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Free agent snapshot: Charles Tillman

02.12.14 at 10:36 am ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. So far, we’ve looked at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, Arthur Jones, Brent Grimes, Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett. Now, it’€™s Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

CHARLES “PEANUT” TILLMAN
Position: Cornerback
Age: 32 (will turn 33 on Feb. 23)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 196 pounds

The skinny: Tillman has spent 11 years in the league and has put together a really impressive resume. A second-round pick of the Bears in 2003 out of Louisiana-Lafayette, he has 36 career interceptions, including at least three a season for the last four years. He’€™s also Chicago’s career leader in interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine), and is one of the best in the league at forcing fumbles — he leads the NFL with 42 forced fumbles since 2003, having apparently perfected the art of what’€™s known as the “Peanut Punch.”

A two-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro, he’€™s also carved out a career as one of the most well respected guys in the league. Considered an extremely high-character guy, Tillman has a distinguished off-field resume. The son of an Army sergeant, he was the winner of the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (earlier this month, he gave away his Super Bowl tickets to a deserving military family), won the 2012 Salute to Service Award (thanks in large part to his work with the military and military families), was a finalist for the Payton award in 2007 and 2011. His foundation has helped generate more than $1 million for individuals who have been identified by local organizations as at risk or in need.

On the field, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but could be part of a rotation in the secondary and would be able to serve as a mentor to the younger defensive backs. Bottom line? Whoever lands Tillman would not only get a smart and savvy veteran, they’d also be getting an extremely high-character locker room presence. At the right price — and if he’s healthy — he’d be a terrific pickup.

By the numbers: Tillman is the only player since 2003 to record 40 forced fumbles and 30 interceptions.

Why it would work: The Patriots have made it an annual tradition to bring in a well-established veteran presence at the end of his career in hopes of squeezing another year or two out of him. In return, said veteran gets a chance to win a ring and at least one more payday. (The most recent example is Tommy Kelly.) Tillman, who has played in just six postseason games in his 11-year career and none since 2010, is just that sort of veteran. The Patriots need to build some depth in the secondary, and the presence of a longer, leaner body like Tillman will allow them to get a little bigger at corner. Because of a triceps injury he suffered midway through the 2013 season and his age, Tillman is expected to be available at a reasonable price. And for a franchise that’€™s always on the lookout for high-character guys in the post Aaron Hernandez era, you can’€™t do much better than someone like Tillman.

Why it might not work: Health. Tillman is returning from a triceps injury, and for a player on the north side of 30, it’€™s never easy to return from an injury that put you on IR for the rest of the year. (He also struggled with groin and knee injuries in 2013.) While the Patriots have shown an extraordinary amount of patience in the past with veterans returning from injury (Jake Ballard, Leon Washington), they might not be so inclined to do the same with Tillman. Tillman also clearly has an affection for former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who recently got the head coaching job in Tampa, and could be more willing to give a discount to his old coach as opposed to signing somewhere else.

Quote: “I’m not really worried about it. I have some decisions I have to make in the next couple of weeks, couple of months. I am just going to see what happens. I have some options, I have some thoughts.” — Tillman on the prospect of free agency

Our take: Some of it will depend on what happens with Aqib Talib, but if Tillman is willing to take a chance, as well as what would likely be a pay cut (he was paid almost $8 million last year), he could probably find a home with the Patriots. He isn’t an elite-level corner anymore, and there are questions about what sort of player he’€™ll be after last year’s triceps injury, but Tillman could become a part of a New England secondary that needs another long-limbed corner to provide depth, and be the latest veteran to try to win a ring late in his career with the Patriots. The Patriots shouldn’t go much beyond two seasons and relatively short money, but if they can make it work, on paper, Tillman would appear to be a really good fit.

Read More: Charles Tillman, free agent snapshot,

Christian Fauria on M&M: NFL ready to accept openly gay player like Michael Sam

02.11.14 at 1:04 pm ET
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Former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria checked in with Mut & Merloni on Tuesday to discuss the Michael Sam situation and whether an openly gay player can have success in the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Fauria agreed that the Patriots would be better positioned than some other teams to handle a situation like this.

“We dealt with the [Chad] Ochocincos and we dealt with the Randy Mosses and we dealt with a murder [charge],” Fauria said. “So there’s really nothing that can really I guess surprise this team or they won’t be ready to handle. … I’m sure they’ll address it and then that will be it.”

Fauria said concern about how the league will welcome a gay player is overblown.

“I think the NFL’s been ready forever,” Fauria said. “You’re always going to have some knucklehead, some maturity issues by some guy who just doesn’t know any better — I mean, that happens now. But when I think about this, this guy, the unchartered territories, like Lewis and Clark-type stuff, and nobody’s ever done it before, how’s it going to happen — I think more importantly he’s a leader. I think the guys respect him for his playing ability.

“Now, whether he gets along with guys or not and how the coach has to kind of manage that, it has nothing to do with whether he likes guys or girls.”

Added Fauria: “Honestly, I don’t see it being a big deal as far as those guys adjusting to it.”

