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Patriots load up with 17 rookie free agents

Northwestern’s Austin Carr made 90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016.
Northwestern’s Austin Carr made 90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Long after the NFL Draft lights went out in Philly on Saturday night, they were still burning bright in Foxborough as the Patriots went about filling their roster with undrafted free agents.

“We’re working through the process,’’ said Nick Caserio, as he took a post draft break to chat with reporters. “I mean, we’re still in the draft room trying to finish that up.’’

After drafting just four players during the three-day draft, the Patriots signed 17 rookie free agents, including Harvard offensive tackle Max Rich and twin brothers, Cody Hollister, a wide receiver from Arkansas, and Jacob Hollister, a tight end from Wyoming.

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Rich is a mammoth 6 feet 7 inches and 315 pounds with good power and long arms. Rich dominated Ivy League competition and he’s known as an aggressive player with underrated athleticism.

“I was excited and relieved — it was a long day,” Rich said Sunday when asked about his initial reaction to agreeing with the Patriots.

The economics major said he spoke with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia twice Saturday and has some familiarity with him

“I worked out at their local day. I worked out for Coach Scarnecchia there,’’ he said. “I thought it went well and he said he enjoyed it.’’

Rich said he has been in touch with several other Harvard NFLers, including Cole Toner, who was drafted by the Cardinals last season, and they had a common message for him.

“Know that you can do this,’’ said Rich, who played left tackle for the Crimson, though he feels he has the athleticism to play anywhere on the line. “That’s the question mark for a lot of FCS guys in general. They haven’t seen necessarily the same talent that’s in the higher divisions, the FBS. It’s just knowing you can do this, don’t be afraid, and kind of attack the process.’’

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The Hollister twins are Bend, Ore., natives who played together at Nevada and Arizona Western Community College before striking out on their own. Their reunion tour begins this week in Foxborough.

Cody (6-4, 209 pounds) caught 27 passes for 342 yards, played special teams and no doubt caught the New England coaches’ eyes as they scouted Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr.

Jacob (6-3, 243 pounds) had 32 catches for 515 yards — a sterling 16.1 yards per reception – for Wyoming. Like Cody, Jacob worked out at Arkansas’s pro day.

In addition to Rich, the Patriots signed two other offensive linemen, tackle Cole Croston, a 6-5, 295-pounder from Iowa and guard Jason King, a 6-4, 303-pounder from Purdue.

Croston was a swing tackle for the Hawkeyes but could switch inside at the next level. King is a solid athlete with exceptional strength.

Northwestern’s Austin Carr (6-1, 194 pounds), the Big Ten receiver of the year (90 catches, 1,247 yards, 12 touchdowns) also signed on with the Patriots. The former walk-on has very strong and reliable hands.

New England added LeShun Daniels Jr. to an already stacked corps of running backs. A powerfully built 6-0, 225-pounder from Iowa, Daniels rushed for 1,058 yards and 10 TDs as a senior captain.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots supplemented their draft with the signings of BYU linebacker Harvey Langi, Missouri tackle Josh Augusta, Vanderbilt lineman Adam Butler, Utah safety Jason Thompson, Minnesota safety Damarius Travis, Richmond safety David Jones, and LSU cornerback Dwayne Thomas.

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Langi was extremely versatile for the Cougars, playing inside and outside linebacker, as well as dabbling at running back. He collected 68 tackles, 4½ sacks, and a pair of interceptions as a senior.

Augusta (6-4, 300 pounds) has nose tackle size and strength and also was utilized as a short-yardage fullback.

Both Langi and Augusta made predraft visits to Foxborough.

All the signings were announced via the tweets from either the player or their school.

Additionally, cornerbacks D.J. Killings of Central Florida (as reported by ESPN) and Kenny Moore of Valdosta State (as reported by the Providence Journal), and Tennessee defensive end Corey Vereen (as reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel) have agreed to join the Super Bowl champions.

There are sure to be more names — both rookies and veterans – who will be brought into the mix throughout the spring.

“I’m sure we’ll have some things here in the rookie minicamp where we bring guys in that we don’t have a contract commitment to,’’ said Caserio, when asked if all the open spots would be filled by rookies. “I’m sure there’s some other players that will be here that aren’t under contract that we’ll evaluate, and then we’ll go through like we do always in the spring. I’m sure we’ll bring in some players to work out. I mean, we’re always trying to put together the most competitive roster we can. Wherever the players come from, they come from.’’

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Bills can GM Whaley

Whether it was sitting together in a golf cart watching training camp or sharing dinner and drinks at a nearby restaurant, Bills owner Terry Pegula and general manager Doug Whaley were nearly inseparable last summer.

Some nine months later, their professional relationship soured to such an extent that Pegula fired Whaley and his entire scouting staff Sunday.

The decision was reached shortly after the two met at 8 a.m., a day following the NFL Draft, and it completed a front office purge that began with coach Rex Ryan being fired in the final week of last season.

Pegula’s voice cracked briefly with emotion when discussing the latest move, saying: ‘‘There were a few tears around the building, to be honest with you. He’s a good guy.’’

But not good enough to keep his job, with Pegula saying he reached the conclusion following a lengthy offseason review.

It’s a shake-up that further solidifies the influence rookie coach Sean McDermott has gained in the three months since being hired. The 42-year-old detail-oriented defensive specialist has become the voice of the franchise in discussing all team-related topics, including free agency and the draft.

The Bills also dismissed player-personnel director Jim Monos and Kelvin Fisher, the team’s former amateur scouting director who had previously been demoted to an advisory role.

Pegula will immediately begin a GM search and said it was too early to speculate on candidates. He said McDermott would have some input.

One possible candidate is Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane because of his ties to McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the team’s defensive coordinator.

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The Bills have now gone through six general managers during their 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.

It’s the first GM search for the Pegulas, who retained Whaley when they purchased the team in October 2014.

Harvard’s Firkser lands job

Harvard’s Anthony Firkser, who went undrafted over the weekend, signed with the Jets.

Firkser, a tight end, was a three-time All-Ivy selection and caught seven touchdowns during his senior season.

Firkser led the Crimson in TD catches and receiving yards (702), while making 45 catches in 2016.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.