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It was Patriots or nothing for Benjamin Watson in 2019 – New England Patriots Blog

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Watson thought “maybe this is it” after release: When the Patriots released veteran tight end Benjamin Watson on Oct. 7, there were reports Watson still wanted to play this season. Those were accurate, but also a bit incomplete. Watson told me this week that if he played in 2019, it would have only been in New England because of family considerations.

“There were some other teams that called,” he said as he prepared for Monday’s road game against the New York Jets (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), after being re-signed Tuesday. “But at this point, it would have been very difficult for me to go somewhere, no matter where it was, and have them be here. We just moved, and we weren’t going to move anywhere else. There are some other organizations I have a lot of respect for, but at this point, being that the season has started, school has started, we weren’t going to move.

“My desire to play wasn’t going to trump the commitment we made as a family that we were not going to be separate for two months.”

So when Watson, 38, walked out of the locker room on Oct. 7, thoughts were swirling that he had played his last NFL game.

“I was processing it as ‘maybe this is it.’ As difficult as it was, I was prepared for ‘it’s going to end at some point and it’s usually not pretty, but you get over it and it’s OK. So maybe this is how I’m going to exit.'”

Which makes Watson’s return to action Monday all the more special. The Patriots gave him $800,000 in guaranteed money to return, which provides some reassurance he’ll be around for the season. His return also helps fill the void with tight end Matt LaCosse (knee) sidelined.

When the Patriots called his agent about re-signing him, Watson needed some time to make his decision.

“While I was excited, I was also dealing with emotionally the question of ‘Do I want to re-start this thing over again?’ When you go through certain disappointments and stuff, you deal with it and then try to move on. Do you want to open that back up? I started to shift and think that ‘maybe this is it and I’m OK with that.’ That was a long conversation, through the night.

“In the end, it was that I came up here to play, and to be a part of this team. I had another opportunity to do so, and so I want to give it another shot.”

2. Belichick backs Bielema on Bennett suspension: I view veteran defensive end Michael Bennett‘s suspension for conduct detrimental to the team as an example of how coach Bill Belichick backs his staff, and sends a clear message to all players that certain lines can’t be crossed. Had Bennett privately addressed disappointment about his role, it’s hard to imagine the result would have been a suspension. But because Bennett’s displeasure was voiced in front of other players, it potentially threatened the authority of defensive line coach Bret Bielema. So, Belichick came down hard.

3. Did you know: The Patriots have used man coverage schemes 67% of the time this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That is the second-highest rate in the NFL behind the Lions (73%), who of course, have former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in his second year as coach.

4. Defensive snaps are way down: The Patriots have been on the field for 374 defensive snaps in their 6-0 start, averaging 62.3 snaps per game. This is a result of strong play on third down, a high total of turnovers, and some offensive inefficiency from opponents. As long as the defense isn’t giving up big plays, this is a telling stat, because the fewer times the offense has the ball, the less likely it is to score. For context, here is how that compares to the past five years at this point of the season:

5. Patriots rookie receivers go under the radar: With starting receiver Josh Gordon (knee/ankle) already ruled out Monday night, and No. 3 target Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) questionable, the Patriots could be leaning more on undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski against the Jets. They both played extensively in the second half of the Week 6 win against the Giants, so how do Meyers and Olszewski feel about continuing with that workload? The answers are elusive, as Belichick had the players off limits to reporters in the locker room all week, perhaps as a reminder that actions are more important than words.

6. Replays on PI about what was expected: Belichick has yet to throw a challenge flag on a pass interference penalty (or lack thereof) this season, and if he did, chances are he would lose it. Coaches are 4-of-37 on challenges (10.8%), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. In his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, Belichick noted the high bar to overturn a call or non-call, and how it’s consistent with what was advertised to him. “I think it’s been pretty clear and the league has come out and said, it has to be clear and obvious. What the definition of that is, I’m not sure. But I don’t think there can be much gray area, or it’s not clear and obvious. I haven’t studied all of them, but a lot of the ones that I’ve observed or have been in our games, I can see why they were called the way they were,” he said.

7. Browns’ bye week lessens strain on Patriots’ short week: Next week marks the only time this season the Patriots face a team coming off a bye, with quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Browns coming to town. With the Patriots coming off a Monday night game, it is a rare case of the short week vs. long week dynamic. One thing that helps the Patriots’ staff is they won’t have to add a Week 7 game to their Browns preparations, so they could get a more complete jump start on them with some of the extra time they had this past week.

8. Nugent returns to where career started: Veteran kicker Mike Nugent, who was signed by the Patriots three weeks ago after Stephen Gostkowski went on injured reserve (hip), broke into the NFL with the Jets in 2005 and was with them for four seasons. So Monday brings the 37-year-old full circle. “At the time, I wanted to play 10 years,” he said, noting the presence of players such as Kevin Mawae, Chad Pennington, Curtis Martin and Wayne Chrebet, among others, who provided him a great example to follow. This year is Nugent’s 15th, so he has exceeded his own expectations.

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Broncos turning to 2011 lockout offseason for direction – Denver Broncos Blog

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In almost every way, this offseason has been unlike any other for almost every player on the Denver Broncos‘ roster.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every part of the Broncos’ offseason, even as the team tries to implement a plan for training camp in the weeks to come. Other than workouts quarterback Drew Lock organized with a small group of teammates, the Broncos’ offseason was largely a virtual-only affair. Only the team’s recovering injured players spent any time at the team complex.

