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NFL draft prospect Michael Sam says he is gay

02.09.14 at 8:47 pm ET
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Former Missouri defensive end and current NFL draft prospect Michael Sam said Sunday in interviews with ESPN and The New York Times that he is gay.

“I just want to make sure I could tell my story the way I want to tell it,” Sam said. “€œI just want to own my truth.”

The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Sam is well-regarded as a potential draft prospect, having finished the 2013 season with 11.5 sacks. He is projected to be an early-round draft choice. If he is drafted, he could become the first active openly gay NFL player — former players Esera Tuaolo and Kwame Harris came out after their careers were done.

Sam told the Times that the Missouri program has supported him.

“Some people actually just couldn’€™t believe I was actually gay,” Sam said. “But I never had a problem with my teammates. Some of my coaches were worried, but there was never an issue. Once I became official to my teammates, I knew who I was. I knew that I was gay. And I knew that I was Michael Sam, who’€™s a Mizzou football player who happens to be gay.

“I was so proud of myself and I just didn’€™t care who knew. If someone on the street would have asked me, ‘€˜Hey, Mike, I heard you were gay; is that true?’€™ I would have said yes. I guess they don’€™t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not.”

“We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage,” the NFL said in a statement. “Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.”

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Recapping our free agent snapshot series

02.09.14 at 4:39 pm ET
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Here’s our complete list of free agent possibilities for the Patriots we’ve profiled so far with links to each post, complete with a snapshot as to how each might fit in Foxboro. (We’ll add to this in the upcoming week.)

Defensive lineman Michael Bennett
Defensive lineman Michael Johnson
Cornerback Brent Grimes
Defensive lineman Arthur Jones

Tight end Dennis Pitta
Wide receiver Eric Decker
Wide receiver Jacoby Jones
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin

Read More: Anquan Boldin, Arthur Jones, Brent Grimes, Dennis Pitta

Recapping our position-by-position breakdown of Patriots

02.09.14 at 4:25 pm ET
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Since just after the start of the Patriots offseason, we’ve gone through position-by-position and taken a look at the state of the roster. Here’s a complete listing of the series, and specific links to each positional grouping:

Special teams
Wide receivers
Running backs
Tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line

Read More: position-by-position breakdown,

Free agent snapshot: Michael Bennett

02.09.14 at 11:28 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 and Michael Johnson. Now, it’€™s Michael Bennett.

Position: Defensive lineman
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on Nov. 13)
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 274 pounds

The skinny: Bennett is essentially hitting free agency at the perfect time — he signed a one-year deal worth $4.8 million last offseason, and then proceeded to go out and play a sizable role in a dominant defense for a team that won the Super Bowl. He finished the 2013 season with 8.5 sacks, and has 17.5 sacks in his last two seasons. A versatile defensive lineman who has played up and down the line, the 6-foot-4, 274-pounder has played at least 13 games a season the last four years, and has a good rep around the league, one that will now only be enhanced by the fact that he has a Super Bowl ring. A former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, he’€™ll likely follow in the footsteps of his brother Martellus, who signed a one-year contract with the Giants in 2012, had a good season and parlayed that into a long-term deal with the Bears.

By the numbers: Per Pro Football Focus, Bennett led the Seahawks in quarterback hits (17) and quarterback hurries (39) in 2013. (By way of comparison, he would have led the Patriots in quarterback hits — Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had 14 each — and tied for second in quarterback hurries — Ninkovich had 46.)

Why it would work: Bennett has tremendous versatility, having lined up pretty much everywhere on the defensive line over the course of his career. While it took a while for him to find his footing in the pros, he’€™s had a tremendous amount of success wherever he’€™s been over the last few seasons.

Why it might not work: Money. Bennett is looking to get paid — in his words — like one of ‘€œthe top guys,’€ and unless the Patriots can get creative with some of their cap space, it’€™ll be a challenge. There’€™s also the problem of trying to pry Bennett away from a Super Bowl champion — he’€™s professed his love and admiration for Pete Carroll and his teammates on several occasions, and in addition to the question about getting paid, it doesn’€™t seem likely that he’€™d be inclined to bolt from a good situation in Seattle.

Quote: “He had shown versatility that he could play inside and outside, but I didn’€™t appreciate how constant he is effort-wise. I didn’€™t have that sense about him watching him on film, but he is a relentless football player. You love guys like that — he’€™s going to get everything out of every play. He takes some chances. He’€™s a risk taker in his rushes, in his playmaking, and in the running game. He’€™ll make some mistakes at times, but he’€™s also going to make some huge plays. I think it’€™s the intensity that he brings; we were surprised at that. That shows up, and that’€™s a great asset.”€ — Carroll on Bennett

Our take: It’€™s worth mentioning that Bennett played for Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay before making his way to Seattle (he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seahawks before being swiped by the Bucs … and then returning to Seattle again) and we know Bill Belichick has a soft spot for former Schiano guys. It seems to make a lot of sense of paper — Belichick lies awake at night dreaming about guys with Bennett’€™s skill set and versatility — but there are a lot of questions about how to execute the move. As previously stated, it would require lots of cap work, as well as what could be the difficult task of luring him away from a defending champion. If New England could somehow make it work financially, it makes a lot of sense.

