FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski just concluded his 11th season with the Patriots, and he summed it up this way: “It wasn’t my best. ... It was a trying year physically and mentally, but definitely the most rewarding season I think I've had. I would trade anything to be part of a team that wins the Super Bowl.”
I caught up with Gostkowski last week at a community event, and as usual, he was insightful in sharing his mindset when addressing individual struggles (34-of-39 on field goals; 53-of-57 on PATs) against the team’s success.
“It’s a hard balance to have in professional sports, when your team wins and you don’t play as well, or you play well and your team loses. When it can all come together, it’s the perfect combination,” he said. “Things aren’t always going to go 100 percent to plan, but I worked hard, kept a positive attitude, and we won the Super Bowl. It’s not always about stats and personal numbers and stuff.”
In many ways, Super Bowl LI was a microcosm of Gostkowski’s season. He hit on field goals of 41 and 33 yards, missed an extra point and delivered some clutch kickoffs that helped in the field-position game.
“It was very nice in the fourth quarter to be able to have the kickoff team come through the way we did. Everyone dreams of the big moment, and when we got to overtime, I was salivating for a chance, but you don’t get to make your own opportunities,” he said.
“To walk away from that game, I know I missed that extra point, but I made two field goals, and I felt like the kickoffs were really big and instrumental. It doesn’t really matter if I kick it good and the guys don’t go down there and cover. Football is the ultimate team sport.
“For it to finish that way as a team ... you kind of get back to realizing what you play for: for your team and to win, and not always just for yourself. Even in Year 11, at 33 years old, you still learn life lessons through sports. To have fun and go through stuff like that is why I got into it in the first place. It was an awesome time.”
Gostkowski said it still seems as though the Super Bowl “just happened," so “just taking a break mentally and physically is the most important thing.”
“For the last 6-7 years, we’ve made it all the way to February. We’re programmed to just keep going and going and going, and sometimes you have to take a step back, take a break, be refreshed. My game is so mental that just to get refreshed and get rebooted and refocused [is important].
“I don’t make excuses. In my position, people can act like the world is falling apart if you miss a couple kicks. I personally don’t see it that way. I was just part of a team where we won the Super Bowl. There have been years where I’ve been an All-Pro and you haven’t [won the Super Bowl], so you trade the good for the bad.
“To me, if you’re going to survive in my position, you have to have a short memory. That’s just how it is. Whatever criticism I have or haven’t gotten is right and just, but my days don’t go along by what people say or think about me. I’m always going to work hard to do my best. No one puts more pressure on me than I put on myself. Sometimes that can be a blessing, sometimes it cannot be. I’ll just keep working on trying to find that balance between whatever it takes to be the best. That’s what I strive to do.”
2. Since Gostkowski was selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, the Patriots have never had a young kicker in training camp who was a serious challenger to his job. Might that change in 2017? It’s possible after Gostkowski’s below-his-own-high-standard season, but even if the Patriots brought a young kicker in, Gostkowski would still be the strong favorite to retain the job. There is no compelling financial motivation to move away from Gostkowski, whose base salary of $2.7 million and cap hit of $4.5 million is still more than reasonable in a year when teams are operating with a $167 million cap. Gostkowski is signed through 2018.
3. A reminder that Bill Belichick’s Patriots are truly “on to 2017” came early last week when season-ticket holders received word that their invoices were being shipped out. With that notice came a few bullet points on “what to look for," which included no increase in ticket prices and some upper-concourse improvements scheduled for Gillette Stadium. There was also an advertisement for a Patriots ProShop exclusive “no days off” T-shirt on sale, which proves that Belichick -- more than a decade after making the hoodie with cut-off sleeves a New England fashion statement -- hasn’t lost his touch as a marketing machine.
4. After the Patriots’ 2015 preseason game against the New Orleans Saints, Belichick said of Saints receiver Brandin Cooks, “I’m glad we don’t have to play him twice a year. He’s a really good player.” The Patriots also got a close-up look at Cooks in joint practices before the 2015 game, as he had some spirited battles with cornerback Malcolm Butler, and have been impressed overall (the teams also had joint practices in 2016). So with the Saints listening to trade offers for Cooks, it is little surprise that the Patriots, according to Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com, have reached out to explore a possible deal. Something to keep an eye on as the offseason unfolds.
5. On Tuesday, Cinedigm, the NFL and NFL Films will release “Super Bowl LI Champions: New England Patriots” on Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and digital HD. The film goes deep inside the Patriots’ remarkable comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons. “The thing about this game is that pretty much all of it was unprecedented ... all of it was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on the game’s greatest stage,” said Todd Schmidt, senior producer at NFL Films. “So, from a storytelling standpoint, this gave us a unique opportunity to tell multiple stories on multiple levels. It all adds up to a great film.”
6. My understanding is that the Patriots’ unconventional negotiating approach with some top free agents -- which was highlighted in a Friday blog post with linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- also applies to a few others in this year’s free-agent crop: cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and tight end Martellus Bennett, among others. That means that there are no hardcore negotiations at this point with those players. They could still re-sign, but unless something changes abruptly in the next few days before free agency opens Thursday afternoon (not expected), that wouldn’t happen until they first explore what’s out there on the open market.
7. The first two head coaches to speak to reporters at the NFL combine -- Denver’s Vance Joseph and Buffalo’s Sean McDermott -- both highlighted how defenses are in sub packages 60-65 percent of the time (and in some cases even more), and that means a team’s fifth defensive back is closer to a starter-like value. In New England, that’s topical this offseason with Harmon falling into that category. Green Bay Packers safety Micah Hyde is a notable comparison, and it will be fascinating to watch what type of financial market evolves for players like Harmon and Hyde based on their growing importance in today’s sub-package game. Is $6 million per season an unreasonable thought?
8. The five-year, $32.4 million contract extension signed by Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon in November was one of the first things that came to mind after news this past week that the Kansas City Chiefs were close to signing right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to a five-year, $41.25 million extension. When guards are hauling in deals at a reported $8 million per season with $20 million guaranteed, that’s notable. Meanwhile, if Cannon had hit the open market after his excellent 2016 season -- in a year in which the draft is viewed as weak at offensive tackle and the free-agent market doesn’t have plentiful options -- the price could have spiked even higher. So here’s a thought that didn’t seem possible at this time last year: The re-signing of Cannon already has the Patriots' 2017 free agency off to a strong start.
9. One of the key things Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and his staff did at the NFL combine over the past few days was to gather as much intelligence as possible on where the financial market is headed at various positions. This is part of their annual standard operating procedure, which helps them assess player value when formulating their overall free-agent strategy, and is passed along as a public-service announcement to be careful at this point about reading too much into the Patriots “expressing interest” in any number of players or a specific position. More than anything, Caserio & Co. have been gauging the ever-evolving marketplace so they can make what they feel are the most informed decisions.
10. You’re a die-hard Patriots fan if you already know about Steve Cargile’s contributions to the team, as he’s a behind-the-scenes pro scout who, among other things, attends games of the team’s upcoming opponent and writes up reports for the coaching staff. Cargile, a 2004 graduate of Columbia, just concluded his sixth season with the Patriots’ personnel department (fifth as a pro scout) and was recognized by the Fritz Pollard Alliance as the AFC Scout of the Year. “Great evaluator of talent, great person,” said Bob Quinn, the Lions’ general manager and former Patriots director of pro scouting. “He has a bright future in this league.” I enjoyed this Patriots.com video of Cargile accepting the honor, which came with a human touch on a not-often-talked-about scout.