Prototypical Patriots: King's agility, toughness seem ideal for slot role

Prototypical Patriots: King's agility, toughness seem ideal for slot role

The Patriots may soon find themselves back in the cornerback market even after adding free-agent cover man Stephon Gilmore this offseason.

There's no guarantee that Malcolm Butler will be in the fold in New England in 2017, and even if he is, it's safe to say that no team -- no matter how flush with cover men they may be -- will turn its nose up at a good player at the position. It's simply too important. 


This year's draft class is loaded with talented corners, which means that Bill Belichick and his staff could watch a first-round player slip deep into the second round or later. If that's the case, they may make a move to add to a group that already features Gilmore, Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and special teams standout Jonathan Jones.

What do the Patriots typically like to draft at cornerback? They have a track record of grabbing great athletes with sound footwork who are willing tacklers. If you have experience playing man-to-man as well as zone, that's a plus. If you can play inside and out, that will also earn you points. Of course, production in big-time conference and special teams ability won't hurt you either.

There are so many draftable corners in this year's class that we've broken them up into two groups: Those who look like they'd be better fits primarily in the slot with the Patriots, and those who look like they could handle responsibilities outside the numbers for Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. 

We handled the outside guys yesterday, and today we'll provide you with some names who could make their livings inside.

This is the fourth installment of a 12-part pre-draft series where we're looking into Prototypical Patriots at a variety of positions. To catch up on our first few cracks at this, head here for boundary cornershere for linebackers and here for safeties.

Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado, 6-feet, 202 pounds: Awuzie could conceivably play just about anywhere in the secondary, but the slot may be where he settles. An explosive athlete (third-best broad jump among all defensive backs at this year's combine) with the quickness and agility to plaster good route-runners on the inside (6.81-second three-cone, 4.14-second 20-yard shuttle), he has experience both inside and out. The Patriots might be turned off by his inconsistencies as a tackler (33 missed tackles in three years, according to Pro Football Focus) -- which almost forced his name off this list -- but they would appreciate his position flexibility and his aggressive style of play. As a blitzer from the inside, he had eight sacks, six hits and 17 hurries over the last two seasons, per PFF. 

Desmond King, Iowa, 5-foot-10, 201 pounds: King seems to be among the best nickel fits for the Patriots given his agility (third-best three-cone for defensive backs at this year's combine), lateral movement (top-15 in the shuttles), instincts (14 picks in the last three years) and tackling ability (11 missed tackles in 176 solo attempts). A four-year starter in coach Kirk Ferentz's program, he held quarterbacks to a rating of below 50.0 in each of the last two seasons, and PFF compares his game to Logan Ryan's. King plays with an edge that should serve him well inside, though he may have to dial back the attitude a touch in New England. He picked up 11 penalties over the last two seasons, including five personal fouls, per King received extensive experience as a returner in college.

Jourdan Lewis, Michigan, 5-foot-10, 188 pounds: Identified as someone who could handle slot duties thanks to his tackling (missed 13 tackles of 114 attempts in three years, per PFF), his eagerness to play the run, and his ball skills (six picks, 28 pass breakups in three seasons), Lewis could find himself knocked off New England's draft board completely after being charged with one misdemeanor count of domestic violence stemming from an alleged incident in March with his then-girlfriend. Lewis pleaded not guilty, and the case is scheduled to go to trial July 10. Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft has been staunchly opposed to drafting players who have a record of violence against women.

Johnathan Ford, Auburn, 5-foot-11, 205 pounds: Ford has the length (30-inch arms) and strength (20 reps of 225 pounds) to sort through crowds near the line of scrimmage and stop ball-carriers in their tracks. Combine his thirst for contact with his speed (4.34-second 40-yard dash at his pro day), and he looks like an immediate contributor on special teams. A three-year starter and versatile option in Auburn's secondary, he played some safety in addition to his responsibilities in the slot. He also helped return kicks as well as cover them for the Tigers.

Jalen Myrick, Minnesota, 5-foot-10, 200 pounds: A solidly-built corner who can disrupt timing of bigger players at the line of scrimmage, Myrick can also turn and run with burners. He had the second-best 40-yard dash of any player at this year's combine (4.28 seconds) and checks most other boxes in terms of the athleticism that the Patriots like at the position (37.5-inch vertical, 4.22-second 20-yard shuttle, 7.06 three-cone). Myrick's tackling isn't thought to be outstanding, but his physical profile and his special-teams potential may be worth a flier in the later rounds. 

Xavier Coleman, Portland State, 5-foot-10, 189 pounds: This small-school prospect put up some impressive testing numbers at his pro day (4.50-second 40, 40-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump, 6.85-second three-cone at his pro day) that could put him on some team's radar as a late-round selection or a priority free agent. Coleman, a team captain who was named a first-team All-Big Sky honoree last season, underwent open-heart surgery in high school.

Patriots cap space explosion could complicate things with Cam Newton

Patriots cap space explosion could complicate things with Cam Newton

The Patriots care about locker room dynamics. They pay attention to the way in which the contractual hierarchy is structured.

That's why their newfound cap space might force a conversation with Cam Newton.

