FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. NFL teams are allowed 10 organized team activities in the offseason, in addition to three days of mandatory minicamp sessions, but there are several examples around the NFL in which teams aren’t using their full allotment. The Patriots are one, as Bill Belichick didn’t have players on the field for what would have been their final OTA on Thursday, instead concluding the team’s offseason work with conditioning-type tests that began as early as 7 a.m. for some players. In all, Belichick officially used seven of 10 OTAs for on-field work, which were in addition to the team’s three-day minicamp. When I see something like this, and then consider how the NFL penalizes some rule-breaking teams by taking away a week of OTAs (e.g. Ravens in 2016 for illegally having players in pads at rookie minicamp), it’s a reminder of how light that type of penalty is. For some teams, the NFL is taking away something they wouldn’t have used anyway.
1b. Some league-wide context: The Cardinals, Chargers, Lions, Texans, Titans and Vikings were among the teams to cut practices short this spring, while the Steelers used one OTA to go to Dave & Buster's for some team bonding.
2. On Fathers Day, it’s timely to point out that 2016 has a chance to be unique for Belichick as his two sons, Steven and Brian, now work for the team in new roles. Steve was promoted to safeties coach after four years as a coaching assistant and Brian joined the scouting staff. Specific to having Steve on the coaching staff, Belichick said recently, “It’s really special. It’s special to be able to come in every day and see him. There were certainly a lot of days I wasn’t there when they were at school. I was doing my thing and they were doing theirs, so it’s great to be able to see him every day.”
3. Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins attended Southern Mississippi and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox went to Mississippi State, and both are Mississippi natives. So perhaps there was some Mississippi pride in play when Collins was one of the first people on Twitter to “favorite” and retweet Adam Schefter’s breaking news that Cox had agreed to a six-year, $103 million extension with the Eagles that included $63 million in guarantees. Collins is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season and, like Cox, is viewed as one of the top players at his position. No doubt, he’s keeping track of some of the big-money deals being struck across the NFL, such as Cox’s.
Congrats homie @fcoxx_91 yessir 💰💰💰— Jamie Collins (@j_collins91) June 13, 2016
4. Michael Lombardi is moving on from his role as assistant to the Patriots coaching staff after two years -- a transition back to the media could be in his future -- but it wouldn’t be surprising if Lombardi still maintains some type of adviser-type connection with Belichick as he has in the past. Quality take by Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com on the topic.
5. Former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork hasn’t missed a game since recovering from a torn Achilles sustained early in the 2013 season, which is a real credit to him. That type of injury is tough for any player to return from, but it’s especially tough for someone Wilfork’s size (listed at 325 pounds) who has to be able to play with a sturdy base and hold his ground. Now comes this from Wilfork, per the Houston Chronicle: “I think I have a couple more good years in me.” Wilfork turns 35 on Nov. 4.
5b. Random thought: When Wilfork joined the Patriots as a first-round pick in 2004, he was paired with veteran defensive tackle Keith “Tractor” Traylor, who had impressive durability and longevity at that position by playing at a starting-caliber level until he was 38. They aren’t carbon copies in terms of playing style (e.g. Wilfork is a more athletic player for his size), but I think it’s a neat comparison to make at a position where it’s unusual to see a 16-year career such as Traylor. Wilfork, entering his 13th season, just might match it when all is said and done.
6. While the Patriots’ offseason program is technically over, it actually continues this week for the team’s rookie class, which is scheduled to be at Gillette Stadium from Wednesday to Friday for what the NFL is calling the “rookie transition program.” This takes the place of the previously held rookie symposium, which most recently was hosted at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and made headlines last year for all the wrong reasons. The Patriots have traditionally been attentive to this area, as last month I bumped into former Boston Celtics forward Antoine Walker outside the team’s Hall of Fame, as he was in town to speak to the team’s rookies about managing finances. Walker’s story is an important one for all players to hear.
7. Patriots No. 3 tight end Michael Williams, who tore his left ACL on June 8 during mandatory minicamp, should be finalizing his plans for surgery in the coming days. While the injury and his placement on season-ending injured reserve is a disappointing blow for him, he has kept his spirits up. One thing that has helped is the NBA Finals. Williams is a big fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their surge to force Game 7 tonight has been fun for him to watch. It is often said that sports can be a nice diversion from some of our daily struggles, and that has been true, in part, for Williams over the last 11 days.
8. The top of the Patriots’ tight-end depth chart is locked in with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, with the No. 3 spot being an unanswered question. Seven-year veteran Clay Harbor is the leading candidate because he landed a $400,000 signing bonus as a free agent, which is a significant amount. But I don’t think that necessarily makes him a lock, as evidenced by last year when the Patriots gave veteran receiver Reggie Wayne a $450,000 signing bonus and his time with the club barely lasted two weeks. Harbor will still have to earn it on the field.
9. Here’s the latest on second-year Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona of Navy and his hopes of playing for the team this season: He has filled out all paperwork to be transferred to the reserves, and now it’s a matter of when the paperwork is processed for him to be cleared to play in 2016 and beyond. It’s never official until the football is over the goal-line, but at this point, the feeling with some of those involved is that it would be a surprise if Cardona isn’t available to the team this year.
10. One leftover from Patriots spring practices: Second-year defensive end Trey Flowers, who played in just one game as a rookie after injuring his shoulder in the preseason, caught my eye by aligning as an interior rusher at times. That’s something the Patriots have been doing more with their ends in sub packages (e.g. Jabaal Sheard in 2015), and if Flowers shows a knack for playing there, it would add to his value as an under-the-radar player who could potentially carve out a role for himself. The long-armed Flowers was a high fourth-round draft pick last year and flashed briefly in the 2015 preseason with a sack of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers before getting hurt. The Patriots seem to be still figuring out what they have in the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Flowers, who they hope with eventually become a productive piece for them as top ends Rob Ninkovich, Sheard and Chris Long all have contracts that expire after the 2016 season.