The Sports Centralby Cian Fahey
- New York Knicks and Boston Celtics Swap Standards for Second Playoff Series in Three Seasons
- New England Patriots NFL Draft: DeAndre Hopkins Scouting Report
- New England Patriots Draft: Justin Hunter Scouting Report
- New England Patriots Draft: Desmond Trufant Scouting Report
- Boston Celtics: Playoff Formula Mixes Flexible Roster With Veteran Leadership
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks have come through the 2013 NBA Regular Season in different ways. The Celtics have endured injury after injury and problem after problem to secure the seventh overall seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks have enjoyed their trip to the second seed behind only the Miami Heat.
This is very much the inverse of what recent history has told us about these franchises.
For only the third time during his tenure, Doc Rivers' Celtics didn't finish first in their division. In fact, this year's third place finish was the first below the top since the 2006-07 season. Conversely, the New York Knicks hadn't won the Atlantic Division since all the way back in the 1993-94 season.
After looking at Desmond Trufant and Justin Hunter, today's prospect in The Sports Central NFL Draft Series is Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is one of the most exciting prospects in the draft and some consider him to be the safest selection also.
Even with the re-signing of Julian Edelman and the continuing saga surrounding Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots will still be in the market for an additional wide receiver presence on the outside. So there is no need to change approach at this point.
Name: DeAndre Hopkins
Date of Birth: June 6, 1992
Height: 6'1 Weight: 214
With the NFL draft just a matter of weeks away, coverage of the prospects and franchises is starting to crank up. Just like any of the other 31 franchises in the NFL, the New England Patriots' shortlist of targets will be coming into focus right about now.
For the first time in some time, the New England Patriots enter the NFL draft with a notably limited number of draft picks. Because of the Albert Haynesworth and Chad Johnson trades, the Patriots only have five choices this year in what is considered to be a relatively deep draft class.
That said, the Patriots, as they seem to always be, are in a strong position to trade up in the draft as part of an overall aggressive philosophy for the next two seasons. Picking at 29th overall in the first round should allow them to grab a talented player who can help them immediately, but if they fall for a specific talent they could look to move up or trade future picks to add a choice this year.
This is the first in a series of reports that will look at potential players the Patriots could be targeting in that scenario.
With Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett ailing over the past few weeks, the Boston Celtics have endured a relatively rough patch. Their playoff spot is set, but the inconsistency that comes with broken continuity has given the franchise a 4-8 record in their last 12 games.
That is not the way the Celtics will want to enter the playoffs.
Regardless of who they will face in the first round. Regardless of their relative talent and experience. Regardless of Doc Rivers' coaching, no team in the league can comfortably flip a switch from losing basketball to win-worthy performances in the playoffs.
Although Miami and Boston are some distance apart, the New England Patriots are suffering a bit with noisy neighbors this off-season.
Just as Stephen Ross arrived to take him to the gallows, Jeff Ireland made one final grasp to try and pry away the lock that had kept his franchise from success during his tenure. While his attempts were made out of desperation, and they will likely hurt the franchise in the long-term, they have undoubtedly improved the Dolphins at this point in the off-season.
After Anquan Boldin led the Baltimore Ravens to a relatively easy victory in Foxboro to vault his team into the Super Bowl, it was clear that the New England Patriots had at least one fatal flaw on their defense. Not only was the Patriots' secondary lacking talent and depth, but most notably it had no toughness.
Without Aqib Talib, Boldin was able to overpower Devin McCourty, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington in any kind of tight coverage, while Steve Gregory, McCourty or Tavon Austin lacked the physicality to intimidate him as he worked over the middle of the field. Patrick Chung had that physicality, but lacked the coverage ability or intelligence to be trusted in coverage.
Toughness and character are prerequisites for championship sides in every team sport, after that game, it became clear that the Patriots were lacking both on the backend of their defense.
The New England Patriots wrapped up a deal for former Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver Michael Jenkins just in time to conclude their business in March. Jenkins won't excite fans, even though he has that speed the Patriots' offense craves on the edges, but he is most likely one of the final moves to be made by the franchise ahead of the draft.
