Tag Archives: Patriots free agents

New England Patriots News 2-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 17, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-17 and AFC East Notes.

Van Noy On Media Roundrobin: Patriots LB Kyle Van Noy has been seemingly everywhere lately in the media circles after the Super Bowl. And why not? After an outstanding postseason, the well-spoken, likable linebacker is enjoying his time in the spotlight. One of the best spots he did was on the NFL Network show, “Good Morning Football” where he and Nate Burleson spoke about how the Patriots found a way to use his talents and put him in the best position to succeed.

Speaking of Burleson, he did an earlier segment right after the Super Bowl on how well Bill Belichick and the Patriots build a roster from top to bottom. Which of course will not sit well with the “GM Bill is hurting Coach Bill” crowd. Burleson said, “It’s not about where you are, it’s about where you’re headed.” Really good stuff there.

Evaluating the Team Needs by Position Entering 2019:

In a perfect world, a team will sign all of their key free agents and have enough money left over to bring in fresh blood and retool on the fly. But the reality is, with the salary cap and free agency, it is hard to accomplish those goals on a yearly basis. And yet Bill Belichick has done that. So, here is our breakdown by position in terms of team need before free agency begins:

QB – Team Need – High:

While Tom Brady continues to play at a very high level and isn’t going anywhere, the time is here when they have to bring in his eventual replacement. At age 42 when the 2019 season starts, he isn’t getting any younger, (I know, we say this every year),

Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling are the backups and while Hoyer got and deserved huge kudos for running the scout teams of the opponents to prepare the team for the postseason games, neither of those two could step in and win much of anything in case of a Brady injury…or another league-sanctioned vacation over cold weather.

RB – Team Need – Low:

The team is in very good shape here, with Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and fullback James Develin in the mix. The team had Jeremy Hill in last year and he looked really good all summer before tearing an ACL in Week 1. He’d be a welcome sight if the team brings him back for depth.

WR – Team Need – Very High:

The Patriots currently have Julian Edelman and the unproven Braxton Berrios signed for the 2019 season so far and this position is critical in terms of need. Josh Gordon is a restricted free agent, but the team can’t be reliant on him getting back to the team anytime soon.

Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Phillip Dorsett are all free agents. Even if all three are resigned, which is doubtful, look for the Patriots to address this position heavily in both free agency and the draft.

Tight End – Team Need – High:

With the Rob Gronkowski retirement rumors swirling, the team really needs to add serious depth here this spring whether Gronk returns or not. Dwayne Allen is a terrific blocker but at $7 million with virtually no offensive output in the passing game?

They have some intriguing younger guys in Ryan Izzo and Stephen Anderson but like Jacob Hollister who can’t stay healthy, they’re all unproven. The team needs to address this position in either free agency or the draft.

Offensive Line – Team Need – Low/Medium:

The Patriots offensive line is stacked in the interior with three excellent starters (David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney) and depth behind them. RT Marcus Cannon returns while LT Trent Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle are free agents.

If Brown bolts in free agency, top 2018 draft pick Isaiah Wynn is waiting in the wings which would go a long way in replacing Brown, who never played LT until last year. Waddle’s status is probably dependent on Brown’s. If he walks, then they’ll probably want to sign him to be the swing tackle again. If both decide to bolt for greener pastures, then the need goes up.

Defensive End/Edge – Team Need – High:

The top free agent for the team is Trey Flowers, he’s also the best front seven player on the defense. If they can’t ink him to a new deal before free agency, they hopefully have an agreement with him to let him find a deal and give the team a chance to match, like what they did with Dont’a Hightower.

Behind Flowers is Dietrich Wise Jr., Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis, Derek Rivers, and Ufomba Kamalu. Which adds up to a lot of depth, but not a lot of proven play-making ability there. Resigning Flowers is paramount first. If they don’t do that then they’ll need to sign a free agent as well as address this in the spring.

Defensive Tackle – Team Need –  Very High:

Both Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown are free agents. Both played well in the playoffs and having those big bodies that can stuff the run was a key reason the defense was so good in the final five games (two regular season, three playoff). And why it is critical to address this need this spring.

Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler return but the team needs to decide if either Brown or Shelton returns and then address this position in both the draft and free agency.

Linebacker – Team Need – Low:

My, my what a difference a few months makes. Back in the fall, we were lamenting the lack of an athletic linebacker but after watching the play of Hightower and Kyle Van Noy during the postseason, that need doesn’t seem as glaring right now. Elandon Roberts played well in short stretches as well.

The team needs to bring back John Simon in free agency, he played a valuable role and is versatile, something the team likes. Christian Sam spent the season on IR with the Foxboro Flu and is that athletic guy.

Secondary – Team Need – Low:

The Patriots are young and deep at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is outstanding and behind him is J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, and Duke Dawson, all young players. Jason McCourty gave the team a solid veteran presence and may return. Jonathan Jones is a restricted free agent.

At safety, Pat Chung, Devin McCourty, and Duron Harmon are all under contract but McCourty was flirting with retirement. He and Chung are 32 so their replacements, while not imminent this year, need to be addressed at some point in the future.

