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Thoughts on Ryan Wendell re-signing with Patriots, LeGarrette Blount signing with Steelers

Posted by Erik Frenz March 28, 2014 03:19 PM

The New England Patriots news hit the wire rapid fire on Friday.

First came the news from Ben Volin of The Boston Globe that starting center Ryan Wendell has signed a two-year deal worth up to $4.55 million to stay with the Patriots. Just minutes later, Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported that running back LeGarrette Blount signed a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sharing some thoughts on both signings:


Words With Frenz mailbag: What does the future hold for LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Wendell?

Posted by Erik Frenz March 27, 2014 06:01 PM

The dust has settled on the free agency frenzy as NFL teams have mostly turned their attention to the upcoming draft.

The New England Patriots are not done addressing needs, with some holes to fill at tight end and on both the defensive and offensive lines. There are still some talented players available, and the Patriots may have been waiting for the market to die down a bit so they can make those last few value signings to round out their roster.

There are still some in-house free-agents to take care of, including running back LeGarrette Blount and center Ryan Wendell. With just $4,019,036 in cap space, the Patriots don't have money to waste, but there are still questions to answer. Let's get to some of the questions on the minds of Patriots fans.


Trading Mike Wallace would make no sense after just one year

Posted by Erik Frenz March 26, 2014 11:15 AM
(Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Miami Dolphins invested in several high-profile free-agents in 2013, but they may already be hedging on their investment in at least one of those players.

According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, wide receiver Mike Wallace is on the trading block, and teams are beginning to look into the possibility of acquiring the speedy receiver.

However, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald, the Dolphins have not had any such talks with regard to trading Wallace.


Patriots mock draft 4.0: Eric Ebron would be a best case scenario for Patriots

Posted by Erik Frenz March 24, 2014 07:00 AM

The NFL draft is always full of surprises. Between the private meetings and the medical records, there is a lot of information available to the teams that is not readily available to the media.

Additionally, if there's a run of picks at one position, that could open things up for the Patriots to capitalize.

In this week's mock draft, there were five offensive tackles and five outside linebackers taken off the board within the 28 picks prior to the Patriots' selection. There were also three defensive ends and three wide receivers taken. Those four positions comprised 16 of the 28 picks, leaving plenty of talent on the board at other positions.

Here's a look at one possible if unlikely scenario in the draft.

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Words With Frenz mailbag: Patriots biggest holes in the middle

Posted by Erik Frenz March 21, 2014 07:00 AM

In the past, the Patriots have built their defense from the inside out. Focusing on dominant trench play is a tenet that spans back to Bill Belichick's days working with Bill Parcells with the Giants. A decade ago, the Patriots drafted nose tackle Vince Wilfork in the first round to cap off a trio of first-rounders on the defensive line, along with Ty Warren and Richard Seymour.

Recent developments point to a change in that philosophy — or, at the very least, a golden opportunity to make the switch. Signing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner came as a shock to many, though in retrospect, such a move has been a long time in the making.

The change in mind set could date back to the 2009 season, when the Patriots first began aggressively seeking out talent at cornerback for their defense. By drafting Darius Butler in the second round (2009), Devin McCourty in the first round (2010), Ras-I Dowling in the second round (2011), signing free-agent cornerback Leigh Bodden (2009) and trading for Aqib Talib (2012), the Patriots proved they were devoted to finding talent at cornerback.

They also struggled at nearly every turn.

The Patriots took a similar aggressive approach in 2007 at wide receiver, making trades to land two key players (Randy Moss and Wes Welker) and signing two free agents (Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington), after several failed acquisitions (drafting Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, and P.K. Sam, trading for Doug Gabriel, signing Reche Caldwell) at the position.

Thus, it stands to reason that the Patriots would go big for a steady hand at cornerback, although their investments shouldn't be seen as long-term solutions. Browner will be 30 before he plays his first game for the Patriots, and that won't happen until at least Week 5, as Browner is suspended for the first four games due to violations of the league's substance abuse policy. Revis' contract is still essentially a one-year deal — although the Patriots hope to get something done long-term, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network.

The Patriots could have to start their search again very soon, but they'll enjoy what they have for now. Meanwhile, there are still holes to fill on the roster. Which ones are the biggest?

Let's get to the questions.


Patriots mock draft 3.0: First post-free agency mock draft

Posted by Erik Frenz March 17, 2014 07:00 AM

The dust has settled following the beginning of the 2014 NFL calendar and the opening of free agency.

Now that the signings have (and, in some cases, haven't) been made, teams around the league are beginning to get a better grasp on exactly what their needs are headed into the 2014 NFL draft.

The New England Patriots landed a pair of top-notch man cover cornerbacks in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, but there are still plenty of holes to fill. The defensive line needs some new pieces, and the offensive line could use some reinforcements as well.

With the initial wave of free agency in the books, here are my thoughts on how a mock draft might break down using Fanspeak's mock draft simulator, which fills in the blanks for the other 31 teams while the user makes the selections for a team of their choice.

Here's the link to the final results of the mock draft, and check out a look at my picks after the jump.

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Brandon Browner gives Patriots flexibility, but at his best as a cornerback

Posted by Erik Frenz March 15, 2014 05:00 PM
(Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Cornerback became the Patriots' biggest need on defense the moment Aqib Talib signed with the Denver Broncos. It didn't take them long to fill the void by quickly scooping All Pro defensive back Darrelle Revis after he was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Friday, the Patriots took the talent, size and versatility of their secondary to a brand new level with the signing of Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner to a three-year, $17 million deal, as reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Browner was an integral member of the Seahawks' secondary, and in ways, his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame makes him the embodiment of their "Legion of Boom" blueprint. With Revis on one side, the No. 2 cornerback is bound to be targeted more frequently. Adding a second top-flight cornerback in Browner ensures that the No. 2 man is up for the job.

It doesn't have to be a strict assignment of Revis on the best receiver and Browner on the second-best. The possibilities are endless.


Updated salary cap space for the AFC East after first wave of free agency

Posted by Erik Frenz March 14, 2014 02:00 PM

The New England Patriots have $16,964,036 in salary cap space, according to NFLPA records.

This amount is updated through Friday at noon, but does not reflect the Patriots' signing of cornerback Darrelle Revis (which is still not official) or the release of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (which hasn't happened yet). Wilfork has asked for his release, but as pointed out by NFL Network's Albert Breer, Wilfork is on vacation, so the Patriots could be waiting until he returns to let the other shoe drop.

