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New England Patriots News 3-1 and Notes Around the AFC East


Stevan Ridley says he “has a lot to prove” and is looking forward to the free agency period. (USA TODAY Images)

As the Boston area finally bids adieu to the snowiest February on record, at least it began with a Super Bowl win. However, the area braces itself for another snow storm to start March off with a bang. So grab some coffee and relax, spring is just around the corner….here is the latest on Pats and AFC East news around the web.

Free Agent WR Market Opens Up: With the new league year just days from starting, there were three new names added to the mix of free agent wide receivers. The Miami Dolphins released Brian Hartline and Brendan Gibson on Friday, joining Harry Douglas of the Falcons who was also let go in salary cuts.

They join Ted Ginn of the Niners and Jacoby Jones of the Ravens who are all available on the market. Of course as with many free agents, rumors immediately begin to swirl as to the Patriots interest. None will command big money so the team could show interest in one of them to augment the wide receiving core.

Jones gets immediate attention as he’s a guy that Bill Belichick has been very high on in the past and talked up prior to the AFC Divisional playoffs. He remains one of the most dangerous kick returners in the league. Although he’s now 30, he still possesses excellent straight line speed and could be invaluable as a guy who can stretch the field vertically and provide, “that deep threat” everyone keeps talking about.

Douglas will turn 31 in September but works out effectively out of the slot, so if the Patriots were to cut ties to Danny Amendola, Douglas could conceivably be the best fit. He caught 51 passes for 556 yards but only two touchdowns in 2014. The 6’0 tall Douglas will be intriguing to watch to see who picks him up.

Hartline is a guy who had back-to-back 1000 yard seasons in 2012 and 2013 but with the arrival of Jarvis Landry on the Dolphins, found himself the odd man out. The only downside to chasing the 6’2 wide receiver would be one of fit. With Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman fulfilling the same role, Hartline would be limited as he doesn’t line up in the slot.

Ginn is mainly a specialist on kickoff returns with a limited scope as a wide receiver although he did catch 36 passes in Carolina from Cam Newton two seasons ago.

Ridley With Something to Prove: Patriots running back Stevan Ridley who is poised to hit free agency on March 10, was a guest of Pat Kirwan on Sirius XM Radio’s “Movin’ the Chains” on Friday and was upbeat and looking forward to free agency.

“As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do,” Ridley said. “Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract.”

Ridley had a big 2012 rushing for over 1200 yards but fumbling issues in 2013 along with the arrival of LaGarrette Blount took away playing time. Ridley tore his ACL against Buffalo in Week 5 in 2014 and has been recovering and working himself back into shape.

That injury will no doubt hurt his pay day in free agency, be that with New England or elsewhere. But Ridley remains positive and seems ready to turn the page.

Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston wrote a nice piece on the market watch for Ridley. And in our PatsFans news and notes by Ian Logue, he discussed Ridley’s return as well.

“For me, really I just want to be playing ball somewhere. That’s the big thing,” Ridley said. “That’s what I have to rely on my agent and make sure I have the right people around me to put me in that position. So I’m not really worried about where. I just want to be playing ball somewhere. I know that. ” On the subjects of running backs….

Reggie Bush released…A safe option if Vereen signs elsewhere? This week the Lions released RB Reggie Bush who was hurt for the majority of 2014 and suffered thru a very subpar year for the much hyped RB who burst onto the scene in 2006 from USC.

We took a look at if Bush would be a fit if Vereen leaves in free agency as most people believe will happen. One thing to remember, when Bush was healthy in 2013, he rushed for over 1000 yards and caught 54 passes for over 550 yards more.

It will be interesting if the Patriots show any interest in the still talented free agent. He should get plenty of attention on the market.

The news and latest rumblings have been quiet on both the Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty fronts. The Patriots are rumored to be in negotiations with Revis’ camp on a long-term deal and use the franchise tag on McCourty who stated publicly that he didn’t have a problem with being franchised for 2015. Expect some news on both soon.

Eastbound and Down…..News from around the AFC East

Jets Coples Could be a Wildcard In Bowles System: NFL.com’s Greg Cosell had a nice video on how he thinks new Jets coach Todd Bowles has an interesting piece for the Jets defense in Quentin Coples.

Spiller on the Gang Green Radar? Look for the Jets to be one of the teams looking hard at C.J. Spiller in free agency. They’re rumored to be one of the teams courting him looking to replace Chris Johnson. With Chan Gailey running the offense, the Jets could have Spiller operating (if healthy), at a high level.

The Jets are also looking for cornerback help both in the draft and in free agency and a couple of names to watch will be Kareem Jackson from the Texans and Byron Maxwell of the Seahawks.

Dolphins revamping WR position: In a salary dump move, Miami cut WRs Brendan Gibson and Brian Hartline. They are also actively trying to trade Mike Wallace and get rid of his $10 million dollar cap hit as well as his underachieving performance.

With TE Charles Clay a free agent, Miami is left with Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews. The Dolphins went from a deep, downfield passing team in 2013 to a short passing game last season and really need a guy who can give them YAC (Yards after catch), and in free agency a couple of names to watch are the Packers Randall Cobb or the Eagles Jeremy Maclin.

The immediate priority will be to re-sign Clay and then sign a WR and find one in the 2015 NFL Draft.  Hakeem Nicks and Cecil Shorts are two other names rumored to be on the Dolphins radar.

Chock this one up to his usual subtly, but whenever Bills coach Rex Ryan does something, it is usually done with the all in approach. So while his tattoo may need covering up, his ride says he’s all Buffalo.

Ryan is sporting a new pickup truck with a Bills logo blasting out of red and blue streaks. Rex is declaring his love of everything Buffalo with this move and so far the city is responding favorably. Now he has to take them to the post-season.

With the Browns move of moving on from Brian Hoyer and signing Josh McCown whom the Bills courted, Hoyer may be on the short list of QBs that the Bills may be interested in. A reunion between Ryan and Mark Sanchez could also be happening as well. Look for another former Patriots backup QB, Matt Cassel to possibly be on the move there.

The Bills are also reported to be in long-term negotiations with Jerry Hughes. The Bills have until Monday at 4 p.m. to use the franchise tag on Hughes or re-sign their pass rusher before the March 10 beginning of Free Agency or he’ll hit the open market.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

Would Reggie Bush Fit With the Patriots?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

With the news of Reggie Bush being released by the Detroit Lions on Thursday, naturally questions started being asked, if Shane Vereen does indeed leave the Patriots via free agency would Bush be a fit in the New England offense and would the Patriots even be interested?

