Crossen or Moore making the roster at this point. Unless they have a fantastic summer. But it is strictly a numbers crunch. There are only so many reps to go around. Both are candidates for the practice squad. But crazier things have happened. Malcolm Butler was another one of those real longshots to make the roster and he’s now cashing in Tennessee.

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.

PHOTO: Malcolm Butler Receives 2017 AFC Champions Ring

Robert Alvarez
July 17, 2018 at 12:53 pm ET

On his Instagram story Monday, Tennessee Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler shared a photo of his 2017 AFC Championship ring with a “blessed emoji.”

Although the game may not have turned out the way Butler or the Patriots would have liked, he continues to show nothing but praise and appreciation for head coach Bill Belichick despite the surprise benching in the Super Bowl.

On Monday, Butler compared his current head coach Mike Vrabel to Belichick, stating, “You can tell Mike played for Belichick because you can see some of the similarities. They’re about winning the way New England is about winning.”

“One thing I saw early: Mike will put you on blast. He don’t care who’s around. He’s going to say what’s right. He might be a bit looser than Bill Belichick, but they’re both great guys. A man caught a ball on me—honestly I don’t know his name yet—but Mike let me hear about it. ‘Don’t get stuck on top of the routes like that! Make a play!’ Nobody cares where you come from or what you make. Everyone’s equal. And you can tell from the head coach all the way down to the interns, everybody wants to win.”

Podcast: Patriots Training Camp Approaches

Russ Goldman
July 16, 2018 at 12:13 pm ET

In this episode, with Patriots Training Camp approaching, we talked about several subjects that are on our minds. We discussed in detail the latest Sunday Notes Column by Steve Balestrieri. He first highlighted Free Agents still out there that the Patriots can target, and we talked about them. After that we discussed, the Patriots players that need to step up as we enter Training Camp. We talked about the players mentioned in his column.

If you are looking for actual football talk on the Pats, this episode should do the trick.

Patriots Announce 2018 Jersey Numbers

Robert Alvarez
May 8, 2018 at 5:35 pm ET

On Twitter Tuesday, the New England Patriots shared an updated list of assigned numbers for all newly acquired players via trade or free agency along with some changes for longer tenured Patriots.

Some key notes include safety Duron Harmon giving his number 30 to old Rutgers teammate and cornerback Jason McCourty. He has held that number his whole career in Tennessee and Cleveland. Harmon will take Malcolm Butler’s old 21 in 2018.

Wide receiver numbers have Jordan Matthews taking Danny Amendola’s number 80 and Kenny Britt switching from 85 to 88.

Cordarrelle Patterson nabs his usual number 84 that he held his whole career previously with the Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.

Running back Jeremy Hill will sport Dion Lewis’ old 33.

The full list is as followed:

All 2018 draft picks and undrafted free agents will be assigned numbers when they arrive for rookie camp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His highlight film from 2017 courtesy of Sky Designs:

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

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

Post Draft Reactions: But What About the Patriots Defense?

Steve Balestrieri
May 1, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

With the 2018 NFL Draft in the books, when it comes to the Patriots, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Bill Belichick is the master at doing the opposite of what people expect him to do and once again he remained true to his principles.

Belichick has made it abundantly clear that he will not draft according to need if he doesn’t feel the value was there for the team in terms of fit or ability. He made it very clear his feelings on that just prior to the draft.

“The whole draft-need thing is… I don’t really understand that. You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called ‘need’ but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by.”

Down the stretch and into the playoffs the Patriots defense, specifically, the front seven didn’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. They had a pronounced lack of depth at edge rushers and a dearth of speed and athleticism at linebacker. The prevailing thought was (and not just here) that the Patriots would address these needs early in the draft. They didn’t.

Once a few of the top edge rushers and linebackers went early in the draft, including Alabama’s Rashaan Evans who the team reportedly wanted, the Patriots didn’t look for any in the first four rounds, not believing the ability was there. In fact, their first three draft picks were a tackle, running back and a cornerback. Coincidentally, and despite what Belichick said about drafting for need, their biggest free agent losses? You guessed it, a tackle, running back and cornerback.

While we thought here that were plenty of players that could help the defense, Belichick and Nick Caserio balked. The took a linebacker in the 5th Round at #143 but he is hardly the speedy, athletic type we all clamored for. Ja’Whaun Bentley is a throwback to the 2003 era. He’s a big, 6’2, 260-pound sledgehammer. A two-down run stuffer but hardly a coverage guy. Christian Sam taken at #178 is more in line with that type of player. So what is the plan for the defense?

