An overstuffed offseason 'bag
The draft, free agency, Julius Peppers possibilities, and more
The mailbox was overstuffed after a few weeks away. The draft, free agency, Julius Peppers possibilities, and much more filled it up.
The Patriots always seem to keep it interesting, don't they?
Let's get right to the questions.
Mike, in free agency the Patriots have addressed running back, tight end, cornerback, and wide receiver to name a few. And at the cornerback and wide receiver positions they have signed or traded for players that will be here for 3 years. So my question is do all these signings change the draft strategy? Is cornerback no longer a draft need? Should we expect the Pats to go after an offensive or defensive lineman instead? Of course, the assumption is they still draft an outside linebacker or inside linebacker with one of their day one picks, unless they can land Peppers.
Nick Marotta, Montreal, Quebec
A: Nick, I thought Mike Lombardi of the National Football Post said it best when he assessed the Patriots' offseason acquisitions. The Patriots have a team ready to compete right now, and thus are free to go in any direction in the draft that they feel gives them the best player. I thought Lombardi's comments were insightful:
"The Patriots have a complete team ready to compete in the NFL before the draft. I always felt that you had to attempt to cover your team needs before the draft so that you could enter the draft with the intention of taking the best player. Having the ability to be flexible in the draft allows you to just pick players and not have to worry about waiting for a certain player. The best drafts normally come from having the best offseasons. You enter the draft room with a sense of peace and know that if the chips don't fall your way, your team can still go out and compete. Now, I know this sounds elementary and you're probably asking, 'Don't all NFL teams try to do this?' The answer is a big NO. "
Hi Mike, many analysts covering this year's draft feel that WR is fairly deep. I found it interesting that the Patriots acquired two veterans, Joey Galloway & Greg Lewis. I wonder if they will look to draft a WR to develop for the long-term, or if the ghost of Chad Johnson still haunts the franchise. Another position that hasn't received a lot of attention is the third-down back; Faulk is getting older, and there is no long term replacement for him. Do you think that is a position they will draft to fill?
Chip, Wilton, Conn.
A: Chip, I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots draft a receiver and a third-down type of running back, although my hunch is that those picks would come from the late second-round and later. I think both spots classify as longer-term needs. The whole receiver issue is really interesting to me. I have kept a lot of notes from conversations that I've had with Bill Belichick over the years, and his thoughts on scouting college receivers have stuck with me. Here is what he once told me about why receivers in college are tough to scout, which might explain why the Patriots have been more inclined to acquire veteran receivers than rely on the draft, where they've been burned a few times (e.g. Chad Jackson, Bethel Johnson):
1) Press coverage. There is little press coverage in the college game, but plenty of it in the NFL. Projecting how a college receiver will fare against press coverage is a great challenge. Also, with more off coverage in college, receivers are more apt to body-catch instead of catching the ball away from their body (which is critical in the NFL).
2) Assessing the production. Receivers that put up big numbers often receive good grades in the scouting process, but a key question to ask is how much of that production is a result of a good quarterback or a team's offensive system (e.g. at Tennessee, Peyton Manning made receiver Marcus Nash a first-round pick, but Nash didn't pan out in the NFL).
3) Intermediate passing. There is less intermediate passing in the college game. Instead, there are more screens and plays in which a big receiver can out-jump a defender. In the NFL, receivers must rely more on intermediate routes and separation with quickness. That can be difficult to project because scouts don't see it much in college.
4) Mental approach. In some NFL offenses, like the Patriots' attack, route adjustments after the snap are a big part of the scheme. Because there is less of that in college, it is difficult to assess how a receiver will adapt to the pro passing game. It's one thing to run a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash, but can the player react when coverages shift and the quarterback is being blitzed?
Mike I can't remember in the past of so many changes to the roster as this year. Bill Belichick really has his hands full in filling some "big" holes. In your opinion, will the "system" still work? The AFC East is looking to be stronger than ever so we all hope TB comes back 100 percent. Richard
A: Richard, I think the program/system is still sound under Belichick. I'd hesitate to say that it's all about the program/system, though, because that doesn't account for the excellence of the players. This team still has a lot of talent. They'll be a contender again. Watching the Patriots reload and to see their offseason plan come to life is to watch a well-oiled machine at work. As a good friend who is a lot smarter than me detailed in an email the other day - and I told him I was going to pass along his thoughts - the sustainability of what the Patriots do can be broken down into five areas:
1) Draft better on average than other teams
2) Develop players on average better than other teams
3) Release or trade players when other teams put a higher value on them than you do or the opportunity cost is too high
4) Develop game-plans that consistently maximize your chance to win
5) Organizational stability
I hope Patriots fans appreciate what they're seeing, because these are the golden years of the franchise. It's hard for me to imagine it will ever be like this again.
