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Patriot Free Agency (in)action, Defense…and…The End…

Continuing on…defense AND specialists, that is.  Can’t forget how important the special teamers are to the Patriot organization!!

And, in case you forgot, there’s this:  For the record, we will say where the player came from if they are an addition and where they went if they jumped ship.  We will also note if they finished last season on the Patriots injured list (IR) or on the Patriot practice squad (PS).

DE:

Holdovers:  Keionta Davis (IR), Trey Flowers, Eric Lee, Derek Rivers (IR), Deatrich Wise

Arrivals:  Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta)

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Seems a little bizarre we start this section with someone named Keionta Davis, eh?  The danger of going in alphabetical order I suppose.  Anyway, it would seem that even with the addition of Clayborn, the expected return of Rivers and the hope of growth from Year One to Year Two for Wise, this group still may not be saved.  Lee had spurts at the end of last season.  But there’s also probably a good reason he spent the year on the Buffalo Bills practice squad.

In addition to not really knowing if Rivers can actually play, or whether Wise will get better, I cannot say I am too bullish on the Clayborn move.  I mean, it appears this won’t cost the team much, per usual.  But on the surface, it’s fair to question how a player can get 6 sacks in one game and then 3.5 total in the other 15.  Maybe he didn’t play all 16, but I’m not even going to look it up.  You get the point.  Clayborn certainly cannot hurt.  But there still needs to be an infusion of talent here this offseason.  And I’m not sure where they are going to get it.  The free agent list I am looking at is…weak.  The draft?  Sure, but any studs here will be long gone by the time the Pats even pick in the first round.

Let’s hope they figure out something here as well.  Oh, and Flowers is a free agent after this season.  He may not necessarily be a stud, but he is the best they have.  May want to figure something out with him too, while they are at it.

DT:

Holdovers:  Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine (IR)

Arrivals:  Danny Shelton (Cleveland)

Departures:  Alan Branch (released)

In limbo:  Ricky Jean Francois

Comments:  There’s a lot of NFL bodies here now, but how good really are they?  Shelton apparently can play the run, but not the pass.  I’m still not sure what to make of Brown, and he’s been around a few years now.  I’m not exactly sure what Guy did last year, after signing that fat free agent contract last year.  Butler still likely remains a project and we probably can say the same thing about Valentine, to be honest.

Branch would help…well, the 2016 Branch and not the one that loitered around last year.  I suppose that’s the risk you take with guys like that though.  Francois really isn’t in limbo, as he said he wasn’t re-signing with the Pats.  I think he was babbling about going to a team with a better scheme fit like Chris Long did after the 2016 season.  Francois isn’t even as good as Long, so I am not sure what he was talking about.  He was lucky to have a job.  He was only here because Branch didn’t feel like playing.  Whatever…best of luck Ricky Jean.

Here’s hoping they do some more work here too.  But not as much as the place that needs the most work…

LB:

Holdovers:  Dont’a Hightower (IR), Harvey Langi (IR), Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  Shea McClellin (IR-released), Trevor Reilly (PS-not re-signed)

In limbo:  Marquis Flowers, James Harrison

Comments:  If only Hightower could ever stay healthy, this group would…still suck badly.  Holy crap.  I haven’t seen a worse collection of stiffs at one position…maybe ever.  Ok, that’s hyperbole.  I’m sure if I just analyzed the position groups of the Cleveland Browns over the last two years I would find worse.  But the message is clear:  This is the area of greatest need.

The team loves Van Noy and that’s really kind of inexplicable.  Roberts is terrible and everyone else listed may be worse than terrible.  I’m not sure what the Patriots’ plan is here.  This should have been the first thing addressed.  And they haven’t added anyone.  The draft?  Sure.  But again, picking late in each round and having several needs…how many impact players can they get from there?

I don’t know if Preston Brown made a gazillion tackles for the Bills over the years because there were simply too many players running free past their defensive line.  But that would have seemed to have been a guy to target.  Especially after he publicly said he would love to come here like some other former Bills (Hogan, Gilmore, Gillislee).  And the fact that he signed with the Bengals for a mere 4 million for 1 year.  25 years old too.  I’m not sure why the Pats didn’t sniff him out a bit and why he signed for next to nothing.  I guess I am missing something, but on the surface, I don’t understand the lack of interest.  No one is really talking about it locally, so maybe it’s just me.

