Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

March, 1, 2015
Mar 1
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

1. Projected free-agent cornerback Darrelle Revis has the leverage that players covet and, like many others, I’m fascinated to see to what extreme he and his agents capitalize on it financially. They have traditionally driven a hard bargain (just ask the Jets), but one of Revis’ mentors, Ty Law, acknowledged that he might have focused a bit too much on the bottom line toward the end of his career when he left New England and bounced from the Jets (2005, 2008) to the Chiefs (2006-2007) and Broncos (2009). Last April, when he was named as the inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame, Law said, “If I had to do it all over again, I would have made more effort to stay a Patriot.” Do those words have any impact on Revis?

2. One reason some around the league believed this contract proposal for Revis was a little light was because he played 2014 for the under-market salary of $12 million. So those reading the Revis tea leaves project he might want to recoup some of those wages in this next contract, which sets up as his last big pay day (he turns 30 July 14). A deal that averages at least $16 million per season and has as much as $50 million in the first three years could very well be in his reach if maximizing earning potential is goal No. 1. I’m not sure the Patriots would stretch that far, but a strong case could be made for them to do so.

3. Bill Belichick doesn’t just manage the depth and youth of the Patriots’ roster, he also does it with his coaching staff. With this in mind, Belichick has been exploring adding a younger assistant special-teams coach in the wake of Scott O’Brien’s retirement following the Super Bowl, and is expected to hire one to work under promoted special-teams coach Joe Judge. The Patriots were the NFL’s only coaching staff without a former player on it in 2014, and perhaps that could be an opening for a former player to join the staff if Belichick views that as important.

4. If I’m Patriots free-agent running back Stevan Ridley, coming off a torn ACL Oct. 12 and likely limited to a one-year “prove-it” type deal in free agency, I’d think twice about coming back to New England where big backs LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney are already on the roster and the team has a history of rotating its backs on a game-by-game basis. While open to a return, Ridley also sounded prepared to move on in his Sirius XM NFL interview Friday night.

5. When Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson has been training the last two weeks at the Fischer Institute in Arizona, and plans to stay there 6-8 weeks before returning for the team’s offseason program, it was viewed as important news from this perspective. The 2013 second-round draft pick has been limited by injuries and, when healthy, hasn't consistently broken through, and I believe some top folks in the Patriots organization would like to see more urgency from him. This could be a positive step in that direction.

6. The NFL competition committee is meeting this week in Naples, Florida, with NFL executive vice president of operations Troy Vincent detailing some of the areas in focus. Modifying what is reviewable under instant replay and potentially banning the chop block are two of the hot topics. We know where Belichick stands on instant replay; he’d like to be able to review everything. My sense is that still doesn’t have the support it would need to pass, but Belichick has more supporters than he did last year.

7. On the surface, it was hard to understand the Browns’ thinking in choosing quarterback Josh McCown over Brian Hoyer, as I don’t see it as a decisive upgrade. But that assumes Hoyer was interested in returning, which one could understand was no slam dunk after he was replaced at the end of 2014. The Buccaneers, Texans, Bills and Jets are four teams that come to mind as possible free-agent fits for Hoyer, with Tampa Bay and Houston at the top of the list because of folks with Patriots ties in leadership positions.

8. Here’s a thought I had after the Dolphins released receiver Brian Hartline on Friday: Which contract would you rather have -- Hartline's five-year, $30 million deal in 2013 that included $12.5 million in guarantees or Julian Edelman’s four-year, $19 million deal signed with the Patriots last offseason ($8.25 million in guarantees). From a total-value perspective, Hartline is the winner. But look closer at the finer print and consider the bloated salary-cap charges in the final three years that put Hartline at risk of being cut, and it's not so clear-cut. Edelman's deal is structured in a way that he has a good chance to earn it all, with no major spike in the salary-cap charges late in the deal that make him vulnerable to being cut. It’s the quick-hit vs. built-to-last debate. No easy answer, but I wonder if enough players and agents focus on "built to last."

