Tag Archives: New York Jets

New England Patriots News 4-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-22, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: 

Rob Gronkowski had a bizarre press conference where he clearly was sending a message to Bill Belichick and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

It has been said that Gronkowski wants a new deal, there are ways to get that without resorting to what transpired. It wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, it was planned. Gronkowski’s dad was with him and laughing at his comments.  The Patriots gave him a long-term deal when his health was an issue. They backed him, and now he’s acting like the wronged party here. That could be a big miscalculation.

The weather this week for the Boston Marathon was hardly the ideal conditions for running that or any kind of race. A cold rain was falling with winds blowing right in the runners faces. Congratulations to all who participated in and finished this year’s race. The Patriots Marathon Team all finished this year and raised more than $223,000 for charity. Well done.

The 2018 NFL Schedule was released this week and of course the first thing everyone does is (and we’re all guilty of it), is to try to analyze the schedule and predict what the final outcome of the season will be. It is an exercise in futility of course. Before the draft, no one knows what the landscape across the league will look like yet.

But of course it never stops some, and the first on deck was the Washington Post to loudly proclaim that the Patriots once again have the easiest schedule in the league. Playing seven playoff teams and few others (Green Bay, Houston, and Detroit) who will no doubt again be in the mix hardly seems like a cupcake schedule, but it always seems that way. BTW the much-maligned AFC East had two playoff teams in both 2017 and 2016.

One thing that definitely stands out is the final month of the season, which is a carbon copy of the 2017 season. Road games at the Dolphins and the Steelers, followed by home games to finish the regular season versus the Bills and Jets.

James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL this week, citing the desire to spend more time with his family. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker was released at the end of the regular season and signed by the Patriots.

“I’ve missed way too much for way too long…and I’m done,” Harrison wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to my family, coaches, the fans, and everyone who played a role in my football life.”

Despite having to learn the defense on the fly, Harrison played very effectively, logging nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, having arguably the best game of anyone on the team’s front seven.

Kudos to Johnny Manziel and his agent, with the draft upcoming, the media buzz around him has noticeably cooled from a few weeks ago. So Manziel just happened to have himself photographed wearing Patriots garb this week. No other team will garner such a visceral reaction on social media. And Bingo!, he’s news again. Well played.

Quoteworthy Belichick Tidbits:
Bill Belichick was in a presser speaking about the team-building process last week and had this gem, that puts his philosophy out there…in case anyone forgot.

“So the preseason schedule was released and I noticed that there are no games in May, June, or July. Preseason games are in August, so it doesn’t look like the regular season is going to start until September this year.”

Patriots Lose an Icon From the Booth:
Late in the week, we got the very sad news that long-time Patriots radio announcer Gil Santos had passed away on his 80th birthday and also his 57th wedding anniversary.

Santos was the final announcer from the old AFL days, having begun his stint with the Patriots as their color man during the 1966 season. In 1970, he took over as the play-by-play man for the Patriots thru the 1979 season. Working for WBZ, the station lost the rights to the Patriots games from 1980-1990 and Santos was out. However, in 1991, they regained the rights to the Patriots broadcasts and Santos would be the “Voice of the Patriots from 1991 thru the 2012 season.

His final game was the 2012 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was his 759th Patriots game called on the air. He is a member of the Patriots’ Team Hall of Fame as a contributor. He and partner Gino Cappelletti worked the booth from 1972-79 and again from 1990-2011 when Cappelletti retired and was replaced by Scott Zolak.

Santos rich baritone and always exquisite timing made him one of the very best in the business. From all accounts, he was a very gracious man who never made the moment about himself and had a manner of announcing that made the listener feel that they were right in the booth with them. No one who follows the Patriots can forget the final drive call of his from Super Bowl XXXVI which will remain an icon for the team and the fans.

For a guy who saw the very lean years in the late ‘60s and early ‘90s to finally see the team win their first of five Super Bowls was one of those moments that transcend just the call of a football game. Santos was one of us and you could hear the emotion in his voice as well as Cappelletti, who played in those years. “Well New England, you have the best football team in the world now.”

Growing up in that era, Boston was blessed with some of the best radio voices ever. Santos covering the Patriots, Bob Wilson with the Bruins, Ned Martin calling the Red Sox and Johnny Most covering the Celtics. There were too many school nights to recall where we’d turn an old transistor radio down way low while we were supposed to be sleeping on a school night to hear Wilson or Martin calling a game from the West Coast.

Santos was a frequent guest in the family car on fall weekends when we’d travel to see relatives who lived all over the New England area. His work never changed whether the team was very good or very bad and many times in-between. The mark of a true professional. For those who may have missed it, I’d recommend the book Santos and Cappelletti wrote, “A View from the Booth” which was a great look behind the scenes.  

RIP Gil and thanks for so many great memories. And a call I never get tired of listening to, thanks to Kliff Kingsbury:

Decisions, Decisions, Trying to Decipher What the Pats Will Do in Round 1:
The Patriots have a lot of draft capital in the upcoming draft with two picks in both the first and second rounds. Now everyone is trying to predict what the team will do with all of that capital.

Will they trade up for an elite prospect or one of the quarterbacks, stay put at 23 and 31 and draft some impact players that will immediately help the team or trade back to acquire more draft capital for the middle-to-late rounds. One thing does appear certain, that the team will at one point trade back since they don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds.

Just some history here, this will be the 14th time in the Patriots history, (if they keep the picks) that they’ll use two or more picks in the first round. Back in the 1970s, the team under Chuck Fairbanks drafted exceptionally well. He had two (2), three pick first rounds taking John Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley in 1973, And Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox in 1976. Fairbanks then drafted Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan in the first round of 1977.

Bill Belichick has dipped twice in the first round on two different occasions. He took Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson in 2004 and Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the 2012 NFL Draft. How he decides to proceed on April 26, will depend on how the board plays out. But if he does decide to move up, two slots to keep an eye on are #9 currently held by the 49ers and # 14 held by the Packers. It should be quite an interesting night this week.

Team Hall of Fame Finalists Announced:
The Patriots announced their finalists for the 2018 Team Hall of Fame. All three were teammates on the early 2000’s three-time Super Bowl winning teams. Matt Light, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel are this year’s finalists.

