Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. The perception or suggestion that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wanted the Browns head coaching job all along, and was in the mix right up until Cleveland hired Mike Pettine, is off the mark and lacking in context. Not to kick the Browns when they’ve been down, but I believe strongly that the unfiltered truth is they badly wanted McDaniels, circled back with him after the Patriots lost in the AFC title game to see if they could lure him back into their search, and would have flown directly from Tampa (where they were interviewing Greg Schiano) to Boston to close the deal if McDaniels told them he was truly back in the search. But McDaniels, after giving it a second thought with the in-season pressure removed, ultimately told them the same thing he did shortly after his initial interview: The timing just wasn’t right for him and it was more about that than anything else.
2. I think what has unfolded with former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini is a good example as to why McDaniels has taken a patient approach. Mangini went 10-6, 4-12 and 9-7 in three years as head coach of the New York Jets (2006-08) before he was fired. He then quickly jumped at his next chance to be a head coach, with Cleveland in 2009, and things unraveled quickly as he lasted just two seasons. Now he’s 43 years old, already had two cracks at a top job, and hasn’t been on the radar for any head coaching vacancy since (2011-14). Those close to McDaniels say that having multiple years to deeply and thoroughly assess where things went wrong in Denver, and have definitive, well thought out plans for what he’d do differently in a second go-around, has been a big part of his thinking.
3. If the Patriots ultimately do add former Browns general manager Michael Lombardi to their front office, my educated guess is that it would be in more of an advisor/consultant-type role, similar to what Floyd Reese previously held in the organization. The Patriots have an extremely small draft room compared to most NFL teams and my initial thought is that Lombardi’s potential position wouldn’t be one that produces an extra seat in that room. Still, it’s clear that his opinion and scouting acumen, particularly on the pro side, has earned great respect from coach Bill Belichick.
4. In attempting to better understand a timeline of when the Patriots might possibly receive salary-cap relief from Aaron Hernandez’s contract, the biggest takeaway was that nothing is imminent. So for those looking at the team’s salary cap and wondering if a Hernandez-based credit of around $3.25 million might be a reasonable expectation before the start of free agency on March 11, it seems highly unlikely. Why the delay? That credit would be a result of the Patriots not paying Hernandez the final installment of his signing bonus which is due this March, a decision that will be contested by the NFL Players Association. As is often the case with any grievance type of situation that would involve a special master, lawyers etc., it is dictated by the terms of their schedules, not the NFL calendar.
5. Ted Wells’ independent report of Miami Dolphins workplace misconduct didn’t reflect well on guard Richie Incognito, which was what I anticipated. Specific to the Dolphins, it remains difficult to understand any type of process or internal checks and balances that would allow a player like Incognito -- whose shaky reputation prior to joining the Dolphins was well known league-wide -- to be part of the team’s leadership council. I don’t doubt the integrity of Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin, and believe that if he knew the depth of what was happening he would have stopped it, but that is a major oversight/error on his part.
6. When the Saints released veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Will Smith on Wednesday, my first reaction was that he’s the type of player/pass-rusher I could see the Patriots signing to a lower-risk, one-year deal, assuming that’s what the market dictates. Players like Smith who are released and become free agents don’t count against next year’s compensatory pick formula. Some teams, such as Baltimore, have targeted potential assets in that area in recent years with that specific thought in mind.
7. When Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Wednesday that 2014 is “as deep across the board as any draft I’ve seen in 30 years,” it adds further context to ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay talking about the influx of a record number of underclassmen (approximately 100) as a primary storyline in this draft. Looking forward to hearing Mike Mayock’s opinion and analysis in his pre-combine media conference call Tuesday.
8. In the midst of a league-wide study of NFL depth charts, team-building philosophies and 2014 scheme changes, the following thought was sparked: There might not be a team in the NFL better than the Titans at finding and developing top cornerbacks in the middle to late rounds in the NFL draft. Cortland Finnegan (seventh round, 2006), Jason McCourty (sixth round, 2009) and Alterraun Verner (fourth round, 2010) represent a strong track record, with Verner viewed as one of the top unrestricted free agents this offseason. If Verner departs, the Titans still have UConn’s Blidi Wreh-Wilson (third round, 2013), Clemson’s Coty Sensabaugh (fourth round, 2012) and California-Pa’s Tommie Campbell (seventh round, 2011) in the pipeline. The Titans have seemed to be stuck in neutral in recent years, but the cornerback spot has been one of the best parts of their team-building work.
9. John Elway is obviously deserving of the three-year contract extension he received last week as he's been the leading catalyst to have the Broncos contending in the current window. It starts with winning the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. I am curious, however, if Elway’s team-building approach has built-to-last qualities that seem to be easier identified in organizations such as Seattle and New England.
10. With the NFL combine kicking off this week, here’s guessing we won’t see this again. While coaches sometimes downplay the value of combine testing, when a prospect like Jamie Collins does what he did in 2013, teams have to take notice. And it looks like the Patriots got not only a good athlete, but also a good football player.