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Patriots players who potentially could get asked to take pay cut for 2017 02.27.17 at 3:16 pm ET
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Danny Amendola is a candidate to take a pay cut for 2017. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

Danny Amendola is a candidate to take a pay cut for 2017. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

With the new league year set to begin March 9, this is the time of year where teams like to cut some money off the cap by either releasing players, or re-doing a players’ contract to lower his salary for the next season.

Currently, the Patriots have $63 million in cap space so it doesn’t seem likely they will flat out release players, but the team does have a few that might be asked to take pay cuts for 2017.

Here are four players we see potentially falling into that category.

Danny Amendola — This is the most obvious one, and it is the only way the receiver will return to New England in 2017. As it stands now, Amendola has a cap hit of just under $8 million, which is the fourth-highest on the team. Amendola knows in order to return he will need to re-do his deal once again and by all reports seems interested in doing so. The 31-year-old likely won’t have a large role next year if he does return, but it is an important one. He’s relied on heavily by Tom Brady on third-down and also he’s a major part in the punt return game to take some of the load off of Julian Edelman.

Nate Solder — The left tackle is in the final year of a two-year contract, which has him on the books for a $11.2 million cap hit in 2017, the second-highest on the team. Left tackles are very valuable across the league, but Solder should not be the second-highest paid player on the Patriots. When it comes to a new deal, the team could potentially look to add another year or two to his contract and lessen the cap hit for the upcoming year. Solder is 28 years old and overall has done a solid job protecting Brady’s blindside over the years.

Patrick Chung — Chung has two years left on his contract, but has a cap hit in 2017 of $5.4 million, the second-highest on the defensive side of the ball. If the Patriots want to keep both Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, as well as potentially pay Malcolm Butler, they need as much free money as they can and lowering Chung’s salary next year a little could be a way to do that. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but Chung appears to enjoy playing in New England and could be a player to take a pay cut in order to benefit the team.

Shea McClellin — The former Bears linebacker signed a three-year deal last offseason for just over $9 million and had a cap hit of $2.3 million last year which goes up to $3.2 million this season. Every dollar counts, so McClellin could be a player the team asks to take a small pay cut to use towards key players like Donta’ Hightower, Harmon and Ryan.

Read More: Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, Patrick Chung, Shea McClellin
Bill Belichick calls on Patrick Chung to be D X-factor: ‘He’s got to be one of the best tacklers in the league’ 11.21.16 at 7:45 pm ET
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Nov 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) tries to hold off New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) and defensive end Trey Flowers (98) before being sacked during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Kaepernick (7) could not hold off Patrick Chung and defensive end Trey Flowers as he was sacked during the first quarter Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. (Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports)

The way Bill Belichick saw it coming into the game against San Francisco, the issue with the Patriots putting pressure on the opposing quarterback had less to do with getting after the QB than it did finishing the play when it was in front of them.

Insert Patrick Chung into the equation.

Bill Belichick has never been one to send a lot of pressure from the outside on corner blitzes. But on the very first series of the game and Colin Kaepernick facing 3rd-and-9 at his 26, Chung lined up on tight end Vance McDonald, who was split out wide. Chung looked right into the eyes of McDonald pre-snap but as the ball was snapped to Kaepernick in shotgun, Chung made a beeline for the Niners quarterback.

Unlike like past weeks, the Patriots would not let this chance for a big defensive play slip out of their hands in the Bay Area rain. Chung dove for Kaepernick’s ankles and held on for dear life, while Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich finished it off for a 12-yard sack credited to Chung. It was the start to a very productive day, as Chung wound up with a sack and nine tackles, topped this season only by his 11 tackles at Pittsburgh on Oct. 23.

“Patrick played well, played productively, pretty much as he always does,” Belichick said in his conference call Monday. “He gives us that week after week, makes plays in the kicking game, makes plays in the running game; makes plays in the passing game. He’s a good tackler, he’s around the ball. He’s just a productive player and it seems like it’s pretty much like that every week.It was the second of two sacks by defensive backs on the opening series. Malcolm Butler came off his man and came up to the line of scrimmage to tackle Kaepernick for a 0-yard sack on the first play of the game.”

The Patriots finished with four sacks in the first half and added one in the second half to finish with five on the day, a season high. As for selling the play at the start, Belichick said that was not as important as the finish of the play.

“There was pressure on the edge,” Belichick said. “They didn’t have it picked up. He had good patience with it and all of that, but I’d say the harder part of the play was tackling the quarterback. We’ve had a number of situations this year where we’ve been in that situation, where we’ve had players come in and block off the edge, and we just weren’t able to get the quarterback. He escaped somehow.

