New England Patriots

After a quiet start to NFL free agency, the 2022 Patriots look ready to get to work.

It was understandably frustrating for anyone expecting Bill Belichick to begin free agency with a bang – or several bangs, like he did in 2021. But many of the angry overreactions were really born of impatience. While several AFC contenders launched their fireworks, New England stared at an empty sky. So people went stir-crazy.

But the second wave of free agency was when the Patriots planned to take real action all along. As Mike Reiss explained it in his Sunday column at ESPN.com, they essentially did two years’ worth of big spending in one off-season. The philosophy wasn’t necessarily wrong, considering the wild amounts of money thrown around in the first week.

The risk, there, is that the Pats are going to hope for year-two improvement among their free-agent signings that underperformed in 2021 according to their contracts. This year’s pass-catching help? Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith. Defensive interior? Davon Godchaux. Secondary? Jalen Mills.

But that doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t add at those same positions, plus others, with plenty of notable free agents still available. And at this stage, talented players can become depressed assets and be had for unexpectedly good value. This is where one would hope that a free-agent’s motivation and Belichick’s program converge to deliver a productive contract year.

The outlook for the Patriots in the second wave of free agency

  • Fortunately, the Patriots still have options for legitimate impact players in free agency. At others, they may have to explore other ways to acquire difference-making talent. Here’s the outlook for the Pats at key areas of need…

    Cornerback

    Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a stop on fourth down in the fourth quarter to end the game at Heinz Field on December 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    Of all the free-agent signings that had the potential to leave a sting in New England, J.C. Jackson’s big-but-manageable five-year deal with the Chargers may have been the hardest to swallow. To improve the Patriots’ talent and depth at the position, Belichick’s best bet on the open market now is with another veteran stopgap.

    Joe Haden is still out there as a potential addition. At 32 years old, Haden may not be the same player he was in 2015, when he earned second-team All-Pro honors. But he proved with the Steelers that he can still be a dependable starter, and it wouldn’t hurt for the Patriots to add that kind of pedigree to their cornerback room. If Belichick wants to go the veteran route at this spot, he could also look at Patrick Peterson, Janoris Jenkins, Kyle Fuller, or Xavier Rhodes.

    It appears that the Patriots could end up reuniting with a former CB – and perhaps not the one you think. The recently un-retired Malcolm Butler (!) is visiting the team for a tryout on Monday, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.¬†Butler doesn’t exactly need a tour of the facilities, so this seems to be all about evaluating what he’s got left as a player, and whether it’s worth gambling on the familiarity. For Butler himself, this would signify a reconciliation between himself and Bill Belichick after his infamous benching in Super Bowl LII.

    This is all to say that it certainly doesn’t seem like a Stephon Gilmore reunion is in the offing for Belichick. But recent reports suggest that Gilmore could reunite with Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler in Las Vegas with the Raiders.

  • Front-Seven

    Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Cleveland Browns attempts to apply pressure during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    Jadeveon Clowney #90 of the Cleveland Browns attempts to apply pressure during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    The Patriots’ major pass-rush help for 2022 may have to come in the form of more sustained excellence from 2021 free-agent addition Matthew Judon. After an All-Pro-caliber first half of the season in 2021, Judon’s production mysteriously dropped off after the bye week, as did that of the entire Patriots defense. Judon chalked it up to poor execution against tough opponents when he joined Felger and Mazz at Radio Row before Super Bowl LVI.

    But the Patriots could still use another talented edge player, and they can still add potential difference-makers in free agency. They likely weren’t about to compete with the money that Chandler Jones (Raiders) or Von Miller (Bills) got, but if they are ready to pay up for another pass-rusher, Za’Darius Smith is still available after spurning the Ravens’ offer to keep exploring the open market. Guys like Jadeveon Clowney or Melvin Ingram could probably be had on shorter money.

    Linebacker was a position in need of speed and youth, and that’s the direction the Patriots are taking in 2022 – but they’re likely doing it internally. The trade of Chase Winovich to the Browns was more of a culture-preserving move, but the Pats are also moving on from Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and the same appears to be the case for Dont’a Hightower.

    The bright side is, there are plenty of young, athletic internal options for the Patriots to develop. Between Josh Uche and second-year pros Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone, the hope is at least one of them emerges as an impact starter in 2022. Uche, who was one of the most explosive players on the field in 2021 training camp, looked to be on that type of trajectory before playing only 30 percent of defensive snaps, and only six snaps in the Pats’ season-ending blowout loss to the Bills.

    If Belichick still wants to make a splash at linebacker, if only a short-term one, Bobby Wagner is still available. But considering the big-time contracts other veteran All-Pros got, Wagner may still be too expensive for New England, even at this stage.

