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Devin McCourty: Franchise tag ‘worst-case scenario,’ but not stressing over it, ‘I love it [in New England]’

02.25.15 at 4:15 pm ET
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Patriots safety Devin McCourty is set to become a free agent once the new league year begins in early March, but the Patriots and McCourty have a few options between now and then.

The team could place the franchise tag on the safety, which would pay him just over $9 million next season, or they could sign him to a long-term contract, or the organization could let him test free agency with the potential of him signing with another team.

McCourty has spent all five of his NFL seasons with the Patriots.

“I’ve kind of broken it down as the worst-case scenario would be that I get franchised and come back to play for another year here,” McCourty said to reporters (via CSNNE.com) at a Fuel up to Play 60 event at Lowell High School on Wednesday. “To me that’s no reason to stress. I love it here. The franchise tag is player-friendly now. It’s a good number. There’s no reason really for me to be stressed. If I hit free agency, I hope there’s some teams that want me to play there. Hopefully that goes over well. It’s still exciting.”

The Rutgers product acknowledged the team and his representatives have discussed a long-term deal, but the franchise tag hasn’t been brought up.

“They haven’t said so we’ll see,” McCourty said. “I guess every player you’d rather have a long-term deal or a chance to get a long-term deal. But like I said, it’s not a bad situation to be in.”

McCourty was a major part in the defense this past season for the Super Bowl Champions, often being the last line of defense in the secondary as a single-high safety, which allowed the rest of the defense to play free in front of him. He finished the season and postseason with 78 tackles and three interceptions.

Ultimately, he doesn’t know where he will be playing next season, but hinted he wants to stay in New England.

“I really don’t know,” McCourty said. “I could say anything right now, but being honest, I don’t know. It could go either way, I think.”

“If all things are equal, I’ll be back here,” he added.

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Read More: Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty,

Pro Day schedule starting to take shape

02.25.15 at 1:18 pm ET
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With the combine in the books, one of the next phases of the evaluation process involves the Pro Days, where players get a chance to work out in a more controlled environment on their own campus. While every school has yet to announce their information and schedule, here’€™s a look at what has been announced to this point. (Expect more updates in the coming days.)

March 2: Wake Forest
March 3: Pitt, Auburn
March 4: Mississippi State
March 5: Nebraska, Clemson
March 6: Arizona State
March 11: Southern Cal, Louisville, Oklahoma
March 12: Oregon
March 13: Ohio State, West Virginia
March 18: Michigan State, Georgia
March 19: Stanford
March 23: Iowa
March 24: Texas
March 27: LSU
March 31: Florida State, UConn
April 2: Miami, Washington
April 7: Florida

Policeman testifies that casing found in Aaron Hernandez’s vehicle matches those found at murder scene

02.25.15 at 1:04 pm ET
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The murder weapon in the Odin Lloyd shooting has not been located, but on Wednesday a Massachusetts State Police sergeant testified in court that the shell casing found in Aaron Hernandez’s rental car matched ones found at the murder scene.

At Hernandez’s trial in Fall River, Sgt. Stephen Walsh said the casing found inside Hernandez’s Nissan Altima by an employee of the rental car company and the five found at the scene were fired by the same gun — a Glock.

The defense responded by claiming bullets fired by a Glock can’t be identified like that.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez,

Free agent snapshot: David Harris

02.25.15 at 12:00 pm ET
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Linebacker David Harris has spent eight seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Linebacker David Harris has spent eight seasons in the NFL, all with the Jets. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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. We already featured C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu and Rey Maualuga. Today, it’s David Harris.

