FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. When the Patriots opened Gillette Stadium in 2002, the idea that they would one day have to explore design plans to create space for four additional Super Bowl banners would have been welcomed. Just 15 years later, that time has arrived. The thought struck me upon leaving the stadium one day last week, looking up at the south end zone, and seeing the four Super Bowl banners hanging: There's no space for the fifth Super Bowl LI banner in that area.
This is the definition of what owner Robert Kraft calls a "high-class problem" to have. When this was mentioned, it was relayed that the club is considering design plans on how to proceed with the fifth Super Bowl banner. It also enlightened me to some significant renovations the Kraft family had made two years ago to commemorate the Super Bowl XLIX championship inside Gillette Stadium, specifically in the area where players enter the facility, the main lobby area, and inside the team's Hall of Fame. Just as those renovations were completed, they'll now need to be updated again.
2. One follow-up on running back Adrian Peterson's visit with the Patriots on Monday: It included a workout, as the club put Peterson through tests/drills. In an offseason where they want to have the most complete information on available running backs because they have a notable need there, they wanted to see Peterson work. This thwarts the theory that perhaps Bill Belichick's sole motivation was doing a favor for someone (e.g. agent, mutual friend) by bringing Peterson to town. If that was the case, Belichick would have passed over the actual workout aspect of things, and simply had Peterson to the facility as a visitor.
3. The Patriots' Hall of Fame committee meets Wednesday to discuss and ultimately vote on three finalists for induction later this year. Once the field is narrowed to three by the committee, it goes to a fan vote, and here are a few of the notable things to know:
Defensive lineman Richard Seymour (2001-2008) headlines the list of first-year eligible players (four years since retirement), which also includes receiver Randy Moss (2007-2010). Seymour is getting his competitive juices flowing these days by playing professional poker.
After running back Kevin Faulk was inducted in 2016, the two finalists he beat out -- cornerback Raymond Clayborn (1977-1989) and linebacker Mike Vrabel (2001-2008) -- once again figure to draw significant consideration.
Members of the Patriots' 50th anniversary team who are not in the team’s Hall of Fame: defensive end Julius Adams, punter Rich Camarillo, receiver Irving Fryar, safety Rodney Harrison, offensive tackle Matt Light, safety Fred Marion, Seymour, special teamer Mosi Tatupu, and Vrabel.
There are currently 23 former players in the Patriots Hall of Fame.
4. Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch, who mostly spends his offseasons at his primary residence in Arizona and traditionally doesn't take part in voluntary offseason work, was back in town Wednesday for a physical and general check-in at Gillette Stadium. It was his first time back in town since agreeing to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $12 million last month, which should be the catalyst for his contract with the Patriots to become official in the coming days.
5. Including Branch, unsigned restricted free agent Malcolm Butler, and exclusive-rights free agents Matt Lengel and Brandon King, the Patriots have 66 players on their roster. At a time when clubs can have up to 90 players, that leaves 24 open spots. The Patriots currently have seven draft picks, which would mean there's a possibility of as many as 17 undrafted free agent signings this year, a significant class compared to the single-digit classes of each of the last three years -- eight in 2016, seven in 2015, and nine in 2014. The last undrafted Patriots class of 10 or more players came in 2013 when the club signed 19, a crop that produced punter Ryan Allen and offensive lineman Josh Kline. The Patriots always seem to find at least one contributor in the undrafted ranks, as evidenced by the last three years:
2016: Special teamer Jonathan Jones
2015: Center David Andrews, special teamer Brandon King
2014: Cornerback Malcolm Butler
6. The NFL will announce preseason opponents for all teams on Monday, which means the regular-season schedule isn't far behind. From Bill Belichick's view, if there is a chance to schedule joint practices leading into either of the first two games, that's an opportunity he generally likes to seize because those practices can be as valuable as the games themselves. The Patriots had them with the Saints and Bears last year, but New Orleans coach Sean Payton hinted last month that the clubs won't be meeting in the preseason, and the Bears -- if they land on the preseason schedule -- have decided that they will be forgoing joint practices this year.
7. The Ravens held their pre-draft news conference last week and had four voices front and center: head coach John Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz. In past years, I've found them to be willing to share more insight/perspective on the draft than the norm. A few things that stood out:
DeCosta said the Ravens have 175 players with draftable grades, with this year being a bit stronger on defense. DeCosta said 175 is a good number.
Hortiz said it’s a good year for teams looking for defensive backs. "When you pool together the safeties and the corners, it's extremely deep, probably one of the deepest drafts I've seen in terms of volume of players in each round." DeCosta expects 7-8 corners to bee off the board within the first two rounds.
Doctors have been busy. "A lot of players this year that had injuries, postseason surgeries; more than I can ever remember," DeCosta said.
8. Random scouting thought: In 2014, the Patriots and Ravens used high selections on defensive tackles who didn't fit their size prototype in Dominique Easley (New England, 29th overall) and Timmy Jernigan (Baltimore, 48th overall), and neither made it to the end of their rookie contracts with their clubs (the Ravens traded Jernigan last week). When I think of Patriots and Ravens defensive linemen, they are big, stout and hard to move off the spot, but Easley (6-foot-2, 285 pounds) and Jernigan (6-2, 295) are more undersized and better utilized as sudden penetrators. Looking back on those picks, both teams seemed to stray from their traditional approach and it didn't work out for them.
9. Belichick has his motto of "do your job", and if the first few months of Sean McDermott's time as Bills coach are a preview, his catchphrase will be "earn the right to win." He mentioned it three times last week when speaking with reporters on the first day of voluntary offseason workouts. What does "earn the right to win" mean? "How we meet, how we talk, how we work out, how we practice, how we play -- that's the standard we’re trying to get to every day," McDermott explained, adding that there are "day-to-day habits" of what's important to win games.
10. My sense on all the talk regarding Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and a possible fit with the Patriots is that Belichick and Co., did their due diligence on Sherman leading up to free agency, when they knew they'd be active in the cornerback market. So if the Patriots and Seahawks had a conversation on the topic, it would make sense. But that, if anything, would have been part of the information-gathering process as they explored all cornerback opportunities before signing free agent Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal. The Patriots aren't expected to pursue Sherman.