Toeing the line
FOXBOROUGH- With this week's mailbag publishing the day after the Patriots traded offensive tackle Brandon Gorin for a conditional draft choice, several fans were curious what a conditional draft choice is.
Other topics that filled the mailbag included the decline of linebacker Monty Beisel, the signing of linebacker Junior Seau, the progress of defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan, and the lack of progress regarding negotiations with Deion Branch.
Scouts from 11 NFL teams were issued credentials to watch Saturday's preseason game between the Patriots and Cardinals. One of them was particularly impressed with the depth the Patriots have built along the offensive and defensive lines. Questions included how the team's kicking situation will unfold, lack of depth at linebacker and receiver, and whether the team can be successful with Garrett Mills as a lead blocker.
On to the questions.
Gorin was traded for a conditional draft choice. What exactly is a conditional choice? Does the draft pick depend on his performance during the 2006 season, so if he does well the pick will be in a higher round like the 4th vs. the 5th or 6th rounds?
Russ, Olympia, Wash.
That's exactly what a conditional draft pick is, as the value is contingent on a set of factors agreed to by the teams. For example, in 2004, the Patriots traded linebacker Quinn Dorsey to the Chicago Bears for a conditional pick. It turns out Dorsey never made the Bears' roster, and thus, the Patriots didn't receive anything for him. In 2003, the Patriots acquired Harvard offensive lineman Jamil Soriano from the Bears for a conditional pick, but since Soriano didn't make the roster, the Patriots didn't lose any picks to Chicago. I am not aware on the conditions regarding the picks the team would receive for Gorin, or Ross Tucker. Two published reports indicated the Patriots received a seventh-round pick for Gorin that could upgrade to a sixth-rounder.
Between compensatories and trades, it seems like the Pats will have a bunch of extra picks next year. Any guess as to where they stand?
Dave Allen, Manchester
The Patriots have single picks in each round for 2007, plus the two conditional choices from the Ross Tucker and Brandon Gorin deals (likely later-round picks). Compensatory picks will be awarded after the season - given to teams who lose more compensatory free agents than they signed -- and the Patriots should gain a few picks there as well (those can't be traded). Looks like the team will have the type of flexibility it covets on draft day, with some extra late picks to move around the draft board.
I see that the Pats just traded Gorin to the Cards for a draft pick. Does this move all but lock up Ryan O'Callaghan as the RT, or do you feel Nick Kazcur (if healthy) has the nod? For all the talk you hear about the Pats' defensive line and its youth, the offensive line the Pats have quietly put together projects to be downright nasty for years to come. Also, please tell me Deion is going to come to his senses and end this holdout? I don't see us having a problem moving the ball with our ground game, TE's and Brady's ability to hit any open receiver but having Deion puts the offense in the elite category if you ask me.
Steve Jones, Lawrenceville, N.J.
That will be an excellent competition - O'Callaghan vs. Kaczur. Because he's been on the field throughout training camp, I think the edge goes to O'Callaghan right now. When Kaczur returns, the team will probably work him at left tackle initially, because he's the primary backup there. As for Branch, no news to report as of Monday afternoon. The sides still aren't talking.
Why are the Patriots trading players for conditional draft picks, instead of trading for LB or WR players for this year? I know Brandon Gorin and Ross Tucker were not Pro Bowl players, but they do seem to be in a tier higher than most of our middle LBs or receivers are. Couldn't a trade have been made? I'm all for next year too, but it would appear we have definite needs for this year. A serviceable 28-year-old middle linebacker for Gorin would have been much more appreciated than a 37-year-old Seau and a draft pick for next year.
Frank Judge, Haverhill
Good question, Frank. I'm assuming there wasn't a match with another team that was willing to trade a serviceable 28-year-old middle linebacker, or that the Patriots didn't feel the available players fit their system at this time. That's the thing about getting a draft pick - it allows the team to pick a player that fits its system. The down side is that the team has to wait one year to get that player.
