|02.16.14 at 12:32 am ET|
1. The two-week window to apply the franchise tag opens on Monday and runs for two weeks, and while the Patriots have a dozen free agents, it’s believed the two prime candidates are cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Julian Edelman. When trying to figure out how New England utilizes the tag, we were hoping to try and find some clues in exactly when they tagged the player — trying to discern not just who was tagged and why, but if it mattered when they were tagged. Here’s a look at the last five players who were tagged by the Patriots, when they were tagged in relation to the window, and what ultimately happened.
2007 — Asante Samuel was tagged on Feb. 16, very early in the process. He held out for most of the offseason and into the summer, eventually signing his tender on Aug, 27. He left as a free agent the following offseason — he was in Philly at a press conference announcing his signing with the Eagles less than 18 hours following the start of free agency the next year.
2009 — Matt Cassel was franchised on Feb. 5, the first day of the window. He quickly acquiesced, signing the tender and opening the door for a trade with the Chiefs soon after that.
2010 — Vince Wilfork was hit with the tag on Monday, Feb. 22, three days before the end of the franchise tag window that year. The two sides then continued to talk about a new deal, one that was reached in March.
2011 — Logan Mankins was tagged on Feb. 14 — the Patriots were the first team to announce they had franchised a player, four days after the window opened. He signed his tender in July.
2012 — Wes Welker was tagged at the last possible moment, just hours before window closed on March 5 that year. He signed his tender that spring, played out his deal and left as a free agent the following spring.
Two things seem to emerge: one, in the case of Samuel and Cassel, they were out of there sooner rather than later, and so it wasn’t a surprise they were tagged so early in the process. And two, in 2010, the team and Wilfork were continuing to talk through the process, and they utilized the tag as a way to continue the dialogue between the two teams. When it comes to Talib and Edelman, it’s tough to try and draw comparisons between their respective situations and how the Patriots have operated in previous years in regards to the franchise tag. Bottom line? The Patriots have always been tough team to read, and their use of the tag is no exception.
2. As for the rest of the league, here’s our take on best candidates for the franchise tag:
Arizona: Kicker Jay Feely could get the call, given the level of his performance and the (expected) low numbers for kickers and punters.
Baltimore: We explored the topic a little regarding the Ravens and tight end Dennis Pitta here — he might be the only case with Baltimore.
Cleveland: The Browns could go with either center Alex Mack or safety T.J. Ward.
Denver: As was the case with Pitta, we looked briefly at the idea of the Broncos tagging wide receiver Eric Decker here. A very tough call for Denver.
Indianapolis: Cornerback Vontae Davis and kicker Adam Vinatieri are both candidates.
Miami: We believe cornerback Brent Grimes would look good in New England, but he could be a candidate to be tagged by the Dolphins.
New Orleans: Jimmy Graham is likely to get the tag; the only question is whether or not he’s labeled a tight end or receiver. That could set a precedent for hybrid pass catchers for years to come.
New York Jets: Like Feely, Nick Folk is a good kicker who could come relatively cheaply if he’s tagged.
San Diego: The Chargers would love to find a way to keep linebacker Donald Butler, and tagging him while continuing to talk about a new deal might make the most sense.
Seattle: A few candidates for a team looking to save some money before a ton of big contracts come due. Defensive lineman Michael Bennett is one of them.
St. Louis: Offensive tackle Roger Saffold could be in line for the designation.
3. We’ve written about the possibility of the Patriots making another run at wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders again this offseason, but in the wake of a recent chat involving Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the stars could be aligning for New England to take another shot at Sanders this offseason. Dulac said he doesn’t believe that the Steelers will re-sign Sanders, who was inked to an offer sheet by the Patriots when he was a restricted free agent last offseason. Sanders eventually returned to Pittsburgh, but the die was certainly cast at that point for the Patriots to make a move when Sanders became an unrestricted free agent. Some of New England’s interest will likely be dictated by what happens with Edelman, as there’s some offensive redundancy when comparing the two receivers. But don’t be shocked if the Patriots make some sort of play for the SMU product when free agency begins next month.
