Patriots

Prototypical Patriots: Powerful defensive tackles from the SEC abound

Prototypical Patriots: Powerful defensive tackles from the SEC abound

For over a year now, Jerod Mayo has taken to our Quick Slants set and told anyone who will listen that the Patriots don't really play a 3-4 or a 4-3 anymore.

PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW

The best way to describe what they do with their front-seven is as a "2-5," Mayo says, meaning the team has five athletic pieces -- interchangeable pieces, at times -- surrounding a pair of beefy space-eaters. 

Last season it was Alan Branch and Malcom Brown who saw the majority of the time in the middle, with rookie Vincent Valentine working his way into the rotation at times. In 2015, Akiem Hicks was in the tackle equation as was Sealver Siliga. In 2014, Vince Wilfork was critical mass on the interior.

What do they all have in common? All are at least 320 pounds, and Brown and Valentine -- New England's two most recent draft picks at the position -- are listed at that exact number. All have the capability to anchor down, two-gap, and funnel plays to their teammates behind them. 

The Patriots have dipped into the pool of lighter penetrating tackles in the past, with 2014 first-rounder Dominique Easley being the most obvious example. But Easley, for a variety of reasons, is now playing elsewhere. Same goes for last year's training-camp darling Anthony Johnson. 

With defensive ends on last year's roster who could rush from the interior like Trey Flowers and Jabaal Sheard, the need for the smaller, penetrating tackles seemed superfluous. Flowers was a revelation inside, turning himself into one of the most productive interior rushers in the league during the second half of last season. 

Who knows? Maybe because some of the depth at defensive end has thinned this offseason the Patriots will be back in the market for a pass-rushing tackle to help lighten the load. Or maybe free-agent addition Lawrence Guy (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) is that guy.

In general, though, when looking for interior defensive linemen who can make an impact on first and second down the motto for the Patriots seems to be "the bigger, the better."

There are plenty of big bodies in this year's draft class to choose from, and below are a handful who seem like the fits for what Bill Belichick wants in New England.

This is the fifth 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 slot cornershere for linebackers, and here for safeties.

Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama, 6-foot-3, 310 pounds: One of several Nick Saban pupils who will make their way to the NFL at the end of the month, Tomlinson is one of the best run defenders in the class and showed an improved ability to get to the quarterback last season. His long arms (33.5 inches) help him hold his ground on the interior and play bigger than his size. He doesn't reach the 320-pound threshold mentioned above, but his playing strength should allow him to hold up against double-teams at the next level. If the Patriots don't make their first pick until the third round at No. 72 overall, Tomlinson may still be there for them. 

Jaleel Johnson, Iowa, 6-foot-3, 316 pounds: Explosive off the line of scrimmage and in possession of a motor that never stops running, Johnson embarrassed interior offensive linemen for coach on his way to quarterbacks. He had eight sacks and 27 quarterback hurries last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Though he looks too eager to get up the field at times, he may be able to be coached into a more versatile three-down player who can two-gap on first and second downs and then tear up the field in passing situations. Brown learned to temper his instincts to get into opposing backfields on a snap-to-snap basis during his rookie season, and maybe Johnson, who played under Belichick's friend Kirk Ferentz, could do the same.

DJ Jones, Ole Miss, 6-foot-1, 319 pounds: Speaking of Brown -- the No. 32 overall pick in 2015 -- here's a player whose physical profile matches extremely closely to his. Brown entered the draft at 6-foot-2, 319 pounds with arms the same length as Jones' (32.5 inches) and hands a quarter-inch smaller than Jones' (10.25 inches). Their testing numbers are scary similar. Here's what Jones did at the combine (with Brown's combine numbers in parentheses): 5.04-second 40 (5.05), 25 bench reps (26), 28.5-inch vertical (29.5), 108-inch broad jump (98), 7.73-second three-cone (7.84), 4.65 20-yard shuttle (4.59). Jones' 40-yard dash, vertical and broad jump were better than those Vince Wilfork (6-foot-1, 323 pounds, 32.5-inch arms) posted at the combine in 2004, while Wilfork had a better three-cone, 20-yard shuttle and bench. Jones is projected to be a later-round selection because he wasn't as productive as perhaps he should have been (two sacks, three tackles for loss last season), but his combination of size and athleticism could make him an intriguing fit for the Patriots interior on Day 2 or 3. 

Josh Augusta, Missouri, 6-foot-4, 347 pounds: While speaking about Branch last season, Belichick famously said, "Guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is, I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find." Augusta wasn't even considered a starter during his last season at Missouri, but his unique size and quick feet (he was used as a fullback at times by the Tigers) might make him worthy of a selection late on draft weekend. He weighed closer to 400 pounds last fall, but according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was diagnosed with a thyroid issue in January but has shed weight since, which helped him post a 5.12-second 40 time (which some had clocked as a sub-5.0 time), a 28.5-inch vertical, a 108-inch broad jump and a 7.9-second three-cone at his pro day. Though he only played about 50 percent of his team's snaps the last two seasons, guys like him don't grow on trees. Branch, 32, signed a two-year extension this offseason.

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, USC, 6-foot-1, 331 pounds: As strong and difficult to move as any defensive tackle in this draft class, whichever team takes him will have to be OK with the fact that they'll get very little from him as a pass-rusher. But as a two-gapping tackle on first and second-down? Someone with good balance who can easily shed single-blocks and make plays on running backs looking for daylight? You could do much worse than Tu'ikolovatu late. 

Josh Tupou, Colorado, 6-foot-3, 353 pounds: Another lane-clogger on the interior, Tupou had solid production last season (45 tackles, four tackles for loss) and he's shown he has the size and strength to be able to anchor against linemen at the next level. Athletically he's limited, but for a sixth or seventh-round selection, picking up a first and second-down specialist with his size might have some appeal. After being charged with assault following a fight at a house party, Tupou sat out the 2015 season.

Jarron Jones, Notre Dame, 6-foot-6, 316 pounds: Jones has great length (35.5-inch arms) and could play a variety of positions along the defensive line, but according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, "scouts consider him unmotivated and question his football character." If you don't enjoy football and aren't prepared for the grind in New England, you won't last long -- and you might not even be on the Patriots' board. If he's misunderstood, that's something Irish coach Brian Kelly could explain to Belichick. Washington's Elijah Qualls (6-foot-1, 313) is another defensive tackle prospect with enticing physical ability who is thought be a boom-or-bust player, per Zierlein.

NFL opt outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps officially began Tuesday, but there were some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Six New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (Aug. 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (Aug. 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (Aug. 2)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB CJ Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)

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.