The Patriots attempt to virtually sign every free agent wide receiver on the market this spring has finally borne fruit. The team has signed free agent Demaryius Thomas to a one-year deal worth up to $6 million dollars according to ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates.
The Patriots tried to bring Thomas in at the trade deadline last season but he was traded to the Houston Texans instead. It certainly appeared last season that Thomas, who has averaged about 15 yards per reception had lost a step. Of course, the subpar play of the Denver QBs may have played into that.
He played in seven games with the Texans before tearing an Achilles tendon ending his season. Therein lies the risk. Thomas will turn 32 late in the 2019 season and is coming off of a serious injury. His game is built on being able to gain separation and is not a physical receiver, despite his excellent size at 6’3, 229.
Back in 2010, Josh McDaniels, then-head coach of the Broncos had a lot to do with Denver taking him in the first round of the draft. So, he has had at least some experience with Thomas, albeit nearly a decade ago.
So what are the Patriots getting with this signing?
With any wide receiver signing, the first thing we always wonder is “will he be able to learn the Patriots playbook?” That is a legitimate question as we’ve seen several established wide receivers flame out here in New England as they had issues learning the route tree of the Patriots offense.
That shouldn’t be a big issue with Thomas. He played in the Houston Texans system, which was put in place by Bill O’Brien after he spent several years here in New England and is considered very similar. So, in that aspect, he should already be ahead of the game with his couple of months with Houston.
Is he going to be ready to go in training camp? Achilles injuries aren’t the easiest to recover from and at 31, it is not going to be a given that he’s going to be ready. However, the Patriots had him in for a visit last week and had to be encouraged enough to offer him a deal.
Thomas suffered an Achilles injury earlier in his career and was able to recover from that one in just six months, so that is in his favor.
Thomas’ game was always built around the elite athleticism that allowed him to gain tremendous yards after the catch. With an aging athlete, an Achilles injury could seriously impact that.
The Patriots are very thin at wide receiver with Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Bruce Ellington, Maurice Harris, Braxton Berrios, Damoun Patterson, and STs ace Matthew Slater to round out the depth chart. Josh Gordon is suspended indefinitely and shouldn’t be counted upon for any production this season.
To say that there will be plenty of opportunities for a WR to carve out a role opposite Edelman is a more than just a bit of understating things. Thomas, if he’s healthy could certainly be a key player in the offense in 2019. The wide receivers, however, will find the going much tougher this year with no Rob Gronkowski drawing so much attention from opposing defenses as he’s had in the past.
Thomas had five straight 1000 yard seasons between 2012-2016 but has had his numbers dropping off for the past several years. While some of that can definitely be attributed to QB play, (Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian) he definitely appeared to be losing a step on tape and that YAC wasn’t as big as before.
Coming off of a serious injury, that athleticism could be even more affected. As to his contract, the devil will lie in the details. Much of that cash may be tied up in performance-related bonuses. So, we will have to wait and see how that looks once the contract details are posted. As for on-field expectations, if fans are expecting the monster years of 2012-2014, they are going to be very disappointed. His career numbers have steadily dropped in the last 5 years, as has his yards after the catch.
Put expectations with Thomas as minimal and hope that he can provide a solid role player’s production at this point of his career. This signing shouldn’t impact at all the need for the team to select one of the better wide receivers in the upcoming draft.
The Patriots have been linked to several WRs including A.J. Brown(Ole Miss), Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) who said in an interview “C-ya next month Bill”, Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), and others, including UMass’ Andy Isabella.
In other news, the Patriots announced the re-signing of CB Jonathan Jones who signed his one-year tender.
As we count down the days until the 2019 NFL Draft is upon us, we’re going to look at some of the positions that the Patriots need to address to restock, reload and prepare to defend their Super Bowl title. As everyone knows, winning back-to-back titles is never easy.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at several positions that the team needs to address. And next up is the wide receiver position. They finished the 2018 season thin at the position. Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely and may not play this season if ever again. Chris Hogan is a free agent and not expected to return. Phillip Dorsett was resigned to a one-year prove it. Deal. Julian Edelman and Braxton Berrios return, but Berrios didn’t play a snap last year, going on IR at the end of training camp.
During the initial phase of free agency, the team missed out on several big name free agents but signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris. But those two are more depth than anything else. So along with tight end, the WR position is currently one of the thinnest on the roster.
With a plethora of draft picks, the Patriots could swing a trade for an established veteran, which we assume, they’ll try to do. Or add thru the draft….preferably both.
So, with that in mind here are a few prospects (BUT NOT ALL) that may be around for the Patriots to select from. We’ll list a couple of early rounds, mid-round and then late-round prospects who we feel would be a good fit in New England. This list isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, there are other players out there who would fit, this is just a few that we like here.
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina:
Samuel in our opinion, wouldn’t be a good fit in New England, he’d be a great fit. Samuel was the go-to guy for the Gamecocks and he can turn any pass on the field into a threat to score. With the ball in his hands, he’s more running back than wide receiver.
Can separate right off the line of scrimmage
Plays inside in the slot or outside
He is a dangerous kick returner, returning four for TDs
Very productive, 2076 yards receiving, 23 TDs
Doesn’t have ideal height (5’11)
Has injury history
Sometimes struggles against press coverage
What his Role Will Be: Samuel can compete for starting reps on Day 1. The Patriots can move him around with Julian Edelman to create mismatches.
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? As he gains experience in the offense, he’ll have more and more put on his plate
How Many Downs Can He Play? Four
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He is a speedier version of Danny Amendola and I could see him fitting seamlessly into that role
What is his ST Value? He will immediately be a threat to return kicks and had four return TDs for the Gamecocks
Samuel went down to Mobile and turned heads all week during practice and then in the game. He’ll be a fan favorite immediately here in New England and he should enjoy an immediate rapport with Tom Brady. I really doubt however, he’ll last until pick #56, the Patriots may have to move up in Round 2 to get this guy.
