Pats' free-agent forecast: Linebackers

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Pats' free-agent forecast: Linebackers

This is the third in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots heading into free agency. Today's position: Linebackers.
Wbo's on the roster? Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton, Niko Koutouvides, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Tracy White, Markell Carter, Jermaine Cunningham, Jeff Tarpinian. Patriots need level? If we're talking outside linebacker, it's a 7. Inside? 4. Position overview? Let's start inside, where the Patriots are pretty well stocked. Jerod Mayo is the quarterback of the defense from the middle, a sure tackler and one of the best in the league when he's fully healthy. Brandon Spikes is one of the best downhill run-stoppers they've had since Ted Johnson. If his head is in it, he'll be good for a while. Dane Fletcher is a nice, fast complement to those two. On the outside? Rob Ninkovich is still riding the crest of his performance wave and is a reliable guy. Jermaine Cunningham? Incredibly non-impactful. Markell Carter, a late-round 2011 draft choice, seems to be a player the team is intrigued by. The team is still yearning for a guy to bring pressure off the edge from the linebacker level. As for guys on last year's team who are hitting free agency, Gary Guyton's play has slid precipitously. Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White are primarily special teamers. Who's out there? Stephen Tulloch, Lions. A short (5-foot-11), sturdy (240-pounds) downhill plugger, the Patriots don't really have a spot for him on the inside.Jarret Johnson, Ravens. A nine-year veteran of the edge spot in the Baltimore 3-4, the underrated Johnson would be a fit for the Patriots. But the Ravens and Jets may have dibs.Kamerion Wimbley, Raiders. I had to asterisk Kam because - as of Friday afternoon - the Raiders still hadn't released him. But with a huge guarantee kicking in on March 17, the Raiders are going to lop him if he doesn't take a pay cut. And when they do, Wimbley will become the best outside pass-rusher on the free agent market.Manny Lawson, Bengals. Maybe better suited to a 4-3 because he's on the lean and long side, it's not a stretch to use Rosey Colvin as a comp. Lawson is 6-5, 240 and can drop in coverage. Other names of note? Niko Koutouvides, Gary Guyton, Tracy White, Tully Banta-Cain, Lofa Tatupu,Free agent forecast? Johnson, Wimbley and Lawson are the names you may recognize. The Patriots' pro personnel department does a remarkable job of cycling through the bottom of the roster names that aren't on our radar, though, so you can expect a "Who's he?" moment in the coming weeks.

Grousbeck: Celtics want Thomas longterm, but would draft a point guard

Grousbeck: Celtics want Thomas longterm, but would draft a point guard

The Celtics didn’t know when they traded a late first-round pick and Marcus Thornton for Isaiah Thomas that they were getting their next star player, but that 2015 trade deadline move has proven to be a pleasant surprise. 

Appearing on Felger and Mazz Friday, Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said that he sees Thomas, who will be a free agent after next season, in the team’s longterm plans. 

“Every one of these seasons is different. It’s like a movie and you have a cast of characters and the cast changes a little bit every season,” Grousbeck said. “We’d love to have Isaiah here for a long, long time. He’s a phenomenal player and he loves being here.” 

The Celtics stand a strong chance of picking first overall in June’s draft since they own Brooklyn’s first-round pick. Asked whether Thomas’ status would prevent the team from taking a point guard (which the draft’s two prospects play), Grousbeck said the team doesn’t need to decide that now, but suggested it wouldn’t.

“Especially if it’s a very high pick in the draft, you’ve got to draft the best player,” Grousbeck said. “You probably wouldn’t draft for fit as much as just you see if there’s a transformational player that you can have for 10 or 15 years there. If you see a guy like that, you’ve got to make everything else work, I would think.” 

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

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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.