How important is the punt-return role to Bill Belichick? 'It's a priority'


How important is the punt-return role to Bill Belichick? 'It's a priority'

How much does Bill Belichick value having a trusted set of hands to return punts for the Patriots? He'll be the first to tell you, if you screw things up in that role, there aren't many ways to lose a game more quickly. 

After losing Julian Edelman and Cyrus Jones to season-ending knee injuries in back-to-back preseason games -- both of whom could have factored into the punt-return game significantly in 2017 -- what will the Patriots do to fill the role? 

MORE: Patriots' 53-man roster projection 5.0: The final cut

Belichick was asked during a conference call on Friday if a punt-return specialist, someone who might not contribute much offensively or defensively, was worthy of a roster spot now that the deadline for final cuts is around the corner. 

"I mean I'd say the ball-handling is critical," Belichick answered. "It's like the long-snapper. How many plays is a long-snapper in for a game? Call it 10? I don't know. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Eight to 10 extra-points, punts, field goals. But everybody carries a long-snapper.

"Between the kick-returns and the punt-returns, [it's] maybe a couple less than that. But I'd say the difficulty of those jobs and the importance of them and core ball-handling, there's not much of a way to lose a game quicker than that. I think it's a high priority for everybody. When I say everybody, I say every team . . . We'll have to see how it turns out, but it's not an afterthought at all. It's a priority."

The Patriots have a few in-house options to take over punt-return duties at the moment. Danny Amendola has plenty of experience in that regard. He's returned 147 punts in his career, including 58 over the last four years as a member of the Patriots. 

But with Amendola, whose health at the end of the season has been a priority for the Patriots in the past, perhaps the team would like to limit as much as possible the extra few hits he would take as a return man.

Another option could be undrafted rookie corner Will Likely, who was named the returner of the year in the Big Ten back in 2015. He fielded punts on Thursday night against the Giants once Jones left injured. 

Amendola seems like the best fit for now. And it's not only because of his experience with the physical aspects of the role -- fielding the ball cleanly, protecting it, picking up whatever's there in terms of field position. He's also up on how the Patriots want to handle the football in the countless number of situations that could pop up.

Amendola has also handled kick returns in the past (33 in the last three years), which could also help save the Patriots a roster spot for a punt-returner.

Belichick went deep on the differences between the duties of a punt-returner and a kick-returner in Friday's conference call. 

"Of course the easy answer is if one person does both, that makes it a lot easier, and it also makes the overall roster discussion a lot easier," Belichick began. "The big difference, of course, is on kickoff returns you have a chance to build up your speed. You get a chance to handle the ball cleanly, and there's nobody on top of you when you're catching it. You're able to run and set up your blocks and hit things full-speed . . . usually between the 20 and 30-yard line, where the coverage and the blockers and the wedge all sort of come together and the returners get a chance to set those blocks up and hit them and try to get through there.

"The punting game is a lot more situational. Mostly on kickoffs, the ball's always kicked from the same place. Rarely is there a difference; there are some, but they're minimal -- after a safety or that type of thing. But punting, the ball can be anywhere. The situation that they're punting in can be quite diverse and sometimes complex. Punters are very good at directional punting and kicking different types of punts -- end-over-end punts, spiral punts, spirals that don't turn over and so forth. The ball-handling is a little more complex.

"And you have to deal with players around you as you're catching the ball sooner or later. Sometimes a punter will out-kick his coverage, but the majority of the time there's some decision making involved on whether to catch it and how to make the first coverage player or two miss to get the return started, or fair-catch it, or to let it go and not catch the ball, or to let it go over your head and go into the end zone for a touchback. There's a lot of decision-making on whether to just catch the ball, or whether to catch it and run with it, or whether to catch it and just fair-catch it that are quite different than the kickoffs.

"And then in addition to that, you're dealing with defenders and coverage players that are on you a lot quicker on punt returns. Sometimes you only have a yard or two, or a couple yards, to get into space, make a guy miss, break a tackle, whereas kickoffs are much more of a build-up play. Because they're so different a lot of times you don't have the same player doing both.

"And on a personal opinion, because they're so different, I find the two plays very fascinating and intriguing and a great part of the strategy of football. Just because the plays themselves are so different in the teaching -- the rules, the skills and so forth. So that's why I'm not in favor of . . . I take an opposing view to the people that want to eliminate kickoffs from the game and try to have as few kickoffs as possible. I think it's an exciting play. It's a unique play and one that is a big momentum play because of what happened the play before -- the score or possibly the times at the start of the half where it's kind of a tone-setter or a pace-setter for that opening play.

