With the coaches on vacation for a few weeks, things are a little slow in Patriot-ville as the rest of the NFL prepares for its climax in the Super Bowl. However, there are some newsworthy items other than the ongoing speculation on whether the Patriots will keep Vince Wilfork or not.
Front office unchanged for now… First off, part of the Patriot front office will remain unchanged. Senior Football Advisor Floyd Reese, who was a leading candidate to be the new General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks, will remain with the Patriots for the foreseeable future. The Seahawks elected to hire Green Bay executive John Schneider to fill their GM position. That’s good news for the Patriots as they’ll able to have some continuity in their player personnel department with a very busy upcoming free agent season and a top-heavy draft. The Pats have 4 picks in the first two rounds (one in the 1st and 3 in the 2nd).
Another one bites the dust… Recently let-go defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos Mike Nolan is off the potential Pats DC list, though I’m not sure he was ever on it. The Miami Dolphins snatched up Nolan to fill their formerly vacant DC position. That leaves, from what I hear, three primary candidates: linebackers coach Matt Patricia, defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron. I would imagine that Belichick will stick with the two in-house candidates, though Jauron could provide outside perspective and fresh ideas. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see an internal hire for DC and then Dick Jauron or someone else outside the organization to fill an assistant coaching role similar to what Belichick did with Dom Capers 2 years ago. Seeing what Capers did in Green Bay this year, playoff game aside, it kind of makes you wonder, “What if?”
53 underclassmen declare for the draft… With pending labor unrest and the possibility of a rookie salary cap in 2011, 53 underclassmen declared for the upcoming NFL draft. According to Boston.com, that ties the record for declaring underclassmen set in 2008. That really helps round out what was already considered a deep draft. I don’t like to get into draft projections until the Scouting Combine, but one player I’m keeping my eye on is Alabama junior ILB Rolando McClain. This guy is a real solid playmaker. He has speed and is a sure tackler, something that has been severely lacking in the defense of late. There is also the Bill Belichick/Nick Saban connection. You can see some highlights of McClain here and here. The Pats would probably have to trade up to get him, but they have the ammunition to do it if they feel McClain is their guy.
Crazy thought of the day… The Patriots have a serious need at wide receiver with Wes Welker probably missing the first half of next season and Randy Moss entering the final year of his contract. Even if both receivers were starting the year healthy, another reliable option for Brady would certainly help the offense. Seahawks receiver (and former Patriot/Tom Brady bff) Deion Branch has been discussed in fan circles as he is going to be an expensive option for Seattle that hasn’t produced up to expectations. It is possible that he will be cut or traded, and a reunion in New England is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. But I’m going to think a little more outside-the-box. Belichick has made bold trades before (see Randy Moss and Corey Dillon), and if this is Moss’ last year in New England, a solid #1 will be necessary to step in. The Patriots have three 2nd round picks. Still following me? There is a potential #1 receiver looking for a new contract that may be traded by his team. He is a hard worker and plays injured, but is not without his diva moments. I think that it’s completely in the realm of possibility that the Patriots could be players for Cardinals WR ANQUAN BOLDIN. Am I crazy? Possibly, I have taken a lot of cold medicine. Is it likely to happen? Probably not, but I wouldn’t overlook it. The Cardinals’ website cites that there could be big changes this offseason, and trading Boldin may be a route the team takes. Keep an eye on the situation…