Brandon Bolden

Patriots Notes: Hightower, Chung, Cannon

The Patriots had eight players opt out of the 2020 campaign, the most in the NFL. The organization will naturally welcome back a handful of these players, but Jeff Howe of The Athletic writes that others may have already played their final game in a Patriots uniform.

For keepers, Dont’a Hightower seems like a guarantee to come back. Besides the two-time Pro Bowler’s on-field production, the Patriots would save only $9.95MM by releasing the 30-year-old; the organization wouldn’t be able to sign a player of Hightower’s caliber with that kind of money. It’s a similar sentiment for safety Patrick Chung. The team would only save $1MM by cutting the veteran, and Chung could still have a role on defense alongside the likes of Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips.

As for lesser names, Howe opines that running back/special teams ace Brandon Bolden will likely be back in 2021. The team would save $1.5MM by cutting the 31-year-old, but the organization clearly values his special teams ability. Elsewhere, fullback Danny Vitale ($1.2MM savings) will compete with Jakob Johnson for the starting gig, while tight end Matt LaCosse ($1.3MM) will compete for the third tight end spot. Both of those players’ roster spots are dependent on the camp competition.

One name that could be on his way out of New England is Marcus Cannon. The team could save $7MM by cutting the veteran, who already showed signs of decline in 2018 and 2019. The organization also appears to have their long-term answer at right tackle in Michael Onwenu. On the flip side, Onwenu could also be an option at left guard, which could carve a path to a roster spot for Cannon. Either way, Howe believes the Patriots will ask Cannon to take a pay cut.

Two other names that are probably long shots to stick around: wideout Marqise Lee ($687K savings) and offensive lineman Najee Toran ($780K). Howe says Lee could stick around as a reclamation project, but the reporter is confident Toran probably won’t make the team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Saleh, Darnold, Patriots, Bills

Robert Saleh signed his contract with the Jets today, making him the 20th head coach in franchise history. While speaking to the media, the former 49ers defensive coordinator indicated that he’d be looking for specific types of players as he helps general manager Joe Douglas fill out the roster.

“There are no shortcuts to success, and I am committed to working with Joe to build this team the right way: with talented players that play fast and smart, and a staff that supports and helps develop them through it all,” Saleh said (via the team website).

Douglas, who led the coaching search alongside included team president Hymie Elhai, noted that Saleh believes in many of the same principals that the executive brought with him from Philadelphia when he joined the Jets in 2019.

“We spoke to some tremendous coaches, but Rob is the right partner and leader for us,” Douglas said. “His vision for this team aligns with what we have been working to establish here the last two years.”

The 41-year-old Saleh was an early favorite for the job based on the strength of his SF defense. In 2020, the Niners finished fifth in total yards, seventh in rushing yards, and fourth in passing yards allowed. In 2019, Saleh’s D surrendered just 169.2 passing yards per contest — the lowest average since Rex Ryan‘s 2009 Jets D.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the AFC East…

  • Saleh and new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur have spent time evaluating Sam Darnold‘s tape, and the coaches believe the Jets quarterback has “untapped potential,” per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. The former third-overall pick had a rough season in 2020, leading some to wonder whether the new staff would prefer to take a quarterback with the second-overall pick.
  • The eight Patriots players who opted out of the 2020 season were asked to return for year-end physicals last week, writes ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Wideout Marqise Lee and running back Brandon Bolden have both said they plan to play in 2021, and Reiss opines that safety Patrick Chung, tight end Matt LaCosse, and fullback Danny Vitale will also return. However, the writer is much less certain that offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be back in New England.
  • While Dave Ziegler was always an underdog in the Broncos GM search, he parlayed that experience into a “multiyear contract and pay bump as Nick Caserio‘s successor” in New England, writes Reiss. The Patriots assistant director of player personnel eventually withdrew his name from the search in Denver, and Reiss writes that this is a “reflection of the decisiveness that has earned him a measure of respect in the Patriots’ offices over the past eight year.”
  • Bills running back Zack Moss underwent minor surgery on his ankle this morning, tweets ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 23-year-old is expected to make a full recovery from the “tight rope procedure,” and he should be ready to go for offseason workouts. The third-rounder finished his rookie campaign having compiled 576 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

AFC Notes: Watt, Green, Chiefs, Gordon, Pats

Vocal about his frustration with the Texans‘ situation, J.J. Watt is on track to play in 16 games for just second time in the past five seasons. Although a midseason report tabbed the future Hall of Fame defensive lineman as a “virtual lock” to be traded in the offseason, Watt has one season remaining on his Texans deal. He acknowledged his contract — a six-year, $100MM 2014 pact that has since been lapped by a few younger D-linemen — will need to be addressed in 2021.

