Less than three weeks away from training camp, the anticipation continues to build for what should be an exciting season for the Patriots.
Before getting to the questions, a reminder that Thursday is this year's NFL supplemental draft. The draft is for players whose situations have changed since the regular NFL draft (i.e. college eligibility), and as one would expect, the Patriots have done their homework on this year's prospects, attending at least one pro day and scheduling at least one private workout. While it's difficult to assess the team's genuine interest in prospects, I've decided to focus more attention on this year's supplemental draft because of the quality of players available.
Maryland offensive tackle Jared Gaither, Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver and Nebraska offensive lineman Chris Patrick all have qualities about them that I think the Patriots will deem draftable. Mainly, Gaither and Patrick have NFL-caliber size, and Oliver - while not a speed burner - has cover skills that I believe could transfer well into the Patriots' system.
The Patriots have not been awarded a player in the NFL's supplemental draft under coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli (2000-present). I'm going to watch with interest Thursday to see if that changes.
On to the questions...
I have never understood the supplemental draft. Who qualifies for this draft, and why didn't these individuals qualify for the primary draft?
Jim Bruce, Boston
A: The supplemental draft is held each July and is for players whose situations have changed since April's regular draft. Take one of the players in this year's supplemental draft, Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver, as an example. After the 2006 season, Oliver decided he would return for another season with the Bulldogs. Yet shortly after April's NFL draft had concluded, Oliver was declared academically ineligible to play for Georgia in 2007. So he decided to become a professional, with hopes of entering the NFL. A player like Oliver can't simply become a free agent - imagine all the problems if an open bidding was allowed on rookies coming out of college, and the future loopholes others might try to exploit - so the league has a supplemental draft. Most every player in the supplemental draft had initially decided not to turn pro, but something changed with their situation since that time.
Mike, The supplemental draft is new to me. As I understand it, a team gives up next year's draft pick in the same round it drafts a player in the supplemental draft. Does this mean that the Raiders, whom I assume have the very first pick in the supplement draft, would give up their first-round pick next season if they selected someone? Why would any team ever do this? Do most teams pass on their picks in the supplemental draft for this reason, because they don't want to "waste" next year's early round draft choices? It might be helpful to readers if you would post a link to last year's supplement draft choices.
Jim Thomson, Natick
A: Most teams do pass, Jim, although each year there seems to be at least one player who is worth a roll of the dice. The only player selected last year was Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks (third round, Bengals). The Patriots made a selection in 1999 - nabbing Arizona State cornerback J'Juan Cherry (not to be confused with veteran Je'Rod Cherry) in the fourth round -- and it didn't work out. So, like the regular draft, there are some hits and some misses. It's rare to see a player selected in the first round, but the Chargers were one example of a team that struck gold with a high pick when they selected Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams in the second round of the 1998 supplemental draft. So there are indeed some valuable chips in the supplemental pool, and I happen to think this year is stronger than the norm.
I think it is time to truly look at some possible replacements for Samuel. With extra picks, do you see a trade, supplemental draft (Paul Oliver), or free agency filling that need? Any players you would like to see out there?
Corey Ramsey, San Diego
A: There are not a lot of available cornerbacks in free agency and teams also aren't lining up to trade top corners. That's why I'm a believer that Oliver would be worth a roll of the dice in the third or fourth round of the supplemental draft. Part of my opinion is dictated by the fact the Patriots already have two third-round picks next year (theirs, Oakland's). I've done a little research on Oliver and this is what I see: he'd probably be a fourth or fifth corner as a rookie, could contribute on special teams, and potentially grow into a second or third corner. He doesn't run as well as some top corners, but has room to grow. When I compare him to someone like Fresno State's Marcus McCauley - a third-round choice of the Vikings in April's draft - I personally like Oliver's body of work better.
Is there a limit to the number of players that can start the season on the PUP list, and do you think Troy Brown and Chad Jackson may start on that list?
Joe Barnett, Worcester
A: There is no technical limit on the number of players who can be placed on the reserve/PUP list at the start of training camp. But teams do have an overall roster limit of 80 players (not including exemptions, such as NFL Europa). I do think Jackson will start on the list. I would imagine that Brown wouldn't be signed unless he was ready to play.
What is the typical numbers breakdown at each position and where might the Patriots tinker with that?
