Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Running back Stevan Ridley is scheduled to make his first visits in free agency this week as he explores potential opportunities for 2015 that would have him playing elsewhere from New England. Ridley tore his right ACL on Oct. 12, had surgery Nov. 18, and is on target to receive full medical clearance in about six weeks. Ridley is probably looking at a prove-it type one-year deal because of the injury and thus one consideration he’s weighing is landing with a team where there is a great chance to break through. Look for the needle to move a little with Ridley this week as he takes a couple visits.
2. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has spent the majority of the offseason rehabilitating at Gillette Stadium, as I’m told he’s among a group of players recovering from post-Super Bowl surgery. Jones, who missed six games in 2014 with a hip injury, has recently been walking with the aid of crutches. I don’t get the sense from those close to Jones that there is any significant long-range concern about his health and availability, but when a player’s offseason puts him on more of the rehabilitation track than the standard offseason workouts, it’s deemed worthy of note.
3. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork’s two-year, $9 million contract ($5 million guaranteed) with the Texans didn’t seem unreasonable for the Patriots to match, which initially sparked a question in my mind of whether Wilfork simply preferred to finish his career somewhere other than New England. But I now feel confident that wasn’t the case. My strong sense is that the Texans’ contract offer was at a higher level than where the Patriots wanted to be, and that’s mostly what led to the end result.
4. The Patriots might be viewed as hardline negotiators by many, but I had one player agent at the NFL’s annual meeting tell me the club is one of the favorites to deal with because of Bill Belichick’s decision-making authority. It was explained to me that when the agent negotiates with other clubs, often times the team official doing the negotiating has to run all information up the flagpole to the appropriate people in the organization and that can bog down the process. In New England, with Belichick intimately involved in the process at times, it’s more of a one-stop shop and can expedite deals getting done.
5a. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady accounts 10.2 percent of the team’s salary-cap space in 2015, which is the highest mark on the team, followed by linebacker Jerod Mayo (7.5), tight end Rob Gronkowski (6.3), left tackle Nate Solder (5.4), right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (5.1) and safety Devin McCourty (4.3). For a comparison, cornerback Darrelle Revis accounts for a team-high 10.7 percent of the Jets’ cap space, followed by left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson (7.8), center Nick Mangold (6.9), receiver Brandon Marshall (5.1), linebacker David Harris (5.0), cornerback Antonio Cromartie (4.6) and defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson (4.6). Revis, in essence, is the Jets’ big quarterback contract.
5b. Brady played golf Friday with Michael Jordan in the Bahamas, the day before pictures surfaced on Barstool Sports of him playing basketball with MJ. Given the competitive nature of the two, we wonder how much small talk there actually was between them on the course, but that's one we surely would have volunteered to carry the bag to find out. Two of the greatest of all time in their respective sports. Brady's former teammates Larry Izzo, Wes Welker and Mike Vrabel, among other friends, were also together with him on the links.
6. As we start to get a better feel for the 2015 draft, it’s always good to see if the opinions of coaches and scouts align with those of media analysts. With that in mind, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said one thing that has stood out to him is that “if you’re in the edge-rusher market, whether you define them as defensive ends or outside linebackers, this draft is rich in that area.” As for the Patriots, they are already deep at that spot with Chandler Jones (2016), Rob Ninkovich (2016), Jabaal Sheard (2016), Michael Buchanan (2016), Zach Moore (2017) and Jake Bequette (2016), so for them it’s a case where demand doesn’t seem to align with the supply.
7. From the things that probably interest me more than others department: If the last two years at the NFL’s owners meetings are any indication, the Philadelphia media market is the most intense of any in the league. This year at the meeting, owner Jeffrey Lurie and head coach Chip Kelly faced a barrage of aggressive questions, and it had me thinking that coaching the Eagles probably has some similarities to how Terry Francona once described managing the Red Sox. You’re under fire every day, and it takes a coach or executive to be wired a certain way, as well as players to have a certain mentality, to succeed there.
8. My sense on where things stand with the Patriots and free-agent guard Dan Connolly is that it’s a situation where the Patriots basically have had Connolly test the market while keeping an open dialogue with him, and then they’ll see if they can ultimately find something that works. At this point, it doesn’t seem like many other clubs have stepped up to spark the process along, which puts it in a holding pattern of sorts. With Connolly still on the market, the Patriots look a bit light at the guard spot.
9. The Patriots host the Jaguars in 2015, which will provide us an up-close look at quarterback Blake Bortles (No. 3 overall pick, 2014) to assess his standing among some of the NFL’s up-and-coming prospects. Part of the Jaguars’ thinking this offseason has been to surround Bortles with more weapons (e.g. signing tight end Julius Thomas), as well as improving the pass protection in front of him (e.g. signing right tackle Jermey Parnell), and they might not be done yet. Free-agent receiver Greg Jennings is drawing some consideration from Jacksonville, as his savvy in the slot and veteran presence might be a nice complement to second-year pass-catchers Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
10. For the fourth time in his 15 years as Patriots coach, Bill Belichick was honored as AFC coach of the year at the Kansas City-based “101 Awards” in late February. The “101 Awards” is a long-running tradition (since 1969) and while Belichick didn’t attend the event to receive the award due to a scheduling conflict, his taped remarks expressed appreciation for the honor and also for what late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt meant to the game of football and the AFC. One of the event’s organizers, Gary Heise, relayed that Belichick told the story of how Hunt came over to him before one of the team’s Super Bowl victories, shook his hand, and told him he hoped the Patriots would win because they were representing the AFC.