Tag Archives: Patriots cornerbacks

Unless The Price Is Right, Patriots Should Hold On to Butler

Ian Logue
March 20, 2017 at 9:47 am ET

Anyone who has followed the Patriots over the last decade, there’s one thing we’ve learned when it’s come to finding reliable cornerbacks in Bill Belichick’s defense. It’s been a problem, and given all the discussions over the last week of jettisoning Malcolm Butler from the roster, it should definitely be something this team doesn’t do unless they’re being adequately compensated.

Some people are making the argument that the deal for Butler is simply a continuation of the trade involving receiver Brandin Cooks, which saw New England send the #32 overall selection in the first round, along with swapping selections in the 3rd and 4th rounds with New Orleans in exchange for adding Cooks to the roster.  But with time having passed since this escalated last week, the Saints need to realize that the value Butler brings in what is now a passing league is a valuable asset, and it should cost them a little more than they might have thought to get him.

Bill Belichick and Sean Payton may be friends but at the end of the day, both coaches understand that they’re each judged by wins and losses, and whatever deal they make needs to work well for both sides.  The Saints played hardball when it came to wanting more than just the Patriots #32 in order to feel fairly compensated for giving up Cooks, and you could make the argument that Butler is the equivalent in this trade and is certainly worth more than the rumored #32 selection that’s been speculated as currency to add Butler to their defense.


Letting Butler walk should come at a serious cost to whatever team wants him.

As for Butler, who is frustrated and has been working with his agent to orchestrate a deal out of New England, he has virtually no say in the matter.  He’s already been tendered at the first-round level for his restricted free agent contract, which would bump his salary up to $3.91 million and has New England in control of him for at least one more season.  As it stands right now, his current obligation is to suit up in Foxboro in 2017 before he’ll have an opportunity to take his talents elsewhere after the season.  While he hasn’t yet signed his tender, there will eventually come a deadline that will give the Patriots the right to reduce his salary if he doesn’t, much in the same way that it happened with Logan Mankins back in 2010 during a similar standoff.

Mankins didn’t care and his salary was cut, and he held out until the very end before he eventually signed the tender reported on November 7th just before the Browns game that season, which at the time was likely only done because it would have cost him the opportunity to become a free agent when the season ended.  The Patriots eventually reached an agreement on an extension for the veteran guard after they placed the franchise tag on him the following season, which put that situation to bed.

While Butler has said he won’t hold out, this whole mess still has a long way to play out should this deal with the Saints fall apart and the two sides, for now, seem too far apart to find common ground.

Make no mistake, Butler is one of the top corners of the game, having bucked the history here in New England of not enduring a second or third season slump that past players like Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, among others, each went through and caused a ripple effect in their secondary.  This is a football team that had gone through a rough stretch developing cornerbacks and it wasn’t until recently that they finally had some success after what we’ve seen from Butler, along with the recently departed Logan Ryan.

As a result, they had been forced to overcome that by relying on signing free agents, with Aqib Talib and Darrelle Revis being two keys to their recent run of success.  But that’s a formula that only goes so far and it’s no secret that the money they saved during Butler’s rise to becoming a restricted free agent helped pave the way for other personnel deals that also played a factor in winning their most recent championship.

To let him go doesn’t make a lot of sense unless the deal is just too good to pass up.  While they may have gone out and signed Stephon Gilmore, having already lost Ryan to free agency, the cornerback position remains one that is still going to require depth and there’s no guarantee that Gilmore is going to hit the ground running and match Butler’s level of play.  Not to mention the fact Gilmore has only played in 16 full games just once during his NFL career (2012), unlike Butler who has played in all 16 over each of the last two seasons.


The Patriots have already lost Ryan to free agency this offseason.

Belichick may have a plan in mind but he’s likely aware of the painstakingly frustrating stretch he went through before the Patriots finally got their secondary in order and started getting more consistent play from the group they’ve built over the past few seasons.  With Ryan now in Tennessee and Butler’s future in question, Belichick should make sure that as much as he’d like to help his friend Sean Payton out, he needs to make sure that New Orleans coughs up at least the #11 selection, or he’ll simply start planning on the prospect of having both Butler and Gilmore lining up opposite each other for 2017.

Simply put, the Patriots are in the driver’s seat here and need to be smart.  Giving him away unless the deal is too sweet to turn down only benefits New Orleans, and the Patriots were more than fair by including another pick with the #32 pick when they acquired Cooks.  As great as that acquisition was, New England was already stacked with talent at receiver before making that deal and unfortunately, they don’t have that luxury right now at the cornerback position.