Mike, I have a Peppers question. Do you think it is likely that the trade rumors for Peppers being swapped for a second-rounder are complete? I suspect, a la the KC trade, that the pick is only a piece of the deal. I imagine moving Seymour along with the pick. Does this make sense for the Pats? I think it does, but I also thought the Pats should draft Maroney.
A: Interesting thought here, Mark. I had not even given it consideration, but the possibility of trading one stud player in the last year of his contract for another stud in the last year of his contract made me pause. From a Patriots perspective, I don't think it's a fair trade to give up a second-rounder and Seymour for Peppers. I'd still rate this as a longer shot.
Mike, do you see any way the Pats end up with BOTH Peppers and Jason Taylor, or is it an either/or proposition in your mind?
A: One thing I'd say is that I wouldn't rule out any possibility. For those who follow the NFL, and the Patriots in particular, it makes sense to expect the unexpected. In this case, I'd file my thoughts in the "unlikely" category that both would be part of the Patriots mix.
For all the talk about Julius Peppers, I just can't see how it works financially given the present cap space available and in light of the free-agent decisions the team will need to address in the next year on Wilfork, Seymour and Mankins. Wouldn't it make more sense to sign Jason Taylor for a year and draft an OLB/DE for the future?
A: Gerry, the one assumption that we're making here is that Peppers wouldn't take a big pay-cut to get out of Carolina. If he is willing to do that, then I think the scenario is in play. Otherwise, I tend to lean to your line of thinking, because where is the salary cap space coming from? I also think the point about next year's free agents is a very good one. Specific to Wilfork, I believe that he would strongly consider a holdout if the Patriots trade for Peppers and sign Peppers to a lucrative contract extension before they address his situation. This is a part of building a team that always must be assessed - how signing one player affects another. If you give Peppers big money before players who have played multiple years with you on a deal they've outperformed, it could cause ripples in the locker room. Wilfork has given the Patriots a solid five years while playing under his original rookie contract. I would imagine he is looking for an extension this year, before he plays out the final year of his six-year pact. As I often like to say, it takes two sides to make a deal, so it's not just on the Patriots, and it's not just on Wilfork. They'll have to meet somewhere in the middle if they want to get it done.
Mike, do you think the Patriots will end up extending players like Mankins, Seymour, and Wilfork during this offseason? I'd much rather see the Patriots make sure they keep the players they have (especially on the defensive line) before they go spending too much on Peppers. Secondly, if the Patriots don't end up getting Peppers and instead settle for Jason Taylor, don't you think it would be sort of a backward step? They would have to pay him more than Vrabel would have cost this season, he would be just as old, and would be questionably devoted to working hard for the team. Your thoughts?
A: Graham, I think the contract extension talks start with Wilfork. But often times, those can extend into the regular season, usually with the team's off week the key breaking point. So I don't know if I'd be holding my breath expecting any announcements in the near future. As for Taylor, I don't think the Patriots would extend themselves much past the $2-3 million range on a one-year deal, assuming they were interested at all. That would be less than Vrabel. I happen to be a big fan of Taylor's game, and believe he would really boost the Patriots' pass rush. If he signs with the Patriots, I don't think commitment would be an issue.
The Patriots have two new cornerbacks in the fold, but the hype and potential seems to be leaning heavily toward Leigh Bodden instead of the more established Shawn Springs. How do you see their roles on the team? Barring further moves, including drafting a first-round stud corner, would Bodden start opposite Hobbs? Would Bodden and Springs challenge Hobbs for the starting CB spot? Will Springs be used more as a third CB in passing situations and not as a full-time player given he's a little longer in the tooth than Bodden? Does one get cut?
Andrew, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: Andrew, I think both will have a chance to start, but the bottom line, as I see it, is that their performance will dictate the role. Last year, I was high on Fernando Bryant and he ended up getting cut before the season began after getting steamrolled in the final preseason game. Same with Victor Hobson. I think that's a good reminder that as much as we talk about things now - and things look good on paper - it's about performance on the practice fields and then on game day. If I had to project, I see both as Nos. 1, 2, 3 or 4 options at corner, and in today's NFL, with all the spread offenses, teams need to go 4-5 deep there.