Riley Ridley, Georgia:
Ridley is the younger brother of Calvin, the Falcons first-round pick from last year. He is a consistent chain mover and has good production in the red zone. Ridley is a very tough, possession receiver that runs very good routes with good body control.
Very strong hands
Can win those contested catches
Very good at finding soft spots on the defense
Plays his best against the best competition
Has occasional concentration drops
Run blocking needs work
Release off the line of scrimmage needs improvement
What his Role Will Be: Ridley will look initially to be a chain mover and red zone target
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Ridley can expect to see his role and looks in the passing game to expand with a year of experience
How Many Downs Can He Play? three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He can look to replace Chris Hogan’s role on the team
What is his ST Value? None, no return experience
Ridley is one of those guys who, in the right situation and system become a better pro receiver than he was in college. He’s not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, but has enough speed for corners to respect. His ability to win contested catches and physicality should make him a starter really early. He is a late Round 2 or early Round 3 prospect.
Terry McLaurin, Ohio State:
McLaurin is a mid-round prospect with good size, excellent straight-line speed (4.38 in the 40), and a player who is just coming into his own. He’s got good physicality, is a very hard worker and a leader, he was voted as a two-time captain.
Thickly built, physically strong
Very good blocker
Good, strong hands, route running is crisp
Special teams gunner
Long strider, has to build up speed
Is a bit of a body catcher at times
Doesn’t have a huge catch radius
What his Role Will Be: McLaurin is a guy who can come in and compete for the #3-4 WR and immediately be a factor on STs as a gunner
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? With experience, he can solidify the role as a #3 or even vie for #2 reps
How Many Downs Can He Play? Four
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He can challenge Ellington and Harris for a roster spot and reps.
What is his ST Value? Excellent, he should get reps right away as a gunner
McLaurin had only so-so numbers at Ohio State, with 35 catches but he averaged 20 yards per catch and had 11 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. He was considered below average as a receiver and then went and put on an excellent showing during the Senior Bowl week. He looks like he’s beginning to come into his own. He’s a mid-round guy who will have an immediate impact on STs.
Miles Boykin, Notre Dame:
Boykin has tremendous size and length at 6’4 and 230 pounds who is a very good route runner with soft hands. He ran a 4.42 at the Combine and turned in a fantastic 6.77 time in the 3-Cone Drill.
Height and length off the charts
Quick release for a big man
Huge catch radius
Can high point the ball over most defenders easily
Has occasional concentration drops
Only one year of big production
Can sometimes let corners get into his chest and slow him down
What his Role Will Be: Boykin will try to earn reps as the Patriots “X” receiver
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Boykin can expect to see a huge uptick in passing game production to expand with a year of experience under his belt.
How Many Downs Can He Play? three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
He can look to replace some of the production that Josh Gordon had outside
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Boykin is a very intriguing guy. With his size, he reminds one of a young Calvin Johnson. But we’re not saying he’s going to have that kind of impact but that’s how big and physical he is in the passing game. He’s a size mismatch kind of player who can high point balls, win in contested areas with very strong hands. Boykin is another mid-round player who could immediately pay dividends for the Patriots.
Now for a couple of later round players…
Hunter Renfrow, Clemson:
Renfrow is… let’s see, too small, too slow, isn’t athletic enough, where have we heard this before? Yet, all he does is catch the ball at crunch time and move the chains. Every time Clemson was in a crunch situation, they looked Renfrow’s way and he delivered.
Very clutch receiver
Excellent awareness when he’s the hot read
Outstanding at finding soft spots on the defense
Plays his best against the best competition
Undersized, isn’t explosive
Quicker than fast
Obvious smaller catch radius
What his Role Will Be: Renfrow will immediately vie for reps in the slot
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? Julian Edelman is beginning to get up there in years, Renfrow is the type of player that can be eased into the same type of role
How Many Downs Can He Play? three
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios for a roster spot.
What is his ST Value? Minimal
Renfrow is a quintessential Patriots kind of guy, that people spend too much time telling you what he can’t do while they find ways of taking advantage of the things he does well. He’s a gifted route runner and always finds ways to get open. Production? In 53 college games, he caught 186 passes for 2133 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clutch? In two National Championship games against Alabama, Renfrow caught 17 passes for 180 yards and 4 touchdowns. Yeah, I’ll take that.
Penny Hart, Georgia State:
Hart is another small, even smaller than Renfrow, wide receiver at 5’8, 180 pounds. He played at a lower level of competition at Georgia State, but got an invite to the Senior Bowl and turned heads there. He was too quick, too fast and too twitchy for the corners there to get their hands on.
Smaller catch radius and doesn’t win many contested catches
What his Role Will Be: Hart can vie for reps in the slot while carving out a role as a kick and punt returner
Will his Role Change from Year 1-2? If he shows he can step it up against the pros, he could definitely see an uptick in targets in Year 2.
How Many Downs Can He Play? Four
What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
No one, he’ll be battling with Braxton Berrios, Bruce Ellington, and Maurice Harris for a roster spot.
What is his ST Value? Very good value as a kick or punt returner
Hart is a potential steal in the late rounds or even as an UDFA. He has had very good production and is a very versatile kind of player, he can run, catch and return kicks. He’s a natural slot receiver with outstanding change of direction. He’s going to land somewhere.
The Patriots have to address the wide receiver position in the draft or possibly decide to make a trade with one of their 12 draft picks for an established veteran as well. The cupboard as it stands right now is too bare for the team to enter the 2019 season. However, it IS only March and like the TE position, they have plenty of time to rectify the situation. These players are some of the ones we feel would fit what they do. Obviously there are others.
The Patriots are just in the infancy stages of building their roster and regardless of the big fish that got away in the hours and days before free agency even actually began, it is rarely if ever the way this team builds its roster.
The roster, as it currently stands will in no way resemble that which will take the field in Week 1 of the regular season nor at the end of the season. That especially will hold true for the Wide Receiver position.