Why has Monty Beisel's stock dropped so quickly? From the early reports he was beefed up, going to use his speed and get it done beside Tedy. What has happened to fall so fast?
Beisel's fall from the top of the depth chart has been rapid, and I see two factors: health and performance. Beisel has struggled to stay on the field due to a few physical setbacks, and when he's been on the field, the results haven't been great. He struggled to shed blocks in the preseason opener against the Falcons and also dropped an interception. He was working with Tedy Bruschi at the start of training camp on the first unit at inside linebacker, but now I'd put him on the bubble to make the club.
Just wondering your thoughts on Jonathan Sullivan's progress in camp. He has been on the field the last couple of weeks. Is he making any progress? Also, what is with Chad Jackson's hammy? I assumed he tweaked it - I guess it's a bit more severe. Although, with a hamstring until it's 100 percent you can't go 100 percent.
Zak Asatrian, West Warwick, R.I.
Watched Sullivan closely against the Cardinals and thought he showed up in a few areas. He had nice pursuit on the first play of the second half, running laterally across the field to bring J.J. Arrington down on a 2-yard run. He was also credited with batting down a pass, although it was hard to tell if that was him or Santonio Thomas. Other times, Sullivan was pushed back by either a double team or even a single blocker. I'd say Sullivan looks more comfortable when playing on a four-man line and having the chance to penetrate than playing on a three-man line and being asked to hold up at the point of attack. I still think he makes the club, although I'm not sure he's the best fit at 3-4 nose tackle right now. As for Jackson, this Yahoo! Sports piece (scroll to the end) sheds more light on his situation than I've seen reported around these parts.
Do you think the current success of the Pats' no-name offense (I know it's preseason) will make the Branch situation worse, or might it force Branch's hand and make him show up sooner? If he shows up, this could be such a killer offense.
I don't see the success of the Patriots' top offense through two preseason games directly affecting the Deion Branch situation. I think the Patriots know they're a better team with Branch than without him, regardless of how the team performs in the preseason. And I don't think Branch is sitting at home and saying, "I better get back quick because they're doing so well without me." The situation won't get resolved until the sides start talking again, and someone needs to take the first step. It's hard to strike a deal when there is no dialogue.
The Patriots just signed Junior Seau, and from what I have heard he is just a shell of his former self but can still stuff the run if he is healthy, and that is a big if. My question is why didn't they just re-sign McGinist. They didn't even give McGinest an offer. I would have liked to see him retire a Patriot, and I think he has more in the tank than Seau at this point and time.
Roxanne Collins, Harrisburg Pa.
The difference is significant, with McGinest signing for $12 million over three years and Seau for a reported $1 million over one year. So we're talking two different contracts here. I think the Patriots decided McGinest was nearing the end of his career and didn't want to make that three-year commitment to him when they already had plenty of money tied up in two other outside linebackers, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin. In retrospect, given their present cap space, the Patriots probably wish they could have that one back.
Do you think Tedy Bruschi will be OK this year?
Russ Cobleigh, Westford
I haven't heard anything to the contrary. A few emailers were curious about something I wrote regarding Junior Seau, when it was noted that Seau could help bridge the gap until Bruschi returns, assuming Bruschi does. I think with the way the Patriots protect most injury information, it's smart to account for all possibilities. Bruschi might not be ready for the season opener, but it would be a surprise to learn that the injury would keep him out all year.
I thought Cassel was looking at his primary receiver too early and telegraphing the target, as evidenced by a few tipped passes. A quick look off can go a long way in moving a defender and easing the completion.
David Curtin, Seattle
That could have been the case, although I didn't necessarily see it that way. One tipped pass definitely came as a result of the offensive tackle, Wesley Britt, failing to clear the passing lane by cutting the defensive end. Another came when Cassel seemed to step into the teeth of the pressure instead of slide-stepping. On the whole, I thought Cassel played well and solidified his spot as the No. 2 quarterback. I believe the Patriots are pleased with his development at this point.
