Tag Archives: Patriots

New England Patriots News 2-25, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Patriots Should Bring Back Both LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Steve Balestrieri
February 24, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

Like the old saying goes…you can never have enough tackles or cornerbacks. And the Patriots were indeed fortunate to have the depth they enjoyed in 2017. They started the season with starters Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon in place. They drafted what they hope to be their left tackle of the future with Tony Garcia.

And they had returning swing tackle backups LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming in place. It turned out all of those returning pieces were needed. Cannon was injured and placed on IR. Waddle stepped in and played very well. So well in fact, that they hardly missed a beat. He gave up a grand total of zero sacks on the season and seven QB hits in just under 350 offensive snaps this season.

Then Waddle got hurt and in stepped Fleming. He played very well in the playoffs and against the Eagles in the Super Bowl, he and Solder had very strong games. All four tackles played meaningful snaps during the season. And all, thanks to the superb coaching by Dante Scarnecchia, were very solid.

One need only look at some of the teams that struggled during the regular season, their offensive lines, particularly the tackle play was frequently a major issue. The Patriots not only used four but all of them did a good job overall during the season. They also have Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks who the team has high hopes for in the future as well as Garcia. Garcia, it turned out never took the field, he was on NFI list all season with an illness and we’ve read that he lost upwards of 40 pounds during the season.

Free Agency is Key to Continuity: Now three of those tackles are free agents. Solder, Waddle, and Fleming are all unrestricted free agents this spring. So the depth that they currently enjoy will be severely tested this spring.

We’ve already posted on how we feel about resigning Solder and what it may entail. You can re-read that here: In a perfect world, the Patriots would sign all three and enter the 2018 season intact again across the offensive line.

But they have to deal with the realistic scenario that Solder may either not return to the Patriots or retire this spring. Either could conceivably happen and if it does, then they have some decisions that they’ll be forced to make.

OL Cameron Fleming shares a laugh after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

While both Waddle and Fleming have played well as spot starters, do they want them playing on the edge for 16+ games as starters? Probably not. Then they’d be forced to look at free agency (not a great crop) or the NFL draft to find his replacement. Why? Garcia is still an unknown commodity. They haven’t seen him play yet. Compounded with his current medical condition, he’s a big question mark right now. And then they’d be looking at how to deal with the talented duo of swing tackle backups.  

Why Waddle and Fleming Will Resign:  The Patriots will probably try to resign both Waddle and Fleming. As last year showed, they were both needed and they each showed themselves valuable enough to play an important if limited role in their success.

Neither probably has a large enough body of work to be seriously considered for a starting position on another team. Would another team tempt either away with enough cash and an opportunity to start? The odds are against it but never say never. As we mentioned above, the tackle play around the league varied, and some teams were just awful.

It probably won’t break the bank with guaranteed money to bring back either. Both have familiarity with the system and coaches and like it here (much to the chagrin of Lane Johnson).

The absence of a bunch of guaranteed money will still allow the trio of Jelks, Croston, and Garcia to develop but leaves the team in a very good position in the event that there are the inevitable injuries.

They may decide on just one and let the other walk,  and deciding that either Jelks, Croston or Garcia is worthy of backup snaps with a chance to start down the road. In which case it would be a difficult decision. While Waddle has played the better of the two, his injury history this season may give the team some pause.

But the key from a Patriots’ perspective begins with getting Solder back in the fold. If they are able to do that, then getting their swing tackles back will be a nice addition. I think it is a no-brainer that they’ll try to bring back at least one and possibly both Waddle and Fleming.

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.

Nigel Bradham Should Be On the Patriots Radar in Free Agency

Steve Balestrieri
February 20, 2018 at 9:00 am ET

In the aftermath of the Super Bowl just a couple of weeks ago the Patriots and Eagles are now trying to play catch up with the preparation for the NFL Combine and Draft. One of the areas that the Patriots have to improve on is the linebacker position. As we’ve noted on here several times, they need to get more speed and athleticism at the position.

There are two ways to address this, free agency or the draft. In the end, they may opt for both. Free agency is definitely the more expensive of the two but the answer may have been on the field facing them in the Super Bowl if everything falls their way. One player that should be on the Patriots radar is the Eagles’, Nigel Bradham.

Bradham is still just 28, and athletic enough to play from sideline to sideline. He led the Eagles in tackles the past two years. He’s quickly becoming the Eagles’ best coverage linebacker, something that Jordan Hicks currently boasts. But he already is the team’s best tackler, and he’s as sure as can be in that aspect.

