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 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."

Free-agency guide: Patriots

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4

Ahead of the start of free agency, Insider is providing buyer's guides for all 32 teams: biggest need positions from Football Outsiders, top targets from KC Joyner and Matt Williamson and predictions on how everything will play out from our NFL Nation team reporters.

Included below are links to every team's article. This is the entry for the New England Patriots.

Biggest needs

Defensive tackle: The Patriots' defensive line was close to average overall against the run in 2014, ranking 18th in adjusted line yards (ALY). On the runs where the interior line should matter the most, however, the Patriots were the worst team in the NFL. They ranked dead last in power success, stopping opposing teams in important short-yardage situations just five out of 27 times (19 percent). Across all third-and-short situations (1 to 2 yards to go), the Patriots ranked last in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average). The Patriots need to upgrade at tackle, and the need grows larger if aging Good Samaritan Vince Wilfork becomes a salary-cap casualty.

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.

Patriots' perspective on big trade

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
A few New England Patriots-based thoughts on the notable trade between the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills, as reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, in which Philadelphia sends running back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso:

1. Salary-cap space is always fluid, so this will be something to monitor, but the Bills are taking on a $10.25 million salary-cap charge for McCoy. That leaves them with about $17 million of space and could affect pursuit of big-ticket free-agents such as Darrelle Revis.

2. Both teams are on the Patriots' schedule for 2015. As colleague Field Yates pointed out, the addition of McCoy under first-year head coach Rex Ryan could make the Bills a top candidate to be New England's season-opening opponent.

3. The Bills don't have a sure-fire answer at quarterback, so in that sense, McCoy becomes the player they can build around. In theory, maybe that makes life easier on whoever plays quarterback and helps close the gap on the Patriots.

4. McCoy might not be too happy about this trade, so the Bills could be put into a position where they have to sweeten the pot a bit to entice him. Not an ideal spot, leverage-wise, for a team to be.

5. Part of the reason the Eagles made the deal was to clear salary-cap space; they didn't need the space but appear to have felt McCoy's cap charge wasn't in line with his value to them. The Patriots have some similar salary-cap clean-up to take care of over the next week (a video coming up at 10 a.m. ET will highlight that thought).

Patriots free-agent fit: Off-the-line LB

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
Third in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 10.

Position: Off-the-line linebacker

Players under contract for 2015: Jerod Mayo (2017); Jamie Collins (2016), Dont'a Hightower (2016), Darius Fleming (2015), Cameron Gordon (2016), Deontae Skinner (2015)

Level of need: Moderate to high

Projected top targets: Akeem Ayers (Patriots), Jonathan Casillas (Patriots), Dane Fletcher (Buccaneers), Colin McCarthy (Titans), Chris White (Patriots)

Why Ayers fits: He played well for the Patriots in multiple roles after he was acquired in a midseason trade from the Titans, serving mostly as a designated pass-rusher on the end of the line of scrimmage in sub (which the Patriots were in 73.5 percent of the time in 2014). In the base defense, he played off the line (12 snaps in the Super Bowl) as the third 'backer alongside Collins and Hightower. As director of player personnel Nick Caserio said, "We were fortunate that it worked out the way it did."

Why Casillas fits: He was a productive special teams player upon being acquired from the Buccaneers in a midseason trade, totaling three tackles in his first game with the Patriots. He also filled in admirably on defense when injuries hit, displaying the intelligence and command to have the communication device in his helmet and lead the huddle if needed.

Why Fletcher fits: Originally signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2010, he carved out a niche as a top special teams player before signing a one-year deal with Tampa last offseason in hopes of having a chance to play more defensively. He did (4 starts), and now he finds himself set for free agency again. He's already a proven fit in the system.

Why McCarthy fits: Bill Belichick was complimentary of him in 2012, noting his leadership, intelligence and overall skill set. McCarthy has had a tough run of injuries and projects as a low-cost, potential high-upside signing if he stays healthy. Maybe a change of scenery helps him get his career back on track after being derailed by injuries.

Why White fits: Core special teams player who quietly goes about his job. Enters his fifth NFL season in 2015.

Other names of note: Lance Briggs (Bears), Bruce Carter (Cowboys), Mason Foster (Buccaneers), A.J. Hawk (Packers), Mark Herzlich (Giants), David Harris (Jets), Malcolm Smith (Seahawks), Brandon Spikes (Bills), Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons).

Market conditions: Fairly deep in free agency, while the view of the draft varies depending on one's scheme.

Off-the-line linebacker-based questions: Will Mayo's contract, long rumored to be a target for a reduction, be addressed? Can team effectively restock special teams units if Ayers, Casillas and White don't return?

Akeem Ayers' free-agent status

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
One thought that came to mind after reading ESPN Insider Bill Polian's top free-agent list Insider, which breaks down the list of available players from "A-Plus" to "special veterans," was how linebacker/defensive end Akeem Ayers can thank the New England Patriots for raising his profile.

Ayers grades out as a "B" on Polian's list, with just 18 players receiving higher marks.

"He didn't fit in Tennessee but found a home as a designated pass-rusher in New England," Polian writes. "He has the length and speed to do a good job in that role going forward."