We have seen the angst that many fans and media members have been feeling about the group of players that Tom Brady will be throwing to and rest assured, the team is not done addressing those issues. The team signed Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris after bringing back Phillip Dorsett and while those two players aren’t the names that people were looking for, they will add depth to the roster and in the case of Ellington, he’s a guy who has had some degree of success against the Patriots a few times with the Texans. Bill Belichick loves to bring in guys like that.
So, with 12 picks, including six in the first 101 of the upcoming NFL Draft, the Patriots approach to building up more production and depth at wide receiver will probably be two-fold. They will most assuredly draft a wide receiver …or two in April. But they probably will try to swing a trade with a team that has a wide receiver on the final year of his contract, much like how they got Brandin Cooks two years ago.
So who is out there in the final year of their contracts? Let’s look:
A.J. Green, Bengals: With Cincinnati in the rebuild mode, Green who is now 30, is the name you’ve seen most circled as a “Patriots target” for a trade. It makes sense on a couple of points. Green is 30 and probably isn’t circled by the Bengals as being part of their longterm plans. He’s also been very productive in his career but has never tasted a playoff victory.
But Green to New England isn’t happening. Why? I can give you 15 million reasons why. That’s what his salary is for 2019. With the Patriots already strapped for cash, they need to re-do a couple of contracts anyway to get themselves prepared for the rest of 2019 and the draft. Bringing in Green without the Bengals eating a significant amount of his contract would put them in a huge bind… That’s a non-starter.
Tyler Boyd, Bengals: If there is a guy on Cincinnati, I’d rather have its Boyd. When he came out in the draft a few years ago, our 4th & 2 podcast member Derek Havens and I both really liked Boyd and thought he’d be a great fit in the Patriots offense.
Boyd had a terrific 2018 catching 76 passes for 1028 yards and 7 TDs, even better, his contract for 2019, his last on a rookie deal pays him just $1,064,742. Which is peanuts for a player of his ability. However, if I am the Bengals, why would I want to trade him? He’s just 26, and unless I felt there was no way, he returns in 2020.
Allen Hurns, Cowboys: Most people remember the gruesome injury Hurns suffered in the playoffs when his ankle was dislocated in the Seahawks game. Hurns is considered a very good teammate and a popular one in the locker room. He is expected to be fully healthy to take part in training camp and the regular season.
He had 1000 yard season a few years ago in Jacksonville and can play all three receiver positions including the slot. He’s got good size at 6’3, 201 and will turn 28 in November. He’s due $6.000,000 in 2019.
He didn’t have a great first season in Dallas with just 20 catches as he saw his playing time take a nose dive after the team acquired Amani Cooper. The Patriots could possibly pry him away as Dallas may opt for a slot receiver in the draft.
Laquon Treadwell, Vikings: Treadwell was thought to be the next great one when the Vikings drafted him in the first round #23 in the 2016 NFL Draft. But it has never materialized for him, he struggled to get production and was a healthy scratch in late December when the Vikes were fighting for a playoff spot. He had just 35 catches for 302 yards and a TD in 2018.
His cap hit is just $3,161,132 in 2019 with a team option for a fifth season. He’s not going to be picked up by Minnesota who have to deal with Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen at the position. The question is, can Treadwell, who is just 23, turn his career around with a fresh start?
Sterling Shepard, Giants: Shepard plays both primarily in the slot and outside, and was thought to be possibly expendable with the Giants picking up Golden Tate recently. He caught 66 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. He’s in the final year of his rookie deal where he’s making just $1,891,464 in 2019.
Would the Giants let him go in a trade? It seems like the answer is no to that. Dave Gettleman, the Giants GM who has made some head scratching moves this spring, first by trading Odell Beckham Jr. and releasing Landon Collins, then signing Tate to a big money contract is saying their keeping both.
“Sterling played outside last year and did fine,” he said on a recent radio interview.” Will work well together with Tate.”
Shepard or Boyd remain the best case scenarios for the Patriots. Others like Emanuel Sanders of the Broncos is a very long shot. John Elway won’t trade him to New England. Another name to consider may be Josh Doctson of the Redskins. He’s another 1st round draft pick who thus far has been a bust in Washington. He’s never had more than six passes caught or gained more than 84 yards in any game thru his first three seasons.
Patriots-Bills Week 16, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?
The New England Patriots are sailing in some uncharted waters this week. When we looked at this game on the schedule back in the spring, we expected that the division would be wrapped up and this game would only figure in whether New England was still playing for the top seed. And….we were wrong.
This game is extremely important to the Patriots this week because the division isn’t wrapped up and they need a win to do just that. The team can still get the #2 seed and a bye but now they no longer control their own destiny. They need to win their final two games at home this week against Buffalo and the Jets next week and hope that the Texans lose to either the Eagles or the Jaguars. Uncharted waters indeed.
The Patriots (9-5) lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-10 last week as the offense only scored 10 points and made a ton of mistakes. Dropped passes on third down, penalties (14) and breakdowns at key times was the story as they dropped their second in a row.
The Bills (5-9) beat the Detroit Lions 14-13 as Josh Allen hit Robert Foster with a 42-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to come from behind.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.
The Patriots and the Bills are meeting for the 118th time and the Patriots have dominated overall 73-43-1. And since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots have won 32 of 37 games between the two teams.
Tom Brady’s record against the Bills in games where he’s started and finished the game is 29-3. The Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 25-6 on October 29 as the teams met on Monday Night Football.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 23 at 1:00 p.m.and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green and Bruce Arians as the color analysts. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines.
The game will also be broadcast on the Patriots flagship station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci doing the play-by-play, with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs Bills Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Buffalo
The Patriots running game has sputtered the past two weeks on the road as the play of the offensive line has been consistently, inconsistent. Sony Michel is leading the way for the Patriots along with Rex Burkhead and James White. Fullback James Develin has been getting the ball more in short yardage and goal line.
