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NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus

03.06.12 at 10:49 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

WHITNEY MERCILUS

Position: Defensive end

School: Illinois

Height: 6-foot-4

Weight: 265 pounds

Achievements: Consensus All-America, All-Big Ten, Ted Hendricks Award (nation’s top defensive end), Bill Willis Award (nation’s top defensive lineman), CFPA National Defensive Performer of the Year

What he brings: Mercilus is a most effective player when he can work the inside off speed from the outside. For a player with little experience as a starter, he has shown a lot of refinement in his pass rush repertoire. He has a quick first step and has enough speed to threaten the edge. He can sometimes lose leverage on contact and struggles to move laterally but his natural strength gives him an advantage to hold up at the point of attack.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Mercilus only started one season at Illinois, but he made the most of it. His nine forced fumbles this past season set the Big Ten single-season record and tied the NCAA mark. He also led the nation in sacks (16). … He ran a 4.68 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, fourth among defensive ends. … Mercilus grew up in Akron, Ohio, the son of Haitian immigrants.

Recent articles:

Mercilus after weightlifting injury

Whitney Mercilus NFL Draft Diary

Video: Here are some highlights of Mercilus from a 38-35 victory over Northwestern on Oct. 1.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Whitney Mercilus,

Complete list of NFL players who were franchised

03.05.12 at 4:30 pm ET
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With the 4 p.m. deadline come and gone, here are the players who have been franchised:

Arizona: Defensive end Calais Campbell
Atlanta: Cornerback Brent Grimes
Baltimore: Running back Ray Rice
Chicago: Running back Matt Forte
Cincinnati: Kicker Mike Nugent
Cleveland: Kicker Phil Dawson
Dallas: Linebacker Anthony Spencer
Denver: Kicker Matt Prater
Detroit: Defensive end Cliff Avril
Indianapolis: Defensive end Robert Mathis
Jacksonville: Kicker Josh Scobee
Kansas City: Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe
New England: Wide receiver Wes Welker
New Orleans: Quarterback Drew Brees
New York Giants: Punter Steve Weatherford
Oakland: Safety Tyvon Branch
Philadelphia: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson
San Francisco: Safety Dashon Goldson
Tampa Bay: Kicker Connor Barth
Tennessee: Safety Michael Griffin
Washington: Tight end Fred Davis

Read More: franchise tag,

Official statement from Patriots on the decision to franchise Wes Welker

03.05.12 at 3:42 pm ET
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Here’s the official press release from the Patriots on the decision to place the franchise tag on Wes Welker:

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ‘€“ The New England Patriots announced that they are utilizing the franchise designation on wide receiver Wes Welker. In the last two years, the Patriots used the franchise designation to retain the rights to Vince Wilfork (2010) and Logan Mankins (2011). The designations were later removed when the two sides agreed to contract extensions.

Today, the Patriots confirmed the use of the franchise designation and issued the following statement: ‘€œWes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come.’€
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Read More: franchise tag, Wes Welker,

National media sounds off on Saints’ bounty system

03.05.12 at 3:35 pm ET
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Never without controversy lately regarding issues of rough play and player safety, the NFL has another scandal on its hands as a league investigation found that the Saints were guilty of a wide-reaching system of payments to defensive players from former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for knocking out star offensive players on opposing teams.

The system of bounties reportedly involved between 22 and 27 players and spanned from 2009 to 2011. With the information now at the heart of discussion surrounding the NFL, many have begun to opine on what should happen to the Saints and how player-conscious NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will punish Williams and the Saints franchise for their transgressions.

Sports Illustrated NFL writer Don Banks wrote that because of this bounty system, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton face the most trouble of anyone in this saga.

Wrote Banks: This one stinks, NFL fans, and the stench goes top to bottom in the Saints organization. New Orleans can’t realistically make everyone pay with their jobs. There will be league fines and likely suspensions. But for Loomis and Payton, the accountability should be at a level commensurate with their responsibility. They were in charge of this show, and they know what comes with being the men at the top.

You get the credit and the blame. And this time, there’s nothing but blame to go around.

While Banks wrote that Loomis and Payton will undoubtedly be in trouble and could face the threat of losing their jobs, ESPN NFL writer Ashley Fox takes it a step further — she feels that the two men should be fired for their involvement and lack of action in helping prevent Williams’ payment system.

Wrote Fox: According to the NFL’s report, when [Saints owner Tom] Benson directed Loomis earlier this season to ensure that any bounty program be discontinued immediately, Loomis did not follow Benson’s directions. “Similarly, when the initial allegations were discussed with Mr. Loomis in 2010,” the report continued, “he denied any knowledge of a bounty program and pledged he would ensure that no such program was in place. There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices.”

If the NFL’s report is true, Loomis defied a direct order from his owner. That is grounds for dismissal. And Payton was no better.

For others, though, the issue of the Saints’ bounty system extends far beyond a single team. Greg Couch of Fox Sports believes that those behind the bounty system in New Orleans should undoubtedly be punished, but that the culture of the NFL is also to blame in all of this.

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Read More: Brett Favre, Charles Barkley, Damien Woody, Dave Duerson

Analysis: What it means for Wes Welker to get the franchise tag

03.05.12 at 3:26 pm ET
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A decade or so ago, when the Patriots hit a guy with the franchise tag, it was usually the first step in the eventual dissolution of the relationship — like one person telling the other: “We have to talk.” Tebucky Jones, Adam Vinatieri (the second time around), Asante Samuel and Matt Cassel all weren’t around Foxboro soon after they were hit with the franchise tag. In the case of Vinatieri and Samuel, they eventual left via free agency, or as a trade chip like Jones and Cassel.

