NFL Nation: Hall of Fame

Redskins mailbag: Part 2

May, 17, 2014
May 17
10:00
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For Part 2 of the Redskins mailbag, we're talking Robert Griffin III and the Hall of Fame (what!?), which offensive alignments the Redskins might favor, defensive sets against Philadelphia, the offensive line and more. Enjoy.
NEW YORK -- The really special part of rooting for a team that wins a championship is the way it lives in your memory. That's the stuff that lasts. The game itself is a thrill, and you feel great when it's over and the next day and right on through the parade. But the "WE WON!" feeling fades, and what you're left with is the memory of how much fun it was. And memories fade. So when something happens to stir that memory, it's the feeling of the ultimate sports-fan payoff coming back to you years later. That's a treat.

For New York Giants fans of a certain age, Saturday's election of Michael Strahan to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is such a moment. It's not as though you ever forgot Strahan, or anyone else who helped knock off the unbeaten Patriots and deliver that improbable Super Bowl XLII title. But a night that celebrates Strahan's greatness is a night that brings back the memories of that game and reaffirms for the current generation of Giants fans their ownership of that particular place in NFL history.

Your fathers and grandfathers had Frank Gifford and Y.A. Tittle, Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor. Those are Giants Hall of Famers who meant something to the fans who watched them deliver their own great moments. They mean something to you if you appreciate your team's history, but if you're under, say, 40 years old, they're not really your guys. Your guys are Strahan and Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin and Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs and David Diehl and that indestructible offensive line. Your great Giants moments were written by Victor Cruz and Ahmad Bradshaw. Those are the guys you'll think of when you remember the greatest times you had as a Giants fan. When one of them makes the Hall of Fame, it gives you the chance to smile as it all comes rushing back to you.

It's hard to know how many of the players from the two most recent Giants championship teams will have a night like Strahan had Saturday. Not all of their résumés are yet fully written. But getting Strahan in gives this generation of Giants fans another chance to remember some truly great times. And those opportunities are always welcome.
CANTON, Ohio -- The new-look Miami Dolphins' offense could not get off to a worst start to the 2013 preseason. After spending millions on new weapons and earning a nice preseason buzz, their first play from scrimmage was a fumble in Sunday night’s 24-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill attempted a hand-off to starting tailback Lamar Miller for a routine running play. However, the ball bounced off Miller and fell forward into the hands of Dallas defensive tackle Nick Hayden. Tannehill was credited for the fumble, but much of the blame appeared to be on Miller.

Tannehill wasn’t sure how things went wrong.

“I guess Lamar and I aren’t on the same page,” Tannehill said Sunday night in the locker room. “It’s frustrating to start off like that. You come out, and something as simple as a hand-off goes awry. It’s definitely something that we will get corrected and it won’t happen again.”

The first play pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night, particularly with Miami’s starting offense.

The Tannehill-led Dolphins failed to produce points or move the ball with any consistency in two-and-a-half series of work. Miami’s offensive starters began a third series but were pulled by head coach Joe Philbin after Tannehill made a pair of completions. Tannehill finished the night 2-of-5 passing for 11 yards and a fumble.

Besides some strong runs by Miller, who had 21 rushing yards on two carries, there wasn’t much good to take out of this game for Miami’s starting offense. This group will go back to the drawing board to tighten some things up this week.

The good news for Miami is the preseason is just beginning. This team has a total of five exhibition games leading up to their regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 8.

Miami’s next preseason game will be Friday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After Sunday’s sloppy performance in Canton, there’s nowhere to go but up for Miami’s starting offense.

“It wasn’t our cleanest game or our best game,” Tannehill said. “I’m glad we can get that one out of the way early. We have four more preseason games before we get into the regular season. So hopefully this was our sloppy game.”

Live from the Hall of Fame Game

August, 4, 2013
8/04/13
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CANTON, Ohio -- The Miami Dolphins are set to take the field in about an hour for the first time in the 2013 season. They will play the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game at 8 p.m. ET.

This is the first of five preseason games for Miami. Expect the Dolphins to limit playing time for their starters. For example, starting receivers Mike Wallace (groin) and Brian Hartline (calf) haven’t done much in warm-ups so far. Nothing is official, but there is a good chance that at least one or both receivers won’t play.

Check back with the AFC East blog tonight for more on the Dolphins from the Hall of Fame Game. You can also follow me on Twitter for live updates from Canton.

