|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.
|Countdown to camp: Offensive line||07.23.15 at 11:12 am ET|
As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends. Now, it’s the offensive line.
Depth chart: David Andrews (rookie), Tre Jackson (rookie), Chris Barker, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Caylin Hauptmann, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason (rookie), Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Jordan Devey, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. While there are other players with more experience in the system, the new leader of the line is Bryan Stork. The FSU product, who remains the spiritual descendent of Logan Mankins (right down to the occasionally questionable facial hair, the nasty attitude and preternatural skill set), stepped into the center spot last year as a rookie and immediately stabilized the line. There were some durability issues as the season went on (he missed the AFC title game with a knee injury, and he was actually listed as questionable in the days leading up to the Super Bowl), but he was far and away the pick for New England’s Rookie of the Year in 2014. As long as he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think that Stork won’t be the Patriots’ franchise center for the next decade.
2. Nate Solder probably deserves a pass for any issues he may have had last season. The left tackle out of Colorado appeared to struggle at times over the course of 2014, but still managed to hold up well while protecting Tom Brady‘s blind side over the course of the season, and earned his first Super Bowl ring along the way. But in hindsight, the news that he had been treated for testicular cancer last spring means he fundamentally gets a mulligan for what happened in 2014. Bottom line? Solder isn’t the sort to make excuses, but we’ll give him an out here. Given a clean bill of health, we fully expect Solder to return to the same high-level status he enjoyed over the course of his first three seasons in the NFL.
3. While there are some questions about how he reacts under pressure, Tom Brady still remains really good at gauging the state of the New England offensive line. We’ve hit on this many times over the last few years, but it’s tough trying to quantify good offensive line play — in many cases, you don’t necessarily need the five best pure linemen. Instead, it’s the five who work the best as a unit, so it takes time to find the best combinations. While the Patriots were going through those issues at the start of the 2014 season, one of the things that appeared to help turn things around (in addition to the evolution of Stork) was a concerted effort from Brady to speed up his release times. It’s important to remember that things vary from week-to-week depending on opponent, scheme and personnel, but looking at Brady’s release times over the course of the 2014 season, it was clear that getting the ball out fast in the passing game was a real point of emphasis for the New England offense. (For a deeper dive into those numbers from last season, check out Ryan Hannable’s excellent story here.)
|After Patriots cut him loose, Tampa Bay claims TE Tim Wright||06.12.15 at 4:22 pm ET|
The Buccaneers claimed Tim Wright off waivers from the Patriots on Friday, one day after the third-year tight end had been cut loose by New England.
It’s a homecoming for Wright, who was dealt by Tampa to the Patriots last August with a fourth-round pick in exchange for Logan Mankins. In 2014 with New England, Wright played in 16 games with two starts and contributed 26 catches for 259 yards and six touchdowns.
In his relatively short time with the Patriots, he distinguished himself as a dependable receiver — his 79 percent catch rate (26 catches on 33 targets) was a high for any New England offensive skill position player who was targeted at least 20 times in a single season since 2009. However, he saw his playing time drop off at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. That, as well as the offseason additions of free agents Fred Davis and Scott Chandler and the drafting of A.J. Derby, likely combined to make Wright expendable.
|Best draft picks of Bill Belichick era, 2015 edition||04.28.15 at 11:00 pm ET|
With the draft around the corner and our last glance at the best draft picks of the Bill Belichick era looking a little dated, we decided to put together a new list of some of the finest draft moments in recent New England history under Belichick.
As was the case the first time around, in putting together the rankings we took several things into account.
One, impact on and off the field. While production clearly figures into the rankings — and is the first and most important measuring stick — many picks (particularly guys like Tom Brady, Matt Light, Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork) would go on to demonstrate terrific leadership skills and, as a result, become cornerstones of the franchise.
Two, overall draft value. Some later-round picks are ranked higher on our list than first-rounders because it says something about a late-round pick if he exceeds expectations. (That’s why you’ll see so many fifth-, sixth- and seventh-rounders near the top of our list.)
And three, something we’ll call intangibles. It could mean a consistent ability to produce in big moments or simply rise above an unfortunate situation to succeed in the NFL.
With all that in mind — and with the understanding we’ll follow this shortly with the worst picks of the Belichick era — here’s our list.
20. Matthew Slater (5th round, 153rd overall, 2008): The UCLA product was a man without a position when he arrived, and was a perennial candidate to be cut before the start of the season in his first few years in the league. But he’s become one of the most highly respected guys in the New England locker room, not just because of his high character and good nature off the field, but for his special teams skills on the field. Voted as a three-time All-Pro by the Pro Football Writers of America, the son of Hall of Famer Jackie Slater has been named the special teams captain four times in his seven years in the NFL. Along with Dan Koppen, the best fifth-round pick in the history of the franchise.
