AFC East: Isaac Sopoaga

Snapshot look at Pats' salary cap

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
As the offseason begins, one of the questions many ask is how the Patriots are doing from a salary-cap standpoint.

Salary-cap assessments can be a little tricky because of the fluidity of cap space: Signing or extending a player can decrease cap space, while releasing or restructuring a deal can increase it.

But one number we can hammer home on the cap space is $4.1 million, which is how much space the Patriots will be rolling over from this year's cap to next year's. That's to say that $4.1 million of unspent money this year will be available for the Patriots to use next year on top of the salary cap.

Right now, many NFL teams are using $123 million as a conservative projected cap figure for 2014, as that is on the low end of what is realistic for it to actually be (some project it could be closer to $128 million).

If the cap were to, hypothetically, be set at $126 million, the Patriots would have a $130.1 million allowance due to their rollover space.

Now, as things currently stand, the Patriots have $128.2 million committed to their salary cap next year, which may make one say that they're in poor cap space. That's not exactly the case, as the team can easily create space with moves in the form of a release. Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, due $3.5 million for next season, is an example of a potential cap casualty.

Also, one of the big issues of the offseason will be if the Patriots receive significant relief on the cap as it relates to Aaron Hernandez.

So for now, the answer to the question that we led off this post with is: Wait and see.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 8, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some halftime thoughts as the New England Patriots trail the Browns 6-0:

Uninspiring performance from Patriots: Dropped passes. Missed blocking assignments. Substitution issues on the sideline with the coaching staff and players that lead to 12-men-on-the-field penalties and general confusion. Simply put, it’s been uninspiring football from the Patriots. At the same time, credit also goes to the Browns in some areas (e.g. D'Qwell Jackson's range on an interception of a throw that was forced), who certainly haven’t quit after last week’s loss to the Jaguars.

Not as much about adjustments as execution: Unlike last week, when the Patriots altered their offensive plan at halftime, this game doesn’t strike us as much about being adjustment-based. It’s more about execution. There are opportunities there if they can make the plays. The Patriots looked like one of the NFL's worst teams in the first half.

Charting Ridley’s usage: The Patriots have eased running back Stevan Ridley back into the mix after he was a healthy scratch last week because of ball-security issues. He played five snaps in the first half.

Siliga’s presence highlights focus on interior rush defense: One of the areas prioritized defensively during the week of practice was the Browns’ inside running game. Along those lines, the Patriots started nose tackle Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325) over Joe Vellano (6-2, 300), electing for more bulk and power (and choosing Siliga over veteran Isaac Sopoaga to provide it). That was a notable personnel shift, and the results have been good. The inside running game, outside of the first few plays of the game, hasn’t been a big factor.

Closer look at cornerback usage: The Patriots started Aqib Talib and Logan Ryan at cornerback in the base defense, with Talib shadowing receiver Josh Gordon all over the field. When the Browns go to a three-receiver package, the Patriots are taking Ryan off the field and adding cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington as the fourth and fifth defensive backs. Something different, with Talib and Ryan two of the bright spots in a half with few of them.

Patriots open the half with ball: After winning the opening toss and deferring the choice to the second half, the Patriots will receive the opening kickoff of the half.

Locker Room Buzz: New England Patriots

November, 3, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Players erupt in celebration after earning 6 days off: When Bill Belichick stood in front of players after the resounding win, he shocked them by over-delivering on their expectation for the bye week. Some players had apparently been positioning to earn Thursday as an "extra" day off, so Belichick told them they had earned six straight days off -- Wednesday through the following Monday. Players described a scene in which everyone erupted in celebration. The general message was to rest up and that there is a lot of football ahead.

Inspired by the Red Sox? The Patriots honored the World Series champion Red Sox before the game, with pitcher Jon Lester carrying the World Series trophy to midfield for the opening coin toss. "Maybe we got our inspiration from the Red Sox," Belichick said.

Brady couldn't have envisioned this: After eight weeks in which the offense has struggled for long stretches, quarterback Tom Brady called it a fun day, and obviously the best day the offense has had execution-wise. "You don't wake up in the morning and think they are going to be like that," he said. "It was pretty sweet."

Smiling Sopoaga represents Moses Malone: Newly acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who has a collection of authentic NBA jerseys, donned a Philadelphia 76ers Moses Malone jersey after the game. Sopoaga started and played about 24 snaps in a situational role, and made his mark by holding his ground on a fourth-and-1 stop and also batting down a pass. "I feel like today is my birthday again. Winning and playing with Tom Brady? Come on," he said, with a laugh.

Belichick: Sopoaga primed to play Sunday

November, 1, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga has practiced with the New England Patriots each of the past three days since being acquired in a trade from the Eagles, and coach Bill Belichick said Friday that there is a good chance Sopoaga will play Sunday against the Steelers.

“We have a couple more days to clean up a few things, but if he continues to progress through the week, I don’t think there’s any reason why he shouldn’t be ready to play,” Belichick said.

Belichick made the point that acquiring Sopoaga at this point of the season is different from signing a free-agent, as he’s in “football shape” from having played in every game (39 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps).

“He’s in good condition, his reactions are what you’d expect them to be,” Belichick noted. “He just has to get familiar with our terminology and some of the way we play certain blocks and what his responsibilities are on blitzes and that kind of thing. He’s a smart guy and he obviously has a lot of experience.”

From a big-picture standpoint, Belichick was asked what he remembers about Sopoaga from the 2004 draft. Sopoaga, who played at Hawaii, had visited Gillette Stadium and was a prospect the team had interest in selecting before he went in the fourth round (49ers).

“We talked about taking him, and we were going to take him, but we were a round late,” Belichick said, pointing out that the team had already selected defensive tackle Vince Wilfork in the first round.

“You can never have too many defensive linemen, and that was kind of the conversation. He was right there. We were ready to take him and we said ‘We think we can get him one round later,' we’d already taken a couple guys, and probably waited a little too long on that one.”

Asked if Sopoaga’s career has played out how he projected, Belichick said: “That’s a pretty good fourth-round pick, I’d say. I think if you knew what his career was going to be, he would have gone in the second. He could have gone in the first ahead of some other people that had been drafted in that round, obviously. I’d say he’s had a real good career. For a fourth-round pick that’s done what he’s done, there aren’t too many of them that have done that. I think it’s been pretty good.”