New England Patriots: Dominique Easley

Checking the locks: Patriots' DTs

July, 7, 2014
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As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduce the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyze the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. Today, it's defensive tackles.

Sure-fire locks: Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones

Near locks: Tommy Kelly, Sealver Siliga

Trying to get in the door: Joe Vellano, Armond Armstead, Marcus Forston, Seali'i Epenesa, L.T. Tuipulotu

Wilfork
ANALYSIS: Much like the Patriots' running backs who could be viewed through two different lenses (bigger early down backs and smaller "passing" backs), the Patriots have a similar setup at defensive tackle with some bigger-bodied run-stuffers who aren't known as much for penetrating gaps (Wilfork, Siliga) and some smaller penetrators more likely to win with quickness than pure power (Easley, Jones). One area to monitor is the health of some key players as Wilfork (ruptured Achilles), Easley (torn ACL), Kelly (torn ACL) and Armstead (missed 2013 with an infection) are all coming off serious injuries. Another factor to consider is that in some sub packages, the Patriots reduce end Chandler Jones to more of a defensive tackle role. Still, the Patriots felt they could have absorbed one more "lock" in pursuing veteran Kevin Williams before Williams signed with Seattle, which is a sign that Bill Belichick might still be concerned with the depth at this spot.

Closer look at Dominique Easley's deal

June, 24, 2014
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Taking a closer look at the contract signed by New England Patriots top draft choice Dominique Easley.

Overall terms: Four years, maximum value of $7,303,550 (note: as is customary for all first-round deals, this includes a fifth-year team option)
Total guaranteed money: $5,887,611
Signing bonus: $3,631,672

2014 compensation
Base salary: $420,000 (guaranteed)
Cap number: $1,327,918
Cash value: $4,051,672 (base salary plus signing bonus)

2015 compensation
Base salary: $751,980 (guaranteed)
Cap number: $1,659,898
Cash value: $751,980 (base salary)

2016 compensation
Base salary: $1,083,959 (guaranteed)
Cap number: $1,991,877
Cash value: $1,083,959 (base salary)

2017 compensation
Base salary: $1 million (non-guaranteed)
Roster bonus: $415,939 (non-guaranteed)
Cap number: $2,323,857
Cash value: $1,415,939

Quick-hits: There aren't many bells and whistles to Easley's deal, as has proven to be the case with rookie contracts under the collective bargaining agreement. Based on where he was drafted, this deal aligns with other players in terms of guaranteed money. While players drafted further up the board have had their entire contract guaranteed, Easley falls into the range where players have just their first three years guaranteed. Because of our limited exposure to him this offseason, we look forward to seeing more of Easley in camp.

Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

June, 22, 2014
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

Brady
1. Of the things that quarterback Tom Brady said last week, his comments about the importance of being ready on the first day of training camp were among the most notable from this viewpoint. "When you get behind in training camp, it's hard to make up. I think things are moving so fast at that point, and improvements are so dramatic every day with installation, and correcting all the errors, you just have to go through it," he said. This is particularly the case for younger players and that's why I thought seeing defensive tackle Dominique Easley on the field for the final day of mandatory minicamp, his first appearance in spring camps, was a good sign for the team. The first-round draft choice tore both ACLs over two college seasons (2011 and 2013), but the Patriots are counting on him to provide an interior pass rush and it looks like he has a good chance to be ready to go the first day of training camp.

1b. Being on the field for the first day of training camp will also be crucial for Patriots seventh-round pick Jeremy Gallon in his hopes to earn a roster spot at a crowded receiver position. The slot receiver with top traits and production from the University of Michigan was limited for most of spring camps, missing out on potentially valuable time in team drills with quarterback Tom Brady. At this point, Gallon is far behind second-year receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, and that gap would only increase if he's not on the field for the start of training camp.

2. With so much attention focused on Patriots top picks Dominique Easley and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round), I think running back James White (fourth round, Wisconsin, 130th overall) has slipped under the radar a bit. Everything I've heard is that the 5-foot-9, 204-pound White has made a strong first impression, both from a skills and approach standpoint, and even though it's early I don't think it's a stretch to say he will contribute in 2014. Bill Belichick has compared his style of play to fourth-year Patriots running back Shane Vereen.

3. First-year Texans coach Bill O'Brien ended the final day of minicamp with something straight out of the Bill Belichick coaching playbook, with offensive guard Ben Jones attempting to catch a punt. Players cheered wildly when Jones did, and that earned them all a start to "summer vacation." Patriots followers have seen this for years in training camp -- from offensive tackle Matt Light to defensive lineman Vince Wilfork catching punts, with Wilfork having to do with a football already in his grasp. Belichick has cited it as a good team-building exercise, bringing everyone together from the punt returners to the offensive linemen.

