Quick-hit thoughts around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. The combination of social media's growing impact and the NFL's popularity was highlighted in full force Thursday when second-year Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's rough end to practice (he threw four interceptions in the end-of-session hurry-up drill, and five picks overall) quickly became a headline-type item both nationally and locally. Some reports took it further by posting the passing stats of both Garoppolo and Tom Brady from 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 parts of practice. This piqued my interest from a team perspective, as I was curious if clubs found value in tracking those passing stats in organized team activities. My sense is that most teams do chart those stats, although their value varies depending on each club's philosophical approach. Said one high-ranking official from another team: “We keep stats on everything from completion percentage to poor decisions because you have to have something tangible to show the QBs.”
2. I liked the point that ESPN.com NFL Insider Field Yates made on the topic of Garoppolo's five-interception practice on Thursday. Two years ago, many were raving about undrafted tight end Zach Sudfeld at Patriots OTAs -- I might have even been guilty of referring to him as "Baby Gronk" at one point -- and he later fizzled out and was waived. So it works both ways. If the goal is to present an accurate portrayal of what is happening with most NFL teams in June, this is one of the great challenges in today's 365/24/7 media landscape: Striking the balance between reporting what is happening, but maintaining that critical overall context. It's a long journey and we've barely crossed the starting line.
3. Where's Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler? After being so visible in the wake of his remarkable game-ending interception to help the Patriots beat the Seahawks, Butler hasn't been on the practice field in OTAs, presumably as he rehabs from an undisclosed ailment. Those around Butler are keeping a low profile regarding his whereabouts. Butler's absence has given others, such as seventh-round draft choice Darryl Roberts of Marshall, a chance to take repetitions that likely would have gone to Butler instead. At one point Thursday, it looked like Roberts was getting some one-on-one instruction from Bill Belichick, who gets involved in drills at times as if he was still a position coach.
4. As part of the five-year extension he signed with the Panthers last week, quarterback Cam Newton's salary cap charges are scheduled to be $13 million, $19.5 million, $20.1 million, $21.5 million, $23.2 million and $21.1 million. As part of the five-year deal that Brady signed with the Patriots in 2013, his cap charges were initially set at $13.8 million, $14.8 million, $13 million, $14 million and $15 million (the last three years increased by $1 million each after a 2014 adjustment). This is another reminder that Brady's deal is one of the great bargains in the NFL. And for those who speculated that Brady would never play for the reduced rates he signed on for in 2015-2017, it looks like he's prepared to do just that.
5. There's been a lot of talk about what the Patriots have lost this offseason, from cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, to running back Shane Vereen and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, among others. It's understandable as the quality of the losses looks to be greater than the gains. But for those who prefer a glass-half-full outlook, tight end is one position that stands out on the practice field as having more high-end quality and solid depth than most recent years. If everyone is healthy, this could be a 2011-type season for the New England offense, with a high percentage of “12” personnel (one back, two tight ends). Specifically, I'm curious to see how opponents match up with twin towers Scott Chandler (6-7, 260) and Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265) in the red zone and down the middle of the field. When it comes to a large catch radius, few in the NFL can match them.
6. There is little doubt that safety Devin McCourty will do whatever the Patriots ask, even if that means a return to cornerback in an emergency. He's proven to be a team-first player since his arrival in 2010. At the same time, I thought some of his comments this past week about preferring to remain at safety were notable and a bit out of character; perhaps as a result of having just come off fairly intense contract negotiations in which the financial framework of his deal was based on the safety market. It seemed like not too long ago that McCourty preferred not being labeled a corner or a safety, but simply a “defensive back.”
7. When it comes to setting expectations based on organized team activities, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Bills coach Rex Ryan don't see it the same way. Not even close. A reminder of this came last week when Belichick deflected almost every personnel-related question by stressing this time is more about teaching than evaluation. He wouldn't even bite when asked about the importance of having a six-year veteran like McCourty to help aid in the secondary's transition. Then there's Ryan, who declared that he is “ecstatic” with third-round draft choice John Miller, a guard from Louisville he thinks has a good chance to be a Day 1 starter. “I think he's a 10-year vet out there,” he said. “I feel pretty confident that he's going to be a major contributor for us.”
8. Defensive end Cameron Jordan's five-year extension with the Saints last week served as a reminder that he was a player the Patriots strongly considered drafting in the 2011 first round. The Patriots went with left tackle Nate Solder (No. 17) instead, and the Saints landed Jordan at No. 24. Couldn't have gone wrong either way; and now just as the Saints locked up Jordan, the Patriots will soon have some decisions to make with Solder (2015 is the last year of his contract). When considering the going rate for a starting left tackle entering his prime years, the Cowboys' Tyron Smith (first round, 2011) helps provide a framework of sorts. In 2014, Smith signed an eight-year extension worth $97.6 million that included a $10 million signing bonus and $21.1 million guaranteed. The eight-year term is longer than the norm.
9. Receiver Wes Welker generated some buzz last week on his Boston-based media tour, saying he would be open to a Patriots reunion. Perhaps the Patriots would consider it if there is a run of injuries at the position, but it's hard to imagine it as things stand now. What seems to be working against the 34-year-old Welker is the game tape from 2014: He was targeted only 11 times in the Broncos' final four games last season and seldom commanded a double-team at any point during the year, his trademark knack for creating separation not as evident as early in his career.
10. When the Patriots visited the White House on April 23, one of the interesting parts of the experience was how Bill Belichick wore an Armenian pin on his suit jacket. That was noted in this space, and now we have some more context as to how it unfolded from the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, sparked by Belichick's right-hand man Berj Najarian. This is a neat story.