The two moves would nearly cancel each other out. The Revis signing would count $7 million against the 2014 salary cap, while releasing Wilfork would create $8 million in cap space.

Here's a look at the rest of the cap space across the AFC East:


Words With Frenz mailbag: Examining remaining options in free agency

Posted by Erik Frenz March 14, 2014 07:00 AM

As of 12:00 a.m. ET Friday, NFL teams had handed out $560,825,000 in guaranteed money to free agents.

Business is booming. The NFL's salary cap rose by $10 million over the 2013 cap, and figures to rise again in the coming years. Teams are less shy than ever about their spending.

The Patriots have made a large investment of their own in signing cornerback Darrelle Revis shortly after his release, but they've been quiet otherwise. There are plenty of other moves they could make this season, but they must also be thinking long-term with regards to free agency.

patriots 2015 fa .jpgThey have 19 players under contract for 2014 who are set to hit the open market in 2015, and eight of them are projected starters at their positions.

To re-sign key players like left tackle Nate Solder, safety Devin McCourty, running back Stevan Ridley and possibly even Revis will come down to the Patriots' ability to keep cap space open for the 2015 season. That means taking it easy on long-term dollars.

That being said, there are still plenty of options available that seem to fit the Patriots' mold for value adds in free agency. Here's a look at some questions on the minds of Patriots fans as we keep refreshing our Twitter feeds for the latest news.


Vince Wilfork's eventual release would come down to dollars and sense

Posted by Erik Frenz March 13, 2014 05:45 PM

(Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In with one star defender, out with another. The New England Patriots and Vince Wilfork appear to be headed to a split after 10 years together.

There were reports recently that the Patriots had asked Wilfork to adjust his contract, but instead, Wilfork has asked for his release, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Releasing Wilfork would create some much-needed cap relief — $8 million worth, to be exact — but would also create a need at defensive tackle. In truth, they may have had a need there already. At 32 years old, Wilfork is coming off a torn Achilles' and there is some uncertainty as to whether he'll be the Wilfork of old or just an old Wilfork.

As always, there's a lot at work with such big news, so let's go through it all one step at a time.


Darrelle Revis over Aqib Talib is a massive upgrade across the board

Posted by Erik Frenz March 12, 2014 10:58 PM

(Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

There's no reason to kick Aqib Talib on his way out the door. He played 23 good games at cornerback for the New England Patriots, and cashed in on his opportunity to make some bank.

But boy, did the Patriots get an upgrade by signing All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Initially, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported it was a one-year, $12 million contract, but USA Today's Tom Pelissero clarified that the contract is actually for two years and $32 million. The deal is worth $12 million in the first year and has a $20 million club option for a second year.

This means that the Patriots will have a difficult decision to make before the 2015 season, much like the Buccaneers had to make on Wednesday when they released Revis. No matter what the future holds, it's a win-win for the Patriots.

There's little debate from anyone in football cyberspace that Revis is the better player, from a pure football perspective. Talib has limitations against smaller, shiftier receivers. Revis has covered anyone he's been assigned, from shiftier receivers like Wes Welker to big, vertical receivers like Vincent Jackson. Revis' skill set was misused as a zone corner last season. He's good in that role, but he's elite in man coverage.

Factor in the Broncos signing Talib to a six-year, $57 million megadeal with $26 million guaranteed, and we might even have to call it a win-win-win.


Buccaneers release Darrelle Revis, should be the Patriots' No. 1 free agent target

Posted by Erik Frenz March 12, 2014 06:00 PM

Well, it's a good thing the Patriots didn't go out of their way to trade for Darrelle Revis.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced on Wednesday that they have released Revis, making him a free agent for the first time in his NFL career.

Revis was traded from the New York Jets to the Buccaneers for a 2013 first-round pick and a 2014 conditional pick last April (which is now a fourth-round pick, because Revis was not on the roster on the third day of the league year). The Buccaneers were trying to trade Revis as well, but could not find a suitor in time to avoid paying him a $1.5 million bonus.

Revis will have plenty of suitors on the open market. The question is, what will it take to sign him?

Apparently, it doesn't matter. Revis was reportedly headed to New England before he had even been released, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:


Miami Dolphins trade Jonathan Martin to San Francisco 49ers for conditional seventh-round pick

Posted by Erik Frenz March 12, 2014 08:00 AM

One by one, the Miami Dolphins are moving on from people who were involved in the work place misconduct and bullying scandal that engulfed the Dolphins' locker room this season.

Left tackle Jonathan Martin is the latest one to go, as the victim in the bullying scandal was traded to the San Francisco 49ers late on Tuesday for a conditional draft pick, the team announced.

The Dolphins will receive a conditional seventh-round 2015 draft pick in the event that Martin is still on the opening 53-man roster at the beginning of the 2014 season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The Dolphins are lucky to receive anything for him. There have been reports that he could be cut, and the only team that was mentioned as a potential landing spot was the Indianapolis Colts.

Martin is reunited with Jim Harbaugh, his head coach at Stanford from 2008-2010. With the 49ers, Martin will likely not be a starting tackle; they already have left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis to fill those spots. Instead, Martin may be a reclamation project for the 49ers, maybe serving as a swing tackle in jumbo packages.

The Dolphins are in the middle of a massive rebuild on the offensive line, and signed Branden Albert to a five-year, $46 million contract to be their new left tackle.

Patriots running out of cornerback options after Broncos sign Aqib Talib

Posted by Erik Frenz March 12, 2014 07:00 AM

(Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Aqib Talib took a little of his own advice.

"Cash that check, baby. Got to pay the bills, man," he said with a smile at his locker, in reference to his former teammate Marquice Cole signing with the Denver Broncos in the days leading into the AFC Championship.

Now, Talib is cashing a check of his own — and probably a much larger one than the one signed by Cole. The Broncos signed Talib to a six-year, $57 million contract with $26 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. That's a lot of dough for a player with a long history of injuries and off-field concerns throughout his career.

talib impact.pngBut that's not the Patriots' problem now. Their problem is who will be starting for them in the secondary in 2014. By the numbers, the secondary was better without Talib, but anyone who watched the games can tell you tehy were clearly not the same when Talib went down with injuries in 2013.

In some way, shape or form, the Patriots need to find someone who can be a shutdown presence on the outside.


Report: Patriots 'in a strong position' to trade for Darrelle Revis, who would 'love' to play in New England

Posted by Erik Frenz March 12, 2014 12:37 AM


(Photo: Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

Just a few days ago, colleage Ben Volin called it a "pipe dream," but with each new report, that dream appears to come closer to a reality.

