Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Saints head coach Sean Payton expressed his admiration for the Patriots several times over the last year, pointing out how he has looked at New England as a model franchise. This offseason, Payton and the Saints have looked closely at the Patriots’ run of Super Bowl championships (2001, 2003, 2004), with the idea of adopting a similar approach in the quest to be a “cluster” champion, not a one-hit wonder. Perhaps he picks up a few tips when the Patriots and Saints have joint practices next month.
2. The contracts signed by Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Broncos outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil are reminders that lucrative long-term extensions are possible given the uncertain labor forecast, so owners can't simply point to the labor situation as a reason to avoid long-term deals. Yet one aspect I also took from Ferguson's and Dumervil's contracts is that both players will have to wait until 2011 to get their big money. That’s a significant concession given the labor climate.
3. When it comes to Wes Welker and his recovery, one word comes to mind: Wow. A few months ago, I thought he’d be more likely to start the regular season on the physically unable to perform list. I wouldn't bet on that now.
4. In looking over some of the NFL’s active statistical leaders, it stood out to me that Jason Taylor is the leader in sacks (127.5), followed by Joey Porter (92). Both have moved on from the Miami Dolphins this year, highlighting a big pass-rushing void for Miami to fill. That’s one reason outside linebacker Koa Misi (second round) is a top rookie to watch this year.
5. Cowboys rookie receiver Dez Bryant seems like he is receiving good advice. One of the most scrutinized players in the draft, he was the first first-rounder to sign his contract. That’s a strong statement about his commitment.
6. ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen reported Saturday that the Rams are seriously considering free-agent receiver Terrell Owens. If they do, that would add an interesting twist to the Patriots-Rams preseason game Aug. 26 in Foxborough. Preseason games can be dull, but a chance to see rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and Owens in extended action would put some spice into it.
7. When it comes to the AFC East, the Bills are clearly fourth in the pecking order. Their big question is at quarterback, where Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm have been in an open competition for the starting job this offseason. My opinion is that it will be a surprise if Edwards doesn’t win the job.
8. There are a lot of analysts writing on the NFL, but not many have an extensive player-evaluation background from having worked in NFL personnel departments. Mike Lombardi of NFL.com has, and that’s why his two-part series on “blue-chip” and “red-chip” players is a worthy read (here is the AFC link).
9. For those who crave Patriots discussion and have Sirius NFL radio, Saturday July 31 is your day. Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan will be at Gillette Stadium broadcasting live, starting at 2 p.m. Kirwan and Ryan take it to a higher level.
10. If I had to sum up what interests me most about this upcoming Patriots season, it’s the “unknown”. The Patriots have big plans for a handful of players who have not been consistent NFL starters, such as cornerback Darius Butler, safety Patrick Chung and receiver Brandon Tate, which means they are making a projection based on their personnel evaluation. It’s a direct contrast to the Jets, who have loaded up with mostly proven veterans.