All Cassel, all the time
Once again, the mailbag is all about the QB
It's all Cassel, all the time.
For the second week in a row, e-mailers have filled the mailbag with questions about the remarkable, improbable rise of quarterback Matt Cassel.
Tom Brady's emergence from 199th draft choice to three-time Super Bowl champion is one of the greatest stories in NFL history. Now Cassel is writing his own impressive story as the 230th overall selection in 2005 who threw 32 passes in his college career.
Early in his Patriots career, Cassel would sometimes attend local high school football games in his current hometown and would barely be noticed. But with his profile now rising, those days of flying under the public radar are over.
One of the things that I respect most about Cassel is the mental toughness he's shown. He had a lot of doubters questioning him (me included) in the preseason and after the fifth regular-season game, and yet he battled through that to put himself in position to experience the success he's now having. He is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the better he plays, the more he figures to earn.
I believe it is a great lesson for younger football players. Cassel stayed true to who he was and he deserves everything he has coming to him.
Now on to the questions.
Hi Mike, in last week's mailbag you wrote that Matt Cassel would not be the hot commodity this offseason many people think he'll be once the free-agent bidding begins. I can't imagine so many national pundits would be incorrect in their analysis of Cassel and his future options on the open market. I think he'll be courted by several teams and earn major dollars in the process. Why don't you believe the list will be as long as many prognosticators think? I am interested in your reasoning, given the often overzealous courtships of quarterbacks that possess both above average size and arm strength. And Cassel is certainly well above average in both categories. On a separate note, why did Miami not challenge the second TD catch by Moss on Sunday? It looked as though he clearly bobbled the ball during a key portion of the game. Replays didn't show a second angle, but didn't it look as though he failed to gain complete control of the ball in the end zone?
Brad F., Nashville, Tenn.
A: Brad, I think the biggest thing I was trying to convey last week with Cassel is that more time for analysis was needed before he gets the big contract. The Patriots were 6-4 at the time, and I was just projecting that things could have headed in either direction for the team and Cassel. After Sunday's win over the Dolphins, in which Cassel played exceptionally well, I'm ready to join those who say Cassel is going to receive a lucrative offer based on his performance. He's really coming on and it's a great story. As for the long list of teams, I guess it depends on what defines long --3, 4, 5? There are only 32 starting quarterback jobs, and many of those slots are already filled, or are targeted for a younger player in the coming years. Because teams can only pay one clear-cut No. 1 starting quarterback, many teams are already financially committed to someone else. Furthermore, not all quarterbacks fit in all systems, so that further narrows the field. On a quick scan around the league, I counted just a small handful of potential clear-cut No. 1 openings. In the end, though, we all know it only takes one team. On the Moss touchdown, I said the same thing you did at the time of the catch. I'd assume it was a case where the play was so far away from the Dolphins' bench, and there were no television-produced replays, that the Dolphins didn't get a good enough look at it.
Hi Mike. Two questions about the Matt Cassel situation. Is there any nervousness around the league about signing a free agent from the Pats. Samuel, Branch, Colvin, Stallworth all looked great in the Pats system but . . . outside it . . . not so much. The second, is there any chance that Cassel will sign with the Pats so they can trade him and get some rewards for their loyalty to him?
A: I don't know if I'd call it nervousness, but I think the smart teams know they have to make a strong projection about how the player will transition from the Patriots' system to their system. This is always important, but I think more so with a Patriots free agent because I believe they are one of the best teams in the league at highlighting a player's strengths within their scheme while masking his weaknesses. This will be a big part of the Cassel situation for interested teams. They'll need to ask: How much is Cassel's success attributable to the scheme, coaching, and having players like Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the huddle? As for Cassel doing a sign-and-trade, I just can't imagine that taking place unless the Patriots elect to restrict him with the franchise tag, which would take some creative accounting (about $28 million in cap space devoted to quarterbacks until the trade is pulled off). From the perspective of players, the purpose of free agency is to be on the open market with multiple teams bidding for your services, which helps your value spike. I think Cassel probably feels some loyalty to the Patriots, but on the flip side, he's returned the favor by working hard for them for four years. So loyalty goes both ways.
If Cassel continues to play the way he has, how will the unsentimental Pats organization look at the 2009 choice between a 27-year-old who has shown he can play at a high level and a 32-year-old who is an all-time great but has a bad knee?
