FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Bill Belichick turns 64 on April 16, putting him closer to the end of his coaching career than the beginning. However much longer he plans to coach (five years, perhaps?), this final stretch undoubtedly has some added meaning to him as both of his sons – Steven and Brian -- are now officially learning under him as Patriots employees. After four years of behind-the-scenes work as a New England defensive coaching assistant, Steven was promoted to become the team’s safeties coach last week. Brian has officially begun scouting for the club, most recently seen attending Auburn’s pro day as part of a larger Patriots contingent. Bill Belichick followed in his father’s footsteps coaching football, first learning by his side at the Naval Academy, and now his sons are following him as they take early steps in their careers. Football, no doubt, is a big part of the Belichick family business. That has to make Bill Belichick the dad pretty proud.
2. When the Patriots announced their 2016 coaching staff on Friday, one of the significant parts of it was moving Brian Flores (Boston College class of 2003) from safeties to linebackers coach. If defensive coordinator Matt Patricia were to depart for a head-coaching job in the future, Flores would be the likely in-house choice for a promotion. Just as Bill Belichick develops young players, he does so with coaches, too, and the move with Flores will give him experience coaching a different level of the defense. It’s similar to Matt Patricia’s move from linebackers coach (2006-2010) to safeties coach (2011) before becoming coordinator. Keep an eye on Flores as a coach on the rise.
3. The Cardinals are officially listing former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones as an outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, which on the surface, doesn’t seem like a big deal. But from a financial/franchise tag standpoint, it highlights one of the loopholes in the system and surely caught the attention of Jones’ agents. Consider that in 2016, the franchise tag for defensive ends was $15.7 million, while the franchise tag for linebackers was $14.1 million. That’s something I’ve filed away for next offseason if the Cardinals consider tagging Jones if an extension isn’t reached.
4. Three takeaways from Jones’ initial news conference with the Cardinals: 1) Arizona GM Steve Keim has a little Bill Parcells to him: He's blunt, humorous, confident and not shy about taking a dig at the media for spreading misinformation; 2) This is how Keim described the trade coming together in talks with New England: “If you know Nick Caserio and Bill Belichick, you know that ‘stealth’ is a good word.”; 3) Had to be a culture-shock moment for Jones when he said he wasn’t worried about a potential contract extension – which is a Patriots-type approach of not putting one’s personal situation ahead of the team – only to have Keim respond with a laugh, “If he’s not worried about it, we can do it right now.”
5. I like the Jones trade for both teams and here’s why: Arizona needs a pass-rusher and Jones has a chance to thrive in the pressure-heavy scheme. The price of a second-round pick, guard Jonathan Cooper, and the impact on the salary cap isn’t extreme for a Super Bowl contender. Meanwhile, the Patriots used the salary flexibility to open up space for tight end Martellus Bennett, effectively redistributing assets on the roster, and still have Jabaal Sheard at defensive end to fill the void along with Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Rufus Johnson. The signing of Sheard last offseason to a two-year, $12 million deal looks especially smart, given the way the market at the position has skyrocketed. As for Cooper, he was a disappointment in Arizona, but he still has uncommon traits for the position (such as athleticism) that are worth working with to see where it leads. He wasn’t a clincher in the deal, but the Patriots have long been intrigued with him.
6. Did you know: Bill Belichick enters his 17th season as Patriots coach, and he has the longest run of any coach in the league. Belichick’s continuity is rare when considering there have been at least seven head coaching changes either during the season or in that particular offseason in each of the last six years.
7. Some Bears reporters pointed to Bennett’s answer as to why things didn’t work out in Chicago as reflective of how Bennett put himself above the team at times; Bennett only mentioned his personal statistics in his answer, not the team’s won-loss record. That type of approach doesn’t fly in New England, which is really the only part of the trade for Bennett that comes with some risk for the Patriots. Will Bennett buy in to the team-first approach in New England?
8. Right up until the day defensive tackle Akiem Hicks agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with the Bears as an unrestricted free agent, there was an open dialogue with Belichick about him staying in New England. The Patriots were offering a longer-term deal but with a lower average per year, selling Hicks on being able to maximize his skills in the team’s scheme, which was evident upon his arrival in an Oct. 1 trade. Belichick probably knew the Patriots would ultimately be outbid on Hicks, which might have led to the early free-agent signing of defensive tackle Frank Kearse to build depth, but this wasn’t a case where the Patriots went down without a fight.
9. The Patriots’ track record of identifying players who might have been caught in a scheme change or fallen out of favor with their teams is pretty strong under Belichick, and that’s the essence of the team’s three-year deal with former Bears linebacker Shea McClellin. Some might be surprised at the terms, which ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan reported as $12 million with $3.5 million guaranteed. But that tells me Belichick thinks McClellan – who made few impact plays in Chicago while playing under three different coordinators and switching from end-of-the-line player to off-the-line linebacker in his third season – was misused in Chicago and has valuable traits (such as athleticism, versatility, intelligence) that can be tapped in the Patriots’ system. Based on the team’s history in reviving the careers of players (Mark Anderson in 2011, Akeem Ayers in 2014, Hicks in 2015), it would be foolish to bet against McClellin, who might have been a Patriots first-round pick in 2012 had the Bears not selected him at No. 19, two spots before the Patriots’ initial selection. McClellin visited the Seahawks before signing with the Patriots.
10. The NFL’s annual meeting takes place Monday through Wednesday in Boca Raton, Florida, and from a Patriots perspective, one might say this is the last chance in a league-wide setting to make a plea to get their 2016 first-round draft choice back from the NFL. But in reality, the odds of the pick being reinstated are about zero percent, in part because no other owners have shown any support, and commissioner Roger Goodell clearly isn’t budging. The AFC coaches media breakfast is Tuesday morning, and the expectation at this point is that Belichick will take part. If the past is any indication, Patriots owner Robert Kraft should answer questions from reporters at some point.