Patriots

Why Corey Coleman and not Dez Bryant for Patriots?

Why Corey Coleman and not Dez Bryant for Patriots?

FOXBORO - So, you're asking yourself, the Patriots were willing to bring in a once-traded, once-cut wide receiver -- about whom the most positive thing reported in the past couple months was that he was the owner of a majestic sneaker collection -- and not Dez Bryant? 

The Patriots have actually imported two wideouts while Bryant remains a free agent: Corey Coleman, sneaker-head, and Bennie Fowler. But Coleman is the headliner, a top 15 pick of the Browns in 2016, so let's focus on him at the moment. 

Why him and not Dez?

We don't know exactly what Bryant is looking for financially so we'll put that aside for now. He obviously is open to the idea of playing with Tom Brady and under Bill Belichick. 

To me, this could serve as a referendum of sorts on how the Patriots feel about Bryant's skill set at the moment. 

When I asked around in the preseason if Bryant's name had been bandied about at One Patriot Place as a potential option to help the team's numbers at receiver, I was told no. Not yet, at least. 

At that point, the Patriots had parted ways with Malcolm Mitchell, Jordan Matthews and Kenny Britt. Since then, they've acquired and released Chad Hansen. They've seen Amara Darboh quickly come and go. They've released Riley McCarron, signed him to the practice squad, promoted him to the active roster and cut him. They've worked out veteran slot Kendall Wright. 

Nick Caserio and his staff have been searching wherever they can for receiver help, and the rest of the league knows it. 

Still... no Dez.

I've heard from one NFC coach that Bryant's drop-off in terms of skill set is not to be ignored. That, to me, is key. 

At this point, the Patriots would probably be willing to put up with some level of knuckleheaded-ness if it meant meaningful, talented depth. Particularly if that talent was stretching the field. 

But that's not Bryant. Not anymore, at least. 

The Patriots have several intermediate and short pass-catching options on the roster right now. 

James White, Rex Burkhead and Chris Hogan all fit that bill. Phillip Dorsett was a 4.3-second 40-yard dash guy in the draft a few years ago, and he still has very good speed, but his average depth of target against the Texans on Sunday was 7.29, and he was targeted on a variety of in-cuts, speed-outs and quicker-hitting plays. 

While Rob Gronkowski is a big-play machine, he's not a classic down-the-field threat. 

Without more speed on the field, teams can do what the Texans did at times Sunday -- flood the middle of the field with defenders and goad Brady into going deep with lower-percentage throws. 

Gronkowski made Houston pay with routes down the seam, but those may be passes that the Patriots want to limit since catches that area of the field can lead to high-speed collisions. Rob Ninkovich pointed that out on Monday Night Patriots this week, calling that area of the field a "danger zone." Gronkowski's torn ACL in 2013, his monster collision with Earl Thomas that eventually ended his season in 2017, and his concussion in last year's AFC title game, for example, all came down the seam. 

A deep threat outside of Gronkowski? That's where Coleman could come in. 

Though he wasn't shown in the greatest light on HBO's "Hard Knocks", something Coleman pointed out after he was traded to Buffalo, and though there may be some questions about his personality fit in New England -- as there would be if Bryant was brought to Foxboro -- he still has the juice to draw safety attention.

Coleman ran a 4.37-second 40 coming out of Baylor and back then drew some comparisons to Steve Smith for his combination of speed and big-play ability despite his size (5-foot-11).

He's not guaranteed to contribute. And he may be one of the next to get a quick look, a pat on the back, and a farewell. But for all he's lacking in terms of a proven track record, Coleman has one thing Bryant doesn't, which helps explain why he's here and Bryant's not. 

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Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

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Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

Patriots Roster Reset: Rookie tight ends offer optimism after 2019 drought

What if? What if Rob Gronkowski had announced his retirement just a few days sooner, allowing the Patriots to make a legitimate play for free agent Jared Cook? 

By the time the man who is arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history decided to hang 'em up (briefly), Cook was already making plans to join the Saints. He ended up eighth among tight ends with 705 receiving yards and second with nine touchdowns.

