It's that weird week in the offseason when the page really starts to turn toward the future, even though there's still an eye peering back at the past. The Patriots are 10 days removed from Super Bowl XLVI, and many of them have departed the New England area.
When will they return? Will they have some new teammates with marquee names? Who might not be back with them? Those are just some of the questions I'll attempt to answer in this week's Two-Minute Drill.
1. I've pointed out a few times how the Patriots are in excellent position to contend for Super Bowl XLVII next year since quarterback Tom Brady looks like he's clearly still in his prime and the rest of the core of the team is young and improving. Assuming the Patriots retain wide receiver Wes Welker and don't face-plant in free agency, they'll have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL yet again.
2. But their greatest challenge won't be about talent and execution. It will be much more about preparation to avoid the Super Bowl hangover, which is a real thing. It's easy for players on any team to look back and think, "Why do I want to prepare this hard again all season when I know we're good enough to turn it on at the end?" Inevitably, that never works.
3. I think the Patriots are equipped to handle that type of adverse effect because the leadership is so strong and consistent at the top with Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. But it's a really difficult task, particularly since they'll be targeted more now that they're the reigning AFC champions. Think teams like the Texans, Ravens, Broncos and 49ers, in addition to their divisional opponents, won't try to prove something during their 2012 games against New England?
4. Obviously, wide receiver Randy Moss is back in the news. I've started to realize over the last two years that debating with people about Moss is the same as debating about politics. By now, your mind is made up, and you're unwilling to hear the other side of it.
5. In a way, I'm in the same boat. I've written about the topic enough in the last year and a half, and I don't think it makes sense for the Patriots to reunite with him. The previous link has my full opinion on the matter.
6. There are two arguments for a Moss reunion in New England. First, it's that he could return for low money or an incentive-laden contract, and if it doesn't work, cut him. The problem is Moss might only be the fourth target, and that could be generous since the 35-year-old has been out of football for a year. If he signs an incentive-laden deal and only averages three receptions per game, he'll probably get a little feisty that his contract escalators aren't going to kick in.
7. The second argument is that maybe he just wants to win a ring and would be happy with his role as the fourth option. If that's indeed the case, and he has changed into a full-tilt, team-first player, then of course you bring him into camp. But after what he pulled in 2009 and 2010, it's hard to say that he deserves the benefit of the doubt in that regard.
8. Adding to that last point, Moss could be all about his role heading into camp, but what happens if the team is putting up huge passing numbers, runs out to a 7-3 record in November and Moss isn't getting his stats? It's a risk to assume he'll stay on board. That's one thing Chad Ochocinco deserves huge credit for. Even though he didn't get his piece of the pie, he never sabotaged it for anyone else. It wasn't an easy year for him, but he was a team-first player through and through. As I wrote in Monday's column, cutting an unhappy Moss in November or December is a lot easier said than done.
9. One more thing to consider: The crop of available wide receivers was much thinner last year than it is now. The Patriots reportedly spoke to Moss after the lockout, but decided against signing him. At this point, wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Brandon Lloyd, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson highlight an intriguing crop of free agents, and the draft class looks pretty nice, too.
10. Lloyd is a very interesting target because he excelled for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with two other teams. The problem is Lloyd recently hired agent Tom Condon, whom the Patriots have avoided like the plague. It all stems from tight end Ben Watson's rookie contract negotiations in 2004. The Patriots haven't drafted any of Condon's clients since then, and I don't believe they've signed any, either. I know for a fact none of Condon's clients are on the current roster.
11. The bottom line is Condon works for Lloyd, and if Lloyd wants to play for McDaniels in New England, he can make it happen. It just won't be easy.
12. Think about this, though. If Lloyd can be the one to get Condon and the Patriots to end this cold war, it would only serve the Patriots well. Condon is one of the NFL's most powerful agents, and he routinely represents some of the very best players in the draft. If the Patriots can land Lloyd, the acquisition could prove to be far more valuable than just addressing a position of need.
13. The schedule for team-led offseason workout programs has been restricted under the new CBA, which was a victory for the players. Now, the Patriots can start their 2012 program April 16, which is about one month later than it began in 2010.
14. Under the new rules, the first two weeks of offseason workouts are limited to strength and conditioning, and only the strength and conditioning staff is allowed on the field with the players during that time period. The next three-week phase can include all coaches, but the offense cannot line up against the defense during that time. The final block is four weeks of OTAs and a minicamp, which are conducted like a normal run of practices. There are only 10 OTAs this year compared to the 12 that have been permitted in the past. With all of this, the Patriots will still finish minicamp by mid-to-late June before breaking for six or seven weeks to get ready for training camp, and that's been the typical schedule in recent years.
15. The Patriots will also likely host a three-day rookie camp the first weekend of May. And the Patriots can begin their training camp no earlier than 15 days prior to their preseason opener. Once the preseason schedule is announced, training camp and other dates will soon fall into place.
16. In a completely random note, I thought it was interesting that the Super Bowl had so many odd scores — 2-0, 17-12, 17-15 — but finished in a 21-17 outcome, which is the 15th most common final score in NFL history (out of 996 different final scores). Ninety-six games have ended 21-17. The most common final score has been 20-17, which has happened 239 times.
17. Check out this 21-minute NESN Daily interview with Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who weighed in on his NFL future, among other things. There were a lot of great elements to the interview, but two stuck out in particular. First, he said he reinjured his knee during his first game back in Pittsburgh, and he also noted that he went back to his hotel room and cried when he found out he wouldn't play in Super Bowl XLVI. There's some real emotion in the video, so check it out.
18. BenJarvus Green-Ellis' agent, Joel Segal, told Pro Football Talk they've had contract discussions with the Patriots, which makes sense. The Patriots can negotiate exclusively with the unrestricted free agent until March 13, and they'd obviously like to have the reliable back return to the mix. I just don't know how much the Patriots would be willing to spend on Green-Ellis after using second- and third-round picks on backs in last year's draft. Therefore, I'd be mildly surprised if he signed anything before testing the open market. And if another team bowls him over, I think the Patriots would shake his hand, congratulate him because they know he deserves it and move on with the younger duo of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
19. On Tuesday, I ran the Patriots' 10 best plays of 2011, but some great ones missed the cut. In no particular order, they included Rob Gronkowski's record-setting 14th touchdown on a lateral; his celebratory spike that traveled 35 yards; his record-setting catch from Brian Hoyer on the last meaningful snap of the regular season; Deion Branch's touchdown and Fireman Ed celebration against the Jets; Green-Ellis' 10-carry, 59-yard drive to close out the Jets; Marcus Cannon's NFL debut against the Chiefs; Kyle Arrington's league-leading sixth interception, which included two nasty blocks from Kyle Love and Rob Ninkovich; Brady's sixth touchdown pass against the Broncos that went to a high-stepping Aaron Hernandez; Brandon Spikes' one-handed interception against the Ravens; Brady's leaping, game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal against the Ravens; and Mark Anderson's momentum-turning strip-sack on Tim Tebow in Week 15.
20. The plays that didn't make the 10-worst list included Andre Carter's torn quadriceps; Brady's fourth-quarter heave to Matthew Slater that was intercepted by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith; Hernandez's end-zone drop that was picked off by Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie before halftime; and Pierre Garcon's pair of fourth-quarter touchdown receptions to help the winless Colts nearly erase a 31-3 deficit at Gillette Stadium.