Curran: Expect Patriots to browse while others dive into free agency

Curran: Expect Patriots to browse while others dive into free agency

There are two different kinds of consumers.

Those who’ll head down to Best Buy or Wal-Mart at around 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to get in line for Black Friday shopping.

PATRIOTS FREE AGENCY: Position-by-position breakdown

And those who’ll enjoy their turkey, get a good night’s sleep and still get what they need for a very Merry Christmas.

When NFL free agency begins, you can tell which people fall in the first group. They are the ones that flip out when the Patriots do their annual, “No thanks, just looking…” routine.

Free agency officially opens next Thursday at 4 p.m. The Patriots – even with $60M to burn this offseason – will most likely dawdle and browse while the private jets of other owners scoop up fat dudes and whisk them to headquarters where they’ll be sequestered in a room and offered $80M if they sign today.

Some GM may even slide across a picture of his adorable kids. Kids who are depending on Dad to get things on track … so they don’t have to look for a new school. Again.


No hard sell in New England. Lots of tire-kicking. Which means lots of rock-kicking in our region. A sampling from early March, 2016 when guys like Janoris Jenkins, Kelechi Osemele, Alex Mack, Rishard Matthews, Marvin Jones, Olivier Vernon and Mohamed Sanu all signed in the first couple days.

Meanwhile, the Patriots signed the estimable Ramon Humber on the first day of free agency.

And then after a week of idling, the Patriots signed Chris Hogan as an RFA, traded Chandler Jones, traded for Martellus Bennett then signed Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Donald Brown, Nate Washington, Terrance Knighton and Clay Harbor.


In 2015, it was all about Darrelle Revis drama. The Patriots took a pass. The Jets rue the day they didn’t. New England also signed Jabaal Sheard, Jonathan Freeny, Scott Chandler and Travaris Cadet and re-signed Devin McCourty.

In 2014, Aqib Talib signed with Denver. Torches were lit and pitchforks raised. The Patriots then acquired Revis.

Wes Welker was the cause celebre in 2013. The Patriots opted for Danny Amendola when Welker decided he wanted to test the market. When Welker tried to see if he could fit back with the Patriots, he found his spot was filled.  

Which brings us to this year’s drama. And there will be plenty of it. Befitting a team that’s won two Super Bowls in three years, the Patriots have a fleet of soon-to-be free agents that other teams can envision making a difference for them. The list is headed by Dont’a Hightower, but Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch, LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett are all going to be courted and – as some of them inevitably sign elsewhere – the “WHAT ARE THEY DOING DOWN THERE?!?!?!?” panic will rise.

Toss in Jimmy Garoppolo conversation which is already at full boil and the fact the Patriots have an absurd amount of money free under the 2017 salary cap, the Patriots and their plans are going to be a focal point.

What you may want to remind yourself this week – and definitely when free agency opens – is that unrestricted free agency is just one of a few player-acquisition faucets the Patriots will put their roster bucket under.

Dion Lewis signed with the Patriots in February of 2015. Malcolm Butler came aboard after going through a tryout during rookie minicamp in 2014.

There are plenty of names out there already you can envision being Patriots targets. Jared Odrick, for one. And then there are “names” like Calais Campbell, Dontari Poe, DeSean Jackson and Brandon Marshall.

Last year, I had a hankering for Mohamed Sanu or Matt Forte. Neither came. It still worked itself out.

Certainly, the fate of Hightower will have far-reaching impact on the Patriots defense given his importance in virtually every facet of what they do. The fact he will hit the market, get offers then – presumably – circle up with the Patriots before making a decision is going to make for some drama. And if Bennett goes – which he assuredly will – the Patriots will be verrrrry shallow at tight end.

The same March angst we see every season is going to be in play this year. It’s a rite of pre-Spring like getting crosseyed on St. Patrick’s Day or seeing that stupid equipment truck on Yawkey Way.

By the end of the week, chances are hysteria will rule. And reminding people that, “They’ll figure it out. They always do…” doesn’t fill the TV, radio and digital void.

So put your mouthguard in and get ready for a week of doom, gloom and second-guessing.  

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.