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Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 18, Chris Long

07.04.16 at 11:30 am ET
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Chris Long joins the Patriots after eight seasons with the Rams. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Long joins the Patriots after eight seasons with the Rams. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

18. Defensive end Chris Long

Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 275 pounds
Age: 31

Resume: The second overall pick of the Rams in 2008, the Virginia product has posted an impressive career in his eight years in the league, which includes four years of at least 8.5 sacks and 54.5 over the course of his career. He’s struggled with injury the last couple of seasons, but when he’s been right, he’s been a dominant presence off the edge. (“When he was 100 percent healthy, he was really, really good for us,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this spring.) Bottom line? In college and the NFL, the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long has done an excellent job carving out his own niche as a professional football player.

Why we ranked him here: The loss of Chandler Jones opened a vacancy for a pass rusher off the edge, and provided he’s healthy, Long could help fill the bill and create depth at a position that includes Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard. (For what it’s worth, Ninkovich was shuffled around to multiple spots in spring workouts, and if Long shows an affinity for the New England system right out of the gate, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get more reps on the edge relatively quickly.) In addition, Long feels like this year’s version of the longtime vet who has kicked around the league for a few years, made his money, but is more about finding postseason glory at this stage of their career than anything else. Bill Belichick has regularly found those types. Sometimes they’ve worked, sometimes, they haven’t. Provided Long stays healthy, he figures to be one of the former.

Quote: “The structure of [the Patriots] is based on players who are passionate about football and competition and winning. They are intense about preparation, and at the same time, they value guys who are good teammates. Every team that’s Chris has been on — high school, college and pro — that’s Chris Long. He’s passionate about football and winning, and he loves competition. He prepares relentlessly. Everybody who has ever played with or coached Chris said that they have never had a better teammate. He’s an excellent fit for the Patriots, and the Patriots are an excellent fit for him.” — Former Virginia coach Al Groh

Random note: Long has a strong social media presence as a regular tweeter, and has also cultivated a rep as someone with strong feelings around social issues. He’s created the Waterboys Initiative, a foundation created to help bring fresh drinking water to communities around the world.

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Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 19, Matthew Slater

07.03.16 at 11:00 am ET
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Matthew Slater has carved out a niche as one of the best special teamers in the NFL. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater has carved out a niche as one of the best special teamers in the NFL. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

19. Special teamer Matthew Slater
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 205 pounds
Age: 30

Resume: A fifth-round pick of the Patriots out of UCLA in 2008, he was a perpetual bubble candidate his first few seasons in the league because there wasn’t really a spot for him on the roster. Even now, he’s listed as a wide receiver, but that’s only because you simply can’t list someone as a pure special teamer. But entering his ninth year in the league, he’s evolved into become one of the best special teamers in the NFL. (If you don’t believe our assessment — or care to drop the cash to watch the All-22 coaches film on a weekly basis — check out what fellow NFL special teamer Lorenzo Alexander had to say about Slater and his work here.) Possessed with lights-out speed and a gonzo approach as a gunner, the five-time Pro Bowler has grown into one of Bill Belichick’s two favorite special teamers of all-time. (The second is Larry Izzo.) From a numbers standpoint, he led the team in special teams tackles three of the four seasons between 2010 and 2014: 21 in 2010, 17 in 2011, 20 in 2012 and 14 special teams tackles in 2014.

Why we ranked him here: Few players are more respected in the locker room than Slater, but it goes beyond that. Seriously, if you’re one of the people out there scratching your head and trying to figure out why he’s here, go and watch the game film sometime. When it comes to special teams, there is no one in the league right now who is more consistently as quick, disruptive and more intelligent than Slater. If he was taken by another team that didn’t put such a premium on special teams, given what happened to him in his first two years, there’s the very real chance he’d either be out of the league or end up as a consummate NFL journeyman. But instead, New England’s perennial special teams captain grown into a foundational element for one of the best franchises in the league.

Quote: “He’s a great example for all of us both on and off the field. Nobody works harder and puts more into it. Matthew really understands what his role on the team is, he’s embraced it and he’s turned it into a great career for himself. He definitely imparts his experience to other guys, not just rookies, although he does it to them, too, but really he’s a great inspiration for all of us and all the players in how professional he is, the way he goes about his business and how committed he is to the team. He gives us tremendous leadership.” — Bill Belichick on Matthew Slater, 11/26/15

Random note: The Slater family — Matt and his Hall of Fame father Jackie — have a combined 12 Pro Bowl appearances between them. When it comes to father-son duos, only the Manning family (Archie and Peyton) have more with 16.

