FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Rob Gronkowski's lighthearted "news conference" at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, as part of his business relationship with Monster Energy and Supercross, didn't strike me as anything different from the norm from him. But how will it be viewed by those working inside Gillette Stadium -- players and coaches? It wouldn't surprise me if some felt it was disrespectful. While it's within Gronkowski's rights to skip voluntary workouts, it's another thing for a two-time captain to say something that could be perceived as mocking them ("I've got dirt-biking skills to work on") when he's just a few steps from the weight room where that work is taking place.
2. On Wednesday, which was the final day that NFL teams could host prospects at their facility before the NFL draft, I'm told the Patriots had some notable early-round projections in town: linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State), offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby (Oregon) and wide receiver Calvin Ridley (Alabama). Teams are limited to 30 visits, and those are sometimes used to update medical questions, could be a smokescreen to other clubs, and other times are a reflection of genuine interest in drafting the player. Of the aforementioned trio, Vander Esch and Ridley have been well covered from a media hype standpoint, while the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Crosby hasn't received the same level of buzz but could go as early as the second round. He has an impressive combination of size and power in what is considered an overall weak offensive tackle class.
3. Bill Belichick's close friendship with Baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, coupled with his respect and appreciation for the military and a favorable date on the offseason schedule, should produce a memorable night May 2 in Washington, D.C., when Belichck introduces La Russa at the 14th Annual Night of Heroes Gala. La Russa will be honored by the PenFed Foundation for his commitment to veterans by providing service dogs through his Animal Rescue Foundation, as his "Pets and Vets" program has helped impact the lives of 600 active and retired servicemen and servicewomen. In accepting the invitation to introduce La Russa, Belichick said, "My father and the Naval Academy cultivated my love of football and a deep respect for the United States Armed Forces. It is my honor to join with friends and families of veterans in saying, 'Thank you.'"
4. One notable football-trend nugget about this year's draft is that there are more Tedy Bruschi types: pass-rushing defensive ends in college who project to play off-the-line linebacker roles in the NFL. The reason reflects the continued evolution of what is happening in the college game. "There are more of those type of players in this draft than I've ever seen," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Friday, "primarily because the college game is getting smaller and quicker to deal with the spread offenses."
5. It was a sad week for the Patriots franchise with Thursday's passing of longtime radio play-by-play man Gil Santos, and driving north toward Gillette Stadium on Rt. 1 not long after, I stopped to take a photo of a billboard with Santos' smiling face on it. With the words "A Legend Signing Off One Last Time," it was a tribute from the Life Care Centers of America, for whom Santos was a longtime spokesman, colleague and friend. A classy touch for someone whose voice will forever remain a big part of how many remember some of the great moments in franchise history.
6. The Jets' announcement Saturday that they've picked up the fifth-year option for defensive tackle Leonard Williams serves as a reminder that May 2 is the deadline for all teams to make that decision with first-round picks from the 2015 draft. In what Bill Belichick previously described as "a little bit of a different situation," the Patriots have three players in that category: Defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown, and receiver Phillip Dorsett. The fifth-year option for defensive tackles is expected to be around the $7 million range, and it seems like a no-brainer to commit to that for Shelton and Brown. Receivers are expected to be closer to $9 million, and it's hard to imagine the club doing that for Dorsett.
7. Did You Know: Patriots third-year linebacker Elandon Roberts celebrates his 24th birthday April 22, but he is still the third-youngest player of those on the current roster who appeared in a game last year, behind waiver-wire pickup Eric Lee (turns 24 in August) and 2017 fourth-round pick Deatrich Wise (turns 24 in July).
8. A few schedule nuggets that stand out:
The 49ers, with Jimmy Garoppolo as quarterback, have five prime-time games on their 2018 schedule. Talk about a quick turnaround for a team that was 1-10 last year before its impressive finishing kick.
Former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, in his first year as Lions head coach, faces Garoppolo in Week 2, and then Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 3.
Two prime-time road games for the Jets in the first three weeks -- Lions (Sept. 9) and Browns (Sept. 20) -- was unexpected. Especially considering the Jaguars, who were in the AFC Championship Game, have just two prime-time games and they don't come until weeks 11 and 14.
9. Fans on the Patriots' season-ticket wait list have experienced a change this year, as they previously had the opportunity to buy game tickets at face value from current season-ticket members as part of an "exchange" program. One of the benefits the program was to give current season-ticket members an outlet to sell their tickets at face value if they couldn't use them. Season-ticket members can still do that this year, but it will now go through Ticketmaster (with no price cap) and the tickets will be available to more than just the season-ticket wait list. The Patriots have a long-standing relationship with Ticketmaster, but now their season-ticket members can participate in the NFL Ticketing Network, a league-wide program that allows the resale and purchase of authenticated tickets and allows the team access to customer information data to help create a better game-day experience for fans.
10. Five years later, running back James White is the only player of the 2014 Patriots draft class still with the team. First-rounder Dominique Easley (Rams), second-rounder Garoppolo (49ers), fourth-rounder Cameron Fleming (Cowboys) and sixth-rounders Jon Halapio (Giants) and Zach Moore (Panthers) are now elsewhere, while fourth-rounder Bryan Stork, sixth-rounders Jemea Thomas, and seventh-rounder Jeremy Gallon are not in the league. Said White: "It's definitely tough to see guys go, especially guys who you came in with. That's the NFL."