FOXBORO — There are few people in the NFL with a background as varied and experienced as Mike Lombardi. And there are few people Bill Belichick trusts more.
So, when defensive lineman John Hughes became available this week after being released by the Browns, the Patriots head coach knew right where to go to see if he might be a good fit with the Patriots.
Hughes 27, is just the latest member of Lombardi’s Browns from 2013 that has found a spot on the Patriots. Jabaal Sheard and Dion Lewis joined the Patriots last year and both had very productive seasons until Lewis tore his ACL in November.
This year, there was the addition of linebacker Barkevious Mingo in the third week of preseason. Why such an active pipeline of talent?
“Mike has been a good source of information on a lot of levels but certainly players that he is familiar with, like guys that were on that team,” Belichick said. “I mean he gives you insight into guys that you don’t get if you’re not there.”
Lombardi and Belichick have a well-chronicled relationship that goes back to 1992, when Lombardi was promoted to Director of Player Personnel in 1992 where he worked under Belichick and was responsible for all college and pro personnel decisions, managed salary cap and player personnel issues, oversaw staff of 13 college and pro scouts and handled all player contracts and advised head coach on all football matters.
That’s a lot of responsibility that earned the respect of Belichick. When Lombardi left the Browns in 1996, he moved onto the Rams and Eagles before landing with Al Davis and the Raiders in 1998. It was there where he helped Davis rebuild the Raiders into one of the forces in the AFC, reaching the AFC title game in 2000, losing to the Patriots in the ’01 Snow Bowl and falling to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII.
He then spent the next six seasons spreading his wisdom in the media before re-joining the Browns as general manager and VP of player personnel in 2013.
The Browns did Lombardi somewhat of a favor when they let him go in favor of Ray Farmer after the ’13 season. Lombardi, still getting paid from the Browns, earned his second Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in 2014 when he joined Belichick’s staff again as a coaching assistant. His first Super Bowl ring came as a scout with the 49ers in 1984.
He formally left the staff after last season but remains in touch with Belichick. He now serves as a Fox Sports analyst and can be heard on WEEI’s Kirk and Callahan every Friday morning.
As for Hughes and Mingo, both could see bigger and bigger roles as the season goes on. Hughes originally entered the NFL as a third-round draft pick (87th overall) of the Browns out of Cincinnati in the 2012 NFL Draft. He played in the 2016 season opener for Cleveland in a reserve role before being released on Sept. 20. The 6-foot-2, 320-pound interior lineman has played in 53 NFL games with 10 starts and has 123 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
“John’s an experienced player,” Belichick said Wednesday. “He has played a little bit inside and outside. We’ll see how it goes with him. Again, I think he’s a big guy with some skill, can run a little bit and has a good level of playing experience. So we’ll see how it turns out. I don’t know.”
In three games this season, Mingo has only been on the field for five of 196 defensive snaps but has played 64 of 79 special teams snaps.
“I think each week it’s a different week so I don’t really know,” Belichick said. “This week is different from last week and next week will be different from this week. But we’ll see what our game plan is, how we match up, what we want to try to do. That could be different, like it always is, with different players every week. He has done a good job. He has come in and learned a lot about our system both in the kicking game and defensively.
“He’s really involved in all four downs. We can play him first, second, third and fourth-down so he has had a lot to pick up. We’ve thrown a lot at him. He works hard at it and he’s in good condition, can take a lot of plays so he has gotten a lot out there at practice. I’m glad we have him.”
Belichick could still say the same about Lombardi.