Sunday NFL Notes: Could Sebastian Vollmer contract serve as blueprint for new deals for Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman?
|02.02.14 at 6:00 am ET|
1. When it comes to re-signing their own players, wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib are the two most intriguing free agents for the Patriots to worry about this offseason. Both played a huge role in the success of the 2013 team, and both are scheduled to hit the market in March. But at the same time, both have injury questions — Talib has been hobbled by various maladies over the course of the last couple years, and hasn’t been able to finish the last two AFC title games. Meanwhile, 2013 represented the first time in his five-year career that Edelman was able to play a full season free from injury. Going forward, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the players, their representation and the franchise set up a deal laden with playtime incentives, not unlike what the team did last offseason with Sebastian Vollmer. The right tackle, who has suffered through his share of injury issues, was able to put together a four-year, $17 million deal with the franchise last March that was structured largely around playtime incentives. The contract included roster bonuses of $1 million in years two through four that were contingent on him playing 80 percent of the offensive snaps in the prior season. In addition, another $9 million could be achieved through incentives based on playing time and Pro Bowl berths. While the money and years would be different, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots try the same maneuver with both Talib and Edelman this time around. (For what it’s worth, Edelman was a guest with SVP & Russillo this week from the Super Bowl, where he was working on behalf of Delta Airlines. His feelings about being at the Super Bowl instead of playing in it? “It sucks,” he said. “It flat-out sucks.” To listen to the rest of the Q&A, click here.)
2. It’s difficult to remember now, but the current run of success of the Seahawks can be traced back in some ways to their Oct. 14, 2012 game against the Patriots in Seattle. To that point, the Seahawks really weren’t much of a player, at least on the national scene. They were 3-2, but had suffered ugly losses to Arizona and St. Louis. Coach Pete Carroll had decided to go with a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson, and no one quite knew what to make of them. But after going down 23-10 to the Patriots at the start of the fourth quarter, they showed the requisite mental toughness that would soon become their calling card, posting two fourth-quarter touchdowns and holding New England scoreless down the stretch. It was also clear that the Seattle secondary was poised for greatness with some terrific plays, including this scary shot on Wes Welker. The postgame scene gave us this memorable image of Richard Sherman woofing at Tom Brady, and this past week, Sherman said that was the game that gave the current group of Seahawks the idea they could be something special. “That was when it dawned on us that we could be great, in that Patriots game,” Sherman said. “Earl [Thomas] could’ve had a multiple-pick game – he was running around everywhere – and we saw how elite we could be, because we were playing against a Hall of Fame quarterback. That really builds confidence.” For what it’s worth, the Seahawks have gone 20-6 in the regular season since that game.
3. Two of the Seahawks talked this week about nearly becoming Patriots. Seattle defensive tackle Red Bryant told the Boston Globe that he came close to signing with New England when he was a free agent in 2012. “I had an opportunity to go there; they’ve got a great history, great tradition, I have the utmost respect for coach Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and Mr. Robert Kraft,” the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Bryant said on Thursday. “My big brother, Ty Warren, he played there and I called him and he gave me a background on what it would be like and the expectations and it would have been a great opportunity. The only thing that kept me was my love for this team and I envisioned us one day making it to a Super Bowl.” Bryant ended up signing a five-year, $35 million contract with $14.5 million guaranteed to stay with the Seahawks. Meanwhile, wide receiver Percy Harvin talked about the fact that he was very nearly taken by the Patriots in the 2009 draft. “They had a workout — it was two days before the draft. I knew it was either going to be Minnesota or Belichick with the next pick. They were actually on the phone trying to trade up and flip-flop,” Harvin said. “Belichick and (Ohio State Head Coach Urban) Meyer have been friends for so long. Belichick visited Florida when Meyer was there, frequently, pretty much every year, so we were familiar with each other. So it came close.”
4. Seeing the practice reports this week from the Broncos and Seahawks, it’s important to remember that the practice week in the days leading up to the Super Bowl may simply be about fine-tuning things before the big game. But at the same time, how well you practice in those final few days can be a good indication of where the team is heading into the contest — a few members of the 2007 Patriots have recalled over the years that their final week of practice in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLII were some of the worst practices they had that year. Troy Brown said the week was “atrocious,” and added that the Patriots couldn’t do the simplest of things over the course of the week. “We couldn’t complete, not even one-on-one passes. … Quarterback-center exchange, handoffs, the basic things of football, we could not perform during the course of the week,” he said. “We left the field one day and just called practice, came back the next day and had two Friday practices just to try to get caught up because we were so far behind. Practice, it was bad. I’ve never seen a team, especially a championship team, perform that way during the week.” That team had a unique set of pressures coming to bear against them, so it’s easy to understand that things may had reached a breaking point with them by the time they got to the Super Bowl. But it certainly serves as a cautionary tale for other teams who might take their eyes off the prize with the finish line in sight.
