The NFL team-building season -- which consists of free agency, the draft, and trade possibilities -- is underway.
Spending time at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, I am feeling a bit more informed regarding this year's draft class.
That leads to the question: What might the Patriots do with the seventh overall pick?
First and foremost, I expect the Patriots to be open to trading down. I think that would be the preference, based on the value of what a team would have to pay a player at that spot. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, last year's No. 7 pick, received around $18 million in bonuses. I just don't see the Patriots comfortable with paying an unproven rookie that money.
Along those lines, an early projection is that Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and Arkansas running back Darren McFadden hold the key to the Patriots' options in dealing the pick.
If Ryan slips past the Dolphins (1) and Falcons (3), that could create some action for the pick as I see the Ravens (8), Panthers (13), Bears (14), and Lions (15) all possibly jockeying to select him.
Meanwhile, if McFadden is on the board at No. 7, I think that would also generate some action on the pick. The Cowboys are rumored to be interested in McFadden -- some speculation has them willing to move up to No. 1 to take him -- and they have two late first-round picks as chips to deal.
So those are some really preliminary thoughts as we look ahead to the draft. This week's questions also focus a bit on free agency, so here we go
I asked this question a couple times but haven't really heard you address it in any mailbags yet. What are we doing with the No. 7 pick? It seems as though we either draft a CB or LB. Obviously that depends on what happens with Samuel and Gay, and with the two money corners (other than Samuel) getting franchised, Samuel is the only top end corner on the market, and Gay could also get a bigger deal than the Pats decide to pay for. The only issue with drafting a CB at 7 is that there isn't a clear "elite" corner in the draft, and it looks like we can get similar quality at corner late in the first, or even early second round. I've read reports from 5 different writers and all 5 have a different idea of who the best CB is. What do you think is the likely scenario? I imagine we try to trade down. If we do, any chance we spend two day-one picks on corners? If we lose Gay and Samuel, we may have to. Do you see any LBs drawing serious interest also?
A: Great points here, Rick. All the scouts I spoke with noted that Kansas' Aqib Talib is the top corner available, but there are some off-field concerns there that teams will have to get comfortable with before forking over $18 million or so in bonuses/guarantees. Also, as you mention, this is a deep corner class and you can probably find what you are looking for later in the draft, where the value is better. If it's a linebacker, it would probably be Ohio State's Vernon Gholston, but I would think the Patriots will hesitate to pay such money to a player they must project can make the switch from defensive end to linebacker. That's double-risk. Then there is the question of whether USC linebacker Keith Rivers is a system fit playing inside in the 3-4. So in the end, I am going to predict this as a trade-down, trade-out type of draft based on the value. Right now, I'd be surprised if the Patriots made the pick at 7.
It seems like all the Patriots chatter since the Super Bowl has been focused on that game, "Spygate," and the team's free agents. Now that the combine is upon us and the draft is approaching, do you have any insights into what the Patriots are looking to do with their 1st-round pick? Any specific players they have their eye on?
A: After returning from the combine Monday night, here were some thoughts that I had regarding prospects in this draft: 1) Not a great year for linebackers, especially those to fit inside in the Patriots' system; 2) It's a good year to load up on cornerbacks; 3) The running backs looked sharp, so maybe this is the year to find an eventual successor to Kevin Faulk; 4) Teams looking for an offensive tackle, specifically on the right side, will have plenty of options. I'm predicting a trade down for the Patriots in the first round. As for what specific players might be targets, assuming the Patriots pick at No. 7, I'd say that Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib, Ohio State defensive end/outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, USC linebacker Keith Rivers, and USC defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis are players that could get a long look. Some might say Ellis isn't a great fit for 3-4 defenses, but my thought is that if you get stuck with the No. 7 pick, you might as well invest on the d-line and give your coaches freedom to tailor their system to each player's strength. On Rivers, I am thinking back to 2006 when the Patriots apparently really liked Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims. At first glance, Sims did not appear to be a fit in the team's system (too small). I wonder if the team feels the same way about Rivers as it does Sims. My hunch is no because he's not as fast, but one scout told me that it's Rivers and everyone else at that spot, so I don't want to overlook the possibility.
Hi, Mike. do you think players will be less likely to sign with the Pats because of the whole "Spygate" issue, and the fact that it won't go away? I could see offensive players being attracted to playing with Brady, but defensively I could see players not wanting to be associated with a team that has the perception of cheating. I would love to see Moss, Gaffney, and a viable 2/3 receiver. That would put us in a position to put up numbers like last year's, but it's the defense that scares me. I see Asante going and the Jets getting in a bidding war over Gay. He may not be the greatest, but if the Jets know they can help weaken our secondary. I could see it. Your thoughts would be much appreciated.
