Matthew Slater, the commencement speaker

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
11:45
AM ET
Since joining the New England Patriots as a fifth-round draft choice in 2008, Matthew Slater has grown into one of the team's most respected team leaders and a perennial Pro Bowler.

Slater
 Now he can add commencement speaker to his résumé.

Boston-based Fisher College announced Tuesday that Slater will serve as its commencement speaker at its 111th ceremony May 16 at John Hancock Hall in Boston.

“We are truly honored to Matthew Slater address our graduates this year,” Dr. Thomas M. McGovern, president of Fisher College, said in a statement. “Mr. Slater is a world champion both on the field and off through his tireless work mentoring local students. We share the same mission and believe that Mr. Slater’s commencement address will have a resounding impact on our graduates, their families and the entire Fisher College community.”

Slater will also receive an honorary degree.

NFL Nation TV: Time to talk free agency

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
11:30
AM ET
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as we return for episode No. 46 with our sights fully set on free agency.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) Will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.

Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions reporter) will take us behind the Lions' decision to avoid franchise-tagging defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also give us an idea of where the prized lineman might end up.

Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will join to make sense of New England's decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, instead of potentially doing so with free-agent defensive backs Darrelle Revis or Devin McCourty.

Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will give us an update on the Cowboys' apparent decision to let DeMarco Murray, 2014's rushing leader, test the open market.

Sticking with offense, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) checks in to outline why the Packers may be content doing the same with receiver Randall Cobb, who reportedly was looking to stay in Green Bay for $12 million a year.

As always, viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Stevan Ridley shows his progress

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
10:45
AM ET
Free-agent running back Stevan Ridley tweeted the following Tuesday morning:


In pointing out the date on which he underwent surgery on a torn ACL and then posting an Instagram video of him working out, Ridley is highlighting his progress at a time he's set to hit the open market for the first time in the NFL.

Ridley had shared some of his thoughts with Sirius XM NFL Radio on Friday.

Ray Ventrone added as Patriots assistant

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
9:55
AM ET
The New England Patriots have hired nine-year NFL veteran Ray Ventrone as their assistant special teams coach, the club announced Tuesday.

Ventrone will work under Joe Judge, the team's assistant special teams coach the last three years. Judge was promoted to the head job following the retirement of Scott O'Brien after Super Bowl XLIX.

The appointment means Ventrone will begin his coaching career where his playing career started, as he spent four years with the Patriots after originally joining the team as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. He was with the Patriots for most of the next four seasons, outside of a stint on the Jets' practice squad in 2007, before hooking on with the Browns (2009-2012) and 49ers (2013-2014).

Ventrone was a favorite of former Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely, whom Bill Belichick has said is one of the best special teams coaches he's been around. During his NFL career, he was primarily used as a special teams player, registering 57 total tackles, including a season-high of 12 in 2009 with the Browns.

The Patriots had been the only team in the NFL not to have a former player on their coaching staff in 2014.

Patriots free-agent fit: Safety

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
5:00
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Second in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 10.

Position: Safety

Players under contract for 2015: Duron Harmon (2016), Patrick Chung (2017), Nate Ebner (2015), Tavon Wilson (2015), Logan Ryan (2016)

McCourty
Ponder
Allen
Level of need: Moderate to high

Projected top targets: Nate Allen (Eagles), Devin McCourty (Patriots)

Why Allen fits: Like McCourty, he enters his sixth NFL season and is in his prime years. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Allen, who entered the NFL in 2010 as a second-round draft choice of the Eagles out of South Florida, is considered a strong locker-room guy whose full potential might not have been realized yet because of several coaching/scheme changes as well as a revolving door at some of the defensive back spots alongside him. He had four interceptions last season, but media observers pointed out he was late to help on several big plays on a defense that ranked 31st out of 32 teams in passing yards allowed and led the NFL in passing plays allowed of 40 yards or more last season. Perhaps he'd excel in a different scheme, similar to how Patrick Chung improved upon his move from Philadelphia to New England.

