Thoughts turn from free agency to the NFL Draft
[an error occurred while processing this directive] There have been no shortage of storylines to talk about with the Patriots' offseason. The team's aggressive approach to free agency was met with approval by most e-mailers.
The question many fans have now is "what's next?" and "how do these moves affect the team's draft plans?"
We'll explore those questions and more this week, with a plan to return in mid-April with our next mailbag.
While I'm pleased with all of the recent free-agent signings, I would have placed a little less emphasis on the receiver spot and a little more on the defensive backfield. It seems to me that 34 points should win an AFC Championship Game. With Seattle signing Deon Grant, I thought Ken Hamlin would be a pretty good acquisition. Any thoughts as to why he is still available and why we've heard nothing about him in New England?
Kevin Mangiaracine, Concord
A: One thing I would say is that free agency is only one part of the team-building process, and I expect the Patriots to add to the defensive backfield in the draft. I like what the Patriots have done in the sense that I believe rookie receivers are much harder to project, so it's a safer play to fill those holes in free agency. Meanwhile, I think it's less of a risk to rely on a highly-touted rookie defensive back. As for Grant, I thought that was a lot of money to pay a player that I don't consider a true difference-maker. On Hamlin, perhaps an offseason incident in 2005 in which he sustained a head injury that limited him to six games has kept him on the market longer than expected.
Do you think the Patriots will make one or two free agency moves to solidify the secondary?
Misael Alvira, Orange
A: If they do, I would expect it to be minor in nature. Accounting for the money the team will need to sign draft picks, there is about $4 million worth of salary cap space right now. To me, that's a sign that the free-agent activity is just about over.
In your March 13 blog, you noted that the Pats are now at about $4 million under the cap after taking into consideration the amount required for the rookie draft pool. I'm curious as to the free agent money that is going to Asante Samuel. Is this included as well? It's my understanding that the free-agent money doesn't count against the cap until the offer is signed. Has Samuel signed the offer, thus making his $7.79 million accounted for and leaving the Pats a true $4 million, or has he not yet signed meaning that when he finally does sign (assuming no deal is worked out to reduce that cap figure) the Pats will actually be about $3.5 million over the cap?
Frank Brodtrick, Huntington
A: That $4 million figure accounted for Samuel's $7.79 million cap hit, even though he has yet to sign the franchise tender. Thus, the Patriots will not be over the cap once/if that tender is signed. I added that figure into the calculation.
With all the free-agent signings, could you now handicap what positions the Pats might address in the draft. My guess would be CB, S, ILB, OL.
Pete Condon, Tampa
A: I would agree with cornerback, safety, and inside linebacker, and would still put wide receiver in the mix. The reason for the inclusion of receiver is that Reche Caldwell, Jabar Gaffney, Donte' Stallworth, and Kelley Washington all have contracts that either expire after 2007, or are structured in a way that they are likely to expire. So I still see a long-term need at receiver.
Now that free agency is winding down for the Pats, what seems to be the strength of this year's draft? Is it considered a deep draft at the positions where the Pats have needs? Will they concentrate in the early rounds at defensive back and linebacker? I realize it's a difficult call but who do you feel they will be looking at early in the draft?
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: Receiver would be a strength of this year's draft, but I think we need to take that one step further. Just because there are a lot of receivers, my question is how many of them fit the Patriots' style of play. I look at a receiver like Ohio State's Anthony Gonzalez and believe he's the type of early-round receiver who would be a good fit. But some of the other names, I don't see the same fit. So while the draft is deep at the position, I'm not sold it's deep for the Patriots. From what I've learned, I would say there are quality defensive backs available in the early rounds, both overall and for the Patriots. As for a few names in the first round -- not knowing how the draft will fall but assuming someone like LSU safety LaRon Landry won't be available -- I'd put Miami's Jon Beason and Michigan's David Harris atop my linebacker list, Florida's Reggie Nelson atop the safety list (while keeping an eye on Miami's Brandon Meriweather if his "character" checks out) and Michigan's Leon Hall and Pittsburgh's Darrelle Revis atop the cornerback list.
We hear a lot about Chris Houston, Darrelle Revis and Aaron Ross at CB in the draft, but what about Marcus McCauley of Fresno State? A year ago he was projected as a Top 10 pick but has slipped since then. Has he slipped into the Patriots' range and can Pat Hill, Bill Belichick's former assistant and the Fresno State head coach, offer some insight?
Pete Clark, England
A: McCauley has slipped into the Patriots' range, according to some of the scouts and personnel folks at the NFL combine last month. And the point about Pat Hill is a good one, as we know that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli value his opinion, hence the selections of Logan Mankins (2005) and James Sanders (2005). When the draft process began, I initially targeted McCauley as a player that could be a Patriots first-round pick, but I've gone away from that based on questions about how he followed up a dominating junior year with a so-so senior year. As for Hill's insight, his actions probably speak louder than any words -- he pulled McCauley from the starting lineup in the final month of the season.
