FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. One area to monitor in the offseason is Patriots players who undergo surgeries to address lingering issues, and rookie guard Tre' Jackson (13 games played, nine starts) falls into that category. Jackson, who missed both playoff games with a knee injury, underwent a knee scope over the past month. It isn’t expected to affect his long-term availability, but it will naturally affect his offseason workouts, initially putting him on more of a rehabilitation track. Jackson slipped to the fourth round in the 2015 draft and some teams cited concern with his knees as a reason why.
2. When considering negotiating an offer sheet for restricted free agents -- as the Patriots did by bringing in receiver Chris Hogan (Bills) and running back Benny Cunningham (Rams) for visits last week -- a key part of the consideration is the salary-cap situation of the team that player is coming from. Hogan, for example, was an easy target for the Patriots because the Bills are so close to the salary cap ($4.5 million of space) and that makes it easier to structure an offer that is unlikely to be matched. Meanwhile, the Rams have about $30 million in cap space, making it easier for them to match an offer sheet if the Patriots pursued one with Cunningham. That probably explains why Hogan got an offer sheet and Cunningham didn’t.
3. New England's aggressive offer sheet with Hogan -- which includes a $5.5 million cap charge for 2016 -- had some asking why the Patriots didn’t take the same approach with receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the 2013 offseason. Sanders, then with the Steelers, was a restricted free agent who signed a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet in New England. Sanders had been tendered at $1.3 million that season, so the Patriots would have doubled his pay. Still, it wasn’t enough of an increase to dissuade the Steelers from matching (they would have received a third-round pick if they hadn't). In retrospect, it’s a fair second-guess -- the Patriots might have simply been hoping that the Steelers valued the third-round pick more -- and perhaps that experience led to the team’s more aggressive offer with Hogan.
4. This was a good year to be a free-agent wide receiver, as Marvin Jones ($8 million per year/Lions), Mohamed Sanu ($6 million/Falcons), Rishard Matthews ($5 million/Titans), Rod Streater ($4 million/Chiefs) and Hogan ($4 million/Patriots) all landed deals that had to have exceeded their initial expectations entering free agency. This is what happens when the demand outweighs the supply, and from a Patriots perspective, this is where the lack of emergence from 2013 draft picks Aaron Dobson (second round) and Josh Boyce (fourth) hurts most. The struggles to groom a young receiver put the Patriots in a spot where they had to be buyers on the market.
5a. The Patriots never aggressively pursued or made an offer to veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, who ended up signing a two-year, $8 million deal with Baltimore, but my sense is that they would have strongly considered his return if the market for him came in lower than it ultimately did. That would have been a fun storyline: The 2004 Patriots first-round pick ending his career where it started. From a Patriots standpoint, this underscores how the team is still looking for help at the position, which included bringing free-agent Clay Harbor in for a visit last Thursday. One name to file away in that tight end mix: sixth-round pick AJ Derby. The Arkansas alum who spent his rookie season on injured reserve has mostly remained in town this offseason, working out regularly at Gillette Stadium.
5b. As for this year’s draft, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said of the tight-end class before the combine: “In the last five years, we’ve averaged 14 tight ends drafted overall, about four-and-a-half tight ends go in the first three rounds, and I think this is the typical class.” Mayock sees Derby’s old teammate at Arkansas, Hunter Henry, as a borderline first-rounder, followed by Stanford’s Austin Hooper, South Carolina’s Jerell Adams and Ohio State’s Nick Vannett. "I think they’re going to go in the first three rounds," he said.
6. Did You Know: Since the NFL first started awarding compensatory draft picks in 1994, the Patriots have received 33 selections. That ranks as the fourth-highest total in the NFL, behind the Ravens (47), Cowboys (37) and Packers (37).
7. The Patriots are hosting free-agent cornerback Antwon Blake (Steelers) this weekend, after which Blake plans to visit the Titans. If familiarity is a deciding factor, it’s going to be hard to beat Tennessee, as Blake played under Titans coach Mike Mularkey as a rookie in 2012 in Jacksonville and under Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh (2013-2014). Blake had some rocky moments as a starter in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped teams currently looking for depth at the position -- New England, Tennessee, Carolina, etc. -- from reaching out to him.
8. First there was Wayne Chrebet, now there is Chris Hogan. That’s the story for agent Art Weiss, who represents both and sees some similarities in their stories. Both came out of non-football factories -- Chrebet from Hofstra, Hogan from Monmouth -- and Weiss was their biggest champion as their agent. Talk about finding diamonds in the rough ... two times over.
9a. When the Patriots signed under-the-radar free-agent defensive tackle Frank Kearse on Friday, it made me think this is probably another example of how joint practices in training camp played a factor in the club’s interest in a player. New England and Washington worked out in Richmond, Virginia, in the summer of 2014, and so that gave the Patriots a few days of practice film in addition to the limited snaps Kearse had on tape the past two seasons (77 in 2015; 259 in 2014) to work off. Kearse (6-foot-5, 310 pounds) also played 31 snaps in the 2014 preseason opener against the Patriots, and when I re-watched that game to see if anything stood out, Kearse did have a few nice pass rushes against left guard Jordan Devey and right guard Josh Kline.
9b. Kearse won’t be wearing No. 73, which he donned in Washington, with the Patriots. That number is retired, thanks to Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah.
10. With Patriots free-agent defensive tackle Akiem Hicks taking visits to Chicago and Detroit this weekend, one would think a decision on his future isn't far away. Hicks has connections in both places -- Chicago general manager Ryan Pace was director of player personnel in New Orleans during Hicks' time there, while Detroit GM Bob Quinn was Patriots pro personnel director and took pride in his role in the team trading for Hicks in 2015. Given the dynamics in play, and the Patriots' signing of Kearse, it would be an upset at this point if Hicks is back in New England.