With free agency, NFL Combine looming, many scenarios to be considered
This week's big NFL news is the combine in Indianapolis. While draft-eligible players will work out, I've learned in recent years that clubs feel the greatest value of the combine is the chance to sit down and talk with the players. So it's not so much X's and O's, but more about Q's and A's.
My hope is to keep our Patriots mailbags going throughout the offseason, although they might be a bit more sporadic than during the season. I will try to keep readers updated as to when to expect a break from regular mailbags. The plan will be to file them for Tuesdays.
Let's get to some questions.
It was a relief and reassuring to get some grounding on this swirling story, with the added allegation and suspicions, to finally have Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli speak up on the matter. Since Matt Walsh was taping conversations with him and Pioli, it came to mind that, with a mind like that, he could have just as likely been videotaping walkthroughs and anything else. It seems he had another agenda, which might have been to use football footage for his own purposes, such as naming his own NFL video or worse. This story is getting stranger and stranger. Any thoughts on the possibility he could have been videoing without Patriot knowledge or consent?
A: Jake, my first thought is that it's important to mention that Walsh was alleged to have taped conversations. Whether he actually did, we don't know for sure. As for the possibility that he was videotaping without the Patriots' knowledge or consent, I have thought about that scenario. At this point, this is how I see the situation: One side (Patriots) is definitively saying something. One side is suggesting -- not saying -- that it could be different (Walsh). While I haven't followed the Roger Clemens situation, from afar, it strikes me as somewhat similar in that it comes down to which side one chooses to believe.
Hi Mike, I can't understand why the Pats would go after Marty Booker. I do expect they're looking for another wideout because, unfortunately, they won't be able to keep Donte' Stallworth. However, Stallworth has an exceptional yards per reception average (over 15) while Booker is much more average at about 12. So what's the deal here?
Larry, Plattsburgh, NY
A: My first thought, Larry, is that we don't know how deep the level of interest actually is. Second, I'm sure cost is a factor in this as well; if Booker comes cheaper than Stallworth, it might sway the decision-making process. In some ways, this reminds me a lot of 2005 when the Patriots targeted receiver Derrick Mason at the start of free agency. Both Mason and Booker have been consistent producers. I also think Booker's production would be much better had he played with a top quarterback for an extended period of time. I believe he's played with 16 different quarterbacks over his nine seasons. That is remarkable.
Free agency is upon us shortly and it's time to look at what the Pats might do defensively especially at linebacker and cornerback. What is your gut feeling on Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau? Did they bring in Zach Thomas for a visit because they feel these two players will retire? What other changes will they try to make at linebacker? With the possible (probable) departure of Asante Samuel, do they re-sign Randall Gay to take over for Samuel? I know they like Chad Scott but he hasn't been healthy in years so I assume they will look elsewhere. Ty Law? The Pats appear to be OK at safety and defensive line.
Jim, Seminole, Fla.
A: My gut feeling, Jim, is that Bruschi and Seau will be back. If they aren't, it will only be because they don't want to go through the grind again. I think the Patriots believe both can still contribute as players, keeping in mind that linebacker in the Patriots' defense takes not only physical skill, but a strong mental approach because of all the nuances and detail the team has in its system. Bruschi and Seau can still make a difference, I believe. I look at the Zach Thomas visit as being business as usual. When a productive player with whom you are familiar becomes available, you do your due diligence. I also think the agent-factor is something to consider here. Thomas is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, with whom the Patriots have other pressing business (Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Larry Izzo), so perhaps the Thomas visit was folded into other business as well. On the other questions, I'd sum it up this way: Gay could be back but I think he's going to test the market and see if a team will pay him starter-money; I expect Chad Scott back; and I think Ty Law could really help the Patriots. The Jets are interested in Law should he become available, but I don't think Law would go back there.
Newspaper KC Star reports that Ty Law might be released before June 1 in a cap-saving move. Law always said that he might switch to safety later in his career. Is ''later.'' 2008, with the Patriots, facilitating a possible move of Meriweather to corner?
A: If Law comes to the Patriots, I think he'd be playing corner in their scheme. And I think it would be a great move for both sides. I have always appreciated the way Law plays the game and think it would be great if he finishes his career in New England. I also know he's not a hometown discount type of guy, so the offer would have to be right.
Mike, what is the deal with Chad Jackson? While he has battled occasional injuries and a full depth chart, it's been two years now, and he hasn't done much of anything as a receiver. I wonder if he is destined to be a bust. Or will he be able to step in for Stallworth or Jabar Gaffney next year?
A: Vincent, I feel this will be one of the top questions of 2008 training camp. I think if it's going to happen for Chad Jackson, it has to be this season. From a personnel standpoint, I expect the Patriots to load up again at receiver, with the hope that Jackson emerges. If he doesn't, the team would still be protected.
Can you get an answer from Robert Kraft as to why we have to pay full INCREASED prices for the preseason when all we see are practice squad players? Also while you're there ask him if he'll be bumping up parking again this season. Thanks.
A: Lou, I haven't had the chance to speak with Kraft since the Super Bowl. When I saw the increase, it reminded me of something linebacker Mike Vrabel said the night the Patriots arrived in Arizona for the Super Bowl. Vrabel was talking about how special the team's sendoff rally at Gillette Stadium was, as the lower bowl of the stadium was packed.
