Patriots

With franchise tag window open, Patriots have until March 1 to make a call

With franchise tag window open, Patriots have until March 1 to make a call

The NFL hit one of the notable dates on its offseason calendar on Wednesday as the window to apply the franchise and transition tags to pending free agents officially opened. Teams have until Mar. 1 at 4 p.m. to use their tag designations.

Though the Patriots opted not to tag anyone last offseason, they have several key contributors set to hit free agency this year, and applying the tag may make more sense. Chief among the candidates to be tagged? Linebacker and defensive captain Dont'a Hightower.

If the Patriots and Hightower can't reach a long-term extension, the franchise tag might make sense even if the price tag -- about $14.6 million guaranteed -- is steep for an off-the-ball linebacker. Not only is Hightower a leader in the locker room and on the field as the signal-caller for Bill Belichick's defense, he's a proven big-game performer who has made critical fourth-quarter plays in each of his team's last two Super Bowl wins.

Hightower also may have placed himself in the category of too valuable to lose. Should he hit the open market and sign elsewhere, the Patriots would be left relatively thin in terms of experience at the linebacker position with Kyle Van Noy, Shea McClellin and Elandon Roberts as their holdovers at that spot from 2016. While that group saw valuable time calling plays with Hightower off the field, all three have just one year (or less than that in Van Noy's case) in the Patriots system under their belts.

The drop-off from Hightower to the next man up would be significant, making the franchise tag a valuable tool in that it would keep Hightower off the market, while simultaneously buying the Patriots some time to try to work out a long-term extension.

Asked about the franchise tag last week, Hightower said, "That's a lot of money."

Other impending free agents who played big roles for the Patriots in 2016 will be worth consideration for new contracts, but the cost of the franchise tag at those positions may be prohibitive.

If Belichick wants to keep tight end Martellus Bennett in the fold on the tag, the cost is projected to be about $9.8 million. Others like corner Logan Ryan ($14.3 million if tagged), defensive tackle Alan Branch ($13.4 million if tagged) and safety Duron Harmon ($11 million if tagged) would very likely be deemed to pricey to tag. 

The Patriots last used their franchise tag in 2015 when they applied it to kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Later in the offseason, Gostkowski and the team worked out a long-term deal that made him the highest-paid kicker in the league and will keep him in New England through 2018.

Receiver Wes Welker (2012), guard Logan Mankins (2011), defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (2010), quarterback Matt Cassel (2009), corner Asante Samuel (2007), kicker Adam Vinatieri (2005, 2002) and safety Tebucky Jones (2003) are the others who have been given the franchise tag since Belichick took over as head coach of the Patriots in 2000. 

Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

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Patriots-Dolphins injury report: Tom Brady sits out with Achilles injury

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski both sat out of the entirety of Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium. 

Brady is dealing with an Achilles injury, per the injury report released by the Patriots. The Boston Herald has reported that Brady will play despite the issue. It's unclear when exactly Brady suffered the injury, but Brady was hit low by Raiders pass-rusher Khalil Mack in the fourth quarter on Sunday, and Mack was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Gronkowski, like teammate David Andrews, is dealing with an illness. Patrick Chung, who left Sunday's game briefly, has an ankle issue. 

Here's the full injury report for both the Patriots and Dolphins . . . 

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
C David Andrews (illness)
QB Tom Brady (Achilles)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
S Patrick Chung (ankle)
TE Rob Gronkowski (illness)
WR Chris Hogan (shoulder)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
WR Danny Amendola (knee)
TE Marellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring)
DT Malcom Brown (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (hamstring)

MIAMI DOLPHINS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Stephone Anthony (quadriceps)
G Jermon Bushrod (foot)
QB Jay Cutler (concussion)
DE William Hayes (back)
T Laremy Tunsill (illness)

FULL PARTICIPATION
RB Senorise Perry (knee)
S Michael Thomas (knee)

 

Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

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Curran: Randy Moss better not have to wait for Hall call

If you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer. The notion that a great player’s candidacy has to have some kind of gestation period before it can be deemed induction-worthy is just plain cruel.