Bush was the highly hyped running back from USC when he entered the NFL draft back in 2006. The Niners and Texans at the end of the 2005 season, two of the worst teams that season, played in the “Bush Bowl” as the loser would get the opportunity to draft Bush first in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Houston would indeed get the first pick but opted to draft DL Mario Williams. The Saints picking second, selected Bush and played four seasons with New Orleans, winning a Super Bowl in 2009 before moving on to both the Dolphins and the Lions.

In 2014 Bush finished with only 297 yards on 76 carries with two touchdowns, and only 253 receiving yards. He suffered an ankle in Week 5 against the Bills, and then re-aggravated in Week 10 against the Dolphins. It was his least productive campaign since the 2010 season and the question that must be asked is the wear and tear on a soon to be 30-year old running back beginning to show?

It should be noted however that when healthy in 2013 with the Lions, Bush had 223 carries for 1,006 yards, (4.5 YPA), 4 touchdowns. He added 54 receptions, 506 receiving yards, (9.4 YPC), 3 touchdowns with 10 plays rushing and receiving of over 20 yards.

Bush has always been best when he can get the ball out in space and in the open field can still be effective. His best seasons were when he was used effectively as primarily a receiver catching 50-plus balls per year, and breaking off big gains as a punt returner. As a complimentary back rather than a featured one would be his best fit, not only in New England but anywhere.

Mike Reiss wrote a nice approach, while Chris Price and Ryan Hannable from WEEI took a look at Washington RB Roy Helu among others here:

So would the Patriots be interested?

Why Bush to New England makes sense: Bush has excelled in the third-down back type roll and in space is still a dangerous player. With LaGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray as well as newcomers Tyler Gaffney and Dion Lewis in the mix, he wouldn’t be called upon to rush the ball very much, just more of a keeping the defense honest type situations. He and Vereen are similar type players and each has been effective out of the backfield. Vereen has 99 catches the past two seasons while Bush has 94.

The Patriots have used this approach in the past taking in veteran running backs Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor and Joseph Addai with varying degrees of success. But they wouldn’t be shy about pulling the trigger again especially if it becomes clear that Vereen won’t be re-signed.

Money. Unlike a few years ago, the 2015 version of Bush, while certain to draw plenty of interest, probably won’t be commanding the big bucks on the free agent market. He was a $5.2 million and a $5.8 million dollar cap hit against the Lions the next two seasons and for a running back turning 30 on March 2, (he and Vereen share a birthday), he’s reaching the age where his returns will be diminishing. He’d probably get less than half of that cap amount with the Patriots.

From a Patriots perspective, coaches Brian Daboll and Dave DeGuglielmo have coached Bush in 2011 with the Dolphins. And as Reiss pointed out, any time a player has a history with a member of the coaching staff, and that history is a productive one, it is notable.

Why Bush Doesn’t Make Sense for New England: Value, while Vereen is expected to draw between $4-5 million dollars a year on the free agency market, is saving half that amount (around $2 million), worth it considering Vereen is already an integral part of the offense and fits perfectly in his role? The team would obviously rather have Vereen back given a head-to-head comparison.

Would Bush accept a lesser role in New England? It’s a question that must be asked. Because with the Patriots, he’d be far from a featured weapon in the Patriots offense and at times, as we’ve seen in their game plan specific offense, he’d be nothing more than an after-thought. For a guy that once dated the over-hyped and over-exposed Kim Kardashian, it may not be a great fit with the lunch pail crew of Bill Belichick.

Former Saints running backs coach Aaron Kromer, who spent three years with Bush in New Orleans, is now the offensive line coach in Buffalo with the Bills.  The Bills who may lose C.J. Spiller in free agency could really use a running back that can operate in space. The Giants, Colts and Raiders could all be looking hard at Bush also.

Bottom Line: While the Patriots will do their normal “due diligence” on any free agent and their potential fit with New England, I think they’ll pass here. Would it be a shocker if they did sign Bush? No, but I do think they will look elsewhere.

As WEEI pointed out in their piece, Helu is also a good pass catcher out of the backfield and like Vereen is only going to be 26 this season. That is the prime age for running backs and Bush at 30 with a lot of wear and tear on his body can’t be expected to be as effective as he was a few years ago.

Also working against the team signing Bush is the fact that they have James White already on the roster; White was drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft from Wisconsin. And with a deep class of running backs available in this year’s draft, many of whom are very good at catching the ball out of the backfield, younger, less expensive options are very available for the team to find a fit.

With free agency right around the corner, things are heating up and these type scenarios make the end of winter more bearable until the inevitable signings occur and the draft takes over….Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

Deep RB Class Could Have the Patriots Re-Tooling

Shane Vereen celebrates one of his two touchdowns against the Jets in the Patriots 27-25 win. (USA Today photo)

The Patriots have an interesting decision to make in the coming days in regards to their running back position. With both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley hitting the market as free agents by March 10, they’ll have to decide whether to re-sign either or dip into a deep class of running backs in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Pats double-dipped by selecting both Ridley and Vereen in the 2011 NFL Draft and effectively re-tooled the position on the fly. They may opt to it again in this year’s rich running back class. The team currently has LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White, Tyler Gaffney and Dion Lewis signed for the 2015 season.

Blount is the Patriots work horse and both Bill Belichick and the coaching staff have the confidence in him getting the job done as evidenced by the fact that they brought him back as soon as Pittsburgh released him in 2014 after a big second half of the 2013 season.

Bolden just signed an extension but is more of a special teams standout. Gray had the one big monster game in Indianapolis and then fell off the face of the earth faster than anyone could’ve imagined.

Gaffney and Lewis are interesting cases but complete unknowns at this point. Until they take the field and we can see them produce, they can’t be counted upon. There are plenty of backs available in the draft for the team to find a good option in the running game. But it is in the passing game that they’ll have to find a viable option if Vereen doesn’t return.

Questions About White: In a piece we wrote right after the Super Bowl, we stated the Patriots coaches had high marks for White and he was given a red-shirt type season in 2014. That apparently was incorrect. With a similar build and skillset to Vereen, White did flash early in camp and the team put more on his plate as the summer wore on.

But in talking with two inside sources this weekend during the NFL Combine, it was learned that the team has doubts that White can be the factor in the passing game that Vereen has been. And it may change their approach with the NFL Draft in Chicago this spring.

It doesn’t mean that the door has closed on White…far from it. He’ll still be given the opportunity to compete for reps and a big role in the offense. As one former AFC scout told us, “perhaps the light goes on (for White) in time, but it will be interesting to see how they approach a possible contingency plan.”

