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Tom Brady going to the Derby, Devin McCourty goes back to Rutgers and Patriots kicking tires on college wide receivers 04.14.14 at 12:29 pm ET
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1. Tom Brady is going back to the Kentucky Derby. According to this report, the quarterback is expected to make the trek to Churchill Downs this year, along with current teammate Vince Wilfork, ex-Patriot Wes Welker and a boatload of celebs. This year’s Derby takes place on May 2 and 3, so expect more of these pictures sooner rather than later.

2. According to our pal Dan Duggan, Devin McCourty was back in New Jersey over the weekend to watch the Rutgers spring game, and it’s clear that he continues to have a major impact on the Scarlet Knights. Some current Rutgers defensive backs talked about the impact that McCourty, as well as several other former Rutgers guys who play for the Patriots

“When I really started getting deep into my recruiting process and really starting to narrow down where I want to go, I started paying attention to what position I wanted to play and I started realizing Rutgers put a lot of defensive guys in the league, especially in the secondary,” current Rutgers DB Nadir Barnwell. “I definitely want to go to the next level, so this is definitely a good place to be. They’ll definitely take my game to the next level.”

“I still don’t get why they don’t get some of the best defensive backs every year, just if you watch what they’ve been able to do and what guys have done throughout the league,” McCourty said. “We definitely take pride in it. We have a lot of guys that play in the secondary in the NFL and hopefully it continues.”

3. More pre-draft receiver buzz around the Patriots: South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington has drawn interest from multiple teams around the league — according to Mike Garafalo of Fox Sports, that includes New England. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, he’s already had a workout with the Patriots. The 5-foot-9, 196-pounder had 49 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns last season with the Gamecocks. Ellington, who also started as a point guard with the USC basketball team, projects as a slot receiver with great speed at the next level. (He’s also the cousin of Cardinals running back Andre Ellington.) Here’s some video on him:

In addition, the Patriots have already had a follow-up visit with University of Washington wide receiver Kevin Smith. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound Smith, who suffered a torn ACL in December 2011, became a huge part of the UW offense last season,, finishing with 50 catches for 765 yards and four touchdowns. Known for his sure hands and positive locker room influence, Smith is a former high school basketball standout who also has special teams value as a kick returner.

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Aqib Talib: I never had a hip problem when I was with Patriots 03.13.14 at 12:13 am ET
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Aqib Talib was introduced to the media in Denver for the first time as a Bronco on Wednesday, and he quickly dismissed any thought that he had been struggling with a hip injury — despite the fact that he had been listed on the injury report by the Patriots with a hip injury at multiple points in the 2013 season.

“That was in Tampa, that was the right side. I haven’t had a hip problem since Tampa,” he told reporters.

“The Patriots have their way of reporting stuff, but I haven’t had a hip problem since Tampa. The injury I had was actually a quad injury, it was reported as a hip injury. But that’s how they do things.”

Talib — who signed a six-year, $57 million deal with the Broncos that included $26 million in guaranteed money — addressed the larger issue of his health, including the injury that knocked him out of the 2013 AFC title game against Denver when he collided with Wes Welker.

“At 28, I still feel good, I still can do standing backflips and stuff like that, so I feel like I’m in pretty good shape,” said Talib, who hasn’t played a full 16-game season since he arrived in the NFL.

“The injury in the AFC championship, it was just a deep bone bruise. It just swelled up a lot, but no damage, really. It was just a real deep bruise. I just had to do the ice and get my motion back and things like that. It’s perfectly fine now. I’ve been back working out and it’s perfectly fine.”

Talib added that there was no ill will toward Welker.

“Wes is a good friend of mine,” Talib said. “I watched that play 1,000 times and I can promise you he didn’t do it on purpose.”

