INDIANAPOLIS — As the NFL Combine got underway this week, Bill Belichick was out on the scouting trail.
The Patriots coach was at Middle Tennessee State University Monday to watch defensive end Tyshun Render work out in the pouring rain. Meanwhile, here in Indianapolis, the first day of medical checks, weigh-ins, and informal interviews took place. On-field workouts start Thursday, perhaps giving Belichick time to get a scouting trip in earlier in the week.
The Patriots have a contingent here, including director of player personnel Nick Caserio, director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort, and several other staff members. Josh McDaniels, Troy Brown, Carmen Bricillo, Cole Popovich, and Vinnie Sunseri are among those representing the coaching staff. The recently retired Dante Scarnecchia is also helping out and has interviewed some offensive line prospects for the Patriots.
Owner Robert Kraft was in town Tuesday for CBA negotiations but left Tuesday evening after they had concluded.
Talk of the town
The Brady buzz is ongoing at the Combine.
During media sessions this week, more than a half-dozen coaches and executives were asked about Tom Brady potentially joining their teams, making Brady’s free agency one of the dominant narratives at this event that’s nominally about the players about to be drafted. The Colts’ Chris Ballard, Raiders’ Mike Mayock, Dolphins’ Brian Flores, Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, Giants’ Joe Judge, Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians, and Titans’ Mike Vrabel all got Brady questions and, while most cited tampering rules and skirted making meaningful statements, their comments and the prevalence of the topic indicated that Brady is the first domino everyone is waiting to see fall in this upcoming free agency period.
Lynn actually brought up Brady on his own. He’d been asked if he really does have a preference for more mobile quarterbacks, as he’s tended to have worked with them throughout the years.
“I prefer a winning quarterback,” Lynn said. “He doesn’t have to be mobile. I believe that guy in New England won a lot, and he’s not very mobile.”
Lynn didn’t exactly dispel the idea that Brady could become a Charger.
“There are just rumors I guess, I don’t know,” Lynn said. “But all of the options are on the table for us right now.”
The Titans, another team potentially buying on the free agent quarterback market, got plenty of Brady questions, as well. They were fielded by Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson.
“Tom’s a teammate, a former teammate. He’s a friend. He’ll always be a friend. I know with like a lot of people, he’ll do what’s best for him and his family. Whatever that may be, I’m not sure,” Vrabel said when asked if he could see Brady playing in Tennessee.
Vrabel also went back and forth with reporters and asked why people seemed to regard his team as such a good fit for Brady. He couldn’t resist cracking one joke about his undefeated record as a head coach against the Patriots, referencing the small plastic trophy Brady gave Vrabel during joint practices last training camp as a sarcastic congratulations for his regular-season win against New England in 2018, when the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl. Of course, the Titans beat the Patriots in the playoffs this past season.
“I asked him for a bigger trophy this year,” Vrabel said. “Still waiting for it.”
Mostly, though, Vrabel was complimentary and said Brady presented a major challenge in that wild-card game in January.
“Very accurate passer, a player that has great command of the pocket,” Vrabel said. “We try to mix some of the three-man rushes up on him. When he sees that, a lot of quarterbacks will just escape the pocket and go out of the pocket where we want them to go. Tom did a great job of staying in the pocket when we mixed some of those three-man rushes in. Great command of the offense, great leader. That’s what I saw.”
The Patriots are right up there, if not ahead of, all of these teams in terms of who will receive the 42-year-old Brady’s services next season. Major progress toward any decision is likely to come later, closer to the March 17 deadline when his contract voids, but there are lines of communication that remain open. In the meantime, everyone else is talking.
Vanderbilt receiver Kalija Lipscomb came to Indianapolis with some pointers from a close friend who went through this process last year, Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams.
“In general, especially when he first got back from the Combine, he was saying generally what to expect, the amount of waiting time and down time that you have, just try to take advantage of it,” Lipscomb said. “Try to get sleep. Also, just don’t let the nerves build up on you.”
Lipscomb played with Williams for three years. The two battled in practice regularly at Vanderbilt and hung out off the field at school or when Williams visited Lipscomb at home in New Orleans over one vacation. They still talk regularly, though Lipscomb said they’d been in touch a little less over the last couple of weeks as he’s isolated himself in training.
Lipscomb said he thinks he’s a much better player for having gone against Williams so frequently at Vanderbilt and expects big things from the Patriots’ 2019 second-round pick, who didn’t get a lot of playing time his rookie year as part of a deep secondary group.
“I know the Patriots have got a guy in Stephon Gilmore who’s like, super crazy, but I think eventually [Williams] is going to wind up in a starting role and from there, he’s such a competitor, he’s a playmaker,” Lipscomb said.