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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Tom Brady gives inspiring commencement address for Forman School in Connecticut

Tom Brady gives inspiring commencement address for Forman School in Connecticut

Tom Brady took time out of his Saturday to congratulate the Class of 2020 at the Forman School in Litchfield, Conn.

The former New England Patriots quarterback gave an inspiring virtual commencement address in which he implored the graduating students to embrace adversity. Brady used the coronavirus pandemic as an example of a challenge the students -- along with the rest of the world -- are learning to overcome.

“We’ve all had our difficult times overcoming different adversities and challenges that we’re facing, and this one is no different,” Brady said. “I think what you understand when you’re going through things like this is you learn from them and you make the best of them.”

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Brady also spent time talking about his own career, and the obstacles he overcame to go from the No. 199 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft to a six-time Super Bowl champion and arguably the greatest QB of all time. The 42-year-old stressed the importance of putting 100 percent effort into everything one hopes to accomplish in life.

“Your future is going to be what you make of it,” Brady said. “Because you ‘re not going to be able to rely on people to do things for you. That’s not the way life is. If you want to be great at something, you’re going to have to put all your commitment and effort and discipline into doing just that.”

Click the link in the tweet below to watch Brady's full commencement address:

Now that's a speech the Forman School Class of 2020 will never forget.

NFL Rumors: Cam Newton, Patriots had discussions in free agency

NFL Rumors: Cam Newton, Patriots had discussions in free agency

There's been a lot of smoke surrounding Cam Newton and the New England Patriots.

Apparently there was some fire earlier this offseason.

Here's ESPN's Jeremy Fowler in a report Saturday on the free-agent quarterback, who is expected to take his time before signing with a team:

League sources believe Newton and the New England Patriots talked early during his free agency but nothing materialized.

The Patriots seemed like a potential fit for Newton in late March after Tom Brady left New England to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Carolina Panthers released Newton after his injury-riddled 2019 campaign, but the 31-year-old still is a three-time Pro Bowler and former NFL MVP who boasts the experience that presumptive starter Jarrett Stidham lacks.

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According to Fowler, the Patriots had at least some level of interest in signing Newton before seemingly moving on. Newton likely would have had to take a massive pay cut to play in New England after making $16.7 million with the Panthers last season, as the Patriots had very little cap space prior to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Fowler suggested Newton may wait until teams resume "regular activity" amid the coronavirus pandemic before meeting with clubs in person.

If the Patriots already talked to Newton, it's unlikely they'd again consider signing him later this offseason -- although the oddsmakers still beg to differ.