Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes confirmed the obvious on Friday, stating it would be best for him and the Patriots to have a fresh start by making a split. That had me thinking back to Spikes’ rookie season, and the initial days of training camp, when Bill Belichick was expressing excitement about Spikes. Some of the soundbites:
“He sees some things that I’m not sure everybody sees.”
“I’m not really sure what his style is … It’s kind of not by the book but [it’s] effective.”
“I think he’s got some unique skills.”
“He’s an interesting player to coach.”
Many of us in the media, including myself, made a fairly big deal over Belichick’s remarks that day because they were a bit different from what we have traditionally heard from Belichick about rookies. Looking back, the remarks were spot-on and sum up Spikes in a nutshell: He was unconventional and certainly couldn’t be placed in a box. He was a fun player to watch, and ultimately for Belichick, I think a little too unconventional for his liking.
2. My feeling is that the Patriots can absorb Vince Wilfork’s $7.5 million base salary in 2014, and the $11.6 million salary cap charge, and I would follow through on doing so because of his importance to the team on and off the field. He represents, in many ways, what they want the organization to stand for. So maybe it’s letting sentiment get in the way of pure business, but simply put, I think Wilfork deserves it even as he comes back from a torn Achilles. But after paying him $6.5 million in an injury-shortened 2013 season (4 games), I’m not sure the Patriots currently see it the same way, and if that is indeed the case, it sets up an important storyline to monitor with one of the franchise’s cornerstone players if some type of compromise can’t be reached.
3. The way I envision things unfolding with cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman is that they will use the “legal tampering period” from March 8-11 to see what is available to them on the open market, and then those offers will then be compared to what the Patriots have in mind. Dialogue has remained open-ended between the sides to this point. All things being equal financially, I think both players would like to stay, which the Patriots surely hope is the way it unfolds. But the market will dictate and because the Patriots don’t usually budge too far based on an offer from another team, anything is possible.
4. If you’re the offensively challenged Jets, would you make a run at Edelman? Similar to last year with the Broncos signing Wes Welker, there are multi-layered benefits to making such a move – you improve your own offense while hurting one of your primary competitors.
5. With quarterback Matt Cassel agreeing to terms on a two-year contract to return to the Minnesota Vikings, it opens up the possibility the Patriots might face Cassel for the first time since trading him in 2009. A Cassel-Tom Brady duel would have first taken place in 2011 when the Chiefs visited town, but Cassel was sidelined with a hand injury at the time and gave way to Tyler Palko in what turned out to be a dud of a "Monday Night Football" game. The Patriots visit the Vikings in 2014, and in a game that doesn’t have the same initial appeal as some others on the schedule, the Cassel-Brady angle adds some spice.
6. This week’s reminder that the NFL draft can be so tough to project comes in the form of Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who is widely viewed as one of the top free agents set to hit the market. Byrd has turned out to be the best safety from the 2009 draft (he was a corner at Oregon who entered the draft after his junior season), even though he was the fourth player selected at the position that year (a groin injury at the combine might have played a factor in his stock falling). The breakdown of the safeties selected in the first two rounds looked like this: Malcolm Jenkins (14th, corner-turned-safety), Louis Delmas (33rd) Patrick Chung (34th), Byrd (42nd), Mike Mitchell (47th) Darcel McBath (48th) and William Moore (55th). Byrd’s emergence particularly stings from a Patriots perspective because they had three cracks at him and ended up with Chung, defensive lineman Ron Brace (40th) and cornerback Darius Butler (41st).
7a. The Colts signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year extension on Friday and he told reporters that he’s also expressed an interest in a dual role as the team’s kicker if Adam Vinatieri, who is set for free agency, doesn’t return to the team. McAfee has already handled the kickoff duties in place of Vinatieri in recent years and the Indianapolis Star reported that talks between the team and Vinatieri have been slow. Is a dual punter-kicker a viable option? It would save a valuable roster spot, but the concern would be overworking one leg with two important jobs.
7b. If Vinatieri ultimately hits the open market in search of a new team, the teams I think that would most interest him are top Super Bowl contenders because the 41-year-old knows the legacy of a kicker is mostly tied to championships and clutch kicks on those big stages. If Vinatieri could add a fifth Super Bowl ring -- he has three with the Patriots, one with the Colts -- it could be a decisive statement to Hall of Fame voters who have voted in just one kicker (Jan Stenerud). For what it’s worth, two of Vinatieri’s former coaches in New England, Pete Carroll (Seattle) and Brad Seely (special teams coach, 49ers), could be looking for a new kicker this year. Both teams are among top Super Bowl contenders.
8. The cornerback market in free agency is off to a strong strong start for players, with Miami's Brent Grimes (4 years, $32 million, $16 million guaranteed) and Green Bay's Sam Shields (reportedly 4 years, $39 million, $12.5 million signing bonus) landing deals. Makes my pre-free-agent projection for Talib of 3 years, $21 million with $12-14 million in bonuses/guarantees seem a bit low based on the way the market has taken shape. If another team is willing to pay Talib like the Dolphins did with Grimes and the Packers did with Shields, I have doubts the Patriots would match.
9. Two random draft thoughts that came to mind while continuing an offseason study on depth charts, power structure and season-ending news conferences: If the Texans pass on a quarterback at No. 1, and the Raiders select one at No. 5, I wonder if that might open the door for the Texans to acquire quarterback Matt McGloin (Penn State) and reunite him with Bill O’Brien. Raiders coach Dennis Allen pretty much made it clear that the organization doesn’t view McGloin or Terrelle Pryor as the long-term answer. Maybe O'Brien would value McGloin differently at this stage of the Texans' team-building process. … Jaguars general manager David Caldwell was the Falcons’ director of college scouting in 2008 when Atlanta hoped Matt Ryan would fall to the No. 3 pick despite having a quarterback-needy team ahead of them at No. 1 (Miami) and then the Rams at No. 2. The top of the 2014 draft has a similar feel for Caldwell, as the Jaguars sit at No. 3, while the quarterback-needy Texans are at No. 1, followed by the Rams. Could Teddy Bridgewater be to the Jaguars what Ryan has been for the Falcons?
10. When the Patriots lost then-starting center Dan Koppen to a season-ending ankle injury in the 2011 opener, the first in-house choice to fill the void was Dan Connolly, who started 14 games in the pivot that year (including playoffs). The next offseason, the Patriots valued his performance enough to give him a three-year, $9.7 million contract as a free agent. Then in 2012, when veteran Brian Waters didn’t report to training camp, Connolly was moved to the right guard position which has been his permanent home since. I’ve wondered if a switch back to center might be in the offing for Connolly, in part because center Ryan Wendell is an unrestricted free agent and the Patriots have Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline as possibilities at right guard. Some have opined that Connolly’s $3 million salary might be too rich for the Patriots’ liking, but if a move to center strengthens the Patriots in two areas, does it then represent better value?