Tag Archives: Rob Gronkowski

Podcast: Matt Light To Be Inducted Into The Patriots Hall Of Fame

Russ Goldman
May 17, 2018 at 1:37 pm ET

In this episode, we talked about Matt Light who will be inducted into the Patriots Hall Of Fame. Later on, we talked about which teams are the biggest threats to the Patriots in the AFC East, and then overall in the AFC.

Best Of Social Media: The New England Patriots Celebrate Mother’s Day

Robert Alvarez
May 13, 2018 at 9:45 pm ET

Both former and current New England Patriot players took to their social media accounts on Sunday to celebrate Mother’s Day. Check out some of the best personal messages and photos below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiuDo76B9nm/?taken-by=tombrady

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiuFOAdh1rw/?taken-by=tombrady

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiuMl0vgYrc/?hl=en&taken-by=bumpnrungilmore

 

PHOTO: Rob Gronkowski “Forseeing That Future”

Robert Alvarez
May 8, 2018 at 10:13 pm ET

The offseason of Gronk continues with another “up for interpretation” social media posting this week.

On Monday afternoon, Gronk shared a picture of himself out hiking on an unknown mountain top somewhere with a caption that read “Forseeing that future.”

Is there some sort of deep inner message being sent out for Nicholas Cage to decipher?

Will certain talking heads point out that he’s standing next to a cliff? That was my first take.

Is it safe to hike shirtless?

Well, It’s more probable than not Gronk is just continuing his already eventful offseason with some good old fashioned outdoor workouts as he preps for his 2018 return.

Forseeing that future of many more Gronk spikes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bifl-2GnCmx/?hl=en&taken-by=gronk

New England Patriots News 5-6 & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 6, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-6, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: One of the nicer stories to see this week was about a woman in the Philadelphia area who is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan needed a kidney transplant. She found a matched donor from the New Haven, CT area who, you guessed it is a life-long Patriots fan.

The woman, Patricia Pizzimenti,  recognized the irony of all of it, just after their transplant on March 8 and after meeting her donor, Michael Houlihan made up t-shirts that captured the humanity of the moment and the humor in it all. Well done all around.

Bill Belichick was named to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition by Donald Trump as was former Yankee great Mariano Rivera, Herschel Walker, Misty May-Treanor, Natalie Gulbis and Dr. Oz.

This is a tradition that has been going on since probably the late 1950s and of course set off quick hot takes that seek to politicize everything between “the Donald” and the Patriots ever since that “MAGA” hat was seen in a locker in Foxboro a couple of years ago. Does this mean that the Yankees have a “Trump Problem” like a well-known media outlet decried about the Patriots? How did Bill react?

“The physical fitness of children in our country is an apolitical issue that is extremely important to our future. … I was humbled to be asked and honored to accept, as I would have done for any administration.”

Belichick’s statement attempted to depoliticize this but, I guarantee this will be raised in his next press conference, not as an honor but about his political connection with #45.

Robert Kraft was courtside at the Celtics Game 2 against the 76ers with recently freed rapper Meek Mill, and Gucci Mane (Mane is a C’s Fan and a friend of Jaylen Brown) and the three were seen having an animated discussion. Chalk that one up to something you would have never dreamed as a possible scenario a few months ago.

So, on to the news this week, but first …

The Culture of Winning, the Biggest Cause of Tension in the Patriots Locker Room:
After hearing ad nauseum the latest daily dose of the “tension in the Patriots” between the coach and two of his star players as everyone becomes an amateur profiler from watching “Criminal Minds” and are psychoanalyzing Gronk’s tweets, and Brady’s body language and piecing together the subliminal messages that may have passed between all three…please.

Is there tension in Foxboro? You betcha there is. Is it new or anything more so than they’ve ever had before? No. So why is there so much tension there?

It is called a culture of winning. Bill Belichick knows and has witnessed, in his 35+ years in the NFL, the first thing that will destroy a great football team is being self-satisfied and complacent. The “we’re the best” and we’ve earned it” smug attitude will get a team knocked off their perch faster than a speeding bullet.

And this isn’t anything new or unique, as I pointed out in a recent Patriots 4th and 2 podcast, while I was never a professional athlete, I spent more than a dozen years as a Green Beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces. If there is a bigger testosterone-driven, Type A personality atmosphere bigger than a professional sports team, that is it.

After everything we did, we’d do an After-Action Review, (Hot washes, we’d call them) and they were very critical of every minutia of the operation. If you had a thin skin, you wouldn’t last long. There was tension every day. That is what made us so close to one another. It is also what made the unit so great.  

So, how does Belichick stop the Patriots from falling into this trap, and has succeeded far beyond any of his contemporaries? He doesn’t allow any complacency or self-satisfaction. As Brady said in the Jim Gray interview, if anyone bothered to watch the entire thing, besides the “I PLEAD THE FIFTH,” comment, Brady explained how Belichick would constantly harp in film studies on the things the team did wrong to keep them sharp, even during an 18-0 run during the 2007 season.

Brady did a pretty good Belichick impression and then followed it up with saying, “Humble pie was served,” adding “it was a very grounding force for all of us.” And this isn’t anything new, the Patriots and Belichick have always been known as the never satisfied bunch because Belichick is always working on keeping the players moving forward.

