The Patriots announced Sunday they have signed veteran tight end Nate Byham.

Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team:

The Patriots announced Sunday they have signed veteran tight end Nate Byham.

Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team:

Byham, 26, is a veteran of four NFL seasons with the San Francisco 49ers (2010-11) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-13). The 6-foot-4, 264-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick by San Francisco out of Pittsburgh in 2010. He was signed by Tampa Bay on Oct. 2, 2012 after being released by San Francisco on Aug. 16, 2012. In his four NFL seasons, Byham has played 29 games with 11 starts and has totaled 11 receptions for 83 yards and one touchdown. Last season in Tampa Bay, Byham was limited to four games and finished with three receptions for 38 yards.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Sounds like Rex Ryan is back to being old Rex again.

After sounding chastened the last few years, in a series of interviews Saturday, the Jets coach sounded off about the state of the NFL, his own legacy, and where the Jets stand in relation to the Patriots.

Despite missing the playoffs the last three years, Rex Ryan says he's a "great coach." (AP)

Despite missing the playoffs the last three years, Rex Ryan says he’s a “great coach.” (AP)

Sounds like Rex Ryan is back to being old Rex again.

After sounding chastened the last few years, in a series of interviews Saturday, the Jets coach sounded off about the state of the NFL, his own legacy, and where the Jets stand in relation to the Patriots.

“Somebody asked me if we focus on New England. Bull—-,” Ryan told the New York Post. “We’re focused on us. We’re focused on us and how are we going to be better. I have to be honest, I don’t worry about them. They need to worry about us. I think that’s really where we’re at now.”

Ryan didn’t make any Super Bowl predictions, but still sounded confident in his abilities as a head coach.

“Do I think that I’m a great coach? I absolutely know I’m a great coach,” Ryan told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “But it’s not just about me. What makes a great coach is the people that surround you, the people that are with you every day.”

Ryan, who has a 46-40 career record as a head coach and has seen his team fall short of the postseason the last three years, will lead the Jets against the Patriots twice this season — Oct. 16 in Foxboro and Dec. 21 in North Jersey.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Matthew Slater was one of two Patriots special teamers who made the Pro Bowl in 2013. (AP)

Matthew Slater was one of two Patriots special teamers who made the Pro Bowl in 2013. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We’ve examined the wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, running back and quarterback positions. Now, we take a look at special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski; punter Ryan Allen; long snappers Danny Aiken and Tyler Ott; special teams captain Matthew Slater; punt returner Julian Edelman.

Overview: It was a good 2013 for the specialists. With the exception of one glaring misstep (a late kickoff against the Dolphins in Miami caromed out of bounds, setting the stage for a Dolphins comeback), Gostkowski was very good all year, while Allen was a solid if unspectacular presence at punter. Meanwhile, the return games were mostly good and occasionally great at times, as LeGarrette Blount went from special teams punchline to quality return man — his highlights included an 83-yard return against the Bills in the regular-season finale. In addition, Edelman had another good year as punt returner, and his 12.3 career return average is now tied for seventh on the all-time list. Going forward, there are questions as to who will replace Blount as kick returner, as well as the possibility of some of last year’s core special teamers (like Tavon Wilson) being squeezed out of back-of-the-roster spots because of positional battles. But if the health of Gostkowski, Edelman and Slater (and some others) holds, Scotty O’Brien‘s crew appears poised for another good year.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game.

Setting aside the previously mentioned botched kickoff in a loss to Miami (a game where he also missed a 48-yard field goal in the second half), Gostkowski had the best season of his career in 2013. He had game-winners to beat the Bills and Broncos, as well as big late kicks against the Jets and Texans, one that led to overtime and other that ended up clinching a road victory. He also successfully executed an onside kick in the dramatic win over the Browns. In all, he finished the year 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts, as well as 65 touchbacks. He led the league in scoring — his 158 points were a career-best, as well as best in the league in 2013 and 10th in NFL history for most points in a single season.

