Tag Archives: NFL

New England Patriots News 6-25, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 25, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-25, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots have announced their first four days of training camp and this should come as welcome news to fans, especially those who live far away and make their travel/vacation plans according to the beginning of camp.

As of today, the schedule for the first four days will be as follows:
July 27 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public).

July 28 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public).

July 29 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public). Patriots Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at noon.

July 30 – Morning Practice (time to be determined, open to the public).

The following week the Jaguars come in, although the dates have been finalized, the times have not yet been. Be sure to check back with Patriots.com for details and/or changes that may happen to the schedule.


August 7 – Joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars (time to be determined, open to the public).

August 8 – Joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars (time to be determined, open to the public).

When is a Roast Not a Roast? When the Patriots or Gronkowski is Involved:
For the latest in “let’s create a controversy” where there is none, go back to Thursday night and the Celebrity Roast for David Ortiz prior to having his number 34 retired by the Red Sox on Friday night. The roast was organized to raise money for the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.

And all of the faux outrage directed at Rob Gronkowski for his off-color remarks at the roast? Please. It seems every time Gronkowski or Tom Brady appear in public, someone is trying to put a negative spin on these things. Originally NESN was going to broadcast it, but due to the numerous F-bombs unleashed by both Gronkowski and Dustin Pedroia, they shelved that idea.

Has anyone ever been to a roast? And the name of the game is that everyone and everything is pretty much fair game in those things. Nobody takes any of it seriously and it is all in good fun. To suggest Rob Gronkowski is an anti-Semite or racist need to remember his owners and one of his best teammates are Jewish and the majority of the team is African-American.

For those of you who are too young to remember, check out the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Minus the F-bombs, those were more cutting and they were on national television. Besides, Gronkowski’s delivery of his scripted piece wasn’t the best and Pedroia was actually the better of the two.

Now I don’t walk in anyone else’s shoes, so it isn’t up to me to say who should or shouldn’t be offended and in talking with some Jewish friends this weekend, I know they were none too happy over this, however, I really doubt there was any malice intended on Gronkowski’s part.

So…What is the over/under that Gronk gets asked about this at training camp? Take the over.

Patriots Make It Official, Sign LB David Harris:
The Patriots made another splash in the free agent market this week by signing 33-year old linebacker David Harris who was unceremoniously dumped by the Jets last week after spending a decade with the team. In making room for Harris, the team released WR DeAndrew White.

Harris is a quintessential Bill Belichick signing. He is a smart veteran player who is well-known for his work ethic and steadiness on and off the field. He’s been remarkably durable over his career and still has some gas left in his tank. Belichick loves players who will buy in 100 percent and Harris is a guy who always put the team ahead of himself.

When veteran players leave teams, there will always be guys singing their praises but it is rare, very rare for a young player to equate a vet like Harris as a “father figure” as Darron Lee did. That speaks volumes about his character.

We wrote about why the team needed to kick the tires on Harris and why he’d be a great fit in New England, just a few hours before he was signed. You can read it here: The Jets are in a rebuild mode, we get that, but letting this guy go was a big boon for New England.

Patriots Go International, Brady in Asia, Edelman, and Amendola in Mexico:
With the team off until training camp, a few of the Patriots took some time to get some traveling in and Tom Brady and two of his favorite wide receivers were globe-trotting very visible last week.

Tom Brady made a three-city tour for Under Armour and flew on the company’s corporate jet to make stops in Beijing, and Shangai in China before going to Tokyo. On Father’s Day he played catch with his son and some Chinese fans on the Great Wall of China and in Japan, he posed and grappled with some Sumo wrestlers.

Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola made a quick trip down to Mexico City for a visit to the stadium that the Patriots will play the Raiders in this season. The did an autograph session with fans, and visited the pyramids of Teotihuacán, outside of Mexico City… it is a steep climb up to the top! After that, not to be outdone by Brady’s Sumo shenanigans, they donned the wrestling garb of the WWE and did their best “Nacho Libre” impression.

Carr’s Signing Puts Him Up as the Top Paid Players and Under the Gun:
First of all, let me preface this by saying that I like David Carr. When we saw him here a couple of seasons ago in Foxboro, I came away impressed and thought that he could be impactful if not an excellent quarterback in the NFL. And we’ve seen nothing from his play to change any of that.

The Raiders made a smart move, locking him up long term ($125 Million dollar contract) and backloading his contract so that a few of their other players (Kalil Mack, Gabe Jackson) can be signed as well. But if Carr were playing in another city, there would be a lot more talk about paying the most for a QB who hasn’t played a down in the postseason. It shows that at times, there is a double-standard for the QBs in the NFL. Brady and Aaron Rodgers now make far less than Carr. And we get it, it is all about the timing, but if Carr played in….say New York, the fact that someone was paying him $25 million a year without having tasted the postseason would be a talking point.

But now the pressure will be on him to produce, even more so than he did in 2016 in leading Oakland to a 12-3 record before breaking an ankle down the stretch.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills OG Richie Incognito Not Happy With Making Top 20 Hated List:
Buffalo Bills offensive guard Richie Incognito was named by the Sporting News to their Top 20 most hated players in the NFL in a piece penned by SN’s Mike DeCourcy.

DeCourcy has Incognito as the 9th most hated man in the NFL in his article, and he’s drawn the ire of Incognito because of it. Incognito did come to Buffalo under a cloud after allegations of harassing a teammate while in Miami that had Ted Wells (yes that one) investigate the claims.

But Incognito has worked hard for the past couple of seasons and has been a good citizen and a model teammate. He took to Twitter to voice his displeasure and blasted the SN piece hard, stating that people “hate his passion for the game, that he lays it on the line for his brothers every week and that the city of Buffalo has accepted him as one of their own.”

Oh, and BTW, do you want to guess who’s first on the list for most hated? Yep. And DeCourcy used the dead deflated football schtick…Maybe Incognito is on to something.

Dolphins Reached Out to Peyton Manning Last Year When Tannehill Got Hurt :
Miami head coach Adam Gase coached the offense and Peyton Manning in Denver and when QB Ryan Tannehill partially tore his ACL late in the season, Gase had only Matt Moore and a couple of JAGs on the roster.

So Gase reached out to Manning and tried to get him to come on board for the duration of the season. Manning’s father Archie relayed the story this week and said,  “It started with Gase,” Archie said. He said, ‘Hey 18, Tannehill went down.’ He said, ‘I think he’s going to miss some time. The first question I’m going to get at the press conference in the morning is if I’m going to try to bring you to Miami. What do you want me to tell them?’