Because once a player or a team is satisfied, they stop growing and will start losing. Is it a difficult environment to play in, feeling like you’re constantly on the cusp of being cut and having to prove yourself day after day. Of course, it is. Do players, even great ones like Brady and Gronkowski chafe at that treatment? No doubt. But while they’ll chafe at it, they know, they won’t reach their full potential without it.

The Patriots have won at least 10 games for 15 years in a row. No one else in this era can come close to touching that. Russ Goldman, our host of the “4th and 2” podcast did a soccer show recently where he interviewed one of the top goaltenders of the English premier league, Asmir Begovic who won a championship and is coincidentally a die-hard Patriots fan. He asked Begovic if he’s had tension in a locker room in the EPL (English Premier League) and he laughed. He told him every day there is tension and it comes from trying to win championships.

Hopefully, Russ will schedule Begovic on our podcast again soon and we can revisit that conversation for our listeners. Much rather do that than to respond to quotes from the ultracrepidarianism that seem to be rampant on certain sports talk radio shows.

Matt Ryan’s Contract Is Testament on How Difficult it is to Find a Franchise QB:
The Falcons have given QB Matt Ryan a mammoth five-year, $100 million dollar deal with $94.5 million of it fully guaranteed. The other $5.5million is guaranteed for injury only. Ryan’s contract will pay him $30 million dollars this season. He is now the highest paid QB in the NFL. For comparison purposes, Tom Brady will make $20.5 million in 2018.

Ryan has always been a good but not great quarterback in his 10-year NFL career since coming out of Boston College. That changed in 2016 when he had a career year and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl where they narrowly lost to the Patriots in the first overtime game in NFL history.

But it is telling on how hard it is to find…and keep franchise QBs in the league. Of the top five paid NFL QBs in 2018, (Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr) only Ryan has a playoff win (4-6 career record in the postseason). Carr and Garoppolo have yet to appear in the postseason and the other two are 0-4.

Aaron Rodgers has to be looking at this and smiling as he’s soon due for a new contract and will most certainly command more money than any of those five. Brady at $20.5 million? Is an absolute bargain

Patriots Decline Options on Shelton, Brown, Dorsett for 2019:
More than a few eyebrows were raised this week when the Patriots declined their fifth-year options on defensive tackles, Danny Shelton, Malcolm Brown, and Phillip Dorsett.

On the Wednesday deadline, the Patriots are betting on the market for the defensive tackles being less than the $7.1 million that would be their financial boon in the final year of their rookie deals. And call it what it is. This is a financial decision, not one based on performance.

Brown has been generally good for the Patriots on the field and Shelton hasn’t played a down yet. The team still has the option of signing one or both with extensions during the regular season. Dorsett, on the other hand, is more of an open and shut case. He’s hardly a lock for even making the roster at this point with a crowded field during the upcoming training camp. Dorsett had trouble getting in tune with Tom Brady and the offense in 2017. He had only 12 catches on the season.

Reps are going to be hard to come by in the Patriots offense next season. With Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell back, Chris Hogan healthy, and Rob Gronkowski back in the fold, reps will be earned. My player to watch is Jordan Matthews for the wide receivers, but we shall see who earns the looks this summer.

Spring Reps at Tackle Will Be Interesting to Chart:
Right now, on paper, the Patriots have a ton of depth at tackle. Tackles like cornerbacks is something you can never have too many of. But when the OTAs and minicamp begins, don’t expect to hear of too many of them being on the field.

Although Tony Garcia was supposedly given a clean bill of health after his blood clot issues in his lungs, expect the Patriots to be particularly cautious with him in the spring and allow him to acclimate back into playing shape.

Ditto for top draft pick Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown who the team recently drafted in the 1st round and then traded for soon after. Both had shoulder surgery in the winter and while they both claim to be healthy, the team will probably take things slow with both. And Marcus Cannon, the team’s starting right tackle from 2017?

He was placed on IR due to a foot/ankle injury late last season and isn’t expected to be ready until June, which probably puts everything thru the team’s minicamp out of the question.

The first time we’ll probably see all of these players on the field at the same time will be training camp. That will give them time to carve out roles for themselves. But at the same time, the other players on the roster, who will be fighting for reps/roster spots will get a leg up on the competition.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Hire Dan Morgan as Director of Player Personnel:
The Buffalo Bills have made a solid hire with the signing of Dan Morgan who will head up Buffalo’s scouting department.  Morgan was an All-Pro linebacker for the Carolina Panthers during his seven-year playing career.

He became a scouting intern for the Seattle Seahawks and worked his way up through the ranks as a pro scout and was eventually promoted to Assistant Director of Pro Personnel in 2013, and the Director of Pro Personnel in 2015.

He takes the place of Brian Gaine who left to become the Houston Texans General Manager. Bills GM Brandon Beane spoke to the media about Morgan and believes he is prepared for the job.

“The great thing about Seattle is they allowed him to get out on the road some. So even though he was doing pro, he was on the road doing college stuff. His main background is on the pro side, but he’s touched college as well and that makes him a good fit for the role.”

Dolphins Claim QB Bryce Petty Off Waivers From the Jets:
The Miami Dolphins didn’t wait long to snag QB Bryce Petty after he was released by the New York Jets. Petty was without a team less than 24 hours when he was scooped up by Miami.

Many had the Dolphins targeting a QB early in the 2018 NFL, but they eschewed that and didn’t even take a developmental one. Instead, turning their picks in the first two rounds into DB Minkah Fitzpatrick and TE Mike Gesicki

Petty has started in seven career games while with the Jets going 1-6 and completing just 53 percent of his passes. With Ryan Tannehill expected to be fully healthy this summer after missing all of 2017, Petty will be battling Brock Osweiler and David Fales for backup QB duties.

