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Dont’a Hightower talks about possibility of returning for 2017 and beyond 02.08.17 at 3:47 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower is going to get paid. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

Dont’a Hightower is going to get paid. (Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports)

Dont’a Hightower sounded a relatively optimistic note about his chances of returning to the Patriots in 2017 and beyond on Wednesday.

The linebacker, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, was asked by ESPN if the fact that Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins are no longer in the picture would help his chances when it comes to re-upping with New England.

“I’d like to think. But, again, guys can get out out and traded or whatever,” Hightower said. “I’m just trying to go along with the ride right now and enjoy that Super Bowl victory. I’m sure in a couple weeks all that free agency stuff will pick up, and I’ll handle that whenever that comes.”

After he was dealt by the Patriots to Cleveland, Collins landed a four-year deal worth $50 million, a contract that some believe could serve as a framework for both sides when it comes to getting a deal done for Hightower to remain in New England. At the same time, the Patriots could also use the franchise tag on the Alabama product, which would likely be somewhere in the $15 million range.

“That’s a lot of money,” Hightower said when asked about the possibility of the franchise tag.

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Top 10 storylines of 2016 for Patriots, including Deflategate fallout, off-field distractions, historic milestones 12.30.16 at 6:00 am ET
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It was an eventful 2016 calendar year for the Patriots, and with the New Year almost upon us, we figured this was as good of a time as any to count down the best storylines of the year.

10. Rob Gronkowski’s special day in Buffalo

On Oct. 30 in Buffalo, Rob Gronkowski recorded his 69th career touchdown, which broke Stanley Morgan’s team record. It was extra special considering it was in front of his family and friends, and in typical Gronk fashion, he found a way to work “69” and his mom into his comments after the game.

“The first thing yesterday — we sat down and I saw her — she came to our hotel and when we sat down she said, ‘Rob, I’m so proud of you when you score your 69th touchdown,’” Gronkowski said after the game. “I was like, I have to give her a shoutout that she is super proud of me. Hi, mom. Thank you.”

9. Quarterback situation in Weeks 1-4

With Tom Brady suspended, the first four weeks were supposed to be all Jimmy Garoppolo, but then the third-year player suffered a sprained AC joint in the second quarter of Week 2 and couldn’t play in the following two games. That set the stage for rookie Jacoby Brissett, who led the team to a 27-0 win over the Texans in Week 3, but suffered a thumb injury in the game that eventually needed surgery.

This left the Week 4 quarterback situation very much up in the air, as Garoppolo was trying to come back from his shoulder injury and Brissett had his own thumb issue to deal with. There was even talk throughout the week of college quarterback Julian Edelman being under center, but eventually it was Brissett and the Patriots lost 16-0 to the Bills. Despite going 3-1 without Brady, it was a crazy first four weeks of the season at the quarterback position.

8. Chandler Jones’ situation before playoff game

The Sunday before the Patriots’ divisional round game against the Chiefs, Chandler Jones had a bad reaction after smoking synthetic marijuana and showed up to the Foxboro police station with his shirt off and wondering aimlessly before being taken to the hospital. This story dominated the headlines the week of the game with the facts of exactly what took place slowly coming out, but ultimately Bill Belichick didn’t discipline the defensive end, as he started and played his normal snaps in the game. Jones was traded to Arizona in the offseason.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, chandler jones, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady
Matt Patricia gets defensive when asked why he is trying to still figure things out 10 games in 11.22.16 at 12:19 pm ET
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Matt Patricia

Matt Patricia

Matt Patricia was finally put on the defensive Tuesday.

During his weekly conference call with reporters – and just minutes after Bill Belichick said every head coaching vacancy list should include Patricia – the Patriots defensive coordinator was asked by CSNNE’s Tom Curran if he is at all disappointed in himself since the defense hasn’t gotten the most out of some of its higher profile talent.

Namely, Curran brought up the trade of Jamie Collins and the benching of Jabaal Sheard, both players in the final years of contracts.

The exchange began with Curran asking Patricia if he’s looking at his own job performance as a possible reason for the ups and downs of the defense and the inconsistencies of personnel.

“The defense hasn’t panned out,” Curran began. “Do you feel at all disappointed in yourself that you weren’t able to get more from those players and the way it’s kind of panned out. What level of introspection that you’re still trying to figure things out this deep in the year?

“That’s a pretty negative question there, Tom. I’m going to try to put the positive spin on that.”

“Let’s try to spin it positive if that’s the way you feel. I mean, it’s two good players,” Curran answered.

“Try to look at the good side of it,” Patricia replied. “We really try to make sure that we coach everything that really comes our way. I would say, for us, every year is different. To go into a season with expectations for certain things and to be hard core into those, I don’t really think that’s applicable. Each team are [thought] to be the best team that year and very rarely does it ever work out that way. We kind of deal with the season as it goes and the guys that we have and we do the best we can with it.

