Patriots

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

When the free-agency period officially begins on Mar. 9, it looks like there will be several newly-minted Super Bowl champions available for hire. And judging by the list Pro Football Focus published recently, the Patriots seem primed to lose more top-end talent via free agency than any other club in the league. 

Of the Top 50 free agents scheduled to be available next month, according to PFF, five are Patriots: linebacker Dont'a Hghtower (No. 11), safety Duron Harmon (No. 17), corner Logan Ryan (No. 26), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (No. 27) and tight end Martellus Bennett (No. 28).

Though the team doesn't have a single Top 10 player, per PFF, no other club has more than four (Cardinals, Redskins, Packers) in the Top 50. 

And the Patriots probably should have had at least one other player included. 

Not LeGarrette Blount, though he set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns last season. Not Chris Long, though he led the team in total quarterback pressures as he played out his one-year deal in New England. It's Alan Branch, 32, who is coming off of arguably his best season in 10 years as a pro. 

A powerful run defender, Bill Belichick called Branch the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman, and late in the season the coach made it clear just how much value there is in having a player with Branch's stature (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism up front.

"Alan has done a great job for us," Belichick said. "And along with his play, which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time. So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. 

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good. 

"How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is; I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard [Seymour] or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’s not too many of them."

Though he may not make everyone's Top 50, Branch should certainly be mentioned on any list of impact players Belichick and his staff are at risk of losing in a few weeks. It's a long one.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Osweiler carries Broncos over Colts

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Osweiler carries Broncos over Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler played like a relaxed reliever on Thursday.

He couldn't have picked a better time.

With Paxton Lynch inactive and Trevor Siemian out after two series, Osweiler trotted onto the field, ran for one touchdown and threw for two more to lead the Broncos past Indianapolis 25-13 for their first road win of the season.

"I was just a little kid having fun tonight," Osweiler said. "That's really what it was. I've been on a little bit of a rollercoaster ride for about two years. Just to go out there, Thursday Night Football, with my teammates, I was just having fun."

The difference was obvious.

Osweiler played more like the guy Denver (5-9) took in the second round of the 2012 draft and the guy Broncos fans remember filling in for the injured Peyton Manning during the 2015 Super Bowl season.

He wound up 12 of 17 with 194 yards and no turnovers and ran for an 18-yard TD, too. C.J. Anderson ran 30 times for a season-high 158 yards.

Denver may need Osweiler to keep playing this way a couple more times after Siemian was diagnosed with a sprained left shoulder. Coach Vance Joseph couldn't say whether he'd have his starting quarterback against Washington.

If Siemian can't go, Osweiler may get another shot.

"He played with great poise," Joseph said. "He played great, clean football and it led to a win."

That's two wins in five days - and the Broncos' first outside the Mile High City since Dec. 4, 2016. The victory assures Denver of avoiding its first winless season on the road since 1964.

But it sure wasn't easy, and at times, it was downright rugged.

Siemian was taken to the locker room after being driven into the ground by Colts linebacker Barkevious Mingo late in the first quarter.

A much scarier scene played out with 14:01 left in the second when Denver linebacker Deiontrez Mount appeared to make helmet-to-helmet contact with Colts tight end Brandon Williams on punt protection. Williams was knocked over backward and stayed on the ground as trainers and doctors strap him to a backboard and removed his facemask.

When Williams was lifted onto a cart, his teammates came over to offer support.

Coach Chuck Pagano said Williams had a concussion and had returned to the team's training room after initially being taken to a local hospital.

"We erred on the side of caution and, rightfully so, taking care of him," Pagano said. "But he's back here, he's doing well."

Indianapolis' struggles continue, though. The Colts (3-11) have lost five straight, the longest skid in Pagano's six-year tenure, and will post their first losing season at home since 2011.

The game pretty much went as expected.

Jacoby Brissett scored on a 7-yard run and Adam Vinatieri gave Indy a 10-0 lead with a 45-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. All Indy could muster the rest of the night was a 39-yard field goal early in the third.

Osweiler, meanwhile, rallied the Broncos.

His touchdown run just before halftime made it 10-7. He gave Denver the lead with a 22-yard TD pass to Cody Latimer with 4:16 left in the third and then added a 54-yard TD strike to Jeff Heuerman to make it 22-13 following a 2-point conversion toss to Latimer.

"We had a really good rhythm offensively and we were able to mix the run and the pass," Osweiler said. "I was going to lay it all out there."

KEY NUMBERS

Broncos: Osweiler's TD pass to Heuerman ended the team's 18-game regular-season streak without a play of 50 more yards. ... Emanuel Sanders had seven catches for 68 yards and Demaryius Thomas had five catches for 69 yards.

Colts: Brissett was 17 of 30 with 158 yards and was sacked once. ... Indy had 228 yards in offense. ... T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 41 yards.

GORED

Colts running back Frank Gore added another milestone on a night it looked like he might not finish the game.

The 34-year-old running back left during the second quarter with a knee injury. But when he returned in the second half, he quickly became the second player in league history to post 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 12 consecutive seasons. Only Emmitt Smith (13) has more.

INJURY REPORT

Broncos: With the exception of Siemian, Denver stayed relatively healthy. The only other significant concern was an ankle injury that didn't allow Sanders to finish the game.

Colts: In addition to Williams, the Colts lost right tackle Denzelle Good (knee) and linebackers Jeremiah George (neck) and Jon Bostic (knee) in the second half.

UP NEXT

Broncos: Play their road finale Dec. 24 at Washington.

Colts: Head to Baltimore on Dec. 23 in their final road game of the season.

Browns' GM calls dumping Kenny Britt 'an easy decision'

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Browns' GM calls dumping Kenny Britt 'an easy decision'

After a nearly ineffective performance against the Miami Dolphins, it appeared that injuries were finally catching up to the Patriots.

A few days after their dreadful Monday Night Football performance, the team moved to sign wide receiver Kenny Britt. The receiver has not had the most productive 2017 but put up 1,000 yards receiving as recently as last year.

Britt is healthy, and Patriots fans will look for him to help out a struggling offense immediately. But can the wide receiver put his troubled past in Cleveland behind him?

John Dorsey, during his first full day as GM, made it a priority to immediately cut Britt. Today on WKNR 850 Cleveland, Dorsey ripped into the former Browns wide receiver.

"I have no problem making that decision,'' Dorsey said today on "The Really Big Show'' with Aaron Goldhammer on WKNR, a radio partner of the Browns. "From a cultural standpoint, I don't think he fits in the prototypical character point of what I'm looking for in terms of a leader. He did not live up to his expectations as a player.''

Dorsey went on to add that Britt "may have a higher opinion of himself than I have of him as a player, so I thought that was easy.''

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