Yoiks, And Away!

With the Patriots off to a 7-0 start, the media strategy this year seems to involve talking up that week’s opponent (at least one that looks more than half-decent on paper), point out their strengths, and speculate on how they can beat New England. The more exuberant the prediction, the funnier it gets.

Much like Daffy Duck as Robin Hood, the prognosticators keep calling, “Yoiks, and away!” and ending up with a tree trunk in the face.

The Patriots open their season against Pittsburgh, a perennial contender featuring that gritty defense and Big Ben!

Yup. Pats give up a late touchdown, but hold on for a 28-21 win.

Well, Rex Ryan has the fans in a frenzy up in Buffalo as he works on building a bully. Tom Brady has always had trouble with Ryan’s defenses. With the Bills adding running back LeSean McCoy –

Patriots win 40-32 in a game they lead 37-13 after three quarters.

Really? Forty points? Hunh. So, anyway, the, uh, Jaguars are looking solid with Blake Bortles …

Come on.

All right, fine. Give it to me.

51-17, Pats.

Yeesh. Okay, the Cowboys, in Dallas. They’ve got pass-rusher/rage-aholic Greg Hardy back, and with Tony Romo under center –

Brandon Weeden.

Beg your pardon?

Romo’s hurt. Weeden starts vs. the Pats, and that helps New England to a 30-6 win.

Yes, but, here come the Colts! Looking for vengeance for their AFC Championship setback, Indianapolis, led by Andrew Luck, will do whatever it takes to deal the Patriots their first defeat.

Colts lose, 34-27, but they do try whatever it takes, including one of the most poorly conceived fake punts ever.

Oh, wow. Look at that. Why did they snap the – you know what? Let’s move on. We’re in a New York state of mind, as the J-E-T-S will challenge the Pats for dominance in the AFC East!

They will challenge. And they will lose, 30-23. Brady will throw for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and lead the team in rushing.

Well, he – sorry, say that last part again?

New England hands off the ball five times all game. Brady, despite double-digit drops by his receivers, completes 34 of 54 passes for 355 yards.

That is impressive. But, hold on, the Dolphins, though! Most-heralded defensive line in football! Undefeated under interim coach Dan Campbell! Two straight blowout wins!

All true. Pats 36, Dolphins 7.

Oof. Did not see that coming. Ah, but this week: the Redskins! Kirk Cousins in on fire!

Yeah. He sure is. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Despite the doggedly incorrect predictions, it’s a constant of the NFL that any team could knock New England into the loss column. Just look at the schedule. After Cousins and his well-rested arm visit Foxboro, Eli Manning could have another savant moment and put his Giants over the top. Trips to Denver (Nov. 29), New York (Dec. 27), and Miami (Jan. 3) are never easy. Hell, maybe the Eagles can pull it off Dec. 6. You never know.

We’ve heard some talk about fans wanting to avoid an undefeated regular season. After how the last one ended, that makes sense, but the thing is, this season isn’t like 2007. We’ve been there, and as Bruce Allen so eloquently put it in February 2008, that was The Most Miserable 18-1 Season in History. Part of that frustration stemmed from NFL fallout with the previous ‘gate, but most of it arose out of their loss in the 2006 AFC Championship and the desperate desire to get another chance.

Now, to this year. New England won the Super Bowl (their fourth) in thrilling, exhaustive fashion. While last winter’s playoff foes have stumbled early this year, your Patriots have come storming back in late-season form. They will try to win every single week. To think that they lessen their chances of advancing in the playoffs due to regular-season success doesn’t give the players or staff much credit. Certainly not as much as they deserve.

This all reminds me of what my father said on a bitter, windy March night at our kitchen table after we had watched Larry Bird score 60 points for our beloved Celtics. “We should appreciate what we have here,” he said, speaking of the man and his team. “This doesn’t happen very often.”

In Pete Carroll’s last year in Foxboro, New England went 8-8. In 2000, new coach Bill Belichick went 5-11. Since 2001, the Patriots have won. They have been to six Super Bowls. They have been to nine AFC Championships. They have had only one season with fewer than 10 wins (9-7 in 2002). Let’s appreciate what we have, here. Sit back and watch the show.

A Comment On Each AFC East Opponent

The Jets could contend, but they’ve had a bad couple of weeks. New York built their defense on a stout, impressive line while bringing back a strong DB tandem. Their loss to the Raiders this week demonstrated that New England, to some extent, exposed them. If you can pass with consistency, you can move the ball. New York also seemed to lose their one QB who did not consistently crush their dreams when Ryan Fitzpatrick left the game with a thumb injury and got replaced by Geno “Jekyll/Hyde” Smith.

On a positive note for them, the Jets got a coach who focuses on game-plan details rather than trash talk and bluster. Now at 4-3, they have games with the Jags, Bills, and Texans coming up, which could get them back on the winning track.

The Dolphins need to figure out how good they are. Miami began 1-3, but a coaching change and an AFC South doubleheader appeared to cure all of their ills. They traveled to Foxboro feeling strong at .500 and got a long look at a football team in contention. Ryan Tannehill’s TD drive to open the second half demonstrated why South Beach fans hold out hope: it was consistent and at times spectacular, though Tannehill has shown too little of each. Miami could contend for a playoff spot, but they’ve got to get past their 3-4 record, their 0-3 division record, and the loss of their best pass-rusher (Cameron Wake, out with an achilles injury.)

Can they find stability? Next week’s divisional tilt up in Buffalo will tell us a lot.

The Bills are indeed “building a bully.” Funny how new Bills coach (and former Jets coach) Rex Ryan said this on his preseason victory tour of Buffalo. Yes, a bully pushes people around. He picks on smaller, weaker targets. But doesn’t he always back down when confronted by a peer? Now at 3-4, interesting to see if the Bills can reevaluate themselves and focus on winning actual games rather than mid-week press conferences. They lost to the Jaguars in England (where they pronounce it JAG-ooh-AHS) but have had a bye week to prep for their biggest five days of the season: Dolphins Sunday, November 8, Jets Thursday, November 12.

Anyway, the Patriots are on to Washington. We’ll give them a mid-season report next week.

Chris Warner has a Twitter account and uses it more frequently than he should: @cwarn89

Patriots 2015 First-Quarter Review

With one-fourth of the season in their rearview, the Patriots have cruised along with four wins and zero losses.

It really didn’t have to be like this. They could have had a drop-off from last year, an exhausting odyssey through NFL competition both on-field and off. Letting go of most of their defensive backfield while laying off draft picks of need could have been seen as signs of, hey, let’s feel satisfied with a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Let’s rebuild. But, nope.

Instead, while playoff foes Baltimore (1-4) and Seattle (2-3) strive for .500 football, and the Colts fight to stay above that line, the Patriots cruise along at 4-0.

New England opened up at home with a 28-21 takedown of a gritty Steelers team. They then traveled up to Buffalo – this year’s Rex Ryan entry into the Patriots’ annual King of the Mountain contest – and settled for a 40-32 victory where they took off most of the fourth quarter. They played rude hosts to the Jaguars (51-17) and toppled the Cowboys 30-6. The most important aspect of these wins involved the overall learning experience.

Pretty Sneaky, Sis: In the future, New England should have Tom Brady sneak the ball on fourth and short. It remains their best option. We saw too many instances where LeGarrette Blount runs (vs. Dallas) or Brady bombs (vs. Buffalo) failed to convert. The thing is, now they know, and they didn’t have to lose a game to learn a lesson.

Lippy The Lineman, Hardy Har-Har: (and if you get this reference, I’m impressed.) Defensive lineman/tone-deaf hump Greg Hardy, who suffers from elephantiasis of the ego, did New England a favor by playing as well as advertised and exposing weaknesses along the line. Left tackle Nate Solder did little to prevent Hardy from harassing Brady, but any complaints that may have come up about him this week are lost due to his placement on IR. Now, there’s renewed appreciation of how much this team needs him anchoring that spot. His replacement Marcus Cannon failed to fare any better.

Hey, it’s adjustment time. It’s not like they can go out and buy a top-tier left tackle this week. Instead, they’ll set up their linemen for success, helping out up front when necessary and having Brady get rid of the ball like it’s a flaming bag of Hardy. Definitely adds to their degree of difficulty, though.

At Their Beck And Collins: Sure, I thought Jamie Collins could help this team when the Pats drafted him. A quick review of his combine numbers reveals a 4.64 40-yard dash, a 41.5-inch vertical leap, and an 11-foot, 7-inch broad jump. (For comparison, stand with your feet together and jump. Now look forward several feet to where 11-7 is. Laugh.) But this guy can do anything, just about anywhere on the field. In four games, he has 32 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. After two full seasons, he’s gone from a commendable athlete to a leader, and that I did not see that coming.

To Aaron Is Human: So… What’s up with Aaron Dobson, do you think? Seems like he’s run out of excuses. He’s not hurt. He’s not a rookie. There’s no other receiver on the roster with his body type, so it’s not like he should be sharing reps. Back in August 2011, we discussed Chad Ochocinco and the JG Scale, which came down to this: receivers (and I meant free agents, but it counts with rookies, too) either pick up the offense quickly (Jabar Gaffney) or not at all (Joey Galloway).

A seventh-round pick named Julian Edelman can start Game One of his rookie season and contribute. Chad Jackson, a second-round pick, can struggle with the offense and catch 13 passes for his two-year Pats career. The fact that Keshawn Martin can come over from Houston and nab five passes in two games after catching six all year for the Texans does not bode well for Dobson. Brady likes Martin. Interesting to see what will happen there. We’re rooting for him, but it doesn’t look good.

Onto a more optimistic outlook.

Feeling Good, Lewis: Know whom else Brady likes? This Dion Lewis fella. He can start-stop like a squirrel on a tree, or duck and dive like an otter on an ice floe. We had some hope for him this summer, but he has delivered far more than expected. He’s got a high school sophomore build at 5-8, 195 pounds, and has taken on the bulk of the halfback workload, with 36 carries for 180 yards (5.0 avg) and 23 receptions for 238 yards. And he got cut by Cleveland and the Colts, for Heaven’s sake.

