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Patriots were close on wide receiver Steve Smith

03.15.14 at 10:20 am ET
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Turns out that things were starting to heat up between the Patriots and Steve Smith before the receiver ended up signing a free agent deal with the Ravens.

In a conference call with reporters late Friday, Smith said he was on the phone with New England coach Bill Belichick while on the way to Baltimore.

“I had spoken to Coach Belichick personally when I was at the airport on my way to Baltimore,” Smith told reporters. “We had a conversation that indicated that they were very interested in me. And I was also open to going there as well, but I really felt like after sitting here that (Baltimore) is the place that I felt would best fit me, and they convinced me that I would fit in here very well.”

Perhaps sensing that the Patriots were set to swoop in and make an offer — according to this story, Smith was scheduled to meet with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Monday — the Ravens moved quickly to secure Smith. The gritty slot receiver landed a three-year, $11.5 million deal with Baltimore on Friday relatively quickly.

“Steve is a Ravens-style football player,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “He always has been in our eyes. It’s just that he’s been playing for another team. ‘€¦ The last two days have given all of us with the Ravens an opportunity to get to know him on another level, and now, we’re even more impressed. We’re looking forward to working together and competing together.”

Read More: 2014 nfl free agency, Bill Belichick, steve smith,

Patriots 2014 roster starting to come into sharper focus

03.15.14 at 12:13 am ET
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With the team-building process still in its relative infancy, here’€™s a position-by-position look at how the 2014 Patriots are starting to shape up. It’€™s important to stress this is by no means a definitive breakdown — there are still plenty of moves to be made on both sides of the ball over the next couple of months. Instead, this is a snapshot of where the roster stands after the first wave of free agency and prior to the draft, comprised of the players who are under contract or have agreed to deals with the team for the upcoming season.

QB: (2) Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The Patriots always add a late-round or undrafted free agent at quarterback, at the very least to serve as a camp arm.

RB: (3) Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden
Analysis: In a depressed market for running backs, free agent LeGarrette Blount could return for next to nothing if both sides can connect on the specifics.

TE: (2) Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui
Analysis: Given his recent injury history, Gronkowski is by no means a guarantee here, and so they will likely need some more depth. Matthew Mulligan is a distinct possibility to return, and while there’€™s not much left on the free agent market, it’€™s conceivable the Patriots use at least one relatively high draft choice (Jace Amaro? Eric Ebron? C.J. Fiedorowicz?) on a pass catching tight end.

OL: (6) Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Chris Barker, Josh Kline.
Analysis: Free agent center Ryan Wendell remains the wild card. If the Patriots can retain him, that would allow last year’€™s starting group to move forward without any break in consistency. Will Svitek is also a possible re-sign as part of the second wave of free agency. Regardless, at least two more bodies will be added between now and the start of the season.

WR: (6) Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Mark Harrison, Matthew Slater.
Analysis: Like tight end, there’€™s still the likelihood the Patriots add to this spot soon, perhaps with the re-signing of Julian Edelman. Emmanuel Sanders is also a free agent possibility.

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Read More: 2014 nfl free agency,

Linebacker Brandon Spikes signs with Bills

03.14.14 at 11:48 pm ET
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The Patriots suffered their second personnel loss of free agency on Friday when linebacker Brandon Spikes agreed to a one-year deal worth a reported $3.25 million.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Spikes, who was drafted by the Patriots out of Florida in 2010, just finished the final year of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie. He struggled with knee injuries over the course of his career with the Patriots, but his best season came in 2012, when he finished with 92 tackles (57 solo) and a sack in 15 games played.

The news was hardly a surprise — the relationship between the player and franchise had deteriorated over the course of the 2013 season for a myriad of reasons, so much so that in an interview with the NFL Network last week, he acknowledged free agency could bring a “fresh start” for both him and the team.

“I just feel like both sides could benefit from a fresh start,” he said. “Any team that is willing to take a chance on me, they’€™re going to get a playmaker, a guy that’€™s very aggressive on the field, looking to be a difference-maker.”

