Ferentz-Belichick connection continues as Patriots sign free-agent lineman

Ferentz-Belichick connection continues as Patriots sign free-agent lineman

Bill Belichick knew James Ferentz's dad when James was about the size of a set of shoulder pads. Now James is under contract with the Patriots.

The team announced on Thursday that it signed the free-agent offensive lineman, along with fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise and rookie free agent Sam Cotton

Ferentz checks in at 6-foot-2, 285 pounds and spent the last two seasons with the Broncos. The 27-year-old entered the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa and spent that season on the Texans practice squad. 

In 2015, Ferentz made it onto the field for 14 games and one postseason game (against the Patriots in the AFC title game) as the Broncos went on to win Super Bowl 50. Last season, he played in seven games for Denver. He was released last week. 

Ferentz's father is Kirk Ferentz, who has been the head coach at Iowa since 1999. Before manning the sidelines for the Hawkeyes, Kirk spent time in the NFL with the Browns and Ravens. Belichick gave Ferentz his first NFL gig in Cleveland in 1993 as the Browns offensive line coach. Ferentz held that title through Belichick's tenure there and moved with the team to Baltimore, spending three seasons with the Ravens. 

Belichick hired another one of Ferentz's sons, Brian, to the Patriots coaching staff in 2009. In 2011, Brian was the team's tight ends coach. The following Ferentz took over as Iowa's offensive line coach, and in January he was named the team's offensive coordinator. 

The Patriots landed a pair of Iowa products as undrafted rookies earlier this offseason, signing offensive lineman Cole Croston and running back LeShun Daniels Jr. 

Patriots sign rookie free agent tight end Sam Cotton from Nebraska

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Patriots sign rookie free agent tight end Sam Cotton from Nebraska

FOXBORO -- The Patriots are annually one of the busiest clubs when it comes to turning over the back-end of their roster. That process is ongoing and has been particularly noticeable at the tight end spot over the course of the last week. 

Last week the team announced it had released tight end Michael Williams. On Wednesday, it was Rob Housler who was let go with a failed physical designation. On Thursday, the team added to the group, signing undrafted rookie free agent Sam Cotton. 

Cotton joins a position group that includes Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, James O'Shaughnessy, Matt Lengel and fellow undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister. The 23-year-old played in 31 games, starting 23, during his four-year career at Nebraska. He caught 17 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns, including eight for 87 yards in 13 games as a senior.

At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Cotton was one of the more impressive athletes in this year's rookie class of tight ends. His 4.80-second 40-yard dash -- recorded at Nebraska's pro day -- was solid and would've ranked him 12th among tight ends at this year's combine. Some of his other numbers, though, were more outstanding. His 6.87-second three-cone drill would've ranked second among tight ends in Indianapolis for this year's combine. His 127-inch broad jump wouldn've been fourth, and his 35.5-inch vertical would've been sixth. 

Cotton is now the third Nebraska product on the Patriots roster (joining Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead), and he's the fourth player to play under Bo Pelini. Third-round rookie defensive end Derek Rivers from Youngstown State is the most recent Pelini pupil as Pelini now serves as head coach of the Penguins. 

Cotton's father, Barney Cotton, was a Nebraska assistant under Pelini and was let go with the rest of Pelini's staff following the 2014 season. Despite his father's departure from the program, Cotton decided to remain with the Huskers.

"I thought of all the guys here and how, if they see the coach's son jump ship when a new staff comes in, just how detrimental that could have been to the team," Cotton told the Lincoln Journal Star. "And I thought about all the guys and tried to set an example by staying.

"Whether or not that worked, I guess we'll never know, but I like to think that it was good for them to see the coach's son be able to stay and play for their dad's replacement."

Barney Cotton is now the offensive coordinator at UNLV. 

Patriots sign Wise to rookie contract, have two of four picks locked up

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Patriots sign Wise to rookie contract, have two of four picks locked up

FOXBORO -- The Patriots announced on Thursday that they have signed rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise, who was taken in the fourth round of last month's draft. 

Wise is the second of New England's four picks to sign. Seventh-round offensive tackle Conor McDermott made things official soon after he was selected. Third-round defensive end Derek Rivers and third-round offensive tackle Tony Garcia have yet to ink their contracts. 

Since the last collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players, there isn't much to negotiate in terms of pay. Each pick has been assigned a value, meaning the amount of money a draft choice is given is preset. 

There are, however, other issues that are negotiated and can take some time. Deferrals of bonus payments, for instance, can be a sticking point (as they were with Joey Bosa and the Chargers last season). Offset language, allowing teams to recover guarantees if a player is released and signs elsewhere, can also take some time to hammer out.

Wise, who met with reporters on Thursday and smiled wide as he spoke about how he's adjusting to life as a pro, seemed to have a relatively easy time getting those elements ironed out and now he's put pen to paper.