The busy season
It's an exciting time on the NFL calendar
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- For those who enjoy the team-building aspect of the offseason as much as the games themselves, this is an exciting time on the NFL calendar.
Draft preparations are intensifying, and there is ongoing analysis of free-agent moves. Meanwhile, NFL owners, head coaches and general managers are gathered in Palm Beach, Fla., at the league's annual meeting, and back at Gillette Stadium, players continue to work out in the team's offseason program.
This week's mailbag covers a little bit of everything, starting with concern that Tom Brady's picture wasn't snapped in the weight room last week, but instead on a vacation. E-mailers also continue to explore different possibilities with the No. 7 overall draft choice, as well as trade options (Lito Sheppard was mentioned several times by e-mailers).
On to the questions.
I have been under the impression that Brady is a big part of the off-season work out program and I have been seeing pictures of him running around Europe with Gisele. What's up with that? I would think after the way the season ended he would be front and center in the weight room, not at fashion shows. I hope I am wrong but it seems like he is losing his focus that has made him great in the past. What are your thoughts?
A: I was surprised to see the pictures myself, Eric. In the grand scheme of things, I don't think it will be a huge deal once the season begins - and Brady will probably still be one of the offseason award winners, meeting the required attendance - but I would say that it didn't look good. Despite the fact it's voluntary; I have bought in to the importance of the offseason program over the years, mainly because members of the Patriots - from players, to coaches, to management - have said as much. It's a time to build chemistry and camaraderie in the locker room. Brady is a captain of the team and its top leader, and while I think his focus will be sharp and he'll put in the necessary work to be ready for 2008 -- I wasn't expecting to see those pictures of him during the first week of the program.
Can you tell us who was not at the recent offseason program?
A: There is no official attendance, gamer, and the Patriots don't provide that information to media members. Based on interviews, here are a few players we know are there: Running back Sammy Morris, receivers Jabar Gaffney and Wes Welker, tight end Benjamin Watson, linebacker Larry Izzo, and offensive lineman Matt Light.
Mike, one of your recent articles mentioned that NFL teams are allowed to conduct up to 30 in-house visits with prospects. It's been interesting to track what players the Patriots have had come in for a visit. But do you know what the Pats recent history is with drafting players they actually had in for a visit? Is there perhaps some misdirection being employed? Or are they really trying to solidify their information on a player?
John, Auburn, Maine
A: Hi John. I don't have the Patriots' complete recent history regarding drafted players taking in-house visits to the Patriots, but my feeling is that it's probably a little bit of both. For example, I don't believe Logan Mankins ever came to Gillette Stadium prior to the draft in 2005, but I remember that Chad Jackson did in 2006. I think it's safe to say that in some cases it's legitimate interest, and in others it's misdirection. A lot of times, medical issues dictate the visit. The team could be double-checking medical records that could ultimately rule-in, or rule-out, the player.
I have a feeling with everyone talking about if the Pats are going to get a LB or a CB first, the Pats may surprise everyone and take an offensive lineman first. Maybe a Chris Williams or a Jeff Otah. Do you think this is possible or does it seem to early in the draft?
A: Tyler, I know it would be more compelling if I came out and said "absolutely", but no one outside of a small circle in the Patriots' organization knows this answer. As I wrote last week, nothing would surprise me. In 2005, I said "we don't know who the Patriots will select, but we can presume based on their history that it won't be a guard." Then they selected Logan Mankins. I learned my lesson after that one. Of the two tackles, I know they've looked very closely at Otah. So if they go tackle, he'd be my choice. But if I had to make a choice right now, I still think a front-seven player on defense will be the pick.
If you had to pick a linebacker right now that the Pats would take in the draft, who would it be? Does it seem they are looking more at DE's who would turn into outside LB's, or more at players who played LB in college?
