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Sunday NFL Notes: When it comes to GMs, league remains senior circuit

06.08.14 at 6:00 am ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots haven't had to worry about players purposefully staying away from OTAs. (AP)

Tom Brady and the Patriots haven’t had to worry about New England players purposefully staying away from OTAs this year. (AP)

1. While other professional leagues continue to embrace a front-office youth movement with GMs in their 20s and 30s, the NFL continues to prefer its GMs to be a little more seasoned. At this moment, the average age of NFL GMs is 50.4 years old. That number has remained relatively stable over the last decade — in 2004, the average age was 52.8 years old. That dipped to 49.4 in 2009, but has since bumped up a full year in the last five seasons.

The youngest NFL GM is 38-year-old Howie Roseman, who runs the Eagles. Roseman was just 34 when Philly owner Jeffrey Lurie named him general manager in 2010, and he’€™s still the youngest person in the league to hold that title. However, there are more and more younger faces starting to appear — Cleveland’€™s Ray Farmer (39) joined Roseman in the under-40 club when he assumed control of the Browns this year. (Farmer will turn 40 on July 1st.) Meanwhile, Jacksonville’€™s David Caldwell (40), Buffalo’€™s Doug Whaley and Tampa Bay’€™s Jason Licht (43) — all of who have recently taken control of their own franchises — are also relatively young when compared to their counterparts.

However, the impact from the younger generation of GMs has really been felt in the powerful NFC West: All four GMs are younger than the average age across the league. Arizona’€™s Steve Keim (41), Seattle’€™s John Schneider (43), St. Louis’€™ Les Snead and San Francisco’€™s Trent Baalke (49) make up the NFL’€™s youngest division when it comes to age of the general managers.

As this relates to the Patriots, New England’€™s former GM Scott Pioli, who left the franchise for the Chiefs in 2008, was under the league average a decade ago. (He was 39 when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX, but was arguably part of a collective that included head coach Bill Belichick.) Now, while many personnel decisions are made as a collective in Foxboro, it’€™s Belichick who has the final say. At 62, he’€™s part of a veteran group that includes 57-year-old Kevin Colbert (Steelers), 58-year-old Ozzie Newsome (Ravens) and the 61-year-old Ted Thompson (Packers).

One other interesting note: two of the older GMs who remain in the league are also owners who continue to retain complete power. In Dallas, 71-year-old Jerry Jones has filled multiple roles since be purchased the team in 1989. And it’€™s debatable who makes the final call on personnel in Cincinnati, but 78-year-old owner Mike Brown still reportedly runs the team with a heavy hand while working with head coach Marvin Lewis.

2. The Patriots will hold their final series of OTA sessions this week in Foxboro, and while it’€™s been a relatively uneventful series of practices, it’€™s worth mentioning New England hasn’€™t had a notable holdout throughout the spring sessions. (Last year, linebacker Brandon Spikes was the lone player missing for the spring OTAs, prompting Belichick to single him out in a press conference.) Whether it was a family commitment (Logan Mankins) or league-mandated attendance at the Rookie Premiere Event in Los Angeles (Jimmy Garoppolo, Asa Watson), all of the players who missed practices over the first two weeks apparently had some sort of excused absence.

Across the league, there have been some high-profile no-shows for the voluntary get-togethers, some of which can be traced back to contract issues: In San Francisco, tight end Vernon Davis is not in attendance, while the same is true when it comes to wide receiver Andre Johnson in Houston. And quarterback Kyle Orton has yet to show for OTAs in Dallas — he’€™s reportedly considering retirement. When it comes to the rest of the AFC East, on the heels of another off-field incident involving defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, the Bills have decided to keep him off the field for OTAs.

3. The Patriots offensive line remains a group in flux this offseason, and one of the things that has really jumped out over the course of the OTAs (at least when the media was allowed to watch practice) was the fact that New England is taking it slowly at the tackle position. Starting tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have been limited this spring. (Solder was still working with a rehab group last week, while Vollmer has been eased back into action after a season-ending injury last year.) In their absence, the Patriots have been working Marcus Cannon on the left side and Jordan Devey on the right. New England should get some help later this month, as rookie Cameron Fleming should be cleared to practice following Stanford’€™s graduation ceremony, which takes place June 15. In the meantime, the Patriots could still be in the mix for some backup tackle help, especially now that the June 1st date has passed, one that allows a team to sign a free agent without it counting against the compensatory draft pick formula.

