Patriots pick up another vertical option with trade for Phillip Dorsett


Patriots pick up another vertical option with trade for Phillip Dorsett

FOXBORO -- In the years since the Randy Moss era in New England, whenever the concept of "stretching the field" came up as it related to the Patriots, that often meant horizontally.

Now, after trading for Phillip Dorsett, it has become clear that Bill Belichick and the Patriots offense want the ability to stretch the field vertically as well. 


Of course, they could go vertical even before the team acquired Dorsett from the Colts in a deal that sent quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indy. The Patriots spent big to pick up Brandin Cooks from the Saints, sending their 2017 first-rounder to New Orleans in the offseason. They also had versatile wideout Chris Hogan (who led the NFL in yards per catch in 2016) and big-play-walking Rob Gronkowski already in the fold. 

But the addition of Dorsett, whose athletic profile was very similar to Cooks' coming out of the University of Miami in 2015, highlights the importance of being able to stress defenses from a variety of angles. 

The short-to-intermediate passing game has long been Tom Brady's bread and butter, and even with Julian Edelman out for the season, passes in that range still figure to play an important role in the Patriots offense. Gronkowski, Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead will all require attention in that portion of the field. 

But when teams clog the short middle of the field, as the Falcons did in Super Bowl LI, then Brady, Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense will need to hit them where they ain't -- on the outside. That's where players like Cooks and Dorsett can give opposing defenses headaches.

Since coming into the league as the 29th overall pick in 2015, Dorsett has 51 catches (14.8 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. Here's how we saw Dorsett's skill set when he was set to enter the draft. In a word? Explosive.

Here are a few more observations to take away from the Brissett-for-Dorsett swap . . . 

Patriots sacrifice depth at game's most important position: Jacoby Brissett improved significantly from Year 1 to Year 2, and on Thursday night against the Giants -- albeit Giants reserves -- he looked like a physically-gifted player whose teammates responded to him in the huddle. He was far from perfect -- he admitted to mistakes like missing "Mike" linebacker calls -- but he seemed to be showing progress, which had to intrigue the Colts. Without Brissett, the Patriots move forward with two quarterbacks, freeing up a roster spot that can be filled by someone who won't be a weekly inactive. The Patriots have age (Brady is 40) and contract situations (Jimmy Garoppolo is scheduled to hit free agency after this season) at the position, but perhaps they feel confident in their future at that spot to part ways with a young, cost-effective option like Brissett.

Unclear if Dorsett can factor in as a punt-return option: Dorsett has just two career punt-returns as a pro. He's returned one kickoff. His college experience in those roles is more significant (he returned 25 punts and 25 kicks at Miami), but he many have to earn the trust of the Patriots coaching staff before he's given one (or both) of those roles in New England. Bill Belichick said on Friday that having a sure-handed return man is like having a dependable long-snapper; the player may only touch the ball a handful of times, but if something goes awry when he does, it could cost the team a game. 

Added depth key when factoring in Mitchell health: Second-year Patriots receiver Malcolm Mitchell was on the practice field Saturday, but he tweaked his knee during New England's second preseason game of the summer in Houston, and he missed the following week of practice as well as the third preseason game in Detroit. Add that to the time Mitchell missed early in training camp, and he spent a large chunk of the summer sidelined. With Edelman out, the Patriots depth chart features Cooks, Hogan, Amendola, Mitchell and now Dorsett. Should Mitchell -- or Amendola, who missed four regular-season games last year -- be forced to sit out for any stretch of time, Dorsett could find himself getting important snaps. Dorsett has dealt with injuries of his own as a member of the Colts. 

From Indy Star reporter Stephen Holder: 

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

File photo

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."