|Summer Blockbusters: Patriots 5 most impactful personnel moves between start of camp and regular season of Bill Belichick era||08.03.15 at 2:17 pm ET|
The team-building process doesn’t stop at the end of free agency; franchises are always looking to augment their roster. With that in mind, here’s a look at the five most important personnel moves the Patriots have made over the summer months during the Bill Belichick era.
Aug. 19, 2003 — Trade fourth-round pick to Chicago for nose tackle Ted Washington: The 2002 Patriots struggled to stop the run, and as the 2003 season dawned, it remained the Achilles’ heel of the defense. Enter the massive Washington, who was able to play a sizable role (pun intended) in helping craft a championship run defense. The 6-foot-5, 365-pounder shut things down up front in his lone season with the Patriots.
Aug. 2, 2009 — Sign free agent defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich: The former backup long snapper had been released by the Saints, but the Patriots scooped him up off the street for nothing. He started as a special teamer, and quickly worked his way into the starting lineup. The 31-year-old has turned into one of the foundational elements of the New England defense — in his six years with the Patriots, he has 35.5 sacks, including three straight seasons with eight sacks or more.
Aug. 6, 2009 — Trade third- and fifth-round picks to Oakland for linebacker Derrick Burgess: The 6-foot-2, 266-pounder out of Ole Miss was acquired by the Patriots roughly a month before the start of the 2009 regular season, and came away with five sacks and a forced fumble in his one year in New England.
July 29, 2011 — Trade fifth-round pick to Washington for defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth; trade fifth- and sixth-round picks to Cincinnati for wide receiver Chad Ochocinco: While these moves weren’t particularly impactful (Haynesworth was gone before the end of the season and Ochocinco looked terrified of making a mistake every time he took the field with New England), they made the list just because they were two outsized personalities who were acquired just after the lockout ended.
Aug. 26, 2014 — Trade offensive lineman Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick: The Patriots’ most surprising personnel move of the year saw the venerable guard shipped out of town in exchange for Wright, a move tight end who worked to complement starter Rob Gronkowski. While Wright didn’t have overwhelming numbers (and was cut the following offseason), he did set a new mark for dependability as a member of the New England passing attack.
|Inside Man: Chandler Jones bringing pressure from defensive tackle spot||09.16.13 at 1:17 pm ET|
Since Mike Wright left the game in 2011 because of concussion issues, the Patriots have lacked a steady pass-rushing presence on the interior of their defensive line. But the sight of Chandler Jones working part-time on the interior for the first two games of the 2013 season may offer some hope that New England may have found — at least on an occasional basis — someone on the interior who can get after the passer.
Over the last year-plus, the Patriots have utilized several possibilities along the inside in hopes of finding someone who could push the pocket and get after the quarterback. From Albert Haynesworth to Jonathan Fanene to Jermaine Cunningham, no one has been able to consistently pick up the role of interior pass rusher in New England.
But on nearly 20 occasions last Thursday against the Jets, the Patriots were able to move Jones from defensive end to defensive tackle. (That’s on the heels of doing the same thing in the regular-season opener against the Bills.) And on almost every occasion, New England was able to see positive results from the move — Jones was able to consistently create havoc for the offensive lines, which struggled to match up with him, and he frequently got into the backfield after the quarterback, coming away with a pair of sacks on Geno Smith.
It was clear the longer, leaner Jones presented a unique challenge for the interior linemen of Buffalo and New York, who were more used to seeing stouter, more physical play from the likes of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Joe Vellano.
“I think anytime you move those defensive ends inside, they obviously are a little bit smaller physically,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “but the quickness and the length they have over most traditional defensive tackles can cause those inside guys ‘ guards and centers ‘ some problems in protection just because they’re not used to seeing that type of player inside.”
‘Obviously when he’s inside, those guards just start sweating, because it’s not easy for a tackle to block Chandler. Then, you put him on a guard who’s not used to somebody who can move and has those ‘Go-Go Gadget’ arms from about five feet away,’ defensive end Rob Ninkovich said on WEEI Monday.
|Cosell: When it comes to identifying Patriots’ defensive front, mind the gap||03.26.12 at 11:09 am ET|
During the 2011 season, much was made about the Patriots’ apparent decision to move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. With the acquisition of veteran defensive linemen like Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Albert Haynesworth — all defenders who appeared to be a better fit in a 4-3 — it certainly appeared Bill Belichick was making a seismic shift in defensive sensibility.
But it turns out that the idea of 4-3 vs. 3-4 scheme in New England wasn’t as simple as having someone on the edge put their hand on the ground instead of stand up. Greg Cosell of NFL Films, who serves as the executive producer of ESPN’s ‘NFL Matchup,’ said that when it comes to the Patriots, the differences between a three-man front and a four-man front are more complex than you’d think.
‘You have to understand one thing — fronts are not determined by who’s in a three-point stance and who is in a two-point stance. Fronts are determined by gap concepts,’ Cosell said. ‘And I guarantee if you look at a lot of the Patriots’ ‘three-man fronts’ in the past where there’s actually two linebackers standing up on the outside, you’ll see that they’re actually in four-man front principles.’
