Stevan Ridley is still unsigned to this point in the offseason. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Stevan Ridley is still unsigned to this point in the offseason. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

1. The sight of Stevan Ridley at LSU’s pro day on Friday was another reminder that the running back remains one of the most intriguing free-agent options still on the market. The 26-year-old Ridley, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury he suffered in a win over the Bills last October, is ranked as the top available free agent running back out there. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder been linked to the Cowboys and Vikings at this point, and could simply be waiting for the Adrian Peterson situation to sort itself out before he ends up signing with a team. (Ridley could end up with whatever teams eventually lands Peterson.) The analytical site Number Fire has a nice stats-driven profile on Ridley — they believe he’s “the perfect low-cost, high-upside signing.” While he’ll likely have to take a one-year, “prove-it” deal to show that he’s completely over the knee issue, he’s certainly one of the players to watch as the second wave of free agency rolls through the spring.

2. The NFLPA released some of the financial numbers related to free agency over the first two weeks, and there were some interesting revelations. According to their numbers, through Tuesday at 2 p.m., there were 153 total signings with $788,491,999 in guaranteed money and $1,802,821,620 in total contract value.

That includes:
— 97 unrestricted free agents signing with new teams (guaranteed: $644,104,999; total value: $1,413,501,620)
— 56 unrestricted free agents re-signing with current teams (guaranteed: $144,387,000; total value: $389,320,000)

Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each club must average an 89 percent cash spend of the salary cap from 2013-2016. Per the NFLPA, the four teams that spent the least during the two-year period from 2013-2014 were the Raiders (80.16 percent), Jets (80.97 percent), Jaguars (82.24 percent) and Patriots (82.82 percent). Things have been very different for those four teams through the first two weeks of free agency. Again, per the NFLPA, those same four teams have spent the following in free agency thus far:

— 30 percent of all guaranteed money
— 27 percent of total contracts
— 24 percent of first-year cash

3. It’s hard to believe — technically, the Super Bowl was only last month — but the 2015 league year is now in full swing. One of the things to keep an eye out for over the next few weeks will be the announcements for three key dates on the calendar: the offseason workout program, the preseason schedule and the regular season schedule. The last two years, the offseason program has been announced at this time of year (last year the announcement came on April 3, and in 2013, it was on March 28). Workouts usually begin the middle of April, with OTAs set for mid- to late-May and early June. Then, there’s the reveal of the preseason schedule and the regular-season slate. The last four years, the preseason schedule has been released between April 4 and April 17. Meanwhile, the announcement for the regular-season schedule the last three seasons has come between April 17 and 19.

4. With an additional compensatory pick awarded to the Patriots, they now have five picks in the top 101 selections of this year’s NFL draft. If New England holds with those five selections — admittedly, given Bill Belichick‘s trade history on draft weekend, that’s a long shot — the Patriots would be the first defending Super Bowl champion to hold five picks in the top 101 since the 1999 Broncos won Super Bowl XXXIII and then had five picks in the top 93 the following spring. (As alert Tweeter “Deeep Threat” also pointed out, they’d be the first defending champion since the most recent round of expansion to pull off the feat.) Since the Broncos won, three other defending champions have had four picks in the top 101 the following year — the 2009 Steelers, 2007 Colts and 2004 Patriots.

5. It’s becoming increasingly evident that Scott O’Brien will be taking the same route that Dante Scarnecchia took in his first year after retirement. O’Brien, who has been New England’s special teams coach the last six seasons (he’s spent 24 seasons as a coach in the NFL), decided to step down as the Patriots special teams coach following the season. But he traveled to the combine with the rest of the coaching staff to take part in the combine evaluation process. And according to Belichick at the league meetings this week, he’s been “huge” when it comes to assisting with the turnover on the coaching staff. “Scott’s had a great career,” Belichick said at the AFC Coaches Breakfast on Tuesday. “Nobody’s done more for the game or special teams than he has on a number of levels. I certainly appreciate everything he’s done. I’ve learned an awful lot from him. We were together for five years in Cleveland, and he’s brought a lot to our football program in New England.” Scarnecchia retired as the offensive line coach after the 2013 season, but has popped up in an unofficial role from time to time since them. (That includes working out offensive line prospects this spring.) It wouldn’t be a surprise to see O’Brien serve as a special teams coach emeritus in 2015.

