AFC East: Mike Vrabel

Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday morning in the AFC East:
  • Will New York Jets Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis hold out?
Morning take: Revis was in the same situation in 2010. He held out and got what he wanted. Now, Revis is looking for more in a year New York has little cap room.
  • Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland says the draft picks are up to him, despite suggestions from owner Stephen Ross.
Morning take: That's the way it should be. Ross is not a football guy. It's his job to let his football people do the work.
Morning take: This is when Buffalo has to start taking that next step. Getting on the same page starts now, and it appears the Bills are aiming to get that accomplished.
  • Is Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin a good prospect for the New England Patriots?
Morning take: New England needs outside pass-rushers, so McClellin is a possibility. He has been compared to former Patriot Mike Vrabel.

Patriots: Fit in or get out

February, 2, 2012
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Albert Haynesworth, Deion BranchAP Photo/US PresswireFormer Patriot Albert Haynesworth, left, and starter Deion Branch exemplify the "Patriot Way."
INDIANAPOLIS -- As displayed in his video documentary "A Football Life," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick enjoys fishing in his free time. It's fitting, because in football Belichick is not afraid to cut bait.

Many players have come and gone in New England. Some have worked out better than others. But the culture of winning remains the same.

There are only seven players remaining from the Patriots' last Super Bowl team in 2007. In four years, nearly the entire roster has been remade into a championship contender.

Big-name players like Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison all left New England for various reasons. Some were released, retired, or traded and wound up on television.

You also have recent malcontent situations this past season such as former Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather and former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Meriweather had off-the-field issues last season and surprisingly didn't make the 53-man roster. He landed with the Chicago Bears. Haynesworth was acquired in a big trade this summer and released about midway through the season.

Football is a cruel business. But it's particularly cruel in New England if you're underperforming and not buying into the program. You can multiply that by 10 if you're a malcontent.

"Most head coaches and GMs, they're never really willing to swallow their pride and admit that they made a mistake," former Patriots fullback and NFL Network analyst Heath Evans explained. "Bill just says 'Well, I thought we could fix [Haynesworth]. We couldn't. So bye-bye.' Most guys will sit there and hurt their team by allowing a cancer to infiltrate the system, the mindset, how you get something done. But Bill never hesitated.

"He saw enough. He gave [Haynesworth] enough chances and, boom, he's gone. That's an aspect of the structure and discipline. Bill doesn't care how it makes him look or what he's doing. He's going to do what's best for the team."

Haynesworth and Meriweather were cut because they no longer fit. Moss, Seymour and Vrabel were traded while the value was still high enough to get something for them. Belichick is always thinking about the next move.

Patriots starting receiver Deion Branch was fortunate.

The former Super Bowl MVP held out for more money during New England's training camp and the preseason in 2006, and was eventually traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick. Branch got the money he wanted. Seattle signed him to a $39 million extension. But Branch never had the same success in Seattle and was traded back to New England for a fourth-round pick in 2010.

Branch was a good teammate, but the holdout with New England left a bad stench. The Patriots showed they were willing to forgive, and now Branch is one of the veteran leaders of this year's team.

"I was very honored," Branch said. "Not many have the opportunity to come back to the same team that drafted you. Guys don't get the opportunity to go through that phase. I was just very thankful."

New England receiver Chad Ochocinco is an interesting case. He's caused issues in the past with the Cincinnati Bengals. But he's quickly -- and wisely -- bought into the "Patriot way."

Ochocinco only has 15 receptions, but fellow Patriots have described him as the model teammate. He accepted his role in New England, no matter how small it is, for the greater goal of trying to win a championship. Moss also caused problems elsewhere and quickly changed his stripes when coming to New England. The talkative Ochocinco received advice from Moss this season on how to handle the transition.

"I learned to shut the [expletive] up," Ochocinco said this week.

Why doesn't this work everywhere? Why isn't every NFL team selfless and without internal issues?

"I think it doesn't work everywhere, because everyone has to buy in. I mean coaches, players, front office and owner," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who once worked with Belichick. "With the Patriots, everybody buys in from the top all the way through. It's a way of life in New England. It's not just a daily job."

According to veteran guard Brian Waters, star quarterback Tom Brady plays a major role with team chemistry. Brady is an extension of Belichick in the locker room. No one is more competitive and works harder than the team's highest-paid player.