“The text message came back from Peyton: ‘You tell them I could probably come play, but there’s no way I can miss carpool the next two weeks.’ So, he was done.”

Moore played well in relief and won two of three games to get Miami into the playoffs but could only put up 12 points in the team’s loss to Pittsburgh.

Jets LB Lorenzo Mauldin Arrested After Alleged Nightclub Brawl:
New York Jets Lorenzo Mauldin was arrested Wednesday and charged with misdemeanor assault after allegedly attacking a man in a nightclub fight back in April according to the New York Police Department.

Mauldin faces NFL suspension if convicted and could face up to a year in jail. He was accused of punching a 22-year old Queens man in the face according to the arrest report.

The NFL said that it will monitor the situation and investigate. “We have been monitoring developments and this matter is under review of the personal conduct policy,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The injured man, Jean Lopez claims he suffered several facial fractures after he accidentally spilled champagne on the Jets linebacker and Maulding responded by punching him.

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.

Training Camp Will Answer How the Patriots Running Backs Are Used

Steve Balestrieri
June 22, 2017 at 6:52 am ET


The Patriots made another big move in an offseason chock full of them by signing LB David Harris who was just let go by the Jets. He filled a position of not necessarily need but one of concern depth-wise. With these moves that they’ve made on defense, it will allow the team to easily switch back and forth between three and four man fronts which they like to do. But today the focus is on the running backs. And how they’re going to be used. And those answers will likely be answered once training camp begins in July.

After the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount hit free agency, we knew there was a good chance that he wouldn’t return. He slowed noticeably down the stretch and despite an outstanding career year, the team could have used an infusion of youth there. So, the team brought in a pair of intriguing players; Rex Burkhead from the Bengals and Mike Gillislee from the Bills.

Each has some qualities that should be utilized here in New England by the coaching staff as they join James White, Dion Lewis as the players most likely to see significant snaps. 2nd-year player D.J. Foster who is another intriguing kid with the ball in his hands will have to really step up his game this summer. And judging from the Patriots modus operandi in OTAs and mini-camp, they were giving him plenty of opportunities to see where his progression lies.

The Patriots under Belichick have rarely used a true “feature” back. The exception would be Corey Dillon in 2004. They’ve instead relied on a running back by committee and they mix and match their talent depending on the opponent from week to week. Their top four backs will earn about $2 million less than LeVeon Bell from the Steelers. That’s why we weren’t buying all of these Adrian Peterson rumors this spring.

For now, it appears that Gillislee will take over the Blount role and be the main guy to carry the ball in the running game. It doesn’t mean that the others can’t run the ball but he seems to be the best fit doing so.

Right away on his signing, the comparisons went out between Gillislee and Blount and they need to stop. They are two entirely different players. Blount outweighs Gillislee by a good 30 pounds. Gillislee is built more like Stevan Ridley and although he doesn’t Blount’s power, he quicker to hit the holes and can make people miss in the backfield, something that Blount had issues with. He can really hit the edge quickly

Although he wasn’t a prolific receiver in Buffalo, Gillislee runs good routes and is a better option in the passing game than Blount was. So, his being in the backfield means that teams will have to account for him as both a runner and receiver where Blount was more of just a one option guy as a runner.

Burkhead is more of a “do-everything” kind of guy, while he lacks the power of Gillislee and the straight-line speed, he has excellent quickness and will lug the ball between the tackles, with good vision and is a very good receiver out of the backfield. He’s also a stellar special teams’ player, something that may spell the end of the line for a guy like Brandon Bolden.

I did a podcast this week with John Sarianides from @xnoJoe.com and he brought up a great point about Burkhead. I’m paraphrasing here a bit, but he basically was saying, “Don’t look at what Burkhead was asked to do with the Bengals, if you want to see how the Patriots will use him, go back to his Nebraska tape.”

James White proved his worth in the Super Bowl with a fantastic performance and if not for a tremendous comeback by a guy named Brady, he was an easy choice to be the game’s most valuable player against the Falcons. He is the perfect sub-back. He has quick feet, good hands and runs excellent routes. He can lug the occasional run between the tackles but his value lays in the passing game where he can even split out wide as a receiver.

Dion Lewis is cut from the same mold as White but is a better runner inside with the ball in his hands. He’s more of a running back than a receiver but is very dangerous in open space with his elusiveness. The only question with him is his durability, he’s suffered some serious injuries in his career and that may be a factor in his usage.

One area that they will all be judged on is their ability to pass block. The Patriots and their coaches demand that the backs all be excellent pass blockers. Nothing will get a guy taken off the field more quickly (besides putting the ball on the ground) than whiffing on a pass blocking assignment. See the Super Bowl and Dont’a Hightower’s sack. Freeman whiffed and badly. If he doesn’t, perhaps Atlanta is trying on their rings right now.

Bill Belichick last fall in one of his pressers talked about the difficulty of pass blocking and the amount of time spent on the subject should answer any questions about its importance.

“That’s probably the hardest thing to have to do is to figure out whether the guy is blitzing or not, because when he comes across, he’s trying to come across like he’s blitzing so you’ll stay in and take him,” Belichick said.

“But if he really has you in coverage and he’s coming across to just hold you in and you get out, then you’re out and you don’t have to block him and he has to cover you. So that’s a real cat and mouse game there between the back who has the pickup and the linebacker who is in man coverage who is trying to keep him in by using a blitz technique. And if either guy is wrong on that, it’s like playing chicken. If either guy’s wrong on that, you’re out, he blitzes and you get sacked. Or you blitz and he knows you’re not coming and he’s out and then you can’t cover him and it’s a big play in man-to-man coverage.

“That’s a tough spot. It’s not an easy thing for a back to do. Plus, you play against a lot of different linebackers and they all do it a little bit differently and teams try to scheme that up a little bit with different calls and little ways to trick a back and stuff like that. That’s probably the hardest part, really. And then there’s, of course, blocking him. Just because you know who to block doesn’t – a back blocking a blitzing linebacker is not a gimme. Depending on who that guy is, there are different ways you might want to block him.”

There will be no shortage of story lines to follow once training camp opens in July, but watching the running backs and how they compete and get their roles worked out should be at the top of the list.

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.

