|10 most intriguing veterans on Patriots roster||05.07.13 at 12:43 pm ET|
This spring, there are several notable names on the Patriots roster who are starting an important period in their careers for one of four reasons. One, because they might be on the hot seat this year as part of a looming positional battle. Two, they’ve been on the shelf for an extended stretch and are a question mark when it comes to how much they might be able to contribute. Three, they have yet to take a snap in the Patriots system, which makes it difficult when it comes to gauging how they might fit in Foxboro. And four, they are entering a contract year and could have their fortunes down the road tied to their performance in 2013.
With that in mind, here’s our list of this spring’s 10 most intriguing veterans on the New England roster.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Talib, who was acquired from the Bucs in a November trade, wasn’t an elite corner by any stretch, but his presence allowed the Patriots to move Devin McCourty to safety and install Kyle Arrington in the slot. With that personnel combination in the secondary, the Patriots pass defense had great improvement across the board. (The continuity of having the same five guys at the same spots in the defensive backfield also helped, and with his return, should help going forward.) Despite some injury issues — his departure in the AFC title game, combined with New England’s lack of a coverage linebacker, left the Patriots struggling to defend against Joe Flacco — Talib became a key part of the defense. He re-signed with the Patriots on a low-cost, one-year “prove it” deal that creates incentives for both him and the team. If he has a terrific year, he gets to return to the open market with a chance to really cash in, and the team gets a top-level corner for a year at relatively low cost.
Tight end Jake Ballard: The former Giant was plucked off the New York roster last June and spent the entire 2012 season on the shelf after suffering a knee injury in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots. A 6-foot-6, 275-pounder, he was undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010 but turned himself into an effective downfield threat in 2011 with New York (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns). Ballard is intriguing for a couple of reasons. One, he hasn’t been on the field for a year, and remains a bit of an unknown commodity because of his inactivity. And two, if Rob Gronkowski is on the shelf for any amount of time, Ballard (provided he’s healthy) should see an increase in reps, as his game has some elements of Gronkowski.
Defensive lineman Armond Armstead: One of the most intriguing veteran prospects the Patriots have brought in this spring, this CFL import — who stands 6-foot-5, 300 pounds — could provide a boost to the New England pass rush. The 22-year-old, a USC product, was a three-year star for the Trojans in college. After a junior year spent at defensive end — where he had 43 tackles, six of which were for a loss (three sacks) — he was set to open his senior year at defensive tackle but suffered a heart attack before his senior season and never was cleared to practice. As a result, he went undrafted last spring and ended up with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, where he led the team with 44 tackles and six sacks to help the Argonauts to a Grey Cup championship. (Armstead and Jason Vega are the two CFL imports who joined the New England roster this offseason.)
(When it comes to making the transition from the CFL to the NFL, Marc Trestman — a former CFL coach who was named coach of the Bears this offseason — thinks it can be done. “There are some players up there certainly that have shown they can play in the NFL, that’s been proven over time. There haven’t been many, but the guys who have shown up down here did a pretty good job of fitting in,” he said. “Players up there are very similar to the guys down here in terms of their character. They want to master their craft, they want to be the best they can be, and some of them have had the opportunity south of the border and have done well. These guys love football up there and have dreams of wanting to do it down here, and those who can, will give it a try. Those who can’t have experienced a lot of exciting football up there.”)
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|Resetting the depth chart in Patriots secondary||03.17.13 at 1:24 pm ET|
There have been some notable moves so far this offseason for the New England secondary. With free agency continuing and the draft now just over a month away, the Patriots can still add to the defensive back spot. But right now — with the addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson, the re-signing of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and the departure of Patrick Chung — here’s a quick look at how the depth chart for the Patriots’ secondary shakes out at this point:
Talib: The 27-year-old, who will return for his first full season with the Patriots, projects as the No. 1 corner for New England in 2013.
Alfonzo Dennard: The Nebraska product, who played very well as a rookie last season in New England, faces something of a murky future, but if he’s available, he should go into the 2013 season as a starting corner.
Ras-I Dowling: The injury-plagued Dowling enters his third season in New England with a lot to prove. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an important part of the secondary — the problem is he hasn’t been healthy all that often. He’s played just nine games in two years.
Slot cornerbacks/special teamers
Arrington: After the acquisition of Talib, Arrington moved back inside to the slot — his more natural position — and flourished. Should start 2013 as the leader in the clubhouse for this spot once again.
Malcolm Williams: Primarily a special teamer, Williams provides depth at the defensive back position.
Devin McCourty: The lead dog in the secondary. He admitted late last season the transition from young guy to leader took some time, but he goes into 2013 as the No. 1 free safety on the team.