Belichick obviously feels the defense will be best served by getting back its own players. First of all, the team will be looking from within this year. They get Dont’a Hightower, Derek Rivers, Harvey Langi and Vincent Valentine back from injuries. Hightower and Langi could be asked to move back to the linebacker position. Rivers is seen here as a hybrid edge rusher/outside linebacker. The team picked up Adrian Clayborn and DT Danny Shelton during free agency and corner Jason McCourty will definitely help the depth of the unit.

Derek Rivers will be looked to for big things in Year 2 but his first after going on IR in training camp last year. (SBalestrieri photo)

With these added pieces, the defense, and specifically the front seven will look vastly different. Factor in that both Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler will each have a second season to further their development. Belichick always says the biggest development for players is between Years 1-2.

And of course, the team could still try to swing a deal with another team to make a trade for a veteran player early this summer or sign a free agent. Now that the draft is over, any veterans can scan the rosters and see where their best fit may be.

With everyone returning healthy, Rivers may probably be the most watched guy on the defensive side of the ball this summer.  The light was just starting to come on for the rookie when he went down with an injury that forced him onto IR. The defense could look vastly different than the one they fielded at the Super Bowl if the Patriots put Hightower back at the Mike with Rivers and Kyle Van Noy as outside backers, Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers at defensive end and Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown inside.

Some of the other guys can be used for depth and Rivers and Hightower can be moved around and play either upright or down as edge rushers. A few of the UDFAs may make a splash. A couple of the intriguing names for front seven include DTs Frank Herron and John Atkins and DE Trent Harris. Harris is a bit undersized but displayed a lightning quick first step while playing for Miami.

While the draft didn’t play out as some envisioned, (raises hand) the team obviously didn’t value the players available. While I certainly believed that a lot of guys between #56 and #143 were capable of helping the defense, Belichick did not and he’s got a little more experience building defenses. Is it time for minicamp yet?

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: Patriots Draft Recap

Russ Goldman
April 30, 2018 at 11:33 am ET

In this episode of Patriots Fourth And Two, we discussed all the draft picks for the Patriots, along with talking about the trade for Trent Brown. However, we started the show by focusing on quarterback Danny Etling, who the Patriots drafted in the seventh round.

New England Patriots News 4-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-15, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: Some interesting NFL news this week, the league waves goodbye to those hideously awful “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night contests. Perhaps the only thing worse than the uniforms were the awful slate of games that fans were subjected to. Here’s hoping for a much better 2018 slate.

The league wants an independent investigator to look into the concussion settlement with the players, claiming that there is rampant fraud on-going isn’t a good look for the league or the players association.

And the Dez Bryant release by the Cowboys and reports that wants to play in the NFC East to play Dallas twice a year, makes for some interesting times ahead. Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal penned a piece earlier this week stating he’d be a great one-year rental for the Patriots. But now, that probably won’t happen.

The Patriots conducted a pre-draft press conference on Friday morning and Bill Belichick talked about how the team would prepare for the draft by conducting some in-house mock drafts to prepare themselves for the volatility of the draft boards.

He also spoke about trying to draft for need. “You can’t manufacture a guy. It’s a name on the board right now. Until that player gets on the field and performs, then you never really know for sure what that’s going to be.”

“You start talking about the third guard and the second corner, the third guard and the eighth corner, or however those grades will line up,” Belichick said. “Or, you talk about players that are specialty-type players, role players that are maybe very good at a certain role but they’re not three-down players. What are their values relative to other players who may be three-down players with a lesser skillset?”

The Patriots always move around the draft board with trades up and down and this year with two picks in each of the first two rounds promises to be an interesting time to watch how they approach those rounds.

Martellus Bennett had an interesting story on Belichick and his meticulous approach to game planning. Appearing on Fox Sports, Bennett spoke about a game against Buffalo.

“We’re getting ready to play against the Buffalo Bills. The scouting report on the Buffalo Bills punter is he doesn’t have the best hands, and it’s going to be raining,” Bennett said.

“So at practice we practice the punter dropping the ball, scooping and scoring because Bill’s like ‘it’s going to happen in the game.’ And I’m like ‘yeah, well, it might happen.’ You know how coaches say something, everyone’s doing it, right? Well, sure enough on Sunday, it’s drizzling and he drops the ball.”

