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Tom Brady, Bill Belichick will hit links at Pebble Beach

01.28.14 at 11:18 am ET
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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been busy this offseason — Belichick at the Senior Bowl and Brady not going to the Pro Bowl — but they’ve saved room for some golf.

The two have committed to play in this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, set to run from Feb. 3-9 in California, the tournament announced earlier this week. It’s become an early February tradition for the two of them, and they’ve been spotted on the famous course several times over the last few years.

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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Wide receivers

01.28.14 at 8:53 am 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 started with special teams. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers.

Depth chart: Julian Edelman (105 catches, 1,056 yards, 6 TDs), Danny Amendola (54 catches, 633 yards, 2 TDs), Kenbrell Thompkins (32 catches, 466 yards, 4 TDs), Josh Boyce (9 catches, 121 yards), Aaron Dobson (37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs), Austin Collie (6 catches, 63 yards)

Overview: With New England searching for an offensive identity at the start of the season, it was Edelman who filled the void, immediately picking up where Wes Welker left off. The former college quarterback had one of the best starts of any receiver of the Tom Brady era, and was the first receiver in a New England uniform other than Welker to finish a season with 100-plus catches since Troy Brown turned the trick in 2001. He was sturdy and dependable — and, for the first time in his career, he stayed healthy for all 16 games. As a result, he’€™ll hit the open market as a free agent as one of the more intriguing prospects out there. (He should get more interest than he did last year, when he received lukewarm attention from the Giants before returning to New England to sign a one-year deal with the Patriots.)

The rest of the receiving corps was intermittent with its contributions: Amendola had two colossal games (at Buffalo and at Miami) where he hit double-digits in receptions, but appeared to struggle to maintain consistency with the quarterback in his first year in New England. The rookies progressed relatively well over the course of the 2013 — shaking free of the drops that dogged them early in the year — but were up-and-down at times as Brady worked to ease them into life in the NFL. (Sometimes it was quiet and done behind the scenes. Sometimes, it wasn’€™t — although, to be fair, Brady was occasionally barking in frustration over his own mistakes.) And Collie was on and off the roster throughout the season, but appeared to win the trust of Brady down the stretch and into the postseason, so much so that it shouldn’€™t be a surprise if he’€™s back in 2014.

While they got an (mostly) unexpected jolt from Edelman in 2013, there are plenty of questions about this group going forward: Will Edelman return? Can Brady and Amendola get on the same page? Can the rookies continue to progress in the right direction? And will they add depth to this group going forward with a veteran like Anquan Boldin? It won’€™t be as seismic as it was last spring — Welker signing elsewhere, the release of Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch — but this offseason certainly figures to be another interesting one as it relates to the New England receiving corps.

Best moment: Hard to pick a singular moment here, so we’€™ll go with three, in no particular order: Thompkins catching the game-winner in the final seconds to lift the Patriots to a dramatic win over the Saints; Edelman’€™s beastly 13-catch, 169-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Dolphins in Miami; and Amendola’€™s effort in the regular-season opener against the Bills which (in large part) allowed the Patriots to escape upstate New York with the win. (Honorable mention goes to this move Boyce put on Browns cornerback Buster Skrine in the New England-Cleveland game)

Worst moment: Two: Dobson had three bad drops in the home win over the Jets in September; and the stretch drive output from Amendola, who dropped off the radar screen late in the regular season and in the playoffs. (After a really impressive 10-catch outing in a December loss to the Dolphins in South Florida, he had six catches over the final four games of the season — three in the last two regular-season games and three in the postseason.)

By the numbers: Dobson’€™s 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns were the most receiving yards and touchdowns for a rookie receiver in the Brady era.

Money quote: “I think I’ve always tried to do just whatever I thought we needed to do to try to fill the spots that the coaches can’€™t always do. I’ve been around here long enough so I have an understanding of what our coaches ask. I’ve been coached really hard over the years, and I try to convey a lot of those messages as well.”€ — Brady, when asked about working as a mentor to the young receivers

Read More: Aaron Dobson, austin collie, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman

Free agent snapshot: Anquan Boldin

01.27.14 at 1:36 pm 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. Over the next two weeks — with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag — we’€™ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We kick off the series with wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Position: Wide receiver
Age: 33 (will turn 34 on Oct. 3)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 223 pounds

The skinny: The veteran is likely near the end of a very impressive career, but clearly still has something left in the tank, as evidenced by the 85 catches for 1,179 receiving yards and seven touchdowns he had last year with San Francisco. He’€™s consistent (he’€™s never had fewer than 56 catches in a season), durable (he’€™s never played fewer than 14 games a season over the last five years) and has an excellent locker room reputation (witness this story that surfaced months after he joined the Niners). The idea of Boldin New England is something we pushed for last year, and things haven’€™t changed.