As part of the newly amended collective bargaining agreement, signed on Monday night, it was determined that 2020 cap hits for players who opt out would be kicked down the road to 2021. That includes the prorated portions of signing bonuses that have already been paid out. 

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That late adjustment to the CBA freed up additional cap space for all teams with players who a) opted out and b) had prorated signing bonus amounts count against the 2020 cap.

For example, as Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan points out, the amount the Patriots saved on Dont'a Hightower changed with this week's adjustment. Previously, his opt-out saved the Patriots $7.85 million. Now, with the prorated portion of his signing bonus adding to that number, his opt-out saves the Patriots $10.35 million. 

In all, the Patriots now have over $35 million in cap space. It wasn't all that long ago that the team hovered under $1 million

So what do they do with their money now?

They could choose to spend in order to buttress the positions that just saw players leave: linebacker, safety, offensive tackle, tight end. They could add to a position group, like the interior of the defensive line, that could benefit from some depth. 

There are talented players available. Marcel Dareus is hanging around and could strengthen New England's defensive line by complementing Lawrence Guy, Beau Allen and Adam Butler.

Jadeveon Clowney, Clay Matthews, Jabaal Sheard and Everson Griffin are available to man the edge of someone's defense. Eric Reid and Tony Jefferson are still available at safety.

Demar Dotson (formerly of the Bucs), Cordy Glenn (Bengals), Jordan Mills (Cardinals), Greg Robinson (Browns) and LaAdrian Waddle (Bills) are around if the Patriots are looking for a Marcus Cannon replacement to come from outside the organization.

Delanie Walker or Ed Dickson (who played with Newton from 2014-2017 as a member of the Panthers) are free-agent veterans at tight end

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But if the Patriots spend a significant chunk of change on any of them, they might have to adjust the contract of the man who looks like the favorite to be their starting quarterback in 2020. 

Newton signed for the veteran minimum on an incentive-laden deal that could grow to more than $7 million. Still, it's a veteran minimum deal. How would it sit with Newton if the team gave Dotson or Walker a few million to help them fill a role that suddenly needs filling? What would that do to locker room dynamics? 

The Patriots could choose to take all the cap space they've been afforded and hold onto it. They may need to make more in-season signings than usual due to COVID. There's enough uncertainty these days that prudence might be the best course of action. Then they could roll over that cap space to 2021 and — even though the cap will be reduced and could drop as low as $175 million from almost $200 million this year — be real players in the free-agent market when other teams have to slash payroll just to become cap compliant. 

But if they don't take that route, if they add veterans to their team by using real money, that could spur action with the man who could be shouldering quite a bit of offensive pressure as the Patriots play out their first season of the post-Tom Brady era. Even if they don't add pieces — unless they tell Newton they have to hold onto their cap space because these are uncertain times — Newton might have an argument to be given a bump in pay.

For Newton, the conversation might start with somehow turning those incentive dollars into guarantees. After all, Marcus Mariota is getting more than $7 million to be the backup in Vegas. Teddy Bridgewater picked up $7 million from the Saints as he tried to get his career back on track. Should Newton not be afforded at least the same amount as the most accomplished of that quarterback-revival-tour trio?

The Patriots couldn't give Newton that kind of deal when they signed him. They were up against it with the cap. But after all these opt-outs, that's no longer the case.

And while that means they're afforded the opportunity to add talent to their locker room, it also might mean they have to revisit the contract of the player who looks like the favorite to man their most important position.

What impressed LeSean McCoy the most about Tom Brady at first Bucs practice

What impressed LeSean McCoy the most about Tom Brady at first Bucs practice

LeSean McCoy has played 11 NFL seasons with three different teams and just won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the veteran running back had never played with a six-time Super Bowl champion before hitting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice field with Tom Brady on Tuesday.

Needless to say, McCoy found out pretty quickly what separates the former New England Patriots quarterback from his peers.

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"I've scrimmaged Tom in the past. We're pretty cool," McCoy told reporters Tuesday after officially signing with the Bucs earlier in the day. " ... But to actually see him work, I mean, he's like a general leading the troops, teaching them what he wants in the routes, things like that."

Brady threw passes to McCoy, tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Mike Evans and other Bucs skill players during Tuesday's session. According to McCoy, the 43-year-old QB turned some heads on the practice field with his high level of play.

"He looked real good," McCoy said. "As he was throwing the ball, I heard a couple of guys whisper, 'Dang, how many years do you think he'll play?' That's how good he looked. Seriously."

While we shouldn't put too much stock in a throwing session without defenders, McCoy also seemed impressed by how Brady carried himself.

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"Me and Gronk talked about it: His will to win, his will to go out there and keep doing it -- once you see a guy like that display that attitude, you want to be a part of it," McCoy said. "He looked good today, in good shape. Threw the ball very well. He's like a coach with a helmet on."

That assessment shouldn't surprise Patriots fans who saw Brady lead New England to nine Super Bowl appearances over 20 seasons. It's also a big reason why McCoy says he's in Tampa Bay despite considering a reunion with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this offseason.

"I mean, come on. I'm in Tampa, nice weather, playing with Tom Brady. How can you beat that?"