Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

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Postcard from Camp: Saints make a visit

Day 14 at camp was something new and different. The Patriots finally had a chance to hit players that weren't their teammates as the Saints came to town for the first of two joint practices.

WEATHER
Another perfect day at Gillette. Temperatures in the 80s. Bright sun. Few clouds. Good opportunity to work on a farmer's tan.

WHAT THEY WORE
Full pads for everyone. The only red jerseys on the field were worn by the quarterbacks on both sides. Jon Bon Jovi, who was in attendance as a guest of Robert Kraft, wore Levis.

WHAT THEY DID
2:00-2:30 Teams warmed up and stretched.

2:30-2:45 Players broke off into positional groups and worked on drills.

2:45-3:00 This is when the Pats and Saints began the intermingling process. Both teams ran one-on-one drills with receivers and tight ends trying to beat safeties and corners. Linemen from both teams squared off in pass rush drills, while backs did their best to stuff linebackers in pass protection drills.

3:00-3:05 Patriots punted to the Saints here. Matthew Slater stood out as the best gunner on the field. Zoltan Mesko was hanging them high and long.

3:05-3:15 Both teams went through 7-on-7s at this point. Drew Brees showed off his pin-point accuracy, hitting tightly-covered receivers for diving grabs. Former Patriot David Thomas beat Bobby Carpenter for a nice laid-out grab in the end zone. Dont'a Hightower and Carpenter -- two of the new guys -- seemed to communicate well when the Saints went in motion. No blown coverages by the Pats.

3:15-3:20 Saints punted to the Pats here. Edelman had the highlight of this brief session with a few quick moves that would have sprung him for a huge gain, and maybe a touchdown, had it been a 100 percent live situation. Steven Ridley also got some time in the punt return game, but as a punt rusher.

3:20-4:15 Here's where we got to see both teams go at it in 11-on-11 work. Kyle Arrington started at the right corner spot in the Patriots' base package, not Ras-I Dowling. When the team brought in another defensive back, Arrington bumped down into the slot and Dowling went to the outside. Arrington didn't necessarily look uncomfortable on the outside, but he did get beat long by Joseph Morgan for the Saints' longest pass play of the day. Patrick Chung had a tough day trying to deal with Jimmy Graham. He got beat on a couple different occasions and also let an easy pick slip through his hands. Steve Gregory got a chance to show his stuff as a pass rusher, coming in off the edge on at least two occasions. Tom Brady was lucky that it wasn't a game situation because Saints players busted through the Patriots tattered offensive line more than once. Will Smith had his way with Nick McDonald, who was playing left tackle at one point. Though he didn't hit a ton of big plays, Brees appeared to be in mid-season form, moving through his progressions quickly and making accurate passes to several different receivers.

WHAT WE SAW
Dont'a Hightower (6-foot-3, 270 pounds) was able to stick with little Darren Sproles (5-6, 190) as Sproles ran a route out of the backfield. Sproles ended up dropping the pass from Drew Brees, but Hightower showed impressive quickness to not be thrown by Sproles' mid-route cuts.

Hernandez stretched out to make a fantastic one-handed catch downfield from Hoyer. The TE was less happy when he couldn't make another one-hander over Johnson in the corner of the end zone, but that might have been the catch of the camp had he made it.

Jon Bon Jovi, Robert Kraft and Saints owner Tom Benson held a powwow before the practice session.

Members of the military got a standing ovation from the 14,830 fans in attendance as they walked around the edge of the field near the end of practice.

WHO'S HOT
Easy to see why Matthew Slater was a Pro Bowler last year. He looked nearly unblockable during Patriots punts. He was consistently the first player down the field (with two Saints chasing behind him), and he did a good job of not over-running the returner.

Brees was accurate, and though he threw one pick to Gregory, didn't seem to try to force anything. His backs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles got a lot of work.

Seemed to be another pretty good day for rookie defensive end from Rutgers Justin Francis. He looked strong in drills against the Saints offensive line and made a nice play to snuff out a shovel pass from Chase Daniel to Darren Sproles.

WHO'S NOT
No Brandon Spikes again today -- he missed Monday's session as well -- so Bobby Carpenter took snaps with the first team defense.

After a solid Monday, Tom Brady went back to looking sub-par. He started okay in 7-on-7, going 9 for 11. Rob Gronkowski was held on one ball, but the other miss was an interception -- Saints LB Curtis Lofton got his hands on the ball during red zone work. He also threw a pick during the 2-minute drill when Malcolm Jenkins made a diving grab over the middle. Several missed connections were scattered over the field today.
Deion Branch had limited participation today. He's been used sparingly of late. This is one to watch . . .

CB Will Allen looked lost during one-on-one drills against Saints receivers. He got beat easily for long touchdowns on consecutive chances. He has missed some practice time of late, and it looked like he wasn't really ready to be back.

WHAT THEY SAID
"It's good to see old friends." -- Donte' Stallworth, who was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Phil Perry and Mary Paoletti contributed to this report.

Patriots may get help from Foster . . . but not the one you think

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Patriots may get help from Foster . . . but not the one you think

As Patriots fans across New England worked themselves into a fine lather at the sight of Arian Foster in Boston over the weekend, another running back of the same last name prepared himself for his first-ever week of OTAs. 

D.J. Foster may not have the resume that Arian Foster has racked up over the course of his seven-year career, but the undrafted rookie running back's skill set is intriguing nonetheless. And he's healthy, whereas the former Texans Pro Bowler is coming off of a season-ending Achilles ailment and hasn't played a full season since 2012. 

