Some weeks, the Patriots mailbag is filled with a variety of topics, but this week seems to be narrow in focus.
The majority of questions in the bag focus on Matt Walsh and the Patriots videotaping procedures. Walsh is meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell early in the morning on May 13, so this mailbag might be posted right around the time Goodell meets the press. The hope is that it adds more context and information to the situation.
Perhaps next week we can get to some more Xs and Os and pure football talk in the mailbag.
Mike, I was hoping that you could clarify something for me in regards to "Spygate". Was the "offense" that the Patriots were punished for a violation of: 1) A written rule that was entered by whatever necessary process into the NFL bylaws, 2) A written rule that was entered by whatever necessary process into the official NFL Rules book, or 3) a request by NFL exec Ray Anderson stated in a memo sent originally in September of 2006 to all teams specifically referencing taping of offensive and defensive signals?
A: Jon, as I understand it, what the Patriots were punished for was the Constitution & Bylaws. The way I interpret the handing of the situation is that the Ray Anderson memo from 2006, and the segment from the leagues operations manual, were sent to teams reinforce the meaning of the Constitution & Bylaws.
For clarity purposes, here are the three items:
- Constitution & Bylaws: Any use by any club at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which such club is a participant, of any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, shall be prohibited, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping, or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.
- September of 2006 memo: Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponents offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.
- Leagues operations manual: 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. Furthermore, all video shooting locations for shooting purposes must be enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead.
From the Patriots perspective, Bill Belichick has said he misinterpreted the Constitution & Bylaws. His interpretation is that the taping couldnt be used during that game. Roger Goodell disagreed with that interpretation. What might have contributed to the situation is that the rule in the Constitution & Bylaws was not changed following the September 2006 memo, and still read in its original form through the 2007 season. In retrospect, that probably should have been rewritten in the Constitution & Bylaws to reflect what was stated in the September of 2006 memo and leagues operations manual.
Some journalists are making a big deal out of the fact that among the 8 tapes turned over by Matt Walsh is one in which the offense of the opponent is recorded. So, that raises a few questions. It was my understanding that these tapes offered nothing new to the commissioner's office. So while some journalists may have been surprised, Goodell was not - right? Since the helmet communication system relays signals to the QB, and the QB then calls the plays, what tape-worthy signals do coaches send in to the offense? How will next year's plan of using the helmet communication system for the defense cure this problem, if it apparently didn't for the offense?
A: Joe, when Walsh certified in writing that he was turning over all tapes in his possession, a league spokesman said the list was consistent with what was already known. At that point, the league had yet to see the actual tapes, only a list of them. So I dont know if Goodell has been surprised by what hes seen on the tapes. My hunch is that he is not, and that his May 13 meeting with Walsh is more about the allegations that the Patriots filmed the Rams walkthrough, and less about everything else. As for what signals of offensive coaches could provide, from my view, it would only be the personnel groupings that the offense is sending in. They wouldnt be able to cull what play is run, because that is coming in through the quarterbacks helmet. As for next years plan of having a defensive player with a headset, it should mostly eliminate the need for defensive signals that reflect what defense to run. Teams will still use signals just in case the technology goes out, but it will eliminate partially at least the need to rely totally on them.
I've heard that it's not against the NFL rules to tape opponents signals but it was the point on the field from where the Patriots taped the signals that was the problem. Is that correct, and if so do you know where in the rule book that is stated?
A: Jack, taping signals of opposing coaches, regardless of location, is against the rules. The NFL clarified that in the September of 2006 memo from Ray Anderson, although from a technical standpoint, the league should probably now be writing that into the Constitution & Bylaws.
Mike, now that we know that Matt Walsh did not have the infamous "walk-through" tape I still think that he could provide valuable insight. After all, he now has legal protection, so he should be willing to talk freely. And because he is viewed as a "hostile witness" his answers will have greater validity in the eyes of the skeptics. If I was doing the questioning I would ask him these questions:
- When you taped these games was there any attempt by the team to use the tape during the game as it was played? Did you give to someone at halftime, etc.
- Where were you when you recorded the tapes? (Mike, many of us are still not clear on this ... if it turns out that he was in the press box or some similar "enclosed" area, was this against the rules?)
- Do know anything about a tape made of the St. Louis walkthrough?
