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Sunday NFL Notes: Why new deal for Devin McCourty now would make sense for both sides

01.26.14 at 6:00 am ET
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1. When it comes to dissecting the intricacies of the salary cap, Brian McIntyre has been an invaluable resource at this address, and so it was no surprise that he was the first to note this week that because he hit 80 percent playing time in each of the last four seasons, safety Devin McCourty will get a sizable bump in base salary for the 2014 season. According to NFLPA documents, McCourty’€™s base salary went from $920,000 to $3,920,000 as a result of his playing time — according to McIntyre, McCourty’€™s cap number is now $5.115 million. That will affect the Patriots team-building process this offseason — however, the impact could be mollified with a new deal for McCourty, one we hinted at here. It would seem to make sense for both sides, as the defensive back is entering the final year of a deal he signed as a rookie, while it stands to reason that the Patriots would like to retain McCourty for as long as they can. While Aqib Talib is probably the most talented defensive back on the roster, McCourty is the acknowledged leader of the secondary — his ball skills and work as a leader make him one of the most important players on the roster. While there are certainly other important contractual decisions for the franchise to deal with this offseason, McCourty is a key figure the Patriots need to retain going forward. A new contract now would make a lot of sense.

2. The news Saturday night that Nick Caserio would be sticking with the Patriots — despite a brief flirtation with the Dolphins — was interesting on a number of levels: One, the people around the league who I have spoken with suggest that while Caserio is highly regarded, he’€™s something of a blank slate. No one really knows that much about him. As a result, taking the chance to interview was likely an opportunity for him to expand his horizons a bit and allow some other folks around the league to get a real feel for him and his management style if he did decide to one day leave the Patriots. Two, he turned down a chance to interview for a similar position with the Colts in 2012, saying he was happy to stick around Foxboro. (Was the Miami gig a better job? More money? More leeway with ownership?) And three, it would have been an interesting career move for someone who has been so close to Bill Belichick over the years to even consider jumping directly to a divisional rival. The only time that’€™s happened (at least to my knowledge) was when Eric Mangini jumped to become the head coach of the Jets at the end of the 2005 season, and we all know how that turned out. For what it’€™s worth, the people who he’€™s worked with would certainly appear to endorse Caserio as a possible GM one day. I asked Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, who worked with Caserio briefly in New England, as Caserio a possible GM candidate, and he was enthusiastic in his praise for his old friend. ‘€œNick Caserio’€™s a fine man,’€ Dimitroff said. ‘€œHe’€™s a very intelligent guy. He’€™s a tireless worker. I don’€™t know who works harder than him in the National Football League. He’€™s won many hats in New England, Bill’€™s asked him to do quite a bit, not only on the personnel side, but on the coaching side. You talk about a well-rounded individual. I hope coach Belichick isn’€™t upset with me that I’€™m pitching Nick Caserio, but I think Nick is a top-notch personnel man.’€

3. Caserio was among three candidates to meet with the Dolphins for a second interview Saturday. Miami also interviewed Tampa Bay director of player personnel Dennis Hickey and Tennessee vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson. It would appear that assistant GM Brian Gaine was the fourth finalist — he had a second interview with Miami management on Friday. From this viewpoint, Gaine would make an excellent choice. The former University of Maine tight end is considered one of the rising young personnel stars in the NFL. He’€™s worked his way up from scout, having made his bones across the league with the Jets and Cowboys before landing in Miami. He was hired by the Dolphins as its assistant director of player personnel in 2008 and was promoted to director in 2011 before getting the assistant GM appointment in June 2012.

4. The retirement of Dante Scarnecchia after 30 years with the Patriots brought back a flood of memories for many local football writers. His occasionally off-color language and extra sprints after practice in the heat of training camp were his calling cards, not to mention the fact that he allowed several offensive linemen who arrived in Foxboro as relatively anonymous free agents to find riches elsewhere after Scarnecchia had coached them up for a few years, a group that included Russ Hochstein, Tom Ashworth and Donald Thomas. For all the amazing offensive numbers the Patriots had put up over the last seven seasons, the offensive line — and Scarnecchia’€™s greatness as a coach — was a big reason why. From this viewpoint, the best interaction I had with Scarnecchia was at media day for Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. I wanted to do a story on New England’€™s offensive line, and after a little sleuthing, I found Scarnecchia literally hiding behind Bill Belichick‘€™s podium, talking only with ESPN’€™s Chris Mortensen. After waiting out the one-on-one, I spoke with him on my own for roughly 20 minutes. It was an education in some of the intricacies of offensive line play from someone who had forgotten more about the game than I’€™ll ever know. (He was also gracious enough to provide me with a breaking story, telling be straight-out that right tackle Sebastian Vollmer — who was questionable coming into the game with back and foot issues — was going to play in the big game against the Giants. I’€™ll always be grateful for that.) Scarnecchia was a football lifer, an individual who gave himself to the game and expected very little in return. I’€™m lucky enough to be one of a handful of reporters who get to nominate the finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame, and even though a candidate usually has to go through a waiting period before they’€™re nominated by our group, it would seem to make sense that if there’€™s one individual who should be an exemption to that rule, it’€™s Scarnecchia. (For more on Scarnecchia, check out the excellent interview the fellas from D&C did with him late last week.)