McCourty
4. I thought Patriots safety Devin McCourty's comments on Bill Belichick during a late-week radio interview with the NBC Sports Network were among the most flattering I've heard for the coach. After talking about how Belichick's sense of humor produces team-wide laughter in closed-door meetings, McCourty added, "When you get him off the media and doing all that stuff, and he gets more into his comfort zone where it's him up there teaching football and teaching guys life lessons, you get to see a different side of him. I think that's the joy of playing for him -- you learn things football-wise and he does a good job for each one of us of just trying to give us some lessons that will help you in life."

4b. We don't get to see that side of Belichick often, if at all. For example, on the final day of mandatory minicamp Thursday, Belichick seemed less than enthused to answer questions from reporters and said he'd take just three. It was a page out of the Randy Moss playbook, as Moss was known for starting his interviews with, "Y'all got three." True to form, an edgy Belichick cut things off when a reporter tried to sneak a fourth question into the mix.

5. The Dolphins are 2-1 at home in September under third-year head coach Joe Philbin, a 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets in 2012 the only blemish. They beat the Raiders handily that year (35-13) and came back to top the Falcons last year, 27-23. Part of the Dolphins' competitive advantage playing at home in early September is being able to practice in the heat and humidity, and along those lines, Philbin passed along last week that the club had 99 percent participation in its voluntary offseason program this year, noting he's never been a part of something like that in his 11 prior years in the NFL. We bring this up because the Patriots visit the Dolphins in the season opener Sept. 7, and unlike the 2011 Patriots-Dolphins opener on Monday Night Football when the late-night start helped cool things down a bit, this year's game kicks off at 1 p.m. I think it's a tougher opener for the Patriots than maybe has been advertised.

6. The Patriots' 13 spring practices (10 organized team activities, three minicamp sessions) weren't just important for players, but for the team's coaches to fine-tune some things as well. "I haven't called a play in five months. I have to rebuild all that myself. We all do," Bill Belichick said last week. That explains why we saw offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia wearing headsets during several practices as they were calling in plays as if it was a game-type situation. So Belichick wasn't just coaching the players, he was also coaching the coaches in a sense.

7. One of the areas I'm most interested to watch in Patriots training camp is the competition along the interior offensive line, where I'd say the only roster lock is at left guard with Logan Mankins. I watched incumbent center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly get praised by first-year o-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo for their textbook footwork and teamwork in one drill Thursday, but they face competition from a deep group of young linemen including rookies Bryan Stork (fourth round) and Jon Halapio (sixth round), as well as second-year players Josh Kline, Braxston Cave and Chris Barker. Stork and Halapio are likely locks to make the roster based on their draft status, and one could make a case for Kline to be included in that mix as well. The competition should be intense as the Patriots, unlike last year at this time when they were a bit thinner up front and combed the waiver wire in late August for help, have a nice influx of young talent that could pressure established veterans for roster spots.

8. I'm also interested in learning how the role of "assistant to the coaching staff" Michael Lombardi evolves over the course of the season. Lombardi, the former Browns general manager, watched each Patriots offseason practice and was often seen speaking with Bill Belichick before and after practice as they walked on and off the field. Early in Thursday's minicamp practice, I watched as Lombardi intently kept his eyes on offensive line drills, chatting with Logan Mankins (who wasn't participating) as he did so. Belichick has long had a right-hand man in football research director Ernie Adams. Maybe that makes Lombardi, who was also in the team's smaller-than-the-norm draft room, his left-hand man.

9. While this is the post-minicamp time of year for coaches to take vacation, all 2014 draft picks across the NFL will be busy this week at the NFL's Rookie Symposium, a four-day orientation held in Aurora, Ohio. The symposium begins today and the idea is to introduce them to life in the NFL, with the following four core teaching principles: NFL history, total wellness, professional experience, and workplace conduct. Rookies can expect to hear presentations, videos, workshops on player health and safety, decision-making, mental health, substance abuse, workplace respect and maintaining positive relationships. Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli, now serving as an assistant general manager with the Falcons, is one of the presenters. Kudos to the NFL for putting it on.

10. The Pro Football Writers Association handed out its annual awards last week and here were the results:

George Halas Award (NFL player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed): Ravens senior advisor to player development O.J. Brigance.