As a result, there’s really no room to do anyone any favors.  Now it’s just up to Belichick to take a tough stance and make sure the Patriots receive more than what they deserve in return for what they’d lose by not having Butler on the team next season.

Malcolm Butler Looking For Other Avenues Than the Patriots

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2017 at 6:43 am ET

The Patriots and Malcolm Butler seem to a couple heading for divorce. Numerous reports have Butler and his agent growing extremely frustrated with the Patriots and seeking another team to take him on and leave the Patriots.

While Butler would be an attractive target for a lot of teams looking for a very solid, physical cornerback, there is a sticking point that will make it very difficult for him to find a new home this season. Butler is not an unrestricted free agent. He’s still restricted and essentially belongs to New England for at least the 2017 season.

CB Malcolm Butler is not happy with his contract situation and is looking for another team to make him an offer. (SBalestrieri photo)

The Patriots placed a first round tender on Butler just prior to the deadline and he’ll get paid $3.91 million dollars by the Patriots if he signs his tender and plays for them in the 2017 season. Or he can get another offer from an opposing team in the league and the Patriots have the first right of refusal. But the big sticking point is, if the Patriots decline, that team will forfeit its first-round draft pick to the Patriots. That’s why it isn’t likely to happen that Butler will generate much interest.

The other avenue is that the Patriots trade Butler elsewhere. Apparently, that is exactly what they tried to do this weekend with the Saints in the Brandin Cooks deal. But the sticking point is the Patriots can’t trade Butler until he signs his tender. It is a classic Catch-22 situation.

Butler has reportedly stated that he wants the type of deal that Stephon Gilmore got from the Patriots, close to $40 million. The Patriots protected themselves against Butler leaving in signing Gilmore to a long-term deal. While he is arguably one of the top corners in the league, and definitely the top one available right now, he may find himself in a tough spot because he’s probably not going to find that kind of market for his services this season.

Will another team opt to give up its first-rounder for Butler? I find that scenario a bit hard to believe. While possible, I think a better scenario is that the teams that his agent is courting may be much more willing to give up a 2nd rounder for Butler in a trade. Whether or not the Patriots would agree is another story.

Butler is 27 and doesn’t want to hit his big payday at the age of 28 where he’d probably only get a three-year deal as an unrestricted free agent in his one big payday. You can certainly sympathize with his camp there. He’s earned his payday but the circumstances surrounding it have ultimately worked against him thru no fault of his own.

The Patriots would love to trot he and Gilmore out as a 1-2 punch at cornerback in 2017. Can it still happen? Possibly but unless they change their mind and pony up some serious cash, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now as Butler wants out.

But he may ultimately decide that he’s stuck in a difficult position and will have to play one final season in New England before moving on and getting his payday elsewhere. Regardless of how it turns out, it doesn’t seem like Butler will be in a Patriots uniform for the long term.

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.

Butler For Cooks Deal Being Hashed Out Between NE-NO?

Steve Balestrieri
March 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm ET

Just when you resign yourself that the Patriots are going to be quiet on Day 1 of free agency, something like today happens. First, the team is reportedly signing Bills CB Stephon Gilmore to a 5-year deal in the neighborhood of $14 million dollars per year. Now comes the news that the Patriots are talking a trade with New Orleans with Malcolm Butler and Brandin Cooks being dealt straight up.

Dianna Russini of ESPN was the first to report that the player for a player deal is being discussed and after the Gilmore news, it isn’t surprising.

CB Malcolm Butler could possibly be traded to the Saints for WR Brandin Cooks via ESPN’s Diana Russini. (SBalestrieri photo)

It is just speculation at this point, but like the Wes Welker/Danny Amendola situation, the Patriots no doubt had a backup plan. There have been rumors that Butler’s agent wants him to be paid like an unrestricted free agent. Butler may have been refusing to sign his 1-year tender, so Bill Belichick pulled the deal with Gillmore out of his hat and now they’re trying to trade Butler for Cooks, who they coveted anyway.

The Saints need defensive help especially in their secondary and Butler would be an immediate upgrade. Cooks would make an already potent Patriots offense even scarier with a player that can go deep.

The sticking point is that Butler would have to either sign his tender with the Saints or do a long-term deal with New Orleans.