Read More: free agent snapshot, Martellus Bennett, Michael Bennett,

Tom Brady’s approach shot sets up nifty eagle at Pebble Beach

02.09.14 at 11:11 am ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have spent the week at Pebble Beach playing golf, and the quarterback was able to connect with a nice approach shot the other day to set up an eagle.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, welcome to the offseason,

Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Safety

02.07.14 at 11:22 pm ET
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With the Patriots done for the season, we’€™ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We’€™ve focused on special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and cornerbacks. Now, we finish with the safeties.

Roster (stats taken from coaches film review): Devin McCourty (75 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery), Steve Gregory (90 tackles, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed), Duron Harmon (30 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 passes defensed), Tavon Wilson (2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, 1 pass defensed), Kanorris Davis, Nate Ebner.

Overview: While so much of the 2013 New England defense was defined by injury, the safety spot was the one area that stayed relatively healthy over the course of the season. Of course, Gregory missed two games because of a finger injury and McCourty missed one because of a concussion scare at the of the season, but when stacked up against the rest of the defense, the safeties look like iron men when compared to the rest of the group. (According to Pro Football Focus, McCourty was third on the team in defensive snaps with 1,039, while Gregory was sixth with 849.) They are not classic thumpers that many of their critics hope they would be — you can’€™t help but wonder what sort of role the super-sized Adrian Wilson might have had on the 2013 team — but for what they are asked to do in the context of the New England defense, they do it well.

While so many of the Patriots elite defenders went down over the course of the season, it was players like McCourty who stepped them games up and helped provide leadership and consistency, helping the New England defense through some of the roughest times. For his efforts, McCourty was named an All-Pro, and after four years, has the unique honor of reaching All-Pro status at two different positions. McCourty has been the leader of not just the safeties, but the secondary. Ultimately, his off-the-charts football IQ, skill set and attitude all represent a great asset for the Patriots, and it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see the team sign him to an extension before his deal was up at the end of the 2014 season.

Gregory had a mixed bag — there were a handful of bad angles that continue to stand out on film, a baffling sight given the fact that he’€™s one of the more cerebral players to put on a New England uniform over the last 5-10 seasons. But given the benefit of hindsight, there was more good than bad. Rookie Harmon had his occasional struggles, but he had matured to a point late in the season where he had moved ahead of Wilson and Ebner on the depth chart. And while they’€™re more special teamers than safeties, it’€™s worth mentioning that both Ebner and Davis appeared to throw their bodies around with a near-reckless abandon when working on kick and punt coverage, with Ebner continuing to have a good nose for the ball.

Ultimately, though, McCourty leads this group. For the last few seasons, the assumption was that as Vince Wilfork continued to get older, there would be a time when Jerod Mayo would assume the role of de factor leader on that side of the ball — the heart of the New England defense. If we learned anything about the Patriots’€™ defense in 2013, it’€™s that McCourty has the potential to have just a big a role leading the group going forward into the future.

Best moment: From an aesthetic standpoint, it’€™s hard not to single out the tipped ball play deftly executed by McCourty and cornerback Marquice Cole along the sidelines in a home win over the Dolphins. On a deep ball from Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill intended for wide receiver Mike Wallace, McCourty made a great read on the play — while he was falling out of bounds, he broke up the pass, tipping the ball to Cole, who managed to stay inbounds and come away with the pick.

Worst moment: Much of it came back to team defense, but the loss against the Broncos in the AFC title game represented a low-water mark for not just the safeties, but the defense as a group.

By the numbers: 80 percent. McCourty, who is going into the final year of his rookie deal, earned a $3 million contract bump for the final year because he played 80 percent of his snaps through each of his first four seasons.

Money quote: ‘€œDevin is a great player. ‘€¦ I see that every day in practice. You really have to look Devin off. He’€™s really smart — he sees combinations, and sometimes you try to look him off and he knows you’€™re trying to look him off so he doesn’€™t take it. There are other times he gets great jumps on the ball. The longer he’€™s been at safety, the better he’€™s done. He’€™s really been a consistent player for our team. He knocks balls away, covers guys in man coverage and then has that range in the deep part of the field where he truly plays like a safety.’€ — quarterback Tom Brady on McCourty, Oct. 30

Read More: Adrian Wilson, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kanorris Davis

Former Patriot Aaron Hernandez due in court Friday afternoon

02.07.14 at 9:11 am ET
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Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is set to make an appearance in Fall River Superior Court on Friday afternoon to face murder charges.

Just over a week ago, prosecutors filed a request for recordings of jailhouse phone calls Hernandez made. The 24-year-old, who is accused of murdering Odin Lloyd last summer, allegedly used “coded messages” to discuss the murder.

According to ESPN, those calls include Hernandez’€™s “belief about his criminal liability” and the “extent of his control over persons charges as accessories.” The request also states that Hernandez mentioned situations related to his co-defendants’ “whereabouts and likely criminal liability.”

Inmates are told that their phone calls will be recorded and are available to law enforcement if they are requested unless the phone call is to the individual’s lawyer.

The prosecutors are also looking to find out about the visits Hernandez has received while in prison, and have requested that the judge order the Bristol County sheriff to turn over records of any visits.

Hernandez’s fiance, Shayanna Jenkins, and cousin, Tanya Singleton, are among the people who are both connected with the case and visited Hernandez in prison. Both have pleaded not guilty — Jenkins to perjury and Singleton to contempt and conspiracy charges. Singleton was released from prison in late January on $15,000 bail.

Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, who are said to have been with Hernandez and Lloyd the night of the murder, have also pleaded not guilty to charges of accessory after the fact. The defense filed a discover motion a week ago asserting that Ortiz has changed his account of the murder and is no longer a reliable witness.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez,
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