FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin coached against each other in some of the NFL’s highest-stakes games, and their respect for one another was always easy to see. "I'm sure he misses us," Belichick said in September. "He always did pretty well against us." Now, for the first time since they were on the same New York Giants staff in 1988-1990 under Bill Parcells, they are talking about joining forces on the practice field -- for a few days at least. With the Patriots due to host the Jaguars in the preseason opener, the teams have been discussing the possibility of Jacksonville coming to town a few days early for joint practices. Coughlin, of course, isn’t the Jaguars’ head coach; he’s the executive vice president of football operations. But he has already made it clear that he will be very much involved. Add that Belichick and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone have a good rapport (Belichick told some that he believed Marrone was the best choice for the job this offseason), and the momentum is there if logistics can be finalized.
2a. Belichick celebrates his 65th birthday Sunday, and perhaps you’ve noticed what I have: He seems to be enjoying this final stretch of his coaching career in a way that separates this time from previous points of his tenure. That was reflected in his CNBC interview, in which his level of comfort and connection with interviewee Suzy Welch was as revealing as anything he said. Having sons Stephen and Brian on staff and daughter Amanda nearby as head women’s lacrosse coach at Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, surely contributes to that dynamic. Belichick is at the top of his craft, is still challenged by the work and has a wealth of experience to fall back on, and his winning program is well-established. It’s a nice spot for him to be.
2b. Monday is Patriots Day in Massachusetts, commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, but one could make a case that it could be a two-day holiday. The football version of the Patriots Day holiday is Sunday: Belichick’s 65th and the 17-year anniversary of Tom Brady's selection at 199th overall in the 2000 draft.
3. When it comes to long-term roster planning, the Patriots often adopt the approach that if a contract extension at rates they are comfortable paying isn’t looking like a reality, they decisively move on to the next option. Their aggressive pursuit of cornerback Stephon Gilmore as it relates to Malcolm Butler is one recent example of this. This is also the dynamic of what I see unfolding with running back LeGarrette Blount, who remains unsigned. The Patriots have recently taken a closer look at other options, such as Adrian Peterson (Vikings), Mike Gillislee (Bills) and Damien Williams (Dolphins). This year’s running back class in the draft is also considered strong. The bottom line: If I’m Blount, and the ultimate goal is to return to New England, I’d be careful of waiting too long to re-sign because the door might soon be closed entirely. The Patriots would like Blount back, but I don’t sense that they feel they need him back.
4. With cornerback Jason McCourty tweeting that the Titans plan to release him and the Patriots an obvious landing spot due to the combination of their need and the presence of his twin brother, Devin, on the roster, one question to ask is, “What type of contract could McCourty expect?” The Titans were willing to keep him at a salary lower than the $7 million he was scheduled to earn, but McCourty -- perhaps a bit peeved at the timing of the request, which came well after the initial flurry of free agency -- decided on a fresh start. A $7 million per season pact is highly unlikely; at this point, McCourty might be fortunate to earn half that. One informed opinion relayed that cornerback Leon Hall's one-year deal with a maximum value of $2 million last offseason with the Giants might be a good comparable, though I think there’s a good chance that McCourty -- who at 29 is younger than the 32-year-old Hall -- can do a bit better than that.
5. The Patriots visit the White House on Wednesday, when their Super Bowl championship will be recognized by President Donald Trump as part of the annual White House tradition. Some players, such as safety Devin McCourty, will be making a political statement by not attending (tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Chris Long have said they'll do something similar). Meanwhile, other players -- such as linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- said they won’t attend because they were just there two years ago (and prior to that with the University of Alabama). Some context to consider: In 2005, when the Patriots visited the White House for the third time in four years as Super Bowl champions, they had only about 25 players on the trip.
6. Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater said last week that he hoped to duplicate what his father, Jackie, accomplished by spending his entire career with one team. He hits 10 years with the Patriots in 2017, and his staying power has been helped by his willingness to accept a little less at the bargaining table than he might have received on the open market as one of the NFL’s top special-teams players. Slater’s most recent extensions have averaged around $2 million per season, while a comparable player such as Arizona's Justin Bethel had signed a contract extension with $9 million in bonuses and guarantees. The Eagles’ Chris Maragos is another comparable, and he is closer to Slater, having signed an extension in November that averages around $2 million per season (Maragos is one of the NFL's best special-teamers). Slater’s approach resembles the way Tedy Bruschi, another rare lifetime Patriot, handled his negotiations.
7. Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry was on an NFL tour in London last week with Peter King of TheMMQB.com, among others, and he told a crowd that Miami would sweep the Patriots in 2017. That naturally made some headlines, but after listening to Dolphins coach Adam Gase and owner Stephen Ross at the league’s annual meeting in late March, I don’t think they’ll mind Landry’s remarks much at all. Gase, Ross & Co. spoke of their respect for the Patriots but made it clear that they weren’t backing down from them. It seems to be a big part of their mindset specific to the team that has won the AFC East in 14 of the past 16 seasons. Now let's see if their actions can back up Landry's words.
8. For 11 years, the Patriots Hall of Fame committee has met to narrow the field of candidates to three, with a fan vote ultimately deciding each year’s one inductee. The leading vote-getter of the committee has been the fan choice in eight of 10 years. The committee met Wednesday, and the club is expected to announce the three finalists this week, with first-year-eligible defensive lineman Richard Seymour one of the favorites.
9. From the “in-case-you-missed-it” file: Here's an interesting note from ESPN.com NFL Nation Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure in his reporting on receiver Roddy White's retirement, with White saying the only team he would have returned to play for in 2016 was the Patriots.
10a. The Patriots’ voluntary offseason program begins Monday, and the expectation is for strong attendance outside of a select few players who are under contract (e.g. defensive tackle Alan Branch). Brady, unlike in 2008 and a few other years when he trained elsewhere, will be in the area and plans to be a participant.
10b. One more schedule note: With Lions president Rod Wood saying that the 2017 regular-season schedule is expected to be released Thursday, it’s timely to revisit the “rankings” of the Patriots' most likely opponents. The Chiefs in the No. 1 spot looks like an even stronger pick than it did before.