This is the first time for Light to be named a finalist while Seymour is a finalist for the second straight year, while Vrabel is a finalist for the third straight year.

Fans can vote at patriots.com/2018hof through May 14. The Pats will announce the 2018 Patriots Hall of Fame selection that week.  

One interesting footnote is that if Vrabel were to get selected, he’d be the first former player, who also happened to be a head coach of a team the Patriots would play later in the season.

The Patriots have the only team Hall of Fame that is elected by the fan base, which is both a positive and a negative in the process. However, this year’s selection will be the 27th player or contributor to enter the team’s Hall. From the Pats’ website, the following greats are listed in alphabetical order and the year that they were inducted.

Houston Antwine (2015)
Bruce Armstrong (2001)
Raymond Clayborn (2017)
Drew Bledsoe (2011)
Troy Brown (2012)
Tedy Bruschi (2013)
Nick Buoniconti (1992)
Gino Cappelletti (1992)
Ben Coates (2008)
Sam Cunningham (2010)
Bob Dee (1993)
Kevin Faulk (2016)
Steve Grogan (1995)
John Hannah (1991)
Mike Haynes (1994)
Jim Lee Hunt (1993)
Ty Law (2014)
Willie McGinest (2015)
Stanley Morgan (2007)
Jon Morris (2011)
Jim Nance (2009)
Steve Nelson (1993)
Vito “Babe” Parilli (1993)
Andre Tippett (1999)

Contributors:
William H. “Billy” Sullivan, Jr. (2009)
Gil Santos (2013)

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Who Comes Up With This Stuff? Bills Already Picked to Be Worst:
The Buffalo Bills were a playoff team in 2017 but according to ESPN’s Mike Clay, they should stay home in 2018 because according to him, the Bills will own the #1 pick as the NFL’s worst team this season. This is before the draft takes place.

Buffalo made great strides in 2017 and own five draft picks in the first 65 of the upcoming draft…but that didn’t let stop him from predicting the bottom to fall out. Clay didn’t stop there, he picked Buffalo to finish 2-14 along with Miami. And the Jets? Clay gives them a whopping four wins at 4-12. So the Bills and Jets will have the top two picks in 2019 with the Jets picking fourth. Wow.

And for anyone keeping score at home, Clay last year reported that Bills’ secondary was the fifth worst positional grouping in the NFL.

Dolphins Fans Remain Optimistic Despite Lackluster Predictions:
The Miami Dolphins as referenced above by ESPN’s Clay were picked to finish 2-14, they were considerably better in ESPN’s Mike Rodak prediction going 8-8 improving from last year’s 6-10.

The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser also went thru the Dolphins’ slate also going with a 8-8 record, predicting a New England Patriots sweep this season while predicting a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans were feeling much more confident than Clay, (they may not want to see his piece). Going thru each game, Dolphins fans picked how they saw the season playing out and gave the Fins a very respectable 10-6 record. A couple of surprises there as 79 percent feel that the Fins will beat the Titans in Week 1. In a close pick they mainly feel confident against the Jaguars 51-49, but much so against the Patriots at home, 64 percent predict a win.

Mayfield to the Jets Gaining Momentum:
The New York Jets with less than a week to go before the draft are still looking for that elusive franchise quarterback. And the rumors that they are going to go for Baker Mayfield over Josh Allen, who they just had in for a visit. We’re not going to lie, Mayfield would be a fun fit in New York and with his fiery demeanor would immediately put the Patriots – Jets rivalry right back where it should be. Thursday night can’t get here fast enough.

In other news, longtime Jets standout offensive lineman Nick Mangold announced his retirement. And the team announced that they have picked up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

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.

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.

New England Patriots News 4-8, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 8, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-8, & AFC East Notes

Not football related, but our thoughts go out to the Humboldt Broncos, the Canadian Junior Hockey team whose team bus was hit by a truck and resulted in at least 14 players and coaches dying.

Quick Hitters: Mike Reiss of ESPN wrote a piece this week about the nominating committee for the Patriots team Hall of Fame of which he is a member. With the influx of so many of the Super Bowl veterans, there is a logjam of deserving players that will eventually get in. That’s bad news for players and coaches of past generations. And notably coach Chuck Fairbanks who we’ve been campaigning for, fruitlessly for several years.

Most of the fans who vote are too young to remember him and forget that he put together some excellent teams and a 1976 team that should have been a Super Bowl team. Money and management issues doomed his time here but take a look at how poorly the team drafted before he arrived and while he was here.

The Patriots made another under the radar move by bringing in tight end Troy Niklas formerly of the Cardinals. The 6’6, 270 Notre Dame alum is known strictly as a blocking tight end but was thought to be more than that when he arrived in the NFL as a second-round pick for Arizona. The Patriots scouted him that year so it is another case of them bringing in guys they initially coveted in the draft. If Niklas can stay healthy, it will be interesting to see what Josh McDaniels can bring out of him.  

Brandin Cooks had nothing but nice things to say about Bill Belichick and the Patriots on the way out the door after his trade to the Rams. Although many fans and media did a bit of bashing on him as he left, he spoke highly of Bill Belichick saying, the team handled the situation the right way.

They gave me a call about an hour before it happened,” Cooks said, to the Ventura County Star. “I have a ton of respect for him (Belichick) and we have a ton of respect for each other. You hear the horror stories of guys finding out on Twitter, but at the end of the day, you know the way that they run things over there and the respect that we have for each other, he gave me a call and gave me a heads up. And at the end of the day, all you can do is respect that and have to understand it’s a business.”

Jordan Matthews Signing Adds Size and Depth to the WR Roster :
The signing by the Patriots of WR Jordan Matthews didn’t register very highly on the national radar either, but it is just another example of Bill Belichick building a team and not a fantasy football roster. Matthews spent an injury-riddled 2017 season with the Buffalo Bills and had a career-low 25 catches in his only season there.

But in the three years prior while with the Eagles, Matthews logged 225 catches for 2673 yards and 19 touchdowns. That averages out to 75 catches, 891 yards and six+ touchdowns per year. Hardly numbers to easily dismiss. He brings the element of versatility to the team that the coaches love here. He can play outside or in the slot and he also brings size to the wide receiver group.