So while it is doubtful Ridley will return unless it is a one-year prove it type deal, does this mean that the team will make a concerted effort to bring back Vereen given their lack of options out of the backfield? Only to a degree… While the Patriots may go a tad higher than they normally would in trying to work out a new contract for Vereen, they won’t break their mold. One reason they’ve been so successful for so long is they don’t overpay in what they feel a player is worth, especially for running backs.

So what is the contingency plan? This year’s draft could see them delving for one or more of the talented players that will be available to them. They include:

Todd Gurley, Georgia – Gurley is being compared to Marshawn Lynch and at 232 lbs, is a punishing runner while displaying light feet, good vision and soft hands out of the backfield. He was arguably the consensus #1 back in the class if not for the fact that he tore his ACL in November.

Now three months removed from surgery, he is reportedly six weeks ahead of schedule. But his surgery may cause his draft stock to dip somewhat. Will it cause it to drop all the way to #32? Doubtful, but if it does, the Patriots have already shown with Dominique Easley in 2014, they won’t hesitate to bring in a quality prospect and give him time to heal properly.

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska – Abdullah at 5’9, 205 is built similar to Vereen, and has been a very productive back for the Huskers finishing his career with 4588 rushing yards, second in Nebraska history to Mike Rozier. He’s a surprisingly physical player despite his size, with excellent acceleration, foot speed and reliability out of the backfield in the passing game with very good hands.

He has a lot of wear and tear however due to his workload and this may cause some teams to take a second glance. He’s coming off of a sprained MCL at the end of 2014.

Duke Johnson, Miami – Johnson has similar size at 5’9, 205 and rushed for over 1650 yards with over 2000 all-purpose yards in 2014. He’s not an insider runner but has good hands and will be a valuable piece in the passing game if he can get the ball in space. Johnson will probably be there into the second round of the draft.

Jay Ajayi, Boise State – Ajayi was extremely productive in 2014 with over 1800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. Quick, nimble and explosive at 6’0, 220, Ajayi plays with a chip on his shoulder. Very athletic in the passing game, he has soft hands and runs north-south once he gets the ball in his hands. He’ll go in the second round.

David Johnson, Northern Iowa – Johnson, a bigger back at 6’1, 225, is a strong, decisive runner who goes north-south and displays excellent hands out of the backfield. He’s been slotted as a possible H-back by many of the draft experts as a better fit at the NFL level. He should be available in rounds 3-4.

One free agent running back to possibly monitor will be C.J. Spiller from the Bills. A very talented runner, receiver and kick returner, Spiller’s knock is that he can’t stay healthy and on the field. Spiller could be signed on a one-year, prove it type deal.

If the Patriots are unable to re-sign Vereen, while it would be a big blow, it wouldn’t be the worst of times since the 2015 running back class is deep and talented. History being what it is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots double dip into the pool for some new talent. Of course the players they’ve stashed, White, Gaffney and Lewis will also have all spring and summer to make some noise as well.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

New England Patriots News 2/22 and Notes Around the AFC East

screen-shot-2015-02-20-BB Ryan

A shout-out this Sunday to all from a snowy Central Massachusetts. Here is some of the Patriots related news from across the web from this week, NFL Combine news and also around the AFC East with the Bills, Dolphins and Jets.

Deflate Gate Gets More Confusing: There were so many new twists and turns concerning the Deflate/Inflate-Gate this week that the story may never be fully understood.

ESPN’s Outside the Lines put out a story that stated that a Patriots game day staffer, Jim McNally tried to “introduce a non-approved special teams football into the AFC Championship Game” lending credence to the entire deflated footballs investigation being done …and sloppily by the NFL.

The issues that jumped off the page right away with the report was that the special team’s kicking balls, marked prominently with a “K” are usually over-inflated which blows the entire deflated football argument out of the water. If New England was trying to gain a competitive advantage by using a softer football which is easier to grip and throw, then why use an over-inflated one?

Another issue is that kicking balls are basically taken right out of the box, with none of the prep work that QBs like to put in them. Tom Brady gets zero advantage trying to throw one of those kicking balls in the rain at Gillette.

The network’s own Adam Schefter hours later came out with a scathing rebuttal of the OTL’s piece stating that one of the game officials, was fired for trying to sell one of the football’s in question. The official had taken the ball off to the side. When the other officials realized a ball was missing, he tried to re-introduce the ball by giving to McNally. A second official also handed a ball to McNally. It now seems logical that McNally may have become genuinely confused and gave the officials the wrong football rather than deliberately trying to give them a football that gives the Patriots zero advantage.

The NFL has refused to comment, but as always continues to leak information thru its own trusted sources. With every new angle, the story gets more confusing.

After the initial reports of the Colts complaining about the pressure of the footballs after the D’Qwell Jackson interception, we then heard that the Colts had brought the matter up to the league prior to the game. The league then released a statement denying that. But on Thursday, Colts GM Ryan Grigson stated at the Combine that he alerted the league a week prior to the AFC Championship Game about the Patriots purported use of under-inflated footballs and wanted “to give our team the best chance to win on a level playing field.”

This situation has become a total mess and the NFL’s handling of this matter has been terrible. It is now a lose-lose situation for everyone involved and when the Wells Report is finally released, it won’t change anyone’s minds depending upon one’s feelings now. This issue is far from over at this point.

Offensive Linemen, Edge Rushers Dominate Combine Talk: The Patriots continue their work at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. And much of the talk thus far centers on some of the big offensive linemen that are available and the deep class of edge rushers.

Sunday’s on-field activities include the workouts (timing, stations, skill drills), for defensive linemen and linebackers. Interviews, NFLPA meeting, Bench press and psychological testing will take place with the defensive backs.

Some of the names to watch at the offensive line position that are being linked to the Patriots include FSU tackle Bobby Hart who may move to guard at the next level, Laken Tomlinson from Duke and FSU guard Tre’ Jackson.

While on the defensive side of the ball, Andy Hart of Patriots.com and PFW in Progress takes a nice look at defensive tackles, while his counterpart Paul Perillo does a round-up of the edge rushers and how Utah’s Nate Orchard is being compared to Rob Ninkovich. … We already looked at Orchard on Friday and think he’d be a nice fit with the Patriots defense….keep an eye peeled for him once the draft begins.

Former Pats coaches lend a hand: Longtime Pats coach Dante Scarnecchia and special teams coach Scott O’Brien who recently retired after the Super Bowl are both in Indianapolis. They’re helping out the Patriots sort thru the many players in evaluating talent for the team, as we pointed out here earlier this week.

