New England Patriots: Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick's willingness to stand on the frontlines of rule proposals had significant impact at last month's NFL annual meeting, specifically when it comes to instant replay.

"Coach Belichick bringing it up this year, and the way he argued it, it really does bring the discussion of instant replay -- the future of it -- into the light, if you will," competition committee co-chair Rich McKay said Friday on ESPN Radio's "The Herd" program. "I think it's a good thing, but not enough to make us, as a league and membership, want to change it [at this time]."

As Belichick noted at the league meeting, his proposals were as much about introducing concepts as anything else. Discussion on the topic is expected to continue in the future.

McKay detailed what ultimately held back Belichick's 2014 proposal to allow coaches to challenge all plays other than turnovers and scoring plays.

"Pretty cool discussion. The issues behind that are pretty tremendous," McKay said on the program. "Does that mean you could challenge a penalty that wasn't called? Would that not mean, basically at the end of the game, you would always end games with challenges on big plays for any penalty, even a penalty that has absolutely zero impact on the play?

"It would be, in our mind, a fundamental change in the game. Penalties themselves have never been reviewable and the reason they haven't is that they are completely subjective based on the person calling them. So you're just going to have somebody else's subjectivity, meaning the referee, substituted for the on-field official [who made the call]. Nobody has ever gotten comfortable with that."

Another undefeated season at home?

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
NFL Network's "NFL-AM" show keeps the football discussion going on a daily basis, and Friday morning it sparked a discussion on the New England Patriots' excellence at home.

Since 2002, the Patriots are 92-18 at home (including playoffs), which is the best mark in the NFL. They went 9-0 last year.


Will the Patriots go undefeated at home in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 7,884)

So could another undefeated regular season be possible?

That was the question tossed out for discussion by host Molly Qerim, as analysts Steve Wyche, Jordan Babineaux and Shawne Merriman opined on a home slate that includes the Bills, Dolphins, Jets, Broncos, Bears, Bengals, Lions and Raiders.

Babineaux: "The answer is no ... As long as Rex [Ryan] is in that division I'm always going to give the Jets an opportunity and a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots. I think Rex Ryan comes up with the best game-plan for Tom Brady."

Merriman: "Another team that's on that [schedule] is Denver. They have two outside pass-rushers now in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who is probably going to come back healthy. Now you're looking at an offense that can put up points, I don't see [the Patriots] getting a win over those guys at home. It's just too much."

Wyche: "I have them going 7-1, but I have them losing to the Chicago Bears. That defense is going to be better this year. I know the Patriots have [Darrelle] Revis. I know they have Brandon Browner. But Chicago has a whole lot of other weapons there, and if it's cold, it doesn't matter [to them]. So I like Chicago."

At that point, Qerim said, "I know the chances are slim, but you can never count out Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. There's always a chance."

Sharing thoughts on Manziel visit

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
With quarterback Johnny Manziel set to visit the Patriots on Wednesday, theories abound as to why the team would use one of its allotted 30 out-of-town visits on a player it almost certainly won't select.

A few thoughts:

Quarterback position in sharper focus this year. The Patriots currently have only two quarterbacks on their roster in Tom Brady (signed through 2017) and Ryan Mallett (signed through 2014). Because of this, it sets up a scenario in which the team is seeking the next young backup signal-caller for 2015 and beyond, similar to when Mallett was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft and spent that year as the No. 3 before graduating to the top backup spot the following year. Having the most complete information on Manziel and other top quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater will give the team the best overall view of the position when rating others, such as Georgia's Aaron Murray, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, who are more likely options later in the draft.

Fascinating prospect. Manziel is one of the most unique prospects to come out of the draft in recent years. When a prospect is that far out of the traditional box, spending extra time with him can help a club gain a better understanding of why that is the case. Such a visit could also help the Patriots get a better feel for Manziel's value in the event he is unexpectedly on the board at No. 29 and there is trade interest. There is also the line of thinking that you might end up facing him down the line and such a visit could provide some form of insight in best preparing for that possibility, or that Manziel might have interesting things to say about other prospects of interest to the club.

Part of the draft process, but still a bit unusual. The Patriots don't do this every year with top quarterbacks. In fact, when Bill Belichick was talking about Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in 2012 prior to a game against Indianapolis, he specifically said, "Our scouting staff scouted him but I personally didn't do a lot of work on Luck. We weren't going to draft a quarterback in the first round and there was no chance he was going to be anywhere close to where our draft position was going to be. That wasn't a guy that I spent a lot of time studying other than looking at some of their other players and of course from the [conference], watching him against some of the defensive players that Stanford played."

