INDIANAPOLIS — Patriots coach Bill Belichick held a news conference Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine for the first time since 2009, speaking about the benefits of interviewing 300-plus prospects in one location, and waxing about how much the combine has grown since he first attended it in Arizona almost 30 years ago.
What he didn’t do, unfortunately, is provide much insight into the many decisions facing the Patriots this offseason.
Will the Patriots re-sign their top two free agents, receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib? Will they use the franchise tag on either player? Will they offer contract extensions to Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Devin McCourty, or Stephen Gostkowski to lower their 2014 cap numbers and provide much-needed relief for the Patriots, who enter the offseason with just $7 million-$8 million of space below the projected salary cap of $130 million?
And what type of role will Michael Lombardi have after being announced Thursday as an “assistant to the coaching staff”?
Belichick didn’t let any answers slip during a nine-minute news conference.
“Mike’s got a lot of experience,” Belichick said of Lombardi, who joined the Patriots after being fired as the Browns’ general manager last week, and is in Indianapolis as part of the Patriots’ delegation. “He’s done a lot of things in his career in the NFL, and I’m sure he’ll be doing many of those things for us.”
When asked about Talib and Edelman, and whether re-signing them is a priority, Belichick said, “I talked about that at the end of the season about the process that that involved, and I’d say that we’re in that process.”
When asked if having continuity among the offensive personnel is important this year given how much change the Patriots underwent last year, he responded, “I don’t know.”
As for the Patriots’ cap situation, it seems necessary that they lower several cap numbers in order to create space and sign free agents when that process begins March 11, but it doesn’t appear that the Patriots have made much headway in that regard.
A league source told the Globe in Indianapolis that the team has not yet approached Mankins, a nine-year veteran guard, about signing a contract extension that would lower his $10.5 million cap number for 2014.
Mankins, who turns 32 in March, has three years left on a six-year, $51 million contract, and has cap numbers of $10.5 million, $11 million, and $7 million in the last three years of the deal. His cap number in 2014 is the third highest on the Patriots, behind Tom Brady ($14 million) and Wilfork ($11.6 million).
Other candidates for contract extensions to help alleviate cap issues in 2014 include Wilfork (coming off an Achilles’ injury), Jerod Mayo ($7.2875 million cap number), McCourty ($5.115 million), and Gostkowski ($3.8 million). All but Mayo are entering the last years of their contracts, but it doesn’t appear that the Patriots have begun serious talks with any of the players.
Several players may also be cut to create cap space, with Isaac Sopoaga ($2.5 million in savings), Adrian Wilson ($1.2 million), Dan Connolly ($3 million), and Tommy Kelly ($2.1 million) potential candidates.
Belichick, Nick Caserio, and Lombardi arrived here on Wednesday afternoon and will be meeting with agents and draft prospects throughout the weekend.
A source said that Mankins would be open to a contract extension if the Patriots do approach him, especially if it includes a new signing bonus, but Mankins doesn’t feel pressured to do a deal. Of his $10.5 million cap number for 2014, he would still cost the Patriots $8 million in cap space were they to cut him (not that they would ever do that).
In other offensive line news, the Patriots also haven’t approached center Ryan Wendell, an impending free agent, about a new contract, according to a source. Wendell, 27, has started every game the last two seasons, and would like to return to the Patriots, but the team cut off communication with him about an extension midway through last season. Wendell played with a $1.015 million cap number in 2013.
The Patriots also haven’t spoken with impending free agent running back LeGarrette Blount about a contract extension, according to MassLive.com.
Belichick did say that the coaching staff “is pretty well set right now.” They lost offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, linebackers coach Pepper Johnson, and tight ends coach George Godsey, and replaced them with Dave DeGuglielmo (OL) and Brendan Daly (defensive assistant). The Patriots do not have anyone listed as a tight ends coach, although it is possible that offensive assistant Brian Daboll could handle that role.
“We’ll go forward with it with the people that we have and just see how that comes together,” Belichick said.
As for the combine, Belichick warned that he’s not ready to make any comments about this year’s draft class. He began looking at prospects three weeks ago at the Senior Bowl and is still getting to know them, via face-to-face interviews, film study, and medical checks at the combine. The Patriots’ team doctor, Thomas Gill, also is here.
“From a medical standpoint, it’s probably the biggest thing that we get out of this,” Belichick said. “Having some interaction with some players personally is good, certainly good for me, since I’ve had almost zero through the course of the year given the demands of our season.”Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.