FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Thoughts and quick notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. Silence in the combine: The NFL scouting combine takes place March 1-7 in Indianapolis and, true to form, Bill Belichick plans to keep a low profile in the media.
The Patriots are the only NFL team not scheduled to have their head coach or a personnel executive answer questions from non-team reporters from media headquarters.
The league does not require teams to conduct such interviews, but encourages them to do so. Belichick’s Patriots and Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints have been the regulars in recent years. But Payton stepped away from coaching this year, and in turn, the Saints are scheduled to have his replacement, Dennis Allen, answer questions from non-team reporters.
Belichick as the only outlier this year is no surprise. He’s not one to feed the hype, especially in 2022 with Brian Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL, which includes text messages from Belichick, a potentially hot topic.
However, there have been times when he has played along.
In 2014, Belichick made a surprise appearance inside media headquarters, shared a detailed perspective on how the Combine has evolved over his 30-plus years of attendance, then answered questions about its coaching staff, personnel decisions and general topics such as the value of the three-cone drill and nuances of player evaluation.
Their answers from that day provide a kind of roadmap for where things are today.
The coaching staff has most of the pieces in place (the current coaching staff has met in the last two weeks) and, as Belichick said in 2014: “We’ll see how it all fits together.”
Specific to personnel decisions, as Belichick said in 2014: “I talked about that at the end of the season, the process that involved, [and] I would say that we are in that process.”
Belichick, who has instead made pop-up appearances on NFL Network’s combined live feed in recent years, has traditionally seen little value in answering those types of questions before he has to.
One could argue that it would be a solid gesture for him to do so, specifically to a segment of the fan base worried about the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and three other offensive assistants, with no definite/announced plan to replace them.
Others might simply say that Belichick’s Q&A sessions don’t usually provide that kind of detailed information, so what’s the point anyway?
2. Lid cleaning: The next phase of the Patriots’ offseason to monitor closely is salary-cap management, and it moves to clear space to better position the team for the start of the 2022 league year on March 16. Salary cap wizard Miguel Benzan (@patscap) produced a easy to read snapshot There are plenty of areas Belichick & Co. could look to cut, and outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy is an example I’d highlight in terms of the types of decisions ahead: How does Belichick balance the potential savings ($4.1 million) vs. Van Noy’s spot? listed on a salary cap of $7.3 million (ninth-highest on the team)? There’s often a surprise or two along the way.
3. JC Prediction: The window for teams to assign the franchise tag to players has opened and runs through March 8, with cornerback JC Jackson the only candidate to seriously consider in New England. A tag would be a projected $17.3 million for the 2022 season. Unless the Patriots think they have a strong chance of tagging and trading, I rate the odds of them tagging Jackson as low.
4. Las Vegas Trainers: McDaniels has three of his former assistants on staff with him in Las Vegas: Mick Lombardi (OC), Carmen Bricillo (OL) and Bo Hardegree (QB), and they told me there is “no bad blood” between him and Belichick. on that front. Sometimes when a coach leaves a team and takes assistants with him, it can lead to strained relationships. But not in this case, in part because of expiring contracts, and Belichick moved pieces of his offensive staff by welcoming Joe Judge and adjusting Matt Patricia’s responsibilities.
5. Clark on the radar: I asked ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid to pass on a prospect Patriots fans should watch at the combine. His answer: LSU linebacker Damon Clark. Much of the media-based analysis of the draft is geared toward the first round, but Clark would likely be more of a second- or third-round consideration in a significant position of need. One of the reasons Reid has him as a possible Patriots fit is his size (listed at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds), which is something Belichick traditionally values as a linebacker to play downhill in the running game.
6. Bourne-Asiasi Combo: Things haven’t played out the way the Patriots hoped with 2020 third-round pick Devin Asiasi, the tight end out of UCLA. He was active just one game in 2021. While things seem to be heading in the wrong direction, it was more than a passing note to hear that Asiasi spent the last few weeks training with Kendrick Bourne in Portland, Oregon. Bourne’s energy and urgency should be something Asiasi will benefit from being around every day.
7. No ticket price increase: While some NFL teams have announced ticket price increases in 2022, the Patriots don’t plan to do so this year, even as renovations are underway to improve Gillette Stadium. An increase of some kind seems inevitable in the future, possibly next year when renovations are expected to be completed, but it’s certainly an appreciated gesture for 2022 from Robert and Jonathan Kraft to season ticket members.
8. Popular Market: Veteran kicker Nick Folk has been one of the best bargains in the NFL, with base salaries of just over $1 million each of the past two seasons. Given his success, with a streak of 55 consecutive field goals of less than 50 yards in the regular season since the start of the 2020 season, it makes sense that a team in need of kickers would be willing to offer him more in free agency. So how far the Patriots are willing to go to re-sign him, assuming Folk is willing to kick elsewhere without starter Jake Bailey and center Joe Cardona, could be one of the most compelling questions facing the team with developmental kicker Quinn Nordin as well. on the list.
9. Vrabel’s father: Mike Vrabel was like an on-field coach when he played for the Patriots (2001-08), with Belichick says that he and Vrabel talked about him training after his playing days. This year, after Vrabel was named Associated Press Coach of the Year following the Titans’ 12-5 season, he praised his father, Chuck, as the main factor in why he became a coach.
“I grew up as the son of a basketball coach, I was always around a team. He was an only child, but my dad made sure he worked hard and appreciated how important the team was. When I entered professional football, in the back of your mind [you’re thinking]’When this is over, I think I’d like to do this.’”
10. Did you know? If special teams captain Matthew Slater re-signs with the team in 2022, it would be his 15th season with the team, tying him with Troy Brown and Julius Adams for the third-longest tenure of all time, behind Tom Brady (20). and Steve Grogan (16).
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New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick happy to be an outlier in the NFL mix