FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Brady-Vrabel connection: Tom Brady had finished a workout at Boston College two weeks ago when he texted his good pal, former teammate and current Tennessee Titans coach Mike Vrabel, the following message: "Look who I found today." The text included a picture of Brady with Vrabel's son, Tyler, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman at BC.
Among other things, the text reflected a friendship that has endured almost 20 years now. It also reminded Vrabel, 43, how old he is, and how Brady, 41, is still grinding away at a young man's game.
Vrabel told the story in a recent interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio's "The Opening Drive" program, saying it "put a lot of things in perspective."
Consider that a few months after Vrabel had signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2001, Tyler was born.
So it's not like Tyler, 18, has vivid memories of watching Brady and his father as Patriots teammates from 2001-08 when they won three Super Bowls. The connection to Brady is more recent for him, such as spending some time with him around a Patriots-Texans game in Houston a few years ago (when Mike was serving as a Texans assistant coach).
Needless to say, Vrabel was caught by surprise with Brady's presence at BC.
"I honestly had no idea, because we were in the locker room before we had to head over for workouts, and people were like 'Tom Brady is [at] the indoor [facility].' A lot of us thought it was a joke," said Tyler, who was starting at right tackle in 2019 spring practices.
Then, when players headed in that direction, Brady specifically asked to speak to him. That opened Tyler up to plenty of razzing from his teammates -- the type of ribbing his father was sometimes known to dish out at times in the Patriots' locker room.
To cap it off, Tyler texted his dad about the experience after workouts, but it was old news to him at that point. Mike had already received the text from Brady, which was a stop-him-in-his-tracks reminder of the passage of time.
And, of course, a meaningful friendship.
2. Watson's potential return: The Patriots have a notable void at tight end and veteran Benjamin Watson is considering a return to the NFL after intending to retire, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the sides came to an agreement this offseason. And if it happens, it would bring Watson's career full circle as he entered the NFL as the Patriots' first-round draft choice in 2004. After Watson's wife, Kirsten, delivered twins on April 24, Watson noted on Instagram -- with side-by-side pictures of his Patriots introduction and him holding newborn twins -- that it was the same day he was drafted by the Patriots. A coincidence? Or a foreshadowing of what might be coming?
3. Nagy's notes from Patriots' picks: Former Patriots scout Jim Nagy, who now serves as executive director of the Senior Bowl, was gracious with his time in sharing thoughts about the Patriots' draft picks who participated in the game:
Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham (fourth round, No. 133): "My first exposure to Jarrett was at Auburn's pro day two years ago. He was just lighting it up. I don't know if you've seen him throw live yet, but he's the most beautiful thrower of the football in this year's draft class. He was so accurate that day to all levels, I grabbed a couple buddies on the coaching staff and asked, 'Is this him every day or is this an aberration?' They were like, 'This is him every day.' So my first exposure to Jarrett was so good, I've been on the bandwagon since. ... Now Auburn didn't have the year they were supposed to have this year and the fan base was disappointed. And Jarrett will tell you he didn't have the season he wanted, either. But when you evaluate the quarterback position, even more so than the other positions, you have to evaluate what's going on around the quarterback. It was just kind of a s---storm: A young offensive line that never jelled, they had protection issues with their young running backs ... but Jarrett became the whipping boy. I went to bat for him. I think Jarrett could end up as one of the steals of the draft. The popular narrative of this year's draft was that there were the four quarterbacks -- [Dwayne] Haskins, [Kyler] Murray, [Drew] Lock and [Daniel] Jones -- and then the next tier of [Will] Grier, Stidham, [Ryan] Finley, [Clayton] Thorson. To me, there wasn't a big shelf between the two groups at all. So to get Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round, he could potentially be the next guy."
Woody: Patriots had the best overall draft
Damien Woody evaluates the players New England added in the draft, including wide receiver N'Keal Harry.
Michigan DE/OLB Chase Winovich (third round, No. 77): "He got hurt in [Michigan's] bowl game and had to pull out of the Senior Bowl, but he was one of the only players in that situation to call me up directly. He said, 'Mr. Nagy, I really enjoyed getting to know you, I really wish I could play in the game, but this foot injury unfortunately won't allow me to.' He thanked me for the opportunity and that showed how he handled things the right way. I scouted [Rob] Ninkovich when he was coming out and put a pretty good grade on him, who had only started a handful of games his senior year at Purdue ... Chase is further along at this point than Rob was. He's really an underrated athlete. He's got twitch. He's great crossing people's face. He's great with his hands. Just a natural football player who plays his tail off. I think at minimum he'll be part of that rotation next year and give them a lot on sub downs as a rusher. I think he's ready to do that at the next level right away because he's so advanced with his hands. Everyone made such a big deal out of Nick Bosa coming out this year because of how good he is with his hands, but Winovich is just as good in that area."
