Receivers the focus of this pattern
E-mails pour in on Branch and the Pats' WR situation
FOXBOROUGH -- On Friday, the Patriots granted Deion Branch permission to negotiate a contract and seek a trade with other teams. This turn of events filled up the Patriots' mailbag.
My take is that the Patriots are simply trying to spark negotiations to keep Branch. I believe the team wants to retain Branch and is simply trying to create some action on the other end of the bargaining table. The situation had been become stagnant, with no talks for some time. If nothing else, this shook things up.
Oakland receiver Jerry Porter was one name that showed up in a lot of e-mails, with some fans suggesting a Porter for Branch swap. I don't think Porter is a good fit for the Patriots. Other e-mailers were curious about which veteran receivers might be cut on Aug. 29 or Sept. 2, and surely the Patriots will be looking at that option. The one point I'd make on that is that any receiver who comes in will also have to bring some special teams value.
What's the status of Tebucky Jones? That was another hot topic after Jones injured his right hamstring in Saturday's game. Jones wasn't at practice on Monday and was still awaiting word on the severity of the injury. This is another blow to the Patriots' special teams, as Jones was filling in for Mel Mitchell, a strong special teams player who was lost for the season earlier in camp. Keep an eye on San Diego's Hanik Milligan, a player on the roster bubble with the Chargers and someone Bill Belichick has raved about in the past. Milligan would add a jolt to the Patriots' special teams if he becomes available.
On to the questions ...
What kind of playing time do you expect for the starters of the last preseason game? Also, what is the No. 1 position battle to look for in this last game?
Jason Saraceno, Wilmington, NC
A: I'm thinking quarterback Tom Brady might not play at all based on him missing practice on Monday. I also don't expect to see many of the team's starters for long in this game. As for the No. 1 position battle, the one I'm intrigued with is for a potential fourth running back spot, between Heath Evans and Patrick Cobbs.
Assuming the Branch situation is getting worse, do you think the Patriots would consider taking a shot at the recently released Koren Robinson? Or is he too much of a risk to gamble on given his track record?
Cam Robinson, New York City
A: I don't see the Patriots taking a shot at Robinson. There are too many clouds hanging over him to make that move at this time.
Now that Minnesota has cut Koren Robinson after his latest DUI incident, is it plausible that they would pursue a big $$$ deal with Branch for, say, a second-round and third-round pick in the '07 draft? The Pats may be thin at receiver but with Randy Moss and now Robinson both gone, the Vikings are really bare.
Pete Clark, England
A: While I don't think the Patriots are going to trade Branch, if it were to happen, the Vikings would be my leader in the clubhouse mainly because they've shown a willingness to spend (e.g. Steve Hutchinson's big contract) and are implementing a new system with first-year head coach Brad Childress.
Any idea how much can be expected of a new wide receiver who joins a team a week prior to the first game? During the offseason so much is made of Brady being on the same page as his receivers, and that this familiarity is gained during all the offseason work. It really seems the team is going to spend some of its millions of cap space on someone, and that it's going to occur in the next week. My best bet is receiver help. Any idea what receivers are available, or are trade bait?
Frank Judge, Haverhill
A: It depends on the receiver but in the early going, I'd expect limited production in a specialized role from a new receiver. Take rookie Willie Andrews as one example. He has started learning the receiver position in recent weeks and is working solely on the outside position at this time. He probably has a few routes that he runs out of specific alignments. Even though Andrews is a different case because he has limited background at receiver, it still would be rare for a receiver to come in and start playing all the spots and take on an expanded role. As for that cap space, I'm not so sure they're going to use it on a receiver. I'd say a more likely possibility is on contract extensions/restructures with players already on the roster.
When do you think rookie WR Chad Jackson will see the field, meaning the practice field? I've heard the team is being careful with him.
A: Hamstrings can be tricky, but I'd say Jackson isn't too far away. I'll make a prediction, just on a hunch, that he's on the practice field by the first few weeks of the season, and on the game field by Week 3.
So just who is Deion Branch's agent? Is he experienced and does he know what he is doing?
Douglas Weil, San Francisco
A: Branch's agent is Jason Chayut and he works for a very reputable firm, Sportstars, which is based in New York. In a very competitive business, Sportstars usually has a handful of top draft picks each year. Chayut has been a certified agent since 2001, meaning that Branch -- who came out in the 2002 draft -- was one of his first big clients.
Why is it that players can't honor the contracts they sign in good faith?
A: I see it as a two-way street on the contracts. In many cases, the teams don't honor the contracts when they cut a player, or initiate the restructuring of a contract because it's taking up too much salary cap space. So in some cases, I don't blame the players for creating leverage for themselves even though they are under contract.
Unless injuries hit the Lions' receiver corps, Charles Rogers is reportedly very likely to be released. Word out of Detroit is that Rogers is working harder but is unable to claw higher than third string on the depth chart, and subsequently hasn't found his way into the good graces of the new regime. He's running out of time and, unless someone stumbles in front of him, Rogers appears a lock to get the boot before the regular season begins. Is this someone who would of interest to the Patriots or would the team shy away from him due to the substance abuse issues of his past.
A: Like Koren Robinson, I don't see the Patriots showing an interest in Rogers because of some of the clouds that surround him. Also, any receiver the Patriots bring in will have to have some added value on special teams, and I don't believe Rogers fits that profile.
