FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. With the Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo, it forces them to reset their quarterback succession plan and adds a new dynamic to consider for them in the 2018 draft: Can they find the next Garoppolo?
While it’s still early, I asked ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay for a quick snapshot of the quarterback class and who he thinks might fit best for New England. Some McShay thoughts:
Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA) and Josh Allen (Wyoming) are all projected to be off the board by the time the Patriots would pick in the first round. The club would have to move up to select them, which seems unlikely.
Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has “unique leadership, competitive and intangibles” and plays with “a similar fire of Tom Brady.” He is undersized (listed at 6-foot-1), but he is an accurate passer in and out of the pocket and at his best extending plays.
Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph has more prototypical size (listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds) and is more of a prototypical pocket passer. Some of his most recent performances might have been affected by injury. But based on the system he’s playing in, it would be a big adjustment coming to New England, so the fit would have to be explored.
NC State’s Ryan Finley, who is a redshirt junior, is a potential wild card because it is unknown if he will declare for the draft. Listed at 6-foot-4, he has a good arm, but “more importantly, he’s a really poised pocket passer with good touch and timing who keeps getting better with game reps.”
Washington State’s Luke Falk and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who project as two more parts of what makes it a strong quarterback class, didn’t come up, but that could always change in time, while others also could emerge.
2. Garoppolo, in a July 2017 interview with WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche for "Patriots All-Access," said: “Five years [into my career], I hope I’m a starting, established, franchise quarterback. That’s the dream of every quarterback. You want to be the guy.”
Wish granted, in stunning, unexpected fashion last week.
My understanding is that when teams had inquired about Garoppolo over the course of the past year, their primary point of contact was director of player personnel Nick Caserio, who told them unequivocally that Garoppolo wasn’t available. But when the Patriots changed course last week, head coach Bill Belichick took over the lead role in the process. It sounds as though Belichick initiated the call to San Francisco; it might have been his only call, and things moved quickly. That line of thinking was reinforced when 49ers general manager John Lynch described the process by saying, “An unbelievable opportunity came our way.”
3. Because of the way the Patriots are structured, with Belichick calling the shots, it cuts through some of the red tape other teams might have to deal with and leads to quick decisions. Consider these remarks from general managers who swung two of the biggest trades (Garoppolo, Chandler Jones) with the Patriots over the past two years:
49ers’ Lynch (Oct. 31, 2017): “It’s refreshing to find people where you cannot belabor things. You bring something up, come to a quick resolution and don’t grind people out. Obviously, their success speaks for itself, but also just the way they handle things.”
Cardinals’ Steve Keim (March 16, 2016): “If you know Nick Caserio and Bill Belichick, you know that ‘stealth’ is a good word.”
Colts general manager Chris Ballard could be added to the list. As Peter King of TheMMQB.com reported shortly after the Jacoby Brissett-for-Phillip Dorsett trade in early September, it all happened about 36 hours after Ballard received a text from New England that pitched the deal. “We weren’t looking to get rid of Phillip Dorsett [but] once we got in touch with the Patriots and knew this was a possibility ... ,” Ballard would say later.
The bottom line: The Patriots’ quick-strike approach extends beyond Brady and the offense, and to trades, as well.
4. The most puzzling part of the Patriots’ sudden change with Garoppolo is why they didn’t make the 26-year-old available earlier, when they decisively could have received more than a 2018 second-round pick. My take: Without tipping too much of their financial hand, the club was holding out hope it could persuade Garoppolo and his representatives to engage in extension talks and weren’t ready to concede it was a dead end at that point. When that didn’t happen by the trade deadline, the Patriots abruptly changed course.
5a. Whenever the Patriots make assistant coaches available to reporters during the bye week, it usually leads to a greater understanding of what is happening around the team. One example this past week came with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who shared that he graded left tackle Nate Solder as having two of his best games of the season against the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers.
“He’s playing really well over the last two weeks. He’s done some things with his pass-protection stuff that has helped him improve -- on the punch, his hand use is much more violent, much more physical and less reactive/more proactive,” Scarnecchia said. “Those things have helped him a great deal. He started really emphasizing that two weeks ago at practice and carried it through the next game and then last week.
“I think this guy is really driven to be a good football player, and he’s worked at the things he can fix, and he’s working hard to improve, and that’s all I can really ask from him. I love the kid.”
5b. Two more nuggets from Scarnecchia:
A point of emphasis to his linemen entering the bye week was that through the first four games of the season, the unit had four penalties; in the past four games, they had nine. Scarnecchia called that “discouraging.”
With starting tackles Solder and Marcus Cannon, as well as backups LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming, it is quality depth at a hard-to-fill position. Scarnecchia said he believes Waddle and Fleming “have the ability to start for a lot of teams, including this team; they just find themselves behind two good tackles.”
6. Patriots starting left guard Joe Thuney already has appealed his fine of $9,115 for clipping Chargers defensive lineman Brandon Mebane in last Sunday’s victory. The penalty came with 3:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, with Dion Lewis running off right tackle and Thuney on the back side of the play trying get in front of Mebane to cut him down to create a cutback running lane. Thuney had two penalties in the game, which were his first two of the season. Solder leads the team with six penalties (one was offsetting).
7. Extra credit if you had guessed second-year cornerback Jonathan Jones as the player who would receive the most love from Belichick this season during his weekly film breakdown segments. It happened again after Week 8, and it was the same focus on finishing plays Belichick detailed for Week 2, as well. It doesn't seem like a stretch to say that no Patriots cornerback has finished plays better than Jones this season.
8. With Tony La Russa hired as the Red Sox's vice president and special assistant to the president of baseball operations, one of Belichick’s best pals will now be right up the road. The two most recently spent time at Patriots-Texans joint practices in mid-August and then at the team hotel before the Patriots' Oct. 15 game against the Jets. I can already picture Belichick in the Red Sox dugout during spring training.
9a. Did You Know, Part I: The Detroit Lions will visit the Green Bay Packers on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and quarterback Matthew Stafford’s next touchdown pass will be the 200th of his career. If it happens on Monday, it will be in Stafford’s 117th career game, making him the sixth-fastest player to hit the mark, behind Dan Marino (in 89 games), Aaron Rodgers (99), Peyton Manning (106), Brett Favre (107) and Brady (116).
9b. Did You Know, Part II: The Patriots’ safety on a punt return last Sunday against the Chargers was the first of that variety in the NFL regular season since Sept. 21, 2003 (New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans); and it was also the Patriots’ first regular-season special-teams safety since Dec. 9, 1979, when the New York Jets fumbled a snap on a punt out of the end zone.
10. In mid-August, Patriots running back Rex Burkhead's connection with Jack Hoffman was highlighted, and it is timely to revisit it because Burkhead welcomed Hoffman and his family to Gillette Stadium as guests last weekend. They met for dinner on Friday and then again after the game. Hoffman was in town for an appointment at Boston Children’s Hospital, and he and his family had pregame access to the field. “A great family, a great kid; he’s almost as tall as his dad now,” Burkhead said of the youngster he first met while playing at the University of Nebraska. There are many stories like this across the NFL, and they are part of what can be a special connection between players and kids facing adversity. That Burkhead has maintained his relationship with Hoffman through the years makes it even more special.