This week's big news was with Big Sey.
The Patriots' surprising trade of Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders filled up the mailbag, and there are many angles to the deal to analyze.
Meanwhile, some of the other topics in the mailbag include:
1) What does the Seymour deal mean for Vince Wilfork's contract situation?
2) Assessing the Patriots' recent trades for veterans.
3) Do the Patriots miss Scott Pioli?
4) Projected starting lineups for the season opener.
5) With Greg Lewis released, how does that affect Julian Edelman and Sam Aiken at receiver?
6) The Patriots' quarterback plans.
On a more personal note, this will be my final Patriots mailbag on Boston.com, as this is my last week working for the Boston Globe.
It's been a great experience, and I say thank you to those who made the Tuesday Patriots mailbag one of my favorite parts of the job, and also to the great sports staff at Boston.com -- Dave Lefort, Chris Forsberg, Steve Silva, Gary Dzen, Chad Finn, and Co.
I share a few more thoughts at the end of the mailbag, so I hope you'll read to the end this week.
Now, on to the questions.
What happens if Richard Seymour refuses to report to the Raiders?
A: Otis, if Seymour refuses to report to the Raiders, it is my understanding that the trade can't be finalized because he wouldn't have had a physical. Yet it's not that simple. If players could wiggle out of trades that easily, I think we'd see more of them not reporting. In this case, Seymour could potentially be served a "five-day" letter informing him that he could be placed on the reserve/did not report list. If he goes on that list, which could happen after five days of receiving the letter, he would not be allowed to play this season and would lose a season toward free agency.
I keep hearing about having the Raiders' No. 1 pick in 2011, but what happens to that pick if there is a lockout?
A: Jeff, a lockout wouldn't occur until after the draft. The 2011 draft would be the last league-related activity that year, regardless of what happens with the uncertain labor forecast.
Hypothetical: If the 2011 pick is both cap-protected and is the No. 1-4 pick, do the Patriots take a QB? Brady will be 34, and there will be a cushion to protect the rookie from sky-high expectations. Thoughts?
A: Joe, I'm banking on Tom Brady signing a major extension at this time next year, which would take him to 2015 or 2016, so my hunch is that the top pick in '11 wouldn't be a quarterback. A lot of this is contingent on Brady staying healthy, but I just don't see the need for using a high pick in 2011 at that position once Brady is locked up.
Mike, I have seen hundreds of comments about the Seymour trade but not one person has alluded to what I believe is really the most significant factor of all. If Bill Belichick is willing to in any way sacrifice the potential of a Super Bowl this year for a reward that only starts giving two more years down the road, that to me means that we'll all be chanting "In Bill We Trust" for a very long time in the future. Your thoughts?
Steve F., Suva, Fiji Islands
A: Steve, I had a similar thought about this deal. It also reflects how Bill Belichick sits in a unique spot. As a coach, you're usually just concerned with the here-and-now. But he's more than a coach, he's charged with maintaining the long-term health of the franchise, so he has to be able to step back and see the big picture. That is very hard to do, and I think he is very good at it.
Mike, do you think the Patriots trading Richard Seymour has anything to do with his past holdouts and his agent being Eugene Parker (who also represents Michael Crabtree)? Also, regarding the Pats getting a 2011 1st rounder instead of a 2010 (with a possible rookie pay scale in mind), do you foresee the Patriots trading any of their three second-rounders in 2010 into 2011?
A: Greg, I don't think agent Eugene Parker's presence had much to do with the deal. I think it was more about the compensation -- a 2011 first-round draft choice, which is a valuable chip coming from the Raiders, and the fact Seymour enters the final year of his contract. The Patriots and Seymour had seemingly both determined that this would be his last year. On the second part of the question, I don't see the Patriots trading any of those second-rounders unless they net a 2011 first-round pick in return. Given the economic structure of the draft, those second-round picks are valuable in 2010.
Mike, do you think the Patriots brain trust tried to free up some money by trading Richard Seymour to retain Vince Wilfork? Also, do they have enough up front to maintain a solid defense now?
