With the clock ticking toward the start of training camp, emailers to this weeks Patriots mailbag are curious about contract negotiations with the teams draft picks. A holdout can often start camp on a sour note.
E-mailers also stepped forward to offer some opinions to a fan who is moving to Los Angeles and is curious how he might be able to watch the Patriots. For those interested in seeing those responses, check out this reader-generated mailbag.
Meanwhile, the questions that follow are more football-specific as we move one step closer to the start of the 2008 season. The Patriots mailbag will now publish every Tuesday throughout the season.
On to the questions...
Hi Mike, welcome back. Why do teams wait so long to start to seriously look at signing their draftees. Is it because the pressure to sign is more on the player the closer it gets to the start of training camp? If a player doesn't sign in time for camp, the player is considered holding out, which is a black mark against the player with the fans and teammates. Or do they wait to guard the team against anything that might keep them from playing, such as major injury.
A: I think there are a few reasons we see so many of these negotiations go down to the wire, Dana. The first reason is probably that people tend to act with more urgency, and are willing to sacrifice more, when facing a deadline. It reminds me of my college experience. I always tried to study a few days in advance of my big exams, but it seemed like I never truly shifted into top gear until the night before (which, now that I think of it, probably explains a lot regarding my first few semesters on campus at UMass-Amherst). Another factor for the delay in signings is that teams and agents often like to see what other players receive. It protects them from doing a bad deal. So in that case, it takes some guts to step out before everyone else. Overall, I dont think injury has much to do with it.
First, I want to say I love what we did with the draft. I love every pick. Now, when are we going to sign our rookies and at what cost? What do you feel they deserve? I think they (the rookies) all get paid way too much. Do you think we might have a hold out? If so, with who?
A: At this point, Danny, the Patriots have signed two of their seven draft picks (fifth-rounder Matthew Slater and sixth-rounder Bo Ruud). I think well see the rest of them sign in the next nine days. The big contract is naturally for first-round pick Jerod Mayo, the linebacker from Tennessee. He was drafted 10th overall, and last years No. 10 pick Texans defensive tackle Amobi Okoye received a six-year, $15.4 million deal with $12.7 million in bonuses/guarantees. Mayos deal, assuming its for six years, should come in slightly richer than that. Thats usually the way it works you look at the deal in the same slot the year before and factor in an increase. On the final part of the question, I have not spoken with the parties involved in most of the Patriots negotiations, so I dont have a good feel if there will be a holdout. My hunch would be that every pick will be signed on time.
Mike, I was just wondering what you thought about the upcoming season. Do you think the Pats will go undefeated again with the schedule that they have, and do you think Chad Jackson will become a big WR in place of Dante Stallworth?
A: Jake, my initial thought on the season is that the top storyline is how the Patriots respond from the loss in Super Bowl XLII. I expect the coaches and players to dismiss any talk of the Super Bowl that was last year, this is a new year but when you consider that six of the last seven Super Bowl losers have not made the playoffs the next year, it illustrates to me how strong that hangover effect can be (Seahawks in 2006 the lone exception). As long as Tom Brady stays healthy, I think the Patriots will buck the trend and have a great season. If I had to make a prediction on a record right now, Id go with 12-4 or 13-3. As for Chad Jackson, its been a popular question this offseason. Hes going to have a great chance to break through, and I could see it truly going either way. Im not convinced its going to happen for him, but at the same time, I wouldnt be surprised if this is the year he hits his stride. In the words of Bill Belichick, I wish I had a crystal ball to see where this one was headed. Id sum up my thoughts by saying that its one thing to look great in shorts (which Jackson apparently has this offseason), but the true test comes when the pads are on and there is hitting. Im anxious to see how Jackson responds to that challenge.
Mike, can you gauge the mood with the Patriots so far this season (I know there is not much to go on)? Are the guys feeling fired up because of the way last season ended? I feel that every year the Pats are the most determined team - should there be any concern for anything different this year? Last one, after so many seasons of playing more games than every other team, how will that affect the Patriots?
