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New England Patriots News 2-17, AFC East Notes

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

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

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

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

Evaluating the Team Needs by Position Entering 2019:

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

QB – Team Need – High:

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

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

RB – Team Need – Low:

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

WR – Team Need – Very High:

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

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

Tight End – Team Need – High:

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

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

Offensive Line – Team Need – Low/Medium:

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

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

Defensive End/Edge – Team Need – High:

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

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

Defensive Tackle – Team Need –  Very High:

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

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

Linebacker – Team Need – Low:

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

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

Secondary – Team Need – Low:

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

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

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

Special Teams – Team Need – Very High:

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

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

Our Favorite Free Agent Targets For the Patriots:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gueregian’s entire piece can be referenced here:

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

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

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Release TE Charles Clay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which of the Patriots Free Agents Return in 2019?

Steve Balestrieri
February 14, 2019 at 8:32 am ET

Which of the Patriots Free Agents Return in 2019?

The Patriots are facing a ton of potential turnover in their roster in the upcoming 2019 season and to go along with a slew of coaching changes, it presents a difficult challenge in the days ahead.  

Most Super Bowl winners suffer a turnover of more than 20 players from the Super Bowl to Week 1 of the following NFL season. This year’s Patriot team will no doubt be any different.

So, now that the post-Super Bowl celebrations are over and we’ve had a chance to let the dust settle, we are going to take a look at some of the Patriots free agents and try to get a feel on who may return and who may be moving on. And let’s start with the two biggest of them.

Trey Flowers:

The Patriots defensive end was a fourth-round pick from Arkansas just four years ago and at 25 is just now entering the prime of his career. Flowers led the team in sacks the past three years but he’s much more than just a sack specialist.

In the varied scheme that the Patriots run on defense, they ask their edge players to do a lot of different things. And Flowers can do them all. He sets the edge, rushes the passer from the outside, can kick inside as an interior pass rusher and drop occasionally into the passing lanes in the flat.

Flowers has arguably been the Patriots’ best defensive player for the past several years and they know and appreciate his value. How will the rest of the league value Flowers? In an increasing fantasy football mindset, many fans and writers may not believe that he’s a top-tier defensive player. But the coaches see what he brings, especially two ex-New England coaches in Detroit and Miami.

The chances of Flowers returning are probably less than 50/50, and if they can’t get anything done by the time the signing frenzy begins, it will probably be less than that. Flowers would look awful in teal…

Trent Brown:

My, my, my, (Joe Kenda voice), what a difference a year makes. When the Patriots got Brown in a trade with the 49ers there were a lot of very unconvinced people (including right here) that wondered why the Niners would let him go if he was as good as Von Miller proclaimed him to be.

Miller, the Broncos pass rush specialist, called Brown the best right tackles in the NFL and considered him one of the best tackles …period. Brown is absolutely enormous at 6’8, 380-pounds but for a man so big, he moves incredibly well. He took over the starting left tackle position in the first days of training camp and never looked back.

He started all 16 regular season games and all three playoff games and was simply outstanding. So, yes… he can play left tackle in the NFL, and do so at an elite level. Having feet as quick as his for such a large man allows him to keep pass rushers at bay and he can be a road grader in the running game.

Will another team throw a boatload of money at his feet this spring? With the protection of QBs blindsides always at a premium, the answer is probably yes. Will the Patriots match? Probably not. They invested their top pick last year in Isaiah Wynn who ended up on IR with a torn Achilles last year. Marcus Cannon is under contract for the next three years. The Patriots believe Wynn is more than capable, however, they’ll want to take him along slowly with his injury.

If the Patriots do re-sign Brown, then swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle will probably go, if not he’ll return for another year. The chances of Brown returning are far less than 50 percent in 2019.

Stephen Gostkowski/Ryan Allen:

Both of the Patriots kicking tandem are free agents this season. Gostkowski has been with the Patriots since Adam Vinatieri left in 2006, (the Patriots have essentially had two kickers since 1995), and Gostkowski has been remarkably consistent for a very long time. Last season he was 27-32 on FG attempts, three of his misses were beyond 50 yards and 49-50 on extra points. His work on kickoffs is a subject that Bill Belichick has long complimented on as exemplary.

Allen has been outstanding at angling punts to the sidelines and dropping them inside the 20-yard line of opponents. During the Super Bowl, he pinned the Rams deep three times inside their 10-yard line. And don’t forget, it is Allen that does the holding on all of the extra points and field goals.

Both are extremely valuable and trusted. The odds of each returning is well over 50 percent for 2019.

Jason McCourty:

J-Mac was a very valuable contributor in 2018, his solid play, experience, and leadership were all key factors in the team’s success in the secondary. And playing in the playoffs for the first time in his career, was an experience that McCourty relished, a valuable teaching point to the younger players to never take anything for granted. Especially for a player who went from 0-16 to a Super Bowl win.

The Patriots have a lot of depth at the cornerback position with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones (RFA), Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and Eric Rowe (UFA). McCourty’s veteran presence would be very valuable in 2019, but much of his future may be tied into his brother’s retirement consideration. If Devin decides to return for one more year, Jason would be much more inclined to remain. He’s a 50/50 proposition to return.

Chris Hogan/Phillip Dorsett/Cordarrelle Patterson:

The Patriots three complementary wide receivers are all unrestricted free agents this spring. Hogan has spent the past three seasons here after signing a three-year deal bringing him over from Buffalo. Hogan was a key contributor on the two Super Bowl teams his first two seasons but this year, he seemed to be frozen out of the offense, where he was forgotten for very long stretches. A classy vet, on and off the field. He’s a great teammate who works hard every day and can be a valuable complementary piece in any offense.