Once Hicks went down with an injury, Bradham took over the play calling for the defense wearing the green dot for the defense, a leadership, and trust factor that would play well with Bill Belichick. In Jim Schwartz’s defense, like the Patriots, they played with mainly two linebackers and more often than not opting for a slot corner. Bradham played the strong side in the Eagles’ defense and would no doubt do the same here.

Schwartz spoke highly of Bradham before the Super Bowl. “ He’s done a really good job handling all that communication, and it’s been fairly seamless, “ Schwartz said. .” I think that it’s really a credit to him is how he’s able to do that. He’s been able to play a couple different positions. He’s been multi-dimensional.”

Bradham has been durable, not missing any games due to injury with the Eagles, he was rested with other starters in the season finale. But he’s solid and is a workhorse. He played in 100 percent of the snaps in every playoff game and in 11 regular season games.  His stat-line for his career is 428 tackles, including 25 for losses; 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, 5 forced fumbles. He’s got good size at 6’2, 245-pounds and as we mentioned above, can play sideline to sideline.

How Bradham Fits in New England’s Defense: He’d function much like he already does in Philadelphia. He’d be a strong-side linebacker in the Patriots sub-package look. He wouldn’t be asked to be the signal caller since he’s new and could just concentrate on making plays. He’d be a nice upgrade over the up and down Elandon Roberts in both the running and passing games.

His presence would allow the Patriots to mix and match Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower between on the weakside or lining up as edge rushers at defensive end. The Patriots could dictate their looks depending upon the mismatches that the could see. It would immediately bring the depth up at linebacker as they’d have Bradham, Hightower, Van Noy and Marquis Flowers as their top four linebackers with two having the ability to rotate into the defensive line.

Bradham does everything very well and is a smart respected teammate. He did have a couple of off-field incidents a few years ago but was cleared in both of those. He’s been a good citizen in the Philadelphia and there’ve been no issues.

What Would it Take to Sign Him? When Looking at linebackers who aren’t edge rushers, to nail down a player of Bradham’s caliber would take probably between $5-5.5 million dollars. While that won’t break the bank, it is a tidy sum for a team without a ton of cap space right now. The Patriots (right now) have $13.14 million dollars in cap space. With some creative work on the salary cap, the Patriots could clear up to about $30 million.

So is it doable from a Patriots perspective? Yes. He’d be an immediate upgrade in the running game and in coverage. He’s a fiery, physical player who flies from sideline to sideline. In the last two seasons, he’s produced 190 tackles, 13 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks, and an Interception.

What about the Eagles? Philadelphia would love to bring him back. They love his athleticism, his smarts and attitude on the field. The issue with the Eagles is money. Normally Philadelphia under Howie Roseman likes to carry over about $20 million in the salary cap. But this season is the exception. Right now, the Eagles are almost $9 million dollars over the cap as it stands.

Hicks is coming back from an injury and they’re already on the hook for $7.6 million to Mychal Kendricks. Can they afford to bring him back? Not just yet. They’ll be forced to do some creative work to not only get under the cap but to sign their players, Bradham is one of their priority free agents.

Who knows, Bradham may try to pull a reverse move similar to what Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount did a year ago by going to the Super Bowl with New England and then leaving in free agency with Philadelphia.

He would be a welcomed, big addition to the Patriots defense. But the price will have to right for both the team and the player. If 2017 was any indication, the market for linebackers won’t be too high. The Bills Preston Brown signed with Washington for just $2.3 million dollar base salary with incentives built in. Bradham should go higher than that but we’ll have to see how high. Of course, there is always the wildcard of another team swooping in and giving Bradham a big-money contract. That what makes this time of year so interesting. Bradham will have some interesting decisions to make this spring.

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.

The Patriots Decision With James Harrison Will Be Intriguing

Steve Balestrieri
February 19, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

The Patriots have only $13.14 million dollars under the salary cap right now and will have to be creative in creating some room as well as decide who they want to retain. They’ll need to sign a few of their own free agents as well as grab some others who they covet from other teams. All the while knowing they have draft choices to sign.

We’ve been doing profiles on each of the free agents and will have more in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the biggest surprises for the end of the season was the addition they made during Week 17 of the regular season when OLB James Harrison fell into their lap after he was surprisingly and probably not wisely let go by the Steelers.

The Steelers barely used Harrison in 2017, he played a total of 29 snaps total for the season. He wasn’t happy about it and let the coaches know about it. They released him and the 39-year old cleared waivers. No team contacted him except the Patriots. He signed and immediately put his nose to the grindstone trying to learn the Pats defense in a crash course.