9a. Did You Know, Part I: Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich had the highest percentage of 2014 snaps played among NFL defensive linemen (93.9 percent), followed by the Saints’ Cameron Jordan (93.0), Houston’s J.J. Watt (92.9) and the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul (91.3).

9b. Did You Know, Part II: Ninkovich was a part-time player in the season opener (35 of 74 snaps) against the Dolphins, but missed just 28 snaps the rest of the season, all coming in blowouts or the season finale, when playoff seeding was determined.

10. The three-year, $8.5 million contract extension that kicker Matt Bryant agreed to with the Falcons last week adds another layer to the marketplace for Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who is scheduled to become a free agent when the 2015 league year begins March 10. Bryant turns 40 on May 29, and if he’s averaging $2.8 million per season, a projected record $4 million-per-year average for the 31-year-old Gostkowski – who is one of the NFL’s top kickers/kickoff men – seems well within reason.
New England Patriots vice president of player personnel Nick Caserio took part in a football panel at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Saturday, and here is one nugget that captures the essence of the discussion:

Moderator Robert Mays of Grantland asked Caserio about the acquisition of linebacker/defensive end Akeem Ayers in a 2014 midseason trade, and how the team projected Ayers' ability to execute techniques he wasn’t asked to do with the Tennessee Titans.

What numbers, data and analytics are used to support making that deal?

“The numbers that you really have to work off are actual production -- tackles, assists, sacks, quarterback hurries, quarterback pressures. Then you have to look at the player within the scheme of how he is actually used,” Caserio answered.

“So in Akeem’s situation, he played off the line of scrimmage in college [at UCLA]. He played on the line of scrimmage a little bit, but he was [mostly] playing from a two-point stance. Then he started 40 some-odd games for the Titans his first three years, played as an off the line of scrimmage linebacker. They made a coaching change [in his fourth season], a scheme change, so it just didn’t happen to work out.

“So really what you do, you go back -- and this is where your draft process merges with your pro personnel evaluation process -- to college and go through your reports and ‘how did we evaluate this player coming out?’ Here are the metrics we used. That’s when you can go back and look at the size [and] speed, sort the measurables he had and look at his actual production, and then look at what happened in the NFL and whether or not it is a match and makes sense.

“You’re taking previous information that you’ve accumulated with information that is happening in the league, and ultimately making the decision. In the end, it was just kind of a mismatch probably between scheme and what he was asked to do.

“When we got Akeem, we weren’t quite exactly sure how it would go, because until you actually have the player you’re not sure how it’s going to work out. He showed his versatility and we were able to use him in a multitude of roles and he was able to benefit the team as a result. We were fortunate that it worked out the way it did.”

Later in the panel, Caserio shared an interesting analytics-based nugget on Chandler Jones in the 2012 draft process.

Caserio shared that Jones' height and weight met the team's standards, as did his arm length, while his 10-yard split was a bit lower than desired. While those things were easier to quantify, Caserio then noted how Jones' ability to play with leverage, bend and collapse the pocket was much tougher to quantify from a data perspective.

Patriots market watch: Stevan Ridley

February, 28, 2015
Feb 28
Projecting the financial market for some of the New England Patriots' top free agents:

Player: Stevan Ridley

Position: Running back

Age: 26 (birthday: Jan. 27, 1989)

Credentials: Proven starter in the NFL with a power-based style. A nose for the end zone as evidenced by his 22 career rushing touchdowns. Big-game experience. Productive with a career 4.3 average and a single-season best 1,263-yard season in 2012 when given the chance to serve consistently as the No. 1 back. Endured a stretch of ball-security struggles in 2013 and is coming off a torn ACL. Accountable to teammates.