CANTON, Ohio -- Bill Parcells' day at the Hall of Fame got off to an unexpected start.

Former pupil Bill Belichick made the trip to Canton to support his mentor, despite their frosty relationship in recent years. The two even shared a somewhat awkward embrace. It was that kind of historic day in Canton to mend fences.

Parcells wasn’t the easiest coach to play for or -- as Belichick would attest -- coach under. But Parcells was one of the all-time great coaches and talent evaluators. That rare combination led Parcells to become the only coach inducted in the 2013 Hall of Fame class.

“Losers assemble in little groups and complain about the coaches and the players in other little groups,” Parcells said, echoing a quote from Hall of Fame safety Emlen Tunnell. “But winners assemble as a team, and tonight I get to do just that."

Parcells was known for turning franchises around. He led the New York Giants and New England Patriots to Super Bowl appearances. Parcells also led the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins (as president) to winning seasons. He spent much of his time explaining his dynamics of building a team with accountability, and also thanked many of the people who helped him become successful.

But an underrated part of Parcells’ legacy is his talented coaching tree. Three Super Bowl-winning coaches (Belichick, Sean Payton and Tom Coughlin) learned how to coach under Parcells. Coughlin and Belichick, in particular, were both in attendance and will someday join Parcells in the Hall of Fame.

Parcells did things his way, and most of the time he was right. The results speak for themselves.

Jonathan Ogden's speech at his Hall of Fame induction Saturday night drew some laughs, a few boos at one point but no tears, although the mammoth 6-foot-9 offensive tackle was close a few times.

His 13-minute, 35-second speech was a sentimental journey on how he grew as a person and how he and a new generation of Baltimore football fans grew up together in the NFL. By the time Ogden delivered his final thank you, it was official: A Ravens team that had no history when it drafted Ogden in 1996 officially celebrated their first drafted player to reach the Hall of Fame.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome presented him for induction, Ogden went to the podium and turned to Newsome, saying, "I've often thought about that day back in 1996 when you drafted me instead of Lawrence Phillips. You know what buddy, I think that worked out well for everybody."

In April 1996, the Ravens were three months removed from relocating from Cleveland. Before they even had a logo, the Ravens wisely chose someone who would help emblemize the fledgling franchise, picking Ogden with the No. 4 overall pick instead of the troubled Phillips.

What would end up as a Hall of Fame career began with a humble introduction to the league.

[+] EnlargeJnathan Ogden
AP Photo/David RichardFormer Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden went to the Pro Bowl for 11 straight years.
"When I came to Baltimore in 1996, we had no team, we had no history," Ogden said. "We didn't even had team colors. We just had a name. I can remember at the draft, I had that black jacket with the white letters that said Baltimore Ravens and the white hat with the black letters that said Baltimore Ravens. And in the back of my mind, I was saying, 'I don't really know where we're going with this right now.' But Ozzie assured me: 'Our goal is to make a winner here.' I told him: 'I want to be a part of that.'"

Ogden was more than just a part of the Ravens. He became the best offensive player in team history, and the most dominant offensive tackle of his era. He went to the Pro Bowl for 11 straight years (every season except his rookie one when he played left guard).

Dressed in his gold Hall of Fame jacket and wearing two Super Bowl rings on his right hand (he was given one for the Ravens' championship last season), Ogden thanked the important coaches who helped his career, from high school to UCLA to the Ravens. He spoke about his father Shirrel, who passed away seven years ago, and called him "the absolute biggest influence on my life, as far as the way I try to be a man and the way I try to raise my son, and the primary reason why I decided to play football." It was at this point, when Ogden successfully fought back tears.

Ogden drew a mixed reaction when he honored former Ravens owner Art Modell. The Hall of Fame ceremony is in Canton, Ohio, which is 60 miles away from Cleveland, where Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore.

"Without a doubt one of the most generous and kindest individuals that I ever met," Ogden said. "I wish he could be here with me today. Someone once said to me, 'if you can't tell the history of the game of football without mentioning this person, then they are without a doubt, a Hall of Famer.' Well, there is no way that you can tell the history of pro football without mentioning Art Modell. So hopefully, one day we can get him here, because what he's meant to the league has been tremendous."

Ogden concluded by drawing a parallel with his career and a football town that had been without a team for 12 years until the Ravens arrived.

