The Patriots' various roster moves as part of their cut-down to 53 players resulted in passionate response to this week's mailbag.
Several of the moves were surprising, such as the release of cornerback Fernando Bryant, safety John Lynch and receiver Chad Jackson. I personally didn't see any of those moves coming. Neither did many of the e-mailers.
With that, let's get right to the questions...
Hey Mike. Why would the Bengals cut Deltha O'Neal? Wasn't he their best cornerback? I love this pickup and believe this will solidify our backfield. Last piece, I still say, is Ty Law. If we get Law I'm all smiles.
Jeffrey, Northbridge, Calif.
A: Jeffrey, O'Neal was the Bengals' fourth corner, behind first-round picks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, and second-year player David Jones. He missed all of the Bengals' voluntary offseason program, which put him behind the 8-ball with new coordinator Mike Zimmer. He also had a $2.85 million base salary that was too rich for the Bengals' taste, and didn't do enough in the return game to warrant keeping him. On the second part of the question, with the Patriots signing O'Neal, my feeling is that Law is less likely.
Mike, what's the deal with the Lynch cut? Does he not have to clear waivers? Are waivers only for the guys that get cut going down to the 53-man roster, and cuts after that are free agents? Seems like a neat little loophole for guys you don't think will clear waivers if that's the case. If it's not, how can Lynch come back, wouldn't someone claim him?
A: Jan, players with less than three accrued seasons are subject to the waiver process. Otherwise, players who are cut immediately become free agents and can sign with any team. Lynch falls in the latter category. Lynch was a free agent prior to signing with New England and all 32 teams had a crack at him. Only New England stepped to the plate. The Jets are seriously considering signing Lynch at this time. If that doesn't happen, I could see Lynch return and be part of a specific defensive package designed for a specific opponent. I don't necessarily think that Lynch's release was purely due to financial reasons veterans' salaries are guaranteed if they're on the roster opening week but more a result of the Patriots having other roster needs at this time.
I'm not going to lie, the way the Patriots have compiled their 53-man roster is perplexing to say the least. Matt Cassel has done not one positive thing this entire preseason, yet he makes the team. Why? Any chance the Pats bring in Chris Simms? Chad Jackson really made progress as the preseason went along making a lot more positive plays, yet he doesn't make the team. What is the Patriots thinking and it seems they gave up on him way to quickly. Also, I know you watch the Patriots on a daily basis, but are the Patriots really a better team with Eric Alexander on it? Again from what I see he is worthless to the team and I'd much rather see John Lynch on the Patriots in that hybrid position they thought Tank Williams would fill, instead of Eric Alexander. Your thoughts?
Howard, New York City
A: I'd break down my thoughts this way, Howard. 1) The Cassel move surprised me. I think it's harsh to say that he hasn't done one positive thing, but 17 drives and two field goals in the words of Bill Belichick "is what it is." I have not heard if the Patriots have any interest in Chris Simms, but I think it makes sense; 2) I believe Jackson had not won over the trust of Tom Brady, plain and simple. Brady couldn't rely on him to be in the right place consistently. Jackson had generated a lot of discussion in this mailbag in recent months and I think it's now fair to call that draft pick and the investment of trading up to acquire Jackson -- a poor decision; 3) Eric Alexander plays on punt coverage, kickoff coverage, punt return and kickoff return, which, in a one-or-the-other situation, makes him more valuable than John Lynch. I saw Lynch as a 10-20 play guy in a specific defensive package at this point in his career. While Lynch might wind up with the Jets, if he doesn't, I still see his return to New England as a possibility. I still think Lynch has something valuable to offer a team in a situational-type role.
Mike, with the release of Bryant and Richardson, I think the Pats have no choice but to re-sign Ty Law. What do you think the chances are of getting him back?
A: I thought things with Law could head in that direction, Brian. I think Law wants to play for the Patriots. I think the Patriots would like to have Law. But the sides would have to come to an agreement that would work for both parties and that hasn't happened and my feeling is that if it hasn't happened by now, it probably won't. Now that the Patriots have signed Deltha O'Neal, I'd say it looks unlikely that Law will be back. I envision him in Cleveland.
I don't understand Chad Jackson. Was it his attitude, his intelligence, or talent that ultimately ended his career in NE? The guy seemed like a blue-chipper on draft day, and has all the physical tools you could ever want in a receiver. And his quarterback is Tom Brady, and this guy can't put it together? Makes no sense to me. I wonder if he can succeed with any team.
Jarrod, Trumbull, Conn.