Again, it is just speculation here, but it seems the relationship has soured with Butler and the Patriots. Obviously trying to deal him signals that there is no way that the team is expecting that any deal can get done between the two sides and that Butler, will not sign his tender with New England.

If the Patriots make this deal and Logan Ryan leaves via free agency as is expected, it would leave New England with Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, and Justin Coleman at cornerback.

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New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Logan Ryan

Steve Balestrieri
February 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and a very important piece is cornerback Logan Ryan.

The Patriots picked up Ryan with the 83rd pick in the 3rd Round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Rutgers alum stepped in and played well as a rookie appearing in all 16 games and logging seven starts. With the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in 2014, his playing time and confidence was curtailed somewhat.

With the previous two’s departure after Super Bowl XLIX, Ryan again was elevated to a starting role and played well in 2015. He’s had bouts of inconsistency, and the beginning of 2016 was no exception. He was surpassed early in the campaign by Eric Rowe before really turning around his play down the stretch and into the playoffs. He played the best football of his career in the second half of 2016 and at 26, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t get even better.

Ryan is a sure tackler and is outstanding in run support. He’s 5’11, 195-pounds and is often tasked with covering an opponent’s top WR with over the top safety help. He specializes in man coverage and plays WRs tight to the line and is a physical, sticky corner when he is on top of his game.

Why Ryan Will Return: The Patriots have a ton of cap space and could easily pay Ryan the cash that would be needed to keep him in a Patriots uniform. He’s durable and has been active for every game in his four-year career since entering the NFL.

Bill Belichick loves versatile, durable players and Ryan fits the bill on both. He can play outside, locked up on an opponent’s top WR or slide inside in the slot. He’s not the biggest guy but isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the mix in the running game.

He’s among the surest tacklers on the team and rarely does a receiver or a runner gets many yards after contact with Ryan. He’s a trusted, veteran member of the defense who knows the calls down pat and is never out of position. He’s a very good playmaker with the ball in the air with six interceptions and 25 passes defensed in the last two seasons, along with a forced fumble and 131 tackles.

Why Ryan Won’t Return: There are always teams looking for trusted, veteran corner that can play man coverage and always be in position. And his versatility with the ability to play inside or outside is a bonus.

With many teams needing such a player, they’ll likely throw much more money than the Patriots can afford. While the Pats do have plenty of cap space, with Malcolm Butler and Dont’a Hightower already needing new deals and with others on the defense also up for renegotiation, Butler may be the odd man out.

Bottom Line: It will be interesting to see how much money other teams will throw at Ryan who is a #2 corner. One possible destination will be Jacksonville. The Jaguars desperately need cornerback help and Butler’s versatility and ability would be great fits.

Although the Patriots would love to see Ryan back, he’s probably going to get paid and paid well. He’s young enough to be a very solid contributor for the next several years and a durable, tough corner is always in demand.

I see another team giving Ryan a nice big contract and the Patriots waving goodbye. The chances of Ryan returning are probably less than 30 percent. He’s earned his payday and will take advantage.

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

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

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Malcolm Butler

Steve Balestrieri
February 15, 2017 at 8:49 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the starters and in our opinion the 2nd most imperative to re-sign is cornerback Malcolm Butler.

The Patriots and Butler will forever be linked by the one play in Super Bowl XLIX where he intercepted Russell Wilson at the goal line and sealed the win for the Patriots. He was an UDFA out of West Alabama but we saw all that summer in training camp that he was a tenacious, physical defender who made plays every time he got on the field.

CB Malcolm Butler talks to the media after practice during the summer of 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

That earned him a roster spot but the rookie corner didn’t see the field much because the Pats in 2014 had Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. But he earned the coaches’ trust and when the Super Bowl was on the line, they didn’t hesitate to put him in there, having practiced the specific play the Seahawks would run. We know the rest.

Determined not to be known as a one-play wonder, Butler became a starter in 2015 with Revis and Browner now having moved on. He became the starter at left corner and turned in a very solid 2015. This season, he was easily the Patriots best and most-trusted corner and earned Pro Bowl and 2nd Team All-Pro honors.

Frequently matched up with an opponent’s best wide receiver, Butler proved that he was no flash in the pan and has turned into an excellent cornerback. Not the biggest guy at 5’11, 190-pounds, he more than makes up for it with a physical, aggressive style where he broke up 13 passes between the regular and postseason.

