FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Darrelle Revis might be on the other side of the Patriots-Jets “Border War” this year, but that hasn’t altered plans for him and a handful of his former Patriots teammates to meet up in Arizona and train together for about two weeks leading up to training camp. Last year, Revis, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and Tavon Wilson prepped for camp by working out in the dry desert heat with trainer/coach Will Sullivan, and McCourty told me they’ll do the same this year, starting July 12. Coincidentally, Revis’ free-agent departure has made Ryan, a 2013 third-round draft pick out of Rutgers, a leading candidate for a starting role this year.
2. The theme of the Patriots’ 2014 Super Bowl season was “on to Cincinnati”, and if I had to sum up my thoughts following quarterback Tom Brady’s appeal hearing last Tuesday in front of arbitrator Roger Goodell, it would be “on to the courts.” Goodell might ultimately be willing to reduce Brady’s four-game suspension, but the possibility he’d fully vacate it seems closer to a Hail Mary. If that’s the case, Brady, led by attorney Jeffrey Kessler, probably will continue the fight in court.
3. Here is my understanding of what is happening with free-agent veteran guard Dan Connolly: The Buccaneers made a strong pitch to him, enticing him about the possibility of again playing alongside Logan Mankins, but Connolly’s reluctance to uproot/be away from his family was the primary factor that led him to decline that option. Meanwhile, Connolly could have been enticed to play a 10th NFL season with the Patriots, although my sense is that the club hasn’t aggressively pursued that option at this time. That could always change should an injury hit, or some of the club’s young guards don’t develop as quickly as desired, but right now I wouldn’t be surprised if Connolly ultimately decided that winning a Super Bowl in 2014 isn’t a bad way to end a career. To the casual eye, he also looked like he dropped some significant weight when spotted on video at the team’s Super Bowl ring ceremony, where he was sitting next to Brady.
4. If this is indeed the end of the road for Connolly, which would be a change from what his agent said in March, he’ll be remembered at this address for:
Being one of the all-time nice guys to come through the locker room;
Lasting nine years in the NFL after a four-year career at little-known Southeast Missouri State;
Making the impressive jump from undrafted free agent with Jacksonville (2005), to practice-squad player with the Patriots (2007), to full-time starter (2010-2014), captain (2014) and Super Bowl champion (2014);
Delivering a 71-yard kickoff return in a 2010 game against Green Bay that is one of the most memorable Patriots plays of the last decade.
5. Anyone else find it ironic that Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders told a group of Denver-area kids (via Colorado’s 9 News) that the Patriots shouldn’t be Super Bowl champions because of the NFL’s investigation into their underinflated footballs? Sanders’ message was that “cheating” shouldn’t come without consequences. No word on if Sanders continued the discussion to include the time in 2012 in which he was fined $50,000 by the NFL for faking an injury.
6. Retired Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was named one of three recipients of the Pro Football Writers of America “Dr. Z Award” for longtime distinguished service to the game, and when I caught up with him last week for reaction, he humbly said the voters might have got it wrong. “I’m very, very honored and flattered. My biggest impression is there are probably 100 guys far more deserving of this than I am, starting with one nominee who didn’t get it, Bobb McKittrick,” he said. “When I first started coaching the offensive line in this league, he was at San Francisco and I’d watch those guys play and you quickly learned that no one wanted to play against that line. They were really quick, really fast, and absolutely ruthless in the way they blocked people, cutting them all the time. Defensive linemen would come off the field and scream at our offensive line, ‘Why don’t you play that way!’ That was a huge impression on me.” Scarnecchia added that he never met the late McKittrick, a five-time Super Bowl champion who coached 28 seasons in the NFL, but he “loved the way he taught the game and tried to emulate that.”
7. When I caught up with Scarnecchia, he explained that he wasn’t in position to talk because he was watching his grandchildren and would have to return the call later in the day. So that quickly answered the question of how things were going for him in retirement. “Couldn’t be any better,” he said. As for his thoughts on the Patriots’ Super Bowl run, retirement, and his subsequent scouting work for the team as part of 2015 draft preparation: “I was really happy for the team, the staff, the organization, especially the way they played after the first third of the season, to play as consistently well as they did into the playoffs, I thought it was just spectacular. I’m really pleased for [offensive line coach] Dave [DeGuglielmo] and what he did, the way he got those guys to play their best football when it counted most. I have plenty of things to do, keeping myself busy – a lot of it is family-related and then personal-related with interests. I don’t lack for anything to do. It was nice to able to go out and help Bill [Belichick] with scouting in the spring and I enjoyed that, but you quickly realize you’re back on the hamster wheel in this business. For seven weeks, though, it was fine.”
8. Did You Know: The New York Jets ($164,350,032) have the highest cash-spending total of any NFL team in 2015, while the AFC East rival Miami Dolphins ($162,000,860) have the third-highest total and the Buffalo Bills ($157,339,137) are fourth-highest. That’s a lot of cash thrown around in the division as those clubs target the Patriots ($138,836,330).
9. The NFL Players Association’s complaint against the Patriots regarding cornerback Malcolm Butler -- he was held off the field for six voluntary practices because he was late for the first voluntary session -- would result in fines and possibly the loss of future organized team activities if the Patriots are found to be in the wrong. Butler’s name isn’t on the complaint, as he said he has no issue with the team’s handling of the situation. I see both sides. The NFLPA exists, in part, to protect the rights of all players and this is worthy of exploration from a precedent standpoint. At the same time, Bill Belichick certainly has the right to operate his team as he sees fit, and as long as Butler wasn’t barred from the building (he wasn’t) and isn’t in jeopardy of losing his job (he isn’t), where does one draw the line? I don't see a violation, but I do see an interesting case that could go either way depending on one's interpretation of the rule. The situation in Tennessee with running back Shonn Greene, to me, highlights the gray area on this issue.
10. One of the notable parts of the Patriots’ private Super Bowl ring ceremony earlier this month was Belichick’s recognition of just-retired special teams coach Scott O’Brien, and the impact O’Brien had on Belichick’s career. “You could feel the respect and admiration,” one player relayed. “Being here, you quickly find out how important special teams are; when we work on special teams, Scotty O takes full control and Coach Belichick lets him run the show. Players would sometimes say ‘special teams is too long, too big a part of practice,’ but that just reflected how we covered all situations.”
Programming note: I’ll be on vacation next week and Field Yates will be filing quick-hit thoughts/notes for July 5. The blog will have entries that have been planned in advance. Thanks, as always, for following along.