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‘Silly’ season: Veteran Chargers pass rusher Dwight Freeney still capable of making offensive linemen look foolish 12.05.14 at 7:30 am ET
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Dwight Freeney has been getting after Tom Brady for several seasons. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Dwight Freeney has been getting after Tom Brady for several seasons. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

When he retired in 2012, former Patriots left tackle Matt Light said the toughest guy he went up against on an annual basis was ex-Colts pass rusher Dwight Freeney.

“He’s a guy that I had a lot of respect for. It’s not just the way he plays the game, it’s how many different ways he can make you look silly out there, [of] which, there are plenty,” Light said of the 6-foot-1, 268-pound former All-Pro who moved from Indy to San Diego prior to the start of the 2013 season.

The 34-year-old Freeney, who has 110 sacks in the regular season over the course of his career, is no longer the elite-level pass rusher he was when he and Light knocked heads on a regular basis a few years ago, but he’s still a good situational presence. In his second season with San Diego, Freeney has a pair of sacks while working at right outside linebacker, and has been a steady and consistent presence for a team in need of a pass rushing spark.

“Freeney has been a pain in our butt for a long time,” said quarterback Tom Brady.

The Chargers don’t have one overwhelming pass rushing presence — they have 18 sacks as a team this year, 29th in the league — but instead, have a number of players who are capable of getting pressure on the quarterback through aggression and scheme.

“I think he’s one of the guys that has that aggressive style,” left tackle Nate Solder said of Freeney. “I think every year he’s played, he’s played hard and he’s really put a great effort out there. I think it’s going to be a challenge, certainly, to go against him, as well as all the guys that they put out there.”

And if you underestimate him, well, there’s still the chance he’ll make you look a little silly.

“He’s still a very good player,” said tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. “We’ve got to be ready for him and everything he brings to the table on Sunday. Any of those reports that say he’s lost it, we’re not believing it. We can see it on film already.

“Whatever he wants to do over his long career, he’s pretty much had the liberty to do it,” he added. “It comes in a bunch of different ways, but you’ve got to be ready for everything, speed, power, whatever it is. Whatever he brings — which could be a lot. His toolbox is big.”

Read More: dwight freeney, Matt Light, Michael Hoomanwanui, Tom Brady
Patriots offensive line sees sack-free streak come to an end against Packers 12.02.14 at 9:00 am ET
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Dan Connolly and the rest of the Patriots offensive line saw their sack-free streak broken Sunday against the Packers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Dan Connolly and the rest of the Patriots offensive line saw their sack-free streak broken Sunday against the Packers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

For a Patriots’ offensive line that was riding a sack-free streak, Sunday afternoon against the Packers represented a bit of a letdown.

The New England offensive entered its contest against Green Bay with an impressive string of sack-free football: Quarterback Tom Brady had not been brought down for two-plus games, a streak of 165 minutes and 35 seconds of game action that dated all the way back to the first half of the Nov. 2 win over the Broncos in Foxboro. (Brady was not sacked in the wins over Indy or Detroit.)

But the Packers got to Brady down in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game when, on a third and 9, the quarterback was sandwiched by Green Bay’s Mike Neal and Mike Daniels. It was a sizable turning point in the contest, as the lost yardage not only forced a field-goal attempt by the Patriots, it also was enough to push kicker Stephen Gostkowski just out of range, as he missed a 47-yarder. With a five-point lead, the Packers got the ball back and didn’t relinquish it.

“It’€™s our job to make sure [Brady] stays upright,” said guard Dan Connolly on a conference call with the New England media Monday afternoon. “Especially being the last [offensive] play of the game, that’€™s not how we wanted to end our game. Obviously, we’€™ve got some work to do and we’€™re going to try to move forward and make sure he’€™s upright as much as we can.”

Brady is on pace to have one of the lowest sack totals for his career — the quarterback has been sacked 15 times through 12 games. (By way of comparison, he was sacked a whopping 32 times through 12 games last season.) If that rate holds over the final four games of the season, that would leave him with 20 sacks on the year, the second-lowest total of his career. (He was sacked 16 times in 2009.)

Connolly and the rest of the New England offensive line will get a chance to start another positive streak Sunday night in San Diego. While they do have some interesting pass-rushing possibilities with the likes of Cory Liuget (3.5 sacks) and Dwight Freeney (2 sacks), the Chargers are still just 29th in the league in sacks with 18.

“I know this is a good defense, and they’€™ve had a lot of success so far this year,” Connolly said when asked about the Chargers. “They’€™ve got good guys on their front, good pass rushers: Dwight Freeney and guys like that, so it’€™s going to be really important for us this week to really focus who we’€™re playing against and just get to know those players. We haven’€™t played them in a while, so we have to get familiar with that team again and get to know the players we’€™ll be facing.”

