Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is still a couple of weeks away from having a definitive answer as to whether he will need a fourth surgery on his left forearm, according to sources. The last month has been more of a “wait-and-see” period, with Gronkowski essentially buying more time for doctors to determine if the infection has cleared. Gronkowski has been working in the Patriots’ offseason program, and for what it’s worth, one opinion from someone who has seen him is that he “looks great.” A month ago, surgery was seen as “very likely” but there has always remained a chance that it could be avoided. At this point, there have been no unexpected setbacks; however, as Gronkowski has already learned, things can always change quickly.
2. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, as he does annually, took in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. He was seen celebrating with those connected to Orb, the winner of the Derby, and there were rumors that perhaps Brady’s excitement was based on a winning bet. But that wasn’t the case. Brady and some of his closest friends had flown to the Derby with one of Orb’s owners and thus had a natural rooting interest.
3. In Bill Belichick’s 14 drafts with the Patriots, this year marked the longest time that the Patriots waited to make their first pick (52nd overall, Southern Mississippi linebacker Jamie Collins). Prior to this year, the deepest the Patriots had gone into a draft before making a selection was 46th overall in 2000, Belichick’s first year as coach (the pick was Hawaii offensive tackle Adrian Klemm). The Patriots didn’t have a first-round selection that year as it was sent to the Jets as compensation for Belichick. Part of the reason the Patriots were comfortable waiting so long this year was their feeling that the strength of the draft was from the late first round into the top of the fourth round, and by trading down from 29 to 52, they acquired two additional selections in that range (83 and 102). Time will tell if their analysis was correct.
4. Interesting mix in Baltimore with defensive coordinator Dean Pees returning for a second season in the top role, and now Steve Spagnuolo signing on as a senior defensive consultant. Pees has mostly coached 3-4 defenses, while Spagnuolo is rooted more in the 4-3 (Patriots fans remember his solid plan in Super Bowl XLII while with the Giants). Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and Spagnuolo coached together for eight years with the Eagles, which is the primary connection that led to the hire.
5. Why would running back LeGarrette Blount take such a significant pay reduction, from around $1.7 million total to about $700,000, to consummate a draft-day trade from Tampa Bay to New England? Probably because the Buccaneers had made it known they intended to trade him, and if they couldn't find a trade partner, he likely would have been cut and probably would be looking at a minimum-type deal with another team. So when a club like the Patriots shows an interest, and communicates a potential role for him, there is risk in not acting on it. Blount must have felt he had little leverage and had to be thinking that even taking such a slash was better than potentially having no job at all.
6. Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ The Chains” program had an interesting take on the Ravens’ re-signing of free-agent offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, as he praised general manager Ozzie Newsome for not insulting McKinnie with an offer while also keeping lines of communication open throughout the process. The idea was that McKinnie could see what he was worth on the open market, and then the sides could revisit and see if what the Ravens were thinking was aligned with the open market. When I heard Kirwan’s take, the first thing I thought of was the Patriots and Wes Welker because I think the Patriots were thinking along the same lines. Two different situations, two different results.
7a. At the least, rookie free-agent punter Ryan Allen could be insurance for the Patriots with incumbent Zoltan Mesko entering the final year of his contract. Then there is another line of thinking that Louisiana Tech’s Allen, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner as the best punter in college football, could seriously challenge Mesko for the job. Economics can sometimes drive those decisions, and with Mesko scheduled to earn $1.3 million and Allen likely to be slightly more than $400,000, that is one layer to consider. And while this probably has nothing to do with it, one other point: Mesko is represented by David Dunn, the same agent who Patriots owner Robert Kraft blasted for his handling of Welker’s negotiation. In the end, I still think Mesko punts for the Patriots this season, but I wouldn't be surprised if Allen lands a spot on the practice squad.
7b. Random fact: In Bill Belichick’s 14 years as head coach, he’s employed a left-footed punter at the start of every season. It’s no coincidence, as I think it’s his preference based on the spin of the ball off a left-footed punter. Both Allen and Mesko are left-footed.
8. Footage from inside the Patriots’ draft room that aired on the "Patriots All-Access" television program showed that Bill Belichick had a trade offer for the team’s third-round draft pick, No. 91 overall, in which the Patriots surprised many by selecting Rutgers safety Duron Harmon. It is unknown what the offer was, but the fact there was an offer in play adds some context to the pick. Sometimes the Patriots get stuck and can’t find a dance partner to trade with, even when they’d prefer to move out. That wasn’t the case at No. 91, even though many analysts viewed the Harmon pick as a reach.
9. When former Broncos director of pro personnel Keith Kidd was at ESPN’s Scouts Inc., I learned a great deal from him about personnel, how teams approach certain situations and the dynamics that go into scouting and evaluating a roster. Thus, I followed his career closely and was disappointed to see the Broncos let him go last week. When I think of Kidd’s impact in Denver, last year’s signing of veteran center Dan Koppen comes to mind. The Broncos had starter J.D. Walton entrenched, but they inked Koppen after the first week of the season as a “just in case” type of move. When Walton sustained a season-ending injury a few weeks later, Koppen seamlessly stepped in and the Broncos didn’t miss a beat. To me, that’s one reflection of a top-notch pro personnel man.
10. I think it would be a disappointment if top Patriots draft pick Jamie Collins doesn’t make some form of contribution to improving the team’s defense in 2013 (most likely in sub packages, where his unique athleticism could be tapped). But unlike last year, when first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower showed early that they were ready to assume starting roles, my sense is that Belichick and Co. view Collins as having more ground to make up to get to that point than Jones and Hightower had last year. It makes sense considering that Collins was picked 52nd overall while Jones was picked 21st and Hightower 25th.