Fans seek safety
Suffice to say, Patriots Nation was miffed at the release of Lawyer Milloy. The e-mails this week raised many questions concerning Bill Belichick's decision to let Milloy go. Mostly asked was "Why?" Before I attempt to answer that, here's what some of you had to say about the Milloy decision:
Scott Bryant from Lakeland, Fla., said, "I guess we better hurry up and resign Victor Green. The thought of Lawyer Milloy playing elsewhere disgusts me but once again I realize that football is a business. Apparently, there was no give on his part in regards to working a new deal and that's a shame. I always envisioned him as a Patriot. He was the heart and soul of the red, white and blue."
Laura Peckham from Acton writes, "Why would they let a player like Lawyer Milloy go? Who are they going to go to as a strong safety?
"Do they want to go to the Super Bowl this year or is this another let down for New England?."
Bob Anderson from Santa Margarita, Calif., writes, Milloy released? Why now, right before the season opener? Was this move based solely on cap or was performance a part of it? And does management now regret trading Tebucky Jones in the offseason?
Marc Passman from Nashville, Tenn., reasons "I suppose I can convince myself that letting Tebucky Jones go in the offseason was acceptable given some of the recent acquisitions, but letting Lawyer Milloy go as an unrestricted free agent?
Nick, you're going have to explain that one to me.
After all, you had him listed in your top ten most valuable Patriots in this week's mailbag.
Paul Jimerson from South Boston brings out this point, "I'm more worried about how losing Milloy is going to affect the morale on the team than I am how it's going to affect our secondary during the season."
Mark Bubniak from Castleton, N.Y. recalls, "I cannot believe what I saw on my computer screen late Tuesday morning. I logged on to Patriots.com from work to check out any news and I immediately saw it -- Milloy released.
"I must have sat there for a good 10 seconds before I could even bring myself to click on the link.
"I have been eagerly anticipating the debut of this year's team, but this kind of took the wind right out of my sails. Not to say that I don't think we can be a special team this year, but this certainly doesn't help."
Al DiSanzio from Billerica questions whether the loss of Milloy has weakened "what we previously thought was a top-notch solid defense. I'm not so sure that they're as solid now without Lawyer than they were with him!"
Matt Martin from Lebanon, N.H., a first-time questioner was compelled to write because "Have the Pats lost their minds? Milloy is one of the best defensive players on the team (formerly). He was dependable, hard-hitting, and a leader in the locker room. I understand the money issue, but why can't the management stick with the contracts they agreed to? Save money, but not at the expense of the team's defense, and team unity."
Jason from Chelmsford offers this statement: "The Patriots releasing Lawyer Milloy is by far the most confusing and stupid move I feel they could have made.
"I understand that he took up a lot of cap space but the reality is they weakened their defence a great deal today. One of the best safety tandems (Tebucky Jones, Lawyer Milloy) are gone with no comparable replacements.
"This is a Boston Bruins Jeremy Jacobs'esque move and the fans most likely will remember it for a while."
Mike Fuore from Hamburg, N.Y.: "I am a huge Pats fan, but was pretty ticked about the Milloy move."
Michael LaCorte from Methuen: "I understand the salary cap thing but why didn't the Patriots go out and try to trade Milloy for at least a future draft pick. It makes no sense to just drop Milloy without getting anything in return besides the salary cap relief.
"This changes my whole outlook of the Patriots management. For years I felt Kraft and Pioli had it all figured out."
Neil Pountney, of North Branch, Michigan: "I for one am totally disgusted. This is a stupid decision. I understand the money issues but effectively we have released both of our starting safeties since last season. I do not have the benefit of waiting to see but I have a bad feeling we will be playing Milloy twice a year and the Bills must be in the hunt for him. The timing absolutely stinks the moral of the team cannot be enhanced by this move. If he was due to go he should have been traded rather than cut -- long ago. In my opinion we have gone from being potentially a top five defense to a middle of the road one -- he was that important. In a division where every single issue will count at the end of the day we have given up a big advantage to our opponents. The pressure on Harrison to deliver has gone to critical. We have nobody even close to Milloy in terms of ability to replace him. I was going to give the whole organization an A for the offseason, a fantastic draft which in time I think will prove to be our best for years, a stockpile of draft picks for next year, some great trading and a fine preseason on the field. This puts it back to what I don't know. Finally, Ty Law. This is your last season with New England. Thanks for everything, play hard."
Megan Berry of Cambridge: "I'm now a very disillusioned fan who is sick and tired of seeing good players treated badly and having it all chalked up to "another good guy falling victim to the system. What kind of system are we promoting then -- as coaches, fans and the media who cover it all? Tell me why I should still care about the Patriots."
Mike Zinkus of Framingham is also upset. "I don't even want to watch the Pats this season. I just changed the wallpaper on my computer to the Bills. Seriously though, do you think the Pats can overcome this? I feel they easily went from 11-5 to 8-8. Not even so much for his on field play, but because of his leadership and the negative psychological effect it will have on the team. What do you think? Of course, Lawyer could have renegotiated and his cap hit for a safety was huge, but am I wrong in assuming Mr. Belichick wanted to set an example? Weren't there other avenues to pursue, like Willie McGinest or even Ty Law? Carry the guy for a year. It's not like the team is saving any money, his cap hit just gets spread out over two years, right? Mark my words, big mistake!"
