Time will tell if play changes with regular referees

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Time will tell if play changes with regular referees

FOXBORO -- The inconsistencies of the replacement referees seemed to break both ways during the NFL season's first three weeks. On one play, players might get away with an extra hold here, or a bump of a receiver there. On another, the slightest of infractions might get whistled.

Now that the league's referee lockout is over, the regular officials are back, and with them -- presumably -- more consistent rulings on certain penalties.

But how will the arrival of the league's regular officials change the way players play? Did players try to take advantage of the replacement officials who couldn't keep up with the game's pace? Or were players forced to try to cater to a new set of standards so that they wouldn't be flagged?

"I can't say that I did or didn't," Matthew Slater said when asked if he saw players trying to get away with more during the first three weeks.

"When you start thinking about the calls being made, and thinking that you're going to be jipped by a call then it affects the way you play the game. You live by the law of the land. If they're holding and grabbing, then you just gotta play through it. That's what we had to do and that's what we'll continue to have to do."

Rob Ninkovich said calls made by the replacement officials didn't change how he approached games.

"Everything's going at a real fast pace out there," he said. "You're just trying to play ball. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes the flag's thrown. Sometimes it's not, even when there was the old refs. What it comes down to at the end of the day is it's playing football. You can't really worry about the flags."

Slater said he'd be watching Thursday Night's game between the Ravens and the Browns, but not to see how the new officials change the game.

"I'll be watching the game to see the players play the game," he said. "I'm sure it'll be discussed by the commentators and other people, the networks and things like that. But like I said, nobody's to blame in this situation. It was a tough situation for all parties involved, and now that it's resolved we can move forward."

Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

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Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

NFL Siberia can’t be all that bad. The Cleveland Browns have signed Jamie Collins to an extension that keeps him off the free agent market.

The former Patriot, stunningly shipped out of town on Halloween, has agreed to a reported four-year, $50 million deal with $26M in guaranteed money.

As eyebrow-raising as the move was at the time, this is an all’s well that ends well story.

Collins, a reluctant Patriot once it came clear the team wouldn’t to aim a confetti cannon of money at him, gets the desired big-dough deal. He didn’t drape himself in glory with his level of play this year in New England, but his agitation over making $900K this year was understandable.

The Patriots -- who made the deal not knowing exactly how it would work out with Collins’ fleet of replacements (primarily rookie Elandon Roberts and, October acquisition Kyle Van Noy) -- have played better defense since Collins has been gone and are headed to the Super Bowl.

Would they have been better if Collins stayed? The answer to that is a question: Which version of Collins, the irked one or the motivated one?

Collins did nothing to veil his desire for a huge contract, saying at the end of the season he’d stay with the hapless Browns if the money was right. Now that he’s decided the money was right, what kind of Collins will the Browns get? With $26M guaranteed, the Browns have tethered themselves to the 27-year-old Collins for a chunk of his prime. The shorter term is ideal for Collins because -- if he performs to his capability -- he’ll be able to see another lucrative deal before he’s too aged.

The deal will certainly be noticed by Collins’ former teammates, primarily Donta Hightower who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

The Patriots could franchise Hightower (last year’s tag number was more than $14M) but that’s not going to be ideal for either side. Hightower will want to get the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal and the Patriots may be reluctant to pay that much to a player that’s got an injury history and plays one of the game’s most violent positions.

A lot’s going to happen between now and the time the Patriots have to make their decision. A good deal of it will happen in the next 12 days. If Hightower stealthily saves the Super Bowl as he did in 2014 with his first-down tackle on Marshawn Lynch … how do you put a price on that?