FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. When free-agent receiver Andrew Hawkins was deciding on whether to sign with the Patriots or four other teams last week, he had an influential voice imploring him to pick New England: His older brother, Artrell, who played 24 games (21 starts) for the franchise from 2005-2006 (including playoffs).
"I think it's awesome. If it were up to me, he would have been there when he was a restricted free agent a few years ago," Artrell said, adding that he was "heavy-handed" when asked by his brother about what he should choose.
"The opportunity to play with [Tom] Brady, to win, to play for arguably the greatest coach of all-time, it's just a really awesome experience. I know it's not going to be mine exactly, but the primary pieces are still in place there. I've always said that being a part of the Patriots kind of saved my NFL experience. Not to say that I'm not appreciative or didn't enjoy playing other places, but as a kid, or when you're dreaming up playing in the National Football League, it's vying for championships, it's winning. So when he was talking to me about it about a week or so ago, I was a big advocate of it."
The Patriots were the last team Artrell played for in a 10-year career that began when the Bengals selected him in the second round of the 1998 draft. Andrew, on the other hand, had a much more difficult time entering the NFL, first playing in the Canadian Football League before finally breaking through with the Bengals and then the Cleveland Browns as a slippery-quick slot receiver (his hopes for a roster spot in New England could come down to him or Danny Amendola).
The brothers, despite being 10 years apart, share a close bond. The connection also extends to the next generation of Hawkins playing football, as Artrell's son, Aeneas, is one of the nation's top 2018 college recruits and Andrew has spent considerable time helping him.
"When I was in Foxborough, Aeneas was [age] 6-7 at the time, and he would come to the stadium with me, sit in the hot tub. Brady would take him in the weight room with him," Artrell recalled. "So he's a big Patriots fan."
Artrell, who turned 40 in November, splits his time between Cincinnati and Pennsylvania. He is studying to become a preacher and said, "Life has never been better."
2. Andrew Hawkins' one-year deal with the Patriots is a minimum salary benefit pact, meaning his base salary will be $900,000, his bonus won't exceed $80,000, and his salary cap charge won't be more than $695,000. That's a great value/insurance policy for the Patriots if something happens with one of their top receivers, or if Hawkins simply performs at a level that warrants a roster spot. Hawkins passed up more lucrative opportunities with a handful of other teams because New England was his No. 1 choice. The chance to win is ultimately what was most important to Hawkins, not to mention he has an affinity for Boston as a positive experience at the MIT Sloan Analytics conference in 2015 helped in that regard. Hawkins, who just earned his master's degree from Columbia, connected with members of the Kraft family at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference that year.
3. A 1-2 combination of Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler at cornerback has been widely discussed in the context of potentially being one of the NFL's best. A lesser-discussed question is who might be the Patriots' No. 3 option in certain nickel packages, and Thursday's voluntary organized team activity provided an initial glimpse of how the coaching staff views some its personnel options. Jonathan Jones, the 2016 undrafted free agent from Auburn who made a significant impact on special teams as a rookie, received the majority of work with Gilmore and Butler. There's a long way to go, and it bears repeating to be careful reading too much into what we see at OTAs, but I was struck by the one-day snapshot of how Jones seemed to be ahead of 2016 top pick Cyrus Jones (second round, No. 60 overall) when looking solely at defense.
4. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has noted the team's aggressive financial approach with undrafted free agents this year, as Minnesota guaranteed more money ($192,500) for undrafted players than any other year in his time with the franchise (since 2006). That total might be high for the Vikings, but to add some league-wide context to it, consider that the Patriots guaranteed $415,000 to their undrafted class. With only four draft picks, the Patriots were especially aggressive with parts of their 19-member undrafted rookie class, some of whom were paid more than if they had been drafted (e.g. linebacker Harvey Langi, tight end Jacob Hollister). For additional context, the Packers' 20-member class totaled only $63,000 in bonuses and guarantees.
