Vrabel's ascension to potential head coach unusual, but not undeserved

Vrabel's ascension to potential head coach unusual, but not undeserved

When the Los Angeles Rams added Mike Vrabel to their list of head coaching prospects, eyebrows rose. A linebackers coach who’s never been a coordinator, never mind a head coach, in line to run a franchise?

It is unusual. But not because Vrabel’s ill-equipped to do so. He just was in a different stream than most coaches who saw their playing days end in their early 20s and -- loving football -- got into teaching it.

Vrabel apprenticed differently. He rolled up 34 sacks in his final three college seasons at Ohio State and was a two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big 10. He was a third-round pick by the Steelers, and played alongside and behind some of the best linebackers of the 90s in a zone-blitzing defense. He signed with the Patriots in 2001 and was the equivalent of an on-field defensive coordinator in an amorphous defense that was ruthless, intricate and designed with logic in mind. Dealt to Kansas City in 2009, Vrabel was the Chiefs old head until retiring after two seasons and heading back to Ohio State to coach linebackers and the defensive line in consecutive years.

If the knowledge Vrabel gathered in 14 seasons as an NFL player, a very active NFLPA rep and a truly brilliant guy who gets the business of the NFL as well as the Xs and Os isn’t suited to coach because he wasn’t a quality control guy for two seasons 12 years ago, I mean…

As Belichick said in a statement in 2011 when Vrabel went to the Buckeyes, "During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over.

"Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached. He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners."

This year, Vrabel’s Houston linebackers have arguably been the strongest part of the Texans outstanding defense with Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, John Simon and rising star Benardrick McKinney in particular having solid seasons.

Asked on a conference call why Vrabel would be a good candidate in Los Angeles, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said, “I think people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities nd the type of guy that he is. He’s a guy that really cares about people, he really cares about football. Great dad, great husband. He’s got all the capabilities to be a future head coach.”

Vrabel is on the road less traveled because he had the ability as a player to take it.

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

The third-round compensatory pick acquired by the Patriots carries additional value this year in that it is the first year in which compensatory picks can be traded. A near top-100 overall selection may allow the Patriots to move up the draft board or build assets in the middle rounds should they be inclined to deal. And we know they oftentimes are. 

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

Gronkowski says he has 'no doubt' he'll be ready for start of next season

When it comes to projecting Rob Gronkowski's health, it's been best to steer clear of absolutes. There have been too many injuries, too many surgeries, to predict exactly how he'll feel months in advance. 

Still, in speaking with ESPN's Cari Champion recently, he said he had "no doubt" he'll be ready for Week 1 of the 2017 regular season. 

"Yes, for sure," he replied when asked if he expected to be good to go. 

Gronkowski also fielded a question about his long-term future in the sit-down. Lately it's been his coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback Tom  Brady who receiver all the life-after-football queries, but Gronkowski, 27, was asked how much longer he'd like to play. 

"I’m not really sure," he said. "I mean, I still love playing the game, and as of right now, I want to play as long as I possibly could play. My mindset is to keep on going."

Gronkowski landed on season-ending injured reserve in December after undergoing a procedure on his back -- his third back surgery since 2009. He's had nine reported surgeries -- including procedures on his knee, forearm and ankle -- since his final year at the University of Arizona.