Thursday, March 27, 2014

When the dust settled, Vince Wilfork was still a Patriot

Bob Kraft said he wanted the big man in Foxborough.  Bill Belichick had no comment.  Vince Wilfork was so elusive that he was becoming as notorious as a prohibition era gangster, surfacing without notice and ripping innocent name plates off of lockers...

...but unlike those thugs, Wilfork has worked very hard for his money and the only violence inherent in his system results in guards and centers grasping helplessly at Wilfork's ankles after he knocked them on their cans - and the aforementioned vandalism, of course.

At issue, the five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle feeling slighted by the team approaching him a few weeks back about restructuring his contract to gain some relief on the salary cap, which angered the 6' 2", 325 pound man-mountain - and given the parameters of the new deal he just signed with the New England Patriots, money wasn't the entire issue.

A proud man, a family man and the cornerstone of the Patriots' defense for the past ten years knows that there are fewer games ahead of him as there are behind, and perhaps the team approaching him about restructuring brought to reality that which he didn't want to face - the realization that the employer that he had toiled for all these years was telling him that it will soon be time for the gold watch and a boot out the door...

...but not for another three years and after he's had the chance to earn $22.5 Million, which has a tendency to smooth things over a bit - as does hanging out in the Bahamas for a couple of weeks, from where Wilfork arrived from - pen in hand - ready to re-enlist in the militia.

Vince Wilfork signed a contract on Thursday that is neither a considerable compromise on his part nor an admission of impending erosion of his skill set.  The $3 million guaranteed is $600 thousand less than what was owed on his previous contract, but with obtainable playing-time driven incentives making up the remainder of the compensation package, he has a chance to earn slightly more than he would have on the now-expired contract.

Of course, the actual cash payment wasn't nearly as important to the Patriots at this point as was the salary cap hit, which would have been $11 million but now - depending on language contained  in the contract - will be anywhere between three and five million less.

That's what it's all about.  Don't think for a second that if the Patriots weren't a little cap-strapped they would have just let his contract go and negotiate an extension sometime during the season.  This needed to get done and it got done where both parties are protected and smiles are free.

What the Patriots get is the assurance that Wilfork will play for pay and they have avoided the dreaded fractured locker room - and if Wilfork returns from his torn Achilles at anywhere close to the force that he was in clogging running lanes and absorbing double teams, their relationship will continue with club options in 2015 and 2016 - for $7.5 million per.

Now on to putting the finishing touches on what looks to be a monstrously large and talented defense...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blount testing waters; Patriots keeping "open dialogue" in hopes of his return

New England Patriots' unrestricted free agent running back LeGarrette Blount is taking visits with at least two other teams this coming week in his quest for - well - that's a question to be pondered by fans of both the 250 pound power back and the three teams involved as they await word on where he will hang his hat this coming season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have expressed their desire to meet with Blount, though both have established bell cows already on the roster.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Talib, Spikes and Belichick are all telling the truth, depending on your point of view

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Perhaps Charles Dickens could be the only person, albeit posthumously, to explain how the New England Patriots do business and how their policies circumvent the very core of human decency - the very image of head coach Bill Belichick being cause for the common fan to recoil in repugnance. 

The epoch of Bill Belichick is plagued with tales of deceit, espionage and all manner of dark malfeasance - just like a typical Dickens' tale - from the moment that he wrote his resignation as the "HC of the NYJ" on a cocktail napkin and fled Jets' headquarters for Foxborough, Belichick has been a lightning rod for controversy - his distaste for the authoritative policies or Roger Goodell and the National Football League well documented and ongoing.

You either love him or you hate him - there is no ambiguity, no black and white, and any feelings that one might have in regard to the coach that has been dubbed "The Hoodie" transcends race, color and religion - he's an ornery cuss, but he's the same ornery cuss to everyone...

...or as commentator and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason once said, “For all those people who want to have a reason to hate Bill Belichick, well, he gives it to them." 

Most can handle it, some can not, and it seems that every time a household name leaves the Patriots' organization for browner pastures, we are bound to be regaled with stories of rotten behavior - or at least pushing the outside of that envelope.

The list is long (but not necessarily distinguished, depending on your point of view) of former Patriots unceremoniously shipped off to other area codes who had less than fond things to say about Belichick, and even coaches and journalists - loosely termed - get in on the act.

First there was safety Lawyer Milloy being released just days before the start of the 2003 season and signing on with division rival Buffalo, causing a rift in the Patriots' locker room, according to ESPN Analyst Tom Jackson and prompting him to say that the players "hate" Belichick - then Drew Bledsoe being traded to the Bills, and more recently names like Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Brandon Spikes being discarded in free agency...

... the supposed furor over Milloy's departure was soothed over by a Super Bowl title (funny how winning does that), the trade of Bledsoe infuriated then-Boston Globe reporter Ron Borges (reportedly Bledsoe was the only player that would have anything to do with the rat-faced Borges), and Welker actually ended up screwing himself by listening to his agent, who blamed the entire fiasco on Belichick.

And let's not forget about "Spygate", the video taping of other team's defensive signals which brought about league sanctions against Belichick and the Patriots organization, and has been a convenient excuse for every team that ever lost to New England before and since - brought about by a complaint to the league office by then-New York Jets' head coach and former Patriots' Offensive Coordinator Eric Mangini.

Then there was last summer's debacle when the Patriots released tight end Aaron Hernandez immediately after he was arrested for the execution style murder of his friend Odin Lloyd, the team accused of judging Hernandez before having a fair trial and, perhaps worse, of knowing about his violent past and current troubles and working to conceal them.

Ah, the Patriot Way.  Last summer, there were many that doubted that such a thing ever existed at all., but as the article attached to that link will assure you, the Patriot Way is nothing more than a Mission Statement, derived by the media to try and explain how the Patriots had gone from doormats to World Champions:

"A standard that the Kraft family embraced, though not in so many words - as you will seldom hear anyone in the organization use them - an impromptu and unofficial mission statement that they never tried to do anything but culture and to edify, doing the best that they could to uphold a standard that they knew could never be reached, given the ambiguity of human nature - because they really had no choice."

So when players leave the organization, their new team's beat writers and fans are understanably curious as to what goes on behind Belichick's iron curtain - and anything that comes out of a player's mouth is going to be twisted into something negative about the Patriots, regardless if it were meant in a hostile manner or not.

Take Aqib Talib, for example.

Upon signing on with the Broncos last week for many dollars, he was asked by a member of the Denver media about his hip injury, to which he replied:  "The Patriots have their way of reporting stuff, but I haven't had a hip problem since Tampa. The injury I had was actually a quad injury. It was reported as a hip injury, but that's how they do things."

The knee-jerk reaction to his comments would be to assume that Belichick was fudging the injury report, but upon closer inspection, the spirit of the injury report was accurate.

The quadraceps is a cluster of four different muscles that surround the femur on the front and sides and join in with three other groups of muscles to surround the joint, including the hamstring, adductors and abductors - the quadraceps and hamstring at particular risk for injury in football because they cross both the hip and knee joints.

The most common mechanism of injury for muscle strains in the hip area occur when a stretched muscle is forced to contract suddenly. A fall (which is what happened to Talib) or direct blow to the muscle can tear muscle fibers, resulting in a strain. The risk of muscle strain increases if the patient has had a history of injury to the area, which Talib did - in Tampa.

