Getting up to speed during the slow season
The calendar is empty but fans still fill the 'bag
Rookie impact contract issues areas on the roster where there might be an addition breaking down the running backs. 2007 Patriots vs. 2009 Patriots.
Those are some of the topics in this week's mailbag.
The "dead period" on the NFL calendar is almost upon us, but that didn't stop this week's mailbag from filling up.
Let's get right to the questions.
How many roster spots do you think are available to this year's rookie class?
A: Dan, at this point I'd put receiver Brandon Tate (knee) on the physically unable to perform list and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie (knee) on either the PUP or injured reserve. So that leaves 10 rookies, and of that group, I think 7-9 is the sweet spot. I think the top five picks are all locks (Patrick Chung, Ron Brace, Darius Butler, Sebastian Vollmer and Rich Ohrnberger), and based on what I've seen, I'd also put Julian Edelman on the roster. So between offensive lineman George Bussey (5th round), long snapper Jake Ingram (6th round) and defensive linemen Myron Pryor (6th round) and Darryl Richard (7th round), I could see anywhere from 1-3 making the club. A safe estimate is probably two from that group.
With the OTA's wrapping up and no football activity taking place until July 30, this is the point of the off-season where the organization will work contracts with their rookie class. But do you also see a possibility of the Patriots trying to work a contract with Vince Wilfork before camp or because of the uncertainty of the CBA they may actually wait until the end of the season? Do you see any other additions made to the roster before camp opens or the team is pretty much solidified and that positions are out there to be won by current players on the roster?
Brandon, Warwick, R.I.
A: Brandon, I think the sides will continue to have an open dialogue about a possible extension for Wilfork, but my sense is that the resolution won't come in the form of an extended contract unless either side has a significant shift in stance. It seems to me that the team is reluctant to given an extension - to anyone, really. The last long-term extension/contract was Ty Warren in August of 2007. While they might be willing to go there for Wilfork, my feeling is that the numbers aren't currently at a level that would appease Wilfork. So that leads me to this conclusion: I think Wilfork will ultimately be given a short-term incentive (e.g. no franchise tag in 2010, a bump in base pay for 2009) and play out the final year of his deal. As for other additions, I don't have any inside information, but if the pieces fall in place for a pass rusher, that would be the area I'd be focusing.
Hi Mike, it's disappointing the Pats have not been able to come to a long-term agreement with Vince Wilfork. Do you feel they are willing to spend somewhere between $5 to 8 million a year long-term for a guy who usually only plays on first and second down? He normally comes off the field in passing situations when the sub-packages are put on the field. Or do you feel they might be willing to let him leave after 2009 especially if Ron Brace proves he can be a run-stopper at the NFL level?
Jim C., Seminole, Fla.
A: Jim, I don't look at it as the Patriots not being able to come to a long-term agreement, but more as the sides not being able to find a middle ground. This isn't all on the Patriots. And it's not all on Wilfork. Usually a deal is struck when the sides reach a compromise. As Richard Seymour said last week, it takes two to tango. In this case, I think the Patriots would be somewhere in that range, but that's a pretty wide range. If it's on the low side, I can see why Wilfork would be looking for more. If it's on the high side, I can see why the Patriots would be holding their ground. As for the two-down player, I see it differently. Wilfork might come off in obvious passing situations, but I think his strength and versatility on early downs allows the Patriots to be flexible on a week to week basis. For example, sometimes we see the Patriots playing six in the box and still holding up against the run, which makes them stronger in the back end. So I think to typecast him as a two-down player - which diminishes his value - is misleading. I also think Wilfork could contribute on third down if the team wanted, but they keep him off in part to keep him fresh. As for how this plays out in the future, I think the Patriots have a figure in mind as to how much they'll pay and they won't be afraid to stay true to that and turn to a replacement in future years like Ron Brace.
How is Vince Wilfork classified for the franchise tag? What about Richard Seymour? If you were Vince or Richard what would be your analysis to contract offers? Why not take a risk and play out this year and try to get a big FA contact in 2010 or a franchise tag in 2011 and a free-agent contract in 2011? It worked well for Asante.
D. Bill, Boston
A: Wilfork qualifies for the defensive tackle franchise tag, which was $6 million this year. It should increase next year, in part because of the Albert Hayensworth deal, as the franchise figure averages the top five salaries at that position. How much it increases, I am not sure. Seymour, I believe, would qualify as a defensive end and that franchise figure was $8.9 million this year. That should increase as well. As for my analysis on possible contract offers for Wilfork and Seymour, I'm generally more of a conservative type than a roll-the-dice type of guy. If the deals were in the range of what would be acceptable to them, I'd jump on it.