I know fans of other teams must get tired of hearing about guys who start their careers elsewhere and end up reaching another level in Foxboro (The Mike Vrabel Rule? The Wes Welker Corollary?), but Lewis has staked his place atop the list for 2015.

Hoo, Man, That Was Rough: Very sorry to see Michael Hoomanawanui get traded, but it’s understandable given the current roster makeup. Between Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler, and Michael Williams, the Pats boast over 800 pounds of tight end. Plenty of blocking to be had here, and enough receiving to make even a solid fan favorite like Hoo-man seem expendable. In four games, Gronkowski has 20 grabs for 375 yards (18.8 avg) and four touchdowns. Looking forward to watching the non-Gronks get more involved with the offense and the downfield rumbling that could ensue.

I did not make this up: there’s now a twitter hashtag and urban dictionary definition for “RiGronkulous.” We live in a wonderful era.

Lots Of Hicks In Indy: In exchange for Hoomanawanui, New England brought in defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, adding to the team’s list of DL’s who have disappointed other teams (Alan Branch also resides on that list). At roughly the size of a bank vault at 6-5, 324 pounds, Hicks won’t run down backs or get to the QB that often, but – even though he didn’t register a tackle – he contributed in Dallas by clogging lanes and freeing up linebackers to make plays. If he gets on board like Branch seems to have done, this could become a positive trade for the Patriots.

Sheard And Sheard Alike: Look how far we’ve gotten in this column without even talking about Jabaal Sheard. Four sacks in four games? Sure. Stout against the run? We’ll take it. Potentially giving Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich occasional breathers? Why not? Sheard seems to have lived up to expectations in Foxboro and could provide more help given greater playing time.

Another Cleveland castaway. Weird.

Ghost Is The Machine: I’ve used this pun before. Like the album after it’s named, it still holds up, because Stephen Gostkowski continues to make kicks. This past Sunday he set a personal record with a 57-yarder in Dallas.

Seems simple enough. Trot onto the field, mark off some steps, give your holder a nod, and boot away. Yeah. Went to the Patriots Hall of Fame museum a few years ago and tried a kick. Almost pulled my hamstring while sending the ball knee-high into the wall. Bad look. In a year where kickers seem to have the accuracy

Two Questions About The League

One: What the hell is up with Houston? You’d figure a defense with J. J. Watt, JaDeveon Clowney, and Vince Wilfork would be able to get something done. Watt has four sacks in five games, a mere mortal number, while Clowney has zero. I mean, it makes sense that the offense isn’t exactly Air Coryell, but for them to sit at 1-4 with a loss to the Colts filled with about as much enthusiasm as a pediatric dentist’s waiting room? Did not expect that.

At this point, anybody agreeing to appear on “Hard Knocks” must not be paying attention.

Two: How long will it take for the NFL to outlaw pick plays? New England showcased the effectiveness of so-called “rub” or “pick” plays in the second half at Dallas, with a Danny Amendola screen freeing up Edelman for a long TD. (CSNNE.com’s Phil Perry does a nice job describing the play here.) All of a sudden it seems like New England is getting credit (or, as usual blame) for conceiving this play. It works, and it frustrates defenses, and officials aren’t always sure how to call it, so look for the NFL to take a hard look at it soon. But don’t forget that other teams do it, and have done it for years.

Case in point: Denver’s Wes Welker taking out New England’s Aqib Talib in the AFC Championship two seasons ago (clip here). Welker never even looked for the ball. No call, and it’s not even close.

Second Quarter Preview

At the Colts Sunday night, hosting the Jets the following Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins on Thursday (10/29), then hosting the Nacotchtanks (see, Dan Snyder? Not that hard).

The Colts, Dolphins, and Redskins have six wins between them, with the Indyhorsies riding high at 3-2. All three wins have come against the AFC South, which is a bit like reigning as thumb-wrestling champion in a league of six-year-olds. Just adorable.

The Jets game looks like the toughest, with a focused 3-1 squad coached by a guy who manages to stay under the radar. The Patriots could go 3-1 over the second quarter, but barring any major setbacks, 4-0 looks more likely.

Seriously, predicting games for New England feels like working as a weatherman in San Diego. Occasional storms, but sunny skies most of the way.

Chris Warner can be tweeted: @cwarn89 

The Unstoppable NFL

Like a TV zombie that takes multiple hits to the body, the National Football League continues to survive, and thrive. The September 20 Sunday Night Football game between Seattle and Green Bay led all programs that week with over 26 million viewers. According to Variety.com, “This was the largest audience for a Week 2 NFL primetime game in 24 years (since Dallas-Washington on ABC’s ‘Monday Night Football’ in 1991).”

We could have seen this coming. The Hall of Fame game on August 10, the NFL’s preseason opener between the Steelers and Vikings that featured neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Adrian Peterson, had a 6.9 rating, (according to CBS Sports) better than Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals and both the American League Championship and National League Championship openers.

This all seems incredible based on how the NFL has presented itself as a tone-deaf botch-fest this year. We have witnessed many events that would weaken most corporations. Yet pro football keeps gobbling up brains.

So what, if anything, could possibly derail the NFL’s popularity? We asked a number of journalists their thoughts on the topic and categorized their answers.

NOTHING

Most seem to have joined this camp (well, less “joined” than “acquiesced to”). Even those who posited potential problems with the league included disclaimers. Nothing, it seems, shall damage the allure of the shield.

BSMW head Bruce Allen laid out the bullet points: “Well, what hasn’t derailed the NFL’s popularity? An active player arrested and convicted for murder. Numerous drug arrests and suspensions. Concussion and brain damage studies. Numerous domestic violence incidents. An inept boob of a commissioner who has been proven a liar on more than one occasion. Made up scandals (Bountygate and Deflategate) which the WWE wouldn’t even attempt…

If those things haven’t – I don’t know what will.”

Tanya Ray Fox, writer for SportsGrid, had a similar outlook, including a few specifics and a New England perspective.

“Let me put it this way,” Fox said. “In a league where a superstar QB has been substantially accused of rape, a superstar RB was videotaped beating his wife, a Hall of Fame LB was arrested for rape, a former TE is in jail for murder, a former DB and NFL Network employee is in jail for serial rape, and Pacman Jones is still playing (Note: a rundown of Jones’ arrests here), you know who the fans hate the most? Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who they believe have been in six of the last fourteen Super Bowls because they cheat.

“Think about that. Fans still watch loyally, despite the fact that they think the most successful team in the NFL are cheaters and the rest of the teams that they hate far less are peppered with violent criminals. If that’s not enough to take away even a fraction of the fan base, I don’t know what is.”

Dan Duggan, NJ.com Rutgers football beat writer, agreed. “I really don’t think anything (can derail it), at least in the short-term. We all get outraged about the off-field issues, and then we dedicate all day Sunday, Thursday night and Monday night to watching the NFL.”

Duggan did hint at a possible pitfall. “Maybe there will be an effect down the road as parents shy away from allowing their kids to play football due to concerns about concussions. But I can’t see the popularity of the NFL diminishing any time soon.”

CONCUSSIONS

The greatest trouble for the NFL lurks within this issue. Just a few years ago, we would hear about a player from a past era dealing with what was then an alleged – and seemingly rare – brain injury. Now, in real time, we’re witnessing the decline of recent retirees whom we followed into the new millennium; meanwhile, young players have decided to hang up their cleats early. The most recent report from the Department of Veteran Affairs and Boston University study on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) puts the rate at 96 percent of NFL football players tested.

The study comes with caveats, of course. The brains that have been tested came from players who showed symptoms and/or had concerns. Still, we could see these occurrences increase. We have to ask: will more and more of our favorite players live out their post-NFL lives in constant physical and mental pain? That’s tough to consider, and even harder for the league to spin.

“The only thing that could remotely threaten the league’s popularity is the concussion issue, and even that is probably not enough to stop it.” said Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com. “I think it’s pretty clear that we’re just scratching the surface on the staggering amount of brain injuries players have suffered in the past, and I wonder if eventually we get to the point where players are forced to sign waivers, absolving the league of any legal responsibilities and the financial burden that can come with it.

“That’s obviously a slippery slope, but unless there are some dramatic rule changes – say no helmets – then this will continue to be an ongoing issue. But by and large, I think the average fan doesn’t care. They want points, they want big hits and they enjoy the potential that you can rebuild your team from year to year if needed.”

Mark Daniels, football writer for The Providence Journal, said, “I think it would come down to the concussion issue. I still think we’re a long ways away from that, but it would have to get to a point where parents didn’t want their children playing because they were fearful of head injuries. If people stopped playing, then you might see a diminished product on the field. But so many people love this sport and it’s so popular, I don’t know if I see that happening in my lifetime.”

Mike Reiss, ESPN Boston writer, and Shalise Manza Young, writer for Yahoo! Shutdown Corner, saw both the concussion problem and a leadership problem plaguing the league in the future.

Reiss said, “Head trauma and concussions remain issues worthy of further exploration. As we learn more about it, perhaps there is a possibility that the game becomes more challenging for the general public to support. Admittedly, that seems like a reach right now.”

“You know, at this point I’m not sure if anything could (derail the NFL’s popularity).” Young said, adding, “Parents are rightfully concerned about their own kids playing, but that doesn’t mean they won’t watch someone else’s kids play. Maybe if we start seeing an increase in former players committing suicide (i.e., more Junior Seaus), that could affect it.”

The concussion/CTE issue puts the NFL in a tough spot. They have to admit their product can cause irreparable damage to its employees, yet the scheduling of Thursday night games reveals players’ health remains a minor concern. If former Patriot guard Stephen Neal can allude to NFL games as “car crashes every week” and few people bat an eye, it will take more time – and more exposure of damaging effects – for health issues to make a difference in fans’ minds.

