Tedy Bruschi's take on Vince Wilfork

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
videoESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi was on “SportsCenter” Thursday, and he discussed Vince Wilfork and the Patriots not picking up his contract option.

Bruschi senses that Wilfork’s letter was a goodbye.

 “It’s the evolution of a roster. You get to be turning 34. I was turning 36. There comes a time … you don’t have 20-year careers in the NFL,” Bruschi said. “Vince is enough of a veteran to realize that. He probably saw that it was coming. The letter that he wrote was all class, to the fans of the New England Patriots. I think that, right there … was a farewell from him and his wife Bianca.”

Bruschi was asked about possible fits around the NFL for Wilfork.

“I don’t see a team that can’t use a Vince Wilfork,” he said. “He’s not going to give you 10 to 12 sacks. He isn’t that explosive one-gap pass rusher, but in terms of a first- and second-down player that can take on blocks, if I’m a linebacker, I’m throwing a party if we sign him. Right now, it’s a sad day if you’re Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, those type of linebackers that play for the New England Patriots, because the reason why you’re successful as a linebacker is because of the Vince Wilforks of the world. …

“Individually, I benefitted from having big No. 75 in front of me, and knowing what he could do against one blocker, against two blockers,” Bruschi said. “I always looked at Vince Wilfork as the defensive lineman that he was, but he had the mind of a linebacker. I remember making calls where the defensive line would have to shift, or would have to take a gap to their left, or to their right, those adjustments they’d have to make – “Lucky! Ringo! Shift!” – things like that. Vince would already be doing those things, and he would be communicating them to the defensive linemen next to him. So I think that’s a big thing the team will be missing next year, not only his physical ability. I know they run a 4-3 scheme there, but it has two-gapping principles and that’s what Vince was so good at. But also those young linemen, like Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, those type of players, will miss his leadership and contribution along the defensive front.”

Weekly Patriots chat recap

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here, and included some of the following topics:

1. Vince Wilfork and news that he's been informed the team will not pick up his contract option.

2. Darrelle Revis and where things stand with negotiations.

3. Devin McCourty and his future as he prepares to hit the open market.

4. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and if this is playing out similarly to Adam Vinatieri's tenure in New England.

5. Highlighting some possible free agents who could be of interest to the Patriots.

Twitter reaction to Vince Wilfork

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
A sampling of reactions on Twitter regarding the news that New England Patriots will not pick up the contract option of Vince Wilfork:

Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork announced that the New England Patriots will not be picking up his option, making him a free agent when the 2015 league year begins March 10.

What it means: Wilfork's value to the Patriots has multiple layers, and the team takes a hit if he's not on the roster. He is still an effective player on the interior of the defensive line; his 6-foot-2, 325-pound frame contributes to the club's run defense and also as a pocket pusher at times. Wilfork's impact extends to the locker room, where he has been a pillar and leader whom many look up to.

Still, this decision was expected based on the dollars in play -- Wilfork was due a $4 million roster bonus March 10 and would have counted $8.9 million against the salary cap -- as the financial numbers are no longer in line with where the 33-year-old is at this point of his career.

What’s next: In his tweet, Wilfork didn't rule out the possibility of re-signing with New England for 2015. We haven't heard from the Patriots if they would be open to Wilfork's return, but it's hard to imagine they wouldn't be if the sides could work out a new contract.

At this point, Wilfork will have the freedom to test the market and see what he's worth, and it's our educated guess that the Patriots will keep a dialogue going with him and let him know the door remains open for his return, depending on what unfolds on the market. Should Wilfork depart for good, fourth-year pro Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325) is the projected replacement.

Personal thought on Wilfork: This is the way you draw it up when selecting a player 21st overall in the draft, as the Patriots did in 2004. Wilfork is a future Patriots Hall of Famer, the only team he has ever played for. He began his career with a Super Bowl victory, and if this is really the end, it is with another Super Bowl title. From this viewpoint, he deserves all the success and accolades that come his way.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork tweeted Thursday that the New England Patriots have informed him they will not pick up the option in his contract, thus making him a free agent when the new league year begins Tuesday.

