FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots:
1. For a team that often capitalizes on leverage in contract negotiations, Friday’s news that safety Patrick Chung had signed a one-year extension through 2018 that put more up-front money in his pocket might have seemed out of character for the Patriots. But in many ways, this was business as usual. Boiled down to its simplest terms, the Patriots took the $1.8 million that Chung was likely to earn in playing-time incentives in 2016 and 2017 (for playing 80 percent of the defensive snaps) and turned it into an up-front signing bonus with an added sweetener ($1.8 million plus an additional $600,000). In return, Chung agreed to an additional year to the pact. This type of trade-off -- turning incentives into signing-bonus money in exchange for an extra year of service -- has been a regular part of Patriots business over the years for players whose roles/situations have changed from the time they initially signed the deal. It’s usually a win-win: The player is happy to receive some up-front cash instead of having to earn it through incentives, and the team gains an additional year contract-wise in its long-term planning. Just don’t mistake Chung's extension for the Patriots handing out money without getting something in return. There are seldom, if ever, any giveaways in Foxborough.
2. The letter sent by the NFL’s lawyers to the New York Times demanding that the newspaper retract its story on concussions was written by Brad S. Karp, which caught my attention because Karp was one of the three authors of the Wells report that was used as the foundation for the league's Deflategate penalties against the Patriots. Among the points made by Karp in the letter to the Times was that the story was “false and defamatory” and based on a “grand total of five pieces of circumstantial evidence.” It's probably not a stretch to think that some in the Patriots organization had a “what comes around goes around” reaction to Karp’s letter to the Times.
3. I’m anxiously awaiting specific details of the one-year deal defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has agreed to with the Patriots, which reportedly will have a maximum value of $4.5 million. That sounds too rich on the surface, considering the team lost out on free-agent defensive tackles Akiem Hicks and Nick Fairley for not being willing to extend that far. My strong sense is that Knighton’s base pact will be closer to $2 million, with realistic incentives that can push it to around $3 million, and then hard-to-reach incentives (e.g. 80 percent playing time; Pro Bowl, etc.) that inflate the total to $4.5 million to make it look richer than it really is. When looking at it through that lens -- one year, $3 million vs. one year, $4.5 million -- it would change the context of the financial discussion.
4. Last year’s preseason opponents were announced April 9, so if that schedule holds true to form in 2016, we could be getting some news this week that will shape how the Patriots approach part of August with the possibility of joint practices. Bill Belichick has raved about working with Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints in the past (most recently in 2015 at the Greenbrier), and I’m sure Belichick would like it if they could come to New England this year. Meanwhile, the Patriots and Giants have met in the preseason finale each of the past 11 years, rotating between home and away each year, and if the streak continues in 2016 that game will be in the Meadowlands.
5. For a story last week on Patriots defensive end Chris Long last week, I asked his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long, if he sees any similarities between their styles of play. His answer: “I think he’s a player that plays 100 percent all the time and doesn’t cheat you, and you know exactly what you’re going to get. From that standpoint, I think we’re similar. I was more of a defensive tackle, I played in a two-gap, three-man front and most of my pass-rush stuff was over the guards and over the center. So we’re not similar from a position standpoint, but I think from a mindset standpoint and a respect for the game, I think he has that, and he’s always had that. He’s always been a very diligent worker and he understands what a great opportunity it is, and what a great organization it is.”
6. After a flurry of roster additions over the past week, the Patriots will have 76 players under contract when all deals become official. This puts them in a similar spot to last year entering the draft: The roster was stocked a bit more than the norm and there weren’t as many spots to be filled. The Patriots currently have 11 draft picks, meaning they will once again sign a small group of undrafted free agents; in essence, the team’s five sixth-round selections and two seventh-rounders will be their undrafted class.
7. Did You Know: Patriots receiver Chris Hogan played 613 offensive snaps over 16 games for the Bills last season as the team’s No. 3 option at the position, which accounted for 57 percent of Buffalo’s overall snaps. That total would have ranked second among Patriots receivers last season, behind Brandon LaFell (659 snaps).
8. One agent whose free-agent client recently had a workout with the Patriots shared the following: When word of the player’s visit to New England had become public, four teams called that day to express some level of interest. Up to that point, interest in the player around the league had been dormant. It was explained to me by the agent that there aren’t as many forward-thinking teams in the NFL as one might think, but the Patriots are considered one of them, and this was one example of how their actions can sometimes spark movement from other clubs who are more likely to be reactive than proactive.
9. Texans coach Bill O’Brien repeated something at the NFL owners meeting that caught my attention: Coaching Tom Brady was one of the most challenging jobs he’s ever had in football, in part because of how prepared Brady is and how that required a heightened level of preparation on the coaches' part. Because of that, O'Brien couldn’t help but become a better coach. This is what I think some NFL owners are missing when it comes to Josh McDaniels’ strong future candidacy as a head coach; some have the perception that Brady could make any coach look good, but that's way too simplistic.
10. The Patriots Hall of Fame committee meets Wednesday to discuss all eligible candidates for induction in 2016, with the field narrowed to three and then one inductee ultimately selected via a fan vote. Last year’s finalists who weren’t inducted -- offensive tackle Leon Gray (1973-78) and cornerback Raymond Clayborn (1977-89) -- should once again be a big part of the discussion. Linebacker Mike Vrabel (2001-2008) and safety Rodney Harrison (2003-2008) are two of the most recent retirees whose candidacy has generated plenty of chatter. It's one of my favorite days of the year, with a focus on the history of the franchise.
EXTRA POINT: A reminder that it’s always football season in New England: Both sports radio stations have NFL shows Sunday morning, with Christopher Price and Mike Giardi on WEEI-FM 93.7 from 9-11 a.m., and Bob Socci on WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub from 9-10 a.m. ET. Both are well worth the listen.