Patriots preview: Make-or-break stretch

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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Tom Brady recently said that a team truly doesn't know what it has until December, and it's almost as if he was looking at the schedule when he said that. A Nov. 2 home game against the Broncos, followed by the bye and then a Sunday night road game against the Colts looks like the iron of the schedule. After a home date with Detroit, then it's a challenging back-to-back road set against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) in which Belichick is considering keeping the team out West for the week leading into the Sunday night game at San Diego. That stretch should tell us all we need to know about the Patriots.

Complete Patriots season preview.

A few follow-ups on Logan Mankins

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
1:40
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video 

A few follow-ups on the trade that sent Logan Mankins from the New England Patriots to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Mankins' Tampa Bay introduction likely Thursday: With Mankins scheduled to arrive in Tampa later Wednesday night, his official Buccaneers introduction isn't expected to take place until Thursday. Tampa Bay hosts Washington in its preseason finale Thursday night, so Mankins' introduction figures to trump any action on the field.

Sides had discussed contract situation: One of the questions that came up after the trade is whether the Patriots and Mankins' representatives had discussed a reworked contract before the deal. Mankins was due to earn a base salary of $6.25 million this season, $6.75 million in 2015 and another $6.75 million in 2016; discussions would have included some type of concession from Mankins similar to what unfolded with defensive lineman Vince Wilfork earlier in the offseason. As others have reported, the issue was indeed discussed privately between Patriots management and Mankins' representatives. This adds context to the surprising nature of the trade itself, as the contract (more so than the assets received in return) appeared to be a primary catalyst for the deal.

Leadership, enforcer-type mentality now missing: I think the Patriots, Buccaneers and most independent observers would agree that while Mankins might no longer have been playing at an elite level, he was still effective. His presence will make an offensive line better. It's more than the play that I think the Patriots will miss most; it's the leadership and enforcer-type mentality. Mankins brought a toughness, attitude, and you're-not-going-to-mess-with-us type approach to the field that is going to be hard to duplicate. I don't see anyone on the current Patriots' line who could fill that void right now.

Different dynamic for new offensive line coach to work with: One final thing that probably shouldn't be overlooked is how the Patriots' linemen have been adjusting to a new coach, Dave DeGuglielmo, this year. I think that has been more of a challenge for some players than might be perceived, as assistant Dante Scarnecchia was widely regarded as one of the game's best teachers. Now with Mankins out of the mix, it only further adds to what has been a major transition with the team. This bears watching in the weeks to come.

Mankins trade from Buccaneers' view

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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Some links from the Buccaneers perspective on the trade of guard Logan Mankins:

The "right move" for Tampa. Pat Yasinskas, who covers the Buccaneers for ESPN.com's NFL Nation, opines that this is the right move for the club. "That’s a steep price, and Mankins also will take up $6 million of Tampa Bay’s salary cap for this season. But you get what you pay for. What the Bucs got is a quality player to patch their problems at guard. Mankins, 32, is a six-time Pro Bowler and known as a great locker room guy," he writes.

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
AP Photo/Michael DwyerLogan Mankins was traded to the Bucs for second-year tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth-round pick.
Move shows it's about "now" for Buccaneers. Martin Fennelly, columnist for the Tampa Tribune, writes that the acquisition of Mankins shows that management is taking a we-can-win-now approach. He likes it, although there is one caveat. "The only thing that worries me is that the Bucs made a deal with: Belichick. If Mankins is retired a year from now and Tim Wright has 100 catches, we'll let you know," he writes.

Philosophy change for team. Ira Kaufman, the longtime football reporter from the Tampa Tribune, notes how the acquisition of Mankins shows how times have changed. "There was a time not too long ago when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had little interest in acquiring a high-priced player on the wrong side of 30. That stance shifted in a hurry Tuesday," he said.

Mankins means no Incognito. Tom Jones, columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, opines that the acquisition of Mankins is a win-win in that the Buccaneers get a good player and they also won't be bringing in Richie Incognito. The possibility of Incognito was not received favorably by some columnists in Tampa.

