Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. Yes, Bill Belichick will be going on the "Late Show" with David Letterman this week, and several players are making the media rounds, but there’s also some significant work going on at Gillette Stadium as the scouting staff is scheduled for a round of meetings as part of preparations for the NFL combine (Feb. 17-23). One thing to think about this year at the combine: Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler wasn’t invited last year. So while the combine is an important date on the calendar, it still represents just a slice of the overall scouting process.
2. With no combine invitation in 2014, Butler hoped to open eyes by taking part in the University of Alabama Pro Day last year, which is sort of like a combine in and of itself. But when he ran a 4.6-second time in the 40-yard dash, his agent Derek Simpson recalled that “all interest had faded.” The draft went by and Butler’s name wasn’t called, and no team even offered an immediate free-agent deal. Said Simpson, “I’ll never forget it; I was at my dining room table and got a phone call. It was [Patriots cornerbacks coach] Josh Boyer and he said, ‘Is Malcolm still available? I can bring in one player in the country for a tryout and I picked Malcolm. I believe Malcolm can play in the NFL.’ We had to sign a release just to try out, and within one hour after his flight from Jackson, Mississippi, to New England, they had him run a 40 and he did a 4.4. From that point forward, it’s been nothing but incredible.”
3. Patriots scout Frantzy Jourdain, as noted by ESPN.com Insider Field Yates, was responsible for the initial report on Butler. Those in Rhode Island might remember Jourdain from his time at URI (1993-97), where he was a three-year starter at running back and strong safety. This was Jourdain’s 12th season with the Patriots’ personnel department and 10th year as an area scout, and like Boyer, his role in Butler landing in New England can’t be overlooked. The Patriots’ motto this year was “Do Your Job,” and because Jourdain did his exceptionally well, the little-known Butler was on the roster and in position to make the play that won Super Bowl XLIX.
4. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor wasn’t fined (or penalized) for his big hit on receiver Julian Edelman’s 21-yard catch over the middle on third-and-14 in Super Bowl XLIX. It reminds me a bit of Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner’s hit from the Chargers game on Dec. 7 – it’s close and there is some residual contact with the helmet, but Chancellor didn’t seem to be leading with his head as much as his shoulder on the jarring, fourth-quarter hit.
5. Is it possible we’ve gone overboard with all the talk about Tom Brady’s legacy as a result of the Super Bowl XLIX victory? I’m not sure why there is such a rush to determine his legacy. The things that stand out to me with Brady are his combination of top-notch performance along with his willingness to take on a modest contract (significantly below market value to allow management to put better players around him) and actions such as giving his MVP truck to Butler. There’s no need to look for the conspiracy theory here; Brady just wants to win and he goes about his business by focusing less on what’s in it for him and more on what he can do to make the team better. That’s so much more significant to me than where he ranks among the game’s all-time greats. Here’s a thought: Why not simply appreciate the rarity of that approach and worry about personal legacy later?
6. If it’s true that only one of the Patriots’ 11 underinflated footballs was two PSI below the allowed limit, and “many” of the remaining 10 were only a few “ticks” below, as NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported last Sunday, that changes the context of the discussion, from my viewpoint. Like many others, we anxiously await the findings of the Wells investigation for conclusive, on-the-record answers.
7. There’s a long way to go when it comes to getting familiar with what defines the 2015 NFL draft, but here’s one note I jotted down from ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s recent conference call: “In terms of pass rushers, there are a lot of them. Probably the strongest position in this draft is the combo guys that can get after the quarterback. This is the kind of year that if you want those types of players, they’re out there in high numbers.”
8a. Did you know, Part 1: Tom Brady was 28-of-32 for 194 yards and two touchdowns on passes thrown within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage in Super Bowl XLIX. That tied his most such attempts in a game this season, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. The ball was out quick.
8b. Did you know, Part II: Brady’s average pass traveled 6.2 yards downfield in the Super Bowl, 1.6 yards shorter than his season average.
9. With so much time at this address spent on Roger Goodell’s remarks regarding underinflated footballs last week at the Super Bowl, we didn’t highlight two other NFL-related items that are of great interest to us. First, Goodell said the league is looking at ways to enhance replay, which could include penalties if it can be done without more disruption to the pace of the game. That makes perfect sense. Second, talk of expanding the playoffs will continue, with Goodell pointing out positives, but also negatives, which include the risk of diluting the regular season and conflicting with college football in January. For what it’s worth, I’d be happy leaving the playoffs as they are.
10. Win your first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion one weekend and get married the next. Life can’t get much better now for Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater, one of the most respected players in the team’s locker room. Congratulations, Matthew.