NFL Nation: Matthew Slater

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.”

Recapping Patriots in the Pro Bowl

January, 26, 2014
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The Pro Bowl is in the books, and it was a relatively quiet one from a Patriots perspective.

The Patriots had three players participate -- left guard Logan Mankins, special teams captain Matthew Slater and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Two others, quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Aqib Talib, were original selections who didn't participate.

Mankins and Slater were original selections and were part of "Team Sanders" as they donned gray uniforms in the new non-conferenced format. Gostkowski, who was a replacement for Broncos kicker Matt Prater, was part of "Team Rice" (white jerseys).

Our biggest takeaway from a Patriots perspective?

Mankins has shaved his beard, which had generated notable momentum by the playoffs. No word on if that was a game-time decision.

He showed up a few times getting out in front on screen plays, touching down a defender after a lost fumble by running back Alfred Morris in the second quarter, and giving up a sack to Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

With no kickoffs in the game, Gostkowski was called upon for point-after attempts and clanged a 53-yard field goal off the right upright in the fourth quarter. We only saw Slater on the punt return and punt coverage units.

The new Pro Bowl format led to a more competitive game, with "Team Rice" winning 22-21.

Players on the winning team earn $53,000, while those on the losing side get $26,000.
DENVER -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Denver Broncos 3-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Pats' O starts slow. The Patriots' offense needed just one play to find the end zone last Saturday, but the start wasn't quite the same today, as the offense went three and out on its first drive and punted on each of the first two drives. Some notable personnel factors: Aaron Dobson is playing some in two-receiver sets, LeGarrette Blount once again is handling lead back duties and both Matthew Slater and Austin Collie have been targeted on third-down plays.

2. Perfect conditions. The weather is idyllic in Denver today, with a temperature of 61 degrees at kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky, and there's minimal wind. A strong glare has made things difficult on returners fielding punts deep.

3. Broncos open the scoring. The Broncos got on the board first with a field goal late in the first quarter. The drive was helped by a long completion from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on a third and 10 play. The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos from the 10-yard line, however, forcing the field goal from Matt Prater.

4. Patriots' offense driving. The Patriots' offense generated a little bit of buzz at the end of the quarter, crossing into Denver territory. The second quarter will open with the Patriots facing a fourth down from Denver's 39.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (offensive pass interference).

Pro Bowl selections: New England Patriots

December, 27, 2013
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Sharing some thoughts on the New England Patriots' Pro Bowl selections:

Who's in: Quarterback Tom Brady, left guard Logan Mankins, cornerback Aqib Talib, special-teamer Matthew Slater.

Key stats: This is Brady's ninth Pro Bowl berth, tying offensive lineman John Hannah for most in team history. ... For Mankins, this is his sixth Pro Bowl berth, and fifth in a row. ... This is Talib's first Pro Bowl. ... Slater gets his third straight nod.

Who cashed in: Talib. By earning a Pro Bowl nod, he reaches a $500,000 incentive in his contract. Slater gets an additional $300,000.

A case could be made for: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He's been excellent this season, but Denver's Matt Prater and Baltimore's Justin Tucker earned the two selections.

Others on the outside looking in: At safety, Devin McCourty could have made a strong case for a third spot alongside Earl Thomas (Seahawks) and Eric Weddle (Chargers), but it went to Jairus Byrd (Bills) -- probably more based on reputation. The NFL announced its selections as "unconferenced" this year, meaning that Patriots were competing against players from both the AFC and NFC. ... Defensive end is a tough position to crack, so while Chandler Jones has had an excellent season, it was going to be hard to break through. ... At punt returner, Julian Edelman is one of the best in the business but the spots went to Antonio Brown (Steelers) and Dexter McCluster (Chiefs).

Final thoughts: Brady, Talib and Slater were locks from this viewpoint. Slater is the new Larry Izzo. As long as he's healthy, he's going to keep ringing up Pro Bowl trips. Mankins, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the best in the game, was a tougher call because guards aren't always the first players your eyes are drawn to. But after some rocky moments this season (e.g. Oct. 27 vs. Miami), he's been playing at an elite level down the stretch.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Welcome to the Georgia Dome

September, 29, 2013
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Georgia Dome Mike Reiss/ESPNThe Falcons' indoor stadium, with a seating capacity of 71,250, is one of the loudest venues in the NFL.
ATLANTA -- Welcome to the Georgia Dome, where the New England Patriots visit the Atlanta Falcons (8:30 p.m. ET):

Indoor football. Weather conditions aren’t a factor as this marks the Patriots’ first regular-season game inside a pure dome since Thanksgiving of 2010 (vs. Lions, on Thanksgiving). The Georgia Dome has a permanent seating capacity of 71,250 and is one of the loudest venues in the NFL. Since 2008, the Falcons are 34-7 at home, which is the best record in the NFC.

