2016 Patriots will face interesting chemistry test


2016 Patriots will face interesting chemistry test

Ramon Humber. Remember him? That was the lone, out-of-the-gates signing the Patriots made when free agency opened on March 9.

I had never heard of him. You likely hadn’t either.

It was a very Patriotic start to free agency. While the rest of the league was slapping down heavy bets on better-known players, the Patriots were lurking in the fringes of the table, waiting for a seat to open and the minimum to drop.

They dabbled, kicking the tires on receivers Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Rishard Matthews. But the seven guys they brought to town for a visit were less sexy: running backs Benny Cunningham and James Starks; receivers Chris Hogan and Rod Streater; tight end Clay Harbor; defensive end Frank Kearse; and defensive back Sherrick McManis.

They signed Kearse, a former seventh-rounder. They got Hogan, an undrafted wideout and the fourth option in Buffalo, to agree to an offer sheet that the Bills declined to match. But compared to the rest of the league, the investment firm of Belichick and Caserio kept playing the waiting game. Streater signed with the Chiefs. Akiem Hicks left for the Bears. Sanu, Matthews and Jones – regarded as the top three wideouts – were all long gone.

Then, a week into free agency, the Patriots dove in with a move that wasn’t even tied (directly) to free agency, trading Chandler Jones to the Cardinals in exchange for a second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper.

That opened the floodgates to a flurry of signings: linebacker Shea McClellin, defensive lineman Chris Long and running back Donald Brown.

In a 24-hour span, four former first-round picks were added.

Then they made a deal for the most athletic tight end in the league not named Rob Gronkowski by picking up Martellus Bennett.

In the next couple of days, the Patriots talked to another former first-rounder Nick Fairley. When he signed elsewhere, the Patriots moved on to Terrance Knighton. They hauled in the aging field-stretcher Nate Washington. They also brought aboard E.J. Biggers and, reportedly, the tight end Harbor. They are doing their research on wideout Mike Williams.

So, after a slow start, the Patriots have been a hit with signings that can be reduced for us laypersons to: “Hey! There’s a guy I know!”

It’s not the greatest measure of a pickup’s potential impact – the Patriots discard pile is stacked high with Names We Knew like Haynesworth, Galloway, Ochocinco, Holt, Wayne, etc – but the fact that so many of these players had the physical tools to be first-round picks shouldn’t be dismissed.

Nor should it be overlooked that this influx of players will significantly alter the chemistry of the 2016 Patriots.

For better or worse? Nobody knows. The team hasn’t even convened as a whole yet. But it will be different. It always is, even if there isn’t turnover.

There are going to be interesting dynamics to watch, though, because the Patriots’ “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” approach is not always in alignment with players who can be, have been or want to be individually great.

The sell job – as always – is convincing players there is greater reward in being part of something bigger than themselves than there is in rolling up numbers that will make them the targets of those heavy-betting teams.

Take the tight end position, for instance. The landscape is fascinating. There’s Rob Gronkowski, best tight end in the game, a future Hall of Famer who has intimated in the past month that he’s underpaid but isn’t fazed by that fact. Now there’s Bennett, a player who – based on an insightful piece from Chicago Magazine – has regarded Gronk as a rival.

“I’m a tight end consultant,” Bennett said in the piece. “We’re all products. I’ve got to come back every year as a better product. You know, like the iPhone 7.”

Right now, if any tight end in the league is an iPhone 7, it’s Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. Bennett is more of a Samsung Galaxy. When Gronkowski racked up 149 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears in a game last season, Bennett took it as a personal affront. How am I going to outplay this maniac? He’s rarely mentioned alongside Gronk or even Jimmy Graham, the new Seahawks tight end, a fact that obviously rankles him. Behind the goofy swagger, Bennett desperately wants to be acknowledged for his talents on the field.

Bennett is in the final year of his deal and is making just over $5M in salary. What drives him? Stat compilation that enhances his marketability in 2017? Or, being a part of a marquee team where ego is checked and stats can be modest but the reward for championships can be big money elsewhere and personal satisfaction?

Meanwhile, Harbor – another set of tight end hands (albeit in on a smaller person) – wades into the group there as well.

Harbor, it should be noted, falls into the category of “guy who played well against New England that later got signed.” Wes Welker is the gold standard for that. Scott Chandler is the tin standard.