"When I was first pulling into the stadium I thought 'man, we're going to have to go out in snow before we leave' and then as I saw everyone lined up, the kids, and the families, and the parents, it was cool. We were excited to go out on the field and see everybody -- 15,000 or 20,000 -- and those people were excited. We need to get those people at the games. Those are the type of fans that we need to get back into our stadium. I think that they deserve to experience this just as much as the people who can afford to come out here and to buy our season tickets. Those are the people who I think sometimes get left out with the cost of this game, to watch it, to travel. Those are the ones I'd like to see experience this."
Do you think this is the end of the Patriots run? I do. I think that kind of demoralizing loss you don't recover from.
A: History tells us that the loser in the Super Bowl struggles to even make the playoffs the following season. I believe six of the last seven Super Bowl losers haven't qualified for postseason action the next year. From my standpoint, as long as Tom Brady is at quarterback and Bill Belichick is the head coach, the Patriots will be contenders. So I'll say the team will beat the odds and make another run at the Super Bowl in 2008.
Would Alge Crumpler be an upgrade at tight end? The blocking has been pretty good but a greater pass receiving threat could be of value by the goal line.
A: I'm a big fan of Crumpler's game, Paul, although I didn't see much of him this last year in Atlanta, and perhaps he has declined. I think he is a complete tight end -- blocker, pass-catcher, route-runner. I would say with certainty he would be an upgrade, assuming he is healthy.
With all the success the Patriots have had in recent years, why is special teams coach Brad Seeley never mentioned (as far as I know) as a candidate for head coach or coordinator somewhere?
A: Special teams coaches are seldom mentioned, John. In the wake of former special teams coach John Harbaugh being hired as Ravens head coach this offseason, I asked Seely about this at the Super Bowl and this is what he had to say: "We're all accustomed to the way it is. People don't look at a special teams coach the same way they do as an offensive or defensive coordinator. I knew a long time ago when I started coaching that position that was the way it was. I'm fine with it, but it's good to see a guy who really wanted to be a head coach reach that goal from that position."
Hi, Mike. Have communicated with you before. We're "original" Pats fans & still follow them religiously. Had 50 yard line season's tickets until moving to N.C. in '73. I watched the Super Bowl from our cruise ship down toward Costa Rica recently & as soon as we came home, went back to read all the articles in both Boston newspapers. I couldn't find any real critical analysis on the miserable play from particularly the Pats' offensive line & how Coughlin out coached B.B. I could go on & on, but am still in relative shock on their poor showing. Are the sports writers afraid to criticize the Pats or Belichick. Man, they need some youth in the linebacking corps IMO. Also, maybe a real pass rusher would help. I cannot believe how the Giants defensive line ate up the N.E. offensive line. Tell me what I've missed.
Ron Lane, St. Augustine
A: Hi Ron, I'd pass along two articles from The Boston Globe, both of which are part of our Inside the Game feature that we started this year. The first talks about the role the Giants' pressure had in the game. The second talks about some of the Patriots' coaching decisions. On the Giants' rush, I think a big factor was that they sold out for the pass, and if they stopped the run, it was by accident. As for Patriots adjustments, I see them as two-fold. First is the decision to adjust. Second is the ability of the players to execute it. I thought the Patriots tried to adjust in the second half, playing some more two-TE sets and trying to run some more screens. I think they would have benefited more from running the ball, which was an adjustment I didn't see as consistently. From a players standpoint, I thought the execution of the adjustments -- specifically blocking-wise -- was not good. As for whether sportswriters are afraid to criticize Belichick and the Patriots, I can only speak for myself. I don't feel that way. Otherwise, I wouldn't have written these articles.
Given last week's short mailbag, I'm disappointed that you didn't address the drop-off in Randy Moss's impact toward the end of the season. Do you think that this was: a) a personal performance issue with Moss, or b) did the coaching staff fail to take full advantage of his talents, or c) did other teams simply find a "blueprint" to take him out of the offense? Or do you even agree that this was a problem in the first place? Personally I'm leaning toward answer B. I'm extremely disappointed with our offensive game-planning during the postseason -- WAY too conservative, and I think Randy was worth a lot more than just tying up two defenders. By the way, didn't we have at least a suspicion that the Giants might try to put some pressure on Brady during the Super Bowl, especially after his ankle injury became public? It sure didn't look like it from our game plan.
A: Hi, Steve, on Moss I'd say it was a combination of all three, but I'd rank them this way: B, A, and C. I'd throw the Jaguars game out, because their entire plan was centered around stopping Moss. But in the next two games, I thought the Patriots could have done more to get Moss involved. I also thought Moss didn't win enough one-on-one battles in games against the Chargers and Giants. Fair point on the game-plan and the Giants' pressure. I though it was an example of how when one team pressures like that, it can paralyze an entire offense.
I have been thinking a lot of the health of Joe Andruzzi and Ted Johnson. I understand the need for privacy, however, is there any encouraging news?
A: Michael Felger of the Boston Herald had a report on Joe Andruzzi during Super Bowl week, and it was encouraging. I saw Ted Johnson last week -- we spoke to students at Boston University about the relationship between athletes and the media -- and he is doing great.
When will the 2008 regular season schedule be posted?
A: We know the opponents that the Patriots will face. As for when and where, the NFL usually releases that in April.