Pondering the Patriots' offseason
It's Senior Bowl week, which means Patriots coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli are in Mobile, Ala. scouting prospects for the 2006 draft.
Several draft questions came into the Patriots' mailbag this past week, as fans transition from the sting of the season-ending defeat in Denver to the future.
There was some mild surprise in this corner with some e-mailers who were disappointed in the promotion of quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels to offensive coordinator. Some feel the 29-year-old McDaniels is too young. Others worry whether he will be able to challenge Bill Belichick when necessary. Others felt the Patriots missed a chance to add fresh blood to their coaching staff, such as an innovative mind like Mike Martz.
The hiring of 56-year-old Dean Pees as defensive coordinator didn't receive as much criticism as the McDaniels move. I think the age factor had a lot to do with it.
One area overlooked is what the promotions mean for two other capable internal candidates -- defensive line coach Pepper Johnson and receivers coach Brian Daboll. The Patriots might look to increase the responsibilities of Johnson and Daboll this year to keep their careers moving forward. That can be a pretty devastating thing -- to be passed over despite being in the organization longer than the person who got the job.
Finally, there were plenty of questions to the mailbag on free agency. Who might the Patriots re-sign? Who might they look to sign from other teams? Free agency begins on March 3, so we're just starting to get into that now.
Looking ahead, the plans are to return with another mailbag next month, so check back in around mid-to-late February. Some questions have been saved until then.
Thanks for checking out the mailbag, and as for a Super Bowl prediction, I'm going with the Steelers.
Let's roll ...
It's been a big disappointment to see the season end the way it ended. But I also understand we can't win every season. Getting into the second round by overcoming so many injuries is a fantastic accomplishment for the Pats. I do feel some uneasiness about some of the offseason coaching moves, though. Many of us now hold the belief of "In Bill we trust." But I do believe that fresh blood is good for any organization. While promoting from within for the offensive and defensive coordinator positions preserves continuity, it does not bring any new fresh ideas. Especially since Dean Pees and Josh McDaniels are kind of new to the NFL. I doubt that they can debate and argue with Bill Belichick on the same level that Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel did. Not many people in the NFL are intellectual equals to Bill, but the Patriots should bring some more seasoned assistants to even sit with Bill. This will only improve the Pats' system. With Bill in firm control, there is no danger of chaos in the rank and files.
Jeff Huang, Houston
A: A very valid argument, Jeff, and one that was reflected in a few other e-mails that came into the mailbag. The Patriots' promotions are in contrast to the approach the Dolphins are taking, reportedly hiring former head coaches Dom Capers (defense) and Mike Mularkey (offense) as coordinators. You might be proven correct, but I like the idea of promoting from within -- creating an atmosphere that promotes upward mobility -- and then adding some of those fresh ideas by hiring new coaches for positional assignments (i.e. Pete Mangurian, tight ends coach in 2005). The Patriots know they are going to stay with their system, so they're looking for coaches who have a specific background in that.
I couldn't be more disappointed with the naming of Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator. I was hoping Bill Belichick would bring in a seasoned professional (Mike Martz?) who could have expanded our offense a bit since there was a dramatic step back in innovation after Charlie Weis. It's simple, McDaniels is 29 years old, I don't care how smart or older than his years he may be, he is NOT an experienced NFL coach. This is a serious mistake by Belichick.
Steve I., Milton
A: I agree that the Patriots' offense wasn't as innovative in 2005 as it was in 2004. My feeling is that the lack of balance between the run (No. 24 in NFL in yards per game) and pass (No. 2) didn't allow them to be as innovative. As for the Patriots' offense, I think it's important to understand how much control Tom Brady has over what the team is doing on game-day. To me, in the Patriots' system, the coordinator's role is almost more prominent in game-planning than in actual play-calling, because Brady does so much changing at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive look he sees. So I'm not sure how much someone like Martz, who I always felt favored the pass over the run, would help the Patriots. Also, it's telling to me that with all the other coordinator openings out there right now, Martz hasn't been picked for one of them. If anything, right now, I think the Patriots could use someone with some innovative ideas in the running game. But overall, I'd endorse the hiring of McDaniels instead of someone like Martz (who might not settle for a coordinator job anyway) or Mike Mularkey, mainly due to his background in the system and his strong working relationship with Brady.