- Why did you wait until now to say that you didn't have a walk-through tape - certainly it wasn't that you feared that you would somehow be harmed by this revelation?
A: Bill, as I read through the questions sent to the mailbag, this one stood out to me. I appreciate the depth of the email, and also how you put yourself into Roger Goodells shoes to break down what he might be looking for from Walsh, and asking of Walsh. I guess the only thing I can provide is some context to the point in No. 2. There is no filming of signals allowed, regardless of location. The last point I would reiterate is that Tuesday, May 13 is primarily about the allegation that the Patriots filmed the Rams walkthrough practice. While Walsh will be asked about the teams videotaping procedures, I am fairly convinced that the top item on the agenda is that walkthrough.
Mike, I was wondering if you had any thoughts as to why Arlen Specter is sticking his nose into Spygate? Is this because the Eagles lost the Patriots 4 Super Bowls ago so he thinks he has a vested interest to his constituents? To me it seems he should spend more time legislating and less time being a busy body in league business. What authority does he possibly think he wields over Spygate?
Chris, Swanzey, N.H.
A: Chris, Id start by saying that any mention of Specter, in my opinion, must include his strong financial connections to Comcast, while noting that the cable company is currently at odds with the NFL and NFL Network. I personally believe this is a significant reason Specter is involved with this issue, and has seemingly antagonized commissioner Roger Goodell at times. My personal feeling is that Specters motivation is more tied to that than being an Eagles fan. As for what hes said publicly and this goes back to an article first posted on the New York Times website Jan. 31 Specter feels the American people are entitled to be sure about the integrity of the game. Since the league has an antitrust exemption, his standing as a senator puts him in position to question the NFL along these lines. The final point Id make is that while I generally think Specter has been grandstanding at times through the process, I do feel he did one important thing along the way, and that was to provide clarity as to the totality of the Patriots videotaping procedures, pressing the league to openly disclose that the taping went back to 2000. Prior to Specters February meeting with Goodell, that had not been clear. ESPNs Chris Mortensen had mentioned it on a radio interview September 14, but I never felt that was never confirmed or clearly articulated by the NFL.
When was the rule established that teams were not allowed to videotape (really anything) from the sidelines that could create a competitive advantage? I'm looking for a specific "when" because it seems to me that that date might be important as to how the league has disseminated information since last September regarding "Spygate".
A: As I understand it, WA, the rule in the Constitution & Bylaws has been in place for many years. I dont have an exact when on that, but based on the wording of the rule (e.g. Polaroid-type pictures) Im thinking it goes back at least 20 years and has never changed. The NFL seemingly was looking to strengthen the understanding of the rule in September of 2006 with its memo that specifically stated videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponents offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines. So its not an easy answer. Im fairly certain the Constitution & Bylaws go way back, but some might argue that until the 2006 memo was disseminated, that rule was a bit unclear due to poor wording.
Any chance the Patriots pursue a lawsuit against possible false accusations? A never-substantiated accusation regarding taping a walkthrough, which suspiciously broke just before a Super Bowl, might be considered malicious intent. However, the Pats maybe would prefer this all go away completely. Your thoughts?
A: Chris, this has been a popular question and its a tough one for me to answer on many levels. Mainly, because the paper in question is a direct competitor, I dont feel comfortable getting deep into this issue. I think what I would say is that if the story turns out to be incorrect, I would expect the Patriots to pursue a retraction and/or apology. I would imagine the club would like to avoid a lawsuit, but Im sure that when it assessed the range of possibilities moving forward if it was cleared of the allegations of taping the Rams walkthrough, that possibility was broached.
I haven't heard much "buzz" about the pick-up of Victor Hobson. Is this guy a steal at 600K? He's over 6 feet and 250 lbs plus of experienced linebacker and with good speed (showed at the outside in NJ). It seems tough to move from the outside in, but after the first 4 games, I think this guy will find a home in the interior. I see this move as the best this year (hands down), what are your thoughts? Why didn't he find a team with the first round of Free agents, what am I missing?
A: Marc, well transition over to some football-specific questions with this one. Hobson was the subject of a story in last weeks Boston Globe, and there is some more the Q&A with him on our Patriots blog.