Free agency allowed the Patriots to re-sign their starting right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, replace Wes Welker with Danny Amendola, add a swing tackle in Will Svitek, get a tough veteran presence in their secondary with Adrian Wilson and retain both Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib at the cornerback position.
In no small part because of Tom Brady's contract extension, the Patriots were able to address most of their primary needs. Outside of releasing Brandon Lloyd to create a void at wide receiver and the lack of a second pass rusher(not presuming that Armond Armstead will be that guy), the Patriots have very few concerns.
At this point, the Celtics need Garnett if they are to do anything in the playoffs. If he is not at 100 percent, then the chances of them going deep into the post-season are very, very slim.
Re-signing Vollmer also shapes the Patriots' draft plans. No longer will they be in play for an offensive lineman, as they appear to be set at every position in terms of starters and depth. Solder and Vollmer should start outside, with Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly establishing an interior trio. Marcus Cannon could slide into a guard position, while Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics are also on the roster.
After over a week of free agent signings coming and going across the league, the New England Patriots have already addressed a number of needs. Danny Amendola has arrived to replace the departed Wes Welker. Adrian Wilson was signed to provide some strength and experience at strong safety. Aqib Talib returned after testing the open market. Brandon Lloyd was released, while Will Svitek signed on as an offensive tackle.
Even though the Patriots have already made many moves with the NFL draft still to come, they have plenty of work to do if their roster is to be adequately set up entering the 2013 season.
The question mark over Emmanuel Sanders' future still remains unanswered, while Sebastien Vollmer is yet to agree a deal with anyone. Vollmer and Sanders are likely the two top priorities left for the Patriots, but re-signing Brandon Lloyd, improving cornerback depth, adding a pass-rusher and signing more offensive line depth could all be considerations still.
Without Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Lloyd on offense, the New England Patriots' offense will have a very different identity next season. Woodhead and Welker have already been replaced by more explosive entities in the forms of Shane Vereen and Danny Amendola, while Brandon Lloyd's replacement could be Lloyd himself on a cheaper contract, restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders or a dynamic draft pick.
Although it appears that the Patriots are simply replacing like with like, their resilience to re-sign Julian Edelman so far still sticks out. Of course, Edelman could just be a low-priority target, but the fact that he and Welker are not currently on the roster after two seasons when the Patriots short-passing attack fell short of a Super Bowl, indicates that the team could be about to move to a more aggressive approach.
Sanders and Amendola are somewhat similar to Welker and Lloyd, but both are greater vertical threats with more elusive ability in the open field.
The New England Patriots added a free agent to their roster today, but it wasn't wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Instead, they added former Atlanta Falcons' offensive tackle Will Svitek. Svitek missed all of last season because of injury, but started 10 games at left tackle for Sam Baker the previous year.
Although his healthy is a question mark, and this is not the signing Patriots' fans were expecting, this appears on the onset to be an astute move from the franchise. Svitek, when healthy is one of the best backups in the league and wasn't even a backup before being injured in 2011.
The former sixth round pick of the 2005 draft is 31 years of age and coming off of an injury to his upper arm that occured prior to the beginning of last year's regular season. For that reason, he likely won't have cost the franchise much financially and will be seen as a low-risk high-reward addition.
After finding a market ravaged of any quality offers for any players at his position, cornerback Aqib Talib accepted a one year contract to return to the New England Patriots this season. Talib only arrived in New England during last year's regular season, after a trade between the franchise and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Although he had his issues in New England also, exclusively with injuries, Talib did enough to win over a fanbase and franchise that was(and still is) desperate for an improved secondary.
Talib returned to the Patriots within 24 hours of Adrian Wilson arriving. Wilson and Talib round out the expected starting four on the back-end for the Patriots. Fortunately, for the first time in quite some time, that secondary has a strong element of continuity to it. Both starting cornerbacks are returning, Alfonzo Dennard and Talib, while Kyle Arrington was re-signed to a big deal to be the team's nickelback. Although Wilson will slot into the strong safety spot, Devin McCourty should return to be the team's free safety.
