FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Intrigue starts at QB: Coach Bill Belichick might say "the hay is the barn" at this point when it comes to the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and the ESPN App). The Patriots' heavy lifting is done and now it's more about strategy, which means going through various scenarios to be prepared for their No. 15 pick.
So let's do the same, drilling down on quarterback, the position of most intrigue for the team.
ESPN Draft Predictor factors in player grades, mock drafts and team needs to estimate the chance a player is chosen at a specific spot, or still on the board at each pick. And if the Patriots are locked in on a quarterback, the sweet spot appears to be getting in front of the Denver Broncos at No. 9.
Assuming Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are the first two picks, here are the chances the next three highest-rated quarterbacks are still available (note the chance Justin Fields or Trey Lance is available by even pick No. 10 falls below 10%):
To move from No. 15 to picks No. 7-8 range (Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers) would likely cost the Patriots their second-round pick (No. 46), at a minimum. It's a significant price to pay, but as is often said, no price is too high if you have conviction in moving up for a franchise quarterback.
2. Slot WRs galore: Scouts who have analyzed this year's draft note the high number of quality slot receivers, which is a case of supply meeting demand for the Patriots, who could use another dynamic inside pass-catcher (possibly as early as No. 46). Former New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis loves Purdue's Rondale Moore as a system fit, while former Patriots scout and current Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy sees South Carolina's Shi Smith as an overlooked mid-round option to consider. Nagy said what stands out to him about Smith and the overall slot group is that many are fast and quick, reflecting on how many ran 4.3 and 4.4 times in the 40-yard dash compared to the 4.7 on former Patriot Wes Welker's 2004 draft card.
3. DT plan in focus: The Patriots made nose tackle Davon Godchaux one of their initial free-agent agreements (two years, base value $15 million), and followed up with deals with Henry Anderson (two years, base value $7 million) and Lawrence Guy (four years, base value $11.5 million). It was a significant investment, and as the draft nears, the team's strategy is becoming more clear. Good luck finding a rookie at that spot. "It's the worst defensive tackle group that I've seen since I started [scouting] in 2003," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.
4. Early chemistry: Cam Newton, Trent Brown, Jonnu Smith, Jakobi Meyers, Jalen Mills and Kendrick Bourne were among a significant group of Patriots players attending last week's start to voluntary organized team activities. Brown posted on Instagram some of the players spending time together away from the facility, with the message: "In sync like we been here before." Bourne shared on his 'Gram that he sat courtside, with Smith, at a Boston Celtics-Phoenix Suns game. It was a reminder that one of the primary values of offseason programs is the chance to build in-person camaraderie.
5. Vera-Tucker = Wynn: Southern California offensive tackle/guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is considered one of the safest picks in a draft considered risky because of opt-outs, the lack of a traditional combine and prospect visits, etc. Former longtime NFL general manager Bill Polian looked to the Patriots for a comparison, saying on SiriusXM NFL Radio that "this would be Isaiah Wynn -- same body type, kind of a blocky guy [6-foot-3, 315 pounds]. Can play tackle and guard." The Patriots have until May 3 to decide whether to pick up Wynn's fifth-year option for 2022, which would guarantee him about $10.5 million. If not for some of Wynn's health struggles, the decision would be a no-brainer (my hunch is the team still picks up the option). Selecting Vera-Tucker would represent another layer of insurance.
6. Tomlin tale: Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin signed a three-year extension on Tuesday, meaning the league's third-longest-tenured coach (behind Belichick and Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints) is in position to continue his run. The extension sparks memories of one Tomlin story, from the day before his Steelers faced the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. With AFC pool reporter Peter King at the Pro Football Hall of Fame meeting that day, he threw a younger reporter from the Boston Globe a bone by asking if he could fill in. After watching the Steelers practice, the reporter met Tomlin, introduced himself, wished him luck, and told him how he was following the legendary Will McDonough at the Globe and also hoping to fill King's big shoes on this day. "Big shoes to fill? I know all about that!" Tomlin said with a smile, in reference to succeeding Bill Cowher (1992-2006), who had succeeded Chuck Noll (1969-1991). That was in January 2009, near the end of Tomlin's second year as coach. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl, and Tomlin -- who was 36 at the time -- has been entrenched since.
7. Planning preseason: With one fewer preseason game, it would make sense Belichick eyes multiple joint-practice opportunities with other teams. The New York Giants, with former special teams coach Joe Judge entering his second year as coach, would be an obvious fit as one of the Patriots' annual preseason foes. The Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles would make sense as clubs to request from a preseason standpoint, too. It's about time to start locking in those details, with the release of the NFL's full regular-season schedule coming May 12.
8. Patriots Hall: Richard Seymour, who would have been officially inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame last year if not for the coronavirus pandemic, will receive his much-deserved exclusive ceremony this season. Because of that, the next group of finalists for induction won't be voted on until 2022. Nonetheless, a scaled-down version of the Patriots Hall of Fame committee met virtually on Thursday to share stories on the franchise's past, as well as personal tales, with original beat reporter Ron Hobson and current Patriots football research director Ernie Adams leading the way. You almost felt like you were in the locker room during coach Chuck Fairbanks' halftime speech during the '76 finale at Tampa Bay, right down to the detail of him smoking a cigarette as he delivered his succinct "motivational" message.
9. Belichick and Baffert: Belichick has won six Super Bowls as a head coach (and eight overall). Bob Baffert has won six Kentucky Derbys as a trainer, first with Silver Charm (1997) and most recently with Authentic (2020). The two "BBs" teamed up as part of a piece with Mike Tirico that is scheduled to air on NBC's coverage leading up the Derby on Saturday, May 1 (2:30 p.m. ET). For those locked into the NFL draft that day, set those DVRs.
10. Did You Know: Last year's first round lasted 3 hours, 54 minutes. In 2019, it was 3 hours, 39 minutes. So splitting the difference with an average of 7 minutes per selection, and factoring in the Patriots' initial pick at No. 15, the team would be on the clock at about 9:45 p.m. ET.