Tuesday night ESPN’s Outside the Lines had a report of a Gillette Stadium locker room attendant giving an unapproved special teams football to an alternate referee to be put into play during the AFC title game against the Colts. Wednesday it’s being reported an NFL official was the one who gave the locker room attendant the football, as part of a sting of stealing game-used footballs intended for charity, and instead being sold for a profit.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the referee locker room attendant, Jim McNally, who tried to introduce the unapproved special teams football into the AFC Championship game was actually handed the football by an NFL official. One of the special teams balls went missing and an NFL official who is in charge of collecting game balls for charity gave another ball to McNally.

McNally then gave the football to Greg Yette, the alternate official who was in charge of putting the special teams balls into play. It was then Yette noticed the ball wasn’t one approved by head official Walt Anderson prior to the game, and it was then NFL officials in the press box were alerted.

The NFL official who gave the unapproved football to McNally has been fired for selling the footballs meant for charity for a profit over a period of time, according to Schefter.

Schefter will join Dennis & Callahan Thursday morning at 8:30 to discuss this story.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

Could Minnesota’s Maxx Williams be the next great Patriots tight end?

He just might be if he makes it to the end of the first round in this year’s draft.

Williams is a special talent, and looking at Bill Belichick‘s history with tight ends, it’s hard to imagine him passing up a player who would create a mismatch no matter where he’s lined up. And, by our view, he’s ready to contribute right away and make Tom Brady‘s life a little easier. Expect him to post impressive numbers at the combine in his Friday workout.

Could tight end Maxx Williams be wearing a Patriots uniform next year? (Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Could tight end Maxx Williams be wearing a Patriots uniform next year? (Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Perhaps with certain teams adding a tight end when you already possess an all-time great at the position would be considered poor team-building. Not so for the Patriots under Belichick, who have shown the ability to use multiple tight ends in various ways. It’s seemingly their preferred base offense.

Looking at the Patriots, a player like Williams could help in two crucial ways. First, he’s a every-down player who can be used as such under their current offensive paradigm. Second, he gives them a player who can be dynamic and potentially dominant if forced to fill in for Rob Gronkowski. Williams can do some of the things that Aaron Hernandez used to do, but he can also do some heavy lifting as an in-line tight end if need be. Williams’ red zone ability is also outstanding. From this viewpoint, he’s the favorite tight end prospect in this year’s draft with many draft experts agreeing. For what it’s worth, he’d be above any tight end in last year’s draft as well.

Projected at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Williams is not as physically imposing as Gronkowski. Having said that, he is a similar receiver in many ways — overcoming some technique issues with freak athleticism and rare determination.

Here’s a look at Williams’ highlight reel. It’s an attention grabber.

The Patriots’ red zone offense is already a thing of beauty, but Williams gives a glimpse into what unstoppable might look like. And, if the stars align and Williams plays his Sunday games for the Patriots, unstoppable could happen very soon.

Now for the bad news — there’s a good chance Williams teases the Patriots and their fans by getting very close to the No. 32 pick on draft day, only to be snatched up by a team like Baltimore, Green Bay or Seattle. Then again, if we look at history, Belichick loves to move back, but he’ll often move up as well. One never knows.

Regardless of where Williams gets drafted, expect him to be a very productive player and a fan favorite. If that destination is the Patriots, he’s the next link in a very impressive chain of tight ends.

Blog Author: 
Peter Davidson

Long-time Patriots guard was traded to the Buccaneers just a few weeks prior to the 2014 season — a move which ultimately kept Mankins from winning his first Super Bowl ring, after coming so close in his nine seasons with the Patriots.

While his new team Tampa Bay went 2-14, good for the worst record in the league and the No. 1 overall draft pick, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith raved about their new guard Wednesday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

“We think the world of Logan,” Licht told reporters. “He’€™s part of the solution, wasn’€™t part of the problem. Having him for another year, the full offseason which he’€™s already told me he wants to be there for the whole offseason, and having him in the room — I think it’€™s going to be extremely valuable to this football team moving forward. Yeah, he has a future with us.”

Being an 11-year veteran, Mankins is a player some of the younger players can look up to and learn from, as the former Patriots guard is one of the hardest working, true professionals in the game.

“[Logan Mankins] was everything I hoped he would be and I’€™m talking about a veteran who played at a high level, leadership, Logan is a good player,” Smith said. “Logan played well for us. We need to get others play up to his level.”

Mankins opened up to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan about his season towards the end, admitting it was a tough transition going from one of the best teams in the league, to one of the worst teams in the league, but going on what members of the Buccaneers are saying, the guard will be a major part of the team’s turnaround.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Although Rex Ryan is no longer coaching the Jets, he didn’t go very far as he’s still in the AFC East coaching the Bills, which means the Patriots still remain his top competition within the division.

