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Resetting list of Patriots and their own free agents 04.09.14 at 1:04 pm ET
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Will Svitek

Will Svitek

With Matthew Mulligan agreeing to a deal with the Bears on Tuesday, here’s an updated look at the Patriots 2014 free agent class. If you’re scoring at home, of its 12 free agents, New England has retained four and lost five, while three remain on the market.

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: Signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Free agent, but has expressed an interest in returning.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: Free agent.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: Signed a four-year contract to return to New England.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: Singed a one-year deal with Chicago.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Signed a one-year deal with Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: Free agent.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Signed a six-year deal with Denver.
Center Ryan Wendell: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.

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Resetting latest on Patriots and their own free agents 03.20.14 at 3:53 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount

Just over one week into free agency, here’s a status update on each of New England’s free agents:

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: No updates.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Carter has left the door open for a possible return — he expanded on his feelings in a recent interview with ESPN — but he remains in limbo, at least at this point.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: No updates.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: Signed a four-year deal to return to New England.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: No updates at this time, but a league source has expressed to WEEI.com some optimism the Maine product could return to the Patriots in 2014.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Signed a one-year deal with Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: No updates, but like Mulligan, league sources expressed a belief that the Patriots would welcome him back at a fair market rate.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Signed a six-year deal with Denver.
Center Ryan Wendell: No updates.

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Resetting latest on Patriots and their own free agents 03.14.14 at 12:33 pm ET
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Almost 72 hours into free agency, here’s the latest on what’s up with the Patriots’ own free agent class.

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: No updates.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Carter has left the door open for a possible return ‘€” he expanded on his feelings in a recent interview with ESPN.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: No updates.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: The slot receiver, who reportedly left a three-year deal on the table in New England, is facing a fluid market for his services, as it’s clear his future could be tied to Steve Smith. (We explored that here.) He’s visiting with the Niners on Friday — it could be an enticing spot for the California native.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Reportedly took a free agent visit to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: No updates at this time, but a league source has expressed to WEEI.com some optimism the Maine product could return to the Patriots in 2014.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Spikes is visiting with the Bills, a natural landing spot — he’s tight with former positional coach Pepper Johnson, and Johnson left New England for Buffalo earlier this offseason.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: No updates, but like Mulligan, league sources expressed a belief that the Patriots would welcome him back at a fair market rate.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Talib signed a six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed with the Broncos.
Center Ryan Wendell: No updates, but the Patriots have kicked the tires on veteran Phil Costa, who ended up signing with the Colts. As is the case at other positions, both sides could be looking to read the market before making a move.

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Resetting latest on Patriots and their own free agents 03.12.14 at 10:44 am ET
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After nearly 24 hours of free agency, here’s a look at the Patriots and the latest involving their own free agents:

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: No updates.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Carter has left the door open for a possible return — he expanded on his feelings in a recent interview with ESPN.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: No updates.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: The slot receiver couldn’t reach an accord with the team on a reported three-year deal, and he’ll test the market. One report says he has a visit set up with the Ravens.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Reportedly took a free agent visit to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: No updates at this time, but a league source has expressed to WEEI.com some optimism the Maine product could return to the Patriots in 2014.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Spikes tweeted what was fundamentally a farewell note to New England on Tuesday. It’s expected he’ll draw interest as a free agent from several teams, including the Bills and Texans.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: No updates, but like Mulligan, league sources expressed a belief that the Patriots would welcome him back at a fair market rate.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Late Tuesday night, Talib and the Broncos reportedly agreed on a six-year, $57 million deal that includes $26 million in guaranteed money.
Center Ryan Wendell: No updates. However, it was interesting to see the news that the Patriots hosted veteran center Phil Costa on a free agent visit.

