Aaron Dobson is working to be part of the mix in 2015. (Getty Images)

Aaron Dobson is working to be part of the mix in 2015. (Getty Images)

While everyone is familiar with the season-ending injuries to starters like linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley, there were others who also who saw their 2014 season come to a premature end because of injury. While the five players we have listed below might not be considered elite-level talent, they’re still part of the franchise as of this writing, and depending on their health and contract situation, their status could tell us a lot about how the team decides to proceed in free agency and the draft.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson – According to a report from the Boston Herald, the receiver is spending time working at the Fischer Institute in Phoenix this offseason while re-dedicating himself to the game. The Marshall product followed up one of the best rookie seasons any receiver has ever had with Tom Brady (37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs) with just three catches for 38 yards this past year, eventually landing on injured reserve after injuring his hamstring in Week 13. It was essentially a lost year for Dobson, who had foot surgery in March and didn’t get on the field until mid-August. By that point, he had already lost valuable time, missing out on key spring workouts. It’s a key offseason for Dobson — he won’t turn 24 until June, but has to be aware that he needs to have a good stretch if he wants to gain some traction in the New England offense.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard – Bumped down the food chain because of the offseason pickups of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner (it’s hard to remember, but after Aqib Talib went down with an injury early in the 2013 AFC title game, Dennard was New England’s No. 1 corner), it was mostly a lost season for the 25-year-old. Like Dobson, he initially battled a shoulder injury, but there were times when he was healthy and he was still a scratch. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder played in just six games (four starts) before going on injured reserve in December. It represented a career low-point for the Nebraska corner, who had just 15 tackles, one pick and one pass defense in 2014, a dropoff from 40 tackles, one interception and eight passes defensed in 2013. While the Patriots’ secondary is a bit of a fluid situation at this point, many critics believe that he could be a candidate to have his deal re-done in the offseason, or even cut loose depending on what happens with Revis and/or Browner.

Running back Tyler Gaffney – The former Stanford Cardinal was swiped off waivers by the Patriots last summer, and while the former sixth-round pick spent the year on injured reserve because of knee surgery, it will be intriguing what sort of role the Patriots could have in store for him in 2015. Gaffney, who will turn 24 next month, ran for 2,500 yards in four seasons as a collegian, including 1,709 in 2013. That stat line included 330 carries, a 5.2 yards per carry average and a whopping 21 touchdowns. While he’s more of a traditional between-the-tackles back, the 6-foo0t-1, 221-pounder does have some value in the passing game as well, having caught 32 passes (including 15 as a senior) for 264 yards. With the New England backfield in a state of flux, if he’s healthy, Gaffney could see significant reps for the Patriots this year. He’ll certainly be a player of interest when spring camps start up.

Defensive end Michael Buchanan – The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder played in just three games in 2014 before seeing his season come to a premature end. As a rookie in 2013, he wasn’t an overwhelming presence off the edge, but he did have two sacks, and at times, appeared to be trending in the right direction. If he had been healthy, it would have been debatable how much New England would have needed to acquire someone like Akeem Ayers midway through the season. The 24-year-old, who was a seventh round pick in 2013 out of Illinois, was placed on injured reserve in October. This year, he’ll likely face a battle for playing time as a backup edge rusher with the likes of Zach Moore and Ayers, if the latter doesn’t depart as a free agent.

Linebacker James Morris – The Iowa product was on and off the roster last year, signing as an underrated free agent in the spring before being release in May and brought back in June. He was placed on injured reserve at the end of the summer, and could play a role when it comes to working as a backup inside linebacker/special teamer in 2015. (Technically, Morris will be an exclusive rights free agent when free agency begins next week, which basically means that if he wants to play in the NFL next season, he has to sign with the Patriots.) The 23-year-old was just the sixth player in Iowa history to record 400 career tackles after finishing with 400 tackles, 10 1/2 sacks and six interceptions as a three-year starter. The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder was named a team captain in 2013 and started in all 13 games and finished second on the team with 107 total tackles, eight sacks and four interceptions.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
We check in on the Patriots off-season with ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss. Mike updates us on Revis, McCourty, Wilfork and more.

[0:05:38] ... that's with the team want to remind me a little bit. A Randy Moss. In 2007 after that big year he had remember he was a free agent they could have put the tag on him ...
[0:09:10] ... over two really big decisions the patriots have to make one. When Vince Wilfork and two I think right after would Jerod Mayo where do you think those negotiations are gonna go. They had this little ...
[0:10:32] ... who historically spend craze really in free agency and I see. Hello Oakland Raiders meet Ndamukong Suh do you see that happen in. I concede that I concede that they have to spend it you just because they they spent the last two years sort of clearing their captain. That would be sort of one guy to build around to pick about the new coach Jack Del Rio is in food shortage is tight the guy. The builder I think the colts could be another interesting one. From the sense. ...

New York Daily News Jets beat writer Manish Mehta joined Middays with MFB Tuesday to discuss his report of the Jets being interested in bringing back Darrelle Revis if the cornerback were to hit free agency.

New York Daily News Jets beat writer Manish Mehta joined Middays with MFB Tuesday to discuss his report of the Jets being interested in bringing back Darrelle Revis if the cornerback were to hit free agency. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Mehta reported Jets owner Woody Johnson has had serious internal discussions about the Jets signing Revis if he were to hit the open market.

“If he does hit the open market, I think it’s very fair to say the Jets will be very aggressive in trying to get him,” said Mehta. “Obviously the Patriots hold the cards at least for the next few days, and have the first crack in keeping him or offering something that would prevent him from going to free agency.”