  • Offensive Line

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots let Trent Brown explore free agency before bringing him back on a two-year deal on Monday, as his agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed to Adam Schefter. So, for 2022, they appear set at the tackle spots with Brown and Isaiah Wynn under contract. They could stand to draft a long-term answer.

    Along the offensive line, the bigger question is at guard. Ted Karras is gone after cashing in on a three-year, $18 million deal with the Bengals, and Shaq Mason became a cap casualty in a trade to the Bucs. Mike Onwenu is an obvious candidate to take over at one of those spots; he mainly played right guard in college at Michigan.

    Elsewhere? The Patriots are reportedly hosting restricted free agent guard Ryan Bates, who played all 17 games for the Bills in 2021 with four starts. Buffalo tendered Bates at the original-round level, meaning that if the Pats signed him to an offer sheet, they’d have the opportunity to match, but wouldn’t be owed draft pick compensation if they declined.

    It would feel like a squirrelly situation in Foxboro if Bates ended up their full-time starter at guard, so you have to wonder if the Patriots are turning to the draft at that position. If Belichick decides to dip into the unrestricted market, Ereck Flowers has experience at both guard and tackle. Will Hernandez started all 17 games for the Giants in 2021. Billy Price can play both guard and center.

  • Wide Receiver

    Julio Jones #2 of the Tennessee Titans against the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Julio Jones #2 of the Tennessee Titans against the Indianapolis Colts at Nissan Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

    Unless you count Julio Jones, the Patriots’ opportunities to add an impact wide receiver in free agency have dried up. Davante Adams ended up traded to the Raiders before signing the richest contract ever for a non-quarterback. Chris Godwin re-signed with the Bucs. Mike Williams re-signed with the Chargers. JuJu Smith-Schuster opted for the Chiefs on a one-year deal.

    The Patriots haven’t been against gambling on veteran wideouts on short money in the past. They haven’t often worked out as well as they’d hoped, but if Belichick wants to go that route in 2022, he has options. A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, and Will Fuller remain available. Odell Beckham Jr. is, too, but he’s more likely to sign later in the off-season, after he recovers from ACL surgery.

    If New England wants to add younger talent at the position, their best bet is a trade. They’ve been rumored to have interest in the Panthers’ Robby Anderson. If they want to recreate something close to the Brandin Cooks trade from 2017, or acquire an affordable asset on his rookie deal, they could look into the Cardinals’ Andy Isabella or the Colts’ Parris Campbell. If the Seahawks’ firesale isn’t over, it would be worth calling them about Tyler Lockett, or even D.K. Metcalf.

    Otherwise, the Patriots sound ready to re-commit to developing Nelson Agholor into the “X” receiver they want him to be. N’Keal Harry remains on the roster, but just about all hope is lost on the former first-round pick to make an appreciable impact in the passing game.

Keep reading below for more on the Patriots in 2022 NFL free agency.

Resetting the Patriots' roster moves after one week of free agency

  • One week into free agency, the Patriots’ roster is already starting to shift. While it may feel like there’s been more exits than entrances, there have been a handful of targeted signings – and re-signings – that may be setting the tone for what the plan is this offseason.

    There have been 18 players who have either joined, re-joined, or departed the team in the last seven days. Here’s a quick look of where things stand heading into week number two of the NFL offseason…

  • Players added

    Nov 25, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ty Montgomery (88) runs against the Buffalo Bills in the first quarter at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    –WR/RB Ty Montgomery
    –LB Mack Wilson
    –CB Terrance Mitchell

    Montgomery is the highlight of the players the Patriots have added so far. With the hybrid running back/wide receiver role becoming more and more popular, it felt like it was only a matter of time until the Patriots added such a player to their roster.

    At the very least, Montgomery will offer depth behind James White as a third down back, behind Jakobi Meyers as a slot receiver, and can fill some of the kick converge duties vacated with the departure of Brandon Bolden. His upside is a gadget three-down contributor. Although his recent numbers don’t suggest that kind of production, he’s been stuck on some truly dismal offensive teams. Last time he played a full season with a competent offensive unit, he totaled 800 all-purpose yards for the Packers in 2016.

    Wilson is another low-risk, high-upside signing. If the Patriots’ goal is to add quicker, younger linebackers, he fits the bill. The 24-year-old saw a decrease of defensive snaps over his three years in Cleveland, but that may have been a scheme fit as much as anything. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have a history of changing a linebacker’s utilization to maximize their skill set. If they can’t figure that out, Wilson can still contribute on special teams and is in the last year of his rookie deal.

    Michell is a versatile corner with experience in a number of different schemes. He’s good depth option for a team in the Patriots that just needs bodies at the position. How big of a role he’ll end up having depends on ensuing moves this offseason.

