Patriots

What’s next for Patriots’ banged-up receiver corps?

What’s next for Patriots’ banged-up receiver corps?

Every Friday, Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or Friday Bag as they call it.

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Got a question for the trio? Hit them up on Twitter using the hashtag #FridayBag. Here’s this week’s installment:

PP: Don't hit the panic button just yet on this receiver group, DD. Dorsett's knee has been a bit of an issue since Week 3. He had it iced up on Thursday in the Patriots locker room, and he's been wearing a compression sleeve on the knee consistently for a few weeks now. He played 20 snaps against Tampa and he saw 11 against the Jets last weekend. Unless he had a significant setback, which I don't believe he has, he should still be available as the team's No. 4 this weekend. As far as Hogan goes, that was a brutal shot he took to the ribs, but he remained in the game, and he's been practicing this week on a limited basis. Brandin Cooks is healthy, as is Danny Amendola. A few bumps and bruises for this group, but I don't think it's anything that is going to precipitate a roster move. They have two receivers on the practice squad in Cody Hollister and Riley McCarron, but there's no indication that any call-up is imminent. 

PP: Malcom Brown is relatively quiet when media members are in the locker room, but he's a clown-around-the-outside-of-the-scrum-when-a-teammate-is-being-interviewed guy. Surprised but not floored that Long would've given him that crown last year. I'd say when Long and Rob Ninkovich were together hamming it up in 2016, their corner of the locker room was probably the funniest. As far as this year goes, guys like Eric Rowe and Adam Butler are sneaky funny. Rob Gronkowski has been good for a laugh or two every week at his press conferences. He and our buddy Mike Reiss at ESPN need to go on tour at some point. They're the Gillette Stadium version of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. 

PP: Hey, Rich. Thanks for checking in. I'd say the chances of trading for Gilmore are extremely low. Like, zero. The trade deadline is Halloween. Would they cut bait before then after giving him an $18 million signing bonus and guaranteeing him $40 million overall? Given his contract and his play this season, there figure to be very few if any buyers. It would be the ultimate sell-low. And unless Butler ends up receiving much less on the open market than we think he will, my opinion is that he's likely headed elsewhere following the season. Never say never, but that's seemed like the outlook for Butler since Gilmore put pen to paper on his contract. On Martellus Bennett, the Packers aren't giving up on him. He hasn't been overwhelmingly productive in the passing game, but he's their top tight end. And with Aaron Rodgers out, Green Bay is probably going to want as many experienced short-to-intermediate options as possible. Patriots haven't gotten much from either Dwayne Allen or Jacob Hollister this season, but Bennett is not walking through that door. If the production at that position behind Gronkowski continues to be lacking, keep an eye on Will Tye, who recently signed to the Patriots practice squad. He's a more experienced player than the Patriots typically keep on that 10-man unit. 

PP: It's hard to argue that they do when they have other players on the roster who either don't chip in on special teams at all (David Harris) or play a minimal role (Jacob Hollister) in the kicking game holding roster spots. At least guys like Brandon King, Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater, Marquis Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Brandon Bolden give the team productive special-teams snaps on a consistent basis. And they all have to be ready to contribute in the other phases of the game. As we've seen with players like Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi, there's a chance you're called upon to play a legitimate role either offensive or defensively in any given week. To this point, at least, both of those players have performed when asked.


TC: Very simple Wally, it’s Dr. Robert Leonard. Call 1-800-GET-HAIR if your salad is wilting. And that hair you can witness yourselves on Pregame Live and Postgame Live at 6:30 before Falcons-Patriots and immediately after.
 

TC: The Falcons defense struggled with tripping over their tongues more than anything else. That game – on rewatch – is fascinating because the Patriots didn’t struggle offensively, they just pooped themselves. They had six first-half drives. Four of them went into Atlanta territory. They had drives ended at the Atlanta 33 and 23 in the first half because of a fumble and a pick. Anyway, that doesn’t answer your question. The speed of the Falcons defense was a problem and that was at all three levels – defensive line on Pats OL, linebackers quick to swarm and help on Julian Edelman and closing speed of the safeties. To me, it’s part of the reason the team went away from a productive player they really liked in LeGarrette Blount. He just didn’t afford any two-way threat when he was on the field and a fast defense would swarm him before he could plant his foot and get upfield the way a smaller back would. So yes, the dual-threat capability of Lewis and White will be a factor. And I’m fascinated to see how the Falcons play with Edelman out and Gronk in.
 

TC: My Fine Man! Mentioned it to him in our NBCSports Boston studio recently and he shrugged a bit and didn’t really offer an answer other than that he’s still getting up before dawn and working out. He indicated that post-football life – for a player who emptied the bucket for so long every week – is interesting. He’s never actually had a “fall” to himself and his family and he enjoys it. He also misses all the things that a guy who plays into his 30s and has the success he did misses – the camaraderie, the thrill of game day and all that.

MG: Jacob, this goes all the way back to the offseason, if you ask me. No new deal, the big deal for Gilmore, the inability to work out a trade with the Saints brought Butler back to a situation he was desperate to get out of this spring. He did all the right things after that - in terms of coming to voluntary workouts and whatnot - but at some point during training camp, his play went sideways. Once it did, I think Butler struggled with his confidence, ended up losing snaps in week two at New Orleans and even now - despite the two big plays at MetLife - his play continues to be spotty. I think if Eric Rowe was healthy, Butler would be on the block. 

MG: TJ from back in the day! Give me a pass rusher, and give me one ASAP. Cassius Marsh has loads of athleticism but is struggling on the discipline front, and Hightower is not a 30 pass rush a game guy. At least I think he isn’t. Someone who can get home quick would cover up some of the sins from that back end, and we know there have been far too many to this point.

MG: Jimmy and I sat outside the TB12 facility at Patriot Place and drank beer while eating Doritos. It was glorious.

MG: See above answer. 
 

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

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 the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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File Photo

Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

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