4. Rob Ninkovich has been a key part of the Patriots defense for the last few seasons. However, the versatile Ninkovich, who has lined up as both a defensive end and linebacker over the course of his career in New England, could be leaned on to play a little more of a traditional linebacker role than he has recently. The Patriots have has recently added some veteran linebacking help, but it still remains a little thin outside. As a result, Ninkovich could be called upon to slip back into the backer role he has previously occupied, with someone like new free agent pick Will Smith taking those snaps at defensive end.

As far as Ninkovich is concerned, it’€™s no big deal.

“€œA couple years ago I was a [strong side linebacker], now I’€™m a defensive end,”€ he told the Sirius XM show ‘€œMoving the Chains’€ on Tuesday. “€œBeing multiple, being able to be in different fronts — one play being a D-End, the next play being a SAM — being able to change up the way that we can, it definitely helps our defense.”

It’€™s dangerous to read too much into OTA practices in May and June, but the sight of Ninkovich working on dropping into coverage is certainly interesting, and could mean more time for him on the outside in 2014.

Ninkovich also echoed the feeling of several of his teammates, saying that new cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have ‘€œdone a terrific job’€ to this point in the offseason.

“€œNot knowing personality-wise or work ethic-wise what these guys were like — knowing that they were great football players — we’€™ve welcomed them with open arms and they’€™ve done a terrific job coming in and learning everything as far as how the Patriot Way goes,”€ Ninkovich said. ‘”They’€™re two great football players. As a defensive end, I’€™m definitely happy to have those guys out there covering.’€

5. With Friday’€™s report that first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney has signed his rookie contact with the Texans, as of Saturday, New England’€™s first-round selection Dominique Easley is currently one of 14 first-round picks who have not officially signed their deals as of yet. There’€™s no reason for concern — under the current CBA, Easley, like all draft picks, is allowed to practice. (There were differing reports on whether or not he was on the field with the rest of the roster on Thursday — with no numbers, it was tough to tell through the raindrops.) In addition, with the current rookie wage scale, these sorts of negotiations are now relatively routine, as everything is slotted. The only things left to chance are things like guaranteed money and offset language. However, there’€™s no reason to think that there will be a hangup when it comes to Easley’€™s situation.

In other Easley news, Doug Farrar of SI.com had an excellent breakdown of his game as a collegian this week, suggesting that the Florida product could be a difference-maker in Belichick’€™s defensive scheme. A very interesting read that’€™s certainly worth checking out.

6. Over the course of the offseason, one of the major topics has been the future of Logan Ryan, and whether or not a full-time move to safety is in his future. As previously stated, it’€™s always dangerous to read too much into OTA workouts, to this point in the spring, Ryan has only been seen at corner.

“€œRight now, I’€™m at corner,”€ he said earlier this week. “I’€™m prepared for anything. I’€™m just trying to become a better defensive back.”

He did play some safety over the course of last season — albeit in a very limited role. And on draft weekend, Belichick seemed to hint it might be possible to see Ryan in the same sort of role that Marquice Cole occupied for some of 2013, a kind of safety/corner hybrid.

“€œI think, yeah, we’€™ll have to see how it all goes,”€ Belichick said. “Last year, Cole sort of did that, played some safety, played some nickel corner, played a little bit on the perimeter. Logan did that. We’€™ll have to see how it all comes together, but I would imagine in the spring that we probably give those guys some exposure [at safety]. Somebody, I don’€™t know if all of them.

“€œWe’€™ll just have to see how it goes here. Again, I think there’€™s definitely a place for that too with the different personnel groups and the different types of receivers that we see. Every time it’€™s three receivers, it isn’€™t quite three receivers; it depends on who those three guys are and how you want to match up on them and so forth. So some flexibility for us defensively is probably a good thing over a long haul.”€

This wouldn’€™t be the first time that the Patriots have shifted a defensive back from corner to safety: Devin McCourty did it a few years ago, and has blossomed into a borderline Pro Bowler. (Tebucky Jones also moved from corner to safety.) But the move can be a difficult one — it’€™s not as easy as moving a few steps backward. There are changes in footwork, technique and game-planning that can make the move a dicey one. Ryan is already one of the most intriguing prospects New England has on its roster — he will be one of a few rookies from last year who will be asked to make the jump from part-timer to key contributor. The potential position move could make his 2014 all the more interesting.

