Michael Felger of the Boston Herald offers an injury update on Patriots center Dan Koppen. Felger writes that the Patriots' fourth-year starting center suffered a badly torn rotator cuff (in addition to a dislocated shoulder) in the Patriots' Nov. 13 win at Miami last season. The injury knocked Koppen out the remainder of the year and set him on an arduous rehab that has only recently seen him turn the corner.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that it's no longer important that the Patriots lost Adam Vinatieri. The bigger story is who will replace the leading scorer in franchise history. If the Patriots choose to address the position with a free agent, Paul Edinger and Todd Peterson are the top names still available. New England could draft a kicker, and there are some good ones, including Stephen Gostkowski from Memphis, Jonathan Scifres from Southwest Missouri State, and Ohio State's Josh Huston. And there are also six kickers who performed in NFL Europe, the most impressive and likely the most sought-after will be former Penn State kickoff man Dave Kimball. Could he be the next Vinatieri?
Michael Felger of the Boston Herald and Tom Curran of the Providence Journal both report that the Patriots signed WR Troy Brown and guard Stephen Neal on Friday. Both players had taken free agent visits (Neal with at least four teams and Brown most notably with the Jets), but decided to buck the trend of departing Pats by remaining in Foxboro. Terms weren't available, but it's believed Brown signed a one-year deal near the league minimum ($800,000) while Neal's deal was far more significant.
John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes that after 16 years atop the league, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue plans to step down in July. Patriots owner, Robert Kraft hopes a seamless transition accompanies his departure. And in his mind, that means naming only one commissioner, not splitting the job between a football man and a business man, as some would like. "You have to have accountability," Kraft said. "The game is the product. The game is what we're selling. What would happen is if you had two people running things, there would be turf-control arguments, and that's part of the problem with corporate America today: too many people trying to get control of power in an organization. Then it becomes a case of he's either my guy or your guy, and it's not about winning. You can't do that unless you've got a clear organizational structure. Now if someone can't do the job, you have to get someone else. But you have to be able to say you gave him all the tools to do the job."
Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant writes that for the first time in the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots already have taken enough big blows to floor all but the gamest fighter. David Givens, 25, the team's second-best receiver, gone to the Titans. Willie McGinest, 34, a team leader and still one of the league's most feared and versatile linebackers, gone to the Browns. And the crowning blow, Adam Vinatieri, the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history and one of the most popular Patriots, gone to the archrival Colts. Barely 13 months after Belichick hugged his now departed coordinators on that Jacksonville sideline as he became the first coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in four years, is the Patriots' era of dominance over?
USA Today writes that in three of the last five years, fans have given two thumbs up to the Patriots' performance from September to early February. But March is always the cruelest month in Foxboro. That's when other teams start throwing money at free agents (many of whom used to play for the Patriots) while the Patriots themselves do little or nothing. The strategy has paid dividends, but it's never easy for fans to see the Edgerrin Jameses, Steve Hutchinsons and Julian Petersons of the world flock to other teams while the Patriots sit on nearly $20 million of salary cap space. It's even harder for the Patriots faithful to watch as some of their favorite players defect to new addresses.
The Republican reports that Go FIT, a nonprofit fitness and wellness organization based in Western Massachusetts, will hold a fund-raising event, "Breakfast For Champions," featuring keynote speaker Doug Flutie of the New England Patriots on April 4 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. in the Blake Student Commons at Bay Path College in Longmeadow. Tickets for this event are $50 per person.
Tom Curran of the Providence Journal offers his daily sports blog with Patriots notes and commentary.