A: I think this team is hungry, CJ. I previously made the point that the Patriots had perfect attendance in their voluntary passing camps, which I think speaks volumes about the collective mind-set. I think some players are privately feeling there is unfinished business. On the last part of the question, Ive thought about that a lot. The Patriots have consistently played into deep January, so its almost as if the veteran players who have been with the club have been through one extra season over the last five years. I agree that its a concern, which is one reason I wouldnt expect an overly physical training camp. Pacing is always important, but it probably means a bit more to a team like the Patriots because of those extra games.
Our defensive backs scare me to death. Have I a genuine right to be so alarmed? How strong are we at running back?
A: I think its fair to express some concern about the defensive backs, WBQ, specifically at cornerback. When you lose a player like Asante Samuel (16 regular-season interceptions the last two years), thats a tough blow to absorb. I do think free-agent signee Fernando Bryant is going to surprise some folks by stepping in. He isnt a playmaker like Samuel, but I see him as a solid, fundamentally sound veteran who still runs well enough to compete at a top level. I also believe the Patriots will be more creative in their rush packages, which will help the corners in coverage. And Id mention the addition of secondary coach Dom Capers, who I think will help. As for running back, I think its one of the strongest positions on the team.
Mike, do you see the AFC East being a little more competitive this year, and who do you see as the most improved?
A: I do see the AFC East being more competitive this year, Dan. The big question in my mind comes down to the quarterbacks which team among the Bills (Trent Edwards), Dolphins (Josh McCown/John Beck/Chad Henne) and Jets (Kellen Clemens/Chad Pennington) gets the best play from that spot. I think the Jets will be most improved from last years 4-12 campaign. I also see the Dolphins as a team that will come on strong by the middle to late portions of the year, and could be in the 6-8 win range when all is said and done. Im not as sold on the Bills right now.
Mike, assuming the Patriots sign all their draft picks how many spots are left on the 80 man roster? Will they fill those spots with "training camp fodder" or are they still trying to sign guys who can actually play?
A: Paul, the Patriots have five unsigned draft picks and even including those players, the club has 77 players on the current roster posted on Patriots.com. So the team wont have to cut any players when the picks are signed. I would expect the team to go to camp with 80 players (thats actually a lower number than past years, when 86 was the limit). As for what type of player the Patriots might be able to sign, linebacker Junior Seau and cornerback Ty Law are two options who would seemingly make a lot of sense, so Id keep an eye on them.
Hey Mike. Training camp season is upon us. There usually is one or two interesting storylines every year. I have a feeling one of those storylines will be the competition of backup quarterback. Do you think Matt Cassel could lose his cushy role to Matt Gutierrez, who seems to have a higher upside with NFL skills?
A: I do think Cassel could lose the No. 2 job, Matt, and I agree this will be one of the top storylines to watch in training camp. Gutierrez seemed to show poise and command last year, but I also felt he was operating on a limited script compared to Cassel. So I think the big challenge for Gutierrez will be to show that same command with expanded responsibilities. As for Cassel, I respect the way he competes and I wouldnt be surprised if he comes out and has his best training camp. Quarterback is an extremely difficult position to grasp, and I think Cassel is as comfortable as hes ever been in the system, which should help him.
Hello from Hawaii, Mike. My question is regarding Sammy Morris. I am really excited to see him play again after the success he had when healthy last year. Do you think we will see similar production from the back and have a fearsome 1-2 punch? Or will his injury reduce his effectiveness?
A: Nice to make the long-distance connection, Adam. I think Morris remains a bit of an uncertainty in the teams plans right now. While Morris has said that everything is on course and he feels healthy, he has also acknowledged that there is some uncertainty until he absorbs his first contact. So its difficult to accurately answer this question until we get a few days into training camp. On a related note, I do think Laurence Maroney is going to be a player to watch this year, as hes benefited from a full offseason of work without being limited due to injury. When I think of the running game, I think it all starts with Maroney.
