AFC East: Chris Hanson
Mesko, the Patriots' colorful new punter, is a native of Romania and the son of a former pro bowler (not a Pro Bowler) who emigrated to the U.S. when he was in middle school.
Mesko became a huge Brady fan when he enrolled at Michigan, Brady's alma mater.
"Well, that's the crazy part, transitioning from being ..." Mesko said, his voice trailing off moments after being drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round. "Tom Brady, from a fan's perspective, is my favorite player in the whole NFL, just because he has that Michigan tie, and he's done such a great job overcoming being drafted in the sixth round.
"It's crazy how much he's done and how many people he's proved wrong. That's my philosophy in life. I get motivated more about the negative things that are said about me. I like to prove myself that way. I'd love to model myself after Tom Brady, so maybe getting to know him a little more will help that mind-set."
Brady was selected in the sixth round, 199th overall in 2000. The Patriots drafted Mesko 49 slots earlier than they took Brady.
A reporter asked Mesko if he would bring that up to Brady.
"I was just thinking that, but I didn't want to mention it," Mesko said. "No, no. I won't. It's not about how you start. It's how you finish."
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss reports the Patriots have reached terms with right guard Stephen Neal on a two-year contract for an undisclosed sum. The Patriots signed franchise-tagged nose tackle Vince Wilfork and sacks leader Tully Banta-Cain earlier Friday.
Neal's return ensures the Patriots will have their entire O-line intact from last year if they choose.
Most notable among the Patriots' remaining unrestricted free agents are running back Kevin Faulk, tight end Benjamin Watson, outside linebacker Derrick Burgess, cornerback Leigh Bodden and punter Chris Hanson.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, DB Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons, LB Josh Stamer.
Potential restricted free agents: LB Keith Ellison, QB Gibran Hamdan, G Richie Incognito, TE Joe Klopfenstein, TE Derek Schouman, T Jonathan Scott, S George Wilson, CB Ashton Youboty.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Bills are in a rebuilding mode and shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to sign their free agents. In fact, they took the unusual step of publicly announcing they wouldn't offer Owens, Reed or Denney contracts. The most attractive players are Incognito and Wilson. Most of the rest were bit players and injury replacements.
Potential unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.
Potential restricted free agents: RB Ronnie Brown, TE Anthony Fasano, OLB Quentin Moses.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Ferguson. He'll turn 36 during the 2010 season and is coming off a serious quadriceps injury. Without him, however, the Dolphins have a massive void in their 3-4 defense at a position that's difficult to replace. Pennington, Jones and Taylor all could be gone.
New England Patriots
Potential unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, ILB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson.
Potential restricted free agents: K Stephen Gostkowski, G Logan Mankins, OLB Pierre Woods.
Franchise player: NT Vince Wilfork.
What to expect: Several starters are about to go up for bids, and the Patriots can't keep them all. Expect Faulk to be re-signed without much fuss. Neal, Bodden and Banta-Cain comprise a group they'd have trouble replacing. All three could fetch offers the Patriots would rather not match. Don't count on Watson coming back.
New York Jets
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, DE Marques Douglas, K Jay Feely, LB Ryan Fowler, TE Ben Hartsock, LB Larry Izzo, FB Tony Richardson.
Potential restricted free agents: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Drew Coleman, WR Braylon Edwards, DT Howard Green, T Wayne Hunter, WR Brad Smith, S Eric Smith, RB Leon Washington.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: As a "final eight" team, the Jets have to window shop until one of their UFAs sign elsewhere. General manager Mike Tannenbaum is creative. Don't be surprised if the Jets use trades to upgrade. The key restricted free agent to monitor will be Washington, who received a second-round tender. His agent has been tweeting alarms the Pro Bowler could sign an offer sheet and dare the Jets to match.
An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC East.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Unrestricted free agents: DE Ryan Denney, LB Chris Draft, S Todd Johnson, G Seth McKinney, WR Terrell Owens, WR Josh Reed, S Bryan Scott, G Kendall Simmons.
Unrestricted free agents: NT Jason Ferguson, CB Nate Jones, QB Chad Pennington, OLB Jason Taylor.
Key figures: Some big names populate the Dolphins' free-agent list. Three of their captains -- Pennington, Ferguson and Taylor -- are unrestricted. They're trying to jettison a fourth captain, outside linebacker Joey Porter, onto the open market. Ferguson is 35 and coming off a leg injury. Yet he would be the toughest to replace because 3-4 nose tackles are commodities. If the NFL miraculously avoids an uncapped year, then running back Ronnie Brown would be unrestricted. Otherwise, a clause would keep him under contract for 2010.
