The topics covered in the Patriots' mailbag are determined by e-mailers each week. I mention that today because as I began to go through a few hundred e-mails to pick out the questions for this 'bag, I was surprised that about 95 percent of them were related to "Spygate."
My feeling was that many fans were ready to turn the page, but the mailbag - which includes questions submitted over the last seven days - told me otherwise.
So this week's mailbag is a mix between 10-percent football-specific questions and 90-percent videotaping questions. I'm going to lead off with the football questions, because I'd like to see the discussion head in that direction going forward.
On to the questions....
Hey Mike, how is the Pats cap situation lined up in the future years? Who are the key 2009 free agents we need to focus on? When do the rookies start working out with the team? When is the next mini-camp? In the now crowded CB and LB spots, who do you see making the team? Why did Gary Guyton sign here, when there were seemingly a lot of other teams wanting him, and here he has really tough competition to make the team? Any chance they bring in another RB?
A: The cap is ever-changing, Earl, so it's a difficult question to answer. I'd sum it up by saying that the team will have the necessary room to be as active as it wants to be. The way it's setting up is that 2008 won't be a big year, but 2009 could be colossal. Not including some of the free-agent signees this year who inked one-year deals, here are some of the top players whose deals expire after the '08 season: safety Rodney Harrison, safety James Sanders, quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Heath Evans and offensive lineman Russ Hochstein. But looking ahead to 2009, the following players have deals that expire: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, defensive end Richard Seymour, defensive end Jarvis Green, offensive lineman Logan Mankins, cornerback Ellis Hobbs, offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, offensive lineman Stephen Neal, linebacker Mike Vrabel, tight end Benjamin Watson and running back Kevin Faulk. So look for the Patriots to use a two-year plan to address some 2009 issues early, while also keeping an eye on the unsettled NFL labor situation, which could impact their approach. As for the other questions, I want to see the players at cornerback and linebacker compete before making a prediction, but I will say that I think cornerback Fernando Bryant is going to surprise some folks. The Patriots are currently holding a passing camp as part of their organized team activities. The full-team minicamp is in early June. On Gary Guyton, he said he liked the Patriots' tradition and the way they "recruited" him after the draft. I do think we could see another running back added to the mix.
Hi Mike, I wanted to weigh in on 2 players for the Pats. I like the idea of Kevin Jones and Junior Seau being signed. One of the benefits of having a deep team like the Patriots is that they can "overstock" at positions and be ready in case they have an injury or two in the preseason. Kevin Jones also is not necessarily needed in the beginning of the season, so having him on the PUP list would not be a huge blow at all for the Patriots. They could approach him like they approached Troy Brown last season. Also Junior can still play at a high enough level, that if there is an injury to any of the new LBs or if the LBs are not as good a crop as we hope, then he will be needed. Your thoughts?
Dave, Barrington, NH
A: I would concur, Dave, but I think there is an important layer to the equation that must be considered: What are the feelings of the players themselves? For example, is Jones willing to spend the first part of the year on the physically unable to perform list when another team might deem him healthy to go from Day 1? There are also salary considerations, too. What if another team offers more? Seau's case is obviously a little different. My hunch is that he'll be back.
Mike, Monday morning comes word that the Cincinnati Bengals have released MLB Odell Thurman. I know that in the past the player has had some off the field issues. Would there be any interest on the Patriots' part or are his character questions just too great?
A: Will, I remember doing some predraft work on Thurman when he was coming out of college, and I don't think he was on the Patriots' draft board due to off-field concerns. Given that he's also had some problems in the NFL, I don't see this as a possibility. I think if the Patriots add another linebacker right now, it will be Junior Seau.
Mike, I was wondering what the health situation is going forward. I know Watson, Hobbs and Neal will be coming off surgeries. Will they be back for training camp, and are there any other guys to worry about?
A: Sean, the Patriots have a passing camp today (May 20), so that might shed some more light on this question. As you know, injury information is often difficult to ascertain. At this time, I don't have the answer you are looking for.
Mike, this upcoming year do you see defenses double- and triple-covering Moss from the get-go? If so, and his catches are way down do you see him being in the same team-first mood like last year?
