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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.”

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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.

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Read More: franchise tag, New England Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski,
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
If Patriots use franchise tag, why they’re more apt to use on Devin McCourty than Stephen Gostkowski 02.16.15 at 10:31 pm ET
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If the Patriots use their franchise tag, Devin McCourty is the top candidate. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

If the Patriots use their franchise tag, Devin McCourty is the top candidate. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Monday marked the first day of the NFL’s franchise tag window, where teams can designated one player who is set to be a free agent on their roster the franchise tag.

The most common designation is the non-exclusive franchise tag where the player must be offered a one-year deal based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at his position over the last five seasons and their percentage of that year’€™€™€™s salary cap or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™€™s base salary, whichever is greater. If a player does get a non-exclusive franchise tag, they can talk with other teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team.

The two-week window ends March 2, right before the start of free agency.

Of the players on the Patriots roster, the two who seem most likely to be designated the tag, if at all, are safety Devin McCourty and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

The Patriots have not used the tag since 2012, when New England franchised Wes Welker, only to see him depart via free agency the following offseason. Prior to Welker, the team used it on Vince Wilfork in 2010 and Logan Mankins in 2011 and then eventually settled to contract extensions, which could be the case again this year (For a complete look at the Patriots’ history with the franchise tag, check out Chris Price’s Sunday Notes from this week).

While the Patriots have used the franchise tag on a kicker before (Adam Vinatieri), it doesn’t seem to make much sense this time around. Gostkowski just wrapped up a five-year, $15,759,000 contract where he made just over $3 million a year. According to NFL Media’s Albert Breer, the value of the franchise tag for a kicker for 2015 would be $4.12 million. The highest paid kicker in the NFL is currently Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski, making an average of $3.75 million a year.

Gostkowski, who turned 31 during Super Bowl week has emerged as one of the best kickers in the game (finishing second in the NFL in field goal percentage this past year), and will seemingly want to be the highest paid kicker in the game. With plenty of good seasons left in him, why not make him the highest paid kicker in the game (above $3.75 million a year), and sign him to a multi-year extension? There’s no need to mess around with the franchise tag, especially when the value is over $4 million. So by not using it on Gostkowski and making him the highest paid kicker in the game, New England would actually likely save themselves money.

From this viewpoint, McCourty is the more likely to be designated the tag. He’s finished his rookie contract, and could not be at a better point in his career. After being moved from cornerback to safety, he’s become one of the better safeties in the game and it doesn’t hurt he’s coming off a Super Bowl win. From a New England perspective, he seems to enjoy being a member of the Patriots and is well-respected in the locker room, as well as by coach Bill Belichick.

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Read More: Devin McCourty, franchise tag, Stephen Gostkowski, Vince Wilfork
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Special teams 02.09.15 at 9:30 am ET
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Julian Edelman again carved out a niche as one of the best punt returners in the league. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Julian Edelman again carved out a niche as one of the best punt returners in the league. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We kick off the series with a look at the special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, punter Ryan Allen, kick returner Danny Amendola, punt returner Julian Edelman, long snapper Danny Aiken, coverage man Matthew Slater

Overview: While the Patriots got steady and consistent performances on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball all year, the special teams were a true difference maker for New England on several occasions over the course of the 2014 season.

The Patriots had three different players win AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, they tied for the league lead in field goals blocked per game, and were among the league leaders in almost every major special teams category. Gostkowski finished second in the league in field-goal accuracy (at 94.6 percent, he was second only to Indy’€™s Adam Vinatieri at 96.8 percent) and Edelman’€™s 12.0 return average on punt returns was second best in the NFL this season (trailing only Philly’€™s Darren Sproles at 13.0.) Meanwhile, Amendola gave a midseason boost to the kick return unit, and provided some consistency, averaging 24.1 yards per return, including an 81-yarder in a win over the Lions. Allen was 12th in the league in net punting average (39.9), dropped 25 of his 66 regular-season punts inside the 20 and set a Super Bowl record with a 64-yard punt in the third quarter of last Sunday’€™s win over the Seahawks. The Patriots were also fifth in the league in kick coverage (yielding 21.2 yards per attempt) and 16th in punt coverage (9.2 yards per attempt). All in all, a terrific season for New England’€™s special teams unit, which came up big on several occasions over the course of the year.

Going forward, the group will be challenged, as longtime special teams coach Scott O’€™Brien announced his retirement in the days after the Super Bowl. Special teams assistant Joe Judge will take the reins, and while he’€™s considered a well-respected coach who is ready to ascend, it’€™ll be tough to replicate what O’€™Brien did with the group in 2014.

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Read More: Danny Aiken, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater
Patriots using San Diego trip earlier this year to prepare for weeklong stay in Arizona 01.25.15 at 7:00 am ET
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James Develin

James Develin

FOXBORO — This coming week’s trip to Arizona won’t be the first time the Patriots have spent a week preparing for a game away from their usual confines of Gillette Stadium, as the team spent a week in San Diego in December prior to their game with the Chargers.

New England played Green Bay in Green Bay on Nov. 30 and then the Chargers the following Sunday night. Instead of traveling back to New England and then across the country again a few days later, the team instead went right to San Diego and spent the the week there.

Fullback James Develin said the experience could help the team a bit for what is to come this week in Arizona.

“I think so,” he said. “It’€™s always valuable to have some kind of experience like that –€“ going away for a long period of time, but really, we’€™re just looking at this week and just trying to prepare for it the best we can and just try to get ready for Seattle because they’€™re a very good team.”

New England played one of their better games of the season after their week out West — a 23-14 win over the Chargers.

For kicker Stephen Gostkowski he doesn’t care where the Super Bowl is and where the team has to spend a week — as long as his family gets there, that is all that matters to him. He said the things will still be the same as the Patriots will still need to have their old saying, “Ignore the noise.”

“I mean, we don’€™t think about that stuff,” Gostkowski said. “We just worry about the game and the people who handle the logistics deal with that and we just worry about making sure our family and friends get down there safely and we enjoy the experience. At the same time we have a job to do and it’€™s all focus on the game, really. We could be playing in Missouri and we wouldn’€™t care. It’€™s the Super Bowl, it’€™s exciting, we’€™ve stayed at hotels before, nothing is different. There’€™s just going to be a big spotlight on it and we’€™re just going to deal with the distraction and ignore the noise.”

Cornerback Kyle Arrington joked how getting away from New England at time of the year is good no matter what, but having their families with them, unlike in December, will be a positive thing.

“Well, ideally, it’€™s nice to go somewhere warm this time of year and not be in Foxboro, but it was a good experience being out in San Diego for a week and being away,” Arrington said. “This time a lot of guys will have their families out there in Arizona, so it will make it less difficult.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, James Develin, Kyle Arrington, Stephen Gostkowski
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