Patriots

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

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 the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Will Britt put 'dependability is more important than ability' adage to the test?

Will Britt put 'dependability is more important than ability' adage to the test?

FOXBORO -- Kenny Britt was among the most impressive Patriots during OTAs. Then, on the first day of minicamp, he pulled up lame. Hamstring. 

At the time, it wasn't considered overly serious, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss. Yet more than two months later, Britt still isn't able to participate fully in Patriots practices. 


On Sunday I asked Britt if he'd had a setback at some point between then and now. He said, "not really," which makes his inability go all-out in practice even more curious. 

“I expected to be out there,” Britt explained. “But my hamstring told me something different.”

He added: “You never know with a hamstring. One day you’ll feel good, and then it's up in the air and popping. And other days, you might feel bad and then get the fastest time you ran out there. So it’s really a feel thing, day in and day out.”

Britt has taken part in individual drills during training camp, and we've seen him work in side sessions with Tom Brady and other veteran pass-catchers. He was on the field for Sunday's workout, though we don't know the extent to which he participated. 

What we do know is that the 29-year-old (Britt turns 30 next month) has yet to participate in the more competitive 11-on-11 fully-padded practice periods, and he hasn't played in either of the team's first two preseason games. 

With every day missed, the memories of Britt's impressive spring fade ever so slightly, and an old Bill Belichick adage seems to become ever more appropriate. "Dependability is more important than ability," Belichick has told reporters on more than one occasion in the past. 

Britt didn't have the benefit of a full offseason with the Patriots when he arrived late last season. This year, after the Patriots picked up their option on his two-year deal, he had the opportunity to be in Foxboro in the weeks and months building up to the fall, but his hamstring got in the way of his progress within the offense. 

“I definitely feel like I’m behind," Britt said, "because I’m not out there with the guys, getting the chemistry that I need with the quarterbacks and just with everybody on the same page with what we do."

There may have to be some complicated calculus involved when assessing Britt's ability to contribute to the Patriots this season, particularly with a few weeks to go before cuts from 90 to 53. 

Helping Britt? Though he hasn't been participating fully this summer, he has been generally dependable over the course of his nine-year career; he's played less than 12 games just once (three in 2011). 

Working against him? His recent availability. The Patriots have done their best to approach Britt's ailment reasonably. Hamstrings, as he noted, can be finicky. It's not something that can be pushed without risking an exacerbation of the injury, and Britt made it sound as though the team has been conscious of having him advance cautiously. 

"I'm doing what they ask me to do," Britt said, "and I'm doing what I can do . . . I'll be out there when I can."

Britt has benefitted by the fact that the receiver position as a whole seems shallow for the Patriots at the moment. They'll be without Julian Edelman for the first four games of the season, and the only real certainty on the roster after that is Chris Hogan.

Britt provides the Patriots with a body type and an ability level that will be hard for them to find elsewhere. At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, there are few targets in the league with his frame and athleticism.

Though Britt's spring in New England was a reminder of his rare traits, even he can admit he needs to show his team more with just two preseason games remaining and summer winding down.

“Coming into spring, (was) focused, ready to go out there and prove myself mentally and physically,” he said. “But that was in the spring. I can’t hold onto that. Know what I mean? It is what it is. Right now, I’m just focused on trying to get back out there.”

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Aaron Hernandez's suicide notes revealed

Aaron Hernandez's suicide notes revealed

Aaron Hernandez's suicide letters to his daughter, fiancée, and lawyer were revealed in his lawyer Jose Baez's new book, "Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and FInal Days of Aaron Hernandez."

Hernandez, a Patriots tight end from 2010 to 2013, hanged himself in his prison cell on April 19, 2017. He was serving life in prison for first-degree murder.

In his letter to his daughter, Avielle Jenkins-Hernandez, he wrote about life being eternal and to never fear him:

“Daddy will never leave you! I’m entering to the timeless realm in which I can enter into any form at any time because everything that could happen or not happened I see all at once! Life is eternal—believe!!!” Hernandez wrote. “Love, repent, and see me/yourself in everyone because that’s what the truth is! I’ll see you all in the heavens awaiting you all with the same love.”

“Never fear me, but love me with all of you! Fear is the only separation between you and I! We are each other—I/you—you/me—there’s no need to fear but what you do unto another will come back around!”

To his fianceé, Shayanna Jenkins:

Shay,

You have always been my soul-mate and I want you to love life and know I’m always with you. I told you what was coming indirectly! I love you so much and know [you] are an angel. We split into two to come change the world! Your characteristic is that of a true angel and the definition of God’s love! Tell my story fully but never think anything besides how much I love you. This was the supreme almightys plan, not mine! I love you! Let Avi know how much I love her! Look after Jano and Eddie for me —they are my boys (You’re Rich).

I KNEW I LOVED YOU = SAVAGE GARDEN

NOT MUCH TIME

I’M BEING CALLED!

JOHN 3:16

I love you all equally! We are all each other! Don’t shed one tear for I am with all of you and never wasn’t! do not go back to living while worshipping false idols in which I warned you about!

IT’S TIME!!!

The Real Live Forever

According to The New York Post, Hernandez included a drawing of a thin rope dangling from a noose on the bottom of the page.

Lastly, to his lawyer Baez:

“Well, I wrote this letter following my acquittal and wanted to voice how I felt and let some people whos[e] music helped me get through hard times, know that it did. Wrong or right — who knows — I just follow my natural instincts and how it guides me. Pros or cons, didn’t weigh them, but I’m sure you’ll let me know your view."

“Besides that, I want you to know you have me forever like you never understood and time will reveal that I’m not perfect but my love and loyalty is like you’ve never seen! I appreciate all your work, time, effort, and never let that slip your mind! In time, you will see how appreciated you are, as well as all the others equally!” he continued.

“I would like to send you letters so you can send to their [the artists] information or whichever way you think best. I don’t want any media really getting into me, trying to just send my love to all the artists who got me through my tough times and sending my respect to a few of the real ones out there."

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