The team signed Obi Melifonwu who is a physical freak and the feeling is here, that the Patriots will find some way to utilize his physical skills.

Special Teams – Team Need – Very High:

The Pats have both kickers entering free agency. Stephen Gostkowski has been with the team since 2006 when Adam Vinatieri left. Ryan Allen has been outstanding with his directional punting. Resigning them is critical.

Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, and Joe Cardona all return. Two other special teamers that need to be resigned are Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber.

Our Favorite Free Agent Targets For the Patriots:

With free agency getting ready to heat up, the Patriots have a slew of free agents that they’ll ultimately have to make a decision on whether or not to try to resign. But barring that for a minute, here is a list of guys, we’d really like to see the Patriots make a stab at bringing in this spring.

Wide Receivers: There are a couple of names to keep an eye on this spring. First among them is Adam Humphries from the Bucs. Humphries has been a favorite of nearly everyone in the New England area because one look at his game and you can see Patriots written all over it.

Just 26, Humphries had career highs in receptions, (76), yards (816) and touchdowns (5). He shows fantastic quickness off the line and moving horizontally and is very difficult to stop when running those routes underneath coverage and shallow crosses. He has the excellent ability to find holes in zone coverages. He’d seamlessly fit into the Danny Amendola role here in New England from Day 1.

Tyrell Williams from the Chargers, in our opinion, would be a great fit for the Patriots offense. Williams has great size, (6’4, 210) and has very good speed to go along with it. He’s been used as a deep threat in the Chargers offense, but the feeling here is that he could do much more than that with the Patriots and would offer that big body red zone target as well as a player that opponents would have to respect deep.

Golden Tate is long been rumored as someone the Patriots have coveted but his recent comments make it seem like he is wanting to stay in Philly although he had very limited chemistry with Nick Foles and none with Carson Wentz.

Defensive Ends: While we’d rather have Trey Flowers return in 2019, there isn’t a guarantee that happens. One sleeper to keep an eye on is Arizona Cardinal Markus Golden. In 2016 Golden had 12.5 sacks, with four forced fumbles but an ACL tear in 2017 set him back. While not completely healthy in 2018, his numbers dipped to just 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Golden may be available for a one-year prove it type deal with the option to play for a winner and the potential to increase his net worth. He seems to expendable in Arizona with the Cards signing former Falcon Brooks Reed.

Others such as Brandon Graham, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark et al will likely be too expensive for the Patriots but we’ll have to see how the market plays out.

One other player who can play the edge or in the interior depending on the alignment is Henry Anderson of the Jets.

One name to watch is tight end Jesse James of the Steelers. Known primarily for the “catch that wasn’t”, he’s second on the depth chart behind Vance McDonald and a had modest season with 30 catches for 423 yards and a pair of scores. However, playing on a team the past three years with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, LaVeon Bell and James Conner, it doesn’t mean he’s not a viable receiver.

James is a very good blocker who was credited in 2018 without missing one according to Sports Info Solution. In describing James, the Athletic’s Mark Kaboly tweeted,   “A 100 percent no-nonsense, hard-working, drama-free tough guy who refuses to miss practice and is an all-around great human. You win with a locker room full of those guys.” After describing the Steelers as the “Kardashians” last season, perhaps James is looking for a fresh start elsewhere.

Gronk Not a First-Ballot HOFer, According to Voters:

Certain things occasionally will slip thru the cracks when given the sheer volume of information that goes thru the Patriots timeline every day. And then there’s what transpired this week. Karen Gueregian of the Boston Herald wrote a piece that jumped off the page when she spoke with five different voting members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (there are 48) about Rob Gronkowski. And the question she posed was, “if Gronkowski retired today would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The short answer from the voters was no.

While they all agreed that “Gronkowski will eventually get in”, these five voters pointed to the lack of stats for Gronkowski as compared to players who are already in, because he’s played substantially shorter than players Tony Gonzalez (17 seasons) and Shannon Sharpe (14), there his catches and yardage numbers are naturally much lower.

Mike Chappel from Fox 59 in Indianapolis had this to say, “Everybody wants guys to be first-ballot guys. And they make it sound like they are no-brainers. The issue with him will be the brevity of his career,” he said.

“If someone said first ballot, I’d say let’s pump the brakes. But then when you look at the body of work when he played at the position, you want difference makers … “

John McLain who covers the NFL in Houston, however, isn’t buying this argument at all. “I’ve been watching football since 1960. When you think about the combination of size, the speed he had at that size, and being an underrated blocker, and being able to line up at so many different spots, his career average is over 15 yards (per catch). I’ll say this, when Gronk is eligible, I’ll vote for him. To me, he’s a no-brainer if he never plays another play.”

Gueregian’s entire piece can be referenced here:

We’ll leave it with this…in his era, nobody has come close to being the most overall dominant tight end in the past decade that Gronkowski has. That’s the true sign of a HOF worthy player. And he’s been at his best in the playoffs while competing against the best in the league. Gronkowski has competed in 16 playoff games, (we won’t bother with the Texans game where he broke his arm or the SB where he was on one leg), and his numbers were this:

Gronkowski 16 games, 81 receptions, 1163 yards, 12 touchdowns. Looking at the career records of Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, and Tony Gonzalez, they played a total of 39 playoff games and totaled 11 combined touchdowns in the postseason. Isn’t that the definition of a “difference maker”?

