Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. If Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk's travel itinerary over the last few weeks is any indication, he's a prospect on the rise. Juszczyk has taken visits with 11 different NFL teams -- Bengals, Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, Jaguars, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Ravens, Seahawks and Vikings -- and it would have been 12 if one didn't cancel after initially scheduling to host him. Why the explosion of interest? It could be tied to his puzzling combine snub, especially after what one scout felt was a solid Senior Bowl week for him. That probably has many teams doing catch-up work on him.
2. Asked the opinion of one pro personnel evaluator and one former Raiders teammate about new Patriots defensive lineman Tommy Kelly and these were the responses:
Scout -- "Not a real disciplined player but still has three-down value ... can push the pocket."
Former teammate -- "He is huge and strong as an ox. Real hard worker. Always thought he was a real good player. Has some mental errors sometimes and will jump offside, but other than that, he is a beast."
I think the Patriots capitalized on an unexpected opportunity on this one. They have been looking for help along the interior of the defensive line, and when the 32-year-old Kelly became available, it was probably the best combination of talent and value that they've explored over the last two years. I also wonder if Kelly's mental errors and occasional lack of discipline were more about the environment in which he played, as Oakland has annually been one of the most penalized teams.
3a. If we rewind to the time when Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski signed his contract extension last offseason, the prevailing opinion was that Gronkowski sacrificed significant potential future earnings and that it was a "team-friendly" deal. That might have been true to a degree, but whenever that type of discussion percolates, the player's mindset often seems to be overlooked. Given how physical the game of football is, and considering the high rate of injury, I don't see how anyone could fault a player for wanting to cash in a bit early for some short-term security. With Gronkowski very likely to undergo a fourth surgery on his left forearm within a 6-8 month span, it's a good reminder of how what could look "team-friendly" at one point can quickly turn in the other direction.
3b. One follow-up thought on that topic: The Patriots have opened themselves to criticism in the past for not being more aggressive in negotiations because the longer a player gets into his rookie contract, the harder it can sometimes be for the sides to compromise and reach an extension. That criticism has been fair at times (e.g. Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins), but even for those who might disagree, one area in which all can find common ground is that it's often about the willingness to assume risk. When the player is still on his rookie deal, he assumes the risk to make it to free agency healthy. When the club and player reach an early extension, the risk shifts to the team side that the player stays healthy and makes the investment worthwhile. When it comes to Gronkowski, the Patriots currently own the risk, 2-3 years before they truly had to. I wonder how they feel about that now.
4. Hard not to acknowledge the momentum that the Seahawks have in terms of building a program that has the look of a legitimate contender, and Friday's signing of veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield is the latest move to bolster an already-strong roster. In addition to Winfield, signing defensive end Cliff Avril at a reduced rate from what Avril had been offered the year before by the Lions, along with trading for receiver Percy Harvin, represents a powerful offseason. Going back a bit, I took a liking to the Seahawks teams of the '80s with players such as Dave Krieg, Steve Largent, Curt Warner & Co. and now there's something neat about the franchise generating more widespread attention and excitement than it has in some time. The Seahawks, who went from 1984-2004 without a playoff win, are going to be fun to watch.
5a. If I'm Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, I'm matching the offer sheet to restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders. While $2.5 million is more than the club hoped to pay Sanders, who was tendered at $1.3 million, it's still reasonable for a projected top-2 or top-3 receiver. In retrospect, the Steelers could have ensured Sanders would be with them by tendering him at $2 million, which was the second-round level, as it's unlikely the Patriots would have submitted an offer sheet in that scenario. But instead the salary-cap strapped Steelers left themselves at risk of losing Sanders, which when considering Mike Wallace was unlikely to return, seems like a miscalculation even given their recent impressive history of drafting and developing at the position. That's why I'd absorb the pay boost and keep Sanders around even if he ultimately departs next year as an unrestricted free agent.
5b. The deadline for the Steelers to make a decision on the offer sheet is 11:59 p.m. Sunday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is pushing the team's decision-makers to match.