A: Kerry, I don't think the Patriots made the Seymour trade so they can now sign Wilfork to an extension. The reason I say that is that the reason given for the Patriots not signing big-money extensions is the uncertain labor forecast. My interpretation of what Robert Kraft previously said is that the team doesn't want to pay big-money deals without first knowing what the rules are (e.g. will there be a salary cap?), and that won't happen until this time next year. So I don't see a major shift with Wilfork at this time, unless the Patriots decide to be generous and bump up his salary a bit as a kind gesture, or agree to not place the franchise tag on him in 2010. On the second part of the question, I think losing Seymour is a blow. When he wanted to turn it on, he was often unblockable. I still think the Patriots have solid personnel, but I don't think they are as good without Seymour.
Mike, with the departure of Seymour, where does this leave the defensive line and who do you see starting at his DE spot that is currently on the roster?
A: The Patriots now have seven defensive linemen under contract and I broke down each player as part of our Boston.com Patriots blog on Sunday. I think this is still a talented, versatile group. In terms of who replaces Seymour, I don't think it will be one player because Seymour played right end in the 3-4, right end in the 4-3 and slid inside to tackle in sub rushing situations. I don't see one player on the roster that can do all that, so I envision the answer coming from a combination of veterans Jarvis Green and Mike Wright and rookies Ron Brace and Myron Pryor.
Mike, you expressed some concern about the state of our defense after the Seymour trade. I have to disagree. Assuming our base is a 4-3, I think that the loss of Seymour leaves things pretty much unchanged. Brace, Mike Wright, Burgess and especially Jarvis Green appear to cumulatively fill the void at tackle/end as long as they are not asked to two-gap too often. This is still one of the deepest units on the team, especially when one considers Seymour generally misses at least a third of every season. Am I being too sanguine with my outlook on the d-line, or do these guys appear to be ready to step up?
Sean R., New York, N.Y.
A: I respect your opinion, Sean. My personal feeling is that Seymour is being undervalued in the analysis. While he's had some health issues that have kept him out in recent years -- and seemed to be on a limited practice schedule at times -- he was still a dominating player at certain points. Opponents still had to ask themselves the hard question, "Can we risk single-blocking him?" and game-plans were shaped in part around whatever they decided to do. I wouldn't argue with those who said Seymour wasn't the beast he once was, but I still felt he could bring it. With this in mind, I don't think the defense is better today than it was with Seymour.
Hey Mike, I heard you on TV say that being one of the all-time great defensive linemen and putting together a Hall of Fame career were very important to Seymour. This is a long shot, but is there any chance he is now re-evaluating the importance of being in New England to put the finishing touches on that resume over the next few years? He's made some pretty good money already, but could he rework a contract with the Pats that would enable him to stay here?
Robert B., East Haven, Conn.
A: Robert, I think it's natural for Seymour to be re-evaluating some of the steps he took prior to this trade, perhaps asking himself, "Did I overplay my hand in certain situations?" He understands leverage and also how to subtly make a point, and my hunch is that there was probably some give-and-take over the last six months in regards to where his future was headed with the team. He told his teammates he sensed something might happen. To answer the question, I don't think he's now thinking about returning to New England. I haven't talked to Seymour much in recent months, but from having covered him for eight years, my sense is that he'd be hurt by this deal and something like this would create a feeling where he wouldn't want to wear the Patriots jersey again.
Mike, the trade for a first-round pick seems odd. If this was strictly a business decision, shame on the Patriots. Where is the loyalty? Is there something that Average Joe fan doesn't know about that maybe forced this trade besides money?
John D., North Hollywood, Calif.
A: John, it's possible that there is something that happened behind the scenes that triggered the trade. As a hypothetical, perhaps the Patriots thought Seymour wasn't the same player anymore, or that Seymour sent signals to the team that he wasn't happy about his contract and they felt it was affecting his play. I don't have any concrete information on that, but I've also learned that there are things that happen on a daily basis that we aren't privy to which often help explain difficult-to-digest situations.
Mike, it seems like the Patriots have wasted a lot of draft picks on trades for players over the past few years -- Doug Gabriel, Alex Smith, and Greg Lewis come to mind. What are your thoughts?
A: I can see where you are coming from Shane, especially with Alex Smith and Greg Lewis getting released within a few days of each other. Both were acquired for draft picks, and the Patriots might not have either player play a game for them. When those deals are analyzed at this point, they can't be considered a success. The Smith deal, in particular, looks bad while the jury remains out on the Burgess deal. The Duane Starks trade in 2005 was another bad one. While those are fair points to bring to the table, I think it's also important to note that they've also struck gold on some other deals -- Randy Moss for a fourth-rounder, Wes Welker for a second- and seventh-rounder, Corey Dillon for a second-rounder, and getting a first-rounder for Drew Bledsoe.