I question whether the Patriots made the right choice for offensive coordinator. There are guys with considerably more experience out there. In 20-20 hindsight, it seems to me that not having a real offensive coordinator in 2005 was a mistake as there was way too much burden placed on Tom Brady. Thoughts?
Alan Alexander, Tucson, Ariz.
A: McDaniels won't win when it comes to the experience game. He has been with the Patriots since 2001 and only been an offensive assistant since 2003. You are 100 percent correct, there are other candidates with a lot more experience out there, including others on the Patriots' staff, such as receivers coach Brian Daboll (6 NFL seasons), tight ends coach Pete Mangurian (14 NFL seasons) and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia (24th NFL season). I think experience can be overrated; my focus is more on organization, work ethic and leadership. As for too much burden placed on Brady based on not having a real coordinator, I don't see it that way. I think McDaniels was serving as coordinator, without the title.
While I don't know that much about Dean Pees, who was named defensive coordinator, his resume appears impressive and he has obviously been in leadership positions. I believe this was probably the best move given the circumstances and wanted your opinion. Also, do you know if Pees was seriously considered last year when Mangini was promoted?
Marc Edmunds, Wilton, Maine
A: I have been impressed with Pees from the first interview he had shortly after being hired in 2004. I like his no-nonsense style and also liked the way he handled himself on the sideline during games; I could see a command in his approach. I don't believe he was seriously considered for defensive coordinator last year, because the team wanted to keep Mangini, and that meant hiring Mangini as coordinator so he wouldn't go to the Browns or Dolphins.
Do you think Dean Pees is the best choice for defensive coordinator? I know Jim Bates from Green Bay just left and I would think he'd be even better. Did Belichick jump too quick to pick someone?
Rob French, Chesterfield, Va.
A: From what I understand, the promotions of Pees, and McDaniels for that matter, were targeted for some time. I don't think Belichick jumped too fast. What was clear to me is that the Patriots are going to run their system (now entering its seventh season), and they want someone in charge who has a background in that system. Someone like Bates would have to come in and learn all the intricacies of the system, and the learning curve would be steep for someone expected to coordinate the entire unit.
When it comes to X's & O's and coaching, Mangini has proven that he is solid. With that being said, he has no team management experience whatsoever. I can't believe the Jets would hire this guy solely because he is a Belichick disciple. None of the other teams looking for head coaches even asked to interview this guy. Did the Jets hire this guy to lead their rebuilding process and buy themselves a few years with fans? What am I missing?
Mark Milford, Hanover
A: The Mangini hire was a bit curious to me at this time, but he is highly regarded around league circles, both in speaking with players and other coaches. Also, I wouldn't read too much about Mangini not receiving interest from other teams; there was a reason most of those teams were picking new coaches in the first place: they made a mistake with their previous choice. I don't think the hiring buys time with those fans as much as sells them a vision of duplicating the Patriots' success.
Who, or how many, members of the coaching staff do you believe will go to the Jets with Mangini?
John Hurd, Jacksonville, Fla.
A: Zero. I think every Patriots assistant coach is under contract at this time and that means the Patriots don't have to let them go. Mangini did tap into his Patriots' connections for one support staff employee, hiring Erin O'Brien as his administrative assistant. O'Brien worked on the Patriots' media relations staff and with the New England Revolution before moving to New York with Mangini.
I'm very upset the Patriots lost, but I definitely feel they are going to be in the hunt for a championship for the long haul. However, I do predict some turnover this year, especially at the wide receiver position. As much as I love Troy Brown -- I was at the last game of the season in 1999 against the Ravens, chanting "Sign Troy Brown!" before he became a free agent -- I think he's lost a step. I also think David Givens will be offered more money somewhere else. What is the Patriots receiving corps going to look like next year, and is there any chance the Patriots will sign Reggie Wayne?