6. Here’s the upcoming pro day schedule for the next week-plus. It’ll be a big week for some New England prospects, including Connecticut defensive back Byron Jones, who had a terrific combine performance. In addition, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see show up in Florida this week on Twitter, as FSU and Miami are two of the bigger pro days in the Sunshine State: Monday: Indiana, UMass. Tuesday: Florida State, Notre Dame, UConn, Yale. Wednesday: Miami, Florida International, South Carolina, Ball State. Thursday: Maryland, Washington, Florida Atlantic.

7. One free-agent acquisition for the Patriots that has kind of gone under the radar over the last couple of weeks was wide receiver Brandon Gibson. The 27-year-old, who has 233 receptions for 2,711 yards and 13 touchdowns in his six years in the league, does have some connections with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was with him for a year in St. Louis. (He had two 50-plus catch seasons with the Rams, finishing with 53 receptions in 2010 and 51 in 2012.) In the slot mostly the last two years with the Dolphins, he could provide some depth and competition at that spot going forward for New England if he shows that he’s over the knee and hamstring issues that dogged him in recent years. One note that stood out for us when looking closer at Gibson was funneled to us by our friend Scott Kacsmar at Football Outsiders, who noted that it was no surprise that the Patriots went after Gibson when he became available. Per Kacsmar’s numbers, Gibson has the third-highest wide receiver catch-rate among active wide receivers — he has 233 catches on 338 targets in his career, which is 68.9 percent, trailing only Randall Cobb (73.4 percent) and Wes Welker (71 percent). Some other familiar names pop up on the list, including Julian Edelman (67.5 percent) and Danny Amendola (66 percent). In hindsight, with that history of dependability in the passing game, it was no surprise that he was a target of the Patriots when he was cut loose by Miami.

8. It’s setting up to be an interesting year in Indianapolis. The Colts went after a couple of high-profile offensive skill position players in wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore, two players who have put up phenomenal numbers over the course of their careers, but appear to be slightly past their born-on date. While there’s still more team-building to do — the draft, waiver wire moves, etc. — to this point in the offseason, they did nothing to address a leaky run defense, other than adding linebacker Trent Cole, another player who is on the north side of 30. In the context of that news comes this week’s revelation that the franchise will not extend the contract of coach Chuck Pagano (at least at this point), who is going into the last year of his current deal. From this viewpoint, it all adds up to a win-now philosophy, a real gamble for young GM Ryan Grigson. Grigson, who is also faced with the prospect of quarterback Andrew Luck heading into the final year of his deal, has done well in the draft over the course of his career in the Indy front office. (The guys in Vegas like the Colts offseason — after free agency, some in Vegas had them as the odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl 50.) Regardless, it’s a key offseason for a franchise that has done well taking gradual steps forward the last few seasons — the Colts have advanced one round further in the playoffs in each of Andrew Luck‘s three NFL seasons. If they can take another step forward, it’ll be a gamble that will likely pay off handsomely for Grigson, Pagano, Luck and the rest of the Colts. Only time will tell if the franchise will be able to pull it off.

9. There are some surprising revelations coming out of a deposition presented by former Patriots defensive lineman Armond Amstead in his pending lawsuit against USC. Amstead alleges that the Trojans prescription of the painkiller Toradol led to a heart attack that ultimately deprived him from playing professional football, and in his statement, he lays out a series of events that includes his time with the Patriots. According to Amstead, he signed a three-year deal worth $655,000 guaranteed with New England in January 2013 after a stint in the CFL. That deal included a stipulation that he had to have surgery to repair a hole in his heart before he could play. He had the surgery, and recovered in time for offseason workouts in April; however, he had surgery to treat an undisclosed infection that July which sidelined him for the 2013 season. The next year, he suffered another heart attack, according to documents filed in his lawsuit, and on July 16, 2014, the Patriots announced his medical retirement before he ever took a single meaningful snap with New England. He was just 23. For more on Armstead’s story and what could be a precedent-setting lawsuit, check out his story here.

10. For those of you who are WWE fans, you’re familiar with the fact that Sunday night marks Wrestlemania 31, with a main event showdown between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. What you may not know is the fact that there’s a Patriots connection with Lesnar. The current WWE champ was a college wrestler for Minnesota in the late 1990s, and he met Stephen Neal of Cal-State Bakersfield in the 1999 NCAA championships. Neal, who would go on to play offensive line for New England for eight seasons, defeated Lesnar for the heavyweight title in a memorable match. “He was just this big, strong, powerful man the wrestling world hadn’t seen,” Neal recalled of Lesnar in 2008. “He was so big and strong, you didn’t want to make a mistake against him.” Neal would go on to win the 1999 World Wrestling Championships before being signed by the Patriots and becoming a three-time Super Bowl champ. Lesnar gave football a shot, but has gained greater fame as a UFC and WWE champ. (For you Reigns’ fans, the only New England angle we could find was the fact that he was a college teammate of former Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton when the two played at Georgia Tech in 2006.) Check out the video of the Neal-Lesnar matchup below:

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Tom Brady isn’t just jumping off cliffs lately. Video and pictures surfaced Saturday of the Patriots quarterback (in black shirt with khakis and backwards hat) playing pickup basketball with Michael Jordan and golfer Keegan Bradley in the Bahamas. Bradley also tweeted about Brady also playing golf with him earlier in the day.

Click here to see photos from the game courtesy of Barstool.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2015 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

Ben Koyack (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Ben Koyack is known more for his run-blocking ability, although he caught 30 passes in 2014. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

BEN KOYACK

Position: Tight end

School: Notre Dame

Height: 6-foot-5

Weight: 254 pounds

Achievements: 2014 Mackey Award semifinalist for best tight end, 2014 FBS All-Independent team, 2013 Mackey Award watch list

What he brings: Scouts are impressed with Koyack’s ability as a run blocker but would like to see some improvement when he’s asked to move across the line to make a block in the passing game. He is big and athletic, which is expected to help him become an asset to whichever team he joins. There are concerns about his ability to make big plays and make defenders miss after the catch.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 5-7

Notes: ESPN.com ranks Koyack as the sixth tight end and 146th overall in the draft. He finished the 2014 season with 30 receptions for 317 yards and two touchdowns. 2014 was his only season as a full-time starter for Notre Dame.

Related articles:

Chicago Tribune: Koyack looks to impress with football sense, leadership

Video: Koyack tallies three catches for 51 yards against Rice in the first game of the 2014 season.

Blog Author: 
Nik Beimler

What sort of reaction do you think this video got at Gillette Stadium?

Never doing that again! #AirBrady

Posted by Tom Brady on Saturday, March 28, 2015

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2015 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

DeVante Parker (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DeVante Parker tied the Louisville career record with 33 touchdown receptions. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DeVANTE PARKER

Position: Wide receiver

School: Louisville

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 211 pounds

Achievements: 2014 All-ACC coaches second team, Schellenberger Award for MVP of Louisville-Kentucky game, 2012 All-Big East

What he brings: Height and wingspan (80 inches) make him an attractive target as a big receiver. He drops very few balls and is considered by many scouts to be above average at making catches while receiving hands and bumps from defenders. There are some concerns about his speed and quickness, especially after he broke his foot at the beginning of the 2014 season. Because of this, he is expected to have more contested balls and will have to use his size to make big plays.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 1

Notes: Parker finished the 2014 season with 43 receptions for 855 yards and five touchdowns despite missing the first seven games with a foot injury. In 2013 he made 55 catches for 885 yards and 12 TDs. He had 10 100-yard receiving games in his career and tied the school record with 33 touchdown receptions. His father, Anthony Shelman, was a running back at Louisville in the early 1990s.

Related articles:

Bleacher Report: Parker belongs in discussion for top WR

ESPN.com: Why Parker deserves first-team All-ACC selection

Video: Here is Parker catching eight passes for 214 yards against FSU in October 2014.

Blog Author: 
Nik Beimler

Shayanna Jenkins, the fiancee of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, was questioned in court on Friday regarding Hernandez’s involvement in the alleged murder of Odin Lloyd. Jenkins was granted immunity in February.

Earlier in the day, another juror was dismissed.

Shayanna Jenkins, the fiancee of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, was questioned in court on Friday regarding Hernandez’s involvement in the alleged murder of Odin Lloyd. Jenkins was granted immunity in February.

Earlier in the day, another juror was dismissed.

ABC News reports that Jenkins testified that the day after she found out about Lloyd’s death, she asked Hernandez if he did it, to which he replied, “No.”

“That was the extent of our conversation,” Jenkins added, according to ABC.

“[Jenkins] is definitely not the star witness,” Fox 25 reporter Ted Daniel said on Middays with MFB. “She is very careful with her answers, she’s having a tough time recalling some of the specific questions.”

Added Daniel: “If the prosecution was looking to win this case on her, it’s not happening.”

In a surveillance video previously seen by the jury, Jenkins is seen removing a garbage bag with what looks like a box inside. Prosecutors believe that the murder weapon, which has not been found, may be inside the box.

Jenkins reportedly said that she does not remember what was in the box.

