On draft board, Patriots have strength in numbers
Obviously, the Patriots’ 2010 season ended earlier than most expected — and with an upset home playoff loss to the hated Jets, no less.
It has made for a long, hard, and cold offseason, and not just because of the weather.
And even though the NFL is in a lockout, the odds are strong that there will be a season in the fall. There will definitely be a draft, which starts April 28 in prime time.
That’s where the rich — the Patriots — figure to get a lot richer.
The Patriots were 14-2 last season. They aren’t perfect, by any stretch, but when you have a core of Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski on offense, and Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Devin McCourty on defense, with Mike Wright, Ty Warren, and Leigh Bodden ready to come back from injuries, you are in a good spot.
And the Patriots have six of the draft’s first 92 picks, with two selections in each of the first three rounds, and nine overall picks.
It’s enough to make some of the Patriots’ divisional foes feel the mountain they have to scale to topple the kings is approaching Everest proportions.
All Dolphins coach Tony Sparano could do was shake his head even before the question was finished.
“Look, we all compete within the division, there’s no question about it, and we all keep an eye on what everybody else is doing,’’ said Sparano, whose team went 7-9 last season. “So I think with the number of picks that they have and the ways to improve their football team with young players through the draft — which is really the way, they’ve done a great job of that — it becomes a little bit, from our end, competitive in that we know what we have and we know what they have from a pick standpoint and we have to try to continue to compete.
“We have to do the best job we can with what we have to be able to compete with those people. But they certainly have the opportunity to make their team better with the number of picks that they have.’’
Chan Gailey, whose Bills were 4-12, chose to have fun with the Patriots’ embarrassment of riches.
“They’re probably unbeatable,’’ he said. “Probably go undefeated for three, four straight years.’’
And then he made an important point.
“Hey, they’ve got to get it right, they have to stay healthy,’’ Gailey said. “They’re just like everybody else. You have to do everything just as right as you can do it and keep trying to win.
“And they’ve done a good job of it. They’ve done a good job of compiling picks for this draft and they’ll probably parlay some of this into something next year.’’
If the Patriots needed a dose of humility, they should give former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels a call.
In his first draft as coach of the Broncos in 2009, he wound up with five of the first 64 selections and six of the top 114.
Two years later, he’s the offensive coordinator of the Rams after being fired by the Broncos.
McDaniels’s first five selections, all in the first two rounds, have accomplished little in the league to this point: running back Knowshon Moreno, linebacker Robert Ayers (now being moved to end), cornerback Alphonso Smith (traded to the Lions), safety Darcel McBath (one game started), and tight end Richard Quinn (one career reception).
Gailey is correct in suggesting that Bill Belichick will probably flip at least one high pick into more picks next year. In a way, it’s a chance to have multiple early picks in perpetuity if you have the discipline — and job security — to keep doing it.
With nearly every front office around the league desperate to win now, Belichick is in a position to take advantage. He has almost made a living out of it, with seven trades in each of the past two drafts.
There is already talk that the Patriots have opened the bidding on the 28th pick in the first round, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune (which also said the Chargers were intrigued).
It seems a bit strange that the Patriots would put out feelers for that selection, since they have one that is more valuable five picks later at the top of the second round. That’s the new “golden’’ pick after the change in draft format.
With the first round in prime time, and the second round pushed to 6 p.m. the next day, teams have a chance to reset their draft boards and strategy. It could make that pick very appealing.
“It seems like during the night, somewhere between about midnight and [6 p.m.] the next day, somebody falls so in love with a player that they think they can’t live without them,’’ Gailey said. “Having that No. 1 pick of the second day sometimes can be very, very valuable because people are willing to give up maybe more than they should to get that player.’’
Last year, the first under the current format, the Rams decided to keep their pick at No. 33 to draft offensive tackle Rodger Saffold.
“At the end of the day, there were a few teams that we talked to, there were some offers,’’ said Rams general manager Billy Devaney. “We would have had to move significantly back in the second round, and what we were going to get back for it, we just didn’t think it was worth passing a lineman that had this much talent.’’
Wise move. Saffold started every game at left tackle — and played well — as a rookie. Even Colts general manager Bill Polian conceded he should have taken Saffold over linebacker Jerry Hughes at No. 31.
So the Patriots could deal the 28th pick (especially if they don’t have 28 players on their board with first-round grades) and stay at 33 to pick the best player they come up with overnight. Or they could pick at 28 and auction off 33 to the highest bidder.
Either way, odds are the Patriots will be sitting pretty coming out of this draft and in the future.
Does Jets coach Rex Ryan have any thoughts on this?
“Yeah,’’ he said, laughing. “Play all those rookies. That’s how I look at it. Play them all.’’
Flacco wasn’t happy about it. Among his complaints was that his opinion obviously didn’t count for much since he was a proponent of Zorn after a career-best year.
