Early in his career, Bethel made a name for himself with the Cardinals. He made the Pro Bowl every year from 2013-2015 and stayed with the club through ’17. Then, he moved around a bit, spending time with the Falcons and Ravens before finding his place with the Patriots.
Roughly one year ago today, Bethel had surgery to repair a shoulder issue that had been hindering him. Fortunately, he was able to bounce back for the start of the season and appear in all 16 games for New England in 2020.
As speculation continues to swirl around Tom Brady, Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston offers up an assuring and expected update for Patriots fans. No one knows what the quarterback will do when free agency begins, but the two sides are still in communication with each other. They’ve yet to meet, but texts are still being exchanged and head coach Bill Belichick has been among those in contact with the future Hall of Famer.
One source who spoke with Curran dismissed the notion that Brady has mentally divorced himself from the Pats.
“Of course not. There’s an attachment there. You can’t be someplace for 20 years and not have an attachment,” the anonymous source said. “That’s just not who he is.”
Brady will listen closely to the Patriots’ pitch, Curran writes, and he expects them to pinpoint all of the comforts they offer against the backdrop of the unknown that he might find elsewhere.
“Wherever he goes, there won’t be one guy who knows what he wants done and how he wants it done,” one league source said. “Is he going to coach the receivers coach on how to coach the receivers? Or coach the offensive coordinator? There’s a million things.”
While we wait for Brady’s next move, here’s a look at more from the AFC East:
In his latest mock draft, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has the Jets taking Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas. Some expect the Jets to target a wide receiver at No. 11 overall, but league sources tell Miller that the Joe Douglas-led front office will not seek a WR in the first round. Thomas, meanwhile, can solve the Jets’ most glaring need and protect Sam Darnold at the left tackle spot.
Patriots special teams ace Justin Bethel had surgery to repair a shoulder issue that had been bothering him, according to ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss. The good news is that Bethel should be good to go for the start of the season. The Pats may need the former Raven on hand since several special teams stalwarts – including Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner – are slated to reach free agency later this month.
4:34pm: This visit apparently went incredibly well. The Patriots are signing Justin Bethel, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Bethel will add firepower to the Patriots’ special teams units. The Ravens’ recent release of Bethel will benefit the AFC’s perennial Super Bowl favorites.
4:27pm: A day after the Ravens released Bethel for procedural purposes, the veteran cornerback/special-teamer visited the Patriots, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
Although Bethel did not work out as the Cardinals’ starting corner opposite Patrick Peterson, he has become a top special-teamer. Bill Belichick has been known to value that skill, and the 20th-year Patriots coach/exec is taking a look at one of this year’s top AFC rivals’ recently discarded assets.
Bethel, 29, made two tackles in seven Ravens games and recovered a fumble. John Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator, called the veteran the best special teams player in the league. Bethel made the Pro Bowl three times for his special teams acumen, doing so from 2013-15 in Arizona. It will be interesting to see where he lands. The Patriots already employ a seven-time Pro Bowl special-teamer in Matthew Slater.
Because defensive lineman Brent Urban did not last on the Titans’ roster until Week 10, the Ravens lost their shot at a fourth-round compensatory pick. By dropping Bethel, they resumed their place in the queue. Baltimore values compensatory picks immensely, and it cost the franchise a key specialist in a 5-2 season.
On Monday, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh announced the release of cornerback Justin Bethel. He also called him “the best special teams player in the NFL.”
Bethel didn’t lose his job for performance reasons. Instead, Harbaugh admitted that the Ravens were releasing the veteran in order to potentially pick up a fourth-round compensatory pick.
It’s complicated. Or, as Harbaugh put it, it’s a “funky” rule that will give the Ravens some extra firepower in the draft after defensive lineman Brent Urban, who left the Ravens for the Titans in the offseason, was cut by Tennessee last week.
Because Urban did not last on the Titans’ roster until Week 10, the Ravens lost their shot at a fourth-round compensatory pick. By dropping Bethel, they resumed their place in the queue.
Bethel will now seek work elsewhere, after notching a team-high six tackles for Baltimore.
