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Sunday NFL Notes: Which recent Patriots have best chance at getting call to Canton?

08.03.14 at 6:00 am ET
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1. With this year’€™s Hall of Fame induction ceremony taking place this weekend, it’€™s time to take our annual shot at predicting the Hall chances for a handful of Patriots’€™ greats over the last decade-plus. In no particular order, here are 11 Patriots of relatively recent vintage, and our take on whether or not they belong in Canton.

a) Robert Kraft: Over the last 20 years, the owner has become one of the most powerful men in professional football, helping to expand the brand while presiding over one of the most successful teams in the game. His work bringing the two sides together during the recent lockout won respect in all corners of the NFL world, and could be just the sort of thing to put him over the top.

b) Bill Belichick: Three Super Bowl rings and a likely landing spot in the Top 5 of the all-time list for wins as a head coach should be enough to earn him a jacket.

c) Tom Brady: Not sure there’€™s a voter out there who wouldn’€™t make him a first ballot entry when he decides to call it a career.

d) Adam Vinatieri: When he does decide to retire, he should be one of two pure kickers to make it to Canton. Belichick certainly thinks he belongs in the Hall.

e) Vince Wilfork: From this viewpoint, he’€™s probably right on the cusp, but the conversation around defensive tackles would likely have to change to allow him a Hall pass.

f) Wes Welker: Another guy who is right there, and could spark some good debate. It’€™s a question we’€™ve chewed over before — from this viewpoint, if he can win a ring and finish with another 150 or so catches, he’€™s put himself square into the discussion when you stack him against some of the other receivers who have made it.

g) Ty Law: Law was unquestionably one of the best in the game when he played for the Patriots from 1995 to 2004, but could fall just short when compared to some of the other cornerbacks of the era. He’s 24th on the all-time interceptions list with 53 (tied with Deion Sanders), and while he will get points in the eyes of voters for his three Super Bowl rings and two All-Pro appearances, he was never in the conversation as the best in the game over an extended stretch. A good debate — for what it’s worth, you could certainly say that if Aeneas Williams gets in, Law at least deserves a look.

h) Randy Moss: He didn’€™t leave town on the best of terms, but Moss certainly deserves to be in the Hall. While he probably won’€™t be remembered as a Patriot — and some won’€™t be crazy about the idea of Moss getting into Canton — his numbers render the argument almost fruitless. His 156 receiving touchdowns are second only to Jerry Rice‘€™s 197, his 15,292 yards are third behind Rice’€™s 22,895 and Terrell Owens‘€™ 15,934, and his 982 career catches are 10th on the all-time list. (When it came to Moss, you could make an argument that if he had hitched his wagon to a singular great quarterback for the bulk of his career instead of bouncing from team to team, he could have had a legitimate shot at catching Rice’€™s records.)

i) Logan Mankins: This season will mark the 10th in the league for Mankins, who has been as steady as any offensive lineman over the course of the last decade, but he probably needs another three to five great seasons — as well as at least one Super Bowl ring — to be considered Hall worthy, and even then, he’€™d probably need someone in the room pushing for him as an advocate, much like Ron Borges pushed for the induction of Andre Tippett years ago. One thing that does work in his favor is that the Hall has started to recognize truly great offensive line play as of late, with the recent induction of Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden.

j) Rodney Harrison: Harrison is a great debate — he didn’€™t have a great reputation before he signed with New England before 2003, but carved out a nice niche as an absolutely vital part of the Patriots secondary, and went on to win a pair of Super Bowls. He was the only safety to record at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, and is only one of 12 players in league history to finish with 20 sacks and 20 picks in his career. The Hall of Fame can be a bit squirrelly when it comes to deciding which safeties are worthy, and while Harrison’€™s bust for HGH in 2007 works against him. he will be part of a good debate. Again, like Law, he’€™ll probably need a strong advocate to work on his behalf if he’€™s interested in making it.

k) Rob Gronkowski: If he stays healthy and maintains the same averages he’€™s posted over his first four years in the league, he would have 565 career catches, 8,138 receiving yards and 105 career touchdowns in 10 seasons. By way of comparison, Hall of Famers Shannon Sharpe finished his career with 815 receptions, 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns, while Kellen Winslow had 541 catches, 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. If he ends up in that neighborhood with at least one Super Bowl ring, that should be enough to put him in the conversation.