Paul J. from Natick takes a different point of view: "I am questioning why you and some of the other sports columnists around town seem so eager to take the side of Lawyer in this situation. Some seem very willing to come down on the Pats management and imply that they made a big mistake by cutting Milloy, yet you overlook one big issue and one that I would of thought you guys would be more aware of and pick up on. Milloy was going to make $4.4 million dollars this year. And he was not willing to take a cut in pay to help the team stay under the cap? With a pay cut, as reported by some of you guys, Lawyer would still have been making close to $3 million a year! I don't know what leads you to take the side of a player who is making $3 million a year (after his pay cut) and label that as a raw deal but I have a hard time thinking that many Pats fans see any injustice in this either. Especially since some of them might be out of work as well as others who might make a respectable salary but in reality it's still peanuts in comparison to the players. How can you overlook this and stick up for Milloy? Don't get me wrong, I was shocked when they released him and I think it will certainly hurt the team. He was and is a great player and I am sure Belichick was sincere in his comments yesterday. He was part of the reason this team has been so successful and popular the past decade. But when these guys are making millions of dollars and are not willing to adjust their salaries for the good of the team and organization, while their fans are shelling out thousands and thousands of their own hard earned money, I don't see where there is a point where you can really back Milloy here. And let me make a point here, when I say hard earned money, I am not talking about playing football. I know some Patriots have restructured their contracts many times (Ted Johnson), and to me that is the most impressive quality of a player. Sacrificing financial gain for the good of the team and also being able to put their lives in perspective with their fans. People in the real world make those sacrifices and even harder ones every day. And they make peanuts next to Lawyer Milloy. If he was truly the heart of this organization and was truly connected to it I think a sacrifice on his part could have and should have been made. Now inevitably he will move on to another team and make $4 or 5 million or however much he wants, but he will leave behind a team that was as much a part of him as he was to it, leave all of his teammates, sacrifice a possible second championship with that team, and most importantly leave a fan base that truly adored him for what amounts to be $1.5 million in a career that will earn him close to $50 million. Raw deal? I don't think so. The only people who are getting the raw deal are the fans and it's discouraging that you and your colleagues overlooked that."
Well, here's my take. Milloy could have "taken one for the team" as Paul J. writes. I can't argue that. But Milloy had agreed to a contract procedure the last three years. Why not do that same procedure this year? All the Patriots had to do was guarantee his $4.4 million this year, assign all but a $650,000 minimum salary to bonus spread it over the remaining three years of the deal. If they had done that, they would have reduced that $5.9 million cap number significantly.
On the other hand, I'm not willing to take the leap that losing Milloy hurts the team. I have to give Belichick some benefit of the doubt here. He is a great defensive coach. He obviously feels the loss of Milloy isn't that significant, or, he wouldn't have released him. There's always a way to fit a player you feel you can't live without, under the cap. The feeling was they felt they could get by without Milloy.
Take Ty Law, for instance. Do you think they wouldn't want to reduce that $8.8 million cap number? They didn't fool around with it because Law is still a player Belichick feels he needs. Law has leverage. Actually, as it turned out, Milloy had leverage because he had teams bidding for him.
Never believe that a player has to be cut to get under the cap. The player has to rework his contract, however, and there are many ways to do it other than taking a straight cut.
Until Belichick is proven wrong, he gets the benefit of the doubt with me.
In predicting Sunday's game, if the Bills are going to beat the Patriots this year, this is the week to do it. A lot of players were very down about the Milloy situation this week. The Bills are gaining much national support as the team to beat in the AFC East. Part of me feel the Bills need to prove they can beat the Patriots before I pick them, but I think the events of this week slant the game toward Buffalo.
I was wondering: what are the chances that NE could go after Ricky Watters? They probably will end up going with Antowain Smith to start the year, but they need some more backs on their roster that can put fear in a defense. Also, what the heck was NE thinking in cutting Lawyer Milloy five days before their season opener? Can Antwan Harris or a free agent off the waiver wire fill the void that is now there at safety? I think that the AFC East will be, by far, the most competitive division in the league this year. I see the Patriots finishing 10-6 or 11-5 (if running game does well), the Bills going 9-7, Miami going 8-8, and the Jets (b/c of no Pennington) won't be better than 6-10. What do you think?
-- Adam Nelson, Matthews, NC
A: I'd be surprised about Watters unless they suffered an injury. Don't forget, they're getting Mike Cloud in Game 5, so if things aren't going well they have Cloud to fall back on. I would guess Harris gets the nod as the starter and the most reps because he's got the most experience in the Pats defense. Tebucky Jones told me the other night that while Harris is small, "he's not afraid to hit you." As for the AFC East, yeah, I see Pats at 10-6, but I also see Miami at 10-6. I haven't yet committed to the Bills winning the division like many national types are, and I also don't think the Jets will be as bad as 6-10.
Who will be Brady's favorite WR target, Brown or Patten?
-- Scott Burkey, Raleigh, NC
A: In terms of numbers, Brown. But Patten may get more long balls.
After letting Tebucky Jones go and now Lawyer Milloy, are the Patriots going to have adequate depth at the safety position? All over the NFL defenses struggle when safety play is inconsistent.
-- Robert (RZA) James, Boston
A: Well, great question. If Rodney Harrison is the Rodney Harrison of old, great. If he's not, they're in trouble. Let's see if Antwan Harris can do the job. I've always liked the way he played - always around the ball.
Hey Nick. Love you work man. Nick I am shocked and comfused with this release of Milloy. I had hope for us making it back to Superbowl but now (especially if Bills sign him) I am not so sure if we can make to playoffs. What do you think Nick?...what kind of buisness is this?....I hope Belichick knows what he is doing..thanks man for listening to us Pats fans...
-- Pat Patel, Lowell, MA
A: Bill is not against dumping a popular player if he feels it's the right thing to do. As he's often said, his job isn't to poll the fans or the media on his decisions. He does what he feels he has to do.
Hey Nick! Long time mailbag reader, but you have yet to directly answer one of my questions.... here's hoping on this one. There has got to be more to the Milloy story than what we have been hearing. The Pats were under the cap for this year and had no reason to cut Milloy for money alone. And I will never accept that a younger player was ready to take the place of one of the consummate professionals (based on what we read) on the roster. Was Milloy unhappy and very vocal about it? A timebomb waiting to go off? Is Milloy in some trouble we don't know about? Was this a message to Law's agent to renegotiate or else? C'mon Nick, you have the inside scoop!!! Tell us the real answer to what appears to be a foolish move for a playoff caliber team. Thanks in advance for your thoughtful insight.