Joe Cheney, S. Burlington, Vt.
A: Of players on the 53-man roster in 2005, the Patriots have only Deion Branch and Bethel Johnson under contract for next season. I expect Andre' Davis to return, although he is very similar in style to Johnson. I don't have a good read on Troy Brown's situation, but if I had to guess, I'd say he won't be back. So you're right, there could be some major turnover at this spot. I would be stunned if Reggie Wayne ends up here. I just don't see the Patriots getting into that high priced arena with Wayne; my thought is why go there when you can simply re-sign David Givens. So there are several unknowns here right now, and this is definitely an area to watch moving forward.
Although the Pats had an off season, I thought the run they made at the end, especially the defense giving up as few points as they did, gave us a chance to repeat. I think the lack of a running game (Corey Dillon) was a factor in not making NFL history. What do you think the Pats should do to correct the situation?
Jason Powell, East Greenwich, RI
A: It will help to have Matt Light back at tackle and Dan Koppen at center, two of the team's top linemen. Nick Kaczur should also compete for a job at either left tackle or right tackle. So having those three blockers in the mix together should help, along with another year of seasoning for first-round pick Logan Mankins. I believe those are the makings of a strong offensive line, and that's not factoring in the return of free-agent Stephen Neal at right guard. As vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli pointed out earlier this year, the team prefers bigger backs, and I would expect Dillon back for another year. Same with Kevin Faulk as the backup. So moving forward, I don't expect much change in personnel, except for a possible rookie addition in the draft who can be groomed for the future. Just getting their personnel on the field at the same time should lead to increased production in the running game.
The way the cards fell down this season I think the Patriots need to address the running back position. Corey Dillon was pretty much banged up for most of the season and Patriots really were without a running back. I'm not saying Dillon can't do the job, But it would be a good idea to get some help at that position. Dillon goes down the Patriots have nothing. Maybe address a first pick round selection as in LenDale White. He may fall right when the Patriots pick? And another issue at wide receiver -- the corps of receivers are good, but that might be a place to put some thought into.
Joe Gales Anacleto, Los Angeles
A: Am currently in the early stages of studying the draft and free agency, and the idea of adding a first-round caliber running back is an intriguing thought. You can find some good backs in later rounds, but if a player is available like White -- who at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds fits the mold of bigger back the Patriots like -- he'd appear to be a real nice addition. The free-agent crop is thin at receiver and it's rare to see a rookie come in and make an immediate impact.
I'm think too much has been made of Dillon's drop in production. Injuries and two rookie linemen can impact rushing stats and -- though I admit he does not seem quite as explosive -- I really appreciate his battering-ram style. I think fans are fickle and before the playoffs are over, we will appreciate a back who can plow into a line without any holes and grind out 2-3 much-needed yards in a crucial situation. My recollection is that Antowain Smith -- despite his ups and downs -- was still able to do this in his final games here and that kind of a back has real value in key games. What do you think of Dillon's role on this team? Has it changed to a narrower (though no less important) role, with Faulk picking up more running back duties? Was his recent "tirade" somewhat justified? (I think so -- but would prefer restraint from players).
David H., South Bend, Ind.
A: I think Dillon still can be an integral member of the team and thought he ran well in the final game in Denver. In fact, that was one of the definitive things I took from that game; that Dillon still had some burst. That said, I think the Patriots have to start thinking about developing a runner behind him and start reducing Dillon's load a bit. I like the point you made about the young linemen in front of Dillon - playing two rookies and a first-time center through most of the second half of the season would impact many running back's stats and production.
Where do the Pats stand with regards to the salary cap entering 2006? Some teams are over the cap by $20 million to $30 million. Before restructuring contracts or cutting players, where are the Pats?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: The Patriots, like many clubs, have some contract tweaking to do. But on the whole, I believe they are in excellent shape, right around the projected $92 million cap. Add in the fact they have five starting-caliber players scheduled for unrestricted free agency (Stephen Neal, David Givens, Adam Vinatieri, Tom Ashworth and Artrell Hawkins) and the overall picture for the team is positive.