He allowed fewer than 20 yards receiving in seven of the Patriots 19 games this season. Now it is no longer a question of if he’ll get paid, but how much? Butler is a restricted free agent in 2017 and is in line to get a nice payday.

Why Butler Will Return: The Patriots will most likely put a 1st round tender on Butler, being a restricted free agent. What does that mean? If a team signs Butler to an offer sheet, the Patriots would have the option of either matching the offer or receiving that team’s first round draft choice.

The first-round tender will guarantee a salary this season of about $4 million and give the Patriots the opportunity to sign the 26-year old to a long-term deal. PatsFans.com salary cap guru Miguel Benzan (@Patscap), worked out a likely scenario where the Patriots can lock up Butler for the next five years for about $52,500,000.

That would place him among the top 8-9 highest paid cornerbacks in the league. Butler has been a bargain for the Patriots thus far in his career, earning around $2 million in his first three years. His salary will double that in 2017 alone and then he’ll be ready to truly cash in 2018.

With a first-round tender, will another team sign him to an offer sheet? While conventional wisdom says no…it will bear watching. Unlike their unrestricted free agents, the Patriots have the advantage here of getting either a first round pick or being able to match any offer.

With unrestricted free agent cornerback Logan Ryan expected to draw big interest and probably signing elsewhere, it will be imperative for the Patriots to keep Butler in the fold.

Why Butler Won’t Return: Butler is a proven, battle-tested cornerback playing one of the toughest positions in a league where the passing game is the king. A two-time Super Bowl winner, he’s proven that he’s got what it takes when the game is on the line.

The Patriots tried to lock him up with an extension during the 2016 season it has been reported. But according to those same reports, he turned them down.

While unlikely, it is possible that there will be a team that wants him bad enough to sign him to an offer big enough for the Patriots to wash their hands and wish him well. We’ve seen teams do some crazy things in free agency, so this wouldn’t exactly be uncharted waters.

The caveat is that whatever team signs him would have to pony up their first-round draft pick in return.

Bottom Line: The Patriots know what they have in Butler. He’s been in their system for three years and has the coaches’ trust. While he can be beaten on occasion, he’s shown that he has a short memory and will keep that aggressive, tenacious style on every play. He never takes a play off, is very good in run support and at the age of 26 is in the prime of his NFL career. He’s been durable and hasn’t missed any practice or game time, something that is important to every team.

With the Patriots having the advantage of Butler being a restricted free agent, they have the advantage of either matching or taking a draft pick. In this case, a first round tender is what we expect the Patriots to place on him. With that in mind, the chances of Butler returning increase significantly. However, it would be in both the team’s and Butler’s best interest to work out a long-term deal sooner rather than later.

The only sticking point should be the guaranteed money. That is something that can be worked out and the above-mentioned scenario by @Patscap has the particulars down well in a deal that may work for both parties.

Butler, because he is a restricted free agent should return for at least the 2017 season. The chances of seeing him in uniform when training camp begins are better than 75 percent in our opinion.

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.

Ty Law Named Finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Morgan
January 3, 2017 at 11:39 pm ET

Former New England Patriot corner Ty Law has been named as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

The Pats drafted Law 23rd overall in 1995 out of Michigan. Law is one of a select few to have won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. His pick-six off Kurt Warner and the heavily favored St Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36 is an iconic moment in New England sports history.

 

Law was named to five Pro Bowls and was twice a first team All Pro. He was named to the Patriots’ All-Decade Team for both the 1990s and the 2000s, and was also selected to the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Team. In 2014 Law was honored as a member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.

 

In 1998 Law led the NFL with nine interceptions, and again led the league in 2005 with ten picks. Law finished his career with 59 interceptions, including six in the post-season. Five of those playoff picks came against NFL golden boy Peyton Manning. Further proof of how Law shone bright in the clutch is evidenced by 25 of his interceptions coming in the month of December.

 

Other finalists for the 2017 Hall of Fame class include running back LaDainian Tomlinson. LdT seemed to be a polar opposite of Ty Law when it came to games that took place after Thanksgiving – but he’ll still probably get enshrined in his first year of eligibility. Defensive end Jason Taylor and safety Brian Dawkins are two others on the ballot for the first time.

 

The fifteen finalists will be pared down once more to a group of no more than five. WR Isaac Bruce, G Kevin Mawae and OT Tony Boselli join Law in advancing this far for the first time. WR Terrell Owens, K Morten Andersen and G Alan Faneca were in the round of 15 last year, and return for another shot at Canton.