While most respondents considered the long-term, chronic effects of playing football, Christopher Price of WEEI.com brought up another, more immediate danger. What if, he asked, a player died because of an on-field injury?

“I think that would cause the rest of the world to take a hard look at player safety and and the level of violence associated with the game. You’d likely get Congress involved, and there would be hearings, which would (inevitably) lead to other revelations, most of which would probably come down to money. I think the fallout from something like that would be incredibly severe, and making a sizable impact on how the game is viewed and played going forward.”

In 2005, Al Lucas of the Arena Football League’s Los Angeles Avengers died of blunt force trauma to the spinal cord. A write-up of the incident from 2013 can be seen here on Grantland. A high school player from New Jersey died last Friday night, cause as yet unknown.

These deaths happen rarely enough that they can be viewed as aberrations, but if an NFL player were to get killed in front of tens of thousands of spectators and millions of TV-watching fans, how would the league handle that? Is leadership prepared for this?

Which brings us to another potential issue…

LEADERSHIP

In talking about the leaders of the NFL, I am reminded of a slogan from 30 years ago: Certs have Retsyn.

Sounds like an Eastern European language? Let me explain: the Certs breath mint company created an additive (basically cottonseed oil, sugar and flavor) specifically so they could mention it and set themselves apart from competitors (as does this vintage commercial).

“The NFL has integrity.” Right? They use words like “integrity” and “shield” as if they mean anything, as if they give the NFL something that other professional leagues can only long for but never attain.

We’re talking about a league with a commissioner that has – on the record – mischaracterized the testimony of two different players. Roger Goodell said Ray Rice lied to him; a judge disagreed. Goodell said Tom Brady did not mention speaking of the football scandal with his equipment manager. Brady’s appeal transcript showed that was not true.

“And maybe,” Young said, “if Goodell keeps making such stupid decisions, that could affect interest.”

Maybe. It seems probable the commissioner will make more mistakes; therefore, it must be possible he makes one or two big enough to actually make an impact. But how big do those gaffes have to get?

COMPETITION

We know they’ve busied themselves with keeping the shield clean, but have the heads of the NFL stayed in touch with fans’ interests? As Reiss said, “Any time you are No. 1, there is always the possibility of resting on one’s laurels and not pushing harder to continue to improve and be proactive against competitive threats. Resisting against that is critical.”

This topic provides fascinating hypotheticals. What could possibly draw viewers away from the NFL?

We look past baseball, basketball, and hockey because, frankly, they’ve had their chances. Soccer? Too many teams, too many leagues, too many countries. And too floppy for the taste of many.

Maybe we’ll see a non-traditional sport like “American Ninja Warrior” grow, where we root for the contestants (rife with human interest stories) and root against the obstacle course. At some point, there could be a kind of live-action single-shooter video game, a choose-your-own adventure where viewers would text an actual human being where to go in a game of laser tag.

Mixed martial arts has gotten popular. But then we go back to the health/concussion issue.

I dunno. Is dodgeball still viable?

Well. Maybe something can take viewers away from football, but hell if I can predict it.

GAMBLING

If you watch television for more than two minutes on a Sunday afternoon, you will see an ad for a fantasy sports website. On these sites, visitors pay money to participate in a fantasy league. According to DraftKings.com, “Daily fantasy sports is a skill game and is not considered gambling.”

Hey, remember when Pete Rose gambled and got banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame for life? Bet he wishes he’d had the Internet.

This angle seemed to intrigue Matt Chatham, founder of footballbyfootball.com, writer for Fox Sports “Game of the Week” breakdown, analyst for NESN and ESPN, and volunteer Super Bowl 38 security guard. Chatham sees the NFL’s potential downfall in the money that exchanges hands outside of NFL arenas.

“Reversal of some law regarding fantasy sports and some government overreaching would be the biggest potential blow,” he said. “Stripping away a huge new part of the audience that likely otherwise wouldn’t watch. TV revenue projections and ad values are based (I believe) on the assumption that that audience will be there and continue to grow. If for some reason it was gone overnight and there were a competing product that could accept that audience, that’s probably the most plausible scenario.

“But I don’t think that’s happening. Very unlikely. The wagering (legal, fantasy and otherwise), the league, and the communities that have these teams are symbiotic at this point. They both need each other. There would be holy hell to pay if it was ever disrupted, for politicians, whatever. So in the absence of choice, everything will be done to maintain the status quo.”

Young said the NFL could also get hurt “if some major scandal like finding out games are fixed is uncovered. But really, at this point I don’t think anything could have a major impact on numbers and interest, and fantasy plays a huge role in that.”

OFFICIATING

Related to Young’s point, let’s look at officials not for what they do or how well they do it, but for their role in upholding the (dare I say it) integrity of the game.

As Price said, “If there was some sort of overarching scandal involving officiating and/or gambling regarding major games, like the conference championship and/or the Super Bowl. I’m not just talking about Donaghy-esque style issues with regular season contests between the Bucs and Jags. If there were marquee games that were found to be not on the level, the fallout would be massive. The ripple of suggestion that games might not be on the level would in turn create sizable waves throughout the sports world – namely distrust among the NFL’s fanbase.”

Fans don’t trust the NFL front office or its players. They do trust the game itself and the effort put into each one. Taking those elements away could deal the biggest blow of all.

Concussions/Injuries, Leadership, Competition, Gambling, Officiating. All possible traps for the NFL. But, for now at least, it looks like they shield is safe.

Chris Warner has email (chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com) and tweets: @cwarn89

Patriots Preseason Thoughts Heading Into Game Three

Some thoughts on the local footballers as we prep for the third game of the 2015 preseason – often referred to as the “full scrimmage” of the four-game summer slate. So far, the Patriots have lost to Green Bay and beaten New Orleans, all of which means next to nothing. In terms of individual performances and positions, though, their upcoming scrimmage at Carolina could provide some answers.

Speaking of which…

No Wright Answer: When New England waived tight end Tim Wright in June, a few local pundits scratched their heads. (We agreed with ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss calling it “a mildly surprising move.”) Wright had solid, if unspectacular, production for the Patriots last year with 26 receptions, making his mark in the red zone with six touchdowns. It seems that the higher-ups at Foxboro figured they could do better. Of course, when you’re starting out with over 13 feet and a  quarter ton of tight end between Scott Chandler and Rob Gronkowski, maybe there’s some leeway for the “move” TE.

We certainly liked the potential of rookie A. J. Derby (you can read our draft review here), but with him on injured reserve, the outlook becomes less shiny. The team traded for Asante Cleveland, who got tossed around vs. the Saints like a stuffed animal at a play date. The Pats used him mostly as a blocker, but after watching that game, I wondered if Cleveland could block a one-man play about FDR.

Could they consider Jimmay Mundine? Maybe. He’s smaller (actually listed as a fullback on NFLDraftscout.com) and quicker than Cleveland. He also had experience in Kansas under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Plus, it’s always fun to say Jimmmaaaaaaayy. Or, they could eschew the “move” TE role and look for a bigger receiver instead. Still curious as to why they let Wright go so early.

Dealing With A Sense Of Shane-lessness: Last year, Shane Vereen caught 52 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns. While no one running back might replace those numbers, the Pats did well to draft James White, who has looked the part in two preseason tilts with five reception for 72 yards. Dion Lewis got into the act last Saturday, catching five balls for 36 yards and one rushing TD. Veteran Travaris Cadet has gotten back on the field and may have a chance to show what the team’s been missing for the past few weeks. Though seemingly not as efficient a blocker as the other two, Cadet has gotten positive reviews for his receiving skills.

In any case, it seems that letting Vereen go to the Giants (where he will absolutely thrive, by the way) won’t hurt the Patriots all that much. At least until he lights them up in the Super Bowl. God damnit.

Boyce Will Be Boyce: Oh, poor Josh Boyce. So athletic. Such a standout practice player. Just can’t seem to get it together on the field. With myriad injuries to New England’s receiver crew, Boyce had a chance to take over this summer and rule the preseason. Instead, the past two games have showcased names like Chris Harper (12 receptions, 117 yards) and Jonathan Krause (nine for 75). Brandon Gibson looked sharp (12 for 97), but his season-ending knee injury – plus the fact that Brian Tyms got put on IR – would seem to open up Boyce to even greater opportunities as a fourth or fifth receiver.

Except for one thing…

Blame It On The Wayne: Now, the Pats have brought in Reggie Wayne, for more than just swapping age-appropriate stories with Tom Brady, we assume. Friday night could provide a window into New England’s intentions for Wayne, be they as a short-yardage pass-catcher, third-down conversion specialist, red zone target, or all of the above. Fun to find out how much Wayne has left in the ol’ Batmobile.

Yeah. Boyce. Maybe they’re saving him for something, but if I were his friend, I’d keep him away from any Magic 8-Balls: “Outlook Not So Good.”

Interior Motives: The preseason starting offensive line, which – if there is a God and He is just – will NOT make up the starting front in September, has provided some ups and downs for the offense. Undrafted rookie David Andrews has spent many snaps at center in Bryan Stork’s absence, showing solid potential if not current readiness. The rookie guard set of Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson has provided some spotty support with more room for improvement than an abandoned warehouse. Veteran Ryan Wendell reportedly got back on the practice field Tuesday, which should provide some much-needed stability.

In any case, interesting to see what Bill Belichick goes with for his starting line on Friday night.

Uncon-Vinced: Oh, Vince Wilfork. We miss you every time you show up on “Hard Knocks.” Talking your talk, dispensing advice, always seeming to have a good time. After watching Vince, by comparison, J. J. Watt seems like a total stiff. While Wilfork emits sincerity and couldn’t care less about having the cameras around (filing rough patches on his feet, squishing his shoes so that sweat bubbles up out of the tongues), Watt seems super conscious of people seeing and hearing him. (Drew Magary touched on this in his “Why Your Team Sucks,” 2015 Houston edition.)