-- Dan Farah, Fort Myers, FL
A: Dan, I would say only Bill Belichick has the "inside scoop" on that one. I think it's more than reasonable for anyone to say that the move was made not only for cap reasons but for what the Patriots perceived as diminished skills.
What are the Pats thinking of? Releasing Milloy less than week before the season starts? The guy is the heart & soul of the defense. Being in the military for 20 years. I have to deal w/Yankee, Raiders, Jets, Lakers & Dolphin fans daily (Raider fans: please get-over it. It was an incomplete pass). I was so proud of the PATS Super Bowl run. You have know idea how much bragging rights are w/my fellow GIs. Now I have to deal w/one of the dumbest moves the PATS made since hiring Pete Carroll. Can the PATS get anyone to replace this LEADER? Also, are they sending a messege to Law? Thanks. Paul
-- Paul Caron, Elmendorf AFB, AK
A: Ty Law didn't need a wakeup call on his contract. He knows he's next and has known it even before the Milloy move. Don't expect Law to budge, either. He has the same agent as Milloy. As for replacing Lawyer, he's a four-time Pro Bowler, and even Belichick has admitted you don't replace him.
One of the many things I have heard since Belichick and Pioli have taken over is how they were putting the Patriots in great Salary Cap Position, and how much better shape the Patriots Cap situation was in. That being said, how could they let a player like Lawyer Milloy go due to a Salary squabble? Thanks, Scott
-- Scott Stores, Saco, Maine
A: Again, Paul, you've got to read between the lines. The Patriots didn't mismanage the cap. In fact, they've managed it quite well. They just decided to take a tough stance on how they were going to reduce Milloy, and it didn't work.
Are the patriots crazy? How can they lose a player of Milloy's significance, coupled with the almost complete turnover of their secondary and hope to compete as well as last year. Why not pay Milloy, groom a replacement and have a transistion with Harrison as the new leader?
-- Mike Burns, Andover, MA
A: What's it tell you Mike? It tells you that Belichick thought his secondary played lousy last year.
So Why didnt Milloy take the pay cut? I would have only if it made the team better.
-- Francis, Salem, Ma
A: Pro Bowlers never feel they have to take a pay cut. I haven't seen too many who have. They're willing to restructure at no loss in pay, but that was never offered to Milloy.
Nick, have you ever had your boss make a clearly wrong decision while articulating a lot of right reasons? The Milloy release was good for the cap, good for future negotiations, good for signing some key player (Sapp?) or draft choice in the future maybe even good for the safety position (Harris is a great ball hawk). But it was a wrong decision, just plain wrong. They had a chance to win it all this year. Now that's gone (watch Don Banks change his prediction within 24 hours). As somone who bleeds Patriots blue, I never thought I would feel this doubtful about my commitment to this team as a fan. It is shocking to me how I now look on them and suddenly don't care whether they stabilize that LT spot or play the vertical game or whatever. Shocking and sad...like the loss of a landmark building.
-- Timothy Cardozo, New York, NY
A: Don't jump off hust yet Timothy. Wait and see what the effect will be first. As I wrote in the lead to this mailbag, you have to give Belichick some benfit of the doubt on this one. Let it play out.
Why weren't the Pats able to trade Milloy rather than cut him and have nothing to show for it?
-- Frank Ryan, Salem, MA
A: I think they tried to trade him in the offseason, but were offered more for Tebucky Jones.
Enjoy your Q&A sessions a lot. This question may be answered by Friday when your column appears on line, but if not I'd like a clarification. In today's (Wednesday) Globe, in Ron Borges' article, he says of the Patriots' cutting of Lawyer Milloy - "If they wanted to retain Milloy, the Patriots could have simply guaranteed his base salary of $4.4 million, thus turning it into a bonus..." Is he saying the Patriots could have done this on their own, unilaterally, without Milloy's agreeing to it; or to do so, would Milloy have to agree. Borges does not make it clear which is true and to my mind it makes a hell of a lot of difference whether the team alone could have done this but chose not to; or whether they needed Milloy's permission, offered him this deal, and he said no. Thanks.
-- Gene Devita, Charlestown, MA
A: Milloy would have to agree, but he agreed to do it the three previous seasons so I'm sure he would have done it again. That type of restructure doesn't cost him any money.
Great to have the mailbag back for another season. I think I speak for a lot of Pats fans when I say that the release of Milloy disgusts me. I've been trying to think of an analogy to the Red Sox and the best I've come up with is if they lost Varitek. Same thing- his contributions to the team don't often show up in his stats. I know the salary cap can be draconian, but c'mon, this wasn't just about that. They thought he had lost a step and was overpaid. Simple as that. Bottom line: If the Pats win, the decision won't look so bad, but if they don't, Belichick / Pioli / et al. deserve all they criticism they get. I think they made a major miscalculation. I hope I'm proven wrong. Your thoughts? P.S. Good Pats bar in the D.C. area is the Shark Club in Merrifield, VA (just outside the Beltway on Lee Hwy.).
-- Patrick Boulay, Fairfax, VA
A: Good points Patrick. I would have to agree with your asssessment of why they released Milloy. Your anaology is also pretty good with Varitek. I've never seen this bunch of guys so down after they heard about Milloy. The last time I ever saw Tom Brady that emotional was after the Patriots won the Super Bowl. This wasn't that happy emotion, but he knew he had lost a dear friend and a great teammate.