"So yeah they're plenty different. And of course the same thing in the blocking. You have a chance to set up a return (on kickoffs), whereas on the punting side of it you have an option of trying to pressure the punter and block it or return it, but you kind of have to return it from the line of scrimmage. You can't drop off too far because the possibilities of fakes. So you have to keep enough guys up on the line of scrimmage to ensure that that ball's punted. And you have to ensure you're not getting an onside kick, too, but again, that's much less frequent and the rules are in the kick-return team's favor on the onsides kick. It's a big gamble for the kicking team to do that as a surprise tactic. So the blocking patterns and techniques of blocking are quite different on the punt returns compared to what they are in kickoff returns."

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

The Patriots have made a trade with the Raiders to acquire receiver and special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson, according to a source. The deal, first reported by Pardon My Take, is an interesting one because it lands Patterson with the team that passed on the opportunity to draft him back in 2013. 


Bill Belichick dealt the No. 29 overall pick to the Vikings that year in exchange for four selections, including a second-rounder and a third-rounder. The second-rounder became Jamie Collins, and the third became Logan Ryan. The Patriots also took Josh Boyce with a fourth they received in the trade, and the fourth pick (a seventh) was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. The Vikings took Patterson. 

Patterson's career to this point has been a mixed bag. One of the top athletes in the 2013 draft, the Tennessee product never quite panned out as a go-to No. 1 receiver. He has not missed a game in five seasons, but he has never cracked 600 offensive snaps in a single season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has turned himself into more of a gadget receiver as well as one of the game's best special teamers. 

Here's what the Patriots are getting in Patterson . . . 

TOP-TIER SPECIAL TEAMER: Patterson has solidified himself as one of the NFL's best kick-returners. In five seasons, he's ranked as the top returner in terms of average yards per return three times. He's never been outside of the top 10 in the league in that category. Last year he was sixth in the NFL with a 28.3 yards per return average. Patterson has also become a highly-effective gunner on punt units, a role he thrived in once he embraced it, and he has kick coverage experience. Patterson has not been a punt-returner. He has just one punt return under his belt compared to 153 kick returns. Patterson has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice for his work in the kicking game. 

INCONSISTENT RECEIVER: Patterson has never been able to take his explosiveness and translate that into consistent production offensively. He's not thought of as a precise route-runner, and he has a reputation as a "body-catcher." Yet, because he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands, offenses in Oakland and Minnesota have found ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll align in the backfield, take reverses and catch screens just to try to get him the ball in space where he can let his natural abilities take over. If he gets a crease, he can create a chunk play in a blink. 

THE COST: Patterson is in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. He has a base salary of $3 million and a cap hit of $3.25 million. The Patriots will be sending a fifth-rounder to the Raiders and getting a sixth-rounder back. (As an aside . . . The Patriots have used one fifth-round pick in the last six drafts. It was spent on long-snapper Joe Cardona. Why are they constantly dealing fifths away? Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald did an interesting piece on that topic about a year and a half ago. The gist is that a) there's a significant drop-off in your chances of finding a star in the fifth compared to the fourth, and b) the talent in the fifth round, by some metrics, hasn't proven to be all that different from the sixth or seventh rounds.) 

THE FIT: Patterson is a relatively low-risk acquisition because of his cap hit (which on the Patriots slots him in between Shea McClellin and Chris Hogan) and because of the draft capital required to nab him. Trading for a player like Patterson as opposed to signing another team's free agent has the added benefit of not impacting the compensatory-pick formula. Patterson also fills a few needs. His abilities as a kick-returner will be more than suitable with last year's primary kick returner for the Patriots, Dion Lewis, out of the mix. What Patterson can do as a gunner and in kick coverage will also be useful with Johnson Bademosi now elsewhere. There's also a chance Matthew Slater plays in a different city in 2017, in which case Patterson's contributions as a gunner and in kick coverage could be critical. With Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Hogan all established in the Patriots offense, Patterson won't be expected to take on a heavy role in the Patriots offense. However, if he can pick up a new system, perhaps he could take on a role as a No. 4 or 5 wideout who benefits from plays designed to get him touches in space. Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt -- now alongside Patterson -- will all be competing for time in New England's offense. Former Patriots coaching assistant Mike Lombardi seems to believe it's unlikely Patterson contributes offensively


Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

Patriots acquire WR Cordarrelle Patterson in trade with Raiders

The Patriots have acquired wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson in a trade with the Raiders, NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry confirms.

Pardon My Take, a podcast by Barstool Sports, first reported the news.

Ian Rapaport of NFL Network reports the Patriots sent a fifth-round pick to Oakland and received a Raiders' sixth-rounder along with Patterson.

More to come...