Todd Bowles Cracks Up Media After First Jets Rookie Practice:
The New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles is usually a quiet, presence on the podium during the Jets press conferences. After Sam Darnold’s first rookie practice on the Jets, the media rushed to ask Bowles his first impressions of the Jets rookie QB.

Bowles, having fun with the moment, came out of character for a bit and in mock enthusiasm, slammed his open hand on the podium and shouted, “He was great! I want him to play right now!”

That cracked up the media members who have to ask these questions but it also diffused the questions for a bit…at least. As Bowles was saying, Darnold has a long way to go to learn the Jets offense and it is going to take time. But they won’t hold him back, they want him to progress at his own rate.

Darnold said all the right things, calling himself a naive rookie just trying to fit in, but in truth he’s anything but. Expectations are thru the roof with him, whether he wants it or is ready. The team will have patience but Darnold knows all eyes will be on him all summer.

“It’s just really cool how excited they are about me being here,” he said. “It’s really awesome to have that feeling, that you feel wanted. Whether I’m wanted or not, I’m going to come in here and do my thing.”

For now, Josh McCown is the starter and Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and Christian Hackenberg will be all in the mix, but once he’s deemed ready, the job will be his to lose. Jets fans, hungry for a franchise QB since the days of Joe Namath, are expecting much, much more.  

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.

Quincy Enunwa: The Patriots Are Vulnerable This Year

Steve Balestrieri
May 1, 2018 at 12:00 pm ET

Is it 2010 or 2018? Raise your hand if you’ve heard this every spring for the last decade. “The Patriots are vulnerable this year, and this MAY be the year Team “X” dethrones them.”

Yawn, Rinse, Repeat. Yes, both the Jets and the Bills picked up what they are finally hoping are franchise quarterbacks this season and for teams that have been looking up in the standings for the past two decades in the AFC East, the spring is always one of hope.

In an interview on CBS Radio Friday, Quincy Enunwa told Brandon Tierney and Tiki Barber, the hosts of the show, that he believes the Patriots are “vulnerable” heading into next season. The Jets receiver later doubled down on SiriusXM NFL Radio. First Enunwa stated that he was merely responding to a question in that interview, but then couldn’t help himself and added that he sees no reason why New York can’t win the AFC East.

“Obviously, I just wanted to agree,” Enunwa said. “I think they may be. But I also think that we’re capable of finally dethroning them. I think that we’ve always been. It’s just about getting over that hump of finishing games. Not to add more bulletin board material for them, but I think for us, we’re hyper-confident and believe that we can do that.”

Hope is running high in New York, both in the city and in Buffalo where the Jets landed Sam Darnold as their quarterback of the future while the Bills drafted gunslinger Josh Allen from Wyoming as their own.

The Jets have really been searching for a franchise quarterback since the days of Joe Namath…yes that long. Darnold was expected to be the first player off the board during the 2018 NFL Draft but in a surprise move, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield as their choice. Mayfield was the odds-on favorite to go to the Jets but instead, Gang Green had Darnold fall into their lap, with many considering him the top QB in the draft.

Will Darnold start this season? Not if the Jets are smart. They have an experienced bridge in place in the ageless Josh McCown. While McCown isn’t going to light the world on fire, he’s solid, will not give games away and can serve as a good mentor to Darnold. They would be best served to let Darnold learn the team’s offense and let him find his way into the NFL for his rookie season and not throw him straight out there.

Of course, if the Jets were smart, they wouldn’t be making statements like this, that we’ve heard every year it seems. Darnold may very well be the real deal and be a top quarterback for several years to come. But will he come into the league and light it on fire from Day 1? The chances of that are doubtful.

But he will have Enunwa who missed the 2017 season because of neck surgery. But the Jets wide receivers aren’t going to scare a lot of opposing team’s defensive coordinators.

Part of Enunwa’s confidence springs from the fact that it is widely reported that the supposed “rift” between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has grown wider and that the relationship between the two is the worst that it has ever been.

The last game Brady played in? Without top wide receiver Julian Edelman who missed all of 2017, he passed for 505 yards against a very good Philadelphia Eagles defense. Edelman is back and they’ve added some other key pieces to the mix.

The Patriots aren’t going anywhere this season. They’ve won the division for the past nine years in a row in 15 of the past 17. Their consistency has been the hallmark of Belichick coached teams where it seems you can pencil them in for 12 wins a year. You want to knock them off, then step up to the table.

Hope springs eternal, especially this time of year. We get it. The Jets are excited, they have a new quarterback and the confidence to rise up and make people take notice. But do it on the field, not in the media. But after the Patriots bye week, the Jets will get their chance on November 25, the teams will meet for the first time in 2018.

Maybe Darnold will already be under center for the Jets. Then do your talking.

Podcast: Final Patriots Mock Draft

Russ Goldman
April 25, 2018 at 2:20 pm ET

This is our Final Patriots Mock Draft before the NFL draft takes place.

Wednesday Patriots Notebook 4/25, Gronk Returning, Final Mock

Steve Balestrieri
at 8:30 am ET

Gronkowski Announcement Doesn’t Change Much:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and his agent Drew Rosenhaus met with Bill Belichick on Tuesday telling the coach that he’s returning for the 2018 season. Adam Schefter reported this first on ESPN. This ends months of speculation that he may retire.