On Stanford P Jake Bailey (fifth round, No. 163): "He has a big leg and is a great kid. His family came down and I spent a lot of time with his parents -- great people. He is a very good athlete, which Bill [Belichick] always looks for in specialists. Every scout usually doesn't enjoy doing specialists because they know they're going to be writing up reports and it's going to come down to whether the special teams coach likes him anyway. So what I did was call around to about 20 teams in the league and ask for all their draftable specialists, took the consensus of those guys, and that's who was invited. We had the two punters who were drafted, Utah's [Mitch] Wishnowsky and Jake, and they were the two with the most consensus of draftable grades."
4. How Bielema has helped the D-linemen: While Belichick has yet to officially announce his 2019 coaching staff, former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has stayed with the team in 2019 after serving as a defensive assistant, and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy credited his attention to detail for playing a part in the best season of his eight-year NFL career. Guy said Bielema, whose primary work last season came with the team's interior linemen, had a knack for critiquing "football IQ" and pointing out "day-to-day things you might not notice" -- such as a false step. "Having him there last year to observe us, and then talking it out, has helped us improve," Guy said.
5. Veldheer would fill important need: The Patriots hosted free-agent offensive tackle Jared Veldheer on Wednesday, and if they sign him, word is that it wouldn't come until after May 7. That's the date that teams can sign compensatory free agents without having it affect the formula for 2020 picks, and with the Patriots expected to land two third-round and two sixth-round picks, it doesn't make sense to do anything until after May 7. But the 31-year-old Veldheer, assuming his 2018 knee injury checks out OK, is the solid locker-room guy/veteran insurance/swing tackle the club would benefit from having on the 90-man roster behind Isaiah Wynn (who is coming off an Achilles tear) and Yodny Cajuste (who is coming off a calf injury).
6. Harry's intro set for Thursday: The Patriots plan to introduce first-round draft choice N'Keal Harry on Thursday, as part of the traditional photo shoot with owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft. But as for the rest of the rookies, the expectation is that they won't be available to reporters until later in May, which might be Belichick's way of reminding them how far behind they are and that younger players entering the team's program are usually better off listening more and talking less. This can be a humbling transition for those who were college stars.
7. Hollister trade a surprising turn: When the Patriots traded third-year tight end Jacob Hollister to the Seahawks for a 2020 seventh-round pick on Monday, it was essentially them saying they didn't envision Hollister on their 53-man roster. That was somewhat of a surprising turn, in part because the club invested two years developing him, and they also have a light depth chart at the position. The deal sparks an obvious question on what changed from last offseason when Belichick said Hollister had a "great future." The free-agent signing of Matt LaCosse to a deal that includes $500,000 guaranteed made him a challenger to Hollister's No. 3 spot. And I wonder about the timing of the deal, which came after Phase 1 of the voluntary offseason program including only strength and conditioning, and if the club didn't have strong enough conviction that Hollister could avoid the injury bug, which affected him in 2018.
8. Bailey could lighten load for Gostkowski: The punter competition between incumbent Ryan Allen and rookie Jake Bailey will be one of several storylines to monitor in training camp, but there's another trickle-down effect of Bailey's arrival that shouldn't be overlooked. He had 291 kickoffs (173 touchbacks) at Stanford, so at the least he'll be able to preserve kicker Stephen Gostkowski, 35, from being overworked in camp. There might be some merit to the thought that the distance of some of Gostkowski's in-season kickoffs last year were affected by an accumulation of work going back to training camp.
9. Contrasting the crowds in the draft room: The difference between the overflowing personnel in the draft rooms of the Colts and Bills, compared to the Patriots, was hard to miss when watching the always enjoyable, behind-the-scenes draft-day video from those clubs. A smaller room has worked for the Patriots, but going that route eliminates many of the scouts who spent the past year traveling the country to evaluate prospects, potentially creating a dynamic that makes them feel marginalized compared to some of their peers across the NFL.
10. Riveron visits Patriots to review rules: The Patriots staff received a visit from NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron on Wednesday, which is part of an annual visit that the league makes to all clubs to go over rule changes and points of emphasis. Belichick often says that it isn't his job to critique the rules, but to understand them and then coach them appropriately. The big one this year, of course, is coaches having the ability to throw a challenge flag on pass interference calls and non-calls.