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Release TE Charles Clay:

The Buffalo Bills have released tight end Charles Clay. He had one year remaining on the five-year contract he signed before the 2015 NFL season. The Bills will save an estimated $4.5 million on their salary cap where Clay would have counted over 9 million against the cap in 2019.

Playing with a rookie QB, Clay had a down year in 2018 catching only 21 passes for 184 yards. The handwriting was on the wall when Clay was a healthy scratch for the Week 16 loss in New England.

Now the Bills will be revamping the position and trying to get 2nd-year player Jason Croom more involved with the offense. Croom had just 16 receptions as a rookie in 2018. The Bills will definitely be looking to add more depth this spring.

O’Shea – Dolphins to Bring Patriots-like Approach to Game Planning:

The Miami Dolphins have a totally revamped coaching staff, but a lot of them come from New England and they are planning on bringing a Patriot-esque view of how they approach to game planning and coaching.

New offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, spent 18 years in the Patriots system and when speaking to the Dolphins’ media, he stated that the coaching staff will adjust to the skill set of the players and not the other way around. From the MiamiDolphins.com, he had this to say:

“I think that you have a foundation and some core beliefs that you have offensively, but I think the key is to do what your players do well. It’s our job as a coaching staff to identify what are the skill sets of the players and how can we utilize those skillsets to be a productive offense.”

“That’s why we don’t talk about specific scheme. We talk about being multiple. We talk about being able to adjust. That’s a word that definitely is an important part of our offense is the ability for the coaches to adjust in the way we think as far as our scheme, and our players to be able to adjust and might be able to adjust weekly depending on what we need to do to win the game.”

So, the Dolphins offense should look much different in 2019. But first, they need to decide who their QB is going to be.

Jets Switching to a 4-3 Defense Under Gregg Williams:

The New York Jets are expected to switch to a one-gap attacking style of defense under Gregg Williams which is the style he’s always run and the Jets are hoping for bigger and better things from their defensive leader Leonard Williams.

They believe that playing Williams as a 3-technique with a defensive end on his outside shoulder. This way they hope it will free up more one-on-one matchups inside where Williams can create some mismatches.

But perhaps the biggest beneficiary to Williams’ system is safety Jamal Adams. In Williams’ style of defense, he needs a safety who can be versatile, play over the tight end and who could match up with a running back. Williams will take advantage of his aggressive style of play as well.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Danny Amendola

Steve Balestrieri
February 12, 2018 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has a limited amount of cap space, right now… they should be retooling a few contracts or cutting their ties with some players soon which will create more cap room. Check with our old friend @patscap for the latest on the salary cap goings on.

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 key players facing free agency is wide receiver, Danny Amendola.

Amendola has heard the doubts since high school, recruiters told him he wasn’t Division I material but he made the team at Texas Tech. After going undrafted, he turned heads at the Cowboys training camp but was cut and then spent time on their practice squad as well as the Eagles. After he had success with the Rams when finally given a chance, he heard plenty of criticism when the Patriots signed him to replace Wes Welker.

Danny Amendola has been tremendous in the postseason for the Patriots

He’s not hearing it anymore. Amendola has become one of the Patriots biggest playmakers in the past four years. While he’ll never come close to 100 catches like Welker did in his time here, he’s become a crunch-time star, or as his teammates call him “Danny Playoffs” or “Playoff ‘Dola” for his penchant of big-time catches when the stage is the biggest.

He has the surest hands on the team and it is a true rarity to see him drop a catchable ball. Amendola is also a versatile, hard-working player who will do anything asked of him and his work on special teams in the punt return game can’t be overlooked. He set up the game-winning touchdown (which he caught) against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game with a big punt return that set the Patriots up for the winning score.

Why Amendola Will Return: The Patriots and Amendola have a good thing going for themselves. They’ve figured out a way to best utilize his talents and he’s thrived in it. He occupies a key spot in Tom Brady’s circle of trust. If you watched any of Brady’s “Tom vs Time” docu-series episodes, you’d see Brady, Julian Edelman, and Amendola working out before training camp together in Montana.

That speaks volumes of how the QB feels about his wide receivers and how the bond between the three is cemented in hard work and trust. The three of them share a common bond that no one believed in any of them. And now they’ve won a pair of Super Bowls together and that collective chip on their shoulder will forever fuel them regardless of their success.

Amendola has the toughness and the ability to do the dirty work in the middle of the field where he takes a beating at times. In his first Patriots game in Buffalo, he tore his groin muscle right off the bone and then played the entire season like that.

The Patriots limited his pitch count this season, he played in just under 50 percent of the offensive snaps this season, because and especially so, once they lost Julian Edelman in the preseason, they needed a healthy and fresh Amendola for the playoff run.