With March 1st coming soon and given their cap situation, who are the current Pats players who are on the bubble or gone?
George Burgoyne, Bangor, Maine
A: Cornerbacks Duane Starks ($5.1 million) and Tyrone Poole ($2.5 million) are the two likely candidates to fall into this category. A few other players with higher cap numbers who will likely need to restructure their deals include outside linebackers Willie McGinest ($8.3 million) and Rosevelt Colvin ($5.7 million) and offensive tackle Matt Light ($5.3 million), although I'd put them in a different class than Starks and Poole. Their contract restructures would seem to be more standard operating procedure, whereas Starks and Poole could simply be let go.
Heard some rumors flying around that Ty Law might be interested in returning to the team next season. Any truth to that? I do not know his contract status with the Jets. Is he a free agent?
Randy Starbuck, Suisun City, Calif.
A: Law has a large bonus coming due with the Jets and it is assumed the team won't pay it, thus making Law a free agent. Law has stated publicly that his next move will be a business decision, which to me, means he's looking for the richest contract. I don't think that will happen in New England, where future planning for contracts with Richard Seymour and Deion Branch should take priority over bringing Law back at potentially big numbers.
How does the expiring collective bargaining agreement affect the Pats' (and every other team's) ability to re-sign players, and re-work existing contracts?
Adam K., Chicago
A: In many ways, this is the talk of the agent/owner community right now. One person who is often involved in NFL negotiations said last week that everything is on hold until they find out what happens with the collective bargaining agreement. Without an extension to the CBA, signing bonuses can only be spread out over four years. It's significant and could lessen the up-front payouts in the free-agent market. At the very least, it will force teams and agents to be especially creative in how deals are structured.
With the Denver game in the books and the offseason in the here and now, what percentage of the 17 free agents do you see the Pats pursue? Any specific needs you see scouted for in free agency as opposed to the draft?
Nick Mastropieri, Somerset, Calif.
A: I'd say 60-65 percent, with Adam Vinatieri, David Givens and Stephen Neal the top three players in terms of urgency to get the ball rolling on new contracts. When I look at the list, there aren't too many players that I can say definitely won't be back. In terms of filling needs in free agency vs. the draft, I think a safety with some experience would be a nice addition in free agency.
I don't want to beat a dead horse but does the NFL still have the rule that pass interference can not be called if a ball is not catchable. And wasn't the infamous pass interference call on Asante Samuel against the Broncos on a pass that was uncatchable? Also, what, in your opinion, was the reason for Samuel's remarkable improvement in the last portion of the season?
John Morgenstern, Gilford, NH
A: Yes, I was reading a great column in the Chicago Tribune, where former referee Jerry Markbreit answers questions on the rules of the game, and he indicated in a 2004 column that the "uncatchable" rule still exists. I think it's been pretty well established that was a tough call on Samuel, whether the ball was catchable or not. As for Samuel's improvement in the second half of the season, I think it was tied in to the team's improvement in stopping the run. Once the Patriots stopped the run, and made teams one-dimensional, their pass defense improved.
Looking forward to the NFL draft, would you please tell me what picks the Patriots have for 2006?
Joe Carreiro, Black Mountain, NC
A: The Patriots pick No. 21 in the first round, then will rotate between 20-21-22 in ensuing rounds. The team has extra picks in the third round (Baltimore's) and fourth round (Detroit's). The team's fifth-round pick was traded to Cleveland for Andre' Davis, but the Patriots acquired a fifth-rounder from the Raiders.
How many draft picks do the Patriots have this year and what are your mock picks for them? Can they fill holes at running back, defensive back, offensive line and wide receiver? What about free agents they will bring in?