There’s a whole lot of unknowns in that situation. We’ll see what happens,” Watt said, via Fox 26’s Mark Berman (video link). “I don’t have any guarantees left in my contact, so something’s got to happen one way or another. I’m not sure. There’s too many unknowns.”

Thanks to the Laremy Tunsil deal, the Texans do not have first- or second-round picks in next year’s draft. Despite Watt’s contributions, Houston’s defense ranks near the bottom of the NFL. And the team does not have many long-term cornerstones on offense beyond Tunsil or Deshaun Watson. Watt, 31, would be an interesting 2021 trade chip — should the Texans attempt to collect assets for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year — but the prospect of a new Watt contract in a year when the cap is set to decline would seemingly affect his market.

Here is the latest from the AFC heading into Week 17:

  • Another superstar from the 2011 draft class, A.J. Green may be set for his final Bengals game Sunday. The former perennial Pro Bowler has seen his role in Cincinnati’s offense reduced, despite playing on the franchise tag, and acknowledged Sunday might be it for him in western Ohio. “If this is my last game, I had an unbelievable 10 years here,” Green said (via ESPN.com’s Ben Baby, on Twitter) Thursday. The Bengals did not let Green test free agency this year, which understandably led to frustration from the veteran, and 2021 figures to be a crowded marketplace for wideouts. Green, 32, stayed healthy this year but has just 47 receptions for 523 yards — a distant third among Bengals.
  • The Broncos will have a decision to make at running back soon. They have Phillip Lindsay looming as an RFA, and Melvin Gordon‘s DUI arrest has him facing a three-game suspension — one that would stand to void the remaining guarantees on his two-year, $16MM deal. “Hopefully I did enough for them to want to keep me here,” Gordon said, via 9News’ Mike Klis. Gordon has rushed for 893 yards in 14 games but has a career-low 141 receiving yards.
  • A back injury ended Mitchell Schwartz‘s iron-man streak at 134 games; the Chiefs‘ All-Pro right tackle has been out since Week 6. Andy Reid said the veteran right tackle is making progress but was vague on a return timeline, per the Kansas City Star’s Herbie Teope (on Twitter). Another report, via the Star’s Sam Mellinger (on Twitter), indicated Schwartz is not expected to return this season. Schwartz, 31, has long been one of the NFL’s top right tackles. His absence would obviously make a Chiefs repeat championship more difficult.
  • Brandon Bolden was one of the eight Patriots to opt out because of COVID-19 concerns, but the longtime backup running back/special-teamer plans to play in 2021. The 30-year-old back tweeted he wants to return next season, though it is not certain if the Patriots will bring him back. Thanks to Bolden’s 2020 money tolling, he is under contract next year on a $1.3MM base salary.

2020 NFL Opt Out Tracker

Per an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, players with COVID-19 health concerns can opt out of the 2020 season. Initially, the deadline was believed to be Tuesday, August 4. Talks between the league and the union have pushed it to August 6.

Chiefs guard and medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first player to officially opt out. Scores of players followed.

Here’s the rundown, so far:

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • T Brad Seaton

Tennessee Titans

  • OL Anthony McKinney

Washington Football Team

Free agents

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower To Opt Out Of 2020 Season

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower will opt out of the 2020 season, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Hightower wrestled with the decision, but ultimately decided to skip the season in order to protect his 2-week-old son. 

Me and my fiancée are just more concerned with the health of our family than football — especially the new addition to our family,” Hightower explained.

With that, Hightower becomes the fifth Patriots player to opt out. Running back Brandon Bolden, right tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback Danny Vitale, and guard Najee Toran have also decided against playing. Hightower is the highest profile player of the Pats bunch, and one of the more notable players league-wide to opt out.