Bennett was then asked if the Patriots scored.  “No, we didn’t do what (Belichick) said. But on the sideline, I looked at him like, ‘who is this guy?’ All the little things like that he prepares us. I don’t think there’s another team better at situational football.”

Garcia and Rivers are Kind of Hidden Draft Picks in 2018:
Last year the Patriots top two draft picks (taken at #83 and #85 overall) Edge Player Derek Rivers and Tackle Tony Garcia were both lost for the season during training camp and if not for Deatrich Wise, their 2017 draft would’ve been of zero help.

Tony Garcia blocks Kony Ealy during Patriots minicamp 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

Now they both Garcia and Rivers are slated to return and ready to compete. While they didn’t play any meaningful snaps in 2017, both were able to sit in the meetings and probably have a much better idea of the Patriots system this year.

Garcia spoke with Greg Bedard last week and said he’s feeling the best, he’s ever felt, and his weight is back up to 290 (his playing weight at Troy). He and LaAdrian Waddle will no doubt be competing for the starting role this summer of the Patriots left tackle position vacated by Nate Solder.

Derek Rivers returns ready to go in 2018. SBalestrieri photo

Rivers, who came from Division 2 Youngstown State, seemed a bit overwhelmed in the first few days of training camp. But once he got used to the speed of the NFL game, you could see the light gradually coming on and just as he was starting to flash a bit, was injured during a joint practice against the Texans.

This year I could see Rivers in kind of a hybrid OLB/DE role on the edge in the sub-packages, at least initially and see if he can maybe vie for a starting role later during the season.

Rivers doing an interview after an early TC practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Nate Solder’s Letter to New England Perfectly Stated:
Former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and now New York Giant penned a large thank you letter to the Patriots coaches, front office and fans this week and it was a poignant, heart-wrenching account of his son’s struggles with cancer and what he and his wife were going thru behind the scenes.

The characterization of the Patriots of this cold, hard-hearted organization takes a backseat to how he describes how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels allowed him to miss team meetings to be with his son during his cancer treatments.

It is a must-read piece by Solder and gives the reader a real up-close look at the man behind the number. The Giants are getting a very good player and Solder. They are getting an even better man.

Patriots Offer to Amendola, Wasn’t Close to Miami’s:  
Danny Amendola returned to New England this week and he was the featured guest of the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” event at Merrimack College, where ESPN’s Mike Reiss rode with him to the event.

Danny Amendola at training camp 2017. SBalestrieri photo

Amendola was very forthcoming in the piece, talking about his contract, “When free agency broke, I came to the realization that he wasn’t going to really come close to any of the other offers I had,” he said. “I had to make a decision for my family and go down to Miami and continue my career there.”

And then about the Malcolm Butler benching,  “I have my thoughts about it because I was out there putting my blood, sweat, and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn’t on the field,” he told Reiss.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why. I did ask, but I didn’t get any answers. I can’t make decisions like that, so I don’t necessarily worry about it, but I know Malcolm is a great player and he could have helped us win. For whatever reason, he wasn’t out there. He’s going to play more football in his career, and he’s going to be a great player for a long time.”

But at the event, Amendola called Belichick, “the best coach to ever coach in the game” and even said that he respected the hard work that went into getting to the Super Bowl. “I didn’t like practicing in the snow, I didn’t like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team and that was going to make me a better football player. It wasn’t easy, and he’d be the first to admit, at the [Super Bowl] ring ceremony, that it wasn’t easy playing for him. The silver lining was that we were at the ring ceremony.”

Jordan Matthews Signing Keeps Looking Better:
The signing of former Bills and Eagles WR Jordan Matthews continues to look better and better on paper as we wait for the off-season workouts to start. Matthews bet on himself, knowing how tough a place New England is to play, and with the Patriots already having a slew of wide receivers on the roster, he picked the Patriots.

He spoke AL.com about his decision this week and said, “I don’t feel like I’m called to be comfortable, and I knew this would be a great place for me to grow, not only as a player, but as a man in general.”

“When I walked into the building I could feel that there was an aura of ‘Let’s get better every day,'” Matthews said. “I think sometimes in the offseason it’s easy to kind of slip into that kind of monotonous mindset and just saying, ‘OK, we’re just bringing people in,’ or whatever. But there was a lot of intentionality during the visit. They were very detailed. They were very specific with me on what they thought about me and areas that they thought I could grow in. I appreciated that more than anything. I appreciated that type of honesty.”