Anyway, New England went with youth, so watch the kiddoes on their D-line. Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown both come up several cookouts shy of Wilfork’s weight (at 285, Easley’s missing about half a cow), but each has shown some strengths so far this preseason. After suffering a knee injury last year, Easley appears to have gotten back some of his trademark quickness, while Brown has demonstrated occasional field savvy that has helped him break up plays. See if they can show improvement on Friday.

I Was Ryan When I Met You, Now I’m Tryin’ To Forget You: You know, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signed elsewhere this off-season.

Hey, who’s dead horse is this? And why are we hitting it with axe handles?

We won’t spend too much time on this (maybe we’re already past “too much”), but beyond Malcolm “Go” Butler, the tryouts for starting defensive backs have seemed a bit hit or miss. Logan Ryan has been talked up as a potential starter opposite Butler, and his output has proved about as consistent as a drunk bartender’s Long Island Iced Teas. On one play he’ll reach in and knock away a third-down pass. On the next series, he’ll get burned for two consecutive first downs.

As the Patriots go with something close to game conditions for their third preseason game, let’s see if Ryan can mix it up with receivers and make things flow smoothly. Because, you know, their defensive backfield personnel is different this year. *sigh*

A Means To An Ends: Once again, rookies. Trey Flowers might be back from injury after a solid first game vs. Green Bay. Geneo Grissom has been moved around more than that Patrick Nagel print you’ve had since college. Xzavier Dickson has ended up at the right places when he’s gotten to play. Considering New England already has a starting rotation of Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard to platoon (or not?), these rookies will have a tough road to playing time. It starts now, and the more they can do, the more flexibility this defense will have.

And Coach Belichick likes his defense more flexible than the numbers from an Exponent report.

Wait, how did we end up here?

A Final Note On Deflated Footballs (Not Likely): One question amidst all the hullaballoo. How does this make football better? In our July column on getting rid of the PSI rule (called “That Song By Queen And David Bowie”), we pointed out the merits of leaving a football’s air pressure up to the ref’s discretion before and during a game. As this insanity continues, we still wonder how it helps to take measures (pun intended) to ensure proper air pressure. No one has ever cared about this. No one should ever care about this.

In 2006, Brady and Peyton Manning lobbied for QBs to be able to bring their own doctored footballs to away games. In the following years, both Brady and Manning have broken NFL records for passing touchdowns. Remind me how this is a bad thing?

Oh, it’s not? Right.

Ditch the rule, dump the silliness. Now let’s play football.

Chris Warner can be emailed at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com or tweeted at @cwarn89

A Reminder About John “Rollo” Tomase…

“Rollo Tomasi’s the reason I became a cop. I wanted to catch the guys who thought they could get away with it. It was supposed to be about justice.” – Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), “LA Confidential”

This is the lede question in Peter King’s Mailbag today:

WHERE’S BELICHICK’S SUSPENSION?

With all the recent talk of Deflategate focusing on Tom Brady, I’d like to revisit a side issue that nobody’s talking about anymore. Why wasn’t Bill Belichick suspended? Roger Goodell threw the book at Sean Payton in Bountygate, saying Payton ultimately was responsible for his team even if he wasn’t aware of any bounties. By the same logic, Belichick also should be suspended, especially considering that Belichick has a prior record with Spygate. In that case, if I’m not mistaken, Belichick specifically ignored a league edict forbidding teams from filming opponents’ practice sessions. I think the lack of a suspension for Belichick helps perpetuate the belief that the league treats the Patriots differently than other teams.

“Belichick specifically ignored a league edict forbidding teams from filming opponents’ practice sessions.” Did you catch that? That’s the common belief people have about Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.

Do you know how that belief began? Not with Spygate. That was about taping signals out in the open, but from the wrong location.

Two weeks ago, after I made a reference to John Tomase’s role in demonizing the Patriots, two people responded, “What did he do?”

I was stunned. They didn’t know the story? Surely they’ve heard how, on the eve of Super Bowl 42, Tomase and the Boston Herald published a fallacious story accusing the Patriots of videotaping the Rams’ walkthrough prior to Super Bowl 36, right? And how they were forced to retract it three months later?

But that event occurred seven years ago. And understandably, there are readers too young to know anything about it.

Yet the myth of the walkthrough tape persists.

Tomase could be heard this weekend giving his expert opinion that “down there” they think that everything bad that happens to the Patriots is because people are out to get them.

Huh. I wonder why that is.

You know how you often hear from both the media and other fans that the Patriots taped practices, including the Rams before their first Super Bowl win!  In addition to the above, here are some examples.

49ers, Rams have right to feel cheated – Mike Sando

Steve Scarnecchia, the person responsible for the illicit taping earlier this month, worked for New England when the Patriots allegedly taped St. Louis Rams practices before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. As a result, I’m more comfortable removing the word “allegedly” from the previous sentence. The Patriots employed cheaters. Scarnecchia’s father, Dante, still works for the Patriots.

Personal for Pats-Jets – Leonard Shapiro

CORRECTION
A previous version of this post incorrectly characterized the offense for which New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was fined by the NFL. The corrected version appears below.

2015 offseason off to rocky start – John Clayton

For example, Sean Payton received a one-year suspension for the Saints’ bounty scandals while Bill Belichick wasn’t suspended for spying on practices.

And how about this:

And there’s more. 

It is a statement now accepted as fact, and used by many people when they list out the Patriots transgressions as CHEATERZ!!!

In reality, it is complete and utter fiction. Manufactured by John Tomase.

From the Boston Herald, February 4th, 2008, by John Tomase.

Source: Pats employee filmed Rams
By John Tomase

PHOENIX – One night before the Patriots face the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, new allegations have emerged about a Patriots employee taping the Rams’ final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI.

According to a source, a member of the team’s video department filmed the Rams’ final walkthrough before that 2002 game. The next day, the Patriots upset St. Louis, 20-17, on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri for their first championship.

A bit further in:

According to a source close to the team during the 2001 season, here’s what happened. On Feb. 2, 2002, one day before the Patriots’ Super Bowl game against heavily favored St. Louis in New Orleans, the Patriots visited the Superdome for their final walkthrough.

After completing the walkthrough, they had their team picture taken and the Rams then took the field. According to the source, a member of the team’s video staff stayed behind after attending the team’s walkthrough and filmed St. Louis’ walkthrough.

At no point was he asked to identify himself or produce a press pass, the source said. The cameraman rode the media shuttle back to the hotel with news photographers when the Rams walkthrough was completed, the source said.

The story was single sourced. Red flag right there. The story of course became immediately accepted as fact. The name that kept coming up was Matt Walsh, a former Patriots cameraman.

Walsh eventually ended up talking to Roger Goodell and the Commissioner made this statement following the meeting:

“We were also able to verify that there was no Rams walkthrough tape. No one asked him to tape the walkthrough. He’s not aware of anybody else who may have taped the walkthrough. He had not seen such a tape. He does not know of anybody who says there is a tape. He was in the building at the time of the walkthrough along with other Patriots video personnel. They were doing their job prior to the game. He in fact was even on the sidelines in his Patriots gear while the Rams were practicing. So it was clear that there was not an overt attack addressing access into the Rams walkthrough.”

Following Walsh’s revelation that no walk-through tape existed, Tomase’s initial response was to double down:

Goodell ready to close door on Pats’ videotaping saga:
But Walsh admits to spying at 2001 Rams’ walkthrough

While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems ready to close the door on the Patriots [team stats] videotaping saga after meeting with Matt Walsh at NFL headquarters today, new questions arose when the former team video assistant admitted that he spied on the Rams’ walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI and passed along information from the walkthrough to an assistant coach.

However, after the press conference, NFL counsel Gregg Levy explained that Walsh had passed on observations from the walkthrough to former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll, who’s now with the New York Jets [team stats].

“Walsh was asked during the interview today whether after the walkthrough, anyone asked him about what he had seen,” Levy said. “He said ‘yes’. He saw Brian Daboll … and Daboll asked him what he saw. Walsh said two things — one, he had seen Marshall Faulk in a formation to receive a kickoff or a punt, and he had been asked about offensive formations, particularly about the use of the tight end. My understanding is that is not consistent with what we had learned prior to the interview, during the course of the investigation. At this point, it’s uncorroborated, but it’s something the league is going to look into.”

Note the tone of the headline and subhead. Goodell “ready to close the door”, but Walsh “admits to spying”. Tomase was trying to intimate that his faulty walk-through story was still true!

Later in the day, someone at the Herald thought better of it, and replaced it with this:

Roger Goodell: Case closed
Walsh tells Goodell he didn’t tape walkthrough

NEW YORK – Matt Walsh finally had his day in front of the NFL, and as far as commissioner Roger Goodell is concerned, this chapter of the Patriots [team stats] videotaping saga is closed.

Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant who last week turned over eight tapes showing the team recording opposing offensive and defensive signals, met for more than three hours with Goodell yesterday. In the commissioner’s view, he offered no new information worth reopening the league’s investigation into the Patriots’ videotaping practices.

The new tone is purely reporting the story, minus the previous editorial inferences.

The next day, the Boston Herald looked like this:

BostonHeraldCoverMay14

 

This was the statement from the Herald:

On Feb. 2, 2008, the Boston Herald reported that a member of the New England Patriots [team stats]’ video staff taped the St. Louis Rams’ walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI. While the Boston Herald based its Feb. 2, 2008, report on sources that it believed to be credible, we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.

Prior to the publication of its Feb. 2, 2008, article, the Boston Herald neither possessed nor viewed a tape of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, nor did we speak to anyone who had. We should not have published the allegation in the absence of firmer verification.

The Boston Herald regrets the damage done to the team by publication of the allegation, and sincerely apologizes to its readers and to the New England Patriots’ owners, players, employees and fans for our error.

…we now know that this report was false, and that no tape of the walkthrough ever existed.  Try telling that to anyone today. They will think you are crazy. Of course they taped the walkthrough! It was reported everywhere!