Great collumn ! I look forward to the Q+A every week. I know there probably is a million folks ahead of me to ask the Milloy question...but in your opinion was it just money or was it performance based? Also a Tom Brady question if I may. With the way the Pats tried to toss the long ball all preseason do you think it will be an important part of this year's game plan or is it just to have the other teams think we plan on throwing deep more to keep them honest on D?
-- Tom Sullivan, N. Oxford
A: I'll skip Milloy here. On Brady, they're definitely trying to incorporate it into the game plan. There's no doubt Brady can throw it. As Charlie Weis said recently, "Now we have to complete it."
The Milloy release was a stunner, and you've probably received a lot of mail about it. It seems unbelievable that someone of his profile and importance to the team couldn't have been retained. In your opinion, who was to blame for his release? Milloy? His agents? The team? Kraft himself (who has been noticably silent on this)?
-- Joseph Curtis, Wilton, CT
A: I think it was two hard-headed, competitive individuals in Belichick and Milloy, who wouldn't budge. I think that's what makes both of them so good at what they do.
I think my cold medicine might be doing things to my head. Am I hallucinating? Or did the Pats really cut Lawyer Milloy? If so, I'm having flashbacks to the Sullivan years, when they let go of Mike Haynes and Leon Gray. Is Lawyer overpaid this year? Maybe. But, so what? I say, keep him for this year, take a run at the Super Bowl, then let him go next year when his salary goes even higher. I can't believe they cut him now, just days before the start of the regular season! Let's forget about his level play. Let's think about what this does to team morale, which, I believe, is one of the most important things in football. A decision like this has got to suck the air right out of the team. It has to create an air of betrayal amongst the veteran players, and it might take them two games to fully recover. Surely, this team will be going into week one with their shoulders slumped just a little bit, and their focus a little off. Didn't Belichick take this into account? Or is he that arrogant that he thinks he can just flip a switch, and turn these players into robots who perform at will, no questions asked. Also. Quick question. You think some of those pre-season prognosticators are asking their editors for a do-over now that this news has come down? I noticed many of them picked the Pats, but one or two games could make a big difference in the AFC East, and the loss of Milloy (and the cloud it sets over the Patriots locker room) could easily move the Pats from first to third.
-- Warren Taylor, Demarest, NJ
A: I think what Belichick has to guard against now are some of the players having doubts about him. The Otis Smith cut was tough enough for these guys, but to lose their leader? It didn't sit well.
As shocked as I was regarding the cutting of Milloy, I had to chuckle at all of the players commenting about football being "cut throat." Don't these players realize that we in the real world see this in our place of employment day in and day out as well (who is getting laid off today?) and we don't make a fraction of what they are making. My job is in jeopary every day with the current economic situation and I am here to tell you that I don't carry a $5 million cap figure against my employer! If I got laid of tomorrow, there wouldn't be 5 or 6 employers lining up to hire me and insure my family has food on the table.. so it is tough to feel sorry for a guy who was asked to take a pay cut and still make more in a year than many of us will in a lifetime.
-- Bruce Dow, Hooksett, NH
A: I think they're talking about their business, just as you're speaking about your business. I agree that many athletes are out of touch about the real world, but in their world, this was a "cutthroat" move.
Lawyer Milloy was a great player, a great leader, and letting him go will surely hurt the Patriots' secondary and team morale. However, landing the full load of blame on Bill Belichick seems narrow-sighted to me. For one, Milloy was set to be overpaid as a safety. For Boston fans who continually praise Theo Epstein (and Belichick) for not overpaying for talent (a la Manny Ramirez), cutting (at his agent's request, I believe) Milloy was simply a hard, necessary action to continue the fiscally responsible course that the Pats have been on in recent years. Also, as for team leadership, If Milloy had truly...TRULY been primarily concerned with helping the team and winning another championship, wouldnt he have taken the pay cut, like Ted Johnson, another team leader, did before him? What gets lost in this is Milloy's hard-line "I deserve to be overpaid" stance. True, the Patriots should never have offered money they had no intention of paying, but...it would be naive for Milloy to assume things would be different for him. Milloy will be missed, especially if he goes to the Bills, but do we need an overpaid player on the team to open the floodgates of "well if Lawyer gets top dollar, how come I don't?" questions from Law et al?
-- Chris McNulty, Brooklyn, NY
A: I often hear the Ted Johnson analogy and I just think they're two different cases. Ted took paycuts because he could not have received any more than the paycut elsewhere. Remember, he could have gone to the Packers who made him a slightly better offer, but it wasn't enough for Ted to leave. Lawyer knew that a team would pay him just as much, if not more than what he would be paid by the Patriots. As it turns out, Milloy, instead of making $4.4 million this year, will earn $7 million ($5 million signing bonus and $2 million salary).
Nick, a lot is made of the ineffectiveness of the Pats running game, but where do you think most of the fault lies: with the O-Line or with the RBs? While I think A Smith does need to hit the hole harder and run more north-south, I really haven't seen the line open many holes for him. I heard also heard that the O-line resolved to get more "physical" this year.... how do you think that is going?
-- Scott Barbee, Scituate, MA
A: Scott, the line does feel good about the way they're coming along. They now need the commitment of the coaching staff that they're going to run even if they get stopped.
Do you think that the acquisition of Ted Washington might persuade Bill Belichick to use Dan Klecko exclusively at the outside linebacker position? How about putting Willie McGinest (now that they've switched to a 3-4 defense) at the middle linebacker position?
-- John Mitchell, Barnstable, MA
A: Belichick still tells us that Klecko will play inside. I'm not sure how much he'll play. I'm guessing he might be on of the linemen who is inactive at game time. Right now, the Patriots have 52 players, so they can only activate 45. Seven have to be inactive. As for McGinest, he'd get hurt playing in the middle. he's an edge pass rusher.
Call me crazy, but I think Willie McGinest is on the proverbial Bubble this year. What is his health situation? He's spent a lot of time on the bikes this summer, and doesn't play Teams. He really hasn't done much in the last 3-4 years, except for a nice run in the 2001 playoffs. thx, Mark B.