And if you think “cruel” is an overstatement, consider Ken Stabler. Three times a Hall of Fame finalist, Snake had to croak before Pro Football Hall of Fame voters decided it was time to put him in Canton.

There are borderline guys whose candidacies need to marinate. There are players whose contributions to an era take on greater meaning as time passes. You could make the case Stabler was one of those.

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You could also make the case that too many HOF voters in each of the major sports get caught up in a “guardian at the gate” mentality, puffing out birdlike chests until they align with swollen stomachs and declaring an athlete’s not getting inducted on HIS watch.

Or until said athlete’s served time in purgatory and either begs for induction or says, “F--- it, I don’t care if I get in at this point anyway.

Which brings me to Terrell Owens and how his HOF candidacy will impact Randy Moss.

Moss was a better player than T.O. Historic. The second he entered the league in 1998, he was probably one of the five best players in the league at any position. Owens took a while. He didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his fifth NFL season.

Moss was a technician and a savant. Owens just wrestled the game to the ground with brute force.

When measuring what a player “means” to the NFL and its fans, a reasonable Moss comp is Allen Iverson. They were iconic. Owens? Dwight Howard. Where T.O. felt needy, desperate and narcissistic. Moss just didn’t GAF.

And that’s where some voters start to rub their hands together and scheme.

How can we exact revenge for perceived crimes against football and propriety? Make 'em sweat. Use incidents, moments and comments as cudgels and pound penance out of them.

Even though Moss was better than T.O., that doesn’t mean Owens is borderline. Owens is second in all-time yards (Moss is third), eighth in receptions (Moss is 15th), third in touchdowns (Moss is second) and was a five-time All-Pro (Moss was a four-time All-Pro).

The only justification for voters keeping T.O. out the past two years was that he was a prick.

Few – if any - of his ex-teammates say that he should be kept out of the HOF for that. But scores of people in the media, ex-players and league lobbyists do think he should be kept out. At least until he learns his lesson, or whatever.

Owens’ narcissism chewed at the fabric of franchises he was a part of, is the contention. That’s why he played for five teams. That’s why he only played in one Super Bowl. That’s why tears weren’t shed when he signed someplace else.

Moss also played for five teams. He also played in just one Super Bowl (like Owens, Moss’ ’07 Patriots lost though Moss – like Owens – did his part to win). And tears weren’t shed too often when Moss left either.

Check this Tom Brady quote from September 2010. It came just days before Moss began shooting his way out of New England because he was unhappy the team wouldn’t extend his deal.

"There's only one Randy Moss that will ever play this game," Brady said. "He's the greatest, probably, downfield receiver in the history of the NFL. Those catches that he makes, where you guys see he runs 65 yards down the field, you throw it and he just runs and catches it. That's impossible to do.And I ask him, 'How did you do that?' And he says, 'I don't know, man. I've been doing it for a long time.' He has some special skills that nobody's really gifted with." 

That weekend, Moss gave his “This probably will be my last year here as a Patriot…” press conference after a season-opening win over the Bengals. The next week, he caught two of 10 passes that Brady threw his way in a loss to the Jets. One of the passes was a touchdown pass where he blew past Darrelle Revis and made a one-handed pull. Two of the other passes were picked off and Moss was non-competitive. After that, he was effectively frozen out of the offense and was traded after Week 4, less than a month after Brady accurately described him as the greatest downfield receiver in the history of the NFL.

Stuff like that, nudging a traffic cop for a half-block with his car stating “I’ll play when I want to play…,” fake-mooning the Lambeau Stadium crowd, saying he still smoked weed “once in a blue moon” – all those occasions will be aggregated and used as cudgels used to beat down Moss’ candidacy just as the driveway situps are used to beat down T.O.’s.

Whole bunch of voters will hand-wring about what it all meeeaaaannnnnsssss if they sweep Moss in on the first ballot after keeping T.O. out. And then wonder if T.O. should go in before Moss, after Moss or with him. Meanwhile, they’ll rush to get Ray Lewis in line for his gold jacket with nary a word about disappearing white suits 

The whole “between the lines is all that matters” defense.

Randy Moss belongs in the Hall of Fame. ASAP.