New England Patriots: 2014 NFL owners meetings

Ron Rivera talks Brandon LaFell

March, 26, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the nice parts about the NFL's annual meeting is the chance to speak with various coaches to learn more about players.

In the case of new Patriots receiver Brandon LaFell, this is what we learned from Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who called LaFell one of his favorite players:

Price a deterrent for Panthers. Carolina had interest in retaining LaFell, but economics were a factor in the decision-making process. LaFell signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Patriots.

Intelligence and versatility stands out. "The thing I really like about Brandon is [he] is a very smart football player. For us, he knew all of our wide receiver positions. He even knew what we call the F position [and] the Y position, which are really two positions [he did not] necessarily need to know but he did."

Blocking is part of his DNA. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, he's not afraid to put his body on the line. It shows up on tape, as it did Nov. 18 against the Patriots when he ran through defensive end Andre Carter. "He's a physical football player, and I do think he's one of the better blocking wide receivers that I've seen," Rivera said.

Extra points. LaFell's sometimes shaky hands held him back at times. ... He was also described as being a "little on the shy side" and one who prefers to avoid the cameras.

Recapping results of Pats' proposals

March, 26, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A recap of how things fared with the Patriots' four rule proposals at the NFL annual meeting:

1. Goal posts extended an additional 5 feet above the cross bar. "The reasoning of this proposal is that definitive rulings cannot be made on many field goal tries that cross over the top of the goal post." -- PASSED

2. Make the extra point more challenging by making the line of scrimmage the 25-yard line. "In order to make the point after a more competitive play." -- TABLED (will be experimented with in preseason)

3. Place fixed cameras on all boundary lines -- sideline, end line, end zone. "To supplement the TV cameras and to guarantee coverage of those lines for replay, no matter where the TV cameras are located." -- TABLED

4. Coaches can challenge any officials' decision other than scoring plays. "To make more extensive use of the replay system." -- REJECTED

Pete Carroll talks Brandon Browner

March, 26, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has long been a proponent of cornerbacks playing a physical bump-and-run style, and when he considers what the New England Patriots now have with Brandon Browner, it’s his ability to be effective in that area that stands out most.

“That’s when he’s at his best, on the line of scrimmage," Carroll said Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast. “He’s built for that. He’s so long, so big and so aggressive."

With this in mind, count Carroll among those intrigued as to Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s defensive plans with Browner (6-4, 221) and Darrelle Revis (5-11, 198).

“It’s going to be really fun to watch those guys play together. I’m anxious to see how they use them, how they do it,” Carroll said. “Bill’s a great football coach, and he’ll figure out how to use those guys. Look forward to watching it.”

Carroll expounded more on Browner as a collection of New England reporters gathered at his table.

“He’s a fantastic football player, a great competitor. He has a great depth of understanding of the position,” he said. “He’s played bump-and-run press technique since he was a freshman in college, back at Oregon State. We played against him back in the day. He was only there a couple of years because he left early.

“He was a fantastic player in college, went to Canada and was a fantastic player in Canada. By the time we got him, he was so savvy in playing the position, and I think he really blossomed, again took another step forward just with our commitment to the style of play and all.

“I talked to Bill about it, and I’m kind of envious. He’s a great baller. He’s going to get a really special guy in Brandon.”

As for why the Seahawks didn’t retain Browner, Carroll pointed to 2011 sixth-round draft choice Byron Maxwell as a primary factor. Economics were also part of the consideration.

Carroll thinks the Patriots will be pleased but cautioned that there might be some early bumps in the road with Browner's four-game suspension.

“Under the circumstances, he’s going to have to bounce back,” Carroll said. “It’s been a difficult time for him. He was really stressed by the whole thing. But the fact that the Patriots stepped up in a significant way, are paying him well, when he finally gets there and gets on the field, I would expect nothing other than him being a great competitor.”

Carroll smiled when a link was made between Browner’s style of play and one of his first-round draft choices with the Patriots (1997-99), bigger defensive back Tebucky Jones.

“All you guys were wondering, what the heck were we thinking? Nobody understood it at the time,” he said. “I wanted to see if we could make him a great corner. We didn’t have enough time. I wasn’t there very long.”

Bill Belichick behind the scenes

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- What is the scene like when coach Bill Belichick proposes a rule change such as making the point after attempt a more competitive play, and simplifying instant replay rules?

A video on the NFL's official website provides us a behind-the-scenes look, as Belichick essentially repeated what he told reporters earlier Tuesday morning.

We'll find out Wednesday if any of the four Patriots rule proposals pass, with the proposal to extend the goal posts 5 feet on both sides appearing to have the best chance.

Stay tuned.