‘With the Patriots, it’s complicated. You’ll see a three-technique. You’ll see a nose shade, not a nose tackle. Sure, there were snaps where they played a true 3-4 with a true nose tackle or a zero technique and two ends who are five techniques. But just because you have three down linemen, it doesn’t mean you are playing a 3-4.’
With the Patriots cutting Haynesworth and losing Anderson in free agency to Buffalo and the future of Carter uncertain because of injury, Cosell believes the Patriots won’t necessarily brand themselves a 3-4 or 4-3 team going forward, no matter who they might draft (or otherwise acquire), saying there’s ‘no need for them to make a delineation between 3-4 and 4-3. You don’t need to do that.’
Instead, look for them to continue to add versatile linemen and keep people guessing.
‘In Houston, Wade Phillips‘ defense is not a 3-4. It’s a 4-3. It just has the weak side defensive end — which was DeMarcus Ware in Dallas and was Mario Williams in Houston — stand up in a two-point stance. But every gap tells you it’s a 4-3,’ Cosell said. ‘People immediately assume because you see three down linemen and you see two outside linebackers standing up, that’s a 3-4. No. Belichick is smarter than that.’
|The 10 biggest questions entering NFL free agency||03.13.12 at 12:57 am ET|
With free agency set to start at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, here’s a look at the 10 most important questions, with an eye toward what the Patriots might do:
1. Where’s Peyton going to end up? The quarterback is the biggest name in the free agent class, and will almost certainly command the biggest deal on the open market. Manning and agent Tom Condon are playing their cards close to the vest to this point, but it sounds like Arizona, Miami, Denver and Seattle are in the mix to this point. In addition, Tennessee is also reportedly poised to make a full-court press for Manning’s services.
2. What sort of impact is Peyton going to have on the rest of the free agent market? A lot of his former Indianapolis teammates are also now available, including wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, running back Joseph Addai and tight end Dallas Clark. Chances are good that whoever will land Manning probably has a very good shot at landing at least one of his former mates, and subsequently, revamping a sizable portion of their offensive scheme.
3. How will Peyton affect the market for quarterbacks? It’s not just the free agent signal callers like Matt Flynn who stand to be affected by Manning’s decision. Incumbents like Kevin Kolb (Arizona) and Tim Tebow (Denver) could find themselves on the street if Manning ends up in their respective area codes. That could ultimately create a secondary series of ripples for a handful of quarterbacks.
4. What’s going to be the course of action for the Patriots? In New England last year, it was either a boom-or-bust with last year’s free agents: the big names (Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco) were busts, while the middle of the road guys (Andre Carter, Mark Anderson and Brian Waters) were some of the best free-agent signings of the Bill Belichick Era. This year? There are some intriguing fits for this team that wouldn’t break the bank, including Brandon Lloyd and Richard Marshall, while Mike Wallace remains a big-ticket possibility that would also cost them a draft pick.
5. Who will the Patriots lose? New England isn’t necessarily on danger of losing any of its elite players, but there are some intriguing UFA’s on the roster, including wide receiver Deion Branch, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, offensive linemen Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly and Anderson and Carter, all of whom have been important pieces of the puzzle over the last few seasons with the Patriots. Anderson figures to be a sought-after commodity: a 28-year-old who finished with 10 sacks, he could be in line for a decent-sized payday.
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|Jeff Fisher talks about Albert Haynesworth, Randy Moss and playing the Patriots in England||02.24.12 at 1:10 pm ET|
INDIANAPOLIS — The names of two former Patriots were bought up at the NFL scouting combine in Friday, as new Rams coach Jeff Fisher was asked about defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and wide receiver Randy Moss joining him in St. Louis.
Fisher actually has a history with both of them: Haynesworth played for Fisher when he was head coach in Tennessee from 2002 until 2008. Haynesworth enjoyed his best seasons with Fisher while both with the Titans, with the defensive tackle leaving as a free agent after a standout 2008 season. Meanwhile, Moss was with Fisher and the Titans for a portion of the 2010 season.
‘There’s some unrestricted free agents out there now that are not under contract that we’ve been talking about. He’s one of them,’ Fisher said when asked about Haynesworth. ‘Whether we do anything about it remains to be seen.’
Haynesworth was picked up by the Patriots last offseason, but released on Nov. 8. He was picked up by Tampa Bay two days later, but was placed on waivers earlier this month.
Fisher sounded a similarly lukewarm note about Moss, who announced a comeback attempt earlier this month.
‘There are a number of players we are considering,’ Fisher said. ‘You guys know my familiarity with Randy — I thought he was great for our locker room.’
Fisher also got off a good line when he was asked about playing the Patriots in England in 2012.
‘When it was announced, we were very excited. We think it’s a great opportunity,’ he said. He then waited a beat and added, ‘If you’re going to play the Patriots, it’s best not to play them in North America.