What a photo op (see USA Today photo above), it was to see Bill Belichick sporting a hoodie from his foundation, entering the Combine’s events on Friday with the Ryan brothers, Rex sporting a Thurman Thomas jersey and Rob defensive coordinator for the Saints.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported this week that the Patriots are moving forward in attempts to sign Darrelle Revis to a long-term deal. Earlier team president Jonathan Kraft had spoken about Revis having a “place-holder” of a 2015 contract in place. Look for the team to resolve that issue and a new contract with Devin McCourty asap. Then the next major obstacles will be the new contract for kicker Stephen Gostkowski and re-doing the contract for Jerod Mayo. Mayo currently has $10.5 million dollar cap in 2015 and that will undoubtedly be looked at by the team for lessening the top end.

Open Tryouts for the Pats Cheerleaders: The Patriots cheerleaders are already gearing up for the 2015 season by holding open tryouts for this year’s squad. The tryouts will be held on Saturday, February 28, 2015 at the Ahern Middle School in Foxboro. Interested parties must first fill out an application on the Patriots web site.

The Sun Chronicle reports this week that last year’s squad included a biomedical engineer, a psychologist, a neuro-science professor, an accountant, a social worker and a physical therapist. That is quite an eclectic group, good luck ladies.

Eastbound and Down…..News from around the AFC East

Buffalo Bills trying to re-sign Hughes: Talks are heating up with Bills outstanding pass rusher Jerry Hughes. GM Doug Whaley stated to the NFL.com that the team had already sent a contract proposal to Hughes’ camp and they have made a counter-proposal.

Hughes had back-to-back 10 sack seasons playing next to Mario Williams on the Bills defense, but the team believes that he’ll continue to be a prolific pass rusher. Just ask new head coach Rex Ryan.

“I think Jerry is an outstanding player,” Ryan said. “The last two years I’ve been against him and he’s tremendous. … I hope he’s a Buffalo Bill for a long time.

Searcy May Move in Free Agency: Safety Da’Norris Searcy is looking for starters money and probably won’t get it from the Bills meaning he’ll move on via Free Agency on March 10.

Searcy, a part-time starter had these 2014 numbers: 648 snaps played, 65 tackles, 0.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and three interceptions is reportedly looking for a contract paying him around $5 million a year. The Bills only can pay so many players and it is thought that he’ll at least test free agency unless a compromise can be sought.

If Searcy does move on, the Bills will look to either Duke Williams or veteran Corey Graham to play next to Aaron Williams unless they dip into free agency or the draft.

QB Options Dwindling: The Bills desperately need a franchise QB. And with a weak draft class, the trade options are drying up as well.  The team had in free agent Josh McCown but he left before any deal was done.

Right now the Bills have E.J. Manuel who has 14 career starts and rode the pine for 12 games in 2014. With no first round pick, the chances of landing either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota are virtually nil.

Some of the lower tiered QBs available to the Bills include Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty. Rex Ryan knows full well the price of not having a franchise QB in place after his time with the Jets. This should prove interesting.

Miami Looking at LBs For the Defense: The Dolphins pick at #14 in the first round of the NFL Draft and are supposedly interested in two of the available linebackers, Clemson’s Vic Beasley and ILB Benardrick McKinney from Mississippi State.

Beasley had some questions about his size but measured 6’3, 246 at the Combine and has been a very productive pass rusher in college racking up 33 sacks. They are supposedly toying with the idea of moving little utilized DE Dion Jordan to OLB as well.

McKinney, a big physical MLB would immediately provide a boost to the Fins defense. The Dolphins are also looking at Miami University’s Daniel Perryman as a middle linebacker prospect as well.

Big Hole at TE if Clay Leaves Via FA: Dolphins tight end Charles Clay is expected to test the waters of free agency and since entering the league as a 6th round draft choice in 2011, has worked himself into being a big part of Miami’s offense.

In 2014, Clay caught 58 passes for 605 yards and three touchdowns while playing thru a knee injury that caused him to miss two games. After him, the Dolphins only have Dion Sims who caught only 24 passes and two touchdowns last season.

If Clay does leave, (the Patriots are one of the teams supposedly interested), then expect the Dolphins to look hard at one of the available tight ends in the draft.

Jets New Brass Bringing a Different Culture: The Jets have a new coach, Todd Bowles and a new GM Mike Maccagnan in the mix and are wasting no time in changing the entire culture around the team.

Maccagnan a 25-year veteran around the league fired two of the top scouts for the team and is revamping the personnel in the scouting department and bringing in his own people. Bowles tempered expectations immediately saying the Jets have to build themselves up internally before they can talk playoffs….never mind Super Bowls, in stark contrast to the bombastic Rex Ryan.

Bowles comes as a highly respected defensive coach who’ll be tasked with revamping a moribund offense, something he hasn’t done before. But it looks like, at least initially, that the Jets have gotten this one right with the leadership at the helm….time will tell.

Jets QB Search Continues: One of the new leadership’s most pressing concerns is who will be the team’s starting QB? The team has Geno Smith but Bowles made it clear that the team will search for a veteran QB. Hardly the words Smith wanted to hear but definitely not unexpected.

Bowles told the Jets.com this about Smith, “Right now, just watching film, he has a good arm, he’s a good athlete, and he can throw the ball and make all the throws. Without seeing the intangibles and without being able to talk to him personally, you don’t know what he knows, where his strengths are”.  Hardly a ringing endorsement.The team brought in veteran Josh McCown for a visit but he is still out there.

The team is hoping that Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will fall to #6 in the 2015 NFL Draft because they’d probably draft him in a New York minute. There are rumors of Philadelphia being very interested in Mariota as well. If that is the case, the Eagles could possibly package a very attractive trade to New York involving players (Nick Foles) and picks to make it a solid move for the Jets.

Cromartie Returning to the Big Apple: With the Jets in need of some help at the cornerback position, a return to New York of Antonio Cromartie may be in the cards.

After playing thru a nagging hip injury that plagued him in a dreadful 2013 season, the Jets cut Cromartie and he signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals. He played well for Bruce Arians in 2014 and the Cardinals want him back this season.

But Arians knows that Cromartie will test free agency and the 31-year old corner has talked openly about returning the Jets this season. While he isn’t a long-term solution, he could help the Jets secondary and having played for Bowles who was the Cards defensive coordinator in 2014, may have an attraction on both sides.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

Possible Patriots, 2015 NFL Draft – Nate Orchard DE/LB Utah

nate-orchard

With the NFL Combine underway in Indianapolis, there are a few players that we’ll profile right up to the 2015 NFL Draft that we feel may be of interest to the Patriots and ones that will be a good fit with the team.

The Patriots defense made huge strides in 2014, with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback. The team’s pass defense and secondary became a strong point and backboned the team to a Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks.