Wright's role in trade. Greg Auman, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, writes on the trade and includes some insight from Buccaneers management on tight end Tim Wright. Auman quotes Tampa general manager Jason Licht: "It tells you we feel very good about the three tight ends we have on our roster [Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers, Luke Stocker]. It speaks about that. We think Tim is a very good football player. Came in, caught 54 balls, that's a pretty remarkable feat. We feel the return we got on the investment obviously worked in our favor. They probably feel they got a pretty good deal, too."

MNF moments, No. 12: Cosell and Lennon

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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CosellAP Photo/Richard Drew
To celebrate the 45th season of "Monday Night Football," a panel of ESPN.com contributors has selected the 45 most memorable moments in MNF history. Follow along as we reveal one per day and count down to this season's MNF debut.

No. 12: Dolphins 16, Patriots 13, OT | Dec. 8, 1980


With three seconds left in a 13-13 game, New England Patriots kicker John Smith headed out to attempt a game-winning field goal. There were significant playoff implications for the 8-5 Patriots, who hadn't beaten the Miami Dolphins on the road since 1969.

"John Smith is on the line," Frank Gifford said before asking broadcast partner Howard Cosell to break the news. "And I don't care what's on the line, Howard, you've got to say what we know in the booth."

Twenty-seven seconds later, no one was thinking about Smith's kick as Cosell announced to the world that former Beatle John Lennon had been killed outside his New York apartment. Cosell's professional tone belied his friendship with Lennon, who had visited the booth six years earlier to promote his and former bandmate Ringo Starr's new albums.

Cosell finished perhaps his most notable call with a perspective shared by his audience: "Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which in duty bound we have to take."

Few remember that Smith's field goal attempt was blocked and the Dolphins won in overtime.

Ranking NFL Coaches

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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video

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic react to Mike Sando's ESPN.com article that ranks the 32 NFL coaches.

Film review on Patriots TE Tim Wright

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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Here are a few thoughts after a mini-film study on tight end Tim Wright after reviewing games against the New England Patriots (Week 3), Miami Dolphins (Week 10) and San Francisco 49ers (Week 15) last season:

Wright
Physical profile. Wright is listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, which makes him more of a big receiver than a traditional tight end. He played receiver at Rutgers before moving to tight end in the NFL as a rookie last season.

System adaptation. Wright came on strong late last season in coordinator Mike Sullivan's Giants-type offense -- in the Week 15 game against San Francisco one Fox television analyst opined that he was "one of the best two or three rookie tight ends in football right now" -- but he had not emerged this preseason in Jeff Tedford's offense. This will be his third offensive system in two NFL seasons. He was part of Tampa's hurry-up package, which is a big part of what the Patriots do.

Alignment and blocking. Wright aligned detached from the line in the slot, in the offensive backfield, and on the line of scrimmage, while also being used in motion at times. Regardless of where he aligned, he most often released into pass routes. Because of his size, he is not the type of tight end who will consistently be effective as an in-line blocker, but it's not for lack of effort. He does show a willingness to mix it up at times, especially at the second level (nice block on Miami LB Philip Wheeler on a 26-yard run, 12:42 remaining in first quarter). Wright seldom stayed in to block in the passing game, and if he did, it was most often what we saw on the final play of the first quarter against the Patriots -- a chip of an edge-rusher before releasing into a pass route. When he was matched up on Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones and asked to run block (13:37 remaining, second quarter) on the back side, Jones easily tossed him aside. At one point in the second quarter against the 49ers (5:40 remaining), he whiffed on a run-blocking attempt against Ahmad Brooks. So banging at the line of scrimmage isn't necessarily his game, but he was still competitive outside of a few noticeable miscues. You're not going to put him in the game with the intention of running behind him.