Fred S., Boston
A: Fred, this was a similar question to last week, and I think I'd sum it up the same way as before: Tom Brady is the choice, hands down. I think Brady is at another level, and I don't think 32 is old for a quarterback, even one recovering from a serious knee injury. As for Cassel, I still think 11 games is too small sample size when comparing him to Brady. Although I don't have any knowledge of how Brady's recovery is going, I don't think this is an issue the team's decision-makers would consider.
Do NFL rules allow a team to trade a franchised player? So, in other words, if the Patriots decided to franchise Matt Cassel at the enormous dollars it would take, could they then trade him? And, if so, are there salary cap implications?
John F., Acton
A: John, the first point I'd make on this situation is that it's not black and white. The spirit of the franchise tag is for teams to be able to retain their best players, and in that sense, one could envision the NFL Players Association filing some sort of grievance if the Patriots tagged Cassel and then tried to trade him. But I think the Patriots would win in that situation. Given the uncertain injury status of Tom Brady -- and trades from earlier this year with franchised players Corey Williams (Packers to Browns) and Jared Allen (Chiefs to Vikings) -- there is nothing I see that would restrict the Patriots from tagging Cassel and then trading him. The only thing that might lead the team to not tag Cassel is salary cap considerations. You'd have two quarterbacks on your roster with $14 million-plus salary cap charges each, which I have to believe would be unprecedented. It would handcuff the team-building process and other moves, such as signing nose tackle Vince Wilfork to a contract extension.
Mike, the most impressive aspect of Matt Cassel's continued improvement is his pre-snap reads. Being confident and accurate in those reads allows him to be confident and calm during the play which clearly makes a world of difference in his play. Well done to Cassel and the coaching staff. Your thoughts?
A: This is a great point, Brian, as I believe the Patriots have spread the field over the last three games more than they have all season with Cassel. That's a sign of Cassel's growth when it comes to pre-snap reads. I remember a preseason game against Tampa Bay where the Patriots took a delay of game penalty as it appeared as if Cassel was having trouble with a pre-snap read. As for your tip-of-the-cap to the coaching staff, I'd concur. I imagine it's one of the most rewarding accomplishments of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels's NFL career, aiding in the development of a quarterback who barely played in college. I also think it's validation of Bill Belichick's coaching system. I'd also add the personnel department in there, too. As I wrote back in September when Tom Brady suffered that season-ending injury, "it seems fair to say that what the Patriots currently face is a test of their personnel evaluation at the game's most important position." Needless to say, they've aced it.
What are the terms of the transition tag? And is this a viable, more cap-friendly way to get something in return for Matt Cassel?
Nick C., Rochester
A: Nick, the transition tag pays the player the average of the top 10 salaries at his position on a one-year deal. That is different from the franchise tag, which pays the top 5. Another difference is that the transition tag only would give the Patriots the right to match an offer from another team, and if they don't match, they would receive no compensation. Under the franchise tag, the team would receive draft-pick compensation if it didn't match.
Anything more on what happened with Matt Light and linebacker Channing Crowder? Light is not the type of player to throw blows like that; there must have been some reason for him to do that. Also, I thought that unsportsmanlike conduct on Tedy Bruschi was a terrible call; he was trying not to hit him with his hand up like he didn't want to and momentum carried him into the player.
A: Media members specifically looked for Light after the game for an explanation, but he was not available for comment. The same with Crowder. After watching the play again, I'm going to guess that Light felt Crowder led with him helmet, which butted into his own helmet. I'm going to assume Light felt it was a dirty play. Also, from interviews with other players, Crowder was apparently trash talking throughout the game, which might have rattled Light. But until we hear from either player, those are only educated guesses. As for the Bruschi penalty, I agree completely. Regardless of the teams involved, as a fan of the game, I get frustrated when I see those ticky-tack penalties called.
Mike, I see the Pats' playoff road to be an almost impossible one. Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Jets all have an easier remaining schedule. I could see the pats finishing 11-5 or 12-4 and still missing the playoffs. What do you think of the Pats chances of a playoff run?
A: A: Ali, assuming the Jets win the division, I think it will come down to the Patriots and Ravens for the final playoff spot. The margin for error is thin, but if the team wins out, it will be in the postseason. I don't see the Ravens winning out."