2. The news that Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson inked a five-year, $70 million deal (with $48 million guaranteed) to stick with Arizona this week figures to have an effect on how the Patriots deal with Darrelle Revis after this season. Peterson, Seattle’€™s Richard Sherman (four years, $56 million, $40 million guaranteed) and Cleveland’€™s Joe Haden (five years, $68.5 million, $23 million guaranteed) have all created a new salary ceiling for the NFL’€™s best cornerbacks, one that could create some sort of framework for Revis and New England at the end of the season. Given the fact that Revis is a few years older than the group that recently netted new deals, his deal could be a little smaller than the $12 million annually in guaranteed money, but the market for elite cornerbacks in their twenties is probably now somewhere between $8 million and $12 million annually in average guaranteed money.

Despite the fact that Revis has had a very good camp, there are still some things to be determined over the course of the year that will ultimately impact his new deal next offseason: Is he completely healthy after the 2012 knee injury? Can he still perform at an elite level? And how will his personal experience with the Patriots this season shape his attitude toward the organization going forward? But a preliminary framework — a deal with an average of roughly $10 million guaranteed money annually might be a palatable alternative for both sides — certainly appears to now be in place for both sides going forward.

3. Not sure what this means in the overall scheme of things, but when it comes to the idea of focus, it’€™s worth passing along: As Peterson and Sherman got into (what seemed to be a good-natured) Twitter fight over the course of the last week regarding Peterson’€™s new deal and their overall worth, there was no Twitter chatter from Revis. In fact, once considered a prolific Tweeter — and someone who got into a beef of his own on Twitter with Sherman back in 2013 — Revis has been largely absent from any offseason back-and-forth. He’€™s Tweeted just 10 times since June 1, including one on July 31 where he congratulated “mentor [and] longtime friend Ty Law” on being inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Sherman has kept up a non-stop barrage of chatter, Tweeting 19 times alone since the Seahawks opened camp on July 25. This would seem to be a pretty good indication that Revis is on the Patriots program.

4. The recent run of injuries suffered by some of last year’€™s playoff teams — and the relatively healthy outlook for the Patriots — really drives home the point that New England has been very lucky in recent years when it comes to avoiding health problems over the course of training camp and into the preseason. Word came down Saturday that San Francisco defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is out for the year with a torn bicep — that’s on the heels of running backs Kendall Hunter (ACL, expected to be out for the year) and LaMichael James (elbow, out up to a month) going down with injuries. (That doesn’€™t begin to take into account the fact that wide receiver Michael Crabtree is out for the next couple of weeks because of a hamstring issue.) In addition, the Colts lost two potential starters for the year to injury when running back Vick Ballard and offensive lineman Donald Thomas went down, while the Giants lost running back David Wilson for an undetermined period of time because of a neck injury. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have also struggled with injury, as tight end Anthony McCoy went down with an Achilles issue and defensive tackle Jesse Williams was carted off the field recently with a knee problem.

While the Patriots have had their share of players who are coming off injury and slowly being re-integrated back into action — as well as some players who have missed some time — they have yet to sustain a serious injury that was thought to be season-ending. That includes the sideline collision involving rookie running back Roy Finch and special teamer Kanorris Davis at Friday’€™s in-stadium workout. After Finch gathered in a pass from Ryan Mallett, he spun and raced up the sidelines, only to be pushed out of bounced. Along the way, he collided with some players along the sideline, including Davis. Both Davis and Finch stayed down for an extended stretch, and while Davis later got up and continued with practice, Finch left for the locker room shortly after that. According to the Boston Herald, Finch’€™s injury is not believed to be serious, but the rookie will certainly be one to watch over the next week or so heading into the preseason opener against the Redskins.