Matthews knows how tough the Patriots’ offense can be to pick up, but having played at Vanderbilt, considered the “Harvard of the South” he should be plenty smart enough. He also knows that with a solid 2018 season, he’s setting himself up for a nice payday.

Matthews was a very productive receiver for the Eagles, averaging 75 catches a year for three years before being traded to Buffalo last year. He was injured three times and his production plummeted. But it takes two to tango. A receiver has to have an innovative system and a good QB to be productive. Buffalo had neither last year. He can play outside the numbers or in the slot so, he’s a guy we’ll be looking at closely this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCoy Wants the Bills to Sign Dez Bryant
The Buffalo Bills definitely need help at wide receiver, right now having only Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Andre Holmes on the roster. With A.J. McCarron and no doubt a rookie QB on the roster this summer, adding a veteran WR would definitely help whoever is under center. This is why RB LeSean McCoy is stepping up.

McCoy tweeted out asking Bills management to sign recently released Dallas Cowboys’ WR Dez Bryant. He doesn’t seem to be a fit, either in the Buffalo offense or in the city but he does make things intriguing if the Bills would throw their hat into the ring.

Richie Incognito had stated earlier this week that due to physical ailments that he was retiring. “I’m done. That’s it. It’s been a long career. Went to the doctor. My liver and kidneys are shutting down. The stress is killing me. It’s just about doing what’s right. I just want to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Now he’s saying that he’ll be at the Bills off-season workouts starting on Monday. This too will bear watching tomorrow.

Dolphins Bringing in Kenny Vaccaro for an FA Visit:
There are still some quality free agents out there despite the draft being right around the corner. The  Miami Dolphins are bringing in former Saints first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro for a free agent visit. The Fins are pretty much set at safety with Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald and courting Vaccaro, while a high impact player, doesn’t really have a position to fill unless they envision him in a role that the Patriots characterize as the “big nickel” in a linebacker kind of slot.

Vaccaro, 6’0, 214 pounds, had played that type of role as well as nickel, strong safety, and free safety while with the New Orleans Saints.  

Even more intriguing is that ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Dolphins drafting another safety, FSU’s Kerwin James in the first round. That would be a surprise. However, what isn’t a surprise is that the Dolphins struggle covering tight ends, especially Rob Gronkowski.

But Vaccaro was smoked for a pair of touchdowns last year during Week 2 by Gronkowski, hardly the only one that has happened to, however.

Latest Kiper Mock Has Jets Taking Rosen:
The New York Jets moved up in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft to the #3 spot in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts and now the only question is, which QB will they draft. And Mel Kiper is sticking with Josh Rosen.

Kiper has stuck with his guns all winter long and has been touting Rosen as the next franchise QB for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. Many draft pundits have been touting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield for Gang Green.

Each has their strong points, and Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner makes some people pause with his offbeat persona but he’s a tremendous talent. The first round of the draft is shaping up to be a very intriguing night. In our humble opinion, Mayfield would be a great fit in New York and has the persona to handle the rough times.  

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.

Eric Rowe Responds To Josh Norman’s Comments About His Super Bowl Performance

Robert Alvarez
April 7, 2018 at 12:16 pm ET

Speaking with the FS1 program Undisputed on Thursday, Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman had some critical words about the New England Patriots decision makings on defense in Super Bowl LII, but it was his comment about Eric Rowe that gained the most attention.

At first, Norman was asked what he thought about Malcolm Butler’s benching during the game and its impact.

“He could’ve affected that game, literally,” Norman said. “I understand coaches, they try to make a point, and that point is reasonable when you’re in the biggest game of all… Sit [him] out for a quarter, sit [him] out for a half, that’s cool. Teach a lesson. But the whole game when crunch time comes down to it?”

“You put the best out on the field and you let them play… I respect [Butler’s] game. I respect Bill Belichick as a coach. I respect everything they do as an organization, but at the end of the day man, you have to put your best players in the game no matter what happens.”

As a follow up, hosts Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe provided Norman with Belichick’s reasoning behind the benching, explaining that the move was that they inserted the player that he felt would give them the best chance to win the game, cornerback Eric Rowe.

Norman responded with the following comments that appeared to take a shot at Rowe’s career.

Who’s Eric Rowe? I mean, I don’t know the guy and I’m not trying to disrespect him at all and I think he’s going to be a hell of a player once his time comes. But at the end of the day, I think Malcolm Butler, is he not senior to Eric Rowe? So he’s been playing the position and he has that experience.”

