Belichick excited to get back on the field after long wait

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Belichick excited to get back on the field after long wait

FOXBORO -- It's been 12 days since the Patriots last played a game, and the buildup to Sunday's meeting with the Bills has seemed almost interminable for coach Bill Belichick.

"Seems like a month since we've played," he said. "I think everybody's excited to get back out there and get going. We have a lot of challenges here with Buffalo in all three phases of the game as a team. Hopefully we're ready to meet those, get back out on the field and start playing again. Had a lot of practice time, a lot of film time, a lot of meeting time. Like I said I think we're excited, ready to get back out there and go. It can't get here soon enough."

Belichick said that with the extra practice time -- the Patriots have held four practices this week as opposed to the typical three leading up to a game -- the team may be a little ahead of schedule, but there is still plenty of work to do.

"The Bills give you a lot to get ready for," he said. "So we could probably take a month to get ready for Buffalo and still be working on something."

The bye week has given the Patriots more time to prepare, but they're trying to finish the week as normally as possible. Belichick explained that the team plans its weeks so that leading into a game -- no matter when it is: Sunday, Monday night, Thursday night -- players can feel as though they are going through their normal routine.

"I think those days leading up the game are pretty consistent," Belichick said. "Those days at the end are kind of the same, pretty much the same, so the player can get into that same routine so he can be at that same point weekly.

"It's not one week at all peaks, the next week you're kind of on the down slope, and the next week it peaks. You try to have it, you know, hit that crest every game . . . Personally is each guy in the same exact emotional state every week. I don't know. But the idea is to get to the highest point possible at that time and it's by sequencing the final days to try to facilitate that."

Though the structure of teams' practices have changed with the new collective bargaining agreement, Belichick said that the normal three-day practice schedule has been the same ever since he came into the NFL as an assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975. That explains why this four-day practice week is a little bit odd, even for him, and why he's itching to get back on the field for a game.

"It's been pretty much the same since I've come into the league," Belichick said of the three-day practice schedule. "Which was probably pretty much the same with Paul Brown, who changed the -- most everything Paul Brown did, I'd say, is what most professional teams do now. Sixty something, however many years later, however many years it's been."

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''