As may be guessed, the evaluation of an injury in that area can be tricky, but if the pain in one's hip is attributed to one of the quad muscles, it still affects the hip primarily - so while Talib may have been passing along correct information, all Belichick did was to generalize the injury on the report, which is all he is required to do, and probably before the source of the injury was known.

But while Talib's remarks can be passed off as a statement of truth in passing, the same can not be said of Brandon Spikes, who came out in the Buffalo media and on twitter swinging for the fences - commenting to Bills' beat writers that when he was placed on the injured reserved list in early January with a knee injury, it was not a mutual decision as the club had reported it.

Rumor had it that Spikes had been placed on the IR as a disciplinary measure by Belichick for missing a team meeting because his car was stuck in the snow, a rumor driven by a similar circumstance in 2009 when Gary Guyton, Adalius Thomas and Derrick Burgess and wide receiver Randy Moss were sent home from a team meeting for being late due to the snow...

...and while there is precedence to make a case that being sent to the season-ending IR was a disciplinary measure, the fact that it is against league policy to do so raises an eyebrow, and the fact that he did in fact have a knee injury makes any argument otherwise a moot point.

Another unconfirmed report that Belichick had considered releasing Spikes for the transgression holds more water, particularly knowing that Spikes was a goner after the season in free agency anyway - but Belichick placed him on the IR so that the linebacker would receive his full playoff share.

In the end, everyone is telling the truth. Talib couldn't have said anything different, Spikes could have and Belichick hasn't said a word, nor will he - nor should he.  According to the rules of the injury reporting procedure, Belichick did everything by the book - but because it's Belichick and because it's the Patriots, a mountain was made out of a mole hill.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reloading the Musket: 2014 Mock Draft, Volume 2 - Free Agent Frenzy Edition

Mock drafts are a waste of time and effort.

But contrary to what the late, great actor James Gammon quipped so eloquently in the iconic baseball cinema epic Major League, "I'm for wasting sportswriters' time", sportswriters put out mock drafts to waste your time...

...and if they piss you off while they're at it, so much the better - just so long as your mouse click registers as a page view, they have done exactly what they set out to do. Bitch and whine all you want, call them lazy plagiarists, half-wit morons and bombastic megalo-maniacs, because you clicked on the link and took the ride, so you deserve to offer your opinion.

Most learned long ago to not even bother reading the comments, dismissing them as an unfortunate bi-product of the hatred that their superior intellect elicits from their subjects - nothing well-meaning or constructive, just a bunch of opinionated yahoos who become angry because the player that the writer mocked to their team isn't who they think it should be.

Be that as it may, many fans draw their knowledge of the process by composing subconscious mocks based on what they see on the websites, so the writers recognize that they have an obligation to have a working knowledge of team deficiencies and needs, taking into account the trends and habits of the various general managers, coaches and the odd-owner that tries to get involved...

...which is bullshit, of course.  At this point of the offseason, most are still trying to be cute - but now that free agency has trimmed down to second tier players, the teams will be entering the draft with their needs pretty much obvious.

In this first sequel of our mock draft, much stayed the same from the original as some teams were unable to address their greatest needs in free agency either because of limited cap space or because no one wants to play for them (insert your own Rex Ryan pun here)...

...and still others have changed because of abysmal showings at their school's "Pro Day", which is cause for concern when you can't impress scouts with everything set up just how you like it - regardless, some of the names on the original, such as Teddy Bridgewater, Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro have disappeared due to either incompetence or to losing out on the numbers game while others have benefited from increased demand.

In the case of the Patriots, with Amaro dropping like a stone they may be able to make a move up into the middle of the second round to snag the tight end that many had projected to be their first round selection - but we are still seven weeks shy of Draft weekend, so everyone's mock draft is fluid.

1. Houston - Jadeveon Clowney, DE. South Carolina

It certainly sounds as if the Texans are planning to do everything they can to avoid picking a quarterback with the first overall selection in the draft, but Mark Sanchez? With no sure-fire franchise signal caller in the draft, the Texans take the top rated player in the draft to team with JJ Watts to give them the most imposing pair of bookend pass rushers in the NFL.  A Quarterback?  They'll take Jimmy Garappolo with the first pick in the second round.

Original projection: Clowney

2. St. Louis - Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn

Unabashedly, the Rams are dangling the #2 overall pick in front of quarterback hungry teams willing to give up a boat load of picks as compensation - but it seems that the excitement surrounding the top three quarterback prospects has waned a bit with either poor combine showings, or not working out at all - so the Rams' status of having the second pick is a bit fluid.

On paper, this team has it all, everywhere except along the offensive line.  If they stay at #2, they take the top rated tackle in the draft second overall, than address a need for a field stretching wide receiver at #13.

Original projection: Robinson

3. Jacksonville - Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

The Jaguars are a mess, but they're not as bad off as they were at this point last season due to the drafting of Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who protected the blind side of manic quarterback Johnny Manziel - and who has spoken on record that he believes that his former teammate belongs in northern Florida. The Jaguars insist that they are not targeting a quarterback, but they lie.

"Johnny Football" becomes "Johnny Jaguar" and gives the Jaguars their franchise quarterback - not to mention putting butts in the seats at EverBank Field - right now, that's what it's all about for the floundering Jags...

Original projection: Manziel

4. Cleveland - Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

New Browns' bench boss Mike Pettine is apparently enamoured with brief 2013 starter Brian Hoyer and says that he's the top guy going into the offseason process - and while things change in a hurry in the NFL, for the moment it sounds like he won't take a QB with the #4 overall.

Cleveland follows the lead of the Texans and grabs the most explosive playmaker in the draft and waits until #26 to snag their franchise quarterback, who will have the luxury of being able to use his huge arm to throw to both Watkins and Josh Gordon, then solidifies their line with guard David Yankey in the second round.

Original projection: Watkins

5. Oakland - Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

The rumor mill has the Raiders interested in swapping quarterbacks with the Texans and bringing Texans' fans' punching bag Matt Schwab to Oakland in exchange for Matt McGloin, who quarterbacked for new Texans' coach Bill O'Brien at Penn State.

Whatever the case, the primary concern with any signal caller is to protect him, and the Raiders tried to spend major money on their tackle positions in free agency, Bringing in Austin Howard from the Jets and Roger Saffold from the Rams, but Saffold somehow managed to fail his physical and reverted back to the Rams, so the Raiders look to the best tackle available in the draft.

Original projection: Teddy Bridgewater.  Bridgewater calls himself a perfectionist, saying that he would not throw at the combine because he wanted to throw to his own guys back on the campus of Louisville on his Pro Day in mid-March - citing chemistry and that "You want to be with your guys to have that timing and that connection"...but when he did it was a monumental disaster.  Bridgewater may fall out of the first round with that weak performance.

6. Atlanta - Kahlil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Jadeveon Clowney all but begged the Falcons to trade up to the top pick of the draft to select him - but that's going to take some draft capital that the Falcons can't afford to part with, and the Falcons have already pretty much played that hand out in free agency by spending big bucks on their defensive line.

With both of the top offensive tackles off the board, the Falcons have some decisions to make as far as draft value - do they take the next best offensive lineman, or wait until the second round and take a pass rushing terror to continue their defensive overhaul?  The bet here is that they won't be able to pass on Mack.

Original projection: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

7. Tampa Bay - Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

The biggest need in Tampa is for an edge rusher, and short of Jadeveon Clowney slipping to the Buccaneers at seven - which wouldn't happen in even the strangest of parallel dimensions -  Barr is the guy, whether the new regime has a stongside linebacker spot waiting for him or they need him to bulk up to play with his hand in the dirt.