Nate Washington fits that profile to a degree – he had a big catch for Houston last season against the Patriots. McClellin fits another profile – the would-be draft target that the Patriots eventually land.

A first-rounder in 2012 that many felt had Patriot-level versatility, McClellin never found a positional home in Chicago. Now he’s in the linebacker mix with a fairly modest, three-year deal in hand ($9M with $3M guaranteed), but the knowledge that neither of the Patriots more accomplished linebackers – Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins – have gotten new deals to lock them up. It takes a level of patience and maturity to play well under the business pressure that Hightower and Collins will face if they enter 2016 as would-be free agents.

There’s no sense pretending personal finances are not a major part of professional football. Especially when the physical toll can be so profound and the peak-earning years are so compressed. Especially in a period where pedestrian players are signing $50M contracts. It’s incumbent on players to do what’s best for them and only they know what is best.

Teammates respect that everyone has to manage his own business. It wouldn’t fall to Chris Long to counsel Collins, Hightower or Jabaal Sheard on being patient, and I doubt that he would. Long knows he’s already earned in excess of $80M in the game, he’d wholly support those players making theirs. The same would go for everyone on the team when it comes to Malcolm Butler, who’s making $600,000 this year.

The Patriots’ rash of high-profile acquisitions coupled with the valuable players they have reaching contract crossroads and the always-bright lights shining on a franchise for whom success is not a choice promise to make this season one of the  most fascinating of the Belichick-Brady era.

Search continues: Scarnecchia pops up at Notre Dame for look at McGlinchey

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Search continues: Scarnecchia pops up at Notre Dame for look at McGlinchey

The effort to replenish the tackle depth the Patriots boasted last year will not stop with the re-signing of LaAdrian Waddle. That much was clear when Dante Scarnecchia was spotted at Notre Dame's pro day on Thursday.

The Fighting Irish offense featured two of the top offensive linemen in the country last season in guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey.

Nelson is expected to be a top-10 selection and some believe him to be the best player in this year's class regardless of position. The Patriots probably won't have a shot at him. And they're OK at guard. Scarnecchia (and national scout DuJuan Daniels) were in all likelihood there to scout McGlinchey more thoroughly. 


The 6-foot-8, 312-pounder is considered by many to be the top tackle in this year's draft. McGlinchey spent two seasons on the right side, backing up current Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley, and he spent the last two seaons on the left. He's thought to be a very good athlete for his size, but he may have some issues with "bull rushers and power at the point of attack," according's Lance Zierlein. 

But even with the blemishes that may show up on his tape, McGlinchey could go in the top half of the first round if a team gets desperate. Or he could slide. It seems a slide to the Patriots would be unlikely but not impossible. That's why the Patriots did their due diligence on the player who may be the only NFL-ready tackle in the draft.

Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage made that very point on Quick Slants the Podcast soon after the NFL Scouting Combine finished up. 

"It's definitely become a challenge," Savage said of finding pro-ready tackles. "We've always focused and talked about how the spread offenses in college have affected the quarterbacks, but in reality, it's impacted all of the positions, quite frankly. 

"You look at the offensive line nowadays and most schools are building what I call a five-man unit where there's no real distinction between the left tackle versus the right tackle versus the right guard versus the left guard. They're all kind of the same because they play as a unit. There's not as much of a premium placed on that left tackle as a standalone pass-protector...

"This year, amazingly enough, I really only had one tackle [with a first-round grade following the combine, and that's [Notre Dame's] Mike McGlinchey. There's a couple of interior linemen like Will Hernandez from UTEP and Quenton Nelson from Notre Dame that are likely to go in the first round. But as far as just a tackle. Wow. It's staggering to think that there could only be really one tackle to go in the first round this year."

The Patriots have a variety of routes they could take in filling the left tackle void filled by Nate Solder. They could try to figure out a way to get McGlinchey in house. They could go with Waddle. They could flip Marcus Cannon to the left side and use Waddle on the right. Maybe a second-year player -- Antonio Garcia? Cole Croston? -- will surprise and force the team's hand.

Whatever they choose, the search for tackles isn't over. And given how difficult it seems to be for teams around the league to find serviceable ones, it could last a while.



Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.