Rowe, who has been a member of the Patriots since 2015, played a big role in the teams last two Super Bowl runs. As USA Today’s Tanya Ray Fox highlighted, “Rowe has played in all six of New England’s playoff games over the last two seasons, accumulating 24 total tackles and an interception returned for 37 yards in the 2016 AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. The only Patriot with more playoff tackles over the last two seasons is Devin McCourty.”

Despite a less than stellar Super Bowl, Rowe has been far from a slouch during his time in Foxborough and of course has the Super Bowl ring that still eludes Norman.

In response to the comments, last night over Twitter, Rowe sent out the following “subtweet” that appears to be him taking note about what was said.

https://twitter.com/EricRowe32/status/982041590922346497

Rowe will be entering the final year of his current four-year, $4.879 million contract he signed with the Patriots in May 2015, and may have gained some additional motivation to bounce back in 2018.

New England Patriots News 4-1, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 1, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-1, & AFC East Notes

A happy April Fool’s Day and of course a Happy Easter to all our readers out there, for our Jewish friends, Happy Passover “chag Pesach sameach.”  From all of us here, we hope you enjoy the day with family and friends, healthy and safe.

Quick Hitters: Boston 25’s Butch Stearns had an informative sit down with former Patriot LT Nate Solder where the Giants recent addition spoke about how tough it was for him to leave the Patriots, calling it “bittersweet.”

“When I think of my team, I think of the Patriots,” he said. “I am transitioning into a new team, a new chapter in our lives. I think we will always be part of this community. We will always be part of the Patriot family because we have two championships here. We’ve done a lot here. Now, this is a new chapter and we’re going to be Giants. It’s exciting.”

So there is a racehorse name “Gronkowski” named after the Pats TE that is going to run in the Kentucky Derby? I can think of one person who will be betting heavily on that horse.

The Johnny Manziel story is still out there with the Patriots reportedly having another meeting with former Browns quarterback and the rumors continue to persist that the team will sign him to back up Tom Brady in 2018.

I’ve made my feelings on his fit here before but the Patriots and Bill Belichick have always gone to the beat of a different drummer. It would likely entail changing the offense to fit his skill set. Would he be exciting seeing running around the preseason field against a lot of players who won’t be on NFL rosters in September? No doubt. But I’ve never been a big believer that he’d have an impact in the NFL. So, we’ll see.

A lot of people have been asking about the possibility for the Patriots to trade for the Giants Odell Beckham Jr. Reportedly the Giants are asking for not one but two first-round draft picks for the talented WR. That’s far too rich for the Patriots to afford.  So in a trade? Who would you trade, Cooks? It is unlikely the Giants would go straight up and would want more consideration. Gronkowski? That is a lot to pay for a WR who is in the last year of his contract and will want to get paid and paid big. And for one who doesn’t know the offense. But most importantly of all, it isn’t a position of need. Far too expensive for a one-year rental.

Right after the Super Bowl, everyone was looking at where the team would be headed, personnel-wise in 2018. Almost universally everyone thought that the Patriots would either release Dwayne Allen or restructure his deal from his owed $5 million in 2018. Well, we’re less than a month away from the draft and Allen’s contract remains. Chalk that one up to a big surprise this spring.

Gronkowski on the Trading Block? Rumors Persist:
Another hot take item has been the “will he or won’t he” status of Pats TE Rob Gronkowski. His agent Drew Rosenhaus has stated that his client still hasn’t come to a decision on whether to play in 2018 and beyond. Which immediately opens up the rumor mill on whether it is a ploy to get more money for a new deal or if he’s seriously considering hanging it up and heading off to a new career as an action film star and WWE personality.

Gronk action film

If he is still truly waffling on retirement, then a trade scenario becomes a very real possibility. With Belichick, if you’re not 100 percent in…you know the rest. So this may not be as far-fetched as previously thought.

But Robert Kraft did say that he’s seen Gronkowski working out there after hours which is a good sign that he’s preparing for the offseason workouts that begin on April 16. Those will be interesting to see who is there and who isn’t.

But regardless, it won’t be a shock to see the team dip into the draft for an eventual replacement for Gronkowski who has two years left on his deal.

