Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

April, 15, 2012
4/15/12
5:00
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. For those counting at home, the Patriots have 74 players on their roster, which includes franchise-tagged WR Wes Welker, exclusive rights free agent DL Kyle Love and agreed-upon deals with C Dan Koppen and K Chris Koepplin. This is smart management when it comes to building depth. Teams can have up to 80 players under contract in the offseason, but many don't come close to the number, figuring draft picks and rookie free agents will eventually fill them up when they sign contracts. In stocking up now, the Patriots buy themselves some extra time to work with veteran players to see if they could fit -- either now or as emergency options during the season.

2. Receiver Chad Ochocinco's base salary was trimmed from $3 million to $925,000 in 2012, according to documents filed with the league. Ochocinco's base salary for 2013 remains $3 million as part of the altered pact, which can now be more accurately described as a pay cut than a restructure.

3. There are still questions about quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as the long-term answer, and if there is enough depth on the roster, but the Bills' splashy offseason is paying off at the box office. As noted in this Associated Press story, "CEO Russ Brandon said the team has already sold 4,320 new season-ticket packages, and added that renewal orders are coming in at the fastest pace in 15 years."

4. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who told students at the University of Rhode Island that his injured ankle will be 100 percent within two weeks, is a likeable guy who clearly enjoys what he's doing. But has anyone else had the thought that it might be smart for him to cut back on some of the off-field stuff that doesn't always paint him in a favorable light?

5. Solid Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski has the fourth highest base salary on the team in 2012, at $2.1 million. It will be interesting to what type of challenge former UMass kicker Chris Koepplin provides in training camp (he agreed to terms with the team Friday) and if economics play any part in the decision-making process.

6. The NFL previously announced that the regular-season schedule will be announced some time in April. With the draft April 26-28, and the NFL traditionally spreading the news around the calendar, it makes sense to think this is the week we'll learn the "when" to pair with the already-known "who" (2012 Patriots opponents). Speculation is that Tuesday will be the day.

7. In each of the last two seasons, the Patriots claimed a player from another team at the end of the preseason, devoting a valuable spot on the 53-man roster for them (OL Steve Maneri in 2010, CB Antwaun Molden in 2011). In each case, the player landed elsewhere the following year(Maneri to Chiefs; Molden to Giants), making one wonder if the club will alter its thinking in that area in the future.

8. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter was a security blanket for the Lions over the last two seasons, lining up at various spots in a backup/spot-starter role and showing a knack for grasping varied assignments. For a team like the Patriots, which liberally rotates its packages, Carpenter's combination of athleticism and mental aptitude was appealing at a manageable cost.

9. Great news to hear that Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who played a big role in the early stages of Kevin Faulk's NFL career as New England's running backs coach, is getting closer to a return to work after suffering severe burns in a house fire.

10. The Patriots' voluntary offseason program begins Monday and the feeling here is that it's important time in two areas -- starting to develop camaraderie among players, and creating a foundation for younger players whose careers are at a crossroads of sorts (e.g. Jermaine Cunningham). Specific to this year, I'm interested to learn if Wes Welker attends as he is not under contract, but I don't think it's a huge deal.

11. Thanks to @Patriots, the official Twitter account of the Patriots, for the kind words on Saturday. We're on Day 4 of the switch to the "Cover-2" scheme, team chemistry seems promising, and it's everything we hoped it would be.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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