At 6’3, 212, he’s a bigger target which may well factor into the red zone offense. His size is something different to the normal slot receiver we’ve seen in New England. While he doesn’t the quickness off the line of an Edelman or Amendola, he runs precise routes and is a proven move the chains type of guy. He has good but not elite straight-line speed and if he can learn the offense this spring, he may be a very solid pickup for the team this season.

The depth chart for the Patriots wide receivers is rapidly getting crowded with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Matthews, as well as Riley McCarron and Cody Hollister from the practice squad of last season.

Cooks Trade Opens Up Options Galore For the Patriots:
The Cooks trade to Los Angeles was, in the end, too good a deal to pass up. The Patriots tried to re-sign Cooks after a very solid first (only) season with the team. But there was no way they were going to pay Cooks the kind of money he’s looking for.

One thing to keep in mind is, fans are always lamenting that Belichick doesn’t covet wide receivers. Our friend Kerry Byrne from Cold Hard Football Facts refers to WRs as “shiny hood ornaments”, and we pretty much agree with him there. Look at this list from “Over the Cap” of the Top 10 Paid WRs”
Next to the players’ name is the amount of their contract followed by their current yearly salary. Does anything jump off the page at you?  Of all of the Top 10 WRs getting paid, only one  Demaryius Thomas has a Super Bowl ring. And he got his with the best defenses in the NFL during those years.  Just something to file away the next time someone laments that the Patriots need a diva WR.

So with him being a free agent after next season, the Rams offering a first-round draft pick with the teams swapping later round picks was a great get by Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio. We wrote about they’re options earlier this week.

And we’ll double down here by stating that while they are in a great position to move up in the draft if they choose to, we’d love to see them use all four picks in their first two rounds and get the team some talented playmakers that will restock the youth and depth on the team for the next several years. Will they use them all? Probably not, they’ll be bound to trade back at some point, especially if they don’t see a player they believe is a fit for them.

Bill Belichick’s philosophy is that they don’t covet picks, but players. So if the value isn’t there in their opinion, they’ll trade back. The Patriots draft board and their war room are notoriously smaller than most other teams.  If their perceived value isn’t there, don’t be shocked by a trade down. 

Don’t Read Too Much Into Visits And Private Workouts By the Patriots:
The Patriots have been in the news with a lot of workouts and visits by prospects and each time they conduct one, everyone rushes to say that “Player A” is drawing interest from the Patriots and he vaults to the list of everyone’s mock draft. Not so fast there.

While a visit or a private workout could absolutely mean a high level of interest from the Patriots but for many others, it is just an exercise to see what makes a guy tick. For instance, if the Patriots feel an opponent from the division is targeting a player that they won’t see in the draft by may see in the future as an opponent, they’ll ask him in for a workout to see where his strengths and weaknesses are, and see how his thought process works in game situations. It is filed away for possible game planning situations.

And of course, for others, we see them have an interest in a player that they know, will be drafted before they choose. And then the visit is filed away with more information for down the road if this player is ever released or becomes available, they can make a better decision on whether to bring him in or not.

It is just one of those small things that make the team building phase for the team so successful every year.  

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Adding Depth Sign DE Fede, Still Unsure Whether To Trade Up For a QB:
The Buffalo Bills earlier this offseason signed DE Trent Murphy to a free agent contract have now added former Dolphin DE Terrence Fede on a one-year contract.

Fede spent the first four years of his career with the Dolphins after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Fede, 6’4, 267, has appeared in 51 games with 55 tackles and a safety. He’ll be a depth rotational player for the Bills.

The Bills currently hold the 12th pick in the upcoming draft. Many people are expecting them to trade up earlier in the draft to take one of the quarterbacks that are slated to go in the first round. So far, nothing has been made public about their wishes and they may just be waiting until the night of the draft to see how the first couple of picks in the draft go before deciding when and where and possibly if they move up.

Dolphins Are Playing the Waiting Game as Well:
The Miami Dolphins hold the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and most people also expect them to draft a quarterback as well. But Adam Gase has Ryan Tannehill coming back this season from a serious ACL injury this year, so there will be no rushing the prospect onto the field until he’s deemed ready.

Rumors persist that Miami, like Buffalo, will trade up to get one of the more highly heralded QBs that abound this spring. The word is that Gase wants to slide up and grab Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. If they elect to remain at #11, they may opt for one of the other premium prospects, and get a QB later. In the eleventh spot, there are still a lot of impact players that will be available.

There are some, granted a minority that believes Gase will trade back and garner a bevy of picks to load up on talent and build his depth. Many of the Dolphins fans want to see the team grab Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama. While the chances are pretty slim that he’s available by #11, if he slides just a bit during the QB feeding frenzy, then perhaps Miami could move up and pick him up without breaking the bank.

Is Mayfield the Jets Target At #3? Most Believe So:
The New York Jets are also interested in Baker Mayfield as their next franchise QB. According to NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline, the Jets are pretty much locked in on Mayfield as being their pick at #3.

Pauline wrote this week, “There are a good number of league insiders who believe the New York Jets will use the third pick of the draft to select quarterback Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. This assumes that Sam Darnold is already gone when the Jets are called to the clock.”

With so many good quarterbacks being available early in the draft, the fans reaction to this is naturally split, some love Mayfield, others opt for Josh Rosen. With so many variables, the first night of the draft promises to be a very entertaining and intriguing evening.

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.

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.

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.

New England Patriots News 3-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 18, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-18, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: The Patriots have given safety Pat Chung another short-term extension on his contract that ran through the current 2018 season. Terms are not available. But since he returned for his second stint with the team, Chung has been a valuable, dependable defender. Good move all around.

No Honey Badger in NE, tonight we learned that Tyrann Mathieu was heading to the Houston Texans on a one-year deal as what so often happens plays out. It seems every free agent is rumored to be going to New England. And frequently as in Mathieu and Richard Sherman, the Patriots weren’t even in the game.