Timing key with Wilfork, Patriots

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A lot can change in a span of two weeks, and that is the big takeaway when it comes to the Patriots and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

It doesn't mean they'll ultimately strike a contract agreement that works for both sides, but it does clear up some confusion over the last two days at the NFL's annual meeting at the Ritz-Carlton.

First, owner Robert Kraft shared his thoughts Monday that he hopes Wilfork remains a Patriot and that he believes Wilfork feels the same way. That cautious optimism indicated that perhaps there was forward momentum between the sides.

But almost immediately after Kraft said those words, a report surfaced that Wilfork was so angry, he had "ripped" his nameplate off and cleaned out his locker. In some media circles, that blunted what Kraft said and created a picture of acrimony between the sides.

Except ...

"That happened a long time ago," a source said.

That timing is key when it comes to Wilfork and the context surrounding his present situation.

Surely, he was angry two weeks ago when he requested his release and did indeed clean out his locker, as first reported by the Boston Herald. Doing so represented a symbolic showing of his discontent.

But that doesn't account for what could have happened over the last two weeks or so. Things have changed, the sides are talking.

That probably explains why Bill Belichick seemed to go out of his way Tuesday morning to dismiss the idea of a contentious situation with Wilfork. It might have been at one point, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's that way now.

There have been some steps forward, but more are needed to push it over the goal-line. As we learned last year with Wes Welker, just because things might be looking up doesn't mean an agreement is forthcoming. It can fizzle out quickly.

But one thing is clear: The Patriots and Wilfork are in a better place than they were two weeks ago.

Engineering the focus with goalposts

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the Patriots' four rule proposals is to extend the goalposts 5 feet on each side, and in speaking with one NFL general manager on Tuesday, the feeling is that it has momentum to pass at some point.

One of the big topics of conversation among owners, coaches and league executives was the engineering aspect behind a potential change, and ensuring the safety of fans. That appears to be the primary hurdle in play for the rule to pass.

Earlier Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained his thinking behind the rule proposal.

"The goalposts, that’s outdated, virtually every kicker at the combine can kick them over the top of the goal posts [and] some of those guys aren’t even going to be in the league," he said.

"I don’t have a percentage, but I’m telling you, any kick that’s not outside the 10-yard line or outside the 45-yard line goes over the top of the uprights. I mean, they all do. So to make the officials have to make that judgment, whether it is or it isn’t, the angle and all that, I mean, I think we should try to take that judgment out of the game if we can and get it right."

Exploring timing on possible cap relief

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- One of the questions that seems to surface weekly from followers is when there might be a resolution in the New England Patriots' pursuit of salary-cap relief with tight end Aaron Hernandez.

The team has a $7.5 million dead charge on its cap for Hernandez, and could recover about $3.25 million of it.

The question is "when?" and when Bill Belichick was asked Tuesday morning, this was his answer:
“We went through a similar thing with the [Jonathan] Fanene situation a year ago, and there are rules in place as to how those situations get handled from a timing standpoint. It’s not random. There is a schedule and how things get reconciled. Whatever the process is, that’s what it is. It’s not a random process. It’s reviewed, it’s scheduled, and if there is a credit, there’s a process for how it’s credited. If it isn’t, there is a process in how it’s accounted for. So we’ll comply with the league’s salary-cap rules, just like we always do and whatever they are, they are. And whatever the results are, they are.”

From a timing standpoint, Fanene was released by the Patriots in August of 2012, and the grievance wasn't settled until September of 2013.

With the final installment of Hernandez's signing bonus having been due in March of 2014, if that process mirrors Fanene from a time perspective, it could be as long as another year before we learn of the result.

The other factor in play is to see what happens with Hernandez's legal situation, which also figures to take some time.

Lighter moments with Bill Belichick

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Bill Belichick chatted with reporters for about 45 minutes at Tuesday's AFC Coaches Breakfast and the Q&A was most expansive when the subject was rule proposals and football concepts, and light on specifics as it related to the New England Patriots.

We'll get to all that shortly, but before we do, let's recap some of the lighter moments as Belichick arrived, placed his Florida Gators visor on the table, and mentioned that eating breakfast wasn't on his agenda.

"How are we doing here?" he asked the media crowd that included five cameras (one live-streaming the breakfast online) and at least 20 reporters crowded around. "A lot more [sun] here than we have in Boston."

On the cost issue of the NFL potentially installing cameras at all boundary lines to aid instant replay: "We just spent however many millions of dollars on the replay system. I mean, there are 1,000 cameras in every stadium, so if somebody spills a beer on somebody, we have it on record, right? Maybe we could have a bake sale to raise some money for the cameras. We could do a car wash."

On supporting the Florida Gators basketball team: "Shout out to Billy [Donovan] here. Going to the Sweet 16."