The Buccaneers with Lovie Smith appear to be in full rebuilding mode, as they have dismantled their offensive line and dumped major salaries across the board, and also have brought in Smith favorite Josh McCown to call signals under center so there is work to do everywhere and nothing should surprise Bucs' fans on draft weekend.

Original projection: Barr

8. Minnesota - Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida 

Bortles has climbed most mock drafts all the way to the top pick of the draft, but this quarterback class has it's share of mystery and certainly no locks to be a success - and with a talent evaluator's charge being to find the guy that give the offense the best chance of succeeding, the Vikings would have to be considered a perfect destination for Bortles.

Classic pocket quarterback that can balance the Vikings' offense and with the play action talent to take advantage of the attention that defense pays to their running game - and the big hands that you want your quarterback to have when you go to places like Green Bay and Chicago in the middle of the freaking winter.

Original projection: Bortles

9. Buffalo - Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

When approached on the matter of trying to resign tight end Scott Chandler, coach Doug Marone was less than enthusiastic in his response, telling reporters that it was a matter for team management, not him - not exactly a ringing endorsement, yet they re-signed him anyway.

Without a doubt, the fastest and most versatile tight end in the draft is an immediate upgrade over the plodding, yet effective Chandler - which is more an indication of Ebron's skill than any thing to do with the serviceable Chandler and immediately gives quarterback E.J. Manuel a solid safety valve in the middle of the field and a huge, athletic target in the red zone.

The Bills lost free safety Jarius Byrd in free agency, so it would not surprise to see them go for the best safety in the class to replace him, though it sounds as if the coaching staff is counting on strong safety Aaron Williams to make the switch.

Original projection: Ebron

10. Detroit - Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M 

The Lions desperately need a big, fast wideout to take some heat off of Megatron, and the speedy Evans can do just that. At a rangy 6' 5" and a sturdy 231 pounds and the longest arms of any receiver in the draft class, the only question the Lions needed answered was what manner of straight line speed Evans brings - and he ran a respectable 4.53 at the combine.

Don't be fooled by the Lions acquisition of Seattle's Golden Tate, who at 5' 10" projects into more of a slot role.  The team needs Evans.

Original projection: Evans

11. Tennessee - Aaron Donald, DT/DE Pittsburgh

A defensive end is what the defense really needs along with a violent safety - and the speedy and large Donald could represent one very big piece to an evolving monstrous defense in Nashville.  A relentless pass rusher off the edge and on the interior, Donald is a once in a decade freak that the Titans will not pass on if he drops to 11.

Original projection: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

12. New York Giants - Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

Lewan's got a questionable reputation coming out of college, being linked (in name only) to a couple of indiscretions on the campus of the University of Michigan, but he did his best at the combine to quell the talk and stop the rumor mill - did he say enough to keep the Giants enticed?

This is need number one for the Giants, protecting Eli Manning's blind side.

Original projection: Lewan

13. St. Louis - Marquis Lee, WR, USC

The Rams used the second pick to protect Sam Bradford's blind him time so he can throw to Marquis Lee down the field.  See how that works?

And while Lee didn't wow anyone with his combine 40 time, when coupled with his solid hands and the fact that he looked fluid in and out of his cuts while dealing with a sore knee that limited him in the latter parts of his 2013 season, his toughness may have even raised his draft stock a bit.

Original projection: Lee

14. Chicago - Hasean Clinton-Dix, SS, Alabama

With the passing attacks that the Bears have to face in the NFC North, not to mention a couple of pretty good running backs, the Bears just can't continue to rely on patchwork in the safety positions any longer.  In Clinton-Dix, Chicago gets a free safety that can cover deep or underneath and has some man press abilities.  He's not the most physical of safeties, but his speed and lateral quickness could work wonders.

Original projection: Clinton-Dix

15. Pittsburgh - Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

Ike Taylor fell apart in the second half of last season and carries a cap hit equivalent to what the franchise tag offers, and the Steelers just can't afford it. Releasing Taylor for cap relief is probable, and even if they somehow manage to retain him, he's 33 years old with a lot of wear on his tires.

As fluid a corner as you'll find in the draft, the Steelers will snatch up Dennard in a heartbeat if he's there for them at 15.

Original projection: Dennard

16. Dallas -Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

How disappointed would the Cowboys be that Aaron Donald had already been snatched up by this point?

After already letting their entire interior defensive line get away in free agency, the Cowboys' hands are tied - they absolutely must draft a defensive tackle that fits their scheme.

Original projection: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

17. Baltimore - Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

How perfect was Anquan Boldin for the Baltimore Ravens' offense?  Well, good enough to take a stab at another big, reasonably fast possession receiver - and the Ravens should be a top destination for Benjamin regardless of the Steve Smith signing.

Benjamin is a beastly cross between the storied Ravens' possession receiver and a move-type tight end and will undoubtedly draw plenty of attention away from Torey Smith on the other side of the field - and at 6' 5" and 240 pounds and huge hands, he could be a natural insurance policy should tight end Dennis Pitta either not be retained or get injured.

Original projection: Benjamin

18. New York Jets - Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

Poor Rex Ryan.  He can't get anyone to sign with the Jets outside of the over-rated money grabber Eric Decker from the Broncos.  But at least Decker fills that need, but the fact that Ryan had to cut his best remaining cornerback while banking on picking up a top DB in free agency blew up in his face.

Now he has little choice but to take the best man cover corner in the draft in Justin Gilbert.

Gilbert is a high-wire act, taking incredulous risks and relying on his his range and athleticism to get him by if his plans backfire - but a solid man corner with a nose for the ball, and while he isn't overly aggressive or physical at the point of contact, his risky style leads to some spectacular plays and with a little NFL coaching, he could be the outside shut-down corner of the immediate future in this defense.

Original projection: Odell Beckham, WR, LSU

19. Miami - Zack Martin, T/G, Notre Dame

It requires zero brains to realize that dysfunctional Miami needs to rebuild an offensive line torn apart by scandal last season, and Martin could wind up being the binding agent that brings it all together.  While not as accomplished as a Matthews or a Robinson, he is far more versatile and can play every position along the line - though his best spot would probably be holding down Richie Incognito's old left guard position.

Original projection: Martin

20. Arizona - Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

The Cardinals got a lot out of greybeard John Abraham last season, but they would be wise to lock up a young defensive end for Abraham to mentor.  Ealy has some positional versatility and can rush the quarterback from the blind side from an end position or from a standing weakside linebacker position.

Original projection: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

21. Green Bay - CJ Mosely, ILB, Alabama

The Packers need many things, but for their defense to take a step up to the next level, the front seven must be stabalized.  They took steps in free agnecy to do just that by signing Julius Peppers and re-signing OLB Mike Neal.  Neal can play anywhere in front seven but his best posiotion with Green Bay is on the outside, which mean the need for an interior linebacker is key.

There's nothing spectacular about his game and he is rated as high as a top 10 pick in some mocks to as low at the top of the second round in others, so it's more or less a crap shoot with Mosely - but less so with Green Bay, surrounded by top notch outside backers and a stout defensive line.

Original projection: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

22. Philadelphia -Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

An interesting prospect that would be among the highest rated tackles in the draft were he more consistent.  He's explosive in getting into the backfield, and when rushing the passer he can shoot through gaps or simply pull his man to the ground and run over him, but he is a project when it comes to the running game, his length working against him as shorter guards can get under his pads.