 

Former head coach Don Coryell, RB Terrell Davis, OT Joe Jacoby, S John Lynch, and QB Kurt Warner are also on the final 15 last. That group made it to the final ten a year ago.

 

As part of a separate voting process Paul Tagliabue and – no, this is not a misprint – Jerry Jones have received nominations as well as contributors. Safety Kenny Easley was also nominated by the veteran’s committee.

 

Notable names missing the final cut include HC Jimmy Johnson, LB Clay Matthews Jr, S Darren Woodson, S Steve Atwater, LB Karl Mecklenburg, OT Chris Hinton, RB Edgerrin James, WR Torry Holt and WR Hines Ward.

 

Breaking News: Patriots Trade Kline, Conditional 4th, to Philly for Eric Rowe

Steve Balestrieri
September 6, 2016 at 12:27 pm ET

 The Patriots just traded guard Josh Kline and a conditional 4th round draft pick which could become a 3rd rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles for CB Eric Rowe. This news was broken by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport.

Rowe, a 6’1, 205-pound cornerback for the Eagles has fallen down the depth chart recently and Philly was contemplating moving him to safety where he played for three years at Utah before moving to corner.

Philly selected him in Round 2 with the 47th Overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. This could be a look to the future since Logan Ryan is expected to be a free agent in 2017. Or perhaps the Patriots are looking to this week facing the bigger WRs of the Cardinals and will maybe plan on using him in a sub-package role.

It will be interesting to see where the Patriots envision him on playing since they have an abundance of safeties.

Kline had 18 starts in his Patriots career and was thought to be the backup right guard behind Shaq Mason, until Mason broke his hand. That job may now fall to Jonathan Cooper.

******Update****** This is from a piece I wrote last year about Rowe prior to the draft and how he’d fit with the Patriots:

Rowe is one of those guys who is being perhaps over-scouted and now draft pundits are possibly over-inflating his position after a very good Combine performance. Where he was seen as 3rd-to-4th Round prospect prior to the Combine, he’s now being mentioned as a 1st round guy. In that case the Patriots would likely pass.

If he were to go later in the draft, he’d be a very intriguing prospect. The best thing about Rowe is his versatility. He can play outside corner, in the slot or at free safety. And as we all know, Bill Belichick loves versatile players.

Rowe is at his best with the play in front of him and may be best suited in a zone scheme with safety help over the top. But that isn’t to say he hasn’t or can’t play man as a corner. He has the things a team would want in a cornerback, length, good speed and explosiveness on the ball. But with only a year under his belt playing the position, he’s still on the raw side.

If they select Rowe, he could be cast in a role similar but not quite the same as the team used Browner last season. He’d be the bigger, more physical corner that they’d use with safety help over the top.

His versatility though is very intriguing as in the case of an injury, he could step up and play free safety seamlessly. With some experience and coaching at the next level, Rowe could be a quality starter for the right team in the NFL. He probably wouldn’t be an immediate starter, but might take a year to develop.

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 – Bears, What to Watch For Preseason Week 2

Steve Balestrieri
August 18, 2016 at 7:28 am ET

Lots to accomplish with the opener less than 4 weeks away

The Patriots finished up their three-day joint practice slate with the Bears and now the teams prepare for the preseason game on Thursday night. This week, however, there was a conspicuous lack of the fair play and respect the Pats had with the Saints and the practices on Monday and Tuesday definitely had an edge to them. For the Patriots, now is the time to get things accomplished, the season opener is Arizona is only 24 days from today.

While most preseason games tend to be vanilla in terms of game planning, with all of the competition on-going at many of the positions, this is an important game for a number of players. With the first cut down from 90 to 75 players looming in just 12 days, on August 30, it is getting close to crunch time for many of those on the bubble. Then the team must cut the roster down to 53 men on September 3.

So with that in mind here are our five things to watch for in tonight’s game:

Quarterback Play by Jimmy G: I think just about everyone is in agreement that Tom Brady will start tonight’s game. He took the first-team reps during the Wednesday walk-thru and that’s usually the sign that he’ll start and probably play a series or two to get some actual game action in. Brady has looked sharp throughout camp, whether he’s taken the first team reps or worked with the backups.