Why the Patriots Should Kick the Tires on David Harris

Steve Balestrieri
June 21, 2017 at 7:23 am ET

The Patriots love to bring in established veterans at the end of their careers and give them a role that they can still thrive in. It is something that Bill Belichick has traditionally done because it not only allows a player that is closer to the end of his career than the beginning the chance to still be a productive player, but will aid the team by giving them a veteran presence in the locker room, a mentor for the younger players and with their experience, almost another coach on the field.

That’s why the team should at least kick the tires on a David Harris signing. The 33-year old inside linebacker spent 10 very productive seasons with the Jets before being released recently in a salary cap dump. He was set to earn $6.5 million dollars under the salary cap in 2017 and along with Eric Decker was also jettisoned by the Jets in their house cleaning.

The Patriots have faced Harris twice a year in the AFC East. They and the coaching staff know him intimately. Another reason why he’d be a fit is the fact that Belichick likes to snag players that play well against his team. They’ve done with Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and more recently Chris Hogan and Mike Gillislee among others.

But Harris reminds one of another former Patriot, Junior Seau. Seau was close to retirement when Belichick came calling and he gave the team a couple of solid seasons. Was he the player he was earlier in his career? No, but it didn’t diminish what he brought to the table both on and off the field.

The Patriots have a concern at middle linebacker, I wouldn’t characterize it as a weakness but a lack of depth. Dont’a Hightower was resigned but has had some injury issues. Elandon Roberts is mainly untested. Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and UDFA rookie Harvey Langi are either better outside or not ready (in Langi’s case) for major duty inside.

Bringing in a guy like Harris would immediately upgrade the unit. He could give the team, that two-down presence inside and allow them to move Hightower around more. He could come out in sub-packages allowing Van Noy and McClellin the opportunity to be productive either rushing the passer or dropping into coverage.

Like Seau, Harris was an unquestioned leader for the Jets on and off the field. He was known as the first man in the building and the last man out. His release was such a surprise and shock to his teammates, that coach Todd Bowles called a special, players meeting to discuss this.

“I miss him,” Darron Lee said of Harris. “He’s a great mentor and a great leader. I’m still going to consult him. Even though he won’t be around here, I’m still going to ask him for advice and everything. But it definitely was a somber day the next day and for the whole defense, really, and for this whole organization and for everybody in here because Dave was like a dad to all of us, a lot of young guys in here. He was like a father to me.”

With plenty of room under the salary cap, it would make sense for the Patriots to kick the tires on Harris. He would immediately consolidate the middle linebacker position, and allow Matt Patricia’s defense, even more, flexibility on early downs to mix and match their pieces to allow Hightower to be even more effective.

He could be brought in for a modest amount for a year or two and provide the Pats with the type of veteran’s presence that Seau gave them a few years ago. And with Belichick loving to tweak the Jets, how delicious would it be to see Harris grasping a Lombardi Trophy in February after languishing a decade with the Jets.

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 6-18, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 18, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-18, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots are now off until training begins in about 5 weeks. With the OTAs and minicamp in the books, the team is good shape getting ready for the upcoming season. The weather was as unpredictable as ever this spring but that probably helps the team as they get used to playing in all weather conditions.

Five of the top news items coming out of the spring both good and bad include:

  • Gronk is 100 Percent Heading into Camp:
    Perhaps the best news to come out of the spring was that TE Rob Gronkowski was present for all of the workouts and that he wasn’t held back or limited in any way. That is particularly good news. As good as this offense was a year ago, it is even better with a healthy Gronkowski on the field.
  • Cooks is Going to be Exciting to Watch:
    Brandin Cooks turned heads here in joint practices last year and now is a member of the Patriots. The Patriots don’t normally have a receiver that has the blistering speed he does and it is going to be fun to watch how they try to integrate the productive WR into their offense.
  • Linebacker Still a Concern Heading into the Summer Break:
    Something we’ve discussed this spring was the depth at linebacker behind Dont’a Hightower. It is still a question of who steps up and wrests the reps away from the others. Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and UDFA Harvey Langi are among the players who should be looking to compete for playing time once camp begins.
  • Injuries to Monitor:
    With the aforementioned Hightower not participating and obviously on the mend from offseason procedures, there were a couple of other players limited or missing time that will bear watching. Duron Harmon was limited all spring and Lawrence Guy, Kony Ealy, Jimmy Garoppolo and Andrew Jelks all suffered some sort of setback during spring workouts that caused them to miss time. They’ll bear watching once camp opens.
  • Spring is a Great Time for the Under-the-Radar Guys:
    Every spring we always hear or see (in many cases) some players rise up and stand out in the OTAs and minicamp. Or as Chris Price told me in a podcast this week the “Zach Sudfeld Effect.” Jonathan Jones stepped up to play a lot of nickel corner thus far. Other players making an early splash include RB D.J. Foster, WR Austin Carr and DB David Jones. Whether they can continue this will bear watching. Every year there are players who shine early and fade (Sudfeld) and those that continue to play well (Malcolm Butler). That’s what makes training camp so intriguing.

Speaking of Chris Price, the former WEEI Patriots beat writer and author has a couple of books in the works. His book on the 2016 Patriots Super Bowl Season should be on the shelves soon. He is also working on a book about the Hartford Whalers of the NHL. Price told me this week as a kid growing up in Connecticut, the Whalers were a franchise that the fans closely identified with. If these two books are just half as good as his previous work, they’ll be must reading and great gifts for the sports fan in the house.

Price also does a super podcast (Cover 2) with Don Banks on the Patriots website. Besides great Patriots content, they cover the overall NFL landscape and are doing a great job. Some great intriguing guests as well.

Patriots in the Heads of their Opponents Already? It would seem so:
The Patriots and more specifically Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are seemingly lodged firmly in the psyches of their opponents before the season even starts if the latest on Social Media are any indication.

In Pittsburgh, the headlines asked if Sidney Crosby, fresh off of Stanley Cup championship was better than Tom Brady.  But that wasn’t it for the Steel City, as Pittsburgh LB Ryan Shazier was asked if the Steelers have a “Patriots Problem” having lost four in a row to NE. Shazier took it a step further stating the NFL has a Patriots problem and the Steelers feel they can get over the hump this season.

And finally in Miami, Ndamukong Suh, who has a known reputation as large for dirty tactics as much as big plays made the statement at Dolphins OTAs that will certainly have found its way into the bulletin boards of Foxboro. Suh, stated, “I think one of the great things about Miami and this team, we’ve never been scared of the New England Patriots. We never will be. So, with that being said, when we play them late in the season, we’ll be prepared.” Earlier this spring Jarvis Landry predicted that Miami would sweep New England in 2017.