A: Decker, I don't think defenses will have the luxury of doing so because of the presence of Wes Welker in the slot. That's part of what makes the Patriots' offense so lethal - they have more than one weapon to strike with. As for the hypothetical situation if Moss' catches are down, it will be something to keep an eye on. At this point, from what I've seen, I think Moss has demonstrated that it's not about catches at this point of his career. He wants a Super Bowl ring.
Mike, after watching the full CBS interview and reading your transcript, I don't see the part where Belichick was saying about Walsh: "For him to talk about game planning and strategy and play calling and how he advised coordinators, it's embarrassing, it's absurd. He didn't have any knowledge of football. He was our third video assistant." It appears that the interview that aired tried to show one light, but the "full" interview later released was edited to show a different light.
A: A few others e-mailed about this, Dana. My hunch is that the 14-minute video on CBS' website was probably edited a bit, and that the real-time interview between Armen Keteyian and Bill Belichick was longer than 14 minutes. The segment that aired Friday night on the CBS Evening News was three minutes.
Dear Mike, if Matt Walsh is such a credible witness like Sen. Specter seems to think, why is he not also asking for an investigation of the Jets? Mr. Walsh did mention that he met a Jets video assistant doing the same thing. Should they not be investigated and penalized the same. I know the ESPN Pats haters certainly won't pick up that story, but what about others. Why is there no uproar of this revelation which I thought was the biggest Mr. Pseudo-Golf Pro made?
Ed, Staunton, VA
A: Ed, according to Roger Goodell and Arlen Specter, Walsh did say that he thought the Jets were doing the same thing in one game (presumably sometime between the 2000-2002 seasons). As for why that isn't being investigated, a big factor is probably that it was a different coaching regime than the current regime. Those people aren't around any more. Another question from e-mailers, which is related to this, concerns the league's videotaping rules. It has always been against the rules to videotape coaching signals, according to the NFL (based on the Constitution & Bylaws). In September of 2006, the league issued a memo that it felt clarified the rule, making sure - in its own words -- that all teams understood that videotaping coaching signals was illegal. So I think any offense prior to 2006 might be looked at in a different light from a league perspective.
Mike, I'm surprised that the national media isn't questioning Matt Walsh's credibility and motives. He certainly has some skeletons in his closet. What's your take?
A: Sean, I think it's fair to question Walsh's credibility as a disgruntled former employee who has embellished stories.
Why aren't we hearing in the national media about Walsh's very questionable character? He is portrayed by ESPN and the NY Times as a reputable person we should all believe. The information in the article the Globe ran some time ago about him seems not to have gotten out to the general public. I want to hear the details about his sordid character on ESPN.
Leslie, Albuquerque, NM
A: Leslie, from a general perspective on any story like this, I think the right approach is to try to be fair and aggressive. As media members, sometimes we hit the target, other times we fall short. One thing I can say about my own coverage is that I wish I was more aggressive on one part of the story - when the Globe reported Sept. 22 that the Patriots' penalty was for the totality of the team's actions, I should have pushed harder to get information on what that was, and also had it as a more prominent part of our coverage. I think that was a key part of this story and I missed it.
Mike, why has Walsh never been asked this question? "What intention did you have that would make you steal the Patriots tapes?" He has established the fact that he is a thief. Yet his character has not come into question. He was paid to steal signals, but somehow stealing tapes makes him appear better than the Patriots. The news media needs to level the playing field.
Al, Naples, FL
A: Al, media members asked that question to Roger Goodell last Tuesday. Goodell said Walsh told him that two reasons he stole the tapes were: 1) He was thinking about going into coaching some day; 2) He might need them if he went on a job interview and his potential employer asked him what he did for the Patriots. I have not had the chance to ask Walsh myself. He did two interviews that I am aware of, with HBO and the New York Times.
I am a longtime Patriots fan, but it's now obvious cheating of some sort was going on for years, and the reputation of the Patriots has been seriously tarnished. Mr. Kraft should either fire Coach Belichick or admit that he (Mr. Kraft) was fully complicit in the illicit activities. Your thoughts?