And he delivered once again. The team won’t have to break the bank for him, but they’ll have to pony up more money than they have in the past, where they’ve renegotiated his deal, seemingly every year.

Why Amendola Won’t Return: There were concerns that if Josh McDaniels left for Indianapolis, that he’d try to entice Amendola into leaving with him and he’d become the invaluable piece that he was in New England with the Colts. McDaniels and Amendola have a ton of mutual respect for one another and that was a definite possibility. Now that one has been squashed as McDaniels is staying.

There is still the off chance that a team will try to wow him with a bunch of money after his playoff run where he was outstanding in all three playoff games for the Patriots.

And of course, the Patriots may decide to low-ball him so much that he feels like he has to move on and take the money elsewhere. But those last two scenarios are both of the low percentage variety.

Bottom Line: The Patriots, as we mentioned above, have some interesting decisions to make this spring. This shouldn’t be one of them. Amendola is a proven performer on the big stage. His playoff run with 26 catches for 348 yards and two TDs is the production that elite receivers look for in the playoffs.

While no one is saying he’s elite, however, he is, in this offense, invaluable. He has the absolute trust of his coaches and his quarterback. His toughness is unquestioned and he possesses the best hands on the team. His ability to find the openings in zone coverage and get open quickly in man coverage are perfect fits for the team.

Furthermore, he loves playing here in New England, for this coach and this quarterback. He’s learned the Belichick method of answering questions at his press conferences, never giving much up and very much sticking to the company line. But during training camp, we were there when Mike Reiss asked him about his taking another pay cut and what his feelings were about coming back for another go with the Patriots. He made it very clear that there is New England and not much else in terms of where he wants to be. Check out the video clip.

While there are some “must sign” free agents, let his name be at the top of the list. Chances of his returning should be around 90 percent for 2018.

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.

Pittsburgh reactions to Dont’a Hightower visiting Steelers

John Morgan
March 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm ET

New England natives have strong opinions on Dont’a Hightower, with crucial plays from Super Bowls 49 and 51 etched in their memory. As the linebacker makes his free agency tour, how do western PA writers and fans view the potential of seeing Hightower wearing black and gold at Heinz Field?

 

Dont’a Hightower, Steelers to meet, according to report
Sean Gentille / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers, at some point, are going to have to replace Lawrence Timmons, and they’re reportedly setting their targets high. Like, “stealing a Pro Bowler from the team that beat them in the AFC championship” high.

The Steelers have the cap space necessary to make a competitive offer. Hightower is a better pass rusher than Timmons but probably worse in coverage, so it’d be an interesting trade-off; it’d likely take $50 million or so over five years to bring him in, but you’d also be keeping him away from New England. So, maybe call it a wash.

 

Analysis: Dont’a Hightower would be a good fit for Steelers
Chris Bradford / Beaver County Times

It’s not that the Steelers don’t like or don’t trust Vince Williams, the heir apparent to Lawrence Timmons, who signed a two-year, $12-million free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins last week. Williams, who received a three-year, $5.5 million extension in September, remains a viable option.

Hightower is an upgrade though. Hightower is seen as a three-down player who has saved some of his best performances for the biggest games, including two, game-changing plays in each of the Patriots’ last two Super Bowl wins.

A potential pairing with Ryan Shazier, another fast, physical inside linebacker, in Pittsburgh is intriguing.

The knock against Hightower is that he has yet to play a full 16 games. He has missed 13 regular-season games in career due to various injuries. He has 13 passes defensed and zero interceptions. Whatever flaws, however minor, are outweighed by Hightower’s 251 solo tackles and 17 sacks.

And there’s this: As they were in 2016, the Patriots are all that is standing in the way of the Steelers and a potential trip to Super Bowl 52. Anytime you can take a great player away from New England, it can only help the Steelers.

 

Keith Butler Could Be ‘Pounding The Table’ Again For Dont’a Hightower
Steelers Depot / Matthew Marczi

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently find themselves in an exploratory phase as they seek out their options on how to replace starting buck inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, and there are several options. The most immediate and readily available option to replace him is to simply plug Vince Williams into the starting lineup, but they do not seem content just yet to rely upon that.

They could use the draft to replace him, but they have perhaps an even bigger immediate—and certainly long-term—need at the outside linebacker position, and this is with consideration of the fact that they have used their past three first-round draft picks prior to last season on linebackers.

Or they could replace (Timmons) the same way that they lost him—free agency. And they are bringing in for a visit a player that their defensive coordinator once “pounded the table” for in the draft room in 2012: Patriots free agent Dont’a Hightower.

Keith Butler was the linebackers coach at that time in 2012, but he admitted in training camp later that year that he wanted Hightower in that draft, with the team instead taking David DeCastro. This was just a month or so after the Steelers released James Farrior, one should keep in mind.

 

Why The Steelers Need To Sign Dont’a Hightower Immediately
Ryan Lippert / Sports Junkies

The addition of Hightower would be a huge upgrade for the Steelers defense. With the defense improving with its young core of players such as Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, Hightower would provide experience and leadership. Hightower has played five seasons in the league for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. With that being said, he can help to show the young guys what it takes to win.

