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Cody A. Combest

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About a month into the 2017 NFL free agency market and there are few big names left to sign. Former Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson came to visit and workout for the Patriots but left without a contract offer. LeGarrette Blount is still available to return after 18 rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 yards on the ground failed to generate interest again on the open market.

While Blount could still return, the Patriots are still awash in salary cap space heading towards the NFL draft at the end of the month. The NFLPA has the Patriots with over $25,000,000 in cap space but that does not include Alan Branch’s contract (which is not official yet). Miguel Benzan at Patscap.com has the Patriots with just under $22 million in salary cap space.
New England needs to leave room for their seven NFL draft picks later this month but the Patriots have not done anything with the contract of Danny Amendola yet either. Amendola has a cap hit of almost $7.8 million and there is no way that a wide receiver who is fourth or fifth on the depth chart (Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and probably Malcolm Mitchell are ahead of Amendola) is going to make that kind of money. Just cutting Amendola frees up $6.5 million of cap space.

Another point brought up by Mike Reiss at ESPN.com was that the Patriots have only 66 players on the roster. With seven draft picks bringing them to 73 players, the Patriots could conceivably bring in up to 17 undrafted free agents to get the roster to 90 players heading into training camp. With an estimated $30 million in cap space once Amendola’s contract is resolved, the Patriots could have room for a few more free agents before or after the NFL draft.

At running back, if not Blount, the Patriots have kicked the tires on Peterson and could take a look at former Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles, former Seahawks’ running back Christine Michael, former Steelers’ running back DeAngelo Williams or former New York Giants’ running back and Dancing with the Stars’ contestant Rashad Jennings. None of these four have the pedigree of Peterson nor do any of them have the proven production of Blount.

A running back who would make sense in New England is former Jacksonville Jaguars’ running back and former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson is an electric athlete who was linked to the Patriots prior to the 2013 NFL draft. Robinson got lost in the Jaguars’ offense last year but has decent size (five-foot-eleven and 199 pounds) and can run and catch the ball out of the backfield.

The Patriots need depth at defensive end despite the added Kony Ealy and free agent pickup Lawrence Guy having the ability to slip outside to pressure as well. Jared Odrick, who was released by Jacksonville, is an end/hybrid player who already visited Foxboro this offseason and could yet be signed to a deal.

Another name to watch is longtime Colt and former Atlanta Falcons’ pass rusher Dwight Freeney. The Patriots saw him up-close in Super Bowl 51 and until he ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, the old man provided a lot of pressure on Tom Brady. Former Texans, Bills, and Dolphins’ defensive end Mario Williams may be available cheap to provide depth at the position.

An intriguing name who has not seen much attention in free agency is former Colts’ pass rusher Erik Walden. His only visit was with Tennessee and he left without a contract. Walden had 11 sacks for the Colts last year and is more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end. He is 31 but he has been a consistent performer in Indianapolis.

Another name of note at the position is Devin Taylor. Taylor had seven sacks for the Detroit Lions in 2015 but had a down year last season. After sitting on the sidelines through the first month of free agency, Taylor could be had on a cheap incentive-laden deal. The former Gamecock defensive end had 15 sacks in four seasons in Detroit and has the length (six-foot-seven) and size (266 pounds) that New England favors in a defensive end.

Finally, despite the depth at wide receiver already, do not count out former Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Michael Floyd returning to push Malcolm Mitchell at outside receiver. Floyd would likely not sign until his home arrest is over near the start of training camp but the Patriots paid $1 million last year to give Floyd a one-month trial. That kind of investment means he may be on his way back to give the Patriots the deepest wide receiver group in the NFL in 2017.

Making a trade that will have massive aftershocks on the league for years to come, the Buffalo Bills have picked up on the old adage of, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Announcing a shock press conference this morning, Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott announced that the Bills had in fact acquired Tom Brady in a trade with the rival New England Patriots.

While the terms of the trade were not disclosed, some have reported that the deal saw the Bills send all of their draft picks for the next four seasons to the Patriots as a part of the deal along with wide receiver Sammy Watkins, running back LeSean McCoy, the entire starting offensive line from last season as well as a handful of defensive starters which included Shaq Lawson and Ronald Darby.Given the hefty amount paid for Brady, the Bills must be expecting the quarterback to play well into his fifties. That said, the Bills have finally found a way to defeat Tom Brady, just add him to your own roster. Speaking during the press conference, Sean McDermott offered a very warm welcome to Brady in hope that the quarterback would not retire over joining his Bills squad.

