Marshawn Lynch spoke at length for the first time about the end of Super Bowl XLIX over the weekend, telling a Turkish reporter that he was “expecting the ball” at the end of last month’s Super Bowl contest against the Patriots, but said he “had no problem” with the playcalling.
“To be honest with you, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was expecting the ball. Yes, I was expecting the ball. But in life, these things happen. Like I told a reporter after the game, it’s a team sport.
“I had no problem with the decision of the playcalling. I mean, you know … I think it was more of a … how do I say this? When you look at me, and you let me run that ball in … I am the face of the nation. You know, MVP of the Super Bowl … that’s pretty much the face of the nation at that point of time. I don’t know what went into that call. I mean, maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get the ball. I mean, you know, it cost us the Super Bowl. I mean, I have full … I have full confidence in my teammates to execute that plan because we’ve done it so many more times. But would I love to had the ball in? Yes, I would have.”
Price calls Butch to discuss the March 2nd deadline for franchise tags, free agency and the Pats' plans going forward.
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Will Devin McCourty be tagged before Monday’s deadline? (Getty Images)
1. With the franchise tag window set to close on Monday at 4 p.m., it appears we could be in for a record-low number of tagged players. Four players were tagged last offseason, down from eight in 2013 and 21 in 2012. At this point, no players have received the tag. That doesn’t mean no one will be hit with the designation — the Chiefs and linebacker Justin Houston are apparently moving closer to the franchise tag, while the same appears to be the case with the Broncos and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and the Cowboys and wide receiver Dez Bryant. But three would represent a significant dropoff from year’s past. According to Albert Breer of NFL Media, the tag for linebackers is $13.17 million, while wide receivers are at $12.8. Locally, the two leading candidates for the tag remain safety Devin McCourty (who could get a one-year payday worth $9.6 if he’s tagged) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski ($4.12 million). McCourty seems cool with the idea of being tagged, but we’ll see what happens if the Patriots do decide to pull the trigger.
We’ve published this before, but in the context of this week’s conversation, it’s worth revisiting how New England has utilized the franchise tag in year’s past, and how it has eventually played out:
For the record, the Patriots have utilized the tag fairly early in the process, with one exception — Welker in 2012. He was tagged at the last possible moment, just hours before window closed on March 5 that year. He signed his tender that spring, played out his deal and left as a free agent the following spring.
2. The Patriots have seen plenty of turnover on their coaching staff the last two seasons, as special teams coach Scott O’Brien, tight ends coach George Godsey, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and linebackers coach Pepper Johnson have all departed since the end of the 2013 campaign. At the same, the three men at the top of the coaching food chain (head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia) can now boast one of the longest continuous working relationships of any team in the league, having all worked together in the same capacity since the 2012 season. The only trio that predated the Belichick-McDaniels-Patricia (specifically when it came to working titles as head coach, OC and DC) combo this year was in San Francisco, where Jim Harbaugh (head coach), Greg Roman (offensive coordinator) and Vic Fangio (defensive coordinator) took over together in 2011. With Harbaugh moving on to the University of Michigan, that all changed. And now, with the resignation of Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh and the breakup of the Atlanta coaching staff, only the Packers‘ trio of head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and defensive coordinator Dom Capers dates back to 2012, along with New England. For what it’s worth, you can certainly make an argument that the Belichick-McDaniels-Patricia relationship runs even deeper than just the last three years. McDaniels was offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 2006 through 2008 before stops in Denver and St. Louis eventually led back to New England. Meanwhile Patricia was fundamentally a defensive coordinator without the title for a long stretch, as he had a major role in defensive game planning after Dean Pees left for Baltimore following the 2009 season before officially getting the DC title in 2012. But any way you slice it, it’s hard to argue that the continuity of the staffs in New England and Green Bay have played a sizable measure in their success in recent years.