With Lawrence Timmons leaving for Miami, the Steelers need to find another inside linebacker to pair with Shazier. Timmons was one of the leading tacklers for Pittsburgh over the past ten years as he accounted for 981 tackles and 12 interceptions (one for a touchdown). The next man up at the inside linebacker position would be Vince Williams who has had some experience. However, it has mainly been on special teams and sparingly in the linebacker rotation. With that being said, Timmons will be leaving behind big shoes to fill. However, I believe that Hightower would be the perfect replacement.

 

Dont’a Hightower Rumored to Visit Steelers as Jarvis Jones Visits Cardinals
Timothy Rapp / Bleacher Report

Even if Hightower did join the Steelers, he wouldn’t be a like-for-like replacement for (Jarvis) Jones, who plays on the edge, while Hightower generally plays inside. And Jones has never quite lived up to being the No. 17 overall pick in the 2013 draft, either.

Last season, (Jones) registered 43 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. In four seasons, he’s managed just six sacks and has never been more than a rotational outside linebacker for the Steelers. While he is solid against the run, he doesn’t provide the sort of game-changing ability to pressure the passer he was drafted to provide.

So the Steelers could see some big changes in the linebacker group next year, and while Hightower seems likely to return to New England, the thought of pairing him with Ryan Shazier in Pittsburgh’s defense has to send shivers running down the spines of NFL offensive coordinators.

 

$10 million per year for Dont’a Hightower? Hard pass
Curt Popejoy / Steelers Wire (USA Today)

The latest marquee free agent to be linked to the Pittsburgh Steelers is former New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Outside linebacker and cornerback are the two primary needs of the Steelers and so it makes sense there would be interest. But if you believe the projected money figure floating around, there’s little chance the Steelers will be interested.

Hightower has started at outside linebacker for the Patriots for the bulk of his five seasons. He’s been a steady contributor but in terms of impact plays, he really hasn’t stood out. The Steelers need to bring in an outside linebacker who can rush the passer on a consistent basis. 17 sacks in five seasons does not scream pass rusher to me.

This really feels like Hightower is making the rounds just to come back and get paid from the Patriots. If the Steelers weren’t going to pay $10 million per season for a top-tier cornerback, would they do it for a run-stuffing linebacker with limited pass-rush skills.

Perhaps the author was out in the kitchen grabbing a brew and some grub during SB 49 and 51, and missed certain ‘impact plays’ . He may also want to dig a bit deeper in his research on how Hightower is utilized in Foxboro, the contrast between the defensive schemes in Pittsburgh and New England, and brush up on the differences between 3-4 and 4-3 (or 4-2) defenses.

 

To see how Steeler fans feel about Hightower, check out the comments sections on the articles linked above. The most common sentiment seems to be that Pittsburgh will not sign Hightower, as the Steelers are traditionally not a big player in free agency.

 

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile James Develin

Steve Balestrieri
February 27, 2017 at 11:00 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 players facing free agency is fullback James Develin.

The Patriots running game struggled in 2015 and much of that had to do with Develin missing the entire season after breaking his leg while catching a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo in Carolina during the preseason.

That year they ran the ball the 7th fewest in the league and ranked 30th in both rushing yardage and yards per attempt. But with Develin back in the fold in 2016 the Patriots rushing game was much more effective. They were 7th in rushing yardage and their 482 rushing attempts were the third most in the league.

While much of the credit belongs to improved play with the offensive line, Develin’s presence had much to do with their success as well.

Develin took a different path to the NFL. He played defensive end at Brown, not playing fullback until 2010 while playing for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League. He was signed by the Bengals and spent two seasons as a member of their practice squad. He was released near the end of the 2012 training camp and was quickly signed by the Patriots and has been a fixture ever since.

He is a versatile piece for the Patriots as fullbacks must be in the NFL. He is a very good lead blocker in the running game, can carry the ball the odd time here and there, is very good in pass protection, and can line up as an H-back or as a tight end. He’s also a valued member of the special teams.

Why Develin Will Return: The Patriots under Bill Belichick have always liked to have a fullback in the offense, especially one that can do as much as Develin can.

He won’t be looking for or command a huge salary to remain in New England. There shouldn’t be a tremendous market for him in free agency with many teams beating down his door.

He’s a trusted, valued member of the offense; as a lead blocker, the occasional short yardage run or catch as an H-back or split out as a tight end, Develin is an unheralded but important piece of the offense.

Why Develin Won’t Return: There is always a chance that the team will decide to move on and look to get younger. They’ve already signed insurance with Glenn Gronkowski being signed to a future’s contract.

And of course, another team can always swoop in and offer Develin more money than the Patriots will opt to spend on his value. As much as they value him, with baby Gronk and possibly another camp body added later this spring, there will undoubtedly be some competition there.

Bottom Line: The Patriots know what they have in Develin. Bill Belichick has heaped great praise on him in the past.

“He’s a very smart player, he has good instincts and in the running game when you’re the second-level blocker that he is as a fullback you have a lot of things you have to sort out,” Belichick said. “Even though you have a blocking assignment there are things that happen in front of you whereas if you’re an offensive lineman you’re blocking the guy in front of you where there’s nothing between you and him most of the time.