Wilson
Good Guy Award (NFL player for his qualities and professional style): Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

Dick McCann Award (reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution through coverage): Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jack Horrigan Award (league or club official for qualities and professional style): Seahawks coach Pete Carroll

Pete Rozelle Award (NFL club public relations staff consistently striving for excellence in media dealings): Broncos.

I was thrilled for Bouchette, the longtime Steelers beat reporter who spent his early years in Lynn, Massachusetts, and has covered the Steelers for the Post-Gazette since 1985. As Patriots rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said last week, the goal is to be consistently good, not occasionally great. Ed has obviously been just that or he wouldn't have been on the beat for 30 years.

Top pick Easley takes field for first time

June, 19, 2014
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are holding the final practice of their three-day mandatory minicamp, and first-round draft choice Dominique Easley was on the field for the first time in spring camps.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
AP Photo Stephan SavoiaTop draft pick Dominique Easley was on the field Thursday for the first time in spring camps.
Easley, the defensive lineman from Florida who is coming off a torn ACL sustained last season in college, wore a sleeve over his right leg. Media members were present for stretching and individual drills and Easley was a participant in most of the drills.

Meanwhile, second-year receiver Josh Boyce wasn't present. Boyce appeared to tweak something early in Wednesday's practice, had his left leg checked out by the athletic training staff and didn't finish that workout. Early indications are that the injury isn't expected to be a long-term situation with Boyce.

Elsewhere, No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett once again wore a brace over his left knee. He's been limited in recent practices and once again only took part in warmups in leaving the backup repetitions to rookie Jimmy Garoppolo.

Cornerback Darrelle Revis, who didn't take part in Wednesday's full practice, was back on the field and he's expected to answer questions from reporters.

Unlike the first two practices of minicamp, in which media members watched from start to finish, reporters had access to the first 40 minutes of Thursday's workout. Players are scheduled to take part in a conditioning run in the second half of practice.

Some context regarding Kevin Williams, DTs

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
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Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams told ESPN.com NFL Nation Vikings reporter Ben Goessling that he took a little less money to sign with the Seattle Seahawks than the New England Patriots. With the specifics of Williams' contract now known, there is some added context on how far the Patriots were willing to extend financially.

Williams
Via colleague Field Yates, Williams' deal breaks down this way:

Term/total value: One year, $2.1 million
Signing bonus: $250,000
Base salary: $1.5 million ($250,000 guaranteed)
Incentives: Up to $350,000 in per-game roster bonuses

With Williams electing to sign in Seattle, here is a snapshot look at the Patriots' defensive tackle depth chart, with a quick-hit thought on each player:

Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325): Captain and 11-year veteran is making progress in his return from a ruptured Achilles last September. Looks to be moving well.

Tommy Kelly (6-6, 310): Another 11-year veteran, he took another step in his return from a torn ACL by participating in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday.

Dominique Easley (6-2, 288): First-round draft choice is coming off two torn ACLs over the past 22 months, suffered in college, and has yet to take the field this spring.

Chris Jones (6-1, 309) Second-year player was claimed on waivers last year and led all Patriots defensive tackles in snaps played in 2013. Best when penetrating.

Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325): After a slow start to his career, the run-stuffer looks like he has built some momentum as a developmental prospect behind Wilfork.

Armond Armstead (6-5, 305): The former Southern Cal and Canadian Football League standout has been sidelined for most of spring camps after missing all of last season with an infection.

Joe Vellano (6-2, 300): Hard-working second-year player from Maryland is a lunch pail type of guy who plays with top effort.

Marcus Forston (6-3, 305): Second-year player has spent multiple seasons on the practice squad and has filled in when injuries hit.

L.T. Tuipulotu (6-1, 305): Undrafted free agent from Utah is on the developmental track.

Seali'i Epenesa (6-1, 310): Undrafted free agent from UCLA was signed on Tuesday.

At Garrett camp, Easley sends message

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
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IRVING, Texas -- When Dominique Easley walked in for his interview at the NFL scouting combine last February, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett offered a handshake and hello.

"Dominque, nice to meet you," Garrett said.

Easley quickly responded, "Coach, I've met you already. I came to your camp at Princeton University when I was in high school."

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
AP Photo/Steven SennePatriots No. 1 pick Dominique Easley attended Jason Garrett's football camp in New Jersey while in high school.
Every June Garrett holds a football camp for kids from the area at his alma mater in New Jersey. Easley attended Curtis High School in Staten Island, New York, and made the drive to Princeton.

