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Three things to think about - or not

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Harvey Langi 

Most years, New England always has an undrafted free agent reach the final roster.  In fact, at least one has managed to find his way onto the team in each of Bill Belichick's previous 17 seasons as head coach.  So, the odds are good, even with a seemingly-stacked roster, of one (or more) managing to muscle his way onto this team.  

Based on signing money, the early favorite to land a coveted spot on the 2017 New England Patriots might have to be linebacker Harvey Langi of Brigham Young.  The Patriots basically paid him like a draft pick, giving him a six-figure base salary plus a $15K signing bonus as incentive to keep him from going elsewhere.  Langi is versatile - he can play inside, come off the edge and even fill in at fullback.  You know how the Patriots crave versatility, right?

Two other players worth mentioning - and watching - in the coming weeks and months:  wide receiver Austin Carr out of Northwestern, and tight end Jacob Hollister from Wyoming.  Not that others won't have equal chances to make it.  They will.

But based on the positions they play, and/or the money they're signed to make, these two will have watchful eyes on every rep they take.  Carr is a former walk-on at Northwestern, and as the Big 10 receiver of the year could be an eventual slot man to step in for Julian Edelman.  

Hollister also has a twin brother, Cody, who signed and played tight end at Arkansas.  If either Hollister shows enough blocking skill to go along with good receiving ability you might find a winner, considering the injury problems the team has had at this position recently.

Above all, versatility is still the key.  Special teams play will be where a UDFA is likely to make a mark, if at all.  But based on recent history, at least one of the 19 undrafted free agents signed by New England this year will do just that.

Make his mark.

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is entering his 25th season as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 29 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame, and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

These things I think I think:

From the field to the booth

I have a fairly strong hunch - no real facts to base this hunch off of, but a simple thought based on their personalities - that Jay Cutler is going to start out as a better TV game analyst than Tony Romo.  

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Just why do I think this?  For me, the reasoning starts with the fact that not as much is expected of Cutler to begin with.  His sudden retirement to the television booth came largely as a surprise - at least to many fans outside of Chicago - and because he was often seen as a malcontent probably bodes well for the interest in what he'll have to say about other players playing the game.

It's doubtful, based on his personality and his somewhat discontented style of communication, he'll pull any punches.  And that's a good thing for analysts to do these days - to tell us how they really feel.  As the analyst on Fox's #2 broadcast team in the fall, that bodes well for ratings.  Even if it doesn't bode well for players' feelings.

As for Romo, much is expected of a guy who by most accounts is a "good guy."  He's been called personable, easy-going and competitive among others, so I'm certain he'll work hard at his new craft.  But he'll need to learn to be critical when criticism is called for - and he won't be trying to protect a teammate who might have missed his assignment.  

"Nice" won't work here.

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The anticipation of these two talented-yet-somewhat-underachieving quarterbacks moving into the TV booth next season got me thinking about which Patriots' player (or players) might make the best game-analysts at some future point in their careers?  

Outspoken and glib?  Honest to a fault?  Not afraid of reaction to a critical play or call?  Arguably, the toughest positions played on a football field come in the defensive backfield, so as someone who must take in the entire field while he plays, Devin McCourty seems like he might make a good candidate for an analyst role when he hangs up his cleats.  

For pure entertainment, if Rob Gronkowski ever decides he's serious about moving into the booth someday, I'll volunteer to "coach him up."  Gronk, as we know him, is a pied-piper.  He's one of those rare individuals who could lead a horse to water AND make it drink.

One more candidate you might not think about, yet I've found him to be very descriptive and honest when he speaks - is center David Andrews.  Long gone are the days where a lineman might be considered just "football smart."  Andrews' intelligence and thoughtfulness shines through in a public forum.  Plus, he could always tell stories about Tom Brady's hands under his, um, back side.  That's bound to receive some attention.

The beginning of the end to an era?

It's something no Patriots' fan wants to consider, especially now.  But someday, Bill Belichick will decide he's had enough.

