With all that in mind, it's nice to appreciate this run of offseason storylines — from the combine to the entryway of free agency — knowing full well that all is right on the football calendar.
1. The line of the week came from — who else? — Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was in Worcester on Friday to spike a puck before the AHL's Sharks-Bruins game. The puck broke into four pieces, causing Gronkowski to beam after, "Only footballs can handle my spikes."
2. Although there was some speculation it could have been a fake puck, Gronkowski was genuine when he said it was real. I can't remember ever hearing about a puck shattering before, so it's a little suspect. But it's not like the puck would get taken to a forensics lab, either, so it's best to just take him on his word.
3. Gronkowski rode onto the ice on the back of a pickup truck from the Zamboni entrance, and he was excited — to the point of disbelief — to hear the crowd give him a huge ovation before they could even see him. He knows his stardom has reached a national level, but he still genuinely appreciates the reception he gets from his hometown fans.
5. Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker chimed in Monday that the combine is a "waste of time", and he jokes about the pre-draft process and the draft all the time. Considering he was undrafted and quarterback Tom Brady went in the sixth round, the two have had some good back-and-forths about the draft being a schmozzle.
6. However, the tweet reminded me of some things former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach told me about Welker a couple months ago. When Welker was playing in all-star games for college recruits, the games were either two-hand touch or flag football. Someone like Welker won't measure out in those games or the combine. Some players are just superior when they're wearing pads and there's actual contact.
7. I don't mean for this to sound like a "the combine is useless" rant because I think it serves a meaningful purpose. It can just be too easy to fall in love with workouts statistics when the true barometer of a player should be measured by his film.
8. Based on listening to Kevin Faulk speak about his future, it's starting to sound like he wants to play another season, but he's just waiting to get Bill Belichick's official opinion on the matter. The response would likely come in one of two forms: Belichick could tell Faulk he wants him on his team in 2012, like he did last year, or the head coach could tell Faulk that he'd have to work over the next six months to make the team.
9. The variable in this equation is Faulk's knee, which should be back to full strength by September because it would be two years since the injury. I think that's what has made this such a difficult decision because Faulk and Belichick truly don't know at this point how high Faulk's ceiling can be in terms of his health.
10. Defensive tackle Kyle Love has signed with agents Richard Kopelman and Sean Stellato, which is notable because Love is an exclusive rights free agent (a fancy way of saying the Patriots can keep him if they want him). Anyway, Kopelman and Stellato orchestrated two-year contracts for linebacker Gary Guyton and cornerback Kyle Arrington when they were exclusive rights free agents, so that's probably where Love is heading.
11. If the Patriots simply picked up Love's tender for a one-year deal, he'd be a restricted free agent next year. And if he continues to blossom like he did in 2011, the Patriots would probably have to give him a first-round tender and maybe even a long-term deal to keep him around. With a two-year contract this offseason, they could avoid those complications in 2013.
12. The Boston Globe reported the Patriots are prepared to move on from center Dan Koppen (unrestricted free agent) and left tackle Matt Light (under contract through 2012, though he could retire). The Patriots absolutely have the resources to part ways with each player, but it would be very strange to see either in a different uniform. New England has had a consistent core of linemen since 2005, but with the departures of Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur, as well as the uncertain fate of Light and Koppen, Logan Mankins could be the last man standing.
13. Wide receiver Deion Branch, who's an unrestricted free agent, has said a number of times since 2010 that he wants to retire in New England. It'd be an eye-opener if he wasn't back in 2012, but if the Patriots attack the free-agent market and the draft, Branch would be put in a position where he's got to compete for a job.
14. I got an interesting question in last week's mailbag about the possibility of New England trading for Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. After exploring it, I think it's a longshot to actually happen, but the Vikings will have to justify the massive amount of money they owe him over the next two seasons. If the Vikings don't rework his deal — and after a 22-sack season, Allen has very little incentive to oblige — they might have to move him somewhere.
15. I've brought this up in other forums before, but Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is due for a $14 million base salary in 2012. Obviously, the Colts will have some extra cash when they inevitably release quarterback Peyton Manning, so it's not out of the question for them to keep Freeney. But can they really pay him that much money with a straight face? If not, look for the Patriots to attempt to snipe him.
16. Since Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III has become football's hottest topic, I wanted to pass along my analysis of Griffin's game, the trade compensation the Rams will receive for the second overall pick and a rundown of the teams that will be most interested for Griffin's services.
17. While scrolling through the Patriots' roster in the NFLPA's files, I noticed they signed quarterback Mike Hartline to a one-year deal with a base salary of $390,000. It's weird because the Patriots never announced the transaction. Hartline is the younger brother of Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline, and the quarterback was undrafted out of Kentucky in 2011. After signing with the Colts, Hartline was released late in camp and didn't sign with another NFL team.
18. Consider the signing as the addition of a live arm for offseason camps. If the Patriots draft a quarterback for the fourth time in five years or add a rookie after the draft, Hartline could be expendable. There's no chance the Patriots will have four quarterbacks on the active roster in 2012.
19. The Patriots also recently added running back Eric Kettani to the roster for a one-year contract with a base salary of $390,000. Kettani told me in January he was hoping to hear about his appeal to return to the NFL from the Navy within a couple months, but there was no official timetable.
20. Since Wednesday is Feb. 29, it's worth noting the Patriots have been to the Super Bowl during the last three leap years (2004, 2008, 2012). The Redskins have actually accomplished that feat, too (1984, 1988, 1992). So there's that.
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