Last weekend, Easley served as a counselor at Garrett's camp along with Cowboys Dez Bryant, Morris Claiborne and DeMarco Murray, as well as former Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner.

If things worked out a little differently Easley could have been a Cowboy, but the New England Patriots took him with the 29th pick in the first round.The Cowboys had him in for a pre-draft visit because they liked him as a player and they wanted to check out this surgically-repaired knee.

"The Easley story is a really good story," Garrett said. "He talked to the kids and when he stands up there, there is the 29th pick in the first round and he said, ‘I sat in that seat five years ago, so don't tell me you can't do this.' And there's another kid there every year named Freddie Santana, who also sat in those seats. He ended up going to Holy Cross, graduated from there, was their team captain and was selected for Teach for America and did a couple of years down in Atlanta. Now he's teaching in Brooklyn. The big challenge with those kids, there's about 300 of them, and they come from really tough places. So the idea that they belong and can do something like this, you put Dominque Easley up there, you put Freddie Santana up there and say, ‘I was in Row 3 five years ago,' I think it's effective."

Easley's team ended up winning the round-robin 6-on-6 tournament.

"He won when he was a player and he won as a coach, so that was the big story line," Garrett said.

The football is a nice component of the camp, but Garrett hopes something bigger develops. Perhaps in the future he will meet another graduate of his camp at the combine.

"We've got them for 10 hours one day out of the year, but I challenge our coaches," Garrett said. "I tell them, ‘I believe we can make a difference in these kids' lives, OK, so they're going to show up here at 8 and we're going to send them on their way tonight at 6 and we have this window to try to make a difference.' We try to say the right things, do the right things and hopefully make some kind of impact."
A few leftovers from Bill Belichick's interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio's "Movin' the Chains" program with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan:

1. Confident in Easley's recovery. While some view first-round pick Dominique Easley as a risky selection because he's torn both ACLs over a span of 22 months, Belichick spoke with assurance about his recovery.

"We're confident that he'll be able to return from the injury like almost everybody who's had an ACL has, so I don't think it's the type of injury that isn't pretty common in our league," he said. "He's working hard to rehab and hopefully he'll be OK. I think when he is, we feel like we got good value for that pick."

Belichick also touched on how the Patriots targeted Easley with the No. 29 selection.

"When you're picking 29th, you kind of don't know who's going to be there until you get into the low to mid-20s. We tried to stick to the value on our board. Dominique, when we've seen him play, he's been a productive player for Florida since his freshman year. He can be a very disruptive player. An impact player. His grade on our board reflected that."

2. Stork 'our type of guy' at center. Belichick explained what the team liked in center Bryan Stork of Florida State (105th overall).

"We just felt that on film and personally, he's smart, a hard-working guy. Our type of guy. He really loves to compete and he's tough," he said. "I think he's productive in the running game and productive in the passing game. Obviously, he played in a great program and played against good competition. I think he's a solid player who will really be competitive for us."

3. White's smarts stand out. In describing what drew the team to running back James White of Wisconsin in the fourth round (130th overall), Belichick pointed out that he averaged 6 yards per carry, "which is really hard to do in any league, especially in the Big Ten." Belichick also called him a versatile player who can run inside and outside, before touching on his skills in the passing game.

"He's very smart. I think he'll help us in pass protection and in pass routes," he said. "It's just another guy for the quarterback to throw to as well as a guy who can create some space and plays in the running game."

4. Patriots will bring up replay proposal again. While owners didn't vote for Belichick's proposal to allow coaches to challenge anything in a game (with a limit of 2 challenges), Belichick said he'd probably bring up the proposal again in the future, maybe with some slight modifications in presentation. He spoke about how current instant replay rules are so detailed it is often confusing for many. "I'd like to just clean it up," he said.

5. Encouraged by offensive coaching staff. After being asked about retired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and praising his contributions to both him and the franchise, Belichick spun things forward and said he likes what he's seen from his offensive coaching staff (Dave DeGuglielmo is the new O-line coach, with Brian Daboll at tight end). "I feel like we have a good staff offensively, those guys have worked well in the offseason. We're all excited to get on the field Tuesday and start the OTA process. I have a lot of confidence and enjoy the guys we're working with."

Weekly Patriots chat recap

May, 22, 2014
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Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com there is a New England Patriots chat in the late morning/early afternoon. Today's chat kicked off at 1 p.m. ET, can be recapped here, and included some of the following topics:

1. First-round draft choice Dominique Easley and the increasing value of the penetrating defensive lineman.

2. Quarterback chatter: Jimmy Garoppolo/2014 vs. Ryan Mallett/2011.

3. Should the Patriots have given more consideration to signing undrafted Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla?

