Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1a. The Patriots and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene (represented by the NFL Players Association) settled their grievance within the past week, according to sources, and part of the settlement is that the Patriots won’t have to pay Fanene the final $1.35 million of his $3.85 million signing bonus. When the Patriots had signed Fanene in March of 2012, the contract called for the $3.85 million signing bonus to be paid in multiple installments, with the final $1.35 million on March 31, 2013. We all know what happened -- Fanene never played for the Patriots and the team released him five months after signing him with the new “failure to disclose physical condition” designation. A grievance followed. We can now officially close the book on the Patriots’ failed Fanene signing, with Fanene able to keep $2.5 million of the original signing bonus and the Patriots receiving a credit on their 2013 salary cap.
1b. As part of the Patriots’ grievance against Fanene, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the club seeking the removal of team doctor Thomas Gill (details here). It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the grievance has been dropped, according to sources, but a resolution is in the works. The issue of team doctors providing care that puts players first, which in some cases could mean the team’s best interests aren’t being served, is something the NFL Players Association has always had on its radar, most recently from earlier this year with the San Diego Chargers. Look for more on this hot-button issue in the days and weeks to come as the NFL Players Association keeps it in the spotlight.
2. At this point, I believe the only person who can accurately assess when Patriots receiver Danny Amendola might return to the field is Amendola himself. That sounds obvious, but my sense is that this is essentially out of doctors’ hands now and more of a personal situation based on the nature of the injury. And those who know Amendola best aren’t surprised that he’s pushing it as hard as he can. Until he returns, the Patriots need receiver Julian Edelman more than ever before. Anyone else predict Edelman would be tied for the league lead in receptions with Houston’s Andre Johnson entering Week 3 games?
3. When it comes to dependability and reliability, receiver Wes Welker and running back Danny Woodhead rated highly among Patriots players in recent years, and it seems fair to say the team misses that right now. So looking ahead, I’d put defensive end Rob Ninkovich in a similar category. Ninkovich is in the final year of his contract and working to extend his pact now -- using some of the team’s excess salary-cap space -- would be a smart move if the sides can find some middle ground. As NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said on the Sept. 12 Patriots-Jets broadcast, Ninkovich might be overlooked by some, but the more you watch him play the more it’s easy to appreciate what he does.
4. My first reaction on the surprising Browns-Colts trade, which shipped running back Trent Richardson (No. 3 overall pick in 2012) to Indianapolis in exchange for a 2014 first-round pick, was that it was a smart big-picture play by Cleveland. I’m not a big believer in a running back being a high first-round value unless we’re talking about Adrian Peterson. Maybe that’s what Richardson is and I’ll ultimately be wrong. But overall, here’s what I like from the Browns’ perspective: They have two 2014 first-round picks, and 10 picks overall, so it gives them flexibility and chips to position themselves for a potential franchise quarterback in a draft that looks stronger at the position than it was this year. If they don’t come away with that, all the planning won’t mean much, but the vision is easy to see.
5a. Just wondering: How much of the sloppy play in the first two Thursday night games of the season, when teams were back on the field five days after playing a Sunday game, was a result of the quick turnaround? Something to watch in the weeks to come as Patriots-Jets and Eagles-Chiefs weren’t played at a very high level.
5b. I did enjoy watching the Chiefs and was curious if anyone else from a Patriots-type viewpoint might have asked this question: What was former New England vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli thinking as he watched Kansas City improve to 3-0? Just a hunch, but he had to be wondering how things might have been different for him with the Chiefs (2009-2012) if he picked a different head coach (Todd Haley) and quarterback (Matt Cassel). There is some solid talent on that roster at various positions, some of it hand-picked by Pioli, and I undersold them entering the year.
6a. In watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ first two games, and also getting a feel for how head coach Greg Schiano is under growing scrutiny, one thought struck me: He’s in almost the same position as his good coaching pal Bill Belichick was during his second season in New England (2001). Mainly, both teams started 0-2, had a No. 1 quarterback who didn’t necessarily seem to be the preferred choice, and criticism was mounting on their demanding style and if they were fit for the job. The third game of that 2001 season was one defining moment in Belichick’s tenure -- a 44-13 win over the Peyton Manning-led Colts. Schiano would naturally be thrilled if his script is similar today.
6b. The Buccaneers were tied for the NFL lead with 23 accepted penalties after two weeks of the season, and if Schiano was interested in seeing the number decline, here’s a suggestion: Start yanking players off the field who deliver dangerous hits on defenseless receivers. That might get the message across. I thought safety Ahmad Black’s hit last Sunday against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, which earned him a $21,000 fine, was Brandon Meriweather-type dirty (and more egregious than Dashon Goldson’s hit on Darren Sproles). I was curious if Schiano would send a message and pull Black off the field. He didn’t.
7. One thing that wasn’t reflected in Patriots defensive tackle Tommy Kelly’s “football journey” was how he’s indebted to late Raiders owner Al Davis for giving him his chance in the NFL as an undrafted player in 2004. He ended up playing nine years in Oakland and Kelly told some great stories about Davis, such as how he once watched him struggling to use his walker to get to his hotel room at training camp, only to walk by and see that Davis was lifting weights in his room. “He was a great man, a player’s owner,” Kelly relayed. “He was always hard on the coaches, but as a player you loved him. He would tell you how he felt, but he would allow for the give back; you could tell him how you felt. He might not have agreed with it, and he’d let you know, but he treated you like a man.”
8. Who is Chris Clark? It’s a question many might be asking this week after Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady (85 straight starts, including playoffs) was placed on season-ending injured reserve and Clark was named his replacement (for this week, at least). Clark doesn’t face much pressure this week; all he has to do is ensure Manning’s blindside remains well protected. Some quick background: Clark entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Southern Mississippi in 2008, spent two seasons on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad, then was claimed on waivers by the Broncos in 2010. He has six career starts and at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, he’s considered more athletic than powerful. Here’s one other thing to keep in mind as it relates to Clark on Monday night against the Oakland Raiders: Manning often gets rid of the ball quickly, similar to Tom Brady, which can make life easier on a left tackle.
9. The Falcons, who the Patriots visit next Sunday night, have been hit hard by injuries. Their equivalent to the Patriots’ Jerod Mayo, every-down linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (2010 first-round pick), was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list after sustaining a foot injury. Meanwhile, running back Steven Jackson has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and he probably won’t be ready for action against New England, while starting left tackle Sam Baker isn’t playing Sunday and one of the Falcons' top pass-rushers, Kroy Biermann, is out for the season (torn Achilles). They still have quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, among others, so it will represent the most explosive offense the Patriots have faced this season. But like the Patriots, they are missing some key parts as they hit the road to face the Dolphins.
10. One year after CBS’ top broadcasting team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms called eight Patriots games (including playoffs), the earliest we might see them this year is Oct. 20 (at the Jets) and even that isn’t a guarantee. Part of the reason is that only two of the Patriots' first six games are on CBS this year, and Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf have been given the assignments (Sept. 8 at Buffalo; Oct. 6 at Cincinnati). Nantz and Simms will call the Broncos at Cowboys game on Oct. 6.