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In a corner

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Globe Staff / March 25, 2008

Mike Reiss

This week's mailbag is highlighted by the "case against the corner." When e-mailers considered what the Patriots might do with the No. 7 overall selection, they made pretty convincing cases that the pick won't be a cornerback.

While free agency has quieted down, one regular question was whether the Patriots' moves - the latest being the acquisition of cornerback Fernando Bryant - will affect the team's draft approach.

So with the spotlight shining on the cornerback spot, it's time to drop into coverage-mode and get to the questions.

I think it's crazy for the Pats to draft a corner in the top ten(if they don't trade down), I can't think of an impact corner taken that early in a Draft since Champ Bailey, most corners taken that early have been considered busts. What are your thoughts on that?
Matt

A: Based on the results, Matt, I'd have to agree with your analysis about the top-10 corners not turning out to be Bailey-like. You make a strong point. That being said -- and I'm updating this after an e-mailer brought it to my attention later today (thanks Alex) -- you could dissect any position and probably come up with similar results. Of the cornerbacks selected in the top 10 since the Champ Bailey draft in 1999, I'd say Pacman Jones and Antrel Rolle fall in the disappointment category; Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall, Dunta Robinson and Quentin Jammer fall in the solid-but-not-spectacular category; and Terence Newman is the one who clearly seems worth the pick. Here is the full list:

2007 - none
2006 - none
2005 - Pacman Jones (5), Antrel Rolle (8), Carlos Rogers (9)
2004 - DeAngelo Hall (8), Dunta Robinson (10)
2003 - Terence Newman (5)
2002 - Quentin Jammer (5)
2001 - none
2000 - none
1999 - Bailey (7), Chris McAlister (10)

Mike, I would be extremely surprised to see the Patriots pick a CB at No. 7. Gholston, definitely. Maybe DE Ellis as he appears to be moving up the charts. After letting Samuel go for $60 million they are going to turn around and give $30 million to an unproven CB? Seems pretty unlikely especially since Hobbs and Samuel were not drafted in the first two rounds themselves.
Brian Alves

A: In a mock draft for ESPN2's "First Take" program a few weeks ago, I picked a cornerback for the Patriots (Kansas' Aqib Talib). But I ended up changing my mind the next week (imagine if Scott Pioli could do that?), adopting your line of thinking, Brian. As for Gholston, he'd project as an outside linebacker in the Patriots' 3-4 alignment and provide some pass-rush help. On Ellis, I don't know if he fits as a defensive end in the Patriots' scheme. He might be more of a nose. It's a tough projection. But the more I think about it, I agree that corner seems unlikely at this point.

I have 2 draft related questions. 1) Now that the Patriots have signed Fernando Bryant, do you think that's an indicator that it is increasingly unlikely that they will draft a cornerback with their 7th pick? 2) If Jake Long was available at 7 (which I've seen on 1 or 2 mock drafts) would the Patriots pick him with a view to slotting him in at left tackle and moving Light to the right side?
Gerald Stewart, Boston

A: Gerald, I don't view the Bryant signing as an indicator of the Patriots' plans with the No. 7 pick. I still view cornerback as a position that will likely see some type of addition between now and the start of training camp. As for Jake Long, I do think the Patriots would select him if he dropped to the No. 7 pick. Long could play either tackle spot, so I don't think the Patriots would be locked in to moving Light on a permanent basis. As we've seen, the team likes position flexibility, so I think it would leave options open.

Mike, the Patriots seem to have an interest in two defensive ends - Vernon Gholston and Quentin Groves. Both project to be outside linebackers in a 3-4. My question - would Vrabel or Thomas move to inside 'backer? Vrabel had an outstanding year as outside linebacker but Thomas had an unbelievable game in the Super Bowl.
Dave Mcgregor

A: I view it as somewhat similar to the Long/Light scenario above, in that I don't think we'd see a permanent type of setup, Dave. I think we'd see a rotation, because any rookie probably won't come in - especially at outside linebacker - and start right away. I agree that Thomas was immense in the Super Bowl playing outside, but I also felt he had dominant plays on the inside at times during the regular season, capable of blowing up running plays. If I had to pick an option in this scenario, I'd say Thomas would play more inside, with Vrabel remaining on the outside. That could change based on other possible personnel additions - such as restricted free agent linebacker Adam Seward from the Panthers - so it's a bit difficult to project.