Why McCourty fits: A team captain who is already proven in the team's scheme, his fit is a slam dunk on and off the field. It will just comes down to striking a deal that works for both sides. McCourty displays excellent range in a center field-type role and is a big part of the communication on the back end of the defense. His ability to move down and play a corner role adds to his value. He's been durable, consistent, tough and puts the team first, so he's pretty much everything the club could ask for through five years.

Other names of note: Mike Adams (Colts), Tyvon Branch (Raiders), Stevie Brown (Giants), Louis Delmas (Dolphins), Marcus Gilchrist (Chargers), Rahim Moore (Broncos), Antrel Rolle (Giants).

Market conditions: The draft class is viewed as weak at the position, while the veteran free-agent class is also not considered strong. McCourty is the top free agent.

Safety-based questions: Will McCourty receive a can't-refuse-it offer in free agency and depart? Could Harmon step in to more of a full-time role if that happens? Could Ryan, who has mostly played cornerback, potentially make a McCourty-like switch to safety?

Checking in with Devin McCourty

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
9:35
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New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who is scheduled to become a free agent March 10, spoke with ESPN's Josina Anderson on Monday after the club did not place the franchise tag on him.

Here is what McCourty said to Anderson:

McCourty
On how he feels about the Patriots not using their franchise tag on him: "I really didn’t know. There was no real information from them on if it was going to be me or Steve [Gostkowski]. So I was kind of going off of what everybody else was going off, with what people were reporting as far as sources and all that. So, I guess it's more realistic now that [there's] a chance that I might not be back there. Or there's still a chance that I will, but I guess [there's] more of a chance now with the franchise tag going to Steve that I could be playing in a different place. Still, keeping an open mind and trying to enjoy the process."

On how he feels about having to go through the process of impending free agency: "To me it kind of is what it is. I know from being there for five years, I've seen a bunch of moves where a bunch of people kind of didn’t know what they were doing and somehow it always works out. So, it's just now, I am on the other side. I’m not surprised really. I know [the Patriots] always know what they're doing, as far as the team, and what they want to do. So, just seeing what’s next for me."

On having faith in the Patriots' thought process: "No matter what they do with players somehow they always end up winning so ... I really don’t know what their thought process is with me exactly, but I think both sides want to be back. So we will see how it works out."

On whether he wants to return to New England: "I want to play there, but I also understand it's a business. I don’t want to play there no matter what, but I want to be back. We'll have to see how it works out."

On whether he would be bitter if he doesn't return after coming off of a Super Bowl win: "It would definitely be bittersweet. You stay somewhere for five years and really make a name for yourself in that place. I’ve gotten a lot of help. I know a lot of people in the area, built great relationships, so it will definitely be bittersweet. But my mom always reminds me that comes with the territory. That's part of being in the NFL, that change is always coming."

On where else he wants to play if he doesn't return to New England: "Not sure. I’m actually going to meet with my agent tomorrow to kind of start putting stuff together and trying to get situated ... We’ll have to see what teams are interested, and what the best situation is. But I know no matter where I go, it's probably going to be a little different from New England. It's a well-oiled machine there ... It’s my first time going through this. I really don’t know what to expect or what to think really."

Thoughts on no tag for Devin McCourty

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
3:20
PM ET
video
A few thoughts on the New England Patriots not placing the franchise tag on safety Devin McCourty, instead assigning it to kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which was foreshadowed earlier in the day:

McCourty
Bottom-line view. The franchise tag for McCourty was $9.6 million and this tells us, more than anything, that the Patriots aren’t comfortable with that one-year cap hit for McCourty. Thus, McCourty is now free to test the open market and the Patriots, more than ever, are at risk of losing him to another club.

Not an end game. This doesn’t mean McCourty’s time with the Patriots is over. The Patriots know what they’d be comfortable paying McCourty, and now McCourty will have a chance to see how much more (if at all) another team is willing to exceed that number. Then McCourty can make the decision that suits him best. It would be a surprise, from this viewpoint, if the Patriots and McCourty strike an extension before the start of free agency on March 10.