Jabar Gaffney was a pleasant surprise, but this year he has dropped very costly passes. For example, after his drop in the first quarter, it was followed by interception. Why don't they try Kelley Washington or Sam Aiken or someone else?
A: Gaffney has been inconsistent this season, Mauricio, with that drop in Indianapolis his most forgettable play. I hear what you are saying about trying someone else -- I advocated to see more of tight end David Thomas this week after Benjamin Watson's costly fumble against the Jets -- but sometimes there is something to be said for sticking with a player and showing confidence in him. In the case of Gaffney in Sunday's win over the Dolphins, I think that vote of confidence paid off because he delivered some big catches after his drop.
It's good to see Moss have a big game. Given that there is now proof for last-year's downfield passing game out of the shotgun coming alive again, can that overcome what seems to be a porous pass defense? Also, given that Ty Law seemed to pester Moss a lot in the previous game, do you think the Pats made a mistake in not signing him? Or is the apparent lack of pressure from the front seven the biggest problem now?
Bevan M., Santa Monica, Calif.
A: Bevan, I think the offense can cover some of the defensive deficiencies in some of these late regular-season games, but I have my doubts after that. This defense looks very vulnerable in the passing game. I think the problems are both in coverage and with the rush. Coverage-wise, I think the first thing you are looking for as a coach is to be competitive, which means you're in the area and in position to make a play on the ball - and you make some of those plays. I haven't seen too much of that these last few weeks. On the flip side, the rush isn't getting there with the standard four rushers, which might be tied to the team protecting the secondary by dropping more players into coverage. So if the Patriots want to generate pressure, they have to send extra players, which could expose their coverage in the secondary. As for Ty Law, I do think he would have helped from a pure football perspective. I know Law hurt his hamstring Sunday in Tennessee, but that move by the Jets still looks like a steal to me.
After watching the Patriots the last two weeks, I have to say that the defense has to be the worst in the league. Is there anyone on the defense who can make a play? I think its time to dump Dean Pees and get a coach who can plan a better scheme.
A: I think worst in the league is too harsh, Jim, but I sense there might be some sarcasm in this e-mail. I think it's obvious that they need more playmakers in the secondary, as well as a dynamic pass rusher (perhaps Shawn Crable in 2009?). A lot of teams probably have the same needs. But I look at the defensive line, linebacker Jerod Mayo, and safety Brandon Meriweather and I see young-to-prime-years players to build around. Pees is a good coach who I believe is handcuffed a bit based on the current injury situation and personnel situation. And at the end of the day, he's running Bill Belichick's defense, not his own. If he's replaced, the new coordinator would also be running Belichick's defense.
Why haven't the Patriots utilized Ben Watson more for catching passes? I expected him to play a bigger part in the offense when Daniel Graham left.
A: Al, I'd sum it up this way: the offense, when operating at peak efficiency, is receiver-based. I'd use Sunday's game as an example of why Watson had limited production (1 catch) - when Matt Cassel sees a one-on-one, single-coverage matchup on Randy Moss, that's where the ball should go. Whereas the week before against the Jets, a safety was rolling over the top of Moss to double-cover him, which left Watson in more single-coverage situations (he had a season-high 8 catches). In terms of production, Watson has 20 catches in nine games on the season, which puts him on pace for 31 on the season. Last season, he had 36 receptions in 12 games. In 2006, Graham's final year with the team, Watson had a career-high 49 grabs when the team's receiver corps wasn't as deep.
While my expectations for this team don't extend beyond the divisional playoffs, if we even get there, the play in the secondary is very suspect. It appears as though Deltha O'Neal is the second coming of Duane Starks. At times, he was in single coverage playing off the receiver 8 yards on 3rd and 6. What gives? Is he so paranoid of giving up a touchdown that he's willing to give up the first down?
A: Hard to disagree on this one, Pat, although O'Neal might have been in zone coverage so it's hard for me to criticize without knowing the play-call. Overall, I see a conservative approach from O'Neal to keep most every play in front of him. I thought he looked slow coming out of some of his breaks at times Sunday and wasn't around the ball much. He did have the one pass breakup.
With Cincinnati and Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson likely severing their ties, would New England be a good home for "Mr. Ocho Cinco?" I think he's causing a stir because he's not in a winning environment. We reformed Randy Moss, we can do it again. I think bringing "Ocho Cinco" to New England would bring the best out of the guy and give Tom Brady another lethal weapon. Do you agree?