David Harris
Position: Linebacker
Age: 31 (Jan. 21, 1984)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 250 pounds

The skinny: He’s not the most well-known of the potential free agents — Patriots fans might know his previous starring role as “Guy Who Broke Tom Brady’s Interception-Free Streak” in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs, a pick that set the tone for New York’s upset of the Patriots. But over his eight seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Jets, Harris has distinguished himself as a smart and heady veteran who brings a nice consistency, poise and professionalism to the field and the locker room. Harris is one of the last men standing in Rex Ryan‘s really talented defenses of roughly a half-decade ago, and the second-round pick out of Michigan has made his mark as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, becoming a second-team All-Pro in 2009. He’s had some issues in coverage over the last few years, but is a stout presence in the middle, and over the last few years, played a very nice complementary role while working with New York’s outstanding defensive front when it comes to slowing the run. In New England, he’d likely work as a complementary piece to linebackers like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

By the numbers: 3,249 – the number of defensive snaps played by Harris over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s the highest total on the Jets roster in that time.

Why it would work: Harris is a smart, dependable veteran who could be had relatively cheaply. He’s registered at least 123 tackles in three consecutive seasons and has 30 career sacks. He’s known as someone who is stout against the run, and while no one is questioning the bonafides of defenders like Hightower and Collins after 2014 the idea of a thumper on the inside as a two-down defender against the run who comes off the field on passing downs would effectively make him Brandon Spikes without the Twitter baggage. (Something that’s appealing to the Patriots.) And as someone who has played eight years in the league but has missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons, the idea of being a part of a team that goes deep into the postseason on a fairly regular basis would also figure to hold some sort of appeal. He clearly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test in the sense that Bill Belichick has spoken very highly go him in the past on a fairly regular basis. (More on that shortly.) And it would represent a nice opportunity for the Patriots to poach a quality veteran from a divisional rival.

Why it might not work: If he does hit the market, Harris could be one of the more underrated gems of free agency on a few levels, including the fact that the veteran could have his choice of a few potential landing spots, including with his old boss Ryan in Buffalo (as a guy who could replace Spikes, at least on a semi-regular basis). Rumors also had the Falcons and Bears showing interest in the vet. (That doesn’t begin to take into account the idea of him staying put with the Jets.) And then, there’s also the fact that if the Patriots are able to bring back Hightower, Mayo and Collins, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of playing time available to a guy like Harris — who has carved out a tremendous niche as an iron man — in New England, even if he would acquiesce to play more of a two-down, run-stuffing role with the Patriots.

Quote: “I have a lot of respect for David Harris. That guy, first of all, he never comes of the field — not just this year, but any year. The guy is like a 98, 99 percent playtime player for them every year, year after year. It’s obviously a defense that has a lot of communication and adjustments, and he’s certainly at the center of that. Both as the signal caller and then at the line of scrimmage, you can see him adjusting the front or making some type of communication calls to his teammates. He’s a very instinctive player, which unfortunately we’ve seen that first-hand. He does a good job for them. He’s been very consistent, durable, dependable, productive over a long period of time.” — Belichick on Harris, Dec. 19

Our take: On the surface, this seems like the sort of guy the Patriots take a flier on on a semi-regular basis: veteran defender who is looking to put the capper on his career with a chance to go to (or win) a Super Bowl. However, as previously mentioned, Harris is likely to find several suitors on the market — if he does get that far — most of which would likely allow him to continue to work as a three-down player, as opposed to the two-down specialist he’d likely be if he came to New England. (There’s also the question about just what can be expected out of Hightower next spring and summer because of a late-season injury and recent surgery.) Still, if the idea of working in occasional relief of presumed starters like Mayo, Hightower and Collins and the chance to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later appeals to Harris, then he could certainly find a home with the Patriots, as long as the dollars were competitive.

Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, David Harris,

5 things we learned at NFL combine from Patriots perspective

02.23.15 at 6:58 pm ET
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Things were relatively quiet for the Patriots at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Things were relatively quiet for the Patriots at the NFL combine this week. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The 2015 NFL combine wrapped up in Indianapolis on Monday, and here are five things we learned, mostly from a Patriots perspective:

1. Deflategate won’t go away

Sadly, the whole Deflategate situation didn’t go away at the combine, it just got talked about even more after a few quiet weeks following the Super Bowl. The big development was Colts general manager Ryan Grigson saying the Colts notified the NFL of suspicions they had of the Patriots the week leading up to AFC championship game. Going by Grigson, the NFL was aware of the Patriots potentially using under inflated footballs, and the NFL didn’t do anything about it until halftime. Also coming up last week was the revelation of an NFL employee being fired as part of a memorabilia sting — stealing game balls for himself that were intended for charity. It seems this story will not die until the Ted Wells investigation is completed, and even then there may be more to this story. It’s also worth noting the Patriots will play the Colts in Indianapolis next season.