A feel for inside the dome. Plans to build the Georgia Dome, for $210 million, were first introduced in 1989. The Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992, has hosted two Super Bowls (XXVIII, XXXIV), gymnastics and basketball events for the 1996 Olympic Games, and most recently the NCAA Men’s Final Four for the third time. For football, the mostly red seats and Falcon at midfield give the dome a unique look. Banners hang above from the team’s six division championships, as well as some of former Falcon greats, including Deion Sanders, Jessie Tuggle and Steve Bartkowski.

Four more inactive Patriots players: The Patriots have already ruled tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Danny Amendola and Matthew Slater out for the game. That means four more players must be declared inactive, with those decisions turned in to the NFL 90 minutes before kickoff.

Extra points: The Falcons have outscored opponents 31-0 in the first quarter this season. … Under head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons are 22-3 after a loss. … This marks the Patriots’ second of five scheduled nationally televised games this season. … The 34 total points allowed by the Patriots are the fewest for the team through three games since 1979.

Coleman gets the call: Veteran referee Walt Coleman has been assigned tonight’s game. Patriots fans remember Coleman from the “Tuck Rule” game.

Television broadcast: Tonight’s game will be on NBC, with Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya on the call.

Matthew Slater lone absence at practice

September, 19, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) were again on the practice field for the Patriots on Thursday, though their status for Sunday's contest against the Buccaneers remains unclear at this time.

The two were each listed as limited during Wednesday's practice report. The team will officially submit their status for Sunday's game on Friday afternoon.

Wide receiver Matthew Slater (wrist) was the lone player not spotted during the full-pads workout, as veteran cornerback Marquice Cole returned after missing Wednesday's practice with a non-injury related matter. Slater, the team's top special-teams player, reportedly broke his wrist during the Week 2 game against the Jets.

Pondering life without Matthew Slater

September, 17, 2013
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Special-teams captain Matthew Slater is the latest injured Patriots player.

On Monday, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that Slater has a broken bone in his hand, putting his status in question for Sunday's game against the Buccaneers. That was followed up by Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reporting that Slater could miss four to six weeks with a broken wrist.

A few Slater thoughts:

1. Core special-teamer. The Patriots have five players who would be considered "core" special-teamers based on playing the "Big 4" units -- Slater, safety Tavon Wilson and linebackers Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher and Chris White. When a team loses a core player on special teams, it often means that multiple players are tapped to fill the void. If the Patriots look to the practice squad for help, rookie safety Kanorris Davis (Troy) could be an ideal candidate. He caught the eye with strong special-teams play in the preseason.

2. Best in the business. Slater is a two-time Pro Bowler. After Thursday's win over the Jets, coach Rex Ryan was explaining why he didn't have a punt returner back on a few attempts and said, "That Slater kid is a heck of a football player.” So this is naturally a big hit for the Patriots in an often overlooked area of the game.

3. Emergency option at receiver. Slater has seldom been a big factor on offense, but in the event of emergency, he was a fallback option at receiver. Given that depth is already thinned at the position with Danny Amendola's availability in doubt, this could spark some roster/practice-squad movement. Perhaps the club brings back Quentin Sims on the practice squad.
Players in the New England Patriots' locker room are not taking the route of Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy this week. The reigning AFC champs are showing the Houston Texans plenty of respect leading into Sunday's playoff game, despite trouncing Houston, 42-14, in Week 14.

"Trust me, you're going to see a different Texans team," Patriots veteran receiver Deion Branch explained. "That we all know, I promise you that. They're a great team. They've been a great team all season long. Unfortunately they ran into a couple stumbles but that's football. Trust me, it won't be the same team that we played five weeks ago."

New England knows it is difficult to beat the same team in both the regular season and postseason. The Patriots failed to pull that off during the 2010 season, when the New York Jets upset New England in the playoffs at Gillette Stadium after a blowout loss there in Week 13.

The Patriots cannot get overconfident against Houston and must prove they have learned from that experience .