Mike, I heard a theory on talk radio that the absence of Scott Pioli may have had an impact on Kevin O'Connell being released. In effect, a relatively high, recent draft pick may have been spared. The idea is that no one in the organization now is in a position to challenge Bill Belichick. Your thoughts?
A: I've heard that theory, Dean, and have considered its merits. My thoughts are that the Patriots have people in position to challenge Belichick -- senior adviser Floyd Reese and director of player personnel Nick Caserio -- but I wonder if they have the same comfort level in doing so that Pioli did. I don't know enough about the dynamics of the newly restructured front office at this point to have a strong opinion on this one.
Mike, I am losing my trust in Bill Belichick. Vrabel and Cassel for a second-round pick and now Seymour for a first-round pick in 2011. Why not 2010?
A: The main reason the pick is in 2011 is economics. It seems to me that the Patriots are banking on the possibility of a rookie salary cap. As it stands now, top draft choices are some of the worst picks to have in the draft because of the economic risk that comes with them. But if a rookie cap is instituted, as many expect it will be in 2011, the value of those picks will skyrocket. With this in mind, I think it's smart business on the Patriots' side to go for the 2011 pick, not the 2010 pick.
Does Julian Edelman go before Sam Aiken in the wide receiver depth chart?
A: Levi, I think the answer depends on the personnel grouping and specific situation in which the player would be utilized. In a four-receiver package, I think it would be Edelman. But let's say Randy Moss was injured and they needed a replacement, I think Aiken is more likely because he fits that spot better.
Hi Mike, after the Derrick Burgess trade, this team looked like a leading Super Bowl contender, probably even the favorite. Now, with the trade of Seymour, the retirement of Bruschi, the disappointing preseason play of the defensive backfield, and less depth than we thought we had at QB, TE and OL, how would you assess the team's chances? Have we slipped to just another playoff contender?
Robert B., East Haven, Conn.
A: Robert, I went through every team in the NFL for The Boston Globe NFL preview section - which will be out later this week - and I still put the Patriots into that top class with the Ravens, Giants and Steelers. I don't feel as strongly about the Patriots as I did entering the preseason -- mainly because of the defense -- but I don't see them slipping too far back relative to the other clubs in the league. When going through every team, you quickly realize that even the top clubs have some significant questions.
Mike, I guess things are never boring in Foxborough. After all the cuts and roster shuffling, can you give us your projected starters on offense, defense and special teams? Also, congrats on the new job.
A: Thanks for the kind thoughts, Gus. The mailbag was one of my favorite responsibilities each week, with the questions often challenging me to be a better reporter and communicator. I'd see familiar names over the last four years and it really gave me the sense of being part of a mini-community, which is something I value. Monday nights became routine for me to be up late sifting through hundreds of questions and trying to pick out a variety that might make for good reading. As for the projected starting lineups, I'll put the Patriots in a three-receiver offense and 4-3 defense:
QB Tom Brady
RB Fred Taylor
WR Randy Moss
WR Wes Welker
WR Joey Galloway
TE Chris Baker
LT Matt Light
LG Logan Mankins
C Dan Koppen
RG Stephen Neal
RT Nick Kaczur
DE: Ty Warren
DT: Vince Wilfork
DT: Mike Wright
DE: Jarvis Green
SLB: Adalius Thomas
MLB: Jerod Mayo
WLB: Gary Guyton
CB: Shawn Springs
CB: Leigh Bodden
S: James Sanders
S: Brandon Meriweather
P Chris Hanson
K Stephen Gostkowski
P Chris Hanson
LS Jake Ingram
KR Laurence Maroney
PR Julian Edelman
Before the draft, it was obvious that the Pats' glaring weakness was lack of enough quality linebackers (except Mayo and Thomas). Since then, they passed on their opportunities to draft a top notch LB, lost Vrabel and Bruschi, Crable is hurt, and they passed on trading for a top LB. What's the deal?
Ace, Cleveland, Ga.