A: David, I believe Robert Kraft when he says he was unaware of the taping. I also think that while the reputation of the team has taken a significant hit, firing Bill Belichick is too drastic. I am of the feeling that Belichick broke a rule, was wrong for doing so, was heavily penalized for it, and it's time to move on. Before moving on, I do think it was fair to ask if Belichick was knowingly breaking a rule, or if he simply misinterpreted it. Overall, I feel strongly about accountability and, at this point, I think the Patriots have been held accountable. Another part of this answer is that I've also flipped through a full copy of the Constitution & Bylaws and was amazed at how thick and detailed it was. For example, the rule directly prior to the videotaping rule is about how much beer can be filled in a cup at a home stadium. Seriously. Understanding that context has helped shape my opinion on this situation.
Senator Specter is troubled by the presence of Dan Goldberg, the Patriots' lawyer, at the NFL meeting with Walsh. Has anyone seen the agreement among the parties pursuant to which Walsh met with the NFL? This agreement was negotiated over the last 3 1/2 months. I assume that Dan Goldberg's presence was negotiated and agreed to by Walsh's attorney. The Patriots have a legal right to the material Walsh "kept" when he was fired by the Pats. The Pats waived that and other rights on condition that Walsh testify truthfully. Did Walsh or his attorney ever tell Specter that he/they did not agree to Goldberg's presence? Has any reporter to your knowledge questioned Sen. Specter or any of the parties about this alleged "issue"? Is this just grandstanding on the Senator's part? This issue may seem trivial but Specter has based his call for an independent investigation, in part, on Dan Goldberg's presence at the meeting as evidence of an inept investigation.
A: The agreement is complex and is available for anyone to read, Harrison. We've posted it online at Boston.com. I am not sure if the presence of a Patriots attorney was negotiated as part of the agreement, as my head was spinning while trying to comprehend the text. As for my opinion on some of Specter's comments, I found them to be eye-opening in this aspect: he was quoting the New York Times as a reference, as well as ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, to support his case. One that jumped out to me was when he was referencing an article from the Sunday New York Times (May 11) that included several mistakes implicating the Patriots that were later corrected (e.g. clock operators are hired by the NFL and not teams; the game-day monitoring of the communication device between the coach and quarterback is done by the NFL, not teams). Also, Specter's floor statement was filled with mistakes. I was surprised at this.
Because Specter is the Judiciary minority leader, does he need the majority leader to begin hearings on the Pats? If he does not get Democrat support from his committee is he powerless to do anything except issue statements? He is a grandstander, who I feel is distracting the Senate from real government issues (jobs, war, gas prices, etc) but one good thing is nobody can now question the extent of the Pats filming and it's all out in the open. Would you agree that all another investigation will do is put interviews on the record?
Aroon, Orlando, FL
A: Specter has made it clear, at this point, that he is not asking his fellow senators to do anything regarding the Patriots' videotaping procedures. He said the next chapter of this story will be written as a result of any public outcry. It's possible Specter could try to drum up support for congressional hearings, but fellow senators on the Judiciary Committee have come out - both Democrats and Republicans - saying they're not interested in pursuing this. So I think it's going to die. In the end, I think Specter's greatest contribution will be his adding clarity to what the totality of the Patriots' taping was, because prior to his February meeting with Roger Goodell, that was not clear. If there was an investigation, I can't say for certain that all it would do is put more interviews on the record.
Mike, much has been said about the Patriots concealing their video camera staff (i.e. Matt Walsh) and that has been used to attack Belichick's "misinterpretation" excuse. Is it obvious though that the Patriots were hiding their cameramen from the league or just from the teams they were taping, and doesn't that make a difference? Clearly they wouldn't want their opponent to see Walsh taping them, but I haven't heard a convincing argument that they were hiding them from the league as well. Your thoughts?
