Quick-hit thoughts around the New England Patriots:
1. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter tweeted something Saturday morning that resonated with me; it was advice on journalism and social media from Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times. Three points I highlighted were: Think more about fairness than objectivity; think about how close you can get to the truth; put yourself in the place of the people who will be affected by your work (that doesn't mean to pull your punches). I think those can apply in more areas than journalism, and in fact, they are three reasons that highlight why I think commissioner Roger Goodell has erred badly from the start with the league's handling of the Patriots and underinflated footballs, making this into a much bigger deal than it is. Over the last three days, I've digested the 243-page Wells report reading it multiple times, and with its bias and lack of fairness in certain areas, I truly can't believe what the commissioner has done to the legacy and reputation of one of the greatest quarterbacks and ambassadors in the history of the game -- all over air pressure in a football and without definitive proof he had anything to do with it.
2. Why do I think this has been made to be a bigger deal than it is? I go back to the Vikings-Panthers game from November, with teams illegally heating footballs on the sideline and simply getting a warning from the NFL, and wonder how we got to this point with the Patriots and underinflated footballs. I go back to the Chargers using an illegal sticky substance on towels in 2012 and getting fined $25,000, and likewise wonder how we got to this point with the Patriots and underinflated footballs. Put the three situations together and only one requires a full-fledged investigation that will cost owners millions of dollars? In the interest of fairness, what am I missing? Add in comments from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers about his preference for overinflated footballs, and this New York Times story on Eli Manning and his football preparation, and it just seems we've gone off the rails here.
3. I hope my viewpoint on Goodell's poor handling of the situation isn't interpreted as letting the Patriots off the hook. From the moment the story broke, my opinion was that the team should be held accountable if all football air-pressure measurements were done correctly and science wasn't a factor. The Wells report brought to light some important details, as it naturally raises suspicions that locker room attendant Jim McNally, who at one point in 2014 referred to himself as the “deflator” in a text message, took the footballs without consent before the game and had them in a locked bathroom for 1 minute and 40 seconds. That can't happen. If we're focusing on fairness, I think even Patriots followers would acknowledge that action alone leaves the team vulnerable to some level of punishment. But how we got from there to the possibility that Brady himself will be suspended is still hard for me to grasp.
4. If Brady is suspended for any length of time, one area to consider is the importance of another quarterback on the roster. Jimmy Garoppolo would bump up to No. 1, and then the Patriots would have a question mark behind him (they carried just two on the roster last year, Brady and Garoppolo). As it stands now, first-year player Garrett Gilbert is the only other quarterback on the depth chart. Gilbert was a sixth-round draft choice of the Rams in 2014 out of SMU who first joined the team's practice squad in mid-December. I wonder if the Patriots might consider signing another quarterback, such as former Packers backup Matt Flynn.
5. While the Patriots were pleased to select Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown with their first-round draft pick (32nd overall), I believe they were ready to trade the pick if one interested team the Patriots had trade talks with had sweetened its offer in crunch time. As I understand it, one of the strongest scenarios the Patriots were considering was a trade back into the early part of the second round, which they would have been most motivated to execute if the deal included a high third-round pick as well. But when the Patriots ultimately realized a third-rounder wasn't attainable -- the highest round they could get was a fourth-rounder -- they didn't see the value in the trade and ultimately turned in the card with Brown's name.
6. For a comparison, last year the Seahawks had traded the No. 32 pick to the Vikings for a second-round pick (No. 40) and a fourth-round pick (No. 108). The Patriots, I'm told, had a similar deal on the table this year that also included another later-round pick. This information tells me they weren't overly motivated sellers and it is a good reminder for those who believe the team is always looking to trade down. The Patriots had their chance to do so this year with a deal that was a little better than last year's trade at the same spot, and decided against it.
7. When not focused on deflated footballs over the last week, I spent some time reaching out to scouts from other teams to ask their opinion of the Patriots' 11-member draft class. The consensus was that defensive end Trey Flowers of Arkansas, the team's initial fourth-round pick (101st overall), was the Patriots' best value selection. His strength at the point of attack was cited as one of his top assets and the scouts I spoke with had expected him to be closer to a second- or third-round pick. I thought Florida State offensive guard Tre Jackson (fourth round, 111th overall) might fall into that category, but one scout felt he was overrated and pointed to his struggles against Oregon's Arik Armstead in the Rose Bowl, while another noted a knee condition that might have to be managed added some risk for teams. Meanwhile, both second-round safety Jordan Richards and third-round defensive end Geneo Grissom were viewed as more late-round/free-agent types by the scouts.
8. Fun fact that caught my eye watching this month's edition of Patriots All-Access: On Day 3 on the NFL draft, Bill Belichick donned a “Blue Jays lacrosse” sweatshirt in the team's draft room. Belichick is close with Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala.
9. The Patriots had all their draft picks in town late last week and into the weekend to begin the process of immersing them into NFL life, but there was no formal media access (that is scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday this week). Most of the rookies will now stay through the offseason program, although there is a slight wrinkle with first-round pick Malcom Brown (defensive tackle, Texas), second-round pick Jordan Richards (safety, Stanford) and fifth-round pick Joe Cardona (long snapper, Navy). Those three players all must depart after the “rookie minicamp” and can't return until their colleges conclude their academic calendar for the year. Specific to Cardona's potential military commitment, I checked late in the week to see if there was any update and was told there was still no official word.
10. After Tuesday, unrestricted free agents who sign with teams won't count toward the compensatory draft-pick formula, which is a change from years past when that deadline was June 1. From a Patriots perspective, I think the change is significant because that's when they could add free-agent linebackers Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes -- both former members of the club from 2010-2013 -- and not compromise the compensatory draft-pick formula that one analyst projects will net them a third-round pick and two sixth-round picks in 2016. The Patriots have been looking for experienced linebacker depth with Dont'a Hightower (labrum) and Jerod Mayo (torn patellar tendon) coming off serious surgries and I was told there is a “good chance” Fletcher is back and also not to rule out Spikes either.