Mike, with the Patriots filling so many of their immediate needs through free agency, I think there is a good possibility that they will trade down from one of their first-round picks. What, in terms of picks, would they likely get in return?
David Elchanan, Burlington, Vt.
A: There are a few options in this regard, such as trading out of the 2007 first round and into the 2008 first round. That was essentially what the Patriots did in 2003, when they traded a 2003 first-round pick to the Ravens for a 2003 second-round pick and a 2004 first-round pick. If the same scenario presents itself this year, I think it's likely the team would pull the trigger on that type of deal. Otherwise, you could look at a deal such as trading the 24th pick (740 points) to the Cardinals for their second-round pick (37th overall, 530 points) and third-round pick (69th overall, 245 points). I am not saying there are talks with the Cardinals; I just used them as an example of a points value that seemed to match. A lot of the Patriots' decision making will probably depend on what players are available.
Any chance the Patriots open a roster slot for Troy Brown by trading one of the first-round picks and Reche Caldwell (whose value increased last year, even with the drops in the postseason)? Maybe even moving up to grab LB Patrick Willis, who will be gone by No. 24?
Brad Kay Goodman, Cambridge
A: Even with Caldwell on the roster, I think there could be a place for Troy Brown. As for that trade possibility, I don't think it would move the team far enough up the draft board -- if at all. Let's say you were trying to get to the 19th pick, which is owned by Tennessee and has a point value of 875, you'd probably have to give up the 24th pick (740 points) plus a third-round pick (91st overall, 136 points) just to make that leap. So I don't see Caldwell adding enough value to help the Patriots move up far enough.
Is there any truth to the rumor that the Patriots are making a big push in free agency due to this possibly being Bill Belichick's last year?
John Duarte, Scituate
A: I've heard those rumors and I don't see it that way. I don't see the Patriots' free-agent moves as ones that mortgage the team's future and make this a window-of-opportunity type of situation. If anything, the moves look like those that someone would make if they were planning on a longer-term relationship.
I consider myself a knowledgeable football fan, but what is a "mike" linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Also with all the receivers signed, do you think the Pats will unload Chad Jackson? And, finally, what do you think we will use our first round picks for: cornerbacks, linebackers, or safeties?
Mace, Las Vegas
A: This article by Pat Kirwan on NFL.com is a nice read as it explains a bit more on the "mike" linebacker (the inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense). As for Chad Jackson, I don't think the Patriots will unload him at this point. I expect them to give him more time to develop. While Jackson is recovering from a torn ACL, one important question is whether he was doing enough to make himself better even before the injury. I think at least some people inside the organization have asked that question. On the first-round picks, it naturally will depend on which players are available. But assuming the Patriots stay put at 24 and 28, I'd say a cornerback/safety and linebacker.
Now that the Patriots have addressed their biggest need at linebacker by signing Adalius Thomas, what do you think the chances are that they might try to trade up in the draft to get Calvin Johnson, the wide receiver from Georgia Tech? They could offer the Lions both their first-round picks and perhaps even their third rounder to get the best offensive weapon available in the entire draft.
Bob DiManno, Manchester, Conn.
A: According to one draft-value chart that many teams use when trading draft picks, the No. 2 overall pick is worth 2,600 points. The 24th pick is 740 and the 28th is 660. So those picks alone (1,400 total points) wouldn't come close to netting the No. 2 overall pick. Even adding a third-round pick -- at a value of about 132 points -- wouldn't come close to bridging the gap. Because of this, I don't see this as a possibility.
Edgerton Hartwell's name surfaced about a week ago. Has there been any word about him since then?
Jim Keddy, Kennebunk, Maine
A: As part of the process of exploring possibilities for his client, Hartwell's agent, Harold Lewis, spoke with the Patriots about whether they would consider Hartwell. I don't believe the Patriots have expressed any interest at this point in time, and don't believe that will happen in the future.
Based on Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback this week, what do you think are the chances that the Pats send their own No. 1 pick to Chicago for Lance Briggs?
Rich Kohl, Needham
A: I enjoy reading Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback each week, and saw the part to which you are referring, where he suggests the Patriots would be a possible landing spot in a Briggs trade. I would say it's unlikely, because of the cash payout, plus salary cap space, that would be required to sign Briggs to a long-term deal.
After signing Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington, doesn't it raise the question of why pay them and not pay Deion Branch?
Nick Marotta, Montreal, Quebec
A: Welker's deal is a five-year, $18.1 million package with $9 million in bonuses, while Branch's is a six-year, $38.5 million deal with $13.5 million in bonuses. And Stallworth and Washington signed one-year deals that could be longer in length if the Patriots pick up option bonuses next February/March. So I don't think the contracts are the same, because there isn't as much risk assumed by the team. But on the general premise, I do think the Patriots got into a position in which they had little leverage with Branch and that hurt their chances of consummating a deal with him. In the end, I bet the team wishes it handled things a bit differently, but I don't think it regrets the move not to pay him the contract the Seahawks did.
