NFL Nation Buzz: New England Patriots

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss talks about the team’s voluntary offseason program serving as a reminder that football isn't that far away.

Projecting best opening possibilities

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
The NFL regular-season schedule will be announced tonight (8 p.m. ET), which is highly anticipated. It’s always fun to begin thinking about planning the fall.

The Patriots have opened on the road the past three years -- at Buffalo in 2013, at Tennessee in 2012 and at Miami in 2011.

Will it be four in a row on the road? Or will the Patriots open at home for the first time since 2010 (vs. Bengals)?

We’ll find out tonight. Until then, let’s have some fun and give our ranking of the best possible/most likely season-opening games:

1. Jets (home/away) -- The last time the Patriots opened with the Jets was in 2007 (Randy Moss splitting triple coverage), and the last time they opened with the Jets at home was 1988. After opening with AFC East rivals Miami (2011) and Buffalo (2013) in two of the past three years, perhaps the Jets are next up in the rotation. Darrelle Revis facing his former team would be one of the biggest storylines of the opening week. Nothing like a rivalry game to kick things off.

2. Chiefs (away) -- The Patriots' first trip to Arrowhead since 2005 is highly anticipated as it is one of underrated venues in the NFL. These teams met in the 2008 opener in Foxboro and Patriots fans need no reminder as to what happened that day.

3. Raiders (home) -- Deja vu from the 2005 opener? We don't get to see the Raiders a lot here in New England (five times since 1985). They've made a lot of moves this offseason and a chance to see how it measures up to the Patriots would be a solid early-season storyline for a team that doesn't draw as much media attention.

4. Bengals (home) -- A repeat of the 2010 opener would be entertaining as running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis returns to Foxboro for the first time as a member of the Bengals. One-on-one matchup of note: Revis vs. A.J. Green.

5. Dolphins (home/away) -- Not the most exciting matchup, but an opening-week AFC East game would add some juice to it. The last time the Patriots opened the season hosting the Dolphins was 1990, and since the Patriots visited the Dolphins to open the '11 season, it seems more likely this game would be at home.

6. Chargers (away) -- Purely for selfish purposes, we'd prefer to save this one for a bit later in the year. Why burn a trip to San Diego in September? But in terms of the game itself, a lot to like, including Danny Woodhead facing the Patriots for the first time as a Charger.

7. Colts (away) -- A rematch of the AFC divisional round playoff game with Andrew Luck looking to record his first win over Tom Brady? Would likely be a prime-time consideration and a game the league wants to save for a bit later in the season.

8. Broncos (home) -- Probably will land in November in prime-time, so it gets bumped down the list based on the thought that the NFL wouldn't want to burn another Brady/Manning showdown in Week 1.

9. Bears (home) -- Rare to see the Patriots open against an NFC team. The last time it happened was 2000, Bill Belichick's first game as coach when the Patriots entertained the Buccaneers.

10. Lions (home) -- Similar to the Bears matchup, it would be something different for an opener. Revis vs. Calvin Johnson alone might be worth the price of admission.

11. Packers (away) -- Not much better than a trip to Lambeau Field. Since the merger, the Patriots have never opened the season on the road of an NFC foe. Until the streak is broken, we'll keep it lower on the list.

12. Vikings (away) -- With a new facility being built for the Vikings, this game will be held at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. Because of that, it might be a bit easier to project that the Vikings will be opening on the road.

13. Bills (home/away) -- After opening in Buffalo last year, the Patriots should get a different draw this time around.

Which Pats make over-30, under-25 cut?

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
Pat Kirwan and Pete Prisco of team up for a fun piece to highlight the best NFL players under the age of 25 and the league's best players over the age of 30. Then they match them up to see which is stronger.

Kirwan puts together the over-30 squad, while Prisco is responsible for the under-25 club.

Plenty of Patriots are represented:

QB: Tom Brady (reserve) -- "I'll go with the MVP Peyton Manning but Tom Brady is on the sideline waiting to go in," Kirwan writes.

G: Logan Mankins (starter) -- "This offensive line will have very little problem blocking the youngsters and protecting any of the quarterbacks I put on the field," Kirwan writes.