The conspiracy theorists who see a nefarious end to everything New England does chalked up the signing as merely a Bill Belichick ploy to steal the Pittsburgh playbook for when they were supposed to meet in the AFC Championship Game. Wrong again. Harrison fulfilled a role and played meaningful snaps more each week.

Meanwhile, the team that didn’t need him, spent more time talking about New England and forgetting they had a game against a Jacksonville team that had blown them out in Pittsburgh early in the season. Harrison could have been used as the Jaguars scored 45 points and knocked them out.

Harrison played a key role in the Patriots comeback win over the Jaguars a week later and played an even bigger role in the Super Bowl. Now with free agency approaching, the Patriots and Harrison both have to do what is in their best respective interests.

Why Harrison Will Return: The Patriots lucked into a player who helped them down the stretch by one of their bigger rivals in the conference. Despite being the NFL’s oldest defensive player at 39-years old, he fulfilled a much-needed role. He did a very good job of setting the edge, providing a sorely needed ability at rushing the passer and was decent dropping into coverage, an issue that plagued the Patriots’ linebackers all year.

Harrison earned praise from Bill Belichick who lauded his ability to learn on the fly and was constantly putting more on his plate as the weeks dragged on. His teammates raved about his professionalism and his knowledge, he was quick to help his younger teammates, something his experience lent itself to extremely well.

He could easily return to a type of role that Danny Amendola was used in the offense. The coaches could limit his pitch count to save him to have fresh legs for the defense down the stretch and into the playoffs. His performance down the stretch and into the playoffs showed (much like another 40-year old) that age is a number. He still had plenty of gas left in the tank and can be a valuable, if limited contributor on the field and be a steadying veteran presence on the field especially at crunch time during games.

Why Harrison Won’t Return: There is a dearth of speed and athleticism for the Patriots at linebacker, and with so much uncertainty at the position heading into 2018, the Patriots could possibly not afford to add another player who’ll they have to limit his pitch count during the regular season.

Dont’a Hightower is a very talented but injury prone player who can’t seem to get thru a season intact. Shea McClellin missed the entire season with concussion issues and may be told it isn’t in his best interests to play professional football anymore. Both were missed during the season. Harvey Langi was an intriguing prospect but was badly injured in a car wreck when he and his wife were rear-ended at a traffic light. The Patriots aren’t sure what they have in Langi yet, although he has potential.

At this point, Elandon Roberts is who he is. He can look tremendous one play and lost on the next. He’s a backup. Marquis Flowers played well this season and could be in line for an increased payload next year. Kyle Van Noy was the glue that held it all together. Harrison is going to be 40, and no one keeps themselves in better physical condition or works harder than he does. If there is a doubt check out his Instagram page. But playing one of the most physical positions at 40 is really tough. Can he hold up physically over 16 games and the playoffs?

Bottom Line: The Patriots appealed to Harrison and vice versa. The team liked what he brought to the table and he feels he can still contribute. He told Mike Reiss of ESPN, that he wants to play until he is 40 or 41. I don’t believe money will be an issue with Harrison this season. He’s made some good money and now he wants a chance to compete for another championship while getting another season or two in the sun.

There may not be a big market for a 40-year old linebacker despite what transpired in New England at the end of the season, so the team won’t have to outbid many other would-be suitors.

Had the injury situations with Hightower, McClellan, and Langi be different, I could easily see the team opt to bring Harrison back for a short-term contract and let him play out his career in a place where he can still contribute 15-25 snaps a game. But the current situation that exists in New England right now may preclude that. There are far too many questions lingering at the linebacker position. So, it is the opinion here that the team will go for an injection of youth and athleticism at the position. And sadly I think the chances are better than 50/50 that Harrison won’t be brought back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the New England Patriots Keep Free Agent Rex Burkhead?

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

The Patriots have only $13.14 million dollars under the salary cap right now and will have to be creative in creating some room as well as decide who they want to retain. They’ll need to sign a few of their own free agents as well as grab some others who they covet from other teams. All the while knowing they have draft choices to sign.

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 more intriguing players facing free agency is running back Rex Burkhead.

The Patriots made a very nice move last spring grabbing Burkhead off of the free agency pile in an under-the-radar move from the Cincinnati Bengals. Burkhead was stuck behind two very talented backs and didn’t see the field much. They signed him for the modest price of $3.15 million dollars.

