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. 

Report: Patriots to sign Kenny Britt

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Report: Patriots to sign Kenny Britt

According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Patriots will sign veteran receiver Kenny Britt. 

Britt, who was released by the Browns last week, has seen injuries and off-field issues interfere with a promising career since being chosen 30th overall by the Titans in 2009. He was suspended for four games in 2012, his final season with the Titans, before playing the next season with the Rams. This was his first season with the Browns, but he was released after making 18 catches over nine games. 

Why did Malcolm Butler retweet this graphic about Jay Cutler carving up the Patriots?

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Why did Malcolm Butler retweet this graphic about Jay Cutler carving up the Patriots?

This makes me feel like Felger, so apologies.

Malcolm Butler might not love Bill Belichick the GM, and there’s a chance he’s made some light commentary on Belichick the coach. 

After Monday night’s Patriots loss to the Dolphins, a Pro Football Focus graphic was posted detailing how well Jay Cutler did when the Patriots blitzed him. It was retweeted from Butler’s account. 

Though Butler un-retweeted it by Tuesday morning, the retweet was an interesting act. Twenty blitzes (by how PFF measures blitzes) is a high number. Was Butler just pointing out that Cutler had a good game or suggesting that maybe the Pats shouldn’t have kept blitzing when Cutler was responding to them so well. Might be a shot at Belichick or Matt Patricia. Might be something else. Might have misread "Cutler" for "Butler" and thought he was retweeting a compliment. Reading into social media is a gas.