FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. At the NFL's owners meeting on Wednesday in Chicago, commissioner Roger Goodell once again referred to the Wells report as “independent.” A natural follow-up question to me is how he defines “independent” because attorney Ted Wells himself acknowledged in testimony at Tom Brady's appeal that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash did some “wordsmithing” to the Wells report. Also, Lorin Reisner, a co-author of the Wells report, cross-examined Brady at the appeal hearing on behalf of the NFL. Based on what is now on the public record, I think it's fair to challenge Goodell's use of the word “independent” when it comes to the Wells report.
2. When Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick first addressed reporters July 29, the day before the first open practice of training camp, it set a tone that they'd do everything possible to ensure Brady's fight with the NFL didn't become a distraction. My feeling is that they've mostly achieved their goal. It hasn't seemed like a distraction, but for the first time, I felt it truly became a drain last week when Brady missed practice on Tuesday. Everyone knew that Brady wasn't going to be there at Wednesday's walkthrough practice when he was in court, but to have him miss Tuesday's session marked the first time I witnessed Brady's battle with Goodell truly affect the team's on-field product. I sensed that really bothered Brady, and I think that's part of why he pushed to play in Thursday's preseason opener when initial plans called for him to watch from the sideline. It was therapeutic for him to be back with his team.
3. To use a football metaphor, a settlement between Brady and the NFL seems like a Hail Mary at this point. Both sides are dug in. I think back to this Brady/Goodell photo from the Super Bowl MVP press conference on Feb. 2, and then consider this tweet from Gary Myers of the New York Daily News from Wednesday's settlement hearing in court that detailed how Brady never once locked eyes with Goodell, and it's amazing how fast things can change ... and also how long this could extend (into 2016 and perhaps beyond if there is a decision that leads to appeals).
4. Watching Texans coach Bill O'Brien during the first episode of HBO's “Hard Knocks” as he quizzed players on the identity of team executives (“who is the COO of the Houston Texans?”) and teammates (“this is Akeem Dent, he's been in the league five years!”) had me thinking that was a page straight out of the Bill Belichick coaching and team-building book. Belichick is known for regularly quizzing players, putting them on the spot about their own team/upcoming opponent, and I know how much respect O'Brien has for Belichick. With that as the backdrop, it was neat for me to see.
5. Sometimes a team gets a run of injuries at a position in training camp, and it leads them to explore trade possibilities. Along those lines, the Patriots had been working the phones recently looking for some offensive tackle help around the NFL to no avail, so that's a position that could be of interest to them as teams trim rosters in the coming weeks. The need for a tackle was heightened as starter Nate Solder (left) is working his way back from an undisclosed ailment, starter Sebastian Vollmer (right) is being managed from offseason shoulder surgery, and top swing tackle Marcus Cannon has been out since the early days of training camp. The good news for the Patriots is that all three appear to be making progress to be ready when it counts; the bad news is that the short-term void remains and second-year player Chris Barker -- who is more of a guard -- had to go wire-to-wire at left tackle in Thursday's preseason opener.
6. The Patriots visit the Saints for joint practices in West Virginia on Wednesday and Thursday (9:30 a.m. ET both days), and it's a chance to catch up with former Patriots Brandon Browner (cornerback) and Benjamin Watson (tight end). Browner might not practice after being carted off in the first quarter of the Saints' preseason opener, while Watson -- now in his 12th NFL season -- has had a nice training camp and is in line for a potential larger role as a pass-catcher with Jimmy Graham now in Seattle. Saints coach Sean Payton recently praised the steadiness of Watson, who is still going strong at 34 years old.
7. Did You Know: Of the 31 second-round selections in the 2012 draft, four are no longer on the team that drafted them, two have already signed long-term extensions (Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Tampa linebacker Lavonte David), and the remaining picks are scheduled to become free agents after the season. Those stats come courtesy of ESPN's Stats & Information, as I had reached out to them to gauge the staying power of Patriots safety Tavon Wilson (48th overall), who has played in every game but three from 2012-2014 and whose primary role has been on special teams and in the dime defense.
8. When receiver Greg Salas was with the Patriots in 2012, I got a little carried away and predicted he'd finish that season with 61 catches. Turns out I was only 61 off the mark. Some of my loyal readers like to playfully rib me about that from time to time, which happened once again Friday when Salas had an impressive preseason debut with the Lions (5 catches, 92 yards, TD). Yes, I'm still a believer in Salas, as there have been three primary obstacles he's had to overcome: Untimely injuries, poor quarterback play, and never being able to settle into one offensive system (this is the fifth he's had to learn in five years). In Detroit this year, it's wide open at receiver after Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, so this looks like Salas' best chance to emerge. No pressure, Greg, but I'm counting on you. The quest to 61 starts now!
9. In an effort to see parts of the game more through a scouting lens, I reached out to Dan Hatman -- former Eagles, Jets and Giants scout and currently the director of the Scouting Academy -- to solicit his opinion on a few things I observed from Patriots players in Thursday's preseason opener. One of the players we discussed is rookie left guard Shaq Mason (fourth round, 131st overall), who the Patriots have had as the first-unit left guard since Day 1 of training camp. Mason is an intriguing prospect coming from a triple option offense at Georgia Tech; he's an athletic, powerful run-blocker who has a steeper learning curve as a pass-blocker. Hatman noted that Mason's hands aren't always connected to his feet as a pass-blocker, which explains why he was beaten badly to the outside shoulder multiple times in Thursday's preseason opener on sacks/pressures. From a pure technique standpoint, Mason wasn't taking a second step with his left foot, leaving him vulnerable to the rush over the outside shoulder. How fast can Mason get those hands connected to his feet? The answer to that question will determine how quickly he emerges as a starter.
10. Bill Belichick doesn't often allow access inside the Patriots' team meeting room, but he made an exception last Saturday by allowing the team's website inside for a team meeting devoted to the memory of the late Junior Seau. That night, Seau was to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I thought it was fantastic on multiple levels -- first because it captured the impact Seau had on many during his time in New England (2006-2009) and also to get a feel for a team meeting, how Belichick runs it, and seeing players and coaches in that environment. Enjoy.