Patriots did some smart shopping in adding Hogan

Patriots did some smart shopping in adding Hogan

FOXBORO – When free agency began last March, the Patriots were in on two of the most coveted wideouts on the market: Cincinnati’s Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.

They signed neither. Jones signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Lions. Sanu, a Rutgers product, signed a five-year, $32.5M deal with the Falcons.

But the Patriots had another iron in the fire. Restricted free agent Chris Hogan of the Bills.

Hogan, it turns out, was dying to join New England.

Asked Thursday if he expected any interest as a restricted free agent (he could sign an offer sheet with another team but the Bills would have a chance to match the offer), Hogan said, “I had hoped so. Just talking to my agent, there were a couple of things out there, a couple of teams interested in bringing me in but when I heard that the Patriots even had a chance, just to interview and meet Coach Belichick and walk around these halls because there’s a lot of history in this organization, that was a dream come true for me. Because playing against them for four years, I know how great an organization, how great a team this was.”

The Bills, strapped for salary cap room, couldn’t match the Patriots offer to Hogan of three years and $12M with $5.5M in the first year. The Patriots had pulled off an intra-divisional coup similar to the one they pulled with Wes Welker in 2007 when Welker was a Miami Dolphins RFA.  

The early assumption on Hogan was that he’d be in the mold of Julian Edelman. But that was perhaps more based on appearance than skill. Hogan (6-1, 220) is bigger than Edelman (5-10, 198). He’s also more high-cut, as they say in the business, his long legs not as suitable for the waterbug quick moves Edelman, Danny Amendola, Troy Brown and Dion Lewis could conjure.

Because of his deep speed, Hogan’s become a downfield weapon for the Patriots. Hogan leads all receivers in the postseason  in receptions of more than 20 yards (eight). 

Eleven of his 38 regular-season catches were for more than 20 and he was tied for first in the NFL in yards per catch in the regular season (17.9, same as Washington’s DeSean Jackson). The player he ostensibly replaced with the Patriots – Brandon LaFell (who went to Cincy) had 11 receptions of more than 20 yards on 64 catches. 

Only Rob Gronkowski had a greater percentage of receptions that went for more than 20 yards (12 of his 25).

Hogan hasn’t been the same kind of downfield threat as, say, Dez Bryant or Julio Jones. Many of his deep receptions came on second reads or after plays developed and he broke free of coverage as Tom Brady bought time. He’s not a “throw it up and he’ll go get it” target. That doesn’t make him limited. Or slow. Just different. And extremely effective in the New England offense.

To say things worked out would be an understatement.  

“I let things happen the way that they happened,” he said of his free agency foray. “All that stuff was out of my control and when I came up here I wanted to make a good first impression that I was a team guy and I’d do whatever I was asked to win football games and whatever I was asked I was gonna be able to do it. Just kind of emphasize that whole thing where they knew I wanted to be on the team and that could help win football games.”

With 180 yards in the AFC Championship Game and 275 yards on 13 postseason receptions in two games (for an NFL best 21.9 yards per catch), he’s done that.  

Patriots release Shea McClellin

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Patriots release Shea McClellin

Shea McClellin will be blocking kicks for somebody else next season. 

The Patriots announced Monday they've released the veteran linebacker, ending his tenure with the team after two seasons.  ESPN's Field Yates broke the news.

The Pats signed McClellin to a three-year deal prior to the 2016 season, but that was the only season in which he played for the team. McClellin missed all of last season due to injury. Prior to coming to New England, McClellin played four seasons with the Bears, who chose him 19th overall in 2012. 

McClellin's biggest contribution with the Pats came when he blocked a Justin Tucker kick in Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Ravens.

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

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Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton earlier this offseason, sending a 2019 third-rounder to Cleveland in exchange for the defensive tackle, they traded for a player who was already being mentored by one of their own. 

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Shelton explained that one of his agents put him in touch with former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so that Shelton could pick up some tips from one of the best defensive tackles in football of the past 15 years. 

"For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans," Shelton said. "I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him."

When Shelton was coming out of the University of Washington in 2015,'s Lance Zierlein's "NFL comparison" was Wilfork. Both carried similar builds -- Shelton is now listed at 335 pounds -- and both were viewed as surprisingly good athletes for their body types. Shelton was also viewed as the top two-gapping tackle in the draft that year, which is exactly what the Patriots ask their interior linemen to do. 

Shelton has made good on those projections over the last couple of years. Last season, he was a key part of a Browns defense that ranked fourth against the run by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA. In 2016, Shelton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its eighth-best interior lineman against the run. Per PFF, he was second that year -- behind only Damon Harrison -- in terms of the number of run stops he recorded from the interior.

It's clear that Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, understands what his strengths are. 

"Honestly, I’m just going to go with whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] wants me to do," Shelton said. "My best feature is stopping the run, so if he wants me to play at a specific position I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure I do my job for the team’s success."

So how can Wilfork help? If he has any tips on how to be a consistent player from the inside in Belichick's system, that could go a long way. Over the course of Wilfork's 13-year career, few defensive tackles were as effective from week to week and year to year. Wilfork played at least 830 snaps in four of his last five seasons with the Patriots (he was injured in 2013), and even during his two seasons with the Texans, he averaged about 600 snaps per year. He made five Pro Bowls with the Patriots and was named a First or Second-Team All-Pro four times.

In what form might Wilfork's advice on consistency be delivered? Would it be nutritional, which was an aspect of his preparation he embraced later in his career? Would it be technique-based? Would it be simply how to take the coaching dispensed inside the walls of Gillette Stadium? 

Shelton, who missed two games last season and played in 469 snaps, doesn't have a long-term contract with the Patriots to be able to prove his worth over multiple years the way Wilfork did. And he may not be asked to take on the myriad roles Wilfork was during his time under Belichick. But if Shelton can pick up some advice from Wilfork on how to stay on the field and how to help the Patriots win on first and second downs, that might make him the team's most valuable offseason addition. 

New England finished the season 20th in rush yards allowed per game, and they were 31st in yards per attempt allowed. In the Super Bowl, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch a healthy scratch, the Patriots allowed 6.1 yards per carry to the Eagles on their way to 164 yards rushing. 

Shelton is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.03 million this season. The Patriots may not be willing to pick up his hefty $11.7 million fifth-year option for 2019, but if he can continue his upward trajectory then maybe the Patriots will work to extend him before the end of the year. 

How Wilfork impacts that trajectory, if at all, remains to be seen. But he's certainly not a bad guy for Shelton to have in his corner as the 24-year-old embarks on life with the Patriots.