FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. The Patriots have a reputation for being tough at the negotiating table, but they have also shown a more sensitive side in certain situations. What they did for defensive tackle Lawrence Guy on Feb. 15 is one example.
Similar to how the team adjusted the incentives in offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer's contract in 2014 to give him a better chance to earn them when circumstances changed, the Patriots rewarded the hard-working Guy with a $500,000 renegotiation signing bonus, per documents filed with the NFL Players Association (and first noted by Twitter follower @IanWhetstone).
The $500,000 renegotiation signing bonus was a result of Guy missing a $500,000 playing time incentive by less than 1 percent from this past season. Guy would have earned $500,000 if he played in 55 percent of the defensive snaps in 2017. He played 54.8 percent, in part because of a limited workload (27 of 59 plays) in the season finale against the Jets as the game was in hand and resting Guy -- who is a starter -- became more of a priority.
Guy's agent, Jack Scharf, declined comment when asked about the $500,000 bonus.
Nonetheless, it is a kind gesture, and reflects how Guy has earned the respect of the Patriots' brass, specifically Bill Belichick.
2. The Patriots have yet to finalize their 2018 coaching staff, but the fact that offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia keeps showing up at the office -- as he's done regularly since Super Bowl LII -- appears to be a positive sign regarding his plans for the upcoming season. At this point, I'd be surprised if Scarnecchia isn't back with the club.
3. When analyzing Bill Belichick's decision to not play Malcolm Butler on defense in Super Bowl LII, here is the stat that stands out: When the Patriots were in their dime defense (6 defensive backs) in the first half, the Eagles completed 6 of 9 passes for 135 yards and had a 26-yard run. The Eagles were 6-of-8 on third down in the first half against the dime defense.
Patriots coaches identified this as a problem as Justin Timberlake was performing at halftime (too late) and made an adjustment to remove safety Jordan Richards from the dime package and insert cornerback Johnson Bademosi, once again electing to pass over Butler.
So the question isn't necessarily why Eric Rowe started over Butler as one of the team's two corners (after a slow start, Rowe was competitive). The more relevant question is why Butler, who was healthy enough to play on special teams in Super Bowl LII and had played 98 percent of the defensive snaps in the 2017 regular season, was not viewed as one of the best seven defensive backs to have on the field in Super Bowl LII.
While understanding that Belichick has more information than all (perhaps Butler's illness from the two weeks leading up to the game was a factor), more reporting work needs to be done to add clarity to one of the most puzzling coaching decisions of Belichick's 18-year coaching tenure. Two weeks after the Super Bowl, it's still the No. 1 topic in most discussions I've had with Patriots followers.
In summary, by not playing Butler, there was a costly trickle-down effect in the dime package that moved safety Patrick Chung into the slot and had Richards filling more of Chung's standard role. The Eagles' TD drive starting at 11:53 of the second quarter highlighted this dynamic as tight Zach Ertz easily beat Richards for 19 yards on third-and-7, and receiver Alshon Jeffery beat Chung for 22 yards on second-and-10.
In the second half, the trickle-down effect of not playing Butler had Bademosi in the slot, and Bademosi had a costly missed tackle against receiver Nelson Agholor on the Eagles' initial third-down conversion.
Belichick and his staff are regularly praised for putting players in the best position to succeed, but by keeping Butler on the sideline, they didn't do that in the most important game of the season.
4. A decal that Patriots left tackle Nate Solder had on the back of his helmet stood out during Super Bowl LII.
Here is the story behind the decal:
It is a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year trophy silhouette and part of a new initiative for the NFL to recognize past award winners and current nominees. All 2017 nominees wore the decal through the end of the season, in recognition of their accomplishments on and off the field. It is a tradition the league plans to continue in the future. Furthermore, the NFL plans to have the six players who have won the award -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Houston Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten -- wear a Man of the Year patch on their jerseys in perpetuity to recognize their contributions to the game and their communities.
5a. This one slipped under the radar, but Solder was the AFC's Pro Bowl alternate at left tackle this past season, right there behind starters Alejandro Villanueva (Steelers) and Taylor Lewan (Titans), with Donald Penn (Raiders) the top backup. Penn didn't participate in the Pro Bowl because of injury, which would have opened the door for Solder had he not been playing in the Super Bowl (he played well in the game). It marked the first time that Solder, who joined the team as a first-round draft pick in 2011, earned a Pro Bowl distinction.
5b. Similarly, safety Devin McCourty was also a Pro Bowl alternate for this past season, behind Eric Weddle (Ravens), Reshad Jones (Dolphins) and Micah Hyde (Bills). It marked his fourth overall invitation to the Pro Bowl. Just like Solder, his alternate status had not been announced.
6. Three leftovers from multiple viewings of Super Bowl LII over the last two weeks:
Hadn't seen the postgame handshake/embrace between Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson, but Belichick's respect for the way Pederson's team had played was hard to miss. As disappointed as Belichick had to be, the way he pulled Pederson in and shared a few words that lasted more than the norm stood out to me.
Former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch watching from Robert Kraft's owners box was a nice touch. Branch, of course, had been MVP of the Patriots' 24-21 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
At 3:23 of the third quarter, after the Eagles' Agholor caught a fade over Chung, NBC's Cris Collinsworth made a notable point about how Philadelphia traditionally runs more slants on their run-pass-option plays but they deserved credit for going more down the field in Super Bowl LII with plays like the fade. My sense is that probably surprised the Patriots based on what they had spent considerable time preparing for entering the game.
7. Patriots 2017 undrafted free-agent linebacker Harvey Langi attended the Super Bowl along with the team's other injured players, and there is optimism with how well he is recovering from a serious car accident that landed him on injured reserve after playing in just one game as a rookie. Langi expects to play again, and if things continue on their present course, some close to him believe he might even be ready for the team's offseason program in mid-April.
8. Here's one Patriots tight end record that Rob Gronkowski doesn't own: After leading the club with 69 receptions in the regular season, it marked the second time he's been the team-leader in receptions, which puts him three behind Ben Coates (1993-95,1997-98).
9. Did You Know: The Patriots' 613 yards of total offense in Super Bowl LII were the most ever in a Super Bowl.
10. The spotlight will soon be shining brighter on the 2018 draft class, with the NFL's annual combine two weeks away, which makes it timely for the annual reminder of being careful to fall into the trap of focusing only on the top players. Consider that the Patriots have had a rookie free agent make the 53-man opening day roster for 14 straight seasons. That is the third longest streak in the NFL, behind the Chargers (21) and Colts (19).