“It was very positive and Rob is committed,” Rosenhaus told Schefter.

Gronkowski then took to Instagram to announce his intentions:

Jeff Howe reported that just a few days ago, Gronkowski didn’t have a date to return and now he’s all in. Howe believes that Belichick issued him an ultimatum.

Regardless, it doesn’t change much for the Patriots needs wise in the draft this weekend. While they have Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Troy Niklas, Jacob Hollister and Will Tye on the roster, they still have a need there as Gronkowski has committed to playing in 2018. The next question becomes, what happens in 2019? While the need may be significantly lower this year, they still may opt to address the position.

The interesting tidbit was that Schefter announced through a source that Gronkowski will not be traded in 2018. Just as an FYI, that is what was said about Jimmy Garoppolo.

Van Noy Tells Patriots Nation to Chill Out:
When the news of the Gronkowski “decision” was aired, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy had some fun with it and laughingly told everyone to calm down and was hoping for the media to leave it alone as well.

Something tells us that more than one player will pipe in now in regards to this latest Gronkowski saga.

Patriots 4th and 2 Podcast Dates Upcoming:
Be sure to check out our Patriots 4th & 2 podcasts right after each day of the 2018 Draft and the guys will break down who the Patriots added through each round.

Final Mock Draft Has the Patriots Moving Up

The Patriots have several options in the upcoming draft on Thursday night. And while we all talk about “positions of need”, the fact of the matter is, with the roster as currently constructed (if healthy), they’d be okay. Obviously, there are questions of depth at LT (Waddle, Garcia) and at LB, but with Hightower, Langi and Rivers returning, that should help quite a bit.

For our final mock draft, we explored the buzz that has been making the rounds, that the Patriots may decide to move up in the draft. And much of the talk has centered around the #9 pick of the San Francisco 49ers. We’ve heard a ton of talk that John Lynch “owes Bill Belichick” for the Garoppolo trade and frankly that is not how it works. Lynch owes the Patriots nothing, both sides went into that deal with their eyes wide open. If Belichick dials the phone on Thursday night, Lynch will certainly listen but doesn’t owe him a thing.

The thought moving up to #9 centers around the QBs obviously but in researching it, the top QBs (Rosen, Allen, Mayfield, Darnold) were all gone. We looked into it with the hope that LB Roquan Smith or DE Bradley Chubb may still be on the board due to the QB feeding frenzy going on. That didn’t happen. However, there are still opportunities.  

So, for our final mock draft ( conducted 4-22), we still decided to explore a trade up. PatsFans Mock 4.0. We looked at pick #13 for the Washington Redskins. So in our mock, we made a deal with Washington. The Patriots slide up 10 spots and give the Redskins the #23 and #43 picks for Washington’s #13 and #109 in the 4th round, where the Patriots don’t have any picks. The value works out, Washington gets added value in the early second round and the Patriots get their move up as well as a pick in the 4th round. So who did they take?

Round 1, Pick #13 Quarterback, Lamar Jackson, Louisville:

Once the team decides (if Jackson is the guy) who their QB of the future is, then they have to go get him. The Patriots brought him in for an official visit on the sly and judging from their supposed interest, he could be a guy they are interested in. We’ll see.

Jackson is a tremendous athlete with incredible moves in the open field when forced to run and rushed for 3000 yards over the past two seasons. He has a cannon for an arm and threw for 57 touchdowns the past two seasons as well. He is still raw in the passing department but will have the time to work on his mechanics and learning the offense.

Belichick had his eyes opened last season by a rookie QB (Deshaun Watson) who is a mobile QB much like Jackson. Working with Josh McDaniels, Belichick and learning at the side of Tom Brady for the next couple of seasons should have him ready to go.

Round 1, Pick #31 LB, Malik Jefferson, Texas:

Jefferson is another one of those great athletes at the linebacker position and has the added advantage of being able to play on the inside or slide outside as an edge defender or blitzer off the corner. He’s good in coverage in both man or zone.

Jefferson is a great anticipatory player but is explosive, very athletic and a powerful tackler. He’ll learn to be a true off the ball linebacker and can be very effective.

Round 2 Pick # 63 Edge, Sam Hubbard, Ohio State:
We have said all along that Hubbard is a proto-typical Patriots type of edge defender.

He gives that needed depth on the edge, can step in and play at a high level on Day 1, can play either side so he’s versatile and can do a bit of everything.

To see our draft profile on him click here:

Round 3, Pick #95 OT, Jamarco Jones, Ohio State:

Jones was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes who have developed quite a pipeline for tackles in the NFL. Jones has good size at 6’5, 310 and is a very good pass blocker, and has shown the quick feet and agility to rarely get beat by speed rushers on the edge. He’ll need to get stronger and become more physical, especially in the running game at the next level but under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, he’ll get there. With the Garcia news that he’s healthy and ready to go, Jones won’t be hard-pressed to produce as a rookie.

Round 4, Pick #109 S, Marcus Allen, Penn State:

Allen has great size (6’2, 215), and athleticism for the position. He was a starter since midway thru his freshman season and was one of the leaders of the defense. He’s one of the most physical safeties in the class and a big-time hitter

He can play deep but is best suited to be the player in waiting to replace Pat Chung in the box. Excellent in run support, can cover tight ends and will be a perfect player to play the LB slot in the Patriots “big nickel” package.