But with the clocking ticking towards Arizona, Jimmy Garoppolo has to start making the offense click under his watch. He said so, in not so many words this week. He talked about starting the offense quicker. Bill Belichick mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that the team’s focus remains preparing Jimmy G.  for the opener.

Although he’ll be missing many of his primary weapons, Gronk, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Mitchell, Garoppolo needs to step up his game a bit this week. After Brady’s cameo, expect to see Jimmy G. play into the third quarter this week. And he needs to show he can move the ball and take what the defense is giving him. Next week, against Carolina, should be a much longer look at him at the helm, where the team will closely replicate a regular season game in terms of preparation and reps.

Opportunity Knocks at WR: The fact that with no Edelman, Amendola, Mitchell, Keshawn Martin, and possibly Chris Hogan this week makes life more difficult for the QBs, for the wide receivers on the bubble, it means more opportunity to shine.

Dobson-with-a-grin-for-the-

And for the bubble players, no one is more needing a solid week more than Aaron Dobson. The fourth-year WR was one of the best receivers in early camp work but this week was nearly forgotten. He was targeted only twice on Tuesday and had only a single catch. With Martin virtually a lock considering his new contract and a $600,000 signing bonus this spring, Dobson was considered a long shot to make the roster. Now with Martin missing significant time due to an injury, the door has cracked open for Dobson to make a statement.

Veteran Nate Washington, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, Matthew Slater, and Devin Lucien will be trying to garner as many reps as possible. There will be at least one slot open for the 53-man roster. If Martin or Amendola aren’t ready for the season opener, then there may be more chances to stick.

Can Gaffney Continue His Momentum? Last week’s feel-good story had to be RB Tyler Gaffney who finally was able to play in a game after suffering two straight years of disappointment of landing on IR early in camp. He had a solid effort against the Saints a week ago including a nice 44-yard touchdown run.

The key for the third year back is consistency both with his play on the field and the ability to stay on the field. The Patriots need a big back who can get the tough yards inside and Gaffney at 6’0, 220 pounds fits the bill. With LeGarrette Blount coming off of a serious injury a year ago and having a subpar game against the Saints, Gaffney can carve out his own role with a good game.

With Dion Lewis on PUP, and Donald Brown, D.J. Foster, and Brandon Bolden banged up, Gaffney should get to show what he can do with Blount, Joey Iosefa, and James White this week.

Flowers, Edge Rushers to the Forefront: This Young week the Patriots will be missing three of their top four edge rushers with Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Shea McClellin getting banged up and missing the game against the Bears.

But like elsewhere, this is an opportunity for the younger players on the roster to step up and get some serious reps to show what they can do. Trey Flowers had a big week against the Saints both in the joint practices and in the preseason game. He had four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery he took into the end zone for a touchdown.

He was getting starting reps opposite veteran Chris Long this week and this will be a great opportunity to show what he can do. Long will provide the veteran presence along the line but Flowers, Geneo Grissom, and Rufus Johnson will be looked to this week to provide the QB pressure that the defense will need.

Who Starts, Steps Up at Cornerback: The Patriots are set with their top two corners, having Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan anchoring down the left and right sides respectively. But Ryan is still wearing his red non-contact jersey and is not going to play tonight.  So who gets the start opposite Butler? And who steps up and plays well this week?

The Patriots have several corners who are vying for roster spots. Justin Coleman had a fantastic day on Monday, only to have a not-so-great day on Tuesday where he was picked on a bit. However, he’s still the top choice for the third or slot corner. Cyrus Jones got the nod against the Saints but Cre’Von LeBlanc, Jonathan Jones, and 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts all saw significant playing time. LeBlanc made a highlight reel interception in the end zone a week ago and that will help his cause.

Jonathan Jones

Jonathan Jones

Veteran E.J. Biggers and V’Angelo Bentley are both in the mix as well but they seem to be falling behind the others in terms of snaps in both practice and in the first preseason game. The Bears have some intriguing weapons in Alshon Jeffrey, Kevin White and rookie slot receiver Daniel Braverman. It will be a good test for the young corners to see what they can do against this group.

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 Training Camp Primer – Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
July 25, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Talented but young group looks to take next step

The Patriots head into training camp next week and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up are the Cornerbacks.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on the current roster, a minimum of 35 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So the next position to break down are the corners. Given the epidemic of injuries suffered by the Patriots last season, they were fortunate that both starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan remained healthy. Entering last season, there were nothing but questions about the corner position after jettisoning all three starters from the Super Bowl winning team.