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

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History of Patriots and franchise tag 02.17.14 at 10:56 am ET
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We’ve written about this a couple of times to this point in the offseason, but with the franchise tag window open Monday, it’s worth taking another look at how the Patriots have used the tag in the past and what happened as a result:

2002: Adam Vinatieri, contract extension
2003: Tebucky Jones, traded
2005: Adam Vinatieri, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2007: Asante Samuel, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2009: Matt Cassel, traded
2010: Vince Wilfork, contract extension
2011: Logan Mankins, contract extension
2012: Wes Welker, played it out and later departed as a free agent

To be clear, there are two types of franchise tags:

The non-exclusive franchise tag: The most common designation. Under this agreement, 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 exclusive franchise tag: With this designation, the player receivers a one-year offer from his own team that’€™€™s the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free-agent signing period has ended or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Teams have a two-week window, starting Monday, to tag their players.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Logan Mankins, Matt Cassel Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Thoughts on Julian Edelman, Aqib Talib and franchise tag 02.05.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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Aqib Talib could be in line for the franchise tag. (AP)

Aqib Talib could be in line for the franchise tag. (AP)

We’€™re now less than two weeks away from the start of the franchise tag window — it begins on Feb. 17 and lasts for two weeks — and while New England has a dozen free agents, it’€™s believed the Patriots have two seriously taggable possibilities this year in wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib.

Both were essential elements to the success of the 2013 team, but both were playing on one-year contracts. While the deal Talib signed this past offseason was more of a “show-me” contract (one signed in the wake of a depressed market for free-agent cornerbacks), Edelman was more or less forced to take New England’€™s one-year offer, as it was one of the only ones that was extended to him.

However, as a result of their work in 2013, the pair could enter the market poised to make a sizable piece of change. But would the Patriots be inclined to let them walk without a new deal to keep them in place? The franchise tag is a hammer the teams have over potential players when it comes to retaining their services, and history tells us that the Patriots have never been shy about using it, whether it’€™s a way to keep the player around Foxboro for one more season, a way to keep a player under their umbrella while still negotiating a deal, or as a sign-and-trade maneuver. And it could certainly come into play when talking about Talib and Edelman.

To be clear, there are two types of franchise tags:

The non-exclusive franchise tag: The most common designation. Under this agreement, 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 exclusive franchise tag: With this designation, the player receivers a one-year offer from his own team that’€™s the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free-agent signing period has ended or 120 percent of his prior year’€™s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Here’€™s a look at how New England has utilized the franchise tag, and what has happened as a result:

2002: Adam Vinatieri, contract extension
2003: Tebucky Jones, traded
2005: Adam Vinatieri, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2007: Asante Samuel, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2009: Matt Cassel, traded
2010: Vince Wilfork, contract extension
2011: Logan Mankins, contract extension
2012: Wes Welker, played it out and later departed as a free agent

As we said, the tag can be a relatively easy way for a team to retain the services of a player, even for a year, but in the case of both Talib and Edelman, it would come at a serious price. While the franchise tag numbers are not expected to be announced until after the 2014 cap number is officially set (usually in late February or early March), according to former agent Joel Corry — who is an excellent follow on Twitter for all things cap related — the projected franchise tag value for cornerbacks in 2014 will be $11,256,000 million. At wide receiver, the price is even steeper — $11,539,000. (For a complete look at Corry’€™s projections click here.)

With all this in mind, we want to get your take: If you could only use the franchise tag on one — Talib or Edelman — who would you tag and why?

If you had to choose between franchising Julian Edelman or Aqib Talib, who would it be?

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Peter King on M&M: ‘I think they owe it to Tom Brady to get a lot better at the receiver position’ 01.31.14 at 1:12 pm ET
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Peter King

Peter King

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King checked in with Mut & Merloni from Super Bowl Radio Row to preview Sunday’s game and discuss Patriots offseason news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“I picked the Broncos, but look, if [the Seahawks] pick [Peyton] Manning off two or three times, they’re going to win,” King said. “I think one of the things you’ll see on Sunday — and I talked to Peyton a little bit about this yesterday, I had a few minutes with him after practice — I think Peyton Manning right now when he looks at this game what he sees is five-wide receiver formations, or five-receiver formations, maybe with Jacob Tamme or Andre Caldwell in the game. Spread, spread, spread. And just challenge Seattle to cover every guy so that he can’t find a window with any of the five guys. In my opinion, I think that’s the way they’re going to play it, and I think that’s smart.

“And then on Seattle’s side, I think Seattle is going to try to get Marshawn Lynch, and they’re going to try to run well and run the clock so that Manning only gets eight possessions. I think Seattle feels like, ‘We cannot give Manning the ball 11 times. If we do, we’re not going to win.’ ”

Touching on the Patriots, King said the primary need is obvious, but he said a trade for a big-name wide receiver appears unlikely.

