It's time to talk about Tom
... and Michael Vick, too
All eyes will be on Tom Brady this week.
The Patriots have their second week of organized team activities, and unlike last week when the sessions were for younger players and newcomers, Brady is expected to be on the field with his teammates.
That's where this week's mailbag starts, so we'll get right to the questions.
Mike, do you think that we might see Brady throwing some passes this week?
A: I think this is the Patriots story of the week, TruePat, and I sense that it's going to play big nationally as well. The team has another set of organized team activities this week (Tuesday-Friday) and Brady is expected to be on the field, throwing to his targets. I know Brady has thrown to his receivers at other times this offseason, but this will be the first chance to do it in an organized team setting, where the tempo and intensity reflects a bit more of a regular-season/training camp-like feel. Media members have access to Thursday's practice, so that will be the big day from a coverage standpoint. Editor's note: ESPN cameras caught Brady throwing passes on the turf at Gillette Stadium before Monday's college lacrosse title game. The video is embedded at the top of the mailbag.
Hi Mike, do you think the Patriots will make a push for Michael Vick? What he did obviously was wrong, but the guy is an amazing athlete. I would love to see him in a two-back set with Maroney. That's a lot of speed back there. What do you think?
A: Joel, I don't see Vick coming to New England. The first reason is pure business -- Robert Kraft often talks about the Patriots "brand" and he'd be risking a permanent stain on the "brand" by bringing in such a polarizing figure. The second reason is pure football -- I don't see Vick as a fit as a pure quarterback (you really have to commit your entire system to a player like that), only as a niche-type Wildcat option. With that in mind, I just don't think Vick -- assuming he can return to his past form, which is a big question mark -- is worth the hubbub and controversy that would come with his arrival. I think the Patriots are better off trying to develop Julian Edelman in that type of role.
Hi Mike, I think that Michael Vick would have a better shot playing wide receiver or punt/kick returner rather than quarterback. Your thoughts?
A: Dan, I was never overly impressed with Vick's hands or discipline on the football field. Because of that, I think receiver would be a tough transition for him -- would he really run crisp routes and protect the ball? The possibility of punt/kick returner might be more of a fit, but I think his most natural position at this point is as a Wildcat quarterback.
Hey Mike, do you think Mike Vick is going to play in the new startup UFL this year if he's not allowed back in the NFL?
A: Yes, I think that would be a natural place for Vick. And I think that has to scare the NFL, because it would be handing the UFL an immediate and explosive publicity piece -- and for those who have been around the NFL, it's easy to see that the league doesn't like to share any of the football spotlight. That's part of the reason why I think Vick will be reinstated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and some team -- perhaps with the nudging from the league office in New York of doing something good for the NFL -- will find a place on its roster for Vick.
How do you see the tight ends working out this year? We have three pretty good guys, and I know the Pats love looks with multiple tight ends. Do you see Ben Watson and Dave Thomas primarily as the pass catchers with Chris Baker as the blocker?
A: Anthony, I think this is one of the most competitive groups on the roster. I know Bill Belichick is quite excited about the acquisition of Alex Smith, and Chris Baker should improve the blocking at the position. I think those two will stick on the roster. That should push Benjamin Watson, David Thomas, Tyson DeVree and Brad Listorti to battle for 1-2 spots. As for who plays in what packages, I see Baker as the second part of any multiple tight end packages, with Smith/Watson battling to become the other piece. In 3 WR/1 TE packages, it's a battle between Smith/Watson in my view.
Mike, you've posted in the past that since Shawn Crable is a fairly unknown quantity, we don't really know what we might have in him regarding pass rush. But making some assumptions about the rest of the team, how much of an improvement would Derek Burgess be over what we have today (taking Crable out of the mix)?
A: Brian, I'd put Burgess in the same category as Jason Taylor. At the very least, you're looking at a pass-rush specialist, someone who has proven he can get to the quarterback and would help on third down (Patriots were 26th of 32 teams on third down last year) and in specific game-plans on a week-to-week basis. He'd probably average 15-25 snaps per game. I don't envision Burgess, if the trade was ever consummated, coming into New England and becoming a starter at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. So I think a player like Burgess would help, but I don't think it means we'd be seeing someone other than Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, Vince Redd or Tully Banta-Cain starting at one of the outside linebacker spots.
