2016 NFL Draft Reset: Patriots inflate roster, circumvent penalty – CBSSports.com
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Will commissioner Roger Goodell now punish the New England Patriots for making a mockery of his Deflategate punishment — forfeiture of their first round pick in the 2016 draft, formerly known as No. 29 overall?
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose staff maintains the best pulse on personnel in the league, went out and collected four first-round picks and one second rounder.
OK, they are from former drafts, and acquired by free agency and trade, but, well — take that, commish!
And, this just in, the Patriots are reportedly interviewing yet another former first rounder, defensive tackle Nick Fairley. The former star on Auburn’s 2010 BCS championship team was the No. 13 overall player in the 2011 draft, selected by Detroit, then played with the team formerly known as the St Louis Rams until last season.
To make this, ah, Fairley dramatic, the big tackle may make a conspicuous appearance as the NFL Owners’ Meeting, right there under Goodell’s nose.
Obviously the Patriots were not waiting patiently for their remaining initial pick in the 2016 draft, No. 60 overall and a prized, back-to-back selection at No. 61. One can only guess if and how Belichick will leverage his pick-a-pair situation.
Already added to the Patriots’ roster:
–RB Donald Brown: FA Chargers; Rd. 1, 2009 (Colts).
–G Jonathan Cooper: Trade Cardinals; Rd. 1, 2013 (Cardinals).
–DE Chris Long: FA Rams ($2M/1 yr.); Rd. 1, 2nd overall 2008 (Rams).
–LB Shea McClellin: UFA Bears (3 yrs); Rd. 1, 2008 (Bears).
–TE Martellus Bennett: Trade Bears; Rd. 2, 2008 (Cowboys).
It is notable that if Fairly joins this group, he will be re-united with Long, his former Rams’ teammate.
Obviously, Belichick wants to build his D-Line.
So, let’s throw in defensive lineman Frank Kearse, who received a one-year, $840,000 deal with a $30,000 signing bonus, a decent “show-us” contract for a guy drafted only in the seventh round out of Alabama A&M in 2011 by the Dolphins.
Apparently plenty of teams see something in him. The Pats are his sixth NFL team. After Miami there was Carolina, Tennessee, Dallas and Washington.
Here is a closer look at where the Patriots are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2015 finish: First, AFC East
Record: 12-4, 1-1 in postseason
TOTAL OFFENSE: 374.4 (6th)
RUSHING: 87.8 (30th)
PASSING: 286.7 (5th)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 339.4 (9th)
RUSHING: 98.8 (8th)
PASSING: 240.7 (17th)
1. Cornerback: The development of second-year former undrafted free agent Malcolm Butler from Super Bowl hero to Pro Bowler was a huge coup for New England. But there is still an alarming lack of depth at the position, with the need for a better starter than Logan Ryan in the No. 2 spot and competitive bodies being added to the mix.
2. Running back: New England is and may continue to be a clear pass-first offense, but the need for at least a capable running back is obvious for a team that had to lure Steven Jackson out of retirement last winter. The passing back role is set, but adding one or two bigger, lead-back types through free agency and the draft is clear.
3. Wide receiver: Tom Brady’s passing game goes through tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman, but New England could certainly balance out the air attack with a more capable outside receiver and potential deep threat, a role not necessarily filled with the signing of restricted free-agent signing Chris Hogan.
PERSONNEL UPDATE (As of March 20)
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–RB LeGarrette Blount wasn’t as productive as his 4.3-yard average would indicate before he landed on IR with a hip injury late. The sides reportedly have a mutual interest in his return, but he will have to fight to keep a role with the team even if he’s re-signed.
–CB Tarell Brown landed on injured reserve early in his first season in New England due to a pre-existing foot injury that delayed his signing with the team. His health will be the prime issue in terms of his potential return to compete for a job.
–WR Brandon Gibson had an impressive training camp last summer in his first season in New England before a preseason knee injury landed him on IR. The veteran could be brought back on a get-healthy, prove-it deal to fight for a depth job.