Not a bad pick in this spot for an Eagles' team that values mobile and versatile linemen in their defensive scheme.

Original projection: Calvin Pryor, SS, Louisville

23. Kansas City - Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

Speed is what Andy Reid needs.  Actually, what Reid needs is some consistency, and with the explosive Dexter McCluster probably on his way out of town, it leaves just Dwayne Bowe and the wildly inconsistent Donnie Avery for Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith to throw to on the outside and down the field.

Enter the appropriately named Cooks, who absolutely burned up the field at Lucas Oil Stadium during the combine with an overall best 4.33 on the 40 yard dash, coupled with him going for over 1,700 yards and catching 16 touchdowns in an incredibly average Oregon State offense and winning The Bilitnikof Award for the nation's best receiver...

Original projection: Cooks

24. Cincinnati -Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

The Bengals needs are very simple: they need some help at offensive tackle, maybe at guard depending on how things shake out in a seemingly fluid situation - and also at corner, where Terrence Newman is getting a little long in the tooth and Dre Kirkpatrick is not the successor.

In this instance, Fuller gives the team some versatility as he is a scrapper that has extensive collegiate experience at both inside and outside techniques as a corner and at safety as well.  He could be the Swiss Army Knife on the back end of the Bengals' defense.

Original projection:  Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

25. San Diego - Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

Verrett is the intense, twitchy guy that would be the pest on a hockey team - smallish, talkative, always buzzing around your head, just waiting for the opportunity to drop the gloves...

The TCU product is smallish in stature but big in confidence and attitude, a perfect combination for a nickle slot back - his athleticism and natural football instincts allow him to be exceptional in space and he is willing in run support - a perfect addition to an over-achieving team.

Original projection: Verrett

26. Cleveland - Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

So now Cleveland has Josh Gordon and Sammy Watkins and a truly great offensive line - they also have Brian Hoyer at quarterback, who will play the part of "incumbent" to the strong-armed rookie and let the chips fall where they may.

Ideally, Carr would win a quarterback competition (isn't that what you would expect from your first round pick?) and have one of the most able backups in the NFL in Hoyer, just in case.

Original projection: Carr

27. New Orleans - Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Ideally, the Saints could use a good cover corner, but the best ones are off the board by this time.  The Saints are pretty lean on pass rushers as well, and Ford is the best athlete left on the board in an area of need.

Ford is undersized for defensive end, but is perfectly sized for either the nickle rusher in Rob Ryan's defense or at weak side.  He is strong at setting the edge and for holding containment.

Original projection: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

28. Carolina - Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

The Panthers have an emergency need at wide receiver and some help along the offensive line, but all of the elite talent has already been scooped up - so a question to ask themselves is if they reach for a second round talent in an area of need, trade out of the round and pick up draft capital for the second day or take the best athlete left on the board?

At this point Robinson would be a decent pick as a bigger receiver who has a knack for making himself available as a safety valve type possession receiver who picks up the majority of his yardage after the catch.  He's not a burner by any means, but gets constant separation and works the middle of the field like a tight end - and is also a willing downfield blocker in the mold of recently departed receiver Brandon LaFell.

Original projection: Robinson

29. New England - Ryan Shazier, LB/SS, Ohio State

The need here is for a nickle rusher as well as a physical intimidator underneath the coverage - and Shazier could be both.

Small for a linebacker at 6' 2" and 235 pounds, Shazier was the fastest linebacker in the nation the past two seasons, easily covering running backs and tight ends in the pattern underneath with a penchant for causing cases of alligator arms amongst them - he was a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, and anyone who saw Ronnie Lott play for the 49ers knows what "impact" means.

An accomplished blitzer who hits like a brick wall, coupled with being one of the best sideline-to-sideline talents in college football, Shazier projects as a big nickle who would also provide quality depth on the weak side - a cover backer with his safety skill and range, as well as being an explosive pass rusher, Shazier would complete the back seven picture for the Patriots' defense.

Original projection: Shazier

30. San Francisco -O'Dell Beckham, WR, LSU

Beckham can flat out fly, and plays even faster than his 4.3 forty time suggests.  his greatest advantage of playing in the 49ers' system is that his strengths lie in his solid route running, sticky fingers and creativity and illusiveness after the catch.

San Francisco is loaded with short-area play makers, and Beckham would add another dimension to an offense that gets bogged down when defenses can take away their short passing game.

Original projection: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

31. Denver - Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

Perhaps a reach in the first round, but Denver has a need for a corner opposite newly signed Aqib Talib with Rogers-Cromartie turning down many dollars from the Broncos and bolting for the Giants.

What may end up happening is that Denver could move up or down the board - up to take a stab at Mosely or Shazier to bolster their linebacking corps, or down to get better currency out of their draft picks.

Original projection: CJ Mosely, ILB, Alabama

32. Seattle - Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

Big, rangy, incredible hands - a true all-around tight end who can line up next to the tackle and block in the running game and can also stretch the seam in the pattern - but questions about his maturity and a fractured bone in his foot that may or may not heal before training camp drives down Sefarian-Jenkins value as a first rounder, and the Seahawks snag him.

It might be that the off-field issues and the foot injury doesn't bother other teams that are desperate for an athletic freak of a pass catcher, but chances are that if Seattle doesn't take him here, he becomes a better value somewhere on the second day.

Original projection: Seferian-Jenkins

For those that are interested, other players who would fit in well with New England later in the draft:

Corners: Keith McGill, Utah; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
Tight ends: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech;Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa; Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
Receivers: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Centers: Weston Richburg, Colorado State; Bryan Stork, Florida State; Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Guards: Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA; Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State; Dakota Dozier, Furman
Defensive Tackle: Dominique Easley, Florida; DaQuan Jones, Penn State; Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Safety: Jimmy Ward, Northern Illinois; Ed Reynolds, Stanford; Tre Boston, North Carolina
Quarterback: Zach Mettenberger, LSU; A. J. McCarron, Alabama; Tom Savage, Pitt; Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

Monday, March 17, 2014

Reloading the Musket - Patriots not going "all in", merely making deft usage of cap

Despite opinions to the contrary, the Patriots are not going all in to win another championship before Tom Brady's time is done - they are simply posturing themselves to take advantage of the incremental increases due on the salary cap for the next three years...

...because for the first time in the Bob Kraft / Bill Belichick era the Patriots have been able to splurge on a top talent without straying from their business philosophy - a philosophy that has had media and fans labeling the team as being "cheap", despite going to the AFC Championship game in eight out of Belichick's 13 years as the bench boss - an unrivaled ratio of success.
Could LaFell's blocking prowess signal a shift in offensive philosophy?

More than any other time in league history, the promise of expanding salary caps in the foreseeable future and the lack of ambiguity to that end have given team ownership and management a clear picture of where their salary caps will be set for the next three years - and as a result, teams who stay true to their business philosophy can now reward themselves by going after top talent without strapping their bottom line.

There is no arms race with Denver, as the media would have us believe.

The cap merely being set at $133 million for 2014 wouldn't have been high enough for New England to make the deals that that they have thus far in free agency, not without the promise of incremental $10 million increases in 2015 and 2016, enabling team's defacto general manager Bill Belichick to back load a couple of contracts...