"We were all rookies together," Ogden said. "I watched us grow, myself as a player and our fans as an NFL city from infancy to one of, if not the best, football towns in the National Football League. I am so very proud to have been the Baltmore Ravens' draft choice, and I am so humbled to be the Baltimore Ravens' first-ever Hall of Fame inductee."
NORTHEAST, Ohio -- One of the biggest weaknesses for the Miami Dolphins last season was their 27th-ranked pass defense. That is why Miami’s secondary could use at least a series or two against a quality quarterback like Tony Romo.

The Dallas Cowboys wisely will sit Romo in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game. Romo had back surgery this summer, and Dallas and Miami both have five preseason games this year. Romo threw for a career-high 4,903 yards, 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 2012. That set the table for Romo to get a $108 million contract extension from Dallas.

Miami’s first-team defense will get Dallas backup quarterback Kyle Orton instead. Romo would have been a nice test for Miami’s secondary and particularly its cornerbacks. The Dolphins remade their cornerback position signing Brent Grimes in free agency and drafting rookies Jamar Taylor and Will Davis in the second and third rounds, respectively.

But Dallas is doing the right thing. The most important thing about the Hall of Fame game for both sides is avoiding injury. The Dolphins’ secondary will have to wait until later in the preseason to face a starting-caliber quarterback.

AFC East over/under: Tom Brady

June, 27, 2013
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With training camp just around the corner, the AFC East blog is providing over/under totals throughout the week for key players in the division. On Wednesday, we take a look at New England Patriots quarterback and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who will have a lot on his shoulders this season.

SportsNation

Will Patriots QB Tom Brady have over/under 4,300 passing yards?

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Discuss (Total votes: 7,497)

The AFC East blog sets Brady's over/under total at 4,300 passing yards in 2013. Can the signal-caller, who turns 36 in August, reach that goal in New England?

Brady had a lot of change at wide receiver and issues at tight end this offseason. New England led the NFL in total offense in 2012, but lost both starting wide receivers: Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. The Patriots are trying to replace them with the injury-prone Danny Amendola and a cast of rookies and average veterans. We also don’t know the immediate status of tight ends Rob Gronkowski (back, arm) and Aaron Hernandez (legal issues). Will all this uncertainty affect Brady's production?

Or will Brady continue to thrive regardless of his supporting cast? He’s done it before, and New England has the offensive scheme that can plug in other players. Brady threw for 4,827 yards last season. Is 4,300 yards a reasonable total for this one?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on Brady’s over/under total of 4,300 passing yards in 2013. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Bill Parcells, who is a member of the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, told USA Today that the one regret in his standout career was leaving the New England Patriots. According to Parcells, if he could do it all over again, he would have stayed in New England after the 1996 season and continued working for owner Robert Kraft after losing to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.

It's interesting to think what could have been had Parcells stayed with the Patriots longer. Here are several things to consider:
  • Would there have been a Patriots dynasty in the early 2000s? Parcells was definitely on to something in '96. In typical Parcells fashion, he turned a downtrodden New England franchise into a winner and eventual AFC champion before Parcells and Kraft stopped seeing eye to eye. That caused Parcells to split, and New England went on to hire two coaches: Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. Carroll was a decent 27-21 in three seasons in New England but could never get the team back to the big game. But things took off once Belichick was hired. Five Super Bowl appearances and three championships later, Belichick is still New England's coach in 2013. Belichick was the assistant head coach and secondary coach in New England during Parcells’ final season with the Patriots. Had Parcells stayed, Belichick might have been groomed to be the Patriots' head coach in waiting. Or another team could have called sooner and offered Belichick a head-coaching job elsewhere. Without Belichick, there would be no Patriots dynasty.
  • Would Parcells have switched from Drew Bledsoe to Tom Brady? Bledsoe was Parcells' quarterback, and the two made it to the Super Bowl together in '96. If Parcells were still coaching the team five years later, would he have had the same foresight to stick with Brady after Bledsoe got injured? Belichick made one of the gutsiest calls in NFL history in 2001 to stay with an unknown, sixth-round pick over a former Pro Bowler. The result was New England winning the first of three Super Bowl titles with Brady, who went on to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Parcells had a stronger connection to Bledsoe than Belichick ever did, so the right decision would have been more difficult for Parcells to make. It's even questionable that New England would have drafted Brady in the first place if Parcells were still running the Patriots. Speaking of which ...
  • How would keeping Parcells impact New England’s drafts? One of the reasons Parcells is being inducted into the Hall of Fame is he was one of the rare people who can both coach and evaluate talent at a very high level. But the Patriots also built their dynasty through the draft with Belichick. It started at the top with Brady, the greatest value pick ever, and continued with homegrown talents such as Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Asante Samuel and Vince Wilfork. Maybe New England's rosters would have been just as stout with Parcells calling the shots. But that’s asking a lot.