  • Players retained

    Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) reacts to a call during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    –S Devin McCourty
    –RB James White
    –LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
    –ST Matthew Slater
    –K Nick Folk
    –QB Brian Hoyer
    –IOL James Ferentz

    The Patriots clearly made it a point to retain the veteran leadership that helped guide the team last year. Four of the five captains from the 2021 team had their contracts expire, and three have already been brought back in McCourty, White, and Slater (Dont’a Hightower remains unsigned). Bentley and Hoyer also feature in key leadership roles.

    These moves are about more than leadership though. All things considered, McCourty’s new contract may be the best all-around move the Patriots have made in free agency. He still looked like a starting-caliber player last season, and the Patriots have no obvious replacement currently on the roster. Losing him would have created yet another immediate need, and a crucial one at that.

    Bentley’s signing similarly helps retain depth at what would have become a very thin position. And although he’s just 25, he has significantly more NFL experience than any other middle linebacker on the Patriots’ roster right now. The team really would have been starting over at the position if they lost both he and Hightower.

    The same could be said about re-signing White, especially after the team lost Brandon Bolden. He’s working his way back from a hip injury, but was on a 1,000-yard receiving pace before that injury ended his season early last year.

    While Hoyer won’t have an impact on the field, his return should mean a lot to Mac Jones. You can read more about the relationship between Jones and Hoyer here.

  • Players lost

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) runs after intercepting a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) runs after intercepting a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    –CB J.C. Jackson
    –G Shaq Mason
    –RB Brandon Bolden
    –FB Jakob Johnson
    –IOL Ted Karras
    –WR/PR Gunner Olszewski
    –LB Chase Winovich

    Jackson is the biggest loss here, but he may also be the least surprising. His departure seemed inevitable once it was reported the team didn’t plan to use the franchise tag on him. For those looking to make an issue of Jackson’s departure, it began with the lack of the franchise tag, not failing to match LA’s offer.

    The biggest surprise is the Patriots losing both starting guards from last season. With Karras a free agent and Mason’s contract expendable with Michael Onwenu ready to step back into a starting role, one of those players departing seemed likely. However, a full reset at the position – especially when right tackle Trent Brown is also a free agent and left tackle Isaiah Wynn is in a contract year – is a bit more jarring.

    Bolden would have been a bigger loss had the team not retained White. Yet after stepping in for White last season, he seemed poised for a bigger role offensively and could have that chance in Vegas. He’ll rejoin Josh McDaniels alongside fullback Jakob Johnson. Johnson’s departure could signal a shift for the team in offensive philosophy, as pointed out by ESPN’s Mike Reiss over the weekend.

    Olszewski’s departure could signal the Patriots are looking for a more versatile returner – either who can return kicks and punts and/or can contribute on offense as well. Olszewski’s lack of development as a wide receiver may have made him expendable in New England.

    That leaves Winovich, who had been a logical traded candidate for some time. Like Wilson, who he was traded for, a change of scenery and scheme could be exactly what he needs.

  • Still unsigned

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    –RT Trent Brown
    –LB Dont’a Hightower
    –LB Jamie Collins
    –WR Jakobi Meyers (tendered)
    –LB Brandon King
    –LB Harvey Langi
    –LB Terez Hall (exclusive rights)
    –TE Troy Fumagalli

    With La’el Collins signing in Cincinnati, one of the few right tackles remaining in free agency is now off the market. That could be a sign Brown will be the next to ink a deal, in New England or elsewhere. With Karras and Mason gone and Wynn up next year, he could become more of a priority.

    Hightower is the only other big name on this list. A veteran likely looking for fit as much as money, he may take his time to pick a landing spot.

    Meyers is technically a free agent, but a team would have to give up their second round pick to sign him away from the Patriots. It seems highly likely his free agency is just a formality at this point, and he’ll be back in 2022.

    As of Friday, there had been no discussions between the Patriots and Collins’ camp according to Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald. That doesn’t entirely rule out the team bringing him back, but at this point it doesn’t seem to be a priority.

    Among the remaining players, Terez Hall is a player to watch. He played a significant role down the stretch in 2020 and looked good, but then missed all of 2021 with an injury. As an ERFA, the Patriots could bring him back on a team-friendly deal.

  • What’s next?

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – JANUARY 09: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks off the field after losing 33-24 to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    As the second week of free agency begins, the Patriots have about $11.6 million in cap space according to Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan. Their top needs include tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and linebacker. Expect Trent Brown and Dont’a Hightower’s names to come up often early this week.

    What’s next for the Patriots? Matt Dolloff takes a look at the possibilities here.

