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Brandon Meriweather made himself a hot topic not just in New England, but league-wide this week after his helmet-to-helmet hit on Baltimore's Todd Heap on Sunday. Meriweather's hit was one of several around the NFL last weekend, and rather than waiting for a devastating hit (Jack Tatum on Darryl Stingley) to react, it moved swiftly this week, imposing huge fines on Meriweather, the Steelers' James Harrison and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson. Beginning this week, players can also be suspended for such flagrant hits.
Inquiries about Logan Mankins, and of course Randy Moss, make appearances this week as well.
I am sure you are flooded with questions about helmet-to-helmet hits -- I am wondering why everyone seems so intent on singling out Brandon Meriweather when there were several other players doing the same thing; specifically James Harrison from the Steelers, who even said he is trying to hurt someone (differentiating between hurting and injuring). So what is your take on this?
Bagoon, Los Osos, Calif.
In the case of Meriweather, he very clearly launched himself at Todd Heap, leaving his feet and leading with his helmet, and he made no move to try and tackle him (i.e. raise his arms to try and wrap Heap). Harrison's hit on Josh Cribbs, though it did result in an injury to Cribbs, is legal under the rules because Cribbs in that case was a ball carrier; his hit on Mohamed Massaquoi is likely the one that drew him the fine because Massaquoi was defenseless. Going forward, this will be an incredibly interesting topic to monitor, as defensive players in particular are unhappy that it appears to them the league is trying to legislate hitting right out of the game (on Tuesday night, Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden tweeted "NFL NoFunLeague. Cmon maaan").
To me, the league is, in a way, saving these players from themselves, as they either don't understand or don't want to acknowledge the long-term damage they are doing to themselves with these hits. No amount of money they make now can save them from dementia or Alzheimer's or depression or any of the other serious issues that can come up over time.
I have always been a fan of Kevin Faulk's work. Is he at risk of losing his job due to injury? Watching Danny Woodhead in the limited sample size of three games, I can't help wondering if he stays this productive and stays healthy, that Kevin may be on the outside looking in next year.
Scott, Harrisburg Penn.
This is an interesting question. While Faulk said in the days after his injury that he would "rehab my butt off and see what happens," it will be very interesting to see whether the Patriots offer him a contract after this season. Faulk was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal in March, and will be approaching his 35th birthday when free agency begins early in 2011. Because of his specialized role, Faulk's legs don't have nearly the same amount of mileage on them that another running back his age would.
However, as you noted, Woodhead has gotten off to a great start. There was actually one point during Sunday's game when I looked at one of my colleagues after Woodhead caught a screen pass and said, "That looked a lot like Kevin." And Woodhead's numbers after the Baltimore game -- 11 carries for 63 yards, 5 receptions for 52 yards -- are pretty Faulk-like, plus he's making $395,000 in base salary this season.
That said, there's no accounting for the leadership of Faulk and the respect he receives. This team is known for taking sentimentality out of nearly all decisions, but I do think Faulk is one of the few players who might get the chance to come back and hopefully go out on his own terms. But I think if New England doesn't re-sign him, Faulk would elect to retire rather than sign with another team and potentially uproot his family. For his children, Massachusetts is home.
With Kevin Faulk, Fred Taylor and Laurence Maroney out of the mix at RB, where has Sammy Morris been? He is more experienced than BenJarvus Green-Ellis but rarely gets any touches. Is it an injury thing? Is it a lack of confidence in him?
Jim Gilhooly, Nashua, N.H.
Morris certainly has become slotted as a short-yardage back and occasional fullback, though I think his getting the ball in third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 situations shows the coaches still have a measure of confidence in him. I have not heard that he's hurting. My best educated guess is that the coaching staff wants to see what they have in the younger backs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Woodhead. To this point, they have been effective. Morris will be 34 in March and his contract expires after this season.
I'll answer the next two questions with one answer.
Are the Patriots actively pursuing to trade Logan Mankins? If so, what are their expectations for compensation?
James Rondinone, Block Island, R.I.
With the trade of Randy Moss freeing up money and the obvious morphing of the offense back to a more balanced attack, do you think that the Pats will take the bye week to work out a deal with Mankins?
Nate, Washington D.C.
The NFL trade deadline passed without Mankins being traded, and it seems worth addressing the reasons why he is still in New England. In short, the price for another team to acquire him would have been too high. I always believed the Pats would be looking for at least a second-round draft pick in return (NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora reported yesterday it was a first- or second-rounder), and then there's the five-year, around $35 million that team would be committing to Mankins before he'd played a down for them. At this point, I'd be stunned if Mankins doesn't report by the Nov. 16 deadline. If he doesn't, he runs the risk of being right back in this spot again next season.
Shalise, do you think Brandon Tate can stretch defenses like Randy Moss and make the plays? On special teams he has been a monster! Also, do you think the Patriots make a run at Chad Ochocinco in the offseason as a potential free agent?
Scotty, Milton, Vt.
Tate has been very good in the return game, which is something the Patriots were missing last year after trading Ellis Hobbs. I'm not sure he can consistently stretch the field. At this point, Aaron Hernandez may actually be their best option to do that. But New England won't take nearly as many shots downfield as it did when Moss was here, nor does it need to -- just enough to keep defenses honest. Quarterback Tom Brady is most effective when he's spreading the ball around, and we saw that again on Sunday: four receivers (Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Woodhead and Hernandez) each had four or more catches for 50-plus yards.
Where do the Patriots currently stand on draft picks for 2011 as of today? Do they look to have any compensatory picks headed their way and if so, based on the current formula, what round does it look to be in? There have been so many trades I've lost track of it all, thank you.
Don, Chandler, Ariz.
Here are the picks the Pats currently have in the 2011 draft:
First round: their own and Oakland's (from Richard Seymour trade)
Second round: their own and Carolina's (from 2010 draft-weekend trade)
Third round: their own and Minnesota's (from Moss trade)
Fourth round: either their own or Denver's; whichever pick is higher is Seattle's from the Branch trade
I'm not sure what the compensation was for guys like Jarrad Page and Quinn Ojinnaka (and if any pick Atlanta was to get went away when the Patriots cut him and later re-signed him), so I don't want to give you false information on the fifth through seventh rounds.
As for compensatory picks, those are awarded at the annual league meeting in March, based on a somewhat complicated formula. Only teams who lose more free agents than they sign are eligible, and they receive picks equal to their net loss of free agents (up to a maximum of four). The compensatory picks are awarded from rounds 3 through 7. Where they're slotted is based on salary, playing time and postseason honors.