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
Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.
Blog Author: 
WEEI
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

Following Monday’s announcement that he had not received the franchise tag, Patriots safety Devin McCourty acknowledged that there’s the possibility he “could be playing in a different place” in 2015.

In an interview with ESPN’s Josina Anderson, McCourty reflected on the fact that it was kicker Stephen Gostkowski who was tagged instead of him, and said that there was no real information from the franchise who was going to be tagged until the announcement was made Monday afternoon prior to the 4 p.m. deadline.

“There was no real information from them on if it was going to be me or (Stephen Gostkowski),” he said. “So I was kind of going off of what everybody else was going off, with what people were reporting as far as sources and all that.

“I guess it’s more realistic now that [there’s] a chance that I might not be back there,” McCourty added. “Or there’s still a chance that I will, but I guess [there’s] more of a chance now with the franchise tag going to Steve that I could be playing in a different place. Still, keeping an open mind and trying to enjoy the process.”

McCourty said the idea of potentially moving on would be tough, but he understands the nature of the business.

“It would definitely be bittersweet,” he said. “You stay somewhere for five years and really make a name for yourself in that place. I’ve gotten a lot of help. I know a lot of people in the area, built great relationships, so it will definitely be bittersweet. But my mom always reminds me that comes with the territory. That’s part of being in the NFL, that change is always coming.

“To me it kind of is what it is. I know from being there for five years, I’ve seen a bunch of moves where a bunch of people kind of didn’t know what they were doing and somehow it always works out. So, it’s just now, I am on the other side. I’m not surprised really. I know [the Patriots] always know what they’re doing, as far as the team, and what they want to do. So, just seeing what’s next for me.”

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

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Devin McCourty could be in line for a handsome payday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty could be in line for a handsome payday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

There are two ways to look at Monday’s decision not to hit safety Devin McCourty with the franchise tag.

If you are a glass-is-half-full type, the Patriots’ decision not to franchise McCourty was made because the two sides are closing in on a long-term deal that would keep him in New England for the foreseeable future, and allow the Rutgers product to grow old in a Patriots uniform.

If you’re more of a glass-is-half-empty type, this is the first chapter of a story that ends with McCourty at a press conference posing next to Chuck Pagano, John Harbaugh, Gary Kubiak or a coach for any of New England’s other AFC rivals while talking about “new challenges” and “new beginnings.” (That doesn’t even begin to take onto account the possibility of him playing alongside his brother Jason in Tennessee, or any of the other NFC teams that might be flush with cash once the free-agency buffet opens next week.)

Now, instead of slapping the $9.6 tag on him for the 2015 season, the Patriots are gambling with the idea that they can retain McCourty for the long term. The defensive back has grown up in the New England system, and come of age in an age of unprecedented success with the Patriots: He’s been to four straight AFC title games, made two Super Bowl appearances, been twice named a second-team All-Pro (at two different positions) and won a Super Bowl ring, all before the age of 28. It’s hard to imagine him reaching the same sort of heights at another stop over the next five years.

But when you consider the market, he’s going to get paid like one of the best safeties in the league. In truth, he’s a rare talent: He’s not an All-World corner along the lines of a Darrelle Revis. But his knowledge of the system, leadership skills, ability to play alongside a multitude of different players while displaying an amazing positional flexibility (at corner and safety) make him extremely valuable to the New England system. And when you take into account the free agent market — as well as the apparent choices that could be available in this year’s draft at safety — it’s a considerable gamble, especially when you consider what some comparable defensive backs have made on the market over the course of the last few years.

— T.J. Ward: Signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract last March, a deal contains $13.5 million guaranteed.

Earl Thomas: Last April, he signed a five-year, $44.725 million contract with $27.725 million guaranteed, including a $9.5 million signing bonus.

— Eric Weddle: In 2011, the bearded defensive back signed a a five-year, $40 million contract with $19 million guaranteed and a $13 million signing bonus.

While McCourty might not be at the top of that food chain, he’s not too far removed, especially in this environment.

The Patriots have exclusive negotiating rights with McCourty until Saturday. That’s when the weird tampering window involving impending unrestricted free agents opens, which allows reps from around the league to get in touch with him and gauge what he might be interested in. While no deals can be consummated until Tuesday, expect there to be plenty of potential suitors lined up outside of McCourty’s door for several reasons, not the least of which could be simply driving up the price for New England.

Regardless of what happens, McCourty has now entered into a brave new world, one where he could command a sizable payday. As is the case with his fellow defensive back Darrelle Revis, where both sides decide to go from this point over the next week will provide some level of insight into just how the New England secondary will look in 2015 and beyond.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

The Patriots made it official Monday afternoon, announcing they had placed the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The team issued the following statement:

The Patriots made it official Monday afternoon, announcing they had placed the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski. The team issued the following statement:

“Stephen has been extremely productive and a vital component to our success since joining our team in 2006. Utilizing the franchise designation allows both sides more time to try to reach an agreement, which is the goal.”

Here’s a portion of the release, as issued by the franchise:

Gostkowski was named to the Pro Bowl for the second straight season in 2014 and for the third time overall since joining the team as a fourth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Memphis. He led the NFL in 2014 with 156 total points. Gostkowski also led the NFL in points in 2008, 2012 and 2013, becoming just the third player to lead the NFL in points in at least four seasons. He has connected on 86.8 percent of his regular-season field goal attempts since entering the NFL (243-of-280), the best field goal percentage in Patriots history.

Gostkowski became the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer in the win vs. Miami on Dec. 14 and now has 1,179 career points. He was 35-of-37 on field goals in 2014 for a 94.6 field goal percentage, the highest field goal percentage in a single season for the Patriots.

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

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price