Two days later on May 16th, the Herald ran Tomase’s explanation

What a mess. Let’s look at some of it:

Late in the 2006 season, I was having a casual conversation about the Patriots when someone I trust threw out the following tidbit.

“I heard the Patriots filmed the Rams’ final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI,” he said.

It was just a rumor, and certainly not actionable intelligence, as they say. He had heard it from a friend of a friend. I filed it away, and then forgot about it. Reporters hear stuff like that all the time.

So first he says in 2006 he heard it from a source who got it from “a friend of a friend.”

Seems legit.

Little did I know that comment would resurface from a much stronger source in the days after the Patriots had been caught filming the Jets’ defensive signals in September 2007.

He then forgot about it until September of 2007, so we’ll assume nobody else brought it up to him in this time frame.

So after the Spygate game, he heard the story “from a much stronger source.”

OK great.

Oh wait, if the first “source” was someone who heard it from a friend of a friend, it really wouldn’t take much to make it a much stronger source, huh? Maybe this source just heard it from a friend.

Again, he labeled this a “source”….singular.

I still needed more, and I tried to get it. Two days before the Super Bowl, I finally believed I had it nailed that the Pats had indeed taped that walkthrough. I didn’t know what happened to the tape or if it ever found its way to the coaching staff, but I felt I had the basic story, and even though I didn’t feel great about going the anonymous source route, this one was ready for print.

So he finally “nailed it” two days before the Super Bowl. Sort of. Kind of. Well, not really.

The leap he made is astounding to anyone who has been around journalism. . He just admitted that his two sources were not present at the walkthrough, but instead had heard the story of the walkthrough from somebody else. Neither had seen a video. And he tries to tie this all together via the revelation that a Pats video guy was present at the walkthrough, which turned out to be not a revelation after all.

Turns out I could not have been more wrong. I regret it, and that’s something I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life.

So now the rationalization starts in earnest.

I had repeatedly heard that this walkthrough had been taped, and from people I trusted. Eventually I accepted it as fact and stopped questioning the assertion.

Wait, what? “repeatedly heard?”and “people I trusted?” Sounds like Tomase is trying to shift blame for his own mistakes. Maybe they were earnest in telling the story, but it is the reporters job to nail down the story, not their job. He needed to get the people who told his people the story. Did they see they video? If not, where did they hear the story? And follow up the chain. If the chain breaks before you get somebody saying they saw a video, you don’t have the story. That’s journalism, and them’s the breaks.

He heard it once, on a friend of a friend of a friend level, in late 2006 before hearing it from an actual source that supposedly gave it to you in September 2007. But still you didn’t consider it strong enough to run. Around the Super Bowl, you finally nailed it, you say. You can trust your friend, sure, but how much should you trust your friend’s friend’s story?

In the February 4th story itself, it mentioned a single source – three times. That is consistent with the time frame he lays out here, possibly two at most. The first weird “source who heard it from a friend of a friend” is not a source. Here he claims to have had more, (“I had repeatedly heard”) as if it is an excuse when in reality, he had nothing.

Yet he goes on to this “repeatedly heard” crap. Yeah right Tomase, it was probably whoever your original friend of friend idiot was just spinning it to other people who regurgitated it to you, by then it’s five, six, seven people deep in layers. So you stupidly assume it’s smoke when it’s the same small circle of media people trashing the Patriots second hand because they hate Bill Belichick.

We have a problem here with a flaw in what is called the Argument from Multiple Attestation.

Fewer sources with a good provenance for their information are better than more sources just repeating rumors.

The confirmed presence of a member of the team’s video staff at the walkthrough reinforced my belief that it was filmed. Secondhand sourcing took on added weight. When I got word that other reporters had picked up the scent, it only steeled my resolve not to get beat.

You know that whole “Be right, not first” thing that journalists supposedly live by.

Eh, not so much. Rather than being right, Tomase was more concerned about being first.

All of that said, I never expected to be running this story during Super Bowl week, but I opened the New York Times on Friday, Feb. 1, and saw that not only was Specter complaining about the NFL’s investigation into the Patriots, but that the Times had tracked down Walsh, a former Patriots video assistant living in Hawaii who was suggesting he had more information on the team.

Walsh’s name set off alarms. He worked for the Pats during the 2001 season and his name had been floated amongst the rumors. Many believed he had filmed the walkthrough.My determination to get the story had been re-stoked. I began reaching back out to sources.

One that I trust said he had been told the walkthrough was taped. A second said he had been told the same thing, but neither had seen a tape.

I already had been able to verify that a member of the team’s video staff had been setting up a camera at the walkthrough, but on the final, crucial point of whether the camera was actually rolling, I made a devastating leap of logic and assumed that’s what I was being told rather than confirming it explicitly. I considered the fact that it was taped unassailable.

So a few items here:

  • He says Walsh’s name set off alarms, but doesn’t ever mention Walsh in his original article. And it seems apparent that neither of his sources named Walsh either. So from the start, he was riding the crest of the NYT’s wave, hoping Walsh was his unnamed walkthrough videographer.
  • As mentioned above, both sources were hearsay (“he had been told”, “second said he had been told the same thing”). So neither was even at the walkthrough.
  • The verification of the camera setup meant nothing, because had Tomase investigated it further, he would have learned that’s exactly the job they were there to do. He might have also learned that there was no electricity to the locations, nor did they have their battery packs.

Someone who is trying to break a story of this magnitude might try a littler harder to actually nail down details.

By the time Walsh met with the league and revealed that he had no knowledge of the walkthrough being filmed, it was clear what we had to do. The paper issued a front-page apology Wednesday.

OK, here’s the deal, The Patriots four man video team at Super Bowl 36 was Jimmy Dee, Walsh, Ferando Neto and Steve Scarnecchia. (and possibly an intern named Ed Bailey) The only way Tomase’s story would be vetted is if the source of either of his two sources was one of those men. That Tomase and the Herald waited on Walsh’s meeting with Goodell to finally issue their apology proves none of them were sources.

No one forced me to write that story, and it’s important to note I do not believe I was ever lied to. I believe my sources intended to provide accurate information, and it was incumbent on me to vet it more fully.

Hey John, basically what you’re saying here is nobody you talked to really had anything other than second hand rumors that were false. #Protip: Those aren’t sources.  So if a source isn’t maliciously lying to you for a nefarious purpose, that’s supposedly a point in your favor that you were justified in believing the story?

In summary, We could ask these questions of Tomase:

Did you see the tape?  No

Did any of your sources, or the sources of your sources, confirm they saw a walk-through tape?

Did anyone anywhere at any given time ever say that they saw the tape?  No

But he had no doubt this story was spot on the nails accurate.  No question.

This part kills me:

Tomase was never publicly punished for what he did here. He went right back on the Patriots beat in 2008, and then he was “promoted” to the Red Sox beat, and then this year he was hired as a columnist for WEEI.com. His career never skipped a beat.

You know what? His Red Sox coverage was pretty good. As a columnist, he’s not bad with the Celtics either.

But he should never be allowed to write about the Patriots. Especially perched on some moral high ground judgment, as he does in today’s column with his conviction that Tom Brady is lying and has been proven a cheater by Roger Goodell and the NFL.

John Tomase cheated.

He did so wantonly and was not punished for it. He suffered no lasting consequences to his career. But he wants to sit here and tells us about the alleged failings of Tom Brady, ignoring actual facts, embracing hyperbole and gorging himself on the information that the NFL is spoon-feeding the media in this case. He wants to demand that Brady confess and accept punishment.

That’s the journalistic world we live in.

If John Tomase doesn’t print falsehoods the day before the Super Bowl in February 2008, maybe the lynch mob doesn’t gather quite as quickly following this year’s AFC Championship game.

I look forward to the inevitable emails I will receive from Tomase’s media brethren. Telling me I should let it go, he’s a good guy and that everyone makes mistakes.

Right, because they never hold grudges toward the people they cover.

Evidence of Tomase’s popularity among his peers is evident from Twitter this morning:

Never forget what John Tomase did, to the New England Patriots, and to you.

Thanks to Dan Snapp, Greg Doyle and others for helping put this together. 

Additional Reading from that time period:

What’s Next for Tomase, Herald? (May 13th, 2008)

Boston Herald Apologizes To Patriots – Is It Enough? (May 14th, 2008)

One Thing, John – (May 14th, 2008)

Herald, Massarotti Continue Alienation of Readers – (May 15th, 2008)

Tomase Explanation A Bit Light In Detail (May 16th, 2008)

Where Are The Editors? Tomase Abettors Need To Be Named. (May 16th, 2008)

Editor’s Identities Not “In The Best Interest Of The Paper” (May 16th, 2008)

Why Spygate Is The Most Disgraceful Episode In Recent Sports Media History (May 20th, 2008. Who knew it would topped?)

The Merchant of Wingo Square – (May 20th, 2008)

The Flat Balls Society

By Dan Snapp

Peter King in successive weeks:

July 13th:

“My best guess: Officials will chart the weights of all footballs before the game, then spot-check some at halftime and after the game.”

July 20th:

“Basically, depending on which physics expert you believe, it’s either a stretch to think the Patriots’ footballs deflated as much as they did by halftime of the game against Indy Jan. 18, or a perfectly normal occurrence.”

July 27th:

“When footballs are pressure-gauged before games, they will still have to measure between 12.5 pounds per square inch and 13.5 psi. If they do not, the officials will be instructed to put the air in the football at 13.0 psi. So if one team is trying to get an edge by having the pressure right on the border near 12.5 or right on the border near 13.5, and it’s either under or over by a tenth of a pound, it will backfire. In the past, maybe a crew would measure and say, “Close enough.” Now, that crew will have to put the psi at the halfway point between high and low, exactly 13.0. In other words, it’s a decision soft-ball lovers or hard-ball lovers really won’t like.”