3. While free agency doesn’t technically begin until the start of the new NFL year — March 10 — several teams around the league have already started jettisoning veterans in hopes of becoming cap compliant sooner rather than later. Reggie Bush, A.J. Hawk, Jacoby Jones, LaRon Landry, DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson and Mathias Kiwanuka are just a few veterans who have suddenly found themselves out of a job as teams try and clear space between now and next month. At least publicly, the chance to release a player at this relatively early stage of the process suggests that the veteran will get plenty of time to latch on with another team. At the same time, just because a player is cut loose now doesn’t mean he can’t eventually return at a reduced rate down the road — in 2005, the Patriots cut loose beloved receiver Troy Brown on March 1, and he was brought back on May 23. He went on to play the better part of two more years with New England. (In that same vein, the Patriots got a jump on this process last February when they released veteran safety Steve Gregory before the start of free agency.) In the end, it’s important to remember that the recent flood of veteran releases simply represents the start of the team-building process for the 2015 season, one that will pick up speed over the course of the next eight weeks with the rush of free agency, followed by the draft.
4. One of the more intriguing veterans who was cut loose was Jackson. While it’s clear the former Ram and Falcon may have hit that wall that most veteran backs collide with when they turn 30 (after eight seasons of 1,000-plus yards on the ground, he’s had 543 yards and 707 yards in the last two years since he turned 30), Belichick has always displayed an affinity for the former Oregon Stater. The Patriots coach spent the day with Jackson before the 2004 draft, and even though the Patriots ended up acquiring a big back in free agency as opposed to the draft (Corey Dillon), Belichick came away a big fan. In 2012, he lauded Jackson’s durability and consistency. “It’s impressive. It’s real impressive,” said Belichick. “He’s had a 1,000 yards it seems like every year, or close to it, whatever it is. But he dishes it out. I think he probably gives out about as much as he takes. It’s not like that with all backs, but he’s got the quickness to be elusive on the second level and avoid guys and he’s also got the power to put his shoulder down and run through guys. He’s a hard guy to tackle.” No one is suggesting that Jackson is on the next plane to Foxboro, but when you start to craft free agent predictions, a past history between a coach and player always figures into the equation.
5. In that same vein, it’s going to be interesting to see how potential free agent situations involving Bush and Shane Vereen impact each other. Both are third-down backs who are expected to hit the free agent market on March 10, and while Bush isn’t nearly the offensive option that he used to be (NFL.com referred to Vereen as a “younger version of Reggie Bush right now” this week), he will almost certainly draw interest because of his reputation. That will have an effect on Vereen’s situation, as both are similar multidimensional threats out of the backfield. As how this all relates to the Patriots, as Rich Hill noted here, it is worth mentioning the fact that after a few rough seasons, Bush enjoyed a career renaissance of some sorts with the Dolphins in 2011, when he rushed for a career-high 1,086 yards (and five yards per carry) to go along with 43 catches for 296 yards. That season, current Patriots tight end coach Brian Daboll was working as Miami’s offensive coordinator, while offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was employed in a similar capacity by the Dolphins. If anyone is aware of a what a healthy Bush might do, it’s probably those two. Something to watch for as free agency develops.
6. Optimism is running in high in Buffalo, and not just because the new head coach recently got his truck re-done with a flashy red, while and blue color scheme. The return of playmaking linebacker Kiko Alonso could very well make one of the best young defenses in the league even better in 2015. Alonso tore his ACL last summer, leaving him sidelined for the duration of the 2014 campaign and unable to build on an impressive rookie season. Without him in the lineup, the Buffalo defense was still one of the best in the league, finishing in the top 10 in most major categories, including yards and points per game allowed. As a result, the Bills finished at 9-7, their first winning record since 2004. While it remains to be seen how Rex Ryan is going to go about finding a serviceable quarterback, with Alonso back in the lineup, there’s reason to believe the defense can get to another level. “I anticipate being 100 percent before camp,” Alonso said, via the team’s website. “By camp, I definitely feel I’ll be at 100 percent. I feel very good with where I’m at. By camp I’ll be full go.”
March 2: Minnesota, Virginia, Wake Forest. March 3: Auburn, Northwestern, Pitt. March 4: Purdue, Texas A&M, Arkansas Mississippi State. March 5: Clemson, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska. March 6: Appalachian State, Arizona State, Southern Mississippi. March 10: Arizona, Army, Harvard, Kansas State, Kent State, UCLA. March 11: Alabama, Cincinnati, Louisville, Marshall, Oklahoma, Rutgers, South Florida, USC, Wisconsin. March 12: Oregon, Fresno State, Michigan, Oklahoma State, UNLV, Washington State. March 13: Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Oregon State, West Virginia. March 17: California. March 18:Boston College. Baylor, Boise State, Georgia, Memphis, Michigan State, Virginia Tech.