A: If the Patriots could acquire Johnson for a reasonable price, I'd say it's a no-brainer, Bill. I've talked with Chad Johnson in the past and I came away impressed each time. Not to mention he's a top receiver.
Everyone mentions Josh McDaniels's value and potential head coaching future, but for almost 17 games (dating back to Eagles game of 2007) he hasn't consistently devised plays to get Randy Moss the ball and made defenses "take what we give them". I'm submitting this question before the Dolphins game: When will he create plans to take advantage of Moss as opposed to him being an expensive decoy?
A: Mark, I'm going to slightly veer off topic here before coming back to the Moss issue. In recent years, I've developed a strong opinion on how head coaches are identified and hired in the NFL, and one part I regularly don't understand is how coordinators fluctuate from year to year as viable candidates. I find it hard to believe that a coordinator can go from a legitimate candidate one year, to off the radar the next, solely based on his unit's performance. So I've often felt that owners have made mistakes by locking in on the "hot" coordinator as their next head coach. To me, the best owners look deeper than that. I see Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy as a prime example of that. When the Packers hired him in 2006, he was coming off a season as 49ers offensive coordinator in which San Francisco ranked 32nd out of 32 teams on offense (total yardage). But that didn't mean McCarthy was a bad coach. While I believe a head coach has to have a mastery of the Xs and Os -- and that can sometimes be reflected in his unit's statistical performance -- he also has to be a people manager and be able to juggle various aspects of the football operation. McDaniels has all that. As for McDaniels and Moss, I do believe plays have been designed for Moss -- sometimes they have been executed, sometimes they haven't. Often times, it's dictated by the coverage that the defense is playing (e.g. the Jets double-covered Moss, the Dolphins did not). Like all offensive coordinators, MdDaniels is not perfect. But in terms of his future head coaching credentials, I can tell you he's thought very highly of in NFL circles. I think very highly of him myself.
Do you think the Patriots would be able to keep Josh McDaniels on board for the next few years by preemptively offering him the head coaching job when Belichick steps down?
A: Yes, Sam, I do believe that would be something that would help the Patriots retain McDaniels if they were comfortable with that arrangement.
Greeting Mike. I want to start out saying that the Belichick/Pioli tandem has done great winning three Super Bowls, and going 18-1 in the 2007 season. They are the best the Patriots have had, and I hope they stay around for a long time. I do however have a big issue with their drafting, which I think is absolutely killing this team! From 2001-2007, out of 60 draft choices, they have only 13 starting quality players (including borderline ones like Hobbs, Sanders, Cassel and Kaczur). Although I think they should be lauded for their coaching and team prep, they should get equally criticized when in comes to drafting. Your thoughts?
A: My thoughts, L-A, are basically that the Patriots have made the standard mistakes personnel-wise (e.g. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson) but that they still rank highly when compared to the rest of the NFL over the nine years of the Belichick/Pioli tenure. I believe they are in the upper echelon when it comes to evaluating college talent and understanding what type of player will fit into their system and locker room. In terms of the stats cited in the question, I believe they are misleading and feel the number should be higher. For example, does Wes Welker count, as he was essentially "drafted" by trading second- and seventh-round picks to acquire him? Also, does kicker Stephen Gostkowski count? Or players rookie free agents Gary Guyton and BenJarvus-Green Ellis? They might not be starters, but you need them to win games. In terms of solely college talent, I think a more accurate measure of the team's scouting-drafting acumen would be to judge how many players are/were quality starters in the league (e.g. Deion Branch, Daniel Graham, Asante Samuel) because as we know, a team can't retain all its players due to the salary cap. When factoring in that no team is perfect in the scouting aspect of the game, I believe the Patriots' number rates near the top of the NFL.
I don't think the Patriots have drafted well in 2006 or 2007 (excluding Randy Moss and Wes Welker). They haven't taken care of the secondary, which is costing us this season. Meriweather got some quickness but his tackling is very poor. Maroney is not a fit for NE's style of running. I don't think their defense is confusing anyone to an extent that's winning games. You were very big on Dom Capers contributions to the secondary, but I don't see it. Unless they fix that defense they not going to go anywhere with or without Brady? What do you think? Don't you think the Patriots' offense, with a N.Y. Giants-like defense would make them a serious contender?