Revis and Johnson have come up before, as a few months back Johnson said he’d “love to have Darrelle Revis” back with the Jets. The Patriots reportedly filed tampering charges against Johnson and the Jets for the remarks. Mehta disagrees with what the Patriots did.

“I don’t really understand why the Patriots would file tampering charges,” he said.

He added: “The way I look at is, I thought it was a harmless remark. I was actually in the room when Woody said that and you have to keep in mind that when he did say [it], he didn’t have a general manager in place, he didn’t have a head coach in place. This isn’t Woody Johnson saying to the new regime, ‘Hey, I want Darrelle Revis regardless of what you guys think.’ Obviously the GM and the subsequent head coach that he hired, they are all on board with bringing in a player like Darrelle Revis. If they didn’t want Darrelle Revis there wouldn’t be serious internal discussions as there have been over the past several weeks.

“I was of the belief that it was a harmless remark. He was asked directly about Revis and he said he liked the player. He said if he thought he could have signed him for $12 million, which is what New England paid him last year, a couple years back he would have signed him.”

Revis is on the books for a team option with New England for $20 million for next season, but the speculation is the Patriots will not pay that amount, thus making him a free agent.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Fisher College announced Tuesday that Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree this May.

The 29-year-old Slater, who was a fifth-round pick of the franchise in 2008, has become an indispensable part of New England’s special teams unit, eventually rising to the role of captain. In his seven seasons with the Patriots, he’s not only distinguished himself as a terrific special teams player, but as a vital and well-respected leader in the locker room.

“We are truly honored to Matthew Slater address our graduates this year,” said Dr. Thomas M. McGovern, president of Fisher College. “Mr. Slater is a world champion both on the field and off through his tireless work mentoring local students. We share the same mission and believe that Mr. Slater’s commencement address will have a resounding impact on our graduates, their families and the entire Fisher College community.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

As is expected at this time of the year, Patriots coach Bill Belichick will occasionally hit the road to check out some Pro Days. On Tuesday, he was spotted — along with personnel chief Nick Caserio — at Auburn.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Bill Belichick is happy to bring back Ray Ventrone as a special teams coach. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is happy to bring back Ray Ventrone as a special teams coach. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bubba is back.

The Patriots announced Tuesday that Bill Belichick has hired Ray Ventrone to serve as assistant special teams coach. Belichick was the first coach to give Ventrone a chance to play in the NFL. Now it will be Belichick who gives Ventrone a chance to coach.

Ventrone will fill the spot of Joe Judge, who was promoted to take over as special teams coach for Scott O’Brien when O’Brien retired on Feb. 3, two days after the Patriots’ win in Super Bowl XLIX.

Ventrone spent four years with the Patriots after originally joining the team as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. Ventrone played nine NFL seasons as a player with New England (2006-2008), the New York Jets (2007), Cleveland Browns (2009-2012) and the San Francisco 49ers (2013-2014). During his NFL career, he was primarily used as a special teams player, registering 57 total tackles, including a season-high of 12 in 2009 with the Browns.

Ventrone was originally signed by New England as a rookie free agent out of Villanova in 2005. After spending the 2005 season on the Patriots’€™ practice squad and the 2006 season on injured reserve, he split the 2007 season between the Jets and the Patriots practice squads before being signed to the New England 53-man roster in November.

Ventrone played in two regular-season games and in Super Bowl XLII that year. Ventrone laid out Domenik Hixon while covering a kickoff.

Ventrone played the entire 2008 season with the Patriots before playing four years in Cleveland and the last two seasons in San Francisco.

His brother Ross, also a product of Villanova, also played for the Patriots and played in Super Bowl XLVI, a loss to the Giants in Indianapolis.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
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Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears

Dez Bryant received the franchise tag from the Cowboys. (David Banks/Getty Images)

Five players received the franchise tag this season, a slight increase from last year, when four were tagged. However, it still represents a seismic dropoff in previous years — down from eight in 2013 and 21 in 2012. Here’s a quick look at who was tagged.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots: New England decided to place the franchise tag on Gostkowski, bypassing the chance to hit safety Devin McCourty. While McCourty could become one of the most coveted free agents on the market if he’s without a new deal by the time the new league year begins on March 10, the Patriots have made sure their former All-Pro kicker will stick around for at least one more season. According to our friend Miguel from Patscap.com, Gostkowski will receiver a salary of $4.59 million in 2015 — $4.44 million for 120 percent of the 2014 cap plus $100,000 for offseason and $50,000 for his Pro Bowl bonuses.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants: The pass-rushing specialist, who has 42 regular-season sacks in five seasons with New York, will get $14,813,000 for the 2015 season.

Outside linebacker Justin Houston, Chiefs: The 26-year-old All-Pro is coming off one of the best year’s in NFL history for a pass rusher — he finished 2014 with 22 sacks, second on the list behind Michael Strahan‘s 22.5 for most sacks in a single season.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, Cowboys: The occasionally combustible pass catcher, who has had three straight seasons of at least 88 catches, got the tag in Dallas instead of running back DeMarco Murray, and will make a base salary of $12,823,000 for the 2015 season.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Broncos: The 27-year-old Thomas, who evolved into one of Peyton Manning‘s favored targets over the last two seasons, has at least 92 regular-season catches a year the last three seasons with Denver. He’ll also make $12,823,000 next season.

In addition, Dolphins tight end Charles Clay was given the transition tag designation with a tender offer of $7,071,000. The transition tag comes with a lower salary total and allows any team to match any offer to the player. However, it doesn’t provide any compensation in the form of a draft pick if if the player signs elsewhere and the team declines to match the offer.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Following Monday’s announcement that he had not received the franchise tag, Patriots safety Devin McCourty acknowledged that there’s the po