Route-running a strength. Wright nearly had a touchdown catch against the Patriots as he ran a solid corner route against zone coverage and flashed open in the back left-hand corner of the end zone but the ball sailed through his hands. "In the NFL, you have to make that catch," Fox analyst John Lynch said on the broadcast that day. Overall, though, Wright looks to have reliable hands. He also looks like a smooth route-runner who seems to have a feel for finding openings underneath against zone coverage, but also runs well enough to attack down the field (e.g. 24-yard touchdown catch against 49ers). He is fluid coming out of his breaks, and sets up his routes nicely. One issue is when defenders are able to get their hands on him at the line, as Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower did (2:42 remaining, first quarter) when Wright aligned with his hand in the ground next to the right tackle and it disrupted his route.

Summary. Wright gives the Patriots a different look at tight end as he's more of a "move" option, similar to what the team had with Aaron Hernandez from 2010-2012. His skill set could nicely complement Rob Gronkowski and help create more matchup problems for defenses. He's still growing into the position.

Revis, Harmon share insight on Tim Wright

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Who is tight end Tim Wright?

That was one question resonating through the Patriots locker room after the surprising trade that sent offensive lineman Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Wright and a fourth-round draft choice.

Wright
Two players, Darrelle Revis and Duron Harmon, shared their thoughts from their time as teammates of Wright.

"He's great," Revis said of Wright. "He started for us down in Tampa, when I was there last year. And we are getting a solid player who can catch and who can run routes."

Last season in his rookie campaign, Wright had 54 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns. Wright figures to work his way in as a "move" tight end.

"He was a wide receiver coming in, then they switched him to tight end," Revis said. "He has a lot of speed at the tight end position.

"He comes from Rutgers so he has that instilled in him -- of being a hard worker. And he makes plays. He is a playmaker. Him teaming up with our system and what we do on offense, I think he will fit in well."

With the addition of Wright, the Patriots now have five alums from Rutgers -- cornerback Logan Ryan, linebacker Steve Beauharnais and safeties Devin McCourty and Harmon.

Harmon and Wright were close during their time at Rutgers as they played together for all four years.

"He is a good player," Harmon said. "It shows last year when he got a little more comfortable in his position. He made some plays for Tampa Bay. So he is definitely a good player."

Wright also brings a skill to the locker room that Harmon appreciated in college -- cutting hair.

"Tim, he's good," Harmon said about Wright's talent as a barber. "He kept me fresh in college."

"Well, I guess he [Wright] will be cutting it [Harmon's hair] again," Revis said.

New England Patriots cut-down analysis

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Most significant move: On a day when nothing could trump the trade of veteran offensive lineman Logan Mankins, the one name that stood above the rest in terms of cuts is rookie defensive back Jemea Thomas. A sixth-round draft choice out of Georgia Tech (206th overall), Thomas is a versatile player who was expected to compete for a roster spot. After sustaining an injury on the first day of training camp and missing extended time, it set him back and he obviously never made up the lost ground. Perhaps the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Thomas could potentially return on the practice squad, depending on how things shake out with the rest of the roster. The Patriots have plenty of depth in the defensive backfield.

Revisiting Gaffney waiver claim: The Patriots were willing to carry injured rookie running back Tyler Gaffney on their 90-man roster until this cut-down day, and by officially moving him to injured reserve, it reminds us that the Panthers could have done the same if they wanted to keep their sixth-round pick. Gaffney factors into the running back mix in 2015, as the Patriots have three players on their current roster -- Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden -- who are scheduled to become free agents after this season.

What's next: With the roster at 75 players, the Patriots must trim to 53 with the rest of NFL teams on Aug. 30. They have their preseason finale Aug. 28 on the road against the Giants.

Patriots’ cuts: DL Ben Bass, DB Travis Hawkins, WR Derrick Johnson, LB Deontae Skinner, DB Jemea Thomas, WR Wilson Van Hooser

Patriots to injured reserve: RB Tyler Gaffney, LB Cameron Gordon
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Patriots players were informed of the shocking trade of offensive lineman Logan Mankins while on the field for the start of practice Tuesday, which only added to the surprise move few saw coming.

