Patriots officially sign Wilson; Hartline released

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Patriots officially sign Wilson; Hartline released

Now that the NFL's CBA makes it easier to determine how much rookies will be paid, first-year players are being signed at a breakneck pace around the league this offseason.

The Patriots officially got in on the act Tuesday, announcing that they have signed second-round pick Tavon Wilson. The defensive back from Illinois was the 48th overall selection in the 2012 draft.

Wilson is the first of New England's seven draft picks to sign after being one of the team's most surprising selections this spring. Though it was widely expected that the Patriots would improve their secondary through the draft, Wilson -- who wasn't invited to the NFL Combine -- was scarcely mentioned by pundits in the weeks leading up to draft weekend.

The Patriots, however, were undaunted in their pursuit of the athletic and versatile defensive back. Wilson played both safety and cornerback in college, and he should compete for time immediately in what was a very fluid secondary last season.

Terms of the contract were not announced, but Fox Sports reported last week that it is a four-year deal.

The Patriots also announced the release of quarterback Mike Hartline. Hartline, 23, had been signed to a future contract by the Patriots back in January.

Kraft, Pats still bitter: NFL 'really messed this up badly'

Kraft, Pats still bitter: NFL 'really messed this up badly'

It's been almost two years exactly since the Deflategate saga began during the AFC title game between the Colts and Patriots on Jan. 18, 2015.

Since then, Robert Kraft has expressed his displeasure at how the whole thing was handled by the league -- particularly as it relates to the treatment of quarterback Tom Brady -- on multiple occasions. And according to a story in the New York Times, that feeling hasn't subsided.

"Sometimes, the league really messes up, and I think they really messed this up badly," said Kraft . "But we’ve all agreed to subjugate our right to disrupt everything.

"I mean, we can, but we’re a partnership. There’s jealousy, there’s envy, there’s stupidity. Sometimes, life is unfair, and you have to suck it up and move on and not use it as an excuse."

Brady served his four-game suspension to start this season, and Kraft opted to accept the league's punishment for the team following the 2014 season: They were docked two draft picks (a first and a fourth) and fined $1 million.

The piece includes Kraft's thoughts on President-elect Donald Trump ("Loyalty is important to me, and he has been a wonderful friend," Kraft said), as well as comments from others on how Kraft has handled his situation ("I think Bob has exhibited disagreement, but he’s also very capable of making and influencing change," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said). 

You can read the full piece here.

Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

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Bell excused from Steelers practice for 'personal reasons'

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have had perfect attendance at each of their last two practices. The Steelers, on the other hand, have been working with less than a full deck.

All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell has been conspiculously absent from Pittsburgh's practices each of the last two days. On Wednesday, he was listed on the injury report as a non-participant due to non-injury related reasons. On Thursday, coach Mike Tomlin announced that Bell had been excused from practice due to "personal reasons."

Tomlin added that Bell will be ready to go against the Patriots on Sunday so it seems as though the team is painting this as a nothing-to-see-here situation. And it probably is. Whether or not Bell practices at all this week won't necessarily have any bearing on the AFC title game; if he's healthy, he'll be a factor. 

If for some reason he doesn't follow up his 170-yard performance against the Chiefs with another strong game, however, people will wonder how his preparation was impacted by missing out on the first two of his team's on-the-field sessions this week.