Confidence in one’s team is always fine, bravado is another. If you want to beat Belichick and Brady, take a page out of their book and say nothing about your opponents and tell the media, you’re focusing on yourselves at this early juncture of the spring/summer.

Patrick Chung gets Incentive Boost in his Contract:
The Patriots, with plenty of cap space this year are giving safety Pat Chung the incentives to have a terrific 2017 season. Chung, according to ESPN’s Field Yates is getting an incentive laden boost in his contract that can pay him up to $1.7 million dollars this season.

Chung is signed through the 2018 season and is set to make $900,000 in 2017. His incentives can nearly double his pay, boosting him an additional $800,000. The Patriots have three safeties that they’ve paid on the higher end of the payroll with Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon. They gave a similar incentive boost to Rob Gronkowski earlier this spring.

Chung has played much better in his second stint in New England, although his play slipped a bit in 2016. It could be that he was suffering from some ailments that we weren’t aware or it could be that the physical toll of playing the position close to the box as Chung does is finally taking a toll. Either way, the team is giving him the option to excel now and it is a smart move by Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio.

Kraft’s Touchdown in Israel Brings 18 HOFers to the Holy Land:
Patriots owner Robert Kraft makes an annual pilgrimage to the country of Israel with a bevy of Hall of Fame players to experience first-hand the sights and sounds of the Holy Land and to see the growth of football in the stadium in Jerusalem that bears his name.

This year’s group contains, Lem Barney, Jerome Bettis, Jim Brown, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Joe Montana, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Roger Staubach, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary.

Kraft told the assembled Hall of Famers on the plane flight to Israel, “My family and I are into spirituality, and no matter what your background, you’ll find a way to be uplifted by the country.” Updates will be posted on the Patriots website.

Pats Heading to W.V. For Joint Practices with the Texans:
The Patriots and Bill Belichick have always believed in joint practices. It breaks up the monotony and dog days of training camp and allows you to evaluate your players against an opponent that they’re not familiar with. Both teams benefit from it and it is an opportunity to improve as a whole.

Not surprisingly, the team has a pair of joint ventures lined up this summer. The Jacksonville Jaguars will visit Foxboro before their preseason game on August 10 for a pair of joint workouts on August 7-8 and now the team has announced that they’ll conduct a pair of practices with the Houston Texans before the preseason game in Houston on August 19.

However, the practices with Houston will be held at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on August 15-16. It is the second time the Patriots will visit the resort after having held joint practices with the Saints there in 2015. The Saints visited Foxboro last year for joint sessions.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills RT Jordan Mills Draws Raves from the Coaches:
Buffalo Bills right tackle Jordan Mills had a 2016 season that many, including himself would rather forget. The fifth-year tackle allowed seven sacks and was whistled for four holding penalties.

But the new coaching staff of coach Sean McDermott is starting everyone off with a clean slate and one of the most impressive players thus far has been Mills, who put the work in during the off-season. “Jordan Mills has had one heck of an offseason,” McDermott told the Bills media last week.

Mills has settled in because he took the time to watch tape and evaluate his own play which allowed him to fix his mistakes.

“You’ve just got to in the lab in the offseason, learn from it and get better,” Mills said.

“And I felt like I did that every single day that I came back. It’s a different coaching style They expect different things out of us, but mostly my footwork in the run game and pass game, just keeping my hands up, using my hands better and stuff like that. And mentally, too, studying my opponents and looking at other offensive linemen around the league.”

I just focus on what I have to do and execute to the best of my abilities, and I felt like I did all spring.”

Dolphins’ Gase Admits Mistake with Wake in 2016:
Miami head coach Adam Gase has been very upfront and open about his missteps in his first season in 2016, specifically when speaking about the mistakes the team made with Cameron Wake. In 2016, Wake was coming off of a serious Achilles injury and the team erred on the side of caution, easing Wake into the lineup, an issue that Gase is far alone in making. Now he says, that was a mistake.

“I thought we were being smart,” Gase said to the Miami media. “It backfired on us. What we should have done is let him (Wake) play.”

But Gase is taking a similar track with center Mike Pouncey as he returns from a serious injury this year. “He’s on a really, really good track now,” Gase said. No decision has been made yet as to Pouncey’s availability for training camp but the team remains optimistic. “We need him to heal and be there for the duration,” Gase said.

Jets Building for 2018, Will Have $80 Million In Cap Space:
While the Jets prospects for the 2017 season appear dim, they’re laying the groundwork to be building for the future. The Jets are expected to have more than $80 million in cap space heading into 2018, which would be tops in the league.

The carryover from the 2017 season would put them in the $66 million dollar range according to Rich Cimini of ESPN, and they still have $24 million plus that they can spend this season.

The Jets crop of free agents next season include Sheldon Richardson, Morris Claiborne, Marcus Williams, Demario Davis, Wesley Johnson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Josh McCown. None of whom are indispensable as of today.

The Jets are expected to be looking for the next franchise QB either in the 2018 NFL Draft or via free agency. A couple of the QBs listed by Cimini include the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and the Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo.

WR ArDarius Stewart is one the mend from not only one but two surgeries on his groin and thumb since being drafted by the Jets in April. Stewart wasn’t able to participate but coach Todd Bowles expects him to be ready for training camp.

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 6-11, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 11, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-11, & AFC East Notes.

Because of extensive travel this weekend, this week’s news and notes piece will be a bit shorter than normal with no AFC East notes this weekend. We’ll be back with all of them next Sunday.

Patriots Get Their Super Bowl Rings in Private Ceremony:
The Patriots were all invited to the private digs of Robert Kraft on Friday night and received their rings from the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl victory.

The words “We Are All Patriots” and “Greatest Comeback Ever” are engraved inside the ring. The Pats trailed the Falcons by 25 points in the third quarter before staging the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. No team in the first 50 Super Bowls had rallied from more than 10 points down to win.

Also engraved on the ring is “Unequivocally the sweetest,” which was Kraft’s postgame comment about the Patriots’ latest championship in a dig at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the entire Deflategate saga, that the team and QB Tom Brady were punished with.

The ring includes 283 diamonds, a not-so-subtle reminder of the Falcons’ 28-3 lead that New England overcame.

“We celebrated our first Super Bowl ring ceremony 15 years ago to the day,” Kraft said. “It was our first Super Bowl championship in 42 years and, at the time, I couldn’t imagine a more exciting game or ring celebration.”

