Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

April, 8, 2012
4/08/12
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. No NFL team has signed more free agents than the Patriots, although many of the signings have been modest from a financial sense. This highlights the thinking of the front office this offseason – deepen the roster from 1-65, so when the inevitable injuries hit during the season there is legitimate talent in place to step in.

2. The Patriots’ offseason approach is also tied to the salary cap, which hardly increased from 2011 and isn’t expected to spike over the next few seasons either. Because of this, club decision-makers are envisioning a squeeze around the NFL when it comes to mid-career and later-career veterans who hit the open market and are looking for a big payday. The thought is that this will increase the value of draft picks, as they don’t count highly against the cap.

3. Listening to the audio of Gregg Williams’ speech to the Saints’ defense prior to their playoff game against the 49ers (which was reported by Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports), it made me think Williams will never coach again in the NFL. Hard not to get angry listening to that.

4. Patriots backup linebacker and special teams performer Dane Fletcher, who battled a nagging thumb injury in 2012, was still wearing a cast over his right hand/wrist while making an appearance at last week’s Playboy golf tournament. But word is that there is no reason for concern, as Fletcher has not had any setbacks and was expected to shed the cast in the coming days (if it hasn’t happened already).

5. The 49ers have brought a few strong personalities into their locker room this offseason, first with Randy Moss and most recently with Brandon Jacobs. When I saw both of those moves, it made me think second-year head coach Jim Harbaugh must be extremely confident in the leadership already on the team to ensure both players fall into line.

6. I think one area that’s easy to overlook, but which the Patriots figure to prioritize in this year’s draft, is more explosiveness in the kickoff return game (29th in the NFL last season). Depending on the level of the draft, Chris Rainey (Florida), Joe Adams (Arkansas), Devon Wylie (Fresno State) and Dorian Graham (Syracuse) are a few possibilities in that area.

7. With Lardarius Webb signing a lucrative extension last week, and 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith primed to take another step forward, the Ravens have the makings of a potential elite 1-2 tandem at cornerback. Webb entered the NFL as a third-round pick in 2009 out of Nicholls State, and is an example of why the Ravens’ ability to draft, develop and retain warrants respect from this view.

8. Even though the Patriots have re-signed offensive lineman Dan Connolly, they haven’t closed the door on Dan Koppen’s potential return if Koppen doesn’t like his options elsewhere.

9. From the business-is-good department: Patriots season-ticket holders had to renew by March 31 and renewals were bumping up against 100 percent.

10. The Patriots turned some heads by releasing safeties James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather at the end of 2011 preseason. While it's fair to ask if those players could have helped the safety-needy Patriots last season, it's also only fair to point out that both are once again moving on to new teams -- Sanders to Arizona, Meriweather to Washington -- after playing on one-year deals in 2011 with Atlanta (Sanders) and Chicago (Meriweather). I was surprised that Meriweather received the contract he did (reportedly 2 years, $6 million).

11. On Friday, we linked to a tweet from a reporter that said South Florida defensive end Claude Davis was scheduled for a pre-draft visit to New England, as well as three other teams. The tweet was used as a springboard to learn more about Davis. On Saturday, the reporter ran a reverse and tweeted that there were no visits scheduled with any teams.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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