Free agent primer: Running backs

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Free agent primer: Running backs

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

This is the first in a series of looks at the Patriots' position-by-position needs after the draft, and who's available to fill them via free agency . . . whenever free agency might come. Today's position: Running back.

Who's Here?
Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Thomas Clayton, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley.Who's Out There?
Mike Hart (Colts), Kevin Smith (Lions), Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Brian Westbrook (49ers), Kenneth Darby (Rams), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins), Cedric Benson (Bengals), Derrick Ward (Giants), Brandon Jackson (Packers), Michael Bush (Raiders), Joseph Addai (Colts), DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Jason Snelling (Falcons), Tim Hightower (Cardinals), Noel Devine (UDFA, West Virginia).What's The Need?
Let's call it a 5.

Between them, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 1,555 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns in 2010. They got 4.8 yards per carry combined. Not bad seeing as they were Plans C andZ respectively. Really, there hasn't been a duct-tape job successful as what the Patriots pulled in their backfield since (insert well-known instance of duct-tape use here). But they're not banking on that happening again. The draft told us that. So it's going to be out with the old (Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris - both free agents), in with the new (rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley) and see what Law Firm and Woody can do for an encore. It's going to be a tough fit for soon-to-be 35-year-old running back Kevin Faulk to make the roster. Vereen will become the heir apparent to Faulk and a complement to BJGE. Ridley becomes the short-yardagereplacement for Morris and another complement if BJGE goes down. Who Do They Chase?
They have the young legs, they just don't have an old head. Ricky Williams would be a reasonable bet. Also the underrated backup to Steven Jackson in St, Louis, 28-year-old Kenneth Darby. Who Do We Look At Next?
Wide receivers.Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

Curran: Jets' 2015 tampering with Revis more extensive than NFL revealed

The Patriots obviously got it right when they pushed away from the table during the Darrelle Revis bidding war in 2015. 

The once-great corner spent the 2016 season languishing on the field. He’s spending the early part of the offseason reacting negatively to backpack journalism after midnight. 

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But the alleged double KO by Revis and his buddies isn’t what prompts this submission. 

It’s the revelation from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that the tampering the Jets engaged in when they were prying Revis loose from the Patriots was way, way more involved than what the NFL fined them for. And that Jets owner Woody Johnson knew all about it. 

Mehta leads his piece revealing that, long before free agency opened in 2015, Revis “was ready to squeeze more money out of [Johnson] who he knew would be willing to overpay for his services again.”

Mehta reports that, “back-channel discussions with the Jets in February set the foundation for a Revis reunion . . . 

“Team officials in stealth mode communicated with Revis, Inc., through private cell phones and face-to-face covert meetings at the 2015 Scouting Combine rather than make calls from the team's landlines at their Florham Park facility. No paper trails were a must.

“Johnson, the driving force behind bringing back Revis to right a wrong in his mind, endorsed all of it.”

The Patriots -- who were in the midst of the Deflategate colonoscopy that resulted in absurd-level discipline -- lodged a complaint with the league over the Jets tampering after Revis signed with the Jets in mid-March of 2015. 

The Jets were fined $100,000 but weren’t docked any draft picks.. The tender wrist slap came, ostensibly, because Johnson moronically stated at a December press conference that he’d “love” to have Revis return to New York. 

Maybe Johnson wasn’t being a dummy. That comment provided cover for the league office -- which has a documented history of treating the two NYC franchises with kid gloves -- to let the Jets off easy. 

Mehta’s article is the latest offering from him since completing his heel turn against Revis. 

Mehta did everything but fly the plane to bring Revis to New York once the 2014 season ended. And this is what he wrote the day the Jets penalty came down: 

The NFL’s attempt to uncover any dirt was an exercise in futility, a witch hunt driven by nonsense from a hypocritical organization with no reason to feel threatened by its competitor. 

You may wonder what’s the point? 

Clearly, the Patriots got it right while the Jets cheated, got what they wanted, and are now getting what they deserved. 

And everyone already knows the league office’s investigations and operations arms under the brutally incompetent leadership of Troy Vincent are a laughingstock. 

All true. But if I don’t write this now, I may have no recollection of this particular instance of league corruption given the absolute avalanche of other incidents
 

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

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Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

When the free-agency period officially begins on Mar. 9, it looks like there will be several newly-minted Super Bowl champions available for hire. And judging by the list Pro Football Focus published recently, the Patriots seem primed to lose more top-end talent via free agency than any other club in the league. 

Of the top-50 free agents scheduled to be available next month, according to PFF, five are Patriots: linebacker Dont'a Hghtower (No. 11), safety Duron Harmon (No. 17), corner Logan Ryan (No. 26), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (No. 27) and tight end Martellus Bennett (No. 28).

Though the team doesn't have a single top-10 player, per PFF, no other club has more than four (Cardinals, Redskins, Packers) in the top-50. 

And the Patriots probably should have had at least one other player included. 

Not LeGarrette Blount, though he set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns last season. Not Chris Long, though he led the team in total quarterback pressures as he played out his one-year deal in New England. It's Alan Branch, 32, who is coming off of arguably his best season in 10 years as a pro. 

A powerful run defender, Bill Belichick called Branch the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman, and late in the season the coach made it clear just how much value there is in having a player with Branch's stature (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism up front.

"Alan has done a great job for us," Belichick said. "And along with his play, which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time. So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. 

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good. 

"How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is; I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard [Seymour] or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’s not too many of them."

Though he may not make everyone's top-50, Branch should certainly be mentioned on any list of impact players Belichick and his staff are at risk of losing in a few weeks. It's a long one.