On why he was the only coach not present for Monday's traditional photo: "I missed it. Maybe they can photoshop me in there."

While Belichick had a few witty one-liners ready, there was one point where he trended in the other direction. Asked if there was a timetable for tight end Rob Gronkowski's return, Belichick said, "Are you seriously asking that question?"

He wasn't smiling at that point.

Belichick: Should verify with Vince

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When a reporter asked Bill Belichick about defensive tackle Vince Wilfork's request to be released, this was Belichick's response at Tuesday's AFC coaches breakfast:

"You need to talk to him about any of those statements, which I think you should verify first."

Earlier in the breakfast, Belichick had been asked about the "contentious" situation with Wilfork and said, "I don't really know the nature of your question, maybe that's something you have to talk to Vince about."

Belichick's remarks came one day after owner Robert Kraft said, "I very much hope we get it done, and I believe [Vince] very much would like to do it as well."

These comments have stood out to me over the past 24 hours.

Belichick's, in particular, seems to call into question the context and/or accuracy of Wilfork's reported request to be released, or perhaps Belichick is simply focusing on the present snapshot, which has shifted from two weeks ago.

There was a point Tuesday morning when Belichick was asked specifically if Wilfork had requested his release, and the coach said he wouldn't get into specifics on any players.

The big takeaway from all of this?

It's clear the sides are working through a complicated contractual issue, and in light of that, Wilfork's future with the franchise still hangs in the sensitive balance.

But remarks from Belichick and Kraft paint a picture of a situation that isn't as contentious as it might seem to be from a public perception standpoint.

How that affects the endgame still remains to be seen.

Prepping for Bill Belichick breakfast

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's an early wake-up call on Tuesday, as the AFC Coaches Breakfast is scheduled for 7:15 a.m. ET.

Some areas of interest that we hope to explore with Bill Belichick:

Revis rewind. Recapping how the opportunity came about to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Other new acquisitions. Cornerback Brandon Browner and receiver Brandon LaFell -- what traits do they have that made them free agents to pursue?

Coaching staff. With the staff mostly solidified, who fits where? Thoughts on new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

Vince Wilfork follow-up. How much longer can the sides work to find a middle ground before a decision has to be made?

Idea of an 'arms race.' How much does he buy that line of thinking when it comes to the back and forth between the Patriots and Broncos?

Defensive football philosophy. Has the way today's game is played placed more of an emphasis on the pass rush?

Initial feedback on rule proposals. Any sense of how the Patriots' four proposals were received by other coaches and owners? Thoughts on other rule changes?

Aaron Hernandez cap credit. Any expectation on when a ruling might be made in that area?

Lombardi addition. How are things going with Michael Lombardi as a special assistant?

Draft snapshot. Closing in on the draft, where do preparations stand and how strong is this draft?

Amendola on the outs? Thoughts on Danny Amendola's 2013 season and where he fits in 2014.

Edelman's rise. Part of the media-based questions surrounding Amendola is tied to Julian Edelman's emergence. Thoughts on his return?

Adrian Wilson in the plans? The veteran safety is under contract, but for how long?

Wesleyan women's lacrosse. What's a tougher defense to face -- Rex Ryan's Jets, or Amanda Belichick's lock-'em-down Wesleyan squad?

Maybe we'll start with the last one. It could lead things off with a smile.

What we learned on Vince Wilfork

March, 24, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The future of veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork with the Patriots still hangs in the sensitive balance, but something owner Robert Kraft said Monday resonated from this perspective.

"I very much hope we get it done," Kraft said at the NFL's annual meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, "and I believe he very much would like to do it as well."

That last part, assuming it's the way Wilfork truly feels, is the key. It adds crucial context to the contractual disagreement between the sides and suggests that they are still working toward a resolution and this isn't a take-it-or-leave-it, hard-line-drawn-in-the-sand type of deal.

That is more than we knew entering today.

The timeline, as we understand it, goes like this:

1. The Patriots approached Wilfork about adjusting the final year of his contract, which calls for him to earn $7.5 million and count $11.6 million against the salary cap.

2. While unclear what the adjustment might be, Wilfork obviously didn't like it, which led him to ask for his release and, according to the Boston Herald, clean out his locker at Gillette Stadium. The day before that happened, Wilfork tweeted congratulations to former teammate Aqib Talib after Talib signed a big-money deal in Denver.


Should the Patriots grant Vince Wilfork his request and release him?


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3. Wilfork went on vacation out of the country.

Things have simmered since Wilfork's request March 13, leading some to wonder if there might be an end game in sight or if this might drag on a bit longer. We haven't heard from Wilfork publicly, but on Monday, Kraft offered another piece of the puzzle with that telling quote.

