Take your pick: Wes or Aqib? MORE: More Lakers laughs


Take your pick: Wes or Aqib? MORE: More Lakers laughs

In this corner . . .

One of the most prolific receivers in Patriots andor NFL history. He's 5-foot-9 and soon-to-be 32 years old. He's tough as nails, best buddies with your Hall of Fame QB and for the last five years has been at the center of the best offense in football. He also happens to be the man at the center of two of the biggest drops this region has ever seen.

And in this corner . . .

A 6-1, 27-year-old defensive back. A former first round pick with first round talent, but one that comes with all kinds of baggage. Still, there's no question as to what he can do for your defense. When he joined the team this year, the worst secondary in the league became passable. When he got hurt in the AFC Championship, everything fell apart.

I just finished reading Tom E. Curran's piece on the upcoming crop of Patriots free agents, and it's impossible to argue with his analysis of New England's three top priorities.

Sebastian Vollmer. Wes Welker. Aqib Talib.

For some reason, I want to put Vollmer in his own category here.

Why? I don't know. I just do, and I want to ask the question: If you could only bring back one of the other two guys, who would it be: Welker or Talib?

I'm really tempted to go with Talib, and to be honest, as much as I hate to type this, I think it has a lot to do with Welker's decreased reliability. This past year, in the aftermath of his drop in the Super Bowl, Welker let more balls go through his hands than we've ever seen. It got to the point where you could count on at least one drop a game, and last Sunday, that one drop was once again a huge factor in the Pats coming up short.

I write the above paragraph with unbelievable respect for what Welker has done, and total confidence that if he does return to the Pats, he'll be destined for another 100-catch season. But in the playoffs, when a shutdown corner (or at the very least a legit No. 1 corner) is so enormously important, and dropped passes are magnified 100 times over . . . Who's more important to the Patriots long term success?

Yeah, I'm falling victim to the temptation and going with Talib. In a perfect world, bring them both back. The Pats are a better team with Talib and Welker. But if there's only one, I'm in the corner's corner.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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. 

Gronkowski doesn't think Goodell can visit Gillette: 'The fans are nuts'

Gronkowski doesn't think Goodell can visit Gillette: 'The fans are nuts'

At this point, there may be no getting out of it.

Roger Goodell chose to visit Atlanta twice in as many weeks during its run to a Super Bowl, and in the process he opted not to check in at Gillette Stadium for either the Divisional Round or the AFC title game. But once the Patriots won Super Bowl LI, many felt as though Goodell would simply have no choice but to attend the 2017 regular-season opener in Foxboro. 

There are those who are itching to have him visit. There are those who hope he stays away. In an interview with ESPN, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't put himself in either camp, but he seemed to suggest that it might not be the best idea for the commissioner to show his face in New England.

"To tell you the truth, I really don’t think so," Gronkowski said when asked if Goodell could come back to Foxboro any time soon. "The fans are nuts, they’re wild, and they have the Patriots’ back no matter what. They have Tom’s back. I’m telling you, he won’t get through the highway if the fans saw him. I don’t even think he can even land in the airport in Boston because Patriot fans are the best fans, they’re the most loyal fans. I’m telling you, they might just carry out Roger themselves. They couldn’t even get to the stadium in Foxboro if he landed in Boston."

Goodell hasn't been to Gillette Stadium since Deflategate, but he said during Super Bowl week that he'd be happy to visit if he was invited.