FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Patriots’ Andrews has good reason to pull for Titans: When the Patriots were playing in the AFC Championship Game each of the past four years, Titans starting center Ben Jones was pulling for them because of one player: His “son” David Andrews. Now, Andrews gets to return the favor.
The Titans visit the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s conference title game (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS), and the Patriots’ starting center would like nothing more than to see Jones play in his first Super Bowl.
“When I was in high school, I remember a lot of people said, ‘You’re too small to play at Georgia.’ But then came Ben, and he wasn’t much bigger than me, and I really looked up to him,” said Andrews, who attended Bulldogs football camps as a teenager when he first met Jones.
“When I was getting recruited, he was always great. I would go see him and he’d let me hang out with him. He’d give me leftover Georgia gear that I could wear around my high school and think I was pretty cool. Then once I got to Georgia, he really took me under his wing. Ben was always a sounding board for me — people called us father and son because we acted a lot alike.”
The similarities are hard to miss in the NFL, too.
They wear the same jersey number — 60. Both are captains. They have a similar body type (6-3, about 300 pounds). And both share the same agent, Rich Rosa.
Often described as having a scrappy style of play, the 30-year-old Jones is finishing his eighth NFL season (four with the Texans, four with the Titans), while this was the 27-year-old Andrews’ fifth (spent on injured reserve after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs). Jones said an obvious link between them is that they still bleed Georgia “red and black.”
“I still talk to him almost every day. We have a great relationship,” Jones relayed from Nashville. “I know this year has been hard for him. I know how it is when you’re going through injuries and stuff. People remember you a lot at the beginning, but not when you’re really going through the hard times. I want to make sure I have that relationship with him, and check in with him to let him know I’m thinking about him.”
Jones said he used to rib Andrews about growing up in Johns Creek, Georgia, which he referred to as the “country club.” Jones, on the other hand, is from “the sticks in [Centreville] Alabama.”
“But deep down, he’s a country boy who likes to hunt and fish,” cracked Jones, before turning serious on one of his closest friendships. “He’s a guy I can call at any point. We can give each other a hard time. We can keep each other with a level head; if one gets high or too low, we can always keep each other on our toes. Just be the friend and someone you can always rely on, trust and speak the truth to you.”
Which is why Andrews sums up his thoughts this way: “Watching him have success is really special. I’m pulling for him all the way.”
2. Patriots have option decision to make on Jason McCourty: When veteran cornerback Jason McCourty re-signed with New England last March, it was reported as a two-year deal with a base value of $10 million. The way the pact was structured was that 2020 was an option year, which the Patriots can exercise at any time prior to the end of the 2019 league year on March 18. If they don’t, McCourty (who missed most of the final six games with a groin injury) would become a free agent and they’d save about $4 million on the salary cap. If he’s on the team, McCourty is due a base salary of $2.65 million in 2020 and can earn up to $1.3 million in roster bonuses and another $1 million in incentives, while counting $5.75 million against the cap.
3. Kuechly carried excellence from Boston College to NFL: With Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly announcing his retirement Tuesday, ESPN Stats & Information relayed this nugget highlighting Kuechly’s dominance at two levels — his 14 tackles per game remain an FBS career record (FBS tackle records go back to 2000). Furthermore, he is the only player to lead the FBS in tackles per game and the NFL in tackles.
4. Patriots coaches recharge before a return: Following a few days in the office after the team’s wild-card round loss to the Titans, most members of the Patriots’ coaching staff were given about two weeks off to recharge. It won’t be long before they’re back, which is one of the few silver linings of the team’s earlier-than-usual playoff exit: Coaches can now get involved in personnel evaluations of college prospects earlier if Bill Belichick sees benefit to that. Senior Bowl practices start this week, and this is the first time since 2009 that having coaches there is even an option for New England.
5. Patriots provided Packers an assist with Veldheer: The Packers’ appearance in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game (6:40 p.m. ET, Fox) was aided in part by the Patriots’ decision to release veteran offensive tackle Jared Veldheer off the reserve/retired list at the end of November. When the Packers sought experienced depth for the stretch run, they claimed Veldheer and he was a solid emergency fill-in at right tackle in the team’s divisional-round win against the Seahawks last week. Ironically, the Packers’ decision to bring in Veldheer came after a blowout loss to the 49ers when their depth at the position was exposed a bit. Now they face the 49ers again, and this time feel much better about what they have.
6. Patriots one of 14 scheduled stops on Tre Roberson’s workout tour: When CFL cornerback Tre Roberson worked out for New England on Wednesday, it was another example of how he has generated as much momentum as any CFL player in recent memory. After a stellar season for Calgary, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Roberson has worked out for the following NFL teams in January (in this order): 49ers, Vikings, Lions, Bears, Chargers, Buccaneers, Colts, Patriots and Cardinals. Five more visits with NFL teams are scheduled, which will up his total to 14. And there might be a small handful of other teams who will bring him in after that. That’s almost half the league, and Roberson intends to take each visit, with the plan to take his time and make a decision based on what fit feels best.
7. Stidham and Harry connect in California: Two members of the Patriots’ 2019 draft class — quarterback Jarrett Stidham and receiver N’Keal Harry — spent time in California together late last week as part of an annual “rookie close-out” event sponsored by Panini America Trading Cards. Stidham and Harry had lockers next to each other all year, so it was an extension of their time together. And one of the nice parts for Stidham was seeing his former teammate at Auburn, receiver Darius Slayton, who was a fifth-round pick of the Giants. “It’s kind of cool, and there’s no pressure right now to perform on the field. So we get to relax, hang out with each other, talk about different things, and get a chance to decompress,” he said.
8. Gino Cappelletti and the Centennial Class: Wednesday’s announcement of the 15-member “Centennial Class” for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — which didn’t include any Patriots — would have been Gino Cappelletti’s best chance at entry. The AFL’s all-time leading scorer as a kicker/receiver didn’t even make the list of finalists from an original pool of 300, which reflects a major logjam of deserving candidates and also perhaps how the AFL wasn’t viewed in the same regard as the NFL. Longtime Patriots personnel exec Bucko Kilroy was among the finalists who were passed over.
9. Closer look at Ossenfort’s candidacy for Browns’ GM job: Patriots director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort interviewed with the Browns for their general manager job on Friday, which reflects how his hard work and scouting acumen have put him on the radar for career-growth opportunities. One thing he’ll have to overcome to land the job is not having as strong of a connection to first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta as two other candidates — Andrew Berry and George Paton.
10. Fraser follows Schiano to Rutgers: When Belichick hired Greg Schiano last year to lead the defense, only to have the situation change about a month later when Schiano stepped aside, it put assistant coach Bob Fraser in a unique spot. Fraser had come to New England because of his longtime connection with Schiano, and he ultimately stuck around for the year as a general coaching assistant regardless. So it was no surprise that when Schiano returned to Rutgers as head coach, Fraser followed him as linebackers coach.