A wide-ranging mailbag
This weeks Patriots mailbag doesnt have one overriding theme, which reflects this time of the NFL offseason.
Free agency and the draft have passed, and now teams are holding minicamps and organized team activities. That means that topics being discussed are wide-ranging from business and the salary cap to personnel.
Lets get right to the questions
I was just reading about the salary cap being raised $12
million, which was more than expected. I know you frequently get asked how
the team sits against the cap. Was this, or a lesser increase, already
factored in to the cap figures provided? Where do the Pats stand
A: David, I think the way the information was framed in mainstream media reports could have created the impression that teams all of a sudden had an extra $12 million that they werent expecting. This isnt the case. The $12 million figure reflects the overall increase from 2008 to 2009. The big news last week is that teams expected the cap to be at $127 million and were informed it is now at $128 million. So it just gives the teams $1 million more cap space than expected. As for the Patriots, they have approximately $5.7 million of space at this time. That is tight compared to other teams.
Hi Mike, I was surprised to read that new tight end Alex Smith
has taken the No. 80 jersey. I was just wondering why the Patriots would
not have retired the number of Troy Brown?
Kim C., South Australia, Australia
A: Kim, this was one of the more popular questions this week. Im going to cut the team slack on this one. Because of the size of rosters (the Patriots currently have 92 players), my feeling is that the retiring of numbers should be re-evaluated, and that includes re-introducing some numbers (but not all) that have already been retired. I think there are ways to keep numbers in circulation but also honor the player, such as inducting him into the teams Hall of Fame or putting him in a Ring of Honor. If Im not mistaken, I believe the Packers one of the NFLs most tradition-rich franchises -- have just six numbers retired. The Patriots have more. In terms of what Ive noticed, I think the Patriots usually wait one year before putting the number back in circulation (no one wore No. 80 last year), which is a sign of respect. With Troy Brown, his place in history can be reflected in the teams Hall of Fame, or with his name erected in the stadium, and I think that is still a solid tribute. A player like Tom Brady, though, I would think retiring his number is the only option.
Do you think that Bill Belichick signed Fred Taylor to help
mentor Laurence Maroney at all since Taylor was known to be injury-prone
earlier in his career, similar to how Maroney is starting out?
A: Its an interesting thought, Andy, because Taylor could certainly provide some advice to Maroney about how he dealt with the Fragile Fred label. Yet I tend to think the mentoring angle ranked low on the reasons why the Patriots signed Taylor. First and foremost, I think its about production. Because Maroney has experienced his run of injuries over the last three years, the team probably felt the need to protect itself. So more than mentoring Maroney, I think the addition of Taylor was geared toward the disappointing injury issues Maroney has faced than anything else.
Mike, what are your thoughts on Jarvis Green? His salary cap
charge of $5.4 million seems large, especially considering last year's
production (two sacks, both coming in the final game) It looks like we
could save over $2 million if we traded him. Is he dispensable?
A: I think youve hit on a good point here, HH. Id start by saying that Jarvis Green has done a lot of good things for the Patriots in his seven-year career, although I felt 2008 was a down year for him. It wasnt just the sacks, but just the general lack of pressure. I believe he was playing hurt and that could have contributed to it. If I was in the position of Bill Belichick, Id start by attempting to extend the contract (Greens deal expires after the 2009 season and by extending it, the salary cap charge can be reduced). If those attempts failed, I think a difficult decision would have to be made from a team-building perspective, because a $5.4 million cap charge is indeed high for Green.
Mike, do you think that Julian Edelman could be used in the
Steve S., San Marino, Calif.
A: Steve, I thought Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio had a witty, Parcells-like line about this during last weeks Speaker Series at the Hall at Patriot Place. He said Edelman, who is making the switch from quarterback to receiver, needs to learn where to line up first before there can be any Wildcat talk. Hes right, because Edelman is making a position switch. At the same time, Im fairly certain that it wasnt a coincidence that Edelman spent some time in position breakdowns with the running backs at the teams rookie minicamp, where he learned the simple fundamental of tucking the ball away after receiving a handoff. Caserio also mentioned that the Patriots worked Edelman out twice before the draft once with their receivers coach, and once with a special teams coach. That is an indication to me that Edelman is at least projected as a factor as a ball-carrier in the return game, and I see no reason why they wouldnt try some variation of the Wildcat with him. Its early yet, but Edelman ranks high on my list of players Im excited to see in training camp. What stood out to me: A lot of quickness and the ability to plant his foot in the ground and shake a defensive back with decisive change of direction skills.
