Patriots

Why LeGarrette Blount thinks Dion Lewis 'deserves a bag' this offseason

Why LeGarrette Blount thinks Dion Lewis 'deserves a bag' this offseason

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The "brain drain" the Patriots will endure this offseason, with both Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia ready to depart for head-coaching gigs, has been discussed ad nauseam. The potential talent drain has been less of a story.

The Patriots roster could look significantly different when September rolls around, as it does every year around that time, and one of the key changes could be at running back. 

Dion Lewis is coming off of the best (and healthiest) season of his career, and he has an opportunity to cash in as a free agent after this season. 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. 

One former teammate believes what Lewis did this season -- 896 yards on 180 attempts, 214 receiving yards on 32 catches, and nine total touchdowns -- should earn him a huge payday. Whether it's with the Patriots or not. 

“I’ve seen him catch the ball as well as any back in the league,” LeGarrette Blount said during the NFL's "Opening Night" on Monday. “I’ve seen him run the ball as well as any back in the league when the opportunities have presented themselves. He almost had 900 yards rushing on, I want to say, 170, 180 carries. Five yards a carry -- not that I pay attention to my dog or anything . . . But yeah, he deserves to get paid. I think whatever team he goes to, he definitely deserves a bag.”

We wrote about the "bag" Lewis could potentially receive last month. He won't see the kind of payday received by Devonta Freeman (five years, $41.2 million with $17.3 guaranteed), but he could slot in somewhere near where Latavius Murray (three years, $15 million, $3.4 million guaranteed) or teammate James White (three years, $12 million, $4.7 guaranteed) did with their new deals. 

When compared to White, Lewis is the more dynamic of the two players, but perhaps with Lewis' age and injury history, the Patriots could argue their values are similar. What happens with Rex Burkhead -- who has not been durable this season, but, like Lewis, is considered an all-purpose back -- could also impact how the Patriots view Lewis' future in New England.

Here's a list of players, aside from Lewis, who aren't yet under contract for next season . . . 

Malcolm Butler, CB, 27: It will be interesting to see how Butler's offseason plays out. 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 March 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 stop outright? We'll find out eventually. 

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 looks as effective as ever. He's tied with Steve Tasker for most Pro Bowl selections for a special teamer. 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. 

Danny Amendola, WR, 32: Nicknamed "Playoff Amendola" and "All-Weather 'Dola" by teammates, Amendola is in the middle of another incredible playoff run. He has avoided the injuries that often plagued him in his career, and he's showing why he still has tremendous value to a team at this stage in his career. The question is, might a team be out there that is watching his performances and willing to pay him this offseason more than what the Patriots might? 

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's been a big "if" this season, though. He missed six regular-season games and one playoff game this year due to injury. 

LaAdrian Waddle, OT, 26: One of the team's backup tackles, Waddle was injured in the Divisional Round against the Titans and was inactive last weekend. 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. 

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, he has more than held his own late in the season. He played all 64 snaps against the Jags and allowed one sack.

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 protector 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. 

James Harrison, LB, 39: He's already made a handful of key postseason plays, and if he has another couple left in the bag, the Patriots will gladly take them. 

Rick Jean Francois, DL, 31: More than just an owner of a couple dozen Dunkin Donuts franchises, Francois has been a force in the middle for the Patriots defense of late. Both against the run and the pass, Francois has been effective. 

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

Marquis Flowers, LB, 25: For teams looking to land versatile pieces with the ability to cover and sack the quarterback, Flowers could be their guy. 

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What was Odell Beckham Jr. telling Kyrie Irving?

odell-beckham-jr-tom-brady.jpg
AP Photo

What was Odell Beckham Jr. telling Kyrie Irving?

Admittedly, the audio is poor but the idea is no less intriguing.

Was Odell Beckham Jr. telling Kyrie Irving at NBA All-Star Weekend that he's trying to go to the Patriots? Or to Boston? Or New England? 

It's 23 seconds into the video below: 

Isaiah Houde of USA TODAY's PatriotsWire interprets it as: "You went to the Celtics and I’m trying to go to New England."

Beckham has had a few Instagram posts about Brady recently, including an exchange of rap lyrics back in December. 

🐐chasin.

A post shared by Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) on

Unless there's a trade between the Patriots and Giants, Beckham, 25, the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, won't be free to join Kyrie in New England - or was it Boston? - until the four-year deal he signed in 2014 ends after this season. Oh, and as he enters that 2019 season, Tom Brady will be 42. 