‘I think it’s a great opportunity for us. There were a number of clubs that were disappointed that they didn’t get the opportunity. We’re in the early stages of evaluating it, and talking to some of the clubs (with past experience) and how they did it and what’s most convenient for the players.’
Fisher was asked about wide receiver free agent-to-be Brandon Lloyd, who has been linked to the Patriots.
‘There are a number of [unrestricted free agents] we’re interested in keeping,’ Fisher said. ‘He would be one of them.’
|Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘I’m not taking this for granted’||01.30.12 at 7:00 am ET|
In a wide-ranging interview on the Dennis & Callahan show that aired Monday morning, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said that he is mindful that he may never have the opportunity to compete in a Super Bowl after Sunday’s game against the Giants. He noted that great teams (he cited the 2010 Patriots and this season’s Packers squads) can get bounced at any stage of the playoffs, thus offering him a reminder of the need to appreciate the opportunity that he has at hand in Super Bowl XLVI.
“I thought about [the possibility of never playing in another Super Bowl] the other day, because we haven’t been there for four years,” Brady said. “Last year, I thought we had a great team, and we lose in the divisional round of the playoffs. Green Bay had a pretty damn good team this year, and they lost in the divisional round. You can have a great team. You need some things to go your way, too. Ultimately, the thing we can control is playing good.
“I’m not taking this for granted. I’m enjoying every second of it. The opportunity to play this game, to represent the Patriots, I don’t take that for granted,” Brady added. “It’s hard to get to this game. To do it five times, it’s crazy. You don’t take it for granted.
Brady touched on several other topics, including his relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, his increasing inability to be social in public settings, whether he truly felt (as he has suggested before) that he “sucked” in the AFC championship game against the Ravens, and how he views the matchup against the Giants in the Super Bowl.
A transcript of the conversation is below. To listen to the interview, visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
When you were in high school, did you have any idea that your career would turn out like this?
Certainly not. You have goals and things as an athlete. I was never the greatest athlete. Even throughout high school, there were so many other guys who were potential Division 1–caliber athletes. I really didn’t start growing into my body.
I always tried to work hard. That came from my parents. To finally have the opportunity to go to Michigan, I was like the seventh guy on the depth chart when I got there. Even that was a dream. I didn’t even know anything about Michigan other than the helmets. To have a chance to go there and, wow, you’re seventh on the depth chart, I didn’t know if I would ever get an opportunity there. Finally I get an opportunity in my fourth year. Then you play, and going into your fifth year, I thought I did a decent job and then no one picks you and you’re like, man!
You don’t get invited to the Senior Bowl. I played in the Shrine Bowl. Gil Brandt was one of the guys who selected me there.
I’ve always felt like I’ve had to work pretty hard for it. It’s pretty cool now these days. Even warming up and running across the field, when I’m running next to Chad Johnson [Ochocinco] and Deion [Branch], these guys were, like, the fastest kids in their high school class, the best athlete on probably every team they’ve ever played on, and here I’m warming up next to those guys. I’m thinking, “Man, at least I can keep up with them a little bit.”
We’ve come a long way. I have so much fun doing what I do. Every day is fun for me.
|Patriots positional playoff preview: Defensive line||01.08.12 at 1:32 pm ET|
With the Patriots off this weekend and the postseason ready to begin, we’ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a weeklong, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We’ve already looked at the offensive side of the ball. Now, we take a look at the defense, starting with the defensive line.
Overview: It’s been an eventful season for the New England defensive line, which has run several new bodies through the system. Some have worked (Carter), while some haven’t (Albert Haynesworth).
In the end, even though the numbers may not suggest it, the New England defensive line was able to have a relatively productive season in 2011, thanks in large part to the work of Wilfork. The 30-year-old had one of the finest seasons of his already impressive career, finishing with a career-high in total snaps played and doing his best to hold together an occasionally unsteady defensive line that spent most of the first half of the season learning how to play together. His Pro Bowl nod — the fourth of his career — was well deserved. (In addition to his traditional work in the trenches, he’s added a pair of interceptions this season.)
As for the rest of the defensive line, Ellis has struggled with age and injury, while Warren has been a relatively solid presence as a rotational player along the interior of the defensive line. When it comes to the young guys, Love has flashed some talent (he appears to be a very good complementary piece at defensive tackle next to Wilfork). It also appears that Deaderick (who has some good positional versatility) will bear watching over the course of the next year.
Carter suffered a quad injury in a win last month over the Broncos, and with him on injured reserve, the Patriots have struggled to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Anderson (who finished tied with Carter in quarterback sacks with 10 and second to Carter in quarterback hits, 22 to 14) continues to get lots of reps as a situational pass rusher, but those pass-rushing numbers must improve if the New England defense wants to slow down opposing offenses in the postseason.
An opposing scout’s take on the New England defensive line heading into the postseason: ‘Big and hard to move inside, which may bode well in cold weather games against running teams. Don’t create a lot of pressure on the passer, but can push the pocket inside. Will miss the steady play of Andre Carter against the run and pass. Mark Anderson will flash some ability to create some pressure. They struggle to get pressure when rushing four, and will leave secondary on an island.’
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