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Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 20, Cyrus Jones

07.02.16 at 11:30 am ET
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Cyrus Jones has an interesting multidimensional skill set that could mean big things for him as a rookie. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Cyrus Jones has an interesting multidimensional skill set that could mean big things for him as a rookie. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

20. Cornerback Cyrus Jones

Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 200 pounds
Age: 22

Resume: A second-round pick out of Alabama this past spring, he was a wide receiver, cornerback and return man in 51 career games for the Crimson Tide. He moved to defense full time in 2013, and totaled 108 tackles, one sack, seven interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as a collegian. As a senior, he was an All-SEC defensive back, and also returned 42 punts for 530 yards and led the nation with four touchdowns, the most in a single season in Alabama’s history. (His 530 return yards rank second all-time in Alabama single-season history.) A foundational element of one of the best college teams in the nation the last few years, he comes out of a Nick Saban system, which should make the transition to working with Bill Belichick that much easier.

Why we ranked him here: Honestly, Jones is not the most valuable corner on the roster for what he’s been able to do to this point, but for what he could bring to the 2016 team as a corner and as a return man. In spring workouts, he looked comfortable while working alongside veteran defensive backs like Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler, and he also took plenty of reps at punt returner. If Jones can emerge as a dependable nickel corner and take some (or all) of the punt return work off the plates of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola (and keep them fresher at the receiver spot because of it), it would bring some much-needed stability to two positions where the Patriots occasionally struggled in 2015. In our minds, that represents significant value.

Quote: “He’s very athletic and he’s very competitive. He hasn’t played nickel in a game, but I think he has the skill set needed to be successful there. Cyrus is an excellent candidate to play the position at the next level — he has some ruggedness and some durability. He can play the ball in the air, and has some nice man-to-man ability. In a shorter area at the nickel spot when you have people on both sides of you, I think he’ll do well.” — Alabama radio analyst Phil Savage

Random note: In the spring, he was given No. 24, the same number as Darrelle Revis and Ty Law. No pressure, kid.

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Report: Roger Goodell made $32 million in 2015

06.30.16 at 6:39 pm ET
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The National Football League paid Roger Goodell $32 million in 2015, according to Sports Business Journal, which cited a tax filing made by the NFL.

For what it’s worth, that would mark the fourth consecutive year that Goodell’s annual compensation has declined. Reports indicate that he made $34.1 million in 2014 and $44 million in 2013. All told, Goodell has apparently cleared somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million as commissioner since he took the job in 2005.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski land coveted spots in NFL Network’s ‘Top 100′ list

06.30.16 at 1:36 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have landed in the Top 10 of the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2016.”

The order of the top 10 will be revealed in the finale of this year’s series, set to air July 6 at 8 p.m. on NFL Network.

Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Luke Kuechly, Cam Newton, Adrian Peterson, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt are the other players in the top 10.

Brady and Gronkowski will be the second and third members of the Patriots in the Top 100. Teammate Julian Edelman was ranked 87th.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Tom Brady challenges Danny Amendola to ping-pong rematch

06.29.16 at 2:42 pm ET
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On Tuesday, Danny Amendola went on ESPN and told a story of he and Tom Brady playing ping-pong with Amendola winning and Brady then breaking his paddle because he was so upset.

Brady responded on Wednesday with a Facebook post that read: Hey Amendola, paddle’s fixed. Time for a rematch!!!

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Chris Simms continues to bash Tom Brady with Deflategate: ‘Of course he deserves to be suspended’

06.29.16 at 2:18 pm ET
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Chris Simms was at it again with Defategate on Wednesday. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Chris Simms was at it again with Defategate on Wednesday. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Chris Simms is at it again.

Simms, a current football analyst for Bleacher Report after a short career in the NFL, hasn’t been afraid to speak his mind about Deflategate and was at it again on Wednesday.

Filling in for Craig Carton with Boomer Esiason on WFAN, Simms ranted about Deflategate once again saying Roger Goodell acted within his power.

“100 percent,” Simms said. “Listen, the guidelines, the way they are, whether you agree with them, and Roger Goodell being the judge, the jury, and the executioner — listen, the rules were put in place. If Tom Brady and Mr. Kraft had a problem with this, they should’ve changed that back when the CBA was under negotiation a few years ago.

Added Simms: “Of course he deserves to be suspended for this. He took the integrity of the game into his own hand. It’s like, you know, there’s a lot of examples you could come up with regardless. But it does give you a competitive advantage. It’d be like Golden State’s down there playing on a 9-foot-10-inch rim, and the other team’s playing on a 10-foot rim. There is definitely advantages there.”

The former quarterback also got into the science of the case, calling it “a bunch of crap.”

“If we didn’t, if there weren’t advantages and it wasn’t a big deal, then why didn’t you just pump the footballs up to 13.5 and be, ‘Oh, I’m not worried about it’? He had every ball, they said before the game started was at 12.5,” Simms said. “Now I know everyone wants to claim the weather and that whole theory and all that crap, right? That’s a bunch of crap.”

Added Simms: “I don’t think it’s minor, to me. I think this is a guy that took the football and basically gave himself a competitive advantage, where the other quarterback on the other team did not have those advantages. And if the size of a football didn’t matter, then why do we have a high school football, why do we have a college football? Of course the size of the object in your hand matters, because you can manipulate it better with your hand.”

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