Mike, any chance Tom Brady purposely takes a team-friendly deal at a low salary ($2-3 million/year) to give the Pats a better chance at acquiring more talent? At first glance this would seems crazy, but he already has the respect of the league, he would be helping his legacy by being the ultimate team guy, plus giving himself a greater chance for SB rings. And most importantly, he's in the unique situation that his wife makes millions each year, so money isn't the biggest issue for him. If TB did this, he'd be even more of a hero in Boston.
A: I don't see it, Ian. If anything, I see it going in the other direction as Brady is in line for a contract extension that puts him closer in line with the game's top quarterbacks. Part of it for Brady is that if he did something like that, it would bring down the market for all the game's quarterbacks, so he has a "responsibility" in that area to the player's association. Another part of it is that any player - or most any employee in any line of work - wants to get paid fair market value. I don't see Brady any differently.
Mike, with the signing of Greg Ellis by the Raiders, do you think this will re-open the possibility of a trade for Derrick Burgess? At this point, it seems like the Raiders have a logjam at that position. We should be able to package a third-rounder for Burgess and that would definitely improve our LB corps (which seems to be the only MAJOR area where we might have some issues).
A: Rick, it makes sense to me to think that the Raiders' signing of Ellis could re-open trade talks with the Patriots for Burgess. But I haven't heard that from anyone involved in the discussions. As for Ellis, in the end the Patriots didn't aggressively pursue him. My feeling is two-fold: I think the team is happy to work with the young players it has at that spot right now, and Ellis's asking price was probably out of their range. I still think we could see an addition at that spot, if all the pieces fall into place, but I don't believe the team views it as an urgent need.
You mentioned in one of your camp notes that rookie Julian Edelman was taking snaps at quarterback. Does this mean they are seriously considering the possibility of having him compete for the third QB role, along with special teams ace/returner/WR? What happened to having him focus on learning the WR position? I would think keeping him on the roster and getting multi-position bang for the buck would be a classic example of BB thinking of new ways to get more out of the game-day players.
A: Based on what I saw, Jeremy, I don't think I'd take it that far. Edelman is a receiver, first and foremost. I don't see his participation at quarterback as reflective of a competition with Matt Gutierrez and Brian Hoyer for the No. 3 role. As for what Edelman has shown at receiver, I see quickness, change-of-direction skills, and his growing confidence in his hands. I think fans are going to enjoy watching him in training camp.
I have been critical of Maroney since his second season. Now, everyone -- including writers and those who cover the team and league in the media -- seem to agree his game is seriously lacking. I suppose if he has a breakout season then I will be forced to recant my assessment that he has never been of starting running back ilk, but I ask you: What has been the fascination with this extremely average player? Injuries may have skewed opinions of his value, but every other back except Maroney got consistent, positive yards. Isn't it time to admit he's a backup caliber player not even versatile enough to be a third-down type back?
A: CJ, I think the fascination goes back to his fourth game of his rookie season, against the Bengals, when Maroney ripped off 125 yards on 15 carries and delivered two powerful stiff-arms. Maroney has explosive speed and that was one game where it all came together. You could also look to the role he played at the tail end of the undefeated 2007 season, when he had two sets of back-to-back 100-yard games (regular season/playoffs). Overall, I don't think it's time to admit he's a backup-caliber player because as you noted, injuries must be factored into the mix. I'd like to see a full season of a healthy Maroney before going there. On the other hand, I think it's fair to be critical of Maroney in the instincts/decision-making department.
Mike, in Thursday's chat you mentioned the possibility of 4 TE's and 4 RB's. By 4 RB's, I assume you mean Taylor, Faulk, Morris, Maroney. But given the injury bug with Morris and Maroney, wouldn't BenJarvus Green-Ellis be good insurance? He ran for some tough yards last year.
Bevan M., Santa Monica, Calif.
A: Bevan, Green-Ellis would be a tough cut in this scenario, and I agree he would be good insurance. In the end, that's a question the Patriots' personnel and coaching staff will have to ask: Is a player like David Thomas more valuable than Green-Ellis? That answer could be contingent on injuries at other positions as well, and how the rest of the roster shakes out. Green-Ellis does not have practice squad eligibility and that could also be a factor.
Do you see Morris going back to his days in Miami and playing more of a fullback role this season?
A: I see Morris in the more traditional role at running back, Dana. I think the lead-blocking duties will fall more to offensive lineman Russ Hochstein in a power-based package and some of the team's tight ends in more two-back sets.
Hi Mike, You've been to some OTA's and you've been to the mini-camp. Although it's still early, can you compare what you see so far from this team to the Patriots team of 2007? Do you expect the offense to put up the same type of numbers? And what do you see as the difference between the defense of 2007 vs. the one we should see this year?