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Branch's uncertainty may lead to another big body up front

Branch's uncertainty may lead to another big body up front

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 always on the lookout for power and athleticism: interior defensive line. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


Depends on who you were watching. Malcom Brown may never live up to the impossible expectations some set for him as the team's first-round 320-pounder brought aboard immediately after Vince Wilfork left, but he put together his most consistent season as a pro and was the team's top defensive tackle. It would not be a surprise if the Patriots opted to pick up his fifth-year option for 2019. Lawrence Guy was absolutely solid as the team's other primary interior defender and ended up playing more defensive snaps than anyone not named Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy. Adam Butler, the undrafted rookie out of Vanderbilt, showed promise as an interior rusher, and Ricky Jean Francois came through with valuable contributions late in the season. Alan Branch, meanwhile, struggled to find his footing after signing a new deal last offseason, and this group struggled against the run. They allowed opponents to average 4.7 yards per carry, which was the second-worst mark in the league. Having another body inside to improve the rotation and help eat up blockers - such as Vincent Valentine, who spent the season on injured reserve - would've helped. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brown, Guy, Valentine, Butler, Branch

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENT 
Francois

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


The need here hinges on a couple factors: 1) Can Branch be a dependable option in 2018, and b) how does the team feel about Valentine's odds of becoming a regular after missing the entirety of his second season? Hard to believe the answer to that first question would be a resounding "yes." He was a healthy scratch down the stretch in the team's biggest games of the season and could be a cap casualty. The perception of Valentine is a little murkier. The Patriots should feel good about what they have in Brown and Guy, and Adam Butler showed flashes of his potential as a sub rusher. An important factor in the equation here is just how frequently Bill Belichick likes to use his edge defenders inside. Flowers has been especially effective in that regard, and Deatrich Wise the ability to beat interior offensive linemen as well. Still, the Patriots could use a player here to help bolster their big-bodied depth up front. They simply can't have another year where they're near the bottom of the league against the run. Some of that falls on linebacker play, but another competent space-eater would help. Let's put this spot at a 6 out of 10 on the Gary Tanguay Memorial "How Concerned Are You?!?" Meter.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY


A handful of big names hit the open market in March at this position. Carolina's Star Lotulelei may be the best of the bunch (even though he's coming off of a down season) and Atlanta's Dontari Poe isn't all that far behind. There are a few under-the-radar names who could be contributors even if they aren't huge names. Shamar Stephen of the Vikings, Justin Ellis of the Raiders and Bennie Logan of the Chiefs are intriguing options. From a Patriots perspective - and we've suggested this kind of move multiple times in this series - finding an accomplished veteran near the end of his career could pay dividends. Buffalo's Kyle Williams and Detroit's Haloti Ngata are both into their mid-30s, but maybe they could be coaxed into a season in New England as the No. 3 guy on the inside. We all saw just how much it meant to Williams to make the playoffs last season. He may want to ride it out in Buffalo as one of that team's unquestioned leaders, but a season playing under Belichick could be enticing. One more name: Sheldon Richardson. The Patriots are plenty familiar with the former Jets defender, and he'd be a fine on-the-field fit, with a couple of caveats. Is his head is on straight? And what's his market? His talent level and age (27) would suggest he commands big bucks. But if the market is suppressed because teams are worried about whether or not his head is screwed on correctly, does he end up being a relatively low-risk signing? Doesn't seem like someone the Patriots would gamble on, but never say never. Would he take a short-term deal to rebuild his image and then hit the market while he's still in his late-20s?

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


The name everyone will be watching, particularly at next week's combine, when his next-level athleticism will be on display for all to see, will be Vita Vea of Washington. He's 6-foot-4, 344 pounds, and he was much more than a clog-the-middle man for the Huskies. He rushed the passer. He even covered punts. He's expected to run a sub 5-second 40...and he'll be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. For a team like the Patriots that may be looking for help against the run? Alabama's Da'Ron Payne is enticing as a run-stuffer and he's a good enough athlete to potentially make some noise as an interior rusher. Michigan's Maurice Hurst and Florida's Taven Bryan have the kind of quick get-off that could make them first-round interior disrupters. One name to keep an eye on because of his rare combination of size and athleticism: Virginia Tech's Tim Settle. He's 6-3, 335 pounds, he's shown great quickness for a player with his frame, and he's only 20 years old. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


The Patriots don't have to do anything drastic here with Brown and Guy in the fold, but another dependable contributor could alter the look of their front-seven and provide a lift against the run. Players like Lotulelei and Poe - and Richardson if another team gets desperate -- could be too pricey to make Belichick and Nick Caserio bite. Williams or Ngata would be solid in the locker room and legitimate top-three options inside if healthy. And someone such as Ellis, in his fifth year out of Louisiana Tech, probably won't break the bank but could be what they need. He's played 16 games in three of his four years in the league. Settle, because he looks like a tremendous athlete with NFL size who's still growing as a player, could be tough to pass on at the end of the first if he's available. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein compares him to Vince Wilfork.