By the numbers: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Boldin has distinguished himself as an elite playoff performer: since he entered the league in 2003, Boldin’€™s four 100-plus yard receiving games are tied for first in the league during that span. His 1,033 receiving yards are second most and his eight touchdowns fourth most in that stretch.

Why it would work: Boldin is a highly-regarded veteran who would serve as something of a guiding presence for some of New England’€™s pass catchers. One of the toughest guys in the league — he broke his face a few years ago and was back in the lineup three weeks later — he wouldn’t make the Patriots receiving corps any younger, but he could serve as a leader for a relatively younger group in need of a positive role model. The Patriots would be a team that would be considered to be in the mix for a Super Bowl, which would allow Boldin to (presumably) end his career on an up note. (For what it’€™s worth, Boldin was a possibility for the Patriots as a free agent in 2010, but ended up going to the Ravens.)

Why it might not work: Money. The Patriots need to create some financial flexibility for themselves between now and the start of the new league year in March, and even if they’€™re able to do that, they still might not be inclined to spend on a veteran wide receiver, preferring instead to put their financial resources toward landing a tight end of defensive tackle, two other areas of need this offseason. It also sounds like Boldin grew very comfortable with the Niners in his first season in San Francisco — in the wake of the loss to the Seahawks in the NFC title game, he tweeted, “€œThank you 49ers fans for embracing my family and I during our first year in San Francisco. Your support this year was amazing.” First year. And honestly, the Niners would be crazy if they somehow didn’t go strong to try to retain him for 2014.

Quote:Anquan Boldin is a valuable, valuable player and every player should aspire and practice and play the game of football like Anquan Boldin. … Comes to work, goes home, comes back to work and kicks ass.”€ — Niners coach Jim Harbaugh on Boldin

Our take: From this viewpoint, Boldin would be a terrific addition to a Patriots offense that needs a world-class veteran presence who could serve as something of a role model for the younger receivers. It seems like a bit of a longshot right now, but if the Patriots could somehow find a way to make the cash work, it would make sense to try and get him on a two-year deal — nothing more — for relatively short money.

Read More: Anquan Boldin, free agent snapshot,

Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams

01.27.14 at 7:00 am 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 Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner LeGarrette Blount, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Danny Aiken, coverage man Matthew Slater

Overview: It was a good year for the specialists. Gostkowski emerged as a legitimate Pro Bowler, ending the year with several clutch field goals, including game-winners to beat the Bills and Broncos and big late kicks against the Jets and Texans. He also successfully executed an onside kick in the dramatic win over the Browns. (He finished the year 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts, as well as 65 touchbacks.) Ryan Allen had a good rookie year as a punter and holder for Gostkowski, finishing the regular-season with 29 punts landing inside the 20 (good for 10th in the league) and a 45.9 average, good for 14th in the NFL. (He was also one of the best things about the Patriots in the AFC title game, dropping three first-half punts inside the 20 and doing his part to help tilt the field for New England in the early going.) Blount was slow to get started as a kick returner but he finished with a flourish — he had two returns in the regular-season finale against the Bills for 145 yards. Meanwhile, Edelman was one of the more consistent punt returners in the league all season — he was 12th in the league in average yards per return with 10.7. This year he also became one of the best punt returners in history, as his 12.3 career average is now tied for seventh on the all-time list. While there’€™s some question about the futures of Blount and Edelman — both are free agents — figure on Gostkowski, Allen and Aiken all coming back in 2014. While there were guys who drew an exemption because of *ahem* injury, it’€™s worth noting that special teams was the only area where the Patriots had two Pro Bowlers (Slater, Gostkowski).

Best moment: Blount’€™s 83-yard kick return in the regular-season finale against the Bills was probably the one that stands out the most, but you could also make a case for Gostkowski’€™s game-winners against the Broncos (in overtime) and Bills (in the regular-season opener), or his kick to force overtime against the Jets, as well as his career-best 54-yarder against the Saints. And while Edelman didn’€™t take one all the way back to the house this season, he did have a nifty 43-yard return against the Steelers in November, his longest of the year.

Worst moment: It wasn’€™t on one of the specialists, but the penalty at the end of the Oct. 20 game against the Jets when Chris Jones was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a late field goal attempt from Nick Folk likely was the worst moment of the year for the special teams. Regardless of what you might think of the penalty, it allowed the Jets an extra chance to win the game in the extra session, and they took advantage. One more — Gostkowski’€™s performance down the stretch in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami was also probably the roughest outing for him on the season. He missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter and also booted a kickoff out of bounds in the fourth quarter to help set up Miami with terrific field position on what would be its game-winning drive.