Dorsett seemed primed to have a nice role in the offense after a really strong training camp. But when the team signed Josh Gordon, he saw his playing time slashed. However, when his number was called, he contributed some big plays, most notably the touchdown pass in KC during the conference championship game right before the half. He never lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations but can be a nice role player.

Patterson remains one of the premier kick returners in the game and the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl showed how dynamic he can be, nearly breaking it for a TD. The Patriots installed a package on offense to take advantage of his blazing speed and he chipped in with three receiving touchdowns. He also jumped into the mix at running back when injuries piled up at mid-season and acquitted himself pretty well there. That concept of doing whatever the team needs you to do wasn’t lost on the coaching staff.

The belief here is that Hogan is gone and Dorsett is slightly less than 50 percent to be returning, probably looking for a spot that will allow him more playing time. Patterson seemed to really like it here and if the Patriots offer him anything close to what he gets on the open market, then his chances of returning are better than 50 percent.

Malcom Brown/Danny Shelton:

The two big men in the middle both had the team decline fifth-year options for each in 2019 which says that they are prepared to move away from either or both unless the money is right. Brown had a good but unspectacular 2018 season and like his previous four years, had bouts of inconsistency. He was much better down the stretch and into the playoffs. But in truth, he never really lived up to his first-round draft expectations.

The Patriots picked up Shelton from the Browns last spring and he too was plagued by consistency problems. He was a healthy scratch for three late-season games including the AFC Championship Game but was active and very good in Super Bowl LIII.

The belief here is that the team could easily bring one of the two back on a team-friendly deal, but the chances that either return are under 50 percent.

John Simon/Albert McClellan/Ramon Humber:

The Patriots love their special teams’ guys and in a year when the normally stellar STs units were struggling with their consistency early in the year, they brought these three into to the fold to steady the boat.

Simon proved to be a valuable role player on the defense first and STs second. He did a very good job when called upon in setting the edge and getting after the passer as well as dropping into coverage. In the sub-packages the team runs, he provided a valuable role and fit in well.

McClellan was an outstanding addition to the STs and blocked a couple of kicks, forced a key fumble. But in the punt coverage teams? Before McClellan’s arrival, the team was allowing nearly 13 yards per punt return. After he came on board, it was cut in half. That isn’t a coincidence.

Humber is another STs maven and he’s terrific on kick coverage and recovered a blocked punt. The chances of these three returning are better than 50 percent, it would be nice to see the team re-sign all three 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 and game analysis.

New England Patriots News 2-10, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
February 10, 2019 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 02-10 and AFC East Notes.

 An Emotional Bill Belichick: We are used to seeing to the normally clipped and reserved Bill Belichick over the course of the year, where he always keeps things in perspective and never gets too high or too low. But as the Patriots clinched Super Bowl LIII, all of those shrouds were lifted and we saw the joy for all of the hard work come thru. In typical Belichick style, he gave all of the praise to the players. NFL Films captured it perfectly right here:

Patterson With a Diamond-studded Gift for Brady: Patriots WR/KR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson was obviously very grateful for his 2018 season with the Patriots and especially with Tom Brady. Patterson made a gift of a diamond-studded TB12 logo to Brady after the Super Bowl, which no doubt set him back thousands of dollars. Brady posted a picture of his daughter wearing it on his Instagram page. She saw it and fell in love with it…Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

What a Crowd for the Parade: The Patriots 6th Super Bowl win this week featured a couple of huge crowds which put to rest that the fans were getting blase about the team’s continued success. The turnout for the send-off rally was over 35,000 fans and the Super Bowl parade which had a huge crowd of 1,500,000 fans in downtown Boston. The crowd at the game itself was the first time that the Patriots had a clear advantage in terms of crowd noise. It never gets old or taken for granted.

Did you Know? For the yards are more important than points crowd… The Patriots in SB LIII garnered more yards (407) than their season average (393) against the Rams. While the defense held the Rams to 160 yards fewer (260) than their season average which was 421. When we wrote about the defense coming together late in the season, many scoffed at it. After those last three playoff wins, nobody is scoffing now.

A Return for Amendola? The latest news out of Miami is that the Dolphins are rumored to be moving on from WR Danny Amendola after just one season in South Beach. If that were to happen, could a return to Foxboro be in the cards? Absolutely. And I know a certain QB that would love to see that happen as well.

Close the Roof: With another sound clip from just before the game started, watching Bill Belichick questioning the timing of the roof closure after the flyover shows how detailed the Patriots and their coaches are in preparation for every possible scenario.

Favorite Play of the Game in Super Bowl LIII:

In a game dominated by defense, there are several plays that could fit the bill as favorite plays of the game. The pass breakup by Jason McCourty in the end zone, Stephon Gillmore’s interception, Dont’a Hightower just blowing up Tyler Higbee during the Danny Shelton’s run stuff, but my personal favorite was from Kyle Van Noy.

The Rams rolled Jared Goff out to the right and had three WRs flooding the zone. Josh Reynolds was the main target doing a shallow cross about 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage with a deeper cross about 12 yards and Cooks running a deep corner route.

Van Noy was supposed to get sucked into Goff which allows his an easy window to complete the pass and have an easier 7-10 yard pass play. But Van Noy recognized the play coming, and slowed up to hit Reynolds with a forearm, flattening him. He then joined the rush after Goff, who had nowhere to throw and was forced out of bounds. It was a tremendous play.