The news was expected, as Wilfork, 33, was due a $4 million roster bonus on March 10. Had the Patriots picked that up, Wilfork also would have earned a $3 million base salary and counted $8.9 million against the salary cap.

The Patriots create $8.06 million in salary-cap space with the move. Wilfork and the Patriots could still reach a new agreement to extend Wilfork's career in New England, where he's played since the club selected him in the first round of the 2004 draft.

"I'm in a good place," Wilfork wrote in his statement. "I have a great relationship with the Patriots organization. Please know how blessed my family and I have been to be able to play 11 years in New England for an amazing organization. "

"New England has been and always will be my home," he added later in the statement.

Wilfork returned from a torn Achilles tendon in 2014 and played 73.4 percent of the team's defensive snaps. His primary responsibility was to take on multiple blockers against the run and provide a powerful pocket-pushing presence up the middle on passing plays.

Wilfork lauded Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Twitter, calling him "the greatest head coach ever" and saying he plans to play in 2015.

"Can I still play football? Hell yea! Do I still love football? Hell yea!" he wrote, citing that he has suffered just "one major injury" in his career and has "lots of gas still left in the tank."

(Read full post)

The New England Patriots made several shrewd decisions that helped produce a Super Bowl championship last season. Now they're kicking off 2015 with a decision that is sure to please its fan base: All tickets will remain the same price.

Season-ticket holders received this news over the past few weeks in a letter from owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft.

As part of the letter, the Krafts wrote, "Last season, we introduced variable ticket pricing and received very favorable feedback from Season Ticket Members. In 2015, we will keep the variable pricing model by game and the cost of each season ticket will remain the same as last year. ...

"Thank you, once again, for your amazing support of our franchise and creating the energy and excitement throughout the season that helped us do our jobs and achieve our goals. We are already counting down the days until we unveil our fourth Super Bowl Championship banner with all our Season Ticket Members and look forward to another memorable night at Gillette Stadium to kick off the 2015 season."

The letter also noted that a number of stadium construction and enhancement projects are underway, including a new lounge at field level, a fantasy zone, and an expansion of the pedestrian bridge underneath the lighthouse.

"We will continue to invest in improvements and technologies that will provide new opportunities for fan engagement now and in the future," the Krafts wrote.

Weekly Patriots chat set for 11 a.m. ET

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a New England Patriots chat. Today's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up then.

Patriots free-agent fit: Running back

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
Fourth in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 10.

Position: Running back

Players under contract for 2015: LeGarrette Blount (2015), Jonas Gray (2015), Brandon Bolden (2016), James White (2017), Tyler Gaffney (2017), Dion Lewis (2015)

Level of need: Moderate to high

Projected top targets: Reggie Bush (Lions), Stevan Ridley (Patriots), Pierre Thomas (Saints), Shane Vereen (Patriots)

Why Bush fits: He just turned 30 and had one of his best seasons in the NFL playing under current Patriots assistant coach Brian Daboll in Miami (2011) when Daboll was offensive coordinator. He's one of the best pass-catching running backs on the market, and if Vereen signs elsewhere, he looks like the best possible replacement if the Patriots want to bring in a veteran as a possibility for that role. One of the main knocks on him at this point of his career is missing time due to injury.

Why Ridley fits: He knows the system, has proven capable as a top power option, and has said he feels like he has something to prove in 2015. While likely going to have to settle for a one-year contract to set himself up for another crack at free agency next year (because of a torn ACL on Oct. 12), one question will be if it's a good match for Ridley and the Patriots in the sense that the team has a history of rotating its backs.

Why Thomas fits: With 77 receptions in 2013 and 45 in 2014, he's one of the NFL's better pass-catching backs. He turned 30 in December and has spent all eight seasons of his NFL career with the Saints.