The team liked his versatility, he can run the ball between the tackles, catch it out of the backfield and play a key role on special teams. We knew he’d fit right in here and it was easy to see that the coaches liked what they saw as well.

Burkhead hauls in a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. SBalestrieri photo

Why Burkhead Will Return: The Patriots and especially Bill Belichick love players who can do more than one thing. And versatility is Burkhead’s middle name. His season production, 264 yards on the ground with five touchdowns, 254 yards in the air with three more touchdowns. A blocked kick on Special Teams…

When the Patriots made the backfield a combination of Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White, the offense was extremely difficult to stop. The trio made it hard for opposing defenses to expect a pass or a run. All three also do a very good job as pass blockers as well, something the Patriots demand of their running backs

Burkhead was injured a couple of times this season and played in just 10 games in the regular season. And that may work in the Patriots favor this season. He showed the team he is an excellent fit in what they do and his two injuries last season may scare away, would-be suitors from investing heavily in a guy that they’re not sure if he can hold up for the long term.

Why Burkhead Won’t Return: There are enough of Burkhead’s good work with the Patriots on tape to show other teams what he can do. And let’s face it, the Patriots don’t pay their running backs to retain their services. They let them walk to other teams.

Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead ring a bell? All of them had fairly good success here in New England. Then when it was time to get paid, they moved on, just like LeGarrette Blount did…twice.

Players like him are rare, he can play four downs and do it all. If a team comes in with an offer that blows him away, he’d be foolish not to consider it. Careers in the NFL are woefully short and so is the window of peak earning potential. And Burkhead is right there. He’ll be 28 this season.

And of course, the Patriots could have cold feet themselves. Burkhead was injured twice last season and a Belichick mantra is availability is very important. Could they decide to walk away because of injury concerns? Absolutely.

Bottom Line: The Patriots love the selfless, egoless attitude of Burkhead. Bill Belichick lauded his work ethic speaking of him before the Super Bowl.

“Rex is really is a four-down player. He can play on first, second, third and fourth down at a good level. And those players are hard to find in the National Football League. He’s a very reliable, dependable player.”

Burkhead saw that for the first time he was given a chance to play meaningful snaps in an offense. And he thrived in it, before getting dinged up. He seemed as happy here as the coaches and other players were to have him here.

Both he and Dion Lewis are free agents this spring. Lewis had much more production this past season and is extremely elusive in the open field. If there is one back who will get a lot of money offered upfront, it is him.

Again this could work in the Patriots favor. They aren’t going to break the bank for Lewis and if another team scoops him up, the team could throw some decent but not crazy money after Burkhead on a short-term (2 years) deal that could lock him up for the foreseeable future.

Various cap-based projections put Burkhead in the $3.3 million dollar range for 2018. That is a modest raise from what the Patriots paid him in 2017, but if they can work out a deal in that vicinity, then there is a very good chance of Burkhead returning.

This is another intriguing decision that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have to make this spring. On one hand, they both know what Burkhead brought to the table when he was available on the field. But they also know in his only season in New England, he missed a lot of time.

That’s why a short-term deal would work for both sides. They won’t be able to keep both Lewis and Burkhead. In the end, they may not be able to keep either. But keeping Burkhead is a financially more doable situation for the Patriots. If the money is right…

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 Nate Solder

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

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 space.

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 left tackle Nate Solder.

This is where things begin to get very interesting. Solder, and backup tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are all free agents this spring. That means three out of the four tackles utilized by the team in 2017 could conceivably be gone in 2018.

The Patriots thought they drafted their left tackle of the future last spring when they took Antonio Garcia in the draft. But Garcia never stepped foot on the field and spent the season on the NFI (non-football injury list) as a result of an illness. Garcia is down to only about 260 pounds right now, so not only is there uncertainty about his playing ability because they really don’t know what they have in him yet but medically as well. Will he even be ready to go this summer? That is a lot of question marks pertaining to the guy who must protect Tom Brady’s blind side.

Why Solder Will Return: The Patriots drafted Solder in the first round, (17th overall) in 2011. He’s started 95 of 98 games he’s appeared in and has been pretty durable, playing thru a variety of ailments including testicular cancer a few years ago. He did have a torn bicep in 2015, where he missed the last 11 games.

The Patriots need Solder this upcoming season. They have capable backups in Waddle and Fleming, who can fill in for a game or two, but as starting left tackles? No. And with the dearth of tackles in free agency this season, they know they can’t lowball Solder’s offer too much or risk losing him.  