But when the last two players — Vince Wilfork (in 2010) and Logan Mankins (in 2011) — were hit with the franchise tag, it was seen as part of the negotiation process. Neither individual was particularly happy about it, but it was done as a way of extending the negotiating window between the player and the team. And in both cases, despite some early acrimony, both players ended up signing big new deals with the Patriots.

When it comes to Welker, early indications are that his situation is a lot closer to the latter than the former. The wide receiver, who is expected to receive a roughly $9.4 million contract as the result of the tag (the league has yet to officially announce the tag numbers), has a very good working relationship with the franchise since he signed a five-year, $18 million deal prior to the start of the 2007 season. That was reflected in the overall optimistic tone of the statement issued by the franchise shortly after the news became official: “Wes Welker is a remarkable football player for our team and has been a vital component to our offense and special teams since we traded for him in 2007. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal. Wes remains a contractual priority and we are hopeful that he will remain a Patriot for years to come.”

When it comes to Welker, despite the fact that he’s been wildly underpaid when compared to his output against other receivers (no one has caught more passes over the last five seasons), he has never publicly feuded with management. In addition, his representation (Athletes First) has had a very good working relationship with the Patriots: This was the agency that helped make Drew Bledsoe the richest player in the history of the league with a 2001 contract. They also represent several current members of the roster, including tight end Aaron Hernandez, running back Shane Vereen, offensive lineman Nate Solder and punter Zoltan Mesko.

So if/when Welker and the team can reach a long-term deal, what sort of numbers are we talking about? Reports indicate that the two sides have been working together to find some common ground for some time — a Boston Globe report says the Patriots offered Welker a two-year, fully-guaranteed contract for $16 million during the 2011 season, which was declined. Now, if the team did decide to franchise him for back-to-back seasons, he would get the equivalent of a two-year deal worth roughly $20 million.

Ultimately, early indications certainly appear that a four-year deal worth $8 million to $9.5 million annually would be about right, especially when you consider the market and Welker’s production. One analyst offered this as a model, which seems to make a lot of sense.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Drew Bledsoe

Peter King on M&M: Texans DE Mario Williams should consider Patriots

03.05.12 at 1:13 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King, known for his Monday Morning Quarterback column, appeared on the Mut & Merloni show Monday morning to talk about the Saints’ bounty scandal, and he also touched on a free agent signing that could affect the Patriots.

With news breaking that running back Arian Foster agreed to a new contract with the Texans, King noted that the chances of defensive end Mario Williams becoming a Patriot just increased.

“I was surprised by Houston signing Arian Foster for five years and $43 million because they could’€™ve tagged him as a restricted free agent this year and an unrestricted free agent next year. They could’€™ve tagged him both times and kept him for a lot less money for what they in essence have guaranteed him. They’ve guaranteed him 20 million bucks in this contract.

“I think that is a tremendously positive sign for sort of team cohesion and treating your players the right way. This is a guy who basically has averaged 95 yards rushing a game in his 29 starts and really has performed tremendously. He’s clearly one of the top two, three, four backs in the league and the Texans took care of him.

“Now, what that means to me is they clearly — unless Mario Williams takes a fraction of what everyone thinks he’€™s going to get — that means that Mario Williams is going to be out on the market for somebody. And I wrote this morning, in my opinion I think the Patriots ought to be at the absolute very least kicking the financial tires on Mario Williams, because he can play so many different places on a defense. I just think he’€™d fit in very well with the Patriots.”

Williams likely could earn more money signing elsewhere, but King said Williams would be wise to consider less money to play in New England.

“If you’re Mario Williams and the Patriots offer you, say, $13 million a year in a long-term deal with good guarantees, you’€™ve got to think of that. If you’€™re a defensive player, who the heck wouldn’€™t want to play for Bill Belichick? … I’ve not talked to Mario Williams, so I don’t know what he’s thinking. Maybe he’€™s thinking, ‘This is the last contract I’ll ever sign and I’m going to make every last dime.’ If he is, he’s not going to the Patriots. But my feeling is, if you’€™re a really good defensive player and you want to be deep in the playoffs every year, where’s your best chance right now? My feeling is your best chance right now is go to play for Bill Belichick.”

Read More: Arian Foster, Mario Williams, Peter King,

NFL Draft’s Potential Patriots: Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy

03.05.12 at 10:57 am ET
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WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2012 NFL draft. Here is one is a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

JEREL WORTHY

Position: Defensive tackle

School: Michigan State

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 310 pounds

Achievements: All-America first team, Freshman All-America (2009)

What he brings: When Worthy does pass rush, he shows a good bull rush and should be a great fit at either defensive tackle positions. He demonstrates great upper-body strength and is able to take down a player with one arm. He has great athleticism and brute physicality.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Worthy started 38 of 40 games in three seasons with the Spartans, recording 107 tackles (52 unassisted). He ranks among Michigan State’s all-time leaders with 27.5 tackles resulting in losses totaling 118 yards, including 12 sacks. … Worthy tied his career high in tackles (5) and tackles for loss (2) in the Spartans’ 33-30 triple-overtime victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2. … Worthy wore No. 99 at Michigan State, but he switched to No. 95 for this past season’s game against Notre Dame in tribute to Spartans legend Bubba Smith, who died last year.

Recent Articles:

Orlando Sentinel: Q&A with Jerel Worthy

Worthy not thought to be a first-rounder

Video: Here’s a look at Worthy in the Spartans’ Outback Bowl victory over Georgia on Jan. 2.

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft, 2012 Potential Patriots, Jerel Worthy,
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