NFL Free Agent Tracker: Friday, March 18

  • Read below for the latest news & rumors on day five of 2022 NFL free agency…

  • Olszewski to the Steel City

    Dec 6, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (80) returns a punt return for a touchdown Los Angeles Chargers during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    According to Ian Rapoport, the Pittsburgh Steelers are signing Gunner Olszewski to a two-year, $4.2 million contract. Olszewski spent the last three years with the Patriots and was an All-Pro punt returner in 2020.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster headed to Chiefs

    Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of the game at Heinz Field on September 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of the game at Heinz Field on September 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    Another receiver off the board for the Patriots: former Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster is signing a one-year, $10.75 million deal with the Chiefs, according to Ian Rapoport. Another dynamic weapon for Patrick Mahomes, who still has Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce in his arsenal.

  • Deshaun Watson headed to Browns

    Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans in action against the Tennessee Titans during a game at NRG Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans in action against the Tennessee Titans during a game at NRG Stadium on January 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    Just when you thought Davante Adams would be the biggest trade-and-sign move of the week, Deshaun Watson and the Browns just dropped a whopper on Friday. Watson is headed to the Browns for three first-round picks and more, according to Ian Rapoport. The quarterback is also signing a five-year deal worth $230 million, fully guaranteed. That shatters the previous record for guaranteed money by $80 million.

  • Bills release DT Star Lotulelei

    The Buffalo Bills have identifed their first payroll casualty in the wake of signing Von Miller to a six-year megadeal. The team announced Friday that they’re releasing defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

  • No progress between Patriots and Jamie Collins

    Jamie Collins #58 of the New England Patriots celebrates after causing Colt McCoy #12 of the Washington Redskins a to fumble the ball during the second half at FedExField on October 6, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

    Jamie Collins #58 of the New England Patriots celebrates after causing Colt McCoy #12 of the Washington Redskins a to fumble the ball during the second half at FedExField on October 6, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

    According to Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald, there’s been no progress on contract talks between the Patriots and linebacker Jamie Collins. It’s the latest signal that the Pats are aggressively getting younger at the linebacker position. They recently released Kyle Van Noy, while Dont’a Hightower remains a free agent as they’ve re-signed several other internal pieces.

  • Patriots re-signing Bentley

    Ja'Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots celebrates after tackling Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Ja’Whaun Bentley #8 of the New England Patriots celebrates after tackling Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    According to Mike Reiss, the Patriots are “closing in” on a new contract with linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. The 25-year-old is coming off a career year in his third NFL season, leading the Pats with 109 total tackles and forcing three fumbles.

    The Patriots certainly value Bentley’s experience in the system compared to the rest of their linebacker depth chart, as the team moves toward a youth movement at the position. He’s one of the veterans of the group on a depth chart that includes Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins, Cameron McGrone, and Jahlani Tavai.

  • Cowboys re-sign Vander Esch

    Free-agent linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is staying with the Dallas Cowboys, agreeing to a one-year deal, according to Ian Rapoport. The Patriots had been showing interest in Vander Esch before his decision to re-sign with Dallas, per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal.

  • Logan Ryan reuniting with Tom Brady

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan (26) before the start of the preseason game at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn. 8503519

    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan (26) before the start of the preseason game at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn.

    Tom Brady is getting yet another former teammate back in Tampa Bay. Veteran defensive back Logan Ryan confirmed himself via Twitter on Friday that he’s signing with the Buccaneers, bolstering their secondary depth and reuniting himself with his former Patriots teammate. Ryan and Brady last played together on the Patriots in 2016. He’s been durable throughout his career, with 140 of a possible 145 games played, and has made at least eight pass breakups in every season since 2015.

  • Davante Adams gets historic contract

    Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers makes a catch for a touchdown while being guarded by M.J. Stewart Jr. #36 of the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on December 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    Davante Adams #17 of the Green Bay Packers makes a catch for a touchdown while being guarded by M.J. Stewart Jr. #36 of the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter at Lambeau Field on December 25, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    The Raiders made what could go down as the biggest off-season splash of 2022 when they acquired wide receiver Davante Adams from the Packers, then signed him to a five-year deal worth up to $142.5 million. ESPN’s Field Yates noted that the deal is the largest ever for a non-quarterback in terms of average annual value ($28.5 million) and total value. According to Adam Schefter, the contract includes $67.5 million guaranteed.

  • Raiders making push for Gilmore?

    Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots looks on prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots looks on prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    The Raiders – led by a pair of former Patriots in head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler – may still¬†not be done adding to their roster. And they’re looking at a familiar face: according to Vincent Bonsignore at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas is “making a run” at cornerback Stephon Gilmore in free agency. So it sounds like Gilmore could get himself another nice contract, if multiple teams are competing for his services.

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Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.