By the numbers: 229 — The number of points the Patriots received in the annual special teams rankings compiled by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin. That was good enough to land New England at the top of the list. (Gosselin’€™s rankings, which are held in high regard by NFL front offices, are compiled by ranking all 32 teams in 22 categories and assigning points according to their standing — one for best, 32 for worst. For more on this year’€™s list, click here.)

Money quote: “Matt is one of the best in the league [at working as a gunner on punt coverage]. I think he has a lot of the qualities that we were talking about. Sure, any time they have to double somebody, that makes it one less guy they can use somewhere else in the return. He almost always draws two guys out there, unless they’€™re in an eight-man rush. Most of the time there’€™s two guys out there ‘€“ fourth-and-short, where they’€™re trying to protect the box ‘€“ but he draws a lot of double teams and deservedly so. He does an outstanding job of covering punts. As I said, it’€™s a tough position to play, but he’€™s got all the qualities that we talked about to be good. He does a good job for us.”€ — Bill Belichick on the work of special teams captain Matthew Slater

Read More: Julian Edelman, LeGarrette Blount, Matthew Slater, position-by-position breakdown

Report: Nick Caserio didn’t get Dolphins GM job because he wanted to fire coach Joe Philbin

01.26.14 at 5:01 pm ET
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In his recent series of interviews for the vacant Miami GM job, Nick Caserio told Dolphins ownership that he wanted to become the Miami GM, and if he got the job, he would start by cleaning house within the organization, including starting over with a new head coach, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. That was apparently enough for Dolphins ownership to decide not to hire Caserio — Salguero said Caserio was told by owner Stephen Ross he is completely committed to head coach Joe Philbin as the Dolphins head coach this year and beyond.

Caserio, who is currently the Patriots director of pro personnel, interviewed twice for the Miami job, but as of Saturday night, was out of the running for the position, and according to Tom E. Curran of Comcast Sports Net, had decided to return to the New England organization. It’s unclear how much of the decision to move on was the result of Caserio deciding not to take the job, and how much of it was Ross’ decision not to hire Caserio because of his commitment to Philbin.

Regardless, it was revealed Sunday the Dolphins had decided to hire Tampa Bay director of player personnel Dennis Hickey as their new GM. Hickey succeeds Jeff Ireland, who mutually agreed with the team to leave after serving as GM since 2008.

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Sunday NFL Notes: Why new deal for Devin McCourty now would make sense for both sides

01.26.14 at 6:00 am ET
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1. When it comes to dissecting the intricacies of the salary cap, Brian McIntyre has been an invaluable resource at this address, and so it was no surprise that he was the first to note this week that because he hit 80 percent playing time in each of the last four seasons, safety Devin McCourty will get a sizable bump in base salary for the 2014 season. According to NFLPA documents, McCourty’€™s base salary went from $920,000 to $3,920,000 as a result of his playing time — according to McIntyre, McCourty’€™s cap number is now $5.115 million. That will affect the Patriots team-building process this offseason — however, the impact could be mollified with a new deal for McCourty, one we hinted at here. It would seem to make sense for both sides, as the defensive back is entering the final year of a deal he signed as a rookie, while it stands to reason that the Patriots would like to retain McCourty for as long as they can. While Aqib Talib is probably the most talented defensive back on the roster, McCourty is the acknowledged leader of the secondary — his ball skills and work as a leader make him one of the most important players on the roster. While there are certainly other important contractual decisions for the franchise to deal with this offseason, McCourty is a key figure the Patriots need to retain going forward. A new contract now would make a lot of sense.

2. The news Saturday night that Nick Caserio would be sticking with the Patriots — despite a brief flirtation with the Dolphins — was interesting on a number of levels: One, the people around the league who I have spoken with suggest that while Caserio is highly regarded, he’€™s something of a blank slate. No one really knows that much about him. As a result, taking the chance to interview was likely an opportunity for him to expand his horizons a bit and allow some other folks around the league to get a real feel for him and his management style if he did decide to one day leave the Patriots. Two, he turned down a chance to interview for a similar position with the Colts in 2012, saying he was happy to stick around Foxboro. (Was the Miami gig a better job? More money? More leeway with ownership?) And three, it would have been an interesting career move for someone who has been so close to Bill Belichick over the years to even consider jumping directly to a divisional rival. The only time that’€™s happened (at least to my knowledge) was when Eric Mangini jumped to become the head coach of the Jets at the end of the 2005 season, and we all know how that turned out. For what it’€™s worth, the people who he’€™s worked with would certainly appear to endorse Caserio as a possible GM one day. I asked Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, who worked with Caserio briefly in New England, as Caserio a possible GM candidate, and he was enthusiastic in his praise for his old friend. ‘€œNick Caserio’€™s a fine man,’€ Dimitroff said. ‘€œHe’€™s a very intelligent guy. He’€™s a tireless worker. I don’€™t know who works harder than him in the National Football League. He’€™s won many hats in New England, Bill’€™s asked him to do quite a bit, not only on the personnel side, but on the coaching side. You talk about a well-rounded individual. I hope coach Belichick isn’€™t upset with me that I’€™m pitching Nick Caserio, but I think Nick is a top-notch personnel man.’€