Hightower was slated to make $8MM in base salary before reaching free agency in March. Now, his contract will toll, with that final year being moved to 2021. With Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts out of the picture, the Patriots were counting on Hightower to hold down the fort at linebacker. There aren’t a ton of impact off-ball linebackers left on the open market, so the Patriots will likely have to work with what they have on hand.

Hightower, 30, has been a staple in the Patriots’ starting lineup since entering the league in 2012. Injuries aside – including a mostly lost 2017 – he’s served as the club’s locker room leader and the point guard of the defense. Last year, Hightower earned his second Pro Bowl trip and even managed 5.5 sacks from the middle.

Hightower’s opt-out falls under the “voluntary” label, meaning that he’s entitled to a $150K salary advance (likely negated by his 2020 earnings to date). Cannon, meanwhile, is “higher risk,” which means he’ll get a $350K stipend (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Cannon had two years to go on his current deal with a total of $9.5MM in base pay. His contract will also toll, with his 2020 season being bumped up to 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Contract Details: Foles, Tate, Crowder, Desir

Let’s take a look at the details of a few recently-signed NFL contracts:

Patriots To Re-Sign John Simon, Sign Brandon Bolden

The Patriots are set to re-sign John Simon on a brand new deal, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. It’s a two-year contract, Adam Caplan of Sirius XM tweets.

Meanwhile, the Pats are also reuniting with another familiar face. Running back Branden Bolden, lauded for his special teams work, will return to New England on a two-year deal, Rapoport tweets. Bolden spent last season with the rival Dolphins but will return to the place where he made his name. Bolden logged just eight carries for 91 yards and three catches for 13 yards with Miami last year, but appeared in 66% of the Fins’ special teams plays.

Simon signed a three-year, $14MM deal with the Colts in 2017, but he was cut just prior to the 2018 season. A few weeks later, he found a new home with the Patriots. In eleven games, Simon tallied two sacks and 17 tackles, playing mostly in a reserve role.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dolphins Sign RB Brandon Bolden

The Dolphins are signing longtime New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald (Twitter link).

To make room on the roster for Bolden, the team cut center Travis Swanson, who was just signed yesterday. Bolden will get to continue his career in the AFC East, as he spent his first six seasons in New England before being released at final cuts on Saturday.

The Ole Miss product improbably made the Patriots as an undrafted free agent back in 2012, and stuck up until now, a remarkable feat for an undrafted player. He became a core special teams player during his time in New England, as well as handling a significant amount of carries his first few seasons.

In total, he rushed 216 times for 912 yards, good for 4.2 yards per carry, with six touchdowns with the Patriots. He also caught 47 passes for 373 yards and two more touchdowns. He’ll join a Dolphins running backs room that includes Kenyan Drake, Frank Gore, and rookie Kalen Ballage.

Patriots Make Roster Cuts

The Patriots are the latest team to move to 53 players by making the following transactions:

Placed on injured reserve:

Cut:

New England kept only three true wide receivers on its initial roster, meaning the club will almost surely be searching for more options on the waiver wire.

Patriots, RB Brandon Bolden Agree To Extension

The Patriots are bringing back one of their special teams aces for another season. ESPN’s Field Yates reports (via Twitter) that the team has signed running back Brandon Bolden to a one-year, $880K deal. The contract has $170K in guaranteed money, including a $60K signing bonus and $110K of the $790K salary (via the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin). His cap number will be at $720K.

Brandon Bolden (vertical)The 2012 undrafted free agent out of Mississippi has spent his entire six-year career in New England, appearing in at least 10 games each season. Recently, Bolden’s contributed mostly on special teams, as ESPN’s Mike Reiss notes (via Twitter) that the running back only played 42 offensive snaps this past season (including 34 in the regular season finale). The 28-year-old ultimately finished the campaign with a career-high eight tackles to along with 67 rushing yards. His best offensive season came during his sophomore campaign, when he rushed for 271 yards and three scores on 55 carries while also hauling in 21 receptions for 152 yards.

While the Patriots have locked up Bolden, Volin points out that the team still has a handful of “key special teamers” who are hitting free agency. The grouping includes Pro Bowler Matt Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Marquis Flowers and Johnson Bademosi.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.