New England Patriots Rumors & News

Pats May Transition Tag Dont’a Hightower

The Patriots could use the transition tag on pending free agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower instead of offering him the franchise tender, according to Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link).Dont'a Hightower (Vertical)

[RELATED: Patriots Unlikely To Retain Martellus Bennett?]

Hightower has expressed a willingness to sign the franchise tag, but he’s said nothing about the transition tender, which will likely be about $3MM less expensive. While the franchise figure for linebackers could approach $15MM, the transition number should reside closer to $12MM, leading Mike Reiss of to earlier this week guess New England could instead deploy the transition tag.

The non-exclusive franchise tag amount is determined by a formula that includes the salary cap figures and the non-exclusive franchise salaries at the player’s position for the previous five years. Alternatively, the transition tag figure is the average of the top 10 highest-paid players at the player’s position in the previous league year, so it’s cheaper than the franchise number. Only one club — the Dolphins — used the transition tender in 2016, but soon revoked it after originally placing it on defensive end Olivier Vernon.

If the Patriots assign the transition tag to Hightower, he could negotiate with other clubs, but the Patriots would retain the right to match any offer sheet. Unlike the franchise tag, however, the transition tender wouldn’t entitle New England to any draft compensation if it chose not to match a contract offer. The Patriots currently have the sixth-most cap space in the NFL, though, so they should be able to match even the most creative of offer sheets.

Hightower, 26, played in 13 games last season and racked up 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles, ranking as Pro Football Focus’ 12th-best linebacker among 87 qualifiers. Given that the Patriots have already traded away other key defenders such as Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, Hightower may be the last man standing when New England decides where to spend its free agent dollars.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chiefs Could Part Ways With Alex Smith?

Alex Smith has averaged nearly 11 wins per season during his four-year run with the Chiefs, but that won’t stop Kansas City from exploring other quarterback options this offseason, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link), who notes a “growing sense” among NFL executives that the Chiefs could move on from Smith. However, Kansas City will likely only part ways Smith if it’s able to acquire another signal-caller such as the Cowboys’ Tony Romo or the Patriots’ Jimmy Garoppolo, per Cole.Alex Smith

[RELATED: Chiefs Likely To Decline Nick Foles’ Option]

Smith’s potential ouster has been a topic of conversation before, as has possible mutual interest between the Chiefs and Romo. A prospective Kansas City acquisition of Garoppolo, however, has not, although the New England signal-caller figures to be a desirable item in the coming weeks, as the Browns, Bears, and 49ers are all expected to make a push for Garoppolo (and have more attractive draft picks to offer).

A “strong feeling” exists within league circles that the Chiefs have plateaued with Smith, but Kansas City won’t acquire Romo — or presumably, Garoppolo — without cutting ties with Smith first. While the Chiefs could look to trade Smith to a quarterback-needy club, Ian Rapoport of reported earlier this month that Kansas City would likely release Smith if they landed Romo. The Chiefs would save $9.7MM by cutting Smith, or $13.3MM by designating him as a post-June 1 release.

Since being acquired prior to the 2013 campaign, Smith has averaged 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions per season while completing 64.5% of his passes for the Chiefs. Smith, 32, has led Kansas City to three postseason appearances during that span, but the Chiefs have never advanced past the Divisional Round.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Notes: Garoppolo, Belichick

Three executives tell Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report that they believe several teams will be making blockbuster offers for Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Ultimately, they think that will result in an offer the Pats cannot refuse.

Freeman also hears from Patriots sources that Bill Belichick likely plans to stay on as coach for at least five more years. Those same sources believe that Belichick wants to continue coaching after Brady retires to show that he can win without the best quarterback of all time.

Pats Unlikely To Retain Martellus Bennett?

Martellus Bennett is set to hit the free agent market on March 9, and although a “mutually respectful relationship” exists between he and the Patriots, Bennett may leave for a better offer, according to Ian Rapoport of (Twitter links), who adds there’s a “real possibility” Bennett is suiting up for another club in 2017.Martellus Bennett (Vertical)

[RELATED: Tom Brady, Patriots Begin Extension Talks]

Although Rapoport alludes to Bennett’s asking price without naming a specific figure, Bennett reportedly turned down a $7MM per year extension offer from New England before the 2016 campaign got underway. However, Mike Reiss of previously reported that the Patriots explored adding only a single year to Bennett’s deal, which would explain why Bennett rejected the proposal. Speaking shortly after New England’s Super Bowl victory earlier this month, Bennett made it clear that he’s eyeing a significant raise this offseason.

“I’m going into free agency as a Super Bowl champion,” Bennett said. “You know they overpay Super Bowl champions!”

The Patriots acquired Bennett, who turns 30 next month, and a sixth-round pick from the Bears in exchange for a fourth-round pick, and the acquisition paid immediate dividends. Appearing in all 16 games, Bennett managed 55 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, and helped New England overcome the loss of fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Jimmy Garoppolo

  • Although one recent report indicated agent Don Yee would lead the hunt for a Jimmy Garoppolo trade partner, Yee is planning to let the Patriots and Bill Belichick handle such negotiations, as Tony Grossi of writes. “I don’t really have any information at this moment of time about that,” Yee said. “Everybody’s getting ready for the combine as well as preparing for free agency. I don’t know anything at all about what the Patriots plan to do, nor would I even presume to have any suggestion as to what they should do.” Garoppolo is expected to be the top target for a number of clubs this offseason, including the Browns, Bears, and 49ers.