Foster could be considered one of the players on the Patriots roster who stands the most to gain from this phase of the team's offseason program. Not only will he be taught to put into practice that which he's learned during his brief time in Foxboro this far, but there could be valuable reps available to him as Dion Lewis works his way back from a season-ending ACL injury suffered last fall. 

Foster, who played receiver during his final collegiate season at Arizona State, may slot in behind veteran sub backs James White and Donald Brown, but he'll still have an opportunity to show what he can do this spring. This is considered a "teaching camp" by the Patriots, not a "competition camp," meaning the lines between first, second and third string are a bit more blurry than they might be during training camp. Everyone gets a shake. 

At 5-foot-10 and 193 pounds Foster may be considered slight to run between the tackles, but his quickness could help him make defenders miss in the hole. He ran a 6.75-second three-cone drill at this year's combine, which was fourth among wideouts. Had he been considered a back, he would've topped the list at that position for that drill. 

Foster worked primarily with running backs coach Ivan Fears when he first arrived at Gillette Stadium, making it sound as though he'll be in the mix as one of the team's pass-catching backs. But knowing the Patriots, they'll be open to splitting him out wide as well. 

Wherever he's used, Foster will have his work cut out for him as he learns the offense and tries to develop an on-the-field rapport with his quarterbacks. Slow going as his development may be, his ceiling is exciting. 

One thing's for certain: At this point, he's of more use to the club than a veteran back coming off of a major injury who isn't quite ready to pass a physical. 

Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

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Despite discord, Goodell's reign may not be nearing end

Monday may have marked a low point in the relationship between the NFL and its on-field employees.

The fight between the league and its best player of the past two decades was in the headlines again. Tom Brady, tied to the NFL’s bumper and dragged around for almost 500 days, had his NFLPA legal team baring its teeth again in the Deflategate mess. The eye-gouging and hair-pulling in that imbroglio over a puff of air allegedly being removed from footballs has cost the league and the PA about $25M so far.

Meanwhile, NFLPA President Eric Winston was saying the league "cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it involves players.” That comment flowed from a Congressional report alleging the NFL tried to exert influence over who would conduct studies regarding Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the condition that’s been blamed for a myriad of former players winding up addled, incapacitated or dead.

I say “may have marked” because the relationship between the two sides has cratered so frequently over the past two years, it’s hard to know exactly what the low point has been. Or how much lower it can go.

And, with the 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement only half done, there is ample opportunity for things to get worse. Because, really, why would they get better?

With the NFL’s owners safe knowing that their emperor/puppet/human shield is still in place to take the hits and do their dirty work, there’s seemingly no groundswell among that group to relieve Roger Goodell of his duties. Despite reports of growing owner discontent over Deflategate, the Ray Rice investigation, and an appeal of a case in which the league was found to have withheld $100M from players, there is no Sword of Damocles dangling over the league to cut ties with Goodell.

He was able to oversee the league’s re-entry in Los Angeles (though that “triumph” was fraught with owner acrimony), is going to get a game played in China, keeps edging closer to getting a franchise based in Europe and may even land one in Las Vegas, has enhanced the league’s reach on social media (the announcement of some games being aired on Twitter) and keeps making billions hand over fist.

Goodell’s presence won’t be an impediment to a new labor deal getting done for another five years. By then, when the issues of Goodell’s role in player discipline, drug testing and his relationship with the union come to the fore, the owners might feel compelled to cut him loose after 15 seasons in charge.

But even then, the league’s owners will be in the business of pointing out to the players how good they’ve had it under the current CBA. The league’s salary cap structure – decried as a disaster in the first years of the deal – has seen the cap grow from $120M in 2011 to $155M this year. Players’ practice time and the wear and tear on their bodies has been reduced thanks to the new limits on contact enacted. Benefits are better. Retired players are getting better care. Players have more off-field marketing opportunities with companies that want to affix themselves to the most popular sport in the United States.

As bad as the headlines have been for Goodell, in five years (or probably fewer since negotiations on a new CBA will begin in 2020) who will remember the disaster that’s been Deflategate? How inspired will players be to miss games and paychecks for the satisfaction of knowing Goodell can’t be his own arbitrator anymore?

To sum it up, Goodell’s dark disciplinary reign may well continue unabated for a few more seasons. But as long as the league rains money on its players through the end of this decade, the clock isn’t ticking on Goodell and the owners in the form of labor strife.

Smith: Brady made an 'incredibly generous offer' to settle Deflategate

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Smith: Brady made an 'incredibly generous offer' to settle Deflategate

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the Dan Patrick Show -- hosted by Ross Tucker on Monday -- to discuss the petition that was eventually filed to the Second Circuit requesting a rehearing for Tom Brady's case. 

During the discussion, Smith insisted that Brady made a settlement offer long ago that might've resolved things. But because the NFL wanted more, a deal was never struck. Now here we are, almost 500 days since the AFC Championship Game in January of 2015, and Deflategate is still a living, breathing thing. 

"Tom's a standup guy," Smith said. "And I think he made a settlement offer to resolve this. The league chose not to take it, and that's where we are . . . I don't want to go into details, but it was an incredibly generous offer to resolve this. The league asked for something that no man should agree to do."

Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran explained on Monday's episode of Quick Slants that Brady was willing to accept a one-game suspension for a lack of cooperation at the outset of the investigation. But the league was looking for a face to take the blame, Curran explained. 

Both Jim McNally and John Jastremski were willing to take the heat off of Brady, but Brady insisted that he would not throw anyone else under the bus because he believed that there was no wrongdoing on his part or anyone else's when it came to the preparation of game footballs. 

With no one offered up to shoulder the blame, the NFL declined to agree to any proposal from Brady's camp. At that point, it would have been almost impossible to predict that this case would one day be only a step or two from getting the US Supreme Court involved. 

Yet here we are.