"Everybody's got egos, everybody's got their own way of doing things or what they think is the best way of doing things," Waters said. "But to have a coach set the tone and a player follow the tone as good as Tom, it's hard for any player on your team to even think about having a different thought process. If the best player on your football team is buying in 100 percent, then who are you to be any different? That’s something you have an appreciation for."

Evans, who played with the Patriots from 2005-08, went on to tell a great story involving future Hall of Famer Junior Seau. He was a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who joined the Patriots late in his career in 2006.

"Junior Seau, when he first got there, I don't think Junior had ever been yelled at a day in his life, or maybe even coached," Evans recalled. "Junior was over the center, trying to time the snap count, and he must have jumped offsides three times in our first practice. So Bill had it all teed up -- 'the lowlight film' is what he called it. Everyday we had a lowlight reel, and you do not want to be on that lowlight reel, because 52 other players are watching your bad mistake.

"So Junior is there jumping offsides and Bill just goes into his rant. Junior is like, 'Is he really doing this to me?' It was to the point where Junior stood up and said 'Buddy' ... He couldn't believe Bill was giving him the business like that."

No one player is bigger than the team in New England. The Patriots have done a great job of consistently sending that message and getting rid of players who don't understand. It's resulted in another Super Bowl appearance Sunday against the New York Giants.

The 2011-12 Patriots are particularly close-knit. Owner Robert Kraft says it's arguably his favorite group since owning the team, and they are one game away from capping a special season.

"One thing I've learned is that many games are lost and won in the locker room before the game starts," Kraft said this week. "Now, they have to go out and execute [against New York]."

Robert Kraft won't attend owners summit

March, 20, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- One of the NFL's leading voices will not attend the owners meetings.

The New England Patriots have announced owner Robert Kraft will not make the trip to New Orleans because of a "private family medical matter." His son and team president Jonathan Kraft still was expected to arrive Sunday night.

As outlined earlier, Robert Kraft sits on five league committees, including the management council, which is steering labor strategy.

Kraft also missed the recent labor mediation sessions in Washington, D.C., because of a previously scheduled business trip to Israel with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Unsigned Patriots left tackle Matt Light expressed his displeasure with Kraft's lack of attendance in D.C.

"No doubt, 100 percent. I'm not going to lie to you," Light told Boston Globe reporter Shalise Manza Young. "Look, again, like [former Patriots linebacker and NFL Players Association executive committee member Mike] Vrabel stated, like everyone else has said, we had people in that room that could get a deal done at any point. Do I know how they’re structured within the league? No, I have no clue.

"But I can tell you one thing: [NFL negotiators] didn't seem to have the ability to do any of that when they had to the leave the room, make a phone call, you guys representing the league. If it was me, I was in that model, I would have every one of my guys in those seats making sure that we had one voice and we could get a deal done."

Video: Goodell trying to divide players?

March, 18, 2011
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NFL Players Association leaders Drew Brees, Mike Vrabel, Jeff Saturday, Brian Dawkins and Domonique Foxworth sat down with ESPN reporter George Smith to discuss the players' thoughts on labor negotiations, rookies attending the draft and an 18-game schedule.

Saturday called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's recent letter sent directly to players an "attempt to divide us as a group of men."

Polian bangs drum for more Bills in Canton

February, 4, 2011
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Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre ReedGetty ImagesJim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were key cogs in four Bills Super Bowl teams put together by former Bills GM Bill Polian.
Can a team put too many players into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Bill Polian doesn't think so.

Polian assembled the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls. Five members of those teams already have bronze busts in Canton: quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receiver James Lofton, defensive end Bruce Smith and head coach Marv Levy. Bills owner Ralph Wilson has been enshrined, too.

"It seems like every second or third year somebody gets inducted into the Hall of Fame and we have a reunion and get to reflect on it," Polian told me Thursday night. "It's a big family that has stuck together and still stays in touch.

"It's a blessing. To be associated with guys like that? It's a special, special group."

Polian insisted more Bills belong in the Hall of Fame and is bothered that wide receiver Andre Reed hasn't gotten in yet. Reed could get the Canton call Saturday. He is among the 15 finalists who will be evaluated by the selection committee for five openings on the 2011 class.

"It's shocking to me that he's not viewed as a shoo-in Hall of Famer," Polian said. "Andre Reed was our biggest big-play player on a team that went to four Super Bowls. How he could not be included in the Hall of Fame when he's one of two guys who dominated is beyond me.