5. In a bit of news that flew under the radar this week, the Patriots were able to hire away Scarnecchia’€™s replacement Dave DeGuglielmo after DeGuglielmo spent less than a week as the offensive line coach with the University of Maryland. DeGuglielmo hadn’€™t even been formally introduced as the Terps newest o-line coach when news broke that he had been hired away by the Patriots to replace Scarnecchia. However, there doesn’€™t appear to be anything fishy — as this story on DeGuglielmo’€™s short time in College Park suggests, Maryland seemed to understand that it had hired an NFL-caliber assistant who was presented with another professional job that was too tempting to resist. Then, there’€™s also the fact that the job represents something of a homecoming for DeGuglielmo, a Bay State native who played college football at Boston University. ‘€œI would like to congratulate Dave on this exciting opportunity for his career,’€ Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said in a written statement. ‘€œDave is a great coach who brings a wealth of experience and will be a valued asset at the next level. We are honored that NFL teams pursue members of our coaching staff as we feel this is a compliment to our program.’€

6. In the wake of one of the most uneventful offseason in recent Patriots history when it came to turnover on the coaching staff — check out this story from last May that noted just how similar the 2011 and 2012 Patriots coaching staffs were — New England has already endured more turnover on its coaching staff in any time dating back to the end of the 2004 season, when both offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel both departed at the end of that year. With the three assistant coaches leaving this past week — Scarnecchia, linebackers coach Pepper Johnson and tight ends coach George Godsey — it’€™s worth taking a look at just who is on Belichick’s staff as of this moment.

Offensive coordinator: Josh McDaniels
Offensive assistant: Brian Daboll
Running backs: Ivan Fears
Wide receivers: Chad O’€™Shea
Tight ends: TBD
Offensive line: Dave DeGuglielmo

Defensive coordinator: Matt Patricia
Defensive line: Patrick Graham
Cornerbacks: Josh Boyer
Safeties: Brian Flores
Linebackers: TBD

Special teams: Scott O’€™Brien
Assistant special teams: Joe Judge

Coaching assistant: Steven Belichick
Coaching assistant: Jerry Schuplinski

Strength and conditioning coach: Harold Nash
Assistant strength and conditioning coach: Moses Cabrera

7. The Browns decision to hire Mike Pettine away from the Bills has a direct affect on the Patriots, as well as the rest of the AFC East. Pettine had managed to put together a pretty good young offense in Buffalo — the Bills were in the Top 10 in most major defensive categories over the course of the 2013 regular season, including total defense (333.4 yards per game, 10th), pass defense (204.4 yards per game, fourth), and they finished second in the league in sacks (57) and interceptions (23). Pettine, who had worked under Rex Ryan in New York, had managed to take many of the better aspects of those old Jets’€™ defenses in their dynamic, attacking style. He’€™ll now take that approach to a talented young group in Cleveland — meanwhile, the Bills turned to Jim Schwartz, the former Lions head coach, to become their new defensive coordinator. There’€™s a lot to like about Schwartz and his track record as a defensive coordinator (as a head coach, not so much), but there is a difference in their coaching styles. Both Pettine and Schwartz favor a gambling approach that usually favors sending an extra rusher or two on occasion. But Pettine is more about mixing alignments, while Schwartz has favored a 4-3 scheme in the past with defensive ends split wide in hopes of trying to generate more pressure. The thinking here is that Schwartz is smart enough to play to the strengths of the unit and lean on the strengths of players like young linebacker Kiko Alonso and pass rushers Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams. It’€™ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out, but fortunately (or unfortunately) for the Bills, change at defensive coordinator is something Buffalo is used to — Schwartz will be the fourth defensive coordinator in the last four years for the Bills.

8. Former Patriots scout — and later, director of pro personnel — Jason Licht was introduced this week as the new GM with the Bucs, and after he placed in charge in Tampa Bay, he spoke with Pro Football Talk about his time in New England, including his memories of working with Tom Brady. Licht was asked when he knew Brady was going to be a special player. ‘€œI would say the first training camp when the coaches were buzzing that they had never seen a guy as smart and as in tune with the offense and the defense at the same time and I just remember he was correcting coaches out on the field during drills and getting into a shouting match with a particular coach then going back to the film room and finding out that Tom Brady was right,’€ Licht said.  ‘€œAnd that story about him going up and shaking Mr. Kraft’€™s hand and saying this is the best pick you’€™ve ever made, that is true and obviously the guy is confident.’€ Check out the full interview here.

9. Several readers have also already posed salary cap questions, anticipating what will almost surely be another eventful offseason for the Patriots. While I do my best to try and stay on top of salary cap rules and regulations — at least from a Patriots perspective — there are a few other must follows out there on Twitter who can help when it comes to salary cap details. McIntyre provides great insight, and does well when it comes to making the complicated stuff seem very simple. Joel Corry is a former agent who writes extensively for National Football Post and CBS Sports — he penned an in-depth look at what Patriots fans might expect this offseason. Jason from Over the Cap also gives great leaguewide analysis and is also a good follow. And Miguel Benzan writes for PatsFans.com, and compiles exhaustive information on who is making what when it comes to the Patriots. (Multiple former players have told me the guys in the locker room pay close attention to Miguel’€™s site.) All provide great information, and are must-follows on Twitter when it comes to substantive cap information.

10. And finally, in the interest of blatant self-promotion, this was our favorite story of the week — a chat with an NFC scout who gave us a to-do list for the Patriots this offseason, which started with more offensive options for Brady. He touched on a handful of other topics, including the fact that the Patriots will almost certainly be in the market for a tight end and that ‘€œThe whole league is waiting to see what they do with Ryan Mallett. They will need some semblance of backup quarterback — a guy they really trust — behind Brady, and I don’€™t know if they’€™re all in on Mallett. But at the same time, I think he’€™ll be there this year unless someone flat gives them something of value — a second-round pick, for example — so they could go ahead and use it on the next guy.’€

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