“I felt like I had a pretty good year and you’re firing the quarterback coach? It’s kind of an attack on me, I feel like,’’ Flacco said last month.
At the owners’ meetings in New Orleans, Harbaugh downplayed any problems and said everyone was on the same page before the lockout.
“Joe and I and Cam never had any kind of a sitdown or anything like that,’’ said Harbaugh. “That wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t anything like that.
“I did what I thought was best for our football team. And the changes we made [Cameron is now taking over the quarterbacks], they’re making us a better football team, in my mind.
“I talked with Joe all the way through. And his input was huge throughout the whole deal because he’s our quarterback and I wanted to know what he thought.
“And I asked him, ‘What do you think?’ on everything I could think of, just to get a feel for where he was at, and I feel like Joe and Cam did the same thing from a football standpoint. When we get back, I think he’ll be ready to go.’’
Harbaugh also downplayed any rift between Flacco and Cameron.
“Joe knows Cam, he respects Cam, he knows what kind of coach he is,’’ Harbaugh said. “Here’s the main thing that’s been missed a little bit in this whole thing: Cam loves Joe. Always has.
“From the time he went to [Flacco’s pro day] workout and started getting to know Joe, Cam Cameron has been the guy that has been pushing Joe to be our quarterback. I know how much Joe respects Cam as a coach and as a person, so I know it’s going to work.’’
“I’m assuming that, too,’’ coach Rex Ryan said.
But Ryan has been on the pro day circuit and has chatted up a few of the top prospects, including Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, and Christian Ponder. Ryan was asked which of the three he would least like to see land in the AFC East, where the Bills and Dolphins could take a quarterback in the first round.
“I would love to see any of the rookies in there,’’ Ryan said. “That would be good with me. Short-term. Long-term, not so much. But short-term, absolutely.
“Sometimes those guys get that deer-in-the-headlights look and all that kind of stuff. They think they’ve seen every coverage and this and that. And they haven’t even come close. So there’s a lot to learn, like there was when Mark came in as a rookie.
“But certainly there’s some talented guys.’’
“[The Bills] could go that route. The kid from Harvard is a pretty good quarterback though, [Ryan] Fitzpatrick. So it will be interesting to see what Buffalo does there.’’
Ryan gave his assessment of some of the top prospects.
“I like [Gabbert]. I talked to him for a long time. I think he was tremendous,’’ Ryan said. “I think it depends on what kind of system you have and all that because I really like the kid from Auburn, Cam Newton. That’s a big, talented, athletic kid.
“Can throw a strawberry through a battleship. He’s got all the tools, and I think the kid Gabbert is an excellent athlete. [Ponder] is good. There’s some good quarterbacks this year.’’
Comeback derailed Tough to see the bad luck continue for former Jets and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, who tore an ACL in a pickup basketball game last week. The two-time NFL Comeback Player of the Year was hoping to make another comeback after lasting just two plays last season before needing a fourth surgery on his right shoulder. The 34-year-old was being eyed by several teams as a veteran to mentor rookies.
The latest kick Bengals coach Marvin Lewis keeps stating that Chad Ochocinco “has a contract’’ when asked whether the receiver will be on the team after the lockout. But when talk turned to Ochocinco’s tryout with Kansas City of Major League Soccer (he was named an honorary member and asked to play in an exhibition game against a local team), it wasn’t difficult to see that Ochocinco isn’t long for Cincinnati. “Yeah, like he could make a soccer team,’’ said Lewis. “What has he ever done that he’s completed? What circle has he ever connected? Obviously I’ve had a lot of time invested in Chad Johnson. Hopefully he will continue to mature as a person and be a productive football player and person as he goes forward. As far as a football player, he’s under contract and we’ll continue to evaluate things as we move forward.’’
Short yardage Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he continues to be impressed by the rebuilding job done by the Lions and coach Jim Schwartz. “I think it’s very obvious that Detroit has definitely improved their personnel with the high picks they’ve had,’’ McCarthy said. “They’ve got a lot of positives. Their offensive perimeter definitely is something that is going to be one of the better ones in the league. The consistency at quarterback, I’m just talking about availability, it’s hard to play with three quarterbacks. I think they did a hell of a job going through three quarterbacks. Defensive line, they’ve done a hell of a job, and their return game.’’ . . . If you have any interest in the sports agent business, yours truly will be moderating a panel on “Ethics in Athlete Representation’’ at Suffolk Law School April 15 at 6 p.m. Panelists include Josh Luchs, the former NFL agent who was the subject of the Sports Illustrated cover story in October 2010 in which he admitted to paying college players; Darren Heitner, CEO of Dynasty Athlete Representation and creator of SportsAgentBlog.com; Michael “Mook’’ Williams, a Boston-based NFL agent for National Sports Management; and Carlene Pariseau, associate athletic director/compliance at Boston College. Admission is free. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.