Spikes tweeted the news late Friday.

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Read More: 2014 nfl free agency, Brandon Spikes,

CB Brandon Browner announces he’s reached agreement with Patriots

03.14.14 at 7:21 pm ET
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Brandon Browner told ESPN’s Josina Anderson Friday that he’s “taking a three-year deal” to play in New England.

The 29-year-old Brown spent the last three seasons of his career with the Seahawks, where he became an integral part of the Seattle defense. The 6-foot-4, 221-pounder has 10 career picks, including a career-high six in 2011. As part of a violation of league’s policy on PEDs, he will have to sit out the first four games of the 2014 season.

Browner tweeted out the following from his personal account shortly after the news broke.

“Today, I am proud to announce that I am a New England Patriot. I am honored that the Patriots are making me part of their legendary organization, and am grateful for the opportunity Mr. Kraft, Coach Belichick, Nick Caserio and the entire team have given me. I intend to diligently work with the same’€¨passion and dedication that I have displayed since coming into the NFL to uphold the great traditions and qualities that are embodied by the Patriots. I would be remiss if I didn’€™t thank the Seattle Seahawks for giving a CFL player the once in-a-lifetime opportunity to return to the NFL, making a’€¨young boy’s dream come true. To Coach Pete Carroll, GM John Schneider, John Idzik, Coach Richard, Rocky Seto, the LOB, my teammates, the training staff, the equipment guys the Seahawks organization as a whole and most importantly the 12th Man, I say thank you for everything you have done for myself and my family. I am a truly blessed person.”

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Read More: 2014 nfl free agency, Brandon Browner,

Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui takes to the sky

03.14.14 at 3:31 pm ET
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Michael Hoomanawanui flying with the Blue Angels? Why not. (The other guy is Rams punter Johnny Hekker.)

Read More: Michael Hoomanwanui, welcome to the offseason,

Report: Patriots meet with free agent DT Letroy Guion

03.14.14 at 3:23 pm ET
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The Patriots have met with free agent defensive tackle Letroy Guion, according to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Guion has been in the league for seven seasons — all with Minnesota — and has played defensive tackle and nose tackle. A 6-foot-4, 303-pounder, the 26-year-old had 13 starts last season for the Vikings, and had 21 tackles and a sack.

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Ian Rapoport on M&M: Brandon Browner told people he accepted Patriots’ offer

03.14.14 at 1:15 pm ET
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NFL Network/ reporter Ian Rapoport joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss the Patriots’ pursuit of cornerback Brandon Browner and other NFL free agent news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Rapoport reported Thursday night that Browner appeared to have a deal in place with the Patriots, but that’s since been called into question.

“Here’s what I know: Last night Brandon Browner told people very close to him that he had agreed to take the Patriots’ offer,” Rapoport explained. “At that point he was in New England, and my understanding is he is still in New England right now [shortly after noon]. He did have some visits scheduled, according to what his agent Peter Schaffer told Albert Breer in between periods of his men’s hockey league game in Denver. … I was told early this morning that the Redskins visit was then canceled, because they knew he was going to do a deal with New England. And then his agent has been saying the plan is still to go to the Redskins, and now the visit may be back on, after they initially canceled this morning.”

Added Rapoport on the likelihood of the deal getting finalized: “He agreed to a deal, according to people close to him last night. So, I would say the chances are pretty good, regardless of where he visits.”

As for how Browner would fit in, Rapoport said the veteran had some issues last season but the Patriots could be a good fit. Browner would have to sit out the first four games as part of his NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

“He’s an interesting player,” Rapoport said. “He’s big, he’s physical. Really struggled last year with the Seahawks. They were weighing all options, including releasing him last year. Then he got hurt and then he got suspended and they didn’t have to worry about it — they played Walter Thurmond and they won the Super Bowl.

“So I think his play is certainly a question. But you come to New England, he’ll only be allowed to do what he does. So I think it’s probably a good place for him. I think he knows it’s a good place for him, which is why he wants to come to New England. We’ll see what happens from there.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, Ian Rapoport
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