A: Murali, I look at it a bit differently. In 2007, for example, I just don't think you can exclude Wes Welker and Randy Moss when evaluating that draft. The reason is that those trades are made specifically when weighing the value of a draft choice vs. the value of Welker/Moss. And I think it's too early to determine the future impact of Meriweather. I would agree, however, that the team failed to capitalize on choices in the fourth-seventh rounds and in rookie free agency in 2007. While the draft was considered weak, I think the team still could have helped itself more than it did (TE Kevin Boss in the fifth round comes to mind). As for 2006, I'd sum it up this way: Maroney has been a disappointment, Chad Jackson was a bust, David Thomas is a solid third-round pick, Stephen Gostkowski is rock solid, Ryan O'Callaghan could still help, and Le Kevin Smith is part of a deep defensive line mix. Pierre Woods (free agent) also counts, so I think the value of that draft is in the mid-to-later rounds, but the top-end leaves a bit to be desired. As for the secondary, I think it's all about choices. The Patriots could have drafted someone like cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round this year, but that would mean you pass on impressive linebacker Jerod Mayo. So when it comes to the secondary, the area I mostly hold the Patriots accountable for is not identifying that cornerback Asante Samuel was a rising player in 2006/2007 and locking him up before his price rose to astronomical levels. That's a key part of the personnel game -- knowing when to be proactive/reactive -- and I think they missed the boat on that one and you're seeing it hurt them in the secondary this year. With that in mind, I feel strongly that the Patriots should be working on Vince Wilfork's deal now because the price is only going to go up, unless there is a market correction, which seems unlikely. On Capers, I agree. I felt slightly uncomfortable with his presence being touted as the team's most important offseason move because while coaching is vital, it's the players who ultimately get the job done on the field. Overall, however, I've expected more fusion between Capers's schematic ideas and Belichick's and Dean Pees's.
Mike, I've been less than impressed with the ability of Meriweather to "stick" a tackle. It seems like he consistently slows ball carriers up, but allows them the few extra yards they need for a first down. He tackles like a corner instead of a safety. I know Harrison's injury hurts, but are there any other big hitter options at safety?
John, San Antonio
A: He's far from a finished product, John, but Meriweather's hitting and tackling doesn't stand out to me in a particularly negative way. While there have been times he has been knocked back -- the third-and-15 play against tight end Dustin Keller in overtime Nov. 13 comes to mind -- I don't think that's reflective of his tackling/hitting on a regular basis. In terms of a combination of range/hitting, I think Meriweather is a starting-caliber player in the NFL. I thought he played well Sunday against the Dolphins, even before his interception. In terms of other heavy-hitting options at safety, I don't see any immediate help in the free-agent market. On the roster, I think Lewis Sanders would be the next option, but he's more of a corner to me.
Mike, I saw the 49ers signed Jacob Bender, who had been on the Pats practice squad. Did the Pats get any compensation for that? I thought once someone was on a team's practice squad, the player was the team's asset.
A: Bob, the Patriots do not receive any compensation for Bender joining the 49ers' 53-man roster. Players can be signed off the practice squad to an active roster without compensation changing hands. Usually what happens is that the team with the practice squad player is given a chance by the player/agent to "match" the pursuing team's offer by placing the player on the 53-man roster. In the case of Bender, I assume the Patriots decided not to go in that direction.
Mike, I was wondering how the compensation picks process works. Say, would the Pats get a third-round pick for losing Asante Samuel because of how much he signed for? Or is it a formula of net loss? What should the Patriots expect to receive for compensatory picks?
Joe, Pawtucket, R.I.
A: Joe, compensatory draft picks are awarded based on a formula produced by the NFL Management Council which weighs the net gain of compensatory free agents against the net loss. The formula factors in production and salary, and the picks are usually awarded in March. I think the Patriots can expect at least one high compensatory choice this year, in the third or fourth round, as well as a few others.
Mike, any word on the Patriots looking to sign Rosevelt Colvin? Unless Rosie is way out of shape, he's got to be a better replacement than Pierre Woods.
A: Scott, I've been trying to keep tabs on Colvin, as I think he would fill a short-term need. To this point, it's my understanding that there has been no movement from the Patriots along those lines. The Patriots seem to be going the younger route, with players like Vince Redd.
I know Brady has been rehabbing at the Pats facilities now, but what is his status as far as involvement with the team? Is he going to at least be on the sidelines for games to serve as a 'mentor' to Cassel and the rest of the offense, or is he not allowed on the sidelines due to being on IR?