Buffalo is 10th in the league allowing just 104.8 yards per game on the ground and just 4.0 yards per rush. It starts up front with the big men, Kyle Williams, and Adolphus Washington with the linebackers, Matt Milano and Preston Brown being very active. However, with Milano suffering a broken fibula against the Jets, it is a blow to the defense.
In the first meeting, the Patriots didn’t have either Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead who were both out with an injury. However, look for the Bills to put pressure on the Patriots on early downs to try to force them into third and long situations.
Patriots WRs vs Bills Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots passing game just lost a huge piece as Josh Gordon’s mental health issues are forcing him away for the game, possibly for good this time. He averaged 65 yards per game receiving in his 11 games with the Patriots and it won’t be easy to just say, “next man up” as they have around here in the past.
In the first meeting, Tom Brady threw for 324 yards in Buffalo. It will be difficult to throw for that much this time around despite still having Julian Edelman, James White, Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett.
The Bills defense is #1 against the pass allowing just 187.4 yards per pass play. They’re getting very good play from their corners and linebackers and safeties in coverage. The Bills have 31 sacks on the season.
With Gordon gone Brady will have to lean on everybody else now to pick up the slack. I would expect him to go both Julian Edelman (9-104) and James White (10-79) as he did in the first meeting to keep the chains moving. The Bills did a good with their safeties on Rob Gronkowski in the first meeting and I’d expect more of the same. Buffalo is outstanding at not allowing big pass plays and I’d expect Brady to keep the ball in the short passing game.
Next up the Buffalo offense:
Bills RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England
As yes as strange as this sounds I expect the Patriots run defense which has been awful for the past few weeks to be better this week. The Bills running game has been struggling with their backs running the ball. LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory have averaged just 3.3 and 3.4 yards per rush respectively in 2018. Part of the reason is the offensive line was bad earlier in the season but has been playing better of late.
However, Josh Allen has transformed the running game. He’s rushed for 506 yards on the season and without him, the Bills rushing average of 124.7 would transform to just 90.9 yards per game.
With the issues the Patriots have had stopping the run, I’d look for Danny Shelton to make a return this week. Buffalo has the 31st rated pass offense and they want to run the football. The Patriots need a player over the nose that can two-gap. He’s been a healthy scratch the past few weeks but this week, I’d expect him back.
Bills WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Bills passing game has been really struggling as Josh Allen has struggled in his rookie season. But he’s gradually learning his craft and he’s cutting down his mistakes. But overall, they average just 168.7 yards per game, 31st in the NFL. He has Robert Foster who is becoming the Bills big play WR, he’s averaged 25-yards per reception this year. Zay Jones is their leading receiver with 49 catches.
The Patriots pass defense is currently 23rd allowing 256 yards per game, however, the secondary has been playing quite well and it seems that they’ve found another quality UDFA in corner J.C. Jackson. The Patriots don’t generate a ton of sacks but are tied in the league at pressuring the QB without blitzing.
The Bills like to run deep crosses using a rub route to get Foster open deep across the middle of the field. For the Patriots, they’ll look to bring pressure and force Allen to throw from outside the pocket without allowing him to run…More of this below.
Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England
The Patriots tandem of Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen have a slight edge over Stephen Hauschka and Corey Bojorquez in the kicking game, especially being at home. But their numbers are pretty similar. But with Cordarrelle Patterson in the kick return game, the Patriots get the edge in there, although in the first meeting Micah Hyde had a 31-yard punt return.
Next up, who wins and why…
This one will be closer than people are predicting. The Bills defense is tough and knows the Patriots well. They played them very tough in the first meeting back in October. I would expect this game to be much of the same.
Three keys to the game from a Patriots perspective include:
Win the Turnover Battle:
The Bills are -8 in the turnover department. Buffalo QBs have thrown 20 interceptions this season, with Allen tossing nine of them. They are the 31st team in the league in scoring averaging just 15.4 points per game. They don’t have the kind of offense that can afford to give away points. If the Patriots can play a clean game, they will put pressure on the Bills offense to take some chances.
Force Allen to Throw From Outside the Pocket:
Allen has played better of late as his pass protection has improved. But if the Patriots can generate pressure while keeping a spy on Allen and not allowing him to run, his numbers throwing outside the pocket are not good. ESPN’s Mike Rodak just posted some stats when Allen is forced to throw outside the pocket. Completion percentage- 20 (33rd in the league) Passing Yards per Attempt- 3.1 (30th in the league) Off Target Throws- 40 % (most in the NFL) Interception Percentage – 6.9 % (4th most in the NFL)
If the Patriots are successful in getting some pressure on Allen, they’d need to put a spy on him. I really don’t believe that their linebackers are fast enough to do the job…possibly Kyle Van Noy. But one possible piece would be to go to their “Big Nickel” with Obi Melifonwu substituting on obvious passing downs. He’d have the speed to keep up with Allen.
Spread the Ball Around:
The Patriots are at their best when Tom Brady spreads the wealth equally among the players. They need to run the ball better and will need a lot better effort from the offensive line. I’d expect to see the uptempo offense with the Pony formation with Burkhead and White a bit on passing downs.
This one will be close but eventually, the Pats will pull away and they’ll finally be able to break out the Hats and T-Shirts. Patriots 27-17
New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon is stepping away from the NFL to focus on his mental health issues, thus no doubt ending his season and probably his time with the Patriots… possibly the NFL.
Gordon released a statement on Twitter that read, “I take my mental health very seriously at this point to ensure I remain able to perform at the highest level. I have recently felt like I could have a better grasp on things mentally. With that said, I will be stepping away from the football field for a bit to focus on my mental health.”
He added, “I would like to thank Coach Belichick, Mr. Kraft, and countless others within the Patriots organization for their continued support.”
The Patriots released a statement minutes later reiterating their support for Gordon and his health and they added that his health “is a personal and private matter which we intend to respect.” In other words, they will NOT be commenting on this any further.