Mike, I feel like we're starting to hear a lot of talk about 2010 being an uncapped year. Assuming that no deal is reached, how well positioned are the Patriots to spend on free agency? In baseball we all know the Yankees and Sox will be top spenders every year, but we have no idea how the finances of the Kraft family matches up to, say, Dan Snyder or Jerry Jones. Can the Pats compete in a bidding war? And if there is an uncapped year, would deals signed during it be held against the new cap in coming seasons?
A: I think the Patriots will be well positioned, Aaron. The Kraft family knows the ins and outs of the business and I think they have a sound strategy. I also think they have the resources to be competitive. Also, when you have a Tom Brady at quarterback, and the chance to earn annual playoff shares and a possible Super Bowl ring, those can be major trump cards in any bidding war. Players have said that if there is no cap, they will never go back to a cap again. So based on those statements, the last part of the question doesn't sound like it would come to pass. If it does, I'm not sure how it would unfold.
Mike, now that we know who the first game will be against (Bills), and we know that it's to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Football League, I have to ask: Will the Pats bring back the old-school uniforms for the game? I know you said a while ago that they planned to do it sometime this year, and it would seem to make sense to do it right away. You never know, maybe Mr. Kraft will take a long look and say "You know, that guy on the helmet really does look pretty cool ..."
A: Chris, it is possible that the throwback uniforms could be donned on opening night, but I don't believe anything is official at this point. The Patriots are scheduled to wear the throwbacks twice this season.
As we all know Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick, but I just found out he was a compensatory pick. Who did the Pats lose to get that pick?
A: Paul, I think it was linebacker Todd Collins. Collins was a soft-spoken member of the Patriots from 1992-94/1996-98 who was nicknamed "Swamp Chicken" by his teammates.
Mike, I noticed that the Pats re-signed Tank Williams. I thought when they signed him last year that he would be a good hybrid DB/LB, until the training camp injury. I assume the Pats are happy with his rehab to have re-signed him?
Peter Graceffa, Quincy
A: I think that is a safe assumption, Peter. I was intrigued in last year's training camp when the Patriots had Williams playing inside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. It looked to me like a different way to play with nickel personnel (5 defensive backs) but stay in a base alignment. I'm curious to see if that plan comes to life again this year. As for Williams' deal, it was a one-year pact with a base salary for $620,000. That's not a big contract and I assume there are some injury protections in there to give the Patriots some insurance.
With the Julius Peppers situation still up in the air as of now, wouldn't make a little more sense if they went after Derrick Brooks or Cato June, or both? It just seems like they both still have a bit left in the tank. Tampa's defense was still up there last year. Just wondering out loud and in print too. Your thoughts?
Chris, Manchester, N.H.
A: I actually thought June, a few years back, might be the type of linebacker the Patriots might consider some experimenting. My thoughts were similar to what the team did with Tank Williams in training camp last year, but in a different type of role. I just feel like the Patriots need to get more speed on the field on third down. But that didn't happen, and I don't envision a Brooks scenario either. In the end, it appears both simply aren't the right fit for the system.
On the Patriots blog, your comment on not signing Asante Samuel was really strange. You don't think Belichick wanted to keep him?
A: Hamilton, the only point I was making with Samuel is that it was one of the few misevaluations we've seen the Patriots make on their own free agents. The way I view personnel, it's not just about the value of the contract that the player signs with a new team. It's about the time before that, identifying the player as an ascending talent, and locking him up before he hits the open market. The Patriots had a chance to lock Samuel up at more reasonable rates a few years before he hit the market but the sides couldn't reach an agreement. I think they'd like to have that one back. That is the difficult aspect of personnel - knowing when to be proactive and reactive. The Patriots, in my opinion, are better at it than most.
Hi Mike, I like the recent signing of Joey Galloway because he's an experienced, veteran receiver. I feel like he might be able to step in and fill the hole left by Jabar Gaffney. However, he is 37 years old, and I wonder if he still has enough speed to stretch a defense the way he used to. It would be ideal if he could line up outside, and let Welker play the slot. Do you think this is how the Pats envision the WR corps starting next season? With Galloway and Moss on the outsides, and Welker picking teams apart in the slot?
