By Tom E. CurranFOXBORO - So here's a dynamic to watch as the replacement referees get ready for their closeup this weekend. What if they ... do OK? What if the level of competence is indistinguishable from the work of the normal refs? The rush to pillory the replacements and have fun at their expense has been swift. I've gotten more than my share of shots in. But we all need to remember the weekly hand-wringing we do over calls missed and blunders executed by the regulars on the regular. The inevitable mistakes of the replacement crews have to be seen through that lens. Because the replacements will improve as time passes. If the negative impact they have in Week 1 is negligible, the leverage twists back to the league. And the specter of the replacements improving will make some of the holdout officials get a little nervous, especially when they start to weigh the chance of losing their part-time job which pays more then 150,000 a year. I have heard the words, "air traffic controllers" used this week. It's a reference to 1981 when Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers, replaced them and simply moved forward. It's a risk the idling officials have to weigh while they wait for massive screw-ups by their replacements which will impact the game they presumably have a reverence for. Of course, if an owner like Jerry Jones loses a game because of a replacement officials incompetence, it will be interesting to watch how quickly his tune changes. Now, 34 lines on 17 MORE topics. If Brian Waters wants to play football this season, he'll be doing it for the Patriots. Unless someone blows their doors off with a trade offer, an unlikely scenario. I'm still a little stunned by the release of linebacker Bobby Carpenter. But it shows two things: 1) the surprising rise of Nate Ebner; 2) Bill Belichick's commitment to playing subdefense with five and six defensive backs even more than last year. Dan Koppen was a great guy to cover and - for a fifth-rounder - a tremendous success story. But the Patriots gave him every chance to emerge and show he could still do it at the level that would make him impossible to cut and he couldn't. If Koppen's final game was against the Giants, he went out with a verbal bang. When referee Don King couldn't get the call straight and the chaos was obvious, Koppen yelled from the sidelines, "Hey (posterior orifice)! Hurry the (freak) up!" The Patriots released Eric Kettani from their practice squad on Tuesday. I never really saw the appeal of even keeping him for that. Ras-IDowling's best days are ahead of him but he was outplayed by both Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole in camp and games. We'll see who Matt Patricia wants playing outside when the Patriots go to nickel and Arrington or Cole slides inside to play the slot receiver. Stephen Gostkowski has had enough of Zoltan Mesko invading his locker space. Gostkowski put a thick piece of white tape down as a line of demarcation to guard against the punter's seepage of socks, etc. The Patriots first two opponents this year are the Titans and Cardinals. They outscored those two teams 106-7 combined the last time they met (47-7 in 2008 for the Cardinals, 59-0 in 2010 for the Titans). Tuesday night, the NFL Network replayed the Super Bowl. It's like watching a movie again and seeing all kinds of things of great import that got missed the first time around. The avalanche of bad luck, gaffesand big plays missed by the Patriots was too much to overcome. One that got lost was Rob Ninkovich jumping offsides on a third-and-7 at the Giants' 11 when a pass fell incomplete allowed the Giants to continue a fourth-quarter drive that ultimately ended with them pinning the Patriots at their 8. Never mind the fumbles that went unrecovered. Or the tipped pass on the Patriots final drive that was intended for a good-to-go-for-35-yards-or-so Deion Branch. Why am I discussing this? Not sure. But the catch Wes Welker wasn't able to come up with? It was almost identical to a clutch catch made in the Patriots-Giants regular season game by...Jake Ballard. Last wordson Ryan Mallett, who I don't believehas shown enough to be a twisted ankle from starting at quarterback.If Tom Brady's down for six games,Brian Hoyer might not win you games, but he won't lose them....don't feel that way about Mallett right now. Tweeted this Tuesday but, by the end of the week, you'll wish Devin and Jason McCourty shared a room and not a womb. IDENTICAL TWINS EVERYONE! Mayo Bowl III is at Kings in Dedham on September 10. Bang it here for the details. The first Quick Slants of the season is Thursday night, 7 p.m. Paoletti is geared up for 2012 so you'll want to tune in.
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.
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.
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.