Often times, I believe that the agents push this agenda to drive up the price and market for their clients. Just like the Patriots were supposedly “in on” Ndamukong Suh and Jordy Nelson which is borderline ridiculous at this point. With about $15.6 million dollars of cap space, how would the team afford to sign a player like Suh or Nelson, if they even wanted them?

Free Agency- When will fans learn that the Patriots, unlike last year, much more often than not eschew the opening feeding frenzy of free agency where several players are in our opinion, are overpaid and then make the moves that they must to build the depth of the roster for the long haul.

This year, the cries of despair from the fan base have never been louder, as if the people that run the operation over at 1 Patriot Place all of a sudden forgot how to build a team. They’ve been to eight Super Bowls in the past 17 years. They know how to build a team that will be playing in February, not winning Day 1 of free agency in March.

And the intent of some to drive the narrative to question every move that Belichick makes like the Red Sox managers have had to endure since Dick Williams (Google his name) is laughable. “Grady Belichick” is the lamest yet, for some media members who are intent on forcing the issue.

Pats Lose Four Key Players Early in Free Agency:
Right after the season ended, we didn’t think there was a chance of Malcolm Butler returning in 2018, and that wasn’t a surprise when he left, for a big payday with the Titans. And with the draft class strong at running back, we’d didn’t feel the market would be that great for Dion Lewis, even though he’s shown how electrifying he can be. He’s had only one healthy season, 2017, but the market heated up for him and he too signed with a nice deal from Tennessee.

But the loss of Danny Amendola and Nate Solder hurt especially. Partly because we expected both to be back. Amendola because he was so clutch at crunch time for the past several years and was their punt returner as well as a go-to guy in the playoffs.  And Solder, because he’s protected Brady’s blind side for the past seven years and they really don’t have a replacement plan in place.

LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are fine swing tackles. But over a 16-game season? I don’t know that they’re the best options and both are free agents anyway. Tony Garcia? After missing all of 2017 with an illness, we’re not even sure he’ll be ready to play, much less be a capable player yet. The other alternatives (for now) are recently signed Matt Tobin, (depth player) Andrew Jelks and Cole Croston. So the loss of Solder hurt.

But it hard to find fault there, the deals for Amendola and Solder were much more than the Patriots could or would be willing to offer. The Patriots offer to Solder was 4 years, $50 million, while more than $12 million a year, was a full $12 million less than the Giants offered. That is substantial.

While the frustration level of losing those key players is understandable, it has to be tempered with the realization that the business model that the Patriots have stuck to for so long is the reason that they are able to remain so competitive for so long.

Patriots Add Five Players Including McCourty, Clayborn, and Hill:
The news wasn’t all bad, as usual, the team began building their roster depth, resigning special teamers Brandon King and Nate Ebner and running back Rex Burkhead. Burkhead was an intriguing, New England kind of player. While he’s not outstanding in any one facet of his game, he does everything well. He runs between the tackles, can catch the ball, pass protect and be a key special teams guy.

The trade for Danny Shelton became official, which will immediately impact the Patriots rush defense. With an interior rotation of Malcom Brown, Shelton, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (who returns from IR) and Adam Butler, who is more of an interior sub rusher, they depth is much stronger now.

The Patriots addressed cornerback with the trade of Jason McCourty which we covered in a piece here:  I still believe that the team will add another corner in the upcoming draft, but they are building depth while adding a veteran presence there.

Then the team signed DE Adrian Clayborn as well as RB Jeremy Hill. So the Patriots have hardly been stagnant during free agency. Were they the splash moves everyone clamors for? No, but the roster is building up for the 90 man limit. And there is still a long, long way to go. We’ll give our thoughts on the newest additions below.

Adrian Clayborn Immediately Upgrades the Front Seven:
The Patriots suffered a slew of injuries along the front seven last season, coupled with the loss of Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency as well as the sudden retirement of Rob Ninkovich left them in a bind all season long.

Getting Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Valentine, and Derek Rivers back will no doubt help. But the team added another very nice piece in signing DE Adrian Clayborn the free agent from the Atlanta Falcons.

Clayborn who will turn 30 in July, is coming off of a 9.0 sack season (six in one game against Dallas) and is a very good but not great pass rusher. But what he does extremely well is set the edge in the running game. And in the Patriots defense, that is paramount. They aren’t, nor ever will be, that pin your ears back, attacking defense.

One play that Patriots fans may remember well with Clayborn is back during the joint practices in 2013. Clayborn bullrushed Nate Solder and their feet got tangled up and Tom Brady went down in a heap. It was an accidental play. Brady held his knee and was down for several moments before walking off. My pic from the practice was carried by Boston.com for their column that day.

Adrian Clayborn and Nate Solder got tied up and Solder fell into Brady but he wasn’t seriously injured. (SBalestrieri photo)

Clayborn will be just fine here, he has a relentless motor and will take a lot of heat off of Trey Flowers on the other side of the defensive line. After four seasons with the Bucs, he spent the last two with the Falcons. He’s had injury problems during his career but a healthy 2018 will be a successful one for the veteran in this scheme.

Jeremy Hill,  Gives the Patriots Needed Depth at RB:
When the Bengals drafted Joe Mixon in the 2017 NFL Draft, Hill became expendable. And at just 25-years old, Hill has plenty left in the tank. At 230 pounds, he is the big back that the Patriots had in LeGarrette Blount. And short yardage was a sore spot for the Patriots offense in 2017. The Pats ranked a lowly 24th in the league on converting third or fourth and one last season. Hill will definitely help in that aspect.

But for the immediate future, he gives the team options, he and Mike Gillislee will compete for the big back role in the Patriots offense. He’s had issues with ball security in the past but he knows how Belichick feels about those and it will be a key area for him to work on. Eventually, in camp, the team may have to decide whether to keep one or the other as the team’s big back. But for now, the team just added two much-needed depth backs with him and Burkhead, who were teammates in Cincinnati.

One area that may be in Hill’s favor is that he’s a decent pass receiver, something the Patriots like their running backs to do in their offense. It is the case of the more you can do which helps to secure a roster spot on the Patriots. So we’ll see what a fresh slate can do for Hill.

