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Logan Mankins at No. 64 on NFL Network’s ‘Top 100′ list

05.16.12 at 8:56 pm ET
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Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins checked in at No. 64 overall in the NFL Network’s list of Top 100 players of 2012, presented Wednesday night.

The offensive guard, who just wrapped up his seventh season with the Patriots, was at No. 39 last year. The Fresno State product is the second member of the Patriots to make this year’s Top 100 — defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was the first member of the franchise to make this year’s list at No. 81.

One of the players who discussed Mankins and his impact was Indianapolis defensive lineman Raheem Brock. Brock and Mankins have been longtime foes, but it was clear Brock has a lot of respect for Mankins, saying he’s “a great overall offensive lineman.”

“He’s not just a great pass blocker — he’s a great run blocker, too. He’s pretty good at trying to disguise the run and the pass. In Indy, they know how we played: We spin a lot, and one play or another, he might set me up, knowing I’m going to spin and the other guy is coming to clean me up. They’d kind of laugh at you because it was kind of a setup.”

As for the idea that Mankins occasionally gets overshadowed by quarterback Tom Brady, Brock chuckled.

“I don’t see too many people pay to go see offensive linemen play, but he’s one of the best,” he said with a smile. “He’s one of the best.”

Read More: Logan Mankins, Raheem Brock, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork

Bill Belichick tops Forbes list of highest-paid coaches for second straight year

05.16.12 at 5:19 pm ET
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Forbes has published its annual list of coaches’€™ salaries, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick is at the top of the list once again. Forbes says he makes $7.5 annually, which is tops among all North American football, baseball, basketball and hockey coaches.

Belichick’€™s salary has been a closely guarded secret over the years. The last time we heard talk about it was back in 2007, when it was reported the coach and franchise agreed to an extension that would keep him with the franchise through at least the 2013 season, according to ESPN. And earlier that year, Belichick made a brief mention about his contract situation.

‘€œI don’€™t talk about contracts, but I would say I like working here, I like the organization ‘€” ownership, coaches, scouts, players, and the guys I work with,’€ he said in July 2007. ‘€œI appreciate the opportunity to work here, and it’€™s a good situation. I don’€™t see that changing anytime soon.’€

Belichick has been a fairly regular presence on the Forbes list. In 2010, Belichick was second to then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson. But after Jackson retired followed that season, Belichick moved into the top spot at $7.5 million, which makes 2012 his second straight year at No. 1 overall.

Belichick isn’€™t the only New England coach in the Top 10. Celtics coach Doc Rivers was tied for second with Redskins’€™ coach Mike Shanahan, Rams coach Jeff Fisher and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, all at $7 million, annually. (For the complete list, CLICK HERE.)

Read More: Bill Belichick, Doc Rivers, Jeff Fisher, Mike Shanahan

Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard waives right to preliminary hearing in assault case, faces May 30 arraignment

05.16.12 at 1:26 pm ET
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Patriots seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard wavied his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday afternoon, according to a report from the Associated Press, and he remains free on a $5000 bond. Dennard will now be arraigned May 30 in Lancaster County District Court on a charge of third-degree felony assault of a police officer.

Per the AP, Dennard is accused of striking an officer during a disturbance outside a Lincoln bar on April 21, five days before the NFL draft. If convicted, he could face five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Thought to be an early- to mid-round talent, it’s believed the incident led to a drop in his overall draft stock.

“Alfonzo is a guy who we spent a lot of time on. Obviously the incident affected his draft position,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said shortly after New England selected Dennard. “But certainly we’re aware of it. We researched it, we found out as much as we could about it. Obviously as an organization we were comfortable taking the selection where we did. … There’s obviously some other things that are currently out there from a legal standpoint that I obviously can’t comment on.”

Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, Bill Belichick,

A closer look at Wes Welker’s decision to sign his franchise tender

05.15.12 at 5:51 pm ET
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Given the relationship between his representation and the team and the recent tone of his comments, it was no surprise to see that wide receiver Wes Welker signed his franchise tender on Tuesday.

One day after telling WEEI’€™s ‘€œMut & Lou’€ that he had ‘€œnine-and-a-half million reasons’€ why he wouldn’€™t miss any regular season games, Welker signed his deal, a one-year, $9.515 million package. The receiver tweeted the news shortly after 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, saying: ‘€œI signed my tender today. I love the game and I love my teammates! Hopefully doing the right thing gets the right results. #leapoffaith’€

First, Welker is represented by Athletes First, which has a historically great relationship with the Patriots: they represent several current New England players, including Aaron Hernandez, Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, Zoltan Mesko, Ryan Mallett and Brian Waters. That history almost assures the New England management that there will not be any sort of incendiary language (or nuclear options) like we saw when Logan Mankins was slapped with the franchise tag. And while Welker still has yet to sign a long-term extension, the relationship between the two sides should certainly provide a bit of optimism for Patriots fans.