DT: Vince Wilfork (starter) -- "Good luck running the ball against Haloti Ngata and Vince Wilfork with 700 lbs. of beef inside," Kirwan writes.

K: Stephen Gostkowski (starter) -- " Stephen Gostkowski just turned 30 and he was five for six on 50+ attempts but I could always call up [Adam] Vinateri or any number of the kickers," Kirwan writes.

TE: Rob Gronkowski (starter) -- "Can you believe he's only 24? He is coming off an injury-plagued season, but he is still the best all-around tight end when he's healthy," Prisco writes.

DE: Chandler Jones (reserve) -- Cameron Jordan (Saints) and Robert Quinn (Rams) get the starting spots.

OLB: Jamie Collins (reserve) -- Aldon Smith (49ers) and Lavonte David (Buccaneers) get the starting spots.

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: This exercise doesn't account for players in the 26-to-29-year-old range, eliminating the likes of 26-year-old offensive tackle Nate Solder and 26-year-old safety Devin McCourty. And as much as someone like 24-year-old Shane Vereen could be a consideration, he hasn't proved it over a full season like Prisco's other picks. The Patriots would naturally like to see 22-year-old receiver Aaron Dobson enter the discussion, especially with the Chargers' Keenan Allen in the mix, but Allen showed more in 2013. It will be interesting to compare and contrast Dobson and Allen in 2014 based on their development.

Schedule announced Wednesday night

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
The NFL will announce the 2014 regular-season schedule for all teams at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the league confirmed today.

The New England Patriots' opponents are already determined -- home and away. Wednesday night will lock in the all-important "when."



The preseason schedule is already completed:

Thursday Aug. 7 -- at Redskins (7:30 p.m.)
Friday, Aug. 15 -- vs. Eagles (7:30 p.m.)
Friday, Aug. 22 -- vs. Panthers (7:30 p.m.)
Thursday, Aug. 28 -- at Giants (7:30 p.m.)

Beyond the 1st round: Safety

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
Each day over the next 10 days, this space will focus on one position in the NFL draft by highlighting a prospect in Rounds 2-7 who might fit for the New England Patriots. With so much attention placed on the first round in mock drafts, "Beyond the first round" focuses on lesser-publicized options beyond the first 32 picks. Today, it's safety.

Second round: Deone Bucannon (Washington State)
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Bucannon is one of the biggest, hardest-hitting prospects in this year's draft. He played every game over four seasons, was a three-time captain, and was one of the Patriots' 30 in-house visits.

[+] EnlargeDeone Bucannon
AP Photo/Michael ConroyDeone Bucannon, a four-year starter at safety at Washington State, is projected to be drafted in the mid-rounds.
Third round: Terrence Brooks (Florida State)
The 5-foot-10 7/8 and 198-pound Brooks is among the fastest prospects in this year's draft (4.42 time in the 40-yard dash), has cornerback/safety flexibility and extensive special teams experience.

Fourth round: Brock Vereen (Minnesota)
The brother of Patriots running back Shane Vereen, his versatility, football smarts and intangibles figure to be valued by a team like New England. The 5-foot-11 5/8 and 199-pound Vereen was a team captain and tested well (his 6.90 three-cone drill was among the best at the position).

Fifth round: Craig Loston (LSU)
One of the bigger safeties in the draft at 6-foot-0 5/8 and 217 pounds, he is viewed by analysts as being a tone-setter in run-support and would factor into the special teams mix as well. He has missed some time with injuries.

Sixth round: Dez Southward (Wisconsin)
After not working out at the combine, the 6-foot-0 1/4, 211-pound Southward tested well at his pro day, which could elevate his draft stock. He is one of the bigger safeties in this year's draft, played in 54 games over his four-year career, and first started playing football as a high school senior.

Seventh round: Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama)
The 5-foot-11 1/8 and 210-pound Sunseri missed the final six games of the season with a torn ACL. The quarterback of Alabama's secondary and a potential core special teamer, he comes from a football family as his father, Sal, is Florida State's defensive ends coach.

