FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. With the Patriots making a flurry of personnel moves to open the 2017 league year, a significant aspect of the team’s trade for Colts tight end Dwayne Allen didn’t necessarily receive its due: It was the first trade between the teams in 32 years, signifying that once-frosty relations have warmed up. With the heated Patriots-Colts rivalry in the early 2000s when Bill Polian was Indianapolis vice chairman, then successor Ryan Grigson a catalyst of starting Deflategate, the Colts were one of the last teams that Bill Belichick would ever think of contacting for a trade. But the presence of first-year general manager Chris Ballard, a longtime Bears scout (2001-12) who landed in the Chiefs’ front office (2013-16) before being hired in Indianapolis, has changed things. You’re a die-hard Patriots fan if you remember that the last trade between the Patriots and Colts (an old AFC East rival before realignment in 2002) was a 1985 swap that sent linebacker Tim Golden to Indianapolis for a 1986 draft pick. The only other two trades between the franchises came in the 1970s when the Colts were playing in Baltimore.
2. In 2012, when the Colts were looking for a GM to replace Polian, they requested permission to speak with Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who declined. When asked why, Caserio said simply that he enjoyed where he was. Part of this thinking also might have been that it would be hard to go work for a franchise that was a rival and also didn’t have great relations with one of his career mentors in Belichick. The dynamics are now shifting, which potentially could have a trickle-down effect next year if Indianapolis is looking for a head coach and coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are once again viewed as upper-tier candidates.
3. Did You Know: With the Colts now checked off the list, the Patriots have made at least one trade with 30 of the other 31 teams in the NFL during Belichick’s tenure (2000-present). The one team the Patriots haven't struck a trade with under Belichick? The Jets, of course. The last trade the Patriots made with the Jets brought Belichick to New England.
4. Receiver Danny Amendola is scheduled to earn a base salary of $6 million in 2017, which will be reduced based on his projected role (No. 4-5 receiver) if he is going to remain on the club. The fact that Amendola wasn’t cut at the start of the 2017 league year is a good indication of how the Patriots are leaving the door open if he’d like to return at a lower salary, which would mark the third straight offseason that Amendola has accepted a reduced contract. One of the follow-up questions after the Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks in a trade from the New Orleans Saints was what that meant for Amendola, and it seems clear that the door is still open for him in New England if he wants to walk through it.
5. Reports of the Jets having concerns with linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s physical after he re-signed with the Patriots seem convenient. Something tells me those concerns would have never been revealed publicly if Hightower had said yes to the Jets' five-year, $62.5 million maximum value contract proposal. Sounds like a case of sour cupcakes.
“Marcus Mariota is a quarterback I believe in and a quarterback I played against. He’s young in this league, he’s improving, and you have to go to a team with a quarterback nowadays, because it’s too hard to win without one.”
“The thing New England has going for them -- of course the coaching is great and the players are great -- but the reason I was fortunate to be in four AFC championships and won it twice is the brotherhood and camaraderie, and that’s what guys miss. That’s what I’m trying to be a part of here. I’m trying to come in here and be a good teammate and earn respect from my teammates and coaches, and then when you have that and are willing to sacrifice for one another on the field, I think that’s what takes good teams and makes them special teams.”
“Coach Schiano in college [at Rutgers] used to keep a stat -- CTOTTY -- and that would mean ‘catch the ones they throw you.' He would say, ‘If you catch all the ones the quarterbacks threw you, you would lead the league in picks.' That was something I took from college. … I’ve seen these guys in the NFL, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and these dudes catch hundreds of balls a day and I’m like, ‘Why don’t corners do that?’ So I started hopping in. I just try to catch at least 100 balls a day with the receivers. I think it’s helped my interceptions over the years [13 in NFL].”
7. In the aftermath of cornerback Stephon Gilmore signing a five-year, $65 million contract with $31 million in the first two years, someone made the point to me that Gilmore will be under some of the greatest pressure of any NFL player this season. It’s not easy to walk into a new locker room as one of the highest-paid players on the team. The deal also landed Gilmore as the No. 5 overrated signing by Pro Football Focus (Insider content) based on “another lackluster season in Buffalo.” Countering those two points, here’s a bit of a different angle to consider that could help Gilmore thrive: He is coming to a place with continuity and consistency on the coaching staff, which runs counter to what he experienced with the Bills in playing under three different coordinators and head coaches, capped off by the up-and-down Rex Ryan. Maybe that helps him lock in more and reach his potential.
8. If someone asked the question immediately after the 2013 NFL draft which Patriots pick would be with the franchise the longest, safety Duron Harmon probably would have been the last answer. He was widely panned as a reach in the third round, in part because he wasn’t invited to the combine and few media analysts had much work done on him at Rutgers. This is another reminder of the importance of patience in analysis (similar to how some in the local media had called Hightower a bust early in his career), as it’s now Harmon who is the lone ’13 pick remaining on the roster.
2a. LB Jamie Collins -- traded to Cleveland
2b. WR Aaron Dobson -- didn’t play in the NFL in 2016
3a. CB Logan Ryan – Free agent signed with Tennessee
4a. WR Josh Boyce -- didn’t play in the NFL in 2016
7a. DE Michael Buchanan -- didn’t play in the NFL in 2016
7b. LB Steve Beauharnais -- didn’t play in the NFL in 2016
9. The list of players let go by Belichick who exceeded their production/performance with their new team isn’t very long -- kicker Adam Vinatieri is at the top -- but here’s a name that is often overlooked in the discussion: Darius Butler. The 2009 second-round pick from UConn has carved out a nice career for himself, re-signing this past week in Indianapolis, where he is making the move from nickelback to safety as he enters his sixth season there (12 INTs from 2012-16). Butler was cut by the Patriots at the end of 2011 training camp.
10. If there was even a question as to how Belichick’s football passion still burns as he approaches his 65th birthday on April 16, it's how he continues to travel the country working out and watching film with various draft prospects. That showed up Thursday at Vanderbilt, where linebacker Zach Cunningham talked about having a private film session with Belichick before his pro day workout. This past Tuesday, Belichick was at the University of Tennessee and did the same with running back Alvin Kamara, tight end Jason Croom, defensive linemen Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen, linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin and defensive back Cameron Sutton. I don’t believe there is another head coach in the NFL who puts in more one-on-one work with prospects on the scouting trail.