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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After a 2019 season in which the New England Patriots finished last in the NFL in tight end receptions and targets, according to research by ESPN’s Stats & Information, what has the club done to address the position this offseason?

[Insert sound of crickets].

There has been no movement, other than subtraction (the retirement of veteran Benjamin Watson).

In one sense, it is understandable. The free-agent market was thin, especially once the Los Angeles Chargers placed the franchise tag on Hunter Henry. The Cleveland Browns moved fast to lock up Austin Hooper, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons, but at a hefty price tag (four years, $44 million, with $23 million guaranteed) that was likely out of the Patriots’ consideration.

Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse will be working with second-year QB Jarrett Stidham this season. Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Likewise, veteran Jimmy Graham’s two-year, $16 million deal with the Chicago Bears, which included $9 million guaranteed, was viewed by Football Outsiders as overspending. And it’s hard to imagine Graham being a fit in New England, regardless.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ two-year, $12 million deal with Eric Ebron was more reasonable, yet the Patriots’ lack of interest spoke volumes of how they didn’t view Ebron as a fit.

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Clearly, the supply didn’t meet the demand for the Patriots, who return 2019 free-agent signing Authentic Matt LaCosse Jersey and 2018 seventh-round draft choice Authentic Ryan Izzo Jersey on the depth chart. Improvement from LaCosse and Izzo would be part of upgrading the position, and perhaps working with second-year quarterback Authentic Jarrett Stidham Jersey — a player on a similar development track/knowledge base in the system — helps spark that progress.

But the Patriots still need help, whether it’s via trade, the draft or the waiver wire. That’s why, when assessing the team’s needs, it starts at tight end — even more than quarterback, with one caveat: Only if the Patriots felt like a franchise QB option was available would they pounce (and that seems unlikely with their first pick at No. 23 and a trade up doubtful).

The following is one view of the Patriots’ top needs, paired with a realistic, early-round prospect from ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s new tiers piece:

  1. Tight end
    With 12 draft picks, the Patriots have some capital to trade that might interest teams with an excess at the position. One suggestion: See if the Chicago Bears might be willing to move disappointing 2017 second-round pick Adam Shaheen for a late-rounder.

This year’s draft isn’t considered deep at the position, but then again, analysts were saying something similar in 2013 when Tyler Eifert was viewed by many as the only first-round-caliber option. But how many teams would now covet a player such as Zach Ertz (second round) or Travis Kelce (third round)?

Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet could be a good fit for New England. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
McShay’s match: Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet (No. 42 overall draft prospect). At 6-foot-5¾ and 262 pounds, Kmet has huge mitts and enters the draft after his junior season (43 catches, 515 yards, 6 TDs). He fits the mold of the combination tight end that is highly valued in New England — equally as effective as a blocker and pass-catcher.

  1. Off-the-line linebacker
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Losing Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts in free agency has thinned the depth chart, leaving captain Authentic Dont’a Hightower Jersey, 2018 fifth-round pick Authentic Ja’Whaun Bentley Jersey and practice-squad player Authentic Terez Hall Jersey as the top options. Safety Adrian Phillips is also a projected factor at this spot in certain sub packages.

Ideal characteristics: Speed, take-on ability in the run game and a presence on special teams.

Veteran Nigel Bradham is one of the top available free agents, and if the Patriots wanted to take a flier on a highly touted prospect who hasn’t panned out, 2016 Jets first-round pick Darron Lee could be worth a look.

McShay’s match: Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray (No. 27 overall prospect). If the Patriots are going to select a linebacker early, the key is that he can play all four downs. The 6-foot-2, 241-pound Murray fits that mold, and might be the closest thing to Collins in terms of playmaking ability in this year’s draft.

  1. Offensive line
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Top interior backup Ted Karras signed with the Dolphins in free agency, and starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is in the latter stages of his career with a high salary-cap charge, so any position up front could be targeted to help solidify the ranks. Offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste, the 2019 third-round pick from West Virginia who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, is a wild card who could be viewed as a “new” draft pick himself.

Former Patriots, Titans and Vikings center/guard Josh Kline (30) is a free agent who could fit, assuming he was amenable to a projected role as a top backup.

McShay’s match: Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz (No. 36 overall prospect). With center/guard flexibility, the 6-foot-2, 307-pound Ruiz would represent a safer choice in an altered offseason in which scouting has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He would initially project as a top backup at all three interior spots. If any of the top offensive tackles slide — a group headlined by Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas — the Patriots should pounce.