"We expect it to be a totally different ballgame," Patriots special-teams ace Matthew Slater said. "We expect this to be a different team that shows up here this weekend and we know we’re in for a fight."

Starting fast will be important. New England took a 21-0 lead at halftime and was never in danger in Week 14. Houston must be sharper and set the tone early in this playoff rematch and let New England know it's going to be a much tougher contest.

"They didn’t play their best game," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "They know that and we know that. Come Sunday we are expecting their best."
The New England Patriots cut former six-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco Thursday. Along with Anthony Gonzalez, Ochocinco was the second receiver cut before training camp who had a shot to make the team.

This reshuffles a crowded field of receivers for the reigning AFC champs. Let's take a look at the updated roster at the position:

Locks: Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney

Skinny: Welker and Lloyd are the two starters and guaranteed locks to make the team. Gaffney was an underrated free-agent signing who should help the Patriots. He is one of quarterback Tom Brady's favorite receivers, and that carries a lot of weight in New England.

Solid footing: Deion Branch, Matthew Slater

Skinny: Branch is a veteran who knows the system well and continues to produce. A starter in 2011, Branch is a good receiver to have around for depth and knowledge. Slater is New England's best special-teams player and a captain. Slater might not help much on offense, but he's one of the NFL's best in the third phase of the game. That's enough for him to stick.

Work to do: Julian Edelman, Donte' Stallworth, Jeremy Ebert

Skinny: The Patriots are probably going to keep six or seven receivers on their 53-man roster. The recent release of Ochocinco and Gonzalez helps relieve some of the pressure. But these are the three receivers fighting for the final one or two roster spots. The easy prediction is Edelman and Stallworth if New England keeps seven receivers; Ebert is a seventh-round pick and a long shot. If the Patriots choose only six, Edelman might have an advantage with his versatility.
Tom Brady/Wes WelkerStephen J. Cohen/WireImagePatriots stars Tom Brady, left, and Wes Welker were all smiles at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spent time with teammate Wes Welker last weekend at the Kentucky Derby. Between the schmoozing and excitement of horse racing, Brady should have given his top receiver a subtle message and said, "Buddy, it's time to get back to work."

There is one thing for certain about the Patriots: You do not fight the machine. Welker is facing an uphill battle he cannot win. Many have tried before him and failed. Welker is not the exception.

Welker has yet to sign his franchise tender and hasn't decided how long he's going to protest New England's one-year, $9.5 million offer. The potential distraction has been held to a minimum thus far. But it would only grow stronger if Welker continues to skip New England's offseason program.

The Patriots' mandatory minicamp is scheduled for June 12. The best advice is for Welker to have his mind made up by that time. Missing New England's current voluntary program is not a big thing. But if Welker also chooses to skip the Patriots' three-day veteran minicamp, that is when he's hurting the team in the eyes of the coaching staff.

At that point the gloves may come off with the Patriots -- and Welker doesn't want that.

New England is emotionless and shrewd in negotiations. Just ask three-time Super Bowl winner Willie McGinest, who apparently still carries some level of bitterness about how he was handled by the Patriots at the end of his career. McGinest recently got into a Twitter spat with Welker about his contract situation and delivered this stern message.

"We're all expendable at Patriot Place," McGinest tweeted to Welker.

McGinest is right. NFL players in general are expendable, but even more so in New England.

Welker needs to be more mindful of how Patriots players often are treated like replaceable and interchangeable parts. It happened to McGinest, who spent the final three years of his career with the struggling Cleveland Browns. It happened to Richard Seymour, who was great for eight seasons with the Patriots and suddenly shipped to the Oakland Raiders for a first-round draft pick. The Patriots also traded future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings when Moss grew unhappy about his contract.

Welker should know better. No one player is above the team in New England. That is the Patriot Way.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesNew England signed four free-agent receivers, but can any of them match Wes Welker's production?
This is not to say Welker hasn't worked hard and doesn't have a point about long-term security. This is more about wisely navigating the cruel business side of the NFL. It's all about leverage. Welker has little. New England has plenty. Sometimes it's best to accept your fate and move forward.

Welker remains steadfast in shedding the franchise tag for a long-term contract.

"Through my body of work, through the past five years, I think what I've done I've earned a long-term deal,” Welker recently told ESPN Boston Radio. "It's what I am looking for and what I want. Hopefully that's the case and hopefully we come to something where we can make that happen."

Do not think for one second that New England is not prepared for the worst. All the Patriots have done this offseason is sign wide receivers.