However the pass rush was inconsistent and the team’s 40 sacks, tied for 13th place among the NFL leaders, was often more of a result in coverage sacks than straight out quarterback pressure.

The Patriots top two pass rushers from the edge, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich routinely play far too many snaps and the team could really use a player to step up and be able to spell either while generating a consistent pass rush from the outside.

When Jones went down with an injury the team brought in Akeem Ayers through a trade with the Tennessee Titans. Ayers was very effective in creating pressure but played little once Jones returned and is now a free agent.

One player who would be a nice fit for the Patriots is Nate Orchard a DE/OLB from Utah. Orchard is a versatile player who could play either with his hand down as a 4-3 defensive end or standing up as a 3-4 OLB.

As the NCAA’s sacks leader in 2014 with 18.5 and 21 tackles for loss, Orchard won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top pass rusher. At 6’4, 255 he has the frame to add some needed extra weight to produce at the next level.

He can play either right or left defensive end as well as linebacker which means that Bill Belichick, who loves versatile players can plug him in anywhere. He’s mature, already married with a daughter which means he’s stable in his personal life, something that can’t be overstated in today’s game.

He has the ability to turn his good closing speed into power where he can blow past pass blockers and close on opposing quarterbacks. He’s flexible enough in his hips to bend, turn the corner and bring down the opponent.

He doesn’t have a ton of experience in dropping into coverage, but is athletic enough to do so and could be a very nice addition as a sub-package pass rusher until he adds some experience and needed weight.

Pros:
– Very good speed off the edge with nice explosion at the snap

– Good use of his hands and long arms

– Outstanding motor and pursuit skills…never quits on a play

– Can grow into his frame which will allow him to succeed at either DE or OLB

Cons

– Needs to add some muscle and strength

– Still raw on his pass rush repertoire

– Can get pushed around at times in the running game

At the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month, Orchard was named the North team MVP and impressed scouts with his ability to play as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. And he was much stouter against the run than previously thought.

Agent Kenny Zuckerman said Orchard has proved he’s a potential first-round talent. That is debatable at this point. The question remains was his monster 2014 season a case of a one-year wonder or him just scratching his potential? I believe it is the latter; Orchard has the potential to be a beast in the pass rush department while setting the edge in the running game.

His best fit at least initially would be on the edge as a speed rusher on passing downs. It would give him time to add some muscle in the team’s strength and conditioning program while getting some valuable experience.

Orchard isn’t a household name and in a draft chocked full of good potential pass rushers could be a steal in the second round if he’s still around for the Patriots to scoop up. There has been some talk that he may go even higher. But playing with coach Belichick in the Patriots system would go a long way in his development.

With the Patriots already having two established starters in Jones and Ninkovich, it would allow Orchard to develop much like Jamie Collins did in his rookie season. Keep your eyes peeled on Orchard not only this weekend in Indy but in the future. He could be playing in Foxboro this fall and be a great addition.

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Patriots 2015 NFL Combine: Aided by Scarnecchia, Pats To Target Trenches

Coach Scar

The Patriots are behind in their preparation for the 2015 NFL Combine and Draft due to their being involved in the Super Bowl, but as Bill Belichick pointed out a week ago, it is a problem they’ll gladly suffer.

Belichick has also granted some members of the coaching staff the option of skipping the combine because of all the long hours of work they’ve put in during the season. But the team is also being bolstered by two retired members of the coaching staff in their player evaluations this week in Indianapolis.

Former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia who retired after the 2013 season and special teams coach Scott O’Brien who recently called it quits after the Super Bowl win over Seattle will both be in attendance.

Scarnecchia spent 32 years in the NFL, 30 of which was as a member of the Patriots coaching staff. He was instrumental last season in the drafting of Bryan Stork, spending time on the Florida State campus with OL coach Rick Trickett with whom he is reportedly very close. With two FSU offensive linemen possibly on the Patriots radar in this year’s draft, Coach Scar may have dipped into that pipeline again.

While the Pats will be closely monitoring all of the prospects in Indy, they know they must improve in 2015 if they want to repeat a trip to the Super Bowl. Here are the four areas that they need to improve their depth at in 2015.

Offensive Line: The Patriots offensive line was a carousel until they settled into the starting five that proved to be the backbone of the offense during the seven game winning streak. Stork selected with the 105th pick in the 4th round of the 2014 draft was a big key taking over the center position.

Dan Connolly was the guy providing the leadership of the unit, taking over for Logan Mankins at the left guard position. But Connolly will turn 33 this season and is a free agent. Josh Kline played right guard and while the team will look to bring back Connolly, it won’t be the long-term answer. The team needs an uptick of youth and size in the OL and that is right where Scarnecchia comes in.

Other than Mankins in 2005, the Patriots were always a team that drafted linemen in the middle rounds and used Scarnecchia to find hidden gems that he could coach up to meet their needs. That could change this season.

With a couple of guards that could go early in the process, keep your eyes on a few guards in Indianapolis. A.J. Cann from South Carolina is generally deemed the best guard in the draft. The Gamecock could find his way to NE at the end of the 1st round.

Other guards to monitor include Duke’s Laken Tomlinson, Alabama’s Arie Kouandjio and a pair of Florida State players, Tre Jackson and Josue Matias. Given the rapport of Scarnecchia and Trickett, the Pats should have the low-down on those two as well as Seminole tackle Cameron Erving who may also be on the Patriots radar.

Interior Defensive Line: With the healthy return of Vince Wilfork, the Patriots defensive line got a big boost in play in 2014. But Wilfork turned 33 during the season and the team has to make a decision on whether they want to again open talks on re-doing his contract in 2015. Sealver Siliga played thru a myriad of injuries and spent time on IR-Return. Alan Branch is a free agent and both Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are suspect against the run.

The team spent their first pick on Dominique Easley in 2014, and his ACL surgery at the end of his college career slowed and ultimately ended his rookie season early. Now he’s getting healthy and if he regains his burst, should be a big addition in 2015.

Some of the big men inside to keep an eye on if they fall to the Patriots at the end of Round 1 include Malcolm Brown from Texas, Jordan Phillips from Oklahoma and another FSU prospect, Eddie Goldman. A Day 2 prospect to watch will be Auburn’s Gabe Wright, another lightning quick penetrator who can be a disruptor in the backfield.

Defensive End/Edge Rusher: The Patriots pass rush was inconsistent in 2014 and benefitted at times from the secondary being so adept at covering that they eventually would be able to take down an opposing QB that just couldn’t find anyone open.

It is no secret the team needs depth here as both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones have logged too many snaps and the depth falls off if they go down. When Jones was injured, the Pats brought in Akeem Ayers in a trade with Tenn., and he performed well but is a free agent. Zach Moore is still raw and Michael Buchanan was hurt in his sophomore season.