-- Mark Benson, Maynard, MA
A: I think Willie is Ok physically now. I know he's had some back problems, but he's a guy they need around in case a Colvin or a Vrabel get hurt. You can still use him in spots.
Why is Kevin Faulk's durability always a question? he is 5'8 202. Priest Holmes is 5'9 213. Holmes can play a full season, why couldn't Faulk?
-- Jamie Volpicelli, Trumbull CT
A: You just answered the questiuon. Holmes had him by 10-12 pounds and I'll bet the weight is in his hips and legs. Faulk just isn't as big as a Priest Holmes.
What do you think of the idea to resolve the "unfairness" of overtime? One team coach calls out a number like "14." The other coach says "we will take it" or "you take it". Then the overtime starts with the ball on the 14 (no kickoff) with the choice of possession going to the second coach. Sort of like "auctioning off" the possession.
-- Farris Khan, Northville, MI
A: Let's ask our Ask Nick audience what they think of that.
First off, I love reading your columns. Keep up the good work. My first question concerns Dan Klecko. Since he's undersized for a lineman, is there any chance that the coaching staff might move him to linebacker? Tedy Bruschi was an end in college, and he's flourished as a linebacker. Also, I know you favor the Dolphins in the AFC East, but what makes you think they can avoid their annual December slide this year? What's different about the '03 Dolphins compared to the '02 squad?
-- Mike Mearls, Brighton, MA
A: As you know Mike, Klecko played outside linebacker in the pre-season games, so I would guess once in a while he'd play there. But I still think Belichick will spot him on the D-Line and use his quickness to cause fits for O-linemen. Wonder if he can play safety? As for the Dolphins, I don't know that they've changed their December ways. I just figure one of these years they're going to win it because they have the talent to win it. The difference in this squad and the '02 squad is really a better back up in Brian Griese (I know he's hurt now), safety Sammy Knight and linebacker Junior Seau.
Great Mailbag. I was curious, after observing the preseason what are the focus areas that you would scout for going into the 2004 Draft. With 4 pick in the first 2 rounds we should do some damage in a draft that is expected to be very Deep. I would look at the following, Gamebreaking Running Back (Kevin Jones from Virginia Tech), Big DT (Vince Wilfork, Miami or Tommie Harris, Oklahoma), Speed Linebackers (Tedy Lehman, OK; Jonathan Vilma, Miami; Karlos Dansby, Auburn; Derrick Johnson; Texas), and either a Tackle or Big Possession Receiver (which should be deep this year).
-- Keith H., Waltham, MA
A: I would think RB would be a big priority. I like Jones a great deal as well. I keep thinking Maurice Clarett only because of the fact that Jim Brown is one of his advisors and Brown and Belichick are good friends.
O.K., Nick, I can't take it any longer. Everyone knows you need a running game to win. Why does Belichick feel a franchise back is less important than other positions? Smith or Faulk? He hasn't decided. Neither is the guy if you ask me. Still looking on the waiver wire? Why don't they ever draft a back? Could have had McGahee. What about next season because they're not going anywhere this year. You can't have running back by committee. Ask the Chiefs. With all the high picks next year they should go after OL and RB. Will Maurice Clarett be eligible? If so, I smell SuperBowl XXXIX. Someone needs to remind Bill that RB's shouldn't be second class citizens.
-- David Hasratian, Roy, Utah
A: I understand what you're saying David, but remember they won a Super Bowl with Smith and Faulk. Running the ball is not a big priority for them. They feel they have a great defense, good special teams and a good QB, and that's how they're going to win games.
You've written several times that you favor Miami over the Pats in the AFC East. I am surprised. With so many new faces, so many high caliber players suddenly playing for the Pats, what do you see in Miami that makes you think they will be stronger?
-- Thomas Walter, Milford, CT
A: I'm just one of these people awed by Ricky Williams and the Miami running game, and the fact they have a good defense. Call me old fashioned, but I always thought if you can run and you can stop the run, you should win. That's why I keep being high on Miami. I understand the December swoon thing, and it may happen again, but I just figure one of these years, it's not. I do like the Patriots. In my picks I have them both finishing 10-6.
Wouldn't the Pats be better off to name K. Faulk the starting RB and abandoned the RB by comittee approach? By touches Faulk outplays Antowain - and history shows that teams are much more successful with one featured RB.
-- Paul Hamlyn, Waynesboro, Va
A: I think they're not completely sold on Faulk being the guy. Neither are they sold on Smith. So they'll use both depending on the situation.
Hi Nick, thanks for your perfect job. For me, located in Italy, you are vital for my 'Patriot life'. I like much more the NFL then any other sport and I'm a strong fan since our Superbowl loss against Chicago. The problem as you can imagine is to see the matches (in Italy we are able to see only 2 matches a week, one Sunday game and the Monday Night). So what I can do is listen to Pats games on nfl.com (unfortunately always with the 'opposite' radio station). Anyway I really hope very soon to be able to see 'live' 1 or 2 matches. One question Nick: i liked a lot the throwback uniforms really much more then the actual uniform. This year are we going to play 1 or 2 matches with the old beautiful Pat Patriot logo? Last year a lot of people were in favour to return to the past (uniforms...). Any news about it? Then one personal question: do you have Italian origins ? Thanks in advance for your kind reply and best regards to the Patriot nation! Enrico
-- Enrico, Italy-Como
A: Hi Enrico. I know there are many Pats fans in Italy. I have not heard of any games where the throwback jersey will be worn, but that doesn't mean it won't be. It's just that I haven't heard anyone mention it with the Patriots. I'm with you, I loved the old red uniform and the old Pat Patriot logo. As for my heritage, yes Enrico, my late mother and father as well as my older brother are from Miranda, Italy in the province of Campobasso.
