FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Bill Belichick wouldn’t be human if he didn’t question the quality of information he’s received from former Florida coach and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer – or the value he’s decided to place on it -- over the years. Belichick seems to have a blind spot for Meyer and his program, but if he objectively looks at the players he’s drafted that were recruited by/played for Meyer at Florida, the results are extremely poor given where those players were picked: receiver Chad Jackson (second round, 36th, 2006), defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (second round, 53rd, 2010), linebacker Brandon Spikes (second round, 62nd, 2010), tight end Aaron Hernandez (fourth round, 113th, 2010) and now Dominique Easley (first round, 29th, 2014), who played as a freshman for Meyer at Florida. Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all-time, but this track record – from an on-field and off-field perspective -- should be a wake-up call to him and lead to some further reflection on how the breakdowns occurred.
2. One area where I give Belichick and the Patriots credit is their willingness to admit a mistake and move on quickly. They bombed on the Easley pick, which is about as bad of a miscue as they’ve had in Belichick’s 16 drafts because – given a multimillion-dollar scouting budget and an overall thoroughness that is admired by many in the NFL -- this wasn’t as much about the health of Easley’s knees as his overall fit in the program as an individual. As Belichick says from time to time (most recently last week), being a member of the Patriots isn’t for everyone, and he badly miscalculated that Easley was a fit, which is generally out of character for the club with a first-round pick. At the same time, some teams would hesitate to cut the cord on a first-rounder after just two years, in part because of the heavy public criticism that would naturally come with it. That’s not Belichick, and it obviously helps that his job security is never in question.
3. What the Patriots are valuing from a traits standpoint at defensive tackle could be changing. That is how one member of the Patriots front office described Friday’s decision to waive one-time starter Chris Jones, which came two days after jettisoning Easley. Both Jones and Easley fit best in a more traditional 4-3, and the Patriots seem poised to phase out 3-technique tackles on their roster while focusing more on bigger, stouter tackles. With defensive ends such as Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard rushing inside in certain sub packages the last two years and a deep group of defensive ends currently on the roster in 2016, the word being spread to some is that the club might not be valuing the pure 3-technique defensive tackle as highly as it once did because it might be adopting a different philosophy up front. I'm curious to see how, if at all, that manifests itself.
4. NFL teams can bring up to 30 draft prospects to their facility as part of the scouting process, and the Patriots often dedicate a good number of those visits to players with medical questions so they can get the most up-to-date and independent medical report. Auburn offensive tackle Shon Coleman falls into that category, as he had the Patriots on his itinerary after he was excluded from the combine because of a right knee injury. With starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and swing tackle Marcus Cannon entering the final seasons of their contracts, drafting a developmental tackle could be on the Patriots’ radar and Coleman (who will be 25 during his rookie season) might fit early in the draft if his medical status checks out.
5. Belichick turned 64 Saturday, which also marked the 16th anniversary of the Patriots selecting quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, so it’s no wonder many stopped to recognize the significance of the day for the franchise. Belichick shows no signs of slowing down, even as he’s climbed the ranks among the game’s oldest head coaches.
6. Belichick’s job security and willingness to think long-term has created countless opportunities to help the franchise while taking advantage of the short-term urgency of other teams. That was the thought that came to mind with Thursday’s Titans-Rams trade in which former Patriots director of college scouting Jon Robinson – now in his first year as Titans general manager – shipped the No. 1 overall pick to Los Angeles in exchange for an impressive haul of selections (in 2016 and 2017). It was a Belichick-type move. While I understand the trade from the Rams’ perspective (if you think you can get a franchise quarterback, you go for it), I thought this was a winning move for Robinson and the Titans, who already have their franchise quarterback and need more quality and depth across the roster.
7. Did You Know: With the Patriots opening the season at Arizona, it marks the first time the team will begin a season playing an NFC team since 2000, Belichick’s first year as coach (a 21-16 home loss to Tampa Bay) and only the third time since 1985, when they hosted the Packers.
8. I sat at Cardinals coach Bruce Arians’ media table for 90 minutes at the NFL’s owners meeting last month, and here are the four most notable storylines facing his team based on the discussion at the table: 1) How does quarterback Carson Palmer respond from his four-interception dud in the NFC Championship Game?; 2) How does the defense, which added former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones in a trade, produce more consistent pressure and sacks after just 36 last season?; 3) Will impressive safety Tyrann Mathieu, who tore his ACL in late December, be ready?; 4) Is 2015 first-round draft pick D.J. Humphries ready to step in at right tackle after not playing as a rookie, and will A.Q. Shipley fill the void at center?
9. The Patriots’ voluntary offseason program begins Monday, with Brady among many expected to be in attendance. What can players do? Here’s a refresher, as “phase one” is a two-week stretch that is limited to four hours per day and only strength and conditioning activities. This will be the first taste that Patriots players get of what might be different in the team’s strength program, with assistant Moses Cabrera taking over for the departed Harold Nash. Cabrera is joined by first-year assistant James Hardy.
10. The Patriots have 19 players with workout bonuses in their contracts that total $1.297 million for 2016, and tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman have the largest workout bonuses, at $250,000 each. The presence of a workout bonus in a contract can motivate a player to attend, or in some cases, lead the team to part ways with a player, which might be the case with roster long shots Eric Martin (due a $20,000 workout bonus) and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (due a $25,000 workout bonus), who were released last week.