A: I think that is definitely part of the thinking, Zack. But in listening to Bill Belichick talk about Galloway on his WEEI "Big Show" interview last week, it sounded to me like versatility was a big part of the appeal. Galloway will probably learn all the receiver spots - similar to Jabar Gaffney - which will allow the Patriots to continue to be a game-plan type of offense that morphs its plan specific to each week's opponent. That will also increase Galloway's value to be on the 45-man game-day roster.
Mike, what do you think the Patriots will do with Laurence Maroney? Will he be traded before the draft?
Steve F., Friendswood, Texas
A: Steve, my general feeling on Maroney is that he probably has more value to the Patriots than what the team could get back in a trade because of his recent injury history. So I don't see him traded at all. Maroney is on the books for $600,000, which is very reasonable. I think the way the Patriots have approached his situation is that whatever they get is a bonus. They've built enough depth around him with Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I probably give Maroney a longer leash than most, but I think he deserves another chance.
Mike, do you happen to know if the league has any plans to address the 53-man roster? With injuries (including concussions) and players health becoming more of an issue in the league, I would think that adding a few more protected spots to each roster would benefit players, teams and the NFL.
A: Shane, there are no plans at this time. There was some talk over the last few years, but in the end, this is an ownership issue. More players means more money paid out. I think the owners are in more contraction mode than growth mode right now until the collective bargaining agreement gets hammered out.
The Patriots have been very quiet about the "loss" of Larry Izzo. Did they just let him go due to the steroid issues?
A: Jim, I can see why some might view it that way. I think it was purely football related and that the team, with a new special teams coach, decided to go in a different direction.
Who is backing up Tom Brady in case he goes down? Do the Patriots have any interest in finding or maybe even drafting a backup?
I think the Patriots would like to add a veteran backup, and they had Patrick Ramsey in on a visit in early March. Ramsey has yet to sign with any club. I think a big factor for the delay is probably some of the contracts signed by backup quarterbacks in free agency (Houston inking Dan Orlovsky for $3 million per season) and how that market has grown. I can't see the Patriots paying that type of money. Right now, I think the answer is Kevin O'Connell. I do believe the team will add another arm, either in free agency or the draft.
Why haven't the Pats looked at former Pittsburgh Steeler Marvel Smith? He's the only offensive tackle capable of starting remaining on the market. Teams are scared by his back problems, but if he came to the Pats he wouldn't need to start every week because Kaczur is an OK starter. Does Kaczur going up against a guy like Justin Tuck sound like a good idea?
A: Matt, I personally don't see Smith as an upgrade to what the Patriots already have on the roster. I'd take Kaczur over Smith. I also think the point about Smith's back problems is a good one - that is too much risk.
Any word yet on Rodney Harrison's return? With the signing of Tank Williams and the other DB additions and the possibility of Peppers being a Patriot, is there a spot for Rodney? This could be a great year if Brady and Co., stay healthy.
A: Brian, my hunch tells me that Harrison is going to take the Ty Law approach, which is to wait until training camp ends before committing one way or another. If there is a run of injuries somewhere, or a club is looking for a veteran presence, I still think he still has something to offer. He's training and rehabbing to give himself a chance to play again.
Mike, any shot the Pats made the Cassel trade in order to swap the second round pick for KC's third overall selection to use on a guy like Aaron Curry, who would be amazing in the 3-4?
Matt, Burlington, Vt.
A: Matt, I'm not sure I follow the scenario, but I feel pretty confident that the Patriots wanted no part of the No. 3 overall pick. The top 5-8 picks in the draft are probably the worst economic value in the game. I think they're happy with No. 34.
What's the real story on what is going on with Cutler and the Broncos? It seems pretty tough for fans to know what happened and it appears to me like Josh McDaniels is getting a raw deal here. Cutler shares the same agent as Favre and it looks like the Broncos and Cutler are almost replaying the Packers-Favre divorce of last year.
A: Tom, I'm a bit removed from that situation, but here would be my rundown: 1) McDaniels has mostly worked with cerebral, cool-headed quarterbacks and probably doesn't see much of that in Cutler; 2) McDaniels probably wishes he handled his failed pursuit of Matt Cassel differently because it's partly created this mess; 3) Cutler needs to grow up; 4) Cutler's agent is looking for a new contract and he sees a 32-year-old head coach that he thinks he can bully into a trade and a new contract. In the end, my feeling is that McDaniels will get it sorted out. He's too good of a coach and evaluator, and when the Broncos are a better team than last year, all will be forgotten. That's the way it seems to work in today's media culture, when stories get blown up, and then when things settle down, the people who blew it up are already on to the next exploding story.