Brian Baldinger from the NFL Network every week does his “Baldy’s Breakdowns” and highlights certain key plays and they are excellent. He calls this particular play here: 

Flores Brings Three Patriots Assistants With Him to Miami:

The Miami Dolphins hired former Patriots de facto Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores this week and Flores has brought three Patriots assistant coaches with him to Miami. Former WRs coach Chad O’Shea will become the Dolphins offensive coordinator. Josh Boyer who coached the NE cornerbacks will handle the same duties in Miami with the added title of defensive passing game coordinator as well. And Jerry Schuplinski, the assistant QBs coach will also handle the same duties there.

Greg Schiano Rumored to be the Next Defensive Coordinator:

With Flores departure for South Beach, the Patriots are looking for a couple of defensive coaches and what was first reported locally by Jim McBride of the Boston Globe, the Patriots are reportedly close to signing former Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano as their next DC.

Schiano spent the last two years as the Ohio State DC and is a friend of Bill Belichick’s. But where Schiano is best known for was his time as Rutgers’ head coach. During his tenure there 19 players who played for him made their way to New England.

Those players included Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, and current Patriots safety coach, Steve Belichick. Bill Belichick will always surround himself with players he likes, and the Rutgers connection with Schiano is a testament to that. He and Schiano should get along fine.

Patriots Have Large Free Agent Class in 2019:

As tough as it is moving on from Super Bowl LIII, time marches on and now the team will have a lot of tough personnel decisions to make in 2019. Here is the list, and it is lengthy of the Patriots free agents this year.

Trey Flowers
Trent Brown
Chris Hogan
Cordarrelle Patterson
Phillip Dorsett
Jason McCourty
Eric Rowe
Stephen Gostkowski
Ryan Allen
Malcom Brown
Danny Shelton
LaAdrian Waddle
John Simon
Albert McClellan
Ramon Humber
Brian Schwenke
Ulrick John
Jonathan Jones (RFA)
Josh Gordon (RFA)
Ufomba Kamalu
Cody Hollister

Obviously, the two top free agents are Flowers from the defense and Brown on the offense. Flowers has arguably been the Patriots best defensive player for the past three years and has led the team in sacks in those three. The Patriots will no doubt try to find a way to secure Flowers services but he’s in line for a huge payday and is considered one of the top free agents this spring.

Brown was brought on-board last spring and had never played left tackle. He took over the position early in training camp and never looked back. He was very solid in pass protection and was terrific in run blocking, especially in the postseason. He’s another guy inline for a huge payday.

Hogan will probably be gone although I do believe that the team will make efforts to bring back both Dorsett and Patterson, the latter who did a bit of everything this past season, playing wide receiver, running back and returning kickoffs. Patterson had a combined yardage total of over 1100 in 2018. Dorsett was a forgotten man during the time Josh Gordon was on the team, but contributed down the stretch and had a big TD reception in the AFC Championship Game.

Gostkowski and Allen are an excellent duo. Gostkowski has been here since Adam Vinatieri left in 2006. Allen was outstanding in the Super Bowl, pinning the Rams three times inside their 10-yard line.

It will interesting to see if McCourty returns, there were rumors that he and his brother Devin may retire after the Super Bowl but he played well all season and made a huge play in the Super Bowl, coming from across the field to break up a pass for Brandin Cooks in the end zone. Rowe began the year as the #2 corner before landing on IR after just four games.

Brown and Shelton are the two big guys in the middle of the DL.Both played well down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, after passing on the fifth-year options on both, the team may only resign one. Waddle has been a valuable swing tackle, with the health along the OL this season, he wasn’t used as much.

Simon, McClellan and Humber were brought in mid-season and all filled valuable roles. The team will probably look to retain all three. Jones and Gordon are restricted free agents. And the interesting aspect of Gordon is that he can apply for reinstatement in May of this year.

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Have $80 Million in Cap Space, But Preach Caution:

In a really good piece by Vic Carucci, the Buffalo Bills in the first two seasons under Sean McDermott have been trying to manage expectations and build for long-term sustained success. So with about $80 million in cap space this spring, GM Brandon Beane in a letter to season ticket holders is preaching more caution. The message is to not expect the team to go all-in in free agency for instant gratification.

“The sole focus is to build the Buffalo Bills into a championship contender and help create a culture aimed at long-term, sustained success,” Beane wrote.

That is the correct way to build a winner. The Bills are still a long ways off from being a true contender and now they’ll try to start adding the long-term pieces that they’ll need to surround their young QB Josh Allen.

“The previous two draft classes have begun a new foundation of young players on our roster,” Beane wrote. “We are encouraged by the development thus far by players like Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Tre’Davious White and others. Each of them was given an individual plan of improvement at season’s end and they understand they have a lot of work in front of them.

“We have opportunities to improve our team this offseason and the Pegulas, Sean (McDermott) and I are all on the same page and determined to bring winning football to the city of Buffalo. Thank you for your loyal dedication to this franchise.”

Dolphins Hire Flores Who Brings Plenty of NE Coaches With Him:

The Miami Dolphins hiring of Brian Flores is a new change of regime, of which the Dolphins have had plenty but this time they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with a big New England Patriots presence going to South Beach with Flores, Chad O’Shea, Josh Boyer and Jerry Schuplinski also coming on-board.

One of the more surprising bits of news coming out of Miami is that the Dolphins are planning on moving away from WR Danny Amendola, who they brought in a year ago to bring the veteran presence to the Dolphins locker room. That will bear watching.

Flores, like Belichick is behind the power curve in terms of being far behind in preparation for the NFL Combine, but the Dolphins will be looking to find their next franchise QB and are in need of a true nose tackle either in free agency and the draft.

Jets Coaching Staff Seems Like Perfect Choice for Hard Knocks:

The New York Jets hired Adam Gase as the new head coach for Gang Green. And as Rich Cimini of ESPN has pointed out, there is certainly no lack for potential controversy there.

