The NFL salary cap has been set at $123 million for the 2013 league year, according to various reports, which gives us a much more accurate view of how much room the Patriots have under the cap.
According to our calculations, from a league source with knowledge of the salary numbers, the Patriots are currently $24.988 million underneath the reported number.
Here's how we arrived at those numbers:
That should place the Patriots in the top 10 in the league in cap space available for the start of free agency.
Two additional notes looking back at some past numbers:
- The Patriots have carried over an average of $6.15 million in unused cap space the past two seasons.
- The Patriots started free agency last year with $17.8 million in cap space. It grew to $25 million in mid March when Tom Brady restructured his contract.
The big hubbub over Brandon Lloyd, which boils down to whether or not he's pesty enough to jettison, is far too premature and underdeveloped to seriously consider.
We can ask, in essence, what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior for an NFL player? And does being moody reach the barometer for unacceptable?
Without answering those questions, it's impossible to gauge whether the Patriots should cut the cord on Lloyd. But you already know the answer to both questions and it has everything to do with star status, contract dollars, productivity, and -- until recently -- perception with the public, at least around these parts.
In colleague Greg Bedard's expanded thoughts on Lloyd Tuesday, he included this damning note:
You just never know what you're going to get with Lloyd, and either you can deal with it or you can't. For example, talked to one player a few weeks ago that said he was talking to Lloyd about something and suddenly Lloyd said in mid-sentence, "I don't want to talk to you anymore," and put his headphones on.
Call it anecdotal, but it's damaging nonetheless to Lloyd's standing in the locker room and a personal problem he'll have to address on his own. But if that's the extent to which the anecdotes run (there are plenty more this reporter and others can summarize in dealing with Lloyd), it's hard to imagine this passes the smell test for a team problem. However, it would also not be surprising if there were more incriminating examples of his surly behavior. He fits the type. But there have been worse characters in the NFL.
Hall of fame bound wide receiver Terrell Owens, a chronic narcissist in his heyday, would hold court with reporters and bash fellow teammates (Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb) before going weeks on end without speaking to the media and presumably his teammates. He had an emotional swing that felt like a roller coaster. Then there's Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, whose facial expressions often belie how much he hates his teammates. And sometimes he lets it slip from his mouth.
Should the Patriots keep Lloyd? Of course they should. Should they back out of the final two years of his contract, worth an estimated cap hit of $10 million over that span? Eh. That's a different matter wrought with financial wrangling.
The problem is one of precedence. If the Patriots decide that productive players, who happen to be quirky and reasonably tough to manage, are unworthy to be on their roster, the team will continue to have a hard time luring and keeping high profile players developed outside of the Patriot Way. Think Randy Moss. Think Adalius Thomas.
The list of those foregone -- for reasons far beyond their moodiness or attitude toward the team -- is a short one, most notably because the barometer is so high to be considered disruptive.
Questioning whether Lloyd is a cancerous addition to the team is fair. But the facts, as they are known, do not reach the threshold for expecting his departure. What is known is that he showed up for all 16 games, caught 74 passes for 911 yards and four touchdowns, and is one of three receivers under contract for the 2013 season. The others are Matthew Slater and Kamar Aiken.
It should take a lot more than being Mr. Grumpy pants for Lloyd to go. So I don't suspect as much.
John Dennis, co-host of WEEI's Dennis & Callahan Show, contacted Brady recently to ask if the star QB if he would appear on the morning talk show he makes his weekly in-season appearances on. Dennis hoped Brady would come on air to explain his decision to accept three-year, $27 million contract extension that is by all accounts well under the market value for a marquee NFL quarterback on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.
Brady chose not to speak on air, but he did offer Dennis an explanation via e-mail on his decision to stay quiet on the topic of his salary.
“I don’t want to talk about this on the radio or anywhere else for that matter,” Brady wrote to Dennis. “Athletes are always talking about money at a time when everyone else is struggling so badly to make it. We all make way more than our fair share. And I just think it reflects poorly on myself and my teammates. I really do just want to win, and that has and will continue to be the reason that motivates me and is the biggest factor in my decision-making process.”
Brady's restructured deal gives the team more flexibility to sign other key players, including Brady’s favorite target, wide receiver Wes Welker, who is reportedly negotiating with the team on an extension as well.
By Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff
Jeff Demps, the 2012 US Olympic sprinter the Patriots signed during training camp last year, has told the team that he wants to return to the track -- this according to NFL Network.
The report also said that Demps would like to try to participate in both sports, but it certainly means things are up in the air right now for the speedster.
The 5-foot-7-inch, 175-pound Demps was a running back and return specialist at Florida, but stepped away from football after the Gators' bowl game against Ohio State on Jan. 2, 2012, to focus on track.
He was named to the pool of sprinters for the US 4x100 meter relay team and went to London, running in one of the preliminary heats. Even though he didn't run in the medal round, Demps received a silver medal for his contribution.
Demps signed with New England last Aug. 17 and began practicing with the team during its joint training camp practices with the Buccaneers. He was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury two weeks later, never playing a snap in the regular season.
He signed with the Patriots primarily to be a return specialist; they have not had a consistent standout kickoff returner since trading Ellis Hobbs.
Talked with a source who has taken a look at Tom Brady's contract, and he unearthed one significant nugget that, I think, hasn't been out there: The final three years of the deal ($24 million total) become fully guaranteed for injury and skill if he's on the roster for the final game of the 2014 season. Right now, they're only guaranteed for injury.
This nugget takes a little of the bloom -- but certainly not all of it -- off the notion that Brady gave up leverage on the back end to help the team out tremendously now. Brady certainly left money on the table, but it's not as much now.
There is zero chance, unless he retires after this season, that Brady won't be on the roster for the final game of the 2014 season (he would leave $32.8 million of dead money). So that means, with the $30 million signing bonus of old money and $3 million of new money, Brady is getting $57 million guaranteed.
Initial reports of the guarantee just being for injury made it appear that Brady didn't protect himself as much as he could have on the back end. He did. That's nearly what Drew Brees ($60 million) and Peyton Manning ($58 million) had in guarantees.
So while the Patriots gained a lot with the extension, Brady gained a lot as well. Maybe not as much as he could have, but pretty close.
2013: $13.8 million
2014: $14.8 million
2015: $13 million
2016: $14 million
2017: $15 million
A few day-after thoughts on Tom Brady's contract extension:
- I don't have the final numbers yet but if Field Yates' numbers are accurate ($30 million in existing money rolled into signing bonus plus $3 million of new guaranteed money) then Brady definitely did the team a favor. He didn't take money out of pocket to do the deal, but he definitely passed up a chance to land more.
- Brady received $3 million in new money to save the team some $30 million against the cap the next two years. He could have asked for more on the backend or upfront to make it harder for them to move on down the line, but he did not. As it stands, the team could cut or trade Brady after the 2014 season and have $18 million in dead money. It's not out of the question that they can handle that over two seasons with the cap going up. After '15 it's $12 million in dead money.
- Put it another way. Brady, who is still a perennial MVP candidate, received $33 million guaranteed. Drew Brees last year received $60.5 million. Peyton Manning received $58 million. Now, both of those players were free agents so they are going to be more expensive, but Brady could have asked for $40 million or more to help the team out. He did not.
- Of course, Brady can do that because he makes millions off the field, but that's a totally different topic.
On Brandon Lloyd:
In today's story, I said the following about Lloyd:
Odds are against Brandon Lloyd’s $3 million option bonus being picked up. There is still a lot of internal debate about what to do considering the Patriots literally couldn’t line up tomorrow at receiver. Lloyd’s erratic behavior in the locker room and on the practice field proved tiresome, according to a league and team source. If they cut Lloyd, that would save the Patriots $4.9 million against the cap this season, though there will be $2 million in dead money that can be spread out over two years. The team was smart to build in protection with Lloyd.
- Nobody should be surprised that we didn't hear anything about Lloyd's behavior during the season. The Patriots are the best at keeping a lid on things in-house during the season.
- From what I know, I wouldn't say that Lloyd was a bad guy who the team must jettison or anything. It was just the type of up-and-down mood swings that we heard a lot about in his previous stops:
“I know you’ve heard he was good in the building, but he wasn’t necessarily an angel in the building,’’ said the Broncos source. “He wasn’t a good teammate. During games, he was asking the stat person to see how many catches and yards he had at that point in the game when [Kyle] Orton was starting.
“He has that locker room lawyer-type in him. Publicly he’ll say all the right things, but in the locker room he’ll voice his opinion.
“He’s extremely intelligent. Very articulate, very well-read, but there were times when people in the building thought he may be bipolar - and not joking - because he has days where he’s up and ready to go and happy-go-lucky and he’s like, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’
“And then there were other days when he was surly and moody, and you just know it’s not a good day to approach him.
“He’s kind of a different cat, I’ll say that.’’
- You just never know what you're going to get with Lloyd, and either you can deal with it or you can't. For example, talked to one player a few weeks ago that said he was talking to Lloyd about something and suddenly Lloyd said in mid-sentence, "I don't want to talk to you anymore," and put his headphones on.
- It's one thing for that unevenness to be dealt with in the locker room and on the practice field, but when you combine it with his inconsistent play ... the Patriots love consistency. Anything that disrupts the flow of the season too often becomes a nuisance and tiresome. That was Lloyd. The Patriots don't really do eccentricity well.
- Now, that being said, it's in the realm of possibility that he is back. There is still internal debate going on about whether or not he can be managed. And the biggest factor is the Patriots don't have any receivers at this point in time. Do they cut Lloyd and roll the dice so they can find receivers other than Wes Welker (if he gets his new contract) that can function in this scheme? Or do they take a known commodity in Lloyd, figure out a way to manage him better, and try again? That remains to be seen. His production (74 catches for 911 yards) is nothing to sneeze at with the way the receiver position has gone for the Patriots. But the odds are that he isn't back.
