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Sunday NFL Notes: Who is next in line for new deal from Patriots?

03.30.14 at 12:59 am ET
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Left tackle Nate Solder is one of a handful of Patriots starters who are set to be a part of free agency next year. (AP)

Left tackle Nate Solder is one of a handful of Patriots starters who could be a part of free agency next year. (AP)

1. With all of the Patriots’€™ big-ticket free agent items accounted for, it’€™s worth turning our attention to who might be next in line to receive a new deal. Here are eight notable contracts that are up at the end of the 2014 season.

a) Darrelle Revis — Well, he won’€™t really be a free agent, but there’€™s a very good chance we’€™ll all be back here next offseason debating what to do with the corner. There’€™s an option year for the Patriots in 2015 that would total $20 million, but if Revis has a good 2014, it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see both sides try and find some common ground on a new deal going forward.

b) Dan Connolly — The 31-year-old Connolly, who has been a regular member of New England’€™s offensive line (at guard or center) since 2010, is entering the final year of a three-year deal he signed in the spring of 2012.

c) Stephen Gostkowski — The kicker has been very steady since taking over for you-know-who in 2006 (it’€™s hard to believe Gostlowski be entering his ninth season in the NFL in 2014), but is going into the final year of a five-year contract he signed in 2010.

d) Nate Solder — The left tackle will be a free agent following the 2014 season, as it represents the final year of a four-year rookie contract he inked in 2011. For what it’€™s worth, this offseason was a robust market for tackles — it will be interesting to see what sort of market will greet Solder if he gets to next offseason without a new deal from New England.

(UPDATED, Sunday, 12:30: We failed to include the fact that the Patriots do hold a fifth-year option on Solder, one that must be exercised prior to May 3 of this year. That option, which is for all first-round picks of the 2011 draft, would be equal to the average salaries of the third through the 25th highest paid players at the position — in this case, offensive line — at the end of the restricted free-agent signing period. There’s no word yet on whether or not the Patriots would be interested in picking up that option. For more on the situation, check out this explanation from Pro Football Talk here.)

e) Stevan Ridley — With the departure of LeGarette Blount in free agency, it now appears that the running back will have his chance to make a statement in a contract season. If he tops the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in three seasons, he could stand to make a handsome payday. If he struggles with ball security, he could find a softer than expected market for his services.

f) Shane Vereen — If Vereen can stay healthy, he’€™ll have a terrific opportunity to prove his multidimensional worth in a key year. Despite missing most of the year with a wrist injury, in 2013, he was just the third Patriots running back in more than a decade to finish a season with at least 40 catches and 40 carries in a year.

g) Ryan Mallett — The Patriots backup quarterback has been the subject of some trade talk — the Texans inquired about him earlier this offseason. However, it remains debatable what sort of asking price New England would have if someone engaged the Patriots in serious trade talks this year for Mallett.

h) Devin McCourty — One of the most important of the bunch, according to ESPN, there’€™s been no movement on a new deal for McCourty, who’s rookie deal is up after the 2014 season. His steadiness, durability, versatility and smarts have made him an indispensable member of the New England defense.

2. Details of the new deal signed by Vince Wilfork started to emerge Saturday, and it appears to be a heavily incentivized contract that bears some similarities to the deal that offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer signed a year ago with the team in that if he can reach those goals, it’ll be a nice deal for both sides. According to Albert Breer of NFL Media, the contract includes a base salary of $1.3 million and a $1.3 million signing bonus. There are a series of bonuses in place that include playtime percentages, as well as some incentives tied to the success of the team and the defense as a whole. Per ESPN, here’€™s how it all breaks down for 2014:

– If he plays 60 percent of the defensive snaps: bonus of $1.25 million
– If he plays 70 percent of the defensive snaps: bonus of $2 million
– If he plays 70 percent of the defensive snaps and team makes the divisional round of the playoffs, he makes $2.5 million
– In addition, if Wilfork plays 70 percent of the defensive snaps and the team is top 10 in points allowed, he earns $500,000.