"It's all coming on us pretty quickly," left tackle Nate Solder said late Tuesday after the practice.

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
AP Photo/Michael DwyerThe Patriots traded six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick in 2015.
The way the news unfolded created a challenging environment for players. One player described the initial parts of practice as funeral-like.

"It is difficult," acknowledged special teams captain Matthew Slater, one of the team's locker-room leaders. "You know a guy for a number of years, you get to know his family, his kids, and that makes it tough. There is always a human element involved.

"We signed up to do a job here, and we understand what that job entails, and we understand what comes along with that, but at the same time, you can't separate yourself from the human element, and the emotions and feelings that come along with it."

Solder, Slater, receiver Julian Edelman and safety Devin McCourty were the four main players speaking about Mankins in the locker room after Tuesday's practice (quarterback Tom Brady wasn't present). Others declined comment, allowing some of the more experienced players to have their voices heard.

Mankins' locker remained intact, with belongings inside and scattered on the floor, which reflected a player who was at the facility Tuesday and had been prepared to join his teammates at practice.

Solder still seemed to be coming to grips with the news.

"Man, what an awesome guy. What an awesome player. So honored to play with that guy. So honored to get to know him and his family," he said. "I can't say enough good things about him. Him and his family, he has great morals, great ethics, a great work ethic. He's a tremendous guy and is going to be great wherever he goes. So for the Patriots, we move on, as sad as that is. It's exciting, too, we move on to the thrills of the season."

Slater was asked how he thinks the locker room will respond to Mankins' departure.

"I think we'll definitely have to be very mentally tough during this time, because Logan brought a lot in the department of leadership, a lot in the department in toughness. He brought a lot in a lot of departments," he said.

"So we have to be mentally tough, we have to understand that Coach Belichick is always going to do what he thinks is best for the football team, and we just have to be resilient and move forward and there's still a job to be done. That's what we're here to do."

Bill Belichick on Mankins trade

August, 26, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick made the following statement on trading Logan Mankins:

“Logan Mankins is everything we would ever want in a football player. It is hard to imagine a better player at his position, a tougher competitor or a person to represent our program. He is one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached. Logan brought a quiet but unmistakable presence and leadership that will be impossible to duplicate. Unfortunately, this is the time of year when difficult decisions have to be made -- and this is one of the most difficult we will ever make -- but like every other decision it was made for what we feel is in the best interests of the team.”

After Mankins, who steps in on Pats' OL?

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the initial shock of the Logan Mankins' trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers subsides, let's focus on some of the offensive linemen on the New England Patriots' roster most affected by the move:

Josh Kline (6-3, 295). The second-year player from Kent State has lined up at both guard spots, and was the first option to step in to Mankins' spot Dec. 22 against the Ravens when Mankins was moved out to tackle. Kline entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and quickly won over teammates with his flat-line approach. Prior to the Mankins trade, he was a contender for the starting right guard spot, and also was being used as a blocking tight end. Kline would be our choice as the most likely candidate to step into Mankins' left guard spot.

Jordan Devey (6-6, 317) -- The first-year blocker from Memphis played more than any Patriots offensive lineman through the first three preseason games (203 of 219 snaps), lining up at both guard spots and also left tackle. Bill Belichick previously cited his improvement from 2013 when he was on the team's practice squad. The 6-foot-6, 317-pound Devey could now make the roster and potentially compete for a valuable role.

Dan Connolly (6-4, 305) -- The nine-year veteran has shown he's capable at center, right guard and left guard. Entering training camp, one line of thinking was that his $3 million base salary could put him in jeopardy of losing a spot on the roster, but there would be an added risk for the Patriots to go that route now after losing Mankins.

Marcus Cannon (6-5, 335) -- The four-year veteran has played both tackle spots and right guard, and to our eye, looks more comfortable at tackle. But Mankins' departure, and some other potential moving parts, could warrant another look at right guard.

