Patriots

Best safety in 2020 NFL Draft had formal meeting with Patriots at Combine

Best safety in 2020 NFL Draft had formal meeting with Patriots at Combine

Alabama star Xavier McKinney is rated by several experts as the best safety in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he's an intriguing option for the New England Patriots with the 23rd overall pick in the first round.

McKinney told reporters Friday that he had a formal interview with the Patriots at this week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Our Patriots insider Phil Perry actually had McKinney going to the Patriots in his first 2020 mock draft last month. Here's what he wrote about McKinney's potential fit in New England:

The Patriots have so many avenues to pursue come draft weekend. Quarterback? Sure, if Jarrett Stidham (who has impressed behind the scenes) isn't ready to take the reigns and if Tom Brady is out. Tight end? Of course, though there don't appear to be any surefire first-rounders there this spring. How about safety?

That's where I could envision McKinney (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) sliding in. He's a do-it-all type for the Crimson Tide. He plays in the box. He blitzes. He covers tight ends, which has been a problem for the Patriots at times this year. He led Alabama in tackles this year, forced four fumbles, picked off three passes and broke up five more. With Patrick Chung closer to the end than the beginning, perhaps McKinney could someday fill that type of role. A versatile, tough, consistently-productive two-year starter and first-team SEC defensive back who studied under Nick Saban? That'd be worth a first-round choice for Bill Belichick.

The Patriots had one of the league's best secondaries last season, but adding some youth to the group makes a lot of sense. Veteran safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are both 32 years old. McCourty will be an unrestricted free agent in March unless he and the team agree to a new deal beforehand.

It's also possible McKinney could just be the best player available at No. 23, and even though the Patriots have more pressing roster needs than safety, it's not easy to pass on a player as talented as McKinney, especially when you also factor in the amount of high-pressure games he's played in at Alabama.

The Patriots have selected five Alabama players since 2010, and four of them were on defense, including linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Perry's Notebook: Brady's market taking shape despite CBA uncertainty

Jonathan Kraft shares inside story of Patriots plane bringing masks from China

Jonathan Kraft shares inside story of Patriots plane bringing masks from China

The New England Patriots, owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft teamed up with Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to transport over 1 million N95 protective masks from China to the United States on Thursday.

That's the headline. But there's a whole lot more to the story.

Jonathan Kraft joined 98.5 The Sports Hub on Friday to share more details on the elaborate, multi-day process that led to the Patriots commissioning their team plane to bring much-needed supplies back to Massachusetts to aid health care workers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to Kraft, the plan all started when Baker called him while he was in a virtual meeting with the Massachusetts General Hospital finance committee. (Kraft is a member of the MGH Board of Trustees.)

"The governor said to me, 'I am so ---ing frustrated. ... I have had a couple of big batches of PPE (personal protective equipment), and at the end of the day they just haven't come through,' " Kraft said.

"And (Baker) said, 'We just through a third party secured well over 1 million masks, N95s, in China. But we have no way of getting them here. The supply chains are totally frozen. Do you think people who have airplanes would be willing to fly over?"

That's when Kraft had the idea to use the Patriots' team plane, a wide-body Boeing 767 that's bigger than most commercial jets.

"I said, 'You know what, our team flies around on a 767 ... and we have a huge cargo hold on that," Kraft told Baker.

Fast forward to this week, when the "Air Kraft" was en route to China via an overnight stop in Alaska. But a host of logistics had to be worked out before then, from getting special permission from the FAA to fly a "humanitarian mission" to securing a safe landing zone in China -- to making sure the plane was ready for a such a long flight.

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"First, we had to make sure the plane was equipped with the right software. It needed one upgrade," Kraft said.

Once the plane landed in Shenzen, China, there was another logistical challenge: The plane could only be on the ground for three hours, and no one could leave the plane during that period due to concerns over contracting the virus.

"If we had a maintenance or a tech issue, our maintenance or tech guys couldn't have gotten off the plane to correct it," Kraft said. "Once the pilots left the plane, they would need to be in quarantine for 14 days."

What followed was a three-hour rush to load roughly 1.2 million masks onto the Patriots' team plane that was barely completed in time.

"It was like a NASCAR pit stop," Kraft said. "Fortunately we didn't have any mechanical issues, and we got it done with about three or four minutes to spare and got back in the air for what was a nine-hour flight back (to Alaska)."

That's just a sampling of the details Kraft shared about the incredible trip, which ended successfully Thursday night when the Air Kraft landed at Boston's Logan Airport. (Kraft's full interview is worth a listen.)

But the journey ultimately was a success, and Mass. health care workers are certainly grateful as confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to climb.

Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard eager to get started after Tom Brady's arrival

Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard eager to get started after Tom Brady's arrival

O.J. Howard could benefit from Tom Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers more than any other player on the team.

Brady has targeted tight ends quite often throughout his 20-year career, and his connection with future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski was legendary. Howard obviously isn't as talented as Gronkowski, but the 2017 first-round pick does have some of the same physical traits. The Bucs tight end is listed at 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, and his speed is better than you might expect from a player with that much size and strength.

Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians even admitted last week that Howard's eyes should "light up" given Brady's history of success with tight ends.

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Howard could finally have a breakout season in 2020 with Brady throwing him the football, so he's understandably eager to get to work with the six-time Super Bowl champion. 

“For me, like everyone else, I was hearing the rumors about it, but I had to make sure it was true,” Howard recently said in a team interview. “When he signed, and I knew it was official, it was awesome.  Tom is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. So, to be able to have a guy like that with the leadership ability and a known winner on your team, it’s very encouraging to hear.”

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Brady isn't the only impactful move the Bucs have made in free agency. They've also upgraded their offensive line and brought back three important players -- Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh -- to a defense that excelled over the second half of the 2019 season.

"We brought our guys back, we got back Shaq, Suh, JPP -- all those guys," Howard said. "Those guys had a heck of a (2019) season. That's encouraging, to see our defense come back. Everybody is on the same page. The future is bright for us. I'm just ready to get it in motion."

Oddsmakers are similarly excited about the Buccaneers' upcoming season. They've given Tampa Bay the fifth-best betting odds to win Super Bowl LV, which actually will be played at the Bucs' home arena, Raymond James Stadium.