|02.25.15 at 12:00 pm ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu and Rey Maualuga. Today, it’s David Harris.
Age: 31 (Jan. 21, 1984)
Weight: 250 pounds
The skinny: He’s not the most well-known of the potential free agents — Patriots fans might know his previous starring role as “Guy Who Broke Tom Brady’s Interception-Free Streak” in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs, a pick that set the tone for New York’s upset of the Patriots. But over his eight seasons in the NFL, all of them with the Jets, Harris has distinguished himself as a smart and heady veteran who brings a nice consistency, poise and professionalism to the field and the locker room. Harris is one of the last men standing in Rex Ryan‘s really talented defenses of roughly a half-decade ago, and the second-round pick out of Michigan has made his mark as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, becoming a second-team All-Pro in 2009. He’s had some issues in coverage over the last few years, but is a stout presence in the middle, and over the last few years, played a very nice complementary role while working with New York’s outstanding defensive front when it comes to slowing the run. In New England, he’d likely work as a complementary piece to linebackers like Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.
By the numbers: 3,249 — the number of defensive snaps played by Harris over the last three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s the highest total on the Jets roster in that time.
Why it would work: Harris is a smart, dependable veteran who could be had relatively cheaply. He’s registered at least 123 tackles in three consecutive seasons and has 30 career sacks. He’s known as someone who is stout against the run, and while no one is questioning the bonafides of defenders like Hightower and Collins after 2014 the idea of a thumper on the inside as a two-down defender against the run who comes off the field on passing downs would effectively make him Brandon Spikes without the Twitter baggage. (Something that’s appealing to the Patriots.) And as someone who has played eight years in the league but has missed out on the playoffs the last three seasons, the idea of being a part of a team that goes deep into the postseason on a fairly regular basis would also figure to hold some sort of appeal. He clearly passes the Rosevelt Colvin test in the sense that Bill Belichick has spoken very highly go him in the past on a fairly regular basis. (More on that shortly.) And it would represent a nice opportunity for the Patriots to poach a quality veteran from a divisional rival.
Why it might not work: If he does hit the market, Harris could be one of the more underrated gems of free agency on a few levels, including the fact that the veteran could have his choice of a few potential landing spots, including with his old boss Ryan in Buffalo (as a guy who could replace Spikes, at least on a semi-regular basis). Rumors also had the Falcons and Bears showing interest in the vet. (That doesn’t begin to take into account the idea of him staying put with the Jets.) And then, there’s also the fact that if the Patriots are able to bring back Hightower, Mayo and Collins, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of playing time available to a guy like Harris — who has carved out a tremendous niche as an iron man — in New England, even if he would acquiesce to play more of a two-down, run-stuffing role with the Patriots.
Quote: “I have a lot of respect for David Harris. That guy, first of all, he never comes of the field — not just this year, but any year. The guy is like a 98, 99 percent playtime player for them every year, year after year. It’s obviously a defense that has a lot of communication and adjustments, and he’s certainly at the center of that. Both as the signal caller and then at the line of scrimmage, you can see him adjusting the front or making some type of communication calls to his teammates. He’s a very instinctive player, which unfortunately we’ve seen that first-hand. He does a good job for them. He’s been very consistent, durable, dependable, productive over a long period of time.” — Belichick on Harris, Dec. 19
Our take: On the surface, this seems like the sort of guy the Patriots take a flier on on a semi-regular basis: veteran defender who is looking to put the capper on his career with a chance to go to (or win) a Super Bowl. However, as previously mentioned, Harris is likely to find several suitors on the market — if he does get that far — most of which would likely allow him to continue to work as a three-down player, as opposed to the two-down specialist he’d likely be if he came to New England. (There’s also the question about just what can be expected out of Hightower next spring and summer because of a late-season injury and recent surgery.) Still, if the idea of working in occasional relief of presumed starters like Mayo, Hightower and Collins and the chance to get back to the playoffs sooner rather than later appeals to Harris, then he could certainly find a home with the Patriots, as long as the dollars were competitive.
|02.23.15 at 6:58 pm ET|
The 2015 NFL combine wrapped up in Indianapolis on Monday, and here are five things we learned, mostly from a Patriots perspective:
1. Deflategate won’t go away
Sadly, the whole Deflategate situation didn’t go away at the combine, it just got talked about even more after a few quiet weeks following the Super Bowl. The big development was Colts general manager Ryan Grigson saying the Colts notified the NFL of suspicions they had of the Patriots the week leading up to AFC championship game. Going by Grigson, the NFL was aware of the Patriots potentially using under inflated footballs, and the NFL didn’t do anything about it until halftime. Also coming up last week was the revelation of an NFL employee being fired as part of a memorabilia sting — stealing game balls for himself that were intended for charity. It seems this story will not die until the Ted Wells investigation is completed, and even then there may be more to this story. It’s also worth noting the Patriots will play the Colts in Indianapolis next season.