Assessing the market: If Ridley wasn't coming off the torn ACL,Toby Gerhart's three-year, $10.5 million pact with the Jaguars in 2014 would be the range of the projected market. But the ACL clouds the picture slightly. One possible comparable is the one-year, $1.1 million contract Ahmad Bradshaw signed with the Colts in 2013. Bradshaw was coming off foot surgery in January of that year. If not for Ridley's injury, we'd also point to the one-year, $3 million pact Knowshon Moreno inked with the Dolphins last year ($500,000 signing bonus), as well as Chris Ivory's three-year, $6 million deal with the Jets, signed in 2013, that included a $2.25 million signing bonus. Shonn Greene's three-year, $10 million pact with Tennessee in 2013, which included a $2.5 million signing bonus, also is part of the market, as is Pierre Thomas' two-year Saints extension from 2014 that averages $2 million per season and included a $1.245 million signing bonus. LeGarrette Blount's two deals from 2014 are notable to a lesser degree -- his two-year, $3.85 million pact with the Steelers ($950,000 guaranteed) and then the two-year, $1.73 million pact with the Patriots after he was waived that included a $250,000 roster bonus in the second year.

Our take on Ridley's value: At a position where there aren't traditionally big deals, Ridley could be a coup for a team willing to bet on his ACL recovery. If he's thinking along the lines of a "prove-it" one-year deal, in which he can show he's healthy and still productive before getting another crack at free agency in 2016, that type of setup can be beneficial for both the player and team as long as they are working off the same script.

Projected contract: One year, $1.25 million; includes $250,000 signing bonus. Additional $1.75 million in incentives to potentially increase overall value to $3 million, which is market rate for a starting-caliber rusher.

Stevan Ridley: 'I have something to prove'

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
Running back Stevan Ridley is one of several New England Patriots players scheduled for unrestricted free agency on March 10, and he shared his mindset on the process during an appearance on Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ the Chains” program on Friday.

“I’m excited about it,” Ridley told co-hosts Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan. “As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract.

“Where I’ll be playing, and who I’ll be playing for, is still unknown, but I know I’ve come in and done my job up to this point and now I have to put it in my agent’s hands to get me on another team, or stay where I’m at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much it will worry you sick.”

[+] EnlargeRidley
David Butler II/USA TODAY SportsStevan Ridley has rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons with New England.
Ridley’s free-agent status is affected, in part, by the torn ACL he sustained Oct. 12 in a game against the Buffalo Bills. He explained his thought process along those lines in the Sirius interview.

“I take what I do to heart. It’s not really all about the dollar bill to me. Of course, every player wants to be paid for the work they’ve put in, but to me it’s bigger than that,” he said. “I think you see a lot of guys that work hard and get to that second contract and they kind of get complacent. With me, I believe the Lord takes you through certain things to develop you as a person and you really find out who you are. For me to have this injury going into my contract year, I really think that is going to make me that much more hungry going into this next season. I have something to prove. I have something to play for.”

Ridley expressed confidence in what he can do on the field in 2015.

“I take it personal to any team or anybody that says I can’t be a very productive player on whatever team I land on,” he said. “I’ve been playing ball my whole life, I’m going to come in and be a leader, and I’m going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I’m a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it’s all business and I plan on going out there and making plays.”

Asked what’s important to him in the free-agent process, Ridley went with the bottom-line answer of simply having an opportunity to play.

“Being in New England the last four years, four AFC Championships, two Super Bowl [appearances], that’s really hard to replace, to go to another team somewhere,” he said. “But going to another team could mean more opportunities, and could mean more carries, and could mean another team that doesn’t have the winning tradition that is up in New England and has been established there.

“So for me, really I just want to be playing ball somewhere. That’s the big thing. That’s what I have to rely on my agent and make sure I have the right people around me to put me in that position. So I’m not really worried about where. I just want to be playing ball somewhere. I know that. ”

Three other sound bites from Ridley’s interview:

Coached by Ivan Fears the last four years: “He’s been there as long as the dinosaurs have been around. I don’t think he’s really going anywhere. I’d love to be there, love to be part of that program. It’s been an awesome experience. Coach Fears is a great coach and he taught me a lot about the pro level.”

