Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. The Patriots can be cold-blooded with some of their personnel and financial decisions as long as they are convinced it's in the best interest of the team, but I don't put what has unfolded with Brian Waters in that category. If anything, I thought the team extended itself more than the norm. My biggest takeaway is that the club was willing to let Waters dictate the terms of when he reported with an excused absence (when have they ever done that?) and was willing to restructure his salary so he could earn more than his $1.4 million, but with protection for the team on a game-by-game basis. If that isn't good enough, for whatever the reason (personal or financial), the feeling is that it's time for both parties to move on while protecting their interests.
2. As for Waters, the first question I'd be asking my agents at Athletes First is why they thought a two-year deal with the Patriots was the best decision in 2011. Anyone can respect that leaving home and family in Texas is difficult, and there is great respect for how Waters handled that last year and even in his years with the Chiefs, so why lock him into a multiyear pact with a team so far away instead of a one-year deal? Waters had all the leverage at the time -- the Patriots were scrambling to address an injury situation at right guard -- and that decision could lead him into retirement earlier than he planned.
3. One line of thinking is that Bill Belichick will throw the kitchen sink at second-year Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who is making his first career start. I wouldn't be surprised if the message to players is the opposite and that the plan is actually more straightforward because of concern in overloading a young defense. This might be a bit harsh, but that line of thinking seems to be based more on reputation than recent results. When was the last time we saw a successful "throw the kitchen sink at a young quarterback" plan from Belichick that made anyone say "Wow"?
4. A lot will change after the first week of the season -- it always does -- but one reason I like today's Bills-Jets matchup is to get an early gauge on whether Buffalo is truly primed to leapfrog the Jets in the AFC East. I still view the Jets as the No. 2 team in the division, mainly because of their defense -- the Jets scored only 31 points in the preseason -- but it seems that is a minority opinion.
5. Quarterback Tom Brady has a 124-35 career regular-season record as a starter, which is the best winning percentage of any NFL quarterback in the Super Bowl era (minimum 100 starts). With a win today against the host Titans, Brady will reach 125 wins in the fewest starts (160) among quarterbacks in NFL history. Brady often says that he is not a big stats guy, but that's one of the few that probably means the most to him.
6. Here's a leftover photo from when the Patriots visited the Buccaneers' team facility for joint practices last month. The Buccaneers had a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the season opener against the Panthers. Minor thing, but it interests me how coaches use different tactics to keep players focused. Nothing like that in New England.
7. The Patriots were willing to take the second-round gamble on tight end Rob Gronkowski in the 2010 draft, as others were scared away because of his back injury. While Gronkowski is arguably the best example of such a gamble paying off, Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee isn't far behind. Lee also slipped into the second round in 2010 (knee injury). It didn't take long watching Wednesday's season opener to see that Lee is quickly elevating into top-tier linebacker territory, as some are already comparing him to Tedy Bruschi.
8. The strategy behind the new injured reserve designated-to-return category will be interesting to watch unfold. Several teams, including the Patriots (tight end Visanthe Shiancoe) have already used the designation, but what if a key player is injured in the next few weeks (e.g., Brady in the 2008 season opener)? Those teams could regret it, which had to be a consideration for the clubs that already used the designation.
9. When the Titans selected Locker eighth overall last season, it was a surprise to many. Locker mostly learned behind the scenes last season (five games played, zero starts), but the Titans are ready to turn things over to him even though some believe veteran Matt Hasselbeck remains the best choice right now. I can't really blame the Titans. With youth comes hope. That is one of the big themes of the 2012 season, as the five rookies set to start on opening weekend -- Robert Griffin III (Redskins), Andrew Luck (Colts), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Brandon Weeden (Browns) and Russell Wilson (Seahawks) -- are the most to start their team's first game since at least 1950.
10. Here's a small point that was previously overlooked at this address: The health of tight end Daniel Fells (shin), in addition to the hamstring injury sustained by Shiancoe, had the Patriots aggressively addressing the position with Michael Hoomanawanui. While many have been asking why the Patriots have been stocking up on tight ends -- going back to the waiver claim on Jake Ballard -- the best response is a combination of health questions and a base offense that projects to have multiple tight ends on the field for the majority of snaps.
12. Troy Brown is being inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame next Saturday in a ceremony outside Gillette Stadium at 5 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public, but those who want to take it to the next level with VIP seating and a post-induction reception can purchase tickets ($125) on the team's website.