2. Another offensive lineman?

Joining Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the rest of the staff at the combine was former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who for a second straight season has assisted the Patriots leading up to the draft. It’s possible the Patriots have plans to select another offensive lineman, as last season they drafted two — Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming — with Scarnecchia’s input. His presence in Indianapolis this week conducting interviews with players may suggest the team has plans to select another one, especially on the interior given how much longer Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell have with the team. Scarnecchia has long-lasting relationship with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, helping draft Stork last season, and the Seminoles have a few other strong offensive line prospects this season as well, so it’s possible a Florida State-New England pipeline has been started.

3. Pats stay quiet

This wasn’t much of a surprise, but no members of the Patriots organization held formal press conferences, like most other teams. Belichick almost never speaks at the combine, although he did in 2014, so this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering development. Belichick did make headlines when he walked into the combine on Friday with Rex Ryan. Ryan had a throwback Thurman Thomas jersey on, while Belichick wore a hoodie for his foundation. Caserio did give a 1-on-1 interview with Patriots.com, where he talked about free agency and with the reality of the NFL, the Patriots will be a different team next year.

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Read More: 2015 NFL combine, Bill Belichick, Dante Scarnecchia, Jameis Winston

Free Agent Snapshot: Rey Maualuga

02.23.15 at 12:35 pm ET
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Could the Patriots sign Rey Maualuga? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Could the Patriots sign linebacker Rey Maualuga? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher and Roy Helu. Today we’ll feature linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Rey Maualuga
Position: Linebacker
Age: 28 (Jan. 20, 1987)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 255 pounds

The skinny: Maualuga has played all six of his NFL seasons in Cincinnati with the Bengals. The USC product battled a hamstring injury for a lot of this past season, forcing him to even leave the divisional round game against the Colts. He played in 12 games and finished with 59 tackles for the year. Over his six years with the Bengals, he’s only been able to play a full season in two of them — injuries the reason. His best year came in 2012 when he played in all 16 games and finished the year with 122 tackles. The former second round pick has started for the Bengals at middle linebacker for the majority of his career, and if Cincinnati doesn’t bring him back, he could be a good addition to another team.

By the numbers: When Maualuga returned from his hamstring injury this past season for the final seven games, teams averaged just 82 rushing yards in those games against the Bengals and were held to 85 yards or less in six of those games.

Why it would work: The Patriots might be in need of an insurance policy for Dont’a Hightower, as it was reported over the weekend the middle linebacker will be facing a recovery time of 6-7 months for his torn labrum. That timetable has him back somewhere between Aug. 10 and Sept. 10, which is the regular-season opener. With no guarantee he’s ready, the Pats may need to go get another linebacker, especially one that has proven they can play at the NFL level. He’s coming off of a two-year deal worth $6.5 million, so it’s likely the 28-year-old will be seeking the same sort of deal this offseason.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Dont'a Hightower, Rey Maualuga,

Report: Dont’a Highower’s torn labrum recovery time 6-7 months

02.22.15 at 8:34 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

Following the season, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower had surgery to repair a torn labrum, which he played with for much of the season.

This weekend we’ve learned how long his recovery time will be.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Hightower’s recovery time will be six to seven months. Howe also notes training camp begins on July 29 and a six-month recovery time would have Hightower ready Aug. 10. A seven-month recovery time would be Sept. 10, coincidentally the opening night of the regular season, which the Patriots will likely be playing in, customary for the Super Bowl champs.

Hightower played in 12 games in his third season in the league, and did an admirable job filling in for linebacker Jerod Mayo when Mayo went down with a season-ending injury. The Alabama product finished with 89 tackles and six sacks. He also was the player who tackled Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Dont'a Hightower,
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