"I very much hope we get it done, and I believe he very much would like to do it as well."

The image of Wilfork cleaning out his locker and hearing him request his release would make one think the odds were longer for that happening, but it's been almost two weeks since that happened and a lot can change over that time.

Kraft's words sent out a signal of cautious hope that a resolution might be possible.

Kraft: Money is hurdle for rule proposals

March, 24, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The New England Patriots have proposed four rule changes to be discussed at the NFL's annual meeting, and owner Robert Kraft said Monday that he supports all of them as they were put together by coach Bill Belichick.

But while Kraft will be voting yes on raising the goal posts five feet on both sides; adding cameras to all boundary lines to ensure better reviews on instant replay; moving the extra point to the 25-yard line; and allowing coaches to challenge all plays except for scoring plays and turnovers, the bigger question is if enough owners will do the same.

Along those lines, Kraft discussed what might be the main hurdles to them passing.

"The goal posts and the cameras, both should happen, it's just a matter of money," he said. "Anything that can determine the outcome of the game, I think we should be investing in doing it.

"I think [all four proposals] are very good, I don't think the goal posts should be a problem and I hope and believe that will pass. The cameras on the goal line, it's a big commitment for everyone, but once again, we want the outcomes of games to be without question.

"And I think his other two suggestions, of moving the extra point to the 25-yard line [and] having any play be able to be reviewed, are all intelligent.

"But we have a lot of football gurus who maybe think differently. We'll find out tomorrow [with the vote]."

Kraft on changing philosophies & rivalries

March, 24, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- One line of thinking is that the Patriots' philosophy has changed this offseason, in part because of the free-agent signing of Darrelle Revis. Some have viewed the move as an acknowledgment that the Patriots are "going for it" as quarterback Tom Brady's career is closer to its end point than the beginning.

Owner Robert Kraft disputed that line of thinking in his interview with reporters Monday at the NFL's annual meeting.

"I think sometimes there's a misconception that we're changing our philosophy. That isn't true," he said. "All that has happened is that opportunities come up in the marketplace and when they come up we go for them."

As for the perception that the Patriots and Broncos have been in an "arms race" this offseason, Kraft was asked his thoughts about the back and forth between the clubs.

“When I bought the team, I was thinking, 'We could never really beat the Dolphins. Don Shula.' I mean, for years, they beat us. We were able to transition and do OK against the Dolphins. Then, with the Broncos, for about 15 years, we couldn't beat them, and then it looks like we've held our own. But it is a tremendous rivalry. We're happy that they're going to have to come to Foxborough this year; I''m hoping it's in November or December. But we'll see, I guess the schedule will be coming out in a couple of weeks. It's great for the game.

"[Also], the rivalry we have with the Jets, it's unbelievable. I see little young children running around here coming up and telling me how they feel about the Jets. I just thought, 'that's awesome.' We're getting them ingrained at a young age.”

Robert Kraft on new cornerback duo

March, 24, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed excitement over the addition of free-agent cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, doing so with a humorous touch while speaking with reporters at the NFL's annual meeting Monday.

"Hopefully [Browner] and Revis will be a great combination," Kraft said. "Not that I'm telling Bill [Belichick] who to start."

Revis will obviously be locked into one starting spot and Kraft explained why his signing meant more to him than just adding a premier talent.

"When we used to cut players in the early years, no one would pick anyone up that we would cut. Now, when we cut players, they get picked up. But more importantly, here's a young man who had his choice of going to any team in the NFL he wanted, and he came to us. He could have gotten considerable more money going to other teams, but he still came to us," Kraft said.

"I think he knows we're committed to winning as an organization, I really believe his priority is trying to win."

As for Browner, who is suspended for the first four games of the season, Kraft was asked about his comfort level in signing him based on off-field questions.

"I think we've done a very good job in how we've vetted all people we're looking at," he said. "We're human beings. Life takes many twists and turns that none of us can fully appreciate. This wasn't an individual that was violent with women or doing things that I would personally find objectionable. And there's always two sides to a story. We're not going to be perfect. But given the information I had, and the transaction we did, I'm comfortable, and pretty positive about him joining us."

No 'photo' finish for Bill Belichick

March, 24, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- As part of the NFL's annual meeting, all head coaches gather for a traditional photo. And as has been his personal tradition, Bill Belichick once again elected to forgo joining the 31 other head coaches for the shot.

Mark Dalton, the vice president of media relations for the Arizona Cardinals, tweeted out the photo on Monday morning.

Belichick isn't a member of the coaches' association, per his personal choice, which likely ties to his annual decision to skip the photo.

Not much to see here (no tongue in cheek intended), but just passing along some of the sights and sounds of this meeting.