Belichick: Patriots need to be aware of Witten


Belichick: Patriots need to be aware of Witten

By A. Sherrod Blakely

Another week, another talented tight end up for the New England Patriots to face.

But this week's talented tight end - Dallas' Jason Witten - presents a host of challenges for the Patriots in both the passing and running game.

"He's outstanding," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "He's a guy you have to be aware of, all the time. The big thing that separates Witten from a lot of tight ends is his blocking ability. He's a very good point-of-attack blocker."

Despite their record, the Cowboys (2-2) are among the NFL's top teams offensively.

They average 417.8 yards of total offense per game, which ranks sixth in the NFL.

And while the 7-time Pro Bowler plays a vital role in the Cowboys running attack, his ability as a pass-catcher is even more impressive. He leads the Cowboys in catches (27) and yards receiving (366) this season, getting it done in a variety of ways.

"He's good on the short routes; he's a hard guy to tackle. He's good on the intermediate routes and he can get down field," Belichick said. "He's really a complete player."

But Witten isn't the first talented tight end the Patriots have faced this season.

In Week 2, San Diego's Antonio Gates came in as one of the NFL's leading receivers among tight ends.

Against the Patriots, he didn't have a single catch.

In Sunday's 30-21 win over the New York Jets, New York came in with one of the league's better tight end targets in Dustin Keller.

After averaging more than three catches and nearly 50 yards receiving prior to facing the Patriots, the New England defense limited Keller to just one catch for seven yards.

Gates and Keller may be both be talented, but containing Witten - Tony Romo's favorite target - will be an even bigger challenge for the Pats.

"Witten really is an outstanding player," Belichick said. "He's one of the best tight ends in the league, no question."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade


It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.