Read More: Corey Liuget, Dan Connolly, dwight freeney, Tom Brady
Five free agents who still could be a fit in Foxboro 04.17.13 at 10:49 am ET
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If NFL free agency is like musical chairs, a handful of notable veterans have found themselves standing off to the side this spring while the music keeps playing. In truth, these are players who now will likely have to wait until after the draft — and teams adjust their rosters — to find a landing spot. Some of them could sign in the spring, while others could be pickups shortly before or during camp. Regardless, if they could make the money work, here are five veteran free agents still on the market who might find a match in Foxboro between now and the start of the season.

Dwight Freeney/John Abraham — Honestly, these two have been linked to the Patriots so frequently over the last month, we’re just going to start referring to them as a combo platter. Veteran defensive ends (Freeney played some outside linebacker last year in Indy), they both have shown an ability to rush the passer, and if used judiciously, could have the same sort of impact that Andre Carter had in New England in 2011. The 34-year-old Abraham, who recently was cut loose by the Falcons after seven seasons in Atlanta, has spent a total of 13 seasons in the league, and the 6-foot-4, 263-pounder has at least 9.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons, and 122 sacks over the course of his career. As for Freeney, the 11-year veteran was taken in the first round by the Colts out of Syracuse in 2002. Over the course of his impressive career, the 33-year-old has 107.5 sacks, including 13.5 over the last two seasons with Indy.

Charles Woodson The 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year no longer is the dynamic presence that he once was, but he still is considered a smart and savvy defensive back. No longer considered an every-down player, the 36-year-old has the positional versatility to flip back and forth between slot corner and safety. While the Patriots were able to land safety Adrian Wilson in free agency, they also could add Woodson — it certainly wouldn’t make them any younger, but it would provide another wise veteran for younger players to work with. For what it’s worth, Tom Brady remains friendly with his former Michigan teammate. In addition, Bill Belichick has been a longtime fan of Woodson, and he certainly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test — this was the Patriots coach in December 2010, talking about Woodson: “Outstanding. Outstanding. He does everything well: man-to-man coverage, zone coverage, reads the quarterback well, has good anticipation of route and route combinations, outstanding ball skills, blitzer ‘€“ [he’€™s an] excellent blitzer [and] good run-force player. When he plays inside in the slot position, or even in the perimeter, he plays very well. … I think he’€™s as good and complete player in that position that you’ll find in the league.’€ (Plus, it would bring the Tuck Rule full circle — Woodson was the one who delivered the hit on Brady that jarred the ball loose, and he’s still a little peeved the call went the way it did.)

Laurent Robinson – The Patriots presumably are in the market for an x receiver, and Robinson could fill that bill. (He could be an option if the Patriots don’t go after a receiver in the draft. For more on some draftable possibilities at the receiver spot, check out my story here.) He also has some positional versatility, which would make him attractive to New England. The 27-year-old out of Illinois State has played for four teams in his six seasons in the league — his best year came in 2011 with the Cowboys when he caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns. But after signing a five-year $32.5 million deal last offseason with the Jags, he was cut after suffering a series of concussions.

Dallas ClarkThe Patriots kicked the tires on Clark last spring, but the former Colt ended up playing on a one-year deal with the Bucs, coming away with an impressive 47 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns. Clark, who will turn 34 in June, could serve as a short-term insurance policy at tight end for New England, as Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski both have dealt with injury concerns this offseason. Clark also passes the Rosevelt Colvin test, as Belichick has raved about him in the past. “He’€™s a terrific player, very hard to defend,’€ Belichick said of Clark a few years ago. ‘€œHe pretty much can do everything that you would ask a tight end to do. He’€™s a great vertical receiver. He can get open on the short and intermediate routes. He’€™s a good possession receiver on third down and in the red area. He’€™s good after the catch. He does a good job blocking.’€ (One other thing to remember — since Bill Belichick’s pal Greg Schiano took over in Tampa, the Patriots haven’t been afraid to take a chance on former Bucs players like Aqib Talib or Kellen Winslow.)

Read More: Charles Woodson, Dallas Clark, dwight freeney, John Abraham
Four more free agent defensive end possibilities for Patriots 03.25.13 at 9:22 pm ET
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With Elvis Dumervil signing with the Ravens, the market for available pass rushing defensive linemen continues to shrink. Here are four names who are still available as we head into the third full week of free agency:

Dwight Freeney: As of Monday evening, several insiders were linking Freeney to the Broncos for several reasons, not the least of which was his old teammate Peyton Manning was apparently assisting with the sales pitch to the former Colts defensive end. The Connecticut native has managed to maintain a high level of production over the last few seasons — in all, over the course of his 11-year career, the 33-year-old racked up 107.5 sacks, including 13.5 the last two seasons with Indy.