Rather than being a weakness, corner became a position of strength in 2015. Butler parlayed his SB heroics into a very solid first season of starting. Ryan came on strong in his third season and played solid. Justin Coleman surprised some people and played well as the slot corner. But depth was an issue. The team brought in veteran Tarell Brown to add that veteran presence and he played very well in small glimpses until he went on IR.

CB Malcolm Butler

CB Malcolm Butler -photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

This season the team brought in Cyrus Jones with their top draft pick and a trio of smaller, but very athletic corners in Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley as UDFAs. They’ll be competing with veteran E.J. Biggers and 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts who turned some heads in training camp before suffering a wrist injury and landing on IR in preseason a year ago.

If there is an issue with the corners this season other than overall experience it is size. Only Biggers and Roberts are 6’0 tall and neither are locks to make the roster. In a league dominated by the big men at WR, this could be an issue but the team made a concerted effort to get more athletic and all of the new corners have Special Teams capability as well.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones
No big shocks here, and there is a big difference from a year ago. Butler was able to go from a walk-on, tryout basis to Super Bowl hero and now is a Pro Bowl cornerback. The funny thing is, he’d be the first to say that he still has a long way to go. So if he can continue to progress, he should be an extremely valuable piece for years to come.

Right now he is a bargain at his current cap hit. The Patriots can either decide to pay him with an extension quickly or hit him with a franchise tag to buy them more time with Hightower, Collins, and Sheard also on deck.

Ryan rebounded very well from an awful 2014 to play very solidly a year ago. His consistency could still stand to be better but it is safe to say that he far outperformed expectations in 2015. Ryan may get pushed this season by Jones who will at the very least compete for the slot corner duties. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see the rookie from Alabama in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.

Patriots top draft pick Cyrus Jones has gotten plenty of reps

Patriots top draft pick Cyrus Jones -photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

Jones has some of those qualities that teams covet in their corners. He’s physical and tough, and can play press man. He’s very confident and feisty and is an outstanding returner in the kicking game, returning four kicks for touchdowns in 2015.

He was also a good teammate who was highly thought of inside the locker room. The team is in very good shape with their top three corners. The only thing lacking is once again the size aspect.

On the Bubble: Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers, Jonathan Jones
Here is where the competition really begins to get interesting. The remaining six players are essentially fighting for two, possibly three roster spots. And the race is essentially wide open.

Coleman bounced around between Minnesota, Seattle, and the Patriots before winning a job a year ago. He appeared in 10 games and had six starts in 2015, playing solidly in the slot. Now he’s looking to take the next step in his second season with New England.

Roberts was a very athletic late 7th round draft pick a year ago. He ran a 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash, a 6.66 time in the 3-Cone Drill, a 39-inch Vertical Jump, an 11’1” leap in the Broad Jump and benched pressed 225 pounds 23 times. He impressed in the early going at training camp and earned the start in the 1st preseason game. He injured his wrist in that game and was lost for the season on IR.

Biggers is the elder statesman in terms of age at just 29. He’s spent time with the Redskins, Bucs and Eagles where he was a serviceable corner in 2015. He also can be a gunner on the STs. The Pats wanted to see what he could do early this spring and he saw lots of reps during OTAs and minicamp.

Jonathan Jones is an intriguing case because, although he’s listed at 5’10, that is being generous. He lacks the size that teams are looking for but he more than makes up for with his tenacity. Another exceptional athlete, Jones was once the National Hurdles champion. Of the undrafted corners, he looked very solid this spring and was arguably the best on the field. But once the pads come on, can he continue his solid play? He will bear close watching this summer. He’s a dark horse to make the roster but don’t write him off just yet.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Cre’Von LeBlanc, V’Angelo Bentley
LeBlanc and Bentley played well in the spring but are facing a numbers crunch more than anything else. They face an uphill battle to make the roster but will probably find their way onto the practice squad if they falter.

CB Cre'Von LeBlanc

CB Cre’Von LeBlanc- photo by SBalestrieri/PatsFans.com

LeBlanc impressed in the limited window that I watched him during minicamp. A smaller (5’9) corner but with an impressive build, he showed some nice footwork as he was able to mirror the larger WRs he was matched up against. He’s aggressive and physical and plays with an air of a young player who isn’t intimidated by the stage. He has kick return ability and was known as an effective blitzer in college.