While the news Tom Brady will likely retire a Patriot caused a flurry of conversation about the 35-year-old, three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, the only public comment from the Brady camp itself came via the official TB12 Facebook page, which posted two words: "Just win."
Brady is set to make $27 million on the three-year extension he agreed to, guaranteeing him $60 million for the next five years. The extension contract is actually a pay cut for Brady, who was on a four-year $72 million dollar deal with $48 million guaranteed, but it opens up nearly $15 million in the team's salary cap to spend on other players. Brady will now make around $15 million a year.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski had a third surgery on his left arm last week, according to a report on Twitter by ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The third surgery was for an infection. Gronkowski broke his left forearm in November, then broke the same arm in a playoff game vs. the Texans in January. He had surgery after each injury.
Schefter reported the infection was caught early enough that it will not cause him to miss "any extended time" and he will likely be ready to play by training camp in late July.
Gronkowski was scheduled to appear at Sunday night's Academy Awards as a red-carpet correspondent for the NFL Network, but he was replaced by Ravens cornerback Ed Reed, although no explanation was given.
Gronkowski's off-season lifestyle has been scrutinized heavily, and he made headlines earlier this month when he was caught on video dancing and performing wrestling-style moves with another man on a stage in Las Vegas despite a large cast on his left arm.
Heard a contract extension for Tom Brady was likely at some point at the NFL Scouting Combine, but I'm amazed it came together this quick.
Now we know why it did: it looks like (pending the real numbers) that Brady took cut-rate value to help benefit the team as a whole. There was no waiting to see where Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers would come in over $20 million per year.
Brady went right underneath everybody and basically agreed to a fully-guaranteed five-year, $60 million contract, sources confirmed, that will take him to 40 years old.
What will it mean? We'll have more in Tuesday's Globe, but a few quick thoughts:
- Wes Welker should be the next to get an extension and it could be done by the start of free agency. Wouldn't be surprised if Brady made this a handshake part of his deal;
- The Patriots like cornerback Aqib Talib and want him back, but it would be a surprise to see a multi-year deal done before free agency;
- At this point, it looks unlikely that the Patriots will use the franchise tag, league sources said, but that could change once the organization regroups following the combine. The stretched out league schedule has changed the rhythm of decisions;
- The Patriots could very well use the transition tag -- right of refusal and no compensation, as opposed to two first-round picks with the franchise tag -- on Talib and save about $1.7 million. NFL teams in Indianapolis are talking more about this possibility, and the Patriots could be involved;
- It's now a matter of when, not if, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett will be traded. With little good tape on him, it's going to be tough for the Patriots to get what they want, which, considering he's a third-round pick with two years development invested, would at least be a second-round pick if not a first-rounder. Hard to see a team giving that up at this point. But with a weak quarterback draft class, this is the perfect time;
- The Patriots are expected to be active on the free-agent market at cornerback, receiver and defensive end. Brady's deal gives them a lot more room.
Patriots players were quick to use social media on Monday to express their thoughts after news emerged that quarterback Tom Brady has agreed to a new contract that will give the team some financial flexibility as free agency approaches.
A few samples, first from Devin McCourty, who shares a Twitter account with his brother, Jason.
Hearing the news about Tom is a reminder of why he is the definition of a team player. (D-Mac)— Jason+Devin McCourty (@McCourtyTwins) February 25, 2013
Patriots running back Shane Vereen didn't specifically mention Brady, but certainly seemed like a happy man Monday.
It's a beautiful day.. Just thought I'd let you kno— Shane Vereen (@ShaneVereen34) February 25, 2013
Linebacker Dane Fletcher let his hashtag do the talking.
Tom Brady #enoughsaid— Dane Fletcher (@Dane_Fletcher) February 25, 2013
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has agreed to a contract extension that will keep him with the team through the 2017 season, or when he's 40 years old, according to a report.
Brady's deal almost assures he'll retire a Patriot, according to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, and will save the Patriots more than $27 million over the next two seasons.
The contract, King reports, will pay him less money over time but allows the Patriots greater flexibility.
Here are the numbers King reports:
- 2013: $13.8 million
- 2014: $14.8 million
- 2015: $13 million
- 2016: $14 million
- 2017: $15 million
Brady will get a hefty bonus for the contract extension. Read King's report here.
The NFL Draft Combine is still in the throes of devouring its young, with linebackers and defensive linemen going through drills today. Defensive backs will take the field Tuesday. But in the week of buildup toward the combine's conclusion, more than a few names have been tossed about with relation to the Patriots. Here's a rundown of who has been mentioned, as well as any pertinent information.
1. Florida safety Matt Elam -- The hard-hitting safety is one of the best rated defensive backs on the board, so it's no wonder his name has been connected with the Patriots after the team finished a paltry 29th in pass defense. As a Florida football player, Elam has connections with former Gators Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, and Jeff Demps. But his game speaks for itself. He tallied 76 tackles, 2 sacks, and 11 tackles for a loss. He was first team All-SEC and first team AP All-American. It'll be tough if he makes it to No. 29, but he's definitely on the radar. We'll see more details on Elam when he works out on Tuesday.
2. West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin -- What's the likelihood that there are two guys named Tavon on the Patriots? After the way Austin's name was thrown around by mock drafters and media folks, you'd think it was a done deal. Austin ran a 4.34 40-yard dash Sunday. In his senior season for West Virginia, he was all over the field as a returner, receiver, and in the back field. He caught 111 passes for 1,287 yards, ran for 652 yards on 73 carries, and averaged 25.1 yards on kickoff returns. He totalled 17 touchdowns on the season. He's only 5-feet, 8-inches and weighs 174 pounds. So he fits the mold of another slot-like wide receiver. But he has the versatility to be moved around, an attribute Bill Belichick thoroughly values.
3. Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- A 6-2, cover cornerback will get the attention of most coaches. But the Patriots are in a more despairing need for corners than most NFL teams. Rhodes fits the bill skills-wise and has the proper dimensions, so it's no surprise his name has been floated with the Patriots. He was first team All-ACC last season and is rated as the No. 2 corner on the board by CBSSports.com. He had 39 tackles and three interceptions his junior year. With only three cornerbacks currently under contract for the 2013 season, the Patriots would be wise to covet the Miami native.
4. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- All hoaxing aside, Manti Te'o's stock dropped a bit after a disappointing 4.82 40-yard dash Monday. That doesn't match up well with the seven interceptions he had his senior season for Notre Dame as a Heisman runnerup. He had 113 tackles as the leader for one of the best defenses in college football, making him bonafide first rounder. But his standing could diminish because of his poor 40 and that could put him in reach of the Patriots at the 29th pick. The Patriots need a cover linebacker. It was thought that Te'o could fit that role. But that's up in the air now.
5. Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu -- The Honey Badger's name is in the air. Mathieu is a troubled young man who was kicked off LSU's squad for violating multiple team rules, was arrested, and went to rehab for drug probelms. He's in the process of rebuilding his reputation. In 2011, he was a magnificent game-changer for the Tigers football team, a dangerous returner and a phenomenal defensive back. He did not play in 2012. While he might have been a first round pick in 2012, he's now projected anywhere from the fifth round or later. Much like Alfonzo Dennard, he could be great steal for the Patriots in the later rounds.
It's all about offensive skill positions on the field, with quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers getting their chance to make an impression. Tavon Austin and Marquise Goodwin already have. Both receivers -- Austin played his college football at West Virginia, Goodwin at Texas -- clocked really fast times in the 40-yard dash. Official times won't be released by the NFL until later on Sunday, but Chris Johnson's Combine record of 4.24 seconds from 2008 might go down.
There's no quarterback favored to go No. 1 in this year's draft, unlike Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III a year ago. And Southern California's Matt Barkley, still recovering from a late-season injury, is here but isn't throwing. So the buzz that typically accompanies the quarterback workouts isn't as strong.
Defensive backs will participate in media interviews on Sunday, and there has been speculation that Ravens coach John Harbaugh will take the podium, as well. The Patriots are currently one of just four teams that have not scheduled any coach or executive for the interview area, joining the Super Bowl-winning Ravens, Redskins, and Saints.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o faced a long day of questions at the NFL Combine on Saturday: A battery of medical tests first, which all participants go through; then teams and the media asking him about a girlfriend who never existed, the scandalous topic that thrust him into the national news last month.
Te'o claims he was the victim of a hoax, and didn't know until early December that the girl he thought he had an online and telephone relationship with for a number of years wasn't real. He answered nearly every question about the situation on Saturday during a 15-minute press conference at the combine, admitting that every team he's met with has asked him about it, and that he's looking forward to putting the scandal behind him and move on to football.
"I think, for me, I’ve learned just to be honest, in anything you do," Te'o said, when asked what he's taken from the ordeal. "Secondly, to keep your circle very small, and to really understand who’s really in our corner, and who’s not.
"Going off of the season my team and I had (12-1, losing to Alabama in the BCS championship game), there was a lot of people in our corner. Then when January 16 happened, there were a lot of people in the other corner. I just appreciate the people that I have, that are with me, and just to make sure to turn a negative thing into a positive."
Te'o, who was projected before his senior season to be a top-5 pick in the first round, said he's met with two teams formally (Packers and Texans), and is scheduled to meet with 18 other teams. Every team he's been in contact with has asked him about the scandal, with Te'o saying, "They just say, 'Tell me the facts.' Some just ask me and [I'll] give a brief overview of how it was, then they just get straight to business about football. I'll briefly describe [it] for 30 seconds, and the next 14 minutes, it's all plays and just getting down to business. That's how I prefer it to be."
Te'o said the hardest part was receiving a phone call from his sister, who told him that his family had to sneak out of their own house because there were news outlets and reporters camped outside.
Throughout the press conference -- the largest attended in recent memory, according to those who regularly cover the combine -- Te'o appeared calm and forthcoming. The only question he chose not to answer was when asked why he wouldn't meet in person someone he considered his girlfriend.