A: Let's use the Patriots' roster coming out of training camp in 2006 for the breakdown:
Offensive line: 9
Running back: 4
Tight end: 4
This is a little tricky because the Patriots had 54 players (instead of 53) as Deion Branch didn't count against the limit, as he had yet to report. Also, the final spots of the 53-man roster have generally been fluid, with potential to change from week to week. I don't see much tinkering with these numbers. I could possibly see one less offensive lineman or defensive lineman, which could open the door for a player who surprises at camp at another position.
Can you detail the important dates leading up to the start of the season? Camp opens? First preseason game? First roster cut-down? Second cut-down?
Final cut-down? How important is July 15 to Asante Samuel? Is that the last day he can sign a multi year deal and after that he is forced to play for the one year tender? Any chance of picking up a veteran OL like Marco Rivera for depth?
Mike in Southie
A: Here are some key dates:
July 27 - Camp opens
Aug. 10 - First preseason game, at Tampa Bay
Aug. 28 - Roster cut-down to maximum of 75 players (NFL Europa exemptions expire)
Sept. 1 - Roster cut-down to maximum of 53 players
There are only two roster cut-downs. You nailed it on Samuel, although the league has pushed the date to July 16 because the 15th falls on a Sunday. After July 16, Samuel can no longer sign a long-term deal; he must play for the one-year tender. As for a veteran like Marco Rivera, I think the Patriots are pleased with their situation on the line, and I would only imagine them adding a younger player that could help them in the future.
I'm having a hard time understanding the thinking of Asante Samuel. Sure, he's a Pro-Bowl level talent and I'd hate to see him go, but the Patriots have proven over the past four or five years that they're not going to pay more than what they think is fair to players in situations somewhat similar to Samuel's. And the players who have left have had, for the most part, performances that didn't live up to what they were able to accomplish in New England. Doesn't there become a point where players realize that less (but still pretty good) money in New England may be in the best interests of their careers?
Clay Best, Clayton, N.C.
A: It depends on the player, Clay, which is why I view each situation independently. For example, I don't think Samuel has said to himself "look what happened to Lawyer Milloy, David Givens, Damien Woody; so I should take less than I think I'm worth to stay here." In Samuel's case, he appears to be trying to maximize his value and will consider going anywhere to get it, which I feel is similar to what Daniel Graham, Deion Branch, David Givens, and Adam Vinatieri have done in recent years. On the flip side, a player like center Dan Koppen decided he was happy in New England and re-upped last year for less than what I think he could have received on the open market. For fans of the team, I'm sure the preference would be for more players to take Koppen's approach, but I can also respect the other approach, because for some of these players there is one chance to land a big payday that can secure their futures.
So, I don't know all the rules to NFL contracts, but it seems to me that it isn't really in Asante Samuel's best interest to hold out. I understand that he wants a long-term deal, and Nate Clements-type money, but given the nature of NFL contracts, is that even worth it? Clements' contract is backloaded, and I actually imagine that he will be cut long before he earns most of the contract. He did get a large up front bonus, but his base salary for the first year is actually quite low, isn't it? So for Asante, why not take $7.79 million this year? It's like getting a large up-front amount of money, and he is free to renegotiate next year. I would think a few years of getting franchised would be just as good financially, or even better than having a long-term contract in the NFL. Long-term contracts seem to benefit the team as opposed to the player since 1) the player can be cut at any time, 2) they are backloaded to the years you will be older and less productive, almost guaranteeing that you will be cut instead of making that money.
Christopher Lin, Boston
A: I see the point, Christopher, but I see a few holes in the thinking. While there was backloaded money in Clements' deal, he will be paid $29 million in the first three years, which is a tremendous figure. Clements' 2007 base salary is low, but that is only because he has a $10 million roster bonus for 2007, which is standard for long-term contracts. Also, while Samuel would be guaranteed the $7.79 million once he signs the tender offer, it pales in comparison to a bonus that could be $16-20 million as part of a long-term deal. So, to me, what it comes down to is who assumes the risk. A player who is continually franchised - like Walter Jones was in Seattle - could indeed do well over time. But the key is staying healthy in a physically violent sport, which is no guarantee, so the player assumes a great risk in that scenario. If I were a player, I would prefer the security of a long-term deal over the idea of being franchised in consecutive years. That would eliminate the risk I am assuming.