Although Rex Ryan is no longer coaching the Jets, he didn’t go very far as he’s still in the AFC East coaching the Bills, which means the Patriots still remain his top competition within the division.

Speaking at the NFL combine Wednesday, Ryan was asked what it was like to see the Patriots win the Super Bowl.

“It was terrible, next question,” Ryan joked to reporters. “No, you know what? That was a great game, obviously a great game. I think it was anticipated it was going to be a great game. You had two outstanding teams, both of them really well coached. And, obviously, it was an outstanding game.”

The day of the Super Bowl a report came out that the Bills would be interested in acquiring Patriots star cornerback Darrelle Revis, reuniting Revis with his former coach in New York. Ryan was asked if he had any interest in the Patriots’ corner, and Ryan didn’t take the bait, as he didn’t want to get himself involved with potentially tampering with another team’s player.

“Alright, now, I was waiting. I knew it would come from somebody,” said Ryan. “See my first year, I would have done this and I would have swung at that pitch, and probably been fined for tampering or something like that. This time, no way am I going to talk about somebody else’€™s player, so I refuse to do that.”

Ryan was also asked about Deflategate, and if the accusations changed the way he viewed the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. The Bills coach said it shouldn’t take away from the win, as the team earned it.

“I think they earned the Super Bowl, period,” he said. “That’€™s the way I’€™d see it.”

This is Ryan’s first combine as coach of the Bills, and he said he woke up at 4 a.m. Wednesday to get to Indianpolis. He noted the team has a lot of work to do over the coming days and weeks.

“I had to get here, man. I had to fly through Detroit and all that, you know, the glamorous trip into Indy,” said Ryan. “But excited about it. And because of that, I’€™m going to start by saying that you’€™ve got pitchers and catchers now in baseball, so that’€™s exciting. You know, this time of year, as a coach, what you try to do is you look at ways of getting better.”

When it comes to getting better, Ryan knows they will need to compete with the Patriots first and foremost within the division, and with New England being the reigning Super Bowl champions and winning the AFC East six straight years, and 11 of the last 12, it all starts with being able to get past them.

“I think it’€™s more of the fact that these are the world champions so you want to beat them, period,” said Ryan. “There’€™s no doubts. If you’€™re going to try to knock one team off it would be the world champions. That’€™s not just me, that’€™s where everybody wants to get that level. Obviously we’€™ve got a lot of ground to make up.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Amari Cooper (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Alabama’s Amari Cooper is one of the top-rated receivers in the 2015 draft class. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

As we head into the 2015 NFL combine, this year’s crop of draftable receiving talent is starting to take shape. In the wake of the 2014 class, just about any draft in league history looks disappointing, but football fans would be wise to get up to speed on this year’s group. Some of these players can make an impact right away, and there is plenty of depth, too. Will there be any Odell Beckhams? No. In fact, I don’t see any Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins either. That doesn’t mean this class lacks talent. Far from it. In fact, I like this class much better than the 2013 class.

I’ll break the top 20 prospects into four tiers to give you a general sense of value and where the drop-offs are. These ratings can and will change as we move through the draft process and watch more film … a lot more film.

Be sure to check out Rotobahn in the coming days and weeks as we roll out our long-form scouting reports and start to tackle the puzzle that is the 2015 fantasy draft board. This is going to be one of the most interesting drafting seasons ever. Has the era of the running back ended? If so, what defines where we are now? Be sure to tune in to the next fantasy football podcast, when Jim Hackett and I will dig into these topics and a whole lot more.

Click on the player’s name to watch a sample of his game film.

Tier 1

Amari Cooper, Alabama
DeVante Parker, Louisville
Kevin White, West Virginia

Take your pick. These three players could go off the board based on scheme fit as much as anything else. They all are high-quality players who are NFL-ready. The general consensus seems to be that Cooper will be taken first, but White is an imposing physical receiver who some teams will covet, and Parker has a little bit of everything. For anybody who did film work on Teddy Bridgewater last season, Parker should be well-known. He was on the other side of most of Bridgewater’s big plays, and that’s no coincidence. Parker reminds me of Dallas’ Terrance Williams when he left Baylor, but with better hands and more developed routes. One thing all three of their top guys have in common is that their value is not all that dependent on the combine. Barring something really off-the-charts bad, the film and a clean bill of health is all these players need to sell themselves on draft day.