8. From this viewpoint, the idea of changing some of the combine drills is a fantastic plan. The initial series of events — the 40, vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, 3-cone, and shuttle run — are good indicators of how a prospect might measure up physically, and should still be a part of the overall evaluation process. But the game has changed so dramatically over the years on a number of levels — including the increased specialization of players — that a change is overdue. “We run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. Why? The only reason anyone can ever give you is, that’s how it’s always been done,” NFL director of player development Matt Birk said on Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. Birk and Saints coach Sean Payton both discussed how things might change, including more position-specific drills. “I think you’ll gradually see position-specific change where it won’t be just one whole new set of drills,” Payton said. “It will gradually phase itself in as we know more and more what we’re looking for for an offensive lineman, compared to a running back.” While some have worried that the idea of changing things up will make it harder to compare future prospects to past ones, the evaluation process needs a bit of a reset, and this will certainly help refine things.
9. We’ve listed these before, but now that we’re in the post-combine, pre-free agent period window, it’s worth revisiting some of the key dates on the upcoming NFL schedule through a Patriots’ prism:
Monday – The two-week franchise tag window closes. If the tag is applied, the likeliest candidates figure to be either McCourty or Gostkowski. If the Patriots choose not to tag anyone, it would mark the first time they have gone three consecutive years without using the tag since the turn of the century.
March 7-10 – Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2014 contracts at 4 p.m. ET on March 10. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4 p.m. ET on March 10.
March 10 – New league year, free agency begins. Before 4 p.m. ET, clubs must exercise options for 2015 on all players who have option clauses in their 2014 contracts. In addition, teams must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents with expiring contracts, and clubs must be under the salary cap before 4 p.m. ET.
March 22-25: Owners meetings, Phoenix – Usually, one of the handful of times both Belichick and owner Robert Kraft speak with the media in the offseason.
April 6 – Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2014 regular season may begin offseason workout programs. (April 20 is the date teams with returning head coaches may begin off-season workout programs)
April 30-May 2: NFL draft, Chicago – The Patriots have eight overall picks, including four in the first three rounds.
May 2 – Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.
10. And finally, for those of you inclined to revisit the Patriots’ championship season — and the Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seahawks — the commemorative DVD and Blu-Ray are scheduled to be released on Tuesday. Get a look at the trailer here. There have been a ton of really sharp looking snippets released over the course of the year from NFL Films, but in terms of sheer emotion, I’m not sure anything can top this video. We’ve posted this before, but because it’s the one-month anniversary of the game, it deserves a second look.
The Patriots running back, who missed the bulk of the 2014 season because of a knee injury he suffered in October in a win over the Bills in Buffalo, told Sirius XM Radio on Friday evening that he’s aware of the challenge that faces him as he heads into free agency, but he’s embracing the process.
“I’m excited about it,” Ridley said. “As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract.
“Where I’ll be playing and who I’ll be playing for is still unknown,” he added. “But I know I’ve come in and done my job up to this point. Now, I have to put it in my agent’s hands to get me on another team, or stay where I’m at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much, it will worry you sick.”
Ridley, who ran for 2,817 yards in four seasons with the Patriots — including 1,263 yards in 2012 — said he has no doubt he can become a productive player in the league again.
“I take it personal [when] anybody that says I can’t be a very productive player on whatever team I land on,” he said. “I’ve been playing ball my whole life, I’m going to come in and be a leader, and I’m going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I’m a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it’s all business and I plan on going out there and making plays.”
He also understands that he might not be playing in New England in 2015 for a few reasons, including the fact that the Patriots have several backs — including LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and James White — already under contract for next season.
“Being in New England the last four years, four AFC Championships, two Super Bowl [appearances], that’s really hard to replace, to go to another team somewhere,” he said. “But going to another team could mean more opportunities, and could mean more carries, and could mean another team that doesn’t have the winning tradition that is up in New England and has been established there.