If Asante Samuel does hold out until week 10, do the Pats have to activate him? Does he get paid from that point on and only the prorated amount for the rest of the season counts toward the cap?
A: The Patriots wouldn't have to activate Samuel but Samuel would still receive credit for the season (which would be his goal). Samuel would get paid a prorated amount, which would count against the Patriots' cap.
Will the Pats play their trump card and threaten to franchise Samuel for 2 years? It seems to me he'll commit financial suicide by not playing if this comes to pass. I can't see any other way to get him into camp, can you?
Tom Williams, Vernon, Conn.
A: I think another way to get Samuel to camp is to guarantee him they won't franchise him next year. Knowing that, I think Samuel would come to camp on time, realizing he's making $7.79 million guaranteed with a chance to hit the open market in 2008. On the flip side, I think threatening the franchise tag for a second year might make Samuel dig in a bit harder.
I was just wondering a few things. 1) Has there has been talk of some movement in the secondary? Who is more likely to be moved to corner this year Eugene Wilson or Meriweather?; 2) Assuming everyone stays healthy in the secondary this year do you think they really need Samuel? I mean, we do have some playmakers in Hobbs, Wilson, hopefully Meriweather, and of course Rodney is Rodney. Now do not get me wrong, I would love to see Asante back next year and for years to come, but do not want to see Nate Clements' type numbers thrown at him. I hear quite a bit that we need Samuel or another "lockdown corner" to beat the Colts. The "X" factor I think in that game will be the fact that the Colts will have to bring that 8th man into the box to stop the run, whereas the Pats front seven is rather scary looking for opposing running backs. So I think even without Samuel the corners are still going to have a lot of support from the safeties this year. Your thoughts?
A: On the first question, I think they'll play Wilson and Meriweather at corner in training camp - as part of building flexibility -- and see who looks best. One of those guys would be moving to corner in nickel situations anyway, so it's not that big of a deal. A bigger deal would be if either player was lining up consistently at corner in non-nickel situations, which will be something to watch in training camp. On the second question, I think they need Samuel. He makes them a better team. And I'm also factoring in the wild card that cannot be predicted at this point: health. Any time you take a starter like Samuel out of the mix, you are already taxing your depth. That said, do I think they need him at Clements' type money? No. As for the Pats-Colts matchup, you bring up an interesting point about the Colts having to bring an eighth man into the box to stop the run. That would mean Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte' Stallworth would have single coverage and I would like that matchup for the Patriots. At the same time, the Colts' offense looks lethal as well, and I think first-round receiver Anthony Gonzalez will be a leading candidate for rookie of the year honors. Patriots-Colts already looks like an instant classic to me.
Whether Asante Samuel plays, or not, I believe that the Pats will move Eugene Wilson up to the corner this season. With the addition of Meriweather, and Sanders and Hawkins having another year of experience at safety, and the possible full recovery of Rodney Harrison, I think that the Pats would be better served with Wilson at corner instead of Hobbs, and that Hobbs should move to nickel. Are you getting any indication that the Pats are thinking along those lines? I think that Wilson can give more at corner than at safety. He was a darn good corner at Illinois. Hobbs is a weak cover man, gives too much ground off the line, and his height restriction hurts him on inside routes run by opposing receivers. How are the Pats looking at the corner situation for this season?
Mike Allen, Phoenix
A: I have heard some scouts echo your thoughts on Hobbs, but I see him a bit differently, as a solid starting corner. As for how it all shakes out, I still feel that Asante Samuel will show up by the first week of the season, but assuming they start training camp without him, I am expecting to see Hobbs and Chad Scott as the top corners. Randall Gay and Tory James would be 3-4, with the possibility that Wilson or Meriweather could step in if they perform well when put into that position. If I had to make a prediction, I think Wilson will still be at safety.
Do you have any more information on why Rodney Harrison adjusted his contract? Since you did not report that the leftover money was converted into a bonus or deferred to another year, it sounds like Rodney basically took a $700,000 pay cut without getting anything in return. Why would Harrison agree to this? As selfless as Rodney is, I have a hard time believing he would just give up money "for the good of the team", especially since the team does not appear to be in cap trouble. The only thing that I can think of is that Harrison received more upfront money in the past, perhaps after the 2004 season when he was supposedly unhappy with his contract. The Pats resolved the situation quietly, so I don't remember if the details were ever reported.