Tom Pelissaro announced shortly after that, that Gordon was told by the league that he was facing an additional suspension for failing a drug test and that he just acted before the league’s ruling was announced. Gordon played 57 of 63 offensive snaps on Sunday against the Steelers.
In 11 games with the Patriots, Gordon totaled 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns.
What fans should keep in mind, the Patriots issues at wide receiver for the remainder of the season take a far back seat to a man’s long-term health. We’ll address later on how the team can work around his absence for the rest of the season. But for now, the focus is on the man, not the player.
Gordon has long suffered with mental health issues which go hand-in-hand with drug issues, not the other way around.
The news broke as we were recording our weekly podcast and once that is released, we will have more on how the Patriots can adjust their offense.
With the reduction of the NFL’s rosters down to the 53-man league-mandated maximum, the Patriots were left on Saturday afternoon with just four wide receivers, one of whom, Matthew Slater, is a special team’s ace. They plucked two intriguing players off the waiver wire, Amarah Darboh from the Seattle Seahawks and Chad Hansen from the New York Jets. Both were rookies in 2017 and had scant production from their respective teams.
But both enter New England with a clean slate and the opportunity to learn on the job. Learning on the fly is never easy, the Patriots offense and route tree for the WRs is complicated and not an easy one to learn. We’ve seen several productive veteran wide receivers come here and fail. So temper any expectations at the outset and let the process play out. At first glance, however, both players would be the type to fit in with what the Patriots offense likes to do. Will the Patriots make another move for a more veteran wide receiver? We still believe they will, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Hansen is just 23 and spent last year with the Jets after being drafted by the Jets in the 4th round, 141st overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. In his only season with the Jets, he played in 15 games and caught nine passes for 94 yards, including one for 15 against the Patriots in the regular season finale in Foxboro. He had a very strong spring with the Jets before tailing off during training camp.
While at Cal, he posted outstanding numbers in his final season in 2016, with 92 catches, 1249 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. He brings good size at 6’2, 202 pounds, he ran a 4.53 in the 40 at the Combine, but showed excellent quickness in the 3-Cone Drill with a time of 6.74.
Hansen is the kind of chain mover that the Patriots like and can be used in a couple of ways. He can work inside and is good at coming back to the ball on dig routes, was a reliable man in the screen game, adept at making the first man miss, was very good at working the boundaries and had great awareness of the sidelines. He has really good hands and is able to occasionally fool a defender and blow past them to stretch the field.
His highlight film work reminds one a lot of Chris Hogan. He plays a bit faster than his timed speed. However, he struggled to gain separation from defenders which is probably why the Jets gave up on him after just one season.
Darboh had an unusual path to the NFL as his family fled war-torn Sierra Leone and came to the United States (Iowa) when he was just seven years old. He attended Michigan where he was the team’s leading receiver his last two years, catching passes in 33 straight games. He finished his senior season with 52 catches for 826 yards and seven touchdowns.
Darboh has the size/speed combination that most teams look for. He is 6’2, 215 pounds and ran a 4.45 in the 40 at the NFL combine, with a 36-inch vertical leap and 17 reps on the bench press. He was drafted in the 3rd round, 106th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Seahawks. In his only season with Seattle, he caught eight passes for 71 yards. He primarily played on Special Teams and was a valuable asset on the Hawks coverage units.
Darboh can play in the slot or outside although at times he seems to play slower than his timed speed. But once he gets his hands on the ball in the open field can turn on the jets where his speed is apparent. He struggles against tight press man coverage and isn’t the quickest guy out of his breaks. He’s a good, tough willing blocker in the running game. His hands are great and suffers a lot of concentration drops.
Neither one is a punt returner, although Darboh returned three while at Michigan and could conceivably see some practice work there. It is interesting to note and see how tough the inexact science of the NFL draft is when the Patriots can pick up 3rd and 4th round draft picks from just a year ago off the waiver wire.
Ultimately, the onus will be on these players and WR’s coach Chad O’Shea to get these players worked into the system and learn the playbook. Then O’Shea and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will have to find a way for these players to learn to get a little separation at the line of scrimmage.
One of the things McDaniels and the Patriots as a whole are good at is, adapting a player and playing to his strengths rather than trying to force him to adapt to a rigid system. If they can find ways to do that, then these players will have good production here. Don’t expect big numbers from either, however, there is no reason why, if they put the time and effort in and find a bit of chemistry with Tom Brady, that they can’t carve out a role within the Patriots offense as the 4th or 5th options in the passing game.
File both of these signings under the “Work in Progress” folder.
The Patriots are releasing wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, according to NFL insider Jason La Canfora.
Knee issues have dogged Mitchell since his playing days at Georgia and are the cause of his release. The Patriots tried unsuccessfully to shop Mitchell around this summer but his inability to get on the field had no interested parties.
Mitchell, who just turned 25, was a key contributor in the Patriots Super Bowl run in 2016. He caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, nearly all of it in the second half of the season. He missed part of that season with an elbow injury but came back and earned the trust of Tom Brady. He steadily gained confidence and was a huge part of the 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
He caught five passes for 63 yards in the second half of the Super Bowl.
His future looked bright, however, the very same knee issues robbed him of 2017. He never made it onto the field last season and his knee woes held him to just a couple of all-too-brief cameos this spring. That led to the Patriots shopping him unsuccessfully.
The team can either convert him to IR again with an injury settlement or outright release him, depending upon the health of his knee. It is a case of oh-so-close for the talented wide receiver.
So where does this leave the team? In the short term, it immediately opens up a roster spot, despite the fact he hadn’t been practicing. That will be filled quickly. But it was clear before training camp even began that Mitchell wasn’t going to be in the team’s plans for 2018.
With Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Eric Decker, Kenny Britt, and younger players Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien and Paul Turner, they have enough depth to carry them through the season. Although Britt too has missed some valuable time this camp. Julian Edelman will miss the first month of the season due to his suspension.
