Even during lull, still lots to talk about
Assessing some of the e-mails to the Patriots mailbag over the last few weeks, these seem to be the primary thoughts on the mind of the team's fans:
-- Will things get worked out with Deion Branch, and what is he worth?
-- What's the latest with free agent cornerback Ty Law?
-- What are the team's plans with its $15 million worth of cap space?
With Patriots training camp set to begin July 28, and many coaches and players currently enjoying some time off, we'll try to tackle some of these questions.
Do you think the Patriots will sign Ty Law if he comes down on his asking price before training camp? Also, do you think the Patriots will sign Deion Branch before he becomes a free agent for next year?
Anthony Powell, Boynton Beach, Fla.
Yes and yes. In handicapping the Ty Law Sweepstakes, I like the Patriots' chances if Law's asking price comes down and all offers are equal, because I think Law would want to live in this region more than the cities of the other teams in the mix. At the same time, if I'm Law, I'm probably waiting until the first major injury of training camp to sign a contract. Then he creates more demand for his services. As for Branch, I believe he will sign an extension before he becomes a free agent.
Do you still consider Branch a "number 1" receiver even after your research on number 1 receivers? I have to believe that he isn't. I mean he's our number 1 receiver but I have to believe on most teams he'd be a solid number 2. Sure, he needs to be paid but he's not Richard Seymour and shouldn't be trying to duplicate Seymour's stance of last year. Seymour is among the very best at his position and the NFL in general.
Stephen LaRue, Ogdensburg, NY
That exercise of digging up the contract figures of number one receivers was a good one to help get my thoughts straight on this issue. I was trying to determine what Branch's current market value was and believe he comes down in the $5 million per year range at this time. If we were to categorize the top receivers as elite No. 1s and standard No. 1s, I'd put Branch in the second category. Like any negotiation, I see this as a two-way street. If Branch is serious about staying with the Patriots, he probably takes a bit less than he would project to receive on the 2006 open market. And if the Patriots are serious about retaining him, they extend themselves a bit more than they might be prepared to in order to consummate the deal. There is no denying that Branch -- who by most accounts is as polite and respectful as any player in the locker room -- is a vital cog to the Patriots. He's someone that quarterback Tom Brady relies on more than any other skill position player on offense. That's why I think the deal gets done, and also why the team is currently leading the league with $15 million of salary cap space: they're committed to getting this done with Branch.
I just read your article on Deion and all I can say is 'Deion, it was nice to know you!' In the Pats offense, a WR is not worth the kind of money they pay a running back that touches the ball 300 times a year as opposed to 60. With the addition of Maroney and the tight ends, they are building a balanced, power offense. They do not need a feature WR to catch 100 balls a year.
I'm going to respectfully disagree with this one, Phil. While I don't think they need a wide receiver to catch 100 balls a year, I think they do need Branch. He's special, a difference-maker. I strongly believe he's worth that figure of $5 million per year. The problem might be if he's looking for much more than that, like Reggie Wayne's six-year, $40 million deal. I just see that as apples and oranges in two areas: 1) I think Wayne is a superior player; 2) Wayne's deal came as he was set to enter unrestricted free agency, not one year before his contract was set to expire.
You mention the Patriots' cap space number of $15 million -- the highest in league as of June 25. How does Richard Seymour's new deal figure in there? I thought he could not sign his new deal until August? So isn't that when his new money will hit the cap, which I would expect to big a big number due to bonus money?
Seymour has two option bonuses, which will come due by next March. The first is $6.66 million. The second is for $12 million. It is possible, with Seymour's consent, that the Patriots could turn one of the option bonuses into a roster bonus, which would then count that entire amount against the current year's salary cap. But if the figures remain as option bonuses, the salary cap hits for those bonuses are prorated over the length of the contract.
After the Seymour signing and taking into account a "reasonable" assumption for Branch and the rookies, is there enough left in the bag to go get Ty Law?
Ben, Millwood, NY
Really, it all depends on what Ty Law is asking for. Doing the math, the Patriots have slightly more than $15 million of cap space at this time. If Branch takes up about $5 million of that and the rookies take up around $4 million, that leaves around $6 million. Teams always want to leave some space for emergency use during the year, but I'd say that's enough to sign Law.
Regarding the Johnathan Sullivan matter, I think the agent's "rigorously defend" comment is ridiculous. Doesn't he understand who is dealing with? The New England Patriots. His client works for Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick and he lines up next to Richard Seymour. Sullivan is going to be looking for a new job if he doesn't get his act together real quick.
Brian Roach, Encinitas, Calif.