New England signed receivers Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Gonzalez and Donte’ Stallworth in free agency. All are productive veterans who have a chance to add something to the offense. The Patriots also re-signed veteran Deion Branch, backup Matthew Slater, and drafted rookie receiver Jeremy Ebert. Chad Ochocinco and Julian Edelman also remain on the roster.

New England will have an elite passing game next season with or without Welker.

If Welker decides to stage a lengthy holdout, Lloyd and Gaffney would be the starters, while Branch, Gonzalez, Stallworth and Ochocinco compete in training camp for backup roles. New England also runs a lot of two tight-end sets with Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This is still a very deep and talented group of targets for Brady, who also has a knack for making everyone around him a couple of notches better.

Despite 122 receptions and 1,569 yards last year, the Patriots have found a way to make Welker replaceable. But that's only if Welker chooses to be and doesn't sign his franchise tender.

There's always a chance the Patriots could have a change of heart between now and August. New England has the salary-cap room to extend the 31-year-old Welker and give him the long-term security he's seeking. But it's going to be on the Patriots' terms, not Welker's.

The next move should be the best move by Welker. He should sign the franchise tag, take the $9.5 million and see if anything changes over the next several months at Patriot Place.

AFC East free-agency notes

March, 13, 2012
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Things are going fast and furious at the start of NFL free agency.

Here are some notes on the latest happenings in the AFC East:
  • The New York Jets have announced they re-signed linebacker Bryan Thomas, who was an unrestricted free agent.
  • In other Jets news, they have reportedly expressed interest in free-agent quarterback Chad Henne. But the interest isn't as strong on Henne's end, most likely because of Mark Sanchez's recent five-year $58.25 million contract.
  • The Miami Dolphins will be one of the first teams to meet with free-agent offensive tackle Eric Winston.
  • In addition to Mario Williams, the Buffalo Bills also are expected to meet with former New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meacham Tuesday night.
  • The New England Patriots are expected to re-sign receiver and special team's ace Matthew Slater.

Leading Questions: AFC East

February, 20, 2012
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With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each AFC East team as it begins preparations for the 2012 season:

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Who is the quarterback?

It won't be Matt Moore. That much is clear entering the offseason. Miami has not been shy to say the team will explore all options to find a franchise quarterback for 2012.

Is it Peyton Manning? Is it Matt Flynn? What about Robert Griffin III? Everything is up for discussion, according to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland. Expect Miami to be in the hunt for every big name at quarterback who becomes available.

Look for Miami to see what happens with Manning first. The Dolphins want to make a splash with a proven quarterback who can put fans back in Sun Life Stadium. Manning obviously fits the bill. The only question is his surgically repaired neck, which reportedly has been operated on four times.

The next option would be Flynn, who played under rookie Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin in Green Bay. Flynn is a bit of an unknown commodity, but he has played very well in limited opportunities.

Griffin would be a third and unlikely option. The Dolphins hold the No. 8 or No. 9 pick and would have to trade up to get the Baylor quarterback. With so many teams interested in Griffin, the Dolphins don't have a strong chance.

But a lot of parts are in place in Miami. The Dolphins are a franchise quarterback away from being a playoff contender. The Dolphins will be a team to watch in 2012 if they fill that void.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

How will they improve the defense?

You know Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't happy with his 31st-ranked defense. He built a reputation being a defensive guru, and Belichick will do all he can to get that side of the ball fixed.

The good news for New England is the team has plenty of cap room and flexibility. Twenty free agents have cleared up more than $20 million in cap space. Belichick will have the option of trying to re-sign the players he wants to keep -- Wes Welker and Matthew Slater, for example -- while using the rest of the salary cap to upgrade the roster with outside free agents.

In terms of the draft, the Patriots have two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Belichick is always looking to trade down for more picks. But this could be the year he cashes in and gets the most out of his picks. New England can use help at cornerback, safety and another pass-rusher on the edge.

BUFFALO BILLS

Will they really be players in free agency?

Bills general manager Buddy Nix surprised a lot of football observers this offseason when he said the team will spend to the cap and chase the best free agents. Buffalo is infamous for keeping a low payroll, but Nix said the Bills will spend this year.

Buffalo lived up to that early billing by recently going after CB Stanford Routt, who has reached an agreement with Kansas City. Even though Routt didn't choose Buffalo, it was a good sign the Bills are willing to go after top-end talent.