4. Rob Ninkovich and if he's been as productive as a 4-3 defensive end as he was as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

5. Following up on 2013 seventh-round draft choice Michael Buchanan as a possible option to add important pass-rushing depth.

6. Patriots running backs, from Stevan Ridley, to Stephen Houston, to James White and the departure of LeGarrette Blount.

Leftover pieces of Patriots mail

May, 21, 2014
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A few leftovers from our weekly Patriots mailbag:

Dave (New Jersey): Hey Mike, I wanted to know what you have heard on the rehab front for Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Have you heard when they will be ready to go? Are they expected to recover 100 percent?

Wilfork
Mayo
Mayo
Dave, reporters caught up with Mayo on May 6 and he struck an optimistic tone. I think he has a good chance to be ready. Wilfork is keeping a lower profile but I was told, not surprisingly, that he's really putting in the time. One observer noted he was drenched from an intense workout the last time they saw him. Still, that's a tough one to come back from and we probably won't know for a little while on him.

Bob Q (Coventry, RI): Mike, I know there have been many questions about the Jimmy Garappolo pick, but I haven't seen this one before: If the Pats truly have an eye on Tom Brady's successor, why didn't they take Teddy Bridgewater? Was Dominique Easley so much of a temptation?

Bob, if the right offer was there for consideration, I think their preferred course of action would have been to trade down in the draft. After that, I just don't think they were going to pick a quarterback in the first round regardless. They obviously thought highly of Easley, but let's say Easley wasn't available, I would have been really surprised if they picked a quarterback there. While part of drafting a quarterback was with possible succession plans in mind, I believe that was a lesser part of the consideration than ensuring the No. 2 spot is ultimately in good hands.

Rick B. (Chesapeake, VA): Mike, will you be traveling with the Patriots to Richmond, Virginia, for the joint practices with the Redskins? I will be wearing 12's throwback jersey -- but looking for you on the sideline. Beyond excited for these practices. Virginia Pats fans will represent well in the backyard of the Skins!

Rick, I highly recommend those joint practices for anyone within driving distance. They will be open to the public and are usually a great take. Maybe we can arrange some type of get-together as the date approaches.

Anton (South Korea): Hi Mike, do you think BB shifts the offensive focus away from the "12" personnel grouping? Given the lack of TE personnel, and the two-tight end attack faltering in the playoffs in recent years, I believe BB and Josh McDaniels employ a new strategy on offense.

Anton, I think that's a fair assumption based on the present personnel. We should still see it, and we know the offense is game-plan specific, but in the end I think it's mostly about getting your five best skill-position players on the field. I see more upside at receiver right now, so I'd estimate that three-receiver package could be more prevalent based on the present snapshot. Of course, that can always change. There's a long way to go.

Richie (Los Angeles): Hi Mike, my question is why are rookies not allowed to participate with their new team until graduation? What if they are not graduating?

Richie, the way it was explained to me one time is that the NFL simply wants to promote the importance of graduating. I thought Bills coach Doug Marrone had an interesting take on this last year.

Following up on NFL draft-day stories

May, 14, 2014
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A few follow-ups on NFL draft-day stories that were hot topics surrounding the New England Patriots, with one additional thought:

1. Ryan Mallett and a potential trade. The league-owned NFL Network pumped a possible trade of Mallett to the Texans multiple times during its three-day broadcast of the draft. Because of the draft's popularity, and the NFL Network's large platform, it was a story that created a natural trickle-down effect to reporters who cover a team and added another layer of work. We couldn't substantiate anything in regards to Mallett from a Patriots-specific or Texans-specific standpoint, to the point that it was our belief the sides had hardly talked about the possibility, if at all. Yet the NFL Network reports were so strong, and persistent to the point that it was mentioned again on NFL Network the day after the draft, that we figured maybe we just didn't have good information on the topic. The Patriots' team-operated website picked up the NFL Network report as well. Now comes this tweet from the well-connected John McClain of the Houston Chronicle:



That same day, Mallett tweeted the following:



2. Seahawks' interest in Easley. The Patriots might have scooped the Seahawks by picking defensive lineman Dominique Easley in the first round (No. 29). One story that built momentum quickly after the draft was that the Seahawks quickly traded down after Easley was off the board, and a live feed in their draft room showed a reaction that could have been viewed as disappointment. But ESPN.com NFL insider Mike Sando, who covered the Seahawks for more than a decade, cast some doubt on that turn of events.