A comment and a question, please. Comment first. This looks like being a really fascinating season for Pats fans. Wherever you look at the Patriots there seem to be people with lots of positive potential -- but questions hanging over them too. Not just the rookies, but second-year guys who need to make an impact (Graham) veterans with big contracts (Law, Milloy) new acquisitions (Colvin, Harrison, Washington), even Brady and the coaches (last year was mixed, I'd have to say). I don't buy into the "see-you-in-Houston" over-optimism of some of your writers but if everything comes together and Brady stays healthy this team could do really well -- and it certainly will be interesting watching and finding out. Now the question. In the past you've said how much you respect BB's ability to get the most out of a given pool of players but you've had doubts about how well the Patriots have handled recruitment. Is that still your view? What is your considered opinion of the personnel moves since the end of last season? Thanks for your time. I'm really looking forward to another season of Ask Nick.
-- Michael Rosen, Oxford, UK
A: After a tough year recruiting free-agents last season, I thought they did much better this offseason. Obviously, the Colvin pick was outstanding and I liked the Rodney Harrison signing.
Isn't the coaching staff "concerned" about the punting? Last year it was one of the teams more glaring weaknesses and there doesn't appear to be any difference this year.
-- Mark, New Bedford
A: I think they're very concerned but they haven't found the right guy to compete with Ken Walter. Daneil Pope didn't cut it, and now they'll let Walter start the season and hope he comes out of his funk.
Does the Globe have a weekly Patriots newsletter (email)? I received one last season but haven't seen any so far.
-- Janice Keough, Cumberland, RI
A: I don't believe we do but one might be in the works.
Watching the Bears game last night, it appears the D-line without Ted Washington is hurting. I read that he will not be a "full time player". Do you know how much he will be playing come regular season?
-- Dave Cole, Middleboro, MA
A: I'm guessing 20-25 plays. Mostly first and second down or in running situations.
Love your webspace; In addition to being a huge Pats fan, I'm also a huge Penn State Fan, so I inquired a few weeks ago about the progress of Shawn Mayer (Rookie - FA out of PSU) - but didn't get a response; But it looks like he made the final cut! any update on him? what his coaches think etc??
-- Nate Hafer, New York, NY
A: He's on the practice squad, Nate. Could be a kid who develops.
For good pizza, do you prefer Cristo's in Brockton, or Linwood in Randolph?
-- Mark, Bridgewater
A: Mark, I have to admit, never been to Linwood. I love Christo's, especially the Greek pizza.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THE PATRIOTS GOING ALL THE WAY?
-- FRED PENN, AUGUSTA, MAINE
A: As good as about a dozen other teams.
Here's hoping that Ted Washington stays healthy for the year. the run defense doesn't seem to work without him. Of the players drafted (Warren, Klecko, Kelly), does any one of them seem promising at NT? Also, how IS Marvelous Marvin Hagler? is he still doing spaghetti westerns? he gave me some great memories I'll never forget watching the afternoon he won the championship.
-- Lonnie Duke, Cheshire, CT
A: Ty Warren was used briefly at nose tackle at the end of the Bears pre-season game. That's Klecko's position, so right now I would say him. As for Marvin, I don't believe he's done any acting lately.
Given the health questions of Joe Andruzzi, why would the Pats release a veteran guard like Corbin Lacina? Also can you tell us more about Jamil Soriano, it looks like the Pats might keep him because of his ability to work at both tackle and guard.
-- Kevin Norman, Lees Summit, MO
A: Lacina was miffed, but the Patriots only kept eight and they wanted to keep the guys they've been developing like Ashworth and Gorin. They were also able to keep Russ Hochstein and Soriano on the practice squad. Soriano was a tackle at Harvard, a very big, athletic kid who could develop a couple of years down the road. He's said to be a good run blocker and probably has to develop is pass blocking.
Nick, there was an article (Globe I believe) which mentioned that Rich Tylski has now healed up after being retired a year, and he wants to get back into the NFL. Would the Pats consider bringing him back in, or is there an 'open wound' there with him having walked out last year?
-- Jim Kelleher, Northford, CT
A: That was my article Jim. I spoke to Rich a couple of weeks ago, and it doesn't appear the Patriots have any interest. It looks like they're trying to get younger.
What's the word and prospectus on Mike Cloud at RB? Specifically, is he expected to be recovered from his leg injury by the time the 4 game suspension is done, and do you think he's in the mix to get on the field and help this year?
-- Jim Kelleher, Northford, CT
A: He should be ready after the four games, but he may need some practice time after that before he's activated.
Mr. Cafardo last year it was obvious to me as a fan for many years the Patriots need a running back,I was shocked they did not draft one with one of there high draft picks, how do you feel about that? And so far I'm very unhappy with Ty Warren, the #1 pick.I think a number one pick should have the ability to help right away, how do you feel about that?
-- William D. Harvey, Somerville
A: I think Warren will be very good, but I thought their biggest need at the time was nose tackle, and when they finally got around to drafting one it was the undersized Klecko. I don't think there was a running back worth picking with that first round pick. So I think when you can draft a defensive lineman, you do it.
The media has errored by focusing so much attention on questioning the abilities of Antowaine Smith and Kevin Faulk. The core problem here all along has been a visible failure by the Offensive line to push the pile and create running gaps. I would feel a lot better if the Patriots had picked up a "Ted Washington" pro-bowl, type of player for their patch-work Offensive line. They have now apparently passed-up on acquiring either Orlando Pace, Jim "Big Cat" Williams, Corbin Lacina, and in addition, I never understood why they ever got rid of the 6'7", 320lb Grant Williams (who was a standout in the Super Bowl). Why does Belichick continue to think that he can build an optimum Offense just by getting here with 2nd-rate talent (aside from Damien Woody) and poor depth at this very crucial, make-or-break part of the team?