“It was a historic comeback win, and the players deserve to have a ring that represents that accomplishment. So, we created the biggest Super Bowl ring ever made. Watching the expressions of the players and coaches when they saw them for the first time and the overwhelming pride when they put them on was priceless.”

Julian Edelman Gets Contract Extension and is a Bargain:
The biggest news coming out of minicamp this week was that the Patriots extended WR Julian Edelman for an additional two years which will keep him in Foxboro thru the 2019 season. Edelman’s contract is worth a reported $15 million dollars in pay and incentives which is a total bargain for New England.

Consider this, Edelman’s potential $15 million is what the Colts are paying T.Y. Hilton, for just the 2019 season. Edelman finished 2016 with 98 catches for 1106 yards, but his grab at the end of the Super Bowl may have saved the Patriots Super Bowl comeback.

In the past four seasons, only three players have more receptions that Edelman’s 356, Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and Julio Jones. Edelman is tied with Larry Fitzgerald, some pretty heady company.

Not too shabby for a 7th Round draft pick out of Kent State on an option quarterback who had never played a down at the position of wide receiver before.

Minicamp Had Few Surprises But Was a Good Teaching Experience:
The team wrapped up their mandatory three-day minicamp on Thursday and while there a few small surprises, the team treats it like the learning camp that it is. We all get excited about the performance of a player either good or bad but that’s what these sessions are designed for. However, a few things that did stand out, because, hey that is all we have to judge on.

The good? Newcomers Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead, and Kony Ealy flashed early in the workouts. Cooks was displaying his noted speed on the outside had a few splash plays as he and Tom Brady are working hard on their chemistry early this year. Burkhead had a nice day on Wednesday catching the ball out of the backfield. Ealy who missed the second two days with an unspecified injury stood out on Tuesday.

Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan looked impressive in passing drills both individually and in team drills. Tom Brady looked to be in near mid-season form. Stephon Gilmore impressed with his coverage ability

The not-so-good? Dwayne Allen struggled in the rain on Tuesday and dropped a number of passes, Wednesday he seemed to be just fine as we were in attendance and didn’t see any drops. Jacoby Brissett had a particularly rough outing on Wednesday, holding the ball too long and struggling with his accuracy. But the bottom line is, there is no reason to get too high or too low over minicamps with no pads on. But after 4 months of no live football, it is easy to get excited over seeing the players do football activities.

Training Camp will hold answers for DL/OL Running Game:
One thing missing from minicamp was the play of the offensive and defensive lines as well as the running game. With no pads on the battles in the trenches is very difficult to judge as well as the running game.

We’re intrigued to see how well newcomer Mike Gillislee fits in with the Patriots offense in 2017. He was there on the field and most definitely looks the part but until the pads come on, we won’t really know. On the offensive line, newcomer Tony Garcia is an intriguing prospect who could someday push Nate Solder for reps.

On the defensive side of the line, draft picks Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise are going to be watched closely this season, especially in training camp to see how much they can contribute in their rookie campaigns. Trey Flowers looks to continue a stellar second half of 2016 and playoffs and will enter 2017 as a starter on the edge at defensive end.

Ealy in a contract year looks to get a fresh start in New England and already gets high marks for showing up for the voluntary OTAs and showing the willingness to work hard. Something he was criticized for in Carolina.

Some of the UDFA free agents looking intriguing, WRs Austin Carr, Cody Hollister, DB David Jones and LB Harvey Langi are all guys who will bear watching once camp opens for real in about six weeks.

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.

Patriots Day 2 Minicamp Observations from Wednesday 6-7

Steve Balestrieri
June 8, 2017 at 6:58 am ET

 The Patriots concluded their second day of mandatory minicamp on Wednesday under bright sunny skies after Tuesday’s session seemed more like late October weather with rain and temperatures in the 40s.

A total of 88 players took part with DL Lawrence Guy and backup OL Andrew Jelks being the only players not on the field. Brandon King was on the field however he didn’t appear to be working out.

Dont’a Hightower worked out on the exercise bike at the beginning/stretching phase of the workout and he and Malcolm Mitchell retreated to the lower fields with training personnel. Jonathan Freeny wore a red non-contact jersey and is still recovering from shoulder surgery that landed him on IR.

Russ Goldman and I were at Wednesday’s session and this was our observations from the practice. And remember, it is really early and there aren’t any pads on until training camp.

Cooks appears even faster than we remember:
Last summer during the joint practices with the Saints, Brandin Cooks stood out with his speed when working against the Patriots corners, specifically Malcolm Butler. Fast forward a year and if anything, he’s even more impressive.

Brandin Cooks looks to be a very intriguing option for the offense in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

Cooks’ speed was on full display on Wednesday, he connected on a post route from Tom Brady where he literally left Jordan Richards and Devin McCourty in his dust. Richards has been playing some deep safety early in minicamp as Duron Harmon has been limited and we know that isn’t his strength but it is clear that if defenders can’t get a jam on Cooks at the line, he has the speed to create separation and dare we say it…. stretch the field.

He showed during both 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, that whenever he wasn’t disrupted he was getting open. Cooks is obviously putting the work in to build that early rapport and trust factor with Brady, something that can’t be overstated.

Brissett had a Rough Outing:
Look, we get it, it is one practice and an early one at that. But this spring we made a mental note to watch Brissett and look for that big second season jump in play. And this wasn’t it. After reading about his struggles on Day 1, he’ll have to put some extra work in before training camp begins.

Jacoby Brissett had a rough outing on Wed’s minicamp session. (SBalestrieri photo)

He seemed to process things late, holding onto the ball for far too long. His accuracy was off as well. He missed many throws he needs to make if he’s pressed into service again. During 7-on-7s RB D.J. Foster had a good step on his man down the center of the field on a post route and Brissett badly overthrew him. That’s a throw that Brady makes consistently.

Nothing to be overly alarmed at unless it becomes a trend. As Russ pointed out, some of his timing issues could stem from the fact that he was working with an entirely new cast of characters and he hasn’t had the opportunity to build any chemistry with them yet.

On the flip side, Brady not surprisingly looks to be in mid-season form. His throwing motion is always perfect, something he works on. A staffer was filming all three QBs as they went thru their throwing motion. Fundamentals are always stressed at this time of year. Garoppolo looked sharp after reading of his struggles on Day 1.

Other observations included:

Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan look to pick up right where they left off last season. Each looked sharp in their route running and each made a couple of nice catches in team drills. Hogan with a back-shoulder throw and catch near the sideline over Butler and Edelman with a grab down the middle.