(Round projections aided by Scouts Inc., and independent analysis.)

Previous entries:
1. Defensive tackles
2. Tight ends
3. Defensive end
4. Linebacker/outside linebacker
5. Quarterback
6. Wide receiver

Matthew Slater: 'A lot to be excited about'

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater likes what he sees at this early stage of the 2014 league year, while at the same time acknowledging this is just the start of a long journey.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Slater
Mike Reiss/ESPNMatthew Slater talks to the media at Gillette Stadium.
“There’s a lot to be excited about,” Slater said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium after participating in the second day of the team’s voluntary offseason program, which as expected, had exemplary attendance including quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis. “There are some extremely talented players that we’ve added to the roster, along with some extremely talented players that we’ve had here for a while.

“But all that’s on paper and it really doesn’t mean anything right now. We haven’t even had one practice together, so we have a long way to go.”

Slater represented the AFC in the Pro Bowl this year, and he talked Tuesday about spending time with Revis in Hawaii. Now they’re teammates in New England.

“Obviously when you get a player like that, you’re excited about the opportunity to play with him. You know what he brings to the table,” Slater said. “He’s really a good guy, does everything the right way, plays the game the right way, and you respect that about the guy, no matter who he plays for. If he plays the game hard, plays the game the right way, you respect it. And he’s definitely one of those guys.”

Slater, who adds depth to the receiving corps, looks forward to competing against Revis in practice.

“I’m sure that will be fun,” he said. “As competitors, no matter what it is you’re doing, I feel like all of us want to go against the best and we feel like he’s definitely one of the best. He’s proven that. I think it’s just going to make everyone better going against a guy like that, as well as the other guys we’ve added. There will be a lot of competition, as there is every year, and I think that breeds success.”

Weekly Patriots mail is delivered

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
Every Tuesday on, questions from 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. Assessing the Patriots' willingness to draft a receiver in the first round.

2. Following up on a free-agent acquisition Brandon LaFell.

3. Is it too early to draft a center late in the first round?

4. Shining a spotlight on the voluntary offseason workouts.

5. Quarterbacks in the draft and when the Patriots might consider picking one.

6. Ty Law and the Patriots Hall of Fame.

McShay sees fit with WR Norwood

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
Those who follow the mock draft circuit closely might remember that in 2012, ESPN analyst Todd McShay had pinpointed Chandler Jones as a fit for the New England Patriots very early in the process.

That type of credible work goes a long way when considering what media voices to listen to most in the build-up to the draft.

That story is passed along because in an Insider piece now posted on Insider, McShay shares notebook-type thoughts on some prospects and with which team he believes they'd fit best. The crux of the piece is to account for the fact each team has a distinct system and certain prospects will fit a system more than others.

The Patriots are mentioned once, with McShay identifying Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood as a good mid-round fit. McShay cited Norwood's smarts as one primary factor that he'd thrive in New England.

We wrote a bit more about Norwood in our "beyond the first round" series on Saturday.

Patriots offseason roundtable, Part II

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
With the New England Patriots beginning their voluntary offseason program Monday, Mike Reiss and Field Yates got together for a roundtable to cover some questions surrounding the team (part 2 of 2; part 1 can be recapped here):

From a needs perspective, many agree tight end and defensive line depth are still near the top. What are some under-the-radar needs (or a need) that might need tending to?

Yates: With an extended pre-draft process, I find that we have more time to thoroughly examine needs. At this point, perhaps under-the-radar needs are harder to find. So while these may qualify in such a category, some other needs include: linebacker depth, safety depth and a veteran defensive end. Yes, the market is slim and yes rookie contracts are controllable assets, but a veteran primed to play 25-30 snaps would represent significant pass rush value. He's not the player of old, but my feeling remains that Will Smith (Saints) would be a wise pick-up on a one-year deal.

Reiss: I like Smith as well after watching a few of his games from 2012 and getting a feel for his style of play. Overall, the point I'd make when it comes to need is that they are often tied to 2015 and planning ahead, just as the Patriots did when they selected offensive tackle Nate Solder in the first round (2011) despite already having offensive tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer on the roster (Light was set to retire the following offseason). Along those lines, I think backup quarterback is near the top of the list with Ryan Mallett entering the final year of his contract, and that probably explains why the Patriots have invested so much time and resources meeting with some of the top prospects.