As far as Welker’€™s comments, he told the NFL Network last month he was ‘€œin no rush’€ to sign his tender, and two weeks ago said on ESPNBoston radio that he was leaning toward not taking part in the team’€™s June mini-camp. But on Monday, he sounded like someone who was committed to getting into the offseason program as soon as possible, telling WEEI he’€™d ‘€œlike to be at minicamp’€ and saying there was no ill will between the two sides as talks continued.

‘€œI think we’€™re all on the same page,’€ said Welker, who will now be able to report for OTA’€™s next week and June’€™s minicamp. ‘€œAnd we’€™re all trying to collectively come together and make something happen. I think everybody just needs to know that. We’€™re all on the same page and we’€™re trying to work toward something.’€

One of the difficult things in trying to find a reasonable framework for a long-term deal with Welker is that there’€™s really no one like him. His production over the last five years rivals that of Larry Fitzgerald, but no one is suggesting that he get Fitzgerald type of money. And while Welker is an invaluable part of the New England passing game, no slot receiver over the age of 30 is going to break the bank. He’€™s completely unique — that’s why Andrew Brandt, who has been on both sides of the negotiating table, says that when it comes to a long-term deal, Welker’€™s camp and the Patriots should look at the model provided when the Jets signed Santonio Holmes.

Regardless, the next major date to keep in mind is July 15 — by league rule, the two sides have until that date to work out a contract. After that, Welker must play the coming season under the franchise tag contract.

Read More: Wes Welker,

Five years later, Donte Stallworth ready for his second stint in New England

05.15.12 at 1:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A little older and a little wiser, wide receiver Donte Stallworth is ready for his second act with the Patriots.

The well-traveled Stallworth, who spent the 2007 season in New England before leaving as a free agent, jumped at the opportunity to return to the Patriots, signing a one-year deal as a free agent in March. It was a chance to not only go back to the scene of some of his greatest professional success, but to do so with an increased wisdom, one he confessed he didn’€™t necessarily have in his first go-round with New England.

‘€œI’€™m a lot more mature now than I was then,’€ Stallworth said Tuesday during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œI feel like I’€™m playing better. I’€™m in a better place mentally, physically and I just felt like at that time I was still trying to mature and grow into a professional athlete. I feel like I’€™m a lot further down the road than I was last time.

‘€œBack then, I was really more relying on my talent,’€ said the 6-foot, 220-pounder. ‘€œNow that I’€™m going into my 10th year, I think I run better routes now and understand different coverages and what teams are trying to do.’€

The 31-year-old Stallworth, who had 46 catches for 697 yards and three touchdowns with the Patriots in 2007, said a large portion of that increased off-field maturity is because of what he went through in 2009 when he was charged with DUI manslaughter following an accident in Florida. He spent time in jail, and was suspended for the duration of the 2009 season.

‘€œThe year I was out and just sitting around and watching my teammates play and watching my friends play, it was not a good feeling,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œIt’€™s the same, even when you’€™re hurt. Guys never want to miss games. Anytime you miss something that you appreciate in life or that you love in life, if you have an opportunity to get it back, you always have a better appreciate for it next time.’€

Stallworth said that after spending time with the Browns (2008), Ravens (2010) and Redskins (2011), walking back into the New England locker room was an ‘€œinteresting’€ experience.

‘€œIt was a little weird feeling. It was kind of surreal,’€ he said. ‘€œBut honestly, I think it took about a week or so to get adjusted and to really realize that, hey, I really am back; it’€™s not just a dream. It’€™s been good being back and seeing a lot of the same, familiar faces — friendly faces. So it’€™s been good. It’€™s been five years, but not much has changed other than all the restaurants and stuff around here. That’€™s a big difference.’€

Stallworth enters a crowded field at wide receiver — the Patriots have loaded up this offseason at a position they were already pretty well stocked coming off the 2011 season. Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Brandon Lloyd join a group that includes Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, Britt Davis, Matthew Slater and Chad Ochocinco.

‘€œIt’€™s going to be good competition; we’€™re all friends, we all have known each other for awhile and respected each other’€™s games, so we’€™re going to make each other better,’€ Stallworth said. ‘€œWe’€™ve been doing that now, with the workouts and really having fun, and the real fun gets to start on Monday when we start practicing. Who knows how it will play out, but I’€™m feeling good; I’€™m feeling healthy.’€

Here are some more highlights of Stallworth’€™s Q&A with the media:
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Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brandon Lloyd, Britt Davis, Chad Ochocinco

Markell Carter welcomes the idea of joining Patriots’ rookies to get extra work

05.14.12 at 4:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Of all the players at rookie minicamp this past weekend at Gillette Stadium, the one that could have taken issue with the fact that he was there was Markell Carter.

