Bledsoe thrilled to be Pats' Hall of Fame finalist


Bledsoe thrilled to be Pats' Hall of Fame finalist

By Jimmy Toscano

Drew Bledsoe hasnt had any problems keeping busy since retirement.

Take Friday, for instance. He had just gotten in from a day on the slopes, and was a couple hours away from hosting his 8-year-old daughters birthday party.

His winery in Walla Walla, Washington where hes from is thriving, and the Bledsoe Capital Group, a small private equity group, has been working on a major project over the last three years focused on cleaning water for the natural gas industry.

On top of all that, he still found enough time to coach his sons undefeated third- and fourth-grade flag football team last fall.

Yup, post-NFL life has been just fine for Bledsoe but theres a chance it could be even better.

Bledsoe is one of three finalists, along with former coach Bill Parcells, and defensive tackle Houston Antwine (1961-71), on the ballot for induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.

Obviously its a great honor to be considered to the Patriots Hall of Fame, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who played for the Pats from 1993-2001, said in a conference call with the New England media on Friday. Great honor to be considered and great company to be in.

Its hard to imagine its been almost 18 years since the Patriots took Bledsoe with the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL draft. But for Bledsoe, the memories seem just like yesterday.

I came up to New England for the first time, and the welcome I received with my family you got the small-town kid from Walla Walla moving across the country and being installed as a figurehead of an organization, Bledsoe said. It was pretty heady times, but the welcome I received and we received on just that first day when we came up was a bit overwhelming.

That rookie year. Ive said it a number of times, was a little bit like sticking your head in a popcorn machine. Everything was happening so fast and all that went into that was pretty crazy times. To finish that first season winning four in a row and to beat the Dolphins on the last play of the season to knock them out of the playoffs, that was a memory that certainly clearly stands out.

A lot of that success must be credited to fellow Hall of Fame finalist Bill Parcells. Both Bledsoe and Parcells joined the Pats the same year, and now, fittingly enough, theyre both up for the Hall the same year something that Bledsoe referred to as being full circle.

It was a pretty rare thing, really, when I was drafted to come to an organization that had not had much success but that all of a sudden had a Super Bowl-winning coach on the sidelines, Bledsoe said. So that was very fortuitous for me and for the organization to have a coach of his stature come in.

But the memories dont end after his rookie season. Remaining in Foxboro -- there had been rumors the team was headed to St. Louis -- after Robert Kraft bought the team. Wearing the same pair of cleats for the entire second half of the 1994 season and into the playoffs, simply because they didn't lose once he'd switched to them.

The 1996 run to the Super Bowl obviously stands out, with Bledsoe pointing to the playoff game in Foxboro as underdogs against the Steelers as his favorite that season. The Pats went on to win that one handily, 28-3. But thats not the only playoff game against the Steelers Bledsoe will remember.

Certainly one that will always be engrained in my mind is when I got to finally come back in and play against the Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh when Tommy Tom Brady sprained his ankle, he said. Thats a memory that Ill take with me for ever and ever. To be able to come back in after not playing and to help our team to win that game to get to another Super Bowl is a memory that will always stick with me.

Its been more than a decade since the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in that Super Bowl, but Bledsoe didnt stay long to celebrate. A couple months later he was traded to Buffalo.

He has since returned with his wife to the town that originally took him in, and visited the stadium and Patriots Place.

I think we all recognize the state of the organization when I was drafted, Bledsoe said. In 1993 it was not an organization that had had a lot of success, but under the stewardship of Bill Parcells and then moving on to the ownership of the Kraft family, its really become one of, if not the, marquee franchise in the NFL.

The comment I made to my wife when we were back there the last time was that I really felt like during my time there the organization went from one place to a much better place, and then from there once I left its continued to go onwards and upwards. So certainly Im very proud to have been a part of that resurgence . . . I also take some degree of pride in seeing where theyve gone since I left.

But dont expect to see Bledsoe on the sidelines holding the clipboard for the Patriots, or any team for that matter, in the future. Having made a promise to himself to leave the NFL for good once he retired, he doesnt see himself coaching anything higher than high school football.

It was really important to me when I left the game of football, it was important for me to have a clean break and move on to the next phase in my life.

Still, Bledsoe keeps tabs on the Patriots and the goings on in the NFL when hes not busy with his family. And he'll always be proud of his role in the team's history.

The memories I have of New England are only fond ones, Bledsoe said. The fans in New England were always so supportive and passionate of their support of me and the Patriots while I was there. It was a pretty magical thing to be a part of."

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot


Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”