The New England Patriots could be the latest team to trade for All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ramped up efforts to trade Revis, but have turned up little to no interest. Despite that, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that a trade is still possible, and that the Patriots are at the forefront of the possibilities.

The Patriots do not have a fifth-round pick this year, but they have two sixth-round picks, and could potentially deal one for Revis. They also do not have the cap space to handle his contract right now. They have just over $14.4 million in cap space.

Revis gets a flat rate of $16 million per year on his current contract. That's probably more than the Patriots would like to pay, so they may try to rework his contract or ask him to take a pay cut. His current contract is easily disposable — $3 million of the $16 is converted to dead money, and the rest goes back on the cap. A team that trades for Revis can dump his contract at the first sign of trouble with minimal financial repercussions.

His contract is simply too big for most teams to handle.

The trade market is dying for Revis, even if he is the one slowly turning the knife. He refused to take a pay cut to facilitate a trade to the Cleveland Browns, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. A trade would have reunited him with his former defensive coordinator and current Browns head coach Mike Pettine.

The Patriots are familiar with Revis from his time in the AFC East, so they know that he is exactly what their defense is missing in light of the loss of cornerback Aqib Talib. The Patriots weren't willing to pony up $9.5 million per year for Talib, but they should be willing to go beyond those numbers for a player of Revis' caliber.

They will probably have to do so, if they want him on their roster.

Revis (5-foot-11, 198 pounds) is not a big-bodied corner like Talib (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), but he is still very effective in press coverage and one of the best in man coverage. The Buccaneers were using Revis in other ways in 2013, and Tom Brady took advantage by throwing underneath the belly of his zone coverage several times when the Patriots met the Buccaneers in Week 3.

He would be right back at home in a man-coverage based scheme, and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick geared his defense more in that direction in 2013 than years past. Adding Revis would only intensify the focus on man coverage.

It is financially feasible for the Patriots to grab Revis, and with Talib now taking his talents elsewhere, need and opportunity appear to have hit a crossroads.

DeMarcus Ware drawing interest from 'six playoff teams', could be Patriots fit

Posted by Erik Frenz March 11, 2014 08:13 PM
(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The free agency frenzy brought about plenty of big-name signings, but also a couple of high-profile cuts.

Among the latter category was outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday evening, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

As of yet, the Patriots have not made any big-name signings, but Rapoport reports that "six playoff teams" have inquired about Ware's services.

My math is hazy, but in a 12-team playoff field, that puts the odds at a coin flip that the Patriots were one of the teams that called.

It's no surprise that a four-time All-Pro would be such a highly sought-after commodity. Ware's production has been off the charts; he logged 117 sacks in 141 games with the Cowboys from 2005-2013. He has 6 seasons with over 10 sacks, and led the league in sacks twice (20 in 2008; 15.5 in 2010).

He has also been very durable for most of his career, and has missed just three games in his career due to injury.

At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Ware's smaller frame makes him a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He played that spot for the Cowboys for most of his career, but was a defensive end in Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 (a 4-3 defense).

Examining his fit for the Patriots, Ware would fit several ways into New England's hybrid front. He could be a defensive end in their base 4-3 front. He's not built ideally for that scheme, but he could be valuable subbing in for either Chandler Jones or Rob Ninkovich, who each played over 96 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps in 2013. Ware could also return to his old spot as a 3-4 outside linebacker next to Jones, who lined up as a 5-technique defensive end in three-man fronts in 2013.

Where the Patriots would really benefit from a player like Ware is in their sub package. They went to their sub defense 67 percent of the defensive snaps last year, according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, so Ware would have plenty of opportunities to contribute in that niche role.

The problem, however, is that Ware may be able to fetch a more lucrative deal from a team that's in more dire need of his services. The Patriots may not be willing to give him more than $5 million a year, which would match the number given to Ninkovich in his extension last year. Other teams may be willing to go up to $6 or $7 million.

With only $14,467,504 in cap space, the Patriots don't have enough to get into a bidding war — especially if they want to hang onto key free agents Julian Edelman and Aqib Talib, as well. If the market plays out in the Patriots' favor, though, Ware would be a good fit for the defense.

AFC East free agency: Impact on Patriots of every signing, re-signing, and departure

Posted by Erik Frenz March 11, 2014 01:00 PM

The NFL free agent market opened Tuesday, March 11 at 4 p.m. ET, and the New England Patriots aren't the only team in the AFC East making big decisions for the future of their franchise.

Head spinning already? We'll have updates on every free agency signing and departure in the division, all in one spot.

This post will be updated from the beginning of it all until the whirlwind has settled down. In addition to thoughts on the Patriots' signings, we'll have thoughts from a Patriots perspective on each move in and out of the division for Patriots-based readers.


Report: Buccaneers 'stepping up efforts' to trade All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, could release him

Posted by Erik Frenz March 10, 2014 09:07 PM

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be looking to trade the best player on their roster, and it may not take too much to get him off their hands.

The Buccaneers are "stepping up efforts" to trade All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, according to Alex Marvez of FOX Sports, and that they hope to get a deal done soon:

Perhaps the Buccaneers are just widening the scope of their search for trade partners, but language like "stepping up efforts" and "really trying hard" gives off the impression that their initial attempts to trade Revis have been unsuccessful. As the asking price comes down, the chances that the Patriots make an inquiry would go up.

Colleague Ben Volin did a fantastic job of breaking down a way that the Patriots could make it work financially. Revis is set up with a pay-as-you-go $16 million per year contract, and the Patriots would probably like to pay him less than that (as would any team that trades for him).

It sounds like Revis would be amenable to a reworked deal, according to Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune:

And, if all else fails, ESPN's Adam Schefter says the Buccaneers will be left with only one choice:

There has been constant buzz about a potential Revis trade ever since Lovie Smith took over as Buccaneers head coach. Smith uses a Tampa 2 defense that relies on its cornerbacks to play zone coverage; Revis is known as a top-notch man cover cornerback.

The Patriots are familiar with Revis from his time with the New York Jets. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would often throw to the other side of the field, but Revis still managed to intercept two passes in 10 career games against the Patriots. In the past three meetings between the two, Brady has completed six of the 11 passes in Revis' direction for 89 yards.

