Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. When it comes to the Patriots' plans this offseason, the initial thought from here is that there will be a two-pronged approach at receiver and safety – one veteran in free agency, one prospect in the draft. Those are two areas I anticipate the club pursuing aggressively. Looks like a lot of potential options in free agency.
2. I don’t buy into the line of thinking that the Patriots need to alter their approach and “go for it” because Tom Brady will be 35 in August and the window of opportunity is closing. They were a bouncing football away from winning the Super Bowl this year (two forced fumbles both recovered by the Giants), and with a good draft and some help in free agency, they should be right back in the hunt again. It takes some good fortune, too.
3. Before the final preseason game of 2011, with the Giants visiting the Patriots, I remember how the Giants were taking heat in New York for not doing enough in the offseason to improve their team. The Jets had generated much more buzz. But general manager Jerry Reese didn’t flinch, which is a good reminder that those who stick with their plan and scout and draft well will usually outlast those looking for splashy headlines.
4. First-year Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano is having a tough time in his search for a defensive coordinator, and while it might not be popular among Patriots followers based on the history with the organization, here is a suggestion: Eric Mangini. I think Mangini knows personnel, is a good Xs and Os coach, and his prior experience as an NFL head coach would seemingly be a benefit to an NFL first-timer like Schiano.
5. With Texans outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams set to become a free agent, it reminds me of Julius Peppers two years ago. The Patriots inquired about Peppers at that time. Makes sense to think they’d at least dip their toe into the Williams waters.
6. Impressive that even though the Texans might lose Williams, they’re still viewed as one of the favorites in the AFC next season thanks to some solid drafting (particularly on defense) and with Wade Phillips returning for his second season as defensive coordinator. For those hoping the Patriots can adopt a new identity on defense, the Texans are a good example of how quickly it can be done.
7. The Steelers looked old to me in their wild-card round playoff loss to the Broncos. I also thought the Ravens were trending older. It’s tough to remain competitive while staying young, as the Patriots can attest. Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft alluded to that during his Friday ESPNBoston Radio interview, noting that only seven players remained from the Super Bowl XLII roster and that it could be viewed as a good sign that the team was back in the Super Bowl four years later after such roster turnover.
8. Defensive end Mark Anderson was one of the Patriots’ best free-agent signings this year. In Chicago, where things fizzled out for Anderson in 2010, they’re still trying to fill his role.
9. Easy to say when it's not your money, but I think the Jets are going to regret not cutting ties with receiver Santonio Holmes. They would have had to eat a $7.75 million guarantee by cutting him. Instead, they are now guaranteeing him $15.25 million over the next two seasons.
10. Felt like there was too much instability in the Patriots secondary in 2011 for the unit to be successful, and in retrospect, the team’s handling of the safety spot seems fair to scrutinize. In terms of decisions I’d imagine Bill Belichick would like to have back, I’d put releasing James Sanders alongside the acquisitions of Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco at the top of the list. Amazing to think that after all the headlines Haynesworth and Ochocinco generated in late July/early August, they were essentially non-factors.