While the Patriots will still probably draft a running back this season, it now probably won’t be one in the top rounds, it will probably be a later round, developmental pick.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Are Very Active in Free Agency:
The Buffalo Bills haven’t been shy about making a slew of moves in free agency. After signing CB Vontae Davis, they shipped off LT Cordy Glenn to the Bengals and now have picks #12 and #22 in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

But that was hardly the tip of the iceberg as the Bills signed DT Star Lotulelei, re-signed DT Kyle Williams, then signed DE Trent Murphy from the Redskins strengthening their pass rush.

The Bills added depth to the running back position by signing veterans Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. And then after unloading QB Tyrod Taylor to the Browns, they signed their bridge QB, A.J. McCarron for a 2-year, $10 million dollar price tag from the Bengals.

It has been a busy off-season for the Bills and they are far from done. It will be an interesting draft season in Buffalo. While I may think they overpaid Murphy and question the trade of Glenn, the Bills are still in much better shape than they were after their playoff loss to the Jaguars.

Dolphins Plan to be “Straight Up Flying” in 2018:
The Miami Dolphins are never ones to lack for confidence in the offseason. After trading Jarvis Landry to the Browns, the team has addressed his loss by adding former Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson from the Chiefs and confidence is high in South Beach.

.“We’re straight up flying,” said Wilson. “I feel like the way we’re going to put the stretch on some defense is going to be crazy. The speed outright shows itself.”  Both Wilson and Amendola can play the slot or move outside. That will present matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Wilson, who was the fourth or fifth option in Kansas City, now will get a chance to see the ball a lot more. And with Amendola setting the table by making the chain moving catches, why shouldn’t the Fins be confident? Ryan Tannehill got an early Christmas present with his two new toys in the offense.

Plan “B” for the Jets, No Cousins? They Move Up to #3 in the Draft:
The New York Jets made a huge pitch to sign Kirk Cousins in free agency and they failed to bring him in. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Now they move on to their Plan B and it is to draft the best available quarterback.

So, on Saturday, the Jets moved from the 6th position to the #3 spot in the 2018 NFL Draft by trading for the Colts pick. But it won’t come cheap.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets are giving the Colts the sixth pick, the 37th overall selection, the 49th overall pick, and a 2019 second-round pick. That is some pretty steep compensation for sliding up just three spots. The Colts hit a homer there in terms of compensation.

By signing bridge QBs Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, the Jets get to draft their QB of the future and groom him and allow him time to develop.With Buffalo thought to be ready to pick a QB at #6, the Jets have leapfrogged them and now are poised to pick ahead of the Bills. The next and most important question now becomes, WHO will be the Jets QB of the future with the #3 pick?

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.

Free Agency Fits For the New England Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2018 at 8:23 am ET

The legal tampering window is upon us and with free agency and another blizzard right around the corner, it is a good time to kick back with a coffee and look at the free agency help that is out there. For this particular exercise, we’re looking at fits for the Patriots defense, specifically, the linebacking core as all but one of these are linebackers and one corner. Are there others out there? Absolutely. But these are the ones we like the fit to New England.

As always the price of the free agents will drive the train and the Patriots don’t have anywhere near the flexibility that they had a year ago. And many of these free agents, perhaps all of them may be out of their price range. But in terms of fit, in our opinion, these players would be good additions to the defense.

Again, there are other players out there who may either be of interest to the Patriots but here are some of the ones we believe will be a good fit in the defense.

Nickell Robey-Coleman: The Patriots are very familiar with him, having played for four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and he fits a very specific need of theirs, which is a slot corner. Coleman can play boundary corner but at 5’8, 165 pounds, he’s better suited for the slot where he’s flourished.

Coleman was an undrafted free agent in 2013 played on a one-year prove-it type deal with the Rams last season and there is plenty of talk that he wants to return to Los Angeles and that Rams want him back.

Coleman had a very good 2017 season logging 50 tackles, two tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one interception. The Patriots need a slot corner. Jonathan Jones was close to taking over that spot but then was injured and went on IR. He was missed in the Super Bowl, especially with Malcolm Butler being benched in the game.

Eric Rowe is better suited to be a boundary corner which would leave the slot wide open. Cyrus Jones is still in the mix, but at this point, he can’t be counted on as he’s still an unknown. I would still expect them to address the position in the draft as well.

Paul Worrilow: If the name sounds familiar, it should reportedly the Patriots kicked the tires on him last spring when he was a free agent from the Atlanta Falcons. The 27-year old linebacker signed a one-year, $3 million dollar contract with the Lions last season.

Worrilow was slowed by a knee sprain of his MCL and played in just 13 games, starting in eight. He put up only so-so numbers with 30 tackles, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery. He struggled with his tackling as well as in coverage.It doesn’t appear that Detroit is interested in bringing him back with new head coach Matt Patricia.  

Would the Patriots be interested in him a second time around? I’d say no at first glance but one can never be too sure. If they feel he’d fit better in Foxboro in what they’d ask him to do, he could be a middle of the road, lower cost free agent.

Avery Williamson: Another guy that the Patriots have liked in the past is Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson. The 26-year-old has just finished his rookie contract deal with Tennessee and wants to test the market.

Williamson would immediately upgrade the Patriots run defense in the middle as he led the Tennessee defense with 92 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He received a 90.1 grade in run defense from Pro Football Focus, which was sixth best in the league. He’s a very durable player who has missed only one game in four years and is decent but not great in coverage.

He turned down a four-year, $12 million dollar deal with Tennessee and according to Diane Russini from ESPN is drawing interest from both the Jets and Dolphins. Spotrac has reported that he’s due for a possible four-year, $36-million dollar deal which would put him probably right out of the Patriots market.

Nigel Bradham: We wrote about this about a month ago as he’d be a great fit for the defense. Bradham is a very durable, sure tackler in the middle of the defense who is very good in coverage.

After Jordan Hicks went down with a torn Achilles last year in Week 7, Bradham began calling the signals for the Eagles defense and was one of their leaders and a very well respected veteran in the locker room. The 28-year-old finished with 88 tackles, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

He’s one of the most highly sought free agents out there with sources within the NFL reporting that 8-10 teams are interested in his services. While Philadelphia would love to have him back, they are currently $17 million dollars over the cap. And the interest he’s being given, will no doubt drive his price out of the Patriots range, but in terms of fit. He’d be excellent in the Patriots defense.