If the Patriots were to lose free agent cornerback Aqib Talib, they could make an even harder push for Revis' services. Revis is a fit for the man-based coverage scheme the Patriots have built lately. He's not a fit, however, for their salary cap. The Patriots currently have just $14,467,504 in cap space, and that's before taking care of key free agents like Talib and wide receiver Julian Edelman.

As Volin notes, the Patriots would have to get him at a different pay rate. The Buccaneers, however, must make a decision soon. They owe Revis $1.5 million on Wednesday, March 12 as a roster bonus.

Jets release wide receiver Santonio Holmes

Posted by Erik Frenz March 10, 2014 05:48 PM

The New York Jets contract purge continues. The team announced on Monday they have released wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

The former Super Bowl MVP had a cap charge of $10.75 million for the 2014 season, which would have been the eighth-highest of any receiver in the league. He would have been due a $1 million roster bonus on Thursday. Instead, the Jets cleared $8.25 million in cap space and are left with a dead money charge of $2.5 million. They have cleared $17.75 million in the past 24 hours with the release of Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

The two moves put the Jets' cap number up to $39.77 million this offseason according to Spotrac.

Holmes, 30, was traded in the 2010 offseason, going to the Jets from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft. The eight-year veteran played four years in New York, and finished his Jets career with 146 receptions, 2,128 yards and 16 touchdowns in 43 games.

Holmes has been a thorn in the Patriots' side since joining the Jets, and has 23 receptions for 296 yards and two touchdown in five games (regular season and playoffs). In recent years, Holmes has dealt with a slew of injuries. He missed 12 games in 2012 (Lisfranc), and five games in 2013 (foot, hamstring).

There is still the possibility that Holmes could be back with the Jets at a reduced rate, but they could put that money to better use by targeting one of the top free agents available. The Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders and the Denver Broncos' Eric Decker would both make nice additions to the offense.

They could also target a wide receiver with one or more of their draft choices. They were in contact with USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins at the scouting combine, who are both projected to be first-round picks.

Holmes never reached his ceiling in New York, and while that may be due in part to bad quarterback play, there were also questions about his effort at times. He's a big name, but he hasn't had a big season in quite some time. He has just one 1,000-yard season, and he had it back in 2009. He has just 43 catches for 828 yards and two touchdowns in the past two seasons (15 games).

What will the market be for an injury-prone veteran receiver with diminishing talents and a reputation as a divisive presence in the locker room? He could be a nice veteran backup for a team that is comfortable with his baggage. On a low-risk deal, plenty of teams could be willing to take a chance on Holmes. Those teams, however, should not expect him to be a dominant presence for their offense.

Patriots mock draft 2.0: Best player available in all 7 rounds

Posted by Erik Frenz March 10, 2014 07:00 AM

The Patriots make decisions in the draft that make us scratch our heads. That's because their definition of value is different than the public perception of value — and also because they have access to a lot of information that the public doesn't, such as medical records and private interviews.

Regardless, the Patriots always stay true to their board. They draft without letting their current pressing needs dictate their selections. That line of thinking inspired this next mock draft.

You may disagree with where FanSpeak has these players rated, but let's face it: you may also disagree with where Bill Belichick has them rated when all is said and done. So, with that, let's take a look at one possible outcome of a draft where we stick to the philosophy of "best player available."


Jets release cornerback Antonio Cromartie, could Patriots be interested?

Posted by Erik Frenz March 9, 2014 06:03 PM
(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The New York Jets made a money-saving move on Sunday, with the release of Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

By releasing Cromartie, the Jets will save $9.5 million of his $14.98 million cap charge for 2014. They also avoid paying him a $5 million bonus that was coming due shortly after the beginning of the league year on March 11.

The move could cause a seismic shift in the Jets' secondary, with 2013 rookie cornerback Dee Milliner stepping into Cromartie's spot as the No. 1 cornerback. He had an up-and-down rookie year, but finished the season on a high note by winning the Defensive Rookie of the Month award for December.


Logan Ryan: 'Hopefully I'll be ready' if Aqib Talib leaves as free agent

Posted by Erik Frenz March 9, 2014 01:55 PM

ryan.jpgSOMERVILLE, Mass. — If the Patriots opt not to bring back free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib, second-year cornerback Logan Ryan could be in for an increased role.

Ryan read to area children on Sunday at Tufts University's "Read By The River" for the Patriots Charitable Foundation. He says he has thought about the possibility of moving up the depth chart in the secondary, and if that's the case, he hopes he'll be ready.

"I think the Patriots are always about getting the best players on the field, and I think that starts in the offseason, so I'm trying to have the best offseason I've had, and when it's time to move up the depth chart, hopefully I'll be ready."

Ryan finished with a team-high five interceptions as a rookie, and also notched 10 passes defensed. He started seven games when Talib and Alfonzo Dennard were out with injuries, and he played 607 defensive snaps on the season (57.4 percent) according to Pro Football Focus.

As Talib's teammate, Ryan says the requests for inside information have been frequent, but he has nothing to offer.

"I see what everyone else sees. That's about it. People try to ask me for inside information, and I'm just watching SportsCenter like everyone else," he said. "Aqib's a great guy, he's a great player. I've learned a lot from him. I would love to play with him more, but I also wish him the best for him and his family and the decision he has to make, and the decision the Patriots have to make."

Ryan may be asked very soon to put to use some of what he's learned from Talib, if the star cornerback departs in free agency.

Here are some more thoughts from Ryan's media-based Q&A:


Report: Buffalo Bills want to 'push' EJ Manuel

Posted by Erik Frenz March 7, 2014 02:00 PM

ej manuel jason miller getty images.jpg

(Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Well, it seems this is the offseason of AFC East teams pushing their quarterbacks.

First came the reports that the Miami Dolphins want to push quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Now, Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report says the Buffalo Bills want to to "push" second-year signal-caller EJ Manuel by signing a veteran free agent.

manuel rookie.pngIt would be understandable if the Bills were looking for a backup quarterback as an insurance policy. The Bills spent the 16th pick on Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft, when it seemed like Manuel would be available much later. If the Bills already think they need someone to push him, that would show an error in judgment on their part.

Manuel, 23, dealt with three knee injuries in 2013, and missed six games and parts of two others. His end-of-season injury was the only one that required surgery (albeit minor), but he will wear a knee brace on his left knee in 2014. His backups, Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis, failed to deliver in his stead and went a combined 2-4.

The Bills shouldn't worry about letting their quarterback grow "free of threats and backstabbing," as Freeman says. The New York Jets followed that course of action with quarterback Mark Sanchez, and stirred up a lot of controversy as a result. There were some anonymous quotes from within the locker room, but defensive tackle Kris Jenkins publicly said that the Jets "coddled" Sanchez.

