Movers and shakers
Personnel moves are on the minds of Pats fans
This week's mailbag is all about personnel.
A weekend report in The Tennessean that the Patriots might have interest in cornerback Pacman Jones generated several e-mails. So, too, did the release of veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes, with many e-mailers wondering if he might be a fit for the Patriots. Veteran cornerback Ty Law and restricted free agent Adam Seward are also on the minds of 'bag readers.
I always find this to be an interesting time on the NFL calendar, as teams attempt to put the pieces in place to build a Super Bowl contender. Some spend big. Others hardly spend at all. The varying approaches of the NFL's 32 teams are always interesting to watch.
So far, I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the 2007 playoff teams haven't been very active in free agency.
Let's get to the questions.
Corey Dillon and Randy Moss have been called all kinds of stuff by the media, but they were always hard-working talented players who got on the wrong side of the media and sometimes the law. But Pacman Jones is a horse of a different color. This guy is a thug. I NEVER had ANY doubts about having either Moss or Dillon on the Pats. But this guy is different. I think this is one where Robert Kraft might have to step in and say enough is enough. What are your thoughts?
A: I'm going to go out on a limb here, Mardak, and assure you that there is no way Pacman Jones will be playing for the Patriots in 2008. If he plays, I think it will be in Dallas. I know that article from The Tennessean indicated there were varying degrees of interest from teams including the Patriots, but I truly don't believe the Patriots have any interest.
What do you think of the Pats going after Takeo Spikes? I feel this could really be huge for the LB's position. Plus they can draft for the future.
A: Several e-mailers asked about Spikes and I haven't had the chance to speak with someone in pro personnel who could share insight as to how much, if at all, Spikes has slowed down. He has a well-known name but I'm not sure he's a fit for the Patriots right now. I remember a similar situation with Jeremiah Trotter, when he was released last year. On the surface, Trotter carried a well-known name and seemed like a possible target for the Patriots, but the more personnel people around the league that I spoke with had indicated how much trouble he was having running. Hopefully, I can dig up some information on Spikes for next week, if it is still on the radar. I'm curious myself if his name recognition matches his performance of late.
Do you have any info on Ty Law? I read some things that indicated the Pats might be interested but have not heard/read a thing about him for awhile. Didn't the Chiefs cut him? Has he signed with another team?
Jeff, Durham, Maine
A: The Chiefs cut Law on March 3, which was the fourth day of free agency. The market for Law has been slow at this point. He has yet to sign with another team. I don't believe he's taken a visit to any club either.
When I saw that the Pats were bringing in Carolina linebacker Adam Seward, a restricted free agent, for a visit, I was pretty happy. I know he's been a back-up but he's got 3-4 experience and his 40 time was a 4.6 at the combine so we'd finally be getting some speed and youth at inside linebacker. Any word on whether the Pats will make him an offer?
A: Unless something came up in Seward's physical, I would assume an offer is forthcoming, Desmond. At first, I wondered if the Patriots might try to swing a trade for Seward - similar to last year with Wes Welker - but I don't think the Panthers are thinking along those lines. So if the Patriots want to acquire Seward, it looks like right now they'll have to go through the traditional offer-sheet route. Then the question becomes, what is a good enough offer that the Panthers won't match? As of last Thursday, Carolina has $8.3 million in salary cap space according to a recent Yahoo! Sports report, so if the Patriots are creative, it shouldn't be much of a problem to craft an offer sheet that makes it tough for the Panthers to match.
I'm trying to figure out why the league and the players association have not done something to stop the crazy spiral of salary for the Top 10 players in the draft. Here the Patriots are with the 7th pick and considering trading it because it may cost the team more than it is worth. And as Bill Polian recently explained, having a Top 10 choice can often be counterproductive for a weak team trying to get better. Of course big salaries to rookies leaves less cap money for all the more experienced players, who in all fairness have really earned that money by their performance in the NFL. The league could set up a fixed rate for the picks, something like what the NBA. So can you explain why something that would obviously benefit the owners and all current players (who are the two sides that negotiate the labor agreement), and only really hurt agents and college players (neither of whom has any say in the negotiations), has not been passed yet? What do you think its chances are when the sides sit down in a couple years to put together a new deal?
