FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Last summer, Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes watched one of the first days of Patriots training camp with his son Tate, who is a redshirt freshman on the Boston College football team. They met Stephon Gilmore and took some pictures together, three generations of players linked by the game of football.
That provides some background for something Gilmore tweeted last week: A picture of him in a red Mike Haynes throwback Patriots jersey.
Greatness Mike Haynes 🔒 #Patsnation#Fresh pic.twitter.com/xJ5cwJUpsN— The Gilly Lock (@BumpNrunGilm0re) March 22, 2018
“I was honored,” Haynes said after learning of the tweet from his son. “He’s a great player. When I played, I looked up to the great players that played before me. It felt good to know he felt that way about me.”
Starting with the Patriots (1976-1982) and continuing with the Raiders (1983-89), Haynes put together a career that landed him in both the Patriots and Pro Football Halls of Fame. Gilmore, 27, was born the year after Haynes retired.
When they met, it was the day of Gilmore’s first full-pads practice with the Patriots after he signed with the team following five years in Buffalo.
“We took a bunch of pictures, and I was impressed. He had a good practice that day. He was tall, I liked that,” said Haynes, whose height and speed at cornerback were part of what made him an elite defender. “That play he made -- when he laid out and deflected that pass [in the AFC Championship Game], I was like, ‘Wow. That’s why they went out and got him. For that one type of play.’ Players like that can make those plays.”
Haynes, of course, knows that better than most.
2a. The NFL’s annual meeting officially begins at 6 p.m. ET Sunday and is expected to conclude by 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. The main things to expect from a Patriots perspective are owner Robert Kraft’s annual meeting with reporters (Monday afternoon) and the coaches breakfast (AFC and NFC both Tuesday at 7:15 a.m. ET). Bill Belichick is scheduled to be present at the gathering in Orlando, Florida, where a proposal to change the “catch rule” is the headline item.
2b. If Belichick shows up at the breakfast, what are the odds that he’s wearing his light blue Johns Hopkins pullover? Not sure what else he packed on his recent scouting trip.
3a. Kraft made a first-class gesture to those affected by the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, offering the Patriots’ team plane to fly them to the “March for our Lives” rally in Washington this weekend. It led to some students connecting with Patriots players on social media, sparking some smiles at a time when those have probably been harder to come by.
4. Did You Know: There were 303 defensive-pass-interference penalties called last season, according to NFL competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, which is a spike from the 15-year average of 234. The stat came up when discussing the Jets’ proposal to make defensive pass interference a 15-yard penalty instead of a spot foul.
5. A former coach of new Patriots kickoff returner/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) shared some insight on what New England is getting: “Size, speed, athleticism are off the charts. Good person, good teammate and a hard worker.” Anyone turning on an old Vikings (2013-2016) or Raiders (2017) game could see Patterson’s physical traits, but the second part will be crucial. Acquiring players from other teams has been a mixed bag of late for the Patriots (e.g. Kony Ealy, Cassius Marsh), in part because of the unknown of how players will fit into the team’s system/culture.
6. The Patriots inherit Patterson’s contract, which runs through the 2018 season and includes a base salary of $3 million and $250,000 workout bonus. In addition, in a reflection of how Patterson bet on himself with the contract he signed with the Raiders last offseason, he can earn the following incentives that total $1.75 million:
$350,000 for 55 or more receptions
An additional $350,000 for 70 or more receptions
$350,000 for playing in 55 percent of the team’s offensive snaps
An additional $350,000 for playing in 70 percent of the team's offensive snaps
$350,000 for a Pro Bowl berth
Patterson had just 31 receptions last season and played 42 percent of the offensive snaps. Most of those incentives will likely be tough to reach in New England in 2018 as well.
7a. One left-tackle leftover: In 2011, the Patriots selected Nate Solder No. 17 overall, while the Colts picked Anthony Castonzo at No. 22. Both signed extensions entering their fifth seasons (just days apart), with Solder inking a two-year, $20.62 million pact with a provision that the Patriots couldn’t place the franchise or transition tag on him, while Castonzo signed a four-year, $43.6 million extension. It’s a good snapshot of how the Patriots paid slightly less on an average-per-year basis but in doing so sacrificed on the length of the contract. That left them vulnerable to Solder's leaving in free agency in 2018 and makes one wonder if they regret the approach, compared to what the Colts did with Castonzo.
7b. With offensive tackle Cameron Fleming expected to sign with the Cowboys, according to ESPN's Field Yates, it adds another player to the list of Patriots departures. Thus, it strengthens the team's standing for 2019 compensatory draft picks, with Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com already projecting the team to get two third-round picks and at least one sixth-rounder. Once the Patriots agreed to terms with offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, it seemed unlikely that Fleming would be back. But from Fleming's perspective, a team like Dallas is probably a better fit anyway because he could start at his most natural position -- right tackle. In New England, Marcus Cannon has that spot locked down and it's hard to imagine the team moving him.
8. It’s naturally a positive that 2017 Patriots third-round pick Antonio Garcia said on Instagram that he has been cleared to play football (he reportedly had blood clots in his lungs) after missing his rookie season, which puts him into the mix as a possible answer to the biggest question facing the team: Who starts at left tackle? Garcia lost considerable weight and has a lot of ground to make up. Consider that 2017 undrafted free-agent offensive lineman Cole Croston -- who made a steady impression in training camp and preseason to earn a roster spot and is a potentially ascending player -- went through 107 practices last season, not to mention that Croston played 223 snaps in the preseason, competing admirably at both left tackle (notably versus Giants fifth-round pick Avery Moss) and right guard. That’s a lot of development that Garcia missed, and though he can certainly overcome it, here’s another thought after revisiting some preseason tape over the past week: Don’t sleep on the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Croston, who caught offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s attention with his combination of smarts, toughness and athleticism, making a legitimate push for the top spot. He could be the next undrafted blocker to develop and take on a larger role on the line, following the likes of other School of Scarnecchia graduates Tom Ashworth, Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Josh Kline and David Andrews.
9. With the Patriots re-signing core special-teams players Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner and Brandon King and taking on Patterson’s $3 million salary and re-upping linebacker Marquis Flowers on a one-year deal, a popular question is how much cap space the club devotes to special teams compared to others. That’s a challenging comparison to nail down because what defines a core special-teams player can vary from team to team, but all of the aforementioned moves will take up about $10 million of the $177.2 million cap. Slater and Ebner have the same cap charge, $2.025 million, which probably isn’t a coincidence.
10. One of the common refrains in the NFL is that it takes three years to accurately assess a team’s draft, though that doesn’t stop many from making snap judgments and following up on them. In Mel Kiper’s re-grade of the 2017 draft (Insider content), no team had as large of a drop from last year (A) to this year (C-plus) as the Patriots. Injuries to third-rounders Derek Rivers and Garcia were part of that, but Kiper’s point also highlights that 2018 is an important draft for the Patriots as they look to get more involved than they were last year, when they had just four picks.