The defensive end/outside linebacker was maybe the most productive member of the Patriots’€™ practice squad last season — it was a rare occasion when he didn’€™t have a black practice jersey in the locker signifying that he was one of the practice players of the week.

But the glass-is-half-full Carter looked on the opportunity to take part in rookie minicamp as a blessing. In a session with the media before heading to practice, he was able to convey just how important the weekend of work is for him, especially since he didn’€™t get a chance to get into a game last season.

‘€œI’€™m getting a lot of work in that I wasn’€™t able to get last year, so this weekend my main focus has been getting better, just trying to grow in the defense and pick up on those things I missed last year,’€ he said.

It was an up-and-down year for Carter. He was a sixth-round pick out of Central Arkansas, but didn’€™t get the necessary foundation for a rookie heading into his first season in the NFL because of the lockout. Carter and the rest of the rookies got a late start, and that affected their overall development.

‘€œOf course, whenever you can get a couple months in before that’€™s always going to help. I got here [and] on the first day, I got a playbook about this big on my desk and the next morning I was expected to know it all,’€ said Carter, recalling last season. ‘€œSo to just have that time to prepare and just feel comfortable with the teammates, that means a lot, too.’€

Carter made the roster, and landed on the practice squad. While there was no game action, the Patriots thought enough of him to give him a bump in pay from the usual practice squad contract of $150,000 to more than $300,000. It was an investment in their future.

‘€œThere was no bitterness that I wasn’€™t able to play,’€ said the 6-foot-4 Carter. ‘€œBill [Belichick] is a great coach. Whenever he says I’€™m ready, I’€™m ready. The pay raise let you know that they’€™re interested in you, and whenever your boss gives you a pay raise, you’€™re going to feel good about yourself.
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Read More: Andre Carter, Bill Belichick, chandler jones, Dont'a Hightower

Quarterback Mike Hartline goes from one Hall of Famer tutor to another

05.14.12 at 12:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When he first joined the Patriots as a free agent in March, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (who spent five seasons with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis), joked that when it comes to working with quarterbacks, he has a ‘€œvery strict Hall of Famer-only policy.’€

Mike Hartline can make the same tongue-in-cheek boast. The quarterback, a Kentucky product, spent last season as an understudy working with Manning and the Colts. Now, after signing with the Patriots in January, he’€™s doing the same thing with Tom Brady.

‘€œEvery player is different. Obviously, those guys are both arguably two of the best ever, so when you can get to work with them and to talk to them a little bit, you try to pick their brain,’€ Hartline said of Manning and Brady.

‘€œThey’€™re leagues beyond where I’€™m at. To try to dig too deep can get confusing sometimes. So you try to go at your own pace, you do your own style and hopefully, the things you do, show with the coaches and you get an opportunity to stick around.’€

Hartline, who took part in Patriots rookie minicamp this past week at Gillette Stadium (it was OK because he hasn’€™t spent six games or more games on a team’€™s active, inactive or reserve list), said that to this point, Brady has been ‘€œnothing but supportive’€ since he joined the franchise earlier this year.

‘€œBut at the end of the day, I have to work by myself,’€ said Hartline, who passed for 3,178 yards with 23 touchdowns as a senior at Kentucky. ‘€œI have to go out there and try and do everything that I can in order to get an opportunity to be a part of something special. But he’€™s been great. A real nice guy. I look forward to working with him.’€

Hartline is well aware of his situation: right now, he’s fourth on a depth chart that includes Brady, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. However, has a couple of things in his favor: First, he’€™s the brother of Brian Hartline, who has spent the last three seasons in the NFL (two of them as a fairly regular starter) as a wide receiver with the Dolphins. Thanks to his brother, he already has some insight as to what to expect at the professional level.

‘€œWe look to each other more of moral support, I want to say. We never really try to tell each other how to play, or what to be like,’€ Hartline said of his brother. ‘€œJust to mentally stay positive. Sometimes things won’€™t go your way. To have a guy like that to be a support system is really beneficial.’€

He also stood to benefit from his situation: He was the only quarterback on the roster (among the invited players) at camp, and so he got plenty of work in practice situations. In addition, he was also to benefit from more individual coaching, as the numbers at camp were far less than what they might be during the regular season, and more conducive to one-on-one coaching.

‘€œI was excited when they said I could do it,’€ Hartline said of the opportunity to take part. ‘€œI wasn’€™t sure with rules if I could or not, but I’€™m happy that I am. I’€™m learning a lot every day. Obviously, with CBA rules, it’€™s a little bit difficult to get more time in than you can with you coach, but I try to put in the extra time — come early, stay late. And do everything I can to be ready for the next step.’€

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Hartline, Brian Hoyer, Mike Hartline
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