5. In that same vein, here’€™s a look at who has compiled the most absences over the course of the first eight training camp practices. (It’€™s important to remember that in some cases, players like Tyler Gaffney and Greg Orton have been shuffled on and off the active roster since the start of camp — that’€™s one of the reasons why they don’€™t have more official absences than the ones we have listed here.)

Eight absences
Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot)
Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon
Defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee)
Linebacker Deontae Skinner
Offensive lineman Chris Martin

Seven absences
Defensive back Jemea Thomas

Six absences
Special teamer Matthew Slater

Four absences
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui
Running back Tyler Gaffney
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard

Three absences
Center Bryan Stork

Two absences
Defensive lineman Tommy Kelly
Cornerback Daxton Swanson
Linebacker Cameron Gordon

One absence
Wide receiver Greg Orton
Offensive lineman Dan Connolly
Linebacker Chris White
Wide receiver Josh Boyce

6. The Patriots went hard after receiver Steve Smith this offseason, and apparently came close to landing him as a free agent. The mind reels at the possibilities of Smith in a New England uniform for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that even at the age of 35, he remains one of the most intense and spirited competitors in the recent history of the league. (As we wrote earlier this month, the mind reels at the thought of having Smith and the uber-competitive Brandon Browner in camp at the same tine.) The veteran had a day off earlier in the week — he told reporters who asked him about his absence was because he “beat the defense up, so they wanted to give me a day off.”€ We addressed it here, but it bears repeating, especially in the wake of Smith getting into a training camp fight with defensive back Chykie Brown on Saturday — the Patriots targeted a few players this offseason who have a rep as high-energy guys, individuals who could specifically bring a shot of adrenaline to their respective positions. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact that decision has on the 2014 club.

7. Call it keeping the “New England”€ in “€œNew England Patriots”: The team has always had a handful of players with New England ties looking to land jobs, and this year is no exception. Three of the players on the active roster went to college in New England: Fullback James Develin went to Brown, while wide receiver Derrick Johnson is a rookie out of Maine looking to crack the roster and rookie long snapper Tyler Ott is a Harvard product. Meanwhile, the biggest name with local ties on the coaching staff is new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, a Boston University product who also coaches at Boston College and UConn and was born in Cambridge. (Others with New England connections over the last few seasons include Dorchester native and former offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien, as well as Maine product Matthew Mulligan, who spent the bulk of the 2013 season with the Patriots. In addition, there’€™s been a steady stream of BC products over the years, including Dan Koppen, Damien Woody and Doug Flutie.)

8. Jace Amaro was the binky of several New England football fans in the months leading up to the draft, as the pass-catching tight end out of Texas Tech was seen as a nice complement to Gronkowski — a player who could be moved around to multiple spots on the field while picking up big yardage in the process. Amaro ended up being selected by the second round by the Jets, and even though it’€™s relatively early in his professional career, he’€™s certainly struggled with the adjustment to life in the NFL. This story from the New York Post details a series of Amaro’€™s missteps, including a drop from the rookie that sparked one teammate to jeer, “Can’€™t catch a cold.”€ In an interview, Amaro acknowledged that he was having issues with the transition of going from the Texas Tech offense to life in the NFL.

“€œI felt like I went through a similar transition in college,”€ Amaro said. “€œI struggled a lot my freshman year. It’€™s a process. It takes a little bit and I ended up doing what I did at Texas Tech. I kind of play it the way I did back then. I wasn’€™t All-America my freshman year. It takes some time.

“€œBut I feel like I’€™m more advanced than I was coming into college. That’€™s a plus. I feel like it’€™s going to come a lot quicker than a lot later. But I’€™m not worried about it. I just have to get better every day. I feel like I did some good things today. I won almost every one-on-one route I run. It’€™s just finishing the play and making sure I’€™m doing the little things right.”

