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Countdown to camp: Special teams 07.30.15 at 1:46 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™€™€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and then the defense, now we close with special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker- Stephen Gostkowski, Punter- Ryan Allen, Long snapper- Joe Cardona

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Gostkowski is one of the best. In 2014 he hit 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor. He also led the league in scoring with 156 points, booted 53 kickoffs for touchbacks (tied for fifth most in the league) and hit all 51 PATs he attempted. He was rewarded with a new four-year contract extension worth $17 million after being hit with the franchise tag earlier in the offseason.

2. New coaching staff. After Scott O’Brien’s retirement following last season, there will be a new face leading the unit. Joe Judge will take over as the special teams coach and the team hired former Patriot Ray Ventrone as his assistant. Judge served as O’Brien’s assistant for each of the last few seasons, so he is used to the system. Although O’Brien is gone, it would appear much of what he preached will still be implemented. The players who have spoken so far seem excited to work with the new coaches.

3. New long snapper in town. The Patriots moved on from long snapper Danny Aiken and drafted Cardona out of Navy in the fifth-round, the highest-drafted long snapper in NFL history. His Naval assignment has been delayed until after the 2015 NFL season so that he will be able to play for this year and possibly beyond. It appears from the spring he has developed a good connection with Gostkowski and Allen.

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Read More: Countdown to Camp, Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen, Scott O'Brien
Why Patriots reportedly extended kicker Stephen Gostkowski when they did 07.15.15 at 3:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18:  Stephen Gostkowski #3 of the New England Patriots kicks a 21 yard field goal in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts of the 2015 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski reportedly signed a contract extension on Wednesday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski signed a franchise tender on March 6, paying him $4.59 million for the 2015 season, which would have been the second-highest salary for a kicker all-time.

After Wednesday, the Patriots and Gostkowski could not negotiate a new contract during the season and he would become a free agent after next season.

With the 31-year-old being one of the better kickers in the game — connecting on 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor last season — he would seemingly get heavy interest from other teams next offseason for top dollar.

With that in mind, the Patriots reportedly extended Gostkowski with a four-year deal worth about $17 million on Wednesday.

Gostkowski will be paid in the ballpark of $4.25 million each of the next four years (according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss), which is still the highest in the league, but it could have been even more if the Patriots didn’t extend him now. The team will save at least $314,000 this year with his new deal and if they were to have franchised him again next season, that number would jump 20 percent and would have been $5.33 million.

It’s also worth noting, extra points will be moved back to the 15-yard-line, so having a kicker as dependable as Gostkowski is, will be even more important than ever.

Many will point out the Patriots moved on from Adam Vinatieri at similar point in his career, but they aren’t the same situation. Vinatieri wasn’t brought back after his age 33 season and things were different then because the Patriots likely had Gostkowski on their radar via the draft and also Vinatieri was two years older than what Gostkowski is now.

While the Patriots are paying their kicker a fairly expensive amount, long-term it will likely turn out to be a financially smart move with kickers’ value expected to rise with the new rule changes.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski,
Report: Stephen Gostkowski agrees to 4-year deal with Patriots at 2:33 pm ET
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Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has agreed to a four-year deal worth about $17 million, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

The sides were working to beat a 4 p.m. deadline, at which time Gostkowski would have been locked in to playing under the one-year, $4.59 million franchise tender he signed in March.

Gostkowski, 31, has played nine seasons for the Patriots since being drafted out of Memphis in 2006 to replace Adam Vinatieri. In 2014 he hit 35 of his 37 field goal attempts for a career-high 94.6 percent mark, leading to his third Pro Bowl selection and a second-team All-Pro honor. He also led the league in scoring with 156 points, booted 53 kickoffs for touchbacks (tied for fifth most in the league) and hit all 51 PATs he attempted.

In his career he sits at 86.8 percent on field goals.

The second-longest-tenured player on the team (behind Tom Brady), Gostkowski became the franchise’s career scoring leader last season, passing Vinatieri. He has 1,179 points in 136 career games.

Read More: Stephen Gostkowski,
Sunday NFL Notes: Does Greg Hardy’s suspension reduction affect Tom Brady? 07.12.15 at 6:00 am ET
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As it stands now, Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

As it stands now, Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games of the season. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

1. The first question that came to Patriots’ fans minds when it was announced Friday that Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy’s suspension was knocked down from 10 games to four was how this might affect Tom Brady‘s suspension appeal? The appeals are different, especially in the fact that Hardy’s wasn’t heard by commissioner Roger Goodell, it was heard by former NFL executive Harold Henderson, who also heard Adrian Peterson‘s appeal last December. Brady’s was heard by Goodell, who seemingly would be less likely to reduce a suspension in which he already had signed off on. With that being said, as it stands now, Hardy is being suspended the same number of games as Brady when Hardy’s case is involving domestic violence and Brady’s case is involving deflated footballs. Common sense says Goodell will reduce Brady’s suspension because of what kind of message it sends if the two end up having the same suspension for one being a serious real-life incident and one involving Brady being found “more probable than not” to having knowledge of deflated footballs in the AFC championship game. From this viewpoint, Hardy’s suspension reduction is good news for Brady and the Patriots as it becomes more likely Brady’s will be reduced with the message it would send if the suspension stays at four games.