  1. Wide receiver

Penn State receiver K.J. Hamler has the kind of speed and versatility the Patriots could use. Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire
A Damiere Byrd-for-Phillip Dorsett swap in free agency could ultimately be an upgrade when considering the speedy Byrd as a factor as a return man. But even more speed and playmaking ability is needed to pair with Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu and Byrd atop the depth chart.

The draft is widely viewed as deep at the position, making that the more likely avenue for the Patriots to pursue than free agency. A duplicate to what the Chiefs added last year with Mecole Hardman would be ideal.

McShay’s match: Penn State’s K.J. Hamler (No. 75 overall prospect). With Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III projected to be off the board early, Hamler is one of the receivers next in line in terms of speed and explosiveness. He was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player, as he projects as a factor in the return game, as well.

  1. Defensive end/outside linebacker
    Kyle Van Noy was one of the Patriots’ top defenders, and now that he signed with the Dolphins as a free agent, it opens a spot for 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich to possibly emerge opposite John Simon. Derek Rivers, the 2017 third-round pick who has spent two of his three seasons on injured reserve, is in the mix alongside Keionta Davis, Shilique Calhoun and practice-squad player Authentic Tashawn Bower Jersey.

If the Patriots are looking to build more depth, former Giants and Bengals edge player Kerry Wynn might be of interest. The club had explored him as a fit in its scheme when Wynn was a restricted free agent two years ago. Old friend Jabaal Sheard is on the market, while Clay Matthews would fall more into the Chris Long situational-pass-rusher category.

McShay’s match: Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa (No. 26 overall prospect). The scheme versatility of the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Epenesa could be appealing, as he potentially fits as a 4-3 end or as a 3-4 end.

  1. Kicker
    The often-overlooked position figures to be a target for the Patriots this year, similar to 2006, when they selected Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round to replace Adam Vinatieri. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia Southern’s Tyler Bass and Stanford’s Jet Toner are among those viewed as possible draft picks.

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QB Tom Brady’s been more active than usual on social media this offseason, and today he kept up the pace. On his official Instagram account, TB12 posted a short video clip of himself hard at work, throwing a football on a grassy field to a receiver who looks a lot like Josh Gordon.
Meanwhile, an ESPN blog post ranks the offseasons of all 32 NFL teams and explains why the Super Bowl Champs’ was just “average.” WEEI.com continues its ranking of the 15 most important Patriots of 2019, with one of the specialists checking in at No. 14.

And how about this gimmick… the Buffalo Bills are looking for a couple of fans willing to tie the knot at their 50-yard line this September when the Super Bowl Champion Patriots come to town.

Almost as quickly as it surfaced, the Houston Texans’ pursuit of New England’s Nick Caserio has ended. Late this past Friday, the Texans issued the following statement from their owner, via the team’s official Twitter account:
Texans PR

@TexansPR
Statement from #Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair:

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5:34 AM – Jun 15, 2019
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The Patriots, who had filed tampering charges with the NFL against Houston, apparently were satisfied with the Texans’ statement, as indicated by this Twitter statement distributed by the Super Bowl Champs:
New England Patriots

@Patriots
Statement from #Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft:

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New England is said to have dropped its tampering charge against the Texans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this case has been fully resolved, according to some media pundits. The Pro Football Talk website writes that the language to which Houston referred in the above Tweet is coming under scrutiny by some higher-ups in the league.

And a WEEI.com columnist speculates on what the future might hold for Caserio, the Patriots, and the Texans. NFL Network adds this further nugget of information, about a potential trade of Caserio to Houston.
Michael Giardi

@MikeGiardi
· Jun 15, 2019
Discussed this a couple days ago with a source who said it was his belief there was contractual language that might dissuade the Texans. Now we have our answer. Caserio is staying, for now. #Patriots https://twitter.com/TexansPR/status/1139647252090294272 …

Texans PR

@TexansPR
Statement from #Texans Chairman and CEO Cal McNair:

View image on Twitter

Michael Giardi

@MikeGiardi
Per @TomPelissero, Caserio’s contract expires at the end of next season. There was a discussion about a potential trade. The end result is the Texans walking away.

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7:45 AM – Jun 15, 2019
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Meanwhile, a trade last week between the Patriots and Lions has fallen through after tight end Michael Roberts failed his physical here in New England, according to ESPN.

