Bracing for a free agent frenzy in the NFL

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Bracing for a free agent frenzy in the NFL

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran When the NFL lockout ends, free agency soon begins. And it's going to look a little like this(that's Rex Ryan at the 15-second mark). Between unrestricted free agents and undrafted college players, there could be morethan 700 players hitting the open market in the next few weeks. GMs, coaches,agents and - mostly significantly - players and their families are going to be heavily impacted by the newly hatched free agent rules. Action on the available players is going to be fast, especially if training camps are going to open as scheduled in late July. And so much is still unknown. For instance, the answer to the basic question of whether free agency will begin for players with four vested seasons (the old model), six vested seasons (a possibility) or the middle ground of five. "First of all, nobodys talking about it," said player agent Joe Linta. "Is (free agency) going to be after six (seasons)? Four? Will we do what happened in 2010? This is a huge concern to at least a quarter of the players or more. You dont see any discussion about that. You dont hear (NFLPA Executive Director) De Smith say what exactly they're fighting toward. It's such a mountainous point of will it besix or fouryears. You have 250 guys who are in that boat."In terms of their own roster, the Patriots don't have major concerns because their 2006 and 2007 draft were so awful. Only one player from each draft is still on the roster. There'sBrandon Meriweather from 2007, signed through the 2011 season.And there's Stephen Gostkowski from 2006 who missed out on free agency because of the 2010 rules change that delayed free agency to players with fewer than six years played. Gostkowski signed an extension through 2014 last year while he was a restricted free agent. But the Patriots are affected because they'll need to know who they can target, how much they can spend (the final owners proposal in March had a salary cap of 114 million, down from the approximately 126 million teams had in the last capped year, 2009) and how quickly they must act. There won't be much time for foreplay. "I dont know if there will be a lot of time for recruiting trips," said Linta. "The player and agent will, in most instances, get together, look at the opportunities and move from there. In phone calls with the teams, you would do the preliminaries of the contract so that the recruiting trip almost becomes the signing trip. I don't think you'll see the reunion tours you usually do when free agency starts in March."Agent Rick Smith of Priority Sports and Entertainment notes the two other unknowns in the equation - undrafted rookies and rookie contracts for players who were selected in April's draft. Those will also have to be done before camps begin."The way I look at how that works is it will be really, really busy," said Smith. "It will force everyone to get to deals a lot quicker. It will force teams and agents to get to a number pretty quick and not go through the dance we normally go through. Our office did basketball free agency after their lockout (in 1998-99) and we went in a conference room and laid out 30 contracts on the table and got to work. It will be like that in football. Go to work and grind." Because there's so much at stake, no details have leaked from recent negotiations. Information on the rookie salary cap, team salary caps, who will be a free agent, when free agency begins - it's all unknown. And, as internet strongman Mike Florio wrote Friday morning on PFT, front offices will need time to digest the new rules. Meanwhile, GMs and coaches - who have traditionally flouted the league's tampering rules prior to free agency at the NFL Combine in February - have seemed to hew to the cone of silence the lockout brought. "None of that stuff is going on right now," said Linta. "There are some pretty serious repercussions from tampering and you're just not seeing it."That leaves it to the agents and players to determine whatpossible destinations exist.
"The reality is, there'snot a lot that can be done besides internal research," said agent Jon Perzley from SportStars.

Perzley represents LSU wide receiver Terrence Tolliver, a promising 6-3, 212-pound target that went undrafted. "There arecertain teams he'll fit; certain teams he won't," Perzley said. "Hell have a job real quick, that we know."Where he'll be working, living, and how much he'll be paid, though, Tolliver can't know. Nor can the hundreds of other free agents who are waiting in limbo before the free agent gold rush of 2011 begins.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Gronk 'taking all positives' out of new preseason approach

Gronk 'taking all positives' out of new preseason approach

For the first time since 2012, Rob Gronkowski played in a preseason game. It was uneventful, much like a majority of this training camp for the Patriots tight end. No touches, no seismic collisions, and no problems in 14 snaps. Was it worth it? Gronk says yes.

“I just felt the benefit when I was out there; the speed of the game, live game speed. It’s been a while for me,” he said. “I felt the benefit of getting in sync blocking-wise, the cadence and everything like that. I’m taking all positives out of it.”

But this isn’t even remotely following the plan over these last handful of seasons. The Pats have treated Gronk differently than just about everyone else. He wasn’t required to play in these games in August. Heck, there were times when his presence in practice wasn’t mandatory. Gronk had his own set of rules. This approach surely isn’t that.

“No matter what it is, preseason,” said Gronkowski. “I’ll be ready to play 60 minutes. The past has been the past, but it was great going out there and getting some work.”

Not exactly enlightening, but were you expecting something else?  Unless we’re getting a joint statement from Gronk INC and the Pats brass, that’s usually how these press briefings go, mixed in with the occasionally goofy Gronkowski. Yes, we got that too when Gronk was asked who would win the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight.

“We don’t make predictions,” answered Gronkowski, before backing away from the podium, smiling brightly and commending himself for doing a good Bill Belichick imitation. It wasn’t all that, and maybe it wasn’t that funny, but the big fella is always looking to bring a little levity to just about any situation. 

That trend continued as we tried to delve deeper into his newfound relationship with Tom Brady’s body, Alex Guerrero. So much is made of Guerrero’s belief in muscle pliability and hydration, but there’s also that diet, and a cookbook of Brady’s to boot. The quarterback has proclaimed all of those meals to be delicious. Gronkowski gave it mixed reviews, saying some of the dishes were “kind of hard to eat” although others got the seal of approval: “they’re really, really good.”  Gronk also made sure to clarify that giving up booze in-season is the norm. 

“I don’t do that stuff right now,” he said. “It’s football time. I’ve never really have done that stuff during football time.”

But that he’s approaching the season differently is clearly a nod to Gronk’s football mortality, and the desire to wring out more than just a couple more years from his battered body. He believes Guerrero’s methods are paying dividends, though again, he wouldn’t elaborate how or compare this season to previous ones.

“It’s hard to say because I couldn’t tell you how I felt in the middle of August every single year,” said Gronkowski. “It’s always a new year, and they all blend together, and now going into my eighth season now, it just feels good to be out there practicing every day with the guys.”

Burkhead not spotted at the start of practice for second consecutive day

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Burkhead not spotted at the start of practice for second consecutive day

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady went into detail on Wednesday as to why it's important for him to play with some of his new teammates during the preseason. Even exhibition games are played at a different speed than practice, he explained, and so to be out there mimicking what will happen Week 1 is critical. Brady even went out of his way to mention Rex Burkhead specifically, saying that it was nice to get Burkhead a touchdown against the Texans last weekend. 

Might Burkhead's preseason reps be limited later this week in Detroit? The former Bengals running back has not been spotted at the beginning of Patriots practices on Tuesday or Wednesday. Injury reports are not released during the preseason, so it will be worth watching pregame Friday whether or not Burkhead is on the field and in uniform. 

Burkhead looked healthy by the end of his time playing in Houston -- his final play was a 22-yard catch-and-run touchdown -- and he spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon. 

Also missing from Wednesday's session were Malcolm Mitchell, Matthew Slater, Matt Lengel, Shea McClellin and Tony Garcia. Undrafted rookies Keionta Davis and Andrew Jelks (NFI) were present but not in uniform for the shells-and-shorts session. 

Mitchell played in New England's preseason matchup with Houston but appeared to tweak his knee during one of his first snaps on the field. He stayed in the game, but he has not been seen by reporters at either Patriots practice this week.