Ask Shalise: Constructing the roster

There were a couple of questions this week about Giants’ defensive end Osi Umeniyora and whether the Patriots would have been interested in adding him — earlier in the week, New York allowed Umeniyora to seek a trade, but on Wednesday New York rescinded the opportunity.

Colleague Greg Bedard was told the Pats’ did “due diligence” on Umeniyora, but given that the Giants were looking for a high draft pick and the team acquiring the soon-to-be 30-year old would have to give him a significant pay raise over the $8 million total he’s currently owed for this season and next, New England likely decided that was too high a price to pay.

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Onto the questions we might still be able to provide answers to…

Q: I like what the Pats have done so far this off season, as short as the signing period has been, but two questions: first, how many running backs do they need; and who is going to play defensive end/outside linebacker? Thanks.
Alex, Newton

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SMY: Currently the Patriots have seven backs on the roster: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and rookies Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Richard Medlin (an undrafted free agent signed Wednesday). Last year, they started the season with four, though I could see them going with five this year – Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Faulk, Vereen and Ridley. Ridley is more in the Green-Ellis mold, while Woodhead, Faulk and Vereen are each third-down threats.

As for DE/OLB, there’s not an easy answer to that right now. It appears that the Patriots are going to run quite a few four-man fronts this year, and when they have gone with four down linemen, it has been Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore at the end spots with Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth/Mike Wright at the tackles. With the four-man line, Jerod Mayo has been playing weakside linebacker and Gary Guyton strongside (with Brandon Spikes the middle linebacker).

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The Patriots have worked out former Colts and Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock and former Browns and Dolphins DE/OLB Matt Roth in the last few days, and both could help, particularly Roth, who is coming from Eric Mangini’s system in Cleveland which is very similar to Belichick’s.

Q: How about this – the Pats sign Randy Moss with an expressed purpose? Specifically, to a nominal consideration value of $1 (with incentives) and place him on the 53 man roster throughout the season. That way teams, throughout their weekly preparations, still need to game plan for Randy and Tom reunited again. Preparation by the opposition, or distraction, throughout the week may impact the game even if Randy were inactive on game day. Yes, it is a roster spot, but can you imagine the guessing game teams would go through each week to find if he were active or not, and then if he were active, just when he checks in as a third or fourth receiver, kick off return man or some other way? Offer the man a final chance at a Ring, and let loose on this, in an unusual year to say the least.
Michael, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

SMY: You present quite the scenario, Michael, but it would be very hard to become reality, for several reasons. Moss reportedly filed his retirement papers, and while those can be undone, I find it very hard to see him coming back to the Pats, where he simply wore out his welcome. His relationship with Tom Brady had eroded – a source close to Moss told me that he criticized Brady in the 2010 offseason for not spending more time with teammates at the Pats’ facility – and ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha wrote this week that Brady had grown so weary of Moss taking plays off that he told Bill Belichick he refused to throw to him anymore. Days later, Moss was traded. The receiver realized too late that he had fractured the best situation he’d been in in his career: a great coach, one of the best quarterbacks in history – only after he’d been shipped to Minnesota.

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Plus, while Chad Ochocinco isn’t the same style of receiver as Moss, he is here now – can you imagine Brady having to keep both of those players happy plus Wes Welker and Deion Branch?

And as nice as it is to think of a contract that would start at $1, as a 10-plus year veteran, Moss is entitled to a minimum of $910,000 under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.

Q: Will the Pats add an outside linebacker/pass rush specialist?
Billy, Somerville

SMY: They definitely seem to be on the lookout for one (almost typed “lockout” instead of “lookout” – thank goodness that’s over!), bringing in Raheem Brock and Matt Roth, but it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll sign either one. Roth’s asking price may be steep, but with former 49er Manny Lawson only getting one year at $3 million from the Bengals this week, Roth would be wise to lower his asking price.


I realize the public is not privy to all deals going on behind closed doors. There are two players the Pats have shown no interest. Mark Herzlich who went with the Giants and Ricky Williams who is still a free agent. I think Herzlich would be a perfect fit for the Pats and Ricky still has a lot of football left and is a great grinder. Why?
Sherman, Jamaica Plain
I know there were a lot of people who wanted New England to draft Herzlich and then when that didn’t happen, sign him as a free agent, but he did wind up with the Giants. At the Senior Bowl, there was a lot of talk that Herzlich couldn’t run like he could before his cancer diagnosis, which led to him having a steel rod inserted in his upper leg. There was also a question of whether he’d be a good fit in a 3-4 system, though that point isn’t as important with it looking like the Patriots are going to play more 4-3 this year. Herzlich is undeniably a great locker room guy and an incredible worker, but we may never know why the Pats didn’t sign him.
As for Williams, I haven’t heard of there being interest from the Pats.
What did the Pats have to give up to Chad Ochocinco?
Tom, Alpharetta, Ga.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the trade was for a fifth-round pick in 2012 and sixth-round pick in 2013. New England had already committed its sixth-round pick in ’12 to the Eagles as part of the trade to acquire special-teamer Tracy White last year.
I am interested in your upside estimate for Shane Vereen. I am a professor at Cal, and a major Pats fan, and I think there is a chance Shane Vereen could surprise. Though overshadowed at times by other players, and limited by Coach Tedford’s unimaginative play-calling, Vereen showed great versatility; he caught passes in 37 of the 38 games he played in, had over 4,000 all-purpose yards in his three-year career, and never lost a game due to injury. He was second among running backs at the NFL combine in reps with the 225 bench press too. And he is smart – graduated in less than four years from Cal! Sounds like a player that Belichick can mold into a very useful player. Do you agree?
Professor Rob, Berkeley, Calif.
We have only seen Vereen in one-plus practice to this point (he left the field on Wednesday night and didn’t return), but scouting reports were that he would be a versatile performer in the NFL, and when he was drafted many saw a player similar to Kevin Faulk. Faulk may not be the most decorated guy – he’s never been to a Pro Bowl, and he may not be that well-known outside of Patriots fans – but most players would probably be very happy with the career that Faulk has fashioned for himself.
Based on Vereen’s college career he could be a similar player, but I’ll reserve judgment until we’ve seen him in a few more practices.
Why did the Patriots draft Cunningham at number 52 (in 2010) when (college teammate Carlos) Dunlap at number 53 was a better player? Carlos had 9.5 sacks for Cincinnati last year; Cunningham had one for New England. Both played at Florida and Dunlap was clearly the better athlete.
Joe, Taunton
Colleague Chris Gasper and I have had this discussion, Joe, and the simplest answer I can offer is that Bill Belichick preferred what he saw from Cunningham, which is why he drafted him and not Dunlap. While statistically Dunlap clearly had the better rookie season, I’d wait to judge Cunningham too harshly just yet; players need at least two years before we can get an idea of whether they’re were a good draft pick or a bust.
Questions on a couple of players…Brandon Spikes? How is Stephen Gostkowski? Will he be back? Do we still have the kid from South Florida who tore up his knee a few years ago?
Katheryn, Saco, Maine
With the Patriots showing a lot of 4-3 looks thus far in camp, Spikes has had some impressive practices. He’s playing middle linebacker with Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton on either side of him and has made some nice plays thus far.
As for Gostkowski, he told me last month that he was feeling fine after the torn quadriceps that ended his season last year but clearly the Patriots are easing the kicker back into things – they signed former UMass kicker Chris Koppelin and he has been handling the kickoffs in camp thus far. But Koppelin has struggled on field goals.
And the player fro- South Florida, Tyrone McKenzie, was released last year and signed with Tampa Bay, where he is expected to be the starting middle linebacker.