The Ravens announced that they’ve signed cornerback/special teamer Justin Bethelto a two-year contract. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link) first reported Baltimore as nearing a deal with Bethel.
Bethel has been a starting cornerback in the past, as he played at least 25% of the Cardinals’ defensive snaps in each season from 2015-17. But he’s struggled in that capacity, and is known primarily for his work on special teams. A three-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro as a special teamer, Bethel played zero defensive snaps for the Falcons in 2018 but saw action on two-thirds of Atlanta’s ST snaps.
Bethel will have little opportunity to play defense in a Baltimore secondary that ranks as one of the league’s best (especially after adding Earl Thomas), but the Ravens have always placed a strong emphasis on special teams play. Bethel will play under new ST coordinator Chris Horton, who replaced longtime Ravens special teams coachJerry Rosburg earlier today.
The Falcons have signed former Cardinals cornerback and special teamer Justin Bethel, per a Falcons release. ESPN’s Field Yates first reported that a deal between the two sides was done (on Twitter) and ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss first reported that Bethel was likely headed to the Falcons (on Twitter).
Bethel’s deal will be for one year, though the terms have of the deal have yet to be revealed, per ESPN’s Vaughn McLure (on Twitter).
Bethel, 27, has been one of the NFL’s most prominent gunners, having already been selected to three Pro Bowls, and has seen more time at cornerback in recent years with the Cardinals.
Bethel represents the Falcons’ biggest free-agent offseason splash thus far. Up until Saturday, their only free-agent addition was signing former 49ers guard Brandon Fusco and re-signing defensive end Derrick Shelby. The Falcons had hosted Bethel for a visit on Wednesday.
The Cardinals are dealt another loss to their secondary having already watched Tyrann Mathieu sign with the Texans following his release. They added depth to their secondary Friday by signing Bene Benwikere to a one-year deal. Safety Tyvon Branch remains the Cardinals’ final unsigned unrestricted free agent in their secondary.
Bethel didn’t start a single game at cornerback in his first three years in the NFL after the Cardinals took him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. Over the last three years, though, he’s accumulated 14 starts at cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. He’s racked up four interceptions in that time, including a pick-six in each season.
Bethel earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2013-2015, mainly for his special teams work. At different times over the last three seasons, the Cardinals have tried to use Bethel as their No. 2 cornerback opposite star Patrick Peterson. The results were mixed, at best, though he does have four interceptions since 2015.
The Falcons have been pretty quiet in free agency thus far with with guard Brandon Fusco representing their only signing. If Bethel comes to Atlanta, it’ll be largely for special teams purposes with some reps behind starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
Extension chatter regarding contract-year Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks has died down after some early summer rumblings, but the 27-year-old made it clear Thursday that he’d like to remain in Chicago. Hicks said on multiple occasions that “I would love to be a Bear for a long time,” per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. Back in July, in advance of his second season with the Bears, Hicks hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus as his representative. Rosenhaus has reportedly been seeking $10MM per year for Hicks on a new deal. Hicks made a case for that type of money last season when he tallied 54 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles across 16 starts and 930 snaps. Barring a change, he’ll earn a $4MM base salary this season to conclude a two-year, $10MM pact.
Elsewhere around the NFC…
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians referred to cornerback Justin Bethel as a “failure in progress” last season, and it now looks as if the defender took that to heart. Arians announced Thursday that Bethel will start opposite Patrick Peterson come Week 1 (video link via the Arizona Republic). “He’s earned that job,” said Arians, who added that Bethel “outplayed everybody” he was competing against for the role. Bethel, 27, took a pay cut in the offseason just to remain with the Cardinals, who deleted the last year of his contract (2018) in the process. He’ll be eligible for free agency next winter as a result.
Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday that running back Lance Dunbar is likely to open the season on the physically unable to perform list, according to the Associated Press. Dunbar, who has been battling knee issues, would miss the Rams’ first six games in that scenario. The Rams’ hope was that the offseason signing and former Cowboy would serve as their top complement to starter Todd Gurley for the entire year. With Dunbar unavailable for the foreseeable future, Los Angeles will choose between Malcolm Brown – a 2015 undrafted free agent who has 22 carries for 56 yards under his belt – and undrafted rookie Justin Davis to begin the year as the main backup to Gurley.