David Cabral, Dartmouth
A: The draft picks are detailed in the question above, and as for mock picks, I haven't studied enough of the prospects at this time to provide an educated answer. I do think the Patriots will be in position to fill holes, as they have good chips to maneuver around the draft board and target the players they want. As for free agents, I've started this week focusing on the safety group, as I think the Patriots could use help there, and here are three names to keep an eye on should they not sign contract extensions with their current teams: Adam Archuleta (Rams), Will Demps (Ravens, coming off ACL surgery) and Corey Chavous (Vikings).
Can you provide a best guess as to how many compensatory picks the Pats will obtain this year. They lost Adrian Klemm, Joe Andruzzi, David Patten, and Ty Law last year. Shouldn't that get us at least an end of third round pick?
Jay Castergine, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ
A: A team is eligible to receive compensatory draft selections if it is deemed to have lost more or better compensatory players than they were able to acquire. The selections are based on a complex formula that includes several variables. Ty Law doesn't qualify because the Patriots released him. I would be surprised if the Patriots get a third-round compensatory pick. My guess would be a fifth-round pick for Andruzzi (13 starts) and a seventh for Klemm (8 starts), and that might even be shooting a bit high.
I'm wondering what the Patriots players do this time of year. Are they showing up at Gillette and working out, or do they take this free time they haven't had since 2003 to relax and rejuvenate for next year?
Chris Warner, Bronx, NY
A: For the most part, this is a time for rejuvenation. Even the team's assistant coaches took some time off last week. The team's offseason program usually kicks back into gear in March.
Now that Josh McDaniels has been named offensive coordinator, do you think Belichick will bring in a new QB coach? Who are some potential candidates?
Rich Minassian, Londonderry, NH
A: McDaniels told the media he will continue to work with the quarterbacks, so don't expect another QB coach. The Patriots have five offensive assistants and my feeling is that they probably won't add another. On the flip side, they only have three defensive assistants and coordinator Dean Pees said they are working on bringing in at least one new coach.
Is Doug Flute retiring, and if so, does he have any coaching aspirations? He's such a smart football player, you'd think he could join the Pats staff as an assistant or quarterbacks coach. Just my opinion, but doesn't the Pats coaching staff still seem a little thin?
Ron Freeman, Buellton, Calif.
A: Flutie was asked about this earlier this year and said: "I've seen the job and I don't want it. I know the hours involved, and when I'm done playing I want to relax and enjoy myself. Will I coach? I might help out at the high school level somewhere and have fun with kids. I don't know that I want to be in the office 16 hours a day (like an NFL coach). I know I would enjoy parts of it, but I think I would enjoy being around the kids more." Flutie said last week that he is leaving his options open at this time regarding his playing career. As for the Patriots' coaching staff, the team is working to add at least one more defensive assistant.
Hey Mike, was wondering which of the two you think the Pats are going to franchise or transition David Givens or Adam Vinatieri? Any chance of either of them reaching a contract agreement with New England before that deadline? If David Givens is, in fact, a goner like most believe, any current candidates on the radar to replace him?
Joe Clark, Pawtucket, RI
A: Given that the franchise tag is low for kickers, and a franchise tag would result in a 20 percent bump of Vinatieri's 2005 salary ($2.5 million to $3 million), he'd be the more likely candidate for a tag. The 2005 franchise tag for receivers was $7.7 million and the transition tag was $6.4 million, so I'd say it's unlikely for Givens to get either tag. As for potential replacements for Givens, the receiver crop is considered light this year. Assuming none of these players signs an extended deal with his present club before March 1, two possible candidates could be: Pittsburgh's Antwaan Randle-El and Seattle's Joe Jurevicius.
I have read of the possibility of using the franchise tag on Adam Vinatieri again in 2006. I thought you couldn't us that tag two years in a row, which is why the Patriots worked hard to settle things in previous years so that no one went into the season with that tag. Could you clarify this for me? Thanks.
Donna M., Harrigan, Hampton, Va.
A: Teams can use the franchise tag on the same player in multiple years. A good example of this came with one of the teams in this year's Super Bowl; the Seahawks put the franchise tag on highly regarded left tackle Walter Jones in 2002, 2003 and 2004. It can create animosity between the team and player, which is why it is seldom done, but it is within the rules.