Overall, things worked out best for the Patriots. They had a few slightly above-average years with Carroll, then hit a home run with Belichick, who also will someday be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

There is little doubt that Parcells would have continued his success in New England. But could he match Belichick’s five Super Bowl appearances and three titles with the Patriots? Probably not.
Ryan TannehillAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeRyan Tannehill hopes to be the next quarterback from the 2012 class to lead his team to the playoffs.
DAVIE, Fla. -- NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino showed up to Miami Dolphins' minicamp on Wednesday. There was no major announcement or holding court with the media. Marino simply arrived, kept close tabs on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense, then quietly left about two hours into practice.

Marino's mere presence was symbolic of the pressure Tannehill faces in Miami. No Dolphins quarterback has come close to filling the large shoes of Marino after he retired after the 1999 season. Miami’s quarterbacks in this millennium have either been awful (Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington), former draft busts (Chad Henne, John Beck) or caretakers who couldn’t consistently take over games (Chad Pennington, Jay Fiedler).

But something appears different about Tannehill. He is more Marino than Harrington in arm strength and physical ability. The 2012 first-round pick was also taken higher than Henne, but you don’t get that same feeling of bust potential. Unlike Fiedler, Tannehill has already demonstrated that he can take over a game and explode for 400 yards, as he did in September in an overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

But what are realistic expectations for Tannehill in Year 2? Fellow rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson each led their teams to the playoffs last season. Tannehill showed promise but was a couple of notches behind his peers. He threw for 3,294 yards but had more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (12). Tannehill also had a losing record (7-9) and was left on the outside looking in during the postseason.

However, the Dolphins are showing the same confidence in Tannehill that the Indianapolis Colts are showing with Luck or the Washington Redskins are with RG III. More than anything, Miami’s coaching staff said, they love Tannehill’s work ethic and mental approach. Combine that with Tannehill’s athleticism and ability to make all the throws, and the Dolphins believe the sky is the limit for their young quarterback.

“One thing about Ryan is he never gets too high and he never gets too low,” Miami quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor told the AFC East blog this week. “Last year things never got too big for him. It’s not that he never made mistakes -- there were drives and stretches here and there. But I don’t think it ever got too big where he totally broke down, and that’s encouraging for a rookie quarterback. With all the looks that he saw, I thought he handled it pretty well.”

Taylor was a former assistant coach at Texas A&M and has been around Tannehill since he was 19. Taylor watched Tannehill, 24, grow from a redshirt freshman who played receiver his first two years in college to an NFL quarterback with high expectations. According to Taylor, Tannehill is much more comfortable in his position as a building block in Miami.

It was noticeable in organized team activities and minicamp that Tannehill is in control of the offense. He’s more vocal with teammates and has a quiet confidence that this is his team.

Miami is in search of leaders after several veterans like Reggie Bush, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were released or didn’t return in free agency. Tannehill is one of the young, inexperienced players who must fill that void.

“It’s night and day compared to last year,” Tannehill said of his standing on the team. “Just the confidence and the knowledge of the game and what is going on. I still have a lot of work to do, but I am comfortable with where I am at and where this team is at. Anything we can do to get better, myself included, it’s easier to build this year compared to last year.”

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
AP Photo/J Pat CarterThe Dolphins opened up their wallet to bolster their offense, including giving Mike Wallace a five-year, $60 million deal.
Tannehill has all the tools to succeed this year. The Dolphins have put together as nurturing an environment as possible to ensure Tannehill takes the next step in his development. Miami spent $60 million to land free-agent receiver Mike Wallace and an additional $15 million total to land starting tight end Dustin Keller and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tannehill now has deep speed at receiver and a safety valve at tight end that he lacked last season. The Dolphins were 26th in passing in 2012 and scored only 18 points per game.