Ryan Wendell (6-2, 300) -- The team's center the past two seasons, he has been engaged in a competition with Connolly and fourth-round draft choice Bryan Stork for the top job this summer. With Mankins no longer on the club, and the potential for Connolly to move back to guard as Stork still recovers from an undisclosed injury that has sidelined him since July 29, it could strengthen his chances to stick.

OTHERS TO MONITOR: Second-year guard Chris Barker, first-year center Braxston Cave, rookie guard Jon Halapio.

Judge OK's Aaron Hernandez request

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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[+] EnlargeAaron Hernandez
AP Photo/Dominick ReuterA judge ruled police didn't specifically list certain evidence in a search warrant for Aaron Hernandez's home in North Attleborough on June 18, 2013.

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- A judge has granted a request by former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez to suppress evidence from two cellphones and three iPads taken from his home in a search during a 2013 murder investigation.

Bristol Superior Court Judge E. Susan Garsh ruled Tuesday that police didn't specifically list those items in a search warrant for Hernandez's home in North Attleborough on June 18, 2013.

Prosecutors had argued that the warrant authorized the seizure of any global positioning system devices, but Garsh disagreed.

The items were seized during an investigation into the killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd. Hernandez is charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Lloyd.

Hernandez is charged separately in the killings of two men in Boston in 2012 after a brief encounter at a nightclub.


(Read full post)


Instant analysis: Mankins trade a shock

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On Monday night at the New England Patriots' signature event to kick off the season to benefit their charitable foundation, veteran offensive lineman Logan Mankins sat on a stage with quarterback Tom Brady, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo for a special roundtable.

That Mankins was part of the group wasn't a coincidence. A captain in each of the past three years, the 10-year veteran is a foundation player who commands respect on the field and in the locker room.

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Less than 24 hours later, the Patriots traded him to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft choice and tight end Tim Wright.

Shocking.

In the end, coach Bill Belichick must have felt Mankins' play and salary ($6.25 million)/cap charge ($10.5 million) were no longer aligned. Mankins may no longer have been elite -- his fourth-down missed block in the AFC title game comes to mind -- but he was certainly still playing at a high level.

So it appears his performance relative to cost this year and in future years ($6.75 million base salary in 2015 and 2016), the acquisition of Wright and the fourth-round pick, and also, the feeling that there are some capable young linemen (e.g. Josh Kline) in the pipeline created the perfect storm to spark a few-saw-it-coming trade. It was just a week ago, when asked about the offensive line, that Belichick said, "I think it's a real competitive group. They all work hard. They all have shown up well from time to time. We'll probably have some tough decisions there."

No one saw Mankins as being part of those tough decisions, especially given his standing as a team leader. As Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, the former Patriots director of pro personnel, said Tuesday, "[I'm] a firsthand witness of what he means to the locker room as well."

The locker room void is significant, but Belichick, as we've seen over the years, takes emotion out of the equation to do what he feels is "best for the team." The Richard Seymour trade to Oakland in 2009 comes to mind along those lines, and there were some initial rocky moments in the locker room after that one.

By moving on from Mankins, it passes the torch a bit earlier than expected, as the team frees up some space to focus on some of their next contractual priorities, such as safety Devin McCourty, cornerback Darrelle Revis and offensive tackle Nate Solder.

Several missing from Patriots' practice

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
2:42
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Jemea Thomas, undrafted rookie linebacker Cameron Gordon, defensive tackles Ben Bass and Chris Jones, and offensive lineman Chris Martin were not spotted at the start of the New England Patriots practice on Tuesday.

Patriots starting left guard Logan Mankins was also not at practice likely because he was traded to Tampa Bay.

Gordon was seen in full pads at Monday’s practice for the first time since participating in the first six practices of training camp.

Bass missed his second practice in a row, while Martin remains on the non-football injury list.

With the first roster-cut deadline looming at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, wide receivers Wilson Van Hooser and Derrick Johnson, defensive back Travis Hawkins and linebacker Deontae Skinner, who were all reportedly released, were not seen at practice.

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