Of Tom Brady's 41 attempts in the Super Bowl last Sunday, seven were sent to "outside" receivers. Four were completed - three to Deion Branch and one to Chad Ochocinco. In the AFC Championship game, six of Brady's 36 passes went to outside receivers (as opposed to tight ends, slot receivers or running backs). The Patriots' offense worked pretty well in 2011 even though Brady wasn't afforded a classic "field-stretcher" who works on the outside. But that fact shouldn't detract from the reality that the Patriots did seek a viable outside threat in 2011. They spent 4.5 million in salary on Ochocinco and another 1.5 million in bonus money. That wasn't a simple donation to the Ocho Fund, they wanted a player who would contribute and were willing to pay for it. They just picked the wrong player. So it's natural to assume that the Patriots - after missing on guys like Ocho and, via the draft, on Taylor Price and Brandon Tate - will be back to take another swing at getting that position filled with a productive player. Especially since Ocho and Julian Edelman are the only wide receivers currently under contract to the Patriots in 2012. Wes Welker is a free agent but is a strong candidate for the franchise tag. The list of veteran wideouts the Patriots have tried to wring production from is long and the results are decidedly mixed. Charles Johnson, Bert Emanuel, Torry Holt, Joey Galloway, Donte Stallworth, Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Jabar Gaffney, Andre Davis, Tim Dwight and Donald Hayes all have been brought aboard at different points during the Bill Belichick Regime. Stallworth, Moss, Gaffney, Caldwelland Dwight were the best fits. The list of viable targets this offseason is long. Reggie Wayne is a prominent name and Willie McGinest said he asked Wayne if he'd be interested in joining the Patriots and Wayne reportedly said, "Who wouldn't."In related news, Wayne also likes warm sunshine. Of course he'd like to play for the Patriots. His current employer in Indiana is in disarray and the Patriots are an annual threat to win a championship. Over the next few weeks, soon-to-be-available targets like Wayne, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Mario Manningham, DeSean Jackson, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston can expect to be asked what their interest level in playing for the Patriots would be. (Ever notice nobody asks these guys how much they'd like to play for the Jaguars?)Any player not answering in the affirmative would be doing himself a disservice because A) they want every other team to believe they are ready to move and B) a player saying he wouldn't want to play with Tom Brady wouldn't be viewed as intelligent. Wayne, Lloyd, Colston and Bowe would figure to be logical targets for the Patriots. This doesn't mean the other top players won't be, just that the others make the most sense. Wayne turns 34 in November and he had his five season run of Pro Bowl appearances snapped in 2011 when he caught 75 balls for 960 yards and four touchdowns. But he did that with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky throwing to him on an awful Colts team. Wayne is precise, glue-fingered and smart. He would be, as McGinest said, a tremendous fit. Lloyd turns 30 in July. After seven uneventful seasons to start his career, he exploded in 2010 for the Broncos with 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. He credited then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels for his success and - after being traded to St. Louis during the 2011 season - he finished the season with 70 catches for 966 yards with McDaniels as offensive coordinator. Lloyd said at the end of the 2011 season, "I'm tied to McDaniels. He uses me differently than other offensive coordinators used me in my entire career. He uses me as an every-play receiver. The short game, mid-range game, gimmick passes, deep balls. I do everything in this offense as opposed to other coordinators who would just run me off as the deep guy; run me off into double coverage and then say I'm not open. So I really like how Josh uses me within the offense. I'm extremely comfortable in the offense."That would seem to give the Pats an inside track. Colston, the Saints best wideout, could be the odd-star out in New Orleans. The Saints have to keep the franchise tag available in case they need to use it on Drew Brees. If not Brees, then perhaps guard Carl Nicks. Colston may become free. If he does, his 6-3, 225-pound frame would be enticing to New England. So would the fact he's just 29 and is an 80-catch, 1,200 yard per season guy who's played in an intricate offense for the Saints. Bowe - like Lloyd - can be mercurial. But he had success in Kansas City in a Patriots-style offense and - at 28 - still has several productive seasons ahead of him. Free agency begins March 13. As another still-available wideout once said, "Getcha popcorn ready."
Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe.
The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.
“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”
Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.
Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.
“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend.
*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City.
*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together.
*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility.
*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy.
*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment.
*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators.
*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot.
*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season.
*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want.