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Meanwhile the Patriots were left to piece together that spot with the likes of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson and Ryan Izzo.

Reluctant to invest in young players at the position since taking Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010 — since then they'd only drafted Izzo (2018, seventh round), Lee Smith (2011, fifth round) and A.J. Derby (2015, sixth round) — the Patriots had arguably the least-productive tight end group in the NFL last season: 37 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns.

They've attempted to remedy that situation. In this year's draft, they traded up to land two intriguing talents in the third round.

UCLA's Devin Asiasi is a do-it-all player with the size to move people on the line of scrimmage and the body control to draw comparisons to some of the game's elites at that position. Dalton Keene is an athletic option with experience playing out of the backfield at Virginia Tech who could be the key to unlocking snap-to-snap unpredictability for Josh McDaniels' personnel packages.

Do they enter the equation as the immediate No. 1 and 2 options there? Let's reset the depth chart.

LOCK ‘EM IN

Asiasi. Keene. That's it. Those are the locks. Given the output, it should come as no surprise that there's not a player from last year's roster who comes into this season guaranteed to have a regular-season role. 

ON THE BUBBLE

LaCosse makes sense here. He could potentially end up on the roster as a 2020 version of Alge Crumpler — a veteran who can help guide two promising rookies — because his experience level dwarfs that of others on the depth chart.

However, his experience level isn't exactly overwhelming (33 career games). If he can't stay healthy, as was the case last season, or can't win a job, he'd save the Patriots $1.3 million on the salary cap if released in camp.

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LONG SHOTS

Izzo will have to open eyes in camp or become a special teams staple in order to have a chance to make an impact. Though he showed flashes of being a capable receiver last season, that part of his game was lacking consistency. As a blocker? It was there that he was thought to be a potential contributor when drafted out of Florida State two years ago. But according to Pro Football Focus, his 44.9 run-blocking grade was second-lowest among all players at the position in 2019.

Undrafted rookies Jake Burt from Boston College and Rashod Berry from Ohio State also have to be considered in this category. Burt looks like an in-line option at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. Berry actually played both on the defensive line and at tight end as a senior. He finished his career with 17 receptions. 

NEWCOMER TO WATCH

In what was considered a tight end class short on game-changing talent, Asiasi might've been the most gifted. Notre Dame's Cole Kmet was the first tight end taken in the draft, going off the board in the second round as the "safest" of this year's tight end crop, according to several evaluators. But when it comes to physical ability? Asiasi can "do it all," one tight ends coach told me.

Some questions about Asiasi's makeup lingered into draft weekend, helping him stay undrafted through almost three full rounds, but the Patriots may have found themselves a steal if Asiasi can make good on his on-the-field promise. Asiasi's trainer Dave Spitz, who has also worked with Browns tight end Austin Hooper and Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, spoke to NBC Sports Boston earlier this offseason.

"He has the catch radius of Austin," Spitz said. "He has the body control and awareness of Zach. And he, I think, has more bend, more wiggle, than both of them. He's a beautiful combination."

X-FACTOR

Asiasi might be the most talented addition the Patriots have made at this position in years, but Keene's versatility makes him an interesting queen-on-the-chess-board piece for Bill Belichick and McDaniels. He has enough size (6-foot-4, 253 pounds) to play in-line as a "Y" tight end. He has the movement skills to serve as more of an "F" option. He's played in the backfield before. He's served as a lead-blocker like a fullback. There are a variety of ways in which he can be deployed.

Why does that matter? Perhaps the Patriots want to use their 12-personnel package with one back and two tight ends. Perhaps, because tight ends are oftentimes glorified receivers these days, a defense will respond to that two-tight end set by matching it with an extra safety instead of a linebacker. If that's the case, Keene could flex in as a fullback and the Patriots could run a 21-personnel look at a lighter defense for an advantage. If the defense keeps linebackers on the field to check Asiasi and/or Keene, the Patriots could use them in the passing game where their athleticism should give them an advantage over a traditional second-level defender. Options.

That's what Keene provides, making him an X-factor in the truest sense if he can handle a wide range of alignments and responsibilities early in his career.