Couple Manuel's injury concerns with his dubious designation as a first-round pick and the top quarterback selected in 2013, and the Bills are wise to cover their bases. The quarterback is the singular most important position on the roster. If the Bills have doubts about Manuel, they'd be foolish not to cover their bases.

Freeman mentions Eagles quarterback Michael Vick as an option. Other veteran options include Bears quarterback Josh McCown and Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel. The Bills were also reported to be interested in acquiring Josh Freeman when he was released by the Buccaneers, but he signed with the Vikings instead. Perhaps the Bills will rekindle their interest in Freeman when he is a free man again on March 11.

The Patriots at least another couple years left with Tom Brady behind center. It's going to be awhile before they have to worry about "pushing" any of their quarterbacks — unless we're talking about backups pushing each other for the No. 2 job, and the possibility of being Brady's heir.

Words With Frenz mailbag: Patriots tip-toe into free agency

Posted by Erik Frenz March 7, 2014 08:00 AM
(Getty Images)
Free agency lives at the core of every NFL fan's dreams.

Patriots fans in particular should not be letting their imaginations run wild. The Patriots are close up against the salary cap this year, and haven't made some of the cap clearing moves that were expected.

They also have some important in-house free agents to sign. They reportedly began talking to Aqib Talib and his representation in Indianapolis at the scouting combine. On Thursday night, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots had reached out to Julian Edelman to begin talking about a contract.

There's still time for those transactions to cross the waiver wire, but March 8 marks the opening of the window for other teams to begin talking to other free agents — the "legal tampering" period.

So far, neither player has signed a deal, and the Patriots could enter free agency facing the possibility of losing both key players. That being said, is it possible that the Patriots could still be buyers in the free agent market? Let's take a look at some of the players on the minds of Patriots fans headed into the new league year.

Houston is considered one of the top defensive ends on the market, so his price tag could be out of the Patriots' range.

He was a two-down player for the first two years of his NFL career. He played 64.8 percent of the Raiders' defensive snaps in that time, according to stats and analytics website Pro Football Focus. Since then, he's played 89 percent of the snaps, and a whopping 94.9 percent in 2013. He earned more playing time as the Raiders lost several key defensive linemen, including Desmond Bryant, Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.

He was primarily a left defensive end in the Raiders' 4-3 scheme from 2010-2012, but he moved to the right side in 2013. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, but Christopher Hansen of Bleacher Report says Houston is closer to 280 right now. He played defensive end and even "LEO" linebacker in the Raiders' multiple defense, but could probably play defensive tackle as well.

At 26 years old and with his level of scheme versatility, Houston will be a hot commodity as a free agent. There are too many teams with too much money and too desperate for help up front. Houston will get a bigger offer than the Patriots could give him, even if they are interested.

Aqib Talib may be seeking top dollar, and there could be a team willing to overpay for his services. There aren't many big, fast cornerbacks readily available to sign, so there would be a market for his services.

For the number of "dings" on his resumι, though, it's fair to wonder whether that market will be up to the standard he hopes.

He has missed four games to injury since joining the Patriots, and parts of five others. He has also missed 19 games in his career for injuries and suspensions. Speaking of suspensions, he had quite a checkered off-field record before he was traded to the Patriots. Those issues — as they usually do in New England — magically disappeared.

Talib only has to wait a few more days to find out whether there's a team that's willing to make him one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. At this point, there's little benefit to signing with the Patriots now, before he gets that chance.

Good question, Gordon. Dane Fletcher seems like an obvious re-sign. He has had a few injuries, but he's been dependable when on the field and he's a core special teams contributor. He has four years of experience in the defense, as well.

Brandon Spikes is probably on his way out. The Patriots placed him on injured reserve (knee) before the playoffs, but ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that his late arrival to Friday's bye week practice "was the last straw for [Bill] Belichick." He has played 66.3 percent of the snaps in the games he's participated in over the past two years.

If they were to move on from either Fletcher, Spikes or both, Steve Beauharnais would be in line for an increased snap count. He was in and out of the active lineup this season, but with a full year in the system, the Patriots could be looking for more in Year 2.

They already started making moves. The release of Steve Gregory cleared up roughly $2.85 million in cap space. Aside from re-signing Edelman and Talib, there aren't many moves they can make.

Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly have been floated on this blog and elsewhere as names to consider among potential cap casualties. Each is entering the last year of his deal, so there are only three options on the table:

  1. an extension to push the money forward,
  2. a pay cut, and
  3. a release.

For now, I expect the status quo. The Patriots could wait on extensions for Wilfork and Kelly until the Patriots get a better idea of whether those two will be playing for another couple years. Otherwise, pushing the money forward does no good. I still expect the Patriots to release Isaac Sopoaga at some point and immediately gain $2.5 million in cap space.

They could still extend Wilfork if things look good, or ask him to take a pay cut if things don't look good, but not in time for it to aid the Patriots' ability to spend this offseason.

As long as Belichick is the head coach, the Patriots will always want to be as scheme versatile as possible.

We've heard it a hundred times — the Patriots are a game plan style defense. They will adjust what they do based on the opponent they will face. Some weeks, we'll see straight man coverage, like we saw against the Broncos in the regular season; other weeks, they'll run zone blitzes like they did against the Dolphins.

Talib is their best cornerback when it comes to man coverage, and losing him would be a big blow to the defense as a whole. Alfonzo Dennard is still a talented young corner, and Logan Ryan has some upside, but the Broncos game served as a reminder of what losing Talib would mean to the secondary.

The offense should look a lot more efficient with Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce all in their second year in the NFL and working with Tom Brady. Whether that's a result of creativity or simply better chemistry within the offense

Dobson looks to be in line for a second-year jump, but as I noted in my breakdown of Dobson's season, there's still work to be done. He has to get better separation on deep routes, and Brady has to do better hitting him when he's open. Those things should improve with more time together.

The first one that comes to mind is Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could give Rex Ryan the dominant pass-rushing edge presence he hasn't had since taking over.

They need to get younger at the position, if nothing else. Calvin Pace is 33 years old, and is nearing the end of his career. He had 10 sacks in 2013, but most of them were in cleanup duty for defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. Antwan Barnes is 29 years old and has missed 20 games with injuries in the past four years, including 11 games last year.