Belichick Losing the Locker Room? Perhaps Not After All:
In the aftermath of the Malcolm Butler interview with SI where he stated that he felt the Patriots could have won the Super Bowl had he played and wanted to confront the coaches during the game…but didn’t. The article opened up an entirely new conversation about the Patriots, their locker room, the recent free agent losses, and how “no one wants to go there in free agency”. There was also a renewal of the take that there is a deep rift in the locker room with Belichick needing to “clear the air” with the players. Not so fast.

NBC Sports Mike Giardi spoke with a couple of players offline about Butler’s interview and the answers weren’t what one would expect, given the recent storylines.

One current player said “we all wished it would have worked out better” but he (Butler) “should have focused on what mattered those 2 weeks.” Another player told Giardi “we didn’t like the decision but it wasn’t without merit.”

And Giardi added the following… worth a look and to ponder.

Sounds quite different from a fractured locker room but we’ll see. Belichick, at the league meetings and at various Pro Day workouts said he feels the energy of the team building phase of the offseason.

Kraft Doubles Down on Support of Belichick:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft was asked about the Malcolm Butler question at the league meetings and had some very telling comments. He, like many others, had questions about the benching of Butler. But unlike many other meddling, non-football people owners, he spoke of trust.

“With my fan hat on, you can come up with all kinds of reasons or things, but here’s the deal: We in New England are privileged to have, I believe, the greatest coach in the history of coaching,” Kraft said. “We’re involved in a number of businesses in our family – we’re in 95 countries in the world – and we try to encourage to have good managers and we want them to be bold, we want them to take risks. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.”

“ I have faith in Bill as a coach that I don’t think there is anyone who has the football knowledge and expertise combined with understanding personnel – no one can merge those two worlds. He’s done pretty well for us over the last 18 years,” which was an understatement.

“So, as a fan, I can question some of the moves. As someone who is privileged to be the owner of this team, I encourage him to keep going with his instincts and doing what he thinks is right. There is no doubt in my mind, even if he made an error – and this is true with any of our managers – that if they’re doing it for the right reason, then I support it 100 percent,” he added.

“I’ve never had one instance in the 18 years where Bill hasn’t done what he believes is in the best interest of our team to help us win games.”

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Former Bills Coach Rex Ryan Expects Buffalo to Make a Push for the #2 Pick:
The Buffalo Bills under new coach Sean McDermott made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1999. It was a testament to McDermott’s coaching that Buffalo made the postseason despite having the 26th rated defense and the 29th rated offense.

But the man McDermott replaced, Rex Ryan, believes the Bills may make a move to trade with the New York Giants to move up to the #2 spot in the NFL Draft looking for their franchise QB. And Ryan already thinks who it should be.

In an interview with the MMQB, Ryan said, “I do expect them to make a huge offer to the Giants and move up to No. 2. And if I was them, I would take Josh Allen. You need to have a guy to throw the ball in windy conditions, and no one has a bigger arm than that kid.”

Moving up won’t be cheap but if the Bills believe that their guy will be gone then it is a no-brainer. They’ve been searching for that elusive franchise QB since Jim Kelly retired.

Dolphins Made the Right Move in Adding Quinn for Suh:
The Miami Dolphins had a cap hit with Ndamukong Suh for over $26 million in 2018. After paying him $60 million, he never really transformed the Miami defense, especially in the running game as he was envisioned.

They added Robert Quinn whose cap hit of $14 million is much more doable and he brings the element of a game changer to the table as a player out on the edge who can get to the QB. Miami is moving him back to his natural position as a 4-3 defensive end and teamed with Cameron Wake, Charles Harris, and Andre Branch, not only will Miami be able to generate a lot of pressure on opposing QBs, Quinn, in this defense, should have immediate double-digit sack potential.

Meanwhile, the Rams signed Suh to a $14 million-dollar one-year deal. Advantage Miami.

Jets Sign RB Thomas Rawls From the Seahawks:
The New York Jets have found a very depth option behind Bilal Powell at the running back position and have signed former Seattle Seahawks back Thomas Rawls. Terms were not immediately announced.

Rawls was an undrafted running back out of Central Michigan in 2015 and burst on the scene when he replaced an injured Marshawn Lynch for Seattle.  His downhill, physical running style quickly got him noticed. The 5’9 dynamo averaged 5.6 yards a pop in 2015 and produced 830 yards on the ground that season.

But his all-out physical style has taken a toll, he’s been unable to stay on the field the past two years. But backing up Powell, he should be a dynamic #2 option. Good move for the Jets if Rawls can stay healthy this year.

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