“Today, April 1st, 2017, the Buffalo Bills have made a game-changing trade. We have officially acquired Tom Brady in a trade with the New England Patriots. While we know there have been recent rumors about his impending retirement, we here with the Bills organization do hope he reconsiders and joins us to help bring the Bills some Super Bowl glory.”

That said, McDermott did kind of have a moment during the press conference when he realized exactly what he had done. “Yes, we now have Tom Brady as a member of our roster. However, now that I’m thinking about it, he doesn’t have anyone to protect him, no star receiver or running back and our defense now looks to be as thin as a private high schools… oops.”

While it is unknown how Brady will handle this news, we here at cover32 are extremely overjoyed that the Bills have made this trade, on April 1st of all days. Now, allow me to soke in this news myself while I go take a look at the newly announced GTA 6, Dodge-Hemi powered Ferrari’s, and our newly arrived martian friends.

We will be reviewing the Saints roster as it currently stands leading to free agency and the draft. Last week we looked at the Tight End position. This week it’s the Offensive Line.
Going into the season, many Saints fans thought that the offensive line was going to be a disaster in 2016. And if you had told them that left tackle Terron Armstead would miss multiple games throughout the season, those fans would of guaranteed a disaster. It wasn’t. In fact the offensive line over preformed in every area turning out the 12th best offensive line in all of 2016 according to Pro Football Focus. Let’s take an in depth look.
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Terron Armstead-LT
It started in training camp. A lingering injury keeping him out most of camp. Armstead played sparingly in two preseason games and without the proper time off to get healthy, gutted through seven games and only 397 snaps for the Saints in 2016. From the outside looking in, the Saints offensive line rose up to the challenge without Armstead as a unit. That’s is a credit to the Saints. One of the main areas where Armstead was missed was in the screen passing game. Quite simply, a bread and butter type play that the Saints have had incredible success with in the past, was now non existent in Armstead’s absence. A healthy offseason should leave the Saints with a quality left tackle for 2017.
Zach Streif-RT
One of the core Saints from the initial fabulous Payton/Loomis 2006 draft. The last couple of years saw Strief’s play decline. He struggled against elite pass rushers. While fans where ready to find his replacement, Strief responded with his best season as a Saint. Pro Football focus lists him as the Saints best offensive lineman in 2016. He’ll be 34 when the 2017 season kicks off so a younger right tackle will still be on the needs list come draft time. Unless you move Peat to right tackle, which was a disaster on the right side last pre season.
Andrus Peat-LG/T
What a difference a year makes. The former 2015 first round pick looked like the sure fire bust of the 2015 draft. Nothing in the pre season stood out to change our minds on Peat either. Peat played left tackle in college but looked to be weak on the right side. Credit the Saints for keeping him on the left side although in the guard position in 2016. Although he did fill in admirably at left tackle when Armstead was out. I don’t see him becoming the eventual Strief replacement on the right side. Luckily the Saints have no other answers for left guard. Peat has essentially gone from 2015 bust to 2016 best Saints player in the draft.
Jahari Evans-RG-Free Agent
The Who Dat Nation had thought they’d seen the last of Evans after the 2015 season. His contract had ended, age was catching up to him. All the signs were there for the former pro-bowler to end his illustrious career. Someone forgot to tell Evans. He signed with the Seahawks and was cut after the preseason. Seattle’s cut had become the Saints need. Like Strief the Saints can’t rest on the history of Evans. A new right side of the line needs to be addressed in the draft. To think that you’ll get the same impressive results in 2017 out of two 34 year olds on the right side of your line would be a mistake by the Saints.
Max Unger-C

You can make a case that the Saints made out better then Seattle in the Jimmy Graham for Max Unger deal. Getting Unger has helped the Saints more then Graham has helped Seattle. Unger has been the center of it all on the line. He only gave up 12 Quarterback pressures in 2016. Building around Unger and with a healthy Armstead the Saints line should be better in 2017.
The Reserves