Round 6, Pick #198 Edge, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Kansas:

Armstrong had a tremendous 2016, with 20 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as his coaches had him pinning his ears back. In 2017, going to a more read-and-react style, those numbers dropped to 9.5 TFL and just two sacks. But he has very good speed and a quick first step. Armstrong has dropped into coverage at times, something the Patriots ask their edge players to do occasionally. He’s a good, athletic player who tackles well but needs to add some bulk at the next level.

Round 6, Pick #210, CB, Arrion Springs, Oregon:

Springs has decent size at 6’0 and 205 pounds but was insanely productive for the Ducks with 42 passes defensed, including 17 in 2017 alone. He tracks the ball in the air as well as anyone. However, his top end speed isn’t great and looked a bit stiff when turning at times. He is very bowlegged which hurts his athleticism.

Round 7, Pick #219 RB, Jaylen Samuels, North Carolina State:

Samuels is a true jack of all trades, we wrote he is chameleon-like as he can do just about anything. He rushed for 404 yards and 12 touchdowns while being the leading receiver for the Wolfpack with 76 receptions for 597 yards and four scores. He’s a good route runner that played tight end in college, can run between the tackles and can do just about anything on the field. He’s a Bill Belichick type of guy.

Samuels draft profile that we wrote can be referenced here:

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 4-22, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-22, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: 

Rob Gronkowski had a bizarre press conference where he clearly was sending a message to Bill Belichick and it wasn’t a very pleasant one.

It has been said that Gronkowski wants a new deal, there are ways to get that without resorting to what transpired. It wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, it was planned. Gronkowski’s dad was with him and laughing at his comments.  The Patriots gave him a long-term deal when his health was an issue. They backed him, and now he’s acting like the wronged party here. That could be a big miscalculation.

The weather this week for the Boston Marathon was hardly the ideal conditions for running that or any kind of race. A cold rain was falling with winds blowing right in the runners faces. Congratulations to all who participated in and finished this year’s race. The Patriots Marathon Team all finished this year and raised more than $223,000 for charity. Well done.

The 2018 NFL Schedule was released this week and of course the first thing everyone does is (and we’re all guilty of it), is to try to analyze the schedule and predict what the final outcome of the season will be. It is an exercise in futility of course. Before the draft, no one knows what the landscape across the league will look like yet.

But of course it never stops some, and the first on deck was the Washington Post to loudly proclaim that the Patriots once again have the easiest schedule in the league. Playing seven playoff teams and few others (Green Bay, Houston, and Detroit) who will no doubt again be in the mix hardly seems like a cupcake schedule, but it always seems that way. BTW the much-maligned AFC East had two playoff teams in both 2017 and 2016.

One thing that definitely stands out is the final month of the season, which is a carbon copy of the 2017 season. Road games at the Dolphins and the Steelers, followed by home games to finish the regular season versus the Bills and Jets.

James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL this week, citing the desire to spend more time with his family. The long-time Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker was released at the end of the regular season and signed by the Patriots.

“I’ve missed way too much for way too long…and I’m done,” Harrison wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to my family, coaches, the fans, and everyone who played a role in my football life.”

Despite having to learn the defense on the fly, Harrison played very effectively, logging nearly 90 percent of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl, having arguably the best game of anyone on the team’s front seven.

Kudos to Johnny Manziel and his agent, with the draft upcoming, the media buzz around him has noticeably cooled from a few weeks ago. So Manziel just happened to have himself photographed wearing Patriots garb this week. No other team will garner such a visceral reaction on social media. And Bingo!, he’s news again. Well played.

Quoteworthy Belichick Tidbits:
Bill Belichick was in a presser speaking about the team-building process last week and had this gem, that puts his philosophy out there…in case anyone forgot.

“So the preseason schedule was released and I noticed that there are no games in May, June, or July. Preseason games are in August, so it doesn’t look like the regular season is going to start until September this year.”

Patriots Lose an Icon From the Booth:
Late in the week, we got the very sad news that long-time Patriots radio announcer Gil Santos had passed away on his 80th birthday and also his 57th wedding anniversary.

Santos was the final announcer from the old AFL days, having begun his stint with the Patriots as their color man during the 1966 season. In 1970, he took over as the play-by-play man for the Patriots thru the 1979 season. Working for WBZ, the station lost the rights to the Patriots games from 1980-1990 and Santos was out. However, in 1991, they regained the rights to the Patriots broadcasts and Santos would be the “Voice of the Patriots from 1991 thru the 2012 season.

His final game was the 2012 AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was his 759th Patriots game called on the air. He is a member of the Patriots’ Team Hall of Fame as a contributor. He and partner Gino Cappelletti worked the booth from 1972-79 and again from 1990-2011 when Cappelletti retired and was replaced by Scott Zolak.

Santos rich baritone and always exquisite timing made him one of the very best in the business. From all accounts, he was a very gracious man who never made the moment about himself and had a manner of announcing that made the listener feel that they were right in the booth with them. No one who follows the Patriots can forget the final drive call of his from Super Bowl XXXVI which will remain an icon for the team and the fans.

For a guy who saw the very lean years in the late ‘60s and early ‘90s to finally see the team win their first of five Super Bowls was one of those moments that transcend just the call of a football game. Santos was one of us and you could hear the emotion in his voice as well as Cappelletti, who played in those years. “Well New England, you have the best football team in the world now.”