This is, if not the pre-eminent NFL writer today, then the most ubiquitous. He’s the bad penny showing up everywhere, regurgitating bad science. He still thinks they’ll be charting the weight of the balls? He still thinks the physics is a coin toss? He still thinks a couple tenths of a pound per square inch is motive enough for teams to try to sneak something past the officials?

I get it, not everybody can accept science on faith alone. They need proof. So perhaps if King wakes up to find the Logo Gauge AND the Non-Logo Gauge under his tree this year, maybe then he can truly BELIEVE. Yes, Peter, there IS an Ideal Gas Law!

King has been dutifully floating Roger Goodell’s help-me-find-a-way-out-of-this-shit trial balloons the past few weeks, gauging* public response to a host of Tom Brady fates. How does two games sound? One game? No? How about forestalling Brady’s punishment for a year while we study the science just a little bit longer? Then can Roger keep his job?

* And recording? Probably. The league’s pretty diligent when it comes to Rog’s Q-rating.

Following up on one of King’s “hunches”, the league announced plans to update football inspection. They won’t “chart the weights” of the balls, sadly, but pregame they will be numbering the balls, they’ll be gauging and recording the PSI of each respective ball, they’ll “spot check” during “designated games” (i.e. “Patriots games”), and there will be a dedicated chain of custody, with the Kicking Ball Coordinator escorting the balls to the field under the watchful eyes of both an official AND league security. Go ahead and try to crack THAT nut, Dorito Dink!

This is all well and good, and does at least provide a level of standardization that might have aided the Patriots back in January when this whole ridiculous episode commenced. And the spot check measurements – assuming the league is gracious enough to share them this time – could also serve to vindicate the Patriots.

But look at some of the other details of their announcement:

Each team will be required to supply 24 footballs to the officials’ locker room – 12 primary and 12 backup – 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to the game.

At designated games, selected at random, the game balls used in the first half, will be collected by the kicking ball coordinator (KBC) at halftime and the league’s security representative will escort the KBC to the locker room.

Also, at the end of any randomly selected game, the KBC will return the footballs to the officials’ locker room, where all game balls from each team will be inspected and the results will be recorded.

Do you see the problem? Every single time they measure the balls, it’s still going to be in the climate-controlled atmosphere of the officials’ locker room. And there’s no mention in the article of recording the temperatures of the locker rooms and out on the field, the climate conditions, or the respective times each football gets measured.

They still don’t understand the science!

What’s the point of all this trouble, effort, time and procedure if they’re still going to be introducing balls that won’t be at regulation within minutes at any game where on-field temperatures are 10 degrees colder or hotter than in the officials’ locker room?**

** Assuming an officials’ locker room temp of 71 degrees, and a ball set at 13.0 PSI with no other variables out of spec.

It sure will be comforting to know,  say during December home games in New England, Buffalo, Green Bay and Minnesota, we can be assured those footballs will be at regulation up until kickoff. But hey, at least now we’ll be dead certain nobody will be tampering with already under-inflated footballs. Integrity! Shield! Nobody touch a slice ‘til Rog does!

Do they not yet realize how many games in league history have been played with balls that weren’t within their silly arbitrary PSI parameters? Not just iconic games like the Ice Bowl or the Freezer Bowl, or even the Patriots/Ravens divisional game this past season (when game-time temp was 22 degrees), but multitudes of games throughout the decades.

And the same goes for those early September games played in the sweltering heat in say Miami. If the balls were checked inside, they most likely were over regulation within minutes on the field. That’s just science.

The truth is the NFL cares not one iota about getting it right, and certainly doesn’t care about vindicating the Patriots. They do care, however, about trying to look good. And adding more arbitrary regulations to an already arbitrary standard makes it look – at least to the general populace – like they’re doing something productive. Before you look a little deeper, of course.

What should they do? Logically, they could do the preliminary ball-checks on the field. At least then there’s some consistency between the environment where the ball is measured and the environment in which they play. But that still doesn’t assure anything because, well, weather isn’t a constant.

What they really should do is go back to not giving a damn about ball pressure, like they did the 70 some-odd years since they first set the standard. They should just return to that blissful ignorance that served them so well for so long, before Ryan Grigson and Mike Kensil got their panties in a bunch.

The NFL has to worry about two audiences alone: the 32 owners whom it enriches; and the nation of flat-earthers eager to sop up any story that incriminates the team they hate. Neither group cares a whit about science.

This is why you never hear tales of Roger Goodell going on a cruise: Sure, sure, they all say the Earth is round, but why take the chance? But we could always sail Ted around the world a dozen times, just to be sure.

That Song By Queen And David Bowie

Come on. You know what song I’m talking about.

As Roger Goodell and his NFL ilk try to figure out the ruling on Tom Brady’s appeal with the smallest amount of P.R. damage, it’s time to bring up the one aspect of this foolishness that hasn’t been called into question:

The NFL has to ditch the football inflation rule.

Listen, they can do whatever they want with the Brady appeal. They can present it to the masses like a commandment to be followed or make it into a paper boat and perform a mini Viking funeral. The rule, as it were, exists. If the NFL is willing to stick with the questionable figures of the Wells report and ignore the lessons of any ninth grade intro to physical science class, so be it. “More likely than not,” “generally aware,” etc.

But, moving forward, it’s time to get rid of – or at least greatly expand – the ball inflation parameters. A brief look at the task of enforcing this rule – which, as far as we can tell, had never been strictly enforced – tells us the reasons why.

Every football must have air pressure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (psi). The Wells report revealed the nonchalant nature in which these measurements take place, with officials using differently calibrated gauges while neglecting to write down measurements or numerate the footballs themselves.

All footballs must be numbered. All measurements must be recorded. All gauges must be calibrated. Sounds like we might need another official to take care of these matters.

The NFL must hire a Head of Football Pressure. He then must hire two PSI officials for every game, one for each team’s footballs (this will give each official necessary time to take halftime measurements).

Now, about that pesky science: we know that a football’s pressure in Miami at the season opener will have a different halftime reading than a football in Green Bay during Week 17. We need a physics-trained football official (PTF), one who can take game time outdoor temperature, humidity and/or dampness of each ball, time of possession (to figure time of exposure for each football), halftime indoor temperature, and – while the aforementioned PSI official takes measurements – come up with a “real” pressure loss or gain for each individual ball.

Keep in mind, the Wells Report took almost four months. But, if we can’t get a couple of people to figure this all out in 20 minutes, let’s just expand halftime another five or ten minutes and bring in another handful of officials to get it done. How about a PSI and PTF official for each football? Nothing like a few dozen extra guys milling about in a designated Ball Science room.

I mean, if they’re taking this seriously, can they stop at halftime? Don’t they have to repeat the process at the end of each game, for integrity and all that?

Yeah. Time to get rid of that rule.

Before this past January, very few people knew or concerned themselves with the specifics of football psi. Referees judged a football’s game worthiness by giving it a squeeze. Sometimes they’d pump it up themselves, sometimes with shaky results. Now, what if equipment managers could get the psi that their QBs wanted? What if they let the refs grip them before the game – right there on the sideline – and be done with it?

Ball seems too flat or overinflated? The officials say so and ask for a few pumps of air put in or taken out of the ball. During the game, if the ref finds a ball lacking, he tosses it back in and asks for another. It’s hard to see many difficulties with leaving the pressure up to the refs’ discretion. We already do that with the most important aspect of the game: spotting the ball.

Think about it: how closely can a human being determine the position of a football several feet away while it’s gripped by a runner getting knocked around by large men? If the official is off by one inch per play – which seems remarkably efficient – then by fourth and inches, maybe every one of those inches has already been accounted for. Maybe, in Perfectworld, it’s already first down.

That’s the game, though. We live with those potential inaccuracies because putting GPS locator devices in each ball and having a digital readout for each play would prove too costly and time-consuming. Kind of like hiring hundreds of new officials and building a science lab in every NFL stadium.

Some teams might try to take advantage of this non-rule by inflating footballs to under 11 pounds, making them easy to grab in harsh weather conditions. Again, officials’ discretion: if they feel a football is too soft, get another one. If they feel that the team in question continues to provide soft footballs, give a warning, then hit them with a delay-of-game penalty.

The NFL in general (and Goodell in particular) turned a silly rule infraction (that science has told us may not have occurred) into talk show fodder where the outrage seemed inversely proportional to actual football knowledge. That an improbable breaking of an oft-ignored rule became “-gate”-worthy is on them.

Getting rid of that rule would take off the pressure of trying to enforce it. But I don’t expect they will. If this fiasco has taught us anything, it’s that the NFL doesn’t really understand pressure.

Chris Warner tweets @cwarn89

Who’s The FA? UDFA! (2015 Edition)

A gander at last year’s column here, with notable mentions of linebacker James Morris and a certain West Alabama cornerback who may or may not have made one of the biggest plays in Patriots history. (Go on. Go ahead: Watch it again. We’ll wait.)

Lots of info out floating around out there regarding UDFAs. We tend to stick with NEPatriotsdraft.com for all our NFL undrafted rookie signing needs. Below is a rundown of fresh free agents the Patriots called to Gillette. Plus: high school fun facts!

Georgia On My Line: After picking up two guards in the fourth round (Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason), New England continued to add to the interior offensive line with center David Andrews from Georgia.

Why undrafted: At 6-2, 295 pounds, Andrews resides on the smaller side of offensive lineman. This was also a solid drafting year for guards and centers, taking on-the-bubble players like Andrews out of the action.

Why invited: He has three years of experience as a starter. Makes up a bit for his relatively diminutive stature with speed (5.12-second 40) and strength (27 bench reps). Showed consistency, playing in 50 games in his Georgia career. From a positive Pats perspective, he was given the Frank Sinkwich Toughest Player Award (named after Georgia’s 1942 Heisman winner). Also voted the Bulldogs’ “overall permanent captain.” Somewhere Bill Belichick let out a happy sigh.

High School Fun Fact: At Wesleyan High in Johns Creek, Georgia, Andrews was named the 2010 Gwinnett County Offensive Lineman of the Year.