"Go with the facts. Don't go with perception. Go with reality because if you go with reality, you have to say Andre Reed belongs, without question. To me, it's just baffling."

That would give the Bills five Hall of Famers who played or coached all four Super Bowl teams. Lofton played on only three of them. Bills owner Ralph Wilson also has been inducted.

Put that group up against the New England Patriots, who won three Super Bowls in four years.

"The teams are comparable," Polian said.

There aren't that many slam-dunks from all three of New England's championship rosters.

Head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are surefire Hall of Famers. Beyond that, Adam Vinatieri has a strong case for his heroics, but there are no guarantees for kickers. Jan Stenerud is the only Hall of Fame kicker or punter. Maybe defensive end Richard Seymour or cornerback Ty Law will be considered.

Beyond that, much of the Patriots' roster was comprised of semi-stars such as linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, who went to one Pro Bowl apiece, and transients.

That the 1990s Bills will send more players to Canton than the 2000s Patriots is fascinating to me. It shows how incredible the Patriots have been at navigating free agency and the draft to maintain a consistent winner with a fluctuating roster -- and how truly magnificent that collection of talent was for Buffalo.

"That'll never happen again," Reed told me last week. "You won't see an assemblage of players like that -- at least not in Buffalo. I know that."

Bill Polian
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFormer Bills GM Bill Polian thinks seven players from Buffalo's 1990s Super Bowl teams should be Hall-of-Famers.
Those Bills teams also featured offensive linemen Kent Hull and Jim Ritcher, linebackers Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan and Darryl Talley and special-teams star Steve Tasker.

Polian is an advocate of Tasker's induction into Canton, too.

"Steve Tasker was, pound-for-pound, the greatest special-teams player ever to play," Polian said. "If you value special teams, then Steve Tasker belongs in the Hall of Fame. I am also an unabashed Ray Guy fan.

"I've seen every player that's played in this game since 1977, and I can tell you Ray Guy literally changed the game -- as did Steve Tasker."

So that would make at least seven Hall of Famers from the 1990s Bills if Polian had his way.

When you consider how much talent Polian gathered with the Bills -- and his success with the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts since then -- there's no way you can't consider Polian himself.

But for now, Andre Reed is on deck.

"Andre is clearly, clearly, clearly deserving to be inducted," Polian said. "By any measure in the era he played, Andre Reed is a Hall of Famer."

Revisiting David Tyree's catch and 18-1

January, 25, 2011
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Adalius Thomas admitted "I almost get sick to my stomach" when he sees images of the play three years later.

One of the most magnificent highlights in NFL history was David Tyree's miraculous ball-on-helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII. The play, which began with a sack-defying Eli Manning scramble, propelled the New York Giants to the title and left the New England Patriots one game shy of an undefeated season.

ESPN.com has put together "Inside a Moment in Time" to revisit Tyree's catch. Patriots fans might feel as nauseous as Thomas when they check out the feature, but the feature is an impressive look back at history.

Editors and reporters began the process in June. They spoke with 12 players and one official involved in the play. It's broken into two photos, Manning's scramble and Tyree's catch.

Patriots defenders Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green, Mike Vrabel and Thomas recall what was going through their minds at the time of the first snapshot, as do Manning and Giants linemen David Diehl, Kareem McKenzie, Rich Seubert and Shaun O'Hara.

Patriots defensive backs Rodney Harrison and James Sanders and back judge Scott Helverson share their on-the-spot memories of Tyree's catch.

The package also includes:

Video: Faulk, Izzo on being a Patriot

December, 6, 2010
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As part of the lead up to the AFC East clash between the New York Jets and New England Patriots on Monday night, Scoop Jackson sat down with Larry Izzo and Kevin Faulk to talk about what it means to be a Patriot.

Izzo starred on special teams for the Patriots and the Jets. Faulk is on New England's injured reserve. When the video concludes, click on the related videos to see other clips, including their predictions for Monday night.

AFC East High Energy Player of the Week

September, 14, 2010
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NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Tackles aren't a certified NFL stat. While they do track them on play-by-play transcripts within a given game, each coaching staff tallies up its team's tackles when it reviews game film.

[+] EnlargeChung
Tom Croke/Icon SMIPatrick Chung was all over the field in Sunday's win over Cincinnati.
New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung unofficially recorded 16 tackles, including one for a loss, in Sunday's 38-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium. That unofficially places him second in the NFL by one tackle.

