Matt LaCosse

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.

Patriots’ Matt LaCosse Opts Out

Matt LaCosse has decided not to play in 2020, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. With that, the tight end becomes the eighth Patriots player to opt out.

LaCosse was supposed to provide veteran help at the position while guiding Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in their rookie seasons. Instead, the Pats are left with the third-rounders, plus Ryan Izzo and a handful of other options at tight end. LaCosse’s contract will toll into 2021, when he’ll be set to return and earn $1MM in base salary.

The Patriots are now heading into the season without inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, right tackle Marcus Cannon, and new wide receiver Marqise Lee. Running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale, offensive lineman Najee Toran, and LaCosse round out the eight opt-outs, and the list could grow larger from here. The official deadline is still TBD, but it’s at least a few days away.

After joining the Patriots last year, LaCosse recorded 13 catches for 131 yards and one touchdown. For his career, LaCosse has notched 40 grabs for 403 yards and two scores for the Pats, Giants, and Broncos.

Patriots’ Isaiah Wynn Returns To Practice

Patriots tackle Isaiah Wynn returned to practice on Wednesday, meaning that he is now designated for return from injured reserve. It’s big news for a team that boasts a perfect record, but also has some room for improvement up front. 

Wynn takes the second and final allotted Pats IR-DTR spot, meaning that the season is officially over for Josh Gordon and the rest of the Patriots’ players on injured reserve. The Patriots reportedly had no designs on bringing Gordon back this season, but the wide receiver insists that he’ll be healthy and ready to play before the year is through. Ultimately, this will probably result in Gordon’s release, with the chance that he could hook on with a different club in 2019. In case you missed it: The first IR-DTR slot was used to bring back wide receiver N’Keal Harry.

Wynn, a Pats 2018 first-round pick, left the team’s Week 2 shutout in Miami due to turf toe and was placed on IR soon afterwards. He’ll get nothing but hand-pounds and hugs now that he’s back on the practice field – the Pats have missed him, especially in a season being spent without center David Andrews.

In other Pats injury news – tight end Matt LaCosse (knee) was also back at practice on Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Jets, Williams, Patriots, Gronkowski

When asked whether defensive lineman Leonard Williams could be traded, Jets head coach Adam Gase didn’t exactly say no.

I really don’t deal in the hypothetical aspects,” Gase said (Twitter link via SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano). “These guys get calls all year round about trades. Really to me that’s not something I’m going to be dealing with unless something’s on the table. I don’t know what other teams are thinking, but right now I like the way our guys are rolling. Anything’s possible, but I like the way our team is.”

Other teams, predictably, are interested in the former No. 6 overall pick. Meanwhile, it has been speculated that GM Joe Douglas could be willing to part with Williams for third- and fifth-round selections. If that’s the asking price, Williams might not be long for the New York/New Jersey area.

Here’s more from the AFC East:

  • During an appearance on WEEI, a caller asked former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski point blank if he would return to the NFL. “I’ll give an answer,” Gronkowski replied. “When I retired, I retired for a reason: because I needed to step away. So it would be a no. There it isI never say no, because I’ve said no, and everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, he’s kidding. He’s coming back.’ But it’s a no. In my mind, that’s how it is. It’s a no.” Sounds pretty definitive, but Pats owner Robert Kraft is far from convinced.
  • Ben Watson is back with the Patriots, in part because tight end Matt LaCosse is dealing with an MCL sprain (Twitter link via Mike Giardi of NFL.com). LaCosse played through the Giants game last Thursday night, but his availability for this week against the Jets is in doubt.
  • Speaking of Watson – his new, prorated one-year deal with the Patriots is worth $800K fully guaranteed, plus $140K in incentives (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). That’s a solid payday, considering that he already made $686K off of his original 2019 pact with the Pats.
  • Defensive tackle Steve McLendon’s one-year extension with the Jets is worth $3MM, with $1.65MM in new guarantees, per Pelissero.

Latest On Benjamin Watson’s Suspension

Ben Watson recently joined the Patriots, but the veteran tight end won’t be suiting up for the team until Week 5. We learned yesterday that the 38-year-old will be suspended for the first four games of the 2019 season.

In a Facebook post, Watson explained that he thought he was retiring for good after the 2018 season, so he wasn’t quite as careful with his treatment. He was given Bio Identical Testosterone Cypionate by a doctor, which is banned by the league. Only after he made the decision to return to the NFL did he realize the implications, and he ended up failing a drug test.

Some additional notes and opinions have emerged over the past 24 hours pertaining to Watson’s suspension, which we’ve collected below:

  • While Watson is set to miss four games, he still has a good chance of meeting his incentives. As Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com points out, Watson’s deal with the Patriots includes $650K in incentives: $250K if he appears in 35-percent of the team’s offensive snaps and another $400K if he appears in 45-percent of the snaps. Florio calculates that Watson will need to “get roughly 66 percent of the snaps in the remaining games of the year to earn the full incentive.”
  • Albert Breer of SI.com believes the Patriots could still be in the hunt for more tight end depth. The writer cites the organization’s handling of their 2006 receiver corps; among the three (yes, three) active New England receivers in the AFC title game, one (Jabar Gaffney) didn’t join the team until October. Breer notes that this “a sign of how the Patriots can bring guys along and how they adjust.”
  • Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes that Watson’s suspension should strengthen Austin Seferian-Jenkins‘ chances of making the roster. The 26-year-old, who signed a one-year deal with the Patriots back in April, had 11 receptions in five games for the Jaguars last season. Meanwhile, Volin believes that fellow free agent addition Matt LaCosse likely has a roster spot locked up, while the team could also lean on some of their young options (including Ryan Izzo, Stephen Anderson, and Andrew Beck).
  • Volin also opines that the suspension could be a blessing in disguise for Watson. While the veteran hasn’t missed a regular season game since 2013, he’s still 38-years-old. The four-game absence could prove to be especially helpful come playoff time, with Volin pointing to previous performances from Tom Brady (2016) and Julian Edelman (2018).