7. Speaking of McCourty, it was reported this week the team has started preliminary contract talks with the defensive back. McCourty is going into the final year of his contract, and while the Patriots have a handful of players who are set to become free agents following the 2014 season (a group that includes running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen; quarterback Ryan Mallett; and tackle Marcus Cannon), McCourty figures to be the priority among that group. While’€™s he’€™s not the most talented DB on the roster, he’€™s the acknowledged leader of New England’€™s secondary. His versatility has become a huge asset, as he’€™s worked at both cornerback and safety, and he’€™s provided stability and a veteran presence on the back end for the last few seasons.

8. It was announced this week that Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will appear on the cover of Madden ‘€˜15, continuing an impressive year for the always-interesting defensive back. On the heels of a Super Bowl win and a shoutout from President Barack Obama, Sherman beat out Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for cover honors for the game, which will hit stores in August. Sherman is just the third defensive player to make the cover, and just second defensive player to be on the cover by himself. (Ray Lewis was on the cover of Madden NFL 2005, while Troy Polamalu and Larry Fitzgerald shared the cover for Madden NFL ‘€˜10.) For what it’€™s worth, no Patriots have appeared on the cover since they stated putting players on the front of the box in 2000. (In a Madden-related note, it will feature tattoos for the first time this year, and EA Sports released this breathtaking screenshot of Colin Kaepernick in action as part of the game.)

9. While it won’€™t figure to have a major impact on the overall level of play in the NFL, it will be interesting to watch how a possible work stoppage in the CFL plays out as it relates to the NFL. The CFL and CFL Players’ Association resumed negotiations over the weekend on a new collective bargaining agreement, looking to settle on a new deal after the old CBA expired on May 29. However, they’€™re operating under a tight deadline, as the CFL exhibition season is scheduled to begin Monday with the Toronto Argonauts visiting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Now, with a strike looming, that game could be threatened.

Over the years, Canada has been a destination spot for many fringe NFL prospects, and if there are no options for players up north, it could mean a deeper talent pool down the road this season for the NFL. (It could also effect some players who might be on the back end of the roster — if a relatively high-level player is suddenly available, it would likely mean a lower-level prospect could end up being pushed off the back end of the depth chart.) In recent years, the Patriots have never been shy about looking to Canada for talent, signing Jason Vega and Armond Armstead prior to the start of the 2013 season. If there’€™s a work stoppage in the CFL this time around, you could see more possible Canadian prospects find their way to the NFL.

There has only been one strike since the CFLPA was formed in 1965. Three weeks of training camp were lost in 1974 before a new agreement was reached. (No regular-season games were affected.) The 2014 regular season is scheduled to kick off June 26.

UPDATE: As of early Sunday morning, word out of Canada is that the CFL and the CFLPA have agreed on a new CBA. However, there’s no updated information on a possible ratification vote for either the league or the players’ association.

10. In the 28th round of this year’€™s MLB Draft, the Padres selected Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel with the 837th overall pick. While the move is nothing more than a publicity stunt — despite the fact that Manziel played 15 years of baseball growing up before making football a priority — the former A&M quarterback joins a lengthy list of NFL signal-callers who have also been drafted by major league teams. It’€™s a group that includes Brady (Expos), Kaepernick (Cubs), Russell Wilson (Orioles) and Michael Vick (Rockies).

The Patriots have actually had a few good baseball players on their roster over the years — Brady was a high school catcher taken in the 18th round of the 1995 draft. (Check out the story on his aborted baseball career here.) Former quarterback Matt Cassel made it all the way to the Little League World Series in 1994 as a kid, working as a pitcher. Fullback Patrick Pass, who played eight seasons in New England (2000-2007), also played three years of minor league baseball in the Marlins system as a collegian, hitting .244 with the Marlins Rookie League team in the summer of 1996. Meanwhile, safety Jarrad Page (who spent the 2010 season with the Patriots) played college baseball at UCLA and was good enough to get drafted by three different baseball teams before committing to football.

In addition, receiver Julian Edelman knows his way around a baseball diamond — he put on an impressive workout prior to a Blue Jays game in 2012, and has been seen hanging around Fenway this year. Current Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield, who was with the Jays at the time of Edelman’€™s pregame workout in Toronto, was impressed by Edelman.

“œYou start looking at his running speed, he has great speed. At the plate, he just had a natural stroke,”€ Butterfield said after the workout finished. “€œOne thing he struggled with early was the fact that he hadn’€™t thrown a baseball in a while –€” you could tell he’€™s had shoulder surgery, but the arm strength was there. His throws were very impressive, with good carry.

“€œHe didn’t look like a football player trying to throw a baseball. He was really good ‘€” you could certainly project him as a professional baseball player.”

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