5. With the relative success of the first-ever New York-New Jersey Super Bowl, count on the NFL looking at some other outdoor, cold weather venues for future Super Bowls. If I’m casting a vote, two of the places I’d certainly consider would be Seattle and Denver. Never been to Seattle, but those who have attended or covered games out there say it’s a terrific experience and a great environment in and around the stadium. Denver is also a great place to see a game, located in a good spot right next to the city, with plenty of parking and (usually) good weather at this time of the season. One other city that could be considered — if I was putting together a list, anyway — would be Pittsburgh. Heinz Field is within walking distance of downtown, and they have the infrastructure to support a big game like the Super Bowl. The one thing that would concern me when it comes to Pittsburgh would be the condition of the turf. Heinz is notoriously bad, and the league would have to step in and make sure that conditions would be safe. Short of that, if the NFL did dangle the carrot of a Super Bowl in front of Steelers’ ownership, maybe they would do so with the proviso that they’d have to have FieldTurf installed instead of the natural grass that has the consistency of cookie dough by January.
6. When it came to the list of the Pro Football Class of 2014, there were no Patriots connections. but it’s safe to assume that Belichick was happy to hear that former Oakland punter Ray Guy made it. Belichick has long been an advocate for great specialists like Guy and Dave Jennings to make the Hall of Fame. In 2012, he was asked about kickers and punters and their Hall legitimacy, and said he’s baffled why some of the great hadn’t reached the Hall. “I don’t know what more Dave Jennings could have done at his position or Ray Guy or guys like that. What else would they have had to do? Get a bunch of interceptions? We don’t judge quarterbacks on their rushing yardage,” he said. “We don’t judge them on how many tackles they made. I don’t know if we even judge them on how many games they win. We judge them on a lot of their quarterback rating and stats and running backs on rushing yardage. What does a guy have to do if he excels at his position? Is that good enough? I don’t know. Like I said, you’d have to ask somebody that knows a lot more about it than I do, because I don’t understand what the criteria is.”
7. The news that Pepper Johnson has taken a job as the defensive line coach with the Bills was interesting on a couple of levels: One, the fact that Johnson will remain in the AFC East. Two, he’ll be working with a former Belichick assistant in Jim Schwartz (the former Lions head coach as recently named the new defensive coordinator in Buffalo). And three, it’s reasonable to think that Johnson could help the Bills lure pending free agent linebacker Brandon Spikes to Buffalo. Spikes and Johnson developed a tight bond when the two were together in New England over the last four years, and when Spikes hits free agency next month, their relationship could play a role in helping recruit Spikes. The linebacker has never been shy about expressing his feelings for the city, but a close connection with Johnson could help when it comes to possibly making an easy transition. Something to watch for when free agency opens in March.
8. In that same vein, unless the Patriots make a surprise hire for one of their two remaining openings on their coaching staff — linebacker or tight end — they will head into the 2014 season without a coach that has NFL experience as a player. Johnson’s loss won’t just be felt when it comes to game-planning and preparation, but as an occasional go-between and sounding board for players. That background can be very important when it comes to connecting with players, as well as helping other members of the coaching staff understand what’s feasible from a players’ perspective. There’s always the chance New England could hire an ex-player, but on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be any ex-players out there who might be able to fill either one of those two jobs.
9. Came across a fascinating breakdown of teams by age, written by Chase Stuart and posted at Footballperspective.com. For the third consecutive year, Stuart has broken down each NFL roster by age, using what he calls the average approximate value age of each team. (Stuart’s argument is that you don’t want to calculate the average age of a 53-man roster and call that the ‘team age’ because the age of a team’s starters is much more relevant than the reserves. Instead, you want to calculate a team’s average age by placing greater weight on the team’s most relevant players.) Armed with that knowledge, he has the 2013 Patriots as the 15th oldest team in the league with an AV-adjusted team age of 27.1, tied with the Eagles. (For some perspective, the Rams are the youngest at 25.5, while the Cardinals are the oldest at 28.3.) Offensively, the Patriots are one of the oldest teams in the league, 28th overall at 28.1 (the Saints are last at 29). On defense, New England is comparatively young with an average AV-adjusted age of 26, seventh overall. Stuart has some interesting notes breaking down the Patriots by position. I don’t want to give away all the good stuff, so click here to read the full graphic and the accompanying breakdown underneath. An insightful read.
10. Finally, when it comes to Sunday’s finale, it has the potential to be a truly great Super Bowl — one of the best passing games of all time against a defense that lives for that kind of matchup. So much of the success of the Seahawks depends on their ability to play with a lead. If they can find a way to break through early and get some points on the board, that will allow them to control the tempo and slow the game down with Marshawn Lynch, and that will be their best chance to make the Broncos uncomfortable. Conversely, if the Broncos are somehow able to put Seattle in a hole and force them to throw the ball, that gets the Seahawks out of their comfort zone. Denver has so much depth in the passing game, but if there’s a team out there uniquely suited to slow down the Denver passing game, it’s the Seattle defense, and, by extension, the Seahawks secondary. In the end, I think that defense will make the difference. Our pick: Seahawks 24, Broncos 20.