There’€™s also a $300,000 weight clause and a $200,000 workout bonus. In addition, there’€™s a $500,000 bonus for being on the 53-man roster for the first game of the 2014 regular season (in truth, it’€™s an incentive to make sure the Achilles’€™ injury he suffered last year doesn’€™t have him start the year on PUP) and a $87,500 per-game bonus for each game on the 46-man game day roster. All told, it’€™s a deal that could make him as much as $8 million in 2014 if he (and the team) hit all the incentives in the deal.

3. There are many layers to the DeSean Jackson situation, but when it comes to how it all relates to the Patriots, from this viewpoint, it would be surprising if New England went after him as a potential free agent pickup. Jackson is a transformative offensive talent, but he will bring a tremendous amount of baggage with him wherever he lands. Even if the report about alleged gang ties proves to be false, in the post-Aaron Hernandez era, it would seem to be a leap for New England to take a chance on a player who has been dogged by so many off-field questions. (That doesn’€™t even begin to take into account the financial ramifications of going after a player who will likely cost plenty — even though the Patriots have created some financial flexibility for themselves with the new deal for Wilfork, Jackson will likely have a hefty price tag.) New England has made a habit of making some surprise personnel moves over the last decade, but it would be a really big one if the Patriots went after Jackson. As for how it all plays out on the national stage, the process will likely take a few weeks, and a look at some of the current rosters suggests that teams like the Jets, Panthers, Raiders, Redskins and Chiefs might be heavily involved. (Multiple reports confirm that Jackson will visit with Washington on Monday.)

4. One of the truly interesting exchanges of Bill Belichick‘€™s Q&A with the media earlier this week at the owners’€™ meetings came when he was quizzed on a growing trend among college offenses — operating without a playbook. The most notable program to go without a playbook as of late has been Baylor, who instead used signals to players, who had individual assignments. “€œIt’€™s come up more and more,” Belichick said when asked about what sort of challenge it is to work with players who came from that sort of system. “I’€™m not saying they can’€™t do it. It’€™s just that in some cases, they haven’€™t done it. You’€™re teaching a player a concept. We call a play within that play, 11 people know what to do. In a lot of cases, that’€™s not what they’€™re doing now. So yeah. And I’€™d say that’€™s a relatively new thing for me. I haven’€™t seen that, but it’€™s come up more and more in … I’€™d say the last two, three years, particularly this year, more so. That’€™s become more — I don’€™t want to say prevalent, but more common. I’€™d say five years ago, I’€™d never heard of that. Now, it’€™s more common.”

5. Another overlooked aspect of Belichick’€™s Q&A with the media this week was the fact that it gave him the first opportunity to comment publicly on the hiring of new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. DeGuglielmo replaces longtime assistant Dante Scarnecchia, and while the Lexington native will have the benefit of coming into a situation where the Patriots will be able to roll out the same five starting offensive linemen they’€™ve had the last two seasons, the changeover from Scarnecchia to DeGuglielmo will be worth watching. “I like Dave,”€ Belichick said of the BU product who has also worked with the Jets, Dolphins and Giants. “He has some familiarity with our system, he’€™s done a good job and I’€™m glad we have him. Dante did a great job for us as well. It’€™s still different, not having him around, but this isn’€™t the first time we’€™ve lost a staff member, and I’€™m sure it won’€™t be the last.”€ One coach who will likely be helping DeGuglielmo is offensive assistant Brian Daboll, who has appeared to work with several different aspects of the team on the offensive side of the ball since returning to Foxboro last year. “€œHopefully, our entire coaching staff is working closely together, that’€™s what we’€™re trying to do,”€ Belichick said when asked about DeGuglielmo getting help from Daboll. “€œEverything’€™s connected to everything — the center is connected to the quarterback is connected to the receiver. They’€™re all connected in some way. So it all needs to work together (and) connect together somehow. Hopefully that’€™s what (will) happen.”

6. With the first wave of free agency in the books, here’€™s a status report on New England’€™s free agent class of 2014:

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: Signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Free agent, but has expressed an interest in returning.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: Free agent.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: Signed a four-year contract to return to New England.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: Free agent, although league sources indicate he’€™d welcome a return to the Patriots.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Signed a one-year deal with Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: Free agent, although like Mulligan, league sources indicate he’€™d welcome a return to the Patriots.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Signed a six-year deal with Denver.
Center Ryan Wendell: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.