A: Ace, they did draft Tyrone McKenzie in the third round, but he tore his ACL in rookie minicamp. So it's not as if they completely overlooked the position. I think part of this is that the Patriots and Belichick have very high standards for what they look for in a linebacker, which might go back to his days with the Giants when he coached one of the great linebacker groups in NFL history. Very few linebackers fit the mold.
Mike, please give us an update to date accounting of the Pats 2009 salary cap (or best you can) now that we have a roster and with the recent moves.
A: Ryan, the rough estimate is around $5 million in cap space. They had less than $2 million worth of space prior to the Seymour deal, so that creates some breathing room for them.
Can a player only be placed on the PUP list at the beginning of training camp? Please explain if the Pats could have put Crable on the PUP instead of IR (he was on the PUP at the start of camp), or if they can still put Slater on the PUP.
A: Once a player starts practicing, Adam, he can no longer be placed on PUP.
Hi Mike, I've seen references to players being released and waived. Is there a difference or is it just a writer's choice of words?
Mark W., Merrimack, N.H.
A: A player who is waived does not yet have the service time to become an unrestricted free agent. So let's use seven-year veteran Greg Lewis as an example. He was released by the Patriots on Monday. He could sign with a team right away, as he is not subject to the waiver process. But if that player was Brian Hoyer, a rookie free agent, he'd go through waivers where every team had a chance to claim him.
Hi Mike. Nine rookies on the team? Isn't that an extraordinary number given that this is a veteran team with Super Bowl hopes? Is this a case of Bill Belichick believing the team was getting too old too quickly, or did this rookie class surprise; that is, was it so good, the upside so high, that he had no choice but to find room for them?
A: Tony, I think it's more of the former. I think Belichick looked at his 2006-2007 drafts and saw only three young players tabbed with those picks on the roster -- Laurence Maroney, Stephen Gostkowski and Brandon Meriweather -- so he knew this was a stock-up-the-youngsters type of year. For the long-term viability of the team, they needed to have an influx of youth. He might have been thinking six or seven would be a good number, but then you have picks like Myron Pryor and Julian Edelman and signee Brian Hoyer performing beyond expectations and the number spikes.
Aren't Rich Ohrnberger (6-2, 291) and Ryan Wendell (6-2, 275) small for offensive linemen? Why would the Pats keep these smaller linemen? They didn't impress in the preseason, and with Dan Koppen (296 pounds) already being constantly pushed backward by defensive lineman, why would we want more undersized offensive lineman?
Tim G., Plantation, Fla.
A: Tim, I had asked both players their weight and Ohrnberger told me he is around 305, while Wendell is 295. Both are good tacticians, and also smart, which are two key considerations for keeping them. They're also tough. While size is important, it is not everything for an offensive lineman - balance, leverage and technique are part of the mix, too. While they are still developing players who aren't mistake-free, I thought they performed well in the preseason.
Hi Mike, what's going on with the QB position? It's hard to believe that the Pats will go with Brian Hoyer as the backup to Tom Brady. Is there a trade in the pipeline? Are they going to set the 53-man roster and then go back to address the QB situation? Is free agent Damon Huard the answer?
Jim C., Seminole Fla.
A: Jim, I think they'll end up with a third quarterback at some point during the season. It reminds me a bit of 2006, when they brought in Vinny Testaverde midway through the season. I'm not sure when it will be, and perhaps the idea that a veteran's contract would be guaranteed if he's on the roster Week 1, so they are waiting until after that.
Hey Mike, no question but just a note to tell you you're a class act, I appreciate your work, and wish you the best at your next career stop. Can you tell us what you'll be doing? I guess that's a question.
A: Steve, thanks a lot. That means a great deal to me. I've thought a lot about the best way to communicate to readers of the mailbag what I will be up to. In this forum, I think the best way to say it is that I will still be around the Patriots as much as ever after finishing up at The Boston Globe this week, and hopefully it won't be too hard to find me. I want to thank all the e-mailers over the last four years for making this such a rewarding experience for me. I felt like I got to know a lot of you personally. Working at The Boston Globe was a longtime dream of mine, and in part because of that, I felt like I never worked a day over the last four years. Part of what made it such a great experience is the great people -- from editor Marty Baron, to sports editor Joe Sullivan, to the amazing Boston.com staff, and right on down the line. I'm excited and invigorated for a new challenge. At the same time, I'm going to miss this job greatly.