Mike, it looks like the Pats grabbed three good developmental
projects at offensive line who could project to be starters in 2-3 years.
My question is this: Do draft picks have to clear waivers before being
placed on the practice squad? If they do, will the Pats place them on the
53-man roster to make sure they keep them. Do you think they will be
Mike, Canandaigua, N.Y.
A: Mike, a player has to clear waivers before being placed on the practice squad, and I dont think there is any way that Sebastian Vollmer (2nd round) and Rich Ohrnberger (4th round) would clear them, so I would write their names down in pen on that 53-man roster prediction. George Bussey (5th round) Id put closer to the roster bubble. Its too difficult for me to say these players will be capable backups without seeing more of them, but I would say this: If they cant make it here, under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia, it probably wont happen anywhere.
Mike. Why did the Patriots draft Patrick Chung? Does that mean
they don't have a lot of faith in Brandon Meriweather or James
Jordan C., Needham
A: Jordan, I can understand why someone would look at the selection of Chung and interpret it as a lack of faith in the returning starters, Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders. But Im not part of that group, especially when considering the Patriots are paying Sanders an average of $3 million per year and Meriweather seemed to come on late last season. I think Id sum up my thoughts this way: The way the Patriots scheme, Chungs versatility and smarts should be an asset, and I also think Chung projects to add some Rodney Harrison-like toughness to the position. Harrisons sturdiness often helped against opposing tight ends, and Ill always remember that Colts game when Harrison moved down to a linebacker spot when the Patriots went with nickel personnel in a 4-3 alignment. I could see Chung evolving into that type of difference-maker.
Hi Mike, I know its a long shot, but with the NFL salary cap
increased by $12 million this year and the fact that Drew Rosenhaus has
said that if Anquan Boldin is not traded or re-signed before the start of
Cardinals training camp, there could be a holdout, would the Pats be
willing to trade one of their three 2010 second-round picks and an
additional late-round pick for Boldin? Maybe they could convince Rosenhaus
that playing for a Pats team with a Tom Brady and every year contending for
the Super Bowl to accept less money in a contract.
Jim K., Surprise, Ariz.
A: Jim, I concur that this is a long shot and just dont see it as feasible on a couple of different levels. Id start with the fact that Boldin just played in a Super Bowl as part of an explosive offense, so I dont see the play-with-Brady angle getting too far. Also, it helps to understand where Rosenhaus is coming from. Hes creating a lot of chatter in hopes of getting Boldin out of Arizona, similar to what he did with Chad Johnson last year in Cincinnati. I think Arizona general manager Rod Graves realizes this and plans to holds the line while he deals with a long line of other players whose contracts are a big issue. Finally, any trade for Boldin would likely have to be accompanied with a big contract and I think the Patriots have to take care of their own players first (e.g. Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Richard Seymour).
Mike, with the depth of the linebacking corps very uncertain
right now, if you had to look into your crystal ball to September do you
see either/or Eric Alexander or Tully Banta-Cain on the roster come the end
Drew, Warwick, R.I.
A: Drew, much can change between now and September and I think its important to respect the competition that will unfold in training camp, but Id put both on the 53-man roster right now. If Banta-Cain returns to 2006 form, I think he can help in a pass-rushing type role and occasional fill-in on early downs. Alexander would be more of a depth player with an emphasis on special teams. With Tyrone McKenzie injuring his ACL, it opens the door for Alexander.
Mike, I have to ask, even though I still believe its not
probability, but does the whole Taylor signing with Miami change the
situation regarding Julius Peppers?
A: Manny, I dont think it changes a thing. The Peppers story seemed to be more about the media creating something that wasnt there than a reality. I think we can bury this now.
Mike, I have two questions regarding the Pats defense: 1) With
the trade of Ellis Hobbs it leaves the Pats very thin at having players at
the CB position with experience in their defensive system. Should we expect
a few bumps in the road in September or do you feel this group is talented
and smart enough to grasp the system and be comfortable with it by the time
the season starts?; 2) I may be in the minority here but count me as
someone who is very optimistic about the outside linebacker position this
season. How much of an effect do you think Vrabels absence will have on
the defense and the locker room? And is there anyone you see who may be
ready to step up into the leadership role that Vrabel left behind?
A: Steve, while I think it would be preferred to have more players at cornerback who have experience in the teams system, I think the talent trumps that, and I see the 2009 cornerback crop as more talented than the 2008 group. There might be a few growing pains, but I dont see it as a major issue. As for the outside linebacker spot, I think Vrabel will be missed most in two areas: 1) His ability to play tough and contain running plays to his side of the field; 2) His knack for joking with Bill Belichick and keeping things light at practice and meetings, which was easy for any observer to see up until the latter stages of last season. I do think Vrabel was a good leader to a certain group of players, but I dont see that as a major issue. The way the NFL works, its time for the next generation to step in and fill that gap (e.g. Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo, etc.).
Hey Mike, I'm sure you're being swamped with concerns about the
linebacker situation. What's the possibility of Junior Seau coming back? I
think he would be a good backup for Mayo and Bruschi. The outside
linebackers situation is weak. Adalius Thomas has been a disappointment and
between Woods, Crable, and Banta-Cain, there is little confidence here in
this group. In every area, Bill Belichick has stocked the team except for
linebacker. I am extremely perplexed in why this great coach has over
looked this area. Can you enlighten me?
A: Alan, I think this is the story of the offseason as far as fans are concerned. Ive received more linebacker-related questions than any other topic. Seau is always a possibility, but I think its one that you revisit near the end of training camp if youre going in that direction, because you want to give repetitions to younger players like Gary Guyton and Antonio Appleby. As for Bill Belichicks approach, his feeling is that there havent been players who fit the teams system/prototype that represented value in the draft or free agency, and if you take a player like that, youre just back to the same situation the next year in free agency and the draft. I respect that, and at the same time, I think its fair to ask questions like these: Would a player like UConn outside linebacker Cody Brown been a better second-round pick than Sebastian Vollmer (58th overall)? Should the team have hung on to Mike Vrabel? Would a first-round trade up the board for a player like Tennessee outside linebacker Robert Ayers been worth exploring? These are areas we can better answer in the months/years to come when we see how the situation unfolds. Its also possible that the answer to the teams problems is already on the roster, and fans and media types are overlooking it because the players arent yet proven commodities (e.g. like how Asante Samuel emerged from unproven fourth-round pick in 2003 to shutdown corner in 2005/2006/2007 following Ty Laws departure).
I know we are supposed to keep drinking the Kool-Aid and keep
quiet, but this Vrabel trade I feel is going to come back to haunt us.
Don't you have just a tiny bit of doubt here on this, Mike? I mean, it was
a solid part of our defense just tossed out the window for no real
A: Poncho, you dont always have to drink the Kool-Aid. I think Bill Belichick is the first to admit that no one is perfect and hes made mistakes in the past, so I think its fair to question the deal with Vrabel. I stand by what I originally wrote: I cant do the revisionist history thing and say that I thought Vrabel was done. I think hes still a tough player on early downs good luck running to his side who had slowed on third down. Yes, hes declining, but I still think he has something to offer. The question is probably if it was worth having a $4.3 million charge on the cap. I would have kept him. At the same time, I understand that this could be a situation where younger players like Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable or Vince Redd all unproven in a full-time role at this point solidify the position more than anticipated. So lets see how it plays out. Its May, and no team has all its questions answered at this point.
Mike, like everyone else, I am concerned about the LB position.
What do you know about Antonio Appleby, the rookie free agent out of
Virginia? Did he participate in the mini-camp and, if so, did anything
stand out about him? Could he be the next Mike Wright or Gary
Gregg, Scottsdale, Ariz.
A: Gregg, based on the depth chart, Appleby seems to be a chic pick to be the next rookie free agent to emerge. He did participate in rookie minicamp and I cant say I saw anything that stood out. In one-on-one passing drills against running backs, he looked like youd expect most rookie linebackers in that drill a step behind. But I wouldnt read too much into that. The true test for a player like that is when the pads come on in training camp. Appleby has a bit of a head start on his fellow rookies from having played in a 3-4 defense under Al Groh at Virginia, but Im not jumping on his bandwagon yet. I did that with Freddie Roach in 2006 and it didnt get me too far. I think the best approach on this one is to let the process play out.
Hey Mike, I was wondering about the possibility of the Patriots
bringing Willie McGinest back for another stint with the hometown team.
A: Curtis, I think its worth exploring but Id put him in the same category as Seau. To me, thats the type of move you make toward the end of training camp if youre headed in that direction because you want to give more repetitions to younger players like Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable and Vince Redd. At this point of his career, McGinest is probably a 15-20 snap player, so hed be a complementary piece, not a cure-all.
Hi Mike, why no mention of a Derrick Brooks to the Patriots as a
free-agent signing. Is he too tied to the Tampa 2 defense? Is it his age?
With his toughness, experience, and ability to read defenses I bet you
could stick him anywhere. Or is he afraid of the cold like Jason Taylor?
A: F.X., Ill have to look into the possibility of Brooks, and see where he might fit in the teams defense. I wouldnt rule anything out. With a guy like that unlike Seau and McGinest it would be preferable to get him into the fold immediately with the idea of getting him up to speed on the defense.
Hi Mike, after reading your Breaking Down the 92 segment on
the Patriots blog on Boston.com, it reminded me that cornerback Mike
Richardson is still out there. I know there were some folks who were
relatively high on his potential. What's his role this year, given the
A: Matt, I see Richardson as a roster bubble guy at this point. Hes not a quick, change-of-direction type like Darius Butler and Terrence Wheatley, but more of a sturdy zone corner who is a pretty solid tackler. I think hes the type of player that could wind up on the roster at some point over the course of the season if injuries hit, but I dont see it as a given that he makes the club coming out of training camp.
Mike, I was wondering with the offensive coordinator spot not
really established yet, do you think there would be a possibility of
Charlie Weis returning if things dont work out for him this season in
Notre Dame? Even Romeo Crennel possibly coming back if Weis decides to?
Matthew S., Honolulu
A: I think its always possible, Matthew, although Id call it unlikely. I think Weis would probably look toward another head coaching job, and would probably get one, likely in college. I spoke with Crennel within the last month and he is planning on returning in 2010. Hes a quality coach and he should have options. I think Belichick would welcome him back if that was something Crennel was interested in exploring.
Mike, I just read that in order to evaluate how the Patriots
defended Leon Washington last season you went back and watched the tape of
that game. The standard telecast generally shows the line of scrimmage and
the offensive backfield, but not the defensive backfield. Do you have a
good source for some other footage that does a better job of showing the
back end of the play? More generally, do you know of any resources for
obtaining any of the dozens of different camera angles that are shot but
not included in the telecast?
Robert B., East Haven, Conn.
A: Robert, I was just watching the TV copy of the game. It is obviously more challenging to see things from those angles, but in that particular study of looking at how the Patriots defended Leon Washington, I was able to see what I needed. Individual teams and NFL Films have the film with all the other angles, but that is not accessible to most people.
Hi Mike, Is there a significant difference in
movement/technique/leverage between a 3-4 ROLB and a 3-4 LOLB?
A: Al, I once asked Mike Vrabel about this and he explained to me that its just like looking in a mirror its the same thing, just on the different side. The main differences are technique related you might be shedding with your left hand instead of the right etc.
Hey Mike, although I've been a Cowboy fan for years, I've come
to admire the Patriots. What's interesting when comparing the two
organizations is their ownerships approach in management of the team. It
appears that both teams have owners who are strongly involved in their
teams success, yet the Patriots owner, Kraft, seems to rely more on his
head coach to make football personnel decisions while the Cowboy owner,
Jones, seems to micromanage his subordinates including his head coach.
Other teams with strong ownership styles, like the Raiders and Redskins, do
not seem too successful. What would you say is the relationship between
Kraft and his head coach and Kraft's management that accounts for the
great success the Patriots have enjoyed for the last several
Clay F., Whitesboro
A: Interesting point here, Clay, and one with merit in my view. I would just caution anyone from thinking that Robert Kraft is detached from the football decisions. He is not evaluating players change of direction and 40 times, but I think hes in on every decision. Yet I think youve hit on something that is spot-on Kraft/Belichick is a good partnership in which the sides have grown some trust in each other. I think the Spygate experience probably drew them even closer, and I believe Belichick knows that Kraft is one of the best owners to work for.
How is Kevin O'Connell progressing as a No. 2 guy? Is he the
real deal, or is he going to take some time to pan out like Matt
A: Tim, backup quarterbacks are tough because, like Cassel, you never truly know until the games. But overall, I think OConnell is progressing nicely from what Ive heard.
Hey Mike, what is your feeling regarding the possibility of
Richard Seymour being cut? I know he is a big financial hit on the cap and
while no one is discussing it, could that be one of the reasons for the
hold up with Wilfork and the drafting of Brace. Knowing BB's emphasis on
value is his value still worth his cost?
A: Chris, I dont see Seymour getting cut. I think hes still a solid player and worth the salary and cap charge. I could envision him becoming a free agent after the season and him winding up elsewhere, but I think for 2009, the Patriots will deem him valuable to keep.
Mike, how would compare Wilfork's skill set to that of Ted
Washington? Maybe it's just the age of our linebackers, but I don't think
Wilfork holds up at the line of attack nearly as well as Washington
A: Veeve, I think Wilfork is a bit more well-rounded than Washington. Wilfork can give you some push in the form of a pass rush, in addition to anchoring down against the run. Washington, to me, was a big man to move who played a bit more stationary.