7. At the league meetings this past week, Niners coach Jim Harbaugh talked about the chance to sit and talk with Julian Edelman during Edelman’€™s free agent visit with San Francisco. Edelman ended up re-signing with the Patriots, but for Harbaugh, it was an “honor”€ to speak with Edelman, a former college quarterback who has successful made the transition to the NFL level. According to the San Francisco coach — a former NFL quarterback himself — it was an opportunity to get a better sense of the learning curve that someone like Edelman faces when he arrives at the pro level. (Reading between the lines, it also provided a glimpse into the evolution of Edelman as a wide receiver.) “He explained it to me, just how tough it is to go from being a college receiver to a pro receiver trying now to defeat press coverage (and) have a plan for that,”€ Harbaugh said of his conversation with Edelman. “€œNow once you finally have beaten it, to then get back to be in your spot or where you’€™re supposed to be in the route and then think about catching the football. Just how difficult that is. That understanding and putting it all together doesn’€™t really happen until Year 3 or 4, to be able to beat the press and beat the bump without thinking about it, having that plan but not thinking about it, having the experience of getting open and catching the ball and doing all those things.”

8. While much has been made of the arms race between the Patriots and Broncos, the rest of last year’€™s AFC playoff teams have done their fair share of loading up, including the Colts. The AFC South champs, who suffered a loss to New England in the divisional playoff round at Gillette, have added wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, and figure to have tight end Dwayne Allen and wide receiver Reggie Wayne back from injury. That group joins the emerging Andrew Luck at quarterback and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. While running back is still a question, as it stands right now, they remain the class of the AFC South. But at the owners’€™ meetings this past week, Colts coach Chuck Pagano was asked about the challenge of trying to keep up with the Patriots and Broncos. “We have to play both of those teams, so it certainly poses a problem for not only us, but everybody else has to play them. Everybody is chasing the same goal. Everybody is chasing the Lombardi, so everybody is going to do what they feel like they have to do to improve their team and make that push and that run for that ultimate goal,”€ Pagano said. “Coach (John) Fox did a great job and they did acquire a bunch of talent. New England did acquire a couple of proven cover guys. It’€™s going to make for a competitive season.”

9. In that same vein, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is in much the same boat as Pagano and the Colts. While the Patriots and Broncos load up for another run at a title, Baltimore has made some tweaks, picking up veteran receiver Steve Smith and center Jeremy Zuttah and retaining most of their free agents as well, including tight end Dennis Pitta, wide receiver Jacoby Jones and left tackle Eugene Monroe. However, Harbaugh smirked when asked about the offseason dollars that were shelled out by New England and Denver. “€œI was disappointed with the moves that the Broncos and Patriots made in the offseason. What more can I say?”€ he asked. “€œI thought they did a great job — and that disturbed me. We’€™ll find out. The proof is in the pudding. But obviously they’€™ve added some pieces. I think both of those teams do a great job. They make great decisions, they’€™ve very particular with who they add and they add the player they need in the spot they need. It seems they draft that way as well. You’€™ve got to applaud what they’€™ve done. But we’€™ll play games in the fall and see how it plays out.”

10. It hasn’€™t been much of a surprise, but when Brandon Spikes signed with the Bills, you figure that his Twitter game was going to go to the next level now that he was out of New England, but the linebacker really went off on Saturday. After the news broke that running back Ray Rice married his fiancee Friday — the same woman he allegedly knocked unconscious in an Atlantic City casino earlier this year — Spikes went on a Twitter spree against Rice, who was indicted on third-degree aggravated assault charges for the attack. Among other things, Spikes wrote, “€œSomeone should choke (Rice) out. See how he likes it” and added, “€œThat’€™s him trying to save his image.” The Ravens aren’€™t scheduled to face the Bills this season, but the occasionally combustible linebacker has likely stirred up some ill will between the two teams that figures to be addressed the next time he faces Rice and Baltimore.

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