The full staff, announced Friday by the Jets, includes longtime NFL assistant Joe Vitt, Gase’s father-in-law, and Blake Williams, the son of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

This is where it gets interesting.

Vitt and Gregg Williams were members of the New Orleans Saints’ coaching staff implicated in the 2012 BountyGate scandal. In the bounty hearings, conducted by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Vitt accused Williams of lying in his testimony.

Vitt also said the players didn’t take Williams seriously because of his “false bravado” and “schtick.”

Blake Williams, 34, has a reputation for rubbing people the wrong way. As a St. Louis Rams assistant, he upset people in the organization by screaming at a draft prospect in a scouting-combine interview, a source said. He also was reprimanded multiple times for sitting in the wrong seat on the team bus; he kept sitting in a seat reserved for a senior member of the staff.

The Rams fired him after the 2013 season. Williams has only worked for NFL teams in which his father was on the staff.

Gase also hired Jim Bob Cooter as the Jets running backs coach. With an eclectic group like this with all of the potential fireworks with the coaching staff, I believe that this will be a perfect choice for Hard Knocks this summer.

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

Patriots Celebrate Super Bowl Victory At Celtics Game

Robert Alvarez
February 9, 2019 at 2:00 pm ET

The Super Bowl championship victory tour took a few members of the New England Patriots to Thursday nights game between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the start of the second quarter, the Celtics shared a video tribute in honor of the Patriots.

The tribute featured appearances by some players sitting courtside on the TD Garden jumbotron.

The McCourty Twins. Duron Harmon, Trent Brown, Rex Burkead, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Sony Michel and Head Coach Bill Belichick were all shown on screen to the fans.

As an added bonus, Barstool sports founder Dave Portnoy was also shown sporting his infamous Roger Goodell clown shirt.

After the game, the Los Angeles Lakers Lebron James met with Belichick to congratulate him on his latest championship.

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Unfortunately for the hometown fans, Los Angeles finally earned a win against a Boston sports team, with the Lakers defeating the Celtics in heartbreaking fashion at the buzzer in a 129-128 victory.

Patriots Report Card In Blowout Win Over the Chargers

Steve Balestrieri
January 15, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots Report Card In Blowout Win Over the Chargers

We said they needed to start fast and boy did the Patriots ever do that. When was the last time you saw domination like that in the playoffs? Answer… Never. No Patriots team has ever begun a playoff game with four touchdowns on their first four possessions.

This one was truly over at halftime but we’ll grade the team for the entire 60 minutes and it was something to see. This is the team that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing and unfortunately haven’t seen this year… until now.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s blowout win:

Quarterback: A

This week Tom Brady heard the noise, many national types were saying this week against the Chargers was the end of the Patriots dynasty, the end of Brady-Belichick. The Bolts were going to put he and Rob Gronkowski into retirement mode.

Brady was fired up but more than that, he was on top of his game all day long. He saw that the Chargers were sticking with their soft zone Cover 3 look, a defense he’s shredded for his entire career and once again he gralloched it with ease.

He completed 34-44 for 343 yards and a touchdown and looked as sharp as he’s been all year. His best pass was in the fourth quarter. Derwin James had tight coverage on Julian Edelman and Brady lasered a BB down the field that Edelman turned into a 35-yard gain. His arm strength going? Watch that throw again. And again.

Don’t try to fight a lion if you’re not one yourself.

Running Backs: A

As we mentioned above, Brady and the Patriots have played this Gus Bradley Cover 3 zone defense in the past. Shane Vereen had a big day catching the ball in the Seattle Super Bowl, 11 catches 64 yards on 12 targets. The Atlanta Super Bowl, James White roasted them, 14-110 and a TD on 16 targets. Last year more of the same 14-15 for 163 yards. White was targeted 17 times on Sunday, he caught 15 passes for 97 yards.

Sony Michel gashed the Chargers run defense for 129 yards and 3 TDs on 24 carries. He had his longest run of the season a 40-yard scamper to boot. Rex Burkhead chipped in with a 6-yard touchdown run of his own. The running backs ran for 155 yards on the ground and were targeted 19 times in the game with 17 receptions for 113 yards.

When the Patriots ran out of their “21” personnel, they averaged nearly 7.0 yards per carry on Sunday. The Chargers linebackers were banged up and they were going with a light package and had no answer.

Wide Receivers: A

Julian Edelman was arguably the player of the game for the Patriots. Something to keep in mind, Edelman hasn’t played in a playoff game since the Super Bowl against Atlanta. And yes there were even whispers that he’s lost a step.

He cranked his game up a notch…actually two, and was fantastic. He had nine catches for 151 yards and he set the tone early in the game. On a third and short. Edelman caught the pass from Brady and appeared that he’d be tackled short of the sticks. But he broke the tackle and kept driving and picked up the first down. Soon after, the Patriots were in the end zone.  

During the game, Edelman moved into the #2 spot all-time for playoff receptions behind only Jerry Rice. He also moved into the top 10 all-time in receiving yardage in the postseason. And people still try to belittle his accomplishments by calling him a “slot receiver”… Oy vey. Not bad for an undersized option quarterback.

Tight Ends: B+

Rob Gronkowski dominated in the running game. With the Patriots trying to run the ball, Gronk showed why he’s a complete tight end and he was blowing people off the ball. He helped Cannon put Melvin Ingram on roller skates on Michel’s 40-yard run and for good measure drove Hayes Pullard to the sideline.

He caught one pass for 25-yards that was classic Gronkowski. He took the pass in, broke the initial tackle attempt and then ran over the next man. He drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone and helped clear out a ton of real estate for Phillip Dorsett, who was wide open for a touchdown.