2. Matthew Slater is one of the best pure special teamers in the league.

We’ve said it roughly 3,000 times over the last few years, but spend the $70 and get the All-22 film. That’s likely the only way you’ll get a real sense of just how good Slater is when it comes to speed, strength and ability to work as a disruptive presence. Belichick was effusive in his praise of Slater’s work as a gunner last year, saying he’s “one of the best in the league” in that department, adding that he always seems to draw double teams when he’s on the outside. Good for two or three targets a season at wide receiver, he’s a pure special teamer, and has carved out a nice niche for himself on the roster. (One more thing worth noting: One of the most respected players in the New England locker room, the fact that the team took Slater on the road last season after he went down with an injury is a good sign of how highly regarded he is by Bill Belichick, as well as the rest of the franchise.)

3. The kick returning job is wide open.

The Patriots have found good kick return performances sporadically over the last five years — including the work offered by Blount over most of the second half of 2013 — but since Ellis Hobbs was dealt to the Eagles following the 2008 season, New England has struggled to find consistency at the position. Now, with Blount gone, the job is available again. A variety of faces rotated through the position throughout the spring, but no one was able to distinguish themselves during OTA’s and minicamp.

(One more thing: Allen was also one of the best things about the Patriots in the AFC title game, dropping three first-half punts inside the 20 and doing his part to help tilt the field for New England in the early going.)

‘€¨THREE QUESTIONS

1. Who has the inside track on the kick returning job?

Right now, you have to figure that the returnees who have shown some level of proficiency at the NFL level have the best shot. That’s a group that includes McCourty and Edelman, although you figure the Patriots would be reticent to lean on two key players like Devin McCourty and Edelman in the’€¦.wait, wait, scratch that. We’re talking about the Patriots here, and New England has never been afraid to throw a needed veteran into a key special teams role — toss them into the mix with everyone else. Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins figure to also get a crack at the job in hopes of proving they have some special teams value at the next level, which could ultimately help them if there’s a roster spot at stake. In addition, rookies like Jeremy Gallon (more on him shortly) and James White have experience in college, and could also get a crack at the job this summer.

2. Is special teams value enough to save some back end of the roster guys?

Certainly. The Patriots have never been shy about having player who might provide exemplary special teams skills take a roster spot. In year’s past, players like Dane Fletcher and BenJarvus Green-Ellis got their intro into the league through special teams, and then used that entry to go on to bigger and better things. In addition to youngsters like Gallon, White, Boyce and Thompkins (all of who could be angling for a return gig), there are veterans who work as part of coverage units who are hoping their special teams skills are enough to get them through the final cuts. Veterans like Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner have to be considered favorites to provide special teams depth (ahead of their defensive skill set, anyway), as well as new linebacker Josh Hull, who has extensive special teams experience with the Redskins and Rams.

3. Will the Patriots add anyone to try and push either Allen or Gostkowski?

Despite the fact that Belichick isn’t above trying to bring in another player to create some competition from time to time in hopes of pushing the incumbent — or even just keeping the starters on a pitch count throughout camp — there are no other kickers or punters on the roster at this moment. It’s no surprise, as both are coming off good 2013 campaigns, and both looked very solid over the course of the spring workouts (Allen in particular). While theoretically there’s still time for them to shuffle the roster between now and the start of camp, at this point, it’s their show.

By the numbers: 3 ‘€“ Gostkowski has three of the top 20 scoring seasons in NFL history — 158 points in 2013 (10th overall), 153 points in 2012 (13th overall)  and 148 points in 2008 (tied for 17th overall). He’s the only player in the history of the league to appear three times in the top 20.

Key new player: There are plenty of possibilities when it comes to replacing Blount at kick returner, including Shane Vereen, McCourty, Boyce, Thompkins and Gallon. It should be noted that the Patriots have enjoyed a good run of squeezing value out of seventh-round picks over the last decade-plus, a group that includes Edelman, Matt Cassel, David Givens and Alfonzo Dennard — Gallon could be the latest member of the Lucky Seven club. If Boyce or Thompkins could make the job their own (Boyce has a better shot than Thompkins), it could help them solidify a roster spot it what has suddenly become a crowded field at wide receiver.