Hey Mike, I saw a news post regarding interest in Takeo Spikes. What's the news on him? I hear he has running problems, but he is yet a good player. Also, I hear some things about Adam "Pacman" Jones and the Pats being interested in him. I don't really like his personality, but we have all seen what has happened with Moss (Randy) working out well. Lastly, what is the take on the Patriots taking in Dominique Rogers-Cromartie with the No. 7 pick, hearing he is fast and his stock is rising?
Ethan

A: Ethan, from what I understand, the Patriots won't be pursuing Spikes. The same is true for Pacman Jones, which was never an option. I'm not as certain as to the team's feelings on Rogers-Cromartie, but my hunch is that there would be some reservations based on the level of competition (Division I-AA) in which he played.

Mike, just going over your mailbag, and there's talk about the No. 7 pick and the salaries and how high they are. Now with MLB, GMs such as Billy Beane offered kids less money but told them he'd pick them higher. Now would that be able to translate to the NFL, or is that stupid, considering the difference between the 7th pick, and let's say the 25th.
Colin, Brockton

A: >I don't think it would work, Colin, because of the agent issue. Any agent that would sign a player to a contract in that scenario would have that used against him/her while pursuing future clients. It's one of the things that is often discussed after the rookies sign contracts, the deals are scrutinized and the work of the agents often dictates who gets the jump start on next year's rookie crop.

Given the financial constraints and risks inherited with the seventh pick and the apparent lack of a player clearly worth this type of money, is there any chance the Patriots will disavow the pick and just pass?
Bob, Schaumburg, Ill.

A: It is possible, Bob, but I'd rate it more as unlikely. I think the Patriots will use the pick instead of passing. The Sporting News explored the possibility for the Dolphins passing on the top overall pick in a recent piece. One problem for any team that passes on its pick is that once the selection is used, the player could take a stand that he should be paid at the original slot. That could lead to a long, contentious negotiation.

If the Pats top choice is not available and they decide to try to trade down, what would be an acceptable package for the No. 7 pick, and what team do you think might want to offer a deal?
Bob DiManno

A: Bob, most teams are holding their cards close to the vest right now, but I look at Carolina, at No. 13, as a possible trade partner. Carolina seems to be studying the offensive tackles very closely, and they have a significant need at that area. With the chance to get the No. 2 tackle (after Jake Long), I wonder if they might consider moving up. I think it would only take a pot-sweetening fifth-round draft choice to make that swap, or perhaps the inclusion of linebacker Adam Seward in a trade. As a restricted free agent, Seward would command a fifth-round draft choice as compensation if another team signed him to an offer sheet, and Carolina didn't match.

I've often wondered what the off season training entails. When does it start, what is it composed of, who is involved. Also, is it mandatory?
John, Bethel, Vt.

A: John, the offseason program started Monday, March 24. For the Patriots, it entails work in the weight room and classroom. There is no one set date that it ends, as it can vary from player to player (e.g. players coming off injury might have extended time). The program is voluntary, although most players have bonuses in their contracts that give them the incentive to participate.

Which player do you think has most to prove in the coming season?
Shriram, Chennai, India

A: Shiram, I'm sure you might get five different answers if you ask five different people, but I narrowed my list down to defensive lineman Richard Seymour and receiver Chad Jackson. In the end, I'm going with Jackson, who is still vying to meet expectations after the Patriots traded up to select him in the second round of the 2006 draft. Seymour, on the other hand, has already proven a lot (five Pro Bowls in seven seasons).