But the fact remains that they need several capable bodies here.  And there is no way Brown would have hurt.  At this point, can adding anyone hurt?

CB:

Holdovers:  Stephon Gilmore, Cyrus Jones (IR), Jonathan Jones (IR), Ryan Lewis (PS), Eric Rowe, Jomal Wiltz (PS)

Arrivals:  Jason McCourty (Cleveland)

Departures:  Johnson Bademosi (Houston), Malcolm Butler (Tennessee)

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Believe it or not, the Pats may be all set here.  Gilmore came on later in the year.  McCourty may not be an All-Pro, or even technically as good as Butler, but he should be solid, by all accounts.  I can probably live with Rowe and Jonathan Jones as backups.  And as much as I hate to say it, let’s give Cyrus one more chance.  I’m not expecting much, but you never know.  Lewis has been getting some love here as well, but I have no idea about him.  Adding a body here, of course, would not hurt.  But the needs are more pressing elsewhere.

S:

Holdovers:  Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, David Jones (PS), Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Damarius Travis (PS)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

Comments:  Same here as the cornerbacks I would say.  Devin struggled some and likely isn’t worth the money he gets paid.  But you could do a lot worse than the trio of him, Chung and Harmon.  I would be very disappointed to see Richards on the team next year.  He is flat-out awful.  But we are splitting hairs if we are complaining about the 4th safety.

Specialists:

Holdovers:  Ryan Allen (P), Brandon Bolden (re-signed), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST, re-signed), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Nicholas Grigsby (ST), Geneo Grissom (ST), Brandon King (ST, re-signed), Matthew Slater (ST, re-signed)

Arrivals:  None

Departures:  None

In limbo:  None

My favorite group!  Once again, the Pats carry more special-teams only guys than anyone else.  This HAS to be a fact, right?  Slater apparently re-signed as I write this and with the team bringing back Ebner, Bolden and King, well, the gang’s all here!  Cardona had a bad snap and Allen a worse hold in the Super Bowl, but I cannot complain too much about those two otherwise.

The key question here is:  Is this the year they bring in competition for Gostkowski?  One year left on his deal, with a 5 mil cap hit, which I think is all guaranteed.  But although he seemed to get back on track last year during the regular season, his playoff performance left a lot to be desired…again.  Even with the aforementioned bad snap, he still should have hit that 26-yarder…blindfolded.  And another stray extra point.  I don’t know, maybe make him fight for his job this training camp?

It won’t happen, but we can hope, right?  I suppose that since kickers generally are all of a sudden pretty average in the NFL, especially since they moved the extra point back, they may as well hang on to Gostkowski.  But how about even attempting an upgrade?

That pretty much sums everything up.  I’m not anticipating many more moves before the draft.  We can all be somewhat disappointed at that.  But looking at the free agent list, there does appear to be plenty of swill out there, so how many more of those guys can really help?  Guess we gotta hope the draft class is strong…

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New England Patriot Roster Projection-Defense

Moving on to the defense…while being thankful the roster apparently has not changed in the last couple of days.  Cuz, you know, Bill likes to consistently churn the back-end of the roster and mess us all up.  Wait, I may be the only one who cares about the bottom of the roster.  Anyway, here goes:

DE (5):

Locks:  Trey Flowers, Kony Ealy, Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise

In:  Geneo Grissom

Out:  None

Way Out:  Caleb Kidder, Rob Ninkovich (retired)

Comments:  This is what I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Flowers and Grissom don’t appear to be stars in the making.”  Oops.  At least on Flowers.  Welp, I’ve been completely off before.  And most assuredly will be again.  Truth be told though, most people thought Flowers was on the fringe of the roster before the 2016 season.  Now he is the unquestioned top defensive end on the team.  So I wasn’t the only one.  There have been plenty of whispers about Ealy early in camp.  His attitude.  His fit on the team.  His “coachability”.  And he has been on the sidelines quite a bit, from all reports.  But the key phrase here is, “early in camp”.  I’m not taking him off the lock list…yet.  Rivers and Wise were two of their four draft picks.  Not likely to go anywhere.  And I am hearing Wise is running with the starters at this point.  Grissom takes Ninkovich’s spot.  It helps that he is a factor on special teams as well.  Most were surprised at Nink’s sudden retirement.  But maybe we shouldn’t have been.  He’s getting up there in age and also wasn’t the same difference maker last year as in previous years…you know, before the PED suspension.  Yup…