4. Lots of movement out there this week as teams began slicing payroll in hopes of finding some financial integrity before the start of free agency, set to kick off next month. In Detroit, that meant cutting veterans Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson, while in New Orleans, the Saints released a ton of veterans, including Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper, Jabari Greer and Will Smith. Some of those players are likely to return to their old teams with reduced salaries, as teams work to create more financial flexibility before the start of free agency. The Patriots have done this in the past with veterans who have re-done their deals, with most of the most notable coming in 2005 when the team cut wide receiver Troy Brown on March 1, less than a month after Super Bowl XXXIX. He was re-signed on May 23.
5. The NFL released the stats regarding the 2014 strength of schedule this past week, and according to the numbers from the 2013 schedule, the Patriots will face the 10th toughest slate in the league — New England’s 2014 opponents had a .516 winning percentage last year. By way of comparison, the Raiders will have the toughest schedule with an opponents winning percentage of .578, while the Colts will face the easiest slate, as their 2014 opponents had a winning percentage of .430 in 2013. However, prior to the start of the team-building process for the 2014 season, it’s premature to read too much into the strength of schedule, as just about every team will go through changes between now and the start of the new year. (In truth, it’s important to note there will also be plenty of changes over the course of the regular season.) It makes for a fun stat at this time of the year, but because there are so many changes still to be made, it’s not a great way to gauge how difficult a schedule will be the following season.
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|02.14.14 at 9:53 am ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard joined Dennis & Callahan to discuss his analytical piece on Michael Sam that indicates the Missouri star should be a late-round draft pick — if he’s drafted at all. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Bedard watched tape from 12 Missouri games and came to the following conclusion:
Sam was a good player for one season in college. He was productive, so the accolades he received were earned. But being a good college player and becoming a good NFL player are two different things (see Tim Tebow). Sam did well for Missouri with a lot of talent around him. A majority of his production came in three games against inferior competition without a need to show much of a pass-rushing repertoire. He doesn’t show much of what the NFL looks for on special teams, and it’s difficult to project a position for him on the next level. For those reasons, Sam would project to be no better than a mid- to late-round pick. He could go undrafted. To my eyes Sam is decidedly average, with nothing exceptional about his game.
Bedard — who told D&C that he has gotten some negative feedback since the article went up, but less than he expected — explained that he had not formed any opinions about Sam before examining the video.
“I went into it, I had no preconceived notions about him,” Bedard said. “I figured, given his credentials, that I would be impressed at least with some aspect of his game. When you talk about watching college players and projecting them at the NFL level, you’re looking for two things, really, in my experience. You’re looking for things they do extraordinarily well, that you say, ‘OK, that’s a real strength and that can be used on the NFL level.’ Or you might find guys who maybe don’t wow you but really show the type of instincts, the kind of inherent ability to play football that it’s hard to measure but it will show up in the NFL game. And I just didn’t see enough to wow me, to impress me with Sam. I was a little bit surprised at that.
“That’s not to say he’s not a good football player on the college level, that he didn’t deserve the accolades. He produced his senior year. I think the production can be taken apart. I’m blown away that he was SEC Defensive Player of the Year over a guy like C.J. Mosley from Alabama, a terrific prospect. But yeah, I was surprised when I went through 12 games. He’s a good college football player, but I think he’s going to have a hard time being able to translate to the next level.”
Bedard noted that Sam’s high sack numbers largely came against inferior competition, and he did not prove he could succeed against NFL-caliber competition.
