Who'll give Patriots a lift?

Who'll give Patriots a lift?

The NFL trade deadline is nearly upon us, and the question is: Life Post-54, where can the Patriots find LB help at the deadline?

MIKE GIARDI: First, let's start with the teams that suck on wheat, rye and pumpernickel: San Fran. Cleveland. Indy. The New York Giants. All of those teams are having dumpster-fire seasons. The Browns are the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked. The Colts aren't too far behind despite good buddy Jacoby Brissett trying to lead them. The Giants were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender and their GM just said they bought into the hype. And the 49ers are trying to remake their entire culture. That will take time -- and a QB. The Niners have Aaron Lynch as a possible edge guy who might make sense in New England. No sex appeal, but a sound player. Indy has former Patriot Jon Bostic (more inside than out). He never got the system when he was here, but it wouldn't be foreign to him. Also not sexy. Jamie Collins anyone?? I kid,I kid. Jason Pierre-Paul would be all you could ever want and more, but he just signed a big money extension during the offseason. As much as I'd love to see him coming after opposing QBs, that ain't happening either. You've also got another former Pat in the Big Apple (actually Jersey, but work with me): Jonathan Casillas. A leader. High energy, Decent player. None of this doing much for ya? Me, either. Okay, what about teams that Belichick has done business with, especially lately? Tampa. They're still in the mix for a playoff spot. Ditto for Detroit, although that season may be going sideways again. I won't steal Phil Perry's thunder but I think there might be a guy in Motown he's got a good vibe for. SENATOR! The floor is yours . . . 

OTHER TRADE QUESTIONSWill Malcolm Butler be this year's Jamie Collins? | Will Pats trade Jimmy Garoppolo?Will Larry Fitzgerald pipe dream become a reality?

PHIL PERRY: Could I interest you in a Ziggy? Hear me out. With Hightower unavailable, I believe the Patriots are actually more in need of a pass rusher than they are a linebacker. They have Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and David Harris in the mix off the line. Shea McClellin seems to be on his way. Off the edge, they could use a boost. That's where Lions pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah comes in. He's in the final year of his deal. He's had a down season coming off a down 2016, during which he was slowed by injury. He's only a year-plus removed from a 14.5-sack season but would the Lions be willing to deal him? When asked recently about the 6-foot-5, 270-pound former No. 5 overall pick, coach Jim Caldwell provided a relatively passionless defense. (Though, who knows, that may be the heat of 1,000 suns for him.) Ansah is still starting in Detroit but he's only playing about 50 percent of the snaps. The Lions have someone named Nevin Lawson starting for them at corner and they just gave up 52 points in a loss to the Saints. Any chance former Patriots director of pro personnel Bob Quinn would be interested in giving up on Ansah if it meant a reunion with Malcolm Butler?

If that's off the table, here are a couple more edge defenders in the final years of their deals the Patriots may find interesting: Erik Walden is on a one-year deal in Tennessee, playing for former Patriots director of college scouting Jon Robinson. He's been used to rush and cover, and he had some decent performances against New England as a member of the Colts in years past. And what about Sam Acho of the Bears? Another outside linebacker who has been used to rush and cover. He's played about 40 percent of his team's snaps. And that's another team that's executed deals with the Patriots in the past.

Tom, any of this making sense to you? Or should we just expect them to roll with what they have?

TOM E. CURRAN: You guys are making tons of sense, but the 30,000-foot view of the Patriots roster keeps chewing at my brain. The team had four draft choices in 2017. In 2016, there were nine and two of them -- Brissett and Kamu Grugier-Hill -- are gone, while Malcolm Mitchell and Cyrus Jones are on IR. The Pats haven't had a first-round pick in the last two years and the only time they selected in the top 20 this decade was when they took Nate Solder in 2011. They project to have eight selections in 2018 and -- if they make deals for picks as opposed to players with someone like James Bartholomew Garoppolo -- then they can get up into that first round, perhaps. As much as the Patriots might want to satisfy the short-term need of a pass rush with a player like Ziggy, Walden or Acho, would the team be better this year shipping someone like Butler for more heat up front? (I know you're just spitballing . . . ) Or would they need to give up picks? Certainly, a sixth-rounder for somebody like Ansah or Acho would be an easy-to-make trade, but as I look at the depth of the Patriots roster and see how they looked at times during the preseason, I get the feeling this roster is built on a fault line.

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.