“When you’re a fullback there are a lot of things that can happen as you go to your assignment. There could be other things that maybe guys move, they twist, they change positions, there’s penetration and you have to make those decisions so a lot of that is decision making. Similar to a running back when he has the ball but in the fullback’s case he really is the running back or the eyes of the running back in terms of taking the right course to the entry point in the play and so forth.

“He does a really good job of making those decisions of doing the right thing, making the smart decision. Regardless of what his assignment is there is a decision-making process within the play that might trump that. Similar to a quarterback following his reads or progression that if something happens and you have to make an alternative decision based on the circumstances of that play then that’s what he has to do. I’d say he does a good job of that but I mean he’s a very smart guy.”

I think the Patriots get a deal done with Develin before free agency starts. It shouldn’t be an exceptionally tough one to do. However, even if he gets to free agency, the feeling here is there is 75 percent chance Develin returns in a Patriots uniform in 2017.

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 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]

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New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Alan Branch

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2017 at 9:30 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 a very important piece is defensive lineman Alan Branch.

The Patriots picked up Branch during the 2014 Super Bowl run after Chandler Jones injured his hip in midseason. The Buffalo Bills released Branch after a DUI arrest earlier that year. He then played very well but sparingly down the stretch for the Patriots and was an integral part of the team that defeated the Seahawks.

He was even more valuable this time around, being arguably the Patriots best interior defensive lineman all season long being a two-gap run stuffer inside and providing outstanding support against the run and the occasional pocket push against the pass.

Branch was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2007 NFL Draft and played four seasons for the Cardinals before playing well in two seasons for the Seahawks. Branch spent 2013 as a member of the Buffalo Bills. After playing well for Buffalo that year, he was given a three-year contract extension and paid a $3.1 million dollar signing bonus.

But like Michael Floyd this season, he let a lapse in judgment cost him. But since his release by Buffalo, he’s been a solid teammate and a veteran presence on the team providing very solid play next to two younger players inside with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine.

Alan Branch was a tremendous run-stuffer for the Patriots defense in 2016. (SBalestrieri photo)

Why Branch Will Return: The Patriots don’t have a lot of depth inside with just Branch, Brown, and Valentine along with Woodrow Hamilton and the three players have little experience. Brown finished his 2nd season and the latter two were rookies in 2016.

Branch at 32, shouldn’t break the bank in terms of free agency. After the last Super Bowl run he signed a two-year deal for a moderate sum ($5 million-dollar range). If he is willing to accept a similar deal again, it would be easy to see the Patriots paying him around the same amount of money with weight and playing time incentives worked in.

The Patriots are happy with his play the past few years as Branch has been a very solid performer both on the practice and playing fields. There is no reason to think he couldn’t continue to perform at a high level for the next season or two and provide the big immovable object inside, eating up two gaps which allow the linebackers to come in and make plays.

The 6’6, 350-pound Branch while an immovable force inside is quite athletic for a big man and enjoys skateboarding since he was a kid in New Mexico. He didn’t panic after a slow start in Super Bowl LI by the Patriots defense. Instead, he said, the players just trusted in themselves and the process.

“Honestly, we just started finally executing,” he said after the game. “We were on the field and we knew what we had to do, but we weren’t getting it done in the first half. When we came into halftime, we talked to each other. We weren’t down, we didn’t give up. We weren’t talking about rolling over or anything. We just started talking about being on our job, being more positive, having fun out there.”

Branch actually leapfrogged Brown this season on the Patriots depth chart and played more snaps than the 2nd year player after Brown in his rookie year, led the defensive line in snap percentage in 2015. Branch played just under 60 percent of the snaps after playing in under 40 percent of them last year.

Why Branch Won’t Return: Branch has won a pair of Super Bowls with New England and may be wanting to cash in one final time. There are always teams looking for veteran run-stuffing help inside and it is possible that a team will pony up more money than the Patriots will feel fits his value. In that scenario, one could easily see Branch leaving for one final payday in the sun.

It is possible that the Patriots will want to get younger at the position and bring in a rookie player that can stuff the run and play for about 20 percent of what they’d have to pay Branch to return.

Branch is at that age when the big men begin to break down and perhaps the coaches will feel that they’ve already gotten the best that they can ask for from Branch at this stage of his career and be prepared to move on. Remember, they did much the same thing with Vince Wilfork after Super Bowl XLIX.

Bottom Line: The Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Branch earlier during the playoffs and praised his size and athleticism. The Providence Journal quoted Belichick as saying this about Branch:

“How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is — I mean they don’t grow on trees,” Belichick said. “They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard Seymour or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’re not too many of them. Gerard Warren was a big guy that ran well. Money [Warren] was a very athletic player who wasn’t quite as long as Branch, but moving into that range.”

“It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays, so all of that is good.”

It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. Branch is a very valuable member of the defense. He was a key cog in a Patriots defense that was very solid against the run and his presence inside allowed players like Hightower and Roberts at linebacker to flow and make plays.