Alabama safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is another option. The Jets seem impatient with the development of Antonio Allen at the safety spot, after bringing in Ed Reed to compete for the starting spot. Clinton-Dix and Dee Milliner already have some experience working together, so the familiarity could be beneficial for each.

Incidentally, safety and outside linebacker are two spots the Jets have not yet used a first-round pick in the Ryan era.

As mentioned, the Patriots have a new hole to fill at strong safety with the departure of Gregory. Something tells me they want to develop that position from within. They have spent a second- and third-round pick at the safety position in the past two years. Safeties Tavon Wilson and Duron Harmon may not be top-notch strong safeties in the NFL yet, but they'll never get there if they're not given a chance.

The Patriots could add some veteran depth at strong safety in free agency, particularly if they want to create a competition at the position. There's also the possibility that they hold pat, and let Wilson and Harmon duke it out for the starting job in training camp.

Cortland Finnegan announced on Wednesday that he's been released by the Rams, and this has been a long time coming. He was sidelined with a thigh injury early in the season before being placed on injured reserve (fractured orbital bone) after Week 10.

He was primarily a slot cornerback for the Rams, though, playing 142 of his 210 coverage snaps from the slot. Slot cornerbacks can be valuable, and the Patriots will certainly exhaust all options if they lose Talib, but Finnegan doesn't seem like a viable alternative.

Buy a ton of Cape Cod chips, ginger ale and pale ale to get through the free agency frenzy. Get some oxygen while you can.

Oh, wait, that's my weekend.

Perhaps you check out a Boston Massacre Reenactment, or the Harpoon St. Patrick's Festival on Saturday. It's Boston. Just walk around the city and I'm sure you'll stumble into something.

Oh, wait, you live in Arizona. I got nothing. Maybe catch a movie? I hear "Gravity" is good. Check it out and let me know.

Bill Belichick grades draft prospects by projection, not by round

Posted by Erik Frenz March 7, 2014 05:00 AM
(Getty Images)
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick often uses the word "value" to explain any decision his team makes, particularly in the draft. The only problem is, we don't have any idea what he perceives as value.

If you find yourself questioning a decision Belichick has made in the draft, it's probably because he defines value differently than those in the media portray value.

Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage served as a scout and a defensive assistant under Belichick in the mid-'90s. As a result of his working relationship with Belichick, Savage has some rare first-hand insight on how Belichick grades the prospects in the draft.

Savage revealed that Belichick was hesitant to allow his scouts to place such ambiguous grades on a player when they did not have the full context of all the prospects available:

Instead of leaving too much to the imagination, Belichick wanted an individual projection on each player, and how far they'd be in their development at certain stages of their career:

This helps give us an idea of why they may have passed on certain players in the past, or why they've "reached" on others. Perhaps where some people saw a first-round grade, the Patriots saw a future backup. Maybe where some people placed a fifth-round grade on a player, the Patriots viewed him as a second-year starter.

Savage clarifies that the perception of value, and how it is labeled, is differentiated between the scouts and the front office:

Savage said that these grades are not reflective of need, and that the evaluations are made as if the team is an expansion club.

Spinning forward to this year, it becomes even harder to believe the Patriots will spend a first-round pick on a player who projects as anything but a three-down contributor. Those are usually the players that earn the top spot on the Patriots' depth chart.

Even if we all somehow manage to get our heads fully wrapped around Belichick's perception of value in the draft, the Patriots will probably still find a way to do something that surprises us.

New England Patriots 2014 free agency wish list

Posted by Erik Frenz March 4, 2014 07:00 AM

A brief break in AFC East names and notes to bring you an interesting nugget from Broncos general manager John Elway.

The Hall of Fame quarterback was asked at the combine whether the Broncos want to be stronger in the middle of their defense, and he offered an answer that I think can serve as a short lesson in team-building:

"You want to be strong everywhere. There is always a philosophy — some people say you build from the inside-out and others say you build from the outside-in. ...The thing is you have to make a decision one way or the other. It's hard to get everyone and that's why we have to be good in the draft."

Free agency is not the only time to build a team, and unlike in other sports, it's not even the most important time. Successful teams rarely rely on free agency to build their roster. Still, finding good fits in free agency can help a team get over the hump. The Seahawks had a strong foundation in place, but adding defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril gave their defense a big boost.

What are some of the signings the Patriots could make to help them get back to the Super Bowl? Precluding any re-signings, here's a dream scenario for the Patriots in free agency.

AP Photo/file
Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks

A lot of folks are pushing for the Patriots to find more weapons for Tom Brady — preferably of the big-bodied, physical X receiver variety. They can't afford a top-dollar signing at the position after ponying up big money for Danny Amendola last year, and potentially more money going to Julian Edelman this year.

Enter Hakeem Nicks, who should be relatively cheap after a down year in which he didn't have a single touchdown catch. He also missed a game with an abdominal injury, and dealt with nagging abdominal and groin injuries in the final six weeks of the season.

If the Patriots want to take out an insurance policy on the development of Aaron Dobson, or simply to add another weapon to their offensive arsenal, Nicks would be a good direction to look.

There are questions about his remaining talent level and his effort, but no questions about his potential. We've seen it on the field, and if Nicks can get back to that level with Brady throwing him the ball, he could be a great value addition for the Patriots. Eric Decker could be another option if the Patriots don't mind ponying up a little extra cash for their guy.

Tight end Garrett Graham

Ideally, the Patriots can find a Gronkowski backup on the cheap in free agency or through the draft. One position they still need to fill, however, is the versatile H-back role left vacant by Aaron Hernandez.

Graham is not as athletic as Hernandez, but his role is similar. He is not well-suited for a big role as an in-line blocker, but he can be moved all over the field and maximized for his abilities in the receiving game. He finished the 2013 season with 49 receptions for 545 yards and five touchdowns. The Texans scored just 19 touchdowns through the air, so Graham accounted for over 25 percent of their scoring production in the passing game.

He hasn't come on strong, but has developed steadily, and he may be a smart economy addition to the offense. If the Patriots want to sign a true Gronkowski backup that can serve as a two-way tight end, the Bills' Scott Chandler would be worth a look.

AP Photo/file
Defensive tackle Randy Starks

The Patriots need to make serious considerations about life after Vince Wilfork, and signing Randy Starks would be a step in that direction.

Starks is not a true nose tackle, like Wilfork, but the Patriots don't run a traditional 3-4 anymore. In many ways, he is exactly what they are building toward — a defensive line that can hold its own against the run when in the sub package. Although Starks isn't a stout gap-plugging presence like Wilfork, he can hold his own and occasionally get into the backfield and can make some tackles for loss.