Playing with Patriots teammates: “I love my guys. I love who I play with. Tom Brady, regardless of his age, is the best quarterback in the game of football right now. You look at my tight end with [Rob] Gronkowski. You look at my wide receiver out wide, Julian Edelman, you look at Danny Amendola, you look at my college teammate [at LSU] Brandon LaFell. It’s pieces around. Not to mention it’s a solid offensive line up front. So that all plays a part in being a productive running back. You can’t get it done by yourself. You have to have pieces around you if you want to be a good player in this league. … When you have weapons around you, and coaches that put you in a position to win like Coach Belichick, like Josh McDaniels, it makes your job a lot easier.”

Setting the individual benchmark for each game: “My personal goal, week in and week out is to have 100 yards on the ground, man. That’s what I try to set myself up for. If I don’t have 100 yards, I’m not happy. That’s been my goal since junior high. … Every game that is under 100 yards, I look at it as a failure. … My best season was my second season, when I actually got the opportunities and I got the carries and the touches that I could [to] be the back that I know I am. I feel like I can be a 1,000-yard back every year if I just get the opportunities. But that’s not always my call and I’m a team guy first. It’s not about my individual stats as long as we’re getting that W at the end of the day.”

Different viewpoints of Patriots free agents

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
With the start of NFL free agency on March 10 approaching, it is commonplace to see various rankings of the top players set to hit the market. There is enjoyment in reviewing how different analysts/reporters put together their rankings, specifically from the perspective of how New England Patriots players are perceived.

NFL.com and Rotoworld have produced their lists, and here are a few takeaways:

Devin McCourty: No. 6. NFL.com puts McCourty as the sixth overall free agent in the category of "difference maker." McCourty is the top-rated safety in Rotoworld's position-specific rankings.

Shane Vereen: The running back checks in at No. 51 on NFL.com's overall list and is referred to as "basically a younger version of Reggie Bush right now", while viewed as the seventh-rated running back by Rotoworld.

Stephen Gostkowski: Kicker is slotted at No. 63, and the top player at the position in both rankings.

Akeem Ayers: Defensive end/linebacker lands at No. 83 on NFL.com's rankings, and 12th in Rotoworld's edge-defender rankings. One thought: Had he not been traded to New England from the Tennessee Titans, would he even crack the top 100?

Stevan Ridley: Despite coming off a torn ACL, Ridley lands at No. 86 on NFL.com's list, while Rotoworld has him as the eighth-rated player at the position.

NOTES: Darrelle Revis is not part of either list because he's technically under contract for 2015. ... Defensive tackle Alan Branch (18th) got Rotoworld's nod over former Patriot Tommy Kelly (22nd). ... Former Patriots Brandon Spikes (47th, NFL.com), Ryan Mallett (64th, NFL.com) and Brian Hoyer (70th, NFL.com) caught the eye, as did linebacker Dane Fletcher (No. 12 ILB, Rotoworld). ... Patriots linebacker Jonathan Casillas lands at No. 5 on Rotoworld's listing of 4-3 outside linebackers, while Dan Connolly is the 16th-rated guard.

Official: Hernandez texts missing

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- Texts and phone records shown to jurors Friday in the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez showed that several messages he exchanged with a co-defendant before the killing were deleted from his phone.

Evidence presented to the jury Friday also showed multiple calls placed from the phone of co-defendant Ernest Wallace to the victim, Odin Lloyd, in the hours before he was killed, including the same minute that Lloyd was seen getting into a car outside his home about an hour before he died early on June 17, 2013.

The records showed that Hernandez, at times using his lawyer's phone, called Wallace repeatedly the night of June 17 after police had gone to his home and asked him to come to the station while they investigated Lloyd's death.

Ricardo Leal, who works for the phone company Sprint, testified for 3.5 hours Friday.

Prosecutor Patrick Bomberg went through dozens of nondeleted text messages Hernandez exchanged with Wallace in the days surrounding the killing. Prosecutors have previously said Lloyd sent his last text to his sister at 3:23 a.m. and was killed within minutes, shot to death at an industrial park near Hernandez's home in North Atteborough.