Nick M., Montreal
A: Nick, I see similarities on offense, and actually think this unit could be better than 2007. For one, I think the tight end crop is deeper. I also see more depth on the offensive line. Not as sold on the depth at receiver at this point compared to 2007. Defensively, the primary thought would be "With Eric Alexander lining up at inside linebacker, does this unit have enough depth at that spot?" I think the cornerbacks look deeper. Overall, at this point, I'd say the offense looks a bit better than 2007, and the defense a step back. Part of that is that some key players weren't on the field.
Hey Mike - How does Randy Moss look speed-wise? With him getting up there in age (32) I could see him possibly losing a step at some point. Any sign of the corners keeping up with him?
A: Nick, this wasn't full-contact, game-speed type of work, but I saw one play where Moss decided to turn on the jets and I wrote the following words in my notebook: "Moss can still burn."
Hi Mike, I was wondering if you think Tom Brady will be the de facto offensive coordinator this year? I can see him calling a lot of his own plays due to there being no real coordinator this year.
A: Paul, I think Brady changes plays at the line of scrimmage quite a bit and will continue to do so, but I don't see him actually calling the plays. The changing of plays, and getting the Patriots out of a bad play based on what Brady sees from the defense before the snap, is one of the underrated parts of his game. But I see quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien being the lead game-planner and play-caller.
Been doing some homework on Jeremy Jarmon. This could be a perfect storm. New England has the need, the extra draft picks, and this kid appears to have skill. What is your take on him as a player? Do you believe the Pats will go after him?
Corey R., San Diego
A: Jarmon is applying to be part of the NFL's supplemental draft July 16, Corey, and I don't know much about him other than what I read. Maybe this is a case of a market inefficiency in which the Patriots could capitalize, similar to when they went hard after Adalius Thomas. But at this point, without knowing enough about Jarmon, I'd lean on history and the Patriots not selecting one player in the supplemental draft in Bill Belichick's tenure (2000-present). The last time the Patriots selected a player in the supplemental draft, it was defensive back J'Juan Cherry in 1999. Cherry, who is sometimes confused with the more productive Je'Rod Cherry, did not pan out and cost the Bobby Grier-led personnel department a fourth-round draft choice.
Mike, we've now seen the first year of Asante Samuel as a Philadelphia Eagle. He appeared to have a good year for them with a career high 22 passes defended, and a respectable four interceptions, including at least one in the postseason that helped the Eagles defeat the Giants. To sign him, the Eagles agreed to pay him $56 million over six years, just over $9M per year. Looking back at his performance, I have a couple of questions: First, do you think the Eagles overpaid or got about what they could reasonably expect? Second, do you think his contract and first year with the Eagles demonstrates the folly of jumping into the top end of the free agent market?
Justin R., Portsmouth N.H.
A: I think Samuel was worth the investment for the Eagles. He's a No. 1 corner and I think the team is happy with its decision based on 2008. Obviously, one year doesn't make the contract worth it, but my feeling is that if Samuel keeps producing the way he did last year over the course of the deal, the team will be pleased with that.
Mike, on Sunday you wrote that Mike Vrabel has given the reporters in KC that he does not want to play there. What exactly has he done and how the reaction been in KC to Vrabel coming there?
A: Joe, one example came when Vrabel told reporters at mandatory minicamp that he didn't "sign up" to be in Kansas City. Vrabel's point was that it's one thing to sign with a team, and another to get traded there. While Vrabel specifically said something like "don't mistake that for me not being excited; I'm here and I'm happy", the media members in front of him weren't necessarily buying what he was selling. Vrabel also hasn't spent much time at the Kansas City facility from what I am told. While those workouts are voluntary, players who are traded to a new team sometimes feel like it helps to be around for a little bit to create a good first impression with their new employer.
Hi Mike, wondering what your thoughts are about Rex Ryan. If he's talking like this already how will he survive the NY press with a losing Jets team? I'm assuming they will be losing more than winning.
A: Greg, I think Ryan is a breath of fresh air in some respects. Much of what is said these days is canned and predictable, so I like hearing him with that in mind. On the other hand, I thought Gary Myers of the New York Daily News made a good point - Ryan's reference to Channing Crowder's tattoos was in poor taste and not at the level of head-coaching etiquette that someone in his position should be.
Hi Mike, thanks for the key dates on the upcoming NFL calendar. It's nice that October's fall meeting will be in Boston. Can you give us an idea of what might be discussed there? Also, what's the difference, if any, in the spring vs. fall meetings?
A: Matt, I think a big topic in the fall meeting will be the labor agreement with players and more chatter on the possibility of an 18-game season. Some possible rule proposals could be discussed based on proposals from the competition committee. From my experience, the spring and fall meetings are pretty similar.