John Abraham: Both Abraham and Freeney have been linked to the Patriots on several occasions, and now, with Dumervil officially off the market, you have to figure their value has increased. With the talk Monday night that linked Freeney to the Broncos, the Patriots could have an opportunity to move on Abraham. The 34-year-old, who recently was cut loose by the Falcons after seven seasons in Atlanta, has spent a total of 13 seasons in the league, and the 6-foot-4, 263-pounder has at least 9.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons and 122 sacks over the course of his career.

Osi Umenyiora: The consensus around the league is not if Umenyiora signs with the Falcons, but when. Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff confirmed Monday the Falcons are in talks with the 31-year-old, who was released this past offseason by the Giants. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive lineman has registered at least 13 sacks in three of the last seven seasons, and while he’s not at Dumervil’s level, if utilized properly, could still manage to be a good replacement for a Falcons team that’s looking to replace Abraham.

Israel Idonije: The 32-year-old defensive lineman has been in the league for nine seasons, and the 6-foot-7, 290-pounder has developed a pretty good rep as a situational pass rusher — he has 20.5 sacks over the last three seasons, including 7.5 last year, where he was used sparingly by the Bears. (According to PFF, he didn’t go wire-to-wire in a single game in 2012, but still managed to land a +10.7 grade as a pass rusher last season.) He’s played both defensive end and defensive tackle, and could come relatively cheaply.

(One more name to keep an eye on is Vaughn Martin. While he’s more of a run-stuffer than a pass-rusher, there was a report from Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports last week that linked the Patriots with Martin, which leads us to include him here. Martin, who landed in San Diego by way of the CFL, doesn’t have the most impressive stat line over the course of his first four seasons in the league, but has carved out a rep as an active defensive tackle who can occupy multiple blockers. A fourth-rounder in 2009, he’s appeared in 48 games with San Diego, and has 78 tackles and three sacks in his career. He had 19 tackles and one sack in 12 games last year.)

Read More: dwight freeney, Elvis Dumervil, Israel Idonije, John Abraham
NFL free agency update: Ed Reed reportedly agrees to deal with Texans; Brian Urlacher parts ways with Bears 03.20.13 at 7:54 pm ET
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A quick free agent roundup as business comes to a close on Wednesday:

‘€¢ Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported late Wednesday that veteran safety Ed Reed had agreed on a contract with the Texans. Reed, who will turn 35 in September, has played 11 seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Ravens. The long-time favorite of Patriots coach Bill Belichick figures to be in the final stages of a Hall of Fame career ‘€” the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Miami product has 61 picks over the course of his career, and will go down in history as one of the finest in the game at his position.

‘€¢ The Bears announced Wednesday they were planning to move on without linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has been a fixture in the middle of the Chicago defense since he was drafted out of New Mexico in 2000. The eight-time Pro Bowler, who will turn 35 in May, has 1,229 tackles and 41.5 sacks over the course of his career.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Urlacher was seeking a two-year deal worth $11.5 million, but the team wouldn’t budge from a one-year, $2 million offer the linebacker called a “slap in the face.”

‘€œWe were unable to reach an agreement with Brian and both sides have decided to move forward,’€ general manager Phil Emery said in a statement. ‘€œBrian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade. He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. We appreciate all he has given our team, on and off the field. Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears.’€

‘€¢ And the game of musical pass-rushers continues. Reportedly, Elvis Dumervil was unimpressed with the latest offer from the Broncos, and will reportedly test the free agent market. The pass rusher, who was released last week after a snafu involving a fax machine, has apparently drawn the interest of the Ravens, as well as the Titans and Steelers. However, it’s not sure what teams are on his itinerary at this point. (According to the Denver Post, although Denver head of football operations John Elway wouldn’€™t discuss the specifics of the new offer, expectations are that it would be a three-year deal for significantly less than the $30 million Dumervil would have been owed under his original contract.)

With that in mind, it was hardly a surprise to hear that both John Abraham and Dwight Freeney are set to visit Denver on free-agent visits. Abraham and Freeney have reportedly drawn the interest of the Patriots, but could be part of a fallback plan that the Broncos have if they are unavailable to come to terms with Dumervil.  The 34-year-old Abraham, who recently was cut loose by the Falcons after seven seasons in Atlanta, has spent a total of 13 seasons in the league. The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder has at least 9.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons, and has 122 sacks over the course of his career. As for Freeney, the Connecticut native is an 11-year veteran who was taken in the first round by the Colts out of Syracuse in 2002. Over the course of his impressive career, the 33-year-old Freeney racked up 107.5 sacks, including 13.5 over the last two seasons with Indy.

