This time, it seems to be true. The lockout is about to end. The owners are on board. On Monday, the players are expected to be too.
Go ahead and ring the bells. Football is coming back.
Keep the celebration short, however. The end of the lockout is the start of business. And business in Foxboro this offseason will consist of several shoes dropping after months in the air.
Transition is normal in football, and this year is no exception. The Patriots have some issues on their hands that labor uncertainty has prevented them from addressing. Among them, they have two running backs who have seen the game pass them by, an impressive backup quarterback, a mainstay tackle without a contract and a very good, very angry lineman to deal with.
The lockout may soon be over, but for the Patriots, the work will just be getting started.
Let's step on the fire before we light it. Brian Hoyer is hardly packing his things and getting ready to leave New England. The Patriots are happy with Hoyer, and he's happy with them. Anyone with money and a gambling jones should place their bets on Hoyer holding a clipboard this season for no one else but the Patriots.
But let's look at the facts surrounding Hoyer. It's a fact that Hoyer's reputation around the league is only growing. It's a fact that the Patriots drafted Ryan Mallett, and they didn't do so with the objective of keeping him in third-string purgatory. It's a fact that Hoyer's contract is up after this season, and it's a fact that New England hasn't been shy about beating potential free agents to the costly punch (see Seymour, Richard).
The Patriots' move with Hoyer could very well be to stand pat with their undrafted prospect. It's a sensible approach that would be difficult to argue with. But the Patriots have shown throughout the years that this discussion is worth having.
Yes, Fred Taylor is still on the Patriots. As for how long, it's anybody's guess. Including Taylor's.
But Fragile Fred hasn't hung 'em up yet, despite totaling only 13 regular-season games in his two seasons with New England, and according to an article by Mike Reiss, the veteran feels he's got some more football in him.
All signs point to Taylor giving it another go this year. It'll be interesting to see how the Patriots handle him.
They saw two backs develop last year in BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, and they just drafted two more in Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. It's a crowded backfield in Foxboro, and Taylor will have a challenge if he tries to nudge his way into it.
Taylor had a career that any running back can be proud of. But with the Patriots preparing to move on, he may find his time in New England running short.
Kevin Faulk can sympathize with Fred Taylor. The two have similar roads ahead of them.
Both have been highly productive running backs in the past. Both are 35 years old. And both may have seen injury apply the knockout blows to their careers.
While Taylor has battled injuries throughout his career, Faulk was a picture of durability until he tore his ACL in the second week of the season. That one injury could spell the end for No. 33. He's not getting any younger, and an ACL tear is a devastating injury to any player, especially one who lives off of what he gets out of his legs.
Like Taylor, Faulk hasn't quit. He hasn't retired yet, and when Tom Brady organized a practice at Boston College, Faulk was there. It was unexpected, a surprise his Patriots teammates must have been excited to see.
But once the lockout ends, Faulk's situation becomes a potentially difficult one emotionally for the Patriots.
Faulk is a free agent, and the Patriots will have to decide if they want him back. They'll have to decide if they want to saddle themselves with five running backs in order to give Faulk a helmet and jersey. It may be too much of a risk. In football, every roster spot is used. Faulk's return to New England is far from given.
Taylor could be battling for a roster spot in New England this year. Faulk might not get the chance to.
Matt Light has been an unquestioned success as Tom Brady's blind side protector since the two emerged as starters in 2001.
That ride could be reaching its end, however. Light's contract is up, and the Patriots appear ready to hand the reins to Sebastian Vollmer and first-round pick Nate Solder.
If Light looks for premium tackle money and years, then he's played his last game as a Patriot. Even if he gives the Patriots a considerable discount, there's no assurance that they'll bring him back. Doing so would hinge on the team's projection for Solder's rookie season, and their judgment on whether it's wise to bring back an established veteran to allow the rookie time to develop.
Light's been one of the more popular Patriots due to his colorful break from New England's dry, monotonous mold, but his future depends on whether the front office wants him to return. With the lockout ending, we'll have our answer.
And now we arrive at the elephant in the room. The large, pissed-off elephant in the room.
There's no way around the hard truth: the Logan Mankins situation is a mess. When the lockout ends, Mankins has to be the first thing discussed at Patriots HQ.
Mankins is not going away. He wants his freedom, and he wants it right away. Slapping him with the franchise tag and waiting for him to quiet down isn't going to work. The Patriots have to either sign him to a long-term deal if the good nature required for such an agreement can still be salvaged (good luck with that), or trade him while his value is high, accept the inevitable and move on.
The Patriots could just stick to their guns, let the franchise tag speak for itself and consider him taken care of, but that could get really ugly, really quick.
Mankins stuck his name on the Brady, Manning and Brees lawsuit to force the urgency in dealing with him. He's not finished harassing the Pats, and the lockout's conclusion will mark the time for them to take action.