Some names to keep your eyes on this week include the big Arik Armstead from Oregon, Owamagbe Odighizuwa from UCLA and Alvin “Bud” Dupree from Kentucky. For the edge rushers at OLB, Clemson’s Vic Beasley and the sleeper Nate Orchard the DE/OLB from Utah, who has Patriots-type player written all over him are some names to watch.

Running Back: The Patriots return in 2015 with LaGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney in the fold with Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley free agents and likely gone in 2015.

If Vereen is indeed gone, then the biggest need will be to replace his prowess on 3rd down as a receiver out of the backfield. White was someone they drafted last season to do just that and he flashed in the spring and summer before basically getting a red-shirt type season as a rookie in 2014. He’ll have to show he’s ready right off the bat in 2015 to fill some pretty big shoes in Vereen.

It is doubtful that the Patriots would draft a RB in the first round although if Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley (torn ACL in 2014), were to be available they would definitely be on the team’s radar.

Day 2 prospects to watch include Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, Miami’s Duke Johnson, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and South Carolina’s Mike Davis.

The wide receiver and tight end positions will probably be addressed in free agency. Jeff Howe from the Boston Herald has the Patriots interested in Charles Clay the Dolphins TE/H-back if he makes it to free agency. The Patriots already have Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and Tim Wright there and would add to their depth with the addition of Clay.

The Patriots wide receiver position is set (for now) with their starters in place with Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. The team may opt to re-do a deal with Amendola and still have 2013 draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce who didn’t contribute in 2014 in place. But they may not want to cut their ties with either just yet.

For this weekend, look closely at the interior OL/DL prospects. That’s probably where the team will look to upgrade the most during the draft. And having the warhorse Scarnecchia there to help taking a look at the available talent, they’ll look to pluck a couple of good prospects during the draft.

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Patriots 2015 Free Agent Profile – Dan Connolly, Guard, Center, KR, Just Ask Him…

2010 Dan Connolly

The Patriots offensive line went thru a bit of an upheaval in 2014. First longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia retired and was replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo. Then the team traded guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This opened the door for veteran Dan Connolly to move to starting left guard in place of the mainstay in Mankins.

The team drafted three offensive linemen, Center Brian Stork, tackle Cameron Fleming and guard Jon Halapio. The unit struggled as the Patriots tried to find the right combination up front for Tom Brady. The move of Connolly to left guard, Stork to starting center and Ryan Wendell to right guard was the key to stabilizing the interior of the offensive line. The team’s offense at the Week 5 mark took off and didn’t look back until they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Glendale, Arizona.

Ryan Hannable of WEEI in Boston compiled the stats of Brady with this starting unit and came up with this: (7-1 record) — Brady: 214-320 (66.9 percent), 2,433 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 QB rating, 4 sacks. The link to that piece is here:

Connolly has been a valuable cog of the Patriots offensive line and his versatility and leadership has been extremely valuable. He was named a team captain this season and his quiet presence helped allay the initial struggles of the unit early this season.

Connolly started the year at center something he’s done before dating back to the 2009 season, right guard  and then back to center for most of 2011 after Dan Koppen went on IR. He moved back to right guard for most of the past few years before moving to left guard this season. It wasn’t an entirely new position as he filled in for Mankins during his seven-game holdout in 2010. Where ever the team needed him, he was willing to play.

“It’s just about preparation,” Connolly told the media prior to the Super Bowl. “Everybody has to be ready to play any position. We ask that of the backup guys. When we practice, we do different combinations of people all the time.”

“We do that during training camp just so guys are ready to go in at any position if something happens to come up. You don’t know if somebody could get injured in the game and someone has to step up and fill that role. We always try to make sure everybody is as prepared as can be.”

Connolly even had a stint as a kick returner, taking back a kick against Green Bay in 2010 for a 71-yard gain during a Sunday Night Football game. It was the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL, and helped turn a game around where the Patriots were down by ten points just before halftime to one they came back to win.

Why Connolly Will Return: Versatility, leadership and production. Connolly has always played well no matter where he was plugged in. In 2014 when it seemed the season was hanging in the balance after a 2-2 start; he was the one constant that kept the offensive line intact.

Connolly can play any of the interior three line positions and will move over seamlessly at the drop of a hat and is always prepared to do what is needed. He’s a valuable calming influence on the unit and it wasn’t a coincidence that the team made him a captain in 2014. His leadership was a big reason why this unit went from a near sieve in 2013 allowing 40 sacks of Brady to a much better unit this season giving up only 21.

He shouldn’t break the bank at the age of 33 and the team should be able to work out a contract that will keep him in a Patriots uniform for the next year or two.

Why Connolly Won’t Return: Connolly has never been the biggest guy, the strongest nor the quickest and at the age of 33, may not have many more productive years left. If there is a weakness on the Patriots offensive line that can be upgraded, it is on the interior.

The Patriots running game was only 18th in 2014, averaging only 107.9 yards per game. The team found a way around this with creative play calling and coaching, at times bringing in an extra OL to punch holes thru defenders. Their inability to assert their will against physical defenses in the playoffs versus Baltimore and Seattle were covered up by the stellar play of Brady but are unacceptable moving forward.

The pass blocking while better in 2014 was dependent on Brady getting rid of the ball in a ridiculously quick amount of time which, while effective, limited their down the field passing.

The addition of the rookie Stork was a big upgrade for the unit. The team will again be expected to dip early into the 2015 NFL Draft for more interior line help. The team may decide to move Fleming to guard to upgrade their size, youth and physicality there. In reality the Patriots could replace  either Connolly or Josh Kline this season.

While the market for Connolly shouldn’t be huge, free agency may be the best way for him to gauge his value before coming back to New England to see if a deal can be struck for him to finish his career in a Patriots uniform.

The best case scenario would be for the team to draft a younger player and bring Connolly back and allow the team time to groom the younger player into the mold that they desire. But with the current salary cap situation, the Patriots can’t bring all of their free agents back. Although he was a very important piece of the 2014 Super Bowl season, don’t be shocked if the Patriots cut their ties and Connolly plays elsewhere in 2015.

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Patriots 2015 Free Agent Profile – Devin McCourty, “This is home”


Devin McCourty became one of only three players to earn All-Pro honors at both safety and cornerback, joining Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. (USA TODAY Images)

Devin McCourty is one of two key members of the Patriots secondary that are the targets for the team renegotiate a new deal for 2015 and beyond.

While Darrelle Revis remains the focal point, McCourty’s return is also extremely important for a New England defense that made huge strides in 2014 that culminated with a Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks.