A: I think you've laid out the issue quite nicely, Tom. The way I see it, it's a question of if the NFL Players Association - and a few high-powered agents who have some clout within the association - really want to see it changed. My sense is that it's the agents who are the key. They would be the ones who stand to lose the most money in such a change. As for its chances of being a part of the new collective bargaining agreement, I would rate them as high.
Could you give a rundown on the recent player signings. It would be great to understand/project how these players will fit into the Pats system, what their skill level is and what value they will provide.
Here is how I would break it down at this point, Carl:
* WR Sam Aiken - Projects to become a core member of the special teams units, and an emergency option at receiver, similar to Kelley Washington last season.
* CB Lewis Sanders - Will compete for playing time at cornerback and has some size (6-1, 210), which separates him from the rest of the corner crop. Could end up anywhere from a starter to being cut. Most likely, he fills a Randall Gay-type role at a significantly lower cost.
* CB Jason Webster - Similar to Sanders, he will compete for playing time at cornerback and could end up anywhere from a starter to being cut. While the Bills had him as one of their starters entering 2007, Webster projects now to fill a Randall Gay-type role at a significantly lower cost.
* S Tank Williams - A heavy hitter who doesn't run as well as most starting safeties, Williams is a low-risk signing who did not receive any up-front money in his one-year contract. The Patriots employ several defensive packages and Williams will look to find his niche, most likely as a hybrid linebacker/safety in sub packages.
Will the Pats take seriously their inadequacies on the offensive line or continue to draft tight ends that, ultimately, fail to produce?
Bryan, Portland, Ore.
A: I expect the Patriots to make a few additions to their offensive line in 2008. The first big issue is the health of starting right guard Stephen Neal, who injured his right knee in the Super Bowl. I do not know the severity of the injury, but my hunch is that it's the type of ailment that won't allow Neal to be ready for training camp. So I expect some type of personnel movement at guard. I also think the team would draft a tackle if the right situation presented itself, although it probably rates lower on the priority list than other spots. As for tight end, I feel as if the team will make one addition for a player to line up at the Y, which is the more standard in-line blocking position.
I like that the Pats are filling out their secondary with recent signings, but it seems as if they're addressing depth over quality at the moment. Do you expect this trend to continue? Also, if they sign Adam Seward (or don't) where do you think that leaves them looking come draft day? Given the history of taking the "best player available," would McFadden be a possibility if by some amazing chance he's still on the board or would you see a trade (Dallas...?) happening?
A: Bob, I would agree with your assessment of the Patriots' signings with defensive backs, that it's geared toward depth. The point I would make is that the team probably looks at players like Jason Webster/Lewis Sanders/Tank Williams as somewhat comparable to Randall Gay, yet they are paying them significantly less than what Gay received on the open market. In a sense, they are low-risk, low-cost signings - similar to 2001 when the team went on a quantity-type approach - and they'll see what sticks. I don't believe the Patriots view any of their new defensive backs as capable of filling the void left by Asante Samuel's departure. That's why I'd still rate defensive back as one of the club's top needs. Regardless of a potential move with Seward, I'd also put linebacker in there, too. As for taking McFadden, I don't see that happening. I don't think he's a fit for the Patriots, mainly due to off-field questions.
I forgot about Mike Richardson on the roster. He was hurt last year early, if I recall correctly. Could he play before that and does he look like someone who'd be in the mix at nickel back?