Back in the off-season of 2006, the New England Patriots were in pursuit of a little-known restricted free agent from the Miami Dolphins. In the end, the Patriots traded for that receiver instead of signing him to an offer-sheet. Of course, that receiver turned into Wes Welker. During the same off-season that Welker's Patriots' career has come to a close, the Patriots are targeting another restricted free agent wide receiver.
This time that receiver is Emmanuel Sanders, a former third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers who has three seasons of indifferent production as a professional.
Sanders is a very talented receiver who became an important piece for the Steelers as a rookie back in 2010. He competed with fellow rookie Antonio Brown at the time for his roster spot during the regular season, but by the time the playoffs came around he had solidified his status as the team's third option ahead of Brown and Antwan Randle El. Entering the Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers, Sanders was expected to play a prominent role in the Steelers' gameplan.
With Wes Welker leaving Tom Brady for Peyton Manning, the New England Patriots appear to be trying to rectify Brady's loss by bringing in one of Manning's long-time teammates from his days with the Indianapolis Colts. For a long time, while Peyton Manning was leading the Colts' offense, Dwight Freeney was the superstar on the defensive side of the ball in Indianapolis.
Freeney is one of three players visiting Foxboro today.
Not only does the veteran defensive end have a track record that fits an important need for the Patriots' defense, but he also will likely come at a cost affordable price considering his age. Freeney just turned 33 years of age and has been in the NFL for 11 years. Last season he registered just five sacks, but he was playing out of position on a defense that gave him little to no support.
Not long after it was announced that Wes Welker had agreed to join the Denver Broncos as a 2013 free agent, the New England Patriots have replaced him with Danny Amendola. The Patriots and Amendola agreed on a five year contract that will pay the diminutive receiver $31 million and a guaranteed $10 million.
The Patriots agreed to a 5-year deal with Danny Amendola, source says. 5 years, $31M. $10 guaranteed. Avg: $6.1Amendola is significantly younger than Welker, he will be 27 at the end of the upcoming season, but has only been in the league for four seasons. After being an undrafted free agent, he signed with the St. Louis Rams where he almost instantly established himself as a possession receiver. He only had 326 yards and a touchdown as a rookie, but caught 43 passes in 14 games. His second season saw him play in all 16 games and finish the year with an incredibly 85 receptions for just 689 yards and three touchdowns.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2013
Welker and Amendola were often lumped into the same class by onlookers, but the biggest difference between the two has proven to be the veteran's durability. Amendola only played in one game during the 2011 season, before an injured tricep landed him on IR. He missed five games last season because of shoulder and foot injuries. He still finished the season with 63 receptions in just 11 games. Like Welker, Amendola has soft hands and the bravery to make tough receptions over the middle. However, unlike Welker, Amendola has greater diversity and the ability to consistently beat defensive backs when lined up on the outside of formations.
It's not definite that the Patriots will continue to run the same offensive scheme next season with Amendola simply replacing Welker. Amendola's ability to move outside, coupled with Aaron Hernandez's presence on the roster, means that they can go in different directions with their prospective targets in the draft or free agency.
When Tom Brady took a cap-friendly contract extension earlier this off-season, the New England Patriots' chances of re-signing his favorite target, Wes Welker, multiplied. However, after two days of reportedly low-balling their leading wide receiver from last season, Welker has decided to sign for the Denver Broncos on a long-term deal.
Wes Welker has agreed to terms with Denver Broncos.Welker will sign a contract for two seasons and now becomes a part of the team that will be seen as the Patriots' biggest obstacles to overcome in the AFC this season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2013
Agreed to terms on a 2-yr deal with Wes Welker. Excited to have Wes join the Broncos. His production & toughness will be a great asset!The Broncos will travel to Foxboro during the coming regular season, although the date is yet to be set.
— John Elway (@johnelway) March 13, 2013
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the New England Patriots and Wes Welker have called off discussions over a new contract.
