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Free Agent Snapshot: Dane Fletcher 02.19.15 at 11:59 am ET
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Dane Fletcher (52) makes a tackle in the 2011 playoffs against Denver. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Dane Fletcher (52) makes a tackle during the 2011 playoffs against Denver. (Elsa/Getty Images)

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. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee and Orlando Franklin. Here is a look at inside linebacker and special teamer Dane Fletcher:

Dane Fletcher
Position: Inside linebacker
Age: 28, (turns 29 on Sept. 14)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 244 pounds

The skinny: Fletcher is a very dependable, if not spectacular, linebacker who earned his keep in New England during his first four NFL seasons proving he can play many roles. In addition to his production on special teams, he caught the eye of Bill Belichick by showing he could make the rare transition from interior defensive lineman to inside linebacker to help fill a need. How much did Belichick think of Fletcher? He compared him to Harry Carson and Tedy Bruschi as players who have made the rare transition.  After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Montana State, Fletcher signed with the Patriots. Fletcher became one of two undrafted rookies to make the Patriots opening day roster. After being inactive for the first three games of the 2010 season, he made his NFL debut in Week 4 against the Dolphins. In Week 6, Fletcher saw his first considerable action on defense as a reserve against the Ravens. The next week against the Chargers, Fletcher forced his first career fumble. In Week 15, Fletcher’s late-fourth quarter sack of Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, the first of Fletcher’s career, helped thwart a Packers drive and preserve a Patriots win.

By the numbers: Fletcher finished his 2010 rookie season with 23 tackles and two sacks in 13 games played, all as a reserve. Played in a career high 15 games in 2013 with the Patriots, with one start, tallying 26 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He recorded a season-high 10 tackles against Denver in the Patriots’ come-from-behind 34-31 overtime win.

Why it would work: A Belichick favorite at the right price. Belichick could easily bring Fletcher back because he knows the player knows his system. After Belichick let Fletcher go to free agency last March, the linebacker signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with Tampa Bay last year. Fletcher gained valuable experience in Lovie Smith‘s 4-3 scheme, which by Fletcher’s own admission was difficult to learn. Fletcher played in a 3-4 scheme for three years with the Patriots and proved versatile when the Patriots began employing some 4-3 looks. He served as the middle linebacker. The biggest factor here could be the potential losses of Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in free agency. The linebacker who helped make the game-saving tackle on Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line could leave for greener pastures via free agency. That would open up a spot for Fletcher to return. Both Ayers and Casillas could be categorized as outside linebackers but serve multiple roles in Belichick hybrid defenses, roles Fletcher might be able to serve.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Dane Fletcher, New England Patriots,
Free Agent Snapshot: Orlando Franklin 02.18.15 at 11:58 am ET
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Orlando Franklin is one more versatile offensive linemen on the potential free agent market. (Getty Images)

Orlando Franklin is one more versatile offensive linemen on the potential free agent market. (Getty Images)

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. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes and Pernell McPhee. Here is a look at offensive guard/tackle Orlando Franklin:

Orlando Franklin
Position: Offensive guard/tackle
Age: 27, (turns 28 on April 12)
Height: 6-foot-7
Weight: 320 pounds

The skinny: The durable Franklin represents one of the most versatile offensive lineman to potentially hit the free agent market. He started his first three seasons out of the University of Miami playing right tackle for the Broncos before moving to left guard this past season. He has started 63 of a possible 64 regular season games in his four NFL seasons. As general manager John Elway and head coach John Fox considered options to replace left guard Zane Beadles (FA to Jacksonville) they decided on Franklin. The massive Franklin also provided more of a physical presence along the interior to boost the running game to protect Peyton Manning. Like the Bengals did in 2013 with Andrew Whitworth, the Broncos moved one of their long and powerful tackles inside to a guard spot to help open up holes on the interior line. When Franklin debuted with the Broncos in 2011, Tim Tebow became the starting quarterback midway through the season. Franklin was named to the All-Rookie Team by Football Outsiders that season after starting all 16 regular-season contests and playing in 98.2 percent of the team’€™s offensive snaps. Franklin was a key part of an offensive line that paved the way for the Broncos to lead the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 164.5 yards per game.

By the numbers: Allowed the fewest sacks (3.5) in the NFL among 16-game starting right tackles in 2012 while becoming the first right tackle and just the sixth offensive lineman overall in Broncos history to start every regular-season game as a rookie in 2011.