A: I'd link Mike Richardson's situation to a former Patriots player named Ethan Kelley. In the 2005 offseason, Kelley looked like he was ready to take the next step on the Patriots' depth chart at nose tackle. The team had just released veteran nose tackle Keith Traylor and I remember writing that it had to be a vote of confidence for Kelley as the No. 2 option at that spot. I went to Gillette Stadium to interview Kelley for an offseason story and he kept repeating that nothing was a given and all he had was an opportunity to win the job - nothing else, nothing more. By the end of training camp, to my surprise, Kelley was released. I think Richardson's situation is similar to Kelley's. Richardson has a great opportunity, but I think it can truly go either way. I could see him earning a roster spot and contributing, as he showed some flashes of being able to hang in there during the 2007 preseason. Or I could see him being cut. In the end, his performance in the offseason program and training camp will tell the story.
I haven't heard much about Chad Scott lately. I know he's currently a free agent, but he was a solid contributor in '06 and was expected to provide depth for 2007 before tearing his ACL in training camp. Any word on his potential return?
A: I think Scott will ultimately return and compete for playing time at cornerback, Jon. My assumption is that his health is not at the point where he could pass a physical to sign a contract.
Like most Pats fans, I'm concerned about our LB and CB positions. We are only a few weeks into phase 1 of the 3 roster phases (FA, draft, trades), but the pickings seem to be slim for starting CBs and LBs. Seward might provide nice depth if signed, but are there any starters out there? It's tough for a rookie to step in and start at corner. Picking at #7, we're almost guaranteed to have our pick of the DB class in the draft. Do any of them look like impact starters to you? Hobbs seems like he can hold his own on one side, but with most teams using 3-wide sets, what about the other two spot? Will this be our greatest weakness next season?
A: I think Seward could potentially be a starter in the sense that he'd be on the field on first and second down, or at least part of a still-evolving rotation. If the Patriots ultimately sign Seward, I think it is more than with just depth in mind. As for a rookie cornerback being able to step in and start, I wish I had the answer. I don't know. But what I do feel comfortable saying is that if the Patriots end up making the pick at No. 7, I am assuming they are more likely to draft a position like defensive line. My thinking is that if you're going to spend all that money (around $18 million in bonuses), it's the smartest business to do it on the line, especially when all the "experts" indicate there is probably no corner worthy of a selection at that seventh spot. The final point I'd make is that any secondary is only as good as the rush in front of it. If the Patriots can generate more of a consistent pass rush, I think that will also help the secondary. I felt the lack of rush left the secondary exposed at times late in 2007.
Can you tell me if the typical NFL contract is guaranteed? The Pats have singed a lot of contracts over the last few weeks. Are all of these contracts dependent upon the player making the final cut at pre-season or do they get the full compensation whether or not they are cut?
Dave, Berlin, N.H.
A: NFL contracts are not guaranteed, which is why players value an up-front signing bonus. In the case of the Patriots, their up-front commitments to players signed in free agency are minimal. In some cases, players also have a "split" contract, meaning that if they end up on injured reserve, they get a lower wage.
Mike, the rival Jets certainly made a splash with their high-priced FA signings. But what if their FAs don't all pan out? Hasn't Dan Snyder proved this is a terrible way to build a team? I thought all teams knew that you build primarily through the draft (especially a Belichick-disciple like Mangini). Maybe the Jets are counting on the uncapped year in the future? I would be interested to get your thoughts.
A: From afar, it looked to me like the Jets felt they needed to change their identity and get bigger. In the games they played the Patriots in recent years, it was common to see the Patriots go to three-TE packages and jam it down their throat. I think teams will have a hard time winning in the AFC East if they're not big and physical and the Jets' moves get them close to going in that direction. So I like the additions in that sense. On the flip side, the additions reflect to me that the Jets haven't developed enough of their own big-and-physical players through the draft (e.g. selecting not-so-physical D'Brickashaw Ferguson No. 4 overall) or through other decision making (e.g. trading starting left guard Pete Kendall), so they were left to fill the voids in free agency. And as we've seen, the prices are always highest on the open market.