...but within reason, as prudence dictates that money must be made available for extending a few contracts and for re-signing players coming to the satisfaction of their rookie deals.  Just as long as Belichick doesn't go hog-crazy in free agency, he has left himself plenty of monopoly money to negotiate those deals plus easily slide all of their 2014 draft picks into the mix.

All around the league, teams are signing free agents to two and three year deals, as far as any dare extend them without the crystal ball being able to see league revenue any further than that - the exception being teams locking up offensive and defensive linemen for more years as safer investments - and the Patriots fit right into that philosophy:

Darrelle Revis and Michael Hoomanawanui for two years, Brandon Browner, Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman for three, so you can bet that any deal forwarded to LeGarrette Blount will be within those parameters as well.

The lone exception is the second year option on Revis' contract which is in place so that the team can't slap the franchise tag on him in 2015 - smart for both sides because as salaries continue to grow, the franchise tag number will as well and will probably be in the range of $13 million for cornerbacks next season, so if Revis and the Patriots wish to continue their relationship after this season, the contract gives plenty of incentive to both parties to get a long-term deal done.

That said, the reason why New England is so active in free agency is as easily answered as the reason why they went after who they did - which also gives us some insight as to what may be coming next for the boys from Foxborough.

The talent in New England has been undeniable - when healthy - as evidenced by their three consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game - but the talent did not go quite deep enough, as evidenced by their two consecutive loses in the title tilt by double digits, no less.

The reason, of course, is the fact that the Patriots were already into their second level on the depth chart at critical positions - in both instances a broken Rob Gronkowski and Aqib Talib's glass hip (or quad, depending on what you want to believe) combined to spell doom for New England...

...not that those were the only reasons - quarterback Tom Brady playing poorly and the defense not able to get off the field on third down consistently played major roles in both defeats - but both injuries contributed greatly.

Brady? Well, the team lives and dies with their future Hall of Fame quarterback and, being human, he is going to have his ups and downs - what the Patriots are concentrating on is ensuring that they can overcome the "downs" in critical spots.

By the time the Patriots got to Denver for the AFC Championship game last January, Brady's receiving corps was a shell of what it should have been, with Edelman, journeyman Austin Collie and "rookie wall" victim Kenbrell Thompkins their only healthy receivers - and with no seam stretching tight end to take the safties' attention, the Broncos concentrated on shutting down the Patriots' running game on defense...

...and picking apart their secondary on offense once cornerback Aqib Talib went down with whatever his injury really was.  The Broncos never went after the big play, content with running the clock and kicking field goals, thereby limiting the number of opportunities that Brady had to work his magic - and by the time he found his stride in the game, it was too late.

Fortunately, with the cap numbers going up and the fact that the team was thrifty enough to roll about $4 million over from last season, the Patriots have methodically gone about ensuring that the horrors of the past two title game meltdowns won't - or shouldn't - happen again.

In Revis and Browner, Belichick gets arguably the best corner in the game today and a starting quality corner that has the experience of being the target in Seattle for opposing quarterbacks opposite Richard Sherman, so he is primed and used to seeing the majority of footballs coming to his side - long-term it also allows rising star Logan Ryan the opportunity to be mentored by both while still getting maxed out reps in New England's nickle "base".

Suddenly, there is an overflow of cornerbacks in Foxborough, as Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington bring the total to five the number of starting caliber corners - likely bringing about a question of whether Bill would be inclined to include one in a package deal to make a move in the draft - either that or run with just two safeties and rotate one high.

But that kind of stuff is to be decided down the road - as right now it is just speculative daydreaming, as is the status of the receiving corps on offense.

With the re-signing of Julian Edelman, the Patriots have accomplished this season what they could not last: Give Brady a comfortable base from which to begin his progression with the receivers.  All he had to begin last season was an unproven Edelman and a huddle full of new faces - courtesy of Wes Welker's defection to Denver.

The learning curve for the entire offense was a work in progress all season long as the passing game struggled to find it's wings, which was clearly evident from the play calling to the execution - until the receivers became so banged up that Belichick turned to his power running game, and suddenly the offense had a consistency that was missing for the first three-quarters of the season.

Realizing that he was bringing back all of last season's receivers which, when healthy, has tremendous upside and toughness, Belichick's sole move in the corps was to bring in a big possession receiver in LaFell and to bring back in-line tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, perhaps giving an indication of what to expect from the offense this season, with LaFell's excellence in run blocking mixed with Hooman's...

...and if we see a LeGarrette Blount signing in the near future, that would seem to confirm that the Patriots plan to be a balanced, power football offense, setting up the pass with the run and moving away from the tight end-centric entity that they attempted to be with a Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but couldn't be because of Gronkowski and Hernandez.

With these moves, the Patriots' salary cap situation has reached the point where they shouldn't sign any more high profile players and concentrate solely on the draft and improving the team from within.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Opinion: If Wilfork saga gets messy, don't blame the Patriots

Money sucks.

Well, in reality, it doesn't suck at all but it sure sucks the fun out of some of life's simple pleasures - like football for example.

There is some ugliness about to go down in Foxborough as nose tackle Vince Wilfork has reportedly asked the New England Patriots for his release and this time - unlike the uncomfortable posturing that took place during contact negotiations in 2009 - it's about more than money.

But, yes, money too.

How could it be solely about money when the big man is asking the team to release him from the final year of his contract, essentially leaving eight million bones in the Patriots' free agent coffers for the right to be unemployed, presumably to satisfy some innate and unreasonable fixation with pride.

The Patriots approached him regarding a contract modification in order for the team to lower his salary cap number, giving them more monopoly money to spend on the whacky free agent board game, a game where two and two don't always add up to four - particularly when you can take those numbers and spread them across multiple seasons...

...which is what the Patriots were offering under the guise of playing his entire career with one team and retiring a Patriot.

But it went sideways, presumably because Wilfork feels slighted in some manner or another.

And it had to be a calculated response, for unless he's been living under a rock since January, he knew that the Patriots would be approaching him about ways that he could help them gain salary cap relief - and if it was indeed a calculated response, the selfishness on display from his perspective is staggering.

Before the 2009 season, Wilfork staged a mini-pout when the team wouldn't negotiate on a long-term extension, skipping voluntary workouts in protest but grudgingly attending mandatory OTA's and camp when the team reached out and promised that they had his best interest in mind...

...and the tough talk continued throughout the season to the point that he had threatened to completely hold out if the Patriots slapped the franchise tag on him in 2010 - which they did, yet Big Vince signed up anyway, the reason being that all the while the team had been negotiating a long-term contract with him behind the scenes.

The contract that he eventually signed shortly after the franchise tag was the richest ever for a nose tackle at the time, the five-year $40 million contract with $25 million guaranteed showing both respect for Wilfork as an elite player and providing him and his family the financial security that he lusted after.

Perhaps it's a combination of the team asking him to restructure his deal or to sign an outright extension - which was sure to be signing bonus heavy and with play-time and weight incentives galore - and the fact that for one of the few times in Bill Belichick's reign has the team opened up the vault for an "outsider" and topped the final year of Wilfork's deal.

The outsider is Darrelle Revis, of course, who was given $12 million by the Patriots in another Belichickian coup, meant to solidify a defense that Vince was supposed to part of - everyone working in tandem to win a title

Whatever the case, Wilfork will receive the final $3.6 million dollars of his guaranteed money from that deal whether or not he is in Foxborough, which means that the Patriots will have delivered every penny that they said they would - that much was never in question.