He would also provide an instant boost to the Patriots' interior pass-rush, where their 3-technique defensive tackles (outside shade vs. guard) have struggled to get pressure. He tied with Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus as the 10th-most most productive pass-rushing defensive tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

His abilities in that role may drive his price tag up a bit, but at 30 years old, he may not get the big-money, long-term contract he's hoping for. He could earn a contract between $7 to $7.5 million per year, putting him right outside the top five highest-paid defensive tackles in the league. That may be outside the Patriots' price range, especially if they're unable to restructure Wilfork's deal.

Red Bryant may be the more logical signing, but in a perfect world, the Patriots could find a way to nab Starks.

Safety T.J. Ward

The Patriots have been searching for the solution at strong safety for years, trying their luck on free agents and draft picks, but no one has stepped forward to claim the job.

T.J. Ward is known for big hits, but he is one of the rare safeties that can hold his own in deep coverage, come down in the box against the run and even play man coverage on occasion. At 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he has both the size and speed to carry out any role.

Ward is likely to get one of the bigger contracts of any safety this year, in the neighborhood of $7.5 million or more to make him one of the top five highest-paid safeties in the NFL. If the Patriots don't mind an investment, they could solve one of their biggest roster dilemmas over the past three years.

Defensive end Robert Ayers

The Patriots need to come out of free agency with someone that can rotate with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who played the highest percentage of their team's snaps of any defensive lineman in 2013. Ayers isn't a sack master (career-high 5.5 sacks in 2013), but at 6-foot-3 and 274 pounds, with 32.5-inch long arms, he has the size the Patriots typically like out of their defensive ends.

ayers rush totals.pngHe was primarily used as a rotational pass-rusher in 2013, but has always been a two-down player. He has played anywhere from 30 to 60 percent of the Broncos' defensive snaps in a season throughout his career. Over the years, the Broncos have switched from 3-4 to 4-3 and back and forth; Ayers has been through it all, and as a result, he has gained scheme versatility to fill roles in both fronts.

Ayers' lack of production could make him cheap, but he has a ton of athletic potential, and could be valuable in a rotational role.

With no franchise tag, time running out on Jairus Byrd's future with Buffalo Bills

Posted by Erik Frenz March 3, 2014 03:54 PM

The Buffalo Bills elected not to place the franchise tag on soon-to-be free agent safety Jairus Byrd ahead of Monday's 4 p.m. deadline, the team announced on Monday. Unless the two sides can come to an agreement on Byrd's value in the next eight days, Byrd will hit the open market.

According to recent reports, the chances of a long-term deal being signed ahead of free agency are slim. Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo reported on Sunday that the Bills had made a "substantial" offer to Byrd, and presumably, he didn't sign it.

Later Sunday afternoon, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora came in with this:

"It's a negotiation," Whaley said, via BuffaloBills.com. "We still have some time to get it done so we're not closing the door on it. We're hopeful. We're optimistic, but we'll see where it goes from here."

Byrd was hit with the franchise tag last offseason, and he held out of training camp until August 20, when he finally signed the deal. He then missed the first five games of the season with plantar fasciitis, and the Bills were open to trading him while he was out, but he came back and played well in the final 10 games, tying for the team-high with four interceptions and allowed a passer rating of 35 on throws in his direction.

He has expressed his desire to be the top paid free safety in the NFL since last year's failed negotiations, and that hasn't changed. Negotiations were off to a good start this time around, according to reports, but it's not how you start, it's how you finish.

The Bills do not feel the safety position is worth top dollar.

"It's important. I think depending on scheme, in this scheme talking to [defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz, safety is going to be important a lot because of the communication and how he sets the back end of the defense and gets all the checks and balances from the sidelines," said Whaley. "It's an important part, but would it be the top rated piece I would start the defense? No, but it's in the mix. I think you'd have to go defensive end and corner before you go safety."

The Bills have around $25 million in cap space to work with right now, and although Byrd could be the highest-paid safety multiple years in a row, he apparently wants more, and he can probably get it. Byrd would be arguably the best free-agent safety available this year, along with Browns safety T.J. Ward, 49ers safety Donte Whitner and Colts safety Antoine Bethea.

Plenty of teams need a top-flight free safety this offseason, including the Jets, Dolphins, Colts and Raiders, and all have the cap space to sign Byrd if they want.

There are some alternatives available in free agency, including the Dolphins' Chris Clemons, or they could turn over the keys to Duke Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2013, or to Aaron Williams, who converted to safety from cornerback last offseason.

Safeties like Byrd don't become available too often, and Byrd is one of the rare safeties with the coverage ability, sideline-to-sideline speed and ball skills to be deployed as the single high safety in Cover 1. He can also hold his own in man coverage.

Losing him would be a big blow to a defense in transition. Head coach Doug Marrone has expressed concern over the consistency in the secondary, and the Bills could be dealing with a retooled group along with a brand new scheme.

They could sure use the help of one of the most scheme-versatile safeties in the NFL, but that doesn't seem to be enough of a concern for the Bills to change their stance on his value. Unless that happens soon, it looks like Byrd could be finished in Buffalo.

Patriots mock draft 1.0: Ra'Shede Hageman part of defensive line rebuild

Posted by Erik Frenz March 3, 2014 07:00 AM

This tool from FanSpeak.com allows you to pick a team and play GM in a mock draft. Using this, the 31 other blanks automatically get filled in.

Yes, mock drafts are sometimes the object of scorn in media, but NFL front offices conduct hundreds of mock drafts leading up to the big event, to act as practice runs.

Here are the full results of my first Patriots mock draft. Keeping in mind that the results of free agency could dramatically alter the Patriots' needs one way or another, let's take a look at an early mock draft.

Note: throughout the column, I've embedded links to clips that show some of the traits I'm discussing.

Round 1, Pick 29 — Ra'Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)

When Hageman said he likes to emulate J.J. Watt and Ndamukong Suh in his game, he pretty much pegged himself as the kind of player the Patriots have been missing. Hageman's frame is similar at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds with 34 14-inch long arms, and like Watt, he has shown the ability to use those long arms to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage.

His ability to split gaps through the line, bull-rush his way into the backfield, and contain multiple gaps at a time, help make him one of the more scheme-versatile linemen in the draft. There are some questions about his consistency, though, as he is raw and sometimes lacks sound technique. If the Patriots want to groom an athletic lineman with a lot of upside, and get a little younger on the inside, Hageman would be a solid addition to the rotation.

