Patriots

Slots getting paid: Which remaining free-agent receivers make sense for Patriots?

Slots getting paid: Which remaining free-agent receivers make sense for Patriots?

The moves came quickly on the first day of the legal tampering period. Danny Amendola signed a deal with the Detroit Lions. Jamison Crowder agreed to terms with the New York Jets. Adam Humphries, reportedly pursued by the Patriots, ended up coming to terms on a deal with the Tennessee Titans.

Just like that, some of the best slot-receiver options on the free-agent market were off the board. 

The Patriots could certainly be in the market for an interior weapon in the passing game -- someone who might allow Julian Edelman to play more on the outside and avoid the punishment of playing between the numbers on a snap-to-snap basis -- but who's available?

There are a variety of receivers available in free agency, including boundary players like Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon, Donte Moncrief and John Brown. And the Patriots could use a variety of receivers to help fill out their depth chart around Edelman. But let's look specifically at some of the names who could end up helping the Patriots in the slot . . . 

Golden Tate, 30, 70.2 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018 

Tate came into free agency as the biggest name available. He remains that way through one day of legal tampering. Perhaps sensing his market wasn't where he wanted it to be, tweeted a Pro Football Focus graphic Monday that highlighted his ability to create yards after the catch. Though he's headed into his age 31 season, Tate still has the ability to play both outside and inside. He also has experience as a punt-returner, which could free Edelman from those responsibilities. One would think that given the deals issued to Crowder ($9.5 million annually on average) and Humphries ($9 million), that Tate would fall into that range as well. Tate is older than those players, though, so might teams be looking to offer him something that would split the difference between those salaries and the one Amendola will receive ($4.5 million) from the Lions? Spotrac.com doesn't think so. Based on its calculations, Tate could land a three-year deal worth about $10.2 million annually. Tate indicated he'd like to catch passes from Tom Brady earlier this offseason.

Randall Cobb, 28, 87.9 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018 

Cobb has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, but he understands leverage and knows how to operate among the safeties and linebackers who occupy the middle of the field. He's also accustomed to working with a demanding quarterback, which might make a potential transition to New England a little smoother than it would be for others. Cobb likely won't command as much as Tate considering he played in just nine games last season, but Spotrac has his market value estimated at two years and about $8 million per year. Cobb will be 29 when the 2019 season begins.

*Cole Beasley, 29, 88.3 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018

Only three players in the NFL ran more routes from the slot than Beasley did last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Beasley has similar per-game numbers when compared to Cobb (10.3 yards per catch, 4.1 catches per game, 42.0 yards per game), but he's been more durable of late. While Cobb has missed 11 games the last three years, Beasley has missed one game since the start of 2014. Would he see a contract offer in a range similar to the one Spotrac projected for Cobb? Beasley will be 30 when the 2019 season begins.

*UPDATE: Beasley is headed to Buffalo on a four-year deal.

Jermaine Kearse, 29, 77.5 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018

The former Seahawks and Jets wideout is two years removed from a career year in which he had 65 grabs on 102 targets for 810 yards and five touchdowns. Kearse's pace slowed significantly last year, as he caught 37 passes for 371 yards with rookie Sam Darnold under center in New York. In five career games against the Patriots, Kearse has 20 catches for 275 yards, including a 45-yard effort for Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

*Tyrell Williams, 27, 40.7 percent of snaps in the slot in 2018

Williams won't be classified as a slot receiver by anyone, but he has the ability to play inside and was used there relatively frequently by the Chargers last season. Though Williams is more of an outside-the-numbers threat, if it's versatility the Patriots are seeking then he could be worth an offer. According to Spotrac, Williams is looking like one of the most valuable receivers remaining in free agency, and he could be looking at a three-year deal for $9.6 million. Williams caught 41 passes last year for 653 yards and five scores. He reeled in five catches for 94 yards in last year's Divisional Round game against the Patriots. 

UPDATE: Williams is headed to Oakland on a four-year deal.

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Bill Belichick shares amusing story about Rob Gronkowski after he makes NFL's All-Time team

Bill Belichick shares amusing story about Rob Gronkowski after he makes NFL's All-Time team

The New England Patriots selected Rob Gronkowski in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Little did they know that at the time that he would go on to become arguably the greatest tight end ever.

Over the course of his nine-year career with the Patriots, Gronkowski recorded 521 catches for 7,861 yards and a whopping 80 total touchdowns. He established himself as one of the best pass-catchers in the league and for a time, it seemed impossible for opposing defenses to tackle him.

Gronkowski is a shoo-in to be nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and was named to the NFL's All-Time team on Friday night. However, despite these honors, it wasn't always certain that he would be a success.

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As Bill Belichick detailed on the All-Time team special, Gronkowski was more of a "shot in the dark" than anything else, especially after a comically bad pre-draft visit.

"Rob was kind of a shot in the dark," Belichick said. "He came up on his pre-draft visit and had a bad visit. We put him in a room. Came back. He was asleep on the floor. He didn't make a very good impression."

Here's a look at Belichick's full story, via the NFL's official Twitter account.

Despite this, Belichick and the Patriots liked Gronkowski's skill set enough to trade up and select him in the second round of the draft. And it's safe to say that the decision paid off, as Gronk helped them to win three Super Bowls.

Gronkowski wasn't the only member of the Patriots to join the NFL's All-Time team on Friday. Offensive lineman John Hannah made the cut as well.

Hannah, a Hall of Famer, played in 183 games (all starts) at the guard position over the course of 13 years with the Patriots. He made seven All-Pro first-teams and nine Pro Bowls during his career.

Could trick-shot kicker return to Patriots in 2020 after practice squad release?

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USA TODAY Sports

Could trick-shot kicker return to Patriots in 2020 after practice squad release?

FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots' rare instability at kicker has forced them to get creative.

The Patriots raised a few eyebrows Wednesday by signing Josh Gable -- a "YouTube star" with no college football kicking experience best known for his trick shot videos -- to their practice squad.

Gable's tenure in New England was short-lived, as the Patriots released him Friday.

So, why use a practice squad spot on a kicker only to cut him two days later?

"We had a spot available on the practice squad, and it gave us an opportunity to look at a younger kicker," head coach Bill Belichick said Friday.

" ... Rather than just (have him) come in and do a workout, we were actually able to (have him) kick with the team and put him on the practice squad for a couple days."

Belichick said the Patriots have no plans to move away from Nick Folk as their starting kicker this season. 

But getting Gable in for essentially a multi-day tryout allowed New England to explore a potential kicking option for 2020.

"We'll worry about that next year," Belichick said. " ... Put that in the bank, and maybe it comes up later on at some point in time down the road. Maybe it doesn’t. I’m not sure."

Such is the reality for the Patriots, who lost Stephen Gostkowski to season-ending hip surgery in October and have cycled through Mike Nugent, Kai Forbath, Folk and Younghoe Koo (practice squad) since.

Gostkowski turns 36 in January and is entering the final year of his contract, so Belichick has good reason to get a head start on contingency kicking options for 2020.

That's assuming New England doesn't stick with Folk: The veteran has been the most consistent of Gostkowski's replacements this season, connecting on eight of 11 field goals and making all four of his extra-point attempts.

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