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyThe Patriots should try to lock up Devin McCourty to a long-term contract before the start of the season.
The draft is a fluid and unpredictable process, but both of us are passionate about the lead-up to it. Based on your tape study and conversations with trusted NFL minds, is there a prospect -- or prospects -- that you are intrigued by who might just fit the Patriots?

Yates: We're digging deep here, Mike, as I'll go Jemea Thomas, a safety out of Georgia Tech. He's under 5-foot-10 and not a blazer, but he played the deep half of the field exceptionally well during his college career. He's a standout weight-room performer also. While I don't suspect he'll be drafted before Day 3, he's evolved as a player that I've been intrigued by. On a more recognizable level, Virginia Tech quarterback/perhaps NFL tight end Logan Thomas has flat out ridiculous measureables. Some offensive coach will enjoy the chance to tutor him.

Reiss: That is deep, Field, and it's fun to get that detailed into the process. Some of Jemea Thomas' testing results matched up with 2013 Patriots third-round pick Logan Ryan. My picks are Colorado State center Weston Richburg and Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas. On Richburg, he has the combination of size, smarts, experience and athleticism that would seem to fit in this program. On Niklas, I see great upside as a pure tight end, meaning he could develop into a dominating blocker but also be a factor as a pass-catcher.

Not every player can have his contract extension, but if you had to pound the table for three players to get an extension done before the start of this season, who might they be?

Yates: I don't necessarily suspect there will be a lot of debate from either side on this one. I think the Patriots need to address safety Devin McCourty first, as he's a superstar safety that has practically every desirable trait. The Patriots can theoretically "control" Solder through 2016 (by exercising his 2015 option and then franchising him the year after), but he's another candidate that comes to mind. Running back Shane Vereen is a valuable offensive chip, but durability concerns make him one to be patient on.

Reiss: McCourty is the obvious choice to me. Solder is a good one as well, as long as the club feels certain there is nothing lingering from late last season when he was dealing with a concussion(s). Just so we don't go 3 for 3, I'll go with special teams captain Matthew Slater, who is entering the final year of his pact in 2014.

Is wide receiver a need? That's a hot button topic, as some believe it is. But, from a roster construction standpoint, can the Patriots afford another big wide receiver investment?

Yates: It isn't to me, and it stems from two factors: you drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce last year for a reason and you've already made commitments to five true wideouts. Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell each have multi-year contracts worth good money, while Boyce and Dobson were taken within the top 102 picks last year. Add in Kenbrell Thompkins and you already have six players in the mix. Yes, the Patriots will add some more bodies, but I don't believe wide receiver should be a top priority in the early rounds of the draft.

Reiss: I agree, Field, with one caveat. If there is any concern about Dobson's availability or the long-term health of his foot (February surgery), then it changes the picture a bit. I haven't heard anything along those lines, but if it any part of the consideration, and then you couple that with what many are calling as strong of a receiver class in this year's draft as any in recent memory, I could see an addition through the draft in a post-round-one scenario.

Stephen Gostkowski enjoys Speaker Series

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski drew a sold-out crowd of about 200 fans at the team's hall of fame on Monday, as he was the latest player to host a "Speaker Series" event.

Gostkowski answered questions for about 45 minutes and then signed autographs and posed for pictures. The appearance came after he participated in the first day of the team's voluntary offseason program.

[+] EnlargeStephen Gostkowski
Mike Reiss/ESPN.comStephen Gostkowski at a Patriots' "Speaker Series" event
"I didn't know what to expect, and then I walk in and there was a whole little stadium full of people. It was pretty cool," Gostkowski said. "A lot of the people had very knowledgeable questions, especially some of the little kids who are off from school this week. I don't know if their dads were telling them what to say but they were asking some good questions."

