As a few of you noted, the mailbag has been missing in action for a few weeks – once the Patriots were knocked out of the playoffs, I went on the road, and the mailbag was neglected as I went from Florham Park to Pittsburgh to Mobile and then to Dallas.
But here it is again, and here it will be every week or every other week depending on the volume of questions that come in during the offseason. Right now, it promises to be quite a strange offseason thanks to the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. But there will be a draft on April 28-30, and colleague Greg Bedard and I will be in Indianapolis next week for the NFL Scouting Combine.
What happens after that is anyone’s guess – right now, the chances seem incredibly slim that there will be a CBA by the March 4 date (the start of the new league year), but that could change when that date gets closer. My gut feeling, however, is we won’t see a deal by then.
On to your questions:
If there is no CBA in place by the draft, will there still be a draft? If there is a draft but no CBA, what will the impact be on signing the kids and on the monies being offered?
Robert Sharples, Dartmouth
There will be a draft regardless, Robert, but that’s about the only clear answer I can give you at this point. Teams claim the rights to a player when he is drafted, but without a CBA, no new contracts can be signed – and that includes for the dozens of college players who are undrafted free agents. The frenzy that typically begins the minute after the final pick is announced in the draft, with teams scrambling to call undrafted players they’re interested in, won’t happen.
It seems clear that there will be some kind of rookie salary scale in the new CBA, but if the CBA isn’t in place before the draft begins on April 28, will it impact the way teams draft? Right now, teams don’t want to trade up into the top three or four picks because of the way contracts have skyrocketed for players chosen in those spots over the last few years. But if there is a rookie cap in place – and logically, having a sliding scale like the NBA has makes the most sense – will teams move up to get the best player?
This could come into play in particular with a team like New England, which has two first-round picks: if the Patriots have their eyes on a player like Texas A&M’s Von Miller, but they don’t think he will be there with the 17th pick (their first, from the Richard Seymour trade), would they move up into the top 10 to get him if the economic commitment is greatly reduced? After all, the Patriots moved down in the 2008 draft from seventh to 10th and still got the player they wanted, Jerod Mayo, but saved a pretty big chunk of money by getting him three slots later.
With all the draft picks that the Pats have, do you feel that it’s time to get younger on offense? We obviously have needs on defense, but we have so many young players on that side of the ball, I was thinking that they need to be developed. I think the most glaring need was developing another cornerback, but still believe that Darius Butler can be a solid NFL cornerback/nickelback. Our offensive line and wide receiver corps are a bit long in the tooth; do you think we could use a youth injection in those spots?
Matt Keough, Sierra Vista, Ariz.
In a word, Matt: Yes. New England needs to get younger, particularly on the offensive line – the team will be looking for a tackle and needs guards and a center as well, and the consensus is that this is a strong draft for linemen. Matt Light may or may not be re-signed, but even if he is, the Patriots need someone besides Sebastian Vollmer who can play tackle at a high level. There has been no word yet on whether Stephen Neal will return, but he has averaged just 10.4 games a year over the last five seasons. And if there is no intention to sign Logan Mankins to a long-term deal, he needs to be replaced as well.
At receiver, Deion Branch isn’t the speed threat he once was, and the Patriots can use a deep threat, though not necessarily someone they would look to downfield as often as they did when Randy Moss was here. Keep in mind that the Patriots do have Brandon Tate and Taylor Price. Both were disappointments last year, but they have something a rookie won’t: experience in the system and playing with Tom Brady.
After the rush to get Tom Terrific to the surgeon after his foot fracture, there has been no information on the success of the procedure or the healing afterward. Can you give us an update?
Dick, Middletown, Delaware
We reported that Brady’s surgery was a success, Dick. He had a screw inserted into the injured bone, which will stabilize it and promote healing. His recovery is expected to take three to six months, and Brady will do his rehab, in part, with Alex Guerrero, who saw both he and Wes Welker through their respective recoveries from ACL surgery.
There seems to be a lot of pass-rush help options in free agency and the draft this offseason. (Pittsburgh’s) Lamarr Woodley and (Kansas City’s) Tamba Hali are free agents and there seems to be plenty of 3-4 defensive ends in the draft. My dream offseason for the Pats would be to sign Hali or (the Browns’) Matt Roth and draft J.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Marcell Dareus (Alabama) or Cameron Heyward (Ohio State). Do you think the Pats will be active this offseason (once the CBA nonsense is ironed out of course) or will I be disappointed again?
You’ve definitely done your homework, Keith. Unfortunately, Woodley and Hali are both fully expected to be franchised by their respective teams, so they won’t be hitting the open market. With Cleveland moving to a 4-3 defense, it doesn’t look like it will re-sign Roth, so if/when free agency begins, he is definitely an intriguing prospect for New England: he is 28, 6 feet 4 inches and 275 pounds and had 86 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Browns last year. He also played under Eric Mangini in a defensive system that is very similar to Bill Belichick’s.
As for the draft, it seems like fans and media alike have been saying for a couple of years that the Patriots need pass rushing help, and other than drafting Jermaine Cunningham last year, that perceived need hasn’t really been addressed. I’ve heard that Cameron Jordan from Cal is a Patriots-type player, but with so few college teams playing a 3-4 alignment, there’s a great deal of projection that has to be done to determine players who would fit in New England’s defense.
Why do opposing players dislike Tom Brady?
David Gorelik, Passaic, N.J.
I don’t know that a lot of opposing players dislike Brady, David, but there are a couple of very vocal players who have made it clear that they don’t like him, namely the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs and the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie, and to a lesser extent, Rex Ryan.
Neither of those players has had a great deal of success against Brady. As Brady himself noted after the Patriots’ regular-season win over Baltimore this year, the Ravens talk a lot for beating New England just once (granted, the one win was a playoff game). While Cromartie is now a member of the Jets and they did beat New England two out of three games this year, he was a rookie with the Chargers when they suffered their second-half collapse to the Patriots in the 2006 postseason. Plus, good judgment doesn’t seem to be a Cromartie strong suit, as evidenced by his off-field activities, his calling out of NFL Players’ Association head DeMaurice Smith, and his calling Brady an expletive before the playoff game last month. As for Ryan, I really don’t know why he decided to take some swipes at Brady in January.
Brady is known as a winner, and football players being the competitive people that they are, some might not like Brady just because he has tasted Super Bowl success when they haven’t. Some say he’s too demonstrative and talks too much on the field – while I can’t think of a time when I think his celebration of a big play was out of place or over the top, I can’t speak to how much or how extensive he is with trash talk since I’m not on the field.