McCourty was drafted as cornerback and taken in the 1st round (27th overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft from the Patriots pipeline at Rutgers. The 5’10, 195 pound McCourty was a Pro-Bowl and 2nd team All-Pro selection in his rookie season.

After the acquisition of Aqib Talib in 2012, McCourty moved to safety and garnered another Pro-Bowl bid in 2014. He’s versatile, being able to play safety, corner or special teams, returning a kickoff for a touchdown against the Jets in 2012. With an All-Pro selection at safety this season, he joins Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson as the only players to garner All-Pro nods at both safety and corner.

In 2014, he’s moved to more of a center fielder role and has flourished. With the cornerback position now flush with Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler and Alfonzo Dennard, McCourty’s role has now transformed into one of a playmaker and Pat Chung who was brought back this past season has provided an in-the-box strong safety role.

The result was a Patriots defense that had a defensive quarterback rating of 84.0 and a passer rater differential of 13.6, good for fifth in the league. McCourty had 68 tackles, a forced fumble and two interceptions on the season.

Now one of the most established veterans on the Patriots defense with five seasons under his belt, McCourty has been a much more vocal leader and the unquestioned quarterback for the secondary.

While the Seattle Seahawks get and rightfully so the majority of the credit for having the best secondary in the NFL with the “Legion of Boom”, McCourty has been instrumental and with very little fanfare and zero ostentation in giving the Patriots one of the best secondaries in the league, and easily the best that Bill Belichick has enjoyed in the last decade.

Why McCourty Will Return: Don’t fix what isn’t broke…. McCourty is the quarterback of a secondary that is battle-tested and a Super Bowl champion in 2014. He’s been durable, missing only three games in five years and has been a model teammate and locker room presence.

Revis’ words are particularly telling in evaluating the worth of McCourty saying, “He’s outstanding,” Revis said. “He was outstanding before I got here and he has just continued on. I feel like he’s the best free safety in the league.”

“He’s got great range back there, he’s very fast, but the thing I appreciate him most for is how he studies the game and how he knows the game so well. He works so hard at it. It’s awesome to see how he wants feedback from other guys.”

While he remains a kind of an under-the-radar type of safety, he’s been a very steady influence in the Patriots secondary allowing only 16 completions on the season. According to Pro-Football Focus, he’s quietly had a Top 10 season in both run and pass defense for safeties in 2014.

While the Patriots would want to lock him up for the long term in 2015 and beyond, the franchise tag remains an option and would give the team and McCourty to come to a longer solution. McCourty has made it clear that he’d like to remain a member of the Patriots, and the secondary after Revis, has its best player in McCourty.

The franchise tag for safeties is around $9 million per season and McCourty would be one of two possible candidates for that in Foxboro. Another potential franchise designation candidate is kicker Stephen Gostkowski who we profiled earlier this week.

Why McCourty Won’t Return: If the Patriots can’t come to a long term agreement or use the franchise tag on McCourty, expect him to be courted by a number of teams. With the Colts not having a starting safety on the roster right now and many teams having a big need for safety help including the Giants, Broncos, Ravens, Jaguars and others, McCourty will get much more money if he hits the open market.

The only way that would happen is if the Patriots drop the ball and allow McCourty to test the open market. And it would be a colossal mistake on the part of New England.

The best part of the defense of New England is the secondary….when was the last time anyone heard that? And McCourty and Revis are their two best players. With an inconsistent pass rush in 2014, the Patriots won by providing blanket coverage on opponent’s top wide receivers.

Of all their free agents, and in the case of Revis, one who is not…, they can’t afford to lose either Revis or McCourty and Belichick knows this. McCourty will return in 2015.

Tom E. Curran from Comcast Sports New England asked McCourty if the Super Bowl win over Seattle would be his last as a member of the Patriots. McCourty’s answer had to be music to the ears of Patriots fans.

“I hope not. We’ll see, but I hope not. This ride has been incredible — being in the Super Bowl twice and winning it once — there’s not much a player can ask for except for being at home,” McCourty said. “And this is home.”

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Patriots 2015 Free Agent Profile – Shane Vereen


Shane Vereen had a big post-season, capped with a bigger performance in the Super Bowl and is poised to land himself a big payday in free agency. (USA TODAY Images)

Shane Vereen may have saved his very best for his last.

In the Patriots game winning drive in Super Bowl XLIX, Vereen caught three passes from Tom Brady, had a key seven yard run in the red-zone and picked up a blitzing Byron Maxwell to help New England rally for the game winning score.

Vereen’s first reception on the final drive was a beauty, a one-handed snag from Brady that jump started the offense and set the tone for Brady and Edelman to put a stamp on the Patriots fourth Super Bowl win.

It is called “money time” for a reason, because Vereen knew 30 other teams were watching that performance and he may very well cash in on that Super Bowl performance once free agency begins on March 10.

Vereen, 5’10, 205 was drafted in the 2nd round, 56th overall from the University of California in the 2011 NFL Draft. He’s developed into an extremely important third-down back in the Patriots offense, being more of a pass catcher than a true running back.

The Patriots use Vereen’s skills in a variety of ways, running out of the backfield as a pass receiver, sometimes splitting him out wide and he’s become quite a good blocker in blitz pick-up, just ask Maxwell …as well as being able to carry the ball.

Vereen had just 96 carries in 2014, for 391 yards, 4.1 average per carry and two touchdowns. He caught 52 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns in the passing game.

His value in the passing game came to a forefront in the playoffs as Vereen caught 18 passes for 144 yards during the post-season including 11 passes on 12 targets for 64 yards in the Super Bowl. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels knew Seattle was a tough matchup to run the ball against, so they used Vereen in the short passing game to create some space underneath.

Seattle’s defense is tough to pass down the field against as they play a tough zone concept that is difficult to break. But as they backed out of it, it created a lot of space underneath for Vereen to work against the linebackers, something he’s done well at all season.

The strategy worked in lieu of the running game and was instrumental in keeping the chains moving. Other than the final scoring drive, Vereen was also key on the final scoring drive in the first half catching three passes which culminated in a Brady 22 touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Why Vereen Will Return: Vereen is perhaps the most underrated of all the Patriots offensive weapons in 2014. No one touched the ball more than he did offensively and he’s one of only five running backs with at least 50 rushes and 50 catches this season.

He’s become a very reliable pass catcher that can stretch defenses when he gets isolated on opposing linebackers. He’s recreated the role Kevin Faulk worked so well for so long as the Patriots third-down back.