So what makes Manziel's situation different than Luck's?

In the end, we'd put our chips closest to the idea that the Patriots would like to come away with a developmental quarterback in the draft to account for the likely departure of Mallett after the 2014 season. It almost certainly won't be Manziel, Bortles or Bridgewater, but when stacking the draft board and quarterback position specifically, having the best feel for it from top to bottom perhaps takes on added importance given the hope to address the position at some point in the draft.

Patriots eyed Will Smith in '04 draft

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
Bill Belichick's scouting files can sometimes come in handy, even 11 years after the fact.

That thought came to mind Tuesday with news that free-agent defensive end Will Smith (Saints) was visiting the Patriots. Smith was on the Patriots' radar in the 2004 draft.

"He was certainly a guy we had a lot of interest in," Belichick said in 2009 when asked about Smith prior to a Patriots-Saints game. "He's a big guy who can run, rush the passer, pursue well, strong player at the point of attack, athletic, plays on his feet. He's got a group of skills, plays hard, been productive. I think he's been the player people thought he would be."

The question to ask at this point, 11 years later, is if Smith still has something left in the tank to help the Patriots.

If Belichick and his staff determine that he does, a potential role should be pretty straight-forward.

Reflecting on the 2004 draft, Belichick said he didn't view Smith as an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid as much as a pure pass-rusher. It wasn't necessarily that Smith couldn't drop into coverage, but Belichick compared the situation to Julius Peppers in that a coach wouldn't want to drop him into coverage because it took him away from doing what he does best -- rushing the passer.

Smith ended up going 18th overall to the Saints. The Patriots then drafted Vince Wilfork 21st overall.

Smith's visit to New England sparks thoughts of the possibility that the duo could be lining up alongside each other in 2014.

Timing key with Wilfork, Patriots

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
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.

Lighter moments with Bill Belichick

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
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
Mar 25
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
Mar 25
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.

Charley Casserly: Give Patriots an A-plus

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
Bill Belichick and Charley Casserly probably won't be going out to dinner any time soon, as we remember the 2010 media-based exchange between the two.

Casserly had reported that quarterback Tom Brady was playing through broken ribs. Belichick responded by asking, "Who's been wrong more than Charley Casserly?"

Well, if that's the case, Belichick might not like Casserly's analysis on the best free-agent signings in 2014.

In Casserly's view, which he shared on NFL Network's "NFL-AM" program Friday, the New England Patriots were the first team mentioned.

"It's the cornerback position -- you have [Darrelle] Revis and [Brandon] Browner coming in. What Revis can do, No. 1, is if you want to have him take away the best receiver, whether it's a tight end [like] Jimmy Graham or a receiver, you can do that, and that gives you flexibility with Browner," Casserly said on the program.

"Or how about if you just go press both of these guys and put pressure on that quarterback with blitzes, allowing that quarterback not as much time to throw, and your secondary plenty of time to react to the ball and get after it. It gives you a lot of things you can do with coverages in the secondary when you have two shutdown corners.

"A-plus for the New England Patriots."

Putting Browner in the "shutdown" category might be a bit generous, but the 1-2 punch has been a notable part of the team's overall free-agent approach because of how it might change the way they do some things on defense.

And if it works out as desired, perhaps it also changes Belichick's view on Casserly.

A few leftover pieces of Patriots mail

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
A few leftover pieces of New England Patriots mail from Tuesday's mailbag...

Chris (Washington DC): Hey Mike, the TE position has always been one that has been one of Tom Brady's favorite targets. From Christian Fauria, to Ben Watson, to Gronk and Hernandez. I know they re-signed Michael Hoomanawanui but is he enough? Do the Patriots trust that he will be reliable this season as the full time starter for most if not all of the season? Or do you think this will be something they address to get help in the draft and or free agency?

Chris, I think the Patriots are happy to have Hoomanawanui back as he's proven to be a reliable, team-first player. But I also believe they aren't done addressing the position. There are currently three tight ends on the roster -- Rob Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams -- and I would anticipate at least two more added by the time training camp begins in late July. We're looking at a partial snapshot right now.

Tom C. (North andover ma): Hey Mike, I was very disappointed at the loss of Dane Fletcher. His special teams efforts were significant but I always liked what I saw of him when he played. Fletcher just always seemed to show up and make plays. He only went to Tampa on a one-year deal. Why weren't the Patriots more interested in keeping him?