But now he's going to scoff at being given more money as part of an extension that provides cap relief to the team that dealt with him in good faith, perhaps even paying him the entire 2013 salary of $11 million up front as a bonus for doing them a solid with lower base salaries that factor in age and injury?

Margin call?  Well, both Wilfork and the Patriots are about to find out as it is certain that Wilfork's agent has broken out the rolodex and calculator, calling teams in need of Wiflork's talent to gauge his market in comparison to what the Patriots have proposed before acting on his client's request.

The Patriots have the upper hand in this instance, and very little to lose in matching whatever offer the market bears for the five-time All Pro, especially given that the market average for defensive tackles appears to be around $6 million per year, so it is more than feasible that Wilfork will find himself back in New England and locked into a 3 year deal worth about $18 - $20 million with half of it guaranteed.

Because the team wants Wilfork to stay.  Bob Kraft is especially fond of the big fella and his locker room presence transcends the line of scrimmage, so it is in everyone's best interest to get him under contract in New England.

But if Wilfork and his agent don't play ball, all it will cost the Patriots is what they are required to pay in the first place - and many will look at this latest soap opera as just another example of the heartless and all-business Patriots giving the shaft to another aging veteran...

...but in reality it is the team asking a man that they provided financial security to take care of his family to take more money over another couple of seasons to help ease their bottom line.

Of course, Wilfork doesn't owe them that - but at the same time, the team isn't obligated to cave into his demands either - and it's not as if they absolutely need to gain the cap relief.  If they did, he would have been gone already - regardless, this could turn messy and Patriots' fans will be up in arms and blaming the Patriots for being cheap, but they have fulfilled their obligation and all they are asking for is a little help.

But the way that Wilfork is reacting to their request appears to be nothing more than a prideful, gold-digger with tunnel vision, seeing only dollar signs and missing the big picture - which is not the way that anyone wants to remember the certain Patriots' Hall inductee - so while Wilfork and his family are on vacation, the prudent approach is to let some time pass and to allow the process run it's course before making any decisions.

But if Vince Wilfork is eventually released, don't blame the "cheap" Patriots - they've gone above and beyond for their prized nose tackle in the past, and he's been well compensated for his toil - now it's time for Vince to take one for the team.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Talib wastes no time in ratting out Belichick; Belichick wastes no time replacing Talib

As injuries go, anything to do with a hip is one of the worst that a cornerback can suffer, and for obvious reason - if you can't swivel to turn and run with the receiver, what good are you?

Certainly not $57 million good, so when New England Patriots' unrestricted free agent Aqib Talib was contacted by the Denver Broncos, who wanted to give him many dollars to patrol their defensive secondary, it was in his best interest to dispel talk of him having a chronically misbehaving hip.

Talib wasn't a member of the Denver Broncos for more than 24 hours before he took his first public opportunity to throw his old ball coach and his injury reporting shenanigans right under the free agency bus.

And why not?  After all, it wasn't Bill Belichick who opened his wallet and handed Talib a kings' ransom - guaranteed - to lock down the opponent's most dominant weapon for the next six years, it was John Elway...

...and while Elway was busy explaining to the concerned Denver media that he's not mortgaging the future of the franchise with all of these exorbitant guaranteed salaries that he's handing out like rubbers at Planned Parenthood rally, Talib took the opportunity to get chummy with his new General Manager and to get a few things off his chest while he was at it.

Thing is, every football fan in the civilized world and parts of Maine knows that Belichick is loathe for forking over information about anything at all, let alone the health status of one of his players, and that he regularly circumvents injury reporting procedure as his way of flipping the bird to Roger Goodell and his list fetish.

Could it also be to give him the slightest of tactical advantages on Sunday? An opposing coach would have have to have shit for brains to actually believe anything that Belichick puts on that report.

Regularly twice as long as any other coach's injury report, Belichick doesn't try to hide injury by omitting it from the report, he masks the injury by overloading the thing, listing everything down to the last hangnail - and until the NFL adopts the National Hockey League's requirement of the ambiguous choices of Upper or Lower body injuries, that will continue to be the case.

So when Aqib Talib tells tale of injury report indiscretion on Belichick's part, it goes to figure that Belichick just laughed that one off, but what he might have a tough time getting dislodged from his craw is the fact that his former cornerback now has a completely differing opinion of the hit that his now fellow-former-Patriot Wes Welker laid on him in the AFC Title game.

“Wes is a good friend of mine,” Talib beamed “I watched the play 1,000 times and I can promise you, he didn’t do it on purpose.” - his comments in direct contrast to Belichick's accusatory remarks following the game that Welker "wanted to take out Aqib" on the play and that it was "One of the worst plays I've seen"

Of course, the hit did take Talib out of the game, leaving the rest of the Patriots' secondary to fend for themselves against the juggernaut aerial attack of Peyton Manning and helping the Broncos to advance to the mortal ass whooping they got from Seattle in the Super Bowl...

...and it wasn't just that one play that cost the Patriots a chance to grab the brass ring, but Belichick thought enough of it to go out of his way and directly accuse Welker of dark malfeasance - and now that Talib is with the Broncos and a very wealthy man, it really doesn't make any difference to anyone.

Besides, of course, Belichick and the legions of Patriots' fans.

Whether Talib is just making nice or simply putting up a aesthetically pleasing facade for his new employer, whatever his motivation, perhaps we now see why Talib is no long with the Patriots and why Darrelle Revis, who has signed on in New England for a year, is.

Two thousand miles away from Denver in the hamlet of Foxborough, Belichick came out of his customary seclusion like Punxsutawney Phil - but unlike that filthy, weird and sleepy rodent that comes out of his hole to torment New Englanders with his rouge weather predictions, Belichick foretold of an upgrade in the Patriots' forecast...

...laying out $12 million dollars to the best cornerback in the business - paying Revis what he wouldn't pay Talib, essentially giving the former Jet and Buccaneer the franchise tag while perhaps working on a long-term deal.

So in the end, Bill Belichick upgraded his secondary for what Talib would have cost on the tag and has immediately thrust the Patriots back into the conversation of contender, something that Patriots' fans thought was long gone when Talib blew town.

And Talib?  He has his money and his good friend out in the middle of the Rockies, while the man that Talib claimed was on a different planet from everyone else so far as cornerbacks go, and the defender that quarterback Tom Brady claims is the best he's ever played against - the man who owns his very own figurative island - is on his way to New England.

Not to replace Talib, mind you, but to one-up Talib - and the only way to do that is to win a Super Bowl before he does.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Welker fiasco should give Julian Edelman pause when considering offer from Pats

Remember Wes Welker.

That's the one true piece of advice that anyone who wishes to remain with or come to play for the New England Patriots: Don't over-value yourself.  Welker, though a fine talent individually, is mostly a product of the Patriots' system that values smaller, shifty slot receivers more than most teams.
Chances are Patriots move on if Edelman rejects current deal

Last year during legal tampering, the Patriots offered the then 31-year-old Welker a two year deal worth $12 million, a deal that the outspoken Welker called "insulting", thinking that his market would bring him riches far beyond what the thrifty Patriots were offering - but by the time Legal Tampering had expired and free agency began, he discovered that he and his agent had severely over-estimated his market - but it was too late.  The Patriots had moved on.

Keeping that in mind, the Patriots leading receiver from last season, tough as nails former college quarterback Julian Edelman, has been tendered an offer by the team, rumored to be a three year deal that would conceivably carry Edelman into his 30's with the team that took a gamble that with his athleticism he could convert from a college signal caller to another position in the pros.