“Our expectations are the same every week. We’re going to go out and compete and do the best we can and try to improve week in and week out with whoever’s out there, and that’s what we try to do. I think that part of the season in the NFL that is great is that it’s a long season. It’s a season that’s continually evolving. If you at the teams through the course of the different seasons that have played and wound up in the end where you want to be. I’m sure those teams have gone through a lot of different things throughout the season.

“We’re just kind of in that mix. It’s getting toward Thanksgiving. We’re going to try to play our best football here moving forward with whoever’s out there and try to get better, no matter what.

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Read More: chandler jones, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, matt patricia
Ex-Patriots DE Chandler Jones has already impressed new teammates, coaches in Arizona 09.08.16 at 9:46 am ET
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Chandler Jones will get a crack at his old team on Sunday night. (Mike Petraglia/

Chandler Jones will get a crack at his old team on Sunday night. (Mike Petraglia/

Get ready for the Chandler Jones Bowl.

The Patriots will get a chance to meet their old teammate Sunday in Sunday’s season opener against the Cardinals, as Jones will line up at defensive end for Arizona.

The 26-year-old, who had 36 sacks in four years with New England, has already made a serious impression on his new coaches and teammates.

“A true professional,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of Jones on Wednesday. “He comes to work every day. He’s a coach-pleaser. He’s extremely talented, obviously. But I’ve been very impressed with the way he’s fit in with our group and our culture right away.

“He sets an edge presence for us. Playing outside linebacker, defensive end, he’s obviously very versatile where you can put him,” Arians added. “He’s adapted well to playing outside linebacker for us and also in our nickel and dime packages being an edge rusher. It’s something that we were looking for. He has the length and the skill set to rush the passer.”

His defensive teammates are already on record as saying he has a shot at 20 sacks this season. On the other side of the ball, they are equally as enthusiastic about Jones and what he brings.

“Love him. I love him,” said quarterback Carson Palmer. “Just watching some Patriots defense from last year, he was just such a dominant player in the run game and the pass game, and I think that’s the first thing that jumps out. I thought he was just a pass-rusher just seeing his numbers statistically. But he wreaks havoc in the run game. He’s so long, and has such a good bull rush, and is so powerful but still has that speed and quickness and really good with his hands, he’s been absolutely a pleasant surprise just watching him work because he’s more than I expected.

“I was expecting a third-down specialist maybe or really just a pass-rusher. But he’s so disruptive in the run game, and he played a bunch inside last year so he was against guards and centers and held his own so been very, very surprised and happy with him.”

Read More: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, chandler jones,
Bill Belichick outlines exactly why Cardinals as good a group offensively has he’s seen ‘in a long time’ 09.06.16 at 10:44 am ET
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FOXBORO — From the moment that the schedule came out in April, Sunday night’s game has been circled on the calendar of most NFL fans.

The two teams who lost their respective conference championship games in January will square off in Arizona. While the Patriots have had the respect of everyone in the NFL for the past 15 years, the Cardinals appear to be coming into their own with a roster led by a 36-year-old quarterback who can actually still pass and an offensive supporting cast as good as any in the league.

Carson Palmer, unlike Peyton Manning, can still beat teams with his arm and has the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown to throw to on the outside. All three had over 800 yards receiving last season. Then there’s tight ends Darren Fells and Jermaine Gresham and running back David Johnson.

That’s what Bill Belichick has to prepare for this week.

“We’re obviously seeing a lot of film on the Cardinals. It’s a really impressive team. They do a lot of things well. They’re obviously well-coached. They have a good organization. They’ve done a great job of building the team, a lot of strengths, a lot of things we’ll have to deal with.

“Offensively, probably as good a group of skill players as we’ve seen in a long time. They have great receivers, tight ends, running backs and obviously quarterback. They have a lot of playmakers and a lot of players that can make big plays and make a lot of them.

“Special teams, [Justin] Bethel is one of the top special teams players in the league and is probably as good as anybody we’ll face. Obviously, we haven’t seen a lot of him. He’s an excellent coverage player, kick-blocker. Their returners are explosive players, [David] Johnson on kickoff returns last year, Peterson very dangerous, [Andre] Ellington, whoever we get back there, they’re all big-play type players.”

On defense, Chandler Jones joins a group that is already loaded with playmakers and that generated 180 points off turnovers last year. The back seven is stacked with two first-round picks in linebacker Deonne Bucannon and corner Patrick Peterson and a third-round pick in Tyrann Mathieu.

“Defensively, this is a team that turns the ball over very well,” Belichick said. “They have a good pass rush, a lot of big guys up front. They’re hard to block. Buchanon, Mathieu, Peterson, all the good ball-disruption players, cause fumbles, intercept passes, sack the quarterback, very fast. The team has good speed. It’s hard to out-run these guys. They track everybody down.