Tier 2

Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri (never played a down for Oklahoma)
Devin Smith, Ohio State
Sammie Coates, Auburn
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Breshad Perriman, Central Florida
Philip Dorsett, Miami

This tier is a step down, but you still have mid- to late-first-round talent here. The difference is that some of these guys have discernible flaws, and a few are not game-ready like the Tier 1 options. Green-Beckham is a player who would possibly be off my board if I was an NFL GM. His off-field baggage is that significant. On the other hand, he has a skill set that is reminiscent of Calvin Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, DGB is not the freak that Megatron is, but his athleticism is rare for a man his size. Kevin Smith is a bit under the radar for a guy who was the lead receiver for a national championship team. Smith has an NFL skill set and he can take the top off of a defense. Coates is here for his upside. He may be the best deep threat in this year’s class, and we expect him to run very fast, but he lacks the polish of guys like Cooper and Parker. Jaelen Strong is a big name and he was a very solid college receiver who brings good hands and a big strong frame to the table. Getting consistent separation against man coverage will be the key to his success at the next level. Perriman is moving up boards, and, quite frankly, I’m not sure why it took so long. Anybody who watched Blake Bortles’ 2013 film had to notice this guy. My main concern with Perriman is his hands, and it’s a mild concern. He could end up being one of the better values if he makes it into the second round. Dorsett’s inclusion in this tier may surprise some, but at Rotobahn we love his speed and alpha attitude. The only concerns we have with Dorsett are his size and his potential lack of durability. The kid is an NFL talent. Just watch his film.

Tier 3

Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Rashad Greene, Florida State
Nelson Agholor, USC
Tony Lippett, Michigan State
Tre McBride, William & Mary

Some good NFL receivers will come out of this group. Lockett, coming off a strong week at the Senior Bowl, has plenty of speed and quickness. He also has NFL bloodlines. His father, Kevin Lockett, played six seasons in the NFL. Greene is a well-known and productive receiver if you’ve been watching the college playoffs the last few seasons. He’s a dependable well-rounded receiver but he’s a shade on the small side. Lippett is a talented kid who may need a year or two to reach his potential physically. At 6-foot-2, 192 pounds, he’s a little on the lean side, but he has a well-rounded game. McBride has tantalizing ball skills and he could move up boards with a good combine performance.

Tier 4

Deon Long, Maryland
Ty Montgomery, Stanford
Dres Anderson, Utah
Jamison Crowder, Duke
Josh Harper, Fresno State
DaVaris Daniels, Notre Dame

Deon Long is a sleeper with impressive strength and tackle-breaking ability for his size. He could become a trendy riser with a good combine performance. Montgomery is a talented and versatile player, but his inconsistent hands concern me. Anderson’s season ended in October due to a knee injury, so the combine has special importance for him as he tries to show that he’s fully recovered. Anderson also is the son of a former NFL receiver (Flipper Anderson). Crowder is a very good receiver, but his lack of size should make him a slot-only receiver at the next level. Harper is a solid receiver with soft hands, but he needs to show some speed this week or he could fall down boards. Daniels is a player to watch this week. He missed the entire season due to academic woes, so teams will be looking closely to see what kind of shape he’s in. A strong workout would send a powerful message about his maturity.

I’ll be back Thursday with a look at the running backs, with the tight ends and quarterbacks going up on Friday and Saturday, respectively. I’ll also take a look at some of this year’s sleepers and small-school talents. That will be posted Saturday morning. If you want to keep up with the combine as it happens, follow me on Twitter.

Blog Author: 
Peter Davidson

After a report a few weeks back saying Wes Welker was contemplating retirement, it doesn’t seem like the 33-year-old is ready to call it quits just yet, according to new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak.

Although Welker is a free agent, Kubiak spoke to Welker over the phone — as he did with every every Denver player — and Welker was working out in Arizona.

“I’€™ve spoken to every player on the team,” Kubiak told reporters at the combine. “It’€™s the first thing I did when I got there was pick up the phone and call and say hello and let them know how excited I was to be a part of it. But I had a good conversation with Wes. I’€™ve known him, know people who have known him for many, many years.

“I know he wants to play some more football and, like I said, like any of these free agents we’€™re talking about right now, we’€™d love to have them back. We’€™ll see how this thing works out. But I know he’€™s feeling good, he told me he’€™s feeling good and actually was working down in Arizona, I think, at the time I talked to him.”

Kubiak said he will stay out of Welker’s way and ultimately let him make the decision of first of all whether he wants to come back to the NFL, and secondly if that will be in Denver or somewhere else.

“€œNo, I think that’€™s Wes,” said Kubiak. “No, I do not think that’€™s my place. I’€™m just developing a relationship with Wes from his standpoint. I hope I get an opportunity to coach him and be a bigger part of his career. I have great respect for what he’€™s done and the job he’€™s done, and he did a very good job in Denver. Only he can work through that and know how he’€™s feeling, but he was very positive with me.”

Dealing with injuries in Denver, Welker has totaled 124 catches for 1,242 yards and 12 touchdowns in his two seasons as Bronco, but finished with just two touchdowns this past year. Welker has played 11 seasons in the NFL.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

The NFL combine kicked off in Indianapolis Wednesday morning, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t go straight to Indianapolis when he arrived on Tuesday. Instead he visited with good friend, Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean and spoke to his team.