Growing up in that era, Boston was blessed with some of the best radio voices ever. Santos covering the Patriots, Bob Wilson with the Bruins, Ned Martin calling the Red Sox and Johnny Most covering the Celtics. There were too many school nights to recall where we’d turn an old transistor radio down way low while we were supposed to be sleeping on a school night to hear Wilson or Martin calling a game from the West Coast.

Santos was a frequent guest in the family car on fall weekends when we’d travel to see relatives who lived all over the New England area. His work never changed whether the team was very good or very bad and many times in-between. The mark of a true professional. For those who may have missed it, I’d recommend the book Santos and Cappelletti wrote, “A View from the Booth” which was a great look behind the scenes.  

RIP Gil and thanks for so many great memories. And a call I never get tired of listening to, thanks to Kliff Kingsbury:

Decisions, Decisions, Trying to Decipher What the Pats Will Do in Round 1:
The Patriots have a lot of draft capital in the upcoming draft with two picks in both the first and second rounds. Now everyone is trying to predict what the team will do with all of that capital.

Will they trade up for an elite prospect or one of the quarterbacks, stay put at 23 and 31 and draft some impact players that will immediately help the team or trade back to acquire more draft capital for the middle-to-late rounds. One thing does appear certain, that the team will at one point trade back since they don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds.

Just some history here, this will be the 14th time in the Patriots history, (if they keep the picks) that they’ll use two or more picks in the first round. Back in the 1970s, the team under Chuck Fairbanks drafted exceptionally well. He had two (2), three pick first rounds taking John Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley in 1973, And Mike Haynes, Pete Brock and Tim Fox in 1976. Fairbanks then drafted Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan in the first round of 1977.

Bill Belichick has dipped twice in the first round on two different occasions. He took Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson in 2004 and Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower in the 2012 NFL Draft. How he decides to proceed on April 26, will depend on how the board plays out. But if he does decide to move up, two slots to keep an eye on are #9 currently held by the 49ers and # 14 held by the Packers. It should be quite an interesting night this week.

Team Hall of Fame Finalists Announced:
The Patriots announced their finalists for the 2018 Team Hall of Fame. All three were teammates on the early 2000’s three-time Super Bowl winning teams. Matt Light, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel are this year’s finalists.

This is the first time for Light to be named a finalist while Seymour is a finalist for the second straight year, while Vrabel is a finalist for the third straight year.

Fans can vote at patriots.com/2018hof through May 14. The Pats will announce the 2018 Patriots Hall of Fame selection that week.  

One interesting footnote is that if Vrabel were to get selected, he’d be the first former player, who also happened to be a head coach of a team the Patriots would play later in the season.

The Patriots have the only team Hall of Fame that is elected by the fan base, which is both a positive and a negative in the process. However, this year’s selection will be the 27th player or contributor to enter the team’s Hall. From the Pats’ website, the following greats are listed in alphabetical order and the year that they were inducted.

Houston Antwine (2015)
Bruce Armstrong (2001)
Raymond Clayborn (2017)
Drew Bledsoe (2011)
Troy Brown (2012)
Tedy Bruschi (2013)
Nick Buoniconti (1992)
Gino Cappelletti (1992)
Ben Coates (2008)
Sam Cunningham (2010)
Bob Dee (1993)
Kevin Faulk (2016)
Steve Grogan (1995)
John Hannah (1991)
Mike Haynes (1994)
Jim Lee Hunt (1993)
Ty Law (2014)
Willie McGinest (2015)
Stanley Morgan (2007)
Jon Morris (2011)
Jim Nance (2009)
Steve Nelson (1993)
Vito “Babe” Parilli (1993)
Andre Tippett (1999)

Contributors:
William H. “Billy” Sullivan, Jr. (2009)
Gil Santos (2013)

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Who Comes Up With This Stuff? Bills Already Picked to Be Worst:
The Buffalo Bills were a playoff team in 2017 but according to ESPN’s Mike Clay, they should stay home in 2018 because according to him, the Bills will own the #1 pick as the NFL’s worst team this season. This is before the draft takes place.

Buffalo made great strides in 2017 and own five draft picks in the first 65 of the upcoming draft…but that didn’t let stop him from predicting the bottom to fall out. Clay didn’t stop there, he picked Buffalo to finish 2-14 along with Miami. And the Jets? Clay gives them a whopping four wins at 4-12. So the Bills and Jets will have the top two picks in 2019 with the Jets picking fourth. Wow.

And for anyone keeping score at home, Clay last year reported that Bills’ secondary was the fifth worst positional grouping in the NFL.

Dolphins Fans Remain Optimistic Despite Lackluster Predictions:
The Miami Dolphins as referenced above by ESPN’s Clay were picked to finish 2-14, they were considerably better in ESPN’s Mike Rodak prediction going 8-8 improving from last year’s 6-10.

The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser also went thru the Dolphins’ slate also going with a 8-8 record, predicting a New England Patriots sweep this season while predicting a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Meanwhile, Dolphins fans were feeling much more confident than Clay, (they may not want to see his piece). Going thru each game, Dolphins fans picked how they saw the season playing out and gave the Fins a very respectable 10-6 record. A couple of surprises there as 79 percent feel that the Fins will beat the Titans in Week 1. In a close pick they mainly feel confident against the Jaguars 51-49, but much so against the Patriots at home, 64 percent predict a win.