2. Another offensive lineman?
Joining Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and the rest of the staff at the combine was former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who for a second straight season has assisted the Patriots leading up to the draft. It’s possible the Patriots have plans to select another offensive lineman, as last season they drafted two — Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming — with Scarnecchia’s input. His presence in Indianapolis this week conducting interviews with players may suggest the team has plans to select another one, especially on the interior given how much longer Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell have with the team. Scarnecchia has long-lasting relationship with Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett, helping draft Stork last season, and the Seminoles have a few other strong offensive line prospects this season as well, so it’s possible a Florida State-New England pipeline has been started.
3. Pats stay quiet
This wasn’t much of a surprise, but no members of the Patriots organization held formal press conferences, like most other teams. Belichick almost never speaks at the combine, although he did in 2014, so this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering development. Belichick did make headlines when he walked into the combine on Friday with Rex Ryan. Ryan had a throwback Thurman Thomas jersey on, while Belichick wore a hoodie for his foundation. Caserio did give a 1-on-1 interview with Patriots.com, where he talked about free agency and with the reality of the NFL, the Patriots will be a different team next year.
|02.23.15 at 12:35 pm ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher and Roy Helu. Today we’ll feature linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Age: 28 (Jan. 20, 1987)
Weight: 255 pounds
The skinny: Maualuga has played all six of his NFL seasons in Cincinnati with the Bengals. The USC product battled a hamstring injury for a lot of this past season, forcing him to even leave the divisional round game against the Colts. He played in 12 games and finished with 59 tackles for the year. Over his six years with the Bengals, he’s only been able to play a full season in two of them — injuries the reason. His best year came in 2012 when he played in all 16 games and finished the year with 122 tackles. The former second round pick has started for the Bengals at middle linebacker for the majority of his career, and if Cincinnati doesn’t bring him back, he could be a good addition to another team.
By the numbers: When Maualuga returned from his hamstring injury this past season for the final seven games, teams averaged just 82 rushing yards in those games against the Bengals and were held to 85 yards or less in six of those games.
Why it would work: The Patriots might be in need of an insurance policy for Dont’a Hightower, as it was reported over the weekend the middle linebacker will be facing a recovery time of 6-7 months for his torn labrum. That timetable has him back somewhere between Aug. 10 and Sept. 10, which is the regular-season opener. With no guarantee he’s ready, the Pats may need to go get another linebacker, especially one that has proven they can play at the NFL level. He’s coming off of a two-year deal worth $6.5 million, so it’s likely the 28-year-old will be seeking the same sort of deal this offseason.
|02.22.15 at 8:34 pm ET|
Following the season, Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower had surgery to repair a torn labrum, which he played with for much of the season.
This weekend we’ve learned how long his recovery time will be.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Hightower’s recovery time will be six to seven months. Howe also notes training camp begins on July 29 and a six-month recovery time would have Hightower ready Aug. 10. A seven-month recovery time would be Sept. 10, coincidentally the opening night of the regular season, which the Patriots will likely be playing in, customary for the Super Bowl champs.
Hightower played in 12 games in his third season in the league, and did an admirable job filling in for linebacker Jerod Mayo when Mayo went down with a season-ending injury. The Alabama product finished with 89 tackles and six sacks. He also was the player who tackled Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl.
For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.
|02.22.15 at 7:00 am ET|
With Chris Price taking a well-deserved vacation this week, we’ll keep the Sunday NFL Notes going, hoping to live up to the high standard he sets every week.
1. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis this week, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio gave a 1-on-1 interview with Jackie Brittain of Patriots.com, hitting on a number of subjects (the interview can be seen here). One of those subjects was free agency and how it relates to what happens with cornerback Darrelle Revis. “We’re going through an evaluation process,” said Caserio. “When we get back here from the combine, we’ll actually go through pretty comprehensive analysis of our roster, go through player by player, strengths, weaknesses, what we see their role as and what their future’s gonna be moving forward. Those are decisions that will be made at the appropriate time. The reality is our team is going to be different from what it was last year. That’s just a reality of the NFL and a reality that every team faces. We’ll go through, and in the end we’ll do what we feel is best for the organization moving forward.”
As it stands now, the Patriots’ top order of business is Revis and getting him signed long-term instead of paying him $20 million for 2015. Then, they have Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski as free agents, with the possibility of placing the franchise tag on either of them. Also set to become free agents are running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, so when Caserio says the team is going to be different next year, he isn’t lying.
2. In addition to Caserio at the combine, the Patriots have a number of coaches and executives present in Indianapolis this week. Coach Bill Belichick is there as always, and also accompanying him are recently retired assistant coaches in special teams coach Scott O’Brien and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. O’Brien retired after this past season, but will stay in the organization, while Scarnecchia is assisting Belichick at the combine like he did last year. Also seen at the combine this week was former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, as he’s been seen helping out the Patriots and Belichick a number of times over the last year. Current Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo has also been seen helping run drills during the week.