Julian Edelman had a typically strong day at minicamp, making a few nice catches, as this one over the middle. (SBalestrieri photo)

Newcomer Stephon Gilmore definitely looks the part of a tall, physical defender. He looked impressive at times but was beaten by Edelman badly, going for a fake and left grabbing air. Not surprising since the jamming is very limited at this time of year. He took a back seat to Eric Rowe for many of the drills today as Rowe got some work with the first unit.

Gronk beat Pat Chung for a touchdown in team drills on a nice pass from Brady. The big man is looking healthy and was all business on the field Wednesday. Chung has the unenviable position of usually covering him in practice. And when he’s on like that, no one can stop him one on one.

Kyle Van Noy picked off Garappolo during 11-on-11s and Kony Ealy had a pass breakup during team drills, dropping into the flat to cover the area for check downs, something that Chris Long did frequently last season.

Rex Burkhead looked to be a nice target in the passing game as he was the recipient of about a half dozen passes during full team drills.

Watching Deatrich Wise had a strange gait in his running and we originally thought he was hobbled. He even had it walking, he wears a bulky knee brace and first thoughts were that he tweaked something. But after speaking with others there, it is a natural gait for him.

UDFA David Jones turned a few heads with some nice coverage ability. He’s a big safety who is listed at 6’3, 210 pounds from Richmond. He’ll be a guy to monitor in future workouts in training camp.

Cody Hollister is a big target (6’4, 209) and had a pretty good day at catching the ball. He was able to generate some separation and used his body well to shield the defenders away.

Good news for Cyrus Jones, he was clean fielding all his kicks on Wednesday. That is encouraging for the rookie who struggled all of last season. And it all started with minicamp struggles in the wind a year ago.

The team gets back for their final minicamp practice on Thursday.

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

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

Patriots Photo Gallery Minicamp Session 6-7

Steve Balestrieri
June 7, 2017 at 8:12 pm ET

Our guys were at Patriots minicamp today and here are some of the photos from the day’s action. Be sure to check back later as we’ll have our observations on what went down on Day 2 of Minicamp and what to look for on Thursday.

New England Patriots Minicamp This Week, Three Things to Watch For

Steve Balestrieri
June 6, 2017 at 10:29 am ET

The Patriots begin minicamp this week in rainy, cold conditions. The temperatures are not what one would expect in June with highs hovering only around 50 degrees. The weather resembles late October more so than early June but ball security drills become more important in this type of weather and at least today, expect to see some more of that. But for the other two days of camp this week? What are we looking for?

Here are three things to look for in the three days of minicamp this week. Don’t you love how these things seem to work out?

Linebacker Depth: The Patriots have a really deep roster in 2017. But one area that still has some question marks is the linebacker position. Dont’a Hightower’s health is of primary importance this season. As we pointed out during free agency, the Patriots don’t have a man that can do the things he does. So, who else steps up in 2017?

The Patriots brought in veterans Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy last year and each of them contributed at times in the Super Bowl run of 2016. McClellin probably has a bit more flexibility and can do more things than Van Noy, but the former Lion has plenty to offer in terms of coverage and blitzing and both will be competing for reps.

Second-year player Elandon Roberts will be looking to make a big jump in play in Year 2. The undersized but physical run-stuffer needed to improve in coverage this season and it will be interesting to see how well he fares in 2017. But an undrafted free agent may be looking to make a spot for himself as well.

Harvey Langi is an intriguing guy and a one that could carve out a role for himself as a rookie. He had a very successful junior season in college but his coaches decided they needed help at the edge and moved him from linebacker where he was far less effective. There is a lot to learn about playing the LB position in New England, look for Langi to make his mark on Special Teams first. If he can do that, then his path to the roster should be clearer as well as a shot at producing on defense.

Dont’a Hightower is the Patriots best linebacker by far and one they’ll need healthy in 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

Safety Reps: The Patriots have one of the better free safeties in Devin McCourty, he isn’t going anywhere and is the like the QB of the secondary out there. The Patriots like to move him around and he can occasionally move down into the slot because he can cover like a corner…which he once was.

The question revolves around the strong safety position. Pat Chung was outstanding in his first two seasons back in New England as the team used him to his strengths closer to the line of scrimmage than his earlier tenure with the team. But his play took a step back last year. Is it a sign of things to come? He plays a very physical style and the wear and tear on his body may be beginning to show. Who will step up for him?

The most obvious choice is Duron Harmon who was rewarded for his stellar sub-package play by getting a new contract this season. But the Patriots used him as the center fielder when sliding McCourty down into the slot. To bring him down into the box would limit the effectiveness of moving McCourty around.

Jordan Richards would be the most obvious choice but his play too suffered in 2016 where he barely saw the field. The Patriots used a 2nd round draft pick on him but thus far he’s yet to show that was a worthwhile pick. From watching him in coverage at practice, he seems a bit stiff in the hips but is better suited for the spot in the box. Nate Ebner and Brandon King are more special teamers than safeties on defense.

Running Back Usage: With no pads on until training camp, the running backs won’t get to show what they can do in the running game until then. But with a plethora of pass catchers, how they’re used and how much is very much up for grabs. The Patriots are a pass first team and the backs must be productive and protective of the QB.

James White, fresh off his Super Bowl heroics and holding a new contract has the inside edge on his competition as he should, but he knows that the team won’t base any decisions on what he did a year ago but on what’s he’s doing this year. Dion Lewis should be completely healthy after coming back from ACL surgery more than a year and a half ago. If he’s got his trademark elusiveness back, Lewis is a very dangerous man with the ball in his hands and could be used as a returner this season.

Newcomers Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee offer a bit more of versatility and seem to be as good if not better at running the ball than catching it. Both were paid decent amounts of money this season. Gillislee seems to be the primary running back while they are keeping the ball on the ground. With the size equivalent of Stevan Ridley and a very good burst at the line, he looks to have a successful year on the ground.

The one intriguing guy is 2nd-year player D.J. Foster. Like Lewis, he is electrifying with the ball in his hands. He was signed as an UDFA last season and didn’t get to flash very much in 2016. But now that he’s had a year in the system, he’s going to be a guy that will be intriguing to watch. Can he do enough to warrant a roster spot in 2017? Time will tell, and minicamp will be a prime spot to show what he can do.

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 6-4, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
June 4, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 6-4, & AFC East Notes.