Yacine, Augusta, Maine
A: If we're talking first round, Yacine, I'd rank them this way: Vernon Gholston, Derrick Harvey, Keith Rivers, Quentin Groves. In terms of what they are looking at, outside linebackers for the 3-4 alignment will most often be college defensive ends. The inside linebackers for the 3-4 alignment can be either middle or outside linebackers in college.
What do you think of Keith Rivers as a Patriot at No. 7? He looked like the best LB at the Senior Bowl and has decent size. This would be my pick if either a trade down or Vernon Gholston is unavailable there. Rivers is the only other front seven pick that seems to make sense without too much reaching or projecting.
A: Alex, I'd start by saying I have not personally seen much of Rivers, so a lot of what I pass along is based on what I've read and what scouts/personnel evaluators have shared with me. Rivers at No. 7 would probably be a bit rich in terms of value. While he is not a natural fit playing inside linebacker for 3-4 teams, the feeling is that he is athletic enough to do it. Tedy Bruschi isn't technically the best fit either, but he compensates with smarts and other attributes. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rivers scored a 16 in the Wonderlic test, which might raise some concerns of teams with complex schemes like the Patriots. Rivers is scheduled to visit Gillette Stadium before the draft - as one of the 30 in-house visits teams are allowed - so there appears to be some level of interest still there from the Patriots.
Any chances the Pats make a draft-day trade with the Eagles for Lito Sheppard? Maybe their early third-rounder for Sheppard straight up? I think this might be there best move for a corner. Why spend a third rounder on a corner when you could probably trade for a proven one in Sheppard. Or would it take the second rounder?
A: Abe, if Sheppard is going to be actively shopped on draft day, I would project the Patriots to try to enter those discussions. An important aspect to consider is that Sheppard is also, I believe, seeking a contract extension that puts him in line with some of the game's top corners. So if the Patriots make that trade, they'll have to factor in the contract aspect of the swap. As for the compensation, I think it would take the second-rounder to even get talks started.
Seems like all the ink this offseason is about upgrading the defensive backs and linebackers. OK, the Pats gave up 17 points in the Super Bowl, no way we lose right? What about improvement along the manhandled offensive line?
A: Hub, I do expect some parts to be added to the line, with the key spot right guard as starter Stephen Neal has battled injuries of late (knee, shoulder). But on the whole, I thought the line was a strong point when looking at the overall body of work from the 19 games last season. If one views the line only by its performance in the Super Bowl - and that is the lasting memory at this point - I can see what you are saying. But I prefer to take a wider view.
What happened to the Patriots interest in the Carolina LB Adam Seward? There was a lot of buzz locally about him being perfect for the Patriots scheme and nothing has been heard of it since.
A: The Seward situation is not dead, Lance. Just because the Patriots have not signed him to an offer sheet does not mean it won't happen - there were no snags from Seward's visit or anything like that. Teams have until mid-April to make offers to restricted free agents, and I still believe Seward is under consideration.
I noticed in your mailbag last week that you mentioned Carolina as a possible trade partner, suggesting that Adam Seward and a fifth-rounder would get the deal done on a swap of first round picks. I thought that was a little light on benefit. According to draft value charts the Panthers -- should they like to trade up to seven -- would need a swap and a second rounder to make it happen. That said, if they swapped picks Carolina's second rounder would make it a sweet deal for the Pats on the point scale. I could see them swapping first-rounders and swapping seconds with a kicker (not a kicker) say like a third or this Adam Seward dude. That said I don't think the Pats really want him, or that is just my feeling.
Rick, Santa Monica, Calif.
A: I received a few similar e-mails last week, Rick, with fans telling me I was too light on the compensation based on the draft-value chart. That might be true, but my response was that I believe the draft-value chart is outdated, and doesn't account for the growing and dangerous economic risk that comes with picking in the top 10. The draft value chart gives the highest point value to the first overall pick, which I think is wrong. If teams viewed it as the most valuable pick, I think we'd see more trades for it. Instead, it's a pick no one else wants. In fact, more and more top 10 picks are becoming like that. So when I assess a trade like the Patriots moving down with a club like Carolina, I'm not only looking at the fifth-round draft choice as compensation, but also the idea that I am lessening my financial risk by moving down the board, which is extremely valuable.
