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Catching up with … the Dolphins

06.20.12 at 3:28 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at last year’€™s playoff teams: Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Texans and Bengals. In addition, we’ve broken down the division with looks at the Jets and Bills. We wrap it up today with the Dolphins.

When we last saw the Dolphins, they were rebounding from a hideous 0-7 start to finish the year with six wins in their last nine games (two of those defeats to end the season were by three points or less). They allowed them to finish with a 6-10 mark — not bad at all after the awful beginning. The Patriots swept them in 2011, winning the regular-season opener 38-24 in Miami and beating them 27-24 on Christmas Eve in Foxboro, 27-24.

Who they added: In addition to new head coach Joe Philbin (a former Green Bay coordinator who is also a former assistant with Harvard and Northeastern), the Dolphins signed quarterback David Garrard as a consolation prize after losing out on Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith. They added versatile defensive back Richard Marshall in free agency, and picked up wide receiver Chad Ochocinco after he was cut loose after one season with the Patriots. Other free-agent additions include former Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton and safety Tyrell Johnson, formerly of the Vikings. In the draft, they picked up quarterback Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) in the first round, who has already been anointed as the signal-caller of the future.

Who’€™s gone: The Dolphins dealt No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall with the Bears for a pair of draft picks, and didn’t really replace him. They also released safety Yeremiah Bell a week into free agency … after telling him they weren’t going to cut him loose. Defensive end Kendall Langford (to St.Louis) and quarterback Chad Henne are also gone.
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Catching up with … the Bills

06.19.12 at 2:17 pm ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the JetsRavens, Steelers, Broncos, Texans and Bengals. Now, we’€™ll turn our focus to the rest of the division, with a breakdown of the Bills.

When we last saw the Bills — after a 5-2 start that included a lot of good things on both sides of the ball — they were suffering through one of the worst injury-related stretches in recent history. Reeling, they lost eight of their last nine on the way to a 6-10 finish that pretty much erased all of the good feeling that was built up at the start of the season. Buffalo split with the Patriots in 2011, winning at Ralph Wilson Stadium against New England for the first time since 2003 (34-31) but losing the regular-season finale in Foxboro, 49-21.

Who they added: You could make an argument that no team had a more impactful free agent period than the Bills. They landed the top available free agent in defensive end Mario Williams, giving him a six-year, $100 million contract that included $50 million in guaranteed money. They also swiped free agent defensive end Mark Anderson from the Patriots, creating a formidable defensive front, while adding cornerback Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) in the first round and offensive lineman Cordy Glenn (Georgia) in the second round of the draft. And while they didn’€™t necessarily add them, the re-signing of wide receiver Stevie Johnson, middle linebacker Kirk Morrison and tight end Scott Chandler before the start of free agency allowed the Bills to lock up some of their most important assets.

Who’€™s gone: The only major departure came when left tackle Demetress Bell signed with Philadelphia. Wide receiver Roscoe Parrish also left for San Diego.

What they think of the Patriots: ‘€œIt was confidence. Bill (Belichick) and that whole organization had confidence in me to come in and do what I do which is to rush the passer and be a playmaker for the team. I worked real hard with everything I had to do. Everything just gelled at the right time. Like I said, I thank God for everything. I’€™m in a blessed situation right now. I’€™m going to try and help the Bills and the Bills nation right now and try and take it to a whole other level.’€ —Anderson on what went right for him in New England in 2011

Analysis: There is a lot to like about what the Bills did over the offseason, particularly the defensive upgrades they made. While there are some familiar questions (particularly as to whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick is a franchise quarterback, as well as receiver depth after Johnson), there appears to be a solid nucleus in place for the foreseeable future. If the ownership stays the course, they could enjoy some success sooner rather than later. However, with the Patriots and Jets considered the leaders of the pack in the AFC East, Buffalo will have to show that they can consistently compete with both New England and New York before they can be considered a long-term playoff possibility.

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Tom Brady, Logan Mankins on Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes

06.19.12 at 11:36 am ET
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Thanks to Forbes, we already know that Bill Belichick is the highest-paid coach in North America. Now, Forbes tells us that two of his players — quarterback Tom Brady and offensive lineman Logan Mankins — are rolling in it as well.