DT (4):

Locks:  Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Vincent Valentine

In:  None

Out: Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo

Way Out:  Josh Augusta, Adam Butler

Comments:  Pretty much cut and dried here.  Branch re-signed on a nice deal.  Guy was signed to a fat deal himself, kind of out of nowhere.  May be a little push for Brown in his third year.  But the Pats like to rotate their big guys anyway.  Valentine showed enough last year to be locked in this year.  Hamilton and Kilgo may find themselves on the practice squad and therefore may surface on the active roster at some point this season.  And Augusta and Butler are “Way Out” for the simple reason that I’ve never heard of them.  Good enough for me.

LB (6):

Locks:  Dont’a Hightower, David Harris

In:  Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Harvey Langhi

Out:  Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates

Way Out:  Brooks Ellis

Comments:  When I started putting together this column last week, I actually had Harris as only “In” and not a lock.  Thought he may be that typical veteran who was a star elsewhere and then couldn’t adapt to the Patriots system/culture/etc.  Seemed to be a prime candidate for that.  Then I saw they gave him the green dot like 2 days into camp, leading the communication on the defense.  I know, that is “early in camp” too.  But I look at this development a little differently, right or wrong.  McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy all bring different skills to the table so I figured they all stick for now.  Langhi gets a nod here, simply because almost every year an undrafted free agent makes the squad out of the gate…and usually contributes.  He is the early pick simply because they gave him the most dough.  Freeny gets squeezed here, but wouldn’t shock me if he makes it, primarily for his special teams ability.  Bates is from Maine and that’s nice.  Ellis?  Yup, no idea who he is.

CB (5):

Locks:  Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones

In:  Cyrus Jones

Out:  Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings

Way Out:  William Likely, Dwayne Thomas

Comments:  Here’s another thing I wrote in the first roster projection last year:  “Cyrus Jones HAS to be better than any of the teams’ third cornerbacks last year, doesn’t he?”  And I had Jonathan Jones as “Way Out”.  Oops.  And.  Oops.  But I can’t see them giving up on Cyrus after only one year.  Wouldn’t be unprecedented though.  Jonathan has been apparently playing the slot in camp.  Add in the fact he is, yup, a special teamer…that makes him a lock.  Seems to me they like Rowe a lot too.

As for Gilmore and Butler, that whole scenario in the spring still baffles me.  Butler has done everything the team asked since he came out of nowhere 3 seasons ago.  Played at an All-Pro level the last two years, playing for peanuts and didn’t utter much of a peep about that.  I mean, he knows how this organization operates.  But still.  Then New England gives Gilmore a huge deal right out of the gate as free agency opened.  Not typical Patriot behavior.  Don’t blame Butler at all from being pissed.  Wasn’t surprised there was the stuff about him working out a contract with the New Orleans Saints and hoping the Pats worked out a deal with them.  Nothing materialized with the Saints (or any other team, for that matter) and Butler is still here without a long-term deal.  And even since then, you haven’t heard much from him regarding all of it.  And now I think most expect Butler to play with a chip on his shoulder and help himself in free agency next year.  That will also benefit the Patriots of course.  But did the team play this out right?  Time will tell.  But hope Gilmore ain’t a colossal bust…

Coleman could I suppose be a back-end guy, but there’s no room.  Killings was I believe the 2nd highest paid undrafted free agent in the Pats pool, so maybe he gets on the practice squad and gets elevated at some point.  Likely & Thomas?  Maybe I should watch more college football, so I can know who some of these camp bodies are.

S (3):

Locks:  Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon

In:  None

Out:  Jordan Richards

Way Out:  Jason Thompson, Damarius Travis, David Jones, Kenny Moore

Comments:  Richards probably actually gets one more chance behind the three no-doubters and makes the squad when they break camp.  Three safeties is kind of thin.  But the other guys?  You know what I am going to say.