What possible OLB pass/rush players could the Patriots be interested to trade for? There were rumors about Burgess, but according your blog, Tom Cable doesn't want to trade him. We should look for a strong veteran, 30-plus-year-old, low cost with enough gas in the tank to play a big year. Someone like . . . hmmm . . . Mike Vrabel? Oops! We already had him but we gave him to Kansas City. OK, who's left? Do you think Belichick had a scenario to replace Vrabel (trade or draft) but it failed and now he regrets his move?
David L., Quebec, Canada
A: A lot to digest here, David. I'd start by respectfully contesting that Vrabel was a low-cost option. At $4.3 million against the salary cap, he was one of the team's bigger-ticket items. Still, I stand by what I have written in recent weeks: I would have kept him, even at that cost, and even while noting that his pass-rush skills have declined a bit. I don't think Bill Belichick had a pre-planned scenario to replace Vrabel that failed -- I believe he thinks highly of Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable and Vince Redd and at some point, he feels like you have to try to develop them. I think he also figures that a veteran could become available at some point to help ease some of the current uncertainty. As for possible targets in a trade, I went through every team's depth chart and there is not a lot there. One part of the issue is that teams aren't willing to trade depth now, because they might need it later. Another part of the issue is Patriots-related, as they would have a specific role in mind for any player they would target (e.g. a third-down rusher would have to be better than Jarvis Green). There are no realistic options out there who would come in and play all three downs. This is all speculative, but here are a few names I pinpointed that I might consider calling on availability if I were the Patriots:
Cliff Avril (Lions) - A third-round draft choice in 2008, Avril fit as a defensive end in the Lions' old 4-3 defense, which was a smaller unit. But at 6-feet-3-inches and 253 pounds, he's probably a bit light to play up front for the new, bigger unit. Perhaps the Lions would consider moving him if the offer was right, although he's one of their best pass rushers.
Chris Kelsay (Bills) - Buffalo selected Aaron Maybin in the first round. Kelsay (6-4, 261) has been a pure end in Buffalo's 4-3 defense, so he'd project to outside linebacker in New England. He's due to earn $3 million in 2009. Even if it was a fit, it's hard to believe the Bills would trade in the division.
Brian Robison (Vikings) - A top backup at end in the Vikings' 4-3 defense, Robison has shown some solid pass-rush skills. It wouldn't make sense for the Vikings to move him, so the offer would have to be rich enough for them to consider it, and the Patriots would have to believe he could make the switch to outside linebacker.
Justin Rogers (Cowboys) - A sixth-round draft choice of the Patriots who was claimed off waivers by Dallas, he's been a backup in each of his first two seasons. He'd be more of a depth option who could help on special teams and possibly on third down, and might be available after roster cuts.
Mike, I'm a bit puzzled about all of the hand-wringing going on about Mike Vrabel's departure. While it was certainly a surprise to most fans (me included), didn't the release of Lawyer Milloy cause just as much ruckus but also prove that Belichick sees and understands things that most fans don't? I can't think of too many players that he cut or released that went on to stardom in other places, especially veterans. Am I missing something?
Jay L., Medway
A: You're not missing anything that I can see, Jay. Part of this might be that there is no clear-cut replacement on the roster -- or at least there doesn't appear to be at this time. For a coach who often covers all the details, and who regularly raved about Vrabel, I think that has surprised some people. But Belichick's track record is solid in these situations and I think that is fair to factor into any discussion.
