Quick-hit thoughts around NFL & Pats

March, 31, 2013
3/31/13
5:00
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

[+] EnlargeBlidi Wreh-Wilson
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsBlidi Wreh-Wilson could be a viable draft option for the Patriots.
1. Bill Belichick was part of a large Patriots contingent at UConn's Pro Day on Wednesday, and one scout from another team in attendance figured Belichick's primary attention was on cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The scout drew a comparison between Wreh-Wilson and Devin McCourty in the sense that both have "plus-intangibles" and are the type of prospects a coach would want an entire rookie class looking toward as the way things are supposed to be done. From a football perspective, Wreh-Wilson is said to have excellent size and length, runs well, can excel in man coverage, but lacks a bit in the playmaking area. If I was putting together a short list of prospects the Patriots might consider with one of their top picks, wherever it winds up landing, Wreh-Wilson would be on it.

2a. The Patriots' preseason schedule is expected to be announced within the next week, with the regular-season schedule to follow in mid-April (reports have targeted April 16 as the date). In terms of the preseason, the area of interest from this perspective is what opponent could be chosen to conduct joint practices that Belichick has been so high on of late. Three top candidates that have worked with the Patriots in recent years -- Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay -- seemingly would be unlikely because they are 2013 regular-season opponents. The Redskins, Chiefs and possibly the Eagles were three that came to mind as possibilities.

2b. One other preseason note: The Patriots and Giants have met in the preseason finale each of the last eight years, rotating between home and away. If this holds true to form, this will be the Patriots' year to host that finale, which traditionally doesn't feature many top players. Tough for many season-ticket holders to give those tickets away.

3. When looking at the Dolphins' work in free agency, with the most recent addition coming with cornerback Brent Grimes signing a one-year deal Saturday, they have aggressively added more weapons on offense to aid second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and should be more athletic on defense, specifically at the linebacker level. Of all the moves, I think the signing of tight end Dustin Keller was particularly solid. Most seem to agree that the free-agent binge won't mean much if Tannehill doesn't develop as projected, and time will tell if the Dolphins ultimately bring all the different parts together to create the needed chemistry and get bang for their spending spree. But one thing we can decisively say at this point: When it comes to the No. 2 team in the AFC East behind the Patriots, the Dolphins have authoritatively positioned themselves well in front of the Bills and Jets.

[+] EnlargeSebastian Vollmer
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiSebastian Vollmer is the latest CAA client to return to the Patriots.
4. When the Patriots are at one end of the negotiating table and Tom Condon and Ben Dogra of CAA are on the other side, it's a dynamic of two strong-willed parties who have had great success with their approach over the years. It's often a negotiating dogfight. But as we've seen with three players in the last three years -- Matt Light, Brandon Lloyd and most recently Sebastian Vollmer -- the sides have compromised and found an acceptable middle ground despite all that. Still feel strongly there was no reason that couldn't have been the end result with Wes Welker. There was a deal to be made there, and that's why I think there was such frustration from Patriots owner Robert Kraft after the fact.

5. Received the Pro Football Weekly draft preview in the mail Saturday, and as always, enjoyed flipping through Nolan Nawrocki's detailed scouting reports. A few things that stood out from Nawrocki: He has West Virginia's Geno Smith as his sixth-rated quarterback ("a cross between Akili Smith and Aaron Brooks"); Tennessee's Justin Hunter as his top-rated receiver ("poor man's A.J. Green with Pro Bowl potential"); and LSU's Eric Reid as his top safety ("field-fast, eraser with a terrific blend of instincts, range, ball skills and striking ability") over Kenny Vaccaro and Matt Elam.

6. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said last week that Danny Woodhead might be used as more than just a third-down back in San Diego, as he envisions him on the field at times when it's first or second down. It makes sense because that's also the way the Patriots used Woodhead. Despite the perception he was a "third-down back", Woodhead's 2012 offensive playing time broke down this way -- 31 percent on first down, 27 percent on second down, 40 percent on third down and 2 percent on fourth down. What this tells us is that calling players like Woodhead, Kevin Faulk and Darren Sproles "third-down backs" is sort of outdated. With such a heavy emphasis on the passing game, the concepts and approach that at one point were mostly prevalent on third down have been showing up regularly on early downs as well in recent years.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Carson Palmer
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer has already cost the Raiders a lot, but maybe not the $13 million he's due this year.
7. With the Raiders reportedly ready to move on from quarterback Carson Palmer instead of paying him $13 million this season, let's revisit what they gave up to acquire Palmer in October 2011 in what has to be near the top of the list in terms of worst NFL trades: A 2012 first-round pick, 2013 second-round pick (37th overall), $2.5 million salary for 2011 and a $12.5 million salary in 2012. For all that, this is what the Raiders received in return: Palmer started 24 games, threw 35 touchdowns and 30 interceptions, and the team went 8-18 from the time he joined the club. Give up that much and it's a fair expectation to think that player will be a difference-maker to help turn around your team's fortunes. Not so with Palmer. In fairness, the Raiders' prior regime made the deal.

8. After Friday's news that the Cowboys had agreed to a six-year extension with quarterback Tony Romo that reportedly was worth $108 million, it made me think of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's three-year, $27 million extension with the Patriots from earlier this year. Granted, Romo is almost three years younger, but it's just another reminder from this perspective about the uniqueness of Brady's deal, which isn't in the same zip code as Romo's in terms of total value. Yes, Brady essentially gets $57 million guaranteed over the next five years, while Romo will reportedly see $57 million in the first three years of his deal, so there is a bit of a link there. But what still stands out to me is Brady's willingness to concede so much from 2015-2017 in terms of potential earnings and leverage. Maybe the deal gets reworked and sweetened in 2015. Maybe I'm na´ve. But if what Brady did is no big deal, why don't we see more top quarterbacks at that stage of their careers do the same thing?

9a. Did You Know, Part I: The Cowboys don't have a player on their roster that they selected in the 2009 draft. The team was without a first-round pick that year, as they traded it to the Lions for receiver Roy Williams in a move that bombed. They also traded down from the second round that year and ended up with 12 picks from rounds 3-7. None are still with them. Ouch.

9b. Did You Know, Part II: Teams with new head coaches can begin their offseason programs this week, which gives them a jump start over those clubs with returning head coaches, which can't begin programs until April 15. Here's the rundown of teams starting their voluntary offseason programs this week: Cleveland (April 1), Arizona (April 2), Buffalo (April 2), Chicago (April 2), Jacksonville (April 2), Kansas City (April 2), Philadelphia (April 1), San Diego (April 1).

10. The Patriots' signing of veteran receiver and solid locker-room guy Michael Jenkins didn't generate much buzz on Thursday, and it's understandable why. Patriots followers are hoping for a more decisive addition at the position and while Jenkins adds depth, it would be a disappointment if the Patriots stop there. No arguments here. Here's the way I look at it: Jenkins might not even make the roster coming out of training camp, but that doesn't mean he won't help at some point during the 2013 season, similar to how it unfolded with Donte' Stallworth in 2012 (signed in an emergency situation and then delivered a long touchdown reception versus the Texans on Dec. 10). It's tough for that to happen without developing some type of foundation in the offseason/training camp.

11. All teams are allotted 30 visits with out-of-town prospects before the draft, and the Patriots' activity in that area is expected to pick up this week. I liked how colleague Field Yates provided context on the meaning of those visits, and there is interest in any prospect the Patriots are flying into town. At the same time, we're reminded of the many prospects that the Patriots drafted who never made such a trip. In 2011, for example, the Patriots canceled offensive tackle Nate Solder's visit at the last moment. One line of thinking is that the Patriots didn't want other teams to know how much they liked Solder, whom they ultimately selected in the first round.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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