Congratulations to all the recent high school and college graduates out there. It is the first of hopefully many successes in your lives and we all wish you the best.

Brady Strikes Back…In the Only Way, He Can:
Yes, there are (sometimes but not often enough) consequences for your actions. A photographer for the Boston Globe was escorted to his vehicle and shown the gate at Tom Brady’s Best Buddies Charity Football Game at Harvard Stadium on Friday night.

Tom Brady and his charities have been unfairly criticized lately. (SBalestrieri photo)

To be clear, the photographer was the innocent recipient of collateral damage from the shit storm that the Globe and others have been raising about Brady’s charity and the attacks …once again on his character.

While the members of the collective media, wring their hands about what a “Bad Look” it is for Brady and Best Buddies, you reap what you sow. Brady’s name has been dragged thru the mud one time too often and he, and the organization won’t have to take it lying down.

You want to put it out there that he and his organization are doing something shady? Then stop just short of calling it illegal? Then don’t expect to be welcomed in the next charity event they put on with open arms.

We live in a world today where the journalism field is dominated by click bait. Accuracy has taken a back seat to being the first out there and both of those have been pushed to irrelevance by sensationalism. The more outrageous the better and the public eats it up.

So, yes, the Globe can slam Brady and the charity by writing some inflammatory BS and then hiding behind the First Amendment. But they (Brady and Best Buddies) also have the right to stop you from turning around and making a buck off of their charity by taking a bunch of photos at their charity football game and posting on your site.

No one wants to see that, but for a guy who’s handled everything in his career in a classy way and has always represented his team and city in an exemplary fashion, enough was enough.

Now a certain radio station that he’s done a weekly Monday call-in segment during the season should be worried. They printed an even worse hack job on his character and Brady may just decide that he doesn’t need to wake up early on Mondays any longer. Or will that be another “bad look” for the future HOF QB?

***Update***[I was contacted just after 9 am by someone who was involved with the Best Buddies Charity game and who’s bona fides are without question. This person assured me that in no way was either Tom Brady nor the “upper management” of the charity involved in any way or approved the exclusion of the Globe’s photographer. I appreciate the reaching out and place this out there for the readers. SB] ****

Steelers Changing Defense Because of Brady:
This one comes as kind of a no-brainer. The Pittsburgh Steelers, retooling in 2017 after a 36-17 thrashing by Brady and the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game are switching up to more of a man coverage scheme. And not a moment too soon.

Pittsburgh has been playing the same basic defensive scheme since Brady’s earliest days with New England. The 3-4 system plays a mostly zone coverage scheme that Brady has routinely eviscerated. In the AFCCG he completed 32-42 for 384 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions with a QB rating of 127.5.

Pittsburgh knows if they are to take the next step they’ll have to beat New England and Brady. To do that, they’ll need much better coverage and have the ability to mix things up more.

“Every team that’s won Super Bowls the last couple of years has been able to play man,” CB Artie Burns said this week. “We want to be a team to play man, get the pressure on the quarterback and attack coverage downfield.”

Minicamp Sessions a First Glimpse:
While the players still won’t be in pads until training camp begins in July, I am looking forward to seeing the new faces on the field at this week’s upcoming minicamp. For myself, it will be the first glimpse of the new players and watch how they’re adapting to the Patriots.

Chris Hogan snatches a pass in traffic during minicamp. (SBalestrieri photo)

While it is more of a passing camp since the linemen can’t really be judged in the trenches without pads on, it gives an early glimpse of how the coaches want to utilize some of their weapons offensively.

Conversely, if the defensive backs can cover well without pads and the ability to jam at the line of scrimmage, it bodes well for them once training camp does begin late next month. It will be an intriguing if albeit early look at the 2017 Patriots roster.

Josh McDaniels Has a Lot of Options to Tinker With, in 2017:
The Patriots of 2017, at least on paper, have a better core group than the the one that just won the Super Bowl back in February. The already potent offensive group gets back TE Rob Gronkowski, who missed most of last season, replaced TE Martellus Bennett and RB LeGarrette Blount with Dwayne Allen and Mike Gillislee. They also added RB Rex Burkhead and the talented WR Brandin Cooks in a trade with New Orleans.

Cooks brings the element of speed to the Patriots WR corps that was missing and he’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. A key factor is that Cooks, Julian Edelman, and Chris Hogan, thought to be the three starters, are all very versatile. Each can line up outside or in the slot. What does this mean for McDaniels?

He has the ability to move players around and create matchup nightmares for the opposing defenses. McDaniels can dictate to the defenses how the Patriots will play due to their versatility. And he still has Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Austin Carr and Jacob Hollister at the position as well as James White, Dion Lewis, Burkhead and 2nd-year player D. J. Foster who can be targeted out of the backfield.

There are a plethora of riches for the Patriots on offense this season, and how McDaniels tinkers with them will be a major storyline this fall.

Lawrence Guy Adds to the Versatility on the Defense:
Much has been written this week about the Patriots signing of DL Lawrence and how fits the versatility and adaptability for the Patriots defense. He gives them a big, athletic body that can play inside or outside and gives them the flexibility to switch fronts from a 3-4 to a 4-3. I would expect to see some of the 3-3-5 look the Patriots utilize as well.

But we had already touched on that subject two months ago when we wrote about Guy and the fit he has within Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s system. But whatever alignment they use, they expect their players to adapt and play well. Belichick never likes to talk about the alignment much.

Guy should immediately become part of the four-man rotation on the interior of the Patriots defense as well as special teams and was a very good under-the-radar signing by the team this spring.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Maclin to the Bills Makes Perfect Sense:
The Buffalo Bills could make a run at free agent WR Jeremy Maclin and he’d be a nice fit in upstate New York after the Chiefs released the 28-year old veteran on Friday.

Maclin was a guy who was being pushed down the options list for Andy Reid behind TE Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Given that he was due $12 million against the salary cap, Maclin became a cap casualty.

Maclin has always been known as a field stretcher, something that didn’t play well with QB Alex Smith’s game with the Chiefs. But with Buffalo, they’ve utilized a pretty effective deep passing game with Tyrod Taylor with teams keying on LeSean McCoy and the running game.

McCoy and Maclin are also very close friends so don’t be shocked if Shady is burning up his cell phone minutes trying to convince his former teammate as well as his coaches to make the move.

Miami, Gase Keeping Pouncey on the Shelf for Now:
The Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase vowed to keep center Mike Pouncey in bubble wrap this season. The All-Pro offensive lineman went on the shelf with a recurring hip issue last season that caused him to have surgery to get it repaired. He hasn’t played since October.