3. Dreaming of Andre Johnson. With Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson saying he is unsure about his return to the team, the Twitter inbox filled up with questions about the possibility of the Patriots making a run at him. That would be a dream-like scenario for the team and one I'd rate as a longshot at this point. The primary thought is if the Texans get to the point that they do consider trading Johnson (a big "if"), it would be better business for them to do so with an NFC team (keep Johnson out of the conference). One additional thought not related to the Patriots in this situation: If Johnson has done his homework on new head coach Bill O'Brien, it's hard to imagine why he wouldn't want to play in his offense. It's receiver-friendly, for sure.

A look at the Pats' rookie payouts

May, 14, 2014
May 14
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The Chicago Bears have already signed six of their eight draft picks to contracts, less than four days after the conclusion of the draft.

Other teams will follow suit soon, as the 2011 collective bargaining agreement has made signing rookies a relatively innocuous exercise.

All drafted rookie contracts are four years in length (first-round picks have a fifth-year team option), while undrafted rookies sign three-year deals.

Examining the nine drafted rookies for the Patriots, they have a total four-year allocation of $29,075,052.

For perspective, the Rams, with 11 draft choices and two first-round picks, have a total four-year rookie allocation of $56,978,845, while the Colts, with just five draft choices and no first-round picks, have a total four-year rookie allocation of just $14,018,956.

Rookie signing bonuses have remained flat from last year to this year, meaning top choice Dominique Easley will earn a $3,631,672 bonus upon signing his deal.

From a cap perspective, the Patriots have $7,692,369 in overall space. Fitting their rookies' deals in will be no issue.

One perspective on Easley's potential

May, 12, 2014
May 12
4:50
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Patriots first-round draft pick Dominique Easley doesn’t have a long college résumé, due in large part to a pair of ACL tears while at the University of Florida.

So in order to gain a better scouting report on the defensive lineman, we enlisted the help of ESPN recruiting coordinator Billy Tucker, who watched Easley participate in the Under Armour All-America game in 2010, when Easley was an outgoing high school senior.

The game features the best of the best high school players from around the country, who gather each January in Florida to face off against each other and receive instruction from former NFL coaches in the week leading up to the event.

Easley left quite an impression.

“In the eight years of doing this game, [Easley] was the most dominant defensive player aside from Da'Quan Bowers in 2008,” said Tucker, who is the director of player personnel for the Under Armour game.

What kind of competition was Easley facing? Among the offensive lineman Easley saw during the week leading up to the game were Luke Joeckel (drafted No. 2 overall by the Jaguars in 2013) and Ja'Wuan James (taken by Miami in the first round of the 2014 draft).

Sure, it was four years ago, but it’s a good barometer of Easley’s talent level when healthy.

Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

May, 11, 2014
May 11
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. When it came to tight ends in the 2014 draft for the Patriots, I think it was a case where supply didn't meet demand. There were not a lot of viable options for the team in this year's class as they only saw a fit with a very small number of prospects and ultimately didn't draft at the position. It's amazing, in some respects, to think that the team had the position seemingly solidified in the short- and long-term two years ago with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Now, it's one of their bigger question marks on offense.

2. On the trade front, I don't think things materialized the way the Patriots hoped this year late in the first round. Unlike 2013 when the team received a 4-for-1 haul for its No. 29 pick, my sense is that there were much more moderate discussions this year and this is reflected by the compensation exchanged in other first-round deals made around the NFL (teams weren't giving up a lot to move up, in part because of the depth of the draft). I do believe the Patriots still would have liked to trade down, but in the end, there just wasn't a partner willing to dance with a worthwhile enough offer. So given the dynamics in play, they were happy to turn in the card with Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

3. In 15 drafts, I can't think of a riskier first-round pick by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. No one is denying that Dominique Easley is a big-time talent. At the same time, a player with bilateral ACLs -- a.k.a. torn ACLs in both knees over the last three seasons -- comes with a medical file not usually associated with the team's top pick. One could argue that medical advancements have reached a point where players are now coming back stronger after reconstruction. Still, if everyone thought that way, Easley wouldn't have lasted until the 29th pick. The Patriots are hoping that Easley can do what 49ers running back Frank Gore did -- tear both ACLs in college before becoming one of the NFL's most durable players at his position.