Heresy, you say?  How can we even think about such nonsense?  It's something that has been loosely rattling around in the back of my head for a couple of years now - especially following victories in Super Bowls' XLIX two years ago, and LI just three months ago.

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What else is there to do?  Or to prove?  Besides, he'll only make the job of renaming and repainting his boat that much tougher in the years to come, and the idea is to make life easier on yourself as you approach - cough - senior citizenship.

Hey, we're all getting there - some much more quickly than others.

Chris Gasper of the Boston Globe brought up two very good points over the past weekend about Coach Belichick and his future.  One, that he has already said he doesn't see himself staying on a sideline like Buffalo's Marv Levy did until the age of 72.  Belichick is 65.  So, time is growing shorter by that measuring stick.

Two, and this is obvious to even the most-casual Patriots' observer.  This off-season has had a different feel or vibe to it.  Certainly, it has different activities happening around it - especially when draft selections have been coveted in the past by this staff like a pirate covets gold doubloons.  With only four draft choices made, and (younger) veteran pick-ups in lieu of their own picks in the first couple of rounds, it's a sure sign that philosophy has shifted.

At least a little bit.  Let's win now, or better yet, let's win again.

Good organizations know that even after they win, they can't stand still.  When you do that, everyone else can pass you by.  The Patriots haven't been still at all, not even for a minute.  Insert the "no days off!" chant here, if you like.  

Belichick has always said he operates by what he feels is in the best interests of the team and the organization.  And given what this team has accomplished over the last few years, with how the roster is currently comprised and configured, it seems that time is now of the essence. 

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, and the Patriots surely seem to still have 'em.  With Father Time's clock moving from a simple tick-tock to a louder knock-knock in Belichicks' (and Tom Brady's?) ear, rather than run by a philosophy that has served you well in the past, perhaps its' now time to reap the benefits of the past several years of developing your team, your roster and your organization. 

You gotta know when to hold 'em, too, just like Kenny Rogers once sang.  It might be the best way possible to ride off into the sunset.  

Some day.

Front-runner for a roster spot

Buckle up, this ride could be a bumpy one throughout the summer.

For a team that may be as close to a Final 53 as any team in the NFL at this early stage of the off-season, it's difficult to think about what younger players might stick to this roster, let alone contribute right away in some fashion.

But if you read the tea-leaves beforehand, there are some hints out there.  Mind you, nothing is ever set in stone prior to training camp.  There is always room for the unexplained, unanticipated performance that can turn a few heads.

harvey_langi.jpg

Most years, New England always has an undrafted free agent reach the final roster.  In fact, at least one has managed to find his way onto the team in each of Bill Belichick's previous 17 seasons as head coach.  So, the odds are good, even with a seemingly-stacked roster, of one (or more) managing to muscle his way onto this team.  

Based on signing money, the early favorite to land a coveted spot on the 2017 New England Patriots might have to be linebacker Harvey Langi of Brigham Young.  The Patriots basically paid him like a draft pick, giving him a six-figure base salary plus a $15K signing bonus as incentive to keep him from going elsewhere.  Langi is versatile - he can play inside, come off the edge and even fill in at fullback.  You know how the Patriots crave versatility, right?

Two other players worth mentioning - and watching - in the coming weeks and months:  wide receiver Austin Carr out of Northwestern, and tight end Jacob Hollister from Wyoming.  Not that others won't have equal chances to make it.  They will.

But based on the positions they play, and/or the money they're signed to make, these two will have watchful eyes on every rep they take.  Carr is a former walk-on at Northwestern, and as the Big 10 receiver of the year could be an eventual slot man to step in for Julian Edelman.  

Hollister also has a twin brother, Cody, who signed and played tight end at Arkansas.  If either Hollister shows enough blocking skill to go along with good receiving ability you might find a winner, considering the injury problems the team has had at this position recently.

Above all, versatility is still the key.  Special teams play will be where a UDFA is likely to make a mark, if at all.  But based on recent history, at least one of the 19 undrafted free agents signed by New England this year will do just that.

Make his mark.

John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is entering his 25th season as the Patriots' stadium voice.  Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 29 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame, and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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