Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. With Bill Belichick back in town, and the calendar turning to April, this is the time when pre-draft visits with prospects start picking up. A pre-draft visit sometimes indicates genuine interest, while other times it can be a smokescreen of sorts. The Patriots had Nate Solder scheduled for a visit last year before picking him 17th overall, but canceled it late, perhaps to throw other teams off.
2. If Belichick considers trading up in the first round, the two prospects that stand out as those to make the move are LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers and Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The thought from here: This draft should be highlighted by defense and the chance to land a difference-maker on that side of the ball must be seized if its presents itself.
3. The Patriots enter the 2012 draft with just six selections, albeit with four in the first two rounds. From a total-pick perspective, this is somewhat foreign territory for Bill Belichick, who is usually loaded with picks. The fewest selections made by the Patriots in a Belichick-led draft was six, in 2002.
4. Defensive end Mario Williams signed with the Bills, offensive tackle Eric Winston was cut and signed with the Chiefs, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans was traded to the Eagles; those are three core pieces for the Texans. Houston looked like a team on the rise last season, but I wonder how these significant hits will affect them going forward.
5. When does $8 million suddenly disappear from a contract? Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News reminds us that what is sometimes initially reported doesn’t always match up with the fine print, as is the case with former Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson. Still, it’s a generous deal from the Bills.
6. Although he is a free agent, veteran defensive end Andre Carter has still checked in at Gillette Stadium as he is rehabbing from quad surgery. This isn’t unusual, as the surgery was conducted while he was under contract to the Patriots and that connection doesn’t just end because Carter is a free agent.
7. There is another free-agent signing that I think could help the Patriots this offseason -- bringing defensive lineman Luis Castillo aboard. The defense still has some needs and Castillo is a good fit in the 3-4, with some versatility as well. A Shaun Ellis-type one-year deal could be a benefit to both sides.
8. Bill Parcells coming back as interim coach of the Saints? Perfect. In the best NFL offseason ever for unforgettable storylines, Parcells is the latest. And it's easy to see he still loves the spotlight.
9. NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi on his friend Bill Belichick (revisited from BS Report podcast, Feb. 9): “The guy loves this job, just like Tom Coughlin. They have very few hobbies and every year they do their job, they get better at their job. I think he’s at least five more years coaching. I would be shocked if he went less than that. I really, truly believe in my heart that he’ll coach beyond Tom Brady’s career.”
10. Patriots guard Logan Mankins is making progress in his recovery from ACL surgery, walking without crutches. No surprise there. As Bill Belichick said at the NFL annual meeting, “I don’t think anybody’s ever questioned Logan’s toughness or his competitiveness.”