According to Indiana.Scout.com, the coach gave a “tremendous” speech. Crean thought only Mike Lombardi, an assistant to the Patriots coaches, would be going, but he brought Belichick along with him.

Crean is brother-in-law’s with the Harbaugh brothers.

Belichick will now be hard at work with the rest of the organization at the combine, which runs through Monday.

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

Honored to have met two of the all time greats in the NFL earlier today, Coach Bill Belichick and Mike Lomabrdi!

A photo posted by Nick Zeisloft (@n_zeis2) on

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Orlando Franklin is one more versatile offensive linemen on the potential free agent market. (Getty Images)

Orlando Franklin is one more versatile offensive linemen on the potential free agent market. (Getty Images)

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 already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes and Pernell McPhee. Here is a look at offensive guard/tackle Orlando Franklin:

Orlando Franklin
Position: Offensive guard/tackle
Age: 27, (turns 28 on April 12)
Height: 6-foot-7
Weight: 320 pounds

The skinny: The durable Franklin represents one of the most versatile offensive lineman to potentially hit the free agent market. He started his first three seasons out of the University of Miami playing right tackle for the Broncos before moving to left guard this past season. He has started 63 of a possible 64 regular season games in his four NFL seasons. As general manager John Elway and head coach John Fox considered options to replace left guard Zane Beadles (FA to Jacksonville) they decided on Franklin. The massive Franklin also provided more of a physical presence along the interior to boost the running game to protect Peyton Manning. Like the Bengals did in 2013 with Andrew Whitworth, the Broncos moved one of their long and powerful tackles inside to a guard spot to help open up holes on the interior line. When Franklin debuted with the Broncos in 2011, Tim Tebow became the starting quarterback midway through the season. Franklin was named to the All-Rookie Team by Football Outsiders that season after starting all 16 regular-season contests and playing in 98.2 percent of the team’€™s offensive snaps. Franklin was a key part of an offensive line that paved the way for the Broncos to lead the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 164.5 yards per game.

By the numbers: Allowed the fewest sacks (3.5) in the NFL among 16-game starting right tackles in 2012 while becoming the first right tackle and just the sixth offensive lineman overall in Broncos history to start every regular-season game as a rookie in 2011.

Why it would work: Value added. If 32-year-old Dan Connolly leaves via free agency, the versatile Franklin would immediately step in as the replacement, adding depth to the experienced Patriots offensive line, allowing the team to part ways with Connolly, who signed a three-year, $9.7 million contract in March 2012. It’ll take possibly three times that total dollar amount to bring Franklin on board in his prime. But protecting Brady is of utmost importance. And some money could be freed if the Patriots cut left tackle Nate Solder, who is due a pricey $7.438 million for 2015. Also, if the Patriots feel they need that cap space to re-sign Darrelle Revis and/or Devin McCourty, they could work out a long-term deal with someone like Franklin and save the money on the front end. In addition to the money, there’s no doubting that the Patriots (or any team) would value someone who has proven as durable and versatile as Franklin has in his first four seasons.

Why it might not work: The Patriots are not alone in wanting and needing to bolster their offensive line. Other teams can read the scouting report and vitals on Franklin and see that he is entering his prime, leading to a bidding war. The Patriots have never shown a desire to enter such a race, and with Marcus Cannon already under contract for the next two seasons ($9 million commitment), they may feel that they have enough depth already along the line. They also may feel that building through the draft might be the way to go, especially given the success with Bryan Stork this past season, as he emerged as the starting center for years to come. Cameron Fleming also figures to play a big role for the Patriots for years to come.

Quote: “I don’t know anything else. I’m a Bronco. I’d love to be a Bronco for the rest of my life.” — Orlando Franklin on his interest in re-signing with Broncos after Denver’s playoff loss to the Colts.

Our take: After deciding what to do with Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty in 2015 and beyond, one could certainly make the argument that the next priority for the Patriots is fortifying the line protecting Tom Brady. Franklin, who was a starting left guard and left tackle at times at the University of Miami, is one of the best pieces out there to do exactly that. Franklin is one of 12 Broncos scheduled to hit free agency and certainly, given the cap mess out in Denver, they will not be able to keep all 12. Franklin is someone who figures to fall through the cracks and if he does, the Patriots will no doubt entertain talks with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. If there’s one free agent offensive lineman out there in his prime that makes the most sense for what the Patriots do, it’s Franklin.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Kelly Naqi, the reporter for ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” who wrote the story claiming Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally gave a referee an unapproved kicking football during the AFC championship game, joined Middays with MFB on Wednesday morning to discuss the latest allegation.