A: Jarrod, I shared a few thoughts on Jackson in the answer to a previous question, but I'd add something that I remember Bill Belichick explaining a few years ago about receivers in general: It takes more than physical gifts, but also an understanding of the passing game to be successful. So, an example I like to use is a player like Bethel Johnson, who might run a 4.2 40-yard dash, but he plays slower because he wasn't always confident in what to do. He didn't always come out of his breaks smoothly. On the flip side, look at a player like Wes Welker, who probably runs a plus-4.5 "40" but plays quick and has an uncanny ability to separate from defensive backs. I just don't think Jackson, who is a likeable guy, ever put both sides together in New England. His routes weren't always crisply run; for example, I remember Brady urging him to finish an "out" route during training camp. Perhaps it will work for him in another system.
Mike, with the Pats' schedule over the first five weeks, it almost seems like preseason. Any problems have time to be corrected and perhaps their toughest game will be at the Jets. Should this give fans comfort for any misgivings they may have?
Ron, Waits River, Vt.
A: I think the early schedule is a consideration, Ron. I'd also point out that the Giants showed last year that what a team looks like in September doesn't matter as much as how it comes together in late November and December. It's a long season. I remember the 2006 season and the Patriots opening the year with three active receivers that year against the Bills. It looked bleak. At that point, few could have predicted the Patriots would be playing in the AFC Championship game. One thing I respect about the Patriots under Bill Belichick/Scott Pioli is that they don't try to force their decisions to be right. They acknowledge they make mistakes (e.g. Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, Chad Jackson) and try to correct them before they could potentially hurt the team.
Hi Mike, I'm not terribly concerned about the preseason results except in one area - attitude and desire. While I think it's important to manage against injuries (Brady) and ensure full evaluation of personnel, particularly "bubble" type players, I'm concerned about the ability to flip the switch come Sept 7.
I realize the games don't count yet but fundamentals are about execution and the attitude and desire doesn't seem to be there, particularly from some of the starters. I expect it to turn around against Larry Johnson and company but as it's encompassed the whole preseason, I think it's a concern. Am I overreacting here?
Gregg, Manchester, N.H.
A: Gregg, I think this is totally fair. My thoughts are similar. This team did not play with a spark throughout the preseason, although something tells me that they will Sunday against the Chiefs. Rodney Harrison said it as much this week: "We have to hustle to the ball more. In the past, this defense has had success by having 5-6 guys always on the ballcarrier and that's what we have to get back to."
Hello Mike, please give me an update on rookie cornerback Terrence Wheatley. Is he playing good enough to be seriously considered a starter on the regular season opener?
Emory, Norfolk, Va.
A: Emory, I thought Wheatley was solid throughout training camp and the preseason, and I could envision him in the starting lineup, or at least as a third cornerback. He would immediately upgrade the speed of the secondary.
Mike, what is your sense on the progress of rookie Jerod Mayo? Is he "getting it" while on the field? Will he start and be productive?
A: Ethan, I'd say Mayo has been more impressive than I would have projected. I'd give him a pass for some problems in the run game because he's learning a new style of play, and my projection is that he will get better in that area. I remember answering a question earlier in the year on if Mayo could be a defensive rookie of the year candidate and I said I think he'll probably be part of specific packages, not a full-time player, so I might hold off on that one." I don't feel that way any more. I think he'll end up playing more than any of the team's inside linebackers, and yes, I think he'll be productive.
Mike, just watching some of the games, it seems that the defense has the most question marks (I think the pressure on the offense will be gone once Brady returns). The strength of this team is with the down linemen
any chance that Bill Belichick plays four down linemen much more than in the past? It seems that Jarvis Green is too good to spend as much time on the bench as he does. I have also always associated the 3-4 defense as a team with two "stud" inside linebackers, and I don't think Mayo is there yet and Bruschi isn't at the peak of his game (and they aren't very deep). I haven't seen it much but is this something that you've seen more of in practice or are they sticking to the plan?
A: Marc, as we know, the Patriots have been a "multiple" defense under Bill Belichick meaning that they can play a 3-4 or 4-3 from game to game, or even snap to snap. So the Patriots have the four-man line in their package, and based on how the team struggled in the preseason in the 3-4 (specifically in their run fits and tackling), I wouldn't be surprised if the four-man line is called upon more often. In that package, you'd have Jarvis Green and Ty Warren as ends, with Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork as the tackles. That's a strong group. Adalius Thomas, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi/Jerod Mayo would be the linebackers.
Hi Mike, don't you think it's time to get Junior Seau on the phone? The run stoppers haven't shown up in the preseason.
A: Len, Bill Belichick was asked about Seau in his regularly scheduled appearance on WEEI on Monday. This is what he said: "I've talked to Junior and I think Junior is staying in shape, and like he always is, surfing out there and managing his restaurant, enjoying San Diego and enjoying life like he always does. Right now, our situation is what it is. We've cut down to our 53-man roster. We're moving on. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but if the right situation [comes up], I might contact Junior. I don't know what he would say at that point, but right now, that's not really a big concern for us. Our major concern is just taking the players we have and trying to improve this team and getting them ready to go against Kansas City."
