Quick-hit notes and thoughts around the New England Patriots:
1. Here’s something I learned about first-year Patriots defensive end/outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (two-year, $11 million contract) from speaking with folks around his former team, the Browns: He played the second half of last season with a foot injury, and the severity of the injury had some thinking he was going to land on injured reserve. But Sheard, despite his production declining, was determined to play through it. Sheard also was the Browns’ Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominee in 2013, so that combination of toughness and off-field presence should make him a good fit in New England.
2. There were no shortage of passionate opinions on the Patriots and what they could have done differently to keep cornerback Darrelle Revis. This is my strong belief: Once the Jets got involved, it was essentially over. That’s partially because Revis liked the idea of returning to the franchise, but also because whatever the Patriots offered financially, the cap-flexible and ultra-motivated Jets were probably going to trump it (when an owner declares his intentions in December to pursue the player, that's a pretty strong sign). Some have asked the question, “Do we know how far the tighter-to-the-cap Patriots were willing to go financially to retain Revis?” I don’t know the exact numbers, but I do believe the club’s top decision-makers ultimately reached the point where they felt it was a no-win situation regardless of numbers, and that’s when they basically bowed out.
3. One aspect of Revis’ contract that maybe has been undersold in some areas is that it includes $39 million fully guaranteed. That is an unprecedented figure of fully guaranteed money for a non-quarterback who is at that stage of his career. The word “guaranteed” is mentioned a lot in the reporting of contracts, but some of those “guarantees” aren’t really guarantees because they come in the form of a roster bonus in future years and the team can cut the player or restructure the contract before that point. But in Revis’ contract, it’s fully guaranteed regardless. In projecting a contract for Revis before free agency, that’s just about what I thought it would take to sign him, but I don’t think the Patriots were comfortable with those numbers from the get-go because it runs counter to Bill Belichick’s roster-building philosophy to have that much money tied up in one player. We can argue whether it’s the right decision, but the club has been consistent with that approach over 15 years.
4a. While some have been critical of the Patriots regarding Revis, I think their bigger misstep from a bottom-line perspective was with safety Devin McCourty. It was clear that McCourty was a foundation-type player worthy of being here long-term, but by waiting until the last moment to seriously negotiate with him, they paid high-end open-market prices to retain him ($9.5 million per year, $22 million fully guaranteed). For a team that prides itself on value, foresight and business-based strategy, that deal probably would have been completed at an annual average of around $7.5 to $8 million at any point up to the bye week last season. That highlights the sometimes tricky balance of when to be proactive and reactive in negotiations with players.
4b. Some have asked the difference between Revis and McCourty. From this view, it was clear that Revis wasn't negotiating until after the season (based on the second-year option), while McCourty was more motivated to talk extension in 2014.
5. If the Saints are willing to trade outspoken cornerback Keenan Lewis, there is no downside for the cornerback-needy Patriots to seriously pursue that option. The Saints have surprised many with their aggressive offseason moves, and if they are motivated sellers, perhaps they’d be enticed by a late second-round draft pick. But there's one major issue that probably makes it a longshot; the Saints would absorb a $6.9 million cap charge by trading Lewis, which is significant and that makes me think New Orleans wouldn't be inclined to make such a move. Not to mention that Lewis is one of their best defenders and improving the defense seems to be the focal point of their plans.
6. The Patriots’ agreement with former Bills tight end Scott Chandler was notable in two areas: First, the club snatched him away from the Ravens (who were interested in signing him), and second because it was the first significant contract the club has finalized with David Dunn's agency since the fallout from Wes Welker’s departure from New England. Two years later, this is the first sign of a thaw between the Patriots and Dunn’s agency, which could be important, considering they’ll likely soon be negotiating a possible extension for left tackle Nate Solder.
7. In preparing to face the Dolphins in a late-October game in 2013, the sense from here was that some on the Patriots coaching staff thought Brandon Gibson was Miami’s best receiver (he had 29 catches in six games at that point). New England had a heavy emphasis on him in its game plan, but Gibson ended up tearing his patellar tendon in that game and some say he hasn’t been the same since. But the Patriots, in signing him to a modest, one-year deal last week, want to see if he can return to the form that initially caught their eye in 2013.
8. The Patriots’ interest in veteran receiver Stevie Johnson is real; he is reportedly scheduled to visit the team Monday. The personable Johnson would potentially add a vertical presence at the position, where Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola top the depth chart. Patriots fans remember Johnson for, among other things, pretending to fire a musket like a member of the End Zone militia after scoring a touchdown during a 2010 Patriots-Bills game (he was fined $10,000 for excessive celebration). In addition to Johnson, a pass-catching running back and a linebacker who factors as a core special teamer are areas the Patriots continue to explore on the open market.
9. One reason I don’t think the Patriots have given up on the possibility of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork returning in 2015 is that we haven’t read any statements from Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick about how much Wilfork has meant to the franchise. Wilfork deserves that respect, and he will get it. The only question is whether it’s this year or in the future.
10. Who knew Bill Belichick had such a soft spot in his heart for those with a journalism background? That was the lighthearted reaction at this address when reading up on Ronald Miles, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio State in 2012 and was hired in February as a Patriots scouting assistant. Miles will be writing up scouting reports, which is a bit different from what he was writing over a sixth-month span in 2012 for The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper. Miles is set to earn his master’s degree in leadership and worked as a coaching assistant for the Buckeyes’ football team from 2009-2015. Just a hunch that Mike Vrabel, the former Ohio State assistant, put in a good word for him.