Patriots

Make a splash on the edge or stick with the kids?

Make a splash on the edge or stick with the kids?

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at a position where the Patriots have plenty of bodies but an unknown number of difference-makers: Edge defender. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No position group saw greater change through training camp than Bill Belichick's group of edge players. Rob Ninkovich retired. Kony Ealy was cut. Shea McClellin and Derek Rivers had season-ending injuries. When Harvey Langi was injured in a car accident and Dont'a Hightower suffered a season-ending pectoral injury, the team was dangerously thin on the outside. The Patriots tried to fill in over the course of the season with a series of Band-Aids. Cassius Marsh got the first crack but was eventually sent packing. The Patriots plucked Eric Lee from the Bills practice squad. They signed James Harrison late. By season's end, Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise saw more pass-rush work than anyone else. Wise flashed his potential but also experienced some rookie growing pains. Flowers was really, really good in 993 snaps -- more than any Patriots defensive lineman since Ninkovich played 1,040 in 2014 - but he didn't have much in the way of consistent help on the other side. 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Hightower, Flowers, Rivers, Wise, Lee, Shea McClellin, Trevor Reilly, Harvey Langi, Geneo Grissom, Keionta Davis

WHO ISN'T?
Harrison

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


The Patriots have numbers here. But there are questions that need answering. How healthy will Hightower and McClellin be in 2018? And will they be better suited to play off the line or on the edge? What will Rivers look like after tearing his ACL? How will Wise and Langi develop? If everyone's back and they're all ready to play significant roles, is the need really all that dire? In reality, the Patriots could probably use another addition here, maybe a free agent who's a known commodity. The Patriots have plenty of lottery tickets that could hit in 2018, but adding a dependable option to play opposite Flowers would make sense.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


The two top edge defenders in free agency will be Demarcus Lawrence (25 years old) of the Cowboys and Ezekiel Ansah (28) of the Lions. The Patriots would have to be willing to commit serious money to either one. More cost-effective options would be Alex Okafor (who tore his Achilles late last season), Trent Murphy (who might be a good fit in New England's multiple fronts), Adrian Clayborn (capable against both the run and the pass), Connor Barwin (missed just two games in the last seven seasons), Jeremiah Attaochu (former second-rounder who may still have some untapped potential) and 38-year-old Julius Peppers (a potential stop-gap while young Patriots pass-rushers grow into pros). Options there. But because this isn't seen as a particularly strong draft class when it comes to edge players, there will be competition for each.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


NC State's Bradley Chubb is the early favorite to be the first edge defender off the board this spring, but he's not viewed by everyone to be a game-changing pass-rush talent. Pro Football Focus has compared him to Bills 2016 first-rounder Shaq Lawson. Behind him? Question marks abound. Marcus Davenport from Texas-San Antonio was dominant last season...but against seriously inferior competition. LSU's Arden Key may be the most talented pass-rusher available, but he left the team last spring, leading to questions about his commitment to the sport. Boston College's Harold Landry looked like a top-15 pick before last season, but he was slowed by injury in 2017, his production fell, and now so has his draft stock. Maybe the Patriots can find a physically-gifted edge-setter or pass-rusher in the middle rounds -  as they did with Flowers in 2015 - but there doesn't seem to be a ton of certainty at the top of the class here.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Because the Patriots are well-stocked with young players at this spot - Flowers, Rivers, Wise and Langi will all be 25 or younger when the 2018 season begins - snagging a reliable veteran for the rotation might be the best course of action. Would Barwin be willing to jump coasts after a year with the Rams in order to join the Patriots while Belichick's 20-somethings grow as professionals? What about Peppers? Could the Patriots coax him to leave Carolina for a one-year deal? He hasn't missed a game in 10 years, and he's missed just six total in his career. Maybe Belichick and Nick Caserio will be willing to go big here and shell out long-term dough to make sure they have both edges locked down for the foreseeable future. But with other needs to fill, and with myriad options already on the roster, it wouldn't be surprising if the team stood pat. It really all depends on how they view their youngsters. If they believe, there's little use in spending on, say, Lawrence or Ansah. If they don't, then there could be a splash coming. 

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These awesome Patriots locker room celebration videos have a common theme

These awesome Patriots locker room celebration videos have a common theme

Some locker rooms like blasting music after big victories. But the New England Patriots provided their own emotional chorus Sunday night in Kansas City.

Video cameras documented several minutes of the Patriots' raw postgame celebration after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime of the AFC Championship Game to advance to their third consecutive Super Bowl. As you'd expect, there's a wealth of awesome footage.

First, here's a look at the Patriots walking from the Arrowhead Stadium field to the locker room just moments after the win, filmed by ESPN's Jeff Darlington.

(A note: There's plenty of NSFW language here, so adjust the volume at your own peril.)

A few highlights from that video:

"They said we weren't good enough!!" -- wide receiver Phillip Dorsett

"I bet they f---ing call now." -- unidentified Patriot

"Tell them boys stop playing us!" - linebacker Kyle Van Noy

Seeing a trend there?

Yup: It sounds like the Patriots took sweet pleasure in silencing the doubters -- the ones who said Tom Brady was too old, that Kansas City's offense was too potent and that they couldn't win on the road, especially in Arrowhead Stadium.

That defiance in victory was on display during a nearly six-minute video of the Patriots' locker room celebration that made it onto YouTube.

You can watch that full video here -- be warned: it's also very NSFW -- but here's a sampling:

In this clip, the celebration turns a bit more joyous, with Brady dropping about 500 f-bombs while congratulating essentially every player on the team. But there's a reason why this victory had Brady and Co. so fired up: After an 11-5 season that included a 3-5 road record, they clearly felt some critics were writing them off.

Did the Patriots artificially magnify the voices of those haters? Perhaps. (Who really writes off Brady in January?) But the self-motivation tactic is working, as New England is playing its best football of the season at the perfect time.

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NFL investigating Tom Brady laser pointer incident in Patriots-Chiefs

NFL investigating Tom Brady laser pointer incident in Patriots-Chiefs

The NFL will do its due diligence to track down the laser pointer culprit.

KMBC reporter William Joy shared several videos Monday that appeared to show a green laser being shined near Tom Brady's face during Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

In his news report Monday night for KMBC, Joy said he received an email from an NFL spokesperson that the league is "looking into" the incident.

NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy also told the Boston Herald the NFL is "looking into the report of the laser beam" and that NFL security will lead the investigation.

The Patriots and Chiefs initially weren't aware of the incident, but a Patriots spokesman told the Herald the team now knows of the report and has "no comment."

According to Joy, the laser was shined near Brady's face on several plays, including the play following Julian Edelman's near-muffed punt. Brady threw an interception to Chiefs linebacker Daniel Sorenson on the following play.

The Patriots QB has yet to be asked about the incident, however, and appeared unaffected as he led New England on a 75-yard touchdown drive in overtime to advance the team to its third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

McCarthy told the Herald the laser pointer "didn't affect the game, as far as we know."

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