–RB Steven Jackson was lured out of retirement for a potential Super Bowl run that never came to fruition. He seemed to have little left and will not be brought back.
–LB Dekoda Watson rejoined New England late in the year after getting cut just after camp. He offers little to the team on defense and won’t be a priority in any way.
–C/G Ryan Wendell missed nearly the entire season due to injury and the Patriots have been trying to replace the undersized interior veteran for the last couple seasons. The young movement on the interior could be the end of the veteran’s time in Foxborough.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
–WR Josh Boyce (not tendered as ERFA) was cut last year and landed on the practice squad. He’s a camp body at best.
–T Kevin Hughes (not tendered as RFA) spent the year on injured reserve.
–WR Brian Tyms (not tendered as RFA) has flashed at times in practice and limited game action, but missed last year to injury. His time in New England could be running out.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
–CB Justin Coleman was arguably New England’s second best corner down the stretch and could vie for a bigger role in 2016.
–OL Cameron Fleming was cut last year and landed on the practice squad. He’s not lived up to his fourth-round status and has very little future in Foxborough.
–LB Rufus Johnson is a bit player who flashed at times last preseason and will likely be back to compete for a depth role and kicking game reps.
–LB Brandon King is an up-and-coming special teamer with upside on defense. He has the speed, athleticism and versatility that head coach Bill Belichick covets in backup types.
–FB James Develin: Potential RFA; $750,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB.
–S Nate Ebner: UFA; $2M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
–T LaAdrian Waddle: Potential RFA; $2.35M/2 yrs, $250,000 SB.
–TE Martellus Bennett (trade Bears),
–RB Donald Brown: FA Chargers; terms unknown.
–G Jonathan Cooper (trade Cardinals).
–LB Ramon Humber: FA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–DL Frank Kearse: UFA Redskins; $840,000/1 yr, $30,000 SB.
–DE Chris Long: FA Rams; $2M/1 yr.
–LB Shea McClellin: UFA Bears; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
–TE Scott Chandler (released)
–LB Darius Fleming (released).
–LB Dane Fletcher (released/failed physical).
–DT Akiem Hicks: UFA Bears; $10M/2 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.
–DE Chandler Jones (traded Cardinals).
–WR Brandon LaFell (released/failed physical).
–CB Leonard Johnson (released).
–LB Jerod Mayo (UFA/retired).
–DT Sealver Siliga: Not tendered as RFA/Seahawks; $1.05M/1 yr, $250,000 SB/$250,000 guaranteed.
–S Tavon Wilson: UFA Lions; $2.2M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (Nos. 60, 61, 2nd round):
Rob Rang (March 20 Deflategate Special):
–No. 60. Shilique Calhoun, DE/OLB, Michigan State. After trading away talented edge rusher Chandler Jones, the Patriots will be looking for help on the outside. Calhoun, a three time All-American, has the combination of length, athleticism and awareness to help immediately.
–No. 61. Jaylon Smith, ILB, Notre Dame. The retirement of Jerod Mayo leaves a hole at middle linebacker for the Patriots. Smith was viewed as a potential top 10 pick prior to suffering a major knee injury in a New Year’s Day Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. With back to back picks and many needs addressed with veterans via free agency and trade, Bill Belichick can roll the dice.
Dane Brugler (March 20 Deflategate Special):
–No. 60. Jordan Jenkins, DE/LB, Georgia. With Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long on short deals and Rob Ninkovich not getting any younger, the Patriots need to get younger at pass rusher. Jenkins can play on his feet, but does his best work getting upfield towards the quarterback.
–No. 61. Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech. The Patriots need depth at offensive tackle, especially with Sebastian Vollmer entering the final year of his contract. Clark has the size, length and movement skills to start in the league after a year of development.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, there are suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate check out NFLDraftScout.com’s full mocks and ratings here:
Draft prospects, rankings | Latest mock drafts
— Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
2016 NFL Draft Reset: Patriots inflate roster, circumvent penalty – CBSSports.com