Brady was ranked 28th on the list of the world’€™s 100 highest-paid athletes of the last year, as Forbes said the quarterback earmed a total of $27.1 million, including $23.1 million in total salary and $4 million in endorsements from UGGs and Under Armour. As for Mankins, he’s at No. 51 on the list with $21.9 million, including $100,000 in endorsements. No other Patriots made the list.

To provide some sort of context, the top earner on the list is boxer Floyd Mayweather, who took home $85 million. Meanwhile, White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy made $16.6 million to finish at No. 100.

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Catching up with … the Bengals

06.19.12 at 12:28 am ET
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Part of a continuing series that takes a look at what some of the Patriots’€™ biggest competition in the AFC is doing this offseason. We’€™ve already looked at the JetsRavens, Steelers, Broncos and Texans. Today, we take a look at the Bengals:

The last time we saw the Bengals, they had survived the fistfight that is the AFC North, going 9-7 and making the postseason. Sure, they were depantsed in the wild-card round by the Texans, 31-10, but the fact that Cincinnati was able to finish above .500 and reach the postseason is certainly a step in the right direction for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals. They’€™ll look to build on that in 2012 with one of the better offseasons in the NFL.

Who they added: The Bengals made some wise free-agent signings, including BenJarvus Green-Ellis, cornerback Jason Allen (Houston) and guard Jacob Bell (St. Louis). They also added defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. In addition, they had what many consider to be a very good draft, getting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) in the first round, to go along with defensive lineman Devon Still (Penn State) in the second round and safety George Iloka (Boise State) in the fifth round, two players who many believe can contribute immediately.

Who’€™s gone: The Bengals lost a pair of quality defensive linemen in Frostee Rucker (Cleveland) and Jonathan Fanene (New England) in free agency.

What they think of the Patriots: There’€™s no bad blood between the two teams, but it’€™s worth mentioning that they effectively pulled off an offseason trade through free agency, swapping Green-Ellis for Fanene. While Green-Ellis will be used as the primary back for the Bengals, look for Fanene to be used situationally (primarily as an interior pass rusher) in his first season in New England.

Analysis: The Bengals finished strong and made great strides in the offseason, but they’€™re still victims of geography: Frankly, it will still take a massive effort for them to be consistent playoff performers in the always brutally tough AFC North, a division that has almost always been ruled by the Steelers and Ravens. It can be done, and Cincinnati has taken a lot of steps in the right direction over the last 12 months, but until the Bengals can prove themselves to be a consistent winner — that is to say, when they can put together back-to-back trips to the postseason — they are at the back-end of the playoff picture in the AFC.

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Julian Edelman impresses Blue Jays coaching staff in weekend workout in Toronto

06.18.12 at 5:45 pm ET
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Julian Edelman is one of several Patriots who can bring a versatile dynamic to the field. A college quarterback, he’€™s lined up at wide receiver, defensive back and returner since he arrived in Foxboro before the start of the 2009 season.

But a weekend stint working out with the Blue Jays in Toronto showed off a side of Edelman’€™s versatility that few have seen. Edelman spent the weekend in Toronto hanging out with the Blue Jays and pal J.P. Arencibia. (The two have become friends through linebacker Jerod Mayo, who was at Tennessee with Arencibia.) On Sunday before the Phillies-Blue Jays game, working with Blue Jays coach Brian Butterfield, who was born in Maine and is a big Patriots’€™ fan, Edelman put on a show.

Over the years, several Patriots have shown some baseball experience: Quarterback Tom Brady was drafted as a catcher out of high school by the Expos, while safety Jarrad Page (who spent the 2010 season with the Patriots) played college baseball at UCLA and was good enough to get drafted by three different teams before committing to football. But it’€™s unlikely they ever impressed a major league coaching staff like the 26-year-old Edelman did on Sunday.

‘€œHe worked out for us at shortstop and took ground balls and fly balls, and he took batting practice with Group Four, and he just wowed us,’€ said Butterfield. ‘€œHe worked unbelievably hard, and was just soaked by the end of batting practice.