Offensive Line: A

The offensive line had arguably their best game of the season and maybe of the past two seasons. The Chargers defense was no “tomato can”, they are a top 10 unit against the run and the pass. And the Patriots offensive line absolutely dominated the point of attack all day long.

Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon absolutely dominated the matchup against Ingram and Joey Bosa, they made life hell for Lamar Jackson a week ago. On Sunday, Brady had a clean pocket all game long and was only hit a couple of times.

In the running game, not only did they fire off the ball and get a great push, but the blocking downfield was outstanding. When your offense rolls up 500 yards against a Top 10 defense, it usually means one thing for the offensive line. Total domination.

Defensive Line: A

The Patriots defensive line had another outstanding effort in Sunday’s game. They held Melvin Gordon and the Chargers backs to just 19 yards on 10 carries. And once they stuffed the run, they had Philip Rivers forced into passing situations.

In the pivotal first half, Rivers was pressured on 70 percent of his throws. Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn (who had his best game as a Patriot) each had a sack. Flowers had another taken away on a ticky-tack penalty where he was blocked into the ground and thus hit Rivers low.

Adam Butler had some good quality snaps and provided good pressure on Rivers as he saw quite a bit of work with the running game shut down.  

Linebackers: A-

The Linebacking corps was also outstanding on Sunday. They were terrific in run support, the hardest hit of the day was Elandon Roberts down by the goal line where he had a tremendous collision with Gordon that sent the running back flying backward.

Kyle Van Noy was once again all over the field and he and Dont’a Hightower were constantly moving around in the “amoeba defense” which kept the Chargers guessing to where they were coming. Hightower was used in a pass rush mode often and created great pressure all game long.

John Simon saw quite a few snaps and was impressive, getting pressure on Rivers and stuffing Gordon for a loss.

Secondary: B+

Stephon Gilmore got fooled badly on the Bolts first possession where Rivers looked him into the middle of the field and Keenan Allen blew right by him for a 43-yard touchdown. But after that, he blanketed Allen and shut him down. Allen would catch only two passes, the other with Jason McCourty covering. Gilmore picked off Rivers with a very nice play in the second half where he got body position and went up and high pointed the ball.

Rookie J.C, Jackson had a very competitive game against the impressive Mike Williams who made some terrific catches with tight coverage. Jason McCourty had a bit of a rough day and gave up several long completions to the Williamses and a 30-yarder to Allen who caught it and went down at the one-yard line.

Pat Chung and Devin McCourty were very solid all game long. Rivers padded his stats with a lot of garbage time yardage and a pair of scores, but the defense was playing much different by then.

Special Teams: A-

The only blip on the special team’s radar was the opening play of the game. James Develin flubbed the kickoff out of bounds shy of the 17-yard line, where if he let it go, it goes out of bounds and the Pats get it at the 40-yard line.

The coverage units did a pretty good job on holding Desmond King in check and Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect 7-7 on his kicks.

Albert McClellan recovered a fumble that quickly turned the game into a blowout. He’s been outstanding since coming here in mid-season. Isn’t there a dweeb on sports radio that constantly pooh-poohs Belichick signing STs guys? That’s why you sign them.

Coaching: A+

Josh McDaniels called a heck of a game. The Chargers defense was kept guessing all day long and he knew exactly how to attack it and exploit the matchups. Bill Belichick had the players ready to go and they fired out of the gate better than they’ve played all season.

And please…stop with the “what happened in the second half?” nonsense. This game was over and Bill Belichick and McDaniels weren’t going to give Andy Reid and the Chiefs any other film to watch. They put it on cruise control and put the six-guns in the holsters and milked the clock.

Belichick and Brian Flores weren’t shy about challenging the talented Chargers and bringing the heat on Rivers. It was a tremendous game plan and flawlessly executed.

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

Best Of Social Media Week 8: Patriots vs Bills

Robert Alvarez
October 31, 2018 at 6:46 pm ET

Quarterback Tom Brady entered week eights match up with the Buffalo Bills boasting a 28-3 lifetime record against the AFC East Rival.

Riding a four game winning streak into western New York, the Patriots were heavy favorites once again.

In the first quarter, the Buffalo Bills play calling turned some heads to begin the night. As Bills offensive coordinator and former Patriots coach Brian Daboll attempted to throw the Patriots defense off early.

After a punt to begin the game, quarterback Tom Brady did whatever it took to keep the next drive alive, even if it meant trying to block.

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The drive ultimately setup a Stephen Gostkowski 25 yard field goal for the first points of the game.  3-0 Patriots after one.

In the second, Brady also showed off his running ability.

So to recap, a block and a run for Brady in the game already.

Unfortunately the offense continued to struggle against the Bills defense, as they could only muster two additional field goals.

9-3 Patriots at halftime.

In the second half, “Bills Mafia” made their presence known following some unwanted items ending up on the field of play.

As the Patriots offense continued to find a groove, the defense kept them in the game as defensive end Trey Flowers had a monster game.

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Linebacker Kyle Van Noy also continued his hot streak of big defensive plays.

With the score cut to three following a Stephen Hauschka 51 yard field goal, Buffalo’s own Rob Gronkowski struck back.

The offense again stalled in the end zone as Gostkowski tacked on his fourth field goal of the night to up the score to 12-6 after three.

In the fourth quarter with the score surprisingly low and the Bills right in the game, Brady looked to running back James White and wide receiver turned back Cordarrelle Patterson to finally get something going.

James White from a yard out for six and the Patriots first touchdown of the game to open it up to 18-6 with 10 minutes to play.

Trailing by 12 with six minutes to go, any hope of a Bills comeback was quickly dashed following a pix six from safety Devin McCourty, the first points scored by a Patriots defense in 40 games.