[+] Enlarge Jimmy Garoppolo
AP Photo/Jason DeCrowYou have to wonder why a team such as the Texans didn't bite on Jimmy Garoppolo before the Patriots did.
4. Whether it would have actually unfolded that way is only known by the key decision-makers in Seattle and Houston, but I think the Patriots felt they scooped both teams with their top picks, defensive lineman Dominique Easley (first round, No. 29) and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, No. 62). Specific to Garoppolo, the link between what the Patriots value in a quarterback and what the Bill O'Brien-led Texans do is obviously similar. O'Brien ended up with Tom Savage in the fourth round. That may work out just fine in the long run, but I wonder if he's second-guessing the Texans not being able to pull off a minor trade back into the bottom of the second round to leapfrog the Patriots and land Garoppolo. The quarterback is the type of film junkie and lives-football-all-the-time type of guy I think he wants to be aligned with as he builds his team.

5. I thought the Bills' aggressive moves reflected an administration that believes it has a short window to win, perhaps because of ownership uncertainty. General manager Doug Whaley followed his conviction in trading a 2014 first-round pick, 2015 first-round pick and 2015 fourth-round pick to Cleveland to move up five spots in the first round to select receiver Sammy Watkins, in part because he believes it will be a low first-round pick next year. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999 and now they're putting all their chips on second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel. Based on what we saw last year, would anyone be surprised if that's a top 10 pick? Not me.

6. From the "I'm not sure what to make of it" department: Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork held his annual draft party Thursday night to benefit his charitable foundation, but he declined comment from all reporters. In an offseason in which we've heard from top players on defense such as Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Darrelle Revis, Dont'a Hightower and even Jamie Collins, Wilfork is keeping a low profile. Maybe it's that he doesn't want to talk about his rehab from a torn Achilles or his restructured contract. Still, it strikes me as a bit outside the norm from one of the leaders of the team.

7. It was hard not to feel a little bit bad for former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer on Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns traded up for Johnny Manziel in the first round. The Browns didn't draft Manziel 22nd overall to sit for long, which narrows the window for Hoyer, who is coming back from a torn ACL after finally earning the starting role he coveted, to be on the field. But then two things came to mind: Hoyer isn't one to back down from competition, and he's also still in a much better situation now than 18 months ago. It's easy to forget, but Hoyer was out of football for most of the 2012 season. While he obviously desires a starting role, there's also something to be said for being on the Matt Cassel track as a backup who has the chance to stick in the league for 10-plus years. There were doubts about that with Hoyer not too long ago.

8. From inside the scouting/medical circles, one thing that was repeated to me multiple times in the pre-draft process is how players from Alabama often enter the NFL more banged-up when compared to most of their contemporaries. One line of thinking is that Alabama players might feel pressure to play through ailments because there is usually a top-shelf recruit behind them waiting to take their job if there is an opening. Interesting insight to me that I hadn't heard before.

9a. My favorite story of the three-day draft: Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman taking part on the third day via Skype so he could be in Worcester, Massachusetts, to attend his son's graduation from Becker College. Gettleman explained that there are certain life events that shouldn't be missed. My admiration for Gettleman grows greater when hearing this.

9b. Along those same lines, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell makes Friday his day to come to the office a bit later than the norm so he can drop off his son, David II, at school. He said it's something he learned from one of his mentors, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who does something similar with his son Mason in Atlanta. Work-life balance can be a challenge for many, especially in the around-the-clock, big-business NFL, but I like hearing these types of stories. It doesn't always have to be so serious.

10. With the NFL draft now concluded, there should be plenty of changes to monitor in the scouting ranks around the league and I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots are affected. My eyes will be on director of college scouting Jon Robinson, who arrived in New England in 2002 as an area scout, in part because of a strong recommendation from then Patriots national scout Jason Licht. With Licht now the Buccaneers' general manager, I could envision Robinson being a target for a top position in his administration, perhaps in an assistant general manager type role. Robinson's work with the Patriots was recently praised by director of player personnel Nick Caserio.

New England Patriots draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
7:40
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A wrap-up of the New England Patriots' draft. Click here for a full list of Patriots draftees.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFlorida's Dominique Easley will be an impact talent for the Patriots if he can stay healthy.
Best move: Reinvesting in the offensive line. The Patriots hadn't drafted an offensive lineman in 2012 or 2013, but they triple-dipped with fourth-round center Bryan Stork (Florida State), fourth-round tackle Cameron Fleming (Stanford) and sixth-round right guard Jon Halapio (Florida). Time will tell if the picks were the right ones, but from a general standpoint, the Patriots needed to pay attention to the line both from an infusing-the-pipeline standpoint and also with salary cap integrity in mind. What stands out is the size of Stork (6-3 7/8, 315), Fleming (6-4 7/8, 323) and Halapio (6-3 1/2, 323). The Patriots added an element of offensive toughness in this draft, while also planning for the future. This is a big year for the team's offensive line as it transitions from former coach Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo.