A: Jeremy, the Patriots released video to CBS showing that Walsh was in plain sight, in Patriots gear, while taping opposing signals. I tend to think that is more accurate - for most games - than the thought that they were concealing their actions. I also point to comments made by Roger Goodell and Bill Belichick that opposing coaches were waving to the camera, which tells me it wasn't concealed and other coaches knew they were being taped. That being said, I would think there were probably some contests (road games, perhaps) where the Patriots were less open about what they were doing.
Mike, after reading your blog on Spygate I have one more question. What exactly can teams video tape? And why do they have any video camera equipment on the field?
A: Garron, as I understand it, every team shoots the game action from a high end-zone angle or a high sideline angle, and some of those tapes are exchanged weekly with other clubs in the NFL. There are no cameras allowed on the field. What fans might see are media cameras, which could include cameras from a team's own media operation.
Hi Mike, do you think the NFL needs to have a statement to clarify for all the media outlets if the Patriots were punished for the fact that they were taping, or only that they were taping from the wrong location? Would the Patriots be able to create similar tapes legally, if their cameras were located in approved locations? Second, questions that need to be ask and answered: Bill Belichick is one of the smartest coaches in the league, why would he continue this practice since 2000 if there was no value in it? And if there were value, what exactly would the value of such taping be? Third, what would prevent in today's day and age to stream the feed from the camera to some other location during a game?
A: On the first part of the question, Mat, I do think it would help if the NFL was clearer about the rule. I think there are some people who believe the Patriots weren't penalized for filming signals, but for where they filmed the signals from. That is incorrect, according to the NFL. As for the second part of the question, I think it's a fair point. The Patriots obviously got some value out of the filming, which is why they continued to film. I think the value would come if a team did not change its signals from a prior meeting. Another value is having the film to study, instead of just notes, which would seemingly be an advantage in trying to decipher signals. On the third question, I don't know the answer.
Hey Mike, I know you've been getting a lot of questions regarding the rules and policies on video taping, but I'm hoping you can answer this one: Does the NFL monitor the video recordings that are made by cameras in the "approved" locations? What's to prevent those cameras from taping the same images that the Patriots were filming using a hand held video camera?
A: This is extremely hard to monitor, Jeff, which is why I think we've seen some changes in NFL policy over the last few months. The way I see it, the NFL simply can't monitor this efficiently. So it has required all teams to certify that they are operating within the rules, and there will be occasional spot checks by the NFL.
Mike, with everything that's occurred in the past week, can you shed some light on the subject of substantiating sources? What's the process, and who is held responsible when it isn't followed diligently? I'm sure you hear a lot of rumors and off-the-record accounts that ultimately go unpublished, so how does something as unfounded as the Rams walkthrough story even see the light of day?
A: Andrew, I have a memo that was recently distributed to Globe employees about sourcing, and it is quite extensive. It's difficult to answer this in a few hundred words, and every newspaper has different standards. I also want to be careful here about piling on a fellow journalist from a competing newspaper, someone who I very much like personally, but who made a professional mistake. As journalists, it's our worst nightmare. To sum it up, the memo basically states that editors at every level should approach any use of anonymous sources with skepticism, especially stories based on a single anonymous source. When you use an anonymous source, a question of fairness is raised. When a story is delivered with an anonymous source, editors are instructed to ask the question: "Why can't we get this information on the record?" Often times, the story never runs. Sometimes the story does run, but the source is often characterized in a way that gives readers a feel for a possible motive, such as "a person who had a public dispute with ownership." Another part is determining how close a source is to the situation to accurately pass along information. There is a lot more to this issue, and I think it's a worthy topic that should be discussed with our readers because of the trust that needs to be there between writer and reader. Ultimately, both the writer and editors are held responsible in these situations. I hope this answers the question, at least a bit, but it's tough to pack it in to a tight answer.
Hi Mike, I was just wondering how do you think Robert Kraft will be able to get the image of the Patriots restored? "Once a cheater, always a cheater" is a phrase that comes to mind of our opponents. What type of damage control can be made?
Amanda, Adelphi, Md.
A: My feeling is that it's going to take some time, Amanda, but that's really the key ingredient: time. I do believe time gives people a different perspective on how they view things, and while it's difficult to see now, I don't believe this issue will ultimately trump what the team has accomplished.