Curran: Even in free agency, NFL world revolves around the Patriots

Curran: Even in free agency, NFL world revolves around the Patriots

New Englanders have always been regarded as a little too parochial, what with the whole “Hub of the Universe” and “Athens of America” mindset.

PATRIOTS FREE AGENCY: Curran on Pats' plans, plus position-by-position breakdown

The rest of the country’s been rolling its eyes at Boston for better than a century. And now that the football team is (prepare for haughty Boston statement of superiority) the greatest dynasty in NFL history led by the most accomplished coach-quarterback tandem there’s ever been or will be, we’ve also found a way to hijack America’s Pastime.

That’s my roundabout way of pointing out that, as free agency’s “legal tampering” period begins on Tuesday, the Patriots are going to be the sun around which the other planets orbit for the next few weeks and into the draft.

With more than $60 million in available cap space, they can shop hard.

Agents, knowing that the  rest of the league doesn’t want to get beaten to the punch by New England, will freely drop intel that leaves us with reported lines like the “Patriots are interested” or “among teams inquiring” or “said to be thinking about.” What better way to convince a suitor to pony up more dough than to dangle the possibility he Patriots are going to take your client, thereby pissing off your owner and fanbase?

The Patriots also have two of the leading defensive free agents hitting the market, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and cornerback Logan Ryan. Throw in Duron Harmon, Jabaal Sheard and Alan Branch and, on offense, Martellus Bennett and LeGarrette Blount, and there’s a fleet of New England products other teams may be chasing in part because of their roles in a successful program.

And we haven’t even gotten to Jimmy. Between the players about to be drafted and the ones in the league, Garoppolo is the most promising quarterback available. If he’s available. Which is a conversation over the past week that’s devoured hours of content on radio and TV and provided a few million social media takes. And counting.

If Garoppolo is available via trade, would the Bears want to sign Mike “Neverending Neck” Glennon to an absurdly high deal? No. But Chicago is poised to do just that...unless...Jimmy could come at a price.

Last year, the Patriots sat idle in the early days of free agency. The only guy they signed on Day One was Ramon Humber. No, I wouldn’t know him if I saw him either.

But within two weeks, they’d acquired Martellus Bennett, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Chris Hogan and Donald Brown while trading Chandler Jones.

The Patriots do stuff. And they usually do it with a measure of stealth.

So far, New England’s been linked to Saints wideout Brandin Cooks and Boston Herald writer Karen Guregian has noted sources close to Adrian Peterson believe he’d consider a discount to play in New England. Brandon Marshall’s name was tossed out there in the flimsiest of ways as a possibility.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots kicked the tires on DeSean Jackson and would fully support that move. And Jackson – an annoying little guy early in his career who got sideways in Philly with Belichick pal Chip Kelly – may be ready at 30 to do the one-year career rehab that so many other great players go through with the Patriots.

Long story short, we’re going to have a lot to discuss the next few days. Sometimes it gets dizzying trying to keep up. Sometimes it gets maddening trying to discern between real and fake news. It always is painful trying to extract the Patriots plans.

But it beats following the Jaguars.

Patriots release Shea McClellin

File Photo

Patriots release Shea McClellin

Shea McClellin will be blocking kicks for somebody else next season. 

The Patriots announced Monday they've released the veteran linebacker, ending his tenure with the team after two seasons.  ESPN's Field Yates broke the news.

The Pats signed McClellin to a three-year deal prior to the 2016 season, but that was the only season in which he played for the team. McClellin missed all of last season due to injury. Prior to coming to New England, McClellin played four seasons with the Bears, who chose him 19th overall in 2012. 

McClellin's biggest contribution with the Pats came when he blocked a Justin Tucker kick in Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Ravens.

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

AP Photo

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton earlier this offseason, sending a 2019 third-rounder to Cleveland in exchange for the defensive tackle, they traded for a player who was already being mentored by one of their own. 

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Shelton explained that one of his agents put him in touch with former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so that Shelton could pick up some tips from one of the best defensive tackles in football of the past 15 years. 

"For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans," Shelton said. "I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him."

When Shelton was coming out of the University of Washington in 2015,'s Lance Zierlein's "NFL comparison" was Wilfork. Both carried similar builds -- Shelton is now listed at 335 pounds -- and both were viewed as surprisingly good athletes for their body types. Shelton was also viewed as the top two-gapping tackle in the draft that year, which is exactly what the Patriots ask their interior linemen to do. 

Shelton has made good on those projections over the last couple of years. Last season, he was a key part of a Browns defense that ranked fourth against the run by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA. In 2016, Shelton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its eighth-best interior lineman against the run. Per PFF, he was second that year -- behind only Damon Harrison -- in terms of the number of run stops he recorded from the interior.

It's clear that Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, understands what his strengths are. 

"Honestly, I’m just going to go with whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] wants me to do," Shelton said. "My best feature is stopping the run, so if he wants me to play at a specific position I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure I do my job for the team’s success."

So how can Wilfork help? If he has any tips on how to be a consistent player from the inside in Belichick's system, that could go a long way. Over the course of Wilfork's 13-year career, few defensive tackles were as effective from week to week and year to year. Wilfork played at least 830 snaps in four of his last five seasons with the Patriots (he was injured in 2013), and even during his two seasons with the Texans, he averaged about 600 snaps per year. He made five Pro Bowls with the Patriots and was named a First or Second-Team All-Pro four times.

In what form might Wilfork's advice on consistency be delivered? Would it be nutritional, which was an aspect of his preparation he embraced later in his career? Would it be technique-based? Would it be simply how to take the coaching dispensed inside the walls of Gillette Stadium? 

Shelton, who missed two games last season and played in 469 snaps, doesn't have a long-term contract with the Patriots to be able to prove his worth over multiple years the way Wilfork did. And he may not be asked to take on the myriad roles Wilfork was during his time under Belichick. But if Shelton can pick up some advice from Wilfork on how to stay on the field and how to help the Patriots win on first and second downs, that might make him the team's most valuable offseason addition. 

New England finished the season 20th in rush yards allowed per game, and they were 31st in yards per attempt allowed. In the Super Bowl, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch a healthy scratch, the Patriots allowed 6.1 yards per carry to the Eagles on their way to 164 yards rushing. 

Shelton is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.03 million this season. The Patriots may not be willing to pick up his hefty $11.7 million fifth-year option for 2019, but if he can continue his upward trajectory then maybe the Patriots will work to extend him before the end of the year. 

How Wilfork impacts that trajectory, if at all, remains to be seen. But he's certainly not a bad guy for Shelton to have in his corner as the 24-year-old embarks on life with the Patriots.