FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. It might not mean anything significant as it relates to his career intentions, but with tight end Rob Gronkowski saying he is weighing his football future, he has still shown up at Gillette Stadium multiple times over the past couple of weeks. He also made a visit to Boston Children's Hospital on Wednesday with his family, spending time with patients and donating $80,000. Though he might be visiting Gillette Stadium simply for treatment of his thigh, I also view his time at the facility as a reflection of his being in a good place with how the season ended, both team-wise and personally. That doesn't guarantee his return in 2019, but it figures to at least be part of his decision-making process on whether to continue his career.
2. A Browns spokesman confirmed this week the Patriots will receive a seventh-round pick as part of the Josh Gordon trade from September. When the trade was originally reported to the NFL, the seventh-round pick was going to New England only on a conditional basis, but those conditions were ultimately lifted. So in the end, the Patriots dealt a 2019 fifth-round pick (last of the round) for Gordon and a 2019 late-seventh-rounder (29th in the round, a pick originally owned by San Francisco but traded to Cleveland for Shon Coleman).
3. If the football calendar stays on a course similar to that of last year, NFL teams should soon be learning which compensatory draft picks they are awarded for 2019. Last year, the league announced those picks on Feb. 23. Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com projects the Patriots will receive two third-rounders, one fifth-rounder and one seventh-rounder (all compensatory picks can now be traded). If that's the way it unfolds, the Patriots will be well stocked with selections this year as they continue to infuse the roster with young talent.
First round: Original (32)
Second round: Bears (56)
Second round: Original (64)
Third round: Lions (74)
Third round: Compensatory
Third round: Compensatory
Fourth round: Original
Fifth round: Compensatory
Seventh round: Eagles (25th in round)
Seventh round: Browns (29th in round)
Seventh round: Original
Seventh round: Compensatory
4. The Patriots have a decision to make about special-teams captain Matthew Slater for 2019, and it shouldn't be a difficult one: Slater has a $400,000 roster bonus due on the first day of the 2019 league year, which would exercise the team's option for the final year of his deal ($1.6 million base salary). Slater has privately expressed his desire to play in 2019, and that's a reasonable price to pay for a still-elite special-teamer who also serves as one of the most important locker-room leaders. Though it was a bit undersold from a media perspective, Slater's return to health in 2018 -- he didn't miss a single game -- was a big part of the team's improved special-teams play in the second half of the season and, in particular, Super Bowl LIII.
5. One of the more popular questions from Twitter followers over the past two weeks has been about quarterback Danny Etling, the 2018 seventh-round pick from LSU, and if his development might affect the team's approach at the position in 2019. Some nuggets on the topic:
I don't believe having Etling, who spent the 2018 season on the practice squad, would stop the Patriots from making a notable investment at quarterback.
Etling had a procedure on his back prior to his senior season at LSU, and he relayed during 2018 that having a full year of practice in New England to fine-tune his mechanics after the surgery was helpful.
The 2019 offseason program and spring camps will mark a defining time for Etling, as he should get plenty of reps if Tom Brady follows through on plans to devote his offseason time to family. Etling's work ethic and overall buy-in to the Patriots' approach seemed to be well received around the organization.
6. Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones, who played a key role in helping cover Tyreek Hill in the AFC Championship Game and then was a critical chess piece in Super Bowl LIII as a hybrid corner/safety, can expect a big pay bump in 2019. As a restricted free agent, he will be tendered either at the low level ($2 million) or second-round level ($3.1 million) after making a base salary of $630,000 in 2018. From a team standpoint, there is risk in tendering Jones at the low level, because another club could then sign him to an offer sheet and New England would risk losing Jones without receiving any draft-pick compensation in return (because Jones entered the NFL as an undrafted player) if it didn't match the offer. Perhaps that could be the spark to a longer-term extension, similar to what Washington did with Quinton Dunbar.
7. When Adam Schefter first reported on the NFL's possible plans for the 2019 season opener and noted that the defending Super Bowl champion wasn't a lock to be part of the game, it was notable because many Patriots fans have become familiar with the routine of a Thursday opener. Along those lines, fans around the country make travel plans well in advance to be part of the banner-raising ceremony. Since Schefter's report, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal added more momentum to the likelihood that the Patriots won't be part of the Thursday opener. Sunday night seems like a more realistic option.
8. In a Patriots-centric discussion on ESPN's NFL Live on Friday, the Patriots' defensive coaching staff was highlighted, and here were some of the points I brought up:
Greg Schiano's expertise is with the secondary, and that is where his primary influence figures to be felt.
Bill Belichick will likely continue to be heavily involved with the front seven, as he has been in recent years, with former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema also still with the team and having an influence on the defensive line.
Coaching assistant DeMarcus Covington could also see his role increase, and other additions are also possible.
Tedy Bruschi said something that resonated: While all those roles are solid, Schiano -- if leading the defensive meeting room -- has to earn the same level of trust with players that Brian Flores and Matt Patricia did before him. Can he do that? It was insightful analysis from a former player who has sat in those meeting rooms.
9. Veteran tight end Dwayne Allen's professional approach has won over a lot of people in the Patriots organization over the past two seasons, even though his production as a pass-catcher hasn't materialized on a consistent basis. Along those lines, Allen is among a small group of players who have still been reporting to Gillette Stadium in recent weeks, which reflects, in part, the pride with which he approaches his craft. So he's the type of player the club figures to want to keep around, but economics are a factor. Allen is due a base salary of $6.4 million in 2019, which means his return for a third season figures to be contingent on a reduction, similar to what unfolded last year.
10. A stat that highlights the coaching turnover in the NFL shows the Patriots will face just three teams in 2019 that return the same head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and special-teams coordinator. Those teams are the Steelers, Eagles and Giants. That could spark Belichick to give some of his assistant coaches an offseason project to become more familiar with the schemes of some of the new coaches the team will face. In many ways, it seems that has become an annual exercise for the Patriots' hard-working assistants.