As we posted in our 53-man roster projection this morning, Mitchell wasn’t on the roster and youngsters Berrios and McCarron were still on the outside looking in for a roster spot.
It is a shame to see a player as talented as Mitchell lose his career on an injury. But the chances of another team taking a flyer on him at this point would remain pretty slim.
With the surprising news that Jordan Matthews’ injury was severe enough for the Patriots to place him on IR, the Patriots lost out on one of the key free agent signings they made this spring. The team ended up releasing Matthews, I’m thinking, at his request as he probably believes that he’ll be ready to go a lot sooner this season.
But back to the situation at hand, with Matthews gone, the Patriots saw this coming and worked Decker out before he was signed on Thursday. After nearly missing all of 2016 with the Jets, Decker signed with Tennessee and put decent but career low numbers since becoming an every-down player. He caught 54 passes for 563 yards (career-low 10.4 yards per reception) with just one touchdown. But he remains reliable, his 65 percent catch percentage was the second highest of his career.
Can he revert to something akin to his last two years with the Broncos or the first two with the Jets or has he permanently lost a step. Part of his stats could stem from the struggles of the Titans offense. Last season they were just 28th in passing attempts and 23rd in yardage. Catching passes from Tom Brady should be more akin to better stats than Marcus Mariota.
The biggest asset Decker brings to the Patriots is versatility. He can play outside as the Z- receiver or in the slot. As a slot guy, he’s much like Matthews, a bigger (6’3, 215 pounds) who relies on his size to box out smaller defenders. So how will the Patriots use Decker?
Without seeing him run yet in practice, I see Decker as the Z-wide receiver, not the X. He will be used to attack the middle depth routes and work the perimeter and the middle of the field. They can move him around to create matchups in the slot where he logged about 50 percent of the Titans’ snaps last year when the opportunity avails itself. Phillip Dorsett has been seeing a lot of reps in the slot this summer and he’s been one for the more impressive players on offense.
Right now, the wide receiver depth has Chris Hogan, Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Decker along with rookies Braxton Berrios and Darren Andrews with 2nd-year player Riley McCarron, and Paul Turner. Veteran Matthew Slater is a wide receiver in name only, he’s a special teamer. Veterans Kenny Britt and Matthew Mitchell are not practicing yet and are considered day to day. Julian Edelman will return to the team Week 5 when his suspension is finished.
Decker isn’t a lock to even make the team but I believe he’ll have enough in the tank to beat out one of the younger slot guys (Berrios/McCarron) but time will tell. He had just a tad of experience with Josh McDaniels in Denver during his rookie season.
While the loss of Matthews is a blow, we thought he’d be an integral member of the offense in 2018, it certainly isn’t a death knell. Why? The Patriots still have plenty of talent at the wide receiver position. They like Britt and he’s only a year removed from a 1000-yard season. Dorsett appears primed to shake off his first season blues and be a bigger contributor. Patterson is the wild card, he’s never been able to produce like he was thought to be when he arrived in the NFL. But the Patriots are intent on finding him a role.
And this team has so many other talented pass catchers at other positions. Rob Gronkowski is the gold standard among NFL tight ends. Jacob Hollister seems poised to make a big jump in production from Year 1 to Year 2 and has caught more passes from Brady this summer than anyone. And the production from Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel at running back shouldn’t have anyone pushing the panic button.
So while I’d temper expectations a bit for Eric Decker right now, I think he’ll be fine here. He’s at the age where his one-year deal comes at a good time for him. He’ll be very visible with the Patriots nationally and could parlay this into one more good payday. I expect him to be a model teammate (unlike the other guy fans were clamoring for) and be “all-in” immediately.
While I have never been a big fan of Decker’s, the timing may be just right for him to come to New England and carve out a nice role for himself. His versatility will be a key facet in him being able to pick up the offense on the fly. Without being here all spring, and the first week of training camp, he’s well behind the rest of the receivers. However, it isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with hard work.
Orchestrating all of this is Tom Brady, who has taken the Patriots deep in the playoffs and to a Super Bowl with far less talent than he has right now with this offense. The loss of Matthews and Edelman (for a month) is a blow but this team will be just fine. They always start off a bit slow anyway. No reason to panic and sound the alarm. In one aspect of this, they were fortunate that the injury happened in the first week of training camp rather than Week 9 or 10.
Good morning, Here is your Sunday’s Patriots news 7-29, & AFC East Notes. Training camp is in full swing and we hope to see many of you down at Foxboro in the next few days.
Quick Hitters: With the start of training camp, one would have hoped that all of that drama hooey would have been left behind…yet on Day 1, that was not to be. It didn’t end there on Day 3 Tom Brady was asked about another player’s suspension and the connection between him, Alex Guerrero and that suspended player (Julian Edelman). Brady got incensed and cut the interview off, stating, ”This is ridiculous.” And it is. Enough already with the constant search for a conspiracy behind every event.
It is time to talk football for the 2018 season.
Deatrich Wise had the hit of the summer so far when early in the session on Saturday, he slipped the block of rookie Isaiah Wynn and decleated RB Jeremy Hill, who flew backward and ended up flat on his back.
Bret Bielema works with Vincent Valentine and Deatrich Wise at practice. (SBalestrieri photo)
Troy Niklas was released after just two days of training camp, which is a bit of a surprise. The big tight end was in competition to get one of the backup slots. In his stead, the team signed WR Paul Turner who spent four games with the Eagles in 2016. In other moves this week, the team signed safety Eddie Pleasant, guard Nate Theaker and WR Devin Lucien while releasing safety David Jones.
Rob Gronkowski said he never considered holding out for a new contract this spring and has looked excellent in the early going. He and Brady were putting on a clinic in early red zone work in camp.
Sony Michel looks like he’s a veteran thus far in camp. He’s getting reps with Brady and the starters (yes we know Belichick hates using that term in camp). The Patriots put a premium on pass protection, and Michel will have to excel in that area. But thus far, he’s way ahead of schedule and it seems the Patriots are fully invested in him.
