Patriots

Is Nigel Bradham just the linebacker the Patriots need?

Is Nigel Bradham just the linebacker the Patriots need?

Before free-agency kicks off with the start of the new league year on March 14, we're answering a series of questions the Patriots could be asking themselves. On Wednesday, we hit on the tight end position and if Jimmy Graham may fit. Today we ask, is Super Bowl champ Nigel Bradham just the linebacker the Patriots need? 

We live in a world where debate is probably embraced a little too tightly, but we can agree on this: The Patriots could use a boost at linebacker.

When Dont'a Hightower went down with a season-ending pec tear last fall, the Patriots did what they could to buttress that spot, relying mostly on a combination of Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers and Patrick Chung. While that worked for a large portion of the season -- particularly in the second half -- Super Bowl LII served as a wakeup call. The Eagles ran at will, and the Patriots had trouble sticking with backs and tight ends in coverage. 

If Hightower comes back healthy, and if Van Noy and Roberts continue to improve in the system, and if Shea McClellin can give them something as an off-the-ball player. . . they may be OK. Especially since in the Patriots defense there's oftentimes only one true 'backer on the field. 

But, as NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it in his offseason overview at this spot, "what are the odds?"

Enter Bradham. Maybe.

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A three-down player, at 28, who's shown to be effective against both the run and the pass. At 6-foot-2, 241 pounds, he has good enough size, and he has experience as a play-caller if the Patriots need him in that capacity. When Philly's Jordan Hicks hit injured reserve that season, Bradham took over green-dot duties.

The issue could be cost. Bradham is considered by many to be the best off-the-ball linebacker available, and he could earn somewhere in the $6-million-$7-million range per year. (Miami's Kiko Alonso received $7.2 million per year on a four-year deal last offseason when he signed as a 26-year-old.)

Others on the market at that spot include Avery Williamson (26 years old) of the Titans, Zach Brown (28) of the Redskins, NaVarro Bowman (29) of the Raiders and Preston Brown (25) of the Bills. There's also Flowers, who came on strong late in the year for the Patriots as an athletic quarterback spy and an option to cover backs out of the backfield. He generated some interest at the NFL Scouting Combine and could have a few offers when the new league year begins next week. 

It's not a terrible class. There are options there. 

Factor in that the off-the-ball position in this year's draft class looks healthy (SI.com has eight linebackers in its top-100, headlined by four potential first-rounders), and hitching your wagons to Bradham at a position where the injury rate is what it is...may not be worth the cost.

Adding an athletic weapon in the draft -- perhaps Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch at the bottom of the first round? -- may be New England's best bet. Once upon a time, they drafted Jerod Mayo and Hightower in the first round. Jamie Collins came via a second-round selection. The time is nigh to invest in a young talent there who can cover. 

After that? Re-signing Flowers and hoping Hightower can stay healthy is a plan that feels like a better bet than spending on a veteran. 

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Wes Welker wasn't a fan of Tom Brady's hat choice on Thursday

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AP Photo

Wes Welker wasn't a fan of Tom Brady's hat choice on Thursday

Tom Brady got his first taste of preseason action on Thursday night vs. the Panthers, but the real story was his hat choice.

The Patriots quarterback made a statement with a hat that would make Cam Newton jealous:

Brady clearly thought he rocked the bold look, but his former teammate Wes Welker didn't approve. The ex-wide receiver chimed in on Twitter to remind his Kentucky Derby buddy that derby hats are for one-time use.

Although Welker wasn't a fan, maybe Brady should make the hat a season-long look. He looked nearly as sharp on the field as he did off of it going a solid 8-for-12 with 75 passing yards in his three series.

Look good, play good.

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Eric Reid anticipates a fine for late hit on Patriots tight end Ben Watson

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USA TODAY Sports

Eric Reid anticipates a fine for late hit on Patriots tight end Ben Watson

FOXBORO -- Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid says he wasn't trying to hurt Benjamin Watson when he delivered a late hit to the head of the New England Patriots tight end in the first quarter of Thursday night's preseason matchup. Regardless of intent, the hit still knocked Watson out of the game.

"Just trying to stop him from getting a first down," Reid said of the play. "I looked at the replay. Yeah, he was down. We'll see what the league decides to do with it. I anticipate myself getting a fine. But I'm just playing the game."

Reid was penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness on the play but remained in the game. He also noted the hit wasn't intentional, and that his head coach, Ron Rivera, confirmed the hit was late.

"I talked to Ron, he told me it was late," Reid said. "I'll look at the film. If Ron said it was late, I believe him."

Reid appeared to say something to Watson after the play. It turns out he was asking the veteran tight end if he was all right.

"I just asked him if he was OK, if he could stand up," Reid explained. "You hate to see somebody get hurt."

Watson called out Reid on Twitter earlier this week, but the Panthers safety said his hit Thursday night had nothing to do with the tight end's critical tweet.

"I didn't even know he tweeted me," Reid said. "That's not even something you process in a game. I'm not analyzing who has the ball in their hand and what they tweeted at me while I'm playing the game."

Reid's hit has no place in the game, especially in the preseason. Thursday's incident also wasn't the first time he's crossed the line. Reid was ejected from a game last November for hitting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the head area, and there are other instances where he went over the line in regards to late contact or hits to the head area.

Click for Tom Brady's stats, highlights from preseason debut>>>

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