Riskiest move: Dominique Easley. The first-round defensive lineman is a big-time talent who wouldn't have been available at No. 29 if healthy. But he tore both ACLs at Florida and that affected his ability to work out at 100 percent in the pre-draft process. If Easley returns to full health, the Patriots' willingness to assume the risk could pay off in a big way as the team's interior pass rush could use a boost. But if problems crop up with Easley's knees, the Patriots might ultimately regret their willingness to invest such a high draft pick on an injured player.

Most surprising move: Dominique Easley. Wouldn't have thought the Patriots' selection of a player who tore both ACLs in a span of three years was an option in the first round. They generally don't assume that much risk with their top pick, which has contributed to their solid first-round draft record.

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File it away: All the angst that might have been expressed about the Patriots' selecting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a late second-round pick (No. 62) will most likely be looked back upon with a chuckle. The biggest question from this perspective is if the Patriots passed on a player who might have helped them more immediately (e.g., Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz to the Texans three picks later), and that's going to be an interesting dynamic to follow in the years to come. But overall, there is no more important position than quarterback. The 2011 Colts are the prime example of a team that didn't address the backup spot and the bottom fell out of their season when starter Peyton Manning was lost for the season. People lost jobs because of it. The Colts were fortunate to wind up with the rare can't-miss prospect (Andrew Luck) the next year in the draft, but most teams aren't that lucky, so the Patriots were wise to be thinking ahead at a hard-to-fill position. It's just a bit jarring to hear the team acknowledge the possibility of a succession plan with Tom Brady, which is still four years away (if not longer) from this viewpoint.
The New England Patriots have added to their carousel of defensive linemen with former Florida standout Dominique Easley. Below is our scouting report on Easley after a closer examination this morning.

Alignment: A movable chess piece on the defensive line, Easley had many homes along the defensive front. He played what is known as a "5 technique" (over the outside eye of the opposing offensive tackle) at-times, other times as a titled nose tackle and in the interior of the line. He also played on the edge to the tight end side of formations, more like a conventional defensive end. Florida was innovative and smart in its usage of Easley.

[+] EnlargeDominique Easley
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDominique Easley showed versatility in college, lining up in several different spots along the defensive line for Florida.
Athleticism: Easley has an explosive first step and creates substantial force through his hips and core at the initial point of attack. He has enough length (nearly 33-inch arms) and is loose-hipped and flexible. He shows very good closing acceleration as a backside defender and pass-rusher. He's more explosive than Chandler Jones, but does not have Jones' overall length.

Strengths: Explosive. He fires out of the gate at the snap. Easley shows exceptional instincts to time the snap and a ferocious, balanced first step. He plays with wildly active hands, using them to fight and club in pass rush. He has powerful punches when anchoring against an offensive lineman in defending the run. Easley has a diverse pass-rush arsenal that involves his ability to beat you with quickness, speed, the ability to slither and find space, work you with his hands and in pursuit.

Limitations: The injury is a legitimate concern. He has two torn ACL's in his past that bear monitoring. Easley is slight for an every-down defensive tackle at just 288 pounds. He gets his shoulders turned at times when taking on double teams. Durability is the issue of primary focus.

Pro comparison: Typically, we find pro comparisons to be a stretch, as it is rare for two players to have identical skill sets. But if we had to choose a comparable player, I see some Lamarr Houston in Easley. Houston, now a Chicago Bear, has been a standout for the Raiders with the ability to win on the edge as an end and along the interior. Houston is just a shade under 300 pounds, but has very good explosion.

Projecting Patriots fit: The first question is at what point will Easley be all-systems-go following his knee injury? He expressed confidence about his progress Thursday night. Assuming he's healthy by the start of training camp, he has a chance to be a top-six defensive lineman for the Patriots (with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly and Will Smith). The Patriots can utilize Easley in similar ways to Florida -- all over the line. With his ability to play on the edge and on the inside, he is a player whose role could be heavily involved in games that they face strong passing attacks. The bottom line on Easley is when evaluating him before his most recent injury, impressive traits pop. He has uncommon explosiveness and versatility for a defensive lineman. He might well have been drafted closer to pick 10 or 12 if he had not been injured. That is not to say he is a sure-fire future Pro Bowler, but the Patriots had the luxury of taking a player that they can be patient with, while also adding depth to a major area of need. If he can stay healthy -- a big if -- the Patriots added a potential stud.

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