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Ray Ventrone returns to Patriots as special teams assistant coach 03.03.15 at 10:11 am ET
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Bill Belichick is happy to bring back Ray Ventrone as a special teams coach. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is happy to bring back Ray Ventrone as a special teams coach. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bubba is back.

The Patriots announced Tuesday that Bill Belichick has hired Ray Ventrone to serve as assistant special teams coach. Belichick was the first coach to give Ventrone a chance to play in the NFL. Now it will be Belichick who gives Ventrone a chance to coach.

Ventrone will fill the spot of Joe Judge, who was promoted to take over as special teams coach for Scott O’Brien when O’Brien retired on Feb. 3, two days after the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl XLIX.

Ventrone spent four years with the Patriots after originally joining the team as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. Ventrone played nine NFL seasons as a player with New England (2006-2008), the New York Jets (2007), Cleveland Browns (2009-2012) and the San Francisco 49ers (2013-2014). During his NFL career, he was primarily used as a special teams player, registering 57 total tackles, including a season-high of 12 in 2009 with the Browns.

Ventrone was originally signed by New England as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. After spending the 2005 season on the Patriots’€™ practice squad and the 2006 season on injured reserve, he split the 2007 season between the Jets and the Patriots practice squads before being signed to the New England 53-man roster in November.

Ventrone played in two regular-season games and in Super Bowl XLII that year. Ventrone laid out Domenik Hixon while covering a kickoff.

Ventrone played the entire 2008 season with the Patriots before playing four years in Cleveland and the last two seasons in San Francisco.

His brother Ross, also a product of Villanova, also played for the Patriots and played in Super Bowl XLVI, a loss to the Giants in Indianapolis.

Read More: Andy Talley, Bubba Ventrone, Joe Judge, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty talks about possibility of playing elsewhere in 2015 at 1:10 am ET
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Following Monday’s announcement that he had not received the franchise tag, Patriots safety Devin McCourty acknowledged that there’s the possibility he “could be playing in a different place” in 2015.

In an interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson, McCourty reflected on the fact that it was kicker Stephen Gostkowski who was tagged instead of him, and said that there was no real information from the franchise who was going to be tagged until the announcement was made Monday afternoon prior to the 4 p.m. deadline.

“There was no real information from them on if it was going to be me or (Stephen Gostkowski),” he said. “So I was kind of going off of what everybody else was going off, with what people were reporting as far as sources and all that.

“I guess it’s more realistic now that [there’s] a chance that I might not be back there,” McCourty added. “Or there’s still a chance that I will, but I guess [there’s] more of a chance now with the franchise tag going to Steve that I could be playing in a different place. Still, keeping an open mind and trying to enjoy the process.”

McCourty said the idea of potentially moving on would be tough, but he understands the nature of the business.

“It would definitely be bittersweet,” he said. “You stay somewhere for five years and really make a name for yourself in that place. I’ve gotten a lot of help. I know a lot of people in the area, built great relationships, so it will definitely be bittersweet. But my mom always reminds me that comes with the territory. That’s part of being in the NFL, that change is always coming.

“To me it kind of is what it is. I know from being there for five years, I’ve seen a bunch of moves where a bunch of people kind of didn’t know what they were doing and somehow it always works out. So, it’s just now, I am on the other side. I’m not surprised really. I know [the Patriots] always know what they’re doing, as far as the team, and what they want to do. So, just seeing what’s next for me.”

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Read More: Devin McCourty, franchise tag, New England Patriots,
What does decision not to franchise Devin McCourty mean for defensive back, Patriots? 03.02.15 at 5:25 pm ET
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Devin McCourty could be in line for a handsome payday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty could be in line for a handsome payday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

There are two ways to look at the Patriots’ decision not to hit safety Devin McCourty with the franchise tag on Monday. (They instead opted for kicker Stephen Gostkowski.)

If you are a glass-is-half-full type, the Patriots’ decision was made because the two sides are closing in on a long-term deal that would keep him in New England for the foreseeable future, and allow the Rutgers product to grow old in a Patriots uniform.