Admitting that it initially caused him great embarrassment, Te'o said he no longer feels that way, or else he wouldn't have come to the combine.
Te'o won't have to deal with the media anymore at the combine; he can concentrate on his interviews with NFL teams, and focus on putting up solid on-field numbers during his workout, which comes Monday. Both, it seems, will impact when he's selected, and where he goes.
He's ready for the next step in his journey to becoming a member of the NFL.
"Everybody makes mistakes, and one positive thing about what I went through is I’ve learned to empathize with those who are going through the same thing, those who are going through some hard times, getting attention they don’t necessarily want," Te'o said. "It just taught me, from going through that, to always just give somebody the benefit of the doubt, because you never know what’s going on."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Most of the media is on Manti Te'o watch this afternoon, but the annual combine continues with the first on-field workouts and press interviews with defensive linemen and linebackers.
Te'o is scheduled to speak to the press later today, and figures to draw the largest crowd of the week, anxious to hear him discuss the recent girlfriend hoax and what, if any, impact it might have on his draft prospects.
Tights ends and offensive linemen are spending their day on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, trying to post individual numbers that get the attention of NFL teams. One who did was Arkansas-Pine Bluff tackle Terron Armstead, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.71 seconds, fastest among the offensive linemen. Expect teams to take a good look at Armstead, and for his stock projection to get a nice boost.
Oops, rumor has it that Te'o is making his way to the media area. Better get a good seat ...
INDIANAPOLIS -- Talking to several league, team and player sources this week at the scouting combine, one thing is for certain -- no one is sure what will happen to Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard when it comes to sentencing and league discipline.
Here's what I do know:
- Dennard did not plead out before trial because nothing less than a felony was being offered. He had zero to lose by going to trial;
- Dennard is expected to get jail time but will likely be out before training camp;
- Despite the wording of the NFL's personal conduct policy, Dennard could initially incur a suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, though the NFLPA would fight back;
This really amazes me because it's clearly black and white in the 2012+Personal+Conduct+Policy.pdf:
Covered Persons – This policy applies to all players under contract; all coaches; all game officials; all full-time employees of the NFL, NFL clubs, and all NFL-related entities; all rookie players once they are selected in the NFL college draft; and all undrafted rookie players, unsigned veterans who were under contract in the prior League Year...
And a league office source agreed with my interpretation that Dennard couldn't be suspended because he had not yet been drafted at the time of the incident.
But there is a gray area in the personal conduct policy about whether the incident itself is the time marker, or is it adjudication?
There is a reference to, “the standard of conduct for person employed in the NFL is considerably higher.” Well, the conduct happened before Dennard was in the NFL. His conduct has been fine in the league.
“Upon learning of conduct that may give rise to discipline…” Again, the conduct itself was prior to Dennard’s entry into the league. The only "conduct" since Dennard has been in the league was him getting convicted of a felony in a court room.
And that's something that could give Goodell an avenue -- wrongly in the NFLPA's mind -- to discipline Dennard.
There are those that feel Goodell could view an NFL player being convicted of a felony as conduct detrimental in itself. At the NFLPA agents’ meeting on Friday, two agents said NFLPA counsel told them that the conduct window could be upwards of a year prior to entering the league. There is some precedence for that in the drug policy, but it has not been done in the personal conduct policy.
UPDATE: The person who spoke at the NFLPA meeting was wrong, and the NFLPA is clarifying her remarks. The one-year window only applies to substance abuse behavior. The personal conduct policy clock starts when the player is drafted.
Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was suspended five games for something that happened before he entered the NFL, but that was much different. Pryor was trying to manipulate the draft system and flee NCAA suspension that he had agreed to.
Jets defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis was not suspended after pleading out to a misdemeanor and serving 45 days in jail for a college assault charge.
Goodell could make a felony conviction as an NFL player -- even if the incident happened before NFL entry -- grounds for suspension. If he's up for another fight with the NFLPA.
But Goodell should also weigh that Dennard has been penalized, severely, already for his actions. He's now a convicted felon, and the incident caused him to lose upwards of $1 million in the draft. League discipline often serves as punishment because there wasn't enough in the court system. Dennard has and will certainly pay.
Connolly is expected to be ready to go for training camp.
Signing to a three-year contract before last season, presumably to be the starting center, the Patriots had to bump Connolly to right guard when Brian Waters opted not to join the team. Ryan Wendell became the starting center.
He started 14 of 16 regular games at the spot, missing the Arizona game due to a concussion and the game against the Colts due to a back injury. Connolly was listed as limited in practice on the team report because of the back issue for the rest of the regular season, but on the Patriots' first postseason practice report, Connolly and a host of other players were removed from the report.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the former director of college scouting for the Patriots, has always been one of the best interviews for the media. And since the Patriots aren't talking here to anyone but the team's website, Dimitroff is as close to New England-think as we're going to get.
One of his most interesting comments was about how the flat cap will affect teams. Before the new CBA, the cap usually increased anywhere from $4-7 million on an annual basis. Before the lockout, the cap was $123 million. It won't exceed that number until next year -- at the earliest.
Dimitroff said the flat cap puts a premium on drafting well, and developing talent from within.
"We've all been thinking about that," Dimitroff said. "The league, it seems as though it's changing a little bit as far as the cap not going up and the insinuation that maybe some -- not all -- of the middle class will be potentially moved on from in certain organizations because they have to fit in those upper level guys with a lot of money that we're dealing with. It means you have to have be creative in how you put together your roster to make sure you can fit the guys in who may be a little bit younger in the game.
"It's about developing talent. That is huge in this game today with the way it is right now with the cap, it is very, very important to make sure that you go in and your coaching staff is in line with your personnel staff and your general manager to make sure that we're all about the development of our young guys, so that we have those young guys who are potentially going to be the next big-ticket guys but they're still producing for you on a team while they're in a lower category as far as earning money."
Some other comments from Dimitroff:
On the strength of the draft class: "It seems like there is a nice group of defensive players along the front -- both fronts, honestly, offensively and defensively. I think there are a great number of players than can be an impact and helpful for most teams. I think that's good. I think there's a nice safety group out there. I believe there is some very solid talent all the way through to 32. We're sitting at 30 this year, it's a little bit different -- we keep nudging down the numbers a little bit, but it's nice to have a full draft back. Though I'd never do it any other way as we did with our move a couple years ago (trade up to get Julio Jones)."
On the receiver group: "Talented group of wide receivers every year in my mind. I think that group two years ago with Julio and A.J. Green was one of those that doesn't come along every year and we've seen that. This year's group, you can win with those young rookies that come in that are very talented, like they are in this group. They don't necessarily have to impact on the level that maybe Green did or humbly how Julio might have, but I think they're going to affect, and I think it's a good group."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Patriots free-agent-to-be Sebastian Vollmer had his right knee scoped on Wednesday in what a league source termed routine post-season maintenance.
The knee was the reason why Vollmer struggled so much down the stretch, not his back, which the team is fine with after a procedure last offseason.
Before missing the Week 12 game against the Jets, Vollmer was arguably the best right tackle in the league as he allowed just one sack and 14 total quarterback pressures.
In the final seven games, including playoffs, Vollmer allowed 5.5 sacks and 23 total pressures.
The surgery, first reported by the Boston Herald, was considered minor, especially for an offensive lineman, and won't affect negotiations between Vollmer, the Patriots and the rest of the league should he become a free agent.
The Patriots could use the franchise tag to retain Vollmer, but that is considered unlikely -- though not out totally of the question -- according to two league sources.
INDIANAPOLIS -- No one outside the NFL office knows whether or not there was truly an outbreak of Adderall abuse last season among players, including three Patriots. Under its steroid policy, the NFL is powerless to disclose the true nature of a violation.
But the NFL continues to want that to change, according to senior vice president of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch.
"One of the features of the (Major League Baseball) appeals system that we have proposed from the beginning has been to be able to disclose the substance that formed the basis of the violation," Birch said. "It is largely for that point – to make sure that everybody is clear on what that substance was so that there is no misinformation and ability to go behind and sort of minimize what the nature of an individual’s violation is.
"We think that’s very important, not only for accuracy but also to help other players understand the real types of substances that potentially could lead to a positive result. And so we think from an educational standpoint, it’s important that everyone understands exactly what substances were involved."
The NFLPA, which has said it would take the MLB drug policy today, including HGH testing, has balked at disclosures for privacy reasons.
"The union has consistently rejected that," Birch said. "And so that would be another feature of the MLB policy that they said they’d take today that they apparently don’t want today."
The NFL saw an increase of in-season violations of its steroid policy last season, and at least seven players said the amphetamine Adderall was to blame either publicly or through media reports.
Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Bolden and Aqib Talib (while with the Buccaneers) were Patriots that claimed the use of Adderall, which treats ADHD, was the reason for their four-game suspensions the past three seasons.
But no one really knows that for sure. The NFL's anabolic steroid includes everything from steroids, hormones, estrogen blockers, diuretics and stimulants like amphetamines (and also over-the-counter cold medicines containing ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine).
So after a period of time when NFL players claimed taking cough medicine caused their violation, they seemed to move on to Adderall, which is allowed with a permission from the league medical staff.
Better to say you forgot to get a prescription than to admit you were caught using steroids.
And the NFL has been powerless to counter that. So unlike in Major League Baseball, where PED violations are detailed and the abusers are shamed and lose things such as endorsement contracts, NFL players can use steroids to bulk up, and even if they're caught, continue to play without much punishment outside of suspension.
Birch admitted that, at least in some cases, players haven't been truthful about their violations.
"I think to know what the basis of the violation is important for the public," Birch said Thursday at the scouting combine. "I hear a lot of discussion about transparency and how important that is, but when it comes to issues like this or, for example, being able to correct obvious misrepresentations that undermine the effectiveness of a policy, that’s another feature of the MLB policy that we have pushed for for a number of years now. Because in our view it undermines the policy itself when misrepresentations can be made without them being corrected.