It is believed that the prosecution is trying to link Hernandez with the missing murder weapon, but Jenkins is not providing any useful information in that area. Earlier in the trial, a cleaner testified that there were several guns in the house, but Jenkins said that she only remembers one, which was kept in the junk drawer.

“She does not sort of back up what the cleaner said that, ‘Hey, no, there was this other larger gun downstairs in one of the basement bedrooms,’ ” Daniel said.

Earlier Friday morning, several jurors were questioned individually by the judge, Susan Garsh. One juror was dismissed for what Daniel said was described as “personal reasons that do not affect the trial.”

Jenkins was scheduled to be questioned further following a lunch break. If she continues to deprive the prosecution of what it was hoping to get from her, Daniel believes that the next key witness will be Alexander Bradley, who alleges that Hernandez shot him in the face four months before Lloyd’s death, causing Bradley to lose an eye.

In a related note, a Westwood man was arrested Thursday after allegedly calling in a bomb threat to the Fall River Justice Center, which caused a brief delay in the trial. Paul Haddad, 56, was taken into custody Thursday and held on $5,000 bail. Authorities said it does not appear to be related to the Hernandez case.

Blog Author: 
Nik Beimler

WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2015 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’€™s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

T.J. Yeldon (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

T.J. Yeldon set an Alabama freshman record with 1,108 rushing yards in 2012. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

T.J. YELDON

Position: Running back

School: Alabama

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 221 pounds

Achievements: 2014 All-SEC coaches second team, 2013 All-SEC first team, 2013 BCS National Champion

What he brings: Yeldon is tall and lean, which makes for deceptive agility and speed, according to CBS Sports. This contributes to his impressive body control, which helps him make “effortless lateral cuts and leave defenders whiffing at air.” NFL.com praises him for his hips, foot quickness and creativity in in running lanes. He has some issues with ball security and runs a bit too high for some, subjecting himself to big hits.

Where the Patriots could get him: Round 3

Notes: Yeldon had an ankle injury for much of the 2014 season. His role in the NFL is not considered to be clear yet, and one scout thinks he’s “overrated because he went to Alabama.” At Alabama, he produced the best season by a freshman running back for the Crimson Tide in 2012 (1,108 yards) and then posted better numbers the next year (1,235) after stepping into the role of the team’s No. 1 RB. He dipped to 979 yards as a junior last season.

Related articles:

Alabama.com: Who is T.J. Yeldon? A look inside Alabama’s quiet star who’s not big on fame 

ESPN: Nuance drives T.J. Yeldon to greatness, but leads to underestimation

Video: Yeldon helps Alabama set a school record for most points in a quarter during last October’s victory over Texas A&M.

Blog Author: 
Judy Cohen

WEEI.com will continue to offer daily insight and analysis regarding options that may be available to the Patriots when it comes to the 2015 NFL draft. Here is one in a series of profiles of players who could be on the board when it’s time for the Patriots to make a selection.

Trey Flowers (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Trey Flowers (right) helped his cause by posting impressive numbers at the scouting combine. (Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

TREY FLOWERS

Position: Defensive end

School: Arkansas

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 266 pounds

Achievements: 2014 All-SEC second team, 2013 All-SEC second team (coaches), 2011 Freshman All-SEC team

What he brings: Flowers led his team in tackles for loss (15.5 for 95 yards), sacks (six for 71 yards) and quarterback hurries (nine) last season. He was third on the team in total tackles with 68. According to CBS Sports, he doesn’t have exceptional initial quickness, but he can generate good speed off the corner “because of his long gait.” NFL.com praises him as a “high-motor power end,” and says that he is technically sound, also noting that he “doesn’t look like much athletically, but finds his way to the ball against the run.” He registered a 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump, 36.5-inch vertical jump and 12.03-second 60-yard shuttle at the combine, all of which ranked him at or near the top of those categories.

Where the Patriots could get him: Rounds 2-3

Notes: Flowers, who grew up with nine brothers and sisters, is a good student. He considered entering the 2014 NFL draft after posting a season with 50 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks, and received a third-round grade, but he ultimately decided to return to Arkansas for his senior season. According to NFL.com, Flowers might not have enough to play every down, saying that “his aggressiveness at the point of attack is a plus, but he might have to come off the field on third downs.”

Related articles:

NFLmocks.com: Trey Flowers: Meet the Humble, Hard-Working Arkansas Draft Prospect

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Being a ‘tweener’ is OK with NFL prospect Flowers

Video: Here is a video of all of Flowers’ plays against Texas in the Advocate Texas Bowl. Flowers finished the game with five tackles and a sack.