Steve Gregory: Gregory started slow and had issues staying on the field early in the season, but he and McCourty played well together at the end of the season.
Adrian Wilson: A bigger safety who can contribute down in the box, one of the early position battles worth watching could be between Wilson and Gregory. While Gregory and McCourty played well together, Wilson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) is more of a big, strong safety when it comes to overall body type than Gregory (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and could swipe some snaps from Gregory as a result, depending on the defensive game plans.
Tavon Wilson: Wilson started strong as a rookie — four interceptions in his first 10 games — but the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. He projects as a backup right now.
Nate Ebner: Ebner did see some significant snaps on defense at the start of the season, but made his niche as a special teamer. Currently figures as someone who can provide depth at the strong safety spot, not unlike Matthew Slater.
|Four final Saturday thoughts on Patriots and free agency||at 12:36 am ET|
Four Patriots-related thoughts as business comes to a close on Saturday:
Brandon Lloyd: There’s extreme makeover, and then, there’s what the Patriots are doing at wide receiver. As it stands right now, the Patriots don’t have a single receiver on the roster that caught a pass for them last season. That doesn’t mean that they won’t bring back Lloyd (who was cut Saturday afternoon) or re-sign Julian Edelman (who is still an available free agent). But right now, New England is looking at a depth chart at wide receiver that includes newcomers Donald Jones and Danny Amendola. Strange days, indeed.
Two more notes on the wide receiver position: First, as of this moment, there’s no offer sheet for Emmanuel Sanders. The receiver, who will turn 26 on Sunday, caught 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown in 2012 for Pittsburgh, starting seven games. In his three-year career, Sanders has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five TDs. And two, this little nugget showed up late Saturday night: the Patriots were initially interested in Greg Jennings. According to Bob McGinn, “According to an NFL source, the New England Patriots offered Jennings a deal averaging $6 million but didn’t get very far. Then the Patriots turned to St. Louis’ Danny Amendola as the replacement for Wes Welker.” Jennings ended up signing with the Vikings, a five-year deal valued at $47.5 million with $18 million guaranteed.
Sebastian Vollmer: The right tackle is playing the waiting game at this point — along with most of the other elite free agent offensive linemen like Jake Long and Andre Smith — as the market continues to shake itself out. The first domino that is expected to fall is Long, who is still picking and choosing after a ridiculously long visit with the Rams. After Long’s deal sets the marketplace, Vollmer should follow soon after that. If he did come back to New England (and right now, it’s my guess that he does return, eventually), the Patriots might build some playtime incentives into his deal like they apparently did with Amendola. The new receiver has incentives for staying healthy — if he plays all 16 games all five years of his contract, he’ll make an extra $500,000 a year. Vollmer, who has also struggled with injuries over the last couple of years, has been an elite tackle when healthy, but injuries have slowed him in the past (particularly in 2011). But considering the market, the Patriots were wise not to use the franchise tag (it would have been $9.7 million) on him this year.
Aqib Talib: You rarely see two sides display such astounding common sense when it comes to negotiations, but the Patriots and the veteran corner handled this situation about as well as could be expected. New England read the market perfectly in this case — it’s a depressed year for corners — and instead of panicking and slapping the franchise tag on him (particularly in the wake of Alfonzo Dennard‘s murky legal future) which would have cost them $10.7 million, they waited it out and let the market set. As for Talib, he’s betting on himself to have a top-level year, and test the market again in 2014. The Patriots get a motivated player, while Talib gets a market-value deal and one more chance to prove to the rest of the league he deserves a big payday. Both sides get a big thumbs up for this one.
|The return of Aqib Talib makes sense for both sides||03.16.13 at 1:36 pm ET|
In the end, it was a pairing that made too much sense not to work.
Against the backdrop of a depressed cornerback market — with a team that needed his return to help provide some stability and consistency at corner — the Patriots and Aqib Talib agreed on a one-year deal with $5 million.
It’s a deal that’s a win-win for both sides: Talib gets a one-year “prove-it” contract that, if he stays healthy, clean and plays at a relatively high level, will give him an opportunity to go back on the market in 2014 and potentially land a big deal. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who continue to seek balance and depth at the cornerback spot (particularly with the uncertain legal future that’s facing fellow corner Alfonzo Dennard) got a bargain, picking up one of the best corners on the market for a relatively paltry $5 million a year.