Solder is still a very good left tackle, there was some thought that he may opt for retirement but he probably has one or possibly two years left before he decides to hang it up. With questions regarding his heir apparent, the team will either have to draft another tackle (a definite possibility) or retain Solder for one more year. Solder has played in four Super Bowls protecting Tom Brady’s blindside and has the big game experience that the team wants. He’s a proven performer and the Patriots will probably be able to retain his services for about the same amount of cash he earned in 2017.

At 30 years old this fall, Solder still has plenty of tread left on the tires.

Why Solder Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here. One is Solder was contemplating retirement according to some rumors this fall. His own health issues coupled with the return of cancer to his young son, reportedly had him thinking about possibly hanging it up. If so, that would be the one situation where he’d be adamant about not returning.

As we mentioned above, there is a lack of quality tackles hitting free agency this season. With Solder just about to turn 30 in April, he could command some very decent offers. One team in dire need of a tackle is the Denver Broncos, and Solder played his college football in Colorado. They’d love to steal Solder away from New England.

The Patriots aren’t in a great position salary cap wise, so they won’t be able to overspend for Solder or anyone else this spring unless they start cutting other players or redoing some of the other contracts out there.

Bottom Line: The Patriots would like to have Solder back this season and truth be told, much like Josh McDaniels, family considerations may play a very large part in Nate Solder’s decision to remain in New England or to leave either in free agency or retirement.

With his son going thru another bout of chemotherapy, he and wife may want to keep their family close to the doctors that have treated his son Hudson at Boston Children’s Hospital. They have trust in the staff there and tied to them in the community as well.

He’s a very well respected member of the team by both the players and coaches. The 6’8, the 320-pound left tackle has been very good since entering the NFL. He’s sure to generate plenty of interest from other teams. And a few may opt to throw big money dollars in his direction. There is a stipulation in his contract that he can’t be franchised, so, that option is off the table.

Our feeling here is that he will return to New England or retire. While we may be way off on this one (not like we are batting 1.000 on these things), that is how we see it playing out. I think if the Patriots offer him close to what he earned in 2017, then the chances of Solder returning are much better and seeing him in a Patriots uniform in 2018.

We feel that the chances of him returning to New England are better than 50/50 this summer. Somewhere around 60/40 in favor of him playing at least one more season protecting Brady. Now the question remains, who else (Waddle or Fleming) will the Patriots resign and will Garica be able to resume his football career, which means working himself back up to weight and gaining the 40-50 pounds he lost?

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 Dion Lewis

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 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. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited at others.

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 space.

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 running back Dion Lewis. Lewis put it all together in 2017 and proved that he can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season as well as three playoff games and at 27 years old, is in the great position to cash in on free agency. He’s won a Super Bowl and now he wants to get paid.

Lewis’ situation is a bit different than other notable free agents as he’s missed so much time due to injury in the past, it will be interesting to see if there is a great demand for his services on the open market.

But as always, the question remains, who does the team feel is one of their priority free agents? Will Lewis be one of the guys that the Patriots feel like they must re-sign him?

Why Lewis Will Return: The Patriots settled on Lewis in the second half of the season as their go-to back and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball 180 times for 896 yards with six touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 214 yards and three more touchdowns.

But the bottom line was, once they went with Lewis, the offense was much more difficult to stop. Opponents had to respect the run as well as the pass and his versatility was on full display. As we mentioned above, Lewis showed he can stand up to being a feature back. His previous career high for carries was 64 in 2016, this season he nearly tripled that.

Lewis displays the willingness to run the ball between the tackles and for a smaller back, showed remarkable ability to carry would-be tacklers for yards after contact. He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the open field.

Lewis is a well-respected player by his coaches and teammates and they know what he can bring to the table.

Why Lewis Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here in regards to Lewis and his tenure here. First, the Patriots have never highly valued the running back position. So, will they pony up the kind of cash that they’ll have to, to keep Lewis in the fold? That is the big question. It will all come down to how much?

Lewis isn’t going to sign anything quickly here. He’s earned his payday and will want to test the waters to see what he can bring in during free agency. The Patriots have allowed Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman to test the waters of free agency in the past with the stipulation that the player gives them a chance to match any offer out there. You can expect the same with the Patriots.

Will another team try to wow Lewis away from New England with a big money contract offer? That is a distinct possibility. Other teams could see the potential with him and with the run/pass option he presents. He could easily be a fit with several other teams out there. It all comes down to money and the amount others are willing to spend. I could easily see the Patriots wish Lewis the best and wave goodbye this spring.