Tom, my educated guess would be economics, as perhaps the Patriots view Fletcher as more of a pure core special teamer, and paying a salary north of $1 million for that might not represent the best value to them when you can have a younger player at more than half the cost. Also, sometimes it's more the player's choice to seek a fresh start, which is something to keep in mind as well. I'm going to be interested to watch how that unfolds because Fletcher is going to a much different defensive system under Lovie Smith than what the Patriots play under Bill Belichick. Maybe it turns out to be a better fit for him.

Benjamin (Concord, MA): Hi Mike, with the Patriots taking such an uncanny aggressive offseason approach this offseason,wouldn't it be fair to expect the team to perhaps move up in the draft for some "real" talent. If so, who could you envision them trading up for?

Benjamin, I see it a little bit differently in terms of the "aggressiveness." Obviously, the Darrelle Revis signing was a big one, and that is unusual, but I think it was more about capitalizing on an unexpected opportunity than a specific philosophical change in approach. With this in mind, I wouldn't expect anything different in the team's draft approach. If the right players are there and there is an opportunity to move up (e.g. Chandler Jones/Dont'a Hightower in 2012), I think they'll do it. If the better play is to trade back in a 4-picks-for-1-pick scenario (similar to last year), I think they'd do that, too. It's all about seizing the opportunities that present themselves.

John (Honolulu): Hi Mike, last year the [Patriots] picked up Armond Armstead from the CFL and after missing last season, he will be back in 2014. While maybe better suited for the interior of the defense, do you think he gets a look at possibly defensive end? We know that Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones need a breather now and then.

John, I had specifically asked Bill Belichick that question last year, about the possibility of Armstead as an end-of-the-line player and he dismissed it by noting Armstead is 295 pounds and more suited for the interior.

Josh (Reading/PA): Hi Mike, obviously things are fluid right now, but is it possible to get a sense of how much more room the Pats have under the salary cap now that they've signed/re-signed Hoomanawanui, Revis, Browner, LaFell, Edelman, and Co? I know it may be hard to say, what with pending potential releases/restructures with Vince and A. Wilson, but is it still reasonable to think that we can still keep Blount and Wendell while bringing a veteran pass-rusher aboard?

Josh, a conservative estimate is around $7 million of cap space. I still think Blount has a good chance of being back. My take on Ryan Wendell is that they would welcome him back at lower financial levels with the hope of adding competition at the position.

Double Coverage: Patriots vs. Broncos

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib Getty ImagesBoth the Patriots and Broncos bolstered their defense by signing Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib.
Since the start of the 2005 season, the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots have played 10 times, with three of those postseason games, including a 26-16 Denver win in the AFC Championship Game in January.

The two are so familiar with each other that even Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has joked, "The league says the schedule is random, like where you play, but that doesn't feel random. We're always facing them and it always feels like it's at their place."

In 2014, the Broncos play the Patriots again -- and it will be in Foxborough, Mass., for the second consecutive year (as part of the NFL's rotating schedule formula).

As two franchises with five Super Bowl wins between them race to make the most of what's left in the careers of their respective future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, they almost appear to be answering the other's signings.

So much so that Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway was even asked this past weekend if he felt like he was in an "arms race" with the Patriots during the free-agency period.

"You always know you have to go through New England," Elway said. "If you look at their track record the last 10 years, they're a team you're going to have to be able to deal with, and for us to get done what we want to get done, you've got to be able to beat them. It's kind of a fun type of arms race, and we'll see what happens next year." Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a closer look at both teams' moves over the past week.

Legwold: Mike, the Broncos certainly see the Patriots as the chief hurdle in any attempt to get to another Super Bowl title, and whether they would admit it or not, the thought of having to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a game that matters influences the decisions the Broncos make. How do the Patriots see this?

Reiss: Jeff, that will be atop the list of questions to ask Belichick the next time he meets with the press. As you might have noticed, unlike the Broncos, the Patriots haven't had any news conferences to trumpet their offseason moves, so we're left to answer this question for them based on their actions. And the answer, from this view, is the Broncos are a significant factor in the Patriots' decision-making process, specifically in what they're trying to put together defensively with physical press corners in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. It's hard to get to Manning with the pass rush (what the Seahawks accomplished in the Super Bowl is the exception), so another way to disrupt that high-powered attack is getting physical in the secondary. I don't think building a team to beat the Broncos is their sole focus and would imagine Belichick will dismiss most of this line of thinking, but to me the actions speak loudly that it's at least part of the thought process.

One of the big questions I've heard from Patriots followers: "How are the Broncos signing all these players -- Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders -- to such big-money contracts?" Along those lines, what is the Broncos' cap situation and could this be the type of thing that comes back to haunt them in future years?