3. There aren’t too many local players at the combine this week. Representing the New England schools are: running back Tyler Varga from Yale, wide receiver Geremy Davis from UConn, tight end Jean Stifrin from UMass, offensive lineman Andy Gallik from Boston College, defensive lineman Zach Hodges from Harvard and defensive back Bryon Jones from UConn. While none of these players are expected to go very high in the draft, getting invited to the combine is a big accomplishment in itself. Stifrin from UMass has a pretty interesting story, as he is 27 years old — much older than most of the other combine participants. MassLive.com’s Kevin Duffy did a good job going into Stifrin’s past and telling his story.
4. The Schiano-Belichick connection has led to a number of Rutgers players becoming Patriots over the past few years. That pipeline may have gotten even stronger lately, as Josh McDaniels‘ brother Ben has been named offensive coordinator at the school. So, who could be the next Rutgers player drafted by the Patriots? Tight end Tyler Kroft could be a possibility and join former Rutgers player Tim Wright as Rob Gronkowski‘s backup. Kroft is looked at as more of a receiving threat than an in-line blocking tight end, so he would be a great complement to Gronkowski, given Gronkowski’s size and Kroft’s lack there of. Kroft weighed in at 246 pounds at the combine, the 16th heaviest tight end out of the 19 attending the workouts.
5. Here are a few interesting stats we dug up following the season:
- The Patriots were 13-0 this season when scoring 23 or more points and are 160-12 under Belichick.
- The Patriots finished 11-0 this season when scoring first.
- Going into the Super Bowl the Seahawks allowed an average of 6.8 points per game in the second half of games this year — the Patriots scored 14 in Super Bowl XLIX.
- According to Elias, the Patriots were the first team to reach the Super Bowl without having a player with 100 rush attempts during the season.
|02.21.15 at 9:42 pm ET|
Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson was drafted by the Red Sox in the 18th round of the 2012 draft and spent that summer playing for the Red Sox in the Florida Gulf Coast League, but it was an experience Thompson would like to forget.
The center fielder went 0-for-39 with 37 strikeouts with eight walks in 13 games. After that summer he gave up baseball and went to Washington to play football, where he’s played linebacker, running back and safety, but wants to be a linebacker in the NFL.
“I remember a lot,” Thompson recalled to reporters about his baseball career Saturday at the NFL combine. “There were a couple of media people that made a joke out of it, but it was motivation to me. Used it as motivation going into my freshman year. Met some great people there. Met this thing called failure, learned how to beat it.”
This past season Thompson ran for 456 yards on 61 carries. and defensively he had 81 tackles and an interception. He prefers to play linebacker and that is the position he wants to play at the next level.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” said Thompson. “I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”
Being only 6-foot-1, 228 pounds, some think he’s too small to play linebacker in the NFL. Don’t tell that to Thompson.
“Being too short is overrated,” he said. “You have a lot of short linebackers out there. London Fletcher was 5-9. He brought a lot of inspiration to us. I don’t feel height makes the player. Both [UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks] and I have a lot of heart and toughness. He’s a great linebacker. Size doesn’t matter.”
For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.
|02.21.15 at 1:27 pm ET|
Saturday at the NFL combine is when the skill players (quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs) complete their workouts, usually the most exciting day at the combine because these are the biggest names in Indianapolis.
From a Patriots perspective, this might be the day not to pay as much attention to what is happening because the chances of the Patriots selecting a skill position player with one of their top picks are very low from this viewpoint.
Here’s why the Patriots likely won’t take a skill player high in the draft:
New England selected quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with their second-round pick (No. 62 overall) in last year’s draft. Some may have questioned the pick at the time, but now it’s becoming clear why the Patriots made the selection when they did. There is no denying the fact that Tom Brady cannot play forever and the Patriots are going to need to find his replacement at some point, and it’s better to have that player be ready too early as opposed to too late.
Garoppolo, out of Eastern Illinois, was the fifth quarterback taken in the entire draft. This quarterback draft class isn’t very strong (in fact NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said Garoppolo would be the third quarterback taken) and the ones in the years following don’t appear to be that strong either. So, the Patriots got their guy in 2014, as opposed to waiting longer and potentially being too late. With Garoppolo already on the roster and a solid year under his belt, it wouldn’t make any sense for the Patriots to select a quarterback high in the draft.
The Patriots have a number of running backs already on their roster for 2015: LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White and Tyler Gaffney. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen set to become free agents, there is a chance both or one of them won’t return to the team. In that case the Patriots would likely be in need of another ball carrier, but taking one for that reason through the draft may be risky and therefore not worth it. Gray had one breakout game when he rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, but everyone knows what happened after that, and he was even inactive for Super Bowl XLIX. White, a fourth-round selection in 2014, basically had a red-shirt season in New England, only being active for three games while getting acclimated to the NFL. Gaffney was claimed off waivers from the Panthers during training camp, as the Stanford product was going to miss the season with a torn lateral meniscus and the Panthers tried to sneak him through waivers. The Patriots jumped on him, signing him and then placing him on season-ending injured reserve.
What all these players have in common is lack of experience in the NFL, with the exception of Blount. It seemingly would be a risky move to select a running back high in the draft and expect him to play a major role in the Patriots’ running game in 2015. The Patriots already have a few potential young stars on their roster. Why add another when there are other needs on the roster that could be addressed?