Can you explain the "transition tag" and how that works? I'm just wondering if the Pats can place that on David Givens. I thought it had to do with restricting a free agent or at least affecting the compensation for the team the player is departing but I'm not certain on the specifics. I thought it was similar but a slight step down from the "franchise tag" and was hoping you could explain. I have not heard anyone mention it being applied to David Givens so I must be off base in thinking they would utilize it. Thanks.
Gary Thiessen, Alexandria, Va.
A: The transition tag is similar to the franchise tag, with the main difference being that the franchise tag is determined by the top five base salaries at that position, while the transition tag is determined by the top 10 base salaries at that position. The other difference is that if franchise players sign with another team, the signing team must pay two first-round picks. If a transition player signs with another team, all the old team gets is the right to match that offer (so a transition player is like a restricted free agent). The transition number for receivers in 2005 was $6.4 million. Let's say the Patriots wanted to put that transition tag on Givens, it would mean he has a one-year, $6.4 million deal (based on last year's figures). Unless the transition figures have dropped in 2006, and I haven't seen them yet, I don't think the Patriots will do this with Givens.
You mentioned that Bill Belichick said Benjamin Watson was required to stay in and block for much of the Denver game. I feel like the same was true at the tight end position last year. What can the Pats due to make the tight ends a more effective part of the game plan? Do we need better pass protection along the line, or just at one position?
Tyson Weaver, Wenham
A: When the season began, I think the Patriots had big plans to unveil a multiple tight end offense with Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson - with the idea of putting a lot of pressure on opposing defenses - but it never quite came to fruition. Graham's nagging shoulder injury was part of that, and I think losing Matt Light necessitated the use of Graham in more of a blocking role than initially anticipated. By the end of the season, the two tight end offense was pretty much shelved in favor of the three-wide set.
I am not worried about the Patriots considering their ownership and management as long as they keep Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick, but having said that what are the chances we could see Adam Vinatieri go somewhere else? It seems to me he is the No. 1 free agent the Pats need to get under contract. Also, any hunches what position the Pats will look to draft first?
Jeffrey L. Stanley, Bath, Maine
A: I don't see Vinatieri going anywhere; if a deal isn't struck by early March, I think the Patriots will use the franchise tag -- a relatively inexpensive way to secure his rights -- to make sure he remains in New England. As for hunches on what the Patriots might look to draft first, I'd say defensive backfield or running back are two areas I'd target right now, assuming the right personnel is still on the board.
What is the status of the head coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli's future contracts?
Steve Leroy Fissel, York, Pa.
A: Jerome Solomon, the Patriots beat writer for the Boston Globe, spoke with owner Robert Kraft in mid-January and Kraft said that Belichick isn't entering the last year of his contract in 2006. That was significant news, given that Belichick's last announced extension ran through '06. The last reported word on Pioli's deal was that it lasted through 2008. It would make sense that both deals were linked together.
I wrote to you in the preseason asking whether you thought Troy Brown would continue as the featured punt returner for the Patriots. My point was that he was more of a punt-spectator -- letting many punts roll behind him putting the team in miserable field position. Nothing against Troy, but it had been a couple of years since he had brought any pizzazz to the return-game. Well, another year has passed. Other than flashes from Ellis Hobbs and Tim Dwight, it's been another year of Troy Brown punt-spectating and Bethel Johnson taking kickoffs and dashing headlong into the teeth of the coverage. Not being able to flip the field on special teams really hurt the team. Wouldn't you agree that the team should place a priority on upgrading its kick-returners?
Bill Annand, Torrance, Calif.