Mike, I think people are making too much of the LB situation. I think you have to give players a chance to develop. Mike Vrabel did not register a start in four years with the Steelers. According to NFL.com his first start came with the Pats. Vrabel developed into the player he is today after four years of experience. Who is to say this can not happen to Pierre Woods? From my recollection, Vrabel was not seen as a major free agent signing when he first came to New England. This is not to say anything negative about Vrabel, who has had a great career, but I believe Woods or another young LB can develop into a great player as well. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I think the topic has merit. Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was a rookie free agent entering the NFL. Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips was a fourth-round pick. Patriots outside linebacker Adalius Thomas was a sixth-round pick. I think these examples show that outside linebacker is a position where, as you say, you have to give players a chance to develop. Part of it is that a lot of these guys were defensive ends in college who are learning to play coverage responsibilities in the passing game -- a major adjustment. I do think any team would be smart to have a fallback plan if the players don't develop, and that's where I see the Patriots as possibly a little light right now.
Mike, I just wondered how the rookie lineman are doing? I was interested in Rich Ohrnberger as a prospect.
A: David, I think it's early yet to be evaluating these young linemen as we haven't seen them with the pads on and when there is contact. From watching drills at the team's rookie minicamp, one of the things that I think is more noticeable is foot quickness. I think Ohrnberger, who is a bit smaller from a physical standpoint (6-2, 291), seemed to move quite well. My assumption is that the Patriots would like to see him bulk up a bit, get to around 300 pounds, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's pulling and out in front of some successful screen plays in 2010 and beyond. Otherwise, it was difficult for me to assess much with the other linemen.
Mike, every year at the time of the NFL draft, I hear it said that an undrafted free agent could be in a better position than a low-round draft pick. I understand the part about choosing your own team and possibly having some leverage if he is one of the most-sought after non-drafted college players. But how does this play out? Can you give an example from this year's Patriots college crop where one of the free agents might command a better deal than one of the draftees?
A: Some would argue that it's always better to get drafted, William, but I buy into the benefits of being a free agent for some late-round players. Quarterback Brian Hoyer is probably the best example I could come up with this year for the Patriots. It's not as much for financial reasons, but that he got to choose his destination (a team which didn't draft a quarterback) and learn from Tom Brady. Hoyer received a $12,000 signing bonus. Mr. Irrelevant, the last pick of the draft, would receive anywhere from $27,000-$40,000 in the form of a signing bonus depending on the length of the deal. So in Hoyer's case, I'd say it was worth sacrificing some of the money he would have received as a late-round pick to land in New England.
Mike, I am a Patriots fan from North Carolina and I am wondering when or if Drew Bledsoe will be nominated to the Patriots Hall of Fame? He was a huge factor in getting the Patriots to a level that put them on par with the rest of the NFL and Tom Brady has been the one to put them over the top with the Super Bowl wins. Just a person that feels one should be given the honor of being in the Patriots Hall of Fame for what has sometimes been called the house that Drew help build. My wife and I have visited the HOF at Gillette Stadium and it is impressive to see all the pictures depicting their history and the great players/their short bios.
A: Joe, a player must be out of the NFL for four years to be eligible for induction into the Hall at Patriot Place, so Bledsoe does not yet qualify. Bledsoe's last year in the NFL was 2006, so he has two more years to go before the inevitable induction.
Mike, with all the cutbacks in the offices of NFL teams and in the NFL offices, I thought it was in bad taste that the owners had their meetings at the Ritz-Carlton in Fort Lauderdale. I thought they could have had them at a much less expensive and ritzy location. Any comment?
A: Fair point, David. I had a similar thought myself.
Mike, I hear people say that the Matt Cassel trade means Tom Brady is fully recovered or at least that Belichick is confident that Brady will be the starter. But to me, the Cassel trade only says to me "What we can do with the $14 million has more value than the difference between Cassel and O'Connell." Is it easier to bring a new starter into the fold the second/third time? How confident do you think Belichick is that we could win with O'Connell? We learned that injuries can happen, no matter how healthy someone is in August. Your thoughts?
A: I agree with you, Jay. I never bought the "Belichick wouldn't have traded Cassel if Brady wasn't ready" argument. That would have meant that two quarterbacks took up $29 million of the salary cap, which flies in the face of everything the spread-the-wealth Patriots have stood for the last nine years. As for the questions, I don't think it's any easier to bring a new starter in the second or third time. I think any transition is hard. As for Belichick's confidence level with O'Connell at this time, I think there is an element of the unknown in his mind. It's the same feeling he had with Cassel at this time last year. That's one of the tough parts about having an unproven backup QB -- things can look good in practice but you never really know until the bullets are fired for real. I think that's why a veteran QB remains an option for the team.
