Curran: Patriots fire a flurry of personnel haymakers


Curran: Patriots fire a flurry of personnel haymakers

Let’s not get ridiculous about who the Patriots added over the past few days.

Donald Brown, Shea McClellin, Jonathan Cooper and Chris Long are former first-round picks, but all four were unattached/expendable for a reason.

Martellus Bennett has 143 catches over the past two seasons, but was a pain in the ass that the Bears have been trying to unload for months and Chris Hogan’s never had more than 41 catches in a season.

None of these guys are going to Hawaii after the season and they aren’t going to singlehandedly win games.

That disclaimer out of the way, the Patriots haul over the past few days is the kind of masterstroke that causes opposing GMs and the vindictive suits in New York to bang their foreheads slowly against the wall.

They threw a flurry of personnel haymakers at positions of need. They added another top 100 pick (a second-rounder from Arizona). And, while they had to pay a cost in moving on from Chandler Jones, even that had the upside of giving them financial latitude in extending Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins.

Armando Salguero, who’s been covering the Dolphins forever, perfectly captured the resignation that the Patriots cause in a series of tweets Thursday morning.

The Patriots slow-played the first days of free agency instead of getting caught up in whipping tens of millions at good-not-great players like Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Then they targeted Hogan and made an offer the Bills had to refuse. They followed that with the move to add a second-rounder, clear Jones from the rolls and see what they can get from Cooper. Then came Long, Brown, Bennett and McClellin.

The Bennett and Hogan acquisitions have the potential to be the most impactful. The lack of a complementary tight end for Gronk and a dependable, sure-handed receiver of size were front-and-center problems in the second half of the season. Consider those addressed.

And while Cooper probably isn’t going to fix anything on the offensive line, the rehire of Dante Scarnecchia should.

As for the others? McLellin and Long should be – at the very least – competent if they can stay healthy. Cooper and Brown are dice rolls.

While the credit for these moves reflexively goes to Bill Belichick, he’d be fast to credit Nick Caserio for these moves. It’s hard to find a personnel man who’s been more consistently innovative, aggressive and successful with his moves than Caserio has over the past six seasons and he does it all with stealth.

He and Belichick have gone on these personnel jags a few times in the past where they add a fleet of players. They don’t all work out. But they never stand pat, either.


Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

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.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."