Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. Projected free-agent cornerback Darrelle Revis has the leverage that players covet and, like many others, I’m fascinated to see to what extreme he and his agents capitalize on it financially. They have traditionally driven a hard bargain (just ask the Jets), but one of Revis’ mentors, Ty Law, acknowledged that he might have focused a bit too much on the bottom line toward the end of his career when he left New England and bounced from the Jets (2005, 2008) to the Chiefs (2006-2007) and Broncos (2009). Last April, when he was named as the inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame, Law said, “If I had to do it all over again, I would have made more effort to stay a Patriot.” Do those words have any impact on Revis?
2. One reason some around the league believed this contract proposal for Revis was a little light was because he played 2014 for the under-market salary of $12 million. So those reading the Revis tea leaves project he might want to recoup some of those wages in this next contract, which sets up as his last big pay day (he turns 30 July 14). A deal that averages at least $16 million per season and has as much as $50 million in the first three years could very well be in his reach if maximizing earning potential is goal No. 1. I’m not sure the Patriots would stretch that far, but a strong case could be made for them to do so.
3. Bill Belichick doesn’t just manage the depth and youth of the Patriots’ roster, he also does it with his coaching staff. With this in mind, Belichick has been exploring adding a younger assistant special-teams coach in the wake of Scott O’Brien’s retirement following the Super Bowl, and is expected to hire one to work under promoted special-teams coach Joe Judge. The Patriots were the NFL’s only coaching staff without a former player on it in 2014, and perhaps that could be an opening for a former player to join the staff if Belichick views that as important.
4. If I’m Patriots free-agent running back Stevan Ridley, coming off a torn ACL Oct. 12 and likely limited to a one-year “prove-it” type deal in free agency, I’d think twice about coming back to New England where big backs LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney are already on the roster and the team has a history of rotating its backs on a game-by-game basis. While open to a return, Ridley also sounded prepared to move on in his Sirius XM NFL interview Friday night.
5. When Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson has been training the last two weeks at the Fischer Institute in Arizona, and plans to stay there 6-8 weeks before returning for the team’s offseason program, it was viewed as important news from this perspective. The 2013 second-round draft pick has been limited by injuries and, when healthy, hasn't consistently broken through, and I believe some top folks in the Patriots organization would like to see more urgency from him. This could be a positive step in that direction.
6. The NFL competition committee is meeting this week in Naples, Florida, with NFL executive vice president of operations Troy Vincent detailing some of the areas in focus. Modifying what is reviewable under instant replay and potentially banning the chop block are two of the hot topics. We know where Belichick stands on instant replay; he’d like to be able to review everything. My sense is that still doesn’t have the support it would need to pass, but Belichick has more supporters than he did last year.
7. On the surface, it was hard to understand the Browns’ thinking in choosing quarterback Josh McCown over Brian Hoyer, as I don’t see it as a decisive upgrade. But that assumes Hoyer was interested in returning, which one could understand was no slam dunk after he was replaced at the end of 2014. The Buccaneers, Texans, Bills and Jets are four teams that come to mind as possible free-agent fits for Hoyer, with Tampa Bay and Houston at the top of the list because of folks with Patriots ties in leadership positions.
8. Here’s a thought I had after the Dolphins released receiver Brian Hartline on Friday: Which contract would you rather have -- Hartline's five-year, $30 million deal in 2013 that included $12.5 million in guarantees or Julian Edelman’s four-year, $19 million deal signed with the Patriots last offseason ($8.25 million in guarantees). From a total-value perspective, Hartline is the winner. But look closer at the finer print and consider the bloated salary-cap charges in the final three years that put Hartline at risk of being cut, and it's not so clear-cut. Edelman's deal is structured in a way that he has a good chance to earn it all, with no major spike in the salary-cap charges late in the deal that make him vulnerable to being cut. It’s the quick-hit vs. built-to-last debate. No easy answer, but I wonder if enough players and agents focus on "built to last."
9a. Did You Know, Part I: Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich had the highest percentage of 2014 snaps played among NFL defensive linemen (93.9 percent), followed by the Saints’ Cameron Jordan (93.0), Houston’s J.J. Watt (92.9) and the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul (91.3).
9b. Did You Know, Part II: Ninkovich was a part-time player in the season opener (35 of 74 snaps) against the Dolphins, but missed just 28 snaps the rest of the season, all coming in blowouts or the season finale, when playoff seeding was determined.
10. The three-year, $8.5 million contract extension that kicker Matt Bryant agreed to with the Falcons last week adds another layer to the marketplace for Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who is scheduled to become a free agent when the 2015 league year begins March 10. Bryant turns 40 on May 29, and if he’s averaging $2.8 million per season, a projected record $4 million-per-year average for the 31-year-old Gostkowski – who is one of the NFL’s top kickers/kickoff men – seems well within reason.