Patriots

Uncertainty reigns: Butler headlines list of Patriots impending free agents

Uncertainty reigns: Butler headlines list of Patriots impending free agents

MINNEAPOLIS -- The aftermath of Super Bowl LII was highlighted by a whirlwind of puzzling responses to relatively direct questions. 

Following New England's 41-33 loss to the Eagles, Rob Gronkowski wouldn't completely rule out retirement. Tom Brady was asked if he would be back next season after throwing for more than 500 yards on the game's biggest stage, and he said, "I certainly hope so." 

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Matt Patricia wouldn't discuss his future as a head coach in Detroit (though he was introduced as Lions head coach on Monday). Josh McDaniels wouldn't discuss his future as a head coach, likely in Indianapolis. Bill Belichick wouldn't reply to repeated questions about his future, saying he'd addressed those queries already. 

Malcolm Butler, benched in a move that Belichick called "best for the football team," told ESPN he couldn't predict his future whereabouts

Inside the bowels of US Bank Stadium and the Patriots locker room, the feeling of uncertainty was as palpable as any feelings of sadness or anger experienced by players occupying those spaces Sunday night.

What is clear is that the coaching staff will have a different look in 2018, as will the roster.  Below is a list of Patriots entering into free agency, according to Spotrac, headlined by the corner who is the talk of the town at the moment . . . 

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Malcolm Butler, CB, 27: How Butler's Super Bowl benching impacts his offseason pay day will merit very close attention. He knew he had an opportunity to partially wipe away what he considered a down season by having a good Super Bowl. He didn't have that opportunity. Now will there be a team out there willing to pay him what Gilmore got ($31 million guaranteed at signing and $40 million guaranteed total), or in that range? He'll be 28 on Mar. 2.

Nate Solder, LT, 29: Asked recently if he had made any decisions about future plans, Solder said no. Would he be willing to go elsewhere to play? Would he opt to retire? We'll find out eventually. Solder arguably had the best game of any Patriots offensive lineman in the Super Bowl, allowing three hurries, no hits and no sacks. Dante Scarnecchia loves the big left tackle, and if he stays, he could buy the team some time to find his successor. The Patriots have three right tackles on the roster, but Solder is the lone player with NFL extensive experience on the left side. Last year's third-round pick Tony Garcia may need more time to develop after an illness caused him to lose a significant amount of weight. 

Matthew Slater, ST, 32: The special teams ace just made his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl, and after having battled hamstring issues for much of the season, he looked as effective as ever late in the season. Whether he ever makes another Pro Bowl or not, and he very well could, Slater's already made a name for himself as one top special teams players in the history of the game. Would having a captain and emotional leader in the locker room back in New England help provide a sense of stability on a team where there will be change?

Danny Amendola, WR, 32: Nicknamed "Playoff Amendola" and "All-Weather 'Dola" by teammates this postseason, Amendola saved his best for last. He had eight catches for 152 yards against the Eagles. Amendola has avoided the injury bug that has plagued him in his career, and he showed why he still has tremendous value to a team at this stage in his career. The question is, might another team out there be willing to pay him this offseason more than what the Patriots might? He's said that at this point in his career he wants to win, and so that may give the Patriots an advantage when it comes to keeping one of their most clutch performers.

Dion Lewis, RB, 27: Coming off of the best (and healthiest) season of his career, Lewis has an opportunity to cash in as a free agent. He's proven that despite coming back from a torn ACL in 2015 and a fractured patella at the start of last season, he's still lightning quick and one of the most versatile backs in football. In the Super Bowl, Lewis had nine carries for 39 yards (a 4.3 yards per carry average) against the top run defense in football. 

Rex Burkhead, RB, 27: The former Bengals back and special-teamer took a chance on himself with a one-year deal with the Patriots last offseason. If healthy, he's proven he provides the Patriots with a talented pass-catching presence, a reliable goal-line back, and a savvy special-teamer. That was a big "if" this season, though. He missed six regular-season games and one playoff game this year due to injury. In the Super Bowl, he showed he had plenty of gas left in the tank, but he wasn't used all that often. He carried three times for 18 yards and picked up 10 total yards after contact. 