If minicamp is any indication, the Dolphins will not be afraid to air it out this year. Tannehill is taking his shots deep and throwing the football all over the field in practices. Tannehill is also routinely making more checks and changes at the line of scrimmage to get out of bad plays, an area where he struggled in 2012.

“He can see a safety start to creep up or lean a certain way, or a linebacker's depth from the line of scrimmage from the heels of his defensive lineman,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “Determining whether we turn and protect there or do we go the other way because that guy is in coverage, which I think [is] more recognition of defenses. ... We threw the book at him last year in the hopes that he would get to a point where we are at right now, where now he is just focused and not so much on the offense but on the defense.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sherman and Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin know what a talented quarterback looks like. They have coached future Hall of Famers Brett Favre (Sherman) and Aaron Rodgers (Philbin) during their stints with the Green Bay Packers and know how to make it easy for quarterbacks. The fact that they both view Tannehill as a franchise starter carries a lot of weight.

“They’re able to relate those experiences with Ryan and the struggles [Favre and Rodgers] had and the success they were eventually able to achieve,” Taylor said. “So they’ve kind of seen the step-by-step process those guys took and [are] able to use that to relate it to Ryan.”

The Dolphins are going all-in with Tannehill, and much is expected this season. On paper, Miami looks like a team ready to make a playoff push in 2013, and much of that will come down to Tannehill’s development and improvement.

Tannehill may not get the same press and national attention as other quarterbacks in his draft class, but his goals are the same.

“Ryan wants to win Super Bowls at the end of the day,” Taylor said. “I do think he has a long ways to go right now. He knows that. So every day he’s just trying to become a better player, and be better than the day before and don’t make the same mistake twice.

“What that ceiling is, it’s hard to predict. Time will tell.”
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The New England Patriots are set to take a step back offensively in 2013. They lost both starting receivers – Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd -- from last year’s group that led the NFL in scoring and replaced them with mostly unproven players and rookies.

New England also has huge question marks at tight end. Rob Gronkowski has had five surgeries on his arm and back since last November and may not be fully recovered for Week 1, and fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez also had major shoulder surgery and missed six games last season.

The Patriots signing quarterback Tim Tebow off the scrap heap isn't the answer to New England’s offensive woes. If anything, it shows an unexpected sign of desperation for a New England offense searching for answers.

This is yet another sign that New England’s run of Super Bowl appearances and NFL dominance is coming to an end. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and Belichick have made it to five Super Bowls -- winning three. But it looks more and more like last year may have been the Belichick/Brady era Patriots’ final shot to win a fourth championship when they lost at home to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC title game.

To put it bluntly, New England simply is not good enough to win a Super Bowl this year. Last year’s team was better, especially on offense. Brady, who will be 36 in August, is a year older and has less firepower. Adding Tebow to the mix doesn’t fix anything. It simply brings more media and a huge distraction, which is something Belichick usually tries to avoid.

And what exactly is Tebow’s role in New England?

Tebow is certainly not playing quarterback. Brady is clearly the franchise starter in New England, and I would take my chances with the strong arm of Ryan Mallett over the inaccurate and poor mechanics of Tebow any day. Tebow is the No. 3 quarterback at best.

Would the Patriots really take Brady off the field to insert Tebow in a Wildcat package? Taking an elite quarterback like Brady off the field for any amount of plays is a huge mistake. Opposing defenses would love to see less Brady and more Tebow on a weekly basis. Would the Patriots be silly enough to oblige?

Maybe Tebow can play H-back or on special teams in New England. But that is nothing more than what he did with the New York Jets last year when things went awry. Is all of that worth the extra attention that Tebow brings? The Jets got their answer last year. Now, it's New England's turn to make the same mistake.

I do not see how adding Tebow makes the Patriots a better team. This is a franchise which prides itself on competing for championships. But New England took yet another step backward on Monday.
Perhaps no one coach or front-office executive left a bigger footprint in the AFC East than Bill Parcells. The 2013 Hall of Fame entrant had high-ranking positions with three of the four franchises in the division. His success at various places earned Parcells the No. 11 spot on ESPN.com's all-time NFL coaching list.

