Patriots release RB Tyler Gaffney after two injury-filled seasons


Patriots release RB Tyler Gaffney after two injury-filled seasons

The Patriots announced on Monday that they have released third-year running back Tyler Gaffney.

The former Stanford ball-carrier spent each of the last two seasons on injured reserve after suffering season-ending injuries before the start of the 2014 and 2015 regular seasons. Though Gaffney was a regular around the Patriots facility as he recovered, his physical ailments never allowed him to show his his capabilities on the field while in New England. 

Gaffney was chosen by the Panthers in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and he later made headlines with the way in which he ended up with the Patriots.

After enduring a season-ending knee injury while with Carolina, the Panthers front office opted to waive Gaffney to open up a spot on their 90-man roster. Because he was injured, the assumption was he would clear waivers and be eligible to land on the Panthers injured reserve list. 

Instead, the Patriots claimed Gaffney. The hope was that by 2015 he may be able to compete for a role in the Patriots backfield. 

"Tyler had a real good year last year," Belichick said at the time. "Went to Stanford and then was in baseball for a year and had a big year last year. I think he’s a good all-around back that we want to work with. He was available, so we’ll see how it plays out here."

The Giants very publicly expressed their discouragement after the Patriots made a similar move back in 2012, claiming injured tight end Jake Ballard back in 2012. Ballard had suffered a season-ending injury and was waived, but the Giants hoped to have him land on their injured reserve list. 

"Discouraged is a minor description," Coughlin told reporters after Ballard was claimed. "Very disappointing. I am not going to have a lot to say about that one, just the fact that we are disappointed. We are very disappointed."

It was later suggested to Belichick that the Patriots may have broken an "unwritten" rule that teams should be able to retain injured players after they're waived during training camp.

"If a player's on waivers, he's on waivers," Belichick replied. "Ours or anybody else's. I don't know what 'unwrittens' you're talking about. Look, anytime you put a player on waivers, you know there's 31 teams that can take him. We all know that. There's no secrets about that."

The Panthers, while disappointed in losing Gaffney, pointed out that what the Patriots had done was perfectly legal. 

"This was a legitimate, season-ending injury," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman told the Charlotte Observer. "We have Jonathan Stewart, who’s not practicing, and we needed the roster spot. Plain and simple . . . This is a very competitive business, and people are going to try to improve their team within the rules. And this is within the rules.”

After all that, Gaffney never played a game in New England.

With Dion Lewis, James White, Brandon Bolden, Donald Brown and Joey Iosefa as the remaining running backs on the Patriots, we've projected it as one of the positions the team may target in this year's draft.

Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

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Don't pigeonhole me: How will Adrian Clayborn fit into the Patriots defense?

Looking for a two-word answer from Bill Belichick during a press conference? Ask him how a new addition to the roster might fit into the Patriots scheme. 

"We'll see," is Belichick's typical reply in those situations. 


We point that out here because it's hard to know exactly what any new player's role will be with the Patriots, particularly for an edge player like Adrian Clayborn. That spot in Belichick's defense can take on a variety of roles, from pass-rusher, to edge-setter, to coverage player. 

But we can take an educated guess as to how Clayborn will fit in the Patriots defense, based on what we know. That's what the Patriots did when they signed him. They saw certain skills. They saw Clayborn perform in certain situations. They made their projection. 

There's always the chance Clayborn asserts himself in a way that wasn't expected. Or maybe the way he fits with his new teammates will open his coaches' eyes in ways they weren't anticipating. But at this point, as is the case with every new addition, they're hypothesizing. So we will too. 

AGAINST THE PASS: Clayborn was, for the vast majority of his snaps, a pass-rusher for the Falcons last year. He played 631 snaps for the Falcons, which was 53.4 of their defensive snaps. Of those 631 plays, Clayborn rushed the quarterback 477 times, per Pro Football Focus (76 percent of his workload). And of those pass-rush snaps, only one came from the left side. (Clayborn was born with Erb's palsy, which means his right arm has some limitations compared to his left, which impacts the side of the field he aligns on. He played 91 percent of his snaps from the right side in 2016.)  Clayborn played over 80 percent of the snaps during each of his first three seasons in the league as a member of the Bucs so he's been a three-down player before. But recent history would suggest the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder is now more of a sub option.

Here's how Clayborn responded during a conference call on Wednesday when asked if he could chip in on first and second down for the Patriots. "I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be," he said. "That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me."

AGAINST THE RUN: According to Pro Football Focus, Clayborn has been a negatively-graded player against the run during each of his seven seasons in the NFL. Last year he checked in as PFF's 78th-ranked run defender among edge players, which was far below the ranking Trey Flowers received (19th) but ahead of Deatrich Wise (85th) and Eric Lee (96th). During each of his last three seasons with the Falcons, he has seen his snap-counts break down similarly: about 75 percent of his work came against the pass, about 25 percent came against the run. He can defend the run. He's capable of it. He just hasn't been asked to consistently hold up on the edge on a down-in-down-out basis during the most recent phase of his career. 

THE FIT: Based on his history in Atlanta, it would make sense if the Patriots asked Clayborn to come off of the right edge in passing situations in 2018. That's where his recent experience has been. Keeping him away from the left side not only makes the most of where he's strongest, but it also keeps him from finding himself in coverage. As Belichick has explained in the past, the left end spot (Rob Ninkovich's old spot), going against right-handed quarterbacks, is typically asked to do more in coverage. The right edge has been Flowers' area in the recent past -- he played almost 65 percent of his passing-rush snaps last season off the right, per PFF -- but if the Patriots are fully-healthy up front, Flowers could kick inside to do his rushing. An ideal sub package for the Patriots, it could be argued, would have Clayborn on the right edge, Flowers and either Wise or Adam Butler on the interior, and Derek Rivers or Dont'a Hightower on the left edge. Rivers saw some work off the left side before suffering an injury in last year's training camp. Early last season, Hightower saw time on the left edge. 


Clayborn will have an opportunity to show he can do more than rush off the right side. He said on Wednesday that the Patriots have discussed multiple roles for him. (Perhaps he could rush from the interior, though he's not as long as Flowers or Wise, whose arms make them good matchups for stouter guards and tackles.) Wherever those opportunities come, Clayborn knows he'll have to make the most of them if he doesn't want to be pigeonholed. The deal for two years and $10 million he just signed in New England doesn't guarantee him myriad responsibilities.

"Whatever I can prove I can do,” he said. "I know I can rush the passer. I know I can set edge in the run. I mean, there’s a couple of different positions that they believe I can play, so it’s up to me to prove I can play them."


Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

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Ex-Patriot Ricky Jean-Francois signing with Lions

Former Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois is signing with the Lions, according to Jordan Schultz of Yahoo Sports.

The 31-year-old had six tackles in six games for the Patriots in 2017. He'll reunite with ex-Patriots defensive coordinator and now Lions head coach Matt Patricia in Detroit.