The skinny: The Patriots have a well-entrenched incumbent at kicker and punt returner, and a punter who was above average, according to most metrics. In addition, the coverage areas are mostly solid. The only question at this point is who will take the reins at kick returner. If New England can nail down that question between now and the start of the 2014 season, it projects to be another pretty good season for the Patriots’ special teamers.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The Patriots issued a statement Friday night via lawyer Andrew Phelan on the report there were 33 pages of texts between Bill Belichick and Aaron Hernandez turned over as part of evidence i

The Patriots issued a statement Friday night via lawyer Andrew Phelan on the report there were 33 pages of texts between Bill Belichick and Aaron Hernandez turned over as part of evidence in the trial of Hernandez.

“Earlier this week, a report indicated that an exchange of text messages between the team’s head coach and Mr. Hernandez totaled 33 pages. While it is unknown how the texts were printed or displayed, I thought it was important to clarify that during an early investigation conducted by state prosecutors, the team produced a total of 34 text messages (not pages of texts) spanning a period of five months (December 2012 ‘€“ April 2013) between the head coach and Mr. Hernandez.”

Hernandez has been charged with three murders, including one alleged to have occurred in June 2013.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Tom Brady starts the 2014 season still seeking that elusive fourth ring. (AP)

Tom Brady starts the 2014 season still seeking that elusive fourth ring. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We’€™ve broken down the wide receiver, tight end, offensive line and running back positions. Now, we wrap up the offensive side of the ball with a look at quarterback.

Depth chart: Tom Brady (380-for-628, 61 percent, 4,343 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo

Overview: It won’€™t go on the mantle alongside the 2007 and 2010 seasons, but as we wrote here, to take Brady’€™s 2013 season as an indicator that he’€™s on his way out is to miss the big picture. With so many of his familiar targets gone, he wasn’€™t at his best over the course of the year — the October loss against the Bengals where he went 18-for-38 for 197 yards and a pick — was one of the worst outings of his long and distinguished career. In addition, he missed plenty of makeable throws last season, including some key shots downfield in the AFC title game. But at the same time, he played some of his best football over the course of the season, with his four-game stretch from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1 serving as his personal peak: Against the Steelers, Panthers, Broncos and Texans, Brady went 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions — a per game average of 29-for-41 for 358 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.5 INTs. He was at the controls of an offense that actually outscored the Broncos over the second half of the season, and ranked No. 7 in the league in total offense and No. 3 in points scored. All that with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, and Shane Vereen combining to miss 33 games. (That doesn’€™t take into account Stevan Ridley being repeatedly benched for fumbling.) All in all, it wasn’€™t his best season, but considering everything around him, still not bad.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Brady has moved into a different phase of his football career.

The quarterback wants to always remind people he’€™s no bigger or more important than the 52 other guys on the roster. But Brady, who will turn 37 next month, is no longer a contemporary of his teammates. He will be the older guy on the team for the third straight season, and while he’€™s always been in a leadership role, that really became evident in 2013. Last year, he commanded a group of receivers who were young enough to watch him win Super Bowls while they were in grade school. (By way of example, Dobson was 10 years old when Brady and the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.) There’€™s more deference to Brady than there was in year’€™s past. That doesn’€™t mean he isn’€™t capable of doing some cutting up with teammates behind the scenes. Instead, he’€™s much more inclined to be spending an off day conducting weekly film sessions with the younger receivers.

2. Even though he hasn’€™t taken any significant snaps in the regular season, Mallett has done all he can to try and improve his stock.

It’€™s difficult to remember, but when Mallett came into the league as a third-round pick in 2011, he was a bit of a third rail. Despite the fact that he threw for more than 8,300 yards in three years as a collegian, he was dogged by character issues, which likely caused the draft fall. But since he’€™s arrived in New England, teammates have praised his attitude, work ethic and approach to the game. He may not ultimately get a shot with the Patriots, but he’€™s done well to put any questions about his past behind him.

3. Garoppolo’€™s development has shades of Brady’€™s evolution.

Garoppolo was tutored by quarterback guru Jeff Christiansen, and shortly after the draft, Christiansen told WEEI.com that much of the drills, technique and footwork that Garoppolo went through over the last 10 years all came straight from the book of the late Tom Martinez, who was Brady’€™s quarterbacking guru for nearly 20 years. “This is so surreal to me, it’€™s almost frightening,”€ Christiansen said after being told Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots. “EVERYTHING we did [with Jimmy] was off Tom Brady. Brady set the standard for perfect technique, and so it just made sense for us to follow everything that Tom Martinez did with Brady.”

