Bill Belichick, Patriots considering unique option on coaching staff

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are some quick-hit thoughts and notes on the New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. With five coaches leaving the Patriots after Super Bowl LIII, one of the items on Bill Belichick's agenda has been filling out his staff, and some of the talk at the NFL combine has been that special-teams coach Joe Judge is under consideration to be an addition on offense. The fact that Judge was keeping an eye on offensive drills at the combine could be a tipoff that the team is moving in that direction.

The Patriots lost wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea (Dolphins offensive coordinator) and assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski (in the same role in Miami), in addition to defensive playcaller Brian Flores (Dolphins head coach), defensive-line coach Brendan Daly (Chiefs running game coordinator/defensive line) and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer (Dolphins passing game coordinator/cornerbacks).

Judge, 37, was a quarterback at Lansdale (Pennsylvania) Catholic High School before he earned three letters at Mississippi State in a backup role.

For special-teams coaches with interest in becoming head coaches, there has been frustration in recent years because of their limited opportunities to do so. The most recent team to hire a special-teams coach as head coach was the Baltimore Ravens with John Harbaugh (2008).

In addition to helping the Patriots, a move to offense for Judge would potentially give him a greater chance for a head-coaching opportunity in the future.

Although nothing is official at this point and Belichick will always consider all options, I thought the possibility of Judge delving into some offensive coaching was one of the more notable Patriots-specific nuggets from the combine.

2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to be a frequent visitor at Gillette Stadium, as he has been one of a handful of players cycling through the facility in recent weeks. That isn't necessarily a sign that he intends to play in 2019 -- he could be in for treatment -- but the difference in how he has handled this offseason compared with last year is notable. Gronkowski seldom showed up at the facility, if at all, in the 2018 offseason, as he was looking for more of a clean break from football.

3a. Belichick was awarded a "game ball" by the Fritz Pollard Alliance -- recognition by the group for his work in helping level "the playing field in diversity and inclusion in the NFL." The award was presented Thursday at the combine, and with Belichick arriving in Indianapolis one day later, he expressed how much the award meant to him in video remarks. He discussed how the Fritz Pollard Alliance works to create opportunities, how fortunate he felt to be given an opportunity early in his career, and how he has tried to pay that back to others through the years. He praised the leadership of John Wooten with the Fritz Pollard Alliance, as well as former Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who is set to expand his presence with the organization. "I go back to my days at Cleveland, when I learned so much from Jim Brown about diversity and about how to relate and connect to people -- both players and coaches as they came up through football," Belichick said in the remarks. "He took me back to his days in the '60s with Coach [Paul] Brown and his time with the Cleveland Browns, and I learned so much from him during those five years I was with the Browns. That has continued to be part of our lifelong friendship."

3b. The positive response on Twitter from current and former players and staffers about Jim Whalen earning the Fain-Cain Memorial Award for Outstanding NFL Athletic Trainer of the Year reflected the widespread respect that Whalen has earned. He began his professional career as an assistant athletic trainer for the Patriots in 1992 and '93, and after stops at the University of Miami, Kansas State and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he returned to New England in 2002 as the team's head athletic trainer. Whalen, who graduated from Bridgewater State College (Massachusetts) in 1993, is also a member of the NFL's General Medical Committee, which focuses on medical issues relevant to the health and safety of active NFL players.

4. The departure of Patriots character coach/team development coach Jack Easterby after six seasons generated some buzz on sports radio in the region, as Easterby played a notable role in helping foster a positive team culture by providing great support to players. He also wouldn't be shy, according to those familiar with his work, in offering a hard, honest opinion. Easterby's contract expired this year, and had Josh McDaniels taken the Colts' head-coaching job last offseason, my sense is that Easterby would have joined him in Indianapolis. That's one reason his departure this year didn't come as a surprise. Jason La Canfora of CBS has reported Easterby is in discussions to join the Panthers' staff.

5. The Eagles' decision not to place the franchise tag on quarterback Nick Foles, allowing him to become a free agent, had me thinking about some similarities to the challenges the Patriots faced when they were plotting what to do with Jimmy Garoppolo. If the Eagles believed there was a realistic tag-and-trade market for Foles, it's hard to believe they would not have pursued it. The issue, as the Patriots discovered with Garoppolo, is that there are only so many teams looking for a quarterback and willing to pay a premium price. Also, an additional challenge is devoting salary-cap space to a tagged player such as that while addressing other areas of need on the roster.

6. Outside linebacker John Simon turned into a valuable contributor for the Patriots in 2018, and the club is already talking to him about extending his contract. One of the things that struck me in talking to Simon last week and is always a good reminder during the draft season is that players develop at different rates. Simon was refreshingly honest in discussing his initial years in the NFL after being selected in the 2013 fourth round by the Ravens (No. 129 overall). "I was really buried by depth, and those players were better than me at the time," Simon said, referring to the likes of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, among others. He spent a year mostly developing behind the scenes and was on the practice squad for about a month in Year 2 before the Texans signed him. The Texans had good intelligence with Mike Vrabel, one of Simon's coaches at Ohio State, on their staff. That's when Simon's career began to ascend.

7. Texans coach Bill O'Brien spoke glowingly about Flores at the combine, as the two worked closely during their time with the Patriots. Although the Dolphins might have hired Flores this offseason regardless, O'Brien privately relayed similar thoughts to Miami's brain trust, and that made an impression on them. Those words, coupled with a strong recommendation from Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, strengthened Flores' candidacy behind the scenes.

8. One of the benefits of having so many coaches with Patriots ties spread across the NFL is the opportunity it can open for former players. One example: Former New England center Ryan Wendell (2009-15) has hooked on with the Bills as an offensive assistant under coordinator Brian Daboll, the longtime Patriots receivers coach. It is Wendell's first NFL coaching job. A similar situation has unfolded in Miami, with former Patriots receiver Tiquan Underwood earning his first NFL job as a quality-control coach on Flores' staff.

9. Offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, who re-signed with the Patriots in 2018 on a modest, one-year deal, gets another crack at the free-agent market this year. Waddle proved again to be a valuable swing emergency option (three starts), so it will be interesting to see whether his market rises beyond the $200,000 signing bonus and $800,000 of his most recent deal. With starting left tackle Trent Brown also hitting free agency and 2018 first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn coming off an Achilles injury, Waddle's value to New England could increase.

10. Patriots fans looking to add to their collection of Super Bowl championship videos can mark Tuesday as the date for the release of "Super Bowl LIII Champions: New England Patriots," and here is a sneak preview of parts of it, with receiver Julian Edelman's reference to Lionel Ritchie and "All Night Long" a personal favorite.