Mayfield to the Jets Gaining Momentum:
The New York Jets with less than a week to go before the draft are still looking for that elusive franchise quarterback. And the rumors that they are going to go for Baker Mayfield over Josh Allen, who they just had in for a visit. We’re not going to lie, Mayfield would be a fun fit in New York and with his fiery demeanor would immediately put the Patriots – Jets rivalry right back where it should be. Thursday night can’t get here fast enough.

In other news, longtime Jets standout offensive lineman Nick Mangold announced his retirement. And the team announced that they have picked up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

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.

Podcast: Patriots 4th & 2 Video Interview with BSJ Greg Bedard

Steve Balestrieri
April 16, 2018 at 11:05 am ET

The PatsFans.com  podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” did a video podcast of an interview we did with Boston Sports Journal’s founder Greg Bedard late last week as we spoke about the upcoming NFL Draft.

We also took a look at where the roster is and tried to get a feel for how the Patriots will proceed in the first two rounds of the draft.

You can click on the link to take you to the video, it will also be released later as just an audio podcast soon on our BlogTalkRadio site.

We also encourage our readers to subscribe to our YouTube channel and to our podcasts.

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 4-15, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 15, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 4-15, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: Some interesting NFL news this week, the league waves goodbye to those hideously awful “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night contests. Perhaps the only thing worse than the uniforms were the awful slate of games that fans were subjected to. Here’s hoping for a much better 2018 slate.

The league wants an independent investigator to look into the concussion settlement with the players, claiming that there is rampant fraud on-going isn’t a good look for the league or the players association.

And the Dez Bryant release by the Cowboys and reports that wants to play in the NFC East to play Dallas twice a year, makes for some interesting times ahead. Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal penned a piece earlier this week stating he’d be a great one-year rental for the Patriots. But now, that probably won’t happen.

The Patriots conducted a pre-draft press conference on Friday morning and Bill Belichick talked about how the team would prepare for the draft by conducting some in-house mock drafts to prepare themselves for the volatility of the draft boards.

He also spoke about trying to draft for need. “You can’t manufacture a guy. It’s a name on the board right now. Until that player gets on the field and performs, then you never really know for sure what that’s going to be.”

“You start talking about the third guard and the second corner, the third guard and the eighth corner, or however those grades will line up,” Belichick said. “Or, you talk about players that are specialty-type players, role players that are maybe very good at a certain role but they’re not three-down players. What are their values relative to other players who may be three-down players with a lesser skillset?”

The Patriots always move around the draft board with trades up and down and this year with two picks in each of the first two rounds promises to be an interesting time to watch how they approach those rounds.

Martellus Bennett had an interesting story on Belichick and his meticulous approach to game planning. Appearing on Fox Sports, Bennett spoke about a game against Buffalo.

“We’re getting ready to play against the Buffalo Bills. The scouting report on the Buffalo Bills punter is he doesn’t have the best hands, and it’s going to be raining,” Bennett said.

“So at practice we practice the punter dropping the ball, scooping and scoring because Bill’s like ‘it’s going to happen in the game.’ And I’m like ‘yeah, well, it might happen.’ You know how coaches say something, everyone’s doing it, right? Well, sure enough on Sunday, it’s drizzling and he drops the ball.”

Bennett was then asked if the Patriots scored.  “No, we didn’t do what (Belichick) said. But on the sideline, I looked at him like, ‘who is this guy?’ All the little things like that he prepares us. I don’t think there’s another team better at situational football.”

Garcia and Rivers are Kind of Hidden Draft Picks in 2018:
Last year the Patriots top two draft picks (taken at #83 and #85 overall) Edge Player Derek Rivers and Tackle Tony Garcia were both lost for the season during training camp and if not for Deatrich Wise, their 2017 draft would’ve been of zero help.

Tony Garcia blocks Kony Ealy during Patriots minicamp 2017. (SBalestrieri photo)

Now they both Garcia and Rivers are slated to return and ready to compete. While they didn’t play any meaningful snaps in 2017, both were able to sit in the meetings and probably have a much better idea of the Patriots system this year.

Garcia spoke with Greg Bedard last week and said he’s feeling the best, he’s ever felt, and his weight is back up to 290 (his playing weight at Troy). He and LaAdrian Waddle will no doubt be competing for the starting role this summer of the Patriots left tackle position vacated by Nate Solder.

Derek Rivers returns ready to go in 2018. SBalestrieri photo

Rivers, who came from Division 2 Youngstown State, seemed a bit overwhelmed in the first few days of training camp. But once he got used to the speed of the NFL game, you could see the light gradually coming on and just as he was starting to flash a bit, was injured during a joint practice against the Texans.

This year I could see Rivers in kind of a hybrid OLB/DE role on the edge in the sub-packages, at least initially and see if he can maybe vie for a starting role later during the season.

Rivers doing an interview after an early TC practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Nate Solder’s Letter to New England Perfectly Stated:
Former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and now New York Giant penned a large thank you letter to the Patriots coaches, front office and fans this week and it was a poignant, heart-wrenching account of his son’s struggles with cancer and what he and his wife were going thru behind the scenes.

The characterization of the Patriots of this cold, hard-hearted organization takes a backseat to how he describes how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels allowed him to miss team meetings to be with his son during his cancer treatments.

It is a must-read piece by Solder and gives the reader a real up-close look at the man behind the number. The Giants are getting a very good player and Solder. They are getting an even better man.