A: The team had to be mildly pleased with its punt return improvement. In 2004, the Patriots averaged 5.9 yards per punt return; this year, with Tim Dwight handling the bulk of the duties, it was 7.9 yards (16th in NFL). It can always be better, but that's an improvement. Dwight would like to return for another season, so we'll see how the Patriots viewed his performance by whether they bring him back. I liked the energy he brought to the game. Troy Brown appeared to play more of a safe-role, called upon when the team was fielding punts deep in its territory, so he wasn't as much of a factor on punt returns this year. On kickoff returns, the Patriots averaged 22.2 yards (15th in NFL), with Bethel Johnson having the worst year of his three-year career -- he's regressed from 28.2 yards per return as a rookie, to 24.8 in 2004, to 22.4 in 2005. Johnson appeared to be in Bill Belichick's doghouse at the end of the season and didn't dress for the playoffs. So I could see improvements in this area.
I know that Bill Belichick is normally really tight lipped about injuries to his players. What about the players that he has put on injured reserve: Are they all going to be back in time for training camp or do some of them have a longer projected recovery?
Dean Barcelow, Rutland, Vt.
A: The Patriots had 11 players on injured reserve when the season ended: linebacker Ryan Claridge, cornerback Randall Gay, safety Rodney Harrison, center Dan Koppen, offensive tackle Matt Light, receiver Michael McGrew, cornerback Tyrone Poole, defensive back Chad Scott, safety Guss Scott, cornerback Duane Starks, and nose tackle Mike Wright. Although not sure about the severity of Wright's injury, Harrison has the longest projected recovery time. I would think everyone else should be ready for training camp, at least for some limited contact.
Carson Palmer's recent surgery has me wondering about Rodney Harrison's situation. What is the latest on his status?
Mike Byrnes, Prescott Valley, Ariz.
A: Harrison spoke with Boston sports radio station WEEI in mid-January and said: "I'm doing fine. I'm working hard, rehabbing four or five times a week, just putting my best foot forward. I'm here. Everybody asks me where I am -- 'Are you in Atlanta?' No, I'm here [in New England], rehabbing. I'm doing a lot better than I was eight weeks ago, when I had surgery How would I know if I'm going to be back before training camp? I have no idea. I'm just working day to day to get better. I can't sit here and say 'I'll be back for training camp.' That would be unfair to myself, as well as my teammates."
This probably will sound crazy, but don't you think the Patriots organization and team could stabilize Terrell Owens? I know, I know, he's been like a cancer to a team, but wouldn't it be nice to see Tom Brady throwing to one of the best wideouts in the NFL? I think he can be rehabilitated because at this point in his career, he knows "acting up" gets him fired, or a seat on the bench. Personally, I think the Pats coaching staff and organization could turn TO into a more mature player. What do you think?
Steve Connor, Vail, Ariz.
A: I think that would be the most destructive and reckless move the Patriots would make in the Scott Pioli/Bill Belichick era. To me, part of the Patriots' success is their team approach, and Owens is too risky to enter into that mix. I don't believe Owens truly believes that acting up will get him fired; I think he feels that will get him what he wants. I'd be shocked if the Patriots ever went after him.
With the many coaching changes this year, who do you think will be the coaches on the "hot seat" next year?
Peter Michelini, Charlestown
A: The number of coaching changes this year is eye-popping. Bill Belichick often talks about the "systems" other teams run, and he's going to have to start a new scouting file, because almost one-third of the league has turned over with new coaches. A few thoughts on coaches on the hot seat for next season: Arizona's Dennis Green, Baltimore's Brian Billick and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher.
I thought that teams in the playoffs got tougher schedules the following season than the teams that don't make the playoffs. Then I read where the NFL makes the schedule years in advance. Can you clear this one up for me? If the schedule is made in advance then we could have a better understanding of how the Colts got such a soft schedule.
Jillian Waite, Medfield
A: When the NFL realigned into eight divisions in 2002, the league adopted a scheduling formula that guarantees all teams play each other on a regular, rotating basis. Here are the points of the scheduling formula:
I really want to thank the people who gave me the information on how to see and hear games for next season. I don't have a question this time, it was a great year, and now I look forward to September all over again. Cheers.
Corky Decker, Vanuatu
A: Cheers to you too, Corky. We'll be back with our next Patriots' mailbag in mid-February.