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The 84 yard interception return for a touchdown all but closed the book on a week eight 25-6  victory for the Patriots who move to 6-2 in 2018.

The Patriots head home with a four game winning streak to take into next Sunday nights highly anticipated game with Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers.

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W

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Best Of Social Media: Preseason Week 1 Redskins vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
August 12, 2018 at 4:18 pm ET

Thursday night marked the New England Patriots first preseason game of 2018.

Checkout some of the best sights and sounds over social media from the teams come from behind victory over the Washington Redskins.

It’s Game day #LETSGOOO @tombrady #Gameday

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It was an ugly first quarter for the Patriots offense as they failed to get much going.

The Redskins took a 10-0 lead after a quarter of play.

In the second, Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy continued his hot start, and Washington added to their lead. 17-0 midway through the quarter.

With the clock winding down on the first half, backup quarterback Brian Hoyer finally found rhythm and the Patriots got on the board heading into the half following a 52 yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. 17-3 Washington.

Heading into the locker room at halftime, head coach Bill Belichick was in regular season form when he was asked about his teams first half performance.

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The Patriots came out firing to open the second as running back Jeremy Hill tallied the teams first touchdown of the new year and cut the deficit to 7 at 17-10.

In the fourth quarter the Patriots still found themselves trailing by seven, but newly signed wideout Cordarrelle Patterson hauled in his highlight catch to put the patriot in position to tie the game.

2018 Undrafted free agent Ralph Webb found the end zone to get the Patriots back in the game, however they weren’t looking to tie.

Hoyer again found Webb for a successful two–point conversion attempt and their first lead of the night. 18-17 Patriots.

With under four minutes to go in the game, the defense stepped up as Geneo Grissom scooped up a loose football and nearly scored.

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Ralph Webb again found the end zone to seal the comeback victory for the Patriots.

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Starting off the preseason with a W.

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Dear Lord I thank you felt good to be back out there again

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Turning what I love into a career, now that’s a dream come true

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New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 3, 2018 at 8:21 am ET

Health is the Biggest Question Mark

The Patriots head into training camp in just about three weeks now and as we’ve been saying, the competition this year at a number of positions will tell the tale on who goes and who remains. This has been a tumultuous offseason in many different ways. The Patriots lost a lot of key veteran players and all of the off-field hoopla surrounding Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been non-stop.

Soon that will all be behind us as the players get back on the field and we start talking about football again. In the next segment of our 2018 Patriots Training Camp primers is the Patriots Offensive Line.

The team lost left tackle Nate Solder this spring as he signed a big money contract with the Giants. He’s protected Tom Brady’s blind side for several years and done it well. Replacing a trusted veteran like Solder who was as good off the field for the team as well as on it.

So, with that in mind who are locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon

The Patriots traded for Brown with the 49ers this spring, giving up a 3rd round draft pick in return. Although he’s played mostly right tackle in the NFL, he says he can play anywhere and the team may move him to left tackle.

Brown is a mammoth-sized human being. Listed at 6’8, 359 pounds, he’s every bit of that and possibly even bigger. But for a very large man, he has surprisingly good footwork. And he’s just 25 years old. Brown got some great kudos from Denver’s Von Miller who said this about the new Patriot:

“He’s the best right tackle in the National Football League,” Miller said of Brown. “And he may even be a top-five tackle, period, in the National Football League. There’s not another tackle who’s that tall, that big and can move the way he moves.”

The team used a 1st round draft pick (#23 overall) on Wynn and although he played left tackle for the Bulldogs, he projects to be a left guard in the NFL. Wynn is short for a tackle, 6’2, 302 but both he and Brown were competing for the left tackle spot but during the spring, they lined up next to one another with Wynn at left guard.

Andrews, Mason, and Cannon have been starters and remain solid pieces who have performed very well. The only questions with the locks revolve around health. Brown and Wynn are coming off of shoulder surgery, while Cannon was placed on IR late last season.

If this unit is the starting five on Week 1 and we believe that they will be, the team should be in a very good position for the offensive line play to start the season. Cannon’s availability physically is the only question. Will he be ready to go? Or will he begin camp on the PUP?

Near Roster Locks: Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle

Thuney missed the spring minicamp with an injury and his spot was taken by Wynn. It will be interesting to note if Thuney is healthy for training camp, he may a fight on his hands to get back his starting left guard spot from the talented rookie from Georgia.

There is a possibility that Thuney will start training camp on the PUP if he’s still not ready to go. Health is the only possibility we’d see with him not making the 53-man roster.

Waddle is a valuable swing tackle who they brought back during free agency despite his getting feelers from other teams. He can play either side and has performed well when called upon. And with the long season that the team faces, he’ll be called on again this year.

On the Bubble: Cole Croston, Jason King, James Ferentz, Andrew Jelks, Ted Karras, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, Ulrick John

The Patriots have several players vying for one or possibly two spots along the OL. Our feeling here is that Croston nails down one of those slots. We penciled him in for first 53-man roster projection. He’s versatile and can fill in at guard or tackle if needed.

But his spot will have to be earned so, the competition factor again will come into play. The team brought back King this spring, so that speaks highly for him. Karras has made the team as a backup and can play guard or center.

What may open the door for one or two more of these players is if Thuney or Cannon or maybe both are placed on PUP to start training camp. But with the demanding and outstanding OL coach Dante Scarnecchia back in the fold for another year, one thing is for certain. He’ll get the very best out of this group.

While as a whole, they have to improve but in pass blocking and in the running game, Coach Scar made it clear back in the spring, “I really like the guys we have here right now,” he said during the OTAs.

So physical questions aside, the Patriots offensive line may be very different, at least on the left side this year but they also have the potential to be very good and better than the 2017 unit as well.

