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Notes: Cannon 'blessed' by new contract

News and notes from Patriots practice and locker room interviews.

A number of Patriots are scheduled to become free agents at the end of this season, including high-profile ones like cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. As of today, however, Marcus Cannon is no longer on that list.

The 28-year-old offensive lineman recently inked a lucrative contract extension that reportedly will pay him an average of $6.5 million over the next five seasons. Cannon's previous contract, which he signed two years ago around this same time, was set to expire at the end of this season.

According to NFL Network, Cannon's new deal could be worth as much as $32.5 million, of which $14.5 is guaranteed and nearly $20 million due the player in the first three years.

Quite a payday for the veteran Cannon, who has assumed New England's right tackle position in place of injured Sebastian Vollmer (hip) this season. He's thrilled, of course, but by no means satisfied with himself, he is quick to point out.

"Just because I got the extension doesn't mean that I'm accomplished," Cannon told reporters Wednesday. "I still got to prove that I'm worthy of that. I've still got to perform every week. I've still got to go to the practice field and work hard and do the best I can.

"You know, that doesn't validate anything. I have to still come out here and do things better. There's still things I need to work on that I'm not as good at. I'm very thankful for the opportunity that they've given me, and I'm very blessed."

The 6-6 Cannon dropped several pounds this offseason in an effort to improve his game. Once listed at 350, he entered training camp this summer at 335.

"I just changed some stuff here and there," admitted Cannon. "We've got a great strength and conditioning coach, Moses [Cabrera]. He helped a lot. Just putting people in my corner to help me do the best I can."

Head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged that Cannon's weight loss has helped in his development this season. Certainly, the return of o-line coach Dante Scarnecchia has also benefited Cannon, whom the Patriots drafted in the 2011 fifth round.  

"Yeah, Marcus [Cannon] is having a good season. He's been a good player for us," Belichick stated Wednesday.

"Marcus has always done a solid job for us whenever he's played. I'm glad we have him going forward. He works hard. A quiet kid but he's very dependable, team oriented. He's done a good job for us in the running game and the passing game. He's been a good player."

Practice Report

For the second Wednesday in a row, QB/co-captain Tom Brady (right knee) did not practice. He was not on the field when the media came out to view the start of today's session, nor was tight end/co-captain Rob Gronkowski (chest, back), wide receiver Julian Edelman (left foot), or safety Jordan Richards.

Brady did not practice either last Wednesday or Thursday, yet was able to go on Friday and not only started, but played the entire game against the New York Jets this past Sunday. He indicated in a radio interview earlier this week that his knee felt better following the Jets game than he did a week earlier after the 49ers game. So, it will be interesting to see if he appears at Thursday's practice. Brady's injury stems from a hit he took against the Seahawks in Week 10.

In a move that could be Brady-related, rookie third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett (right thumb) appears to be cleared to practice again. He's been on injured reserve since October, and has made frequent appearances recently at practice and on road trips, but not in an official capacity. Today, however, he donned a helmet and pads for the first time in nearly two months.

If the Patriots decide to activate Brissett in the near future, a spot must be cleared for him on the 53-man roster. As of late Wednesday, no such transaction has been made. The club has a window of a couple of weeks or so to decide.    

Gronkowski, meantime, has not been seen in uniform since being escorted to the visitors locker room at MetLife Stadium late in the first quarter this past Sunday. He entered that game with the chest injury (also incurred versus Seattle) and suffered the back issue early in the Jets game.

It's unclear if Edelman's absence was injury-related, as he did not appear to aggravate his situation in the most recent game. Richards clearly sustained a right leg problem early in that contest, although he managed to continue playing that evening.

Not Long-ing for former team

DE Chris Long will face his original NFL team this weekend when the Rams visit Foxborough. Long, of course, played for them when they were in St. Louis. The Rams made Long the second overall choice in the 2008 NFL Draft, and he spent the next eight seasons there before joining the Patriots this past offseason.

Long insisted that lining up against his erstwhile teammates won't be a strange experience for him.

"Not too strange. I had good years there, got a lot of love for those guys and coaches," he explained, "but this is where I play football right now.

"It should be pretty normal. It'll be a tough game. I have a great amount of respect for those guys."

A Hekker of a player

Belichick has had considerable praise this week for Rams punter Johnny Hekker, whom he has dubbed "a weapon" for Los Angeles.

No one on the Patriots knows this better, perhaps, than New England punter Ryan Allen. He began his college career at Oregon State, where Hekker also played college football. Both players were on the team at the same time and Hekker won the job, which eventually led Allen to transfer to Louisiana Tech in 2010, where he became one of the nation's best college punters.

"We worked with one another and competed against one another each day," Allen recalled of his two years as teammates with Hekker. "It not only pushed us, but we tried to help one another. We were on the same team and we were good friends. There was never any negative vibe… we had a great working relationship and I think that paid off for both of us."  

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