Patriots

Flowers' dependability puts him in Patriots defensive MVP conversation

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Flowers' dependability puts him in Patriots defensive MVP conversation

FOXBORO -- It's been a revolving door at defensive end for the Patriots in 2017. You know the moves by now: Rob Ninkovich out; Derek Rivers hurt; Kony Ealy cut; Cassius Marsh signed; Dont'a Hightower in; Hightower out; Hightower back in; Harvey Langi injured in a car wreck; Hightower out again.

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?There has essentially been one constant at the position. Week after week. Snap after snap after snap. Trey Flowers has been a mainstay for the Patriots up front, finding himself near the top of the list of the league's edge defenders in terms of playing time. He's arguably the most valuable player on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense at the moment because without him, their issues on the edge would be dire. And he hasn't just played outside. Flowers has played over the nose and as a defensive tackle, all things he did last season successfully. 

But this year, with so many moving pieces, the third-year player out of Arkansas has been forced to occasionally drop into coverage. Not because it's where his skill set is best deployed, but because given the depth at the position he's simply better suited than others to execute those responsibilities. He's dropped back 33 times this season, according to Pro Football Focus, which is already more than the 26 times he was used in coverage in 2016. 

In Week 8 against the Chargers, Flowers was often employed as an interchangeable end opposite Kyle Van Noy. Together with off-the-ball linebackers like Elandon Roberts and David Harris, they would coordinate their rush and coverage responsibilities to help confuse the Los Angeles offensive line and quarterback Philip Rivers. 

We went into detail on some of those plays in this space last weekend.

"Trey's done some things like that for us in the past. Not as much as he has this year," Belichick said on Wednesday. "This year we've had some, had some different situations at the defensive end position at various points in time. Trey has a lot of experience -- or the most experience of our defensive linemen, and is also athletic and can handle a degree of versatility and responsibility.

"I'm not sure that's always the best thing for him, but sometimes he's the best we have at it. He does a good job and works hard at it, does what's best for the team, which is one of the things you love about Trey is how committed he is to the team, how willing he is to do whatever it takes and whatever we need him to do. And he does a pretty good job of it."

Van Noy is the best replacement for Hightower as a true linebacker-slash-end hybrid, and Marsh -- a very good athlete who contributes extensively on special teams because of his combination of size and speed -- may be the next closest thing. But the Patriots obviously feel comfortable using Flowers, their top pass-rusher, in a variety of roles because he's dependable. 

Deatrich Wise has had an impactful rookie season, but he's more of an end-slash-tackle hybrid, not someone who is going to be used to cover the flats -- at this point in his career, at least. Linebackers like Marquis Flowers and Trevor Reilly could potentially give the Patriots some depth at that versatile end spot, but they are primarily special-teamers with limited experience defensively. Shea McClellin would have been an ideal fit for the role Flowers has found himself in more frequently this season, but Belichick confirmed on Wednesday that McClellin will not be activated off of injured reserve. 

With the trade deadline passed and McClellin out of the mix, it looks like the Patriots picture at end is what it is, which means it could be more of the same for Flowers for the remainder of the season. It's probably not his best role, but given the Patriots circumstances at end, their hands are kind of forced.

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 

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Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 

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HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 

 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.

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