Lloyd was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancee.

Wallace and a third man, Carlos Ortiz, are also charged and have pleaded not guilty. They will be tried separately. Prosecutors have said Hernandez orchestrated the killing.

Bomberg on Friday showed the jury several texts from Hernandez to Wallace hours before the killing in which Hernandez pushed Wallace to come see him.

One, at 9:02 p.m., said "Please make it back Cuz Im Def trying to step for a little." Another, at 10:23 p.m., told him to "hurry up" with a couple of expletives.

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Patrick Chung: 'Thank you, Malcolm!'

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung was a guest on NFL Network’s “NFL-AM” program on Friday morning, and if there was any question as to whether the excitement of the Super Bowl has worn off, Chung erased them by jumping out of his seat when highlights of Malcolm Butler’s interception was played.

“It feels good. Seeing it sometimes, I’m like ‘Damn, he caught that. Thank you Malcolm!’” Chung said to host Rhett Lewis.

 Chung said he’s been enjoyed celebrating the victory in recent weeks, although things have calmed down a bit.

Here were a few other sound bites from his interview:

On Butler’s interception. “I’m on the sideline and we’re in goal-line, three-corner. It actually happened fast. It was like ‘Boom!’ and I was like, ‘Did he catch that?’ He took off sprinting, had tears in his eyes, and then I was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re a hero, bro.’”

Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis as free agents. “They are two great players. Whatever happens, happens. I would love to have them both. … To have players out there like [Revis] who can pretty much take away receivers, then you have Dev that is taking away deep middle; we have a complementary team and it would be good to have those guys back.”

More on McCourty and the defensive backfield. “The more you can do, the better. We have a good group of DBs, not just the guys you’ve mentioned. It’s a group of DBs that can do a lot of things -- cover, tackle, play special teams.”

Patriots market watch: Dan Connolly

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
Projecting the financial market for some of the New England Patriots' top free agents:

Player: Dan Connolly

Position: Guard-center

Age: 32 (birthday: Sept. 2, 1982)

Credentials: Team captain who plays all three interior positions. Steadying, intelligent presence whose shift to left guard helped solidify the offensive line in 2014 while also helping left tackle Nate Solder. Has big-game experience. Athletic and often effective when pulling. Injury history is a consideration as he's played the full 16-game schedule just once in his nine-year career (89 regular-season games, 71 starts), but also has shown the toughness to play through injuries.

Assessing the market: Veteran Minnesota Vikings guard Charlie Johnson signed a two-year deal that averaged $2.5 million per season in 2014. There was no signing bonus, but the deal included a $1.5 million roster bonus. Another veteran guard, Richie Incognito, signed a one-year, $1.1 million contract with the Buffalo Bills on Feb. 9. That is a different type of situation with Incognito coming off suspension, but it is still a small part of the veteran guard market. In 2014, Patriots center/guard Ryan Wendell signed a two-year deal averaging $1.625 million per season with an $850,000 signing bonus. On the high end, Chicago Bears guard Matt Slauson signed a four-year deal in 2014 with an average of $3.2 million per season and $4.9 million in bonuses and guarantees.

Our take on Connolly's value: The first question is if Connolly plans to keep playing. If he does, he is a starting-caliber player who should fall in line with something similar to what Wendell earned in 2014.

Projected contract: Two years, $4 million with a $1 million signing bonus.

Proposing a Devin McCourty contract

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
On Monday, we began a series on the projected financial market for New England Patriots free agents.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was the first player to be featured; on Tuesday cornerback Darrelle Revis was the featured player; on Wednesday it was running back Shane Vereen in the spotlight; and Thursday it was Devin McCourty under the microscope.