The 7th round selection in the 2009 draft found very little interest on the open market last offseason - primarily because of his injury history - and finally accepted New England's one year "prove it" deal that paid him just shy of a million bones, and he responded with a Welker-esque season, eclipsing 100 receptions and 1000 receiving yards, plus continued his saga as one of the best punt returners in the game.

So now the Patriots have offered Edelman three years at an undisclosed amount of money, and have given him a deadline of 4:00pm Eastern on Tuesday to accept their offer - and if history tells us anything about the way that the Patriots operate, they are prepared to move forward without batting an eye if Edelman hems and haws.

Remember Wes Welker? 


Perhaps the Patriots were waiting for the Detroit Lions to set the market for running backs as they attempted to strike a deal with their restricted free agent Joique Bell before approaching their own unrestricted free agent LeGarrette Blount with an offer.

The unrestricted free agent market is completely flat thus far, with no real-time monetary value forthcoming for any runners on the open market, and Detroit had said that they would retain Bell regardless of being able to reach a long-term deal with him - and did end up tendering him with a second round grade worth just over $2 million per year...

...but then worked out a three year offer for just over $9 million, and that's exactly what Blount should be looking at as an offer from New England - both are 27 and both are integral parts of their teams' offensive schemes going forward.


As we thought, the report of a supposed offer on the table from the Patriots for cornerback Aqib Talib from a beat writer for the Washington Redskins was bogus, as Talib's people have told several reporters that they have received no offers from anywhere.

Of course, it could be that Talib's representation is being misleading, but it just goes to show you the power that those in the media have over the emotions of the fans...


The Patriots are set to host former Bronco's middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard, perhaps as early as Tuesday evening - which lends some credence to out thought that New England is looking at upgrading their underneath coverages and putting a premium on big hitters on the second level.

Along those lines, Woodyard had been used out of position with the Broncos as his natural position is weakside linebacker.  In our mock draft, we have selected Ohio State's Ryan Shazier as the Patriots' first round pick as a weakside linebacker to provide depth for Jerod mayo as well as nickle work as a strong safety.

If the Patriots do sign Woodyard, we might have to change our pick, but at least we had the thinking right!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Live Blog - "Legal Tampering" a prelude to a free for all

The word "Tampering" has long been associated with acts of dark malfeasance, usually in venues of law -

witness tampering, tampering with evidence, jury all sounds so judicial though when it comes right down to it, it's all just posturing on the part police and prosecutors to ensure that they obtain the desired outcome... when you hear the words "Legal Tampering" in regards to the National Football League and their 32 separate entities, the thought is the same, the teams posture themselves in position to gain the desired outcome, which is to come to terms on an agreement for a select player to don their team's uniform come September.
Worst kept secret: Redskins desire Patriots' Talib

Some liken it to college recruiting, a period of time when college coaches wine and dine potential recruits building up to National Letter of Intent day, hoping against hope that the player doesn't have too many bugs in his ear when it comes time to make a decision.

No matter how you look at it, this three day prelude to the free-for-all that is the NFL's free agency period that coincides with the start of the NFL's new business year is the first step in the teams building their rosters for the 2014 season - the parameters as set by the league as follows:

During the three-day period commencing at 12 noon, New York time, on Saturday, March 8, and ending at 3:59:59 p.m., New York time, on Tuesday, March 11, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expirations of their 2013 Player Contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 11. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 11.
1. During this negotiating period, a club is permitted to:
a. Submit a written summary of the club’s negotiating position to a certified agent;
b. Express its position as to signing bonus, length of contract, amounts of signing bonus and yearly compensation, and other items;
c. Adjust its negotiating position in response to a certified agent’s position; and
d. Engage in an oral exchange of positions.

2. A club must express that it is stating a negotiating position, not making an offer. No part of the exchange of information is binding on either party.

3. A club cannot:
a. Execute a contract;
b. Submit a draft of an NFL Player Contract to a certified agent or the player;

c. Make an “offer;”
d. Enter into a written or oral agreement of any kind, express or implied, or make promises or representations of any type concerning the terms or conditions of employment to be offered to any Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year;
e. Provide assurances of intent as to the future execution of an NFL Player Contract;
f. Announce an agreement or an agreement in principle; or
g. Discuss or make travel arrangements for a player.

During this negotiating period, a prospective Unrestricted Free Agent cannot visit a club (other than the player’s current club) at its permanent facility or at any other location, and no direct contact is permitted between the player and any employee or representative of a club (other than the player’s current club). If a player is self-represented, clubs are prohibited from discussions with the player during the negotiating period.

Furthermore, clubs (other than the player’s current club) may not discuss or make any travel arrangements with prospective Unrestricted Free Agent players, their certified agents, or anyone else associated with the player until the expiration of those players’ contracts at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on March 11.

The three-day negotiating period applies only to potential Unrestricted Free Agents; it does not apply to players who are potential Exclusive Rights Players or Restricted Free Agents, or to players who have been designated as Franchise Players or Transition Players.

That said and understood, the following live blog outlines player movement, rumors and speculation as they pertain to the interests of the New England Patriots:

3/11/2014 - Your daily Darrelle Revis update:

3/11/2014 - Packer Report is speculating that one of Vikings' defensive end Jared Allen's best fits in with the Patriots, though they believe that Tampa Bay is the best destination for him.

3/11/2014 - Not free agency related, but perhaps could be: Wide receiver Aaron Dobson went under the knife on Monday to repair a stress fracture in his foot.  Time table for recovery is 2 to 3 months.


3/10/2014 - NBCSports writers are reporting that the Patriots and Aqib Talib are "very close" to a deal to keep him in Foxborough.  The article cites their information from "a source".  Right now, this is just conjecture.

3/10/2014 - League announces that the Patriots' have picked up an additional $2.87 million on the salary cap by settling past deals with Brandon Lloyd (option) and Jon Fanene.

3/10/2014 - Patriots' coach Bill Belichick took the axe to his practice squad, cutting seven players: OL's Brice Schwab and  Elvis Fisher, DT Cory Grissom, RB's Quentin Hines and Sam McGuffie, and linebacker Taylor Reed.

3/10/2014 - Patriots release wide receiver T. J. Moe, who had been on the teams' injured reserved list since blowing out his Achilles Tendon last offseason.

3/10/2014 - Patriots re-signed tight end Michael Hoomanawanui on a two-year deal.


3/9/2014 - Not surprisingly, the Patriots are rumored to be making a strong push to keep Edelman, now if they keep Amendola as well, Patriots' fans can pretty much forget about any moves to bring in another receiver.

3/9/2014 - Updating a previous entry, A well-connected beat writer who covers the Houston Texans is assuring his readers that the team will not be persuing Ryan Mallett.

3/9/2014: The Boston Globe is at their natural fence-sitting posture again, once more speculating that Danny Amendola could be cut by midnight on Tuesday, when a $2 million roster bonus is due - but the feeling here is that the Patriots keep him.  Why?  He gutted out a complete groin tear and showed how dynamic he can be in flashes.  It doesn't make a lot of sense to surgically repair the groin muscle, which has torn completely away from the bone.


3/8/2014 - The Ryan Mallett rumor mill is heating up, and according to , Big Tex is lusted after by the Houston Texans - but when considering that the Patriots are rumored to have already rejected a couple of second round offers for Mallett, what's it going to take for Houston to score?