New England Patriots
Unrestricted free agents: OLB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, OLB Derrick Burgess, RB Kevin Faulk, DE Jarvis Green, P Chris Hanson, G Stephen Neal, LB Junior Seau, TE Benjamin Watson, NT Vince Wilfork.
Key figures: Wilfork is the only AFC East free agent worthy of a franchise tag. While most of the focus is on him, other significant contributors have expiring contracts. One of the Patriots' areas in need of an upgrade this offseason is their pass rush. Sacks leader Banta-Cain and Burgess accounted for 15 of the team's 31 sacks. There's a belief the Patriots will let Watson walk, creating a larger void at tight end.
New York Jets
Unrestricted free agents: LS James Dearth, K Jay Feely, TE Ben Hartsock, FB Tony Richardson.
Key figures: Richardson and Feely are the biggest names because a blocking fullback is integral to the offense, and a reliable kicker is crucial to the Jets' defense-first, grind-it-out approach. The Jets' list of free agents could grow if they don't want to fork over substantial roster bonuses next month for running back Thomas Jones, cornerback Lito Sheppard or safety Kerry Rhodes.
When it comes to how they rank among the top five at a given position within the conference, the New England Patriots lead the way with 13 players. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins have four each. No Buffalo Bills rank in the top five.
Here are the position-by-position results and how AFC East players rank within the conference:
2. Tom Brady, Patriots (295,477)
Comment: He has the fourth-most votes of any quarterback behind Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.
4. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (129,271)
Comment: Comeback Player of the Year candidate Cedric Benson leads everyone in the AFC with 321,552 votes.
4. Sammy Morris, Patriots (40,118)
5. Tony Richardson, Jets (36,481)
Comment: Ravens back Le'Ron McClain is way ahead with 78,194 votes.
3. Randy Moss, Patriots (232,652)
Comment: Andre Johnson leads the AFC with 279,395 votes.
Comment: No AFC East tight end deserves to be in the top five.
5. Nick Mangold, Jets (55,949)
Comment: Mangold is the NFL's best center, but fan voting is a popularity contest. Colts center Jeff Saturday leads the league with 215,658 votes. I would tell Jets fans to get on the stick, but I predict Mangold will be the starter after the players and coaches weigh in.
1. Alan Faneca, Jets (122,029)
5. Logan Mankins, Patriots(51,316)
Comment: Also proving it's a popularity contest, Faneca isn't what he used to be but appears on his way to running away with it again. He has gone to eight straight Pro Bowls.
1. Jake Long, Dolphins (107,299)
2. Matt Light, Patriots (76,977)
Comment: They're comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. Steelers tackle Max Starks is third with 69,749 votes.
Comment: Ex-Patriots star Richard Seymour is fourth with 71,199 votes, but Colts sackmaster Dwight Freeney has over 200,000.
2. Vince Wilfork, Patriots (104,038)
Comment: In what could turn into a close race, Casey Hampton of the Steelers is about 17,000 votes ahead, and Haloti Ngata of the Ravens is 3,001 votes behind in third place.
5. Joey Porter, Dolphins (70,132)
Comment: Given his season so far, Porter might not remain in the top five for long. James Harrison of the Steelers and Elvis Dumervil of the Broncos are running away with it.
3. Bart Scott, Jets (45,200)
4. Jerod Mayo, Patriots (44,876)
Comment: Scott's old Ravens teammate, Ray Lewis, leads the pack with 148,480 votes. Scott's current teammate, David Harris, probably deserves to be on this list, too.
3. Darrelle Revis, Jets (86,143)
Comment: Revis will go to his second Pro Bowl, but he won't catch Broncos star Champ Bailey, the NFL's leader with 185,103 votes.
4. Brandon Meriweather, Patriots (34,584)
Comment: Meriweather is having the best season, but it will be tough to compete with Steelers star Troy Polamalu, who has 192,289 votes.
5. Brandon McGowan, Patriots (14,132)
Comment: Not many people gave much thought when the Patriots signed McGowan as a free agent, but he's having a fine season. Bills rookie Jairus Byrd, with eight interceptions, isn't on the ballot because he wasn't a starter when it was compiled. Bills fans need to get cracking with the write-in votes.
2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (45,831)
Comment: The folks who stuffed the box for Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter last year better wake up.
5. Chris Hanson, Patriots (24,663)
Comment: The least-voted-upon position always seems up for grabs. Hanson is only 24,000 votes out of first place.