Here is a contract proposal for McCourty that could possibly work for both sides:

Terms: Five years, $45 million
Signing bonus: $10 million

Base salary: $5 million (guaranteed)
Cap figure: $7 million

Base salary: $6 million (guaranteed)
Cap figure: $8 million

Base salary: $7 million ($1 million guaranteed)
Cap figure: $9 million

Base salary: $8 million
Cap figure: $10 million

Base salary: $9 million
Cap figure: $11 million

We're not getting too detailed with bonuses and incentives in this exercise, so the purpose is to keep the proposals straight-forward to highlight what is viewed as market value and a general concept of what might work for both sides. This deal, averaging $9 million per season, would tie McCourty for the No. 2 spot in terms of average-per-year at the safety position. By paying him $15 million in the first year (between signing bonus and base salary), it is about $5.5 million more than the projected $9.5 million franchise tag he'd receive on a one-year deal. So the concept there is to create an incentive for the player to want to sign a long-term deal when compared to playing on the tag.

From the team side, the cap charges are below the projected 2015 franchise tag for the first three years of the pact, which provides flexibility for the club. If the team would like to lower those charges, another option is to increase the signing bonus (which is prorated over five years) and lower the base salaries in the earlier years of the pact.
As part of an ongoing feature this week that focuses on projected markets for notable New England Patriots free agents, a proposal of a contract that could work for both the club and cornerback Darrelle Revis was drawn up.

Now former agent Joel Corry, writing for CBSSports.com, has presented a deal of his own.

It's similar in structure to our five-year proposal and includes the same option bonus after the third season. Corry's bonuses and guarantees within the first three years are slightly higher at $46.5 million, while the total value of the deal was $85 million (compared to $80 million in our deal).

It will be interesting to see how close these projections hit the actual market for Revis.

But in this case, it was fun to be able to compare two contract proposals -- one from a reporter, one from a former agent -- and see how they stack up both in concept and bottom-line dollars.

Weekly Patriots chat recap

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, questions from New England Patriots followers are answered as part of a weekly chat. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here and included some of the following topics:

1. Darrelle Revis and where things stand with his potential return. Ditto for Devin McCourty, Shane Vereen, Dan Connolly and Stephen Gostkowski.

2. Underinflated footballs and the NFL's investigation.

3. Percy Harvin, Mike Wallace and the idea of supplementing the wide receiving corps in some form.

4. Running back Tyler Gaffney and expectations for 2015.

5. What if Malcolm Butler didn't intercept the pass at the end of Super Bowl XLIX?

6. Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata and how the end of those players' careers with one team can be tricky.

7. Identifying four possible targets in free agency from other teams: OLB Jabaal Sheard, TE Lance Kendricks, RB Reggie Bush and LB Colin McCarthy.

Considering Reggie Bush for Patriots

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
Another reminder that free agency is an ever-evolving picture came on Wednesday when veteran running back Reggie Bush was released by the Lions.

 Two questions then came to mind: Would the Patriots be interested? And, if so, how might this affect negotiations with soon-to-be-free-agent Shane Vereen?

A few thoughts:
  1. Bush, who turns 30 on March 2, would project to the same type of role in the Patriots' offense as Vereen. He is still a top pass-catching back when healthy and that is something the Patriots value highly. Bush had 94 receptions over the past two seasons, while Vereen had 99. Vereen turns 26 on March 2 (sharing the same birthday as Bush).
  2. If the price was equal, Vereen would be the choice because he's younger and already a proven fit in the offense. But the price likely wouldn't be equal, with Vereen -- from this viewpoint -- in position to command more because he's entering his prime years. So then the question becomes something like this, "Would you rather have Vereen over the next four years at around $4 million per season, or Bush for the next one or two seasons at possibly around half that total?"
  3. Offensive coaches Brian Daboll and Dave DeGuglielmo have a history with Bush, having coached him in 2011 with the Dolphins. Any time a player has a history with a member of the coaching staff, and that history is a productive one, it is notable.
  4. Timing could be a factor, as free agency begins March 10. If the Patriots have a sense they might lose Vereen regardless, would that expedite talks with Bush as a possible replacement?

This is part of the fun of covering an NFL team, and attempting to view things from a management perspective.

The sudden availability of Bush, as it relates to Vereen, sparked these thoughts.