Why Vereen fits: In an offense that trends to the pass, Vereen's role as the "passing back" had him playing 52.9 percent of the offensive snaps in 2014. He runs precise routes, has reliable hands, is a willing and capable pass-protector, and is a top-notch locker-room presence.

Other names of note: Justin Forsett (Ravens), Frank Gore (49ers), Roy Helu (Redskins), Mark Ingram (Saints), Darren McFadden (Raiders), DeMarco Murray (Cowboys), Ryan Mathews (Chargers), C.J. Spiller (Bills).

Market conditions: Viewed as the deepest position in the draft by analysts, while free agency also is deep, creating an overflowing market.

Running back-based questions: Will Vereen be wooed in free agency by another team that ups the bidding to a level the Patriots aren't comfortable matching? Is White, the 2014 fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin, a viable replacement as the pass-catching back if that happens? Does Ridley view a fresh start as his best option, or is a return to New England preferred? Does Gray become a bigger part of the plans in 2015 after slipping off the radar following the acquisition of Blount and being late to a meeting? Will Gaffney challenge for a role after the sixth-round pick out of Stanford was claimed on waivers from the Panthers last year?

Rob Gronkowski: Super Bowl changes lives

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was a guest on ESPN Radio's "SVP and Russillo" program on Wednesday, with part of the discussion tied to the ESPN Madden Ultimate Team vote.

But things started with what Gronkowski has been doing since the Patriots' victory in Super Bowl XLIX.

"When you win the Super Bowl, it changes lives," Gronkowski said on the program. "It's been very cool, but I was also [part of] a Super Bowl loss, when we lost three years ago. I can tell you this, winning it is a lot, lot different than losing it. It's been a great time. Pretty awesome."

Asked if there was one moment in which he thought,"I'll remember that forever," Gronkowski picked the celebratory parade.

"I didn't really know what it was going to be like, what I was really getting myself into. I didn't know duck boat rides were four miles with thousands and thousands of people [cheering]," he said.

A few other sound bites from Gronkowski:

Selecting his Madden team, which includes Tom Brady and himself: "It was pretty cool to pick these teams. There are so many legendary players out there, it was kind of hard. Sometimes you went with your favorite player who was on your team growing up that you like to watch, but obviously I had to pick my first choice, which is the best QB ever, Tom [Brady]."

Calling Brady in the offseason and what those conversations are like: "It's like a work atmosphere. Call him up, see where he's at and see if he wants to throw the ball around a little bit. Whenever you meet up with Tom, you always know you're going to be working -- at least for an hour or two on the field. You know you can always count on that."

What it's been like since the Super Bowl: "It's been a little crazy, a lot of fun. I'm just enjoying the time, celebrating with my teammates, my family and friends. Basically just enjoying the time off because you go through the grind for seven months straight, so you kind of sit back, relax, have some free time to yourself, so it's been cool."

Harvard's Tyler Ott signs with Patriots

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
Former Harvard University long snapper Tyler Ott, who spent parts of 2014 training camp with the New England Patriots, has re-signed with the team on Wednesday.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ott, who is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was Harvard's primary long-snapper from 2011-2013. He was released by the Patriots in mid-August and did not snap in the NFL last season.

The Patriots' long snapper the last four seasons, Danny Aiken, is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10.


Pondering Andre Johnson and Patriots

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
An Insider piece now posted on ESPN.com highlights the "best fits" for veteran receiver Andre Johnson, who has reportedly been given permission to seek a trade by the Texans, and it's not surprising that the New England Patriots are high on the list.

A few thoughts:

Starts with the salary. Before even considering trade compensation, Johnson's salary would likely have to be addressed before the Patriots broached the possibility of acquiring him. As the Insider piece notes, Johnson has two years and $21.5 million remaining on the $67.8 million contract he signed back in 2010 and it's hard to imagine the Patriots absorbing that deal. One estimate on how far the Patriots would extend is to the Julian Edelman-type range of $4.75 million average per year. That figure was picked because the Patriots are generally cognizant of paying a big contract to a player from another team in terms of how it might affect others already on the club. Would that be good enough for Johnson? Perhaps it would from the perspective of giving him a chance to play with Tom Brady and have arguably his best chance to win a Super Bowl.

