Patriots

Expect Patriots to tread carefully as Lewis nears return from knee surgery

patriots-lewis-092015.jpg

Expect Patriots to tread carefully as Lewis nears return from knee surgery

FOXBORO -- Dion Lewis is reportedly set to return to the practice field this week, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, and you should expect the Patriots to move carefully as the running back edges closer to a return.

The team will have until November 16 to decide whether to activate Lewis, who tore his ACL last season against Washington on November 9. The ACL healed fine for Lewis after surgery was performed by renowned sports orthopedist, Dr. James Andrews. But knee pain that developed during the summer was found to be a patella stress fracture. That kind of injury is rare but not unheard of after ACL repairs as quadriceps flexion can put stress on a grafted area (and Lewis has giant quads). The remedy is inserting screws in the patella which was done in Lewis’ case. 

Now, with the “clock” started on Lewis’ return from the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list, determining how well he responds to the increased workload of practice and then padded practice and hitting will be the next step in determining whether he returns by the middle of next month or is put on IR.

Meanwhile, the performance of James White so far has mitigated the sting of Lewis’ absence. While Lewis’ return wouldn’t be accelerated based upon on-field need – this isn’t a “rush ‘em back”-type injury – the team has to feel a little less urgency given White’s contributions so far as a runner and receiver. White is on pace for a career year, with 27 receptions for 244 yards and three touchdowns. 

Free agent Trent Brown "would love" to re-sign with Patriots

Free agent Trent Brown "would love" to re-sign with Patriots

The New England Patriots traded for left tackle Trent Brown in a deal with the San Francisco 49ers last April, and it turned out to be one of the best moves off the entire NFL offseason.

Brown had a very good year for the Patriots, and Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-best offensive tackle in the AFC East during the 2018 season. The veteran offensive lineman was excellent in the playoffs, too, and he played a key part in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady being sacked only once in three playoff games.

Brown is eligible for unrestricted free agency in March, but he recently said on ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter's "The Road Less Traveled" podcast that he is open to returning to Foxboro.

“That’s definitely something I would love," Brown said when asked if there's any chance he comes back to New England. "But hey, we’re going to cross that bridge when we get there."

It's hard to blame him. Who wouldn't love coming back to a team that has been to three consecutive Super Bowls and won two of them?

Making the money work for both sides can be a challenge. Left tackles are highly sought after, and the Patriots (wisely) let starting left tackle Nate Solder walk in free agency last year. New England has shown a willingness not to overpay to keep free agents throughout the Bill Belichick era, but protecting Brady obviously is very important.

Brown earned a little less than $2 million in 2018 and should get a massive raise in free agency. Whether the Patriots will be the team giving him that raise remains to be seen. 

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As franchise tag window opens, potential Patriots-Flowers marriage about to get complicated?

As franchise tag window opens, potential Patriots-Flowers marriage about to get complicated?

You don't need to be Bill Belichick or Nick Caserio to see that if money were no object, retaining Trey Flowers for the foreseeable future would be in New England's best interests. 

Drafted in the fourth round in 2015, Flowers has been arguably the team's best defensive player since 2016, serving as a key component to two Super Bowl-winning defenses. He doesn't have eye-popping sack numbers (21.0 in three seasons), but he plays the edge just as the Patriots like: He's a more-than-effective run-stuffer when asked; he can maneuver up and down the line of scrimmage in passing situations to win one-on-ones with tight ends, tackles or interior linemen; and he can impact opposing offenses by running two or three-man games up front to generate pressure. He's also established himself as a leader in the locker room and handles himself off the field with the kind of quiet demeanor the Patriots seem to value. 

But, of course, money matters, and as Flowers is set to hit unrestricted free agency, there's only one card the Patriots can pull to truly ensure that he's back for 2019: the franchise tag. 

The window to tag players begins on Tuesday and ends at 4 p.m. on March 5. Based on a $190 million salary cap -- the league projected in December it would fall in that range -- the franchise tag number for a defensive end would be about $17.3 million. 

Would the Patriots ever go to those lengths to keep Flowers for next season?

If you look at the team's history of the tag, it's not something to which they've typically resorted. Since 2002, they've used it just nine times, and only three times did players play out the season on their one-year guarantee: Adam Vinatieri in 2005 (departed as a free agent the following year), Asante Samuel in 2007 (departed as a free agent the following year) and Wes Welker in 2012 (departed as a free agent the following year). The last time the Patriots used the tag was in 2015 on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who signed an extension thereafter. 

Keeping Flowers on a one-year guarantee for $17.3 million (and a $17.3 million cap hit), would give him the second-highest cap hit on the team behind only Tom Brady ($27 million), who could agree to an extension this offseason that would reduce his figure. 

The Patriots might like the idea of locking up their most consistent front-seven player for one more year to make another title run. Or the tag might be an effective way for the team to buy itself more time to eventually come to a long-term extension. But based on that $17.3 million amount -- the second-highest tag number behind only quarterbacks -- it's not unreasonable to assume the Patriots wouldn't go there, especially since the Patriots have only about $18 million in cap space at the moment. While contract restructures, releases and potential retirements would boost New England's cap space, keeping Flowers on the tag might limit what the Patriots can do to address other needs.

Even if the Patriots don't act during the tag window, what transpires around the league with the franchise tag could impact the team's ability to sign Flowers long-term. 

For instance, the defensive end free agent class is scheduled to be one of the most star-studded in recent memory. Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, Dee Ford, Demarcus Lawrence, Dante Fowler, Brandon Graham and Ziggy Ansah are all at the ends of their deals. Should a handful of those players end up getting the tag to remain with their teams, that could leave Flowers as the most attractive free agent in the class when the new league year begins. 

If the Patriots approach negotiations with Flowers in a fashion similar to those they had with Dont'a Hightower and Devin McCourty -- allowing him to go to the market to see his value, then taking the opportunity to make an offer of their own -- they may find that he's been offered something exorbitant that would be difficult to match. 

The opposite could be true as well, no doubt. If all of those ends mentioned above end up not being tagged, saturating the market with talent at that position, then Flowers' price tag could become more manageable. 

That's why what happens in the two-week tag window, starting Tuesday, is so critical to the future outlook for the Patriots defense. Even if Belichick and Caserio sit it out, if others don't, that could factor into whether or not Flowers is back.

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