Witness: Hernandez smoked pot

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- Ex-New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez ran up a $243 bar tab and smoked marijuana in the hours before the boyfriend of his fiancee's sister was shot to death, according to testimony Thursday at his murder trial.

Just over an hour before the killing of Odin Lloyd on June 17, 2013, video surveillance shows Hernandez walking unsteadily at a gas station and dancing near the gas pumps.

The video also shows a co-defendant, Carlos Ortiz, wearing a white towel around his shoulders. A white towel was found near Lloyd's body later that morning in an industrial park not far from Hernandez's home. Prosecutors haven't said who shot Lloyd but said Hernandez orchestrated the killing.

Ortiz and another co-defendant, Ernest Wallace, have pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.

Thursday's testimony began with an account from Kelly Rose Belanger, who was bar manager at South Street Cafe in Providence, Rhode Island, on June 16, 2013, which was Father's Day. Another woman, Vanessa Sanchez, testified Wednesday that she was among the six people in the group, which included Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez's fiancee and the mother of his child. Sanchez said Hernandez proposed a toast to Father's Day, and the three couples there talked a lot about their children.

Prosecutors displayed a receipt from that night that showed the tab included 30 alcoholic drinks: 11 Hennessy cognacs, 10 "Sex on the Beach" mixed vodka drinks, seven Bud Lights and two Grey Goose vodkas.

During the evening, Belanger said, Hernandez left the bar several times with one of the men he was with. She could smell marijuana and looked outside and saw Hernandez and the other man smoking it. She asked them to stop, and they did, she said.

Hernandez paid the $243 tab at 12:19 a.m. on June 17, leaving a $30 tip, Belanger said.

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Weekly Patriots chat at 11

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat. Today's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up then.

Patriots market watch: Devin McCourty

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
Projecting the financial market for some of the New England Patriots' top free agents:

Player: Devin McCourty

Position: Safety

Age: 27 (birthday: August 13, 1987)

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
Damian Strohmeyer/AP PhotoThe Patriots may use the franchise tag on Devin McCourty this year if they can't work out a deal.
Credentials: Team captain who has played all but three games over the first five seasons. Willing tackler with solid range who plays a central role in the communication on the back end. Has flexibility to move down to corner, where he played early in his career. Top-notch locker-room guy who has consistently put the team first (e.g. position switch to safety). Will occasionally take a bad angle (example versus Packers on Nov. 30) but overall plays the center-field role at a high level.

Assessing the market: Seattle's Earl Thomas sets the standard at safety, with his deal averaging $10 million per season. He signed that pact in 2014, adding four years to the end of his existing deal, and it included $25.7 million in bonuses and guarantees. The Saints signed Jairus Byrd to a free-agent deal in 2014 that averaged $9 million per season and included $26.3 million in bonuses and guarantees; that looks like an overpay situation at this point, but it still shapes the market. Eric Berry (Chiefs, $8.3 million per season, rookie deal signed in 2010), Dashon Goldson (Buccaneers, $8.25 million per season, $17.5 million in bonuses/guarantees, signed in 2013), and Eric Weddle (Chargers, $8 million per season, $19 million in bonuses/guarantees, signed in 2011) round out the top five. McCourty's brother, Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, signed an extension in 2012 that averages $8.6 million per season and included $17 million in bonuses/guarantees.

Our take on McCourty's value: Entering his prime years, he's in a position of strength. Furthermore, in a year where the draft class is weak at safety, and the free-agent class isn't deep, McCourty is easily the top-rated player at the position. This increases the likelihood, from this viewpoint, that the club would be more inclined to assign the franchise tag (estimated at $9.5 million) to him in the event the sides couldn't hammer out an extension. McCourty is a unique player when it comes to assessing his value because of his corner-safety combo skills. Those are really two different financial markets. Thus, it might require some creativity as there isn't a clear-cut comparable.

Projected contract: Five years, $45 million ($10 million signing bonus, with additional $12 million in guaranteed base salaries)