“For me, really I just want to be playing ball somewhere. That’s the big thing.
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We’ve already featured C.J. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee, Orlando Franklin, Dane Fletcher, Roy Helu, Rey Maualuga, David Harris and Mike Iupati. Today, we wrap things up with Kevin Williams.
Kevin Williams Position: Defensive lineman Age: 34 (August 16, 1980) Height: 6-foot-5 Weight: 311 pounds
The skinny: We’ve been down this road before with Williams, who considered retirement last spring before he ultimately decided to sign a one-year, $2.1 million deal with the Seahawks. That was after a brief flirtation with the Patriots, where he told a reporter New England should “look me up.” That led to a sitdown between Bill Belichick and Williams, and while the two sides never consummated the agreement — the Seahawks were apparently a little more enticing — there’s certainly a history there between the two which could come into play this offseason. The five-time All-Pro has spent 12 years in the NFL, 11 with Minnesota and last season with Seattle. The 6-foot-5, 311-pounder has been pretty durable over the course of his career, as he’s only missed 13 regular-season games since entering the league in 2003. Williams has 63 career sacks, including 8.5 in 2008. He’s not the overwhelming presence he used to be, but for a team looking for a rotational veteran to play a role up front, Williams could be that guy.
By the numbers: 445 — The number of snaps Williams played during the regular season for the NFC champions. Williams’ workload was likely heavier than initially anticipated because of an injury to starter Brandon Mebane. While Williams hadn’t played much nose tackle over the course of his career, he stepped in and did well as could be expected when it came to filling Mebane’s role on a situational basis over the course of the 2014 season.
Why it would work: There’s one every year — a massive defensive lineman near the end of his career who catches the eye of Belichick and the Patriots, who hope to squeeze one more good year out of him before he decides to hang them up. It’s a tradition that stretches all the way back to the likes of Anthony Pleasant, Keith Traylor and Ted Washington, and has continued with the likes of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, Tommy Kelly and Alan Branch. (Sometimes it works, sometimes, it doesn’t.) Williams could very well be that guy for 2015. Last season, he showed he could work in a semi-reserve role with the Seahawks, and provided he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t fill the same sort of role in New England. Belichick has an affinity for him, and he certainly would be cost-effective. And for Williams — who played in his first career Super Bowl earlier this month after 12 seasons in the league — there’s more of a chance to finish off a career with a ring in New England than most other spots.
Why it might not work: He’ll be 35 before the start of the 2015 season, and there’s the very real likelihood that he’s tired of banging his head against a wall over and over again and would like to enjoy retirement. There’s also the legitimate question of how much he has left in his tank — while he’s been very durable, age and health have to be considered when talking about the possibility of signing someone like Williams at this stage of his career. And ultimately, there’s the question of fit: the Patriots have gotten some very good performances out of their young defensive linemen the last couple of seasons, particularly Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones. Do they want — or even need — to bring in someone like Williams?
Quote: “He went through the roster and basically explained where I could fit in with those guys. They had a lot of injuries and they have some veteran guys coming off of injuries that play tackle, and I would have a chance to compete for a position there. Either way, we’d have a good rotation, and have a chance to win some games.” – Williams, speaking with Sirius XM last June about his meeting with Belichick and the Patriots
Our take: Williams talked about retiring if the Seahawks had beaten the Patriots that night in Glendale, but now, it appears that things are up in the air. As we previously mentioned, the history between Williams and Belichick is there, and Williams would certainly come relatively cheaply. Bottom line? There’s enough familiarity there between the player and the team to think that if it does come together, it wouldn’t be an extended negotiation process. However, if Williams’ is signed, this feels like the sort of agreement that would come closer to the start of camp — as a veteran, he’d probably swing a deal where he’d be excused from a portion of the offseason workout plan.
Join Chris Price of WEEI.com to break down all things Patriots and the NFL, Friday at noon. Price will answer all your questions about the offseason, as well as the landscape of the league as some key dates draw closer.
Thursday during the Odin Lloyd murder trial it was learned Aaron Hernandez and the group he was with spent $273 plus $30 tip at a bar and was asked by the bar manager to stop smoking marijuana on the street outside the bar on the night of the murder.