Do you think Dan Klecko has a better chance to make the team with the injury to Bruschi and the uselessness of Beisel? Could perhaps both Klecko and Banta-Cain step into roles where they make significant contributions? I know earlier you have stated that Klecko appears to be on the bubble. Does the signing of Seau seal his fate?
Chris W., Portland, Maine
Klecko was pretty active in Saturday night's game, credited with two sacks (he cleaned up after a few other players had initial pressure) and one forced fumble. He put some solid pressure on the quarterback, specifically while playing on third down. I think he helped his chances Saturday night, but I would say he's still on the bubble.
In your "ups & downs" section of the Patriots' blog on Boston.com, you listed Patrick Cobbs in the down spot for fumbling. No doubt he fumbled, and not just a little: that ball flew out of his hands. However, did you see him on blitz pickup? He was fearless and stuck his nose right in the chest for the blitzing LB's. What do you think his chances are for making the team - 53 man or practice squad? Also, how does Ryan O'Callaghan not get in the ups? He had a very solid game -- a couple mistakes, but overall a good performance.
Rory, Arlington, Va.
Cobbs, a rookie free agent out of North Texas, has been a pleasant surprise in training camp. I don't see him making the roster, but do see him on the practice squad (assuming another team, like the Jets, doesn't sign him to their roster). As for O'Callaghan, it looked like he played a solid game. Those "ups & downs" are done right after the game and it's hard to evaluate most line play until the next day, when I'm watching the game again. Along those lines, I'd give nose tackle Vince Wilfork and backup center Billy Yates the biggest ups after watching the game again.
It was interesting to see Randall Gay playing in the fourth quarter the other night. As a former Super Bowl starter, has he simply lost a step and been demoted, or is he still being eased in from last season's injury? I just don't hear his name mentioned among the starting defensive backfield much.
Charles Alexander, Pasadena, Md.
I'd put Gay as the team's fourth cornerback at this time, behind Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson (who could move back to safety). When Wilson was out for a practice last week, Gay stepped in at times and played slot cornerback. I see him making the team, providing depth in the defensive backfield.
It seems, for Saturday night anyway, that Bam Childress is essentially taking over the role that players like David Patten held in the past. Is that a fair statement? And do you see him filling that role this season -- Branch or no Branch?
Jim, Bryan, Ohio
I'd hesitate to put Childress in that category based on one performance, although it was a good one. I saw Patten as a vertical threat and don't think Childress has the same speed. Also, I'd want to see Childress perform at that same level a few more times before making him a lock to make the club.
During Saturday night's game against Arizona, referee Gerry Austin was seen on TV issuing a "first warning" to the Cardinals. The boys in the booth never mentioned it. What was that? Part of the new rules?
Dana Baggett, Bailey Island, Maine
That "first warning" was for being too close to the field. There are sideline markings that indicate where coaches can stand, and another set of markings for where players can stand. It can sometimes be difficult to manage that aspect of the game when there are so many players on the sidelines for the preseason. Moving forward, don't expect the referees to formally announce those warnings in future games. The proper procedure is to inform the team privately that they've been warned, then penalize them 15 yards if it happens a second time.
Where was the 1986 preseason game between the Patriots and the St. Louis played?
Jerry Hart, Anthem, Ariz.
That game was played at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio as part of Hall of Fame festivities. It was a 21-16 Patriots win.
Greetings from the UK. Given the problems the Pats currently have with LB and WR, what would you consider an acceptable season from the team this year? Personally, while the WR is a major issue, I don't see it costing the Pats many games and it is easily resolved by writing a check. However, defending the run and the inside could be a real problem this year, and this is not easily resolved. I can see 9-7 and a first-round playoff loss as being the mark. Anything above that and the team has overachieved.
Peter Williment, London, UK
An acceptable season, assuming there is a good measure of health, should be 10-11 wins. The Patriots play six teams with first-year head coaches (8 games overall with overlaps with the Jets and Bills), have the best quarterback in the NFL, and have solid offensive and defensive systems in their seventh seasons. I think the team is set up for another double-digit win season, despite the thin depth at wide receiver and some early concerns with run defense.