The biggest issue for the Bills is: Can they convince big-name free agents to come to Buffalo? It's not often talked about, but the Bills traditionally struggle to land good free agents when competing against winning teams in more desirable cities. If the money and years are equal, Buffalo often comes up short.

This is a good year to spend money in free agency. There are a lot of very good players available, and Buffalo may have to overpay to get some on the roster.

NEW YORK JETS

Can they fix the offense?

New York's 25th-ranked offense sprung leaks everywhere last season. Sometimes it was the offensive line. Sometimes it was the quarterback and receivers. Poor play calling also was a factor.

This offseason the Jets' biggest priority is getting their offense back on track. The Jets already made steps in that direction by replacing offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, who is responsible for improving chemistry and getting everyone on the same page.

Veterans such as starting receiver Plaxico Burress and future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson are not expected to return. New York won't have much cap space, so the team must get creative while making upgrades.

This is also a huge offseason for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has made only marginal strides in his three seasons. The Jets publicly back the third-year quarterback. The team knows if Sanchez plays well and remains confident, everything else on offense falls into place.

Patriots: Who stays and who goes?

February, 10, 2012
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Early odds have the New England Patriots as the favorites to win it all next season.

But don't punch your ticket to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans just yet, Patriots fans.

The reigning AFC champions and Super Bowl runners-up still have a lot of work to do to rebuild into a title contender. The Patriots have 20 free agents -- approximately 38 percent of the 53-man roster -- and just a month to make decisions before most will hit the open market. Of New England’s 20 free agents, 17 are unrestricted.

So who stays? Who goes? Who are the potential replacements?

Let's examine.

The no-brainers

[+] EnlargeNew England's Wes Welker
Mark L. Baer/US PRESSWIREWes Welker, who led the Patriots in receptions and receiving yards, should be back in New England.
Players: WR Wes Welker, WR Matthew Slater, DL Kyle Love, QB Brian Hoyer

Analysis: Free agency can be unpredictable. But these are four locks I definitely see coming back to New England. Welker's production (122 receptions, 1,569 yards) is off the charts, and New England's offense wouldn't be the same next season without him. Welker will either get the franchise tag or a multiyear extension. But he will be with the Patriots in 2012.

Slater is New England's special-teams ace and made it to his first Pro Bowl this season. He found a niche in New England and eventually became team captain. Slater is a favorite of the coaching staff and will return. Love started 13 games and really came into his own this season. He's an exclusive rights free agent, so he's not going anywhere. Hoyer also is a restricted free agent. The Patriots hold all the cards with their backup quarterback. So unless New England gets a trade offer it can't refuse, Hoyer will back up Tom Brady again next season.

Replacement options: The Patriots probably won't replace any of these four players. But 2011 draft pick Ryan Mallett might be ready to push for the No. 2 quarterback job next season, which could make Hoyer a tradable commodity if New England receives a tremendous offer.

Like their chances

Players: DE Mark Anderson, C Dan Connolly, S James Ihedigbo

Analysis: Anderson (10 sacks) was New England's best pass-rusher last season. The Patriots need more pass-rushers, not fewer. Expect New England to make a strong pitch to bring Anderson back. Connolly is an intriguing case. He filled in well at center for the injured Dan Koppen (foot). Connolly, 29, started 11 games and the offense didn't miss a beat. He is three years younger than Koppen and not coming off a season-ending injury.

The Patriots won't spend big on two centers, so the smart money is on Connolly. Ihedigbo overachieved, working his way from a good special-teamer to a starter by the end of the season. Ihedigbo would be nice to bring back for depth and special teams.

Replacement options: Look for the Patriots to add another pass-rusher to complement Anderson via the draft or free agency. If they have to replace Anderson, there are some big names available. I think Houston Texans defensive end/linebacker Mario Williams would be a stud in New England's hybrid 3-4, 4-3 defense. The Patriots have the cap space to go after Williams, especially if they don't re-sign Anderson. But there would be tons of competition for Williams.

If it doesn't get a pass-rusher in free agency, New England could turn to the draft. The Patriots have two first-round and two second-round picks. The replacement option for Connolly would be Koppen, who is a favorite of Brady. But I don't see that as reason enough not to sign Connolly, the younger, healthier player . The Patriots will certainly replace Ihedigbo in the starting lineup next season.

New England needs another playmaking safety opposite Patrick Chung. Fortunately for the Patriots, there are plenty of good safeties available this year, including Michael Griffin, Dashon Goldson and Tyvon Branch.