Hey Mike, I was just wondering if you knew any inside info on Chad Jackson contributing this year? I mean he was a high second-round pick and could be good. I mean Bill and Scott traded up to get him and he is looking to be a complete bust. So what's up?
Gavin Thorenson, Cherryvale, Kan.

A: No inside information, other than what everyone else can see - Jackson had a knee injury that limited him in 2007, and by the time he returned, he couldn't crack a deep lineup at the position. With Donte' Stallworth elsewhere this year, one layer of competition has been stripped away, so Jackson - on paper - should have more of a chance to emerge. He showed up Monday to the offseason program, so he's committed to the process.

Hi Mike, two questions: 1) Is there a possibility of Rosevelt Colvin signing with the Pats at a lower price before this season?; 2) How would Penn State's Dan Connor (LB) fit into the Pats 3-4 system?
David Lemos, Barrington, N.H.

A: Right now, my feeling is that Colvin won't be back. But let's say no other team steps up to sign him come July/August and the Patriots find they have an unexpected void, I don't think the door has been completely closed. As for Connor, he doesn't appear to be a good fit for the Patriots' system. He's similar to Paul Posluszny, and I don't think Posluszny had a high rating on the team's draft board in 2007. It's not that Connor or Posluszny aren't good players - they are - it's just that their skill sets don't seem to translate to what teams that play the Patriots style ask of their defenders.

Listening to Quentin Groves speak, I am very impressed by his intelligence and manor. He also stated that he preferred the 3-4 and would play with his hands up (at outside linebacker). Some people think that he could be another DeMarcus Ware. Is it possible the Patriots might be targeting him and try to trade with a team that has a pick in the mid 20's? Maybe like the Cowboys?
Rose Donovan, Watertown

A: The Cowboys have two first-round picks, and I think the Patriots would gladly take both of those selections for the No. 7 pick if that was an option. As for Groves, my colleague Christopher Gasper noted that the Patriots had a private workout with him March 13. So they've at least thought enough of him to invest in a private workout, although the team has worked out a high number of prospects, so that must be kept in perspective. Groves would project to outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment. Right now, I'd say Groves has yet to eliminate himself from the mix, so he's a possibility.

Is the Patriots coaching staff and owner Robert Kraft that cold hearted not to resign Troy Brown? He has been a devoted and loyal player for them. He has been with them 15 years. He should be able to retire with the Patriots.
Paula, W. Va.

A: I see both sides, Paula. From Troy Brown's perspective, he is coming to grips that his time with the Patriots is likely over, and if he wants to play at this time it will have to be elsewhere. I've never felt comfortable, as a reporter, telling a player to hang them up. I think Brown has earned the right to decide when he wants to conclude his career. On the flip side, the Patriots probably extended themselves for Brown last year - and paid him around $1 million - when it wasn't necessarily the best move for the team because there was already a deep receiver corps. It certainly wasn't a cold-hearted decision to keep Brown around, despite the fact he was coming off offseason knee surgery, and to create a roster spot him, a fourth-round draft choice (Kareem Brown) was waived. In the end, I think Brown will retire. Just a hunch.

With all the money the Jets have spent on free agency, I am wondering how they can afford to sign their No. 6 and other draft picks?
Justin Richardson, Portsmouth, N.H.

A: When you look at the big signings for the Jets, in total, they only account for $18.3 million in cap space. They break down, salary cap-wise, this way: Alan Faneca ($5.6 million), Kris Jenkins ($5.9 million), Calvin Pace ($2.8 million) and Damien Woody ($4 million). Looking ahead, the Jets have an $11.1 million cap commitment for defensive lineman Dewayne Robertson, which is why they are trying to trade him. Also, the team has a $9 million salary cap charge for quarterback Chad Pennington. So between Robertson and Pennington, both of whom are projected as backups, that's $20 million in space. If those situations get resolved, it will help the Jets moving forward.

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