When you asked Mike Vrabel his take on free agency and its effect on the locker room, he pointed out that players have taken below market deals, so the moves in free agency were somewhat "shocking." From my perspective, it seems that the market has shifted -- everything has gone up -- and that the Pats did not pay top dollar, much less over it, for the new players. Adalius Thomas and Kelley Washington both left money on the table, reportedly. And Stallworth's contract is a "show me" type, with the Pats not guaranteeing much. You raised an interesting question to Vrabel, one that Peter King has wondered about too for the league as a whole. What's your take on this?
Charles Jenks, Deerfield
A: I think it's an important part of the locker room dynamic and I do wonder if there will be resentment in some locker rooms based on the money earned by players who signed deals this year. And I'm sure every player whose contract is expiring in future years is "keeping score." But I don't think it will affect the Patriots, because the team has a strong locker room and the leaders in the room won't allow it to be a factor.
Thanks for allowing me a means of ranting and venting throughout the season. Thanks for the many responses. It was a long and bitter season, but the team's free-agent activity restored my faith in the Patriots. Look, maybe it won't work out, but like I've ranted before, the bargain basement strategy had run its course. I had questioned whether the Patriots were able or willing to change, and my answer came in the form of a 6-foot-2 270-pound player who can line up at all 4 LB positions -- defensive line, safety, even cornerback if needed. Mark it down -- if the Pats can stay healthy (and they are due for at least one healthy season-right?) they are going to win it all in '07.
A: I can sense the excitement, and while I think Thomas and the other signings immediately make the Patriots a better team, I also subscribe to the championships-aren't-won-in-March philosophy. If they were, the Redskins would be the defending five-time champs. So while I believe the Patriots are a better team today than the one that ended the 2006 season -- and I don't mean to put a damper on the excitement that make being a sports fan so great -- I'd hold off on making the parade plans.
I know it's a little early for this, but at what point do you think that the Pats will start to talk about extensions for Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork? We cannot afford to lose those guys.
Adam Harris, New York, NY
A: Warren is signed through 2008 and Wilfork through 2009. I would say Warren is a possibility midway through the 2007 season, at the earliest, and Wilfork midway through the 2008 season, at the earliest. From a team standpoint, I would think the Patriots have to be careful about setting a precedent of extending deals more than one year before they are set to expire.
Is Tebucky Jones still under contract? If not, do you think the team has any plans for him? The Patriots seem to be a little thin at safety.
Travis Weaver, Seattle
A: Jones was released in February. At this point, I don't think the team has any plans for him, although if he stays in shape and recovers from his hamstring injury, he could be an emergency-type option should the team suffer a run of injuries at the position in 2007.
Mike: two questions leading up to the draft. One: we make a big deal out of which players the team works out, but, off their TOP picks (rounds 1-3), how many in the last few years weren't worked out? Question No. 2: Saw a "mock" draft projecting FB Brian Leonard as a Pats pick. Loved him at Rutgers and he had a good combine. Do you see him as round one or do the Patriots go with needs on defense (CB and LB)?
Ben, Millwood, NY
A: It's a good point on the workouts. I happen to be interested in the workouts because it tells me that there is still something about the player that the Patriots want to know more about. But that being said, a workout doesn't necessarily mean the team is truly interested; in fact, that workout might end up ruling the player out. I'm not sure the exact numbers on which top Patriots draft picks have worked out for the team prior to them being picked. As for Leonard, I think the team still has to go defense or receiver in round one, so I don't see him as the pick there. And he should be long gone before they pick in the third round.
What is a "gunner"?
Jon Morris, Bluffton, SC
A: A gunner is the name some teams give to the outside player on a coverage unit. During a punt, the gunner must often fight through multiple blockers and find the return man.
The Patriots have vastly increased their depth with pass receivers during this offseason. How much of a role has Tom Brady played in the decision-making process of Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick? That is, has Brady been consulted before signing guys like Welker, Stallworth, and Washington? Has Brady been involved in helping "recruit" these guys to join the Pats?
Bob Whitaker, Saratoga Springs, NY
A: That exact question was asked to Stallworth after he signed. Here was his response: "I don't want to necessarily say sales pitch because I've known Tom a couple of years and once the free agency thing started we had been talking." Stallworth did say that catching passes from Brady was a factor in his decision. "He's definitely one of the best quarterbacks of the modern era," he said. "It's kind of a no-brainer."
What do you hear about the organization's take on James Sanders? I thought he showed signs of progress, but that whiff on Joseph Addai at the goal line in the AFC Championship Game brought back visions of the timid approach on that Javon Walker long TD in the Denver game. A safety that won't lay the lumber when he has an open shot must be a concern.