He has the confidence of his teammates, coaches and most especially Brady. According to a piece in the Boston Globe, Brady told Vereen’s parents the night before the Super Bowl that he was primed for a big role and would have an impact.

That plus his age (25), puts him just hitting his prime as a player. If the team were to lock him for a 3-4 year deal, he’ll still be in a prime position age-wise to help the team at the peak of his playing skills.

Running backs haven’t exactly been reaping in huge dollars in free agency lately, so the price of retaining Vereen may actually be less than is being talked about.

Why Vereen Won’t Return: The Patriots drafted a virtual clone of Vereen in the person of James White in the 4th round (130th overall), in the 2014 NFL Draft. While it isn’t known how confident the team is in White’s ability, the parallel for the two is close.

Both are the same size, 5’10, 205 pounds and excel in the third down role. White had a red-shirt type season in his rookie 2014 campaign garnering only 14 touches (9 runs, 5 receptions), with the Patriots offense. Vereen had a similar type rookie season with just 15 touches of his own.

With White and Brandon Bolden whom the Patriots just re-signed waiting in the wings, the team may feel the need to pay Vereen isn’t a big priority since they have big decisions to make with other players. Both Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty need long term deals this season as well.

While running backs haven’t been cashing in greatly in free agency, Vereen’s performance in the playoffs and the Super Bowl may just change the landscape for him. And coupled with his age, there are a number of teams that may be interested in coming calling, including the Giants, Jets or Bills.

So while the Patriots would undoubtedly like to have him back in 2015, there probably will be at least a few teams that will be willing to outbid them for Vereen’s services. I think the chances of him returning are much less than 50 percent.

Vereen was recently making the rounds of the talk shows after the Super Bowl, and was on the NFL network talking about the 2014 version of the Patriots and had this to say:

“We have a young team. We have a lot of guys that have come together that have a very cohesive bond within the locker room. We’re very, very close. Honestly I think the sky is the limit for this group of guys,” Vereen said.

“We have a great leader in Tom Brady, a Hall of Fame coach and quarterback. You can’t really go wrong. It’s a great place to start. You have guys in leadership spots that should be there. We have great leaders and a great thing going. I love playing there.”

 

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Patriots 2015 Free Agent Profile – Stevan Ridley


The Patriots have a big decision to make on whether or not to re-sign RB Stevan Ridley in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

Stevan Ridley entered 2014 as the Patriots only true established power back and one with something to prove. He had the specter of fumbling issues from 2013 that put him on the bench for a time. But he met the challenges head on, addressed them openly with the media and was poised to have a solid season in 2014. But those plans fell apart with a blown ACL/MCL suffered against Buffalo in Week 6 and he was lost for the season.

Ridley was drafted in the 3rd Round (73rd overall), from LSU in the 2011 NFL Draft. And after a stellar sophomore season in 2012 when he rushed for 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns, he seemed destined to be the Patriots lead back for many years to come.

But the 2013 season was a tough one not only for the team but for Ridley as well. His production dipped to 773 yards and he found himself benched due to fumbling issues. But it should be noted that he fumbled three times in 178 carries, however the fumbles were at key points during games and Ridley was supplanted as the lead back by LaGarrette Blount.

But things for Ridley turned around, Blount moved on via free agency to Pittsburgh. He persevered thru rumors he would be cut in training camp and had a good training camp. Ridley was once again the lead back, leading a group effort that included Shane Vereen, rookie James White and Jonas Gray. A piece I wrote about Ridley remaining the Patriots best option in the running game can be read here:

Until the time of his injury Ridley carried 94 times for 340 yards for 3.6 yards per carry and 2 touchdowns. He also caught 4 passes for 20 yards. But most importantly, he didn’t fumble in 98 touches before going down in Buffalo.

For the season, Ridley’s 3.6 yards per carry was over a yard below Blount’s 4.7 but it should be taken into consideration, the Patriots offensive line struggled thru the season’s first four games as the unit was searching for the right combination. Once they settled on that, the pass blocking and run blocking improved.

In his last full game before being injured, Ridley rushed 27 times for 113 yards, 4.2 ypa and a touchdown against Cincinnati. Once he went down with an injury the team used a true running back by committee approach and once Blount was released by the Steelers, Bill Belichick scooped him right up and he was solid down the stretch.

Now with the team facing a decision on whether or not to re-sign him in 2015, the biggest question isn’t how much money will it take to retain him in Foxboro but, will he be able to regain his burst at the point of attack and be the same runner he was prior to getting hurt.

Why Ridley Will Return: Providing he’s healthy this season, Ridley’s injury may scare away prospective suitors and point to a return to the Patriots in 2015. Although he was hurt, he remained close to his teammates during his rehab and the Super Bowl run as Chris Price from WEEI pointed out here:

Ridley has a better burst at the point of attack than Blount and can hit the holes quicker than Blount, something that could have been used against the aggressive Seattle defense in Super Bowl XLIX. He’s already very familiar with the Patriots offense and he has the experience within Josh McDaniels’ game planning.  There wouldn’t be the learning factor that a new back would have to adapt to.

The experience factor of having Ridley return would also help, the Patriots running back stable right now consists of Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White, and Tyler Gaffney. Jonas Gray who had a brief shining moment  in Indianapolis and then was banished to the Siberian gulags by Bill Belichick after being late to practice and then took to Twitter to complain about it. Bolden plays mostly special teams and White had a red-shirt type season in 2014.

With an improved offensive line in 2015, the running game with the tandem of Blount and Ridley would be an impressive 1-2 punch with White providing the third down pass catching ability if Shane Vereen doesn’t return.

He shouldn’t break the bank either as the team could sign him with a one-year, prove-it type deal for a team friendly deal to allow him to return to form this season

Why Ridley Won’t Return: Unfortunately, questions now must be answered if Ridley will still have the burst to hit the holes that he did prior to his injury. And while he does (at least prior to getting hurt), have better burst off the line, Blount possesses much better breakaway ability once he reaches the second level.

It is no secret that Belichick really likes Blount and has confidence in him to carry the ball in any situation. In the last five games of the season, Blount rushed for 281 yards, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had a monster game against Indy in the AFC championship game.

The Patriots have depth with big, physical running backs with Blount, Gray, Bolden and Gaffney and may decide that trying to split the workload of adding Ridley to the mix wouldn’t be in the best interests of the team.

While it wouldn’t be a shocker to see Ridley return to New England in 2015 for a one year prove-it type deal, I think the chances are, he’s playing elsewhere this season. The Patriots will be probably dip into the 2015 NFL Draft and try to find some young talent to build the depth of the running back position.

Look for another team to give him a one or two year deal that will pay him more than the Patriots would be willing to regardless.

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