Hernandez is here to stay

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Hernandez is here to stay

Over the summer, I wondered if Rob Gronkowski's extension might equal good news for Wes Welker. The argument being that with the highly-prioritized Gronk signed to a long term deal, the Pats would now have greater clarity to deal with the short term.

This afternoon, I'll wonder the same thing, only this time with Aaron Hernandez as the source of long term clarity.

First of all, I love the extension for Hernandez. With he and Gronk wrapped up for seven and eight years, respectively, the foundation is in place and the path is cleared for Tom Brady to play well into 40s. Is it weird that that's the first thing that comes to my mind? Either way, there's no doubt that securing the GronkHernandez combo is good news for the Pats. But what about for Welker?

I guess if my Gronk post taught me anything, it's that before asking that question, we should address this one: Are there any other young guys who the Pats are in a rush to lock up long term?

On that note, here's a list of notable players who will become free agents after this season: Kyle Arrington. Patrick Chung. Sebastian Vollmer. Julian Edelman. Dane Fletcher. Danny Woodhead.

And after next season: Kyle Love and Brandon Spikes.

So what do you think?

Personally, I don't think Arrington, Edelman, Fletcher or Woodhead are quite there. I think Chung, Vollmer and Spikes might deserve consideration but neither of the three has proven himself worthy of a long-term commitment. I think Love just signed a new deal last week. And with all that being said, I think that (short of a major injury) signing Welker to an extension should be the Pats No. 1 priority next off-season.

Of course, it won't be easy. Assuming they don't slap the tag on Welker for a second season, No. 83 will be an unrestricted free agent. And with that's happened you wouldn't think that he'll be in the mood to take a hometown discount. Or maybe he would? After all, from the start he's made it clear that he's more interested in being a part of this team than playing hardball. So maybe he'd taken a little less to play a few more years with Brady?

Especially since, after today's events, Brady guaranteed to play for at least seven more years. (I know. I know. Just let me go with it.)

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: The Top 2

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Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: The Top 2

We're down to the Top 2. 

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!

PLAY NUMBER: 2

THE YEAR: 2014

THE GAME: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

THE PLAY: Malcolm Butler picks off Russell Wilson at goal line to save Super Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: Is it the biggest defensive play in NFL history? You’d have a tough time making a case for any play to be ranked ahead of it. The play itself – Malcolm Butler sniffing out a quick slant to Ricardo Lockette on second-and-goal from the 1 with 26 seconds left – was a singularly great football play. The historical importance of it to the Patriots franchise in delivering a fourth Super Bowl title and preventing a third straight Super Bowl loss is even more far-reaching. It’s a play that symbolized a lot of things the Patriots under Bill Belichick have been about. It symbolized that it doesn’t matter how you got to the Patriots, it mattered what you did when you got there. Butler, an undrafted rookie who made the team in a tryout the previous spring, was on the field because another undrafted player, Kyle Arrington was getting lit up. A bold move but one that had to be made. It symbolized preparation and attention to detail. During the week of practice leading up to the game, Butler arrived late when the Patriots scout team offense ran the play and Jimmy Garoppolo beat Butler with a throw to Josh Boyce. The play needed to be sniffed out – it was by Butler and Brandon Browner – then executed with a great jam by Browner and an unhesitating break by Butler. It symbolized maintaining poise, which the Patriots had to do after the ridiculous juggling catch by Jermaine Kearse put Seattle on the brink of victory. It symbolized a measure of risk-taking and coaching by feel, as Bill Belichick eschewed a timeout and let the Seahawks run the play. That the coaches locking brains at the point – Belichick and his predecessor in New England, Pete Carroll – added another chapter to the backstory. You could write a book about this play.  

PLAY NUMBER: 1

THE YEAR: 2001

THE GAME: Jets, Patriots

THE PLAY: Mo Lewis changes course of NFL history with sideline hit on Drew Bledsoe

WHY IT’S HERE: While the Butler interception at No. 2 cemented legacies and places in history, the play at the top of this list was the one that started it all. If you paid attention to what Tom Brady was doing in training camp practices and preseason games (30-for-51 for 390 yards) and contrasted it with Bledsoe’s performances (so underwhelming he played the bulk of the fourth preseason game and went 14-for-22), you could see the gap between $100 million franchise quarterback and sixth-round afterthought was closing. But even with the Patriots losing at Cincy to open the season and Bledsoe playing  poorly against the Jets, it was still going to be very difficult for Bill Belichick to press the eject button on Bledsoe. The team was building a new stadium and Bledsoe was the hood ornament for the franchise. With ownership trying to sell luxury suites and sponsorships, benching the only marketable player for the worst team in the league might not be prudent. Then Mo Lewis intervened. With 5:19 remaining and the Patriots trailing 10-3, Bledsoe was flushed to the right on a third-and-10 from the Patriots 19. As he neared the sticks, Bledsoe saw Lewis coming and slowed to go out of bounds, then seemed to remember it was third down and he needed to push forward. Lewis had all the momentum and his devastating hit sheared an artery in Bledsoe’s chest and gave him a concussion. It was a terrible injury that caused internal bleeding and put Bledsoe in some touchy moments in the hospital. And that’s what sucked. Here was a solid person of good character with a young family who’d given a lot for the franchise (albeit for a handsome paycheck) and now he was seriously hurt. But what happened in Bledsoe’s absence only confirmed what many suspected. He was an impediment to winning. It was that simple. I don’t doubt for a moment Brady would have eventually taken Bledsoe’s job even if the injury hadn’t occurred. It might have been that week anyway Bledsoe was so ineffective against the Jets. But the course of the 2001 season wouldn’t have been the same and almost certainly wouldn’t have ended with Bledsoe hoisting a Lombardi in the Superdome on Feb. 3, 2002.

 

NFL: 'No credible evidence' Manning used PEDs

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NFL: 'No credible evidence' Manning used PEDs

The NFL released a statement on Monday saying that after a seven-month investigation into allegations made in a documentary produced by Al-Jazeera America, it found "no credible evidence" that Peyton Manning used HGH or any other performance-enhancing drugs. 

In its documentary, released in December, Al-Jazeera used former British sprinter Liam Collins to go undercover to try to expose PED use by athletes. Collins spoke at length with a supplement salesman named Charlie Sly, who claimed he worked with Manning at the Guyer Institute, an anti-aging clinic in Indianapolis following Manning's 2011 neck surgery, and that the Guyer Institute sent HGH to Manning's wife, Ashley.

Manning, who retired about a month after his Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50,  vehemently denied the allegations. Meanwhile, Sly -- who was recorded by Collins without consent -- later recanted his claims.

The NFL did not release all the details of its investigation, but it explained in its statement that both Mannings were "fully cooperative" with the investigation. They agreed to interviews and provided access "to all records sought by investigators," the NFL said.

The league did say that its investigation was led by the NFL's security and legal teams with "support from expert consultants and other professionals." 

"The investigation involved witness interviews," the NFL said, "a review of relevant records and other materials, online research, and laboratory analysis and review."

Al-Jazeera's documentary implicated several other NFL players, including Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. The league said that its separate investigations into those claims are ongoing.

The NFL Players Association released the following statement regarding Manning:

As a former player, Peyton Manning is free to do whatever he believes is in his best interest. The Union knows that he understands the rights of players under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and would never do anything to hurt or undermine active players in support of those rights.