Patriots Offer to Amendola, Wasn’t Close to Miami’s:  
Danny Amendola returned to New England this week and he was the featured guest of the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” event at Merrimack College, where ESPN’s Mike Reiss rode with him to the event.

Danny Amendola at training camp 2017. SBalestrieri photo

Amendola was very forthcoming in the piece, talking about his contract, “When free agency broke, I came to the realization that he wasn’t going to really come close to any of the other offers I had,” he said. “I had to make a decision for my family and go down to Miami and continue my career there.”

And then about the Malcolm Butler benching,  “I have my thoughts about it because I was out there putting my blood, sweat, and tears out on the field that night, and one of our best players wasn’t on the field,” he told Reiss.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know why. I did ask, but I didn’t get any answers. I can’t make decisions like that, so I don’t necessarily worry about it, but I know Malcolm is a great player and he could have helped us win. For whatever reason, he wasn’t out there. He’s going to play more football in his career, and he’s going to be a great player for a long time.”

But at the event, Amendola called Belichick, “the best coach to ever coach in the game” and even said that he respected the hard work that went into getting to the Super Bowl. “I didn’t like practicing in the snow, I didn’t like practicing in the rain, but that was going to make us a better football team and that was going to make me a better football player. It wasn’t easy, and he’d be the first to admit, at the [Super Bowl] ring ceremony, that it wasn’t easy playing for him. The silver lining was that we were at the ring ceremony.”

Jordan Matthews Signing Keeps Looking Better:
The signing of former Bills and Eagles WR Jordan Matthews continues to look better and better on paper as we wait for the off-season workouts to start. Matthews bet on himself, knowing how tough a place New England is to play, and with the Patriots already having a slew of wide receivers on the roster, he picked the Patriots.

He spoke AL.com about his decision this week and said, “I don’t feel like I’m called to be comfortable, and I knew this would be a great place for me to grow, not only as a player, but as a man in general.”

“When I walked into the building I could feel that there was an aura of ‘Let’s get better every day,'” Matthews said. “I think sometimes in the offseason it’s easy to kind of slip into that kind of monotonous mindset and just saying, ‘OK, we’re just bringing people in,’ or whatever. But there was a lot of intentionality during the visit. They were very detailed. They were very specific with me on what they thought about me and areas that they thought I could grow in. I appreciated that more than anything. I appreciated that type of honesty.”

Matthews knows how tough the Patriots’ offense can be to pick up, but having played at Vanderbilt, considered the “Harvard of the South” he should be plenty smart enough. He also knows that with a solid 2018 season, he’s setting himself up for a nice payday.

Matthews was a very productive receiver for the Eagles, averaging 75 catches a year for three years before being traded to Buffalo last year. He was injured three times and his production plummeted. But it takes two to tango. A receiver has to have an innovative system and a good QB to be productive. Buffalo had neither last year. He can play outside the numbers or in the slot so, he’s a guy we’ll be looking at closely this summer.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

McCoy Wants the Bills to Sign Dez Bryant
The Buffalo Bills definitely need help at wide receiver, right now having only Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones and Andre Holmes on the roster. With A.J. McCarron and no doubt a rookie QB on the roster this summer, adding a veteran WR would definitely help whoever is under center. This is why RB LeSean McCoy is stepping up.

McCoy tweeted out asking Bills management to sign recently released Dallas Cowboys’ WR Dez Bryant. He doesn’t seem to be a fit, either in the Buffalo offense or in the city but he does make things intriguing if the Bills would throw their hat into the ring.

Richie Incognito had stated earlier this week that due to physical ailments that he was retiring. “I’m done. That’s it. It’s been a long career. Went to the doctor. My liver and kidneys are shutting down. The stress is killing me. It’s just about doing what’s right. I just want to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Now he’s saying that he’ll be at the Bills off-season workouts starting on Monday. This too will bear watching tomorrow.

Dolphins Bringing in Kenny Vaccaro for an FA Visit:
There are still some quality free agents out there despite the draft being right around the corner. The  Miami Dolphins are bringing in former Saints first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro for a free agent visit. The Fins are pretty much set at safety with Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald and courting Vaccaro, while a high impact player, doesn’t really have a position to fill unless they envision him in a role that the Patriots characterize as the “big nickel” in a linebacker kind of slot.

Vaccaro, 6’0, 214 pounds, had played that type of role as well as nickel, strong safety, and free safety while with the New Orleans Saints.  

Even more intriguing is that ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Dolphins drafting another safety, FSU’s Kerwin James in the first round. That would be a surprise. However, what isn’t a surprise is that the Dolphins struggle covering tight ends, especially Rob Gronkowski.

But Vaccaro was smoked for a pair of touchdowns last year during Week 2 by Gronkowski, hardly the only one that has happened to, however.

Latest Kiper Mock Has Jets Taking Rosen:
The New York Jets moved up in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft to the #3 spot in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts and now the only question is, which QB will they draft. And Mel Kiper is sticking with Josh Rosen.

Kiper has stuck with his guns all winter long and has been touting Rosen as the next franchise QB for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. Many draft pundits have been touting Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield for Gang Green.

Each has their strong points, and Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner makes some people pause with his offbeat persona but he’s a tremendous talent. The first round of the draft is shaping up to be a very intriguing night. In our humble opinion, Mayfield would be a great fit in New York and has the persona to handle the rough times.  

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.