2. With all the Deflategate talk that has dominated the news with the Patriots this offseason, on the field a position not getting talked about as much as it should is cornerback. The Patriots lost two of their best corners in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, as well as Kyle Arrington this offseason and didn’t do much to replace them. As it stands now, Logan Ryan is the longest-tenured cornerback on the roster, likely starting on one side of the field with Super Bowl-hero Malcolm Butler on the other. The team added Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher and seventh round pick Darryl Roberts — none of which jump off the page as impact players. While Ryan and Butler have the ability to be solid corners, they won’t be even close to what the team had last year in Revis and Browner. Although it is way too early to be concerned with a specific position, it certainly is a position that should be closely monitored.

3. It was a special July 4th holiday for linebacker Dont’a Hightower as he had a street named after him in his hometown of Lewisburg, Tennesee. A section of First Avenue North officially became Dont’€™a Hightower Parkway. His mom and sister where there with him for the ceremony. “It’€™s an awesome accomplishment,”€ Hightower said to the Patriots’ team website. “€œI’€™m blessed. It has always been a dream and a goal for me to achieve this. What better time to get it than after celebrating my first Super Bowl?”€ Hightower is currently working his way back from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum.

4. With a potential Brady suspension looming, there certainly is the possibility for second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to start in at least one game this upcoming season. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell was on Sirus XM radio this week and gave Garoppolo a vote of confidence. “Jimmy has grown a lot since he first stepped foot up there in Foxboro last year,” LaFell said. “He got a little experience during the later part of the season against Buffalo; he showed a little glimpse of what he can do. He’s been having a nice OTAs, a nice offseason with us.

“I feel like studying behind Tom has been great for him. If we have to be without Tom for the first couple games, I’m pretty sure Tom will be in Jimmy’s ear helping him prepare each and every way he can to go out here and lead this team. I think we have a great group of guys around him that will kind of take the pressure off Jimmy so he won’t have to feel like he has to go out there and win the game himself with me, Gronk, Edelman, Scott Chandler, we have all great guys around here.”

5. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is playing the 2015 season under the franchise tag, having a cap hit of $4.59 million, which according to Miguel of Pats Cap is the second-highest for a kicker of all-time. According to NFL rules, the Patriots have until July 15 to come to terms on an extension, as they won’t be able to negotiate a new contract with him until after the season. With as good as the kicker has been, he will certainly draw plenty of interest on the open market next offseason and franchising him again would force a 20 percent increase in salary, so he would be paid $5.33 million in 2016 — off the charts for a kicker. This isn’t suggesting the Patriots wouldn’t be able to sign him to a new contract next offseason, it’s just pointing out, although unlikely to happen, getting a new, multi-year contract done over the next few days could be a good idea long-term.

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Read More: Devin McCourty, Greg Hardy, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler
Resetting Patriots depth chart: Special teams 04.09.15 at 12:24 pm ET
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Matthew Slater is a safe bet to serve as the special teams captain again in 2015. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Matthew Slater is a safe bet to serve as the special teams captain again in 2015. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the majority of free agency completed and the draft looming, we’re going to take a look at the Patriots depth chart by position, and try and assess the level of need going forward. First off, it’s special teams:

Current depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner Danny Amendola, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Tyler Ott, coverage man Matthew Slater.

Lost in free agency: Long snapper Danny Aiken remains on the market.

Gained in free agency: Ott was signed March 4. The Harvard product has been on-and-off the roster over the last year, and could move into a starters’ role if the Patriots can’t agree to terms with Aiken for 2015. In addition, New England signed a few veterans who could have an impact on special teams in various roles, including cornerback Chimdi Chekwa.

Other changes: Special teams coach Scott O’Brien retired. While he will continue to work as an unofficial adviser to the franchise, former assistant Joe Judge will take over special teams in 2015. Former Patriots special teamer Ray Ventrone was named special teams assistant.

Is this an area of need going into the draft? Not likely. Gostkowski was franchised and signed his tender, and Allen had a really good season, capping it with a record 64-yard punt in the Super Bowl. There’s no reason to think that the other fundamental elements of New England’s excellent special teams unit (including Amendola and Edelman as returners) won’t return to their spots in 2015. While there will almost certainly be a specialist or two added this spring, look for them to be undrafted or rookie free agents who will only serve to take some of the camp workload off Gostkowski or Allen.

Read More: Danny Aiken, resetting the depth chart, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski officially signs franchise tender with Patriots 03.06.15 at 7:02 pm ET
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After the Patriots designated their franchise tag designation on kicker Stephen Gostkowski earlier in the week, it became official on Friday when Gostkowski officially signed the tender, per the NFL transaction wire.

Gostkowski will made $4.59 million in 2015, thus becoming the highest paid kicker in the league.

Even though the franchise tender is good for one season, New England and Gostkowski have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, which the Patriots have done in the past with players they have franchised (Vince Wilfork being the most recent in 2010). If he doesn’t sign long-term, he will play the 2015 season with the franchise tag designation.

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

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

Read More: NFL free agency 2015, Stephen Gostkowski,
Patriots officially announce franchise tag designation for Stephen Gostkowski 03.02.15 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.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: franchise tag, New England Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski,
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