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Hitting reset button on Patriots and their own free agents 03.10.14 at 1:23 pm ET
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With free agency set to open at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, here’s a quick look at where the Patriots stand with their own free agents:

Long snapper Danny Aiken: A restricted free agent, he’s signed a one-year deal to stick with the Patriots.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: No updates.
Defensive end Andre Carter: The veteran said last year that it was the Patriots or retirement, and when New England came calling midway through the season, he returned without a second thought. While he sounds content with the possibility of calling it a career, he told ESPN the door is always open to return for 2014.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: No updates.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: Comcast’s Mike Giardi has reported that there’s a “strong push” at Gillette Stadium to keep Edelman.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: No updates.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: The versatile backup agreed to a two-year deal Monday to remain in New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: No updates at this time, but a league source has expressed to WEEI.com some optimism the Maine product could return to the Patriots in 2014.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: It sounds like Spikes is gone — he told the NFL Network on Friday that free agency could bring a “fresh start” for both him and the Patriots. It’s believed Spikes will draw plenty of interest around the league, but he could reunite with his former position coach (Pepper Johnson) in Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: No updates.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: The Redskins are apparently reaching out to Talib, and while the extent of their interest isn’t known, but it certainly makes sense from a familiarity standpoint, as new Redskins GM Bruce Allen drafted Talib in 2008 when he was with the Bucs and Talib played for new Washington secondary coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the head coach in Tampa Bay.
Center Ryan Wendell: No updates.

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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line 02.03.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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Logan Mankins is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. (AP)

Logan Mankins is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks. Now, it’s the offensive line.

Depth chart: T Nate Solder, G/C Dan Connolly, G/T Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, T/G Marcus Cannon, T Sebastian Vollmer, G Josh Kline, G/T Will Svitek, G Chris Barker, OT Markus Zusevics. (C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey and OL R.J. Mattes are all practice squadders.)

Overview: It was an up-and-down season for the New England offensive line. On many occasions, the group was able to do an excellent job buying time for quarterback Tom Brady to deliver the ball, as well as create sizable holes for backs like LeGarrette Blount to run through over the course of the season. However, there were times — and part of this was due in part to breakdowns in other areas, as well as injury — that the line struggled to hold up. Over the course of the season, the Patriots faced some of the best defensive front sevens in the league, and while they were frequently up to the challenge, there were times where they had issues, particularly in pass protection. Some of that can be blamed on the fact that, as a group, the offense was still searching for an identity and struggling with the acclimation of so many new faces. But don’t tell that to the offensive line, a group that continued to hold itself to an almost impossibly high standard regardless of the opponent and situation.

As a group, it was clear that health was an occasional issue. Vollmer had a leg injury that limited him to eight games, while Solder missed a game because of a head injury. As a result, the Patriots had to rely on versatility and depth to get them through some of the toughest points of the season. After Solder went down late in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami, Kline stepped in at left guard and Mankins played left tackle. The same combo faced the Ravens the following week, and held up impressively in the face of the stern Baltimore pass rush.

In the end, much of the mental toughness that eventually became the calling card of the 2013 Patriots came from the offensive line, and, by extension, Mankins. Now the second most senior member of the roster in terms of time in a New England uniform (he was drafted in 2005, and while there have been guys who have been in the league longer — Andre Carter, Isaac Sopoaga — only Brady has been with the Patriots longer than Mankins), he’s the leader of the line, and one of the premier leaders in the locker room. After nine years in the league, Mankins — who was named a second-team All-Pro for the fifth time in his career in 2013 — continues to set the standard.

Going forward, this group will be interesting to watch. The Patriots have a decision to make on pending free agents Wendell and Svitek, and Vollmer faces a return from a leg injury that prematurely ended his 2013 season. And then, there’s the question of how the group will react to the retirement of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who leaves the franchise after 30-plus seasons. Stability, consistency and continuity have always been the watchwords of the New England offensive line, and as it enters a new era without Scarnecchia, the transition to new coach Dave DeGuglielmo will be something to watch in 2014.

Best moment: It’s shortsighted to measure an offensive line purely on sacks alone, but their work against the Falcons was pretty impressive — Brady wasn’t sacked in a September win in Atlanta. (The only game all season he wasn’t sacked.) The stretch drive the group was able to put together over the final three regular season games and the first playoff game, clearing the way for Blount to carry the offense on his back, particularly against the Bills, Ravens and Colts.