Cornerback Valentino Blakeleft the Giants on Wednesday because “he’s dealing with personal issues,” coach Ben McAdoo told reporters Thursday (via Dan Duggan of NJ.com) “We’re going to give him some time and space to deal with those.” It remains unclear whether Blake will resume his career, and it’s also unknown how long the Giants will keep him on the exempt list. They’re currently using Blake’s vacated spot on safety Tim Scott, a Thursday signing.
It took the Raiders until their training camp eve to reach an agreement with first-round pickGareon Conley. Although no legal clarity has come after a woman accused the cornerback of sexual assault in April, the Raiders did not design Conley’s contract with that alleged incident in mind. Conley’s deal contains 90 percent guaranteed money, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, adding the language in the four-year contract is standard despite the legal cloud surrounding the ex-Ohio State defender presently. The Raiders also agreed to terms with second-rounder Obi Melifonwu this week. Titans first-rounder Corey Davis is the only unsigned pick remaining.
Here’s the latest from the West divisions on opening camp weekend.
The Broncos opened 2016 with a dominant outside linebacker corps, with DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett joining Von Miller in the fold. Miller has none of those sidekicks available for the time; Ray and Barrett may both be out throughout the preseason. Vance Joseph discussed the early replacement hierarchy here Saturday, calling recent UFA signing Kasim Edebali the top edge rusher alongside Miller (via Mike Klis of 9News, on Twitter). Edebali played three years with the Saints but wasn’t offered an RFA tender in March, leading to his one-year deal with the Broncos.
Bruce Arians said Justin Bethel and Brandon Williamscould be battling for the Cardinals‘ No. 2 cornerback job until the final week of the preseason, but Williams and others will have some additional opportunities to build a case early. Bethel suffered a hyperextended knee and will be out for the coming days, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com reports. Arians did not believe this injury was serious, but given this position duel likely coming down to the wire, it stands to raise Bethel’s degree of difficulty here.
Regarding Williams, the second-year man has evidently been usurped on the depth chart by Ronald Zamort — a 2016 UDFA who spent last season on Arizona’s practice squad — according to Kent Somers of AZCentral.com (on Twitter). The Cardinals have been connected to Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams this week, and Arians’ status on his own corners looks to have changed. Somers notes he now wants to add a veteran.
The Raiders‘ handling of Donald Penn‘s holdout will be key to how future free agents view the team, Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News writes. The Raiders relied immensely on free agency in recent years, Penn being one of the key signings. On a two-year deal worth $6.25MM AAV, the 34-year-old Penn is now by far the fourth-highest-paid offensive lineman on his own team, after the Raiders made Gabe Jackson an $11MM-per-year man in June. Penn saw a host of less proven tackles sign for more than him this offseason, and he’s seeking top-10 left tackle money. His per-year wages rank 20th presently. The Raiders have just more than $14MM in cap space. Oakland lined up Marshall Newhouse at Penn’s left tackle spot and second-year man Vadal Alexander at right tackle on Saturday.
Menelik Watson has missed 37 of a possible 64 regular-season games due to various injuries through four seasons, and the Broncos‘ projected right tackle starter dropped a lot of weight in an attempt to stay on the field. The former Raiders right tackle is close to 315 pounds after playing in the 340s earlier in his career, per Troy Renck of Denver7 (Twitterlinks), noting Watson told him the reduction is because of the slew of setbacks he encountered.
Joseph won’t have 5-foot-7 rookie Isaiah McKenzie return kicks due to his slight frame, Klis tweets. Carlos Henderson and Cody Latimer are vying to handle those duties for the Broncos while McKenzie has the inside track to return punts. This is a deviation of sorts for a Broncos team who received high-end kick-return production from 5-5 Trindon Holliday in 2012-13. The team has not had much success in this area since, leading to the selection of McKenzie in the fifth round.