"Because we have to make sure that the people understand and that those that have interest in our game, understand what the policy did, what the actors under the policy did and how they performed their jobs or what the testing found, things that restore the confidence in how this policy is being put together and how the people that are responsible for administering it are performing their jobs."
INDIANAPOLIS -- USC center Khaled Holmes, who was one of the top-rated players regardless of position before an injury this season, had good things to say about his former teammate with the Trojans, Armond Armstead, the defensive tackle/end the Patriots signed from the CFL.
"We were the same class coming in, 2008, out of high school," Holmes said. "He's a great kid. Great football player. Was really unfortunate what happened to him at USC (the heart attack brought on by pain killers), the circumstances, but I couldn't be happier for him. Couldn't happen to a better person. I think he's going to have bright future."
How good was Armstead?
"He was great," Holmes said. "He played as a true freshman, did a very good job and continued to improve as a player. Obviously his time at 'SC was cut short but I think the sky is the limit for him."
INDIANAPOLIS — For the Dolphins and general manager Jeff Ireland, it's all been building to this.
They have $45 million in cap space and nine picks in the draft.
A make or break time for the floundering AFC East franchise? Ireland wasn't willing to go that far — but he knows it's big.
"I think it’s a very, very important time period," he said today at the NFL scouting combine. "When you put a lot into getting into the position, we obviously are in a position by design, and so we plan to use some of our money and plan to obviously draft the best players available if we can, and try to address some of the needs and musts that we have on our football team."
The Dolphins have several of their own players up for free agency -- left tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, receiver Brian Hartline, cornerback Sean Smith, and defensive tackle Randy Starks, to name a few -- so they'll have to spend some coin there.
"We know the guys we want back and we know the guys we will potentially go after," Ireland said. "It's a strong plan to do a little bit of both."
Ireland indicated the team will use the franchise tag.
"There’s certainly a likelihood that we could use, but in particular who right now, we have haven’t made that decision," he said.
Ireland admitted there's a gap between the Patriots and the rest of the division. Now would be a good time for the Dolphins to close it.
"There’s a gap, certainly, they’ve won the division quite a bit so we have to close that gap," Ireland said. "I think it was a five-game gap right now on wins and losses, so that’s where the gap is. So we’ve got to close that gap and we plan to do our best job, put our best foot forward getting that done this offseason. Now, whether we can completely close the gap, we’ve got to get back on the field and close the gap on the field."
Greg Schiano, a friend of Bill Belichick who is starting his second season as Tampa Bay head coach, said Thursday afternoon that he still feels good about the trade.
"I think any time in the draft you have picks, you have some ammunition to do things, whether you pick at that spot or you move around with those picks," Schiano said. "That was something that was very helpful to us last year, being able to move up and get Doug Martin, so to have some ammunition I think is critical."
Schiano wasn't willing to say too much about Talib as a player.
"I can’t comment from the Patriots perspective and I really can’t comment on Talib since he’s under contract with another club," he said. "But when Talib was with the Bucs, I enjoyed coaching him, he did the things we asked. I’m not naïve, there were some things in his past, but there was nothing more than I said at the time (of the trade)."
Schiano also clarified a statement he made right after the close of the Bucs' season, when he said that he wanted competition at every position. That was taken as a knock against quarterback Josh Freeman.
"At the end of the season, the day after the final game, I probably said something that got a lot more attention than I meant it to ... at that point, every year I’ve been a head coach, I step back and I evaluate every phase of our program, and it starts with me, so that takes a while," he said.
"And I even said, ‘I don’t know if I’m the right guy, let me figure this out.’ And then I went through every assistant coach, and as a staff we went through every single player in a series of evaluations, but the one thing that I believe in, whether it’s coaches or players, our whole life we grow up in competitive athletics, and that competition is healthy. So I made the statement that I want competition at every position…it’s my fault, but it stood out at the quarterback position more than any other.
"Josh Freeman is our quarterback. And I believe with Josh Freeman we’ll be able to accomplish our goals. That’s my belief and our organization’s belief. I have been able to clear that up, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to today."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The big question in regards to how Alfonzo Dennard's felony conviction today will affect the Patriots going forward comes down to if he receives any jail time, and whether the judge will allow that time to be served around the football season.
It's possible Dennard only gets probation and the Patriots aren't affected at all.
Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly told reporters people in similar circumstances get probation or limited jail time.
"I think the judge will be doing the same here as they do with anyone else," he said, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
Yes, striking a police officer is serious business and it makes predicting a sentence difficult, but Dennard has three factors in his favor: he's a first-time offender, he's kept his nose clean since, and he's already been severely penalized in that he is now a convicted felon, and the incident cost him at least $1 million in potential NFL earnings when he dropped to the seventh round of the draft.
Of course, I don't think the Patriots can bank on just probation so they need to start making plans that Dennard won't be in the fold (tagging Aqib Talib, signing Charles Woodson to play free safety and moving Devin McCourty back to the corner would be one set of possibilities).
As far as Dennard being suspended by the NFL under the personal conduct policy, that is unlikely considering that the incident happened before Dennard was an NFL player, so he was not covered by the collective bargaining agreement.
People will quickly point to the Terrelle Pryor case, when he was suspended five games for NCAA infractions after he was taken in the supplemental draft.
But that case was far different. Pryor was trying to manipulate the system and flee NCAA suspension that he had agreed to. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell only allowed Pryor passage into the supplemental draft after Pryor agreed to the five-game suspension.
"I believe it is a fair conclusion that he intentionally took steps to ensure that he would be declared ineligible for further college play and would be able to enter the NFL via the supplemental draft," Goodell said in a news release. "Taken as a whole, I found that this conduct was tantamount to a deliberate manipulation of our eligibility rules in a way that distorts the underlying principles and calls into question the integrity of those rules."
Dennard was not facing any NCAA suspension because his eligibility had expired at the time of the incident.
A closer case to Dennard's was that of Jets defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis, who pleaded guilty to a college assault and battery charge, served 45 days in prison and probation. The NFL reviewed his case, like it is Dennard, but did not suspend him.
The lack of suspension was not because it was only a misdemeanor (Dennard was convicted of a felony) and he pleaded out, it was because Ellis was not an NFL player at the time. The severity of Dennard's situation should not factor into any decision by Goodell. It's a CBA issue, not one of crimes and misdemeanors.
If Goodell decides to discipline Dennard, I can guarantee you the NFLPA will fight this battle for him and Dennard wouldn't see a suspension for years. The NFLPA wanted to fight Pryor's battle but he and his team realized they were in a difficult spot with the NCAA sanctions and the fact that Pryor didn't decide to leave college until after the draft.
The court situation is unpredictable for Dennard, but NFL sanctions are not -- he can't be punished under a CBA that he wasn't under the umbrella of yet. Or else the NFL will have to wage yet another lengthy court fight with the NFLPA, one the NFL will probably lose.
Alfonzo Dennard's felony conviction of assaulting a cop, and the misdemeanor for resisting arrest, now puts the Patriots in a precarious position.
The team won't know how long, if at all, he'll be imprisoned until his sentencing April 11. At that point, free agency will have been open for a little less than a month.
The Patriots now have three players in their secondary whose fates are up in the air. Dennard is facing up to a maximum six years in prison on the two charges, while the team also has to consider free agent cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington.
How valuable is Talib to the Patriots now? And for that matter, how valuable is Arrington?
Talib is one of three possible franchise tag options for the team, including offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and wide receiver Wes Welker. Whether the team overreacts and tags Talib is unknown. But the price for tagging cornerbacks is costly. Tagging Talib would cost around $10.7 million. With an estimated salary cap of a little more than $16 million to deal with 18 free agents, the price of making such a move could change the underbelly of the team.
The Patriots have to make a decision on who they can use the tag on by 4 p.m. March 4.
The team does have options, though. Devin McCourty can be moved back to cornerback, while Tavon Wilson can take on more duties in the secondary. (Patrick Chung is also a free agent and his return is unknown.) Cornerback Ras-I Dowling is also expected to return after suffering a season-ending thigh injury. McCourty and Dowling were initially envisioned as the Patriots' starting cornerback duo when Dowling was drafted in 2011. But that plan spun off the tracks when Dowling suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries and the secondary struggled.
The Patriots also have five picks in the NFL draft, which begins April 25.
Dennard is in a pickle here and he'll likely do some time. Being convicted of assaulting a police officer is nothing to smirk about. His options here on out are limited.
But despite his conviction, and the position it puts the Patriots in, the team has a bit of maneuvering room if the development of younger players like Wilson and Dowling are a priority. Dennard's potential loss gives these younger players opportunities.
The jury in the trial of Patriots Alfonzo Dennard reached its verdict this morning in a Lincoln, Neb., courtroom, and it's not good news: the cornerback was found guilty on two of three counts, including felony assault on a police officer. He was also found guilty of misdemeanor resisting arrest, first offense, but the jury found him not guilty on the charge of misdemeanor assault.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 11.
Classified as a Class 3-A felony in Nebraska, the conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison or a $10,000 fine, though there is no minimum punishment.
The resisting arrest conviction carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison or a $1,000 fine, but again there is no minimum.
This is a first offense for Dennard, but traditionally assault against officers is rarely taken lightly.
A seventh-round pick out of Nebraska last year, Dennard was out with friends and family just days before the start of the NFL Draft when the incident leading to his charges occured. As bars were letting out, Dennard first had an altercation with college student Ben Samani, which officer Ben Kopsa saw.
Kopsa approached Dennard, and during their interaction is when Dennard was accused of hitting the officer. A 17-second video taken by an onlooker was evidence in the case; prosecutors said it was clear on the video that Dennard was the aggressor and punched Kopsa. The defense argued that it was impossible to tell from the video whether Dennard had hit the officer.
When he took the stand in his defense, Dennard admitted to resisting arrest and also to hitting Samani in the chest. He insisted that he did not intentionally punch Kopsa.