“I would say that he has above-average ability to get to the quarterback,” Bedard said. “Now, he doesn’t do it in a variety of ways like you need to on the NFL level to do that. And he doesn’t really show the athletic ability to be able to develop that in the NFL. I think when the NFL teams sit down and really debate him, that’s going to be the thing about Sam.”
|02.13.14 at 9:19 pm ET|
It sounds more and more like Bill Belichick and Mike Lombardi are going to be working together again. Here are four thoughts on what that reunion would mean for both sides:
1. Belichick and Lombardi are like-minded individuals when it comes to running a football team — Lombardi has a deep and abiding relationship with Belichick that goes back to 1991, when Lombardi was working with Belichick in Cleveland. And while there have been several stops for Lombardi in the last 20-plus years, if there’s anyone left in the organization who could serve as a true counterpoint to Belichick on personnel matters, it would be Lombardi.
The Patriots coach has spoken glowingly of Lombardi in the past, including this statement in December:
‘He’s thorough, he’s smart, he’s thorough, he understands football,’ Belichick said of Lombardi last December in the days leading up to the Browns-Patriots game. ‘He understands not just personnel, but schemes and how certain players fit into certain schemes better than others because of the responsibilities in those schemes; the type of plays or the type of system that coaches run, different coaches run.
‘There are obviously a lot of different coaches in this league, different coaches in college, so that affects the performance of the players — some good, some bad, depending on how they fit into that particular system. I think he has a very good understanding of that, which is important for personnel people to understand, just like it is for coaches to understand personnel.
‘Mike is a hard working guy that won’t leave a stone unturned. He’ll find players, the Tony Joneses of the world, the Wally Williams of the world, the guys like that that played very well for us at Cleveland that nobody ever heard of that came out of nowhere that were good football players. He has a way of finding those guys.’
The relationship between Belichick and Lombardi was so close, in fact, that after Lombardi left the Raiders (he was there in various capacities from 1998 until 2007), then-owner Al Davis accused Lombardi of helping New England to the detriment of Oakland, pointing to the 2007 deal that brought Randy Moss to the Patriots. ‘What’s his name knew he could run, he’s a friend of Belichick’s. Mike Lombardi. Mike sold what’s his name, Belichick, on the idea that [Moss] could run. They tampered with him. I remember Bob Kraft saying that he had to look him in the eye and all that. They went down and worked him out, he could run.’ Lombardi later denied the charges. ‘I was trying to do the best thing for the Raiders, always have,’ he said. ‘In this situation, Bill Belichick is not going to always rely on my opinion for information. He is going to look at what he sees on the tape.’
2. Lombardi would serve as what might best be termed ‘Nick Caserio Insurance.’ The Patriots current personnel chief suddenly became a man in demand this offseason, as he took two interviews for the vacant Miami GM job, and while it’s debatable how open Caserio would be to leaving Foxboro, the fact that he put himself out there is a sign he could be interested in moving on sooner rather than later, and if/when he did, Lombardi would offer another personnel voice. As it stands right now, it’s unclear what sort of role or title Lombardi would have in the organization, but he’d likely be part of an inner circle of personnel men, a group that includes Belichick, Caserio and college scouting director Jon Robinson.
3. Belichick has had veteran voices in his corner on several occasions, with the latest being Floyd Reese, who served as ‘senior football advisor’ in New England from 200 through 2012. (According to several people close to the organization, Reese was the one who negotiated contracts.) It’s unlikely that Lombardi would fill that role, as he’s more of a personnel man, but it’s not out of the realm that he could have multiple responsibilities if needed.
4. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the fact he was never officially on the Patriots payroll, he continued to keep an interest in New England. His son Mick worked for the Patriots in 2012 before moving on to take a job with the Niners, and then, last year, with the Browns. In addition, Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe reports that Lombardi served as an unofficial advisor/consultant with the Patriots when it came to the 2010 and 2012 drafts.
|02.13.14 at 4:08 pm ET|
The Patriots and Michael Lombardi are close on a deal that would reunite Lombardi with Bill Belichick, according to multiple reports.