While he’s been rehabbing, Gase isn’t pushing him to return anytime soon and Pouncey has been wisely kept on the sidelines thus far during the spring OTAs. The hope is that Pouncey will be ready to go by the beginning of training camp next month.

But the Miami Herald’s Adam Beasley is reporting that Pouncey may not even be allowed to practice then and be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and spending the first few weeks of camp there to ensure that he’s ready for the opener.

“I know he’s feeling great and he wants to get out there,” said backup center Kraig Urbik. “I think it’s just one of those things where you just have to take your time. Again, I’m not a doctor or anything like that, but I know Mike’s eager to get out there and practice. He wants to be out there with the guys. I think he’s eager and he’ll be ready for sure.”

Jets Trade Safety Calvin Pryor to Cleveland for Demario Davis:
The New York Jets have traded former 2014 first-round draft pick safety Calvin Pryor to the Cleveland Browns for LB Demario Davis. Pryor’s tenure was deemed expendable in New York when the Jets drafted safeties in both the first and second rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.

In a slightly bizarre twist, the Jets re-acquire Davis, whom the Browns signed as a free agent last spring away from Gang Green. Davis was a three-year starter in New York before inking a two-year $8 million-dollar deal with the Browns who he started 15 games for in 2016 and made 59 tackles and two sacks for. He’ll compete for starting reps.

Pryor gets a fresh start with the Browns and with rookie draft pick Jabrill Peppers and other young secondary players should immediately pay dividends.

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.

Which Players May be Traded by the Patriots in 2017?

Steve Balestrieri
May 30, 2017 at 6:36 am ET

The Patriots always seem to make a couple of surprise trades either just before or during the season. Most times they bring in some veteran players who may not register much on the radar screen but find a role for them to play that fits the New England system. Some are more productive than others. Other times they make surprise moves by jettisoning players that are or have been starring on the team.

Recent examples of the former include players like Akeem Ayers who played a key depth role in the 2014 Super Bowl and Kyle Van Noy who they brought in mid-season and who played well for the team. One move that didn’t work out was LB Barkevious Mingo who couldn’t carve out a role with the defense and played only on special teams in 2016 during the Super Bowl run.

There are several examples of the latter. Bill Belichick hasn’t been shy about trading some of his star players if he feels it is in the team’s best interest in doing so. Jamie Collins was traded last season for a conditional 3rd round draft pick. Chandler Jones was traded in the off-season for guard Jonathan Cooper and a conditional 3rd round draft pick. After unloading both Jones and Collins, many media members considered it the death knell for the defense in 2016. The team ended up with a Top 8 unit in yards and first in points against and won the Super Bowl, so Belichick gets the benefit of the doubt.

Just prior to the 2014 season, Logan Mankins was having contractual issues and was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a 4th round draft pick.

Going back a bit further, Randy Moss in 2010 was also having contract issues, just four games in, he was traded along with a 7th round pick to the Vikings for a 3rd round selection in the 2011 season. Richard Seymour was “blindsided” by a trade to the Raiders prior to the 2009 season. The Patriots got a 1st round pick in that deal.

So, who could be the surprise players traded either just before the season starts or during the year in mid-stride? There are a lot of variables that go into it but a quick look at the early work in OTAs may provide a hint.

Malcolm Butler: Cornerback Jonathan Jones was getting a ton of work with the first unit players as the third or slot corner in the first week of OTAs. This could mean a lot or nothing. Possibly somebody was hurt and Jones was just stepping in. Or perhaps Belichick wants to see what Jones can do against the Patriots suddenly very deep wide receiver corps. It is always dangerous to read too much into OTAs.

Malcolm Butler may still be moved this season if the price and situation is right. (SBalestrieri photo)

Most think that this points to Rowe being a matchup corner against bigger wide receivers, which may indeed be true. But it could also be setting the Patriots up to use Stephon Gilmore and Rowe outside with Jones if he’s ready to play the slot. Butler could be trade bait to bring in a high draft pick. If they wait until next offseason, Butler would be gone and they’d get little in compensation.

I’m one of those who really wants to see Butler and Gilmore work beside each other all season. And beyond that, I’d really like to see the team sign him to a long-term deal. But I have this sneaking suspicion that they’re going to move Butler before the season is out and before he reaches free agency.

Dion Lewis: For the record, I love what this guy brings to the table. When he gets the ball in his hands he’s electric and makes you sit up a bit straighter in your seat. After coming off ACL surgery, he didn’t have quite the jump in his step that we saw prior to the injury in 2015. But that is understandable, it normally takes a year or more for a player to get his feet totally back under him.

Dion Lewis should be completely healthy but may become trade bait in 2017. (USA TODAY Images)

Now Lewis should be completely healthy and ready to assume that role of the Patriots “Swiss Army Knife” again. But with the emergence of James White, the Super Bowl performance he had and his resultant contract extension, the additions of Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, where does the team go from here? Don’t forget the 2nd year player D.J. Foster who can also be electric with the ball in his hands. The running back position is pretty deep at this point.

I think the Patriots may feature Lewis early in the summer to get the interest in him high and to show that he’s all the way back. Look for him to play a key role in joint practices with the Jaguars when they roll into town along with a media horde during that week.

And don’t be shocked if the team dangles him out there for trade bait.

Nate Solder: Would this be a surprise? Absolutely it would be, but a shocker? No. The Patriots have shown this before when they shipped Mankins off to Tampa Bay for Tim Wright and a draft pick. Solder is in the last year of his contract and it isn’t known if the team has approached him about an extension.

Nate Solder in the last year of his contract could also be a subject of a trade in 2017. (USA TODAY Images)

But with a look towards the future, they picked up not one but two tackles in the NFL draft this spring. The intriguing pick is Tony Garcia, the third-round pick from Troy. He’s a work in progress and he was taken with 2018 and beyond. But what if his game takes off quickly under Dante Scarnecchia and he shows he’s ready to assume a starting role earlier than expected?

Solder could be one of those surprise moves to a team that desperately needs OL help and it frequently happens when teams get hit with a rash of injuries or some established veterans don’t work out in new environs.

Every year we see Bill Belichick make some moves in mid-stream that are surprising. I wouldn’t expect the 2017 season to be any different. Of course, certain things will have to fall into place for any of these players to be moved, but I wouldn’t rule out a surprise move or two. Just look at the list of players above. We didn’t see most of them being moved at the time either.

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.