Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

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Patriots lose a leader with Mayo's retirement

When Bill Belichick rolled the dice in Indianapolis back in 2009 and failed, you knew there was going to be howling.
 
Fourth-and-2? From your own 28? With 2:08 left and Peyton Manning on the opposing sideline?

Joining in the criticism that week was Tedy Bruschi, newly-minted as an ESPN analyst. Bruschi said that Belichick’s decision was rooted in a lack of confidence in his defense.
 
When us media types showed up in the locker room and dutifully asked players, “What’s your reaction to what Tedy Bruschi said?” one voice forcefully but diplomatically pushed back at the Patriots’ legend.
 
“I have the ultimate respect for Tedy and everything he’s done for this organization, but he’s not in this locker room at this point in time so he doesn’t know the feeling that this defense or this team has,” said Jerod Mayo. “We still have our confidence, we still have our swagger and we’re gonna go out Sunday and show . . . the media, I guess.”

At the time, Mayo was a second-year linebacker out of Tennessee. But nobody wondered who the hell he thought he was countering Bruschi. Instead, Mayo’s willingness to say something that galvanized was one of the few positives of an otherwise sloppy, rudderless year.
 
The 10th overall pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 was assuming the mantle of leadership in the locker room.
 
He would lead differently than Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison did. He was more inclusive, less judgmental and his sense of humor was bigger and less biting.
 
Mayo – and Vince Wilfork – were the right guys at the right time to lead the Patriots after the 2001-2007 chapter of the New England dynasty ended and a leadership void emerged. The 2008 and 2009 seasons were bleak – at least for these parts – but the 2010 to 2016 reboot and the team’s defensive resurgence is at least in part, thanks to Mayo.
 
I got a Facebook message from a Patriots fan on Thursday. It read, “Was wondering how u felt about Mayo's career as a whole. My opinion: average to slightly above average player, who was a good guy in the locker room. Wasn't the playmaker the 10th pick in the draft should be.”

That feels like the prevailing opinion on Mayo’s career right now. He should have been better. I would counter that being the near-unanimous DROY (49 of 50 votes), an All-Pro after leading the NFL in tackles in 2010 and a two-time Pro Bowler is a helluva resume. But I also understand the sentiment that, compared to Bruschi, Vrabel or Harrison, there just weren’t the same kind of memorable, seminal moments authored by Mayo.
 
The thing about Mayo is that the value he added was almost all done behind closed doors. In meeting rooms where he sponged what Matt Patricia and Belichick told him and then passed it on to his teammates. At his home where he welcomed and mentored so many of the young Patriots like Dane Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Donta Hightower. He and Wilfork made sure the notion of teammates as family was taken to another level under their watch.
 
And that’s hard for me to really testify to even though I spent more time with Mayo than any other player I’ve covered. For four years, he and I would get together every Tuesday during the season to tape a segment for Quick Slants. He didn’t need the money we gave him. Or the food. He didn’t look forward to leaving his wife, Chantel, and his children at home on the team’s only day off to spend 40 minutes doing TV. But every week, there he was, on time and upbeat, willing to interact with anyone trying to ambush him for an autograph or handshake, generally the guy in the best mood in the whole group. Why? Because he committed to it. Because, as a captain, he was expected to be a public face and a voice for the team.
 
But my anecdotes are irrelevant. It’s the reverence his teammates had for him that speak the most about what he brought. From Devin McCourty  to Vince Wilfork, current and former teammates saluted Mayo on Tuesday night.
 
Belichick hasn’t made a statement yet, but he articulated a number of times his high regard for Mayo. Whether it be saying Mayo was untradable, praising Mayo’s blue-collar approach by lauding him for buying a condo near the stadium and a pickup truck with his rookie paycheck or by stating in 2014 that the team “revolves around” Mayo.
 
“He’s really the guy that the team probably revolves around more than any other player,” said Belichick. “Not that there aren’t other players that are instrumental in that. But I think that he really touches pretty much everybody. Not just the defensive players, but all the guys. Not just the older guys, but the younger guys. He’s got a great work ethic, great presence on the football field, and great personality. In a very good way, professional but he also has a good rapport with all the players and coaches. As respected as any player in the locker room. One of the best overall team leaders, players, kind of glue chemistry guy.”
 
As fate would have it, Mayo missed four games in 2011 and – in the Super Bowl that season – every bounce went the Giants way. In 2012, he was a Pro Bowler but in 2013, 2014 and 2015, he finished the year on IR. He has a ring from 2014 but never got the chance to be an on-field part of that win over Seattle. He’s a player that deserved to be out there, but as Clint Eastwood famously said in Unforgiven, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
 
With his salary cap number climbing higher, his on-field reps likely to shrink even more and the prospect of having to relocate if he wanted to keep playing, Mayo decided, “Enough.” At age 29.
 