If you’re more of a glass-is-half-empty type, this is the first chapter of a story that ends with McCourty at a press conference posing next to Chuck Pagano, John Harbaugh, Gary Kubiak or a coach for any of New England’s other AFC rivals while talking about “new challenges” and “new beginnings.” (That doesn’t even begin to take onto account the possibility of him playing alongside his brother Jason in Tennessee, or any of the other NFC teams that might be flush with cash once the free agency buffet opens next week.)

Now, instead of slapping the $9.6 million tag on him for the 2015 season, the Patriots are gambling with the idea that they can retain McCourty for the long term. The defensive back has grown up in the New England system, and come of age in an age of unprecedented success with the Patriots: He’s been to four straight AFC title games, made two Super Bowl appearances, been twice named a second-team All-Pro (at two different positions) and won a Super Bowl ring, all before the age of 28. It’s hard to imagine him reaching the same sort of heights at another stop over the next five years.

But when you consider the market, he’s going to get paid like one of the best safeties in the league. In truth, he’s a rare talent. He’s not an all-world corner along the lines of a Darrelle Revis. But his knowledge of the system, leadership skills, ability to play alongside a multitude of different players while displaying an amazing positional flexibility (at corner and safety) make him extremely valuable to New England. And when you take into account the free agent market — as well as the apparent choices that could be available in this year’s draft at safety — it’s a considerable gamble to expose him to the rest of the market, especially when you consider what some comparable defensive backs have made on the market over the course of the last few years.

— T.J. Ward: Signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract last March, a deal contains $13.5 million guaranteed.

Earl Thomas: Last April, he signed a five-year, $44.725 million contract with $27.725 million guaranteed, including a $9.5 million signing bonus.

— Eric Weddle: In 2011, the bearded defensive back signed a a five-year, $40 million contract with $19 million guaranteed and a $13 million signing bonus.

While McCourty might not be at the top of that food chain, he’s not too far removed, especially in this environment.

The Patriots have exclusive negotiating rights with McCourty until Saturday. That’s when the weird tampering window involving impending unrestricted free agents opens, which allows reps from around the league to get in touch with him and gauge what he might be interested in. While no deals can be consummated until Tuesday, expect there to be plenty of potential suitors lined up outside of McCourty’s door for several reasons, not the least of which could be simply driving up the price for New England.

Regardless of what happens, McCourty has now entered into a brave new world, one where he will command a sizable payday. As is the case with his fellow defensive back Darrelle Revis, where both sides decide to go from this point over the next week-plus will provide some level of insight into just how the New England secondary will look in 2015 and beyond.

Read More: Devin McCourty, franchise, New England Patriots,
Patriots officially announce franchise tag designation for Stephen Gostkowski at 4:58 pm ET
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The Patriots made it official Monday afternoon, announcing they had placed the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The team issued the following statement:

“Stephen has been extremely productive and a vital component to our success since joining our team in 2006. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal.”

Here’s a portion of the release, as issued by the franchise:

Gostkowski was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season in 2014 and for the third time overall since joining the team as a fourth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Memphis. He led the NFL in 2014 with 156 total points. Gostkowski also led the NFL in points in 2008, 2012 and 2013, becoming just the third player to lead the NFL in points in at least four seasons. He has connected on 86.8 percent of his regular-season field goal attempts since entering the NFL (243-of-280), the best field goal percentage in Patriots history.

Gostkowski became the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer in the win vs. Miami on Dec. 14 and now has 1,179 career points. He was 35-of-37 on field goals in 2014 for a 94.6 field goal percentage, the highest field goal percentage in a single season for the Patriots.

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Patriots place franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski at 3:11 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski (3) converts a preseason 60 yard field goal at the end of the first half. (Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski (3) converts a preseason 60 yard field goal at the end of the first half. (Getty Images)

The Patriots have used their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

The franchise tag will pay Gostkowski $4.1 million in 2015, less than half of the $9.6 million it would cost to franchise safety Devin McCourty.