-- Derek Larsson, Ashland, MA
A: They have a system and they're sticking to it. They believe in developinmg undrafted free-agents or sixth or seventh-round guys and turning them into players. They'd rather keep their costs at offensive line down if possible, which is why Damien Woody has the highest cap number at only $2.8 million.
Just want check in on my beef with the meadia regarding the four pre-season games. Shut Up!! First, with all the free agents moving around and the drafting of college players, coaching staffs are looking at a lot of personnel to get down to the 53 man limit. In six weeks. Have you ever looked at an NFL playbook? Lets just say A Tale Of Two Cities is an easier read. Just look at the Globe Op-Ed page every year during the various bowl runs to look at the graduation rates of the "Big Time Football" schools and four months later your drafting these "graduates". Clearly coaching staffs have a lot of work cut out for themselves. I do put a lot of weight on pre-seson after the starters are out of the game so you can concentrate on the "Roll Players". To Mr. Kraft on the "lighthouse" put in a flood light and call it a day. And give the six tickets back! My prediction is 11-5 to avoid all the tie breaking bull- @%*&. Thanks for a great column every week. GO P-A-T-S Pats, Pats, Pats!
-- Mark Drews, Framingham
A: Mark, you bring it every week. You have solid opinions. I'm with you. I think the four games are necessary, but I don't think the teams should charge full price for the tickets. You need to see your young players over a four-game schedule. I think it's really helped the Patriots because they got to watch Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson in game-like situations.
"Really old topic. I wondered if this was a question that came from the archive two years ago, but I guess its recent. Like I've said for two years now, Brady was the right guy for this team." Nick, you haven't been saying this for two years now ... Brady hasn't been the starting QB for that long .. and you were slow to come around on Brady. Readers repeatedly press you on this topic because of your prior statements and the way you have couched your responses with "Brady is the right guy for THIS TEAM". Brady's abilities make him the right guy for practically ANY NFL team. Drew showed in Buffalo the same thing we had seen here for years ... great throwing arm, streaky performance, below average ability to read a defense, tendency to hold the ball too long, forcing throws downfield into tight coverage, and often perplexing decision making. These are the things that fans (and the coaches) see, that you refuse to admit ... and it is why you will be called out on this topic for years to come. The physical differences between the two QBs are mostly in Bledsoe's favor .. but from the neck up, it is all Brady.
-- Wally Shedd, Portsmouth, NH
A: I think they're both very good, and very different. Wally, I'm beyond paying attention to anyone who says Drew Bledsoe doesn't have it "from the neck up." You can't believe that. I agree he forces balls, tried to make the big play downfield more, takes chances, etc. You got me on that one. But you don't put up those kind of numbers if you don't have it from the "neck up." All I know is the Bills were a 3-win team and he arrived and they were an 8-win team last season. Who knows this year? They're being picked by many publications as the team to beat in the division. So I don't think too many people share your view on that one. Brady is excellent for the Patriots. He'd be excellent for many teams in the NFL, but so would Bledsoe. My opinion is what it is, Brady is very good and Bledsoe is very good. I think you're not showing much respect for a very good player who has accomplished a lot in the league. But that's your opinion and I'm happy to say I don't share it.
Love the mailbag, Nick! I'm a big fan of Antowain Smith and it bugs me when he's made the scapegoat for a mediocre running game. I'd say even the best backs in the league would have trouble chewing up the yardage if the offensive line wasn't doing a good job. He didn't make a thousand yards last year, but he would have if he'd been given the ball as many times as he had been the previous years. I'm no expert, but I think they've been wasting Smith on sweeps when his forte is up the middle. What do you think? The guy really only needs a couple of holes to gain big yardage.
-- Ted Simon, Toronto, Ontario
A: And I understand why they do the sweeps. They want to keep the defense off balance because they know Smith's strength is tackle to tackle. I say give him the ball 20 times and let's see what he can do.
I have always said that the primary difference between Brady and Bledsoe is that Brady releases the ball much faster than Bledsoe. Brady sets up much quicker and usually takes only a 5-step drop to Bledsoe's 7. He also seems to read the field much faster than Bledsoe; is more able to avoid the rush and makes better decisons as shown by his terrific TD to INT ratio. How much of all of the above is due to the short game used by Brady vs the downfield explosiveness of Bledsoe and how much is due to Brady just being a better QB? Also, I notice most national writers have Bledsoe in their top 5-6 QB's while Brady is rated somewhere closer to the middle of the pack. What is the thinking in the league... forget the spin, which QB's would most teams be interested in over their own QB? I can't think of any QB I'd rather play for the Pats ... including even Gannon and Favre ... that I'd take over Brady if age and potential were a primary consideration. Your thoughts, please.
-- Steve Alpert, Norwell, MA
A: Good observations. Brady is much better with the shorter drops and the shorter passes. Bledsoe is better with longer drops and passes down the field. There's really no comparison in arm strength, Bledsoe is far stronger. But Brady is much more accurate. I'm sure that teams would love to get their hands on Brady because of his age, what he's accomplished in a short time, and the fact he makes good decisions. The obvious difference between guys like Gannon, Favre and Bledsoe is that they've proven they can complete the ball down field. I think that's what Brady has to prove this season. The other difference is the QBs you've mentioned are time-tested. Brady is heading into his third year as a starter. he's experienced the high of a Super Bowl, the low of not making the playoffs, and now let's see how he reacts this season.
Who is responsible for drafting Adrian Klemm? Was this strictly a Bobby Grier pick or was anyone else in the organization high on this guy? I would think picking an offensive lineman from Hawaii is questionable to begin with it's mostly a passing offense, right? This is his 4th year and we've yet to see anything substantial from this guy. For next year's draft, I would think the focus will be on offense. I know a RB is key, but I'd also love to see them address the left tackle position and move Light to right tackle. Does this seem practical and do you see any lineman in next year's draft that may interest the Pats? Thanks.
