FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots:
1. Calling it the “Malcolm Butler Effect” might be overstating it a bit, but one thing I learned this past week is that Butler’s rise from undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler with the Patriots is reflective of an advantage the team has over others when it comes to recruiting undrafted free agents. The Patriots signed three undrafted cornerbacks this year -- Illinois’ V'Angelo Bentley, Auburn’s Jonathan Jones and Florida Atlantic's Cre'Von LeBlanc --– and the agents for those players told me Butler is one example of why they advised their clients to sign in New England.
“Clearly when a tryout guy like Malcolm Butler ends up where he does, it’s an example of how they play the best players and it’s truly an open competition, no matter how you got there,” said Joe Linta, who represents Jones (4.3 time in the 40-yard dash, but teams had concerns about his size, 5-foot-9⅛).
“It doesn’t matter what round or what school you’re from, if you perform you will have a spot there,” added Harold Lewis, who represents both Bentley and LeBlanc. “You also know that you’re going to get top coaching in New England -- you’re getting coached by the godfather [in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick] -- and even if you get cut there’s a greater chance you might get picked up from there than some other teams.”
All three cornerbacks -- Bentley, Jones and LeBlanc -- had multiple suitors after the draft. Bentley and LeBlanc both received $17,500 in guaranteed money in their pacts with the Patriots, with Lewis saying there were slightly more lucrative offers elsewhere.
The Patriots only signed eight undrafted free agents, and three were cornerbacks.
2. One of the primary questions that came up with NFL scouts and front-office folks when I asked about Patriots top pick Cyrus Jones, the cornerback from Alabama, is his size (5-foot-9⅞) and if that means his ceiling as a player will be as a nickelback playing solely on the inside part of the field. Jones played plenty on the perimeter in college, but some clubs don’t see the fit there in the NFL, which lessened his value on their boards.
3. A consistent theme I heard from others around the league about Patriots fourth-round pick Malcolm Mitchell, the 5-foot-11⅝, 198-pound receiver from Georgia, is his toughness over the middle as well as big, strong hands (10.5-inch hand size). “His best route is the skinny post,” one scouting director said. Concerns over his knee led at least one team to remove him from consideration, but I didn’t sense that was widespread across the league. If healthy, Mitchell has a chance to nicely complement the Patriots’ top three at the position -- Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan -- all of whom bring a little something different to the table.
4. It says a lot about what the 30-year-old Amendola values, and where he is at this point of his career, with his decision to accept a pay cut for the second year in a row. I can’t recall too many Patriots players who have had as many twists and turns from a public-perception standpoint as Amendola, who arrived with high expectations as Wes Welker's replacement in 2013, battled through injuries that first season, then produced just 27 catches in his second, which had some calling for him to be released. But Amendola’s time in New England made another turn in 2015, to the point that the idea of not having him back in 2016 would have been viewed as a major loss. This wasn’t necessarily the way the script was written when he first signed with the team, but it reflects why he has widespread respect from many in the organization.
5. From the football field to the race track: Unlike past years, when quarterback Tom Brady was a regular at the Kentucky Derby and sometimes stirred into a frenzy, he took this year off. But, as one would expect, there have been no days off for him in the team's voluntary offseason program the past three weeks.
6. It will require more time before the winner of the Patriots’ trade of defensive end Chandler Jones to the Cardinals can be determined, but this is the essence of it: The Cardinals get Jones and the Patriots land fourth-year guard Jonathan Cooper, rookie center/guard Joe Thuney (78th overall), Mitchell (112th overall) and about $5 million in 2016 salary-cap space. That was a result of the Patriots flipping the second-round pick they received from the Cardinals (61st) for the choices used to select Thuney and Mitchell. Many seemed to see the deal as a win-win when it was announced, and it will be interesting to see which side comes out on top when all is said and done.
7. One of the Patriots’ best moves of the NFL draft was trading their 2016 fifth-round pick to Seattle for a 2017 fourth-rounder, which helped replace the selection the NFL took away as part of Deflategate penalties. Otherwise, they would have entered next year’s draft with just five picks and no hope for any compensatory selections. From the Seahawks perspective, general manager John Schneider said, “we usually don’t do that sort of thing,” but they saw a notable drop-off of interior pass-rushers after Maryland’s Quinton Jefferson, and when considering their potential compensatory picks for 2017, they felt comfortable sacrificing the future selection.
7b. Belichick has traditionally been willing to sacrifice a pick in the current draft to improve the team’s draft position the following year, and some of his best trades came as a result of taking advantage of others’ urgency by practicing patience and landing big-time players the following year (e.g. Vince Wilfork in 2004, Jerod Mayo in 2008, Rob Gronkowski in 2010). But it seemed he was having trouble finding clubs to swing those deals in recent years, as the draft-day trade with Seattle was his first since 2011 in which he received a pick in a future draft. From 2000-2011, Belichick had swung 14 draft-day trades that involved a pick in the next year’s draft.
8. Monday will mark the start of the fourth week of the Patriots' offseason program. The first two were devoted to strength and conditioning, while May 2 marked the first time coaches could work with players on the field. That was welcome news for the coaching staff. "We spend enough days just slaving away in the office with film and all the rest of it, so it’s exciting to get a chance to meet with them and get a chance to get on the field,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We got a really good group of new guys that we’re getting to know, on and off the field. It’s a super group to work with.”
9. There was some confusion on the Patriots-based status of undrafted Mississippi State receiver/tight end De'Runnya Wilson, an intriguing prospect from a traits perspective (6-foot-4 ⅝, 224 pounds, 80.5-inch wingspan). Wilson had posted the Patriots’ logo on Instagram with his picture, and the Clarion-Ledger reported he was joining New England. But there was a breakdown somewhere along the way, and when I reached out to Wilson’s agent, Rodney Edwards, on Saturday, he said Wilson is not with the club.
10. The return of Patriots offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia is expected to have a positive impact on the club’s big men up front, not to mention his fellow coaches. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who worked with Scarnecchia as an assistant offensive-line coach in his early years with the club, said there was a “total calming effect” in having him back. Saying that he leans on Scarnecchia a lot, Patricia called him a “great coach, but an even better man.”