Toss-up

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Patriots could consider bringing back BenJarvus Green-Ellis for the right price.
Players: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, WR Deion Branch, LB Niko Koutouvides, LB Tracy White

Analysis: Welker is New England's biggest free agent, but Green-Ellis may be the most interesting. There are reasons to keep the Patriots' leading rusher and reasons to let him walk. New England drafted two running backs last year: Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. With Danny Woodhead also in the fold, I thought the writing was on the wall for Green-Ellis entering the final year of his contract. But Green-Ellis did everything that was asked of him and led the team in rushing yards (667) and rushing touchdowns (11). The coaching staff especially likes the fact that Green-Ellis has never fumbled in his four-year career. I think the Patriots will make a pitch to bring Green-Ellis back but won't overpay. If Green-Ellis wants to really cash in, he may have to sign elsewhere.

Branch is on his last legs but could return on a short-term contract in a limited role. New England will make some upgrades at receiver. Branch would be a backup next season. The Patriots will have an interesting decision to make on White and Koutouvides. Both were solid on special teams, but New England probably has to choose one or the other. White and Koutouvides are both backup linebackers. New England can't afford to let two special-teamers without much starting potential at linebacker hold roster spots.

Replacement options: If New England replaces Green-Ellis, it will be in-house. The Patriots have more than enough running backs, and letting go of Green-Ellis would be a sign that Ridley is ready for more responsibility. Ridley, Woodhead and Vereen may not be a bad trio if they all work hard and improve during the offseason.

Branch will be replaced in the starting lineup. I fully expect New England to have interest in free-agent receiver Brandon Lloyd, who has strong ties to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Lloyd has a lot of respect for McDaniels and credits him for jump-starting his career in Denver. The Patriots need a deep threat to go with Welker and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Lloyd, who averages 15.4 yards per catch for his career, would be a great addition.

Thanks for your service but ...

Players: DE Andre Carter, C Dan Koppen, RB Kevin Faulk, LB Gary Guyton, DE Shaun Ellis, DL Gerard Warren, CB Antwaun Molden, CB Nate Jones, S Bret Lockett

Analysis: This is the group that probably won't return next season. Carter is 32 and coming off a season-ending quad injury. The Patriots need to get younger on the edges. As we mentioned, Koppen missed the entire season with a foot injury, and the Patriots have to choose between two centers (Connolly and Koppen). Faulk was brought back during the season to add stability to a young group of running backs. But he was inactive in the Super Bowl and probably is close to retirement. Guyton showed a few flashes but eventually fell out of favor in New England. The Patriots are set at linebacker with Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich. So Guyton won't be back. Veterans Ellis and Warren provided depth and leadership on the defensive line. But both are over 30 and will be replaced by younger players in the offseason. Molden, a restricted free agent, had trouble covering receivers. He's most infamous for the 12 men on field penalty in the Super Bowl.

Replacement options: With the exception of Carter and Koppen, most of these players are expendable backups. It will be very easy to replace them, mostly with younger players and draft picks. Overall, the Patriots are in a good spot to improve their roster. Yes, they have 20 free agents, but Welker really is the only game-changer of the group. Expect a decent amount of roster turnover in New England. With smart moves, the reigning AFC champs could have an even deeper roster next season.

Brett Favre will start, plus inactives

October, 31, 2010
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It's official. Brett Favre will start for the Minnesota Vikings against the New England Patriots on Sunday, extending his record streak to 292 games.

Here are the inactives:

Minnesota Vikings
New England Patriots

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets have caught a break before their grudge match with the New England Patriots at the Meadowlands.

Wes Welker, the NFL's leading receiver over the past two seasons, will not play for the Patriots because of a knee injury. Welker hasn't missed a game since his rookie season in 2004, when he played one game for the San Diego Chargers and 14 for the Miami Dolphins.

Welker's absence opens the door for rookie receiver Julian Edelman to step up on the big stage. Edelman, a converted quarterback drafted in the seventh-round out of Kent State, will make his NFL debut. He became a fan favorite in the preseason for looking like a Welker knockoff -- a gritty slot receiver and punt returner.

Also of note on the inactive list is the Jets' designation of Kevin O'Connell as their third quarterback ahead of Erik Ainge. The Patriots waived O'Connell at the end of training camp. The Detroit Lions picked him up and traded him to the Jets, who had said he would be the fourth quarterback.

Here are all of the inactives:

New England Patriots
New York Jets

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