Quick-hit thoughts around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Since the Patriots opened training camp in late July, the team has made eight trades, which is a league-high total over that span. This is why Bill Belichick is sometimes referred to as “Trader Bill” in New England, with the most recent moves this past week with the acquisitions of linebacker Jon Bostic (Bears) and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (Saints). No one trades more than the Patriots, and while the deals don’t always work out (e.g. Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth in 2011), they reflect Belichick’s relentless churning of the roster and how he’s seldom, if ever, satisfied with the status quo. A big part of that is being opportunistic when a once highly-touted player falls out of favor and becomes available, as was the case with Bostic and Hicks.
2. In looking closer at the Patriots’ willingness to trade, Evan Kaplan of ESPN’s Stats and Information passed along this nugget: From July 31 to Oct. 2 this year, there were 30 trades in the NFL. Over the same span last year, there were just 10 trades (with the Patriots accounting for four of them). Why the dramatic increase in NFL trades this year? Theories abound, with regime/scheme changes and injuries two of the more frequent explanations of those NFL executives casually polled.
3. Did You Know: Since Belichick became coach of the Patriots in 2000, the team has made 110 trades -- an even split of 55 on draft day, and the other 55 not during the draft. That's an average of 6.8 trades per season over his 16-year tenure. Who said there is no trading in football?
4. Patriots Hall of Famer Drew Bledsoe always has an open invitation to return to the team, which was highlighted Sunday when he attended New England’s 51-17 win over the Jaguars. Bledsoe was in the locker room after the game, where among other things, he caught up with Tom Brady and shared his admiration for his strong play early this season. Bledsoe was in town with his son Stu, who is an excellent lacrosse player and looking at some NESCAC schools for fall 2016.
5. A dependable, consistent kicker often is overlooked until something unexpectedly goes wrong, and that is the case with New England’s Stephen Gostkowski in recent years. In the wake of the Steelers’ overtime loss to the Ravens on Thursday, in which kicker Josh Scobee’s struggles (misses of 41 and 49 yards) were critical to the outcome, consider this production from Gostkowski since the start of the 2013 season: He is 80 of 85 on field-goal attempts, which is the highest percentage in the NFL. And he’s often doing it in challenging weather conditions.
6a. The Patriots' Oct. 11 visit to Dallas will mark the first time the Patriots have played at AT&T Stadium, which opened in 2009. In looking ahead to the Cowboys a bit this week, an obvious strength is that they are the only team in the NFL to have three homegrown offensive linemen drafted in the first round on the starting unit -- left tackle Tyron Smith (2011), center Travis Frederick (2013) and right guard Zack Martin (2014). If Browns 2015 first-rounder Cam Erving ultimately breaks into the starting lineup, Cleveland would be the only team to match that. For the Patriots, one of the things I'm most interested to see in Dallas is how the front seven responds to playing such a high-quality offensive line.
6b. Did You Know: Cowboys backup offensive guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, who played his college football at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, is now in his eighth NFL season (four with Carolina, four with Dallas). According to always-on-the-ball sports information director Dick Lipe, Bernadeau is the only Bentley product to make a roster on any of the major pro leagues.
7. The Patriots won’t have to face injured Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, which is naturally a huge break. In the aftermath of Romo’s broken collarbone, some in the media highlighted how the Cowboys have drafted just three quarterbacks since Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, a notably low total that puts them in a tough spot when No. 1 is unavailable and leads to decisions like trading for veteran Matt Cassel, as they did two weeks ago. The preferred option would be to have an in-house option developed through the system ready in those situations. For a comparison, the Patriots have drafted eight quarterbacks since 2000, the first year of Belichick’s tenure. Not all those decisions have worked out (e.g. Kevin O'Connell in 2008), but the draft-and-develop concept seems sound and something the Cowboys might consider more of in the future.
8. Belichick said on Patriots All-Access that he’s noticed more offensive pass interference penalties called this year, as the team has been flagged three times (Aaron Dobson vs. Buffalo and Rob Gronkowski twice vs. Jacksonville). Thanks to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, who tracks officiating data, we know that there have been 31 penalties league-wide for offensive pass interference through Week 3 games. If that pace continues, it would result in 165 penalties for offensive pass interference this season. In 2013, there were 74 of those calls. In 2014, there were 143.
9. The Patriots promoted second-year defensive tackle Khyri Thornton from the practice squad to their active roster Thursday, which isn’t a surprise considering how the team was paying him. Thornton was making $340,000 on the practice squad, which is significantly more than the regular rate of $112,200. Sometimes teams pay more to practice squad players as a way to entice them to stick around, which has been standard operating procedure for New England. ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates relayed that only Buccaneers linebacker Howard Jones had a richer practice squad salary this year ($434,996) than Thornton. Not surprisingly, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht and assistant GM Jon Robinson both have ties to New England.
10. I was reminded of how quickly things can change in the NFL when Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was sharing his bye-week plans Wednesday afternoon, which included a trip to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with his wife, Cari. After three-plus seasons in New England, he was looking forward to heading north for the first time. But less than two hours later, he was informed that he had been traded to the Saints and “bye” week suddenly had a different meaning.
RECAPPING LINKS OF NOTE: Some good Patriots discussion in this week's ESPNBoston.com Patriots chat. ... SoundFX with Bill Belichick from win over the Jaguars, via Patriots.com. ... Film study on newly acquired defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. ... Kevin Van Valkenburg writes on the day many buried Tom Brady ... Patriots mailbag on resetting the team’s draft picks in 2016 and 2017. ... "Football journey" with linebackers coach Patrick Graham.