Bottom Line: The Patriots, do, however, recognize what they have in Lewis and the dynamic playmaking ability that he possesses, especially in the open field. Does that mean, the Patriots will break their mold and pay top dollar for a running back? That part is doubtful.

Bill Belichick has always been especially reluctant to pay big bucks to a running back, and one with an injury history like Lewis’.So have most other teams. The NFL really doesn’t value the running back position like in days of yore.

The Patriots have always eschewed the idea of a “feature” running back with the exception of Corey Dillon and have relied on a running back by committee with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Antowain Smith. But this year was a bit different. Although they still used a committee, Lewis was the main guy down the stretch and he was equal to the task.

So what would it take to sign him to a new deal? Several sites have been throwing around the numbers of a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. If the Patriots are willing to pay Lewis that kind of cash, then I think the deal could definitely work.

Reliability? He caught 32 passes on just 35 targets in 2017, that is a 91 percent completion percentage when the ball is thrown his way. That isn’t good, that is outstanding. And of course, there is the little stat that the Patriots are 32-3 when Lewis is in the lineup and just 13-7 when he’s not.

So, the chances are good, better than 50/50 that Lewis returns to the Patriots for the next three years on a new contract. But it is far from a sure thing. He’s turned enough heads for other teams to look long and hard. And then Lewis will have to decide what is in his best interests for the long term before coming to a decision, but he’s earned that right. If the money is right, he’ll be back. If not, wish him well elsewhere.

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 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.

McDaniels is Staying and the Succession Plan for the Patriots is in Place

Steve Balestrieri
February 7, 2018 at 8:24 am ET

The silver lining from the Patriots Super Bowl loss on Sunday night, while painful has a good…no a great bit of news. Josh McDaniels has spurned the Indianapolis Colts offer to be their next head coach and is staying in New England as the Offensive Coordinator.

McDaniels reportedly had dinner with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the deal was struck to keep him in place and then? The succession to the throne had to be addressed. Bill Belichick has made it clear that he wasn’t planning on coaching into his 70s and he wanted to establish his son’s coaching careers before moving on.

McDaniels had plenty of reasons to stay. And not the least of which is his family. His wife is from the area and his kids go to an exclusive private school in Walpole. His family has roots here and he doesn’t want to leave. His wife and kids most definitely don’t want to go to the mid-West. Never underestimate the family side of the equation.

Josh McDaniels, here with Jimmy Garoppolo at June minicamp will remain as the Patriots Offensive Coordinator. (SBalestrieri photo)

Now McDaniels will remain and the Patriots get to keep not one but two coordinators. Joe Judge, the Special Teams coordinator was slated to go to Indianapolis with McDaniels and now he’ll more than likely remain as well.

And the bigger piece of the puzzle that no one is mentioning is Nick Caserio. He will remain after getting some feelers once again for GM positions in the offseason. Caserio will remain in his position as the Director of Player Personnel but he does much more. He’s the guy doing all the leg work for the draft, works with the players in practices and serves as the de facto GM.  Which means when Bill Belichick decides to step down possibly in a year or two, the next coach and GM are already in place.

With all of the flak coming at Kraft and McDaniels since yesterday, one has to wonder, aren’t the same people who are complaining that there was no succession plan in place with Tom Brady, now giving the Patriots the business for addressing life after Belichick? Isn’t it the exact same thing?

What will the staff look like in 2018? McDaniels will remain as the Offensive Coordinator. Judge will remain as the STs coach. Chad O’Shea is put on hold as the OC in waiting, once McDaniels takes the reins. Greg Schiano’s name keeps coming up as the Defensive Coordinator, which may mean that Brian Flores is still getting consideration elsewhere.

I’d look for Stephen Belichick who has been the safeties coach to move this season to another position. Brian Belichick may be a positional coach this year as Bill tries to groom his sons for bigger and better things once he retires.

The offense now, won’t miss a beat. Brady and McDaniels have a long relationship and they have the mutual trust and respect to get the job done. There will have to be decisions made on several players who are free agents but this is a team when it has all of its weapons that is loaded.

McDaniels has grown from the coach who failed in Denver. He learned from his mistakes and has a much better feel for the game and his personnel than he did a few back. The young coach who was too stubborn to adjust in Super Bowl XLII ten years later faced an even better defense under Jim Schwartz and took them to the woodshed.

Now he, Belichick and Caserio have to find a young QB for them to groom to take over the reins for Brady when he too rides off into the sunset. The Patriots can be many things…boring is never one of them.

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.