3. Caserio was among three candidates to meet with the Dolphins for a second interview Saturday. Miami also interviewed Tampa Bay director of player personnel Dennis Hickey and Tennessee vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson. It would appear that assistant GM Brian Gaine was the fourth finalist — he had a second interview with Miami management on Friday. From this viewpoint, Gaine would make an excellent choice. The former University of Maine tight end is considered one of the rising young personnel stars in the NFL. He’€™s worked his way up from scout, having made his bones across the league with the Jets and Cowboys before landing in Miami. He was hired by the Dolphins as its assistant director of player personnel in 2008 and was promoted to director in 2011 before getting the assistant GM appointment in June 2012.

4. The retirement of Dante Scarnecchia after 30 years with the Patriots brought back a flood of memories for many local football writers. His occasionally off-color language and extra sprints after practice in the heat of training camp were his calling cards, not to mention the fact that he allowed several offensive linemen who arrived in Foxboro as relatively anonymous free agents to find riches elsewhere after Scarnecchia had coached them up for a few years, a group that included Russ Hochstein, Tom Ashworth and Donald Thomas. For all the amazing offensive numbers the Patriots had put up over the last seven seasons, the offensive line — and Scarnecchia’€™s greatness as a coach — was a big reason why. From this viewpoint, the best interaction I had with Scarnecchia was at media day for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. I wanted to do a story on New England’€™s offensive line, and after a little sleuthing, I found Scarnecchia literally hiding behind Bill Belichick‘€™s podium, talking only with ESPN’€™s Chris Mortensen. After waiting out the one-on-one, I spoke with him on my own for roughly 20 minutes. It was an education in some of the intricacies of offensive line play from someone who had forgotten more about the game than I’€™ll ever know. (He was also gracious enough to provide me with a breaking story, telling be straight-out that right tackle Sebastian Vollmer — who was questionable coming into the game with back and foot issues — was going to play in the big game against the Giants. I’€™ll always be grateful for that.) Scarnecchia was a football lifer, an individual who gave himself to the game and expected very little in return. I’€™m lucky enough to be one of a handful of reporters who get to nominate the finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame, and even though a candidate usually has to go through a waiting period before they’€™re nominated by our group, it would seem to make sense that if there’€™s one individual who should be an exemption to that rule, it’€™s Scarnecchia. (For more on Scarnecchia, check out the excellent interview the fellas from D&C did with him late last week.)

5. In a bit of news that flew under the radar this week, the Patriots were able to hire away Scarnecchia’€™s replacement Dave DeGuglielmo after DeGuglielmo spent less than a week as the offensive line coach with the University of Maryland. DeGuglielmo hadn’€™t even been formally introduced as the Terps newest o-line coach when news broke that he had been hired away by the Patriots to replace Scarnecchia. However, there doesn’€™t appear to be anything fishy — as this story on DeGuglielmo’€™s short time in College Park suggests, Maryland seemed to understand that it had hired an NFL-caliber assistant who was presented with another professional job that was too tempting to resist. Then, there’€™s also the fact that the job represents something of a homecoming for DeGuglielmo, a Bay State native who played college football at Boston University. ‘€œI would like to congratulate Dave on this exciting opportunity for his career,’€ Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said in a written statement. ‘€œDave is a great coach who brings a wealth of experience and will be a valued asset at the next level. We are honored that NFL teams pursue members of our coaching staff as we feel this is a compliment to our program.’€
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Reports: After interviewing for Dolphins GM job, Nick Caserio will stick with Patriots

01.25.14 at 10:33 pm ET
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Patriots director of pro personnel Nick Caserio was offered the vacant Miami GM position, but he’s decided to spurn the Dolphins and stay with New England, according to multiple reports.

Caserio, 38, has been with the Patriots since 2001 in various capacities, including as a personnel assistant, coaching assistant, area scout, wide receivers coach and personnel chief.

Caserio was among three candidates to meet with the Dolphins for a second interview Saturday — Miami also interviewed Tampa Bay director of player personnel Dennis Hickey and Tennessee vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson. It would appear Dolphins assistant GM Brian Gaine is the fourth finalist, as he had a second interview with Miami management on Friday.

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