Quick-hit thoughts around NFL, Patriots

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
5:00
AM ET
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Patriots:

1. The difference of opinion between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff on Dimitroff’s trade up for receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 draft was documented in Michael Holley’s book, “War Room.” After following up on that storyline earlier in the week, some asked what the Browns did with those picks. Here is the breakdown:

Falcons get
2011 first-round (6th overall) -- WR Julio Jones

Browns get
2011 first-rounder (27th) – Traded with ’11 third-rounder (70th overall) for 21st overall pick (DT Phil Taylor)

2011 second-rounder (59th) – WR Greg Little

2011 fourth-rounder (124th) – FB Owen Marecic

2012 first-rounder (22nd) – QB Brandon Weeden

2012 fourth-rounder (118th) – Traded in package to move up for RB Trent Richardson in first round

There are always multiple layers to evaluating a trade. Based on the players the Browns selected, compared with Jones emerging as a big-time difference-maker, the Falcons have to feel like they earned a decisive victory. Of course, that doesn’t consider the players the Browns could have selected, or how a management/head coaching change in 2013 affected the development/future of some of those picks.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsIt's hard to argue with Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff's decision to deal five draft picks to Cleveland to acquire WR Julio Jones.
2a. I think there’s a reason why Belichick didn’t directly answer the question as to whether he might now have a different opinion on the Jones trade two-plus years later, even knowing what type of player Jones has become and still could be. My feeling is because it’s that he doesn’t have a different opinion and doesn’t feel the need for that to be out there publicly. It’s not so much about Jones, the receiver position, and how the team evaluates receivers. To me, it ties more to his core philosophy on the importance of depth, and how one player almost always isn’t worth five.

2b. There are different ways to build a team and Belichick’s has been successful. It doesn’t mean other blueprints can’t work, and if I’m Dimitroff, I still make the trade because I think it was the right move for the Falcons.

3. With defensive end Rob Ninkovich in the fold, the question has been asked: What Patriot might be next in line for a contract extension? Cornerback Aqib Talib and center Ryan Wendell are the top candidates from this viewpoint. Talib, in particular, has been a difference-maker. In the end, it probably comes down to this: After all the off-field questions surrounding Talib from his time with the Buccaneers, have the Patriots reached an off-field comfort level to invest a multi-year contract in him, and would Talib be willing to include some concessions in the event of another NFL suspension? That looks like the key parts of any compromise. Maybe the Patriots want more time to assess, especially after going in early with Aaron Hernandez and getting burned, but it caught my attention when Belichick said last week that Talib (playing on a one-year, $5 million deal) has become one of the team’s leaders. If we throw out Darrelle Revis’ contract as the outlier in the cornerback market, the projection is a deal in the $6 million to $8 million range per season for Talib.

4. The Patriots’ three-year contract extension with Ninkovich, through 2016, serves as a reminder of what can happen when two sides compromise and their goals are aligned. Could Ninkovich have possibly commanded more on the open market in the offseason? Most likely, but not a guarantee. In the end, Ninkovich found comfort in the team’s system as a three-down player and he had an opportunity for the most financial security of his career after entering the NFL as a fifth-round draft choice in 2006. He quickly learned how fast things can change when he tore his ACL in his rookie season, and by cashing in now, he eliminates that type of risk. Meanwhile, the Patriots value Ninkovich’s professionalism, dependability, durability and most of all, his play on the field. They now retain a core player at a fair mid-level salary. That’s why we’d say it's a win-win.

5. With Brian Hoyer now starting for the Browns, and Matt Cassel being tapped by the Vikings to replace the injured Christian Ponder, three of the league’s 32 starting quarterbacks today will have received their start in the Patriots’ system. Funny how that works sometimes -- Hoyer (undrafted, 2009) and Cassel (seventh round, 2005) have been the team’s young backups who elevated to starting roles elsewhere while high picks Rohan Davey (fourth round, 2002) and Kevin O’Connell (third round, 2008) never did. As one tweeter pointed out last week, Davey is still playing football – for the San Antonio Talons of the Arena Football League.

6. After re-watching the Patriots-Buccaneers game from last Sunday, the disconnect between what the Buccaneers are paying cornerback Darrelle Revis ($16 million per season) and how they are using him (more zone coverage than he’s played in the past) was especially notable. On some critical third-down plays, such as Aaron Dobson’s 15-yard catch with 11:48 remaining in the second quarter, Revis passed Dobson off in zone coverage. While the Buccaneers’ switch at quarterback is the big story – and it was easy to see that coming in August – I’m now more interested to see how things unfold with Revis in Tampa Bay. From afar, it seems like they’ve bought a $100,000-plus Maserati and decided to leave it in the garage.

7. With the Patriots visiting the Falcons tonight, and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan looking everything like a franchise quarterback who most teams would be happy to build around, it made me look back at the 2008 draft and why Ryan was available at No. 3 overall. That was a year in which two quarterback-needy teams – Miami and St. Louis – were picking No. 1 and 2 yet they passed in favor of left tackle Jake Long (1) and defensive end Chris Long (2). I attended Ryan’s pro day at Boston College that year and remember all the questions about his 19 interceptions his final season and if he was a real franchise quarterback. Seems silly now looking back on it.

8. This is what I wrote on Sept. 15: “When did the NFC suddenly become so much deeper than the AFC? Seems like yesterday it was the other way around.” Three weeks later, the AFC is 11-3 in games against the NFC and I’m not looking too sharp. We’ll see how it all turns out, but if I had to sum up one of the NFL’s top storylines at this point, this is it. It’s also why the NFL is so great -- who figured the Chiefs would be 3-0 and the Giants 0-3?

9. Random thought: It’s easy to correlate penalties with losing football, but that’s not always the case. Consider that the Jets lead the NFL with 34 accepted penalties but are 2-1, while only three teams have fewer accepted penalties than the Vikings (12) and only four teams have fewer accepted penalties than the Steelers (13), and they’re both 0-3.

10. Did You Know: With a win tonight, Belichick will tie Pittsburgh’s Chuck Noll for fifth place on the NFL’s all-time wins list, with 209. The top five are Don Shula (347), George Halas (324), Tom Landry (270), Curly Lambeau (229) and Noll.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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