Patriots

Patriots get aggressive with Gilmore, Branch, Harmon on Day 1 of free agency

Patriots get aggressive with Gilmore, Branch, Harmon on Day 1 of free agency

Just. When you thought. You had them all figured out.

Recent history suggested that the Patriots might sit out the first 24 hours of the new league year while the rest of the league handed out big-money deals like candy, but Bill Belichick's front office was active Thursday. And the work started early.

About seven hours before free-agent deals could be executed, news broke that the Patriots would be signing Bills corner Stephon Gilmore to (presumably) a long-term contract that would (presumably) pay him near the top of the market. 

Ramon Humber this was not.

When the numbers came down, we found out that Gilmore's deal would include more guaranteed money ($40 million) than the Patriots had ever given a free-agent defender -- more than they gave safety Devin McCourty after he explored the market and agreed to re-sign two years ago.

While the timing and the aggressiveness to sign one of the top corners on the market may have caught some off-guard, it was a move that was oh-so-Patriots in other ways. 

They plucked a player away from one of their division rivals to fortify their own roster; they maintained their scheme flexibility by finding a someone whose skill set will fit whatever gameplan Belichick and his staff decide to employ from week to week; and they protected themselves against an uncertain future as it relates to the personnel already on their roster.

That last bit is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Gilmore's acquisition: What does this mean for others at that position? 

Logan Ryan seemed destined to land elsewhere before the Gilmore deal, and it was a virtual certainty after. Indeed he signed with the Titans before the clock struck midnight.

Even in advance of that move, the Gilmore acquisition led to rampant speculation that Malcolm Butler's time with the Patriots might be coming to an end.

Late in the day, the pride of West Alabama did his best to snuff out any rumblings that he wasn't happy with his contract situation -- he's currently staring at a first-round tender worth $3.91 million, giving the rest of the league some time to present to him offer sheets -- but when it comes to the team's long-term planning, even he might admit that it looks like a choice has been made.

After all, how many No. 1 corner contracts do the Patriots plan on handing out between now and the end of next season when Butler's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent?

The Patriots now have a few different avenues to pursue with Butler.

They could extend him. They could have him play on the tender if he signs it. They could trade him if he signs it -- say to New Orleans for wideout Brandin Cooks? Or they could let him walk with an offer sheet from another team, if he gets one, and get a first-round pick in return. 

There are decisions to be made. There's work to be done. And it may get done quickly.

If the Gilmore move reminded us of anything, it's that the Patriots aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and take action once their minds are made up. 

Here's a quick rundown of the rest of the day's Patriots-related news to catch you up on everything you need to know headed into Day 2 of the 2017 league year . . . 

* The team locked up its most consistent defensive tackle from 2016 for two more years by agreeing to terms with 32-year-old Alan Branch. He wanted to be in New England. The Patriots wanted him in New England. He fits the scheme perfectly. His fun-loving personality is embraced in the locker room. After a career year, it's no surprise Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio found a way to bring him back. 

* Duron Harmon will be back on a four-year deal worth up to $20 million, solidifying the back end of a secondary that has already undergone a pretty significant makeover. As the third safety in Patriots "big nickel" packages, the rangy Rutgers product has played over 50 percent of the snaps in each of the last two seasons. Alongside Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, Harmon has provided consistency in coverage and strong communication skills. On the first day of free-agency, the Patriots made sure he'll continue to do the same for the foreseeable future. 

* Logan Ryan, not surprisingly, found greener pastures elsewhere. His three-year deal with the Titans is reportedly worth $30 million. He'll go from working with one McCourty in Foxboro to another in Tennessee. Devin's twin brother Jason has been a staple in Titans secondary since 2009. 

* The Browns are apparently undeterred by New England's willingness to keep backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the fold. They swung a fascinating deal with the Texans to acquire a future second-rounder along with Brock Osweiler's albatross of a contract. Cleveland's stockpiling of picks, it's been posited, is a way to eventually put together a trade offer that Belichick wouldn't be able to turn down.

* No movement yet from free-agent linebacker Dont'a Hightower, running back LeGarrette Blount, tight end Martellus Bennett or defensive end Jabaal Sheard, but the Dolphins announced that Sheard had been in for a visit. 

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

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Patriots-Falcons practice report: Gilmore (concussion/ankle) still out with Falcons, Jones on deck

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are looking thin in the secondary as they head into their third and final day of practice before Sunday's matchup with the Falcons. 

Both Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) sat out the session, as did linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle). Undrafted rookie defensive end Harvey Langi was also a non-participant as he recovers from injuries sustained in a car crash last week. 

Asked if Friday's practice was a possibility, Gilmore said, "We'll see." He did not give any indications that his symptoms had improved or that he had been cleared for practice as he works through the league's concussion protocol. 

Rowe was spotted in the locker room on Thursday, but he has not practiced since aggravating his groin injury in Week 4. He was injured initially during a Week 2 win over the Saints. 

Roberts suffered an ankle injury when teammate Alan Branch landed on his lower leg during a loss to the Panthers in Week 4. However, he was healthy enough to play in Weeks 5 and 6. It's unclear as to whether or not his current ailment is related to what knocked him from that Week 4 loss to Carolina. 

Here is Thursday's practice participation/injury report for Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle)
LB Harvey Langi (back)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
CB Eric Rowe (groin)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
WR Chris Hogan (ribs)
G Shaq Mason (shoulder)

ATLANTA FALCONS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
LB Jordan Tripp

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
OLB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring)
K Matt Bryant (back)
LB Jermaine Grace (hamstring)
LB Deion Jones (quadricep)
DE Takk McKinley (shoulder)
LB Duke Riley (knee)
WR Mohamed Sanu (hamstring)
DL Courtney Upshaw (ankle/knee)