Worst moment: Probably the singular worst series for the New England offensive line was coming out of the half for the start of the third quarter against the Jets on Oct. 20: the first six offensive plays for the Patriots went as follows: sack/interception/four-gain gain/five-yard gain/no gain/sack. It’s tough to lay all that at the feet of the New England offensive line, but by Mankins’ own admission, it starts up front, and the line wasn’t able to get the job done. By the end of the quarter, a 21-10 lead turned into a 27-21 deficit, and ended up in an overtime loss. For more from Mankins on that breakdown, click here.

By the numbers: 1,218. The number of snaps played by Wendell this season, tied with Brady for most on the team.

Money quote: “I’ve coached a lot of tough guys. I don’€™t think there’€™s any that I would put ahead of him. Maybe some on that level, but none ahead. Anytime Logan needs help getting off the field, you feel like it’€™s something serious. Usually he ends up just staying out there, but for him to need assistance getting off the field was definitely a concerning moment. Then when [head athletic trainer] Jim Whelan came back and told me, as you mentioned, after the next series that Logan was back, I was a little bit surprised to hear that. He’€™s a tough individual, tough-minded, physically and mentally tough.”€ — Bill Belichick on Logan Mankins

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Penalty phase: Patriots, Dolphins two of league’s least-flagged teams 12.11.13 at 2:51 pm ET
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Despite playing almost every defensive snap the better part of the last two seasons, Rob Ninkovich has only been called for two penalties in that span. (AP)

Despite playing almost every defensive snap the better part of the last two seasons, Rob Ninkovich has only been called for two penalties in that span. (AP)

FOXBORO — Don’t expect a lot of stoppages in play Sunday.

This weekend’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins in South Florida will feature two of the least-penalized teams in the league. Not including penalties that were declined or offset, New England comes into the contest with 57 penalties — second fewest in the NFL — while the Dolphins are the least-penalized team in the league with 55. In addition, the 534 penalty yards against the Patriots is 30th in the league. Only Miami (502) and Indy (499) have been hit with fewer penalty yards.

Both the Dolphins and Patriots have played two games this season where they didn’t get hit with a single penalty. New England wasn’t flagged once in an October loss to the Bengals, as well as a win over the Texans earlier this month. Meanwhile, Miami wasn’t hit with a single penalty in a September win over Indy, as well as last week against the Steelers.

To put that sort of smart, disciplined play into proper perspective, there are teams like the Buccaneers (106), Seahawks (104) and Rams (100) that already are into triple digits when it comes to total penalties. Tampa Bay leads the league with 1,000 penalty yards, while Seattle is close behind at 966.

In truth, through the first 13 games, it’s been a good season for New England when it comes to penalties. Through 13 games last season, the Patriots had been hit with 79 penalties for a total of 680 yards. In the same span in 2011 (the first 13 games of the year), the Patriots had 74 penalties and 658 yards. While they won’t set the regular-season mark under Bill Belichick for fewest penalties and least penalty yardage — that came in 2008 with 57 penalties and 501 yards — this year’s total represents nearly a 20 percent reduction in penalties and penalty yardage from the previous two seasons.

“It’s just about playing smart football,” said defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich, who has been flagged for just one penalty this year and two dating back to the start of the 2012 season. “You can’t win football games and expect to win games by having a lot of penalties. It just comes down to basic fundamentals. If you’re a defense, you’re trying to do your best to stay onsides and not jump off — that’s huge for the D-line. Giving up free five-yard plays every time, that hurts eventually.”

The only positional grouping for the Patriots that hasn’t been flagged over the course of the first 13 games of the season is the running backs. In fact, the last two seasons, the running backs consistently have been one of the lowest-penalized positional groupings on the team. In 2012, they were the least-penalized group with two penalties and five yards, and in 2011 they had one penalty for five yards.

At the other end of the spectrum, the cornerbacks have been hit with 128 yards worth of penalties, including a team-high six for Aqib Talib. That high yardage total is no surprise — with pass interference and defensive holding calls coming into play, cornerbacks are the most likely position to rack up higher penalty yardage. (To that point, this year the Patriots have been hit with six defensive holding penalties — four of them against Talib — and four pass interference calls.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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