“So I think that’s really – Kaepernick almost got out of there on that one, too. Patrick tackled him, kind of wrapped him up around the leg or the ankle, and then somebody else, I think it might have been Trey Flowers, or somebody else was there to kind of help finish the play. But when you’re coming out of space like that, you can’t really let the quarterback outside when he’s as athletic as Kaepernick or Tyrod Taylor or guys like that. It’s a tough open field tackle on a player like that, so it was another good tackle. Chung is one of our best tacklers. He’s got to be one of the best tacklers in the league whether he’s in line or in space or whoever he’s tackling. He’s very good. I thought that was a very good tackle on the play and not an easy one.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Colin Kaepernick, New England Patriots, Patrick Chung
How will the Patriots deal with Jimmy Graham in first test against an elite tight end? 11.10.16 at 10:58 am ET
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Oct 13, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (left) and free safety Devin McCourty (32) break up a pass intended for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (center) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Devin McCourty helped hold Jimmy Graham without a catch in 2013 at Gillette Stadium. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Patrick Chung has had a pretty low-profile season so far.

It’s been effective but not eye-popping. That’s because he hasn’t been called upon to defend an elite receiving tight end in New England’s first eight games. The Patriots escaped the injured Tyler Eifert with Cincinnati. They played Buffalo twice with Charles Clay doing limited damage in the Tyrod Taylor offense.

Jermaine Gresham had four catches on four targets for 41 yards for the Cardinals in the season opener. Jordan Cameron had five catches for 49 yards and a touchdown for Miami.

But things could ramp up quickly Sunday night when Chung and the rest of the Patriots secondary face Jimmy Graham at Gillette Stadium.

The 6-foot-7 Graham used every inch of his frame to haul in a pair of spectacular one-handed grabs for touchdowns Monday night in a 31-25 win over Buffalo in Seattle. Those two catches helped him have a perfect night, catching all eight passes when he was targeted by Russell Wilson while totaling 103 yards. Graham is second only to Carolina’s Greg Olsen among all tight ends in the NFL with 545 receiving yards, to go with 38 catches and three touchdowns as well.

Collectively Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett have more but in Graham, the Patriots defense might be facing one of the few tight ends that actually compares to either one of their stars.

“It’s very similar. When you combine all three of those guys, they’re all very good at going vertical, getting down the field,” Devin McCourty said. “Their size is really what makes it really tough to cover all three of those guys because once they get vertical and it’s any type of jump ball – you saw Monday night a ball that, for a corner, is just out of your reach, they’re able to go reach it whether it be one hand, two hands.

“They all make tough catches, too, so they’re very similar as far as the threats and how they’re used in the vertical passing game. Like you said, we’ve seen it a lot, but [Jimmy Graham is] still one of the better tight ends in the NFL, one of the top tight ends, so we’ve got to go out there and play well against him, try to make everything tough. He’s going to probably make some plays out there because he’s a good player, but we’ve got to just make it tough for him for 60 minutes.”
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Read More: Bill Belichick, Jimmy Graham, New England Patriots, Patrick Chung
Have Patriots regained their special teams’ mojo? 09.13.16 at 7:31 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski and the rest of the Patriots' special teamers played a sizable role in Sunday's win. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski and the rest of the Patriots’ special teamers played a sizable role in Sunday’s win. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

After an occasionally down 2015, the Patriots’ special teams enjoyed a terrific start to 2016 on Sunday.

Whether it was the work of the kick coverage team in pinning Arizona deep in its own end on the last kickoff of the game, or Stephen Gostowski’s 3-for-3 night on field goal attempts, or Ryan Allen and the punt coverage unit accounting for an impressive 40.5 net yards per punt, it was a good night all around. (That doesn’t even take into account the fact that Patrick Chung apparently came close to blocking what would have been a game-winning field goal attempt from Arizona that was ultimately off the mark.)

Winning the field position battle is always key, but the margin for error with a young quarterback at the controls is even slimmer. The Patriots held the edge all night on the Cardinals — in non-turnover situations, the average starting field position for Arizona was its own 22-yard line, including six times at its own 25 or worse.

The ability to tilt the field paid off on several occasions for New England on both sides of the ball. It allowed Jimmy Garoppolo a little more leeway on offense, while the defense found itself in plenty of optimal situations all night long.

Chung has described the art of special teams as a “legalized, 40-yard fistfight,” a phrase he picked up from a college coach while at Oregon. If that’s the case, the Patriots soundly beat the Cardinals on points Sunday night.

“I think we did a good job of just playing together,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater, one of several special teamers’ singled out by coach Bill Belichick earlier this week. “Understanding how we were going to be played and how we were going to execute and giving ourselves a chance to win the field position battle.”

He added: “Every man that went out there knew what he needed to do and we played together. It wasn’t guy just running around and trying to make plays on his own. It was everybody playing together.”

Their work as a group stands in stark contrast to some of last year’s low points. A franchise that prides itself on peerless special teams play came up lacking in many big moments: Slater himself said the special teams was to blame for the surprising loss to the Eagles, a defeat that played a role in the Patriots losing home-field advantage. And Gostkowski’s missed extra point in the AFC title game was an awful gaffe that came back to haunt New England. Because of those misfires — as well as a few others — the Patriots fell from third to 11th in the annual special teams rankings from Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.