Lombardi, who was let go by the Browns earlier this week, has a deep and abiding relationship with the Patriots coach — it’s a connection that goes back more than 20 years when Lombardi was part of the personnel department in Cleveland and Belichick was head coach of the Browns.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|02.13.14 at 10:02 am ET|
Two days before Aaron Hernandez was arrested and later charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, the former NFL star’s barber made a house call. Some eight months later, Fox 25 in Boston has uncovered that Hernandez and the barber, Robby Olivares, had a social relationship and Olivares may be a witness during the trial.
According to the report, recent court statements made during Friday’s hearing show that Olivares might be linked to the murder case. One of the keys to the case, according to Hernandez lawyer Jamie Sultan, is finding out what specifically happened at a nightclub in Boston’s Theater District called Rumors two nights before Lloyd was shot five times. Authorities have said they believe an exchange occurred between Hernandez and Lloyd at the club that caused Hernandez to no longer trust Lloyd.
A security manager at the club claims to have heard the exchange, and, while authorities are not certain Olivares was at the club that night, they suspect he was and heard the exchange. While he could be witness, nothing has reportedly linked Olivares to any criminal action.
“If he were to testify about what was said that ultimately lead to Mr. Hernandez having a motive to participate at a minimum in this murder, that’s crucial evidence,” said Boston criminal defense attorney David Yannetti.
Olivares used the social media platform Instagram to post pictures of himself and Hernandez. According to Fox 25, one photo was posted after midnight on June 17, 2013 — the night that Lloyd was murdered.
If Olivares were to be a witness during the trial, it would not be the first time he has provided information during the case. Olivares “guided” the grand jury to Hernandez’s secret apartment in Franklin, according to court documents made public in July.
|02.13.14 at 8:22 am ET|
Last time it took five years. This time, it might just be a few days.
Multiple reports state that Michael Lombardi, whom the Browns ousted from their general manager spot Tuesday, may join the Patriots front office. Chris Fedor of Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan first reported a potential agreement between the two sides on Twitter Wednesday evening.
Nothing finalized with Michael Lombardi yet but it’s looking like he may be headed back to New England.
‘ Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) February 13, 2014
Lombardi spent one year working for the Browns, who overhauled their front office Tuesday when they also announced CEO Joe Banner would leave the organization in two months.
The move came as a surprise, in part, because Lombardi and Banner worked together to hire the team’s new coach, Mike Pettine, about a month ago. Lombardi also took part in hiring Rob Chudzinski, who coached the Browns to a 4-12 record last season. The team has not won more than five games in six consecutive years.
Cleveland is the first team in the league to fire a coach and GM after just one year at the helm when the coach and general manager were not the same individual.
Lombardi arrived in Cleveland five years after he was fired from his executive position with the Raiders. During the gap between those two jobs, he spent time working in the media.
If the reports are true, it will mark the first time Lombardi and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have worked together since Belichick started his head coaching career in Cleveland from 1991-95.
|02.13.14 at 6:30 am ET|
Aaron Dobson is spending time time back home this offseason, and the Patriots wide receiver took some time Wednesday to talk with the Charleston Daily Mail about his rookie year, his development, and what he’s looking forward to when it comes to the challenges of his second season in the league.
Dobson. who had 37 catches and four touchdowns in his first season in the NFL, said that when it comes to his game, he doesn’t plan on being complacent.
“I’m never going to be content about anything,” Dobson said. “I just got to get better, improve and learn to have a better overall understanding of the game and be a better player.
“Me as a player, I’m trying to get better every day, just improve all areas of the game: blocking, catching, running routes, everything,” he said. “I’m just going to try to do whatever I need to do.”
Dobson, who struggled with foot issues over the course of the season, indicated he’s currently taking a break to rest his legs, but plans to return to training in the next couple weeks.
“It’s a new year, it’s going to be a whole different team,” he said. “I’m just excited to get back and start working.”
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