A: David, I absolutely think "Spygate" is a non-factor to players. As we know, players have different motivations in free agency. Some want the cold, hard cash (e.g. Asante Samuel). Others are interested in a chance to win (e.g. Junior Seau). Others want to play near home (e.g. Zach Thomas). I remember a similar question being asked after Ted Johnson's story came out -- whether players might hesitate to join the Patriots because of his concussions problems and some differences of opinion with the team's coaching staff. This is similar. I don't see it being a factor.
A lot of people have been telling me that videotaping coaches from the coaches' box is legal. What is the rule?
Chris, Wayne, Neb.
A: There is no recording allowed from the coaches' box, Chris. The league's operations manual states that "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game."
Surprised to hear the Falcons' DeAngelo Hall is on the market and even more surprised that I haven't heard a word about the Pats having interest. Seems to be a perfect match, right down to the connection between the Pats and Falcons front offices. Any rumblings regarding Hall and the Pats? Pats would seem to have the draft choices to get it done. We can even throw in Chad Jackson.
A: I don't think the Patriots are interested in Hall. It was interesting to me that Hall showed up at the combine on his own and held an impromptu press conference to rip the Falcons in hopes of facilitating a trade. It seems to me that would only hurt the process and was a selfish move. I know it's probably not fair to judge a player on one incident, but it just struck me as odd, and had me thinking that Hall is the type of player the Patriots would generally avoid.
Hi, Mike. Do the Pats have any intention of upgrading the O-line? I know I hear a lot about how well they protect Tom Brady, but the run blocking seems rarely effective. Besides, quick pass rushers kill our tackles. Are there any good OTs hitting free agency?
A: I believe we will see at least one addition on the line this year. Another factor in the equation is that right guard Stephen Neal sustained a right knee injury in the Super Bowl, and if it's an ACL -- which is a possibility -- that could affect the team's plans. This is considered a deep draft for offensive tackles, so I'd project any addition at the position to come from there. I wouldn't expect the Patriots to spend big in free agency at the position.
Mike, many media stories are talking about the Patriots' need to get younger at linebacker. But the Pats won their three Super Bowls when their linebacking corps was loaded with experienced veterans like Willie McGinest and Roman Phifer. And Belichick hasn't deviated from this plan in recent years with the acquisition of Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas. So I have two questions: 1) What free agents are out there that fit the Belichick mold? 2) What linebackers currently on the Patriots' roster do you think are close to taking on a starting role?
Vince, Winchester, N.H.
A: The Patriots would like to get younger, faster, and more athletic at most positions, and I believe linebacker applies. That being said, I think the point is a good one that the team has traditionally gone with veterans at linebacker, which is probably due to the complexity of the defense and the combination of smarts, experience, and strength required to play that spot. As for free agents, I think outside linebacker Clark Haggans is an obvious system fit, considering he played for the Steelers, who run a 3-4, although with a different style. Restricted free agent Adam Seward (Carolina) and unrestricted free agent Calvin Pace (Cardinals) were two other players that caught my eye as possibilities. As for linebackers on the current roster who might be close to taking on a starting role, I think Pierre Woods is a top candidate, but I'd hesitate before definitively saying he's starter-like. He's going to have to do it more consistently.
Adalius Thomas -- what happened? Another vastly overrated free agent or just the best of an average year? Can Meriweather play as a starter?
A: I thought Thomas played his best game in the Super Bowl, rushing off the edge. Assessing his full body of work, I didn't think his production matched the expectations based on the contract he signed. But that's free agency, from my view. Thomas would have had to have an MVP-caliber season to match the expectations. They're saying the same thing about cornerback Nate Clements in San Francisco. You have to overpay players early in free agency. As for Meriweather, he should be in the top-3 mix come training camp. He'll have to earn it, but I think he's on the cusp of being a starter.
Our obvious needs are at cornerback and linebacker, but don't you think we should add a quarterback to that list? We should see if there's a team interested in Matt Cassel. He looks so out of synch when he's in there and is too much of a MAJOR DROP in the team's ability to move down the field when he's in there.
A: My personal feeling is that any quarterback you put in there after Tom Brady is going to be a major drop. That said, Cassel is a free agent after the season so it would not be surprising if the Patriots add another signal-caller to the mix this year. Matt Gutierrez, who made the club as a rookie free agent, has shown promise and could push Cassel for the No. 2 job.