LaAdrian Waddle, OT, 26: One of the team's backup tackles, Waddle was injured in the Divisional Round against the Titans and was inactive in the AFC title game. He's played primarily right tackle with the Patriots and performed well during a difficult stretch this season that had him lined up across from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, then Von Miller, then Khalil Mack and Cam Wake. Healthy for the Super Bowl, he served as the backup to starter Cameron Fleming.

Cameron Fleming, OT, 25: A fourth-round pick out of Stanford in 2014, Fleming appeared to be on the bubble at training camp last summer. The Patriots kept him, and they're glad they did. As the team's third right tackle for much of the year, he more than held his own late in the season. He played all 64 snaps against the Jags and allowed one sack. Against the Eagles, he played all 75 snaps, allowing one quarterback hit and three hurries. 

Nate Ebner, ST, 28: Ebner tore his ACL earlier this season, but there is optimism he'll be healthy enough to start the 2018 season. Will that be in New England? A highly-respected special-teamer in the Patriots locker room, Ebner handles some crucial jobs for the Patriots in the kicking game, including the personal protecter role.

Johnson Bademosi, CB, 27: A valuable presence at corner while Gilmore dealt with a concussion, the veteran special-teamer has stepped in to help the Patriots cope with the loss of Jonathan Jones to injury in the AFC title game and the Super Bowl. Bademosi played 10 defensive snaps against the Eagles as the team's No. 3 corner -- one spot on the depth chart ahead of Butler, surprisingly. 

James Harrison, LB, 39: The veteran linebacker made a handful of key postseason plays, and he may have had his best game as a pass-rusher in the Super Bowl. He recorded two quarterback hits and a team-high six hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Rick Jean Francois, DL, 31: More than just an owner of a couple dozen Dunkin Donuts franchises, Francois was a force in the middle for the Patriots late in the season. Both against the run and the pass, Francois was effective enough to make Alan Branch a healthy scratch in win-or-go-home matchups.

Geneo Grissom, DL, 25: A core special-teamer, Grissom gives those units some size, athleticism and experience at that those spots. 

Marquis Flowers, LB, 25: For teams looking to land a versatile linebacker with the ability to cover, occasionally get after the quarterback, and play in the kicking game, Flowers could be their guy. 

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Jesse James relieved Patriots didn't win Super Bowl LII

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Jesse James relieved Patriots didn't win Super Bowl LII

Steelers tight end Jesse James is glad the Patriots' Super Bowl pursuit is done -- mostly because he played a big part in helping accelerate it.

In the final moments of the game, James failed to catch the ball during a Week 15 contest between the Steelers and the Patriots. The non-catch was a controversial one.

James told Centre Daily Times' Josh Moyer he finally felt relief on the morning after the Super Bowl when the Patriots fell to the Eagles, 41-33.

“I don’t feel like I gave them a Super Bowl with that,” James told the Daily Times. “So I’m over it now, but it’s going to be a topic of conversation until the rule gets changed — or it doesn’t.”

James' play was initially ruled a touchdown before the referees overturned the play, and took the lead away from the Steelers in the final moments of the game. Ben Roethlisberger then threw an interception a few plays later. By winning, the Patriots took a huge step in locking themselves into the AFC's top seed with a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, which they rode into the Super Bowl.

But of course, they couldn't finish their Super Bowl pursuit -- to James' satisfaction.

Patriots get Edelman back, but what about Amendola?

Patriots get Edelman back, but what about Amendola?

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 at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at a position where the Patriots have numbers but could see two key veterans depart via free agency: Receiver. 