Read More: Brian Urlacher, dwight freeney, Ed Reed, Elvis Dumervil
Five remaining free agents who might fit with Patriots 03.18.13 at 12:58 am ET
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With almost a week of free agency in the books, most of the big-ticket players have already been signed. But here are five guys who are still available who could ultimately find their way to Foxboro before the craziness concludes:

Emmanuel Sanders: There’s been no shortage of talk about Sanders over the last few days, but as it stands right now, there’s no offer sheet in place from New England that would start the ball rolling on the receiver joining the Patriots. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t think about how the restricted free agent might fit in the New England offense — in his three-year career, Sanders has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five TDs, including 44 receptions for 626 yards and one touchdown in 2012. A third-round pick in 2010 out of SMU, he would cost the Patriots a third-round pick if he did sign with New England because of the tender. Sanders reportedly took to Facebook over the weekend to confirm that he has not signed anything.

John Abraham: The former Falcon reportedly paid a visit to Foxboro at the start of the weekend, but left without a deal in place. As we wrote here, the fact that the Patriots kicked the tires on Abraham conjures up memories of Andre Carter, who was in town for one season and finished with double-digit sacks and helped boost an occasionally sluggish pass rush back in 2011. The 34-year-old Abraham, who recently was cut loose by the Falcons after seven seasons in Atlanta, has spent a total of 13 seasons in the league. The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder has at least 9.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons, and has 122 sacks over the course of his career.

Dwight Freeney: The former Colt is in a similar situation as Abraham — he apparently visited New England, but left without a contract. (That’s not to intimate that the Patriots haven’t offered him something — it’s likely that both Freeney and Abraham are going to check out all their options thoroughly before they sign anywhere.) Freeney — once described by former Patriots left tackle Matt Light as the toughest competitor he ever faced — is an 11-year veteran who was taken in the first round by the Colts out of Syracuse in 2002. Over the course of his impressive career, the 33-year-old racked up 107.5 sacks, including 13.5 over the last two seasons with Indy.

Ed Reed: We made our feelings clear on a partnership between Reed and the Patriots here, but to this point, New England doesn’t appear to be on Reed’s radar screen. The newly-minted Super Bowl champ has spent much of the week flirting with the Texans, but while he spent some quality time in Houston the last several days, he remains without a contract. (Reportedly, the Ravens are preparing what some are calling a final offer to Reed that will be presented to him in the coming days.) Reed, who will turn 35 in September, figures to be in the final stages of a Hall of Fame career — the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Miami product has 61 picks over the course of his career, and will go down in history as one of the finest in the game at his position.

Antoine Winfield: The 35-year-old corner was cut loose by the Vikings earlier this month, and while there’s already been a lot of talk in the Twin Cities about his potential return, the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder reportedly has several visits lined up. It’s not known if New England is on his itinerary, but you have to wonder if the Patriots’ decision to re-sign Kyle Arrington as their slot corner took them out of play when it comes to Winfield. Winfield, who has played for both the Vikings and Bills, had a great season last year with Minnesota, finishing with 101 tackles (72 solo), 12 passes defensed and three picks.

Read More: Antoine Winfield, dwight freeney, Ed Reed, Emmanuel Sanders
Updates on the Patriots and Emmanuel Sanders, John Abraham and Dwight Freeney 03.16.13 at 2:42 pm ET
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With the understanding that things can change quickly when it comes to free agency, here are a couple of updates on what are very fluid situations involving the Patriots at this hour:

‘€¢As of this moment — which means it could change instantly — the Patriots have not signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. There have been conflicting reports regarding New England and Sanders over the last 24 hours, but as of right now, there’s no deal between the two sides. Sanders, who turns 26 Sunday, caught 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown in 2012, starting seven games. In his three-year career, Sanders has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five TDs. A third-round pick in 2010 out of SMU, he was expected to start in 2013 for Pittsburgh, which already lost free agent receiver Mike Wallace to the Dolphins this week.

‘€¢As for Dwight Freeney and John Abraham, Rapoport is indicating that both veteran defensive ends had left town as of Saturday afternoon, which would indicate that there is no short-term deal imminent regarding ether player. The 34-year-old Abraham, who recently was cut loose by the Falcons after seven seasons in Atlanta, has spent a total of 13 seasons in the league, and has a similar resume to Andre Carter: The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder has at least 9.5 sacks in each of his last three seasons, and has 122 sacks over the course of his career. As for Freeney, the Connecticut native is an 11-year veteran who was taken in the first round by the Colts out of Syracuse in 2002. Over the course of his impressive career, the 33-year-old Freeney racked up 107.5 sacks, including 13.5 over the last two seasons with Indy.

Read More: dwight freeney, Emmanuel Sanders, John Abraham,
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