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

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

New England Patriots News 5-13, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
May 13, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, and a very Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Moms out there. Here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 5-13, & AFC East Notes

Quick Hitters: One of the treats of the spring is getting to hear the assistant coaches speak, as in most of the NFL, that isn’t very often. Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was on hand and asked about his newest acquisition in top draft pick Isaiah Wynn. Scarnecchia spoke highly on the rookie’s potential stating, “he was a really good player in the best conference in America…he played left tackle and guard so, that’s what I like about him. He’s smart, as tough as they come…we look at three traits, smart, tough and athletic for the position. We’re going to give him the opportunity to play left tackle, guard and we’ll see. That is what training camp and the preseason is for.

Ivan Fears, the Patriots running back coach was smiling too when talking about fellow first-round pick and fellow Georgia Bulldog Sony Michel.”They loved the kid down there at Georgia, all you could get was great accolades about him as a player and as a person. We’ve only had the one meeting this morning in the meeting room but it seems like we’re going to have some fun.”

Josh McDaniels made it clear that he’s very grateful to be back in New England for another season from a personal and professional standpoint. His family is heavily rooted here but he did make it clear, he’d like to be a head coach again. McDaniels was disappointed by not worried about having Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski at the voluntary workouts thus far in the spring.

Brian Flores, the team’s linebacker coach and the defensive coordinator without a title, who will be calling the defensive signals this season, isn’t worried about titles, just helping all of the players get better. “I try to think as a player. What’s the best way to teach this? What’s the best technique for this specific player?” And as for the style, the Patriots defense will play this year? “I’m passionate about this game, passionate about coaching this team. This is going to sound like a Bill Belichick-coached team: tough, smart, dependable, cool under pressure. That’s been a good formula. I’ll go with that one.”

Some good news to hear…Malcolm Mitchell who missed all of 2017 with knee issues after coming on late in his 2016 rookie season is expected to be a full participant for the OTAs beginning on May 21. Mitchell caught 32 passes for 402 yards and four scores, with the vast majority coming down the stretch. He added 6 catches for 70 yards (including five in the fourth quarter) of the Patriots Super Bowl comeback win over the Falcons.

Patriots Offensive linemen align their helmets after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Patriots Sign Six Rookie Draft Picks and Nine UDFAs:
The Patriots announced that they had signed all of their Day 3 Draft picks and nine rookie UDFAs.They inked fifth-round draft pick LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, sixth-round draft picks LB Christian Sam and WR Braxton Berrios and 2018 seventh-round picks QB Danny Etling, DB Keion Crossen, and TE Ryan Izzo. Terms of the contracts were not announced.

The UDFAs, who fans may not be read up on as much consisted of:
CB A.J. Moore: Moore is a slightly undersized corner for the boundary at 5’11 but played primarily nickel at Ole Miss and ran a 4:40 in the 40-yard dash. Interesting stat- in 39 games, Moore didn’t have an interception.

TE Shane Wimann: Wimann is a 6’3, 255-pound tight end from Northern Illinois. He had 30 receptions and seven touchdowns in 2017. He has average speed but shows nice hands extends his arms well showing a nice catch radius. Below average blocker.

DT John Atkins: Another Georgia Bulldog, the big man inside (6’3, 321) is primarily a run stuffer and was known as the man who helped keep Roquan Smith clean. Phone booth worker inside with very little pass rush ability.

CB J.C. Jackson: Jackson is solidly built and in our opinion is just realizing his potential. We wrote about him in detail here. He is an intriguing player that may fight for a roster spot and earn some reps at a very crowded position.

DE Trent Harris: Harris led the Miami Hurricanes with 8.5 sacks and 37 tackles in 2017. Nicknamed “Toolbox Trent” because of his array of moves. Smaller for a defensive end, he may move to LB with the Pats. Our analysis of him is here:

WR Chris Lacy: Lacy is a 6’3, 205-pound wide receiver from Oklahoma State. He has good size and decent top end speed but struggled in the underneath routes and didn’t have great production. Some experience as a returner.

RB Ralph Webb: Webb was a very productive player from Vanderbilt who reportedly got a decent signing bonus from the Pats, which usually means he may be a keeper. While a workhorse type of player who brings it every day in practice and the games, his play speed will be something to watch. He was considered too slow for the NFL by most draftniks.

DT Frank Herron: Herron, despite a standout performance at the East-West Shrine game didn’t come with high expectations into the NFL Draft. He had only so-so production at LSU with 21 tackles and a forced fumble. An early-season suspension may have been a red-flag which hurt his stock.

WR Darren Andrews: Andrews’ name was a surprise as no one had listed him as a Patriot target. Andrews was a shorter, stockier wide receiver who was a good slot receiver at UCLA. He is quick out of his breaks and finds the open spots on the field. Suffered a torn ACL at the end of the season, he may not be 100 percent yet.

From Mike Regalado on Fansided: “Andrews is not the quickest receiver, but if the Patriots need someone to go out and reel in short-yardage passes consistently, especially from one of the best signal callers in history, Tom Brady, then the former Bruin is their man. Andrews runs clean routes, has a solid position on defenders and can grind out yards after contact.”

Patriots Cut Garcia, Illness Takes Its Toll on Promising Tackle:
More bad news for Antonio Garcia, the Patriots third-round draft pick in 2017 (85th Overall) out of Troy. The team is releasing Garcia with a non-football-illness designation, ESPN’s Field Yates reported on Friday

His rookie season never got off the ground as the illness he suffered, blood clots in his lungs caused him to be placed on IR and the medication to combat those caused a loss of about 40 pounds.

