'Family matter' keeps Kraft from NFL meetings

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'Family matter' keeps Kraft from NFL meetings

Because of what is being described a "private family medical matter," Patriots owner Robert Kraft will not attend the NFL owners' meetings in New Orleans this week.

Pats vice chairman Jonathan Kraft will be at the meetings.

-- Tom E. Curran

Rivera: Ealy 'a gifted young man,' can reascend 'if he listens'

Rivera: Ealy 'a gifted young man,' can reascend 'if he listens'

PHOENIX -- The Patriots picked up Kony Ealy, who a year ago put together one of the best defensive performances in Super Bowl history, by exchanging a second-round pick for a third-rounder earlier this offseason.

How exactly was a 25-year-old defensive end with loads of talent available at that price? Apparently he had some trouble listening to the coaching staff in Carolina.

During the NFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore on Wednesday morning Panthers head coach Ron Rivera praised Ealy for his ability, but he acknowledged that Ealy's production waned in part because the Carolina coaching staff had a hard time getting through to the player involved. 

"I think sometimes when you have success, you kind of fall back into a little bit of something," Rivera answered when asked if Ealy had difficulty taking coaching. "But at the same time, for us, we looked at [the trade] as an opportunity -- as [general manager] Dave [Gettleman] said -- to find some gold. We moved up in the second round. We have two picks in the second round . . . We feel we'll be able to fill a need so we're pretty excited about that opportunity."

Ealy, who has one year remaining on his rookie contract, figures to factor heavily into the rotation at defensive end for the Patriots since Bill Belichick and his coaching staff watched both Jabaal Sheard (Colts) and Chris Long (Eagles) depart via free-agency, leaving Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich as the primary holdovers on the edge from last year's Super Bowl-winning roster. 

In Super Bowl 50, Ealy tied the Super Bowl record with three sacks. He also recorded an interception and forced fumble in the game -- becoming the only player in Super Bowl history to record multiple sacks and a pick -- and he did it all in 23 snaps.

Last season Ealy started the first six games of the regular season for the Panthers, eventually coming off the bench for the final 10. He saw 58 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps and recorded five sacks as well as an interception. He had nine regular-season sacks combined in his first two seasons as a pro.

So what kind of player will the Patriots be getting in Ealy, I asked Rivera? A good one, he replied, if he's willing to learn everything Belichick throws at him.

"I think they got a guy that has the skill set, that's flashed in opportunities to show people what he's capable of doing," Rivera said. "And at the end of the day, if he listens and does things that coach asks of him, I think he's got an opportunity to reascend and be that type of player. I mean, he is a gifted young man."

Rivera added: "There's nothing physically that kept him from being [more consistent]. You saw the flashes. If you watch the tape, you see these flashes throughout. Sometimes when you see those, you wonder, 'Eh, did we make the right decision?' But at the end of the day, the proof will be in the pudding. We'll know -- once we get through this draft, as to what we were able to accomplish -- whether we did or didn't."

Will Ealy be able to turn those flashes into more consistent production? Will the Patriots coaching staff be able to reach him in a way that those in Carolina apparently could not? 

All that remains to be seen, but Belichick may have had an opportunity to hear a little more about his new defensive end Wednesday when he spoke to Ealy's college defensive line coach for about a half-hour while scouting prospects at the University of Miami pro day, according to the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter.

Payton: I know we're not signing Butler to an offer sheet, giving up No. 11 overall

Payton: I know we're not signing Butler to an offer sheet, giving up No. 11 overall

PHOENIX -- Sean Payton was as clear as the desert sky in springtime: The Saints won't be signing Malcolm Butler to an offer sheet and relinquishing their No. 11 overall selection to the Patriots. 

New Orleans has significant interest in Butler, who visited the team's facilities earlier this month, but giving up a draft choice in the top half of the first round would be too much to give up in order to get the 27-year-old corner in return. 

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Because Butler is a restricted free agent who has been given a first-round tender by New England, any offer sheet he signs would require his new team to provide its first-round draft pick to the Patriots. 

"We had a chance to visit with him," Payton said during the NFC coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. "Currently, my understanding, he hasn't signed his tender and so it's just that. We can sign him to an offer sheet, but I don't think we're gonna do that and give up the 11th pick. In fact I know we're not going to do that. It is what it is right now."

The implication, then, is that if the Saints are going to acquire Butler, it would be via trade. But because Butler hasn't signed his tender with the Patriots and is not on the roster, Bill Belichick and his front office can't engage in trade talks with other clubs concerning the hero of Super Bowl XLIX. 

"Yeah," Payton said. "That would just be speculation though . . . Obviously we can't have any discussions with New England because New England hasn't signed the player."

Butler has the ability to hear from other clubs and sign an offer sheet until April 21. After that, if he hasn't signed an offer sheet, he'll be left with little choice other than to sign his $3.91 million tender with the Patriots. If he doesn't sign his tender by mid-June, the Patriots could cut his 2017 salary to less than $1 million. 

If Butler signs his tender, the Patriots will find themselves in a win-win situation. Either they'll have a top-tier corner play for them at an incredibly affordable rate, or they'll have the ability to trade Butler if they find a deal worth executing. 

Though the Saints may be unwilling to part with No. 11 overall, Payton did not say he was resigned to making a pick at No. 32 overall with the pick they received from the Patriots in the Brandin Cooks trade. The Saints have five draft selections in the top 103 this year, giving them the flexibility to either use their picks or part with them in a trade that makes sense.

Payton acknowledged that he had a good meeting with Butler. The trip to New Orleans has been Butler's only reported visit at this time. 

"For us it was a chance to meet him," Payton said, "put him on the board, find out how much football he knows. He's from Mississippi. I think it was a good step . . . He's a guy we thought enough of in this process. We'll see, though. I think it might take a bit of time."