4. Wes Welker, Patriots (31,788)
Comment: There's a big dropoff from a close race among Darren Sproles, Joshua Cribbs and Eddie Royal.
5. Sam Aiken, Patriots (25,495)
Comment: No Larry Izzo on the list. Doesn't look right, but it probably is.
ESPN Stats & Information aimed to break it down four ways:
- Chance of winning the game if the Patriots converted the fourth down.
- Chance of winning the game if the Patriots missed the fourth down.
- Chance of winning the game if the Patriots punted the ball.
- Chance of converting the fourth down.
The Win Probability Calculator factors the score, time remaining, field position, down and distance.
Predicted outcomes to the above scenarios came back thusly:
- If the Patriots converted, they would have had a first down roughly on their own 30-yard line with two minutes to go. Their average win probability in this situation would be 92 percent.
- If they missed the fourth down, the Colts would take possession on roughly the Patriots' 29-yard line with two minutes to go. The Patriots win probability in this situation would be 66 percent.
- If they punted the ball, using Chris Hanson’s average of 44 net yards in the game, the Colts would have gotten the ball at about their own 28-yard line. The Patriots' win probability in this situation would be 79 percent.
- The answer to this one has many variables. The NFL average when going for it on fourth-and-2 over the past two seasons was 55.7 percent. The Patriots had converted three of four attempts in that situation over the past two years prior to Sunday night. The Colts' defense allowed opponents two conversions on three fourth-and-2 attempts over the past two seasons. Even though this indicates that the Patriots were more likely to convert than the league average, ESPN Stats & Information placed their chances of converting at the league-average rate of 55.7 percent.
Next is some hardcore math that produces the following:
- The Patriots' win probability when going for it (factoring expectation of winning with the probability of a successful conversion versus the expectation of winning with the probability of a failed conversion) was 80.5 percent.
- The Patriots expected win probability when punting, as stated above was 79.0 percent.
Here is ESPN Stats & Information's final synopsis:
Using these estimates, the decision is very close. The Patriots’ expected win probability when going for it is actually greater than the expected win probability when punting, but just by 1.5 percent. If you say the Colts and Peyton Manning had a greater chance of coming back after the missed fourth down conversion than the 34 percent given to them by the NFL average ... then you’d probably also give them better than the 21 percent chance to come back if the Patriots had punted. So you’d have to decrease the win probability when punting from 79 percent. Most likely, you end up with a close decision either way.
All sorts of paperwork flew around Thursday in Foxborough, Mass.
Here's a review of all the moves that we know about:
- In their ongoing search for Asante Samuel's replacement, ESPN's Len Pasquarelli reports the Patriots agreed to terms with former Washington Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs.
- They sent a 2009 draft choice to the Philadelphia Eagles for receiver Greg Lewis, who figures to replace free-agent departure Jabar Gaffney as the No. 3 target. Here's a Lewis analysis from the Boston Globe's Mike Reiss.
- The Patriots announced they've re-signed linebacker Eric Alexander, safety James Sanders and punter Chris Hanson and released practice-squad linebacker Darrell Robertson.
- The Patriots also lost their fullback of the past four seasons, when Heath Evans joined the New Orleans Saints.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
As organized as Bill Belichick is, the New England Patriots probably didn't wait for the Scott Pioli situation to shake out in Kansas City before getting started on free agency.
The Patriots are expected to franchise unrestricted quarterback Matt Cassel as an insurance policy for Tom Brady's blown-out left knee. Cassel would receive a one-year qualifying offer worth almost $15 million -- the average of the top five salaries at his position.
Even if the Patriots and Cassel hammer out a deal on their own terms, his salary will gobble up a huge portion of the roughly $18 million to $20 million cap space they currently have. The actual salary cap number for 2009 hasn't been released.
Unrestricted (free to negotiate with any team beginning Feb. 27)
- QB Matt Cassel
- LB Rosevelt Colvin
- WR Jabar Gaffney
- P Chris Hanson
- S Rodney Harrison
- G/C Russ Hochstein
- LB Larry Izzo
- RB LaMont Jordan
- CB Deltha O'Neal
- LS Lonie Paxton
- S James Sanders
- CB Lewis Sanders
- LB Junior Seau
- DL Kenny Smith
- OL Barry Stokes
- S Tank Williams
- DL Mike Wright
Restricted (Patriots have right to match offer from other team)
Exclusive rights (cannot negotiate with other teams if tendered qualifying offer)