Mike, it seems to me that if next year is uncapped, it gives the Pats a lot more flexibility in keeping desired players. In addition to a number of key players not qualifying for unrestricted free agency and the ability to franchise tag a second free agent, there is the money flexibility for teams with a lot of it.
This could also dampen their enthusiasm for contract negotiations this year when next year could offer so much more flexibility. What do you think?
Tom M., Medford, Ore.
A: I think you've hit on a good point, Tom. A big part of many teams' strategy at this point is to leave as much flexibility as possible heading into a potential uncapped year. I think the Patriots would be open to consummating some extensions, but the potential for an uncapped year probably doesn't have them pushing as hard as they would be otherwise. I think Logan Mankins is a good example of this -- he enters the final year of his contract, but in an uncapped year, the Patriots would still hold his rights. So that has held the team back from pushing forward with extension talks.
I am sure this has been brought up before, but I see guys like Pisa Tinoisamoa, Ebenezer Ekuban, and possibly Greg Ellis very soon sitting out there with no contract, who might fit in good here as a pass rush specialist. Even Rocky Boiman could be a help, or Kevin Carter (14th year), I think he has a couple productive years left. I know we have young guys on the team they may be looking to produce the sacks, but I can't understand the team passing on the likes of these guys even for a two-year contract. Any ideas?
Jonathan W., Hooksett, N.H.
A: Jonathan, I personally like Tinoisamoa as a player, even though he's not a prototype system fit because of his lack of size. I think he might be able to help on third down and in 4-3 packages. My hunch, however, is that the Patriots don't view him the same way. Also, for Tinoisamoa, he might have a chance for a better contract and playing time in Buffalo and Chicago, both of whom run 4-3 defenses in which he'd fit nicely on the weak side in more of a starting role. As for Ekuban, I think he duplicates what you already have in Jarvis Green. Greg Ellis could be worth a look if he's released. Boiman would be more of an inside linebacker and I think he's a bit long and lankier for that spot (6-4, 236) - not a real take-on type of linebacker from what I've seen. I think he's more of a 4-3 type player.
I read recently that if a draft choice is injured at rookie camp, a team pays him based on where they drafted him. If an undrafted free agent tore his ACL at rookie camp, how would he be compensated?
A: John, an undrafted rookie free agent is a different situation than a draft pick because he is already under contract. Those undrafted free agents usually sign contracts in the days following the draft, whereas there is an extended negotiation for draft picks. So undrafted free agents would be placed on injured reserve and paid the base salary, or split salary (a lesser figure agreed to in the event of injury), that is written into their contract.
Hi Mike, a few years back the Pats used to scrimmage with the Giants, I think during training camp. What ever happened to that?
A: Terry, I believe the Patriots scrimmaged the Giants in the preseason of the 2001 championship season. I seem to remember Bill Belichick talking about why he no longer scrimmaged and the one point that I believe he made was that the injury factor is a little higher. You get a player who is out there trying to prove himself, gets a little keyed up, and it could cost you one of your players in a lesser controllable type environment. Also, something tells me that Belichick wouldn't like another coach to have the chance to analyze his personnel in that setting.
Mike, you seem unusually stoked about the potential of Edelman. What particularly is it that you see in this young man? How is it that he slipped to almost the end of the draft?
A: Jack, I don't want to go overboard on Edelman. It's important to remember these have been shorts-and-T-shirt practices, which isn't real football. For all we know, he'll get popped in the mouth a few times in training camp, discover he can't get off the line of scrimmage, and the idea of him as a receiver will be scrapped. But at this point, what I see is top-level quickness and change-of-direction, and the ability to create separation, which is imperative in the NFL. At the very least, he'll be exciting to watch come late July. As for why Edelman slipped in the draft, it probably had a lot to do with playing for a small school (Kent State) and not projecting to the NFL at his regular position (quarterback).