Reading the tea leaves, it would suggest the Patriots are working on a long-term deal with McCourty that would achieve the end goal of locking up both players and save money against the cap that could wind up becoming critical in their ultimate decision on Darrelle Revis.

The Patriots drafted Gostkowski in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft to replace Adam Vinatieri. In nine seasons in New England, Gostkowski has converted 243 of his 280 field goal attempts and has become one of the most dependable kickoff specialists in the league.

He enters 2015 only 20 field goals shy of Vinatieri’€™s franchise record.

The franchise tag is a designation a team may apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team has access each year to only one franchise tag (of either the exclusive or non-exclusive forms) and one transition tag. As a result, each team may only designate one player each year as that team’s franchise player.

A franchise tag affords the retaining team the privilege of strategically retaining valuable free-agent players while seeking talent through the NFL draft or other acquisitions without exceeding the League’s salary cap. A team may also franchise tag a player with 2 or more years left on a contract. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, franchise tag, New England Patriots
Some history behind Patriots and franchise tag at 1:30 pm ET
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Adam Vinatieri is the only player who has been hit with the franchise tag twice by the Patriots. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri is the only player who has been hit with the franchise tag twice by the Patriots. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

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.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, franchise tag, Logan Mankins
Free Agent Snapshot: Dane Fletcher 02.19.15 at 11:59 am ET
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Dane Fletcher (52) makes a tackle in the 2011 playoffs against Denver. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Dane Fletcher (52) makes a tackle during the 2011 playoffs against Denver. (Elsa/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee and Orlando Franklin. Here is a look at inside linebacker and special teamer Dane Fletcher:

Dane Fletcher
Position: Inside linebacker
Age: 28, (turns 29 on Sept. 14)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 244 pounds

The skinny: Fletcher is a very dependable, if not spectacular, linebacker who earned his keep in New England during his first four NFL seasons proving he can play many roles. In addition to his production on special teams, he caught the eye of Bill Belichick by showing he could make the rare transition from interior defensive lineman to inside linebacker to help fill a need. How much did Belichick think of Fletcher? He compared him to Harry Carson and Tedy Bruschi as players who have made the rare transition.  After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Montana State, Fletcher signed with the Patriots. Fletcher became one of two undrafted rookies to make the Patriots opening day roster. After being inactive for the first three games of the 2010 season, he made his NFL debut in Week 4 against the Dolphins. In Week 6, Fletcher saw his first considerable action on defense as a reserve against the Ravens. The next week against the Chargers, Fletcher forced his first career fumble. In Week 15, Fletcher’s late-fourth quarter sack of Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, the first of Fletcher’s career, helped thwart a Packers drive and preserve a Patriots win.

By the numbers: Fletcher finished his 2010 rookie season with 23 tackles and two sacks in 13 games played, all as a reserve. Played in a career high 15 games in 2013 with the Patriots, with one start, tallying 26 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He recorded a season-high 10 tackles against Denver in the Patriots’ come-from-behind 34-31 overtime win.

Why it would work: A Belichick favorite at the right price. Belichick could easily bring Fletcher back because he knows the player knows his system. After Belichick let Fletcher go to free agency last March, the linebacker signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with Tampa Bay last year. Fletcher gained valuable experience in Lovie Smith‘s 4-3 scheme, which by Fletcher’s own admission was difficult to learn. Fletcher played in a 3-4 scheme for three years with the Patriots and proved versatile when the Patriots began employing some 4-3 looks. He served as the middle linebacker. The biggest factor here could be the potential losses of Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in free agency. The linebacker who helped make the game-saving tackle on Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line could leave for greener pastures via free agency. That would open up a spot for Fletcher to return. Both Ayers and Casillas could be categorized as outside linebackers but serve multiple roles in Belichick hybrid defenses, roles Fletcher might be able to serve.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Dane Fletcher, New England Patriots,
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