I took the agent's comments to mean he would defend Sullivan against the charges, not to the Patriots. No doubt, Sullivan put himself in a bad position by being out at 4 in the morning, and he embarrassed the Patriots franchise by having the words "Sullivan, Patriots, and arrest" in the same sentence in newspapers and on web sites across the country. I don't expect the Patriots to release him, but I would say Sullivan's already short leash becomes that much shorter.
What are your thoughts about Daunte Culpepper's skills? I do not have video equipment to break down game film, but Daunte looks like the same type of quarterback as Jake Plummer. Good on the run, can throw the deep ball, but may not have the ability to stand in the pocket, go through his receiver options, make the correct decision and then deliver an accurate ball. I am hoping that this will be his Achilles' heel as the Patriots will need to contend with him 5-10 years by the looks of things.
Dan Adner, Scottsdale, Ariz.
My perception of Culpepper is that accuracy isn't his strong suit. Then I checked his career completion percentage -- 64.4 percent -- and it matched up quite well with my choices for current elite quarterbacks: Tom Brady (61.9), Peyton Manning (63.9). I'm anxious to see more of Culpepper myself to see if these numbers might not tell the whole story.
You keep touching on this theme of people being down on the Patriots. SI's Peter King has them in the SB against Dallas and a group at ESPN have them in the Super Bowl against Carolina. My guess is that 95 percent of the preseason predictions have them winning the East, the majority of them having them in the AFC title game, at least. Anyone who thinks their run is over is not paying attention. Destroyed by injuries, they righted the ship enough to be one or two plays from hosting the AFC title game last year. You're not going to win it every year and to go as far as they did in an off year is still an indication of success, not failure.
Jim Veneau, New York City
It was former Patriots quarterback Jim Miller, now working for SIRIUS radio's NFL channel, who noted that he's heard callers to his show speak of the Patriots' run being over. My opinion: With what appears to be a favorable schedule, a potentially dynamic offense, and Tom Brady leading the way, 12 wins wouldn't surprise me.
I was just wondering if you think that the Pats could potentially lose tight end Daniel Graham next year. I think he is great for the Pats and he kind of reminds me of Ben Coates. I know it's early, but I'd hate to see him go.
Andre Kinyo, Ohio
I think Graham is one of the most underrated players on the team. He's one of the few NFL tight ends I've seen who can be a dominant blocker, and at the same time turn in a play like the tight-end screen that he took for a touchdown against the Falcons last year. My guess is that the Patriots' decision-making process with Graham will come down to two primary factors: 1) assessing the development of Benjamin Watson early in 2006; 2) assessing the health of Graham's shoulders. As of now, I don't believe the sides have had substantial talks regarding an extension.
I'm pretty excited about the offensive prospects the Patriots now have. I think the defense shakes out nicely as well, but with a few question marks. Do you feel like Monty Beisel is ready to start, not just due to his weight increase, but with a year under his belt in the system? Also, I know you had concerns with the DBs going into the draft, so how serious are the Patriots about Ty Law, and is it a wise investment?
One of the more interesting nuggets to come out of June's minicamp is that Beisel will be working at the "will" inside linebacker spot. The idea is that Beisel will be able to use his speed more at that position, as compared to the "mike" inside linebacker position. I think that will help him, as will playing next to Tedy Bruschi. So all in all, I do think Beisel is ready to start. As for the DBs, if Law's price falls into the $4 million-$5 million per year range, I'd scoop him up for 2006 only. I think he'd put the defense over the top.
Do you feel Matt Cassel is a better QB now than Rohan Davey was when they let him go? Don't you think they will pick up a veteran in the next couple of weeks so he can become acclimated to their system? Thanks
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
I do think Cassel is better than Davey was at the time Davey was let go. As for picking up a veteran, I'm surprised the Patriots haven't done so at this point. The available players are thin, with names like Vinny Testaverde, Jeff Blake, Tommy Maddox and Shane Matthews. If things stay the same, I only see two quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Matt Cassel) making the final 53-man roster out of camp.
Former Patriots David Patten of the Redskins and Bobby Hamilton of the Raiders are rumored to be cut. Would the Pats be interested?
Venki Nagesha, Wayland
Hamilton was recently paid a roster bonus around $400,000, so I don't see him getting cut. As for Patten, that's a possibility and I think the Patriots would be interested. Patten would have to pass a physical because he's been hampered by a bum knee of late.
Can you go into some detail on how the new guys get paid during training camp and how all of them get paid during preseason? Those big-buck contracts start with the beginning of regular season. I'm curious about the rest of the time.
Donald Christy, Ayer
Players don't earn their salaries until the regular season starts. According to the league's old collective bargaining agreement, in 2006, rookies would make $775 per week and veterans would make $1,100 per week. That commences with the first day of training camp up to one week prior to the first regular-season game. Veterans would earn $200 additionally in weeks in which their teams played preseason games. I'm not sure if those numbers have increased with the new collective bargaining agreement.