Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. I'm surprised the Patriots and receiver Wes Welker haven't been able to reach an extension that works for both sides (latest news story here). Welker seems to want to be in New England, where his skills are a perfect fit for the offense. And the Patriots seem to want him back, with Tom Brady calling him the "heart and soul" of the team last year. Doesn't seem like it should be this hard.
2. Welker's agent, David Dunn of Athletes First, has a long history of dealing with the Patriots. Dunn represented Drew Bledsoe when he signed his big contract with the team, and his agency currently represents nine Patriots, including 2011 first-round draft choice Nate Solder. That's the highest total of any agency.
3. The Saints' re-signing of quarterback Drew Brees might have been expensive, but it was a move they had to make. Brees had the leverage on that one, and with agent Tom Condon negotiating, you knew it was going to be a ground-breaker.
4. On Saturday, the Raiders agreed with safety Tyvon Branch on a four-year deal worth a reported average of $6.65 million per season. Earlier this offseason, the Titans signed safety Michael Griffin to a deal worth a reported average of $7 million per season. This is the current marketplace for safeties, which is notable when considering the future of New England's Patrick Chung, who enters the last year of his deal. Big year for Chung.
5. Patriots rookies report for training camp this Thursday. The veterans come in Wednesday, July 25, giving the rookies some time in a less-crowded environment to get a running start heading into training camp. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower is the club's lone unsigned selection, but it's hard to imagine a holdout situation given the slotting of contracts in the collective bargaining agreement.
6. Some free-agent numbers: As of July 13, a total of 143 unrestricted free agents signed with a new team this year, while 113 re-signed with their old team. No restricted free agents signed with a new team, while 38 restricted free agents signed with their old team.
7. A lot of talk about the NFL's new relaxed blackout policies for teams that accept them, which was a topic with little impact in New England. The reason: The Patriots haven't had a home regular-season game blacked out in Boston since Dec. 26, 1993.
8. Congratulations to 2006 Patriots fourth-round draft choice Garrett Mills, the tight end from Tulsa, who was accepted into the master's program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Plenty of league-wide focus has been placed on how players are transitioning to their post-playing career, and Mills is already on his way.
9. Given that so much changes from year to year in the NFL, the strength of schedule stat seems flawed when analyzing how challenging a 16-game season can be. Still, expect to hear a lot about the stat in these parts, as the Patriots have the "easiest" schedule when considering the combined 2011 winning percentage of their opponents is .453.
10. Outside of 2007, when the Patriots added Randy Moss, Welker & Co., I'm not sure I've felt as much anticipation and excitement from followers over the start of training camp in Bill Belichick's tenure. Expectations, it seems, are as high as ever.