Could you please explain how home and road games (outside the division) are determined when a season schedule is made? Why, for instance, is the 2008 Pats-Colts rematch in Indy again and not in Foxborough? And why, in this year's matchups against the AFC West, does NE go on the road to San Diego and Oakland and have the Broncos and Chiefs at home?
A: This is a common question, Paul, and here are the key points to keep in mind. When the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002 (when Houston entered the league), it created a rotating schedule format that was designed to ensure every team in the league played every other club - both home and away - within a certain time frame. The idea is to avoid a long stretch in which one team does not play another in its home stadium (similar to this year, as the Patriots visit the Seahawks for the first time since 1993).
This is how the rotating formula breaks down:
* 6 games against division opponents
* 4 games against each team from an AFC division (rotates each year)
* 2 games against teams from the other two AFC divisions - against the clubs that finished in the same place the year before
* 4 games against each from an NFC division (rotates each year)
As for how this relates specifically to the Patriots-Colts, the teams have consistently finished in first place in their divisions, so that explains - first - why they are frequent opponents, other than just playing once every three years. As for the home-away aspect of the matchup, it's basically on a cycle. Recall that the Colts visited the Patriots in the regular season in each of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 campaigns. This year will mark the second straight season the Patriots visit the Colts and 2009 will mark the third straight. As part of the rotating scheduling format, the Patriots already know they will be visiting Indianapolis next season as well.
I just saw an article that Dallas was going to give up a seventh round draft pick and a player for Pacman Jones. Do you think this is something the Patriots could beat in terms of an offer or is the holdup that Pacman will want a huge contract after the fact?
Ron, Orlando, Fla.
A: Ron, the Patriots are not pursuing Pacman Jones. While they are likely intrigued by his on-field performance, I don't think they are comfortable with the complete package that comes with the player. To answer the question, I don't think contract issues or trade compensation would be a factor/obstacle if the Patriots ever decided to pursue Jones. It would be the off-field issues.
Mike, what are your thoughts about converting Rodney Harrison to outside linebacker? He is physical enough to take on running backs and quick enough to cover running backs coming out of the backfield. He has probably lost a step and this could work for both him and the Patriot defense for the coming season.
Edward, Sandy Hook, Va.
A: Harrison would not be a fit at outside linebacker in the Patriots' 3-4 alignment, as that position requires more size and bulk. But as we've seen, Harrison has played a linebacker-like role when the Patriots go to a nickel package (5 defensive backs), which can also be viewed as a 4-3 alignment based on Harrison's responsibilities. I think that is part of what makes him so valuable, although I couldn't imagine it as a full-time switch.
Hey Mike, can you confirm that the Draft begins at 3 p.m. this year? I see that the NFL has changed the time (15 to 10 min) that each team has to make it's pick in the first round. I think that this is huge and should make it a lot more enjoyable as a fan to watch, especially a fan with three kids. My wife thinks I'm nuts!
A: Mine too, Brendan. And yes, the draft has been moved to start at 3 p.m. So my suggestion is to wake up early that day, make your wife some breakfast in bed, take the kids out for a morning full of activity, then lock it in at 3 p.m. and enjoy one of the exciting days on the NFL calendar.
It has been pretty quiet on the "videogate" front. What is going on? What is the scuttlebutt?
Joe, Stratham, N.H.
A: Joe, the lawyers apparently continue to talk about reaching an agreement. But after hearing that an agreement might be close about three weeks ago, we're still in the same place as we were back then. Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the NFL annual meeting Monday: "Matt Walsh is free to speak to anybody, but he has asked for some considerations. We have met with over 50 people and he's the only one indicating he has conditions. We are trying to respect that."