“I see that it’s much more likely, at least in my mind, for them to draft and develop a receiver,” King said. “But I will say this: There are going to be a bunch of receivers who you can get. I think my feeling is they need to get younger and better at wide receiver, and I’m not sure the way to do that is by spending $12 million a year on a guy.”

King agreed that the team needs to surround Tom Brady with better talent.

“Especially after he did them — and no matter what anybody says, Brady did them a favor last year [by renegotiating]. And Brady will eventually, over the life of this contract, I believe, make less money than he could have — certainly than he could have. And he did that for a very simple reason: He wanted the team around him to be better. And look, some of this is circumstantial. Because there’s absolutely nothing that they could have done about this. Absolutely nothing.”

“And I think when you look at what has happened in the NFL now, you’re talking about a window. You look at what, to me, what the Denver Broncos did for Peyton Manning. He had a great situation going. And they said, ‘Oh, my God, two years [$]12 million for [Wes] Welker?’ ”

Added King: “I’m not saying that the Patriots have to go out and do something splashy like that. All I’m saying is that I think they owe it to Tom Brady to get a lot better at the receiver position.”

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Zoltan Mesko on M&M: Bill Belichick has ‘right to state his own opinion’ on Wes Welker hit at 12:29 pm ET
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Zoltan Mesko

Zoltan Mesko

Former Patriots and current Bengals punter Zoltan Mesko joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss news related to his old team. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Mesko joined the conversation about Bill Belichick‘€™s reaction to the Wes Welker hit.

“He’€™s just stating his opinion,” Mesko said. “He’€™s got the right to state his own opinion to what level he’€™s coaching at and how much success he’€™s had. He sees things differently than anyone else does. The TV copy shows a different thing than what you get out of the end zone and sideline view that you see when you break things down at the football organizational level.

“œThe angle I saw was the TV copy, and I kind of want to revert to what Joe Montana said actually a couple of days ago on ESPN how you wouldn’t send a 5-9 receiver who has had two concussions across the middle to take someone out. The way that worked out was when you’€™re having receivers cross the field, you’€™re trying to make the cornerback always gain ground up field, so you’€™re trying to go underneath him and the cornerback has the responsibility to go underneath you. You’€™re kind of playing chicken there.

“There’€™s two sides to the story,” Mesko added, “but I would trust an opinion of a great coach.”

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Heath Evans on M&M: ‘Never going to convince’ Marshall Faulk that Patriots didn’t cheat in Super Bowl XXXVI at 11:48 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Heath Evans, a former Patriots fullback, joined Mut & Merloni from Super Bowl Radio Row on Friday to preview the Super Bowl and respond to Marshall Faulk‘s Spygate comments from a day earlier. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On Thursday, Faulk appeared on Mut & Merloni and indicated that he holds a grudge toward the Patriots, who upset his Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, implying that they gained an advantage from illegal videotaping.

“When you have that blood, sweat and tears mixed into a lost Super Bowl vs. the Patriots, and then you hear all the conflicting reports about what could be or what was or what wasn’t, the bottom line is that you just start throwing it all, ‘Well, everything they did, they won because they were cheating,’ ” Evans responded. “Well, the bottom line is, we know for a fact as a team that the day when Bill [Belichick] came in and squashed that whole thing, we know there was a whole bunch of other teams that current time, in that day and age in ’07, that were doing the same exact thing. It was just kind of the standard policy that, OK, if you get caught you take the tape and you just kind of let it hush-hush. Well, [then-Jets coach Eric] Mangini had his panties in a wad, kind of broke rank, and end of story.

“You go back to those Super Bowls, Marshall doesn’t know for a fact that anything was done. It’s speculation. Therefore, it’s a non-conversation. If it was facts, then we could argue facts. But opinions? I’m never going to convince Marshall. We’ve had these same conversations.”

Added Evans: “When you’re in it, and your life’s invested in this, and then you feel something has been taken away from you — I look back at 2007 and I listen to some of the conversations that I’ve had with Bill and the conversations we had right after that game. It had nothing to do with taping; it had the fact that we drifted away from our game plan and we fell right into the trap of what the Giants would want us to do. We became a pass-happy team instead of cramming it down [Michael] Strahan‘s throat.

“Well, it is what it is. Now we live with 18-1 for the rest of our lives. There’s nothing we can do about it. But it had nothing to do with taping some signals Week 1 vs. the Jets. We beat them by 40 points. We could have given them all our signals and we still would have beaten them by 25.”

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