5c. Not saying he'd have Wes Welker-type production, but I see similarities in the Patriots' pursuit of Sanders to the team's pursuit of Welker in 2007. It's easy to forget now, but some felt the Patriots initially overpaid dearly for Welker, then a restricted free agent, yet the team did so based on how it envisioned he'd fit in their system and was proven correct (it only took about one season before Welker was deemed to be underpaid by many).
5d. The Patriots' offer sheet to Sanders was a bit of a "throwback" to the earlier period of Bill Belichick's tenure with the Patriots. In each of Belichick's first five seasons, the Patriots tapped the often-overlooked restricted market with short-term offer sheets (Scott Pioli explained the thinking here), before a multiyear drought snapped by this year's move with Sanders. For a refresher, check it out:
2000 -- Ravens OL Spencer Folau (2 years, $2.7m). Matched.
2001 -- Steelers RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (1 year, $700,000). Matched.
2002 -- Chiefs LB Mike Maslowski (1 year, $900,000). Matched.
2003 -- Seahawks DL Cedric Woodard -- (1 year, estimated $750,000) Matched.
2004 -- Steelers DL Rodney Bailey -- (1 year, $1.3 million) Not matched (6th-round pick surrendered).
A side note on the 2003 offer sheet to Woodard for those into the business side of the game: He was represented by agent Jordan Woy, the same agent as Sanders.
6. While on the subject of "throwbacks," even if Sanders lands in New England, I still think Belichick would love to duplicate what the Patriots did at receiver in the 2002 draft with Deion Branch (second round) and David Givens (seventh round). Since that time, whenever the Patriots invested a high pick at receiver, it hasn't worked out as intended. For whatever it's worth, the club has brought in a handful of receivers for pre-draft visits this year, and the latest to have been spotted in town is Texas Christian's Josh Boyce. From a height-weight-speed perspective -- 5-foot-11, 206 pounds, 4.38 in the 40-yard dash -- Boyce checks out with flying colors. This remains the most intriguing aspect of the 2013 Patriots draft from this viewpoint: Can they recapture the old magic and draft and develop an early-round receiver?
6b. Patriots receivers drafted in the Belichick era (2000-present): Deion Branch (second, 2002), David Givens (second, 2002), Bethel Johnson (second, 2003), P.K. Sam (fifth, 2004), Chad Jackson (second, 2006), Brandon Tate (third, 2009), Julian Edelman (seventh, 2009), Taylor Price (third, 2010), Jeremy Ebert (seventh, 2012).
7. Calendar check: The Patriots' voluntary offseason program starts Monday and attendance is expected to be high. Also, the three finalists for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame is scheduled to be announced Monday (on Patriots Day, of course).
8. Random thought I had while watching ESPN video of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning throwing to receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker at Duke University last week was how this is going to be part of the culture shock for Welker as part of his Patriots-to-Broncos transition. When Welker previously worked out with Tom Brady in the offseason, it was often under the radar -- no cameras, no extra attention if at all possible (just can't see Brady inviting ESPN to his private workouts). Manning is a bit looser in that regard, as is the Broncos' organization, it seems, when compared to the Patriots. Welker was used to doing things a certain way for six years and the culture he's entering has some clear-cut differences than the one he was previously a part of. I'm interested to see how he embraces it.
9. From the etc. files: Former Patriots safety Patrick Chung is wearing No. 23 with the Eagles. He donned No. 25 with the Patriots but that is taken by running back LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia. ... Former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead kept his No. 39 with the Chargers. ... The Patriots haven't made any jersey numbers for new players official yet, but word is that Matt Light's old No. 72 could go to free-agent offensive tackle Will Svitek. No player wore No. 72 last season following Light's retirement (2001-2011).
10. Romeo Crennel isn't actively seeking a job, but those close to him believe he'd be open to a consultant/advisor type position if the fit was right (he's still being paid, so money isn't as big of an issue as the fit). We can think of one place where the fit could be perfect, and the address is One Patriot Place. Would Bill Belichick consider such an addition? We don't know the answer, but after he rehired Brian Daboll on the offensive staff after six years away, the possibility of bringing Crennel back in some capacity would be a brilliant stroke. If the goal is to get the defense back to its championship level from the early 2000s, it couldn't hurt to have the former coordinator of those units aiding the process.