I think its a solid move, based on the economics. Im not as familiar with Hobson as a player, so in that sense, its a bit tough for me to say. Hobson was coming off a down year in 2007, so that probably contributed to him not being picked up in the first wave of free agency. From a pure football perspective, Im intrigued to see if hell be able to make the switch from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. I think he will, as the inside spot is somewhat similar to what he played his first three years in the league, when he was a strong-side outside linebacker in Herm Edwards 4-3 scheme.
Any word on the condition of Sammy Morris? After he went down, the Pats offense just didn't look the same. If he's not ready, can we go the season with Moroney and Faulk? Both are injury prone. The running back depth scares me.
A: John, I caught up with Morris in late March when he returned to town for the Patriots offseason program. Some of Morris comments were included in a Boston Globe story that ran March 25. Morris seemed to think he was on the road to recovery and felt good about the chances of contributing this year. As for the running back depth, I wouldnt overlook Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel, as both are part of the mix. And rookie free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis, of Ole Miss, could make a run at a roster spot. My personal feeling is that the teams depth is solid at running back, although the team did visit with free agent Kevin Jones last week.
Last year the Patriots made a historic run at perfection. They are the only team to win 16 games in a regular season. All that and the records set by the offense went up in smoke with the loss at the Super Bowl. Personally, I think the biggest challenge they have is not the changes in personnel, but dealing with the emotional baggage from last year. Kraft called Calipari and told him he was better off for losing the last regular season game. Brady has been absent - I don't think that's bad, he needs a break. Do you agree?
A: Richard, this is a tough question for me to answer until we hear more from Brady. Perhaps he felt the need to get away from the mental and physical grind. That being said, we know he was around at least two weeks ago, but just dont know how often he has been there. My feeling is lets re-visit this once we hear more from Brady, when there is a better feel for his decision-making process as to why this offseason seems to be different than past offseasons for him.
Hi Mike, a few AFC teams have really improved themselves in the draft this year. The Chiefs had a great draft. Does that change the dynamics of the AFC West? How does the AFC East draft shake up things for the Patriots this coming season? Will improved Dolphins and Chiefs teams be able to complicate matters in the AFC?
A: Scott, I look at things a little differently on the Chiefs. While I agree their draft choices look solid, Im not sure they are a better team today than they would have been had they not traded NFL sack leader Jared Allen to Minnesota to acquire some of those picks. So I actually think the Chiefs might take an initial step back this year. As for the AFC East, I see it going the other way. I like what the Bills, Dolphins and Jets have all done. I think they are all better than they were at the end of last season. In the end, I think the play of quarterbacks will determine if they can give the Patriots a run for the money in the division.
Hi, Mike. I was wondering if you heard anything, have any details on the contracts of the rookie free agents that the Patriots have signed. I'd be very interested in finding out about them.
A: Nathan, I have not seen the details of those deals, but I did take note that linebacker Gary Guyton received a $12,000 signing bonus. Thats a lot for a non-quarterback rookie free agent and is reflective to me that he was a high priority guy for them. My hunch is that its the richest signing bonus among the rookie free agents that they signed.
Hey Mike, can you talk a little bit about the practice squad? Is there a maximum number of years a player can be on the PS? When teams first cut down to 53, can the 8 PS players be put there without risk of losing them? It appears the Pats have a lot of young LBs and CBs right now. How many will the Pats typically put on the PS?
A: Teams can place up to eight players on the practice squad, Andy. But at the end of training camp, the players dont just go from the roster right to the practice squad. In many cases, they must pass through waivers and any team can put in a waiver claim on them and that club would have to put the player on their 53-man roster. So there is some risk involved from the teams side, because the player could be claimed (e.g. TE Garrett Mills in Minnesota) by another club.
Mike, any thoughts about the old AFL teams wearing the throwbacks against each other for the 50th Anniversary of the AFL?
A: Id be all for it, John. Im a fan of the throwbacks.
Mike, have the Pats made any moves or do they have anybody in mind to add to their o-line?
A: Mela, the Patriots have not added to the offensive line at this point, but I would think another addition will be made before they get to camp. As noted last week, perhaps the Gene Mruczkowski Annual Patriots Hotline could be heating up. Mruczkowski has been back and forth over the years, knows the teams system, and has the flexibility to play all three interior spots.