-- Paul Reppucci, Andover, MA
A: Bill Belichick was high on Klemm. He drafted him.
Have you figured out why Belichick gave up a 4th round choice for Soriano only to release him two weeks later.
-- Robert Solakoff, Brockton, MA
A: It was actually a seventh round conditional on Soriano making the team, which he didn't. He's on the practice squad.
What exactly does it mean when they say they have reached an injury settlement with a player?
-- Bill Wharington, Millis, MA
A: It means they've negotiated how many weeks pay the player should receive based on the extent of his injury. If it's hamstring pull like Bill Conaty, he got two weeks pay.
Not so much a question as a thanks. Thanks for your article, "Taking it to the limit" clearing up the most recent cuts to 53. I was hoping a bit dismayed in the Pats letting go Patrick Pass, Dedric Ward, Leonard Myers, and Russ Hochstein. Hopefully they will bring them back, but I'm not counting on it. I would have really liked Dedric Ward to play for this team. I'm sure some team could use his services. Watch it be either the Jets, Dolphins, or Bills. Maybe the Dolphins or Jets will see the error in their ways and be lucky to re-claim him. Maybe he's on a AFC East tour and it'll be the Bills shot at him.
-- Dean McCabe, Ludlow, MA
A: Hochstein was signed to the practice squad, but the other guys I doubt will be back unless there's an injury. Ward made a good impression, but my guess is he'll be picked up.
Look forward to the mailbag each week, keep up the good work! Looking down the road, I believe both Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis' contracts are up after this year. Do you hear any early whispers what the future might hold for them? Will they resign or leave for other opportunities? I Know Mangini is being groomed to take over the D, what about the O? I know a lot can change over the course of a year, but wondering what you hear (if anything) now. Thanks.
-- SFC Timothy J. Beary, Fort Jackson, SC
A: I think they'll play it out with both of them. If the team doesn't play well, one or both could be scapegoats or they might leave for other jobs. I think both are very good coordinators and I would sign them right now.
Two questions for you,
1. Will Ty Law be cut after this season if he doesn't take a huge pay cut and reduce his enormous cap number now that BB has drafted what looks like two promising corners in Samuel and Wilson.
2. Did Pass and Ward only look good in the preseason because they were playing against second stringers and such. Ward was really good in my opinion when he played for the Jets. Pass never really did much in the regular season for the Pats but it seemed if BB didn't keeps so many special teams guys they could have made the roster... If Brown or Patten went down in Week 2 for 12 weeks I would have like to had a veteran WR left on the roster.
-- Eric Dolan, New Bedford, MA
A: 1) My guess is yes. But I think that does depend on how the two kids play. 2) Ward is a vet. who has played with the ones and is proven. I think Pass probably looked good because it was against the backup guys.
This isn't so much of a question as it is a need to release some frustration after hearing of Milloy's release. I feel like a close friend has died. He did so much for this franchise and I simply don't understand why he was let go a day after cuts, when we were already under the cap. They have been touting the Pats D as one for the ages and now this. He has clearly been my favorite player on this team for years...and although I understand that sometimes hard decisions regarding salary have to be made...why now? I was so psyched for this season and now I will have to watch Milloy in a different uniform....what will I do with all of my Milloy jerseys....I guess they can go with my Wohlabaugh's and Armstrong's. Sorry, but I just needed to vent...I'll miss the toughest hard nosed player this team has seen since Hannah.
-- Todd Cobery, Minneapolis, MN
A: Well-said. Your view is shared by many.
Ok. I am a devout Patriots fan. I have been since the age of 11 back in 1990. I read the mailbag every week and find it very humourous and insightful as well. This is my first time submitting a question/commemt . Today, I am sad to see that Lawyer Milloy has been cut from the TEAM. I was sad to hear about OTIS but I am just flamming about Lawyer. I know that his contract was expensive and took up a lot of cap room. We all also know that he did not want to restructure his contract. But for crying out loud he is the heart and soul of the TEAM as captain let alone the defense. This is outrageous. Lawyer was a great asset to the team as a player and as a captain. What the hell is the organization thinking?????? I hope they at least use this room in the cap to find a decent running back . Because obviously it was all for monetary reasons!!!!!!!! Lawyer Milloy will be missed by at least one fan.!!! Jeeze I hope they don't get rid of LAW!!!!
-- Laura Badgett, Dorchester
A: Laura, it's so late to find any decent player right now. I think they probably need the future cap space to take care of some big leaps in salary cap for some of their players next season. There are some huge increases like Brady going from $3.3 to $8.4 million. There are more big decisions coming up in the off season.
The Lawyer Milloy move made my physically sick to my stomach.. Is there a back story to this that the general public isn't aware of? Why not get rid of some older players.. Anthony Pleasant, Roman Phifer, or Rick Lyle. Why get rid of the team captain all-pro borderline hall of famer? I was looking forward to the Harrison-Law-Milloy secondary. It hurts inside.
-- Lance Methot, Bedford, NH
A: A lot of Patriots fans feel your pain.
Oh my god!!!! What just happened to the Patriots defense? How do you let Milloy go and how do you replace him? He has more than earned his pay and is the one of the corner stones of the defense how can they let this happen right before the season opener..... I think the Patriots will regret this move. I'm sure you will have a ton of questions regarding this new development. I am a long time reader first time "asker" keep up the great work!!!
-- Jay Nickerson, Norwood, Massachusetts
A: Jay, I saw it coming for a couple of days. On the day they made their cuts to 53, I wrote high in a story that negotiations with Milloy had been ongoing the past couple of days. I wrote that he had made the 53-man roster as of last Sunday. I thought when he made the roster, that he had taken the cut, only to find that the team had until Wednesday at 4 p.m., a day before the first NFL game (Jets-Washington) to cut him without having to pay him.