Corey, Milwaukee, Wis.
A: Corey, Brady is a regular sounding board to Cassel and other players. As of a few weeks ago, he was not taking part in team meetings. I don't expect to see him on the sidelines for games, because his No. 1 focus at this time is to get his left knee better, and standing on the sidelines would be counter-productive to that goal. He would be allowed on the sidelines, however, if he chose to do that.
Mike, if the Pats' D continues to falter and the Browns let Romeo Crennel go, do you see a scenario where Bill Belichick brings Romeo back next year in his old role? And further to that, if Notre Dame lets Charlie Weis go and Josh McDaniels gets a head job, is it at all possible Belichick puts "the old band back together?"
A: Quite a few questions on this, Chris, and the first thing I'd say is that I would expect Crennel and Weis -- in the event they are relieved of their duties -- to pursue other head coaching jobs first. If that didn't work out for them, I believe they'd always have a place on a Bill Belichick staff.
Hey Mike, I really don't understand what the heck LaMont Jordan is doing. He could have been the No. 1 running back and he's done something I've never heard of -- he's been out seven weeks with a calf injury. What could he have possibly done to a calf to warrant two months why not just put him on IR. I just can't believe this guy wants to play for us or any team. I don't know his history but what can you do to a calf?
A: My feeling on Jordan, and I believe this was reported by Adam Schefter of NFL Network a while back, is that he re-aggravated his calf injury when it appeared as if he was ready to return.
Mike, I understand that Sammy Morris's void was essentially filled by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, so when Sammy came back to full-strength, BJGE was relegated to the bench. I am just wondering if there was a reason why he didn't play until scrub time Sunday against the Dolphins, rather than playing sparingly?
Dan C., Palm Bay, Fla.
A: Dan, I think it was strictly based on the game-plan and how the Patriots were spreading the field and attacking through the air in three-wide and four-wide packages. Those packages are tailor-made for Faulk, and to a lesser degree, Morris.
Re-watching the Dolphins game on DVR, in frame by frame mode, I noticed Pats center Dan Koppen usually seemed to have his head down before the snap, then started to lift it up just a few DVR frames before his snap. Is that allowed without being considered a false start? And isn't that a tip-off to the defense on timing their rush? The Dolphins center had his head up well before the snap and kept it there.
Johnny, Rutland, Vt.
A: Johnny, I think what you saw was the mechanics of the silent snap count, which teams often use on the road. Koppen's head bob is legal and is a tip-off to his fellow linemen that the snap is coming in a pre-determined amount of time. So in the huddle, they might say "2 seconds" and once Koppen bobs his head, linemen know to block 2 seconds later. While it is a tip-off to the defense - which doesn't know the exact timing of the snap, but knows it's coming soon -- it's one of the only ways to be in the shotgun so much on the road, and get linemen off the ball in time. The Dolphins didn't need to use a silent snap count because it was quieter for them on offense.
Why did the Cardinals get that free kick at the end of the first half against the Giants? To be honest, I was watching but not listening to the broadcast.
trader99, Wilton, Conn.
A: Good question, trader99, and one I would expect Bill Belichick to show his players this week in his standard situational work. The specific rule is that teams have an opportunity to attempt a free kick after a fair catch of a punt.
Mike, since we have the Thanksgiving games coming up this week -- there has been something I've been wondering for years: Why is it that the Patriots do not play on Thanksgiving? The first ever Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Mass. so wouldn't it make sense to have a team from Massachusetts play? Has this ever been brought up to the Commish? Is there anyway we could lobby for this to happen?
Steve M., Fallujah, Iraq
A: Greetings in Iraq, Steve. I hope you are well when reading this. I did some research on the Thanksgiving games and learned a bit more about the history of why the Lions and Cowboys are regular participants. The Lions first started playing on Thanksgiving in 1934, with owner G.A. Richards having just moved the team from Portsmouth, Ohio to Detroit and looking to find new ways to generate interest. It was an immediate hit, and the Lions have claimed the "rights" to the game ever since. The Cowboys volunteered for the assignment in 1966 -- at the time Tex Schramm was considered to be doing the league a favor -- and they've also held a grip on the "rights" to play on the holiday. So to have the Patriots play on Thanksgiving -- while certainly a natural fit based on history -- would be a blow to a longstanding NFL tradition.