One area of concern thus far is ball security. Michel has put the ball on the ground in every day (first three) of training camp. That will have to change.
Dwayne Allen was a factor in the passing game during the practice sessions on Friday. The big blocking tight end was an afterthought in the passing game in 2017 and his performance in the heat was a welcome addition. Coincidentally after a strong spring and good first day, second-year tight end Jacob Hollister had a pair of drops on Friday.
Cordarrelle Patterson had a nice day on Friday, and while there is a long way to go, it looks like the team is trying to find a comfort level for the big, fast WR in the offense. And his one-handed TD grab over Stephon Gilmore on a pass from Tom Brady was the kind of good news that we hope to see continue. And he did with another nice catch from #12 on Saturday.
Cordarrelle Patterson has been a pleasant surprise so far. (SBalestrieri photo)
Jason McCourty also had a nice day on Friday, looking very competitive and breaking up some passes in the end zone. He continued his strong play on Saturday.
Dorsett Making the Most of His Opportunity:
The Patriots traded backup QB Jacoby Brissett to the Colts early last season for WR Phillip Dorsett and while he didn’t make a big dent in the passing game a year ago, that looks like it will change drastically in 2017. Dorsett was targeted just 18 times last year and caught just 12 but with a year in the system, he is looking like he’s ready for a much bigger piece of the pie.
With Julian Edelman out for the first four weeks of the season due to a PED suspension, there will be plenty of opportunities for a player to step up at the inside wide receiver. And Dorsett, this summer is getting in a lot of work inside. Both he and veteran Jordan Matthews are working in the slot as well as 2nd-year player Riley McCarron and rookie Brandon Berrios.
Dorsett besides possessing great straight-line speed, has excellent quickness, running a 6.70 3-Cone-Drill back when he went thru the NFL Combine. This will be an intriguing area to watch this summer.
Hightower Cites DC (in waiting) Flores With Easing the Learning Curve:
With the departure of Matt Patricia, this winter to take over the head coaching duties of the Detroit Lions, Brian Flores’ responsibilities have been expanded to become the signal caller for the Patriots defense. While he’s the Defensive Coordinator in everything but name, he has a lot more on his plate.
But for the veteran signal caller on the field, Dont’a Hightower, Flores is already receiving high marks for the job he’s doing teaching the Patriots system to the younger players, especially rookie linebacker Christian Sam.
“Coach is definitely different. I think guys are learning a lot faster, a lot easier. A lot of young guys are stepping up and able to pick up for some of the older guys. It definitely works in our favor.” “Maybe it’s just the way that he teaches it,” Hightower said. “The way that the guys kind of absorb it a little bit different. We meet a little different, talk about things a little different. It’s just small quirky things that you can’t necessarily put a finger on, but it’s obvious whenever you can kind of have first-year guys come in or even guys who maybe got signed that can pick things up.”
Devin McCourty, however, pooh-poohed that assertion saying that nothing has changed under the Patriots defense and everything and everyone is on the same page.
During the spring, Hightower got the fan base a bit more excited by saying that under Flores, the Patriots defense will be much more aggressive this year. One area that the team struggled in during the 2017 season was the ability to consistently get to the QB.
With Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise and 2nd-year player Adam Butler returning, the team signed Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons during free agency and now they’ll get a healthy return of Derek Rivers, their top draft pick from last year who missed the entire season with an ACL injury.
While the mantra of the Bill Belichick defensive philosophy has always been to play conservatively and keep the play in front of them, there are some ways that this team could still stick within the Belichick system and play a bit faster. I’d look for some 3-4 looks to go along with their 4-3 and 4-2-5 packages and see them getting a bit more game plan specific in 2018.
Hightower’s Return, an Automatic Boost for the Defense: Speaking of the defense, there was one person who we said all season was irreplaceable for the unit and that was Hightower. His loss was felt all last season and while everyone wants to talk about how the absence of Malcolm Butler hurt in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, a much bigger factor was not having Hightower in there against Philly.
And nothing has changed, on the Patriots defense, he’s the one player they can least afford to lose. After Patricia was forced to move him to the edge exclusively early last year, he back at the middle linebacker position, where he’s most effective. And the trickle-down effect begins. That allows Kyle Van Noy to move where he’s more effective on the outside. He took on much of Hightower’s role a year ago and they’re very different players.
Was it coincidence on Friday that Van Noy was having a big day breaking up passes? In the first two days of camp, he’s broken up four, as the Patriots are freer to move him around a bit more to take advantage of his athleticism.
It will be interesting to see how the position changes this season. Hightower and Harvey Langi return from IR, they added Ja’Whaun Bentley and Sam thru the draft and still have returning veterans Marquis Flowers, Elandon Roberts and Nicholas Grigsby in the mix. On paper at least, it is still the thinnest on the team and the one guy that they can still ill-afford to lose is Hightower.
Danny Etling’s Work on His Mechanics is Plain to See:
Etling, who was a 7th round draft choice (219th overall) this spring had mechanics issues to work thru. Watching him perform in the SEC the past two seasons, he frequently threw the ball flat-footed, rarely if ever setting his feet and relied on his arm strength to get the ball out, causing his passes to sail and diminished his velocity.
That won’t get it done in the NFL and give the rookie credit, he has put the extra work in. We read that he’s working with QB/MLB throwing guru Tom House. His mechanics look much improved and thus far ( it is still very early) he’s looked much better than what was expected of him.
Does this mean, he’ll push Hoyer for the backup job to Brady? Hardly. He has a long, long way to go and will have to learn all the nuances of the Patriots playbook and grasp the offense. But to see this first…albeit baby step is encouraging. Add in that he’s staying on the field for nearly 30 minutes after practice to work on his footwork, mechanics, and timing and route concepts, is another nice sign.
For a guy fighting for a roster spot, he is doing all the right things so far. Now we’ll see if he can keep progressing as camp unfolds and the preseason moves on.
Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:
Bills QB Battle A Key Area to Watch in Training Camp: TheBuffalo Bills have three QBs vying for reps in training camp and into the preseason this summer and it’ll bear watching this summer. Top draft choice Josh Allen signed his contract and is in camp, the team traded for A.J. McCarron with the Bengals and have veteran Nathan Peterman who was thrown into a disastrous first start last year but bounced back nicely after that.
McCarron led Alabama to a national title but this is his first opportunity to start. He’ll try to hold off Peterman and the rookie Allen. Allen is their QB of the future, but Bills coach Sean McDermott has made it clear, that the team won’t push their future QB into game action before he’s ready. That’s why they brought in McCarron.
When it comes to arm strength, Allen is head and shoulders above the other two, but as we’ve seen, playing QB in the NFL is much more than that or else Jeff George would be in the Hall of Fame.
Dolphins’ QB Tannehill Trying to Get Chemistry With Amendola: The Miami Dolphins are trying to work Danny Amendola in the slot where he was so valuable for the Patriots the past few years. And QB Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL is working hard to build his chemistry with the tough but diminutive wide receiver.
But not everyone is happy with the work being turned in by the Dolphins QB. Dolphins beat writer, Omar Kelly who is known for his over the top tweets was writing that Tannehill is leading Amendola into a huge collision.
“Every single media member has CRINGED watching some of the passes Tannehill throws Amendola. If the action were live Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald would break his ribs, or give him a concussion. Ball placement is a very important trait a QB needs, ask Dustin Keller.”
Kelly added, “And for the record, I predict Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald will be head hunters (sic) in this defense….if the refs allow it. Both make great jumps on plays and bring the sledge hammer. Problem is, the NFL doesn’t want those hits in the game anymore. We’ll see.”
Jets’ QB Darnold Unsigned At the Outset of Camp: The New York Jets have started their 2018 training camp and have done so without the services of QB Sam Darnold. The talented USC signal caller was the #3 overall pick in this spring’s NFL Draft and his contract was thought to be an after-thought. But that hasn’t worked out and his early absence may hurt his chances to start in his rookie season.
Darnold is expected to push long-time veteran Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater for the starting job this summer, but this unexpected snafu is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the two sides have sharp differences on certain clauses and language in what will be a four-year, $30.2 million deal, fully guaranteed.
Coach Todd Bowles however, isn’t worried. “It’s just another day in the office. There’s no animosity. It’s just the business part. When he comes in, we’ll get him caught up to speed and get him ready to go, Bowles said. “I’m not frustrated,” Bowles added. “I’m a coach.” He said that as soon as the two sides agree on the deal, that the Jets would quickly bring Darnold up to speed.
Well by now, as everyone heard, the NFL denied the appeal for Julian Edelman and he’ll be lost to the team for the first four games of the season. He was suspended for the first four games of the season for testing positive for an unknown substance which violated the league rules against PEDs. Edelman missed all of the 2017 season after tearing his ACL in a non-contact play during the preseason. He’s been trying to work his way all the way back.
During the spring, the team at times kept him out of some drills, but it seemed more precaution than anything else. In the limited amount of time we were able to watch him, he looked like….Julian Edelman. Quick, able to cut on a dime and nearly impossible to cover in the short passing game.
But now the team will miss him the first four games against Houston, Jacksonville, Miami and Detroit and make no mistake, despite being able to hum along without him last season, this is a big loss for the first quarter of the season.
The offense lost three of its biggest playmakers as Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis left in free agency and the team traded Brandin Cooks to the Rams. So at wide receiver, the depth chart consists of Chris Hogan and a lot of question marks. While there is no denying the talent level is there with players such as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie Braxton Berrios, as well as the battle-tested but oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell, they haven’t worked for long in the system and the unknown element persists with all of them.
The suspension now may change how they look at training camp and the preseason. Edelman will be gone for the first month of the season, they’ll have to juggle, getting him all the way back with a balance of limiting his workload initially.
This suspension will no doubt put more pressure on tight end Rob Gronkowski and the running backs to produce more in the passing game. With Rex Burkhead and James White back in the fold, the team will look to Sony Michel to add that level of playmaking ability to both the passing and running games in 2018.
The loss of Edelman for that first month of the season, where the Patriots are normally slow starters is a big loss, there is no getting around that. But it opens a window of opportunity for the other players to step up and for at least one of them, it may lead to a four-week reprieve that could lead to him becoming a regular part of the offense.
We wrote on Sunday that the snaps in the slot are now wide open and up for grabs. Mitchell would be the first choice to snag them up but his health is a big question mark right now. Berrios and 2nd-year practice squad player Riley McCarron seem cut from the prototypical Patriots slot receiver mold, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities both in practice and in four preseason games to turn the coaches heads and carve out a role for themselves.
Our money here is on Jordan Matthews who has been able to thrive in many different offenses so he’s able to learn a new one and become productive right away. He brings a different element to the mix, he’s 6’3, so he presents a much larger target especially in the red zone.
Of course, this puts more pressure on Tom Brady and the soon-to-be 41-year-old QB has always been equal to the task. He’ll be operating without two of his best friends and most trusted receivers in Amendola and Edelman but something tells me he’ll be able to weather the storm until Edelman returns in Week 5 and the newer players find their rhythm in the Patriots offense.
It won’t be a walk in the park and at times they may struggle, as they always do early in the season. That’s what makes every year so different, so compelling and ultimately so much fun to watch.
But nobody circles the wagons better than the Patriots under Bill Belichick and are able to block out the noise and get all 53 men pulling in one direction. Is the loss of Edelman for four games a huge loss? Absolutely. Is it a crisis that will bear close scrutiny? Yes again. But this is where the wheat is separated from the chaff and this is where the great step up to the forefront. JFK once wrote:
“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
I’d place your bets on #12 getting it done this year even without Edelman for the first month of the season.