One that stood out to the nine-year veteran was if he consults with coach Bill Belichick on fourth-down situations on whether he wants to attempt a field goal. Gostkowski answered that he leaves those decisions up to Belichick.

Gostkowski was also asked about the possibility of the NFL eliminating the point-after-attempt, which he defended passionately. Gostkowski said he'd be OK with the league making the P.A.T. a more difficult attempt, but he doesn't want to see it eliminated entirely.

A few other highlights:

1. Gostkowski called the 2013 season one of the most fun he's had since joining the franchise in 2006 because of everything the team overcame.

2. Gostkowski said he doesn't play fantasy football, but that he likes it. "I will say, fantasy football has made kickers a lot more popular," he cracked, relaying stories of how fans in opposing stadiums sometimes tell him they want him to make five field goals as long as the Patriots lose the game.

3. Asked by a youngster which team is his favorite to play, Gostkowski was quick to point out how much the Patriots enjoy beating the Jets.

4. Gostkowski said he has a personal rule not to listen to sports talk radio or read any media coverage of the team during the season. It's all part of his goal of staying on an even keel.

5. When his playing career is over, he'd entertain the possibility of coaching baseball or doing charity work, such as helping athletes setting up charitable foundations.

ESPN NFL analyst and former New England Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi talks about the strong Boston bond after running the 2014 Boston Marathon.

New training room impresses Patriot

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When Patriots players arrived for the start of the team’s voluntary offseason program on Monday, some had their eyes opened by a change inside Gillette Stadium.

As part of ongoing construction at the team’s home facility, which will upgrade scouting and coaching offices, there is also a new training room for players, which includes new hot tubs, steam rooms and saunas.

“The new training room is really nice,” kicker Stephen Gostkowski said Monday after taking part in the Speaker Series at the Patriots Hall of Fame, where he answered questions from fans and signed autographs for 90 minutes. “It’s all new stuff, bigger, more conducive for as many players as we always have [on the roster].

“It’s like colleges that have the nicest stuff. It makes the players excited. They show up and it’s like, ‘This is awesome.’ We’re here every day for 8-10-12 hours a day during the season, so you want it to be a place you want to come to. They’re doing a job of keeping things new and keeping things up to date to be on par with other teams in the NFL; it’s state-of-the-art and top-of-the-line.”

Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, so while it’s still relatively new, upgrades were still eyed by owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick.

As for the voluntary offseason program, which officially started Monday, the Patriots have traditionally had excellent attendance and this year is no exception with quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis among those present.

“The first week back is always like the first week of school. Everybody is excited to see each other. Everybody is exciting to get back to work," Gostkowski explained.

"It’s just a positive, refreshing atmosphere. The last time you saw everybody, it’s the playoffs, it’s so intense, and you’re so down when you lose. So when you see new faces, new guys that you sign or you haven’t seen for a long time, it’s always exciting to have a fresh start because everyone is at the same point and you have something to work towards. It’s good to be back, good to be in a routine.”

Gostkowski said today’s workout was “running and working out” and included a brief hello to position coaches to confirm a player’s presence.

Brandon Browner to wear No. 39

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Free-agent cornerback Brandon Browner will wear No. 39 with the New England Patriots, which is the same number he donned as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.

The number was last worn by practice squad player Sam McGuffie.

Browner joins cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) and receiver Brandon LaFell (19) as new Patriots getting settled with the team as it started its voluntary offseason program Monday.

Kiper: Risky to count on Duron Harmon

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has posted an Insider piece today in which he lists top needs for each NFL team .

One of them for the Patriots is safety and Kiper writes, "We'll see if Duron Harmon can take a step forward this season, but I consider that a tenuous assumption."

Harmon was a surprise third-round draft choice in 2013, and played 36.9 percent of the defensive snaps last season as the No. 3 option behind Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory.

With the Patriots releasing Gregory in late February, it thrusts Harmon (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) into a potential top role.

Tavon Wilson, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner and Kanorris Davis round out the depth chart, with the chance that cornerback Logan Ryan (third round, 2013) gets a look there as well.

As for the draft, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon is among the prospects who have taken an in-house visit to Gillette Stadium. If he's available in a post-Round 1 scenario, he could be an intriguing option for the Patriots to consider.