Parcells was a rare breed in the NFL, because he was both a very good coach and talent evaluator. That combination made him famous for quickly turning teams around, and he did it successfully during stints with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells
US Presswire file photoBill Parcells was 32-32 in four seasons in New England, getting the Patriots to the Super Bowl during his final year with the team.
Parcells began his stint in the AFC East as head coach of the Patriots. After taking three years off from coaching, Parcells came to Foxborough in 1993 when New England was a franchise down in the dumps. The Patriots were 19-61 the previous five seasons before Parcells arrived and he quickly established a winning mentality. He led New England to the playoffs twice and lost in the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers in 1996, which was his final season with the Patriots. In many ways, Parcells jump-started New England’s current run of success that is still going today with head coach Bill Belichick, who is a former Parcells pupil.

In 1997 Parcells continued his AFC East tour with the New York Jets. He went 29-19 in three years with the Jets and never had a losing season. Parcells retired again from coaching in 1999.

Parcells’ final stint in the division was in 2008 as Vice President of the Miami Dolphins. Former owner Wayne Huizenga paid Parcells a lot of money to run and oversee the team. Parcells' magic touch impacted Miami in the first year when the Dolphins went from a 1-15 team in 2007 to a 11-5 team and won the AFC East in 2008. The Dolphins tied the record for biggest one-year turnaround in NFL history.

But things went downhill for Parcells in Miami after his first season. The Dolphins never made the playoffs again during his tenure. After struggles and an ownership change, Parcells choose to step down and hand the keys over to current general manager Jeff Ireland. Parcells is known just as much in Miami for bailing on the Dolphins when things got rough as he is for the historic turnaround when he first arrived.

Still, Parcells’ impact on the entire AFC East is unmatched. He experienced success at three places in the division, which proved it was better to have Parcells on your team than to face him as an opponent.
Rob GronkowskiAP Photo/Elise AmendolaRob Gronkowski is to have back surgery in June, and he has had four forearm surgeries since November.
In June 2012, the New England Patriots signed Rob Gronkowski to a six-year, $53 million extension. The move made sense at the time for the former AFC champs, because Gronkowski was coming off a record-setting year with 90 receptions, 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Therefore, the Patriots didn't hesitate to sign him to the richest contract for a tight end in NFL history.

But just one year later, it's time to question whether the Patriots eventually will have buyer's remorse. There no denying his Hall of Fame talent, but Gronkowski also comes with durability issues.

How long will he last with the Patriots? Can Gronkowski be the same effective player in New England for five more seasons?

Gronkowski's injury history is no surprise. It started when he missed his senior year in college after major back surgery. As a result, the Patriots were able to get a first-round talent in the second round. But Gronkowski is going in for another back surgery in June, and it will mark his sixth surgery since February 2012. He has had four surgeries alone on his broken forearm since November.

Gronkowski has become a human pin cushion before his 25th birthday and has earned the dreaded label of injury-prone player. According to ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson, Gronkowski's growing list of injures "has to be a concern now."

"You hope that it's manageable," Williamson said. "The Patriots' doctors must have approved [Gronkowski's health]. There's no way you give him a six-year extension if they didn't think they were on top of the situation. But where we are sitting right now, it looks bad, doesn't it?"

Gronkowski's back surgery is described as minor by agent Drew Rosenhaus. However, former offensive lineman and NFL analyst Mark Schlereth provided chilling commentary from his experience with back surgery on ESPN's "NFL Live" this week.

Schlereth is an expert on going under the knife. He had 29 surgeries in his 12-year career, and he says recovering from a bad back is the worst of the group.

SportsNation

How many more years will Rob Gronkowski play in the NFL?

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Discuss (Total votes: 7,524)

“Robert Watkins, the doctor who will perform [Gronkowski’s] surgery, is also the doctor who performed my back surgery. One thing you have to understand about back surgery, that area is so fine back there and scar tissue is a real issue and can irritate those nerve roots,” Schlereth said. “You sneeze and it’s over. Your back will just lock up on you. It’s one of those things that’s a really hard injury to have. And I’ve always said this: I’ve had 20 knee surgeries during the course of my career, and I would take another 20 knee surgeries to get the one back surgery back if I could get rid of it, because it bothers me every single day of my life.”

Gronkowski will miss a portion of training camp recovering from back and arm surgeries, and any setback could push his recovery into the regular season. He was in and out of the lineup all last season. He missed five regular-season games and the AFC Championship Game, which New England lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens 28-13.

Can the Patriots win a Super Bowl this season without a healthy Gronkowski? Statistics show New England's chances are slim without its most effective pass-catcher.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's Total Quarterback Rating is 77.3 since 2011 with Gronkowski on the field and 63.5 without Gronkowski. In addition, Brady averaged 10.5 yards per attempt over that same span throwing to Gronkowski, along with 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. Brady averages just 7.8 yards per attempt with 22 interceptions throwing to other receivers and tight ends. Gronkowski’s impact in New England is simply unmatched.

The Patriots need Gronkowski more than ever this season. They let go of 2012 starting receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who accounted for 192 receptions, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. New England completely remade the receiving corps with less-proven veterans Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, Lavelle Hawkins and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.

"It would be a huge blow, no doubt about it," Williamson said if Gronkowski misses time this season. "Even if Amendola makes up for Welker, which I have some doubts about, you got to think they will be weaker at receiver. I love the offensive line, and I think the running game is strong. [Tight end Aaron] Hernandez also is a good player. But Gronk is a difference-maker."

Contractually, the Patriots have a major decision to make with Gronkowski in 2015. New England has a $10 million option bonus that must be picked up by the final day of the 2015 league year. If the Patriots decide not to do that, the contract would be voided.

Gronkowski could be the best tight end of this generation if he ever finds a way to avoid injuries. But at this point it could be a challenge for Gronkowski, 24, to remain healthy and productive in the NFL at age 30.

"He could be the best tight end ever," Williamson said of Gronkowski's potential. "What he’s done in a short amount of time is unprecedented. He’s the best red zone threat in the league. He’s by far the best tight end in the league. He’s an elite blocker. He can run every route and is extremely physical after the catch. He can go up and get the ball in traffic.

"He has no flaws, except for durability."
Former head coach Jimmy Johnson is best known in the NFL for winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson took a 1-15 team in 1989 and turned it into a multiple Super Bowl winner by the time he left the Cowboys in 1993.

Johnson
Johnson
But Johnson also has very strong ties in Miami, where he had success both at the collegiate and NFL level. The total body of work earned Johnson the No. 13 spot on ESPN.com’s list of all-time great coaches.

Johnson’s rise to fame among the coaching ranks began during his five very successful years as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes from 1984-88. Johnson's fiery coaching style led the Hurricanes to a national championship in 1987 and a stellar 52-9 overall record at Miami.

After leaving Dallas in 1993, Johnson came out of retirement three years later to lead the Dolphins. Johnson’s goal was to get Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino a Super Bowl ring, but that never materialized.

Johnson had a 36-28 record in Miami and led the Dolphins to the playoffs in three of his four seasons. But Johnson was 2-3 in the postseason with the Dolphins and wasn't able to get over the hump. Johnson retired for the last time after 1999 season, which also happened to be the same time Marino retired. Both had a huge influence on the Miami football landscape in the 1980s and 1990s.
It has been a whirlwind offseason for new Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley. He spent the past several months on the road scouting for the NFL draft, and now Whaley is settling into his new position this week as Buffalo's general manager.

Whaley was officially promoted from within to take over for former general manager Buddy Nix and took some time Thursday to discuss his new position with the AFC East blog. Whaley has a big job ahead. The Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999, which is currently the NFL's longest playoff drought.

Turning the franchise around starts at quarterback, which is a position Buffalo hasn’t had a long-term solution for since the days of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. This year the Bills have three players vying for that spot: rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel and veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Whaley said he’s not afraid to go into the season with a rookie quarterback if that's how the situation plays out in training camp.

"My philosophy on quarterbacks has always been the same," Whaley told the AFC East blog. "The best guy plays."

There are also new challenges ahead for Whaley that he didn't have to worry about as assistant general manager. One of the biggest issues facing the Bills is the pending contract dispute involving Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who is unhappy about getting the franchise tag. This will be Whaley's first big challenge as GM and a situation to keep an eye on with the Bills this summer.

“We want to keep our good players and Jairus is obviously a good player,” Whaley said. “We have an organizational goal not to negotiate in the media and want to keep it that way. But we will continue to negotiate with Jairus.”

The New England Patriots -- lead by coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady -- have been the mountain every AFC East team has tried to climb for the past dozen years. The Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets consistently discuss closing the gap with New England.

Whaley spent 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and knows what it is like to consistently contend and win championships. Whaley added it’s his ultimate goal to eventually make the Bills the “Beasts of the East.”

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