Understanding the safety market. Deals for top safeties average between $8-10 million per season as the market has spiked the past two years. McCourty is viewed as the top free-agent safety this offseason and it's also notable that the draft class is considered weak at the position, so he could be set to receive a big-time offer from another team. My viewpoint is the Patriots would be close to the bottom of that $8-10 million range with any offer for McCourty. Would that be enough to close the deal once he hits the open market?

SportsNation

What do you think of the Patriots' decision to franchise Stephen Gostkowski?

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Discuss (Total votes: 13,590)

Patriots' track record. The decision to forgo the tag on McCourty will generate some debate, as he's a core player who has served multiple years as a captain. But the team's track record in these situations warrants a mention: It is strong. The Patriots tagged receiver Wes Welker in 2012 at $9.5 million and later regretted it because of the expectation it set with Welker the following offseason. One could draw a parallel between that situation and this one.

Why the kicker? Gostkowski's franchise-tag figure is $4.5 million. That is computed based on a 120 percent increase of his 2014 salary-cap charge and easily makes him the NFL's highest paid kicker on an average-per-year basis. That's rich, but still manageable on a team's salary cap. Meanwhile, the sides can work on an extension that potentially could be a win-win by giving Gostkowski more long-term security and bonus/guaranteed money while also lowering his cap charge. But until that happens (if it does), the tag buys more time for an experienced player who is important to the Patriots because of his strong leg on kickoffs and accuracy on field goals.

Pats tag Stephen Gostkowski

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
2:53
PM ET
video

The New England Patriots on Monday placed their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

If he signs the tender, Gostkowski will be paid $4.5 million in 2015, which is 120 percent of his 2014 salary-cap charge.

"Stephen has been extremely productive and a vital component to our success since joining our team in 2006," the team said in a statement. "Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal."

Gostkowski, who has played his entire career with the Patriots after being selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft as the team's replacement for Adam Vinatieri, was the NFL's leading scorer in 2014 with 156 points.

A Pro Bowler in each of the past two seasons, Gostkowski has one of the strongest legs in the NFL, which the Patriots have valued as a team based in the Northeast often playing in adverse conditions.

Gostkowski's strong leg was reflected in his 53 touchbacks during the 2014 regular season, which tied for fifth most in the league.

The 31-year-old was 35-of-37 on field goals in 2014 while hitting all 51 extra points that he attempted. He became New England's all-time leading scorer in 2014, passing Vinatieri.

The Patriots have used the franchise tag on kickers in the past, twice tagging Vinatieri in 2002 and 2005.

ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this report.


(Read full post)


Adam Schefter's take on Darrelle Revis

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
2:40
PM ET
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was a guest on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd” program on Monday morning, and the topic of cornerback Darrelle Revis was brought up. Schefter pointed out that Revis is technically under contract for 2015 with a $25 million cap charge, and then said, “It would surprise me if New England picked that up."

Schefter then talked about Revis hitting the open market because of that, where he is projected to be “another coveted free agent.”

Schefter’s thoughts on the Patriots possibly retaining Revis?

“This is all comes down to what Darrelle Revis wants to do. He’s got a Super Bowl ring. His career has been validated. He’s got one more big score left; big score in terms of big contracts. So does he want to go take that big contract with a team like the New York Jets, who are dying to make a run at Darrelle Revis? Or the Buffalo Bills? Or is he willing to take less to go back to play with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and be in the environment he’s been in in New England? That’s a call that only he can make," Schefter said.

"At this point in his career, he has made a ton of money. A ton of money -- all together with marketing, contracts, he’s probably made $100 million. So what do you want to do in your very last big deal? That’s the decision that Darrelle Revis has to make.”

Patriots free-agent fit: Tight end

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
12:45
PM ET
First in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 10.