Preston Brown: Brown has already made it clear that he would be open to signing with the New England Patriots as they’ve gotten a lot out of several former Bills players.

“I think I can definitely help the young guys they have,” Brown said. “They’ve got some good young talent at linebacker. They run pretty well. I know Harris retired. A lot of young guys were playing well, Van Noy and Roberts played well. They definitely have some things they can work on like we all do, but I think I can help that defense get better. “

The Patriots know him well having faced him twice a year in the division. Brown has never missed a game in his four-year NFL career and calls the plays in the Bills defense. He’s a tackling machine and led the league with 144 tackles in 2017.

He’s just 25 years old and would be an instant upgrade in the middle of the defense and a fantastic fit. He’s rumored to be in the market for about in the area of a $7 million a year range. If the Patriots can somehow make that work, Brown would be a tremendous addition to the front seven.

Alex Okafor: The Saints definitely had a free agent under the radar hit signing when they nabbed Okafor during free agency last year. He was playing very well for a rejuvenated defense that went back to the playoffs in 2017. He had 4.5 sacks, nine QB hits, and two forced fumbles in the first 10 games before tearing an Achilles that ended his season prematurely.

Okafor, 27, is expected to be fully healthy and is a versatile defender as the Saints used him both on the edge and kicked him inside as a sub-package interior rusher. The Patriots could some help on the edge.

With Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Derek Rivers all ending up on IR, it left the team thin with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler and Eric Lee. Okafor could be one of those veteran signings (we’ve already mention Connor Barwin) that won’t break the bank but would allow the team to rotate their players in and out, set the edge and get some pressure on the quarterback.

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 3-11, 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.

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.

New England Patriots News 2-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 25, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-25, & AFC East Notes

During our weekly PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th and 2” this week, we took one last look at the curious benching of Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. The reaction to that, as one would imagine was decidedly mixed. Some listeners took our host Russ Goldman to task for, lack of a better term, beating a dead horse.

We probably never will get the entire story, and as different players speak it gets more confusing. Devin McCourty said, the players knew all week that he wouldn’t start, but not play at all? And then Alan Branch reiterated that none of the players knew Butler was going to be benched. Anyway, thanks as always for the feedback, We’re on the NFL Combine.

Good Move By the Patriots to Bring Back Bolden:
One of our favorite guys to hear during the season is Brandon Bolden. While Bolden isn’t even close to being a starter on offense, he is and always has been an outstanding STs contributor as well as the occasional contributor with the offense, albeit with the games well in hand. But it doesn’t matter.

Brandon Bolden after practice in Foxboro in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

We sometimes forget these players are people too and Bolden is one of the outstanding ones. Always upbeat and positive, he’s a great, funny interview, as he had the media laughing last training camp in the rain when discussing his new baby girl.

Bolden got paid a very modest $800,000 with $170,000 in guarantees. Nonsensical reporting by foolish hot take artists aside, it was money well-spent. Bolden is a great locker room guy and a core ST’s player. And we’re glad to hear he’s coming back.

Second-Year Development By Hollister Could be Key For 2018:
There is a lot of uncertainty with the Patriots tight end position heading into 2018. Rob Gronkowski is contemplating retirement and heading off into the sunset with the WWE. Martellus Bennett was also considering retirement but now has said he’d like to return for the 2018 season. And last season’s primary backup, Dwayne Allen is slated to return but for the tidy sum of $5,000,000 in 2018.

The team wants Gronkowski back but will have to make decisions on both Bennett and Allen where the cap figures will no doubt play a key factor in whether or not they return. The team has Will Tye on the practice squad, but an under-the-radar player is TE Jacob Hollister.

Hollister made the team out of camp from Wyoming and although he played sparingly, he turned some heads in his limited body of work with the ability to attack the seams and hold onto the ball while taking some big hits.

The 6’4, 240-pound Hollister, caught five passes last year, four in the regular season and one in the playoffs and is more of a Move-TE and not the traditional end of the line tight end. His blocking will have to improve next season. But with a full year under his belt in the system and learning from the best with Gronkowski, he could see an uptick in snaps and production this season. He’s one of the guys we’ll be keeping an eye on this spring.

TE Jacob Hollister could be an under-the-radar guy in the team’s plans in 2018. (SBalestrieri photo)

Harris Retirement, Not Unexpected But Frees Up Another Slot At LB:
We saw that David Harris announced his retirement after 11 NFL season today (Friday) and it isn’t unexpected. Harris had lost a step and played very little over the course of the season and into the playoffs and the Patriots were expected to cut their ties to him before the March 1st deadline. His retirement saves the team about $1.65 million in salary cap space.

With James Harrison and Marquis Flowers free agents this spring it leaves the team (for now) with only three linebackers who were on the roster at the end of the year. Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and special teamer Nicholas Grisby. Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin, and top draft choice Derek Rivers ended the year on IR and Harvey Langi was placed on NFI due to a car accident.

We made our case for possibly pursuing Eagles free agent Nigel Bradham this spring. While not the outside linebacker that everyone is clamoring for, it would solidify the middle and allow those returning players and Van Noy to move between the OLB/DE spot on the edge.

Although he played a much smaller role on the field than envisioned, the Patriots praised his veteran presence and savvy and he was valuable in giving advice to the younger players on the roster. One of them, Van Noy, took to Twitter when Harris announced his retirement, calling for the Jets to put him in the Ring of Honor.

Will the Patriots to Pick Up 5th Year of Brown Contract?
Mike Reiss of ESPN wrote an interesting piece on former 1st round draft pick Malcom Brown this week on the benefits for the team to pick up the fifth-year option for Brown, which for the first-round draft picks in the collective bargaining agreement is allowed. If the Patriots decide to do that, which would put Brown under their control for the next two years, it would also be fully guaranteed due to injury.

For Brown, who is due $1.472 million dollars in 2018 it wouldn’t be a long-term deal but would certainly be a nice payday increase. In selecting the fifth-year option, the Pats would have to pay him (32nd overall pick in 2015), an average of the 3rd through 25th highest salaries at the position. That would play out to around $7 million. It would be a nice raise for the player and guaranteed to keep Brown on the roster thru 2019.