Tony Hills-LT–Free Agent
Second season with the Saints. Nothing spectacular stands out except is a good locker room presence. Hills 2016 will best be remembered in Week 4 at San Diego, where at halftime, Hills gave a passionate speech to motivate the team which was at risk of dropping to 0-4. Many players talked about Hills helping them turn around that game and the 2016 season.
Senio Kelemete-G
Seems to have overtaken Tim Lelito as the fringe starting guard/backup guard role. Received a solid amount of playing time at left guard with Armstead out and Peat moving to left tackle. He started nine games in 2016 and played in 15. Finding a guard is still a must with this team, however Kelemete has shown that he can fill in when needed and get the job done.
Tim Lelito-G–Free Agent
With Kelemete still under contract Lelito on paper to be the odd man out. He did start in seven games last season and played in all 16. The question becomes with Peat as it looks entrenched in the left guard spot, and Evans unsigned. Who on the roster is best for the right guard position. It could still be Lelito, but with Kelemete still around, watching the draft for a guard selection could be the writing on the wall for Lelito.
Landon Turner-G
During the 2016 draft, Saints fans were screaming for the Saints to select Landon Turner. They didn’t. Sensing what fans didn’t know, and what apparently the other 31 teams did know was that, Turner would go undrafted. It was there the Saints signed the undrafted Turner to a contract. Turner didn’t make much of an impact, only appearing in seven games. Should get more opportunities in 2017, especially if Lelito leaves.
John Fullington-LT
Fullington made the practice squad out of camp, and stayed there for the entire 2016 season. It remains to be seen what type of impact he’ll have on the Saints moving forward as 2017 will be his 4th year in the league.
Jack Allen-C
Like Turner, Allen was another undrafted player that got fans excited last April. He made the practice squad out of training camp and was brought up late season, however never played in a game. Another fringe player who adds depth to an offensive line looking to get better.
Next week: Defensive lineman

The need to compete isn’t something new to the New England Patriots. The leader of the pack, Tom Brady shows his competitive nature both on and off the field. Remember his ping pong match against Danny Amendola during which Brady allegedly broke his ping pong paddle?

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During training camp, Brady has been seen yelling from the sidelines like it was game day. Up and down the field he can be seen whether it’s chasing fellow teammates down in joy for a good catch or getting offense in line. Brady never stands down.

Here are what some teammates had to say: Tight end Rob Gronkowski said, “It’s a lot of fun. It’s every day, he comes out, he competes every single day. Everybody chirping at each other just makes the game fun and makes it special, too.”

Wide receiver Chris Hogan said, “Oh man, it’s contagious — him out here, really just everyone out here being so excited. It’s really practice for us; we’re out here competing every single day.”

Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said, “But practice here is like the game and I love every bit of it. Every time you come out here, it’s game day. That’s how I feel when I suit up and put on this uniform.”

It looks like Tom Brady’s competing attitude is contagious and rubbing off on all the new teammates. Training his teammates to act like every practice is a game helps the players get in a game day mindset. Brady is instilling even the youngest of players with the New England way of life.

Being a New England Patriots’ player is more than just putting on a uniform. Even though Tom Brady won’t be allowed near the team during his four game suspension, you can bet he will find a way to make an impact.

Kaepernick appears to be on his way to Denver.

The details still need to be worked out, but the 49ers and the Broncos appear to have an agreement in place to swap a mid-round pick for the former University of Nevada quarterback.

According to a report by Adam Schefter at ESPN, the parameters are there. Now the only thing to settle is a re-structured deal for Colin Kaepernick:

Earlier this week it was reported that John Elway and the Broncos want Kaepernick to take a paycut, worth as much as $5 million in guaranteed money. Obviously, Kaepernick isn’t thrilled at the prospect and he’s doing what he can to avoid this.

Denver is desperate to add a starting caliber kind of quarterback, as they’ve lost two this offseason already.

Peyton Manning retired after winning his final game in Super Bowl 50, then Brock Osweiler left town after signing a four year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans. Since then, the Broncos have traded for Mark Sanchez, but he’s clearly not who the team has in mind to lead the franchise into the future.

Kaepernick has his issues, but his athleticism and track record make him a much more desirable candidate for the Broncos.