Despite some hue and cry that the Patriots should franchise Talib (particularly in the wake of Dennard’s murky legal situation), the Patriots did a good job reading the market on this one. Frankly, it’s a bad year to be a free agent corner: Talib (one year, $5 million) joins Sean Smith (three years, $18 million from the Chiefs) and Keenan Lewis (five years, $26 million from the Saints) as top-level corners who got significantly less money (guaranteed and otherwise) than elite corners of years past. Compare this year’s numbers to last year, when Cortland Finnegan got a five-year $50 million deal with $27 million guaranteed; Carlos Rogers got four years and $29.3 million; and Lardarius Webb got six years, $52 million with $10 million of that guaranteed. Read the rest of this entry »
|Report: Aqib Talib signs a one-year deal with Patriots||at 11:59 am ET|
The Patriots have re-signed cornerback Aqib Talib to a one-year deal, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. (According to Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the deal is worth $5 million.) The 27-year-old Talib, who was acquired by the Patriots in a midseason trade with Tampa Bay, finished his six-game stretch with New England this year with 19 tackles (13 solo), two passes defensed and one interception.
While he wasn’t a Pro Bowler — he struggled with injury on occasion, and went down in the first half of the AFC title game against the Ravens — when he was healthy, he allowed the Patriots to make some moves defensively that they couldn’t do before his acquisition, including the move of Devin McCourty to safety and the decision to shuffle Kyle Arrington back to the role of slot corner. With him in the lineup, the Patriots were able to play a little more man coverage than they had been doing in the previous couple of years, and he was frequently matched up against the opponents’ No. 1 receiver.
While the future of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is still murky because of legal issues, the return of Talib — as well as the re-signing of Arrington and the addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson — does bring an added sense of stability to the New England secondary for 2013.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Sean Smith’s deal could set the market for Aqib Talib||03.14.13 at 3:18 pm ET|
The cornerback market is starting to come into sharper focus, as the Chiefs have signed Sean Smith to a three-year, $18 million deal, with $11 million of that guaranteed.
That deal could provide a framework for a contract for Aqib Talib, who is also considered one of the better free agent corners still on the market. On the subject of Talib — who was dealt to the Patriots midway through the 2012 season and was an important part of the New England secondary down the stretch — he’s been linked to the Redskins on several occasions. However, at this point, it’s unclear if Washington could get him under the cap.
But to this point in free agency, it has been a rough run for cornerbacks, as the money that was there in year’s past hasn’t been there — for the most part — this time around. That depressed market should help out the Patriots, who are still believed to be interested in making an addition in the secondary.
|What’s next on Patriots’ list of priorities?||at 12:43 am ET|
Now that the Wes Welker situation has reached a conclusion, here’s a quick look at some of the other priorities the Patriots have to focus on in the coming days:
1. Resolve the situations involving their own high-priority free agents: Even though Welker (and Donald Thomas and Pat Chung) is out the door, New England still has some key free agents of their own to worry about, particularly cornerback Aqib Talib and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. There has been remarkably little buzz regarding both of them in the first day or two of free agency, but expect that to pick up in the next few days, particularly in Vollmer’s case as more tackles start to come off the board. In addition, there are other free agents like running back Danny Woodhead, wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Kyle Arrington who have to have their own situations addressed sooner rather than later.
2. Make a decision on wide receiver Brandon Lloyd: He’s due a $3 million bonus if he’s on the roster on March 17. It’s not like this will play a huge role in the decision-making process, but the Patriots are extraordinarily thin at the wide receiver spot right now, even with Lloyd in the fold. At this moment, they have four receivers under contract for the 2013 season — Lloyd, Danny Amendola, Kamar Aiken and Matthew Slater. Even though they are deeper than most at tight end — remember, they have Jake Ballard joining a group that includes Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — that’s amazing.
3. Continue to work the free agent market: Whether it’s because they are doing a good job keeping it quiet or they just aren’t making much noise overall, other than the Amendola move, they have been remarkably quiet when it comes to kicking the tires on available free agents. It’s important to remember that New England has always played it close to the vest when it comes to operating in free agency, so this isn’t necessarily a surprise. But at this point, roughly 36 hours in, they’ve been one of the more quiet teams. (For what it’s worth, there are some intriguing names out there at some positions of need for the Patriots.)
4. Work the pro days: This period remains a key part of the collegiate scouting process, and with pro days continuing throughout the month of March, several members of New England’s scouting department will be on college campuses throughout the country. On several occasions, player personnel chief Nick Caserio has said that the pro day experience — particularly for players who aren’t invited to the combine — can play a colossal role in the overall evaluation of a potential prospect. In addition, private workouts will continue throughout March and into early April as the Patriots try and get a handle on who they should target in next month’s draft. (In that vein, check out DJ Bean’s story here on whether or not New England should try to go after a wide receiver in the draft in hopes of trying to help replace the production offered by departed free agent wide receiver Wes Welker.)
2013 PATRIOTS DRAFT PICKS
2013 NFL DRAFT
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