Contract Details: Funchess, LaCosse, Golden

Some assorted contract notes from around the NFL:

  • Devin Funchess, WR (Colts): One year, $10MM. $7MM guaranteed via roster bonus. $3MM base salary. $3MM in incentives for receptions, receiving yards, TDs, Pro Bowl, All-Pro. Twitter link via Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star.
  • Tyrann Mathieu, S (Chiefs): Three years, $42MM. $26.8MM guaranteed, $14.8MM signing bonus. Base salaries: $850K (2019), $1.15MM (2020), $14.5MM (2021, nonguaranteed). Details via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
  • K.J. Wright, LB (Seahawks): Two years, up to $15MM (original story). $8MM in 2019, including $5MM signing bonus, $1.5MM base salary, $1.5MM roster bonus. Second year isn’t guaranteed. Twitter link via ESPN’s Brady Henderson.
  • Matt LaCosse, TE (Patriots): Two years, $2MM, $500K guaranteed for 2019 (original story). Base salaries: $700K (2019), $1MM (2020). $300K signing bonus, $25K per-game bonus. $500K in playing time/receptions incentives. Twitter link via Nick Underhill of The New Orleans Advocate.
  • Markus Golden, LB (Giants): One year. Worth up to $4.75MM, $2.225MM guaranteed. Twitter link via ESPN’s Jordan Raanan.
  • Cameron Fleming, OT (Cowboys): Two years, $8.5MM. 2019: $1MM base salary, $1.5MM signing bonus, $2.25MM cap number. $300K for 60-percent playing time, $600K for 70-percent. Twitter link via ESPN’s Todd Archer.
  • Bruce Ellington, WR (Patriots): One year, $25K guaranteed. Twitter link via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.

Patriots To Sign Mike Pennel, Matt LaCosse

While some teams are splurging, the Patriots are spreading the wealth. On Thursday afternoon, the Pats agreed to sign former Jets defensive lineman Mike Pennel and former Broncos tight end Matt LaCosse, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. It’s a two-year deal for Pennel, per his agent (Twitter link).

Pennel was a staple of the Jets’ defense in recent years, appearing in every game over the last two seasons. His Jets stint, which included ten starts, yielded an average of 31 tackles per season with zero sacks. His traditional stats did not jump off of the page, but the advanced metrics were very high on his work in 2018. Pennel was tied as the 14th best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, though his 358 snaps were the lowest sum of anyone in the top 40. Earlier this month, the Jets turned down his option.

LaCosse had 24 catches and 250 yards while filling in as the Broncos’ starting tight end for a period last year, but Denver non-tendered him this offseason. With Rob Gronkowski‘s status for next year still up in the air, LaCosse could be an option to help fill the gap, albeit one with less star power.

Patriots Host Ellington, Harris, LaCosse

The Patriots will meet with wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris on Thursday, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The club will also meet with tight end Matt LaCosse, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

Ellington and Harris aren’t exactly start players, but they both profile as quality depth options. Last year, Ellington had 23 catches for 132 yards in just four games for the Lions, showing what he could do when healthy. Earlier in the season he caught eight balls for 92 yards and a touchdown in less than three full games with the Texans, before Houston waived him with an injury settlement.

He latched on in Detroit, but unfortunately the hamstring injury that hampered him in Houston re-emerged while he was with the Lions, landing Ellington on IR in December. Harris, meanwhile, had 28 grabs for 304 yards in 12 games for the Redskins.

The Patriots are clearly focused on filling out their receiving corp, re-signing Phillip Dorsett on a one-year deal last night. LaCosse had 24 catches and 250 yards while filling in as the Broncos’ starting tight end for a period last year, but Denver non-tendered him this offseason. With Rob Gronkowski‘s status for next year still up in the air, it makes sense why New England is digging into the free agent tight ends. LaCaosse appears to have legit interest on the open market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

TE Matt LaCosse To Meet With Three Teams

It sounds like Matt LaCosse has a number of suitors. Mike Klis of 9News in Denver tweets that the tight end is set to visit with three teams by Saturday. The reporter adds that the Broncos continue to have interest.

The 26-year-old had a breakout season with Denver in 2018, establishing career-highs across the board. In 15 games (five starts), he hauled in 24 receptions for 250 yards and one touchdown. Pro Football Focus gave LaCosse solid marks for his receiving and pass blocking, but they weren’t as fond of his run blocking.

Earlier this month, the Broncos decided not to tender LaCosse as a restricted free agent. The lowest tender option would have been $2.025MM, so we at least have an indication of how far Denver’s willing to take the bidding.

The Broncos could still use another experienced tight end to pair with Jake Butt. The team is also rostering Troy Fumagalli and Temarrick Hemingway.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.