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Read More: Christian Fauria, Michael Sam,

Watch List: 7 players for Patriots fans to keep an eye on at combine

02.11.14 at 11:48 am ET
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With the combine just around the corner — and keeping in mind the Patriots’ needs this offseason, as well as their overall draft location — here are seven players we’ll be watching when we get to Indy in just under two weeks.

Tight end Jace Amaro, Texas Tech:
Amaro is a pass-catching tight end who has already been linked to the Patriots in the first wave of mock drafts. As a junior in 2013, the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder broke the NCAA all-time record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,352. Expected to be a first rounder, and someone who could help replace some of the impact in the passing game that was lost between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Tight end Eric Ebron, North Carolina:
Another pass-catching tight end (sensing a trend here?) this 6-foot-4, 245-pounder has some positional flexibility, and his game is probably closer to Jimmy Graham than Rob Gronkowski. He finished the 2013 season with 62 catches for 973 yards and three touchdowns — much of his production came when he was split wide. Expected to be a first rounder.

Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa:
A bigger, bulkier body who made his bones at Iowa — playing for former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz — the 6-foot-6, 262-pounder projects as a second-day pick. He had 30 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns in 2013 with the Hawkeyes, and is known just as much for his blocking skills as his work in the passing game.

Offensive lineman Zack Martin, Notre Dame:
A 6-foot-4, 308-pounder, he played tackle as a collegian, but lined up at both guard and tackle during Senior Bowl week, and apparently wowed everyone in attendance. The occasionally nasty Martin — who has drawn plenty of comparisons to Logan Mankins in technique, playing style and overall attitude — could eventually find his way into the first round.

Defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota:
The 6-foot-6, 318-pounder has tremendous positional versatility — he’s played nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end — and has done very well wherever he’s ended up playing. Hageman had 34 tackles last season, including 11 for losses, as well as one interception, and eight pass deflections. Like Martin, Hageman could find his way into the first round by the time May rolls around.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska:
Call it the Richard Sherman effect: If teams are going to be looking for the next great long-limbed corner in an attempt to copy the Seahawks’ blueprint for success, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jean-Baptiste could be the guy. The Nebraska product had four picks as a senior, but could ultimately find himself at safety in the NFL because of his size. Right now, many have him as a second-day pick.

Defensive lineman Louis Nix III, Notre Dame:
The 6-foot-2, 342-pound Nix has played multiple spots on the Notre Dame defensive front, and that level of versatility and size has certainly drawn the attention of the Patriots, who would love to find the heir apparent to Vince Wilfork sooner rather than later. It appears that he’s a late first-round possibility at this point.

Read More: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, Louis Nix III

Bill Belichick visits a Cold Stone Creamery

02.11.14 at 9:43 am ET
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In the latest example that we have truly reached the NFL offseason, here’s Bill Belichick standing in line at a Cold Stone Creamery. (Picture via the Twitter account of @court_hanlon77.)

Read More: Bill Belichick, welcome to the offseason,

Players offer mixed reaction to Michael Sam announcement

02.11.14 at 9:41 am ET
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Just over a day after NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announced that he is gay, individuals affiliated with the NFL have shown polarizing views over whether or not the league is ready for a gay athlete.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam said in an interview with The New York Times. “I just want to own my truth.”

In New England, both Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick came out in support of Sam, who would be the first openly gay athlete in any of the four major sports if he is drafted.

They’€™re words went along with horde of current and former NFL players who stood by Sam, including former Patriots receiver Donte’ Stallworth.

On Sunday evening, Herm Edwards asked during an ESPN interview, “Can the players handle the media attention they are going to get when they get the question asked, ‘€˜Are you OK with a gay teammate?’ €™” Stallworth responded with 20 tweets arguing that NFL players were already losers if they could not handle the media coverage of drafting Sam.

 

 

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Read More: Michael Sam,

Nine New England prospects invited to NFL combine

02.11.14 at 6:30 am ET
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With the combine fast approaching — one of our favorite offseason events on the NFL calendar — the NFL released the complete list of invitees. Mixed in with the group of the must-see national prospects like Johnny Manziel are plenty of New England prospects. Here are the nine local players who were invited to Indy for the proceedings later this month:

Boston College: running back Andre Williams, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, offensive tackle Matt Patchan, defensive end Kasim Edebali, defensive end Kaleb Ramsey.

UConn: defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, outside linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

UMass: tight end Rob Blanchflower.

Maine: cornerback Kendall James.

Read More: Andre Williams,

Bill Belichick releases statement on Michael Sam

02.10.14 at 6:09 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick issued the following statement Monday on Michael Sam:

“€œWe evaluate all the players, including Michael Sam, based on the totality of who they are and who can best contribute to our team and organization, regardless of the matters being discussed today. They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses and no two human beings are identical. Our scouting staff has performed extensive work on Michael, both this season and going back throughout his career. That work will continue through the draft process this spring.”
Read More: Bill Belichick, Michael Sam,
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