The 256 players who were drafted by NFL teams on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday have plenty of reasons to celebrate, including the 11 selected by the Patriots. But coach Bill Belichick hinted that as soon as the new players arrive at Gillette Stadium, party time will be over. It’ll be time to go to work.
“It will be a big adjustment for every rookie. Welcome to the NFL,” Belichick said on Saturday night. “That will start Thursday, and they get a big dose of New England Patriots football over the next six weeks, five, however long it is. We’ll give them everything we can, in heavy doses, try to get them ready for training camp, and then they’ll get even more.
“The strong will survive, the other ones will fall off, and we’ll keep going.”
Harsh? Perhaps, but the rookies either drafted or signed to free agent contracts are considered professionals now, and the sooner they can take that kind of approach, the better chance they’ll have of contributing to the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Belichick, who has coached in the league since 1975, offered his advice, which to some might come across as a warning.
“The biggest challenge for all of these players is to get on our program,” he said. “For the last six months, they’ve been a man without a country — they have no team, they have their own individual situation, and they’re trying to figure out, ‘How do I best get ready for the NFL?’
“Each guy has been an independent contractor, they’ve been on their own, whatever it is — their own trainer, their own training system, their agent, whatever they’ve been doing, and right now, that’s all changed and they can forget about all that and they need to become New England Patriots.’’
“They’ve got to get out of that mentality of, ‘I’ll get up when I feel like it, I’ll go to work when I feel like it, I’ll eat [what I want], I’ll train the way I want to train.’ They’re done with all that. I don’t care where they came from, I don’t care what position they play, none of that makes any difference.’’
Navy in charge
The Patriots rolled the dice, becoming the only team this year to draft a long snapper, using an unexpectedly high fifth-round pick on perhaps the sport’s most specialized position.
Now they’ll wait to find out when — or even if — Joe Cardona will be allowed to play for them.
Cardona is a long snapper from Navy, and was selected with the No. 166 overall pick. It’s a pick that might make even Belichick smile: The Patriots coach has a strong connection to the Naval Academy; his father, Steve, was a longtime assistant football coach with the Midshipmen.
But because Cardona is enrolled at the Naval Academy — he’s scheduled to graduate in a matter of weeks — he’ll be expected to fulfill the five-year active military commitment. Exceptions are sometimes made, but Cardona said he has no idea if he’ll receive one. It’s in the hands of the Navy.
“Right now I’m prepared to be the best football player I can be for the New England Patriots, and the best Naval officer I can be,” Cardona said to reporters by phone. “For the majority of the class, we’re just getting our orders. People have had an idea of where they’re going to be sent, but some people are just getting their orders now, and I’m among that group.’’
“Whatever duty I’m doing at the time I’m doing it, I’m just prepared to do my best.”
Perhaps comfortable in knowing that Cardona would still be there, the Patriots reached out to the Packers during the fifth round and offered to trade down, giving the Packers the No. 147 overall pick, also in the fifth. In return, the Patriots received the Packers’ fifth-round pick at 166, and No. 247, a seventh-round selection.
Cardona was the only long snapper who participated in the Combine, and said he had an idea that the Patriots might use a pick on him. Danny Aiken, who has been the team’s long snapper the last three seasons, is an unrestricted free agent, leaving Tyler Ott as the only long snapper on the roster.
“There are only a few teams that have needs [for] snappers, so there were only a few teams that could have potentially signed me,” said the Californian, who also has a background in lacrosse, another shared interest with Belichick. “I had some contact with some other teams, but ultimately I think based off my contact with [special teams] Coach [Joe] Judge, I knew that the Patriots were hopefully going to be my home come this fall.”
Wells has adapted
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Mississippi State linebacker Matthew Wells, selected by the Patriots in the sixth round with the 178th pick, is that he’s legally blind in his right eye.
“I am, by number,” Wells said. “I can see out of it. It’s been like that since I’ve been smaller, so it’s all I really know.”
Wells had four sacks as a senior with the Bulldogs, but he wasn’t invited to the Combine. He did visit with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium before the draft, though, and will be reunited with former Mississippi State teammate Deontae Skinner, who was a rookie linebacker last season.
The sixth round brought the Patriots their second player from the University of Arkansas, with tight end A.J. Derby selected with the No. 202 overall pick. Derby followed Razorbacks teammate Trey Flowers to New England. Flowers, a defensive end, was taken in the fourth round.
Derby was limited to 11 games as a senior because of a knee injury, but he caught 22 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Before his senior year, he was a quarterback, and threw for 137 yards in a game against Rutgers as a junior.
Points for Grissom
It didn’t take Geneo Grissom very long to endear himself to his new employer or to Boston-area sports fans. Grissom was the Patriots’ compensatory selection in the third round late Friday night, No. 97 overall. He’s listed as a defensive end from Oklahoma, but at 6-3, 262 pounds, has the size, speed, and skills to contribute at linebacker. At Oklahoma’s pro day, Grissom even worked out as a tight end, something that Belichick noted in highlighting his versatility. So, Grissom was asked on Saturday, what position will he be playing for the Patriots? “Come on, guys, you know I can’t answer that,” Grissom said. He’d never been to Boston before coming to Foxborough and meeting the Patriots for a private predraft workout. But the Kansas native already shares a connection with many Northeast residents. “I love hockey,” Grissom said. “The Bruins are awesome. [Zdeno] Chara is a beast.” . . . With the first of their two seventh-round draft picks, the Patriots selected cornerback Darryl Roberts from Marshall, who could emerge as a valuable special teamer. While with the Thundering Herd, Roberts blocked one punt and one extra-point attempt. The Patriots’ final draft pick, a compensatory selection in the seventh round, was used on Xzavier Dickson, a linebacker from Alabama. He went No. 253 overall.
Free agent signings
According to multiple reports and player tweets, the Patriots have agreed to contracts with three undrafted rookie free agents: David Andrews, a center from Georgia; Devin Gardner, who played quarterback at Michigan but will switch to receiver; and Jimmy Jean, a defensive back from Alabama-Birmingham.