PHOENIX – Arriving fashionably late (by about 10 minutes), Bill Belichick grabbed a glass of orange juice, then settled in at a table where several reporters were gathered to speak with him for the next 50 minutes.
Such appearances are obligatory for every coach in the league at the NFL's Annual Meeting, being held this year at the deluxe Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa. As usual, New England's head coach was the last to show up, but he stayed till the bitter end, in a conversation alternated between serious (Wes Welker's departure, proposed rules changes) and silly (his recent Twitter Q&A session, a reporter's bright yellow polo shirt).
After Robert Kraft vigorously defended his team's position with regard to the free agent loss of Welker to the Denver Broncos on Monday, Belichick conveniently chose to defer the Patriots owner's remarks when the subject came up today.
"I think Wes was everything we hoped he'd be when we traded for him [in 2007]," said Belichick. "He was tough, competitive, and very productive. I think what Robert said yesterday covered it pretty thoroughly. I don't have anything to add to that."
Similar versions of this response were given when the topic was revisited later in the interview. He was willing, though, to go into a bit more detail about Danny Amendola, the free agent receiver brought in ostensibly as Welker's replacement.
"Look forward to working with him. Any new player we get, they come in to our system and [we] try to teach him the things that we do and let him do them and evaluate him, and see how it all comes together. He's been very productive as a receiver. He's productive on the inside, he's had some production on the outside. Josh [McDaniels, the Patriots offensive coordinator] worked with him [in 2011] in St. Louis."
Is Amendola's significant injury history a concern to Belichick?
"There is no [exact] science to it. There are plenty of guys that come out of the draft that have had injuries and played relatively injury-free. There are other guys that have been injury free and have been injury prone at this level. I don't have a great explanation for that," he replied.
"I don't think anybody does unless it's an ongoing situation and a guy has a recurring injury that he's being treated for, then that is what it is. If it's anything else, sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't. When you get a player, you get everything that comes with that player. All the things the person is. It's like that with every player."
All he would say about New England's release last weekend of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was that it was "in the best interest of the team."
This was also the first opportunity the press have had to elicit Belichick's reaction to the signing of free agent safety Adrian Wilson, a Pro Bowl veteran from here in Arizona. Like with Amendola, Belichick said he was looking forward to working with a "very productive player in the league."
Many comparisons have been made in the media between Wilson and another former Patriots safety, Rodney Harrison, leading some to wonder if Wilson can fill that same, physical role that has been lacking in the New England secondary since Harrison retired after the 2008 season.
"I understand the question. I mean, Rodney Harrison's one of the greatest players ever to play for the New England Patriots, one of the greatest players, I think, to play his position in the National Football League. Pretty high comparison. I'm not saying [Wilson] isn't, but you're talking about a great player [in Harrison].
"Whatever role [Wilson] creates for himself with his performance and his production," Belichick said that's what the new player's role will be. "Same as everybody else on the team."
As far as business at the league meetings is concerned, Belichick rarely comments on proposed rules changes… except when he is strongly opposed to one. That seemed to be the case this year with a proposal to outlaw the initiation of contact using the crown of the helmet – a move that's seen as being most detrimental to running backs.
"I think the game is pretty hard to officiate as it is. I think this is a real hard rule to officiate," he declared. "Let's start with that. I guess we'll talk more about it in the next couple days."
Not much, but clearly enough to infer that Belichick isn't a fan of the idea. The measure was put forth to improve player safety.
Another proposed change that is scheduled to be voted on this week in Phoenix is the so-called "Tuck Rule," which helped the Patriots get to Super Bowl XXXVI in 2001. But Belichick didn't appear to be too sentimental about the rule, which essentially allows certain quarterback fumbles to be deemed incomplete passes.
"Whatever the rules are, they are," he stated flatly. "[The Tuck Rule] played a big role in that  season. It cost us the Jets game and it helped us win the snow game [against Oakland in the Divisional Playoff]."
Belichick also didn't seem too thrilled with the offseason of his all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, who's recovering from a reported third surgery on his left forearm.
Asked if he was happy with Gronk's rehab, the coach responded with a pained expression, "There's some limited information now, but I wouldn't put too much on that at this point."
And with regard to Gronkowski's viral video of his dancing and wrestling escapades in Las Vegas, Belichick groaned, after a long pause, "Let's stick to football questions."
OK… One last important football question related to free agent right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Belichick offered no update on his status, health- or contract-wise, but did choose to speak glowingly about backup tackle Marcus Cannon, who's entering his third season.
"Huge gains last year. He's improved tremendously as a player," raved Belichick. "The opportunities he had to play early in the year, and even later in the year, he showed that improvement on the field in games as well as the practice field."
Could Cannon start for the Patriots in 2013?
"That's up to him," the coach answered.
This not-quite-hour was, in all likelihood, the last time we'll hear publicly from Belichick until right around the NFL Draft in late April.