FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Cash and cachet: Coach Bill Belichick had the cold, hard cash necessary for the Patriots to be a major player in free agency. He also had the cachet, which was an important tiebreaker in competitive bidding situations.
Some of the newest Patriots said playing for Belichick, who turns 69 in April, was a deciding factor in their coming aboard.
“I met him before coming out in the  draft and I always talked to my high school coach [Kevin Kelley] about him, and so we kind of had that mutual connection,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “Just kind of building that throughout the years; I have a ton of respect for Coach, the Patriots, and I’m excited to be under him and have him be my coach now and help me grow as a player.”
One would expect players to say nice things about their new boss, especially after Belichick backed up the Brink’s truck for many of them. There also seemed to be a level of awe.
Defensive back Jalen Mills relayed he has watched Belichick closely since before he started taking football seriously, and then shared an anecdote about one of his first meetings with him at Gillette Stadium shortly after signing.
“I was about to walk out of the cafeteria and I hear ‘Hi Jalen.’ So I turn around and it’s Coach. In my mind, I’m saying ‘this is Coach,’ but it didn’t really click it was Coach Belichick. He was saying he was happy to have me here, and I literally turned my back to him and screamed out loud, ‘This is f—ing Coach Belichick!'”
Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux called it a “no-brainer” to sign because of the scheme and “being able to be coached by arguably the greatest coach of all time.” Fellow defensive lineman Henry Anderson added he has long admired Belichick’s defense. Offensive tackle Trent Brown said upon his return to New England via a trade from the Las Vegas Raiders, “I’ve worn a lot of jerseys in my life, but I’ve never been more proud than when I put on a Patriots jersey.”
“This opportunity couldn’t be passed up because of the prestige, being coached by some of the best coaches in the NFL,” he said. “Coach Belichick told me that he’s been watching my career. For a player, you’re talking to a Hall of Fame coach, that really inspired me.”
2. Garoppolo in 2022: Friday’s blockbuster trade in which the San Francisco 49ers moved up from the No. 12 spot in the 2021 NFL draft to No. 3 puts them right in the mix for a quarterback, and thus puts Jimmy Garoppolo on notice. The 49ers are saying they are sticking with Garoppolo in 2021, and that’s believable to me when considering they view themselves as a Super Bowl contender and wouldn’t want to turn the team over to a rookie this year. But here’s something for the Patriots to consider as they continue to search for their QB of the future: Garoppolo’s availability in 2022 just became a more likely option, so they don’t need to force anything in the draft.
Mel Kiper explains why he has the Patriots selecting Mac Jones with the No. 15 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
3. Patricia’s impact: When Matt Patricia returned to the Patriots this offseason as an assistant to Belichick and his coaching staff, it was natural to wonder what his role would be. That should continue to evolve, but in recent weeks, he has been helping finalize contracts (his name appears on some of them) with free agents and getting involved in negotiations in certain spots as a salesman of sorts. In that sense, he truly has served as an added layer of support to Belichick.
4. Wake Forest proud of Herron: News that reserve Patriots offensive lineman Justin Herron was recognized by Tempe Police for helping to stop an alleged sexual assault in an Arizona park resonated at Wake Forest, Herron’s alma mater. Dave Clawson and his coaching staff maintain a strong connection to Herron, who set the school record for 51 starts. “Very proud of Justin. He was one of my very first recruits and he spent six years here. I got to know Justin and his family well,” Clawson told ESPN.com. “I wasn’t surprised. Justin is one of those people that if he was in that situation, there’s no doubt he would do that. To me it was one of those things like football — it’s preparation, character and opportunity. And Justin, when he has the opportunity, always does the right thing.”
5. Clawson’s connection: Clawson, entering his eighth season as Wake Forest’s coach, has a connection to the Patriots that goes beyond Herron. He attended Williams College (Class of 1989) in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where one of his close friends was Josh Kraft, the third of Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s four boys. Clawson recalled playing pickup basketball with Kraft and his dad in the mid-1980s, and he remains close with Josh. So when Herron (2020 sixth round) became the first Wake Forest player selected by the Patriots since the Kraft family purchased the team in 1994, it had some added meaning to him.
6. Failed fifth: Take the hit and move on. That’s what Belichick is doing after the Patriots bombed on 2020 fifth-round pick Justin Rohrwasser, the place-kicker from Marshall who was waived last week without appearing in a game for the team. It’s not ideal, but far from a backbreaking decision when compared to the Tennessee Titans already having moved on from 2020 first-round pick Isaiah Wilson. The fifth round is traditionally a transition point where the Patriots identify a specific role for a player to fill — or identify a prospect with a standout trait to possibly develop. Special-teamer Matthew Slater, punter Zoltan Mesko and long-snapper Joe Cardona represent good hits in that realm.
7. Pats in Cali: Backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham seemed to be the catalyst for gathering a bunch of Patriots in Southern California for throwing sessions this past week. He did something similar last year in suburban Boston, and once Cam Newton signed with the team, he invited Newton to the workouts. But then Stidham faded quickly out of the QB picture once training camp began. Whether Stidham can make a more decisive charge this season will be a storyline to monitor, as Newton joined last week’s workouts one day after they started. Others in attendance included wide receivers Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry and Kristian Wilkerson, and tight ends Henry, Devin Asiasi and Matt LaCosse.
8. White/Vereen plan: The Patriots’ re-signing of James White to a one-year deal with $2.75 million guaranteed solidifies their “passing back” role in 2021, and sets up a scenario where they can target that position in the draft and have the prospect “redshirt” for a year while learning the nuances of the pro passing game, just like White (2014) and Shane Vereen (2011) did before emerging. Of the possibilities in this year’s draft, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said, “It’s a good group and you can get some guys a little bit later.” Kiper highlighted Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis), Demetric Felton (UCLA), Jake Funk (Maryland), Raheem Blackshear (Virginia Tech), CJ Marable (Coastal Carolina) and Javian Hawkins (Louisville) as players fitting that profile.
9. Mr. Underrated: One of the enjoyable parts of reporting is interacting with longtime fans, and Scott Winslow is one of them. He sent a nice note last week after defensive tackle Lawrence Guy agreed to return on a four-year deal, which read: “Just thrilled about Lawrence Guy. He was the best player on the field in so many games last year. One of the most underrated players I remember in 57 years of following the team.” No argument here. If an All-Time Underrated Patriots team was put together, Guy and Tim Goad (1988-1994) would be a great place to start at the heart of the line of scrimmage.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots are tied for the NFL’s third-longest streak of not selecting a quarterback in the first round of the draft, as it has been 27 years since they tabbed Drew Bledsoe No. 1 overall in 1993. That matches them with the Seattle Seahawks, who last did so in ’93 with Rick Mirer. Only the New Orleans Saints (49 years, Archie Manning/1971) and Dallas Cowboys (31 years, Troy Aikman/1989) have longer streaks.
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