1. A quick shout out to one of the most important people in the history of the New England Patriots, owner Robert Kraft. Kraft was awarded the Carnegie Hall’s Medal of Excellence the other day. The Medal of Excellence is awarded for outstanding leadership in business and philanthropy. This is on the heels of him being the first NFL owner to ever receive the George Halas Award from the Pro Football Writers of America for overcoming adversity to succeed.
Without Bob Kraft stepping up and purchasing first Foxboro Stadium and then the Patriots, it is likely this franchise would have been gone by the early 1990s (likely to have landed in St. Louis). Instead, Kraft stepped up and with the passion of a season ticket holder (which he was for many years prior) he set about making the team a competitor and no longer the laughing stock of the NFL.
Of course, the big story out of the ceremony is Kraft telling the full story of how Russian President Vladimir Putin ended up with Kraft’s personally engraved Super Bowl ring at a 2005 meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. Per Kraft, Putin literally took it and walked out when Kraft showed it to him. Kraft also relayed how the Bush Administration leaned on him to indicate it was a gift to Putin in the best interests of US-Soviet relations. What a story!
The important note is that before Belichick, before the Super Bowls, before all the glory, there was one man who put his money on the line and believed in New England. He built the team (not without some missteps, but far more correct moves than wrong) into the model NFL franchise, if not model sports franchise. Congratulations to Patriots owner Robert Kraft for a well-deserved accolade and recognition.
2. Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is in a tough situation: the slightest injury will set-off the fanbase and media about his durability, and lack of success on the field has Patriots Nation crying for recently departed Wes Welker, and any success he has will be greeted with skepticism and brushed off as “following what Wes Welker did” and “a product of the system”. Despite that, all eyes were on the newest wide receiver plucked from the scrap heap. Multiple media reports from the practice field (remember, no one is in pads and this is going through the motions) seem to express surprise at the rapport of quarterback Tom Brady and his newest weapon. With tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez sidelined, it is a great time for Amendola to catch his quarterback’s eye and put in the work that can translate onto the field in September (when it finally counts).
3. Speaking of the Patriots tight ends, ESPN is reporting that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will have back surgery on Tuesday. The big question with the surgery is the timetable for return. A report at ESPN stated that 12 weeks is the expected recovery time which would be week two of the NFL season. Of course, until Doctor Robert Watkins actually performs the surgery (termed “preventative maintenance” by Gronkowski’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus) and determines and fixes the cause of the back pain Gronkowski had last season, there is no concrete ways to determine what steps the team needs to make regarding his roster spot.
The Patriots have the option to put Gronkowski on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list which would sideline him for the first six games of the season before he can return. With the forearm and back possibly ready by the season kick-off or first few weeks, the team has to determine if they go with an aggressive recovery to maximize one of the best tight ends in football during the season or take a long-term approach and be conservative and put him on the PUP and risk having him healthy and unable to contribute. After Tuesday, the team will have a better idea on when their dynamic tight end will be able to return to the field. .
4. The Wall Street Journal checked in with the Patriots this week (Did you guess why? Correct: Tim Tebow.) in the guise of the long-defunct “Border Wars” between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets from the late 1990s. The article notes that since 2000 (Belichick to the Patriots) that the Patriots have acquired 21 former Jets to the Jets 10 former Patriots. While Tim Tebow is unlikely to replicate the success of former Jets running back Danny Woodhead (now in San Diego), it is entirely unknown since Bill Belichick is (predictably) not releasing any details of Tebow’s role. Is he simply a third quarterback? Is he going to play H-back or tight end? Is he a special teams player? Back-up linebacker? Wild-cat package quarterback? No one know right now.
5. Former Patriots depth tight end Kellen Winslow signed a deal with the New York Jets. While hardly the “Border War” that claimed coach Bill Parcells and running back Curtis Martin, the signing of Winslow helps fill a gaping opening in New York. With tight end Dustin Keller fleeing the sinking ship of New Jersey and taking his talents to South Beach (on a one year deal), the Jets needed a warm body to fill the position with only unproven, injury-prone Jeff Cumberland and…well, flotsam and jetsam. Winslow is at least a name who fans may recognize.
Winslow, of course, was expected to be a depth tight end on the roster, and fill in for the injured Aaron Hernandez early last season. Instead, he inexplicably quit after nine days in New England and one game. While the Patriots were mum about the release, reports afterwards (profootballtalk.com) indicated that Winslow wanted no part of the “Patriot Way” and was upset (after one game) that he did not get the ball thrown his way enough. That certainly makes his mutual release that much more understandable. Of course, not producing and whining about not enough passes being thrown his way seemingly makes Winslow a perfect fit for the Rex Ryan New York Jets.
6. The Miami Dolphins have officially replaced the 2012 Buffalo Bills and 2011 Philadelphia Eagles as the media darlings of the off-season as they have been crowned AFC East champions and dethroners of the Patriot Reign a month before training camp kicks off. While the Dolphins have accumulated a number of free agents on both sides of the ball, the team still has a long way to go before printing Super Bowl tickets.
The Dolphins left a terrible taste in their fans mouths last year by not showing up in Foxboro, MA during week 17 of the 2012 season on December 30th and getting rolled by the Patriots 28-0. With a chance to finish the season at .500 and notch a win against their division rival the Dolphins fell behind 21-0 and mailed in another disappointing season. Sure, some pieces were changed out, but this this is still the same front office, same coach, same quarterback, and many of the same pieces that are beating their chests now and being pumped up as Super Bowl contenders without putting on their pads yet.
The Dolphins should be better, if only because they should be 4-0 against the Jets and Bills. The Bills are rebuilding behind a young quarterback and will need a lot of improvement in a hurry to think about the playoffs. The Jets are likely to finish with a top-five draft pick and clear out the big windbag, Rex Ryan. The Dolphins then just need to go 4-8 against the rest of the league and break their four year run of finishing below .500.
Miami should be improved, but their second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has a lot of pressure on him to continue to take strides forward quickly. With his best offensive player from last season (Reggie Bush) and best offensive lineman (Jake Long) departed in free agency, the team has to get a lot of diverse parts working together this season. Improved, yes. Knocking off the Patriots? Not likely.