Finally this Monday, NFL Films produced and posted a Father’s Day-related video about Patriots WR Julian Edelman and his father over the weekend. NBC Sports Boston provides a link and a convenient recap of the story.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Shortly after news broke Monday afternoon that free-agent offensive tackle Trent Brown intended to sign a four-year, $66 million contract with the Oakland Raiders that includes $36.75 million in guarantees, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was on SportsCenter making the point that New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is worthy of some commission.

The humble Scarnecchia might disagree, but the results are indeed impressive.

Scarnecchia enters his 36th season in the NFL in 2019, and it will be his 34th in New England. Since being named offensive line coach under Bill Belichick in 2000, consider the “Scarnecchia Effect” and how many offensive linemen have had their value increased by playing under him (list compiled by ESPN’s Stats & Information):

Grey Ruegamer: Signed off the Steelers practice squad in November 2000, he signed a multiyear deal with the Packers in free agency worth more than $1.3 million in 2003.

Damien Woody: First-round pick by the Patriots in 1999, he signed a six-year, $31 million contract with the Lions.

Joe Andruzzi: Signed as a free agent in 2000 — he made less than $4 million over his entire New England tenure — he signed a four-year, $9 million contract with the Browns.

Tom Ashworth: Signed after he was cut by the 49ers in 2001, he inked a five-year deal with the Seahawks in 2006 worth $13 million.

Brandon Gorin: Signed to the Patriots practice squad in 2002, he was traded to the Cardinals for a sixth-round pick in 2006.

Donald Thomas: Signed 11 days after his release by the Lions in September 2011, he landed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Colts in 2013.

Nate Solder: A first-round pick by the Patriots in 2009, he signed a four-year, $62 million contract with the Giants in 2018.

Trent Brown: Acquired with a fifth-round pick in exchange for a third-round pick from the 49ers at the 2018 NFL draft, he reportedly will sign a four-year, $66 million deal with the Raiders.

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The aforementioned deals don’t include those for offensive linemen who signed extensions with the Patriots over the years, a group that most recently includes right tackle Marcus Cannon (five years, $32.5 million), center David Andrews (three years, maximum value of $11.715 million) and right guard Shaq Mason (five years, maximum value of $50 million).

Mason had played in a run-based, option offense at Georgia Tech, with little background as a pass-blocker. So his emergence as one of the best guards in the NFL is also reflective of how Scarnecchia has helped players reach their potential.

For longtime Patriots followers, Scarnecchia’s personnel impact has extended beyond the offensive line. In 1991, when Scarnecchia was the tight ends coach, he scouted Ben Coates out of little-known Livingstone College. Coates, of course, went on to become a Patriots Hall of Famer after being selected in the fifth round that year.

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Two days after saying that he’s learning to deal better with media reports of drama surrounding the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady politely told reporters at his Friday news conference that he’s sticking to football.

“I don’t want to bring on any drama this year,” Brady said, two days before he will lead the team against the Houston Texans in the season opener. “I’m just focused on what I want to do, and be a great football player for this team and be a good example in the locker room, provide great leadership. That’s where my focus is. I know people want to talk about a lot of other things, but I just really want to stick on football and focus on being the best I can be for this team.”

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With the Eagles’ offense struggling, coach Doug Pederson called for a trick play known as “Philly Philly” on Thursday. Nelson Agholor completed a pass to Nick Foles to spark a drive that culminated in a touchdown.

Brady’s answer came after he was asked a question about his personal athletic trainer, close friend and business partner, Alex Guerrero.

The theme continued when Brady was later asked about Nike’s advertisement with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“I really want to focus on football, not hot topics, and my reaction to a lot of hot topics and so forth,” he said. “Get ready for the Texans — they’re a great team. That’s where my focus is, not on advertisements and so forth.”

Along those lines, Brady took note of the Philadelphia Eagles running the “Philly Philly” play in their season-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons — which members of the Eagles organization said they took from the Patriots, as it was the play in which Brady dropped a pass in Super Bowl LII.

“Good execution wins games,” said Brady, who watched Thursday’s opener with his son Jack. “I think that’s ultimately what we have to do. When you have to make the plays, you either make them or you don’t.”

Brady enters the season with a lighter-than-normal group of receivers, led by Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson as Julian Edelman is serving a four-game NFL suspension.