He officially established himself as a player opponents must keep their heads on a swivel to find.

The Patriots drafted Chung last year with the 34th overall selection, acquired from Kansas City in the trade for quarterback Matt Cassel and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel. Chung started only one game as a rookie, but was in the opening-day lineup because incumbent free safety Brandon McGowan was placed on season-ending injured reserve a week earlier.

ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said: "Chung is starting to remind me of a young Lawyer Milloy. He has a good knowledge of the game, is a hard worker, is physical and tackles very well."

Best Patriots Team Ever: 2004

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Tom Brady, RB Corey Dillon, WR Deion Branch, WR/DB Troy Brown, TE Daniel Graham, T Matt Light, DE Richard Seymour, OLB Willie McGinest, OLB Mike Vrabel, ILB Tedy Bruschi, CB Ty Law, CB Asante Samuel, S Rodney Harrison, K Adam Vinatieri, ST Larry Izzo.

[+] EnlargeBrady
Matthew Emmons/uS PresswireTom Brady and the Patriots collected their third Super Bowl win in four seasons.
Analysis: The New England Patriots are the only AFC East club with three championship seasons to consider, and one could argue with conviction their best team didn't win the Super Bowl.

But 2004 stands apart. The Patriots claimed their third Vince Lombardi Trophy in four seasons to establish themselves as one of the all-time great teams. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick ensured their place in Canton.

The Patriots picked up where they left off after winning Super Bowl XXXVIII the year before. They increased their win streak to an NFL record 21 games. They ranked fourth in scoring and second in points allowed. They lost two games all season, Week 8 at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Week 15 at the Miami Dolphins.

After beating the Indianapolis Colts for the second time and holding Peyton Manning's offense to three points in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Patriots scored 41 points to avenge their defeat in Pittsburgh.

In Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles more comfortably than the 24-21 score indicates. Adam Vinatieri didn't need to drill a field goal in the closing seconds for a change.

Most impressive win: The Patriots never were more dominant than they were in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills, a borderline playoff team that won three out of four heading into Gillette Stadium and six straight afterward. The Patriots rolled up a season-high 428 offensive yards and limited the Bills to 125 yards to win 29-6.

What can Brown do for you? Pretty much whatever you could ask of him. Brown caught only 15 passes in the regular season, but in Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams, he entered the game as an emergency defensive back when Samuel went down with an injury. Brown finished the season with three interceptions (one shy of the team lead) and broke the Super Bowl record for punt returns.

Honorable mention

2007: It's the greatest NFL team not to win the championship. Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker rewrote a good chunk of the offensive record book, but the Patriots fell short of finishing the season undefeated, losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

2001: New England won its first championship with an offense that ranked sixth in scoring and a defense that ranked sixth in points allowed. Belichick's controversial decision to stick with Brady when Drew Bledsoe returned to health created a superstar.

2003: New England went 14-2 to win its second title in three years. The offense was pretty mediocre, but the defense posted three shutouts, gave up six points or fewer five times and averaged 11.9 points against over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.

1976: Patriots fans thought a storybook season was unfolding in the bicentennial. Steve Grogan and Sam Cunningham led the Pats to an 11-3 record, but a controversial late-hit call helped them lose to the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.

video

How the 2007 Patriots explain 'Lost'

May, 20, 2010
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Are you a fan of the confounding ABC drama "Lost"?

Are you a fan of the New England Patriots?

Do you hate the New England Patriots?

Then do I have something for you to look at.

Or do I?

ESPN's Josh Elliott tries to explain the show, using the Patriots' 2007 season for perspective.

video

Belichick longs for model OLBs

April, 13, 2010
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ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss had an educational item on his blog Monday that I wanted to share here.

In a video snippet from the recent draft party ESPNBoston.com sponsored for New England Patriots season-ticket holders, former linebacker Tedy Bruschi explains why Bill Belichick adheres to a prototype size for his outside linebackers.

Belichick prefers them tall and rangy like former Patriots star Mike Vrabel or Sergio Kindle from the University of Texas. Vrabel is listed at 6-foot-4 and 261 pounds. Kindle is about 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.
"When I came into this program, I'm 6-1, and they tried me first at outside linebacker, and that lasted about four days. So then they said 'Tedy, you're at inside linebacker,' and from that point on, I was inside linebacker.