As for what Dennard's conviction means for the Patriots, it leaves an already shaky situation at cornerback even more tenuous. The scheduling happens after the deadline to franchise players, March 4, but before the draft, April 25. New England could be forced to franchise Aqib Talib as a result, giving the corner a guaranteed $10 million for the 2013 season, or it could give even more urgency to drafting a cornerback.
New England also has a largely unknown commodity in Ras-I Dowling, the 2011 second-round pick who has played just eight games over his first two seasons due to injury.
The Patriots signed former Northeastern defensive lineman Jason Vega to a three-year contract.
Vega, who was a standout player at Brockton High School, has spent the last two seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 255-pound Vega has run a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, and had 12 sacks in two years with Winnipeg. He occasionally lined up as a tight end in goal-line situations.
Though the sides reached an agreement last month, the deal could not be finalized until after Vega’s Winnipeg deal expired Friday.
Agent David Weinshel said the Patriots were among six teams that wanted to work out Vega, and that playing near home was attractive to the 25-year-old.
“For him I think it was more the fit — I always tell players, ‘Go where you think you have the best chance of making the roster,’ ’’ Weinshel said. “Playing at home was definitely a consideration.”
Weinshel also noted that the Patriots have a history of giving players the opportunity to play if they’ve earned it, no matter how they came to the team.
Vega is in Miami training.
This is the second CFL defensive lineman the Patriots have signed this offseason; last month, they acquired Armond Armstead.
The jury in the Alfonzo Dennard case in Lincoln, Neb., got the cornerback’s case on Tuesday, but a decision had not been reached by 6 p.m. local time, meaning deliberations will resume on Wednesday.
Dennard is facing three counts: a third-degree felony charge of assaulting a police officer, a misdemeanor assault charge and a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge from an incident last April 21.
Just days before the start of the NFL draft, the Nebraska standout was reportedly celebrating with friends and family in Lincoln, that night. It was when the bars were letting out that Dennard is alleged to have assaulted another college student, Ben Samani, and then punched police officer Ben Kopsa as Kopsa was trying to arrest him.
According to the Lincoln Journal-Sentinel, Kopsa testified that he saw Dennard punch Samani in the face, but when Samani was on the stand, he said Dennard had only punched him lightly in the chest.
When he took the stand in his own defense on Friday, Dennard admitted resisting arrest by swatting Kopsa’s hands away when Kopsa tried to put his hands behind his back to handcuff him.
But in closing arguments on Tuesday, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney Matt Acton as well as defense attorney Terry Dougherty, pointed to a 17-second video shot by an onlooker.
Acton told jurors that it is clear in the video that Kopsa was lifted off the ground and sent back several feet thanks to a punch to the jaw by Dennard.
According to Acton, it was the “200 pounds worth of force being applied to his face” that sent Kopsa reeling.
However, Kopsa requested no medical attention, and there was only a small cut behind his ear. A state forensic scientist has testified that the blood behind Kopsa’s ear was his own, and blood on Dennard’s hand was his own.
Dougherty countered that if jurors watch the video, they’ll see that Dennard did not throw a punch, and that the officer may have been jumping out of the way.
An attorney not involved in the case told the Globe that it was a tactical move for Dennard’s lawyer to have him admit to resisting arrest, as it gave Dennard accountability and may increase the odds of him being acquitted on the felony charge, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
However, if Dennard is found guilty on the resisting arrest charge, he could still face punishment. That charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and $1,000 fine.
The Patriots have officially signed defensive lineman Jason Vega as previously reported by the Globe's Greg A. Bedard.
Vega, 25, is a Brockton native who played his college football at Northeastern. He played the last two seasons in the Canadien Football League for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, accumulating 66 tackles and 12 sacks.
He's 6-4 and 255 pounds.
Today is the first day that NFL teams can designate franchise players for the coming season.
The Patriots have three players who would be candidates for the tag: CB Aqib Talib, OT Sebastian Vollmer and WR Wes Welker.
Welker was the team's franchise player last season, given a one-year, fully guaranteed $9.515 million. But if he were to be franchised again, it would be at 120 percent of last year's salary, which is $11.42 million.
That number makes it hard to see him being the player tagged this year.
Talib made an impact for the Patriots in his games with the team, but there are injury concerns with the former first-round pick, as well as concerns about his past on- and off-field issues. The franchise number for corners is expected to be around $10.7 million.
Vollmer also has health concerns thanks to his history of back troubles, but when healthy he has been a standout for New England at right tackle and can also play some left tackle. That versatility will likely make him quite appealing to other teams. The Patriots can franchise him for an estimated $9.66 million (franchise amounts will be finalized next month).
Teams can only franchise one player per year.
The NFL's most-hyped combine will be held this week in Indianapolis, but 10 regional combines are also being conducted, open to both draft-eligible players and players who are older but still want a shot with an NFL team.
There was a familiar name taking part in the Cleveland regional on Sunday: Pierre Woods.
Signed by New England in 2006 as an undrafted rookie, Woods was the oldest participant at the Cleveland Browns' facility for the session, hoping for an invite to the super-regional in Dallas on April 7.
Woods spent four-plus seasons in the NFL, playing in 54 games with the Patriots. The last game he played was in 2010, with the Bills.
Now 31 and a father of four, Woods is a laborer for Precision Environmental.
"I cut walls out," Woods told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "I work four 10-hour shifts and it's a very physical job, often cutting through cement. I like it though. It's basically demolition work and it keeps me in shape."
Woods played at powerhouse Glenville High, not far from the Browns' facility, before moving on to Michigan. He saw two of his childhood friends and high school teammates, Donte Whitner and Ted Ginn Jr., play in Super Bowl XLVII as members of the 49ers.
Participants in the combine went through the standard drills - 40-yard dash, broad jump, vertical jump, shuttle run, etc. - but only one actual scout was there, a member of the Bears' staff.
However, the regional combines aren't just for show: according to an NFL release, there were 14 players on NFL rosters at the start of the 2012 season who had come through that route, and the same number on practice squads.
And they have one very successful alum: Adam Vinatieri, who was found at a regional combine years ago.
The Patriots have faced three consecutive seasons in which the team's passing defense has ranked an abysmal 30th, 31st, and 29th overall. Whether it was because a certain head-hunter in Brandon Meriweather was back deep or a patently unwise decision to use Matthew Slater as a defensive back, the Patriots have had a parade of players move in and out of the unit that have underperformed worse than “Life of Pi” has during the awards season. It all makes for a yearly ritual to revamp the group, hoping among other hopes for the defense that this unit is better than the last – and remains healthy.
That’s why what’s going on with Alfonzo Dennard in Nebraska is so concerning.
Dennard is facing a felony charge for allegedly assaulting a police officer and misdemeanor charges for resisting arrest and assaulting another man. He is facing up to seven years in prison and a $12,000 fine if found guilty of all three charges. He took the stand in his case on Friday. Closing arguments are expected on Tuesday.
What he’s facing and the prospect of his playing are two incomparable affairs. But the repercussions of his loss must be explored.
Dennard is a rising star. The seventh round draft pick – whose draft stock dropped because of this incident in Nebraska – developed quickly on the field, showing good aggressiveness in coverage despite being outsized at a generously listed 5-feet-10 inches. And he wasn't afraid to battle with the best receivers and quarterbacks in the game. In his starting debut against the Denver Broncos, he batted down one throw from Peyton Manning to his side and broke up another. In the AFC championship, he gave up only one pass to the dangerous Torrey Smith. For his rookie season, in which he started seven games and played 601 snaps, he allowed only 31 receptions on 61 targets in his direction. He gave up four touchdowns, picked off three passes, and recorded seven passes defensed.
An incarcerated Dennard would certainly put a crimp in any plans to upgrade and improve the roster. The team is already faced with losing Aqib Talib to free agency. And Kyle Arrington, who was solid in his role as a slot corner this season, is an unrestricted free agent as well. While the Patriots have continually appeared to be one good player short of a solid unit, they could possibly see a complete overhaul again. Whether that is a good thing is unknown.
Could the team overreact to losing Dennard and overpay for Talib, or even Arrington? How will this affect the team’s draft strategy? Could Devin McCourty move back to cornerback? How will this affect the rest of the team’s 18 free agents?
What we all saw this year, despite the final statistical ranking, was a mild improvement in the team’s defense in the back end of the season. When Dennard was inserted into the cornerback position, he brought a toughness that was needed. Then the Patriots traded for Talib, a player that can function as a shutdown corner when healthy. McCourty shifted to safety. The end result was a pass defense that wasn’t remarkable, but was certainly solid. Better backups, both at corner and safety, are what the Patriots need to take the next step forward.
But losing one, two, or all three of these players would be a giant step backward and would force the team to proceed in a reactionary manner, rather than a planned one.
What Dennard is facing is a serious crime. What the Patriots are facing is uncertainty.
The Washington Redskins have announced they are going to sign former Patriots defensive tackle Ron Brace.
Brace, 26, spent the first four years of his career in New England after being drafted by the Patriots 40th overall in the second round in 2009. He was a bit player, expected to develop as a burgeoning tackle behind Vince Wilfork. But that never materialized.
He played only 92 snaps this season before being cut after Week 13. He totaled three quarterback pressures and four tackles. He has 39 career tackles and no sacks.
Brace played at Boston College and is originally from Worcester.
Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who is on trial for assaulting a police officer in Nebraska in April 2012, claimed he only pushed the officer, according to a report in the Omaha World-Herald.
“I’ve never been in this situation in my life,” Dennard said during a recorded jailhouse interview, which was played Tuesday at the trial in Lincoln, Neb. “I didn’t hurt you, I didn’t punch you in the face on purpose. You ran up on me so fast.
“I pushed you, that’s all that happened.”
The alleged incident occurred six days before the NFL draft. Dennard, 23, faces three charges, felony assault on a police officer and misdemeanors for third-degree assault and resisting arrest. He faces up to seven years in prison and a $12,000 fine if convicted of all three charges.