After the Patriots moved up to take him in the 3rd round last year, he was considered the heir apparent to LT Nate Solder. He took part in the early portion of training camp including joint practices with the Jaguars. Then his illness sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Earlier this spring, he posted on Instagram that he was cleared for football again by his doctors and his weight was again up to his college playing days. He had been taking part in the voluntary portion of the off-season workouts. This has to mean he’s had another setback. Very sad to see a young man’s dreams taken away so close to realizing them. We all hope he makes a full recovery.

Patriots Will be 4-Men Short During OTAs:
With OTAs starting next week, the Patriots will be short at least four players and all of them from the offensive line.

New additions Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown are both coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason and aren’t expected to be ready. Marcus Cannon went on IR late last season and isn’t expected to be ready until training camp and Joe Thuney just had foot surgery and likewise won’t be ready until training camp.

As Dante Scarnecchia said, he’s very excited to work with the group that they have. But he won’t see them on the field until camp starts in late July.

Patricia Story Makes an Appearance 22 Years Later:
Former Patriots defensive coordinator and current Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia is facing questions over a sexual assault case from 22 years ago when he was a college football player on spring break at South Padre Island.

The Lions’ standard background check came back clear because they checked only for criminal convictions. Patricia was arrested and charged but the charges were later dropped. The Patriots released a statement that they too had never heard of this incident which was eight years before Patricia was hired in New England.

According to the indictment, Patricia and his friend and former college teammate, Greg Dietrich at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, then 21, had sex with the woman without her consent through the use of “physical force and violence.”

The alleged victim was a 21-year-old Indiana college student on spring break who had met the football players on the beach. She told police that she was asleep in a friend’s room at the Radisson hotel at about 6 p.m. when Patricia and Dietrich burst into the room and took turns assaulting her, the newspaper reported.

The case was dropped because the woman told prosecutors that she couldn’t take the stress of a trial, which is very common in those cases. During a sexual assault trial, often times the victim is more vilified than the accused.

In these cases, it all comes down to whether or not there was consent. The sex act is usually not even a question. There is no way to know which side is telling the truth in this case, as there just isn’t enough information to make any kind of definitive statement on whether the case had merit. Perhaps more information will come to light in the coming weeks.

The South Padre Island area normally has about five sexual assault cases every spring break. Patricia is adamant he did no wrong on that night in question and the Lions are standing by him. If indeed he is innocent of those charges, then this was a very unnecessary blight on what has been a very stellar NFL career.

But make no mistake, the crime of sexual assault or rape is a vile act and has no place in our society. We’ll reserve judgment for now as there isn’t enough information to accurately sift through.  

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Josh Allen Lost for Words Meeting Bills Legend Kelly:
The Buffalo Bills quarterback of the future met the quarterback of the Bills glory years and he was more rattled meeting Jim Kelly than he was in his first NFL practice. Head coach Sean McDermott introduced the pair after the session and Allen was in awe.

“I’m still shaking from meeting him,” Allen admitted.

Allen is well aware of the Bills history with Kelly and the famed K-gun offense that went to four straight Super Bowls during his tenure.

“I can’t say anything else but he’s a special man. He’s been through a lot,” he said. “And to be in the spirits that he is and to come out here and show support for the Buffalo Bills, that just shows to me how much he means to Buffalo and Buffalo means to him. It’s awesome.”

Kelly who just had another bout with cancer in his jaw, walked slowly with the aid of a can and still has trouble speaking but appeared upbeat and smiled, giving a thumbs up for photos.

Allen has a long way to go in his development but forging a relationship with a Bills legend is definitely getting off on the right foot with the fanbase. Buffalo has been searching for a franchise QB since Kelly retired in 1996.

Dolphins Looking For Fitzpatrick to be the Game Changer on Defense:
The Miami Dolphins defense was generous to opposing quarterbacks in 2017. The Fins QB rating against their defense a year ago was 94.8, fifth worst in the NFL. They’re hoping that their first pick and 11th over Minkah Fitzpatrick is going to go a long way in changing things in that respect.

Miami’s corners are good, where they were leaky was at safety, especially free safety where tight ends and running backs routinely feasted. Fitzpatrick was the best defender on the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide defense.

The Dolphins may decide to run a version of a 4-2-5 defense which the Patriots call their “big nickel” where a safety takes the place of a linebacker. Fitzpatrick will no doubt be tasked with coverage in that role. It is a role he’s perfectly suited for.

On offense, the Dolphins are rolling the dice in 2018 and hoping that QB Ryan is ready to go and healed from his ACL injury and finally ready to assume the mantle of being “the guy” for Miami. Behind him is just Brock Osweiler, David Fales, and the recently signed Bryce Petty.

Jets Tight End Position Not Conducive to Helping a Young QB:
The New York Jets believe that they finally have their franchise QB in Sam Darnold and he’ll be watched closely if he takes the field in 2018 as many expect he will and take over the reins from Josh McCown.

But what nearly most successful quarterbacks have, and especially what a young one will need is a go-to guy, a tight end that can be used as an emergency valve when the pocket begins to collapse all around him.

A look at the Jets tight end situation isn’t going to make anyone quake in fear of shutting them down. Clive Walford has 70 career receptions, 768 yards, and 10 scores. Eric Tomlinson and Neal Sterling have 26 combined catches between them. Two second-year players, Bucky Hodges and Jordan Leggett are looking for their first NFL receptions.

The pressure will be on 4th round draft pick Chris Herndon to not only make the team but to put in quality reps and provide some meaningful production this season. Herndon is still a very raw prospect and while he didn’t have any great production at Miami, he is very athletic and could be a factor down the road with the right coaching and experience. But for Year 1, it could be a struggle for both the young TE and QB.

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.

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.