Specialists (6):

Locks:  Stephen Gostkowski (K), Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Matthew Slater (ST), Nate Ebner (ST), Brandon King (ST)

In:  None

Out:  None

Way Out:  None

Comments:  Nothing really to say here.  Some are surprised Belichick did not bring another kicker to camp due to Gostkowski’s uneven year last year.  I’m not.  There are plenty of kickers “kicking” around (haha) and I’m sure Bill has one or two or three in mind if last year’s issues move forward into this year.  No sense in wasting another camp spot on a kicker.  Other than that, the six here are pretty obvious.

That’s about the size of it.  I’ll wait until later in camp to project the practice squad and IR/PUP/NFI and other lists.  Actually, I’d say no one actually starts on the PUP list this year.  Only Hightower and Branch are currently on the preseason PUP list.  Hard to believe they will miss the first six weeks of the season, but I suppose you never know…

New England Patriots Free Agency Roundup, Part 4

NFL free agency begins Thursday afternoon at 4:00 pm.  Of course there is some sort of “legal tampering” period that starts Tuesday.  But let’s ignore that for now.  The following is one man’s thoughts on what’s going on with the players that ended the 2016 season on the Patriots’ roster, by position.

Defensive backs:

Players under contract:  Patrick Chung, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Eric Rowe

Free agents:  Malcolm Butler (restricted), Justin Coleman (exclusive rights), Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan

What I would do:  Take some of that cap space and lock up Butler.  Sure, you have a year to do it, but do it now.  The guy has done everything the team has asked.  And played at an extremely high level.  The cornerbacks behind him on the depth chart are…sketchy.  Even if Ryan stays, he is up and down.  I’m not ready to give up on Cyrus yet.  But he needs to get his head out of his arse next year.  Rowe?  We will see with a full offseason in the program.  Not enticing.  Pay Butler.

Ryan has improved since he’s been here.  I’d like to keep him.  But I’m not giving him #1 cornerback dollars.  Harmon can take a hike.  Should be able to find just about anyone that can play 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and pick off stupid throws.  Maybe that guy is Richards next year.  He was a 2nd round pick after all.  I’d get another decent body or two at corner though.

What I think will happen:  The Patriots don’t pay Butler until they absolutely have to.  Perhaps their hand is forced if someone makes him an offer and the Pats are forced to match.  I know the Pats have signed Chris Hogan and Wes Welker and probably others off the restricted free agent market before.  They have also made offers to plenty of players before, such as Emmanuel Sanders.  But I feel like the rest of the NFL is not as aggressive on restricted guys.  I could be wrong.  But I don’t know if I see anyone coming after Butler.  Haven’t heard ANY rumors about it either.  The silence could be a sign however.  Some team could swoop in under the radar.  Worth monitoring closely, either way.

Ryan gets overpaid by some stupid team.  As does Harmon.  The Pats eventually add some bodies.  But of course no one of significance.

Specialists:

Players under contract:  Ryan Allen (P), Joe Cardona (LS), Nate Ebner (ST), Stephen Gostkowski (K), Matthew Slater (ST)

Free agents:  Brandon King (ST) (exclusive rights), Barkevious Mingo (ST)

What I would do:  Nothing.  I mean, what difference does it make?  Allen and Cardona seem more than capable at their jobs.  I’m not sure the Patriots need to go searching for upgrades there.  Gostkowski?  It’s time for some competition for the guy for sure.  But I’m not laying out big dollars in free agency for a kicker.  Not when I believe that all the money left on the last two years of Gostkowski’s contract is guaranteed.

Gostkowski has had a pretty good career.  He’s been borderline automatic since early in his career until this year.  Sure, he hasn’t made a ton of big kicks like his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri.  But he hasn’t had as many opportunities either.  His kickoffs, long and short, have been normally what you ask for.  And may have made a difference in this past Super Bowl.  I have a hunch that he had some sort of injury this year that wasn’t talked about.  Perhaps not.  But he deserves a chance to keep his job.  Bring in some kid to camp to push him.  But don’t spend in free agency.

The special teamers?  Whatever.  I’d have actually loved to see Bill use Mingo on defense to see what he could do.  Maybe just speed rush the passer.  They obviously thought he couldn’t do anything though, so they never put him in.  Slater and Ebner had a ton of tackles, but they are signed.  The rest of them…not worth worrying about too much.

What I think will happen:  Absolutely nothing noteworthy during the heat of free agency.

Next:  Another sport.  We are done here!!  Mercifully…

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