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

Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

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Easley on character concerns: 'It's all rumors' until sources step forward

When Dominique Easley was released by the Patriots this spring, it wasn't because he wasn't productive when he was on the field. In fact, on a per-snap basis, he was one of the most productive interior pass-rushers in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Instead, there were some off-the-field factors, as well as injury concerns, that led to the Patriots choosing to cut ties with their 2014 first-round pick. 

As our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran put it, there were "philosophical differences" between Easley and the team.

Other, more scathing reports of Easley's impact in New England were released, including one report from the Boston Globe that included a quote from a former teammate saying he was a "locker room cancer."

Since then, Easley has landed with the Rams and has a chance to contribute to one of the most talented defensive lines in football. In an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Phil Savage and Amber Theoharis, Easley said he hopes that his new team will get to see that he's a better person than some have indicated.

"Just really," Easley said, "just hopefully that the Rams get to see what a great person and a great hardworker I am, and really, just a great person."

Easley went on to say that he's not sure who would speak of him negatively or why. He explained that it's not his "main goal" to prove there's nothing to worry about with his character, but clearly it's somewhere on the list. 

"There's been, obviously, stuff said about me," Easley said. "We don't know where it came from. I would say the person doesn't want to come out and say it, neither. As far as I know, it's all rumors until that person comes out and say that it was from them, and they can prove that they actually know who I am, or been around me long enough to know who I am and how I am as a person."

PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

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PFT: NFL plans to interview Manning about Al Jazeera PED allegations

Peyton Manning is retired, but that doesn't mean he's exempt from the interviews that the NFL plans to conduct as it looks into the allegations made by Al Jazeera's December PED documentary. 

It was reported last week by USA Today that the league's senior vice president of labor policy and league affairs Adolpho Birch informed the NFLPA that players named in Al Jazeera's report would be interviewed in July. 

Among those scheduled to be interviewed are Packers linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Former Packers linebacker Mike Neal will also be interviewed.

(Harrison has taken issue with the league's request, and said on social media that he would only meet with the league if commissioner Roger Goodell showed up to his home.)

Manning was not mentioned in the letter obtained by USA Today detailing the league's interview plans, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk followed up on Monday to see if the NFL intended to speak with Manning. It does.

The former Broncos and Colts quarterback has been very vocal about just how strongly he denies Al Jazeera's claim that his wife, Ashley, received HGH for his use. Despite the fact that he's no longer playing, it will come as no surprise if, given his stance, Manning cooperates fully with the league as it seeks more information regarding the report. 

As Florio points out, if Manning hopes to return to the NFL at some point as an executive -- as many believe he will -- this is something he'll want to put to bed beforehand. That process will start with an interview.