Why it would work: Value added. If 32-year-old Dan Connolly leaves via free agency, the versatile Franklin would immediately step in as the replacement, adding depth to the experienced Patriots offensive line, allowing the team to part ways with Connolly, who signed a three-year, $9.7 million contract in March 2012. It’ll take possibly three times that total dollar amount to bring Franklin on board in his prime. But protecting Brady is of utmost importance. And some money could be freed if the Patriots cut left tackle Nate Solder, who is due a pricey $7.438 million for 2015. Also, if the Patriots feel they need that cap space to re-sign Darrelle Revis and/or Devin McCourty, they could work out a long-term deal with someone like Franklin and save the money on the front end. In addition to the money, there’s no doubting that the Patriots (or any team) would value someone who has proven as durable and versatile as Franklin has in his first four seasons.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Denver Broncos, Orlando Franklin, Peyton Manning
Report: Locker room attendant identified, accused of trying to sneak ‘kicking’ football in AFC championship 02.17.15 at 9:56 pm ET
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Bill Belichick spent significant time leading up to the Super Bowl trying to explain Deflategate.  (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick spent significant time leading up to the Super Bowl trying to explain Deflategate. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

There now is a likely explanation for why there was such a delay at the start of the second half of the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Colts at Gillette Stadium last month.

According to a report from ESPN’s investigative unit “Outside the Lines” 48-year-old Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally has been identified as the person responsible for attempting to introduce an unapproved special teams ball into the game.

There was a significant delay at the start of the second half, and Dean Blandino confirmed before the Super Bowl that it was due to the fact that a “kicking” ball was given to referee Walt Anderson as the Patriots prepared to begin their first offensive series of the second half.

ESPN spoke with four sources familiar with the investigation into Deflategate. It is not clear whether McNally’s attempt to introduce a kicking ball is specifically related to the delay at the start of the second half or if it’s connected to the accusation of deflating footballs that were checked into the game by Anderson.

One source told ESPN that McNally, the attendant assigned to the officials’ locker room, has been interviewed by investigators for Ted Wells, the attorney the NFL hired last month to lead an investigation into allegations the Patriots intentionally used under-inflated footballs on offensive plays in the first half of that game against the Colts, won by the Patriots, 45-7.

Additionally, three sources told “Outside the Lines” that McNally has worked Patriots games for a decade, and has been in charge of the officials’ locker room at Gillette Stadium since at least 2008. In the first half of the AFC championship game, McNally tried to give the unapproved football to an alternate official who was in charge of the special-teams footballs. Those footballs are known as “kicking balls” or “K balls.”

Before every NFL game, footballs are inspected and measured by NFL officials in their locker room before they can be approved for in-game use. The “K balls” are used for special teams, and not by the offenses of either team.

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Read More: Deflategate, Jim McNally, New England Patriots,
Dante Scarnecchia heads out to Indy to lend a helping hand in NFL combine 02.17.15 at 6:07 pm ET
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Dante Scarnecchia remains an advisor to the Patriots, even in retirement. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Dante Scarnecchia remains an advisor to the Patriots, even in retirement. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The man who left the Patriots offensive line in the hands of Dave DeGuglielmo is still helping out where he can.

According to multiple reports, Dante Scarnecchia was on a flight from Boston to Indianapolis on Tuesday for the start of the NFL combine workouts in Indianapolis.

It was Scarnecchia who told the Boston Herald before Week 4 that he had faith that the offensive line would eventually gel and work well together. That faith was really tested when the Patriots, after Scarnecchia’s pronouncement, went out and were trounced 41-14 by the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sept. 29.

The key point to that gelling came with the insertion of rookie center Bryan Stork, a move that actually occurred in Kansas City, during the loss to the Chiefs. Stork was one player Scarnecchia referred to the Patriots after scouting him after retirement.

As it turns out, Scarnecchia, who retired from his offensive line job after the 2013 season, is still helping out, scouting players and advising Bill Belichick and the coaching staff. He’ll get that opportunity again this week.

Read More: Dante Scarnecchia, Dave DeGuglielmo, New England Patriots,
Report: Darrelle Revis viewed signing with Patriots as a 1-year deal 02.17.15 at 2:45 pm ET
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Bill Belichick and Darrelle Revis celebrate after Sunday's win over the Seahawks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick and Darrelle Revis celebrate after the Super Bowl win over the Seahawks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In what could be a precursor of the tone of talks with the Patriots, Darrelle Revis looked at 2014 as a one-year deal to earn a long-term commitment from the Patriots. Of course, as Jets owner Woody Johnson learned after the season, the superstar shutdown corner is actually signed for 2015 at a $20 million price tag.

According to Pro Football Talk, Revis was thinking along the same lines as Johnson when he actually inked the contract with the Patriots in March 2014.

