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Quick-hit thoughts around Patriots, NFL

Devin McCourty finds himself in a win-win situation from a financial standpoint this offseason. Damian Strohmeyer/AP Photo

Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

1. With a weak safety draft class and a veteran free-agent crop that also isn’t considered deep, free-agent-to-be Devin McCourty finds himself in a good spot. Worst-case scenario is he gets the franchise tag from the Patriots, who have yet to progress toward an extension with him, at around $9.5 million. McCourty signed a five-year, $10 million contract as a rookie in 2010, so he could almost match his previous pay in one year in that worst-case scenario. While he’d surely like more of a long-term commitment, and would likely get one should he hit the open market, the view from here is that McCourty can’t really lose either way from a financial perspective.

2. Retired Patriots assistant coaches Dante Scarnecchia and Scott O’Brien are helping the Patriots evaluate prospects at the scouting combine, and Greg Schiano has also been hanging close with Bill Belichick, director of player personnel Nick Caserio and assistant to the New England coaching staff Michael Lombardi. That has sparked the thought that Belichick suddenly has an experienced advisory "committee" to aid him in what he often refers to as the "team-building process." It’s a group that specifically knows what he values in players, and perhaps we see a more formal role for Schiano with the team this year.

3. Patriots president Jonathan Kraft referred to the 2015 season of cornerback Darrelle Revis' contract as a “placeholder,” and here are some numbers to reinforce that point: If the Patriots were to honor the ’15 part of the contract, Revis would have an astronomical, record-setting $25 million cap charge; according to ESPN Stats & Information, the highest salary-cap figure in the NFL since 2000 was $24.7 million for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in 2010 (with Washington). With a projected $143 million salary cap in 2015, Revis would count for 17.4 percent of the space, and that’s generally not the way the Patriots do business. They like to spread the cap charges around to create a stronger middle class on the roster. Thus, the next two weeks are critical to see if the sides can hammer out a deal. That's the first domino to fall in the team's plans.

4. Last year at this time, one of the themes of the NFL draft was the influx of underclassmen -- a record 98 -- and how teams had catch-up work to do on them in the scouting process because the majority of the college football season was spent evaluating seniors. The number of underclassmen has dipped to 74 this year. The Patriots, for their part, have fared well with underclassmen in recent years, with Stanford offensive tackle Cameron Fleming (fourth round, 2014), cornerback Logan Ryan (third round, 2013) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (first round, 2012) all making contributions.

5. The joint stadium plan in Los Angeles for the Chargers and Raiders announced Friday reminded me, in part, of what the Patriots went through in the late 1990s with Hartford. It’s good leverage for teams that would seem to prefer to stay in their home markets but have had trouble generating momentum to do so. If the Chargers do move north to L.A., they’d be close enough for San Diego fans to still attend games, sort of like the Patriots-to-Hartford scenario, but it would nonetheless forever change the dynamic of the franchise.

6. Linebacker Jerod Mayo's $10.2 million salary-cap charge is third highest on the Patriots and is one area the team could look to for salary cap relief. But nothing seems to be imminent, in part because Mayo’s contract has a $4.5 million injury guarantee. So from this viewpoint, the first thing that has to happen is a full return to health for Mayo, then the sides could potentially talk about altering the deal. Cutting Mayo while still owing him $4.5 million wouldn't be sound business.

7a. Did you Know, Part I: The NFL issued 1,071 media credentials to those covering the Indianapolis scouting combine, an all-time high.

7b. Did you Know, Part II: According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, the following conferences have the most players represented at this year's combine -- SEC (68), ACC (57), Pac-12 (44), Big Ten (39) and Big 12 (30).

7c. Did you Know, Part III: There have been at least 10 players from the SEC selected in the first round in each draft since 2011. Last year, it was 11 players from the SEC, which was six more than any other conference (ACC, with five).

8. For the second straight year, the tight-end draft class isn’t strong. As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock pointed out, “The inline tight end that’s a great blocker and also a receiver is getting more and more rare.” He also shared the theory that those types of players are disappearing because “most everybody is a hybrid in college football these days.” That could be good news for veteran NFL free-agents at the position, a fairly strong group that includes Denver’s Julius Thomas, Miami’s Charles Clay, Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham. Clay could fall into the Wes Welker category of players who have hurt New England in the past that the team could have interest in bringing to its side.

9. Bill Belichick gave members of his coaching staff the option to attend the combine, offering them a chance to recharge their batteries from a longer-than-normal season. So it caught the eye that offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was among those running drills at the combine. Maybe he decided that being out of football in 2013, and working in sports radio, was enough of a break for him.

10a. Second-year Patriots running back Tyler Gaffney is now 100 percent healthy, and he's a wild-card of sorts to consider in the team's plans. A sixth-round draft choice of the Panthers in 2014, he tore the lateral meniscus in his left knee in late July, Carolina waived him and the Patriots pounced with the future in mind. The 2015 draft is deep at running back, but Gaffney represents almost a "bonus" draft pick for the Patriots at the position. Gaffney has size at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, but his change-of-direction skills were also eye-catching last year when he recorded a 6.78 second three-cone time at the combine, which was second at the position.

10b. One reminder that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is primed to play into his 40s, as he hopes to do: This is the time when many players his age (he turns 38 in August) say the games are the easy part and it's all the preparation leading up to them that is the real grind, but those close to Brady say they've never seen him as excited for all the work ahead in 2015. Sounds like Brady can't wait to get back to the grind.