5. The free-agent signings of running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead have sparked thoughts by some on how it might affect Dion Lewis' standing with the Patriots. Albeit not in full pads, Lewis' quickness and explosiveness still stood out on the practice field Thursday, as I only saw Gillislee among the running backs hit the line of scrimmage with close to the same noticeable burst. It had me thinking that Lewis' skill set still has value to the club and he could fall into a Danny Amendola-type classification as a player who is carefully managed. Gone are the days when he plays 73 snaps (Sept. 20, 2015 at Buffalo), but as a kickoff returner and reserve running back playing 15-20 snaps per game in hopes of preserving his health, I still see a spot for him on the club.
6. Patriots safety Devin McCourty's red Patriots "We Want 6" flip-flops that were highlighted by the NFL on ESPN Twitter account last week had some asking where they could be purchased. The answer: They can't … at least not yet. They were custom made for McCourty as a gift.
7. The Patriots have been in sub packages as much as 80 percent of the snaps in recent seasons, but when in their base package, they are viewed by some coaches as a 3-4 scheme because of the flexibility of their defensive end/outside linebacker personnel to either play in a three-point stance as defensive ends or a two-point stance as outside linebackers. Count Jaguars coach Doug Marrone in that group, as that is one of the benefits he sees in coming to town for joint practices Aug. 7-8.
"Strategically, we'll be able to get some 3-4 work, which I think is important. A lot of teams in our conference play a 3-4. We don't," he said.
"Then you get to see different matchups. I think sometimes you can make or get yourself into a poor decision [because] sometimes one guy just matches up well against another on your team and they go against each other. Then you go play a different team and now it is a different matchup; you are like, ‘Oh wow.' Some people tend to stand out and some people tend to go down. You get those types of evaluations, which I am all for."
Then Marrone added one other thought: "We are going up and playing a team that everyone knows is an outstanding football team, the world champions. I think we can go up there and learn a lot from them, too, seeing how they practice."
8a. First tight end O.J. Howard unexpectedly slips down the board to pick No. 19, and then stadium construction delays in Los Angeles led the NFL to pull Super Bowl LV and award it to Tampa. That's a good turn of events in a span of four weeks for football business in Tampa, where the Patriots will be Thursday, Oct. 5 for their first regular-season visit since 1997 (technically, the Patriots' road game against the Buccaneers in 2009 was in London).
8b. Flashback: Nov. 16, 1997 -- Buccaneers 27, Patriots 7, at then Houlihan's Stadium. You have a great memory if you recall that Drew Bledsoe was sacked five times in that game, Tampa built a 27-0 lead, and the Patriots didn't score until backup Scott Zolak found tight end Lovett Purnell for a 6-yard touchdown late in the final quarter. Headlines after the game focused on how the poor performance came after a stage-diving incident involving Bledsoe, Zolak and Max Lane at the Paradise nightclub in Boston.
9. The Patriots have their long snapper position solidified with third-year man Joe Cardona, but a reminder that Cardona's situation is different than the norm came this past week when he wasn't present at voluntary organized activities. Cardona, of Navy, was at his annual two-week training that is part of him fulfilling his military commitment. He is expected back for upcoming OTAs. Meanwhile, the Patriots are expected to take a closer look at some specialists in the coming weeks, so they are prepared in the event anything happened to Cardona, punter/holder Ryan Allen or kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
10. Chase Farris (Ohio State) and Jamil Douglas (Arizona State) are two players not as well known to Patriots fans, but after watching Thursday's OTA, they could potentially be important pieces to the team's offensive line as the next layer of depth behind starting guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason. With second-year interior lineman Ted Karras as the top backup center/guard, he took snaps behind starting center David Andrews on Thursday, which meant Farris and Douglas flanked him during practice. Both Farris and Douglas spent last season on the Patriots practice squad, and their development will be an under-the-radar training camp storyline to monitor because barring any other signings, they are one injury away from potentially being on the 46-man game-day roster.