Legwold: The short answer is the Broncos' cap situation was far better than many reported as free agency opened. They weren't on the list of teams that had no room to work with, and circumstances helped them as well. They had about $28.7 million worth of room when free agency was set to open -- that total was among the league's top 10 -- and gained another $10 million when they released Champ Bailey and another $4.1 million when guard Chris Kuper retired last week. They also structured most of the deals, including Talib's, with several kinds of bonuses in different years of the contract. Talib's deal is six years, $57 million on paper, but in reality, it's a three-year, $27 million contract that the Broncos could escape with limited cap implications after the 2014 season. They do not have any of the deals heavily front-loaded, essentially eliminating salary-cap implications down the road if they have to release the players after one or two years. They are selling the chance to play for a Super Bowl contender, and the players they signed were willing to work with them on deals that pay well if the player does well but make sense to the Broncos down the road, too. They simply bypassed the players who weren't willing to play ball that way. Also, they have made age a priority, with Talib, T.J. Ward and Sanders all just 27 or 28 years old. They have tried to limit their exposure with long-term contracts for 30-somethings.

With Wes Welker's signing last season and Talib's last week, there is an element of not only signing a free agent the Broncos want but also weakening a rival.

Mike, how do you think the Patriots saw those signings? Just business, or their players being targeted?

Also, Talib talked about the Patriots' injury-reporting procedures in his introductory news conference. How do you think those remarks were received in New England?

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Gail BurtonTom Brady has said he wants to play until he's 40 years old.
Reiss: More in the "just business” category. There is a pretty strong resolve among the team's decision-makers in how they want to build their team and what they view as the most responsible financial decisions. So, right or wrong, they often set a price and don't budge too far off it, knowing that could mean a player winds up on a top competitor. That's basically what happened with Welker and Talib. As for Talib's remarks, I don't think it was anything inflammatory in the eyes of the Patriots. Talib was very well-liked here, and I don't think what he said changes anything along those lines.

We remember from all the talk about the Eagles' "Dream Team” a few years ago that assembling talent is only part of the equation. It's how it comes together.

Jeff, can you shed some insight on the Broncos' locker room, the leadership, and if there should be any concern on how all the impressive individual parts come together as a team?

Legwold: The Broncos have a little different structure than most teams in that they are the only one with a Hall of Fame quarterback who is a sports icon in the same city where he also happens to run the team. Elway is the ultimate Alpha Dog in terms of how things go here, even with Manning in the locker room. But the Broncos like the makeup of their locker room, but it will be a year of transition in that regard given three former captains -- Bailey, Kuper and Wesley Woodyard -- have all departed. At the roster level, Manning's presence is all over the offense, and on defense they see youngsters such as Danny Trevathan and Chris Harris Jr. as future captains. They also believe they've been careful in the players they've signed -- Elway makes it clear who is, or isn't, what they are looking for. That said of the new arrivals, there certainly is the hope that Ware can be a mentor to Von Miller, both on and off the field, after Miller's rocky ride in 2013 that included a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Mike, there is a sense in Denver that Manning's career is winding down and that 2014 could be it. But what is the feeling about Brady and how much longer he intends to play?

Reiss: Brady is signed through 2017, and there is every expectation he will play to the end of that contract, and play at a high level. Brady has previously said he'd like to play into his 40s, and I don't think anyone would be wise to bet against that after what we've seen from him since he was selected 199th overall in the 2000 draft. He keeps himself in excellent physical condition and basically lives football year-round. So assuming good health, I'd put '17 as the earliest marker to when we might close the book on his career. He'd be 40 at that point.

Jeff, with the moves the Broncos have made, where do you see them as better than last year, and where is there work still to be done?

Legwold: We asked Elway that question Sunday when Sanders arrived as the latest signing. Elway's response was: "I do think we're better, especially when you consider we had five starters on defense on injured reserve last year. When I could move those names off IR, back onto our roster board, I felt a lot better about our team even before free agency opened. And now we added some guys who we think are the right kind of guys and who fill some big needs for us."

The Broncos' goal has been to use free agency to fill what Elway has called "glaring needs" so they can continue to draft the best available guys, no matter the position. They still need some depth on the offensive line, a middle linebacker who would play only in the base, and they will look at wide receiver and cornerback in the draft as well.

Patriots had visit set for Steve Smith

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
The Patriots had arranged a free-agent visit for former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith on Monday, but the Ravens ensured that Smith wouldn't make it to New England by signing him to a three-year, $11.5 million contract Friday.

"I had spoken to Coach Belichick personally when I was at the airport on my way to Baltimore," Smith told reporters on a late Friday conference call, according to the Baltimore Sun.

"We had a conversation that indicated that they were very interested in me. And I was also open to going there as well, but I really felt like after sitting here that this is the place that I felt would best fit me and they convinced me that I would fit in here very well."

Smith, one of the top competitors in the NFL, would have been a great fit in New England. It is easy to envision a potentially dynamic connection he would have had with quarterback Tom Brady.

But family considerations for Smith also made Baltimore a more ideal choice, as it's closer to Charlotte.

In some ways, this reminds me of the 2005 offseason when the Patriots were interested in free-agent receiver Derrick Mason, who like Smith was known for his competitiveness and toughness. But the Ravens, in part due to Mason's family considerations, trumped the Patriots that year as well.

If there is a silver lining for the Patriots, it's that the Ravens probably now will be out of the mix for free-agent receiver Julian Edelman, potentially clearing his path for a return to New England.

Woodyard departs town after visit

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
Free-agent linebacker Wesley Woodyard departed town after meeting with the Patriots on Wednesday and shared his thoughts on the day with ESPN's Josina Anderson.

"The visit with the Patriots went great," Woodyard told Anderson. "I got to sit down with the coaches. I talked to [Bill] Belichick too. He told me how he sees my role with the team. I respect him a lot."

Woodyard, who visited along with Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell and Cardinals defensive end/outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy, is now set to travel to Tennessee for a visit with the Titans.

Free-agency primer: Patriots

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Aqib Talib, WR Julian Edelman, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, C Ryan Wendell

Where they stand: The Patriots would like Talib back, and Brent Grimes' four-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed in Miami provides a ballpark for the marketplace. Is that too rich for the Patriots? The club would also like Edelman back, but after investing in a receiver with a similar skill set last offseason (Danny Amendola), it will be interesting to see how far the Patriots are willing to extend to do so. Talib is the key piece, and similar to Wes Welker last year, it makes sense to think the team will quickly move to Plan B if a deal isn't struck by the start of free agency.

What to expect: The Patriots aren't flush with cap space, and Bill Belichick often says that free agency is one slice of the team-building process, along with the draft and trades. A focus on retaining their own, with a few complementary pieces from other teams added in free agency, would be our best guess as to how the Patriots approach things in 2014. Key spots in addition to retaining Talib and Edelman are adding a more dynamic presence at tight end, more pass-rush help and depth at defensive tackle.
BOSTON -- The essence of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is hearing some of the top businesspeople and football personnel discuss ideas, concepts and innovations.

Along these lines, a question was posed to Patriots president Jonathan Kraft toward the end of his panel discussion on "Building a Dynasty" about the value of trading a first-round draft choice for a head coach. This possibility recently came to light with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh, and this is how Kraft answered:
“In the context of football, an exceptional coach, at the end of the day, is probably more valuable to a team long-term than any individual player. If you are going to make that trade, you probably have more data on the coach than you ever could on that No. 1 draft pick. It worked out well for us. I would say, yes, certainly in football.”

The Patriots. of course, traded their 2000 first-round pick to the Jets as part of the compensation package to land Bill Belichick.

Earlier on the panel, Kraft touched on why the Patriots were so intent on hiring Belichick at the time, with his understanding of the salary cap (implemented in 1994) the key.

"The salary cap, in a league that shared virtually all of its revenue, now had leveled the playing field competitively. So you were going to compete not by how rich you were, but by how good you were at evaluating talent for your system, signing it up under the rules of the salary cap, and then coaching it. Literally, unlike any other sport, money was coming out of the equation because of our revenue sharing and because of the cap. It was going to rely on the analytics and the intellect. Coming from other businesses, we stepped into that and we were surprised that traditional football people didn't get that concept. It shows you that 20 years ago in the NFL, there literally was nothing analytical brought to the table," Kraft said.

"What we did over the first six years we owned the team, we went to one Super Bowl -- it was the year Belichick was with us with [Bill] Parcells -- we were searching hard for somebody who had the intellectual capacity to understand the analytics but who also had grown up in coaching and had the instincts of a great coach. We were lucky that Bill was somebody we got exposure to [in 1996] because I really believe our competitive advantage as an organization, and what we hoped to find when we bought the team at the time we did, was somebody in Bill; because maybe people, on the outside, view him as a little bit not warm and fuzzy and wouldn't want them working for them, he actually has not only an amazing ability to coach players, but an intellectual capacity and understanding of the salary cap and the analytics that go into it that he can do the whole thing and tie it together. I really believe that's what has been our competitive advantage."