The police officer, Benjamin Kopsa, testified that he told Dennard he was under arrest four or five times before the former University of Nebraska star hit him.
"It felt like a very hard object hitting me in the jaw," Kopsa said.
Read the World-Herald's coverage here.
Not surprisingly, the statements gave conflicting accounts of what happened on the night of April 21, 2012 outside of a Lincoln bar, when Dennard allegedly hit both a police officer and another man.
Dennard's attorney, Terry Dougherty, said in court today that his client would admit to resisting arrest but did not assault anyone.
The incident happened just days before the NFL Draft. Considered a mid-round pick, Dennard fell to the seventh round, where the Patriots took him 224th overall.
Dennard is charged with third-degree assault on an officer, a Class 3A felony, resisting arrest, first offense, which is a Class I misdemeanor, and third-degree assault, which is also a Class I misdemeanor in Nebraska.
The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years and/or a $10,000 fine; the misdemeanors carry maximum punishments of not more than one year and/or a $1,000 fine.
Photos courtesy of Bianca Wilfork
Even powerhouse Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork had to "tackle" some shoveling during the snowstorm over the weekend.
According to his wife Bianca's Twitter page, Wilfork headed out early to shovel their walkway, and she linked to photos on her Instagram, providing a look at how the Wilfork family handled the storm.
He got cabin fever already lmao as soon as he shoveled it it piled right back up lol smh instagr.am/p/VfHa4So17c/— bianca wilfork (@mrs75) February 8, 2013
The Patriots have 18 free agents and five draft picks, making this offseason an opportunity to either reshape the underbelly of the team's roster or provide some continuity with the players in place.
But first, in dealing with free agency which begins 4 p.m. March 12, the Patriots will have to address some of the team's most pivotal players and what future they may have in New England.
Starters Sebastian Vollmer, Wes Welker, and Aqib Talib are all priorities. Patriots owner Robert Kraft has already made it known he wants the most prolific wide receiver in the franchise's history to return. Meanwhile, a report has surfaced that the Patriots are unsure whether they want to give Talib a multi-year contract. But they surely want him back to shore up the team's porous secondary, ranked an embarrassing 29th overall in pass defense.
That leaves Vollmer, who ProFootballFocus rated as the No. 22 tackle in the NFL in pass blocking efficiency for players that played in at least 50 percent of their team's snaps. In 617 offensive snaps, Vollmer allowed only 35 pressures. Along with second-year pro Nate Solder (rated No. 23 overall by the site), Vollmer represents a core piece of the team's stability. Signing him now, going into his fifth year, should be the the team's No. 1 priority.
Comparable tackles -- including San Francisco's Joe Staley, Detroit's Jeff Backus, Atlanta's Tyson Clabo, and Kansas City's Eric Winston -- coming off their rookie contracts averaged $4.5 million per year in their new deals. The Patriots reportedly have a little more than $18 million in cap space for 2013. Deals for Vollmer, Welker, and Talib, who could earn as much as $8 million per year in a cornerback starved free agent market, could put a strain on the team's signing power.
The Patriots can't keep everyone, but keeping Vollmer should be the priority.
Assuming Vollmer returns, the Patriots would have its starting offensive line intact. That's a worry the Patriots wouldn't have going into the draft and training camp, a drastic change from a year prior when the team was installing a new center, right guard and left tackle. Continuity up front allows for the team to focus on other core players. Signing him, and attributing his salary to the books, will certainly make the path for the team forward much clearer.
Welker, who Tom Brady has called the "heart" of the team repeatedly, will certainly cramp what the Patriots can do under the cap unless the two sides come to an agreement that allows Welker's deal to be backloaded. But whether the Patriots can make that happen or not is a mystery. The team can fall back on Julian Edelman, a talented and shifty wide receiver, who will certainly come cheaper unless he gets offers.
There won't be any hard feelings if Edelman wants to explore leaving if Welker is still the top dog, and there's a plan in place if Welker can't be re-signed. The Patriots are in a position of strength here.
The Patriots can go through the rest of free agency identifying new possible members of the team's secondary, whether that includes Talib and fellow free agent cornerback Kyle Arrington, and move into the draft with a game plan.
Other items for the Patriots to consider this offseason:
- Whether re-signing Danny Woodhead is good for the team, considering Shane Vereen has the same skill set.
- If either Michael Hoomanawanui or Jake Ballard could help the team more, while also considering the teetering health of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
- If core backups Patrick Chung and Donald Thomas are worth re-signing or replacing through the draft.
At this current juncture, the Patriots's focus is all about prioritizing what they want and need foremost. The pieces will fall into place, but key decisions need to be made first. Vollmer should be the first of the dominoes to fall.
Once again, the personal and not-so private world of Rob Gronkowski is on full shirtless display. It's in these times I'm thankful Gronk is a Patriot.
TMZ procured video of Gronkowski dancing shirtless -- sound like déjà vu yet? -- at a nightclub in Las Vegas. Gronkowski was partying hours after Super Bowl XLVII -- still no déjà vu? -- after the Baltimore Ravens eked out a win against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans.
If you recall, last year when the Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, Gronkowski was on the dance floor later that night. He ended up shirtless, but that was besides the point. He had outraged the Patriots fan base for not taking the loss as hard as the fans had.
The question every Patriots fan wanted answered then: Why am I taking this to heart if he's not?
Gronkowski can't answer that and in all likelihood won't even try. He's not built in the mold of a fan, which will never equate to the emotional investment and total helplessness Patriots nation feels. At the time, he had his opportunities to help the Patriots beat the Giants, decoy or no decoy, and still suffered a bitter defeat. As I wrote last year, he was sullen postgame like the rest of his teammates and was likely blowing off steam.
Without diving too far into the mind of a 23-year old -- which in this case is impossible -- I'm sure he was thinking at the time he needed to get over the loss. If that meant a few adult beverages and some bad techno dancing, so be it. This year, he may very well be trying to get over a season that finished two steps short of the team's ultimate goal.
But there is a key difference here. This time around, the concern is not where Gronkowski's heart is, but where his head lies -- or more specifically his brain. In the video of Gronkowski, he's on stage again, shirtless again, enjoying himself, and (gasp!) wrestling.
Just weeks away from a surgery on his left forearm, the second break on the arm he's suffered in a span of three months, he was trying to perform what looks like a Stone Cold Stunner with a cast on his arm.
This is the part where fans ask: Is Gronkowski trying to stay healthy?
You can't help but laugh though, thinking back specifically to something Papa Gronk said about his son's pain threshold.
"Robby loved pain," Gordie Gronkowski told ThePostGame.com. "[His brothers] used to beat on the kid and he would come back for more."
The kicker here is that Gronkowski playfully gets up after performing his "move" and goes back to his terrible dancing. No harm, no foul.
We're used to the business first and last culture of the Patriots, so Gronkowski's exploits (parties, porn star friends, etc.) are what I'll term a breath of fresh air in these parts.
Outside of Zoltan Mesko, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and slim number of others, Gronkowski provides personality for a team that lacks humor and looks at personalities like they're something that needs to be sterilized.
So appreciate him. In six months, you won't get a chance to see this side of him again.
I never would have thought we would be talking about a non-call in the Super Bowl again. At least not so soon.
But in a season that began with replacement referees and ended on a 4th and 5 hold -- and yes, it was a hold -- one has to seriously be concerned with the state of officiating.
The San Francisco 49ers fan base was sent into a tailspin after an infraction on Michael Crabtree's possible game-winning touchdown went uncalled. It was one in a series of bad no-calls in Super Bowl XLVII.
There's this whole thing about the genie in the bottle when it comes to losses after the fact, but there is also a cold, hard truth here: The 49ers didn't deserve to win. The Baltimore Ravens, finishing on top 34-31, took the game from San Francisco in the first quarter and were on the verge of giving the ballgame up before getting a little help. But make no mistake about it, the Ravens played for 60 minutes, something the 49ers failed to do. And when the game was on the line, and the comeback was in its full throes, the Ravens got one in a series of bad calls to go their way. It doesn't make the call right, but it was equally distributed between the two teams.
Just plays earlier, 49ers left guard Mike Iupati had gotten away with a holding call. 'Tis the way of the world, it seems.
In Super Bowl XLIII (2008 season), the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 with a little help from the officials, too. Here's what I wrote up about the calls in that game:
Exhibit A – there was a clear and obvious block in the back on James Harrison’s length-of-the-field touchdown return. There’s seven points off the board.
Exhibit B – an awful roughing the passer call that gave the Steelers a first down and eventually led to a field goal. That would’ve been a bad call in a regular season game, but was truly terrible in the Super Bowl.
Exhibit C – same drive, roughing the field goal holder??? I’m not quite sure when that became a penalty. It sounds vaguely familiar, but that can’t be in keeping with the spirit of the rule, can it? He hardly roughed him up.
Exhibit D – the first Kurt Warner fumble that was overturned after a review. They got the call right, but it was so obvious that the Cardinals shouldn’t have had to waste a challenge on it.
Every one of those bother me, but I’m able to look past them. However, to not review a questionable fumble call, with seconds remaining in the game -- the game being the freaking Super Bowl -- is inexcusable. Initially I thought it was a fumble, and I understood the call. But the replay looked different. I thought the ball may have still been in his hand and that there was a real good chance that the call could be overturned. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised when they didn’t bother to look at it.
In Super Bowl XLVII, we'll be talking about Jimmy Smith's hold/non-hold on that 4th-and-goal, Chris Culliver's pass interference, the no-call pass interference on Corey Graham on 2d-and-goal with the ballgame on the line, and the no-call offensive pass interference on Torrey Smith that could have resulted in a Culliver interception.
That's a lot of plays to consider that are questionable. It's magnified when more than 100 million people are watching. And outside of Baltimore, fans of the game continue to have their faith shaken that the league will not do the right thing when it comes to perceived injustices. The last thing the NFL wants to discuss is its poor officiating.