Last year Pro Football Focus ranked Colin Kaepernick 37th at the position overall out of 38 QBs who played significant snaps. While he’s still an excellent rushing threat, Kaepernick’s accuracy and decision making seem to be trending in the wrong direction. Since Richard Sherman tipped his pass at the end of the NFC Championship a couple of years ago Kaepernick simply doesn’t seem to be the same player.

As for the 49ers, it’s clear that Chip Kelly was never a big fan of Kaepernick’s game. His west coast offense requires an accurate quarterback who can make quick, sharp decisions. Expect them to go with Blaine Gabbert and use a draft pick on a player they think they can build around. Cal’s Jared Goff is a popular mock pick.

We will have more news on the trade as it develops.

Cardinals were among the top teams when it came to their offense and defense, and with that all you need is a competent special teams group to make sure games aren’t being lost in the third phase of the game. Drew Butler, son of Kevin “Butthead” Butler who kicked for the 1985 Chicago Bears, resigned with the team before hitting the restricted free-agent market.
Though his numbers weren’t “stellar” in 2015, punters aren’t really a statistic driven position, as was noted by head coach Bruce Arians.

“Early in the year, the statistics sometimes when you’re pooch punting and kicking it away from certain people, your statistics won’t be as good,” Arians said in late November. “But I’ve got all the confidence in the world. He’s got a great, talented leg and he’s really developing a hell of a knuckleball.”

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He did take some heat from fans after a poor showing in the 2014 Wild Card game last season, but this season’s playoff performance he played remarkably better than he had all year, increasing his average punt by nearly five yards.
The head coach wasn’t the only one to offer a nod of confidence to the punter.

“Is Drew a good punter? Yeah, he’s a good punter,” special teams coordinator Amos Jones said prior to the NFC Championship. “I’m glad he’s finally getting a little recognition off of what I think has been a good third year in the league. It’s not his fault that people don’t make tackles.”

The details of the contract have not been made public yet, but odds are that it will be run-of-the-mill. Both player and team were probably happy to get it out of the way, to have one less worry heading into the draft and free-agency, but it is still possible another punter is brought in for a little training camp competition.

Rantsports.com had someone go through and redesign all thirty-two teams logos. Needless to say, they took our beloved star and added their own special touch to it. The only thing I have to say is….if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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He wasn’t always “Matty Ice” to everybody. Going into the 2004 season at Boston College, he was just Matt. He was a young quarterback fighting for a starting job at a mediocre football school. Now he’s a three time pro-bowler with all major passing records in Falcons history. Now he’s the quarterback that has led comeback after comeback for the Falcons and brought a city hope. Now he’s striving to bring the city that he has played for a Super Bowl. Now he’s not Matt, he’s Matty Ice.

Coming out of high school, he wasn’t a highly recruited prospect. He received All-Southern Pennsylvania honors as a senior quarterback at William Penn Charter School and then, like his uncle John Loughrey, took his talents to Boston College.AROUND COVER32

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It wasn’t until November 5th, 2005, during the fourth quarter of a North Carolina game that Ryan would take the reigns of the Boston College offense permanently. In his 2006 season, he would go on to start 11 of 12 games, only missing one because of a broken foot. His 2007 season is when he really came into the light, passing for 843 yards and six touchdowns in his first two games and boosting him into Heisman talks. Against Virginia Tech that season, Matty Ice threw 2 touchdowns in 3 minutes, one which was the game winner with 11 seconds left. He ended the season with 31 touchdowns, but the 2nd most interceptions of a college quarterback with 19. He won the Manning award, Johnny Unitas golden arm award and ACC player of the year.

Matt got drafted with the third pick in the NFL draft, being the first quarterback off the board and, my god, was this a good pick for the Falcons. After losing Mike Vick, the Falcons had come off a 4-12 record in the 2007 season and needed someone to lead their offense. Not only did he lead, but he flourished in the Falcons offense with new coach Mike Smith and the Falcons went 11-5. In his first season, Matty Ice threw for 3,440 yards with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. They went into the playoffs as a wildcard but lost in the first round to the Arizona Cardinals, who would end up making it to the Super Bowl.

He is now entering his eighth season with the Falcons, and after getting that taste of being so close in NFC Championship game in 2013, you know he is looking to get his ring.

Fresh off one of their worst losses in the Peyton Manning era, the Denver Broncos season could be nearing a crisis point. The Rams battered and bruised the Broncos, exposed their offensive line and won handily 22-7 on Sunday.