Per sources: Talks between Wes Welker and #Patriots are over at this point. Welker exploring free agency #Intrigue #FreeAgencyWelker will now explore offers from other teams, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that he won't come back to the Patriots if he doesn't receive the offer he is searching for.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 12, 2013
Division rivals, the Miami Dolphins, already made a massive investment in former Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver Mike Wallace. Wallace has agreed to a $65 million five year deal that will pay him $13 million per season. There is no chance that Welker receives that kind of offer on the open market, but he could still see big money deals from the Minnesota Vikings or Tampa Bay Buccaneers amongst others.
The New England Patriots enter the 2013 Free Agent Market, a market that opens on Tuesday this week, with many question marks but question marks that are overshadowed by a settled franchise. Unlike other franchises, the Patriots aren't rebuilding or looking for superstar players to lead the franchise this off-season. Instead, they are looking to build on their success of recent seasons.
Even though they don't have a lengthy list of priorities, they do have some top-heavy targets that they must acquire if they are to advance next season.
1. Upgrade the Secondary.
Despite some obvious failings on offense late last season, the Patriots' biggest issues this off-season are undoubtedly on the back-end of their defense. Aqib Talib was always going to test free agency after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the regular season. Couple his impending exit with Alfonzo Dennard's off-season legal issues and the Patriots face the prospect of losing both starting cornerbacks this off-season.
In a somewhat shocking development on Friday, it became known that the Arizona Cardinals would be releasing strong safety Adrian Wilson. Wilson is going to be 34 by the end of next season, but he had still played well into his 12th season last year. He finished the year with 54 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. His leadership was also pivotally important for the play of what proved to be an excellent unit.
Despite being past the twilight of his career, the New England Patriots must be tempted to make a move for Wilson. The Patriots lacked the quality at the safety position last year to advance past the championship round. With Devin McCourty manning the free safety spot entering next season, the Patriots should be in the market for a free agent strong safety in the mold of Wilson.
Wilson is a hard-hitting, in the box safety who often arrives at the line of scrimmage to shut down running backs. However, he is also athletic enough to track most tight ends in the league and has the awareness to fit into zone coverage. With Wilson in the lineup, the Patriots would have the toughness that was lacking on the backend last season when Aqib Talib wasn't on the field.
The New England Patriots' starting right tackle Sebastien Vollmer is a free agent this off-season. Vollmer has been an excellent player in New England when he has been on the field, but his track record with injuries has been bad and he has chronic back issues that should dog him throughout his career. Understanding that, and the fact that he will be a highly sought after option on the open market, the Patriots may not look to re-sign him.
Even though the Patriots may not feel comfortable enough with Vollmer to invest heavily in him, that doesn't mean they won't invest heavily in another free agent offensive tackle. Fortunately for the Patriots, one of the very best in the league just came free.
For the second season in a row, Eric Winston was released by his team despite impressing on the field during the season. Winston was released by the Houston Texans last year after six seasons as a starter at tackle. He was then signed to a four-year contract worth $22 million with roughly $10 million guaranteed. That was considered a very cheap contract for a player of Winston's caliber. Even though he didn't play through the four years of the contract, he will still have earned at least $10 million and at 29 years of age, will have a chance at one final big contract now.
Depending on who you believe this week, Wes Welker has either already cut ties with the New England Patriots and decided to sign elsewhere or his chances of re-signing with the team are as strong as ever. The Welker conundrum will be solved one way or another within the next two weeks, as NFL Free Agency begins early next week. Should he re-sign with the Patriots, then depending on the salary cap hit the team will be happy to move forward with the status quo. However, if he moves on, the Patriots will need to explore other options.
As such, it's important to understand the permutations of each move and which best fits the franchise:
1. Re-Sign Julian Edelman
Welker isn't the only Patriots' wide receiver whose contract is coming up. Edelman's rookie deal reflected in not a huge amount on the field, but in spurts he showed his exceptional talent. On special teams he had many important returns, on defense he contributed effectively when asked to adapt and on offense he entered this past season as a starter. By re-signing him to fill Welker's role, he would need to prove his ability to be consistent in a greater role and most importantly, remain durable.
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