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HOW THEY PERFORMED:


Danny Amendola was a machine in the postseason. Chris Hogan was dynamite in the Super Bowl after a midseason shoulder injury that limited him to nine regular-season games. Brandin Cooks was very good throughout the majority of the regular season, putting up numbers that made him one of the league's most productive deep threats - and that's without the penalty yardage he drew. It wasn't a dominant season from this unit, but the group lost its most consistent performer when Julian Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason. Malcolm Mitchell's year-long knee injury also sapped this group of some depth. Despite some regular-season hiccups - it was a forgettable final month of the before the Wild-Card Round bye -- what Chad O'Shea's group did in the playoffs showed just how valuable it was for Tom Brady to have a handful of trustworthy receivers at his disposal. They checked in with a "B" in our final grades for 2017.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Cody Hollister, Riley McCarron

WHO ISN'T?
Danny Amendola, Bernard Reedy, Matthew Slater

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Brady should have his top three options back for 2018 so the need here can't be considered more than a 5 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay Memorial "How Concerned Are You?!?" Meter. That said, the group needs some trustworthy depth. Especially if Amendola, 32, who has been willing to take less to remain in New England, decides he'd like to max out his value elsewhere. He's right there with Edelman, who turns 32 in May, as the most clutch postseason receiver Brady's had since Troy Brown. Dorsett and Britt are physically-gifted options who could benefit from a full offseason in the offense, but are they strong enough candidates to serve as the No. 4? And what about Mitchell? What does his future hold after missing his entire sophomore season? Moreover, and this wouldn't impact the offense so much as it would the kicking game and the level of leadership in the locker room, but Slater's loss would be monumental. If both Slater and Amendola return, the need here can't be considered close to dire. But a young option in the draft - either a burner who could provide insurance if Cooks opts for free agency next offseason, or someone who profiles as a true slot - would be a wise investment. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There's a potpourri of pass-catching talent available on the market this offseason. The biggest names available are receivers the Patriots know well from their time in the AFC East: Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins. One's a slot. The other's a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, who struggled to put up numbers in a highly-productive Rams offense in 2017. Then there's Jacksonville's physical outside-the-numbers option Allen Robinson (coming off an ACL tear) and Arizona speedster John Brown. Other field-stretchers who could be had include Seattle's Paul Richardson, Atlanta's Taylor Gabriel and Arizona's Jaron Brown. Buffalo's Jordan Matthews (25 years old) is a bigger slot, sort of a younger version of Eric Decker (31), who also happens to be a free agent this offseason. Keep an eye on Denver's Emmanuel Sanders, who could become available as a cap casualty. The Patriots tried to bring him aboard as a restricted free agent years ago and it would make sense if they were still interested. He caught six passes for 137 yards in a Week 10 loss to New England last season. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


After Alabama's Calvin Ridley, there seems to be some confusion as to which draft-eligible receivers deserve to take their place at the top of the class. Clemson's Deon Cain (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) has the size and speed to be a starter at the next level, but he was plagued by lapses in concentration that led to drops and false-start penalties. Courtland Sutton of SMU has an NFL-ready frame (6-4, 218), but probably doesn't have the athleticism to threaten defenses deep down the field as a pro. For teams interested in slot options, Texas A&M's Christian Kirk and Maryland's DJ Moore look like two of the best available. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


There may be little to address here if Amendola is back in the fold. If the Patriots are looking for young depth, though, there are plenty of options. Miami's Braxton Berrios could probably be had on Day 3, and he's already drawing comparisons to Amendola for his work in the slot, his toughness, and his ability to contribute as a returner. The Patriots could also dip into the Texas Tech pool after missing on both Amendola and Wes Welker in the draft in years past by taking Keke Coutee. He's slight (5-11, 180) but can play inside and out, has speed to burn, and could return kicks. If Belichick and Nick Caserio want to go with a bigger slot who will be a good character guy, Penn State's four-year starter Daesean Hamilton (6-1, 205) would make sense in the middle rounds. 

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