But, could the result have been different had the Broncos gotten within three or even taken the lead before halftime? Maybe.

Here’s what went down.

Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders caught a much-needed touchdown with 2:22 left in the second quarter to cut the St. Louis lead to 13-7. After the Rams converted a first down on the first play of their ensuing drive, they stalled. A dump pass to Benny Cunningham netted no yards right after the two-minute warning and St. Louis let the play clock run all the way down before snapping it on 2nd and 10 with 1:18 left in the half.

On that play, Cunningham gained six yards to set up third-and-four with about 1:10 left on the clock. The Broncos, with all three timeouts and the league’s most-explosive offense, would have been wise to call timeout, but didn’t.

This left Manning steamed. As I sat above the Broncos bench, I watched what went down next; what the TV cameras didn’t show.

With my own eyes: A fuming Peyton Manning on the sideline yelling at John Fox for no timeout after second down. Wow.

— Will Petersen (@PetersenWill) November 16, 2014

Manning was furious. He and Fox in mini- verbal altercation.

— Will Petersen (@PetersenWill) November 16, 2014

.@VicLombardi After 2nd down. Manning stormed off bench & went straight to Fox. Couldn’t believe he didn’t call timeout. Lasted 30 seconds.

— Will Petersen (@PetersenWill) November 16, 2014

To provide even more context, Manning was on the bench by himself during the second-down carry. Immediately after the play (once he realized timeout was inexplicably not being called) he briskly approached Fox. The two exchanged words for several seconds before Manning turned around in disgust and headed back toward the bench. Fox briefly followed Manning, another set of words appeared to be exchanged, and then Fox turned around and went back to the sideline.

By this time, the Rams were about to run their third-down play, with under 30 seconds left. A Cunningham run netted just one yard and Fox used his first timeout of the half with just 23 seconds to go.

After the game, Fox had an interesting explanation, that quite frankly didn’t make sense, about his bizarre strategy.

“We contemplated it from both sides. We would get the ball at the start of the third quarter. I have been on both sides of that, but it worked out fine for what we were trying to get accomplished. I have been on both sides, if you get too cute, the other team can go down and score,” Fox said.

The first problem with that justification is the Rams were clearly in ultra-conservative mode before half. They made a conscious effort to keep the clock running with very safe play calling. They had no intentions of trying to score.

Second, if Fox truly just wanted the ball at the start of the third quarter, why in the world was timeout called with 23 seconds left? The Rams were content to go to half right then and there, and apparently so was Fox; at least according to his postgame comments, but not his on the field actions.

Manning put his helmet on in disgust and begrudgingly took a knee with just 16 seconds to go and the Broncos on their own 17 after an uneventful punt resulted in a fair catch.

Manning was political when asked about the sequence of events after the game.

“Certainly any time they tell us to go score, that’s what you want to do. He (head coach John Fox) had a feel. He told me we get the ball first in the second half and it had kind of been a grind the entire first half. We did score on a third-down play on our last possession, but he just said, ‘We get the ball first in the second half, let’s go do it,’” Manning said.

Manning did make sure to note the Sanders score, which could have been a potential momentum builder, but Fox seemingly killed that before half by making sure his Hall of Fame QB didn’t get the ball back with any real time to work with.

The Broncos didn’t score on the first drive of the second half Fox talked so highly about, or the rest of the game for that matter.

It’s unlikely the two will ever speak of the mini-squabble on the sideline, but this much is clear: Peyton Manning wasn’t happy with John Fox.

Fox’s explanation afterward left plenty to be desired as well.

During the past month, cover32 has been breaking down this year’s class of free agents. So with the spending spree set to begin tomorrow, it seems appropriate to provide a recap of the position-by-position rankings.

Here are links to each of the top-10 lists:

Quarterbacks – From Feb. 10

Running Backs – From Feb. 12

Wide Receivers – From Feb. 17

Tight Ends – From Feb. 19

Offensive Linemen – From Feb. 24

Defensive Linemen – From Feb. 26

Linebackers – From Mar. 3

Defensive Backs – From Mar. 5

For the best free agency coverage, be sure to check cover32′s main page, as well as each individual team page, during the NFL’s version of Christmas shopping.