If the money is right, it is easy to see him returning for a final contract that will allow him to retire as a Patriot. He’s been very happy here in Matt Patricia’s defense and that factor may sway him to remain. But other teams love to pluck players off of Super Bowl-winning rosters to provide that type of presence and mentorship to their younger players. If someone ponies up the cash, he could bolt. Right now, I’d say it is even money that Branch returns in 2017.

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.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Dont’a Hightower

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2017 at 6:41 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 most imperative to re-sign is linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

The Patriots unquestioned best linebacker and arguably their most indispensable player on the front seven is Hightower. He makes the calls for the defense, is a Pro Bowl and 2nd team All-Pro for the first time this season and is a big, physical, down-hill style player who produces when the chips are on the line.

Flashback to Super Bowl XLIX, right after the crazy catch by Jermaine Kearse down the right sideline, giving the Seahawks the ball on the Patriots five-yard line. Hightower stops Marshawn Lynch at the one setting up Malcolm Butler’s game saving interception.

Eight days ago, in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots have kicked a field goal to cut Atlanta’s lead to 28-12 late in the fourth quarter. They need two scores and a pair of two-point conversions to tie the game. But first, they must stop the Falcons with a three and out and get the ball back. Hightower blitzes off the edge on 3rd down and a short two. Devonta Freeman misses his block and Hightower strip sacks Matt Ryan.

Hightower stuffs a goal line attempt by LeGarrette Blount in training camp. (SBalestrieri photo)

Tom Brady and the offense quickly capitalize on the great field position and the Patriots stage the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by scoring 31 unanswered points to win in overtime. With Hightower’s strip sack, it probably doesn’t happen.

Why Hightower Will Return: Hightower is big, 6’3, 265-pounds and is versatile, something Bill Belichick loves in his players. He’s a downhill, run-stuffing sledgehammer in the running game. But he’s very effective at blitzing when his number is called and can either come off the edge or up one of the A-gaps. And for a man of his size, he’s good in coverage.

He calls the defenses and was named a team captain by his peers. His respect in the locker room is evident and he was given the all-important locker of former great Willie McGinest. That’s in the spot where he can keep an eye on things and players as they come and go during the day. That location is no small matter to the Patriots players and coaches.

The sure tackling Hightower has no peer in the Patriots linebacking corps. His size and speed are a unique part of the makeup of the team. He can cover well for a man of his size and the Patriots really have no one that could replace him on the roster. He’s the glue that holds the defense together and sets the tone for the others to follow.

Why Hightower Won’t Return: Money would be the sticking point. Reportedly the Patriots offered him in the neighborhood of $10 million during the season and he turned it down. His former teammate, Jamie Collins just signed a four-year $50-million-dollar deal with Cleveland that may be a bit rich for the Patriots to take on.

Another reason that the Patriots may balk is injuries. Because of his style of play, he’s been pretty nicked up. Hightower missed three games this season and hasn’t played a full season since the 2013 season.

He seems intent on testing the market and seeing what his worth is. He plays in both the middle but is particularly effective as the SAM.

Bottom Line: The Patriots know the value of having Hightower in the lineup. His contributions were greatly responsible for the last two Super Bowl wins. He gets the respect on the defense that players like Willie McGinest and Vince Wilfork used to get.

Something to consider, although he’s been dinged up and missed some games in the past three seasons, he’s never missed a playoff game and has been at his best when the games went into crunch time.

Another option in the Patriots favor is that, if they can’t work on a deal right away with Hightower, they can use the Franchise tag on him and keep him for at least another season. That would be costly (around $15 million), but at least they’d keep him around for the 2017 season and allow the two sides to come to a long-term deal.

For that reason, I think the chances are better than 70 percent that Hightower returns for at least next season. It would be a best-case scenario, however, to see the two sides hammer out a deal for a player that the Patriots absolutely must re-sign this spring.

Look for Hightower to be back in Foxboro when training camp hits this July.

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 Free Agent Profile Martellus Bennett

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 2017 at 7:00 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 is tight end, Martellus Bennett.

The Patriots swung a deal for the disgruntled tight end with the Bears and were hoping that pairing him with Rob Gronkowski would give them a two-tight end offense that would be impossible to stop. But it didn’t work out that way. Gronkowski was injured early in the season and wasn’t healthy until Tom Brady’s first game back from suspension.

In Week 5, Gronk broke out with 5 receptions for 109 yards and Bennett scored three touchdowns. But Bennett was hurt in that game and the ankle injury limited him all season long although he played through it and a knee issue. Gronkowski would be injured again later against Seattle and then injured his back which landed him on IR.

So, while the dreams of Gronk and Bennett as a dynamic duo were never truly realized, Bennett provided excellent insurance with Gronk out of the lineup. The 6’6. 270-pound tight end isn’t the deep threat that Gronkowski is but despite being far from healthy himself gave Tom Brady a viable target at tight end as well as a tremendous blocking presence in the running game.

Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. He completely bought into the team-first concept and he seemed to be a popular teammate in the locker room. He’s also a very straight shooter and was one of the most quotable players on the team. He was a joy for the beat writers who are well accustomed to the players who tote the party line and give very little many times.

