Though after six days of negotiations between the NFL and NFL Players’ Association toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement things are looking more positive and a lockout looks like it could be avoided, Patriots fans are still thinking about the coming season.
On your minds this week: the status of several players for 2011 and whether they’ll stay in New England, potential Hall of Famers, welcoming a familiar face back to the receiving corps, and labor issues.
Along with colleague Greg Bedard, I’m in Indianapolis for the rest of this week for the 2011 Combine. Before you know it, the draft will be upon us.
On a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most likely to return) which Patriots will be back on the opening day roster next year?
Fred, North Haven, Conn.
Here is the list of players, in order, that Fred provided me with to opine on, with my prediction for each one. For this discussion, let’s assume that there will not be a prolonged lockout, that there will be a free-agent period, and that the salary cap for each team will be somewhat close to what it is now (in 2009, the last year there was a cap in the NFL, it was about $127 million).
Fred Taylor: 1 I spoke with him on a couple of occasions at the end of the season and he sounded for all the world like a man set to retire. Taylor is a free agent, but his limited availability during his two seasons in New England make it difficult to justify bringing him back, and I’d be willing to bet that the harsh reality of being a healthy scratch against Green Bay in the regular season and the Jets in the playoffs is not something Taylor would want to repeat.
Sammy Morris: 3 – Morris was a good soldier last season, quietly helping his younger teammates, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, while accepting a reduced role on the field. Interestingly, this was the first time since arriving in New England in 2007 that Morris was healthy for all 16 games, perhaps because of his reduced workload. He’s still a solid special-teams contributor and almost always converts on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, so he could be back for the veteran minimum.
Kevin Faulk: 2.5 – Have to admit, I’ve gone back and forth on this one. Part of me believes that Faulk can still play given the specialized role he fills – and excels at – with New England. But he will be 35 in June and he’s coming off the first major injury of his career, both of which certainly work against him returning for a 13th season. I do know that if the Pats do not bring him back, Faulk will retire. His family has come to call New England home, and he doesn’t see himself uprooting them to play elsewhere.
Matt Light: 3 – If a 3 is on the fence, that’s about where I am on Light. On one hand, I don’t see the Patriots paying Light what a three-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro left tackle could get on the open market. However, Light is 32, which could limit his suitors. He could be appealing as a shorter-term fix (two to three seasons) for a team that needs O-line help, like Kansas City. With Sebastian Vollmer already on the roster, and Vollmer doing well at left tackle as a rookie in ’09 when Light missed time to injury, New England could easily flip him to that spot.
Logan Mankins: 4.5 – There are no absolutes when it comes to Bill Belichick’s Patriots, which is why this doesn’t get a 5. It’s hard to foresee a team giving up the draft picks and contract it would take to acquire Mankins in a trade – since New England gave him the non-exclusive franchise tag, he can be traded – so that increases the chances he’ll remain with the Pats for 2011. Assuming the franchise tag holds up (the Players’ Association is challenging whether it can be used without a CBA in place), Mankins stands to make much more for the coming season than he did through his first six seasons combined.
Stephen Neal: 2 – He has one year remaining on the two-year deal he signed in 2010, but Neal contemplated retirement before signing it, and once again saw his season cut short by a shoulder injury, which required another surgery and could ultimately lead to him calling it a career. When he plays, Neal is still one of the best run-blocking guards in the league, but he’s averaged just 10.4 games per season since 2006.
Wes Welker: 4 – Given the relationship Welker has with Tom Brady, it’s tough not to see him in New England, but the Pats traded Deion Branch once upon a time. Welker’s base salary for 2011, the last year of the five-year deal he signed when he came to the Pats, is $2.15 million (plus offseason bonuses totaling $350,000), a bargain for the receiver who has more catches than any other player in the league since 2007. As long as there aren’t any lingering issues from his “foot” press conference, he’ll be back.
Ron Brace: 4 – He’s had injury issues – a league source said the elbow injury that landed him on injured reserve at the end of the season was really a torn triceps, the last in a series of setbacks for Brace in his second season – and that’s likely stunted his growth. But he was a second-round pick, the Pats need bodies on the D-line, and I can see the team giving him another shot.
Brandon Deaderick: 3 – When I think about how an offseason lockout will affect the Pats, one of the things I think about is Deaