- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:
1. Whether it's in the first, second or third round, I think it's clear that the Patriots need to come out of the 2013 draft with a receiver. That, to me, is the most compelling storyline for the club this year because of the limited picks at the position in Bill Belichick's tenure (nine in 13 years), and also the team's struggles to consistently draft and develop prospects at the position. Oklahoma's Kenny Stills, Southern Cal's Robert Woods and Oregon State's Markus Wheaton were a few receivers in town last week for a pre-draft visit, and that led me to look closer at their resumes. I think Wheaton has a lot of the characteristics the Patriots like, but while I'm not sure it really matters, one thing that also caught my eye is that the Patriots have never selected a player from Oregon State in Belichick's tenure. For what it's worth, Oregon State runs a pro-style offense under coach Mike Riley, who has a background in the NFL from his time as Chargers coach (1999-2001).
2. Kevin Faulk's No. 33 wasn't issued last year, presumably as part of the one-year grace period that the team sometimes uses with longtime players who have had a great impact on the franchise. But don't be surprised if it's back in circulation this year -- there are only so many numbers to go around -- and running back Leon Washington is a leading candidate to don it.
3. Receiver Julian Edelman is fully recovered from the December foot injury that landed him on injured reserve, and as his visit to the Giants last week showed, he's considering all of his free-agent options. It's hard to imagine the Patriots don't want him back, especially after hearing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels talk last September about how Edelman deserved more playing time. Quarterback Tom Brady, who has great respect for Edelman's dogged work ethic, is also a big Edelman booster. But in the end, this might be more of a case of how much Edelman wants to come back after seeing the Patriots invest big in Danny Amendola as Wes Welker's primary replacement. Unlike the 2009 season finale, when Edelman was tapped to replace the injured Welker, he wasn't the top choice this time around, and he might have to come to grips with that if he does ultimately return.
4. Just a little added context from last week's highly publicized workout in which Brady was throwing to receiver Terrell Owens: Former Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel was also at the workout, and he had opened the door for Owens to join in. It really had nothing to do with Brady.
5. The Falcons are viewed as one of the NFC's Super Bowl contenders, so it was notable last week that they released veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo, who started 101 regular-season games over his eight seasons with the club. The move appeared to be salary-cap-related and will save the Falcons $4.5 million on the cap (part of the Falcons' planning could be tied to quarterback Matt Ryan and an expected extension at some point this year). The Falcons could always look for a cheaper alternative in free agency, but if they stay in-house, 2012 third-round draft choice Lamar Holmes (Southern Miss) and 2011 third-round draft choice Mike Johnson (Alabama) are the top candidates. Combined NFL starts at right tackle between them: zero.
6. According to reports out of New York, Giants receiver Victor Cruz turned down the team's contract extension proposal that would have averaged $7 million per season and is instead seeking something in the $10-11 million per-season range. Maybe Cruz winds up getting that big-time payday, but he also must be cognizant of the fact the salary cap isn't expected to rise much in 2014, which could limit potential suitors and thus make the possibility of a big contract offer tougher. Wes Welker, who like Cruz does his best work in the slot, just experienced something similar.
7. One leftover from writing on late Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks over the past week: During his stint as Cowboys coach from 2003 to 2006, Bill Parcells brought in Fairbanks as a consultant, in part to tap his expertise in the running game, once again proving Fairbanks' influence was still significant long after his NFL coaching days had ended. Fairbanks' Patriots teams of the 1970s were some of the best running teams in NFL history.
8. I know he's just a kicker, but can't overlook the retirement of the Lions' Jason Hanson after 21 seasons with the same team. The 42-year-old Hanson, who said a heel injury was a primary factor in his decision, will hold a retirement news conference Tuesday. Hanson was the first NFL player to appear in 300 games with one franchise, and the 21 seasons with one team is also an NFL record. I like the stories of players who have long careers with the same team, and it's hard to imagine anyone topping Hanson's mark for some time, if at all.
9a. This is the second straight year that the Patriots won't have any compensatory draft choices, which are awarded to teams that experience a net loss in compensatory free agents from the prior year. Since 2000, the Patriots had received 23 compensatory picks, which ranked in the top 10 among NFL teams. The greatest compensatory pick ever: Tom Brady, 199th overall, 2000.
9b. From the future planning department: As we look ahead, the Patriots have all seven selections in the 2014 draft. But in 2015, they are without a seventh-rounder, which was traded to the Rams for receiver Greg Salas (now with the Eagles).
10. Count me on board with the thoughts of ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPNBoston.com colleague Field Yates about the possibility of the Patriots adding a coverage-type linebacker in the 2013 draft. At initial glance, the Patriots' linebacker corps would seem solidified with Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower all returning, but when considering Spikes is entering the final year of his contract, and some of the struggles Spikes and Hightower had dropping into coverage in 2012, it makes sense that the club might target a coverage-type linebacker (while also factoring into the special teams mix). Perhaps someone like Oregon's Kiko Alonso fits in the middle rounds, as he was among those who took a pre-draft visit to New England last week. Four-year veteran Dane Fletcher also warrants consideration.
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:1. Whether it's in the first, second or third round, I think it's clear that the Patriots need to come out of the 2013 draft with a receiver.