With Gronkowski on the mend, the team should they re-sign Bennett can still have that dynamic two-tight end offense they envisioned last summer. Or, once again with the myriad of injuries that Gronk has suffered, he’d give them an outstanding insurance policy. One thing for sure is, he’ll have plenty of suitors once free agency begins.

Why Bennett Will Return: Bennett seemed to genuinely enjoy his time here in New England. He and Brady worked hard during the spring and summer to build up their chemistry and Bennett was quickly elevated into Brady’s ever-so-important circle of trust.

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

He has the skill set to be even more prolific in the Patriots offense and once fully healthy could be a more dynamic presence in the passing game. His blocking prowess, something Bennett prides himself on, was a big reason why the Patriots running game was much improved in 2016.

And the Patriots have the salary cap room, with $61,498,583 in space under the cap, they have the flexibility to work out a deal that would not only pay Bennett what he feels he’s worth but give him an opportunity to win another Super Bowl ring.

Why Bennett Won’t Return: Money. Bennett said it himself, Super Bowl winners tend to get overpaid. “I’m going into free agency as a Super Bowl champion. You know they overpay Super Bowl champions,” Bennett said to the NFL Network.

Bennett will turn 30-years old this offseason, and this should be his last chance at a big payday which someone is going to pay him more than New England. He reportedly turned down an extension from the Patriots during the season for $7 million.

His comments right after the Super Bowl victory seemed like someone who is already resigned to leaving. Which probably means that Bennett is intent on testing the waters of free agency to see what his worth on the open market is.

Bottom Line: It is probably just a one and done for Bennett in New England. The Patriots rarely pay players past their 30th birthdays’ top dollar and there will be teams lining up to meet his demands. Among them Jacksonville, the Giants and possibly Oakland.

I doubt the Patriots will pay him more than Gronkowski who is slated to earn $9 million this season. While we’d love to see him back with the Patriots in 2017, the chances of that happening are rather slim. They won’t use the franchise tag on Bennett, probably saving that for Dont’a Hightower.

Never say never, but there should be plenty of interest in a big, athletic tight end who can catch the ball and block in the running game. The Patriots rarely if ever overpay for a player so the chances of him returning are probably less than 25 percent.

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 Have a Long List of Free Agents in 2017

Steve Balestrieri
February 9, 2017 at 9:28 am ET

The Patriots will enter the 2017 offseason with a ton of cap space ($61,248,593 according to our own salary cap guru in Miguel @patscap) but have a lot of players hitting free agency.  There is a total of 19 players that are free agents this spring. It begins with 13 unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents, and three exclusive-rights free agents.

Here is a list of the Patriots free agents and their ages in parenthesis:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
TE Martellus Bennett (30)
RB LeGarrette Blount (30)
RB Brandon Bolden (27)
DT Alan Branch (32)
FB James Develin (28)
WR Michael Floyd (27)
FS Duron Harmon (26)
LB Dont’a Hightower (26)
DE Chris Long (31)
LB Barkevious Mingo (26)
CB Logan Ryan (26)
TE Greg Scruggs (26)
DE Jabaal Sheard (27)

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
CB Malcolm Butler (26)
OT Cameron Fleming (24)
LB Trevor Reilly (29)

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:
CB Justin Coleman (23)
LB Brandon King (23)
TE Matt Lengel (26)

So, what are the differences in the categories you ask? Well, I’m glad you did… sort of. The Patriots can extend any of the players below to a new deal prior to the March 9th deadline. Once the deadline hits, then that is when the different categories come into play.

The Unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any team for basically the best deal for the player, whether it be the money, the team or any other reason.

Restricted free agents can be offered one of three “tenders” by the team holding their rights. They are for players with just three years of accrued service in the league. Since most rookie contracts run for four years now, they are becoming rarer.

A tender is a one-year contract for a pre-determined amount and here are the categories: (note the amounts listed here are in 2016 money and will be subject to change.)

First round tender: 1 year, about $3.582 million
Second round tender: 1 year, about $2.516 million
Right of first refusal/Original round tender: 1 year, about $1.647 million

The original round tender means that if another team swoops in and signs a player, his last team would get a draft pick from the round that player was drafted in. In the case of a UDFA, the team would get nothing.

The team has the right of first refusal as well if a team were to offer a restricted free agent an offer, the Patriots have the right to match it.

Exclusive rights free agents haven’t accrued three years of NFL service and if the team extends them an offer sheet, they have to sign it.

So while the Patriots have tons of cap room, they also have some big decisions to make in regards to 21 free agents. The ERFAs are the most easily done if they want to keep them they are the easiest to retain. But from there the questions become a bit stickier.

We’ll be looking at some of the free agents in depth in the upcoming days. Who may stay and who may go.

Any questions regarding the salary cap and the inner workings of it should be addressed to Miguel aka @Patscap who covers the salary cap of the Patriots better than anyone else anywhere. We are fortunate to have him here at PatsFans.com and he has the breakdowns of the deals and how it all works.

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.