Position: Tight end

Players under contract for 2015: Rob Gronkowski (contract through 2019), Michael Hoomanawanui (2015), Tim Wright (2015), James Develin (FB/exclusive rights FA)

Level of need: Low to moderate

Projected top target: Lance Kendricks (Rams)

Kendricks
Why Kendricks fits: The 2011 second-round draft choice of the Rams played one year under current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in St. Louis and was viewed as a multi-dimensional player who could potentially stress a defense. His production has been limited, in part, due to instability at quarterback and scheme changes. Former Rams general manager Billy Devaney once described Kendricks this way: "He’s really athletic. He’s got great hands, extremely smart. He can run. He’s got good speed, and you can use him in a lot of ways, on the line, off the line, in the backfield. There are a lot of places where we can use the guy." At a position where the Patriots aren't likely to be investing heavily in free agency in 2015 based on their current depth chart, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Kendricks is viewed as a potential value signing who would add another layer to the depth chart beyond 2015.

Other names of note: Jordan Cameron (Browns), Charles Clay (Dolphins), Jermaine Gresham (Bengals), Daniel Fells (Giants), Rob Housler (Cardinals), Lee Smith (Bills), Julius Thomas (Broncos).

Market conditions: The draft class is viewed as weak at the position for the second straight year, while the veteran free-agent class is stronger.

Tight-end based questions: Could a fourth tight end fit on the roster? A larger role for Tim Wright in 2015? With the team's usage of a sixth offensive lineman as an eligible receiver, does it lessen the need for a pure blocking-based tight end?
If the New England Patriots use the franchise tag before Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, there is a greater likelihood it will be assigned to kicker Stephen Gostkowski than safety Devin McCourty, according to multiple sources involved in discussions with those involved.

[+] EnlargeStephen Gostkowski
Mike Reiss/ESPNIf the Patriots elect to use the franchise tag, it appears kicker Stephen Gostkowski will most likely be the beneficiary.
Gostkowski's tag projects to be closer to $4.5 million, while McCourty's would be approximately $9.5 million.

These situations are always fluid, and things can always change in the hours leading up to the tag deadline, but this is the latest information we've learned at this time.

The possibility McCourty heads to unrestricted free agency without restrictions of a franchise tag would create a scenario in which any team could sign him without giving up compensation to the Patriots. If that's the way it unfolds, based on past history, the Patriots would likely keep an open line of communication with McCourty and his representatives by letting them know they're interested in retaining him. McCourty could then decide if the team's offer matches up to what he receives on the open market.

In a year where the free-agent crop at safety is not considered deep, and the draft class is also viewed as thin, McCourty will likely receive considerable interest on the open market if this is the way the scenario unfolds.

On Feb. 25, McCourty said, "I've thought about all different scenarios, whether I'm here or whether I’m somewhere else. At this point, I don’t have a contract, so it could happen that I could be playing somewhere else. It would be crazy not to think that could [happen]."

The Patriots have used the franchise tag on kickers in the past, twice tagging Adam Vinatieri (2002, 2005).
We've reached a notable date on the NFL offseason calendar, as Monday marks the final day that teams can assign the franchise tag. Teams can use the tag on one player.

If the New England Patriots are to use the tag, safety Devin McCourty (around $9.5 million) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski (around $4.5 million) are the likely candidates. The Patriots, as one would expect, have not disclosed their intentions at this point.

Should the Patriots forego use of the tag on either player, it would open the door for each of them to fully experience unrestricted free agency when the 2015 league year begins on March 10. The team would lose a bit of leverage in that scenario.

Thus, we'll be monitoring this area Monday.

Patriots and the franchise tag (under Bill Belichick, 2000-present):
2002: Kicker Adam Vinatieri. Signed a multiyear extension.
2003: Safety Tebucky Jones. Tagged and then traded to New Orleans for three picks.
2005: Vinatieri. Played on the franchise tag and departed in free agency the next offseason.
2007: Cornerback Asante Samuel. Played on the franchise tag and departed in free agency the next offseason.
2009: Quarterback Matt Cassel. Tagged and then traded with linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second-round pick.
2010: Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Signed a multiyear extension.
2011: Guard Logan Mankins. Signed a multiyear extension following a holdout.
2012: Wide receiver Wes Welker. Played on the franchise tag and departed in free agency the next offseason.

Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

March, 1, 2015
Mar 1
5:00
AM ET
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?

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.

Dobson
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."

Ninkovich
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.

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