It seemed like there was a time when people were willing to forgo other opportunities on the open market to sign with the Patriots. It seems like the new kids, the guys drafted within the past 3-4 years, aren't following that pattern. Do you think that the Patriots opened themselves up to more holdouts in the future by bending to Richard Seymour when he held out? Prior to that, it seemed that the players had no leverage to do such things (see: Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law). Can we expect more of this in the future?
Nicholas, San Jose, Calif. (formerly of Peabody)
A: Good question, Nicholas. I don't think the Patriots opened themselves up to more of this because of how the Seymour situation unfolded, as Seymour is a future Hall of Famer and a special case that stands by itself. In fact, I'd argue the flip side, that if the Patriots didn't take care of Seymour, many players would have become disenchanted with an organization that didn't pony up for arguably the best defensive lineman in the league.
After watching him last season and in this preseason, Corey Dillon is starting to remind me of Antowain Smith in his last year with the Pats. He makes no cuts, he just slams into the line. He can't make people miss and he seems a couple steps slower than he was in 2004. I fully expect Laurence Maroney to be carrying the load by the end of the season. I've been very impressed with the agility and elusiveness of the rookie. Am I writing Dillon off prematurely or do you agree with me?
A: I see it the same way, and that's why the Patriots drafted Maroney. Dillon is not the same back he was in 2004, but I believe he can still be effective with a slightly reduced load. At the start of training camp, I thought the Patriots, who averaged 27 carries per game in 2005, would split the carries 17-6-4 between Dillon-Maroney-Faulk. After what I've seen through three exhibition games, I'd now make that a 12-11-4 split.
The Pats have been trying to get an extension done with Deion Branch for months. But what about all the other players who'll be free agents after next season? Daniel Graham and Asante Samuel, for example, are key parts of the team, but there have been no moves made regarding possible contract extensions. Why not?
Craig Benson, Silver Spring, Md.
A: Usually these contract negotiations are like dominoes, it takes one to fall before the others fall into place. Branch is obviously the top priority, and I think everything else is on hold until that gets resolved. But I'd expect the Patriots to at least hold some preliminary discussions regarding Graham, Samuel, center Dan Koppen and outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain.
What's the story at the No. 3 quarterback spot? Corey Bramlet is the only one on the roster and unless I've missed it, hasn't logged any time in preseason. I guess Bill feels getting Matt Cassel (who has looked pretty good) the time is more important. Any chance there could be a late signing of the traditional veteran backup?
CD Welling, San Francisco
A: I don't see a veteran signing on the horizon. Because it's hard to evaluate backup quarterbacks in the regular season, I feel like the Patriots wanted to get Matt Cassel as much work as possible this preseason, and I think he's responded as they hoped. Looks like they're going with two quarterbacks on the active roster, with Bramlet on the practice squad. The risk is that there is no veteran in case Brady or Cassel gets hurt. The Patriots are rolling the dice that they could sign a veteran during the year (Doug Flutie?) and get him ready for game action, if necessary. I don't disagree with the move, given the unappealing crop of veterans out there at this time.
Is the Deion Branch situation beyond repair? Also, I've heard nothing good said about Reche Caldwell. Will he be a factor for the team this year? Is he just keeping the seat warm for Bam Childress or Chad Jackson? Brady has been awesome. Are the Pats going to feature Ben Watson as the primary receiving weapon? Daniel Graham?
Rondal Caldwell, Sugar Land, Texas
A: Don't think the Branch situation is beyond repair at all. Seymour had a similar situation; the only difference is that it wasn't as public. In regards to Caldwell, while he hasn't been too impressive in preseason games, my feeling is that he can help the team in certain areas, specifically in the intermediate passing game. Watson generally is featured more in the team's spread offense, a package in which he's an integral member. In the end, I believe Branch will remain the primary receiving weapon, because I think he'll be back with the club.
I have nothing but respect for Willie McGinest, yet I think that as talented as he is, he had steadily decreasing mobility that manifested itself by his repeatedly getting caught inside and blowing containment on the corner. I wonder if you would agree that with Mike Vrabel on the outside (hopefully), not only should we see more sacks from that position, but also from the rest of the defense as a result of Vrabel doing a better job of keeping containment, thus not allowing QBs to escape pressure.
Joe Niccolo, Marlborough
A: I don't see it that way, Joe. I thought McGinest played at an exceptionally high level for a 12-year veteran, with six sacks and overall clutch play in 2005. Whether it's Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin or Tully Banta-Cain on the outside, any of those three players are going to have to play exceptional football to match what McGinest did in 2005. I thought he was one of the best, most consistent players on the defense.
At this point in camp are Jeremy Mincey and Pierre Woods looking like help at LB (short and or long term)?
Jim Kelleher, Northford, Conn.
A: I think Woods makes the club, while Mincey will be on the practice squad. Woods has been a surprise in camp and throughout the exhibition season. That he was playing on special teams units early in Saturday's game makes me think he'll be on the final 53-man roster.
Who was the young backup center who did so well vs. the Cardinals? He looked big and athletic enough to play another line position.
SF Wood, Rockland
A: That was Billy Yates, who I agree played well in that game. He can play center and both guard spots and is in a fight for a roster spot. The problem, as I see it, is that Yates' greatest value to the Patriots is that he can play all the interior positions, which is exactly what they have Russ Hochstein for.