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Patriots notebook

Belichick won’t read into ‘unwritten’ rule

By Alex Prewitt
Globe Correspondent / June 14, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - Unwritten? Never heard of it.

Asked to comment on whether the Patriots broke an unwritten rule by claiming former Giants tight end Jake Ballard off waivers Tuesday, coach Bill Belichick denied the sheer existence of such customs.

“First of all, there aren’t any unwrittens,’’ Belichick said. “You can’t negotiate a contract with a player while he’s under contract. You can’t negotiate a contract, release him, and then renegotiate another contract with him that was already done in advance. I’m sure the Giants weren’t doing that.

“The player’s on waivers, he’s on waivers. Ours or anybody else’s. I don’t know what unwrittens you’re talking about.’’

Ballard, who tore his left ACL in Super Bowl XLVI against New England, was waived by New York Monday. The Giants hoped that Ballard, who is expected to miss the season after undergoing both ACL and microfracture surgery on his knee, would clear waivers so they could put him on injured reserve or their physically unable to perform list.

But the Patriots snatched him up, even with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Daniel Fells already at the position. In 2010, they executed a similar move, claiming safety Josh Barrett after the Broncos waived him. Barrett spent the entire season on IR.

“Any time you put a player on waivers, you know there are 31 teams that can take him if they want him,’’ said Belichick, who had no timetable for Ballard’s return. “We all know that. There’s no secrets about that.’’

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was disappointed when asked about the move at Wednesday’s minicamp in East Rutherford, N.J., but conceded that “all is fair’’ based on “procedural circumstance.’’

“Discouraged is a minor description,’’ Coughlin told Giants reporters. “Very disappointing. I am not going to have a lot to say about that one, just the fact that we are disappointed. We are very disappointed.’’

High praise

Repeating several times that he considered Gronkowski the NFL’s best tight end, team owner Robert Kraft shed some light on Gronkowski’s recent contract extension.

“We’re trying to always plan ahead for the future, do our strategic planning,’’ Kraft said. “In this age of salary cap, what’s going to happen in the next few years with the cap, you have to have a core group of players that you can plan around as the foundation of your team.’’

The extension was the richest ever for a tight end at six years and $54 million, though a $10 million option must be picked up by Feb. 28, 2016, the final day of the 2015 league year.

“He’s a young player who we feel is the best at his position,’’ Kraft said. “So we decided to step up and do what we thought was in the team’s best long-term interest.’’

Kraft is optimistic about the team’s offseason progress.

“I think our personnel department and Bill have done an outstanding job collecting talent and potential on both sides of the ball,’’ Kraft said. “I’m very excited about this season starting. Can’t wait for football to come back.’’

A ‘friends’ episode

Belichick is getting by with a little help from his friends. Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa were present Tuesday as Belichick addressed the media. “It’s great to have them here,’’ said Belichick, who often visited the Cardinals in spring training on annual scouting trips to Florida. “I have all the respect in the world for Tom and Tony. Great coaches in their respective sports. Tony, he wins more games in a month than I’ve won in my career.’’ As for Thibodeau, he and Belichick grew close when Thibodeau was Doc Rivers’s top assistant with the Celtics. With minicamp wrapping up Thursday, Belichick said he planned to grill his fellow coaches on how to run a team and prepare it for the season.

Dodge ball

Rather than address a question about Chad Ochocinco’s release, receivers coach Chad O’Shea instead pointed toward an optimistic future with his group of wideouts, which as of Wednesday numbered 11. “I’d rather just talk about the guys we have in here, the guys I’m working with,’’ O’Shea said. “They’re as professional and as good a group as I’ve ever been around. And they have a tremendous work ethic, and they’re all really competitive and want to win.’’

Union checks in

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith attended minicamp with top lieutenant George Atallah, a visit to make sure teams were in compliance with the non-contact rules . . . Running back Brandon Bolden watched practice with an undisclosed injury, while defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene was not seen after suffering a minor knee injury Tuesday. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard did not return to practice after having his left leg examined. Vince Wilfork left the field on his own while both Wes Welker and Sterling Moore kept practicing after shrugging off minor injuries . . . The Patriots received their AFC championship rings at a team meeting.

Alex Prewitt can be reached at aprewitt@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt.

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