“I have confidence in them, certainly. Phillip and Chris, I obviously played a lot with them last year. Cordarrelle is new and he’s done some good things and he’s been productive in this league,” Brady said. “To be on this team, you have to be a good football player …. We’re all going to be learning on the fly and you have to build as the season goes.”
Brady, who was elected a team captain for the 17th straight year, said in his “Tom vs. Time” epilogue Wednesday that he hopes to play until he’s 45. But at the moment, it’s a short-term focus for him with the season opener in mind.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be able to do it. I love playing football. I love the sport. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m not sure what life would be like without it. I’ve had a few experiences when I haven’t been out there and haven’t liked those very much.

“There’s no place I’d rather be Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock than playing here, and playing well.”

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Exploring hot topics around the New England Patriots in mailbag form:
Belichick likes particular college programs and coaches. Has Georgia risen in his estimation while ‘Bama has dropped?To put it another way, is red is the new crimson?(Can’t tell after one draft, of course. Although he did take Mitchell two years ago).
The Patriots have five Georgia players on their current roster: First-round picks Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel, starting center David Andrews, backup receiver Malcolm Mitchell and undrafted free agent John Atkins. That ties Iowa for the high total. After the first round of this year’s draft, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of the Georgia double dip with Wynn and Michel: “Both players come from a great program. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach [Kirby] Smart and the job he does and he’s doing at Georgia and the job he did at Alabama [as defensive coordinator].”
So that provides some good insight as to how the Patriots view Georgia, but I’d caution from taking this connection too far because had a few things unfolded differently in the first round of the draft, I easily could have seen the Patriots going in a different direction. For example, had Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander, Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, or Arkansas center Frank Ragnow been available at No. 23, I could have envisioned all three been given serious consideration over Wynn. Likewise, had a team offered a nice trade package for the No. 31 pick, I could have envisioned a scenario in which the Patriots traded back and gave up the chance to select Michel there.
With that context, I’m not reading too much into the team having five Georgia players on the current roster. While the program is obviously highly regarded by the team, I’d put this into the category of a result of circumstance than any calculated plan.
Mike given how these players are more in tune with training regiments, other then rookies and new vet signings, are OTA’s necessary?
Pzan, one of the points that Bill Belichick stresses annually is how these sessions are geared toward teaching — not evaluating. The idea is that by teaching/reviewing the system, it gives players a chance to be at their best when training camp begins and the coaching focus shifts more to evaluation than teaching in a competitive environment. So, to answer the question, are these necessary? I think they can only help most players, whose developmental time with coaches is already limited. They are especially helpful for younger players. But there are also stories of teams who don’t place a high emphasis on the offseason program that have still had success, and one example to relay is the 2007 Indianapolis Colts under Tony Dungy. When I was visiting ESPN a few weeks ago, analyst (and former Colts GM) Bill Polian relayed a story about how the team was coming off its Super Bowl championship in the 2006 season and there was a sense of fatigue among some in the building as players returned for the following season. The way I remember Polian telling the story, Dungy asked if he could significantly pull things back quite a bit until training camp, and Polian agreed it would be a smart decision. The Colts then went 13-3 in the 2007 season and lost to the Chargers in the divisional playoffs. I pass along the story as one example of how teams do things differently. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, as much as it is the preferred philosophy of those in charge.
Great insight, Mike. Thanks for sharing. Granted it’s super early, but what positional battle do you think will be the most fun to watch unfold? OL, RB, WR? #Patriots
Brian, I’ll pick the receiver competition because there are a lot of different possibilities for how it plays out. I view Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan as being in the “sure thing” category in terms of knowledge of the system, consistent production over multiple years in New England, and rapport with Tom Brady. After those two, it’s going to be intense when factoring in Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron, Cody Hollister and Chris Lacy. There are some special traits within that group, but not a lot of clarity as to how it all fits together. I’d think Patterson will stick because of his special-teams prowess, and like Twitter follower Sam, I’m curious to see if Berrios — the sixth-round pick out of Miami — can make a favorable impression to earn a roster spot as a slot option/punt returner. Onlookers could tell right away in 2009 with Edelman, and I’m interested to see if it’s similar with Berrios. Will Mitchell’s knee injury slow him down again? Can Dorsett find the form that made him a 2015 first-round pick in his second year in the system? Will Matthews become an invaluable move-him-all-around-the-inside-part-of-the-field type of option like he was at times in Philadelphia? Will Britt become the dominant player the Browns envisioned him at this point last year when signing him to a deal that averaged $8 million per season? Can McCarron, Hollister and Lacy make a charge for a spot? I’m interested to learn the answers to all those questions, and more.