Bob Anderson, Lawrence
A: I think the feeling on Sanders is that he's a player who is growing in the team's system, he studies hard, and he recovered nicely after a difficult start to the 2006 season, which is a reflection of his mental toughness. I believe they see him as a player who will be on the 45-man game-day roster because of his contributions on special teams, and could also be a contributor as a starter. I don't think he automatically wins that starting job, though. He'll have to win a competition there.
Although we are looking good as far as picking up more talent than losing it this year in free agency, I am afraid it will still be difficult to get past San Diego and Indy next year. How have those teams been doing as far as losing talent?
David Cole, Middleboro
A: The Chargers haven't lost much talent (linebacker Donnie Edwards is the most notable defection) but they have had some major turnover on the coaching staff, which is significant. The Colts have lost running back Dominic Rhodes, linebacker Cato June and cornerback Nick Harper, three key pieces to their championship run. I'd say both the Chargers and Colts have taken a small step back at this point of the team-building process, while the Patriots have taken a step forward.
I believe Troy Brown still adds a lot of value to the Pats. He plays receiver, cornerback and returns punts. Do you think he comes back and makes the team?
A: My read on the Troy Brown situation is that he would like to play for the Patriots in 2007, and that if both sides were willing to accept a veteran minimum benefit type of contract, it's a slam dunk and he'd be on the final roster. But my hunch tells me that Brown's representatives believe he is worth more than a veteran minimum contract, so there might be some negotiation involved.
With the addition of Kyle Brady and him being assigned number 88, will his name on the back of his jersey read K. Brady and Tom Brady's jersey read T. Brady? Seems like a great way to sell more Tom Brady jerseys.
John Marshall, Marshalltown, Iowa
A: NFL owners recently voted that players with the same last name no longer needed to be distinguished by having the first initial of their first name on the jersey. So Tom Brady's jersey won't change.
How much of the Adalius Thomas signing do you think is in the Dennis Johnson-Magic Johnson vein? Sure, we set the franchise record for fewest points allowed, but pre-Thomas this was clearly an aging defense bludgeoned by Peyton Manning in our last three meetings. The past few years if there has been one team, nay, one man, who have/has consistently been able to stop Manning's Colts, it's been the Ravens and Thomas. Any credence to that theory?
A: I don't see it. My feeling is that Thomas is a rare type of player/person who fits almost perfectly into what the Patriots do, both on the field and in the locker room. That the team would have a chance acquire a player like that is rare. To me, that's what the situation was all about, more so than the idea that Thomas has had success against the Colts.
While Laurence Maroney showed flashes of his great potential last year, he clearly had problems, especially with hesitation hitting the line, resulting in too many negative plays. Now that he is definitely the main guy, do you know if the coaches have any particular ideas about the cause of this, and what to do about it?
Len Schlossberg, Naples, Fla.
A: I thought Maroney was a disappointment at the end of the season, but I believe it was due to an injury more than anything else. I believe his return to health will lead to better production.
Is it true that Asante Samuel is not happy with the team tagging him with the franchise tag? And what are the odds of the two settling this by agreeing on a long-term contract.
Paul Delucia, Weymouth
A: Publicly, Samuel has said everything is fine, which I think is a tactic to keep a happy, public face on the situation. But behind the scenes, I think he is obviously disappointed to not have the chance to hit the open market at a time when teams are paying big contracts. The sides have until July 16 to agree on a long-term contract, and if it doesn't happen until then, nothing can happen until after the 2007 season. I don't believe the sides have started negotiating at this time, so it's hard to put odds on the likelihood of an extension.
I have been intrigued by Garrett Mills for a couple of years now but he has been on injured reserve for 2 years. Does he have a future with the Patriots? Considering his versatility you would think that he would be a Belichick type player but with Heath Evans re-signing it would appear there is no room for him. What do you think?
Mike Kieltyka, Brooklyn, Conn.
A: Mills was a fourth-round pick in 2006, and he spent last year -- his first in the NFL -- on injured reserve. I think he has a chance to stick as a fourth tight end/H-back type of player behind Benjamin Watson, David Thomas, and Kyle Brady. He is supposed to have a good feel for the passing game, and should add another weapon to the Patriots' attack, assuming he progresses as the team hopes.
The New York Times had an article that said the money dedicated to re-signing Deion Branch was allotted to the '07 salary cap. Huh? I thought that was basically lost cap space that couldn't be used in later years.
Dave, Darien, Conn.
A: You are right. You can not carry cap space to the next year, although there are creative accounting tactics that can create cap credits the next year. I think the point of that article was that the cash dedicated to re-signing Branch was used in 2007 instead, where the Patriots felt there were more players worthy of spending the cash on.