Mike, with regards to holding Brady and the other regulars either completely or partially out of the preseason games, I seem to recall Brady making a few comments in the past about how long the Patriots seasons have been. With the Pats making the playoffs and Super Bowls over the past 4-5 years, it seems that they have played an additional season as compared to other teams. This, I feel, leads to more wear and tear on the players. It could even be the reason for the offensive line's lackluster performance in last years Super Bowl. Do you agree? Also, based on the question from last week's mailbag, what is the rational for not allowing live blogs during games?
Alan, New York City
A: Alan, I think the point you bring up is a good one the idea that the Patriots have played so many extra games in recent years. I think that is a significant consideration in terms of managing a team and keeping them fresh in training camp and in the preseason. The only part I would disagree with is that the extra games were the reason for the offensive line's performance in Super Bowl XLII. I'd also point out that I don't think Tom Brady was kept on the sidelines this preseason because of the longer seasons. I think his right foot is indeed sore, and it is an injury that must be managed.
Why was Gary Guyton undrafted? I recall he was rated highly in early draft predictions. Did he make the roster because he was better than Victor Hobson or because of better future potential?
Russ, Lake Worth, Fla.
A: Russ, given Guyton's strong performance at the NFL Combine and his solid off-the-field intangibles, I think it was a surprise that he went undrafted. But he's hardly alone in that category in the NFL, and I think it highlights the inexact science of scouting and the draft. I was really impressed with Guyton to the point that I thought he was playing the strongside inside linebacker spot as well as Tedy Bruschi this preseason. What I liked about Guyton is that he was running through players. When I watched Victor Hobson in that role, he was bouncing off players. The difference was noticeable as I re-watched games. So in the end, I think Guyton made the roster because he outplayed Hobson and for his future potential.
How the heck did Matt Cassel make this team?
A: Sean, Bill Belichick was asked about the quarterback decision during his weekly appearance on WEEI on Monday. He agreed with co-host Fred Smerlas that it was a tough decision, then said: "In the end, you have to make the decision that you think is best for your football team, long-term and short-term. We decided to go with Cassel and feel good about Matt. Again, [Matt Gutierrez] did a good job for us. He came in here as an undrafted free agent and earned a spot on the roster for himself last year. I think he has a lot of good football ahead of him too; we just felt like Kevin and Cassel were a little bit ahead of him at this point."
Regarding the suspensions to Kevin Faulk, Bryant McKinnie, et al. for offseason stuff, why are they just being handed down now? Or is it that the players and teams have known for a while and it is just being released?
A: Mike, in both cases I think the players and teams realized the suspensions were coming down. Bill Belichick confirmed on Monday that the Patriots knew, in advance, that Faulk was facing a suspension so it wasn't a surprise to them. My feeling is that the league announced them at the time teams were trimming rosters to 53 players, and those suspended players don't count against the number.
Mike, just wondering how they actually tell the players that they've made the team or they've been cut? Is it a call into BB's office, a posted list, or an announcement? Does BB say anything to each of them? What's the procedure? This must be the worst part of managing a football team. Also, your thoughts on anyone you think that they should have kept?
A: Wayne, in most cases the players are told by Scott Pioli, the team's vice president of player personnel. Belichick often says it's one of the hardest parts of the job; he used to do it early in his career in Baltimore. As for my thoughts on any player the Patriots should have kept, the one that stood out to me was Matt Gutierrez. I thought he showed promise, but perhaps my thoughts are a bit off considering that no team claimed him on waivers.
What's the procedure on contracts/salary on players picked up off waivers? Are they automatically put on minimum salary? Surely they don't have to work out an agreement before picking them off the waiver wire.
Johnny, Rutland, Vt.
A: Johnny, teams that claim a player on waivers assume that player's contract from his prior team.
My question is about the fourth wide receiver. Who do you think has the inside track?
A: This is a tough question, Shaun, because a lot will depend on the specific game-plan against the opponent that week. I'm going to assume that Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Jabar Gaffney will be ready for the season opener, so I'd put Kelley Washington or C.J. Jones as the No. 4 guy.
Now that Eugene Wilson has been released, what are the chances that the Pats get him back? He already knows the system.
A: I don't see it at this point, Dan. Perhaps if there is an injury situation. I think Wilson might get a look with the Jets.
Haven any of the players released by the patriots signed with other teams?
A: As of Monday night, I didn't see any John, which is a reflection that the players the Patriots cut weren't coveted by others. The depth was a bit thinner than it has been in past years.