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Do the Patriots keep two quarterbacks or three?

The last time the Patriots carried three quarterbacks on the roster was in 2011, when the Patriots had Mallett as a third-stringer and Brian Hoyer as a backup to Brady. (The last two years, it’€™s just been Mallett and Brady.) Chances are good that they’€™ll keep three quarterbacks on the roster this time around, but the fight for snaps between Mallett and Garoppolo at the backup spot (in practice and in games) should make for one of the more compelling storylines of the summer for the Patriots.

2. What does the future hold for Mallett?

Mallett is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and while the Texans inquired about his availability over the course of the offseason, he remains a member of the Patriots, at least at this point. While trades have happened over the course of camp and into the regular season can happen, with each day that passes, a deal involving Mallett seems more and more unlikely. If that’€™s the case, it will be interesting to see if he hits the open market as a free agent following the 2014 season, particularly if he does so without any significant regular-season snaps on his resume. What sort of interest could he draw around the league? Would the Patriots be inclined to keep him? And could he succeed long-term as a quarterback in the NFL?

3. Is Garoppolo the eventual successor to Brady?

The Patriots used the 62nd overall pick on Garoppolo, the highest selection Belichick has used on a quarterback since he arrived in New England in 2000. In a perfect world for Patriots fans, he’€™d be the Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre‘€™s Brady, sitting fir the next three or so years and leaning under the starter before taking the reins sometime roughly around Brady’€™s 40th birthday. History tells us that franchises that don’€™t plan for the future can struggle when faced with the prospect of having a Hall of Fame quarterback retire. While the Patriots are at least planning for the future, there’€™s still the matter of being able to have the successor execute the game plan. Only time will tell if that responsibility will fall to Garoppolo or some other quarterback.

By the numbers: We’ve used this one before, but it’s one of our favorites — if Brady can win another ring, he’€™d be only the fifth quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl after his 35th birthday: Johnny Unitas (37 when he led the Colts to a win in Super Bowl V), Roger Staubach (35 when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII), Jim Plunkett (36 when the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII) and John Elway (37 and 38 when he led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII titles).

Key new player: Garoppolo. The arrival of the Eastern Illinois product has sparked all sorts of speculation about the future of Brady and Mallett. In his brief stint this past spring — where he got some added reps because Mallett was missing for a few practices — he was a mixed bag, with some good throws and some bad. Two things, however, stick out about Garoppolo’€™s development to this point: one, rookies and veterans alike have been impressive by his ability to command a huddle. And two, he has taken on a leadership role with many of the younger players, quizzing them on their responsibilities on a given play and making sure everyone is on the same page. Those are two of the characteristics that distinguished Brady from the rest of the youngsters when he first showed up in 2000.

The skinny: We can write all day about the impact of players like Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork. Ultimately, this team will only go as far as Brady can take it. If the quarterback is able to build on the chemistry that was forged with the new receivers last season — and Gronkowski stays healthy for all 16 games and into the playoffs — there’€™s a good chance he and the Patriots survive the rest of the AFC and get another shot at an elusive fourth Super Bowl.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

Robert Kraft said Thursday the league “should work very hard” to have a team in London before the decade ends.

Kraft made the comment today at a conference of television critics in California. The Patriots owner, who has been a longtime advocate of having a team overseas, has pushed for his team to play in the games in London on several occasions — New England has played games at Wembley Stadium in 2009 and 2012.

Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft said Thursday the league “should work very hard” to have a team in London before the decade ends.

Kraft made the comment today at a conference of television critics in California. The Patriots owner, who has been a longtime advocate of having a team overseas, has pushed for his team to play in the games in London on several occasions — New England has played games at Wembley Stadium in 2009 and 2012.

In all, the league will play three regular-season games in London in the coming season, with the Jaguars, Falcons and Raiders hosting contests at Wembley. Regular-season games have been played in London annually since 2007.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price