"Think of Mike Vrabel, the long arms, the long legs, the shorter torso, where he can extend. You always hear Bill talk about setting the edge in the running game. That's how you do that. You extend your arms. There's a tight end on you, you extend your arms, you set that edge where that running back can't get outside. But if he can, then you've got that other arm to get free and make that play. You force it back to those inside linebackers. You've got to have a body type that really fits that -- that Vrabel-, that Kindle-type body."


Patriots announce all-decade squad

March, 16, 2010
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The New England Patriots have revealed their all-decade team. The players were chosen Monday by the Patriots' Hall of Fame Nomination Committee.

Offense

Quarterback: Tom Brady

Running back: Corey Dillon

Receivers: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Troy Brown

Tight end: Daniel Graham

Center: Dan Koppen

Guards: Logan Mankins, Joe Andruzzi

Tackles: Matt Light, Nick Kaczur

Defense

Nose tackle: Vince Wilfork

Defensive ends: Richard Seymour, Ty Warren

Outside linebackers: Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel

Inside linebackers: Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer

Cornerbacks: Ty Law, Asante Samuel

Safeties: Rodney Harrison, Lawyer Milloy

Special teams

Kicker: Adam Vinatieri

Punter: Josh Miller

Kick returner: Kevin Faulk

Coverage: Larry Izzo

Zach Thomas wants Fins to get Marshall

March, 11, 2010
3/11/10
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Zach Thomas will donate his brain to science some day. For now, he's willing to share the thoughts rattling around inside it.

The all-decade inside linebacker for the Miami Dolphins was a guest on Miami sports-radio station WQAM and tackled several topics about his former team with host Sid Rosenberg.

Thomas advised the Dolphins to sign Denver Broncos restricted free agent Brandon Marshall to an offer sheet and to bring back veteran pass-rusher Jason Taylor to avoid a leadership depletion like the New England Patriots suffered last year.

The Dolphins have needed a go-to receiver for years. Rosenberg asked Thomas what he would say if Bill Parcells approached him about Marshall.
"Do it now before anybody changes their mind," Thomas said per Palm Beach Post reporter Brian Biggane.

The Broncos placed a first-round tender on Marshall, tempting other teams to sign him. The Dolphins own the 12th pick of the draft.
"With Brandon Marshall it's about money," Thomas said. "If you pay the guy well, he's going to play hard. He even played hard last year. He's got a lot of pride, and he can be a little selfish, but good players are selfish. Look at a guy like Terrell [Owens]. Guys can go to extremes. But Brandon Marshall is a proven player. He's still young, and I feel he's best in the league right now."

Thomas claimed Marshall would make all of Miami's receivers better -- even Ted Ginn. Thomas emphasized that Marshall is a proven commodity, unlike someone like Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant, whom the Dolphins could draft instead.

Thomas also insisted the Dolphins need to bring back Taylor, his brother-in-law.
"You have to have that veteran leadership," Thomas said. "You just lost Joey Porter, just lost Jason Taylor, and trust me you need that blend, especially on defense. You need that experience. They re-signed Jason Ferguson, but being [suspended the first] eight weeks, I'm concerned about how they can keep that defensive line intact.

"Look at New England, what they did to their defense. They lost Mike Vrabel, they lost [Tedy] Bruschi, [Richard] Seymour, Rodney Harrison, and you see how they dropped off last year.

"Everybody talked about Tom Brady not being as good because of his injury. That had nothing to do with it. He had less opportunities. The defense is what won a lot of games for them in the past. So you need that blend."

Thomas retired last year because of an accumulation of concussions. He has pledged his brain to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine for research on the long-term impact of football-related head trauma.

He will tour training camps this summer to speak with players about the importance of being vigilant about concussion symptoms.

AFC East wire: Combine edition

February, 27, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Lots of newsy items and sexy chitchat being reported from the NFL scouting combine:

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Video: Where's NE's defensive leadership?

January, 15, 2010
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video

The New England Patriots' defense will evolve significantly between now and the start of the 2010 season. Even before defensive coordinator Dean Pees announced he was leaving the team for personal reasons, there were questions to answer.

For ESPNBoston, former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi addressed the team's perceived lack of defensive leadership.

"Remember, your defense is young," Bruschi explains. "Jerod Mayo's only in his second year. Gary Guyton's in his second year. Brandon Meriweather's still developing to be a leader. Yes, you can add another veteran presence that can be a good leading force in the middle there, but these leaders will develop with time. There was a time when I didn’t know how to lead, either."

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