Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. One potential trickle-down effect for the Patriots in Super Bowl 50 is that if the Broncos win, it puts a New England-at-Denver matchup on the radar as a possibility to open the 2016 season. In addition to hosting New England and their AFC West foes (Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders), the Broncos also will entertain the Colts, Texans, Falcons and Panthers next season. The Patriots have never played in an NFL Thursday opener other than as defending champions.
2. As much as any team in the NFL, the Patriots value pass-catching ability from their running backs, and one of the league’s best in that area, Matt Forte, is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason. On Friday, Forte said on NFL Network, “It’s not even about the money. I want to be in Super Bowls.” At the very least, the running back-needy Patriots figure to explore the possibility as Forte, who turned 30 on Dec. 10, could be a multi-purpose weapon in the team’s offense while also not having to be the workhorse he once was in Chicago.
3. Roger Goodell said last week that the NFL will institute a Rooney Rule for women when it comes to all NFL executive positions, which had me thinking about the Patriots’ diversity from a gender perspective. Jennifer Ferron, a senior vice president of marketing and brand development, is at the management level directly below Chairman/CEO Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft. It doesn’t get much higher than that. Jessica Gelman (VP of Customer Marketing and Strategy), Robyn Glaser (VP, Kraft Group and club counsel), Robin Boudreau (VP/human resources) and Nancy Meier (director of scouting administration) also have high-ranking positions. All told, the Patriots are well-diversified from a gender perspective.
4. What might a contract extension for Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (entering the final year of his pact) look like? Defensive end Vinny Curry's reported five-year, $47.25-million contract extension ($23 million guaranteed) with the Eagles last week provides a ballpark of sorts, while keeping in mind that Jones has been the superior player over the last four years. Curry would have been a free agent in March, so he had a bit more leverage than Jones does at this point.
5. When Steve Sabol of NFL Films died in September 2012, Bill Belichick shared his appreciation for his contributions to the game, saying, “There aren’t many people that I think have done more for the NFL or done more for football than Steve has. He was a great friend, a great storyteller ... had a great appreciation for the game, the history of the game, the people, as well as the present. I just loved to talk to him, just talking about football. He was really special. I think it’s hard these days to find somebody like Steve that [it] was never about him. It was always about the game, it was about the entertainment.” Given those remarks, it’s hardly a surprise that Belichick agreed to narrate a piece for today’s Super Bowl pre-game show on CBS on the Sabols’ impact on the NFL, which will air as part of a “Difference Makers” segment. I look forward to seeing it.
6. Patriots center Bryan Stork wasn’t fined for his head-butt that was penalized for unnecessary roughness in the AFC Championship Game, which was a bit of a surprise. While the play didn’t hit Stork in the wallet, it certainly hurt the Patriots on the field. It negated a 5-yard run on the Patriots’ third drive, setting up a first-and-20 and taking New England out of a chance to generate momentum in the running game, which would prove to be a big issue as the game unfolded. Meanwhile, the NFL nailed three Broncos with fines from that game.
7. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson were rightfully praised in multiple places for their generosity regarding how many employees and support staff they included as part of their teams’ travel parties for Super Bowl 50. I often thought that was an easily overlooked aspect of the Patriots’ six appearances in the Super Bowl since 2001; Robert Kraft took the same approach with his employees -- both with Patriots and Gillette Stadium workers, and even some of his other non-football-related businesses. To do it once is impressive. To do it six times at that scale, it’s generosity with a capital “G”.
8. A couple of Goodell/NFL pieces that caught my attention this week: Mark Leibovich of the New York Times magazine on Goodell’s “unstoppable football machine” and Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins on Goodell defending the “indefensible, spinning nonsense.” This is powerful stuff, from a reporting and opinion perspective, that stood out in the lead-in to the Super Bowl.
9. At the tail end of spending a few hours with Patriots rookie safety Jordan Richards on Thursday during a community-based hospital visit, I asked him what type of player the Patriots are getting in linebacker James Vaughters, his former teammate at Stanford who signed a futures contract in New England for 2016. “A real physical football player,” Richards said. “He’s a Georgia guy, so I’m glad we got him out at Stan U -- a hard-working dude who is going to put his hard hat on and come to work and compete.” As is often the case with linebackers facing longer odds to earn a roster spot, Vaughters' work on special teams figures to be critical if he is to stick around.
10. Did You Know: Patriots rookies played 3,210 snaps during the 2015 season, which was the seventh-highest total among NFL teams. Of the contributions of the rookie class, on and off the field, Richards said: “It’s a great group of guys. I think we all walked into an awesome situation. You see the culture that’s been built here, on the field and off the field. You just want to be a part of that and uphold the standard that’s been set, and do your best and your part to raise that standard.”