Come On, Quarterbacks Can’t Play Receiver: Former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (6-3, 218) tries to follow in the footsteps of another QB-to-WR convert currently working in the Foxboro area.

Why undrafted: Julian Edelman notwithstanding, the aforementioned conversion fails more often than not. As a QB in 2014, Gardner threw for 10 TDs and 15 INTs. At his pro day, he ran a 4.65-second 40, which put him on the slow end of receivers. His 9-foot, 9-inch broad jump was less than explosive.

Why invited: The Pats aren’t exactly overstocked with larger pass-catchers, and Gardner did haul in 16 passes as a junior. He showed guts with his 2013 performance  vs. rival Ohio State (passed for 451 yards and four TDs). Also put up some solid pro day numbers beyond the 40 (Beyond The 40, by the way, should be the title of the book on New England’s draft strategy). He had 15 bench reps and a 6.96-second 3-cone drill.

High School Fun Fact: Gardner was teammates with former Wolverine and current Patriot linebacker Cameron Gordon at Detroit’s Inkster High.

Wait – Is That Pronounced “Hopper”? Well, now it is, sort of. Cal-Berkeley pass-catcher Chris Harper (5-11, 182) gets a shot with the Patriots, looking to add depth as a slot receiver.

Why undrafted: During this draft, teams had their pick of solid wide receivers (Draft. Pick. Get it?), especially those in the slot role. Even as a smaller player, Harper’s weight (or lack of it) could concern some teams. While he has decent stats (see below), nothing there stands out. A down year for 5-7 Cal, with no players drafted.

Why invited: Harper caught 52 passes for the Golden Bears in 2014 (second-highest on the team) for 634 yards (12.2 avg) and six touchdowns. He also served as their main punt returner (7.7 avg). He has decent speed (a 4.52 40 at his pro day), and quickness (a reported 7.03 3-cone drill). Also – and most importantly – he made this rather Gronkesque catch vs. UCLA last October.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior, Harper led the Serra League in receiving at Crespi Carmelite High. He also played cornerback and was ranked as the 12th-best corner in Southern California.

Come Back to the Nickel and Dime, Jimmy Jean, Jimmy Jean: Free safety Jimmy Jean out of Alabama-Birmingham adds some height to the defensive backfield at 6-2, 202 pounds.

Why undrafted: The NFL seems to overlook Conference USA a bit. More importantly, Jean had an unimpressive showing at his pro day, with a meh 40 (4.58), blah 3-cone (7.34) and yeesh bench press (seven reps).

Why invited: Jean did some of everything for the Blazers, compiling 42 tackles, one interception, six pass breakups, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. He’s also got the height New England could be seeking this season.

High School/Junior College Fun Fact: After attending Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Florida, Jean played two years at Arkansas Baptist Junior College, where he earned their Little Rock Touchdown Club 2012 College Player of the Year Award.

You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss: New England went after – and got – another bigger defensive back, strong safety Brandon King (6-2, 217) out of Auburn.

Why undrafted: Though he went into Auburn as a safety, ranked as one of the top junior college DBs in the country, it seems that King got moved around on defense for the Tigers. Didn’t compile many stats there. Ended up with just 12 tackles on the season last year.

Why invited: Took one for the team in 2014, as he was asked to take on a pass-rushing role (had two QB hits). Tested very well at his pro day, with a 4.49-second 40, a 10-foot-6 broad jump, and 19 bench press reps. Has similar size to draft pick Matthew Wells, which makes us think that Belichick is up to something with these safety/linebacker hybrid types.

High School Fun Fact: As a senior at Thompson High in Alabaster, Alabama, King racked up 116 tackles, including 21 tackles for loss.

While We’re Young: Looks like Shane Young out of Sam Houston State will try to get a chair at the increasingly crowded tight end table this summer.

Why undrafted: Not anything in particular. As in, not particularly fast (4.90 40), nor particularly quick (7.45 3-cone), nor particularly explosive (31.5-inch vertical). Young (6-3, 250) only played in three games last year, catching four passes. Sam Houston State runs in the Southland Conference, which is part of a lower division (FCS).

Why invited: Caught 11 passes for 151 yards and two TDs as a junior. Went to the FCS National Championship with the Bearkats that year. Can play H-back and fullback.

High School Fun Fact: A captain at Lago Vista (California) High, Young was named the offensive line MVP. He was also All-District in baseball.

He’s A Brick, House: Ah, the Commodores. Appropriate reference for Vince Taylor, a defensive lineman from Vanderbilt who manned the nose tackle spot.

Why undrafted: At 6-1, 306 pounds, Taylor seems a bit small for the position. Does not have much speed (5.40 40) or quickness (7.46 3-cone). Vandy went 3-9 last year, 0-8 in the Southeast Conference.

Why invited: We’ll refer again to the “Brick House.” At his pro day, Taylor bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times, which would have led all defensive linemen at the NFL Combine and tied for second-best overall. Last fall, he had 43 total tackles, including 20 solo stops and three for loss (1.5 sacks).

High School Fun Fact: A First-Team All-State defensive tackle as a senior at Oak Grove High in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Taylor had 97 solo tackles (117 total) and returned a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown.

2015 Patriots Draft Review (“That Guy” Edition 3.0)

After 16 Patriots drafts under Bill Belichick, we’d have to be nitwits to overlook some patterns. As we pointed out in our first “That Guy” draft preview back in February,  certain types of players tend to get called to Foxboro during this time of year.

New England came into the draft with nine picks. They added two over the course of two separate trades and ended up using all eleven. How many of these rookies will make the final roster? Tough to say, but we know where they fit into the Patriots’ outlook this past weekend.

Here’s a rundown of the action:

DAY ONE

ROUND ONE (32 overall): Malcom Brown, Texas DL (6-2, 320)

DAY TWO

ROUND TWO (64): Jordan Richards, Stanford SS (5-11, 211)

ROUND THREE (96): Traded along with 219 for 111, 147, and 202 (details below)

ROUND THREE (97): Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma OLB (6-3, 262)

DAY THREE

ROUND FOUR (101): Trey Flowers, Arkansas DE (6-2, 265)

ROUND FOUR (111): Tre Jackson, Florida State OL (6-4, 330)

ROUND FOUR (131): Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech OL (6-2, 304)

ROUND FIVE (147): Traded to Green Bay for 166 and 247 (details below)

ROUND FIVE (166): Joe Cardona, Navy LS (6-2, 242)

ROUND SIX (178): Matthew Wells, Mississippi State OLB (6-2, 222)

ROUND SIX (202): A. J. Derby, Arkansas TE (6-4, 253)

ROUND SEVEN (247): Darry Roberts, Marshall CB (5-11, 187)

ROUND SEVEN (253): Xzavier Dickson, Alabama OLB (6-3, 260)

Now, on to our categories, most of which we most recently spelled out in the “That Guy 2.0 Edition” draft preview in April.

The First Round, Solid-Bet Guy: Well, hello there, Malcom Brown. Nice to see you hanging around this late on Day One.

School Stats: At Texas, the consensus First-Team All-American (no Ken Sims references, please) had 72 tackles (15 for loss), 6.5 sacks, eight QB hits, and two forced fumbles.

Physical Testing Notables: Running a 5.05-second 40 and a 29.5-inch vertical at his size deserve mention. Also made top 15 of all D-linemen in the bench press with 26 reps.

Our Take: Can we compare him to Vince Wilfork? Eh, why not? It’s May. The Patriots can dream. Seriously, though, Brown could make the list of Patriots’ first-round defensive linemen (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Wilfork) who, while not putting up big numbers, contributed in a big way to the team’s success by eating up blocks and freeing up teammates. He does have the power to take on double-teams and the speed to give offensive fronts fits.

Quick Take: Best available, and the right type of player.

The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: How can we continue to be surprised at selections like Stanford Jordan Richards (5-11, 211)? He joins the ranks of Tavon Wilson (2012) and Duron Harmon (2013) in the “Safeties We Could Have Waited A Day To Pick” category.

School Stats: A team captain at Stanford, Richards had 79 tackles (third on the team) with three interceptions, five pass breakups, and three forced fumbles.

Physical Testing Notables: We found one biggie – his 6.74-second 3-cone drill at the combine, second-best of all combine safeties, ninth overall. Other than that, Richards made top 15 for safeties in the vertical jump (32 inches), broad jump (9-foot-3), and 20-yard shuttle (4.22 seconds) in an average 2015 field.

Our Take: On the one hand, we could have another Wilson, a smart player the Patriots rated more highly than most who has played mostly special teams. On the other hand, Richards could become similar player to Devin McCourty, an intelligent, football-savvy player keeping the defense properly lined up from his backfield spot. Words like “coachable” carry a lot of weight in Foxboro, but – speaking as a guy who won a few coach’s awards in high school (glorified participation trophies), that stuff doesn’t always translate to game-day production. Or popularity.

I’m just saying.

Quick Take: Richards gets on special teams right away, but limited safety work in 2015. The future is unwritten, as Joe Strummer might say.

The Trades: It happens in some form or other every spring. New England sent their late-third (96) and a seventh (202) to Cleveland for an early fourth (111), fifth (147), and seventh (219). They then traded that fifth (147) to Green Bay for a later fifth (166) and a seventh (247). In other words, the Patriots traded two picks and ended up with four in return.

The Versatile Guy: Too bad Geneo Grissom doesn’t quite qualify as a Freakishly Athletic Guy, or we would have gone 3-for-3 in our category predictions. Grissom, aka The Man Without A Position, played defensive end, linebacker, and even (as a sophomore) tight end for the Sooners. Will he find a spot in New England’s defense, or will he have a hard time contributing at Foxboro?

School Stats: At linebacker his senior year, Grissom had 39 tackles (6.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks, one interception, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

Physical Testing Notables: At the combine, Grissom ran a 4.81 40-yard dash, lifted 20 bench reps, and had a 37-inch vertical. He also had a 1.65-second 10-yard dash, which is very quick for a man his size (running back David Cobb out of Minnesota had a 1.64).