“They had a great year last year to the NFC championship game. Just very consistent in their ability to score points, turn the ball over and make a lot of productive plays in all three phases of the game. They’ve had great success playing at home in their stadium. It’ll be a big challenge for us down there, opening on the road against this quality of football team and the way they play there. We need to have a really good week and obviously, need to go down and play a good football game in all three phases.”

Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Bill Belichick, chandler jones, New England Patriots
5 things you have to know about the Cardinals: Arizona looks to take next step toward greatness in 2016 09.05.16 at 12:24 pm ET
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Arizona's Carson Palmer is at the controls of one of the best offenses in the NFC. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Carson Palmer led the Cardinals to the NFC title game last season. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Five things you have to know about the Cardinals, who will host the Patriots in the regular-season opener for both teams Sunday night in Arizona.

1. When everyone is healthy, their passing game is really deep.

The Cardinals were one of just two teams last season to have three players finish the year with 800 or more receiving yards (New Orleans was the other). According to Football Outsiders, for eight straight years Arizona has ranked either first or second in the league in the percentage of plays with four or more wide receivers. Bottom line? Carson Palmer is going to test the depth of the New England secondary right out of the gate. Palmer was in the top five of most major passing categories last year, including total passing yards (4,671, fourth), touchdowns (35, tied for second), yards per game (292, fifth) and passer rating (104.6, third). He’s a big, strong pocket presence.

”Carson’s definitely willing to stand in there and deliver the ball under pressure and wait until the last second to get rid of it,” Bill Belichick said of the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Palmer on Monday. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s big for a quarterback and has a good frame. I’m not saying any quarterback wants to get hit a lot, but there’s some guys that can absorb more of those than others. He’s not as big as (Ben) Roethlisberger, but he’s a big quarterback.”

Everyone knows about the greatness of Larry Fitzgerald, and the undoubted first-ballot Hall of Famer still is Arizona’s first option in the passing game. He’s coming off one of the finest years of his career (career-best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns) and undoubtedly will face Malcolm Butler for much of the evening. John Brown and Michael Floyd are as good as there is as No. 2 and 3 options. Brown is a 5-foot-11, 195-pound scooter who had 65 catches for 1,003 yards seven touchdowns last year, while Floyd’s size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) makes him an intriguing target for Palmer. He had 52 catches for 849 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

The backs also are utilized as part of the passing game, with David Johnson working as a multidimensional threat. The 6-foot-1, 224-pounder had a dynamite rookie campaign in 2015, finishing with 36 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns in the passing game.

2. Speaking of David Johnson, he’ll be one of the best multidimensional running backs the Patriots will face this season.

As we’ve already said, Johnson was the best option out of the backfield for one of the best passing teams in the league last year, but he also can bring it when it comes to running the ball, with 125 carries for 581 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. He was second on the team to Chris Johnson, who ended up with 196 carries for 814 yards and three touchdowns, but if the preseason is any indication, David is likely to get more carries than Chris in 2016.

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Read More: 5 things you have to know about, Cardinals, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro
Bill Belichick’s parting gift for Chandler Jones? Not trading him ‘to a crappy team’ 08.10.16 at 10:15 pm ET
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Chandler Jones thanked Bill Belichick for not trading him "to a crappy team." (Mike Petraglia/

Chandler Jones thanked Bill Belichick for not trading him “to a crappy team.” (Mike Petraglia/

If there was one upside for Chandler Jones in getting traded from the Patriots, it was where he ended up.

Jones told USA TODAY on Wednesday that when he found out he’d been dealt to Arizona, he called Bill Belichick and told him thank you for trading him to a contender like the Cardinals.

“I didn’t get a chance to speak to him (the day of the trade) – he was on a flight or something,” Jones told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “But I called him the next day and said, ‘Hey, you could’ve traded me to any other team, so thank you for not trading me to a crappy team.’”

Jones said he was fully aware of the situation. Heading into the final year of his rookie contract — and with Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard and Malcolm Butler all coming to the end of their deals sooner rather than later — he wasn’t all that surprised.

“They’re not known for really paying guys over there,” Jones said of the Patriots. “There were rumors going around that I might be traded, but you never really read too much into rumors. When it happened, it was just a tad shocking. But I packed my bags and moved on.”

In that same vein, the 6-foot-5, 247-pounder is aware of what’s at stake for him in 2016.

“Back of my head, yes, it’s my contract year, it’s my fifth season, on my fifth-year exercised option,” said Jones, who had a career-high 12.5 sacks last year. “But I feel like if you get too much into that, that’s when you start worrying about, ‘Oh, I need this many sacks, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’

“I really don’t have a lot of personal goals. I’m going to approach this year like another year, trying to do better, trying to be a better Chandler Jones, and I’ll let everything else take care of itself.”

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