FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes from around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Because of where he plays, and the Patriots' present and future outlook at the position, quarterback Taylor Heinicke's signing to the practice squad Saturday is significant on multiple levels. Here are some of the notable factors:
After the Sept. 2 trade of No. 3 quarterback Jacoby Brissett to the Colts in exchange for receiver Phillip Dorsett, Heinicke now fills the role that Brissett would have had in 2017 as a third layer on the depth chart. At this time, if Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo were to be unavailable due to injury, Heinicke would be the next man up. He's an important insurance policy.
The Patriots didn't have a long-term quarterback on their practice squad in 2014 and 2015 when they had only Brady and Garoppolo on the roster, and part of the reason was that there wasn't an available prospect who made them want to invest the time to develop. Thus, to me, it says something about how they view Heinicke (6-foot-1, 211 pounds) as a prospect.
Prior to signing Heinicke, the Patriots were one of only five teams that had just two quarterbacks between their roster and practice squad. That is risky. As Bill Belichick has said, if a team doesn't have the quarterback spot accounted for at all levels, it puts the entire team in jeopardy. As it stands now across the NFL, there are 26 teams with three quarterbacks, four teams with two quarterbacks and two teams with four quarterbacks, which speaks to the importance of the position.
Brady (40) is signed through the 2019 season, while Garoppolo (25) is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season, so Heinicke could be part of future planning if he develops.
Heinicke had been with the Vikings since signing with them as an undrafted free agent out of Old Dominion in 2015. Given their unstable quarterback position, with Sam Bradford's lingering knee injury, he could have waited a bit longer and considered re-signing with them in October (at which time his injury settlement would have been over). But those close to him said the chance to learn from the Patriots coaching staff, and be in the quarterback room with Brady and Garoppolo, was too enticing to pass up.
As Heinicke begins to immerse himself in the team's program, one of the first things the club will naturally be evaluating is how well he learns. It's too early to project how well he will develop.
Albeit against backups on a 90-man roster, Heinicke (8-of-13 for 73 yards) led a comeback in the Vikings' third preseason game against the 49ers, directing a 14-play drive in a hurry-up situation as the Vikings recorded a 32-31 win with a touchdown and 2-point conversion (Heinicke diving into the end zone at the right pylon) with no time remaining on the clock. He was playing through an oblique strain, and players swarmed him after the 2-point conversion rush. That type of toughness, leadership and poise are obvious assets for him. On that drive, the ball was out of his hands quickly and with authority. Scouts note he's an athletic, undersized prospect who had a winning pedigree in college.
2. By late Saturday night, NFL owners/CEOs John Mara/Steve Tisch (Giants), Stephen Ross (Dolphins), Jed York (49ers), Mark Murphy (Packers), Arthur Blank (Falcons), Amy Adams-Strunk (Titans), Dean Spanos (Chargers), Jeffrey Lurie (Eagles), Terry Pegula (Bills), Jim Irsay (Colts) and Paul Allen (Seahawks) had issued statements in response to President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL player protests. Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who often takes pride in having a leadership role in the NFL community, has stayed on the sidelines to this point (Update: At 8:14 a.m. ET on Sunday, Kraft issued a statement).
3. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who tore his right ACL on Aug. 25, has yet to undergo surgery. That isn't uncommon, as players often wait for the swelling to go down. For example, Edelman's close friend Tom Brady tore his ACL Sept. 8, 2008, and didn't undergo surgery until Oct. 8 that year. I'm told that for Edelman, who has been a regular at Gillette Stadium and the TB12 Sports Therapy Center in recent weeks, surgery is imminent.
4. Former Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn (1977-89), who was inducted into the team's Hall of Fame this summer, will be honored at halftime of Sunday's game against the Texans. Clayborn is from Houston and lost his home as part of the widespread flooding in late August. I hope the cheers are especially loud for Clayborn and he's uplifted by the support from Patriots fans.
Everybody be safe we are all family, you're all in my prayers #houstonflood 🙏🏾— Raymond Clayborn (@RayClayborn26) August 29, 2017
5. With the Patriots practicing on the newly installed surface inside Gillette Stadium for the first time Friday, I'm told Belichick addressed players beforehand and said he didn't want them talking about the field in the media. In a good reflection of how players take Belichick's words to heart, every player approached by reporters on the topic Friday fell into line and didn't break rank. As for the change itself, the new surface is noticeably harder than the prior one.
6. From the TV department: Next Sunday's game, in which the Carolina Panthers visit, is the Patriots' only game currently scheduled to be broadcast on Fox this season. So, no surprise, the network has scheduled its top broadcasting team of Joe Buck (play-by-play), Troy Aikman (analysis) and Erin Andrews (sideline) to call the game, according to Fox PR officials.
7a. This is delivered with more of an inside-the-media-business type twist, as tight end Rob Gronkowski proved to be true to his word this past week. After last Sunday's win over the Saints, Gronkowski passed on interviews, promising reporters he would talk to them the next day back home. Then, when Gronkowski arrived in the locker room late Monday afternoon after meetings, the last thing he wanted to do was an interview and his plan was to bolt. But remembering that he had promised to do so, he followed through with the interview. I learned something new about Gronkowski through that turn of events: Keeping his word matters to him.
7b. Things are starting to settle in for Dorsett, who was acquired in a trade from the Colts on Sept. 2. He said he's been living at a hotel since arriving in town, but if everything goes according to plan, he'll be moving into his own place on Tuesday.
8. A follow-up from last weekend New Orleans: Watching the Saints once again struggle on defense, which has been a problem for them going back a few years now, head coach Sean Payton's inability to solidify that side of the ball is glaring. Payton is widely regarded as a brilliant offensive mastermind, but considering that he is one of the NFL's longest-tenured head coaches with the same team (since 2006), I'm surprised he hasn’t been able to take that expertise and put it to good use on the other side of the ball. Under Payton, the Saints have also started 0-2 each of the last four seasons.
9. Belichick led off his Wednesday news conference by saying that playing the Texans almost felt like the Patriots were back in the AFC East again because of how frequently the teams have met in recent years. Looking ahead, they'll meet again in 2018, right back at Gillette Stadium. Per the NFL's rotating scheduling formula, the following are the Patriots' 2018 opponents:
Home: Texans, Colts, Packers, Vikings, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, AFC West team that finishes in same spot as Patriots in 2017 standings.
Away: Jaguars (possibly in London), Titans, Bears, Lions, Bills, Dolphins, Jets, AFC North team that finishes in same spot as Patriots in 2017 standings.
10a. Did You Know, Part I: Belichick recorded his 264th win as a head coach last Sunday and needs seven to move past Tom Landry (270) into third place all-time, behind George Halas (324) and Don Shula (347).
10b. Did You Know, Part II: With a win over the Texans, it would be Brady's 210th in the NFL as a starter (including postseason). That would tie him with kicker Gary Anderson for fourth place on the all-time list for wins, with only Jerry Rice (211), George Blanda (218) and Adam Vinatieri (221) ahead of him.