But when I awoke this morning, after having digested the game and re-watched the pivotal highlights (again and again), I find myself equally disgusted with the 49ers' lack of urgency in the first half. On 3d and 15, their first offensive series, they elect to run a draw with Frank Gore for 3 yards. That was conservative play-calling at its worst. In the second quarter, facing a 3d-and-10 at their own 6-yard line, the 49ers went back to Gore for a 6-yard run. Again, conservative play-calling at its worst. No need to remind the Red and Gold that this is the Super Bowl. Mr. Hindsight is a great teacher.
Add in two pivotal turnovers by rookie running back LaMichael James and second-year QB Colin Kaepernick (his 10th start) and then throw in a special teams touchdown by the Ravens' Jacoby Jones, a 108-yard kickoff return, and you have the recipe for a super loss already.
But even then, after coming back from a 28-6 deficit, the 49ers found themselves with a possible game-winning drive on their hands, 1st-and-goal at the Ravens' 7-yard line. They proceed to give James the ball (he should've been benched), and throw three straight passes to Crabtree at the right pylons that made no sense whatsoever.
No read option. No quarterback scramble. No targets for Vernon Davis. No touches for Gore. No sense of balance in play-calling.
It was atrocious coaching, punctuated by a gut-wrenching fourth down play that had slim hope for success. There was no pickup on the blitz, no 49ers receiver working the middle of the field, and no separation for the target.
The non-call didn't give the Ravens the victory. It was just the final dagger. It sours the loss, sure, but it was the Ravens' game to lose. No reason to be mad because they got help on one play. The 49ers gave Baltimore plenty of help on their own.
Ravens receiver/kickoff specialist Jacoby Jones had a big hand in the team’s win on Sunday night.
His only reception was a 56-yard touchdown, and his third kickoff return, to open the second half, was a 108-yard touchdown, the longest in Super Bowl history.
Born in New Orleans, Jones conducted his postgame press conference with his toddler son on his lap and his beaming family nearby. His mother, Emily, welcomed the Ravens to the city with a spread of gumbo, jambalaya, and other dishes, which his teammates raved about for days.
Jones was a third-round pick of the Texans in 2007, but was released last May and was signed days later by Baltimore to a two-year deal.
He also had three kick-return touchdowns during the regular season.
“How long was it?” Jones replied when asked about his record return Sunday night. Told it had been changed from a 109-yard score to 108, he howled, “Man, they hatin’ on me! They did the same thing to me in Dallas [in October] – from 109 to 108. But I’ll take it.”
Now 6 feet 2 inches and 220 pounds, in high school, “I was 5-7, 160 pounds soaking wet and with bricks in my pockets,” Jones said, laughing. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life.”
Not long after, he began yelling to his teammates stationed around the interview area – “We did it!,” Jones said. “We did it!,” Ray Rice responded.
Earlier in the week Flacco said he didn’t concern himself with the issue once the games began, but now that he had such tremendous performances this postseason - he threw 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions, led the Ravens to the Super Bowl title, and won Most Valuable Player - he might be looking to reopen talks.
“[Owner Steve Bisciotti] did let me know that if the day came, I could come and beat on his desk. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Flacco said, a smile on his face.
General manager Ozzie Newsome is already on the record as saying he wants to keep Flacco, a first-round pick in 2008 out of Delaware.
“Joe and I have a good understanding of where his contract is,” Newsome said. “People fail to realize that he was a dropped pass away from getting to the Super Bowl last year. So what he did was just back up what he did a year ago.
“He’s doing a great job. He has great chemistry with [offensive coordinator] Jim Caldwell. Hopefully, as long as I’m the general manager in Baltimore, he’s the quarterback in Baltimore.”
As Flacco said a few days earlier, “It’s a good problem to have and to be talking about.”
NEW ORLEANS -- Here are some postgame quotes from some of the 49ers after they lost, 34-31, to the Ravens:
QB Colin Kaepernick
On the fourth-down play: “That wasn’t the original option. It’s something I audibled to at the line based on the look they gave us. It was cover-zero. I was just trying to give him a chance.”
On the original call: “We had a play called for coverage.”
On the interception: “I just led him too far.”
Did he want to run it? “Not necessarily run it. We were just trying to score any way that we could.”
On his own performance: “I feel like I made too many mistakes for us to win. We lost, so obviously it wasn’t enough.”
WR Michael Crabtree
On the fourth-down call: “It is what it is, man. It was the last play, and I’m not going to blame it on the refs. It is what it is; it came down to the last play and it didn’t happen.”
On if they practiced the fade: “Yeah. I mean, that was the play call at the moment. We were just trying to execute the play and make something happen at the end of the game, but we came up short.”
On if he was held: “Yeah. I mean, if somebody grabs me, you always expect the call, but you can’t whine to the referee. It is what it is. You have to just take it like a man, take the ill.”
On the play-calling on the final sequence: “I’m not going to talk about the play call, because like I said, it is what it is. I think we could’ve made some more plays. I think we could’ve did a better job in the red zone, on the 4-yard line. But coach calls the plays; I just try to execute to the best of my abilities.”
LB Patrick Willis
On if there was one part of the game that frustrated him: “You can say that we were on the 5-yard line and we should have scored, but at the same time too, we had every opportunity. Everybody had their hand on this game. We lost as a team and we win as a team. Just across the board today, we had some things that didn’t go well for us. We point the fingers at nobody. We all had a hand in this game and we win together and we lose together, and today we lost it.”
On if they played poor defense in the first half: “Obviously, they put points up on the board, so anytime they put points on the board then we are not playing too well. It’s one of those things where the defense was making plays. We had some one-on-ones and we are expected to win them. In the first quarter and the first half, we didn’t win. We were able to calm down and come back out in the second half, and they got a field goal, but we would have loved to have that for four quarters.”
On the game that CB Chris Culliver had: “No I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I got to talk to him a little bit during the game. I know that he feels bad. Cully is competitive and he wants to win on every play. Today he had a tough one and I stand behind him and I know what kind of player he is. It is only going to fuel him to make it better.”
CB Carlos Rogers
On the power outage: "That was a good thing because the momentum changed and we started to make our run. We kept coming back and getting on the field. Offense was making plays and making field goals, but we had a chance and we didn’t close out and it came down to that basically. They battled and we put ourselves in a hole. We fought back and offense drove down and didn’t put in in, but it’s not on them it’s on us. They put up too many points on our defense and we didn’t get them off the field when we needed to.”
On the officiating: "It wasn’t what I expected. You know, some calls seemed like they weren’t calls that they should have made, but they were right on the calls they didn’t make. There’s no excuse you know. It happens. They’ve got their eyes on what they see and we feel differently and can’t take it back now.”
LB Ahmad Brooks
On the loss: "Give credit to the Ravens. They came out and had a lot of energy. They won the game, but I think at the end of the game, we beat ourselves. We made a lot of mental errors, and we just fell short. Hats off to the Baltimore Ravens.”
LB NaVorro Bowman
On the loss: “I’m frustrated. I think about anything I could’ve done to change the outcome. I’m just the type of person, I always look at myself and see which way I could’ve played better. I’m frustrated just because I know how hard this team has worked from day one – the coaches, the players, the equipment staff, trainers, everyone. We all had some part in us getting this far and for us to come up short. It leaves a bitter taste in our mouth.”
On if he was surprised with the Ravens' fast start: “No, I wasn’t really shocked or anything. They did great just coming out playing. I’m just pissed off.”
LT Joe Staley
On not scoring from the 7-yard line: “Very frustrating. We were very relaxed, very confident that we were going to get it in. It’s just the way football goes sometimes. We didn’t get it. Five yards short, all the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards and we weren’t able to get it done. [We] tip our hats to the Ravens. Congratulations to them. We’re obviously very disappointed.”
NEW ORLEANS -- Spent most of my postgame podium time listening to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after his team lost, 34-31, to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
And he spent most of his time complaining about the calls that he felt went against his team in the second half.
Harbaugh didn't have much time to talk about how there were no read-option plays in the final four plays from the Raven's 7-yard line, or how running back Frank Gore got zero touches despite having 81 yards on eight carries in the second half and plenty of time to run the ball.
I'll have more on that in my Monday's story, but here are some of Harbaugh's comments, which started out with, "I really want to handle this with class and with grace..." and then he failed to do so.
Harbaugh thought there should have been flags on the second- and fourth-down throws to Michael Crabtree against Corey Graham, and then Jimmy Smith.
"Yes, there’s no question in my mind that there was pass interference and then a hold [against] Crabtree on the last one,” Harbaugh said in remarks that are sure to be looked at the league, who have made criticism of officials a fineable offense. “On the second down play I thought the defender played through [Crabtree]. Early contact, before the ball got to Michael. And then on fourth down, felt like he was grabbed and held.
“There was no explanation [from the officials].”
There were other calls, though, that Harbaugh complained about: the no-call on Ravens receiver Torrey Smith when cornerback Chris Culliver appeared to be in position to intercept the pass, and the pass interference on Cullver that extended the Ravens’ final scoring drive on third and 9.
“I didn’t think that was interference on Chris,” Harbaugh said.
“I realize I’m the coach of the 49ers. I’m probably have some bias there. In my mind I wouldn’t be bringing it up if in my mind I thought it was obvious. But that’s not the way they saw it. But that’s the only reason I bring it up.”
Then he brought it up when asked about why quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn't find his groove early on.
“I thought he made good throws the entire game,” Harbaugh said. “One that got a little high. He just led a fourth-quarter comeback. In my opinion, that series should have continued.”
That last line was delivered with a laugh of disbelief.
But when asked why Gore didn't touch the ball on the final sequence, "We had other plays called," was all Harbaugh could muster.
NEW ORLEANS -- We'll be hitting up the live blog during the game with a few insights and observations from the Superdome:
NEW ORLEANS -- Welcome to the Superdome, where the 49ers and Ravens will square off in less than an hour.