Belichick Not Expected To Spend Much Time Finding Garoppolo Suitor

Bill Belichick is unlikely to spend much time working on a trade proposal involving Jimmy Garoppolo, per Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Despite the Belichick-era Patriots making a league-high 61 trades since he took over in 2000, the coach is more likely to let Garoppolo and Tom Brady‘s agent, Don Yee, find a team that’s willing to extend Garoppolo and have said team put together a compelling array of assets.

La Canfora notes the latest Pats backup quarterback/trade candidate has a chance to be a quality starter. Of course, a buyer-beware element could exist based on Garoppolo’s small sample size (94 pass attempts in three seasons) and the Patriots’ previous trades of Brady backups not working out well for the teams acquiring them.

Relationships between certain key members of quarterback-needy teams and Yee could come into play, with La Canfora noting Hue Jackson has known Yee for more than 20 years and Bears GM Ryan Pace (from the Eastern Illinois grad’s relationship to Yee client Sean Payton; Garoppolo is an Eastern Illinois alum) has known Yee for many years as well. Both teams have been linked to a possible Garoppolo trade, one that La Canfora estimates will send the Patriots a similar haul to the one the Eagles collected for Sam Bradford. Although, some Garoppolo skepticism emerged this week, with a group of anonymous decision-makers preferring A.J. McCarron to the fourth-year Patriot as a trade asset.

[RELATED: Should the Patriots Trade Jimmy Garoppolo?]

Patriots May Use Transition Tag, Not Franchise Tag, On Hightower; Will Ask Amendola To Take Pay Cut

  • If the Patriots use a tag on impending free agent Dont’a Hightower, Mike Reiss of believes it will be the $11MM transition tag rather than the $14.5-15MM franchise tag. The transition tag allows New England the right of first refusal on any offer Hightower receives in free agency, although it does not allow the Pats to recoup any draft pick compensation if they choose to not match such an offer.
  • In the same piece, Reiss reports that Patriots receiver Danny Amendola will not be back on his current contract, which is scheduled to pay him $6MM in 2017. However, Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk writes that New England values what Amendola can contribute on offense and on special teams, so the club would like him to have him back at a reduced salary. Given that Amendola has agreed to a restructure in each of the last two offseasons, and given that he posted only 23 catches for 243 yards in 2016, it seems likely that the two sides will be able to work something out.

Corry: Examining Hypothetical Gronk-Watt Swap

  • Taking said Internet-breaking premise further: Corry discussed with execs a Watt-for-Rob Gronkowski exchange, with the Patriots — in the mind of a league exec — needing to include more than just their No. 32 overall pick in addition to Gronk to make the Texans consider that deal. Another exec couldn’t picture the teams doing this trade due to Gronkowski’s extensive injury history.

Bengals To Assess A.J. McCarron Trade?

Somewhat overlooked in what promises to be an eventful offseason when it comes to available quarterbacks, A.J. McCarron may be firmly in the mix here. The Bengals are expected to gauge the market for a potential trade of their backup quarterback over the next month, Chris Wesseling of notes.

And NFL evaluators look to be more intrigued by McCarron than a name that’s risen to a higher tier than Cincinnati’s backup has in terms of trade buzz.’s Daniel Jeremiah surveyed five NFL personnel execs about the respective trade values of McCarron and Jimmy Garoppolo, and the decision-makers rated McCarron as the more attractive trade piece.

I wouldn’t feel good about making a major commitment to any of these quarterbacks,” one executive explained regarding those believed to be available. “If I had to choose one, I would go after McCarron. Ideally, you get him for a late second- or early third-round pick. Then, if it doesn’t work out, you draft a QB in 2018.”

Another exec told Jeremiah he would target McCarron over Garoppolo if his team needed a quarterback. The 26-year-old McCarron has thrown 119 career passes, completing 66 percent of those, but each came in 2015 after what turned out to be a Dalton season-ending injury. The 25-year-old Garoppolo only made it through one game healthy in his Deflategate audition last season, but the former second-round pick has nonetheless drawn extensive interest from QB-needy franchises.

This comes as a bit of a surprise given Garoppolo being linked to several teams — the Browns, 49ers and Bears — compared to scant reports emerging about a prospective deal for McCarron. Multiple second-round picks could be on the table in a Garoppolo deal, with a first-round selection potentially in the realm of possibility.

Earlier this month,’s Ian Rapoport noted the Browns could pursue McCarron — who spent three years under Hue Jackson‘s tutelage — as a fallback option in case Garoppolo’s price became too much for their liking. Marvin Lewis said recently no team inquired about McCarron last offseason, but the team would have demanded a first-round pick in a deal then, per Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s reasonable to suggest that could still be the asking price, but if the demand remains nonexistent, it stands to reason the former fifth-round pick could be had for less.

The Cincinnati backup’s value may be viewed as higher because it’s been determined he’s under team control for two more seasons, as an RFA in 2018, compared to Garoppolo being set for a contract year. Being set to enter a fourth season behind Andy Dalton, McCarron would not be opposed to a trade that would let him compete for a starting job.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Who Will Be The Pats' New TEs Coach?

Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll is set to become the offensive coordinator at Alabama, and’s Mike Reiss writes that the departure will leave “a notable void on the staff.” The former Browns, Dolphins, and Chiefs offensive coordinator will surely have more of an opportunity to run his own system at Alabama, although Reiss notes that Daboll was considered the “coordinator-in-waiting” if Josh McDaniels left the organization for a head coaching gig.