One and done: Adrian Clayborn release frees up $4 million in cap space

One and done: Adrian Clayborn release frees up $4 million in cap space

The Adrian Clayborn experiment never seemed to work out quite as planned. On Friday the team parted ways with the edge defender after a one-year marriage, freeing up about $4 million in salary cap space.

Clayborn was signed as a sub-rusher, someone who was going to have an opportunity to pin his ears back and get after quarterbacks in obvious passing situations. And that's what he did. Almost 90 percent of his 410 snaps (88.5) last season came as a pass-rusher.

There were bright spots. Against Green Bay in Week 9, Clayborn recorded a sack and three hurries, helping to frustrate Aaron Rodgers into bad decisions and wasted downs. He worked games efficiently with his teammates along the defensive line late in the season, particularly in the Divisional Round matchup against the Chargers, where he was in on a sack, recorded two hits and had two more pressures.

By season's end, Clayborn was viewed as one of the most productive pass-rushers in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Coming off the right side almost exclusively (he just had two rushes off the left) he had 39 total pressures on 255 pass-rush snaps. That gave him a PFF pass-rush productivity mark of 11.7, which was fifth in the NFL.

Yet, Clayborn's adjustment to the scheme in New England was far from seamless. He occasionally took himself out of plays by running by quarterbacks and opening up scramble lanes. Still, the coaching staff appreciated his all-business approach and his diligence in trying to execute his role as they wanted.

"Of all the guys we've had come in over the years from other places, that transition is always difficult. It's never easy," former defensive line coach Brendan Daly said mid-season. "Particularly for veteran guys that have been at other places. For whatever reason it may be. It's never easy.

"I would say he's done as good a job as anybody we've had in making that transition. He is a high-character guy. He's willing to do whatever it is he's asked to do. He jumps in. He asks great questions. He's been a lot of fun to have."

Clayborn was set to make $3.5 million in base salary after signing a two-year deal with the Patriots last offseason. His cap charge was scheduled to be almost $6 million. His release will lop $2 million in dead cap to the team's overall cap picture, but the Patriots will save $3.94 million in cap space that can be spent elsewhere.

For someone who was a healthy scratch in the last two weeks of the regular season as the Patriots turned things around to hit the postseason with some momentum, a $6 million cap hit seemed pricey.

Clayborn ceded work to defensive ends Derek Rivers (one sack, two hurries in 16 snaps in Week 17) and Ufomba Kamalu (two hurries in 21 snaps in Weeks 16 and 17) late in the regular season but came back in the playoffs to play 92 snaps, including 26 in the Super Bowl.

With Clayborn no longer in the mix, that would seem to open up an opportunity for Rivers in a sub-rusher role; 81 percent of his snaps in 2018 came as a pass-rusher. Rivers and Kamalu give the Patriots some value in the kicking game as well, something Clayborn didn't provide.

With Trey Flowers also out of the rotation, the edge defenders on the Patriots roster as currently constituted include Michael Bennett, John Simon, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Rivers and Kamalu.

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Why Cam Newton is so excited about 'surreal' opportunity with Patriots

Why Cam Newton is so excited about 'surreal' opportunity with Patriots

Cam Newton didn't particularly enjoy going unsigned for four months in free agency. But he seems very pleased with where he finally landed.

During his first video conference with reporters since signing with the Patriots last month, Newton shared his first impression of New England. Surprise: it was a positive one.

"I was just blown away by the overall professionalism of the Patriots organization, starting with Robert Kraft, with Coach (Bill) Belichick as well as with (offensive coordinator) Coach Josh (McDaniels)," Newton said. "I do know I was in L.A. (when the Patriots called me) and it kind of caught me by surprise. But at the same time, I enjoyed this whole process."

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Newton has massive shoes to fill after Tom Brady led New England to nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships over the last two decades. He also has a chip on his shoulder playing on a bargain contract with the Patriots after 31 other teams wrote him off this spring due to potential injury concerns.

For all of Newton's confidence in his ability to silence his critics, though, the 31-year-old still finds himself marveling at where he ended up.

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"I'm still constantly -- I don't want to say in disbelief, but it's just a surreal moment," Newton said. "Nobody really knows how excited I am just to be a part of this organization in (more) ways than one.

"Following up such a powerful dynasty that has so much prestige and lineage of success -- a lot of people would hide from the notion to do certain things, but for me, I think this opportunity is something that I wake up pinching myself each and every day."

Newton has spent about a week at his new workplace as the Patriots continue Phase 1 of training camp at Gillette Stadium. And as he alluded to on Instagram last week, he's fired up about simply pulling into the parking lot.

"It's so surreal coming down 1 Patriot Place each and every day and seeing the whole ambience," Newton added. "Not only that, but seeing so much support around the city of Boston and Foxboro. It's just such a great environment."

Newton is a nine-year NFL veteran with three Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl appearance under his belt, but like his Patriots predecessor, a change in scenery appears to be giving him new life.

Bill Belichick confident in Patriots' safety protocols despite opt-outs

Bill Belichick confident in Patriots' safety protocols despite opt-outs

The New England Patriots already have had eight players opt out of the 2020 NFL season, and few would blame Bill Belichick -- the oldest head coach in the league at 68 -- if he made a similar decision.

So, did concerns about COVID-19 lead Belichick to consider not coaching in 2020? It doesn't appear so.

"I feel very good about the environment that we're in," Belichick said Friday in a video conference with reporters. "I feel fine."

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Belichick also confirmed no coaches on his staff have backed out of the 2020 season.

The Patriots are in the "acclimation period" of training camp, with players going through non-padded walk-throughs outside Gillette Stadium as they ramp up for their first padded practice on Aug. 17.

According to Belichick, the players and staff in the building feel confident in their safety so far.

"I can't speak for everybody, but I think my impression is that as an organization, as a coaching staff, the support people, the players -- there's a comfort level with what we're doing and who's doing it and how we're doing it, and we're being productive," Belichick said.

"So, if concerns or problems come up, then we'll address those. But right now, I think it's a good working environment. We're getting a lot done."

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The Patriots, like every other team, have to follow rigorous safety protocols that include frequent COVID-19 tests, temperature checks and physical distancing measures. That "new normal" will take some getting used to, but Belichick believes the protocols have helped create an environment that coaches and staff feel safe in.

"The organization has taken a lot of steps to ensure everyone's safety and opportunity to do their job and do it safely and do it productively," Belichick said. 

"Certainly there's a lot of responsibility on each one of us to do things in a way that doesn't affect others negatively, that we take the proper precautions that we can and should, so that's what we're doing."