Our Take: We thought we had an original idea by evoking Rob Ninkovich here, but then criminal mastermind Tom Curran over at CSNNE.com posted that comparison.  The similarly-sized Ninkovich ran a 4.91-second 40-yard dash and a 1.66-second 10-yarder at the 2006 combine, with 23 reps on the bench. Beyond the physical comparison, coaches also had a hard time finding a position for Ninkovich at the NFL level. He was a long snapper for the Saints and Dolphins with six career tackles before coming to Foxboro in 2009.

Quick Take: If the Patriots can make Grissom’s versatility a virtue, he will produce consistently.

The Lanky Defensive End: Must admit, did not have this category in our “That Guy” columns this year, but Trey Flowers fits a trend of drafting long-limbed pass-rushers over the past few years, from Chandler Jones to Michael Buchanan to Zach Moore. Flowers lacks great quickness but – like the aforementioned players – has the loping gait to get around offensive tackles and hassle the QB.

School Stats: The All-SEC Second Teamer (Coaches’ vote) had 68 tackles last season, with 15.5 for loss (six sacks). He also had six pass breakups and nine quarterback hits.

Physical Testing Notables: Flowers put up 28 bench reps at the combine (top 11 for all defensive linemen), leapt a 36.5-inch vertical (top five for DL), and completed a 4.40 20-yard shuttle (top 11).

Our Take: We’ll ignore the nagging image of Jake Bequette (another big, athletic pass-rusher out of Arkansas) and go to the other end of the spectrum with Willie McGinest. I know, I know – we’re not fitting Flowers for his red jacket just yet –  but the way he holds off blockers against the rush, and his ability to tip passes rushing or dropping back (look again at those six pass breakups last fall) reminds us of McGinest a bit.

Too much, too soon? Eh. Again, no one’s putting on pads for a while. Let’s just go with it.

Quick Take: Not super fast, but athletic overall, Flowers adds his name to the growing list of Patriots hybrids who will give their defense all-important flexibility.

The Injured Guy: Normally, this category describes someone who has missed significant time in college due to injury. Rob Gronkowski couldn’t play his junior year at Arizona due to a neck injury; Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling was about as brittle as winter dog scat. Still, guard Tre Jackson fits here because he reportedly failed multiple NFL team physicals. Jackson had to sit out his junior year in high school with a knee injury, but he started 42 games at FSU. Apparently, that’s good enough for the Pats.

School Stats: Hard to measure stats for a lineman, but we can summarize all of his 2014 Honors with this – Unanimous All-American.

Physical Testing Notables: He’s not fast (5.52-second 40), nor super strong (20 bench reps), but he is 6-4, 330 pounds. so …

Our Take: The Patriots needed more mass in the middle, and they got it in Jackson, who was rated as a late second-round pick by many (including us, when we had New England taking him in our mock draft – oh my God we got one right, sort of!). Also important that Jackson played most of his career alongside former FSU and current New England center Bryan Stork.

Quick Take: If communication is key to an offensive line’s success, Jackson and Stork have the potential to become a solid combo again.

The Other Offensive Lineman Guy: Thinking the Pats would take at least two OLs over the weekend (just as they did last year with Stork and Cameron Fleming), we actually mentioned Shaq Mason in our mock draft.  (What?!? TWO hits on a Patriots mock draft? I hath slain the Jabberwock!). Another interior force, Mason made a lot of mocks because he was seen working with former Patriots line coach and current consultant Dante Scarnecchia during Georgia Tech’s pro day.

School Stats: Gained All-American status (USA Today) his senior year after starting all 14 games at right guard. Also started all 13 games there as a junior. Last year, Tech ranked number one nationally in rushing (342 yards per game, a school record).

Physical Testing Notables: Mason, whom we also mentioned in our “Combine Snubs Who Showed ‘Em” series, ran a 4.99-second 40, which would have made him the second-fastest offensive lineman at the combine, just .01 seconds behind Ali Marpet. Mason also put up 25 reps on the bench and had a 32-inch vertical leap (tied for fifth-highest for combine OLs).

Our Take: Anyone who appears to get the okey-doke from Coach Scarnecchia certainly passes our test. Last year, New England traded Logan Mankins, known as their toughest lineman. Mason has been described as a mauler who could bring back some of that edge to the offensive interior.

Quick Take: The Pats, after going up to the buffet for seconds in the fourth round last year, again come back to the table with some grade A offensive linemen.

The Navy Guy: Wow. They did it. They really did it. While we listed Joe Cardona as the example for our Navy Guy category, and also mentioned him in our mock draft (wait: THREE RIGHT?!?), we figured he would only get signed after the draft ended. (Oh … Still, we’ll take credit.) Coach Belichick (a “Navy Guy” in another sense) couldn’t wait any longer and nabbed the long snapper before anyone else could.

School Stats: Cardona, who played lacrosse throughout high school (another Belichick talking point), started all four years as the Navy long snapper. He was regarded as the best in the nation.

Physical Testing Notables: The only player at the combine representing his position, Cardona put up 30 bench press reps, tying him for top 13 overall.

Our Take: As we’ve mentioned every time his name has come up, Cardona has a five-year military obligation. After two years, he can apply to opt out of the final three and instead serve six years in the Navy (or Marine Corps) Reserve while playing football. Now, unless Belichick has some kind of connection at Annapolis (hmmm…), there’s little chance Cardona will work in Foxboro this fall.

Quick Take: Stranger things have happened, but we don’t see Cardona snapping for New England beyond a camp appearance this summer. See ya in 2017, Joe!

The Special Teams Guy: While he played outside linebacker at Mississippi State, Matthew Wells’ size (222 pounds) takes him out of contention for that position in a base defense. He joins the ranks of Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner as late-rounders taken with an eye for their potential prowess on kick and punt teams.

School Stats: The blitzing Bulldog had 45 tackles (8.5 for loss) and four sacks last year, breaking up eight passes.

Physical Testing Notables: Wells ran a preposterous 4.43 40 at his pro day, which – as we mentioned in our aforementioned Combine Snubs series – would have qualified him as the second-fastest safety at the combine. He also had a 6.97-second 3-cone drill.

Our Take: Linebackers Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers, both acquired in mid-season trades last year, have left Foxboro for free agency. Those two helped special teams play an important-yet-underrated role in New England’s success, so it makes sense to address that area of the roster later in the draft (add Cardona to that list, as well).

Quick Take: Can’t stop looking at that 4.43. Could also play a run-stopping, safety-type role in sub packages.

The Backup Tight End: Here’s another category we should have thought of before, because New England always tries to add depth there. A. J. Derby was a man without a position, going to Iowa as a quarterback out of Coffeyville, Kansas Community College, but ending up as a linebacker/special teamer. He asked for a transfer and got it, playing two years at Arkansas. Converted to tight end as a senior.

School Stats: In 2014, Derby caught 22 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Had a career game against Alabama with four receptions, including a 54-yard TD.

Physical Testing Notables: Derby ran a 4.72-second 40 at his pro day, which would have placed third among tight ends at the combine. Also had a 6.99-second 3-cone drill, which would have come in second. He started one game at QB for Arkansas as a junior (vs. Rutgers), completing 14 of 26 passes for 137 yards.

Our Take: Now this pick makes more sense. Derby practiced under Belichick buddy Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, played his best game at tight end vs. Coach Nick Saban (another BB bud), then had one of his best games at QB vs. Rutgers, aka New England South. His experience leading offenses and practicing at linebacker can only enhance his potential.

Quick Take: Faster than Scott Chandler, bigger than Tim Wright, and quicker than both, Derby adds an intriguing option at tight end while learning special teams.

The Three-Cone Guy: Anyone who follows the Patriots drafts knows about their interest (some might say obsession) with quickness demonstrated by low 3-cone times. Darryl Roberts qualifies this year with a nifty 6.66-second 3-cone. (For comparison, part-man, part-housefly Julian Edelman posted a 6.62.)

School Stats: Roberts started 42 games in his Marshall career, second among cornerbacks in school history. He made All-Conference USA as a senior after tallying 75 tackles (3.5 for loss), one interception, and 17 pass breakups. That last one is not a typo.

Physical Testing Notables: Add Roberts to the list of Combine Snubs we noted this spring (in Part II). Beyond his 3-cone, which would have hit the top four at the combine, Roberts had a top-four-worthy 11-foot-1 broad jump and a seventh-best 4.38-second 40-yard dash.

Our Take: He comes from the disrespected Conference USA and looks about as bulked up as a leaky balloon animal. Still, Roberts reminds us a bit of a latter-day Randall Gay, another rail-like CB who made the roster as a rookie free agent in 2004.

Quick Take: All hail the 3-cone. The 3-cone is all.

The Alabama Guy: We put Xzavier Dickson in this category for Part I of our “That Guy” series in February and kept him there for Part II. Seemed to make a lot of sense then, and now we see why. Ranked as a mid-round player, New England gets a late-round bargain. Dickson, another large defender, consistently produced for a program with a system familiar to Foxboro.

School Stats: Dickson had 42 tackles last season, including 12.5 for loss, and a team-leading nine sacks. He also broke up two passes.

Physical Testing Notables: At the combine, Dickson ran a 4.74-second 40.

Our Take: He may not be Pats starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Good, because the Pats didn’t spend a first-round pick on him. Dickson provides depth at an obviously (and increasingly) important position at Gillette. Having played defensive end as a freshman (ranked as a top-five high school DE in his recruiting class), he converted to linebacker as a sophomore and played in all 14 games that year. If he understand’s Coach Nick Saban’s defense, then he has a shot to come to New England and contribute as a rookie.

Quick Take: Wait – 260 pounds of experienced linebacker in the late seventh? Now, that’s how you cap off a draft.

Please watch this space for our annual undrafted free agent (UDFA) review.

Chris Warner tweets relentlessly: @cwarn89