Francis the Praying Mantis


Francis the Praying Mantis

Justin Francis was back on the practice field today, and that's good news for the Pats. Although in a way, it's pretty amazing that it's news at all.

Admit it, you'd never heard of Justin Francis before this season. You might not have heard of him after three weeks. I don't think I did. Yet slowly but surely, you started to hear his name.

He made his first play in Week 9, an assist against Buffalo. He made his first tackle three week later at Miami. He had two tackles and two assists in Week 14 against San Francisco, by which point his name started sounding familiar.

There's Francis again . . .

You know, this Francis kid is always around the ball . . .

Then, in the season finale against the Dolphins, Francis exploded with the first, second and third sacks of his NFL career. He was suddenly a viable presence on the Pats defense line.

So it was at least somewhat worrisome when Francis skipped practice on Tuesday. But far more comforting to see him back there today, with the hope that he'll continue to make a name for himself here in New England. (And that shouldn't be too hard, considering his Wikipedia page is only three sentences long.)

And yes, I know. That's still three sentences longer than mine.

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Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl


Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

NFL Siberia can’t be all that bad. The Cleveland Browns have signed Jamie Collins to an extension that keeps him off the free agent market.

The former Patriot, stunningly shipped out of town on Halloween, has agreed to a reported four-year, $50 million deal with $26M in guaranteed money.

As eyebrow-raising as the move was at the time, this is an all’s well that ends well story.

Collins, a reluctant Patriot once it came clear the team wouldn’t to aim a confetti cannon of money at him, gets the desired big-dough deal. He didn’t drape himself in glory with his level of play this year in New England, but his agitation over making $900K this year was understandable.

The Patriots -- who made the deal not knowing exactly how it would work out with Collins’ fleet of replacements (primarily rookie Elandon Roberts and, October acquisition Kyle Van Noy) -- have played better defense since Collins has been gone and are headed to the Super Bowl.

Would they have been better if Collins stayed? The answer to that is a question: Which version of Collins, the irked one or the motivated one?

Collins did nothing to veil his desire for a huge contract, saying at the end of the season he’d stay with the hapless Browns if the money was right. Now that he’s decided the money was right, what kind of Collins will the Browns get? With $26M guaranteed, the Browns have tethered themselves to the 27-year-old Collins for a chunk of his prime. The shorter term is ideal for Collins because -- if he performs to his capability -- he’ll be able to see another lucrative deal before he’s too aged.

The deal will certainly be noticed by Collins’ former teammates, primarily Donta Hightower who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

The Patriots could franchise Hightower (last year’s tag number was more than $14M) but that’s not going to be ideal for either side. Hightower will want to get the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal and the Patriots may be reluctant to pay that much to a player that’s got an injury history and plays one of the game’s most violent positions.

A lot’s going to happen between now and the time the Patriots have to make their decision. A good deal of it will happen in the next 12 days. If Hightower stealthily saves the Super Bowl as he did in 2014 with his first-down tackle on Marshawn Lynch … how do you put a price on that?