Butler reacts to Collins trade: 'Shocked . . . Just shocked'

Butler reacts to Collins trade: 'Shocked . . . Just shocked'

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler summed up how some players inside the Patriots locker room felt on the day after linebacker Jamie Collins was traded to Cleveland.

-- Curran: A drastic move for a not-so-drastic time
-- Lombardi reiterates: He's just not that good
-- Linebackers coach: Collins' 'freelancing' wasn't an issue
-- Patricia lauds Collins

"Shocked," he said. "That's all. Just shocked."

Every player on the team is aware that the NFL is a business. Many of them are aware that they can be cut or traded when they least expect it. But for a Pro Bowler to be dealt mid-season came as a surprise to some. 

To others, like veteran defensive end Rob Ninkovich, this is a time to look ahead and focus on what's to come. 

"I've played for a long time," said Ninkovich. "There's always change throughout the year. It happens every year. There's injuries that you deal with, there's trades that happen so it's just part of the game. You try to focus on what you can do to improve your game and continue to focus here on the rest of the season. We have to keep marching forward . . . 

"[The defense] has to be better. We know that. We have to make more plays. I have to make more plays. That's the way it needs to be. I've played 11 years in the NFL. I know how this business is. I know that it is a business, that it's a performance business, that you have to perform. Maybe for the younger guys it's more of a shock, but for me, I've seen a lot of things happen in my career. They've happened to me. Again, you just have to continue to focus on what you can control. That's how you play moving forward."

Ninkovich has spent time on three different teams over the course of his career. He's been injured. He's been cut. He's been a practice squad player. Yet even he admitted that mid-season trades can be difficult to grasp.

"When you lose a teammate, it's definitely different, and it's a change that could catch you off-guard," he said. "Again, we still have a lot of games here to go and play. You can't let what you can't control affect how you play. For me, it's really to continue to focus on myself and get better. There's a lot of room for improvement. I'm focused on getting through this bye week here, and to play better in the next eight games." 

There's an off-the-field component to the Collins trade as well, though, special teams captain Matthew Slater acknowledged. 

"Any time you're in this type of situation, it's always tough," he said. "You build relationships with guys off the football field, you get to know guys personnally. It's always tough to see teammates come and go. Unfortunately that's part of the business that we signed up for. It's never an easy pill to swallow, but you have faith that coach is doing what he believes is best for the football team, and all you can worry about a player is doing your job. 

"It's difficult. You talk about putting aside your personal feelings, I think oftentimes the human element gets overlooked. The emotional attachments that you have, shared experiences, the shared struggle that you've been through with a player. It's tough. All you can do is take it one day at a time, worry about ourselves as individuals, and take it from there." 

As was the case when captain Logan Mankins was traded before the start of the 2014 season, how the Patriots move forward without their teammate will help dictate how the rest of the season shakes out. 

"It'll definitely be a challenge for us, but I think this group has shown a great deal of mental toughness, and I think the best thing we can do is take it one day at a time, not worry about what's going to happen one week from now, two weeks from now," Slater said. "Let's just worry about what's going to happen and let's go from there."

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.