Bentley comes from a military background, his mother served in Afghanistan which will resonate well with Bill Belichick. Something else that will reverberate is the Illinois grad is another STs return man, scoring on a kickoff, punt return, interception and fumble in college.

Check out our earlier primers on the running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, and the linebackers  And be sure to keep tuned into PatsFans.com during training camp as we’ll post daily updates from down in Gillette.

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.

Competition at CB for the Patriots Will Be Intense

Steve Balestrieri
May 4, 2016 at 6:39 am ET

Pats have brought in several new faces to compete at corner

Yesterday we wrote about the WR position and how the OTAs, Mini-camp and Training Camp battles should be intense. The same should be true about the cornerback position. Between the draft and signing UDFAs, the Patriots have added four new faces at corner and should be looking at some great competition this summer.

Top draft pick Cyrus Jones from Alabama, taken in the 2nd round of the draft with the #60 overall pick will naturally get a lot of attention this summer and with just cause. He should immediately vie for reps and can play either inside or outside.

A converted WR, Jones is slightly undersized at 5’10, but is physical, strong and has been improving in his coverage every year. He’s can mirror wide receivers down the field and is very active in run support. Jones is a dynamic punt returner with 4 returns for TDs in 2015. He ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash and an outstanding 6.71 in the all-important 3-Cone Drill.

Cyrus Jones2

The Patriots also added three other corners, the theme being they’re being undersized but very athletic. They included Jonathan Jones from Auburn, V’Angelo Bentley from Illinois and Cre’Von Leblanc from Florida Atlantic. Bentley and Leblanc like Cyrus Jones have experience running back kickoffs and Jonathan Jones was a nationally ranked track star.

Jones was an All-SEC Selection in 2014 and ran a blistering 4.33 in the 40 at the NFL Combine as well as a 7.25-second three-cone, 36-inch vertical leap, and 123-inch broad jump. Strong for his size, he did 19 reps on the bench press.

He notched 129 tackles, seven interceptions, with 24 passes defended over his Tigers career. We ran a draft profile on him earlier during the draft process on his being a fit for the Patriots.

Bentley is another corner who isn’t the biggest guy at 5’10, 190 pounds, but he provided good production with 54 tackles, three TFL, sack, 743 kick/punt return yards last season. He was the only player in school history to score on a kick return, punt return, interception, and a fumble.

Leblanc is the third smaller but physical and athletic corner that the Patriots brought in as a UDFA. He too has special teams’ expertise, returning 29 kickoffs for 556 yards in his career.

While only 5’9, 194-pounds, he’s a stocky, muscular defender who was known for his versatility as a cover man/run stopper/blitzer. He doesn’t have great top-end speed (4.65 time in the 40) but did run a 6.91 in the 3-Cone.

These new faces will have the daunting task of unseating the veterans and three returning starters from last season in Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman in the slot. Butler will be a restricted free agent after the 2016 season, but isn’t going anywhere. Ryan is an unrestricted free agent after this year and as is the norm, you can’t keep everyone, so one of these young players may be vying for his spot.

The team also has recently signed E.J. Biggers a veteran backup and last season’s 7th round draft in Darryl Roberts. Roberts is an intriguing player who turned heads at last season’s training camp and earned the start for the team’s first preseason game, before injuring his wrist and being placed on IR.


Darryl Roberts looks to compete for starting reps in 2016. (SBalestrieri image)

Roberts too brings some very gifted athleticism to the table. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash with a 6.66-second 3-cone, a 4.06-second short shuttle, with a 39-inch vertical leap, 23 reps on the bench press and an 11’1 broad jump at his Pro Day last year.

Unlike the rest of the league who are all trending to the bigger more physical corners, the Patriots are content with taking the slightly smaller, more athletic ones. Roberts and Biggers are the only corners at 6’0. Butler, Ryan and Coleman are listed at 5’11 and the rookie class is all under that.

It will be interesting to see who rises above the pack to nail down reps early this summer. While Cyrus Jones will be looked to push immediately for reps, Roberts and Coleman will have something to say about that.

With the old adage that you can never have enough good corners, the Patriots seem to be in that position this season. After entering 2015 with a ton of questions at the position, now they have three starters returning…something that hasn’t happened in recent memory with several talented youngsters waiting in the wings vying to compete.

The corner position will definitely be an intriguing one to watch this summer.

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

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast 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.