Here are the inactives:
San Francisco - QB Scott Tolzien, S Trenton Robinson, RB Jewel Hampton, LB Cam Johnson, DT Tony Jerod-Eddie, OLJoe Looney, DT Ian Williams.
Baltimore - CB Asa Jackson, S Omar Brown, CB Chris Johnson, LB Adrian Hamilton, OL Ramon Harewood, WR Deonte Thompson, DT Bryan Hall.
A few of the key things to watch for in my mind:
Ravens TE Dennis Pitta vs. 49ers ILBs: The 49ers will understandably be holding their safeties back to keep Joe Flacco from hitting the deep ball. That should leave a lot of room in the middle for the field for the underrated Pitta (and receiver Anquan Boldin) to operate.
Ravens DEs Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger vs. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: Expect the Ravens to be content to let Frank Gore some some a little damage inside; what they don't want to do is give up the edge to Kaepernick. That will lead to a blowout.
Ravens CBs vs. 49ers WR Michael Crabtree: The Ravens' cornerbacks are OK but they haven't seen many complete WRs like Crabtree. Kaepernick could play pitch and catch all day with Crabtree if he wanted to.
Jim Harbaugh wrinkles: I think Harbaugh is the best coach in the league and he's going to have a few wrinkles that are sure to catch the Ravens my surprise. Can't see the Ravens coming up with many surprises. They are who they are.
Ravens sending a message early: Expect the Ravens to have someone (safety Bernard Pollard?) to send a message, likely against Kaepernick, in the form of a vicious shot. They'll take the 15-yard penalty just to send a message that we're going to land the first punch and keep taking shots at you.
I'll be posting a live blog shortly. So come on back.
Of importance to many Patriots fans is Wes Welker and whether he and the team will be able to come to a contract agreement to keep the receiver in Foxborough a little longer.
"I’d love him to be around as well. He’s a great guy; like I said all along, it takes two sides to make a transaction, and then we have to manage the lawyers and the agents, that they don’t mess it up. I think Wes wants to be with us and we want him here. It’s just a matter of whether both sides can be intelligent," Kraft said.
The Patriots' owner was asked how long it took him to get over the team's loss to Baltimore in the AFC Championship game, and Kraft touched his belly - "It's hanging right here, in the pit of my stomach."
The Ravens & 49ers will face off on Sunday in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII. CineSport's Noah Coslov turns to The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard for his insight and prediction.
The Patriots officially announced the signing of defensive lineman Armond Armstead Friday, the first of two Canadian Football League signings for the team since their AFC championship loss to the Ravens.
Armstead, 22, played the last season for the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, collecting 43 tackles and six sacks. The 6-5, 298-pound Southern California product went undrafted because of a heart attack he endured in college after being injected with painkillers. He is suing USC, University Park Health Center, USC team physician James Tibone, and an unnamed pharmaceutical company because of the heart attack.
Editor's note: Here are all of the Boston Globe and Boston.com Super Bowl XLVII predictions. Composed of all football writers, editors, and columnists, staffers favored the San Francisco 49ers 8 to 5 in their matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers are favored by 4 points against the Ravens.
The 49ers are simply a more talented football team from top to bottom, and also have the better coaches. The evolving offense with Colin Kaepernick gives them more ability to bring something unexpected to the game plan. The Ravens are fairly straightforward. They need to go hurry up to win this game.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 32, Ravens 24
The key matchup will be how the 49ers handle the Ravens' passing game, orchestrated by the deft Joe Flacco. Torrey Smith is a deep threat and combined with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have a layered passing attack that requires attention up and down the field. Nickel corner Carlos Rodgers has to be solid against Boldin while he's in the slot and you'll likely see 49ers LB Patrick Willis bodied up against Pitta at times. Who wins in these one-on-one matchups should very well determine the dynamic and outcome of the game. I happen to think the 49ers are favored here.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 27
This is supposed to be a prediction, but it inadvertently turned into Super Bowl XLVII wish list. I want to watch Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick sprint past Ray Lewis on a long-distance scoring run so breathtaking that Lewis's budding antlers curl up into nubs of shame. I want to watch Randy Moss score the go-ahead touchdown with two minutes left and have it hold up this time. I want to watch Ed Reed play brilliantly in defeat in his final game as a Raven before uniting with Bill Belichick. I don't think that's too much to want, except for maybe the part about nubs of shame.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 31
Christopher L. Gasper
Which Harbaugh (John or Jim) wins Super Bowl XLVII is going to come down to whether the 49ers’ pistol-based rushing attack is a deadly weapon or shoots blanks. The 49ers are averaging 6.5 yards per rush in the postseason, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick is to the read-option what Michael Tilson Thomas is to the San Francisco Symphony -- a maestro. The Ravens had trouble defending Robert Griffin III and a similar attack against Washington in the regular-season, allowing 5.1 yards per rush. But the Ravens played that game without linebackers Terrell Suggs, Danelle Ellerbe and Ray Lewis. Plus, the Ravens have an extra week to study, practice and prepare for Kaepernick and the read-option run game. That is huge. I think the Ravens buck – deer antler spray pun intended – the trend and slow down the 49ers rushing attack enough to keep it close. Then, Joe Flacco pulls it out at the end, and Lewis gleefully takes credit for it all.
Straight up winner: Baltimore
Against the spread: Baltimore
Prediction: Ravens 27, San Francisco 24
The Ravens have been a terrific story this postseason, but here's the problem: against San Francisco, they won't be able to score. Baltimore hasn't really faced a physical defense yet this postseason, and the Niners are as physical a group as there is in the NFL. In this game, both Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis are going to be exposed.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 34, Ravens 13
Colin Kaepernick’s unique combination of size, strength, athleticism, and improvisational skills make him the man to watch Sunday night. Blessed with tremendous physical skills, Kaepernick is a nightmare matchup for defenses. You can prepare for him by watching film but it’s impossible to mimic him in practice because few possess his skill set. How the Ravens can cope with Kaepernick (and they’re pretty good at neutralizing gifted quarterbacks – see Luck, Andrew; Manning, Peyton; and Brady, Tom) – particularly on third down will be the key to Super Bowl XLVII.
Straight up winner: Ravens
Against the spread: Ravens
Prediction: Ravens 27, 49ers 20
I've been impressed with Ravens QB Joe Flacco this postseason, and at other times as well, and I think this is his time to rise to the occasion and lead his team to the championship. His counterpart on the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, is dynamic and entertaining to watch and very likely will someday wear a Super Bowl ring, but this time, on the game's biggest stage, I'm going with the experienced and battle-tested Flacco to seal the deal.
Straight up winner: Ravens
Against the spread: Ravens
Prediction: Ravens 21, 49ers 17
Everything is going Baltimore’s way. The Ravens lost four of their last five in the regular season but have come together perfectly at playoff time. They run and they pass. They have Ray Rice and the underrated Joe Flacco. They go after it on defense. Ray Lewis scares the hell out of everybody. They have the mojo. They have the guy from the Blind Side (Michael Oher). They have Barry Levinson and his script from Diner. They have Patriot killer Bernard Pollard. They have the better Harbaugh brother. And they are staying in my hotel. Party on.
Straight up winner: Ravens
Against the spread: Ravens
Prediction: Ravens 31, 49ers 17
While Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis might start growing antlers any day now, it’s 49ers budding star quarterback Colin Kaepernick that will be seeing the deer-in-the-headlights come Sunday in the Superdome. Kaepernick has been spectacular in getting San Francisco to the big game, but the guess here is that he will come back to earth as the moment suddenly becomes larger than life when the ball is kicked off in New Orleans. On the flip side, Ravens QB Joe Flacco has proven to be a cool customer under pressure all season long and there’s no reason for that to change on Sunday when he brings Baltimore’s balanced offensive attack up against San Francisco’s formidable defense.
Straight-up winner: Ravens
Against the spread: Ravens
Prediction: Ravens, 24-21
Over the regular season and playoffs the 49ers have been the best team in the NFL accentuated by great balance. A normal performance will be enough to win this game and cover the spread. Defensively, the key for San Francisco is to contain the deep passing game of the Ravens’ and cannon-armed Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ running game is solid but the 49ers should be able to stop that. Offensively, the 49ers need to once again be balanced, a mix of run and pass to control the ball.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 28, Ravens 17
So after careful analysis of the matchups on both sides of the ball and weighing all the intangibles (not really), it boils down to this: The 49ers are simply a better team, by a wide margin. Even though talent doesn’t always win out (see Patriots, New England), a ferocious defense -- in this case led by three All-Pro linebackers -- usually will. The 49ers earn the Lombardi Trophy in convincing fashion.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 35, Ravens 13
Against my better judgment (any self-respecting Bengals fan should never root for the 49ers; see: Super Bowls XVI, XXIII), I'm going with San Francisco to pad its unbeaten Super Bowl record. Baltimore's defense has been stout in the playoffs, but San Francisco's is better. Throw in electric quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a dependable running game, and the 49ers will squeeze out just enough offense to send Ray Lewis into retirement with a loss.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 27, Ravens 21
Shalise Manza Young
The NFL has seemingly become all about offense, but the teams with two of the best defenses in the league are the ones that have made it to this point. For my (meager) money, however, the 49ers are better from top to bottom. San Francisco allowed just 17.1 points per game in the regular season, second-best in the league, but even when things appear to be going awry, revered defensive coordinator Vic Fangio makes the necessary adjustments: in the NFC Championship game in Atlanta, the Falcons led 17-0 early in the second quarter and then 24-14 at the half, but Fangio's unit posted a second-half shutout and cool as a cucumber quarterback Colin Kaepernick guided the offense to a win. This game will likely come down to one play, one mistake: the 49ers are 15-0 this season when they win the turnover battle, and Baltimore quarterback Joe "I get no respect" Flacco has yet to throw an interception this postseason.
Straight up winner: 49ers
Against the spread: 49ers
Prediction: 49ers 24, Ravens 20