|Mike Lombardi on M&M: ‘I think the game suffered’ from NFL lockout||07.25.11 at 12:37 pm ET|
NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi spoke with Mut & Merloni Monday morning to talk collective bargaining and the Patriots’ upcoming season. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
While Lombardi said the new NFL collective bargaining agreement would benefit both sides, he said the immediate effects of the lockout have been negative.
“I think the game suffered,” Lomabrdi said. “I think certainly the pie shrunk a little bit this year, because they weren’t able to grow it.”
Lombardi did not provide a clear timeline for free agent signings, calling the situation “pretty fluid.”
“My information tells me that they’re going to allow clubs to start signing their own players and college free agents probably sometime today or tomorrow,” he said. “And then on Friday they can talk to free agents that are out there, but you can’t sign free agents until this Friday coming up.”
Lombardi said that with the new salary cap rules, teams such as the Patriots should spend more on locking up young players, who under the new CBA will reach free agency sooner.
“You have to spend money, and if you’re really a smart team, you spend it on your own players,” Lombardi said. He added that the Patriots would need to bring in their players “as soon as possible and get a medical status of where you are as a football team.”
Lombardi said the Patriots have an advantage because Tom Brady is one of the NFL’s “six blue-chip quarterbacks,” so their primary needs are at wide receiver and pass rush.
Said Lombardi, “They need that outside guy, when they play small-ball, when they throw the ball short, that can really get down the field and make a play, and make you defend the length of the field, not always necessarily defend the width of the field.”
Lombardi said the Patriots’ pass rush – comprised mostly of rookies – was hurt by the shortened offseason, but that Jermaine Cunningham “has got to come through.” Should Cunningham become the Patriots’ primary pass-rusher, however, Lombardi said the Patriots would need to add balance.
“If Cunningham’s going to come every play, then the other outside guy has got to be able to drop and do some things,” Lombardi said. “I think the Patriots need to work through what they’re actually going to do on the outside edges.”
Lombardi added that because of all the playing time the Patriots’ rookies received last season, some have already reached the developmental level of third-year players.
“You can’t play any better than Devin McCourty played last year,” he said.
Lombardi also touched on Logan Mankins and the contentious relationship he has had with both the Patriots and the NFLPA.
“Nothing lasts forever,” Lombardi said. “I’m sure now he’s probably as upset with his union as he is with the Patriots, so it’s like you’re wondering who he’s really happy with. I think cooler heads will prevail, and the right deal will come along, and he’ll be smart to sign the right deal whether it’s with the Patriots or if he becomes a free agent next year.”
To repeat as AFC East champions, Lombardi said, “The Patriots have to come back with the same work ethic, the same hunger that got them  wins.”
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