Would Houston trade with New England? With the Texans competing in the AFC, and also facing the Patriots in 2015, one would think they'd prefer to trade him out of the conference. In that sense, it might be difficult for the Patriots to consummate a deal. But if there is no trade market, and Johnson is ultimately released and free to sign with any team, that obviously would alter the picture. (Johnson wouldn't be as high of a priority as retaining players such as Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty, but it's still intriguing.)

Still has something to offer. While every snap that Johnson played last season has not been watched at this address, there was enough viewing to come to the conclusion that the soon-to-be 34-year-old (birthday July 11) still can be a difference-maker at times. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Johnson would obviously be a nice addition to the core of Edelman (5-10, 200), Brandon LaFell (6-3, 210) and Danny Amendola (5-11, 195). With Brady throwing him the football, Johnson would naturally make the Patriots that much tougher to defend. A mid-round draft pick for Johnson, assuming he would accept a reduced contract, would be a coup for New England.

Judge: Florida shooting off limits

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- Prosecutors in the Massachusetts murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez will not be allowed to introduce evidence about the shooting of a Hernandez friend in Florida a few months before the killing, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Hernandez is on trial for the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée.

Before the trial began in January, the judge ruled that prosecutors would not be allowed to introduce evidence of the February 2013 shooting of Alexander Bradley. Bradley was at a Miami strip club with Hernandez and two others the night he was shot. He got into an argument with Hernandez and insulted him, and Bradley has said that Hernandez shot him between the eyes and dumped him in an industrial area.

Prosecutors this week asked Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh to revisit her earlier ruling. They said the shooting contradicts one of the key arguments by the defense, that Hernandez would not shoot a friend.

Hernandez lawyer James Sultan argued Wednesday that they were unproven and uncharged allegations and that prosecutors' sole purpose in trying to introduce the shooting was to show that "Mr. Hernandez has the propensity to shoot his friends. That's their argument.

"No doors have been opened. Nothing has changed," he added.

Garsh, ruling from the bench, agreed and said she will not allow it. She said the two shootings had different circumstances and noted that the Florida shooting had a clear motive because it came immediately after Hernandez was disparaged.

"The Florida shooting happened very shortly after the provocation," she said.

Prosecutors have not presented to the jury a motive in the Lloyd shooting.

(Read full post)

Duron Harmon reflects on Super Bowl

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
While the New England Patriots' victory in Super Bowl XLIX happened more than a month ago, reactions from players are still notable. And with that in mind we pass along this piece by Dan Duggan of the NJ Advance Media, who caught up with safety Duron Harmon on the topic.

Duggan's interest in Harmon, who had jumped over Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse's after Kearse's remarkable on-his-back reception, stems from his time at Rutgers (2009-2012).

"Oh my God, I was just upset to the point where watching it, I felt like I could have done something about the play," Harmon told Duggan. "At that point, I felt like I let my team down. ...

"To be honest, I thought the ball was down like everybody else. I thought the ball bounced off the ground. I was like, I can stop but I'm going to fall on him because I was moving too fast. So I just jumped over him and I took a peek around and he's up about to run and I saw Malcolm [Butler]. I was like, there's no way they're going to count that as a catch. But it was a catch. I have to give credit to Kearse for that catch. That was a great catch. But it broke my heart."

Then came Butler's interception.

"It was a tremendous play," Harmon told Duggan. "A whole bunch of depression just came off of me. All I could do was just run on the field and give him a hug. It was the best feeling I've ever had."
ESPN New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss said the team would like to keep cornerback Darrelle Revis, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, safety Devin McCourty and running back Shane Vereen.