3/8/2014 - Safety T.J. Ward is finding not as many suitors as he expected, even this early in the process - the Detroit Lions making the most noise.  Many believe that Ward would be a good fit in New England, but I believe in Duron Harmon - besides, I'm not sure that Belichick is Ward's biggest fan...

3/8/2014 - Good news for those of us that really hope that LeGarrette Blount is re-signed by the team, a source close to the action in reporting that there's absolutely no market for running backs on the first day of legal tampering, so says .

3/8/2014 - The brother of Patriots' defensive end Chandler Jones is hitting free agency as a highly rated defensive end.  Arthur Jones figures to come with a hefty price tag:

3/8/2014 - For those with a receiver infatuation, the Raiders' misused Jacoby Ford will hit free agency.  Ford is small but lightning quick and with 4.28 straight-line speed, he can stretch the field.  The San Francisco Chronicle belives he could be a good veteran minimum pick up.

3/8/2014 - Red Bryant, a defensive tackle that the Patriots persued in free agency a couple of years back and had been recently released by the Seattle Seahawks, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.

It is rumored that the DT position for the Patriots is a position of need, but not as much a most believe - so the Patriots not chasing a deal with Bryant is not a surprise.

3/8/2014 - The Patriots are in need of interior offensive line help, and there's a few names out there that make sense, and Tampa Bay is stocking the position with the release of Davin Joseph and now comes word via that center Jeremy Zuttah may be headed in that direction as well - the Bucs trying to clear cap space and rid itself of some of the former regime's players at the same time.

3/8/2014 - In the worst-kept secret in the league, reports that the Washington Redskins could be interested in Patriots' cornerback Aqib Talib.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Call To Arms: Legal Tampering Edition - Retaining your own a priority

Good players like LeGarrette Blount know that there is a way to win and to get paid at the same time.
Every football player that gets released from another NFL team or who is a pending unrestricted free agent is headed to the New England Patriots - or at least that's the way it seems as excitement builds on social media with each roster move that breaks.

And why not?  After all, they are the model franchise and have been annual participants in the playoffs going on 15 years now - so if you want to win, Foxborough is a slam dunk.  But if you're in it just for the money, the Patriots are not your team.

Not that the Patriots don't pay out - though their public perception is that of Ebenzer Scrooge giving the shaft to 53 Bob Cratchits - they just have a budget and a value assigned to each position, leaving the onus on the player to decide whether he wants to win or wants to chase the money - and it's very easy to differentiate between the two.

And then there are those who want both, but since ultimate success is such a fleeting thing and money is everywhere, most of the players that have cashed in with a winner are those who stay with the team that wanted them in the first place.

Some may want a fresh start with a different atmosphere, some may simply wish the chance to start when the opportunity doesn't exist on their current team - any way you slice it, it's still a matter of job satisfaction and subject to constantly evolving motivation.

But it's more than that.

Bill Belichick gets a lot of heat from fans and media alike for his perceived drafting woes, but when it comes to bringing in high-profile, immediate impact free agents, his track record is far more abysmal - why, just in the past two offseasons, Belichick and his personnel advisers have made some free agent moves which could be considered highly curious...

...some would say disastrous, what with letting Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead get away while signing the likes of Leon Washington, Adrian Wilson, Tommy Kelly and Danny Amendola - three of the four aging veterans who were nowhere to be seen on the Patriots' active roster by year's end.

The year before that?  Steve Gregory, Michael Hoomanawanui and Brandon Lloyd and the Jonathan Fanene fiasco.  2011 brought Chad Ochocinco and Marcus Stroud and the trade with the Redskins for the doomed Albert Haynesworth - and in the years before that came Alge Crumpler, Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs and Adelius Thomas.

Nothing is perfect, but Belichick's track record in the draft is far more amicable, yet a majority of fans and media overlook the successes and focus on the failures.

Since 2008, Belichick has drafted 28 players who are still on the team, comprising half of the team's 53 man roster in 2013, including 16 starters - and also in that period of time, he has picked up six players off the waiver wire, signed six free agents and 11 undrafted rookies and brought in three players in trades with other teams who are still on the roster.

What does all of this tell us?  Well, given that the 53 man roster for 2013 had 41 players on it that started their career in New England as rookies- that's 77 percent - with only six free agents signed from other teams, it's obvious as to how the Patriots prefer to build their roster, and equally obvious that Belichick is far more adept at finding good players in the draft evaluation process than judging how a free agent fits the team's needs.

That said, is there a breakdown in scouting that causes so many misses in free agency or is it simply a matter of what Baltimore Ravens' general manager Ozzie Newsome calls making your team better "from the inside, out"?

A perfect example of defying this thinking came last season with the Wes Welker soap opera when, during the legal tampering period, Belichick was able to gauge the market for Welker rather easily, which fit within the budget restraints that he and his cap wizards had already determined - but when Welker and his agent balked at the offer, Belichick didn't hesitate in pulling the trigger on the Danny Amendola deal.

In retrospect, the Patriots could have sweetened the deal for Welker - with team owner Bob Kraft saying as much at the league meetings in Phoenix just days afterward - but Welker's mouth and manic number-crunching by his agent left him out in the cold with only an offer from Denver on the table.

Why?  Mainly because Belichick is respected around the NFL for his ability to set the market, and only the Broncos' megalo-maniacal general manager John Elway was willing to go above and beyond - but not by much, which left Welker looking like a jaded gold digger.

In the end, as we saw with Welker's performance in Denver, he is what the experts call a "system fit", someone that should have been retained by New England and someone who should have known that his best place was in Foxborough - but bridges were burned by both parties, and a valuable lesson can be taken from the episode on both sides.

So, the Patriots have a budget and have assessed and placed a price on what each and every player at each and every position is worth to the bottom line, and they will stick to it - but first and foremost will attempt to retain the players that they know are system fits, and these players would be wise to at least acknowledge that their best fit is in a Patriots' uniform.

It has nothing to do with loyalty and everything to do with business - and with the 2014 draft being stocked with so many underclassmen that it's become the deepest draft of this century, it would behoove players like Julian Edelman and Sealver Siliga to jump on offers from the Patriots, both because their talents fit Belichick's systems and because they can be replaced by far less expensive options in the draft.

But a player like Aqib Talib, whose market price was set by the Miami Dolphins when they paid $8 million a year to keep cornerback Brent Grimes on their roster, could go to virtually any team willing to pay him Grimes-like money or more - because true shutdown corners don't come along every day...

...same with big bruising running backs like LeGarrette Blount, but because of how running backs have consistently been devalued in the market due to an overemphasis on the passing game in the NFL, they are more easily retained, and Blount will most likely be re-signed by New England with a middle-of-the-road contract to be the four-minute-offense specialist and part-time bell-cow.

So, what we can expect to see in free agency is the Patriots retaining the players that they can after assessing their price range during the legal tampering period beginning this Saturday - Blount and Siliga figure to be re-signed quickly - then to offer contracts to Edelman and Talib that fall near what their market value turns out to be without damaging the integrity of the team's budget.

Will the team raise the stakes if a bidding war ensues?  If it's a matter of just a workable amount, perhaps - but the market for Edelman isn't going to be as high as what is being lamented in the media, while someone is going to offer Talib an over-the-top contract.

Both players have expressed a desire to stay in Foxborough, so now it's time to see if these guys are in it for the money, or in it to win.  If they are smart, with the Patriots they can have both.