Patriots offseason roundtable, Part 1

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
With the Patriots beginning their voluntary offseason program Monday, Mike Reiss and Field Yates got together for a roundtable to cover some questions surrounding the team (part 1 of 2):

Which signing, or re-signing, has perhaps flown under the radar the most this offseason?

Yates: Mike, I'll go with Ryan Wendell and here's why. Did he struggle last season? Relative to 2012, yes he did. Was his performance detrimental to the offense? No, that's overstating it. What cannot be disputed is Wendell's durability. He played every snap last season, something his quarterback, Tom Brady, undoubtedly appreciated. Would it be a total shock to see the Patriots draft an interior lineman? No, but what they accomplished in re-signing Wendell is continuity at a fair price. If he reverts to his 2012 form, the maximum value of roughly $4.5 million over two years will be a steal.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaWill Darrelle Revis bring the same edge and confidence to the Patriots' locker room that Aqib Talib did?
Reiss: I'll counter with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, Field. This happens a lot when it comes to evaluating free agency -- we often just focus on the snapshot in front of us that unfolded from the official start of free agency March 11 to now. But Ninkovich, who was in the last year of his contract when he struck an extension last September, should be included in any free-agent analysis. He certainly would be if he was signing with another team.

Bill Belichick always talks about development from Year 1 to Year 2. It's impossible to predict which players will make the biggest leap, but two to keep an eye on are Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan. What are your expectations for them at this time?

Yates: My gut take on Collins is that the team hopes for him to be not just a starter (replacing Brandon Spikes), but also a three-down contributor. Given how small Collins' role was on defense to start the 2013 season, this represents a big leap. But we saw the flashes during the playoffs, giving me confidence that they expect more of the same. As for Ryan, while the cornerback depth chart is stacked right now, he showed far too much ability last season for the team to not try and get him on the field for close to 50 percent of the snaps.

Reiss: I think you nailed it, Field. One of the things that was most impressive to me about Collins last year is that I don't think he missed a practice or game. That helped him use 2013 as a strong foundation year, and I think it's fair to expect more from him in a three-down role. With Ryan, I expect him to compete for the starting cornerback spot opposite of Darrelle Revis for the first four games of the regular season when Brandon Browner is suspended. He has some of the best ball skills in the secondary.

Most football fans agree that the Patriots upgraded from signing Darrelle Revis to replace Aqib Talib. Are there any aspects of Talib's game you think they'll miss, however?

Yates: By all accounts, Darrelle Revis is a terrific teammate, so it's unfair to suppose he won't jell with the rest of the Patriots' secondary. But I will say this, Aqib Talib brought a certain edge and confidence to both the Patriots' defensive meeting room and the secondary on the whole. The increase in confidence and camaraderie was seemingly palpable from the 2012 season to 2013, Talib's only full year in New England. Revis seems like the kind of guy that fits in anywhere, but Talib's personality will be missed.

Reiss: Not only do most football fans agree that Revis is an upgrade, Talib himself said it last year, too. Chemistry would be the one area to focus on, as Talib seemed to fit in very well here. Chemistry can't be forced and we'll see how that evolves with Revis.

Each offseason, players are listed that project as potential “cap casualties.” At this point of the offseason, do you think it's safe to say some of the players carrying a higher number (e.g. Dan Connolly) are safe for 2014? Or might this be something to re-visit come training camp?

Yates: The player that I continue to keep an eye on is guard Dan Connolly, Mike. With a cap charge north of $4 million, the Patriots will have to weigh his “replace-ability” at a cheaper value. They are very high on Josh Kline (who played well in spot duty last year) and could add depth via the draft. If Connolly has any sort of struggles during training camp or the preseason, there's an opportunity for the team to vault a player up the depth chart at a lower price point.

Reiss: Connolly has been working out this offseason with Logan Mankins and one thing that I think helps him is that he could be part of the competition at center as well. Still, if the Patriots were looking for ways to create cap space, it could gain $2.5 million by making a move there. There aren't many other players on the roster that could offer that type of relief.