19. Matt Cassel (7th round, 230th overall, 2005): After working as the primary backup to Tom Brady for three seasons — following a career at USC where he was a backup to a few signal-callers, including Carson Palmer — he stepped into the starters’ role in 2008 for a year and demonstrated that he was good enough to compete at the NFL level. Cassel threw for 3,693 yards while helping guide the Patriots to an 11-5 season.
18. Stevan Ridley (3rd round, 73rd overall, 2011) and Shane Vereen (2nd round, 56th overall, 2011): We’ll pair these two together because they had such a significant impact on the New England running game as a duo the last few years. Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012, and 2,817 yards (and 4.3 yards per carry) in his four seasons with the Patriots before signing with the Jets this offseason. Meanwhile, Vereen was one of only five running backs last year to finish with at least 50 catches and 50 carries, and his 11 receptions in Super Bowl XLIX were a big part of New England’s win over the Seahawks. Vereen inked a free agent contract with the Giants in March.
|Some history behind Patriots and franchise tag||03.02.15 at 1:30 pm ET|
A few notes as we all wait for the 4 p.m. deadline on the franchise tag:
On four of the eight occasions the Patriots hit someone with the franchise tag, they did it on the last day of the window: Wes Welker (2012), Adam Vinatieri (2005), Tebucky Jones (2003) and Vinatieri (2002). The Welker announcement came just prior to the deadline.
Three of the eight tags ultimately led to contract extensions with the Patriots: Logan Mankins (2011), Vince Wilfork (2010) and Vinatieri (2002). Wilfork’s offseason came at the end of the tumultuous few months for the defensive lineman, who was strongly against the idea of being tagged. He eventually acquiesced, and that set the stage for a new five-year deal that made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league.
In addition, on three occasions, a player played that year under the franchise tag, and then departed as a free agent the following year: Welker (2012), Asante Samuel (2007) and Vinatieri (2005). In retrospect, it was clear that few players wanted to get out of town faster than Samuel. He held out for most of the offseason and into the summer, eventually signing his tender on Aug, 27. He left as a free agent the following offseason – he was in Philly at a press conference announcing his signing with the Eagles less than 18 hours following the start of free agency the next year.
And two players were tagged and then traded: Matt Cassel (2009) to the Chiefs and Jones (2003) to the Saints. While a few different scenarios could play out between now and the end of the offseason if one of the Patriots is tagged between now and the deadline, this is probably not one of them.
|Buccaneers GM Jason Licht: ‘We think the world of Logan [Mankins]’||02.18.15 at 2:09 pm ET|
Long-time Patriots guard was traded to the Buccaneers just a few weeks prior to the 2014 season — a move which ultimately kept Mankins from winning his first Super Bowl ring, after coming so close in his nine seasons with the Patriots.
While his new team Tampa Bay went 2-14, good for the worst record in the league and the No. 1 overall draft pick, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith raved about their new guard Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
“We think the world of Logan,” Licht told reporters. “He’s part of the solution, wasn’t part of the problem. Having him for another year, the full offseason which he’s already told me he wants to be there for the whole offseason, and having him in the room — I think it’s going to be extremely valuable to this football team moving forward. Yeah, he has a future with us.”
Being an 11-year veteran, Mankins is a player some of the younger players can look up to and learn from, as the former Patriots guard is one of the hardest working, true professionals in the game.
“[Logan Mankins] was everything I hoped he would be and I’m talking about a veteran who played at a high level, leadership, Logan is a good player,” Smith said. “Logan played well for us. We need to get others play up to his level.”
Mankins opened up to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan about his season towards the end, admitting it was a tough transition going from one of the best teams in the league, to one of the worst teams in the league, but going on what members of the Buccaneers are saying, the guard will be a major part of the team’s turnaround.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Nate Solder: Urgency is ‘extremely high, as high as it can get’||10.01.14 at 4:43 pm ET|
“Extremely high, as high as it can get,” Solder described the urgency of the offensive line and team going into Sunday’s game with Cincinnati. “Moving forward we have to improve. We have to get better, we have to play better.”
Through four games this season quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked nine times and hurried another 38 times in 147 drop backs, per Pro Football Focus. Brady hasn’t put up the numbers he has in the past, as his 59.1 completion percentage is 14th in the AFC with only E.J. Manuel and Jake Locker being worse. Part of the reason for his low numbers is the pressure he’s been under and feeling uncomfortable in the pocket.
The team changed things up last week with starting two rookies in center Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming, who moved to right guard from right tackle for the first time in his entire football life, and deactivated guard Jordan Devey who had started the first three games of the year.
When asked how the unit was operating without their former captain in Mankins, Solder explained it’s a group effort.
“We all work together,” he said. “We have a captain with Dan [Connolly] and we have several guys that have played a lot of ball so we’re moving forward.”
He added: “We keep moving forward. We have plenty of guys that can do it.”