But Sunday’s performance certainly sparked some optimism that New England’s special teams unit will be able to bounce back in 2016. On a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Belichick mentioned several names as being key to their success against the Cardinals, including Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon Bolden and Jonathan Freeny.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, Patrick Chung, Stephen Gostkowski
Tom Brady, Jabaal Sheard, Patrick Chung return to Patriots practice 08.23.16 at 3:29 pm ET
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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

FOXBORO — The Patriots got some good news out on the practice field Tuesday afternoon as Tom Brady, Patrick Chung and Jabaal Sheard all returned.

Brady missed the last two days with an “excused” absence not related to his thumb. Sheard hasn’t been seen since the first preseason game well over a week ago and Chung missed Monday’s session.

There were six players missing from the practice all together: Dion Lewis (PUP), Jonathan Cooper (foot), Shaq Mason (hand), Sebastian Vollmer (PUP), Rob Gronkowski (unknown injury) and Alan Branch (reported team suspension).

After stretching the following players went down to the lower fields to work on their conditioning: Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Shea McClellin, Malcolm Mitchell, Tre’ Jackson and Danny Amendola. It would appear these players will not be ready to play in Friday’s preseason game in Carolina.

As it relates to Brady, he didn’t appear to be impacted by his thumb at all as he was throwing like usual to open the practice.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Jabaal Sheard, Patrick Chung, Tom Brady,
Tom Brady, Patrick Chung, Jabaal Sheard among those absent from Patriots practice 08.22.16 at 3:45 pm ET
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Patrick Chung

Patrick Chung

FOXBORO — The following players were absent from Patriots practice Monday afternoon on the backfields of Gillette Stadium: V’Angelo Bentley, Tom Brady, Patrick Chung, Dion Lewis, Jonathan Cooper, Shaq Mason, Sebastian Vollmer, Rob Gronkowski, Jabaal Sheard and Alan Branch.

The media was only permitted to view 20 minutes of the session as training camp is now over.

There were only a few surprises, with the biggest being Chung. The other being Sheard, as he hasn’t been at practice in over a week. Chung played in Thursday’s preseason game against the Bears and didn’t appear to be injured.

Bentley was released, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Lewis, Cooper, Mason, Vollmer were not surprises as they have known injuries or remain on PUP. Branch reportedly is suspended by the team, Brady reportedly was excused and Gronkowski hasn’t practiced since last week when he left practice early.

Although they were present, Tre’ Jackson and Danny Amendola (PUP) were in shorts and t-shirts, while the rest of the team was in full pads. Logan Ryan had his red, non-contact jersey removed.

Going down to the lower fields after stretching were Shea McClelin (he missed all of last week), Amendola, Jackson, Donald Brown, Rob Ninkovich and Malcolm Mitchell.

Running back D.J. Foster looked to be a full participant for the first time in a few weeks, which is a good sign for him potentially playing on Thursday. The same goes for Keshawn Martin and tight end Bryce Williams.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Jabaal Sheard, Patrick Chung, Tom Brady,
Devin McCourty really likes what he’s sees from young DBs: ‘Those guys are really learning’ 06.10.16 at 11:59 am ET
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Devin McCourty speaks Thursday after mini-camp practice at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Devin McCourty speaks Thursday after mini-camp practice at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — For Devin McCourty, this is a great time to be a leader in the Patriots’ secondary.

After spending the last several weeks and mini-camp this week with first and second-year members of the defensive backfield, the newlywed veteran safety is pumped up about what he’s seeing.

In addition to working with second-round pick Cyrus Jones, the eight-year pro McCourty has been playing alongside the likes of Darryl Roberts (2015 pick from Marshall), Jordan Richards (2015 pick from Stanford) and Brock Vereen (third year pro from Minnesota). Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman are also entering just their third NFL season.

The natural question after Thursday’s final day of mini-camp was to get a feel for how Jones, a projected slot corner, has adapted from Alabama to the Patriots secondary.

“He’s another one of the smart guys from Alabama,” McCourty said with his trademark smile. “Between him and [Dont’a] Hightower, he knows his stuff. It’s been good. He’s been out there. He’s been trying to learn. [He’s] a younger guy so things happen fast but I think he’s been able to adjust and adapt. When he makes mistakes, he’s still out there playing hard. He’s correcting them. He’s a young guy that’s really working hard.”

But then unsolicited, McCourty raved about what it’s been like for veterans like Chung and him to work with a new generation of defensive backs, which now includes Butler, Jones, Richards and Roberts.

“The exciting thing is that we have a ton of rookies in that corner group that have been out here making plays, mini-camp, OTAs, those guys are really learning and they’re not making a ton of mistakes,” McCourty added. “I think it’s really exciting to see them as a group, DBs, safeties and corners.”

While Richards garnered a lot of attention last year and Butler stole the show in Super Bowl XLIX, Roberts was someone who caught the eye of McCourty in mini-camp and OTAs last summer before a wrist injury ended his season in training camp.
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Read More: 2016 mini-camp, Cyrus Jones, Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler
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