All of this began last March when the Buccaneers cut him, realizing they didn’t want to give up a high draft pick to the Jets and pay a $1.5 million bonus. Bill Belichick hopped on the chance quickly to get the shutdown corner he desperately wanted to upgrade from the departed Aqib Talib.

The contract, when it was first reported, was for one year, with a handshake agreement that the two sides would both revisit in March 2015. But that was not the case. The Patriots and Revis came to agreement on a second season. That second season provided a degree of insurance for both player and team, at a cost of a $20 million payout for the ’15 season to Revis if a long-term deal could not be struck.

From the perspective of Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft, it’s a placeholder, as he told WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan after the Super Bowl win over the Seahawks.

But according to Pro Football Talk, that was not the understanding Revis had.

Revis and his representatives Schwartz & Feinsod felt the second year was designed to allow the Patriots to divide the signing bonus over two years, for cap purposes. In other words, either sign a new contract with the Patriots or be released by March 9 and sign a new deal elsewhere. The placeholder concept, according to PFT, was a bit of a curveball.

The $20 million is fully guaranteed but would preclude him from signing a multi-year deal at the top of his game in free agency that could be worth two or three times that amount on the open market. In a sense, the Patriots have a built-in, negotiated franchise tag of their own with Revis.

A complicated story is sure to have more twists and turns before the two sides come to an agreement on what’s next.

Read More: Darrelle Revis, New England Patriots,
Free Agent Snapshot: Charles Clay 02.13.15 at 11:59 am ET
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Charles Clay (42) has been a big-play maker against the Patriots in recent years. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Charles Clay (42) has been a big-play maker against the Patriots in recent years. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee. Here is a look at tight end Charles Clay:

Charles Clay
Position: Tight end/Fullback
Age: 26 (Feb. 13, 1989)
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 250 pounds

The skinny: In the words of Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, Clay “has size and can run.” The versatile Clay is also one of the best receiving “H-backs” in the game, proving to be a very reliable catching tight end and an effective blocking fullback when he is kept in to for extra pass protection. Clay, who has transitioned to more of a traditional tight end role, is regarded so highly around the NFL that he earned a spot at No. 89 among the NFL’s best players on a recent NFL.com poll. Two years ago he had a career year with 69 receptions for 759 yards and six touchdowns. That was when Clay’€™s value was at his highest. However, Clay battled through knee and hamstring injuries last season. In addition, under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, Clay’s numbers dropped as he wasn’€™t featured as much in the play-calling. If the Dolphins go with the cheaper in-house option of backup Dion Sims, Clay could hit the open market.

By the numbers: Clay’s best season came in 2013 when he had career highs in receptions (69), yards (759) and touchdowns (6). This past season, he had one game where he showed that kind of explosiveness and production, grabbing six catches for 114 yards in a Week 16 37-35 win over the Vikings.

Why it would work: If the Patriots feel they could make a significant upgrade over James Develin and/or Michael Hoomanawanui. Hooman is signed through 2015 and is due to make $800,000 with a $1.58 million cap hit for next season. Clay is coming off a down year where he fought through a season-long knee injury. It should help lower his price on the open market if the Dolphins let him get there. Clay is one of the more versatile tight ends in the league with the ability to line up in the backfield.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
Report: Wes Welker mulling retirement instead of free agency 02.10.15 at 8:48 pm ET
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Wes Welker is reportedly giving retirement serious thought. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Wes Welker is reportedly giving retirement serious thought. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Is Wes Welker‘s career over?

According to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, that is a real possibility. Welker, 33, is set to become a free agent next month but is instead considering retirement after several years of head injuries and declining production.

One of the sources told Garafolo that “no final decision has been made” though Welker has told concerned friends, family members and associates he’s at least giving thought to walking away from the game.

Welker has contemplated the possibility in recent weeks after telling reporters he was “not even thinking about that” after Denver’s loss to the Colts in the division round of the playoffs. A day later, while cleaning out his locker, Welker was asked about returning to Denver and replied, “I don’t know. There are a lot of things I’ve got to figure out in the offseason.”

One of those things might be the future of Peyton Manning. The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) reported Manning is training in New Orleans with the intention of returning to Denver next season. According to multiple reports, Manning is scheduled to meet with general manager John Elway and team president and CEO Joe Ellis before next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis.

If Welker does decide to hang them up, he will have posted one of the best careers of any slot receiver in NFL history and will have made his case for the Hall of Fame. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder out of Texas Tech has 890 career catches for 9,822 yards and 50 touchdowns. His most productive seasons came with Tom Brady in New England, as he posted five 100-catch seasons before heading to Denver to team up with Peyton Manning before the 2013 season, signing a two-year, $12 million deal.  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Wes Welker,
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