‘€œ[Second baseman] Kelly Johnson took balls alongside him, and said he was amazing. He’€™s never seen footwork as good as that. The first fungo you hit him, he just exploded and attacked the ball,’€ he added. ‘€œDwayne Murphy, who won seven Gold Gloves, was watching him take fly balls and said he was impressive.’€

During batting practice, Butterfield said Edelman hit five homers, including two into the middle deck at Rogers Centre.

‘€œIn his first round or two, he struggled a little, but you could see the bat speed and the athleticism. And then, he got hot — he hit two balls into the middle deck and five home runs total,’€ Butterfield said.

‘€œThe two in the middle deck were absolute bombs. When he hit them, the guys were just screaming and yelling and telling each other, ‘€˜Look at that!’€™ He just wowed all of our guys. I’€™m a huge fan of his to begin with, and he was just even better than I thought. A great athlete.’€
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Patriots owner Rober Kraft wins 2012 PFWA Halas Award

06.18.12 at 2:38 pm ET
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Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been selected as the 2012 Halas Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America, it was announced on Monday. Here’s a portion of the announcement from the PFWA:

New England Patriots Chairman & CEO Robert Kraft, who played an instrumental role in last summer’€™s collective bargaining negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association during his late wife Myra’€™s battle with cancer, has been selected as the 2012 George Halas Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).

Kraft, the 43rd Halas Award winner, is the first NFL owner and first member of the Patriots franchise to receive the honor from the PFWA.

The Halas Award is given to a NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. The award is named for Halas, a charter member (1963) of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was associated with the Chicago Bears and NFL from their inception in 1920 until his death in 1983 as an owner, manager, player and promoter. Halas won 324 games and six NFL titles in 40 seasons as a coach.

While Kraft’€™s wife was battling cancer during the spring and summer of 2012, he shuttled back and forth between his wife’€™s hospital bed and the NFL’€™s labor negotiations with her encouragement. Myra Kraft passed away on July 20, 2011, and five days later, a grieving Robert Kraft stood outside the NFLPA’€™s headquarters in Washington, D.C., as the 10-year CBA agreement was announced.

During the announcement, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday embraced an emotional Kraft, and said, ‘€œA special thanks to Myra Kraft, who even in her weakest moment, allowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out, and without him this deal does not get done. I don’€™t want to be climactic in any way, but he is a man who helped us save football, and we are so gracious for that. We’€™re gracious for his family and for the opportunity he presented to get this deal done.’€

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Jerod Mayo on M&M: Communication, conditioning key for Patriots

06.15.12 at 2:07 pm ET
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Appearing on Mut & Merloni on Friday afternoon, Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo discussed his leadership role, good conditioning and some other keys to minicamp. To hear the interview, visit the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Mayo, at 26 years of age, is one of the defense’s veterans and is charged with helping new additions Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones.

“Those guys are coming out ready to work [and] that’s all you can ask,” Mayo said. “Those guys come out and work hard, both in the classroom and on the field. Being one of the older guys I just try to lead by example. We have great coaches they can learn from and [they’ve] got to work hard.”

The rookies aren’t the only players working hard this offseason as the Patriots, coming off a Super Bowl loss, are striving for improvement.

“The goal is to get better, obviously,” Mayo said. “We have a lot of talent on our team, but at the same time we have a lot of new faces, so communication is huge. Going out there and competing each and every play is huge. It’s just getting used to the coaches and things like that, especially for these young guys. That’s a big part of the offseason.”

Added Mayo: “It was difficult at first but that comes back to communication — knowing who you’re on the field with and things like that. I think it was good for us.”

The Patriots don’t stop working to reach their goal, even if coach Bill Belichick hands the team a rare day off as he did on Thursday.

“We still did some work,” Mayo said. “I don’t think it was a total day off. We got some things done. I think he knows everyone’s been working hard, so guys are going to continue to work hard. It wasn’t a full day off, but it was a pleasant surprise.”

Mayo’s personal goal is to be in tip-top shape at the start of training camp.

“This is a time where you get the edge on everyone else,” Mayo said. “You’re going to have some guys who go home and just eat their way out of the league, and you have those guys who go out there and grind and work hard. Just get ready for training camp, that’s the goal.”

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