Blog Author: 
Judy Cohen
When it comes to evaluating college prospects, Bill Belichick and the Patriots go about scouting in a little different fashion. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When it comes to evaluating college prospects, Bill Belichick and the Patriots go about scouting in a little different fashion than most. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When it comes to the pre-draft scouting process, each one of the 32 NFL teams handles its business differently. Different metrics are used for evaluating prospects, certain qualities are sought out and particular playing styles are assessed as each team tries to find the right formula for success.

In Foxboro, the Patriots have distinguished themselves by ranking prospects in a relatively non-traditional fashion. Instead of putting a grade on a player by round — as most teams do at this time of the year — more of a priority is placed on how that prospect might fit into the New England system.

“They give their scouts a clear set of guidelines in what they are looking for,” according to Dan Hatman, who has worked as a scout for the Giants, Jets and Eagles and now is the Chairman of Scouting Development at The Scouting Academy. “In talking to scouts from New England, it might be the only team that I’m aware of with an internal scout school, for lack of a better term.

“When they go out on the road for evaluations, they are given a very specific set of player profiles. They are not giving players grades by rounds like other teams. Instead, they look at how guys fit into their roster.”

That would support the statements from Phil Savage last spring, when the former college and national scout under Bill Belichick in Cleveland said on Twitter that when he worked with Belichick, he didn’t feel an area scout could know the entire country enough to say “He’s a (second) rounder.” Savage added that Belichick didn’t want round grades, but instead to have the scout categorize a player as a starter, potential starter, backup or camp body.

Per Hatman, that directive can often make a scouts job easier.

“You’re using a defined system,” he said, “as opposed to trying to recreate the wheel every time in trying to figure out where a player could or should be selected.”

It’s just one part of the New England system stands apart from sizable portions of the league, according to Hatman.

“My understanding is that the expose their football personnel people to both coaching and scouting elements, with the idea that coaches are better coaches when they understand the scouting process, and scouts are better scouts when they they understand the coaching process,” Hatman said.

At this point in the pre-draft process, it is absolutely vital that all of the key elements of the franchise are in “lockstep,” to use Hatman’s phraseology. In the last year, there have been notable breakdowns between the front office, scouting department and coaching staffs with three franchises, Philly, San Francisco and Denver, leading ownership to make changes at one level or another.

Hatman said that one of the advantages to the setup like they have in New England — as well as a handful of other places where coaches have say over personnel decisions — is that you have “one voice” crafting your organizational philosophy.

“I don’t want to call it a dictatorship, but when you have one voice guiding the program, it can definitely help,” he said. “Everybody learns from that one voice. If he says, ‘Do you job,’ you know that he’s the man at the top, and you can do your one job and let him take care of the rest. There’s no jockeying for internal position, with the front office politics and such. There can be an advantage to that.

“In that environment, though, you still need a sounding board, a devils’ advocate. A guy who can question from time to time,” he added. “If you only have one voice, you can occasionally get into groupthink, and that can be a negative.”

Regardless, for all 32 teams, this stretch represents the culmination of a long road, one that began in earnest during the college football season, continued through the postseason all-star games and evaluation events like the Senior Bowl and the combine. Now, coaches and ownership take more of a role in the process.

“The role of the scouting staff really shifts based on the time of year and who is involved,” Hatman said. “In my experience, you get ownership much more involved and paying attention. You’re shifting from the evaluation stage to the valuation stage when you are looking at what you can get from a pick as a player. You’re integrating the coaching staff. There are more people involved in the process.”

Teams will hold private workouts, and each franchise is allowed 30 on-site visits. The workouts and the visits could be held for a multitude of reasons.

“You’re really trying to pin down how these guys might factor in your system,” Hatman said of the private workouts and on-site visits. “Take a guy like Bryce Petty at Baylor — this is a guy who is playing in a system that makes a lot of things easier on him. If I’m a quarterbacks coach, a head coach or a GM, I want to better understand how Petty will function in my environment. I have to go and work him out because I have no idea how he’ll fit in this system. You get him in your building and you get him on the board and see what he can do.

“When it comes to the on-site visits, there are a lot of different ways you can go. You can bring guys in you are truly interested in and work them out. You can bring guys in you want to smokescreen. And you can bring guys in you really want to vet physically, or if they’re special character guys where you need more than just the 15 minutes you get at the combine. The owners want to meet them, whatever. There are so many different possibilities.”

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price