Phil J., Sunnyvale, Calif.
A: Unfortunately, I don't have any more information on it, or I would have reported it. I do know Harrison is fine with the change and feels he can earn the money back. My feeling, and this is just opinion, is that Harrison had some concerns about whether he could be a salary cap cut. By taking the reduction, he takes that possibility away, while still earning a nice wage that he probably wouldn't get elsewhere at this point in his career.
Again, Profootballtalk.com is reporting that Bill Belichick will leave the Pats after the 2007 season. It makes the statement that they feel he wants to win a Super Bowl with an NFC team to be the first person to do that. It's all speculation but what are the facts? Does he have a contract beyond 2007 and will he stay and honor it if he does? I don't want to envision the Pats without Bill.
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: I don't know the facts regarding Belichick's contract but I don't think 2007 is the last year. I have maintained that I think Belichick is here for the long haul and I haven't heard anything that would make me change my thought on that.
Are you concerned about Patriots' running back and cornerback positions, which may cost them this year's Super Bowl?
A: From a reporter's point of view, I wouldn't sum up my thoughts on those positions as concerned. If Laurence Maroney is healthy from wire to wire - a significant if - I think running back will be an upgrade from 2006. I see cornerback as one of the weaker areas on the roster if Asante Samuel does not show up, but my hunch is that Samuel won't walk away from $7.79 million and will be with the club for the start of the regular season.
I am hearing that Larry Johnson is not happy in Kansas City and we all know how Asante Samuel is unhappy in New England. Could it be possible, since Laurence Maroney still has his shoulder issue, that the Patriots trade Laurence, Asante, and someone else (maybe a pick) for LJ? That would free both teams from having the trouble brew the rest of the season and would give both teams good players in return.
A: I don't see the Patriots making this trade, mainly because of the financial considerations. Taking on Johnson means you get a great player but you'd have to fork over what would be one of the richest signing bonuses in team history. I think the assets the Patriots have in this deal - Samuel and Maroney - are a better package. Part of my thinking is that Maroney still has four years left on his contract at manageable rookie wages, which is always an important consideration.
How can the Colts spend $131 million in 2006 - according to USA Today's annual player compensation survey -- while other teams such as the Patriots spend $104 million. What was the salary cap and what are the penalties to go over?
A: The salary cap last year was $102 million. I thought the USA Today survey was a good reminder that the salary cap is simply a bookkeeping figure, not a hard ceiling that teams can't spend over. For example, when the Patriots signed Adalius Thomas, they paid him a $12 million signing bonus this year, a $900,000 base salary and a $107,000 workout bonus. So while the team's total payout to Thomas for 2007 was $13 million, Thomas's salary cap charge is $3.4 million because his signing bonus is prorated over the length of the contract. This sets up a confusing system in which teams are not allowed to go over the salary cap bookkeeping figure, but can actually spend over the cap.
It seems like every week now some NFL player is charged with a crime. Why is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell moving so slowly in disciplining those involved? He has made a big deal about championing the NFL's personal conduct policy, but not much has happened. Does he really have the power we assume he has to discipline?
Stephen H. Foster, Friendswood, Texas
A: It's an interesting point of view, because I would say many folks would say Goodell has moved quickly when it comes to disciplining players. I fall in the second category in the sense that I think he's moved as quick as he can, given that sometimes due process needs to run its course.
Has there been any news on Troy Brown? What do you believe will be the final outcome with Troy? As we get older it is harder to see the old favorites retire. I'll have November off in the States this year: any tips on the best way to secure a home game ticket or two? Cheers.
Corky Decker, Florida
A: Not much has changed with Brown since our last correspondence. It all comes down to his health. He underwent a pretty significant surgery on his knee this offseason and assuming he passes a physical, I expect him to be back. But there are no guarantees, health-wise, he'll be ready to go. As for the tickets, I wish I could help you on that one. They're hard to come by these days, which is quite different from when I was a teenager and had no trouble showing up on game day and getting into a 6-0 loss to the Colts on Dec. 6, 1992.