Usually, you hear “29” and think, “My God, the kid just got here.” In Mayo’s case, he’s been a fixture and a leader so long, he seems closer to 39.
 
One last thing? Even if Tedy Bruschi was right back in 2009 – and he probably was – I’m sure that hearing Mayo defend his teammates let Bruschi know that he’d left his old team in very capable hands.
 
Bruschi would have been happy to hear it. Even if he was right.

Patriots release OL Chase Farris with non-football injury designation

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Patriots release OL Chase Farris with non-football injury designation

The Patriots made a move on Thursday that opened up a roster spot exactly one week before the start of training camp practices. 

The team announced that it waived offensive lineman Chase Farris. It did so with a "non-football injury" designation. Farris spent most of last season on the Patriots practice squad after catching on with New England's 10-man unit in October. The former Ohio State product was a reserve option on the interior for Bill Belichick and Dante Scarnecchia. 

With Farris now out of the mix, the Patriots have 89 players on their roster and can add one more before camp begins.

Interior offensive linemen on the Patriots roster now include David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Jamil Douglas and James Ferentz. A handful of rookies -- including undrafted rookies Cole Croston and Jason King -- could also see work inside.

Rookies will report to camp on July 24, and veterans will do the same by July 26. On July 27, training camp practice will be held for the first time on the fields behind Gillette Stadium. The Patriots will practice for four consecutive days at 9 a.m. to kick off camp. All practices will be free and open to the public. 

NFL scout on Garoppolo: 'Bill thinks he's got the next great one'

NFL scout on Garoppolo: 'Bill thinks he's got the next great one'

Covering the NFL for almost 20 years allows you to make relationships with a bunch of people. So I thought I'd tap into some of those people as we gear up for New England Patriots training camp for a series of pieces about topics we've been kicking around.

COMPARING THE 2007 AND 2017 PATRIOTS

The panel consists of one former Pats player still in the game, two scouts of AFC teams, one front-office member in the AFC, and one NFC scout. They all requested anonymity for obvious reasons (as the player said, "hey, I might want to end up back there!") I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I had talking to these guys.

Today's topic: Why is Jimmy Garoppolo still here?

Scout 1 (AFC) -- "He's Bill Belichick. He doesn't give a [damn] about what you, or me or anyone else thinks. I know teams called about Garoppolo. I don't believe they were ever given a realistic price. Why? To me, the answer is simple: Bill thinks he's got the next great one. I watched his snaps. I think he can be that. [Garoppolo] has a great base, and his mechanics are close enough to [Brady] that you appreciate his willingness to learn and the coaching he's gotten there."

Scout 2 (AFC) -- "I absolutely loved the kid coming out of college. When we interviewed him, [it was obvious] he's got those qualities you want in a QB, as a leader. I begged our guys to take him at the end of the first round. That's how good I thought he was then. He's a hell of a lot better now. The job Bill and [offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels] have done with him, the work he clearly has put in, wrap all that up and it makes all the sense in the world to keep him. They can win with him. That's all you need to know -- in my opinion -- as to why they kept him. The moment that Brady guy starts to show cracks, the next guy is in already there, already knows the locker room, the system, the environment. I think it's genius."

Former Pats player -- "I played against him every day in practice. He's all that." Why? "He can make all the throws. He can process all the information. He is a gamer. He can slow it down. He can spin it. I'm going tell you this, if he had gotten traded to Cleveland, they're a borderline playoff team. I really believe that."

Scout 3 (NFC) -- "I know teams called and got nowhere. Easy conclusion is they see Garoppolo as the next QB. But I think it could be as simple as the value there. He's the player one snap away. Weigh that against the third guy (Jacoby Brissett) or some vet and maybe it was just too wide a gap to risk it. Keep him. See how the year plays out and then decide, do we want to franchise him? Ink him to some kind of bridge deal? Or let him go off into free agency?"

Front Office (AFC) -- "Bill knows something we don't. That's the way I read it. Whether it's Brady's future, or what they didn't see in Brissett, or something about the makeup of Garoppolo, he just couldn't part company with him. I can't say as I blame him. Finding one good QB in this league is hard enough. Two? Maybe only a handful of teams in the league can say they have that. Plus, with Bill, he's not worried about coaching for his job. He can think big picture -- two, three, four years down the line. That's not something too many other coaches/front offices in this environment get. He can afford to pass on a handful of draft picks to keep a player he really likes."