Mike, Troy Brown has been one of my all-time favorites and it would hurt to see him in another uniform. What's the latest with Brown? Is he going to retire or is he looking for another team?
A: At this point, Brown has not made his plans publicly known, David. That has led some to believe he is interested in possibly playing a 16th season. The Jets previously brought him in for a visit. I wish I had more information, but unfortunately, Im not aware of what Brown is thinking at this point.
Hello Mike, I hope you enjoyed your vacation. My question is about cornerback Mike Richardson. From what I understand, the coaches were really impressed with him last year before he got hurt. Do you see him making any type of impact this year? Will he make us forget about Asante Samuel one day?
A: Robin, Id classify Richardson a 2007 sixth-round draft choice out of Notre Dame as a bubble player. Im not certain he is going to make the final 53-man roster this year. Last preseason, Richardson did show some promising signs. I remember watching him hanging tough in the all-important third preseason game at Carolina he seemed to take advantage of Asante Samuel sitting out in a contract impasse -- but a hand injury landed him on season-ending injured reserve. Richardson faces some strong competition at cornerback this year, and I think its going to be tough to surpass the likes of Fernando Bryant, Ellis Hobbs, Jason Webster, Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite. Yet with unexpected injuries and an on-field training camp competition yet to unfold, one can never say for certain, so I wouldnt count Richardson out just yet.
I've never been convinced that Josh McDaniels can handle the o-coordinator job and that his "success" is based solely on the talent around him. There is no doubt in my mind that the Pats would have won the Super Bowl had Charlie Weis been in charge of the offense. Re-watching the Super Bowl, you notice Belichick frantically drawing up X's and O's for the defense while the offense was on the field, so he couldn't possibly be paying any attention to what McDaniels was doing (or not doing). The Giants have said since the Super Bowl that they never altered their defensive game-plan because the Pats never figured it out. Sorry for the long background, but here's where I'm going with this: Do you think the addition of Dom Capers will allow Belichick more time to help McDaniels make adjustments on offense? I mean, if Capers can X and O, Belichick can keep his eye on McDaniels and the offense.
A: A lot to digest here, Tom. I personally think Josh McDaniels is an excellent offensive coordinator. At the same time, Id agree that the coaching staff did not diagnose/adjust as quickly as it would have liked in the Super Bowl, which was a key in the game. I did notice that Belichick spent time drawing on the white-board with defensive players while offensive players were on the field. This happened at various times throughout the season, not just the Super Bowl, and I felt the offense got along just fine for most of the year. That being said, I could envision the addition of Capers a two-time former head coach -- possibly leading Belichick to spend more time in other areas. My understanding is that has been commonplace in the years Belichick has been coach. Depending on the makeup of the coaching staff, hes focused his hands-on attention in a variety of areas.
Mike, any chance at all of Todd Sauerbrun making a surprise return to the Patriots as punter? He may still be the best in the league, if he's well (finally).
A: Pete, I usually mention that anything is possible, but on this one I have to say Id be stunned if the Patriots brought Sauerbrun back. The way I viewed the situation, he didnt appear to leave town on the best of terms, wiggling out of his contract on a technicality. I cant imagine the team re-opening its doors to him.
I have a non-Patriots question regarding Brett Favre. The Packers are in a no-win situation, they can't trade "Favre the legend" and they can't have him play because that would kill Aaron Rodgers psyche. What are your thoughts on this as well as any thoughts from any league sources?
A: I thought you summed it up perfectly, Jan. Favre has put the Packers in an extremely difficult spot. If I was in the shoes of GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, I would have handled it the same way they did tell Favre he can return as the backup. I do think the Packers were ready to move on, so once Favre made his retirement announcement in March, the club seemed happy to accelerate the going-away process and turn things over to Aaron Rodgers. Now Favres potential return is the NFL story of the offseason, and the circus that could follow him back to the league could seriously hurt the Packers hopes of winning the NFC title.