From this viewpoint, if Ayers hadn't been traded to the Patriots he probably would be looking at a one-year "prove-it" type contract to get his career back on track after falling out of favor in Tennessee. He had played just 10 defensive snaps all season before being traded to New England in October.

Now he might be in position to draw some more interest than that based on his 386 regular-season defensive snaps and the production that came with it (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 3 special-teams tackles).

We've seen this script play out before in New England, with defensive end Mark Anderson one example coming to mind.

The Patriots had signed Anderson to a modest one-year, $1.375 million contract in 2011 and used him mostly as a sub-rushing end that year. Anderson, who had called the lack of interest in free agency humbling prior to signing in New England, responded with 10 sacks as the coaching staff put him in the best position to succeed. The next offseason, he was rewarded with a big contract from the Bills (4 years, $19.5 million).

We'll see if Ayers can parlay his own success into an Anderson-type deal, but at this point, it seems fair to say the Patriots at least helped breathe new life into his career much the same way they did with Anderson.

Mark Dominik's take on Darrelle Revis

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
ESPN front office analyst Mark Dominik, the former general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, might have more educated insight on cornerback Darrelle Revis than most.

 Dominik, of course, was the Buccaneers’ primary personnel decision-maker when the team traded for Revis in 2013.

What does Dominik think will happen with Revis this offseason?

“I think Revis stays in New England, and I think you’re going to see Revis on a more marginal deal,” Dominik said Tuesday on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” program.

“I think when you say marginal, look, I know how important winning was for Darrelle Revis. I think as a player, once you get that elixir that your feel you realize it’s not all about anything else. I think he’s looking for a home, and I think he felt like home was there.

“I think Revis stays at a reasonable rate, whether that’s the $12 to $14 [million per year]. Maybe it’s more the $12 million for five years, at $60 million, and it’s done.

“I think New England is going to get a discount, and I think it’s going to be hard for Revis to not want to stay there.”

EXTRA POINT: Dominik's scenario comes in below our own projected market for Revis.

Bill Belichick on the scouting trail

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
The search and information-gathering process for the next wave of talent entering the NFL is ever-evolving, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick continues to immerse himself in that part of team-building.

The latest evidence of this comes via Jason Caldwell, now in his 15th year covering Auburn University. Caldwell, via Twitter, shared the following picture:

That, of course, is Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Nick Caserio, both of whom are in attendance at Auburn's pro day on Tuesday.

This isn't surprising. Belichick annually makes the transition from head coach to scout at this time of year. Stories of him working out prospects individually are plentiful, with a personal favorite coming when he once put a quarterback through drills and threw his sandals at him in an attempt to simulate a pass-rush and have the prospect move his feet. Oh, the prospect was also getting married the next day, so some of his wedding party stood in to catch passes from him.

Belichick will turn 63 next month and some ask the question how much longer he plans to coach and subject himself to the year-round grind.

With his presence at Auburn's pro day the latest example, he still shows no signs of slowing down.

Prints of Hernandez, victim in car

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3

FALL RIVER, Mass. -- A state police trooper who specializes in fingerprint analysis testified Tuesday in the murder trial of Aaron Hernandez that the fingerprints of the former NFL player and his alleged victim, Odin Lloyd, were found inside a car that was allegedly used to drive Lloyd to his death.

Prosecutors say Hernandez, then a New England Patriots tight end, and two friends, Carlos Ortiz and Ernest Wallace, picked up Lloyd from his home early on the morning of June 17, 2013, shortly before he was killed.

Massachusetts State Police Trooper David Mackin, who processed the fingerprints found inside a Nissan Altima that Hernandez had rented, testified that Lloyd's fingerprints were found on the handle of the rear passenger side door.

Lloyd's sister testified Monday that she saw Lloyd get into the rear passenger side of a silver Nissan that night but could not see the driver. Video from a neighbor's surveillance camera also showed Lloyd getting into a car at 2:32 a.m. Prosecutors have said Lloyd was dead by 3:30 a.m., shot to death in an industrial park near Hernandez's home.

Mackin testified that Hernandez's fingerprints were found on the inside handle of the driver's side. Surveillance footage from the night of the killing shows Hernandez getting into the driver's seat of a Nissan Altima, which he had rented the previous week.

The fingerprints of Ortiz and Wallace also were found inside the car, Mackin said. Wallace's fingerprints were found in various places, including on the inside driver's side window, the driver's side seatbelt latch, the front passenger inside door handle and the inside rear passenger door window. Ortiz's fingerprints were found on the rear passenger inside door handle.

Ortiz and Wallace have also been charged with murder and have pleaded not guilty. They will be tried separately.

(Read full post)

Weekly Patriots mail is delivered

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
Every Tuesday on, questions from New England Patriots followers are answered as part of a weekly mailbag. This week's mailbag has been posted and includes some of the following topics:

1. Considering an offseason in which the Patriots potentially lose Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty in free agency.

2. Examining the team's approach with McCourty in not placing the franchise tag on him.

3. Can't forget about Dan Connolly as a free-agent who would be a good re-signing for the club.

4. Considering outcomes in the Patriots' tampering case against the Jets with Revis.

5. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski and his future with the Patriots.

Matthew Slater, the commencement speaker

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
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.

 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.