Bennett Wants to Play in 2018 After All:
When Martellus Bennett was being released by the Packers, he stated he was probably going to have surgery on his ailing shoulder and then retire. But after coming back to the Patriots he seemed to have changed his tune. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that :

Despite publicly contemplating retirement last season, #Patriots TE Martellus Bennett does want to continue playing, I’m told. He’s due a $2M roster bonus on March 14, so New England has a decision… but his $6.2M cap hit isn’t bad.”

While the team may opt for Bennett to return in 2018, it probably will not be for the $6.2 million dollar cap hit that the team didn’t want to pay in 2017. He’s due a $2 million dollar roster bonus on March 14. If the team decides to cut him, they’d save $5.7 million from the salary cap.

The Patriots are going to probably push Rob Gronkowski for a decision during this time frame as their decision on Bennett may ultimately ride on whether Gronk decides to retire or return. Stay tuned.

TE Martellus Bennett hauls a Brady pass in. (SBalestrieri photo)

Patriots Receive 4th Round Compensatory Pick in the NFL Draft:
The NFL released the compensatory picks for the 2018 NFL Draft this season and the Patriots added a pick in the 4th round (#136). For the first time this season, compensatory picks are allowed to be traded.

The Patriots losses in free agency (Logan Ryan, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Jabaal Sheard, and Barkevious Mingo) were offset by the free agent signings (Stephon Gilmore, Rex Burkhead, and Lawrence Guy) and they ended up with the 4th round selection this year.

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

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Incognito Threatened By Former Teammate Martin:
Buffalo Bills guard Richie Incognito was threatened in a bizarre Instagram post by former Dolphins’ 2nd round draft pick Jonathan Martin along with Miami center Maurkice Pouncey as well as Martin’s high school.

His Instagram account posted a picture of a shotgun and shell casings spread around with words that read: “when you’re a bully victim and a coward, your options are suicide or revenge.” Superimposed were the Twitter addresses of Pouncey, Incognito, and the High School.

Pouncey and Incognito were accused by Martin of bullying him while a member of the Dolphins. Incognito sat out the 2014 season for it but then signed with Buffalo in 2015 and has since moved on successfully.

Shortly after the message was posted, the police were called to Martin’s home and took him for questioning. The high school in question was closed for the day on Friday over the incident. ESPN Sports Center reported early on Saturday morning that Martin was being held in a mental health facility undergoing an evaluation.

Dolphins Tag Landry, and Have Davis Back for a Visit:
The Miami Dolphins have designated wide receiver Jarvis Landry with their non-exclusive franchise tag which means, for the time being, he remains a Dolphin while they try to either work out a long-term deal or trade him.

The current salary for wide receivers getting the franchise tag this offseason is expected to be around $16.2 million, which is a nice raise for Landry, who made $894,000 last season. Because it is non-exclusive, Landry is free to sign an offer sheet with another team where the Dolphins have the right to match. That is now nearly moot. If the Dolphins refused to match, the other team would owe Miami two 1st round draft picks.

The Dolphins also had former 1st round draft pick Vontae Davis in for a free agent visit on Friday. Davis was drafted in 2009 before being traded in 2012. And he’s at least open to returning to the Dolphins if they can agree to a salary cap number that isn’t too exorbitant

Jets Expected to Release Wilkerson Before Deal Becomes Finalized:
The New York Jets once formidable run defense took a big step backward in 2017. They allowed the most yards rushing, 1887, on the ground since 2012. Their yards after contact allowed (951) was 29th in the league.

Part of the reason was the play and tackling of the defensive line. One of those players Muhammad Wilkerson is expected to be released when the league season opens in March. Wilkerson is due $16.8 million in salary on March 16 when it becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster. They will save $11 million in cap room if they release him.

They could save $17 million by designating him a post-June 1st cut but then they’d have to carry his almost $20 million in cap charges. Kony Ealy is also a free agent although he’s expected back with the Jets next season.

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.

New England Patriots News, 2-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 18, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-18, & AFC East Notes

It has been a long couple of weeks here since the Super Bowl but the Malcolm Butler story just won’t go away and while we may never have the complete story, fans continue to chime in on it. Was the Butler benching in SB LII “Bill Belichick’s arrogance” as some have repeatedly stated or was there something deeper there? Did Butler do or say something that would have caused him to sit?

That is something the Patriots will never say, other than what Belichick said, which was it was a football decision, made in the best interests of the team. Which can mean many things. It is time to let it go. Regardless of the decision, it is water under the bridge and the Eagles made more plays two Sundays ago and it is on to NFL Combine and Draft. But for the sake of conspiracy theorists, I’d be inclined to believe the latter more than the former…

Happy Birthday to the Man Who Originated the “Gronk Spike”:
If you ever wondered about where spiking the football originated from read on… Back in the 1960s, many players, including several stars, (Frank Gifford of the Giants and Paul Hornung of the Packers) would celebrate a touchdown by flinging the ball into the stands. The NFL cracked down on this in 1965 (even back then) by fining players $500 if they tossed the ball into the stands.

The Giants signed a speedster in 1965, Homer Jones from Texas Southern. A 6’2, 220-pound track star to play wide receiver. Jones wanted a celebration of his own but didn’t want to pay $500 bucks either. So after a touchdown, he started a trend of throwing the ball hard on the ground. Asked what it was, Jones called it “a spike.”

Back before the merger, the Patriots games in the AFL were carried on NBC. The Giants in the NFL were all carried here in New England on CBS. As a youngster, Jones was one of my favorite players to watch in 1967. And what a season he had. In the run-heavy era of the ‘60s, Jones had 49 catches for 1209 yards for an incredible 24.7 yards per catch and an NFL leading 13 touchdowns receiving.

Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton, said throwing to Jones was like hitting a man on a motorcycle with a butterfly net.

Knee injuries curtailed what could have been an unbelievable NFL career in 1971, but Jones was electric in the open field. His career average of 22.3 yards per catch is the NFL’s best for any player with 200 receptions or more.