Round 2, Pick 62 — Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)

If the Patriots want to grab a tight end with a similar skill set to Rob Gronkowski, Niklas would be a good selection. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds with 34 14-inch long arms, he has the size of today's matchup nightmare at tight end, and he knows how to use his size to his advantage to catch the ball in traffic and in the red zone.

He may also be the most NFL-ready in terms of his ability to block in both the running and passing game. He doesn't have elite speed, but he knows how to get open downfield, and he's tough to bring down with the ball in his hands. The Patriots could get back to their two tight end offense, and this time, they'd have two two-way tight ends that can both block and catch.

Round 3, Pick 93 — Marcus Smith (DE, Louisville)

At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, Smith may be a little smaller than the Patriots prefer in their defensive ends, but Smith's primary role would be as a pass-rushing presence in sub packages. CBS Sports' Rob Rang compares him to Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard, who entered the league with similar questions about his NFL fit.

Smith has the burst to beat blocks off the snap, and although he has 34-inch long arms to help keep blockers away, he doesn't have the strength to shed when an offensive linemen gets into his pads. Still, the Patriots need someone who can take the every-down burden off Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, and Smith could provide them that rotational edge presence.

Round 4, Pick 126 — A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama)

The Patriots have to make a decision on quarterback Ryan Mallett in the near future. They may elect to trade him, or he could walk in free agency in 2015; either way, they will have to find a new backup quarterback soon, and maybe an heir to Tom Brady.

McCarron's experience in a pro system will help him greatly if he's called upon to start as a rookie, and he's already drawn comparisons between Alabama and the Patriots — as well as himself and Brady. With time to develop in the Patriots' system, those comparisons to Brady could grow.

Round 6, Pick 182 — Phillip Gaines (CB, Rice)

The small school product popped at the combine, running the 40 in 4.38 seconds and the three-cone drill in 6.62 seconds for the second-fastest time among defensive backs in each drill. We know how much Belichick loves three-cone drill stars. He's an effective zone corner, with quick reaction time and closing speed to make a play on the ball.

The concern with Gaines, however, is that he's not physically equipped to hold his own in man coverage on a consistent basis. The Patriots run more man coverage on the back end now than in years past, but a player with this much athletic upside doesn't come available in the sixth round all that often.

Round 6, Pick 190 — Russell Bodine (C, North Carolina)

Bodine has the versatility to play both guard and center. Center Ryan Wendell is a free agent this offseason and guard Dan Connolly could be a cap casualty this year or a free agent next year. The Patriots would be wise to start loading up their depth on the inside, although Dante Scarnecchia will not be around to coach up the offensive line.

Bodine may have short arms at 32.5 inches long, and CBS Sports' scouting report indicates he overextends at times to compensate, but he isn't lacking in strength (42 225-pound bench press reps at the combine) and will blow defenders off the ball when he gets his hands on them. A tough-nosed interior lineman in the sixth round would add valuable depth to a position of need.

Round 7, Pick 221 — Zach Fulton (G, Tennessee)

Fulton doesn't have the versatility the Patriots look for, having played exclusively right guard at Tennessee, but in starting 40 games in the SEC, he earned plenty of experience against top competition. In fact, one of his best games of the 2013 season came against Alabama, where he showed sound technique in pass protection and creating lanes for his back to gain tough yards. He needs some polish blocking in space, but he has a lot of physical potential in that 6-foot-5, 316-pound frame.

Final thoughts

This draft focuses on building the team through the trenches, with two picks each on the defensive and offensive lines. The offense dropped off considerably without Gronkowski, so the Patriots need to prioritize finding a serviceable No. 2 tight end. McCarron could be considered a luxury pick or a necessary one, depending on how you look at it, but the long-term outlook does not have Mallett in the picture.

This mock draft addresses almost all of the Patriots' biggest needs, although those beating the "Brady needs weapons" drum would probably walk away disappointed. After investing second- and fourth-round picks in receivers last year, as well as a big contract and a potential second big contract this offseason, it seems unlikely the Patriots would invest in more wide-outs. If they're going to do so, in my opinion, it wouldn't be until a much later round on a prospect who had unexpectedly fallen.

Any of you draftniks that want to get involved and make your own mock draft, go to the link here and post your results in the comments.

Report: Patriots' Danny Amendola 'has been floated in trade talks'

Posted by Erik Frenz March 1, 2014 12:45 PM


(AP Photo)

Danny Amendola went from replacing Wes Welker to possibly being replaced in the span of under 12 months.

According to Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report, NFL teams say Amendola's name "has been floated in trade talks," and Pompei adds that there has been "speculation" that the Patriots could release him if he's not dealt. Whether the Patriots are the team floating his name, or whether other teams are inquiring about his trade value, remains unclear.

The Patriots signed Amendola to a five-year, $28.5 million deal last offseason, but Amendola suffered a groin injury in Week 1 and a concussion in Week 6, and was never able to get on track. Injuries have plagued Amendola at every turn, and the 28-year-old veteran has played just 24 games in the past three seasons, including just one game in 2011.

He caught 54 passes for 633 yards and two touchdowns last year — lower totals than those he put up with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in the 2010 and 2012 seasons. He still finished second on the Patriots in 2013 in both receptions and yards.

According to Miguel Benzan of PatsCap.com, the Patriots could free up $2.88 million in salary cap room by cutting him prior to March 11 at 4:00 p.m. and making him a June 2 designation. They would lose $645,000 in cap space by trading him.

The questions lie not just in Amendola's ability to stay healthy and be productive, and the ramifications extend beyond his salary cap hit if cut or traded. After another injury-plagued season, and with his cap hit, it seems hard to believe that the Patriots could get what they would think is reasonable value for Amendola.

The Patriots may have to bite the bullet on one more year of Amendola, but he could become much easier to trade after the 2014 season if he is productive — and if not, his cap numbers make him easier to release. Amendola will count for $5.575 million against the cap in 2015, but the Patriots could save roughly $1.975 million of that by cutting him, according to sports contracts and salary database Spotrac.

This could potentially be good news for Julian Edelman, who is just 10 days away from hitting the open market as a free agent. The Patriots may be more likely to fork over the necessary cash to keep Edelman, especially if they feel the end is in sight with Amendola. Perhaps the Patriots would even be willing to invest in both Amendola and Edelman — despite their similar styles as a player — for one year to bridge them over to a point where they can more comfortably move on from Amendola.

Only time will tell.

About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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