“And that part, it’s kind of like my rookie year, a lot like that year,” is how linebacker Von Miller put it in recent weeks. ” … Coming in for camp, getting on the field for the first time, it will be something like that year this year.”

Beyond the health protocols that will be in place whenever the Broncos’ players and coaches return to work, when it comes to practices, ramping up their conditioning and working through the playbook, the 2011 training camp may provide at least some direction.

That year a lockout by the NFL’s team owners washed out the offseason programs around the league. The two sides didn’t hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement until July 25th that summer and training camps opened only after the 132-day lockout ended.

“But we won’t be behind any more than anyone else is,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “It’d be different if half the teams were shut down and half weren’t and luckily me and a bunch of the other coaches have had experience with the lockout in 2011. From a football standpoint, it’s very similar to that. … It so happens that in 2011 I was with the Niners then and we were a totally new staff where everything was new. We hadn’t even met our players and we didn’t meet our players until training camp started, and we did fine that year. I don’t see it as a big issue.”

Fangio was Jim Harbaugh’s defensive coordinator in the 2011 season as Harbaugh, in his first year in that job, led the team to a 13-3 finish as the 49ers advanced to the NFC Championship Game to close out that season.

Only three Broncos were in the league that season — Miller, safety Kareem Jackson and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey — and only Miller was with the Broncos at the time. Miller and Casey were rookies while Jackson was entering his second season.

The Broncos also had a new coaching staff that season as John Fox had been hired in January of that year.

“We didn’t even meet the guys, really, until they came in after the CBA got signed — it was like a three-day sprint between the CBA was done and we opened camp, like hey let me introduce everybody, see you at practice in 20 minutes,” Fox said. “At that point, right in the beginning, your biggest thing is kind of conditioning and seeing where all of the guys are at in that regard — you didn’t want to practice and have a bunch of guys go down because you didn’t ramp it up the right way. Installing things, you just deal with timetable you have, but guys did have to cram for the test a little bit.”

In terms of football, the Broncos’ virtual meetings have put this year’s rookie class ahead of where Miller and the rest of the Broncos’ rookies were at this point in 2011. This year’s Broncos spent weeks in daily online meetings with coaches and teammates, with their position groups.

“What I can tell you is we have everybody where they’ll have all the tools they’ll need when they hit the field,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. “We can’t tell you how it will be physically. We’ve just created ways to use film and create interaction, have them talking to each other. It’s a very big plus.”

“I feel like we’ll all have a good handle on what we’re doing when we get on the field,” linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “If I was a rookie right now, I think I’d feel like, after our virtual meetings and all that, I understood the basics of what we’re doing. I don’t think it will take too long for everybody to get in the flow on the field. It might be a little different if we didn’t have those meetings. I’ve talked to Von about [2011], I think that would have been tough as a rookie, just to jump in during camp and try to get it.”

Because of the health and safety protocols that are expected to be place when teams get the green light to open training camp, which will limit how the players meet and gather in the facility, there will be plenty to deal with unlike any other of their years in football.

“And practices might be different, how we do it, we’ll see,” Miller said. “But coming in without any practices, OTAs or anything like that, I’ve done that. At least I know what that looks like and the older guys like me will just help the younger guys. That’s how it has to be.”

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Broncos to add Mike Shanahan to Ring of Honor in ’21

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The Denver Broncos have selected former head coach Mike Shanahan for their Ring of Honor, the team announced on Tuesday. Shanahan will be the franchise’s 34th Ring of Famer.

The ceremony is expected to be held next year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Shanahan spent 14 seasons as head coach of the Broncos, leading the team to back-to-back Super Bowl titles during the 1997 and 1998 seasons and finishing as the winningest coach in franchise history with 146 total wins. He also spent seven seasons as an assistant with Denver.

“Mike Shanahan is the greatest coach in Denver Broncos history and among the winningest coaches of all-time,” President and CEO Joe Ellis said in a team statement. “He brought an unmatched standard and intensity as head coach, leading this franchise to its first two Super Bowl wins and building the Broncos into perennial contenders. We are thrilled that Mike has now been elected to the Broncos’ Ring of Fame.”

Shanahan is one of seven head coaches in NFL history with more than 175 career wins and two Super Bowl titles joining Don Shula, Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin.

Before coaching the Broncos, Shanahan coached the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988 and for four games of the 1989 season before being fired. He then spent 14 seasons with Broncos followed by four seasons with the Washington Redskins finishing with a career coaching record of 178-144.

Shanahan also captured a Super Bowl title as the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers during the 1994 season.

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Browns DE Vernon restructures contract, will get $11 million guaranteed in 2020

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The Cleveland Browns have restructured Olivier Vernon‘s contract, ensuring the defensive end will be with the team this season.

Vernon, who was due to make $15.25 million (non-guaranteed) in 2020, agreed to a restructured deal that will pay him $11 million guaranteed this season, a source told ESPN’s Field Yates. That total comes from a $7 million signing bonus, $3.75 million base salary and a $250,000 workout bonus. Vernon can earn an additional $2 million through incentives, the source said.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry had said after the NFL draft that Vernon was in the team’s plans.

The team is also working on an extension with defensive end Myles Garrett, the team’s 2017 No. 1 overall pick, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler last month.

The 29-year-old Vernon, who is in the final year of a contract he signed with the New York Giants in 2016, had 3.5 sacks last season for the Browns, who acquired him in the trade that sent Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland last offseason. A knee injury limited him to 10 games.

He has 54.5 sacks in eight seasons.

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