Today is Jones’ 77th birthday, in an interview a few years ago, he said he regretted ever doing the spike. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski would probably respectfully disagree. Happy Birthday to #45.

Colts Still Get Patriots Assistant Coach, Ray Ventrone To Head Colts STs:
After the Colts-Josh McDaniels fallout, Indianapolis hired Frank Reich as their new head coach. And one of Reich’s first hires was to New England’s assistant STs coach Ray Ventrone.

“Bubba” Ventrone was an 11-year player in the NFL and spent the past three seasons as the Patriots assistant STs coach. The Colts will be looking to improve their STs by grabbing a coach from NE who have one of the better STs units in the league.

Who Will the Patriots Draft at QB This Season:
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes…” well add to that Ben, the Patriots drafting a QB. The Patriots draft one every year, but this one better be a good one, someone that takes over for Tom Brady once #12’s career winds down.

The team traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers this season at the deadline and now with Brian Hoyer as the backup, they’ll need to look to the future. But finding a capable backup to Brady isn’t the option anymore. We all know Brady’s age so this is must be someone they feel can lead them to continue to win once Brady decides to hang it up.

So who is out there in the draft in 2018? Forget about the Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Allen call, they’ll be gone in the top of Round 1, long before New England picks. A couple of names to keep an eye on are Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Western Kentucky’s Mike White and Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta from a Patriots perspective.

We’ll look at them in the upcoming draft series after free agency but one guy who they pick with their top draft choice is Lauletta. Forget about all the lacrosse stuff, yes he and BB share that, but he has the look of a QB that would thrive in this system.

Schuplinski A Key Coach to Watch, For the Next QB Taken:
Another overlooked part of the McDaniels remaining in New England is the retaining of assistant QB coach Jerry Schuplinski who was rumored to be heading to Indy along with McDaniels. Now, Schuplinski, a close friend of McDaniels is opting to remain too.

Mike Reiss of ESPN penned an interesting piece about the role of Schuplinski mentoring both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett and will likely mentor whoever the Patriots draft this season.

No Mulligans, Now Belichick “Should’ve Drafted Garoppolo in Round 1:
My, my, my (Joe Kenda voice), how quickly the worm turns. The latest idea making the rounds over on social media was that Bill Belichick screwed up by not taking Jimmy Garoppolo in the first round of the draft back in 2014. The feeling is, if he had, then Garoppolo, being a first-round pick would’ve been under the Patriots control for one more season.

First of all, isn’t it amazing how Belichick lasted this long as the Patriots coach because so many of his decisions have come under such scrutiny? How many times have we heard or read, “GM Bill is hurting Coach Bill with bad decisions.” Well, now we have this one. And it isn’t recent, this particular story began circulating back in mid-August I believe.

Just as a reminder, when the Patriots drafted Garoppolo, the talk was that they “reached” for him and that he’d have been available later in the draft. But in actuality, even if you could peek into the crystal ball and look back and ahead, they would still be in a position where they’d probably be doing just what they did. Brady, who led the league in passing in 2017 and threw for 505 yards in the Super Bowl, doesn’t look like a guy getting ready to go over the cliff anytime soon. What was Bill thinking back then?

Resetting the 2018 Season Priorities:
We’ve been exploring the Patriots own free agents here on PatsFans.com but we’ll be exploring some other issues that the team will have to address if they are to return to represent the AFC again in Super Bowl LIII. Some upcoming articles to look for are:

  • Getting younger and more Athletic on Defense, Especially Linebacker
  • Finding the “next guy” at QB in the NFL Draft
  • Sorting out who will be the RBs in 2018
  • Resign Key FAs, starting with Nate Solder and Danny Amendola
  • Who will replace Malcolm Butler, a veteran or draft pick?

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Vontae Davis Leaves Buffalo Without a Contract with the Bills:
Although the Buffalo Bills hosted free agent cornerback Vontae Davis, the first visit that Davis attended, he left without a contract. It was then reported that Davis then visited Cleveland and spent some time with the Browns.

This is probably nothing more than Davis seeing what is out there in terms of Free Agency cash that teams will throw around before making his decision. Which is a smart move by the player as he’s under no rush whatsoever to make a decision quickly.

Davis was released prior to the 2017 NFL season ending so he doesn’t have to wait for the beginning of free agency to sign anywhere. He could get locked up with a team early and prepare for the NFL season whenever he’s ready.

Davis will be 30 years old this year and was a Pro Bowl corner with excellent cover skills in 2014 and 2015. But he’s missed significant time due to injury the past two seasons. Many teams may want to give him a one-year “prove it” type of deal to see if he’s healthy or he’s beginning to fade, including the Patriots.

Dolphins Contribute $100K to Stoneman Douglas Fund:
The Miami Dolphins made two payments of $50,000, to the GoFundMe page for the Stoneman Douglas school to help put the donations over $1,000,000 in just two days of being active. It was explained that the Dolphins had to make two donations because the maximum allowed by the page to accept was $50,000.

Soon after the Dolphins gesture, donations began pouring in from around the world. According to the Miami Herald, over 16,000 people have donated to the page.

“Donations raised here will be used to provide relief and financial support to the victims and families of the horrific shooting,” the fund’s organizer said. In a separate donation, Dolphins coaches donated $17,500 to the family of Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach who gave his life, shielding students from the psychopathic gunman who attacked the school.

Jets Have the Cap Space and Expected to Chase Cousins, Perhaps Butler Too?
The New York Jets have an estimated $73,000,000 in salary cap space for 2018 and they’re expected to make a serious run at Washington QB Kirk Cousins as soon as free agency opens. It may not be as far-fetched as some people believe at first glance.

With that much cap space, they can not only snag Cousins but a number of players who can help support Cousins and give him enough weapons to make the Jets relevant again. Another potential selling point is the big market NYC area for Cousins to play in as well as the fact that they can point to the way that the Jets played for Coach Todd Bowles right up until the end of the season. The Jets players believe in Bowles and have bought in.

Another rumor has it that Patriots free agent cornerback could possibly be going to the Jets. Can you imagine the hype for the two meetings this season if both Cousins and Butler end up with Gang Green in 2018? That would immediately make the two meetings even bigger than they normally are, regardless of team’s records.

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