9. The league has already indicated they will make illegal contact between defenders and pass catchers a renewed point of emphasis heading into the 2014 season, and we’€™ve already spoken to several members of the New England secondary and what that means for the Patriots defensive backs. The Patriots will get their official explanation on exactly what that means from the officials next week when they hold their joint practices with the Eagles — according to New England coach Bill Belichick, that’€™s when the referees will make their annual trek to Foxboro to meet with the players and take questions on the rules, as well as any rules changes. However, the reactions around the league from teams who have already had visits with referees (and have had officials work with teams at practice) is pretty strong: After a flurry of flags at practice with the Redskins, Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, “They can’€™t let Peyton Manning get routed again in the Super Bowl, so it’€™s definitely going to be a little different.”€ Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett didn’€™t take kindly to the suggestion from an official that teams would have to change their style of play. And Ed Hochuli spoke with the media after working with the Packers, and estimated that in the first 10 plays in drills between the wide receivers and defensive backs, there were 10 penalties committed by the DBs.

However, some older players and coaches have simply shrugged their shoulders, believing it’€™ll go back to business as usual when the regular season begins.

Now with the Broncos, former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talb said it’€™s nothing he hasn’€™t heard before. “They always talk about it, but once it’€™s September and the real games start, it will probably be regular,”€ Talib told reporters on Friday. “€œIt’€™ll probably go through preseason and die out.  It doesn’€™t matter. It is what it is.”€

And Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau concurred, saying he doesn’€™t anticipate things being called much differently. “There’€™s always been a lot of defensive holding called and pass interference called,”€ LeBeau said. “€œI don’€™t think it’€™s going to change the way we coach it. I hope our guys will react if they are being very much a stickler for the rule.”

Two important things to remember: one, according to former NFL head referee Mike Pereira, the decision to come down hard on pushing and tugging and shoving receivers resulted in an increase in illegal contact fouls from 79 to 191. And two, several defensive players have been vocal about the fact that illegal contact can work both ways, as pass catchers can create separation with a sneaky or well-timed push off. Regardless, it’€™ll be interesting to see how the calls go in the preseason, as well as whether or not the pace continues into the regular season.

10. Through the first eight games of camp, Gronkowski hasn’€™t been involved in any serious contact. He’€™s worked in a series of drills throughout the first part of practice, and has had a standing session on the side every day with Brady (and occasionally Revis ). But there’€™s been no work for him in 11-on-11 full contact drills. With the preseason opener now less than a week away, what could be in store for Gronkowski as he progresses to the next stage of his rehab? By way of comparison — and it’€™s important to note that every ACL rehab process is different — here’€™s a quick look back at how the Patriots handled two other notables in their first preseason chances after suffering a serious knee injury.

In 2010, Wes Welker was working his way back after shredding his knee in the 2009 regular-season finale against the Texans, and almost seven months to the day after his injury, he was in pads on the practice field with his teammates. The Patriots kept him out of the preseason opener against the Saints, with his first preseason action in 28-10 win in Week 2 against the Falcons. In that one, Welker saw limited action taking six snaps as he continued to ramp back up to full strength. In Week 3 against the Rams, it was another six snaps (and two catches) in a 36-35 loss to St. Louis. In the regular-season opener against the Bengals, he had eight catches (on 11 targets) for 64 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-24 win over Cincinnati.

After losing almost all of the 2008 season because of a knee injury, Brady went through a similar process in the 2009 preseason. He appeared to take the usual number of reps over the course of the summer, and jumped back in with both feet in the preseason opener, taking 24 snaps and throwing two touchdown passes in a 27-25 win over Philadelphia. In the third preseason game against the Redskins, his numbers peaked — 29 snaps, 12-for-19 for 150 yards with two touchdowns, no picks, one sack and a QB rating of 122.7. (Of course, the mood was dampened when Albert Haynesworth crashed into his shoulder.) He didn’€™t play in the preseason finale, but in the regular-season opener, Brady finished 39-for-53 for 378 yards and two touchdown passes in a dramatic 25-24 comeback win over the Bills.

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