Observations from Patriots OTAs

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Observations from Patriots OTAs

FOXBORO -- A few notes from watching New England's first OTA session open to media.

The shirts-and-shorts session began with stretching. Offense wore blue and defense wore grey. As noted on Tuesday, the players did not have jerseys on, but numbers could be spied on shorts and helmets.

I didn't see Sebastian Vollmer, Daniel Fells, Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, Tracy White, Myron Pryor, Anthony Gonzalez, or Jeremy Ebert while scanning the practice field. It's possible any or all showed up after reporters left the session.

Rob Gronkowski was seen jogging and working with trainers. He was joined by Brandon Spikes, who had offseason surgery on his right knee; Matt Slater, who might have tweaked something during the session, and Nate Ebner, who spent time on a stationary bike during rookie camp because of an unknown injury. Spikes looked okay, running at one point on a harness (it does look as weird as it sounds).

The team then broke apart for positional work. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia could be heard hollering at the offensive line as the guys did some one-on-one work. Nate Solder got a few snaps at left tackle, as expected in the post-Matt Light era. Elsewhere on the line, Robert Gallery stood in as left guard for Mankins and Ryan Wendell played right guard for Waters. Also of note on the O-line, Dan Connolly was first in at center with long-time starter Dan Koppen behind him. More on that later . . .

The trio of quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, and Brian Hoyer -- did some passing drills with a rotating group of receivers, backs, and tight ends. At one point, Brady was surrounded by a new-look group: Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Aaron Hernandez, Chad Ochocinco, and Joseph Addai on his right.

Despite the targets, backup Ryan Mallett struggled with accuracy on a few balls. He followed up a sweet bomb to Stallworth with an ugly grounder in the slot where Welker was waiting. Mallett then missed Hernandez on the outside. There was some sloppiness all around, though.

Julian Edelman worked with the offense for as long as I could see. He also played special teams as a punt returner (as did Deion Branch and Wes Welker).

Interesting sight: Defensive end Alex Silvestro had to act as a tight end. With Gronkowski unavailable for positional work and Daniel Fells absent (during the media portion, keep in mind), Silvestro was -- at least for today -- the handiest replacement.

Got a look at Shane Vereen and rookie Brandon Bolden during running back drills. All the players were tasked with basic stuff -- keeping their weight over their feet and selling the move without going too hard. From what I could see, everybody had soft hands. Bolden dug in too hard on one run, but corrected the next time out and was complimented. Second-year back Stevan Ridley had nice quickness today.

During 7-on-7, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington started at cornerback. Patrick Chung and free agent acquisition Steve Gregory were the safeties.

Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

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Report: NFL paid Goodell over $31 million in 2015

Roger Goodell's salary has reportedly fallen in recent years, but he's still paid handsomely for his work as NFL commissioner.

According to the Associated Press, Goodell earned just over $31 million for 2015. That's a seven percent decrease from the $34 million he received for 2014. 

The NFL's last tax return served as an indicator of Goodell's 2015 salary. The league's tax returns no longer have to be made public since it has changed its status from exempt to taxable, per the AP.

The next-highest paid executive at the NFL offices on Park Avenue? General counsel Jeff Pash, one of the most prominent players in the Deflategate sage, who earned $6.5 million in 2015, down from $7.5 million in 2014. 

Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

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Richardson suspended one game for violating personal conduct policy

The NFL announced this week that Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson has been suspended without pay for Week 1 of the 2016 regular season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. 

Richardson will miss his team's season-opener against the Bengals and will be eligible to return to the Jets active roster on Sep. 12. The Jets and the Patriots meet for the first of their two division games on Nov. 27. 

Richardson responded to the news of suspension on Thursday. 

In July of 2015, Richardson led police on a high-speed chase -- hitting speeds as high as 143 miles per hour -- in suburban St. Louis. Police reported a strong odor of marijuana in the car and inside found a loaded, semiautomatic handgun that was possessed legally. Richardson had a 12-year-old relative riding with him in his Bentley at the time of the incident.

In January, Richardson pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. Though he avoided jail time, he was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. 

Richardson has been one of the league's best defensive linemen since entering the league as a first-rounder in 2013. He served a four-game suspension to start last season after violating the league's substance abuse policy.

PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

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PFF: Collins is 'the best linebacker in the AFC'

He may have been left off of the NFL Network's Top 100 list, but Jamie Collins isn't flying under the radar at Pro Football Focus.

On PFF's list of the top 10 defensive players in the AFC, the Patriots linebacker came in at No. 8 and was given the description as the top linebacker in the conference.

Collins' versatility within the confines of the Patriots defense is what makes him so valuable, PFF's John Kosko explains: 

"He doesn’t dominate in any one role like Luke Kuechly does in pass coverage and run defense, but he is very good at all facets of the game. Collins has the athleticism to cover TEs and HBs effectively, the explosiveness to rush the passer, and the size and strength to defend the run. 

"The former Southern Mississippi linebacker is arguably the most versatile player in the NFL, and allows Bill Belichick to employ a defense that confuses opposing quarterbacks. With the only knock against Collins being his 34 missed tackles the past two seasons, the Patriot is the best linebacker in the AFC."

Collins graded out as the No. 5 linebacker in football last year, per PFF's numbers. He ranked behind only Carolina's Luke Kuechly, Minnesota's Anthony Barr, Indianapolis' Jerrell Freeman and Seattle's KJ Wright. 

Fellow Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower earned the 10th-highest grade for linebackers last season, according to PFF -- a grade that likely would have been higher had his snap-count (602 in 2015) approached that of Collins (792).

While Collins is a rare physical talent, the argument could be made that it's Hightower who is the more important player to the Patriots defense given his prowess as a pass-rusher and run-defender. He also has myriad responsibilities as the extension of the team's coaching staff in the defensive huddle. 

In order to slow down opposing passing games, many Patriots defensive packages employ either five or six defensive backs and just two linebackers. Lucky for them, they have two of the best in the conference.

Both Collins and Hightower are entering contract years this year, and finding a way to keep them in-house figures to be near the top of the list of priorities for the Patriots front office.