- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. After reading this well-done Indianapolis Star piece on the Colts' challenging transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, I wondered what it will be like here in New England whenever the transition is made from Tom Brady to his replacement. Those situations can be tricky (as evidenced in Indianapolis), and I think that's part of the reason there was a feeling of pride around Gillette Stadium about last week's news of Brady's contract extension through 2017. By the sides working together, the final chapter is set up and a more tangible end point created, which, in theory, should help all involved prepare in advance for that transition.
2. If Brady is with the Patriots through at least 2017, the feeling here is that Bill Belichick will be as well. Retirement can wait.
3. Been thinking a lot about the possibility of a Ryan Mallett trade, and to this point, my viewpoint has been that it would be hard for an opposing general manager to give up valuable chips based on Mallett's limited work over his first two seasons in the NFL. There just isn't any definitive tape to say, "This is a quarterback we can decisively build around." But say, a team like the Browns decides it is ultimately interested -- and we know how much first-year vice president of player personnel Michael Lombardi lauded Mallett when he was coming out in the 2011 draft -- a case could be made for shipping a late-round 2013 pick and conditional 2014 early-to-mid-round selection to New England for Mallett. I could see the Patriots doing that, and in turn, signing Matt Cassel once he's released by the Chiefs. Meanwhile, when you think of the type of offense that first-year Browns coordinator Norv Turner runs, Mallett's skill set -- powerful arm, good downfield throwing -- could be a nice fit. This is a thought to file away, perhaps on draft day.
4. The first round of the draft annually produces the highest percentage of starters, but it was notable that four of the first five players to receive the franchise tag this offseason were not first-round picks -- Bills safety Jairus Byrd (second round, Oregon), Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (third round, Georgia Tech), Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (fourth round, Texas) and Colts punter Pat McAfee (seventh round, West Virginia). As for the Bengals, Johnson and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (fourth round, Georgia, 2010) reflect how the club has made some impressive midround picks in recent years.
5. Patriots reserve guard Donald Thomas is hitting free agency at the right time. The market is considered thin at guard with Buffalo's Andy Levitre and San Diego's Louis Vasquez the top players and Thomas among those in the next tier. The 27-year-old Thomas is coming off a solid season (48 percent of the offensive snaps as the club's top reserve guard), and in reviving his career over the past two years in New England, he has avoided injuries that affected some of his early development. Thomas never received a big payday after entering the league as a sixth-round draft choice of the Dolphins in 2008 out of UConn, but he's in position to cash in now.
6. Speaking of good timing, no one had it better than Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. I am assuming the difference in contract numbers between what the Ravens were proposing at this time last year and what the deal ended up being was quite wide. Good for Flacco, and also good for Connecticut-based agent Joe Linta, who is a bit different from many others in his profession in that he prides himself on being a scout as much as a contract numbers-cruncher. Linta liked what he saw from Flacco when watching him at Delaware, landed him as a client and the rest is history. And even though he's representing Flacco, it hasn't seemed to have changed his approach one bit. When I caught up with Linta at the NFL combine recently, he was raving about having just arrived from a recruiting trip to Southern Illinois where he was touting a sleeper prospect who hadn't been invited to the combine.
7. The Ravens struck it rich with Flacco out of Delaware, and now the only center on their roster is Delaware's Gino Gradkowski. So when considering who will fill the void created by Matt Birk's retirement, start there. Gradkowski, the brother of six-year veteran quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, was a 2012 fourth-round draft choice of the Ravens. A Fighting Blue Hens center/quarterback tandem on the Super Bowl defending champs? There is something unique about that.
8a. With former Boston College offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus scheduled for unrestricted free agency, the Lions protected themselves by re-signing top reserve Corey Hilliard to a two-year contract extension this past week. Cherilus, the team's first-round draft choice in 2008, had probably his best season in 2012, putting himself in position to potentially receive an offer that the tight-to-the-salary-cap Lions might not be able to match. As for Hilliard, you're a die-hard Patriots draftnik if you remember that he actually got his start in New England as a sixth-round draft choice in 2007. The former Oklahoma State product never played for the Patriots, and after spending 2007 and 2008 with the Colts, found a more permanent home in Detroit (2009-present). The Lions like his athleticism and view him as a swing tackle. Of the nine players the Patriots drafted in 2007, only safety Brandon Meriweather and Hilliard are still in the NFL.
8b. Did You Know: The Lions haven't drafted a cornerback in the first or second round since 1998. That was the year they took Terry Fair with a first-round pick. For a team in need of secondary help, maybe the streak will be snapped this year if Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is available at No. 5. Lions coach Jim Schwartz needs immediate impact, plug-and-play prospects, and Milliner appears to be one of them at a position of need the Lions haven't addressed early in the draft for the past 14 years.
9. Thoroughly enjoyed listening to San Francisco 49ers chief operating officer Paraag Marathe at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference over the past two days. One point he made that resonated here was on technology in the NFL, when he pointed out that coaches aren't allowed to have a calculator or any computer devices in the coaches' booth, which apparently is to preserve competitive advantage. "They still have to write on a pad with pencil," Marathe said, before opining that the rules don't seem to fit the times based on technological advancements. Marathe said the 49ers are building to be ready for when those rules might change.
10. As noted on Feb. 3, the feeling here was that receiver Brandon Lloyd's return to the Patriots in 2013 wasn't a slam dunk, mostly because of economics. That viewpoint hasn't changed. As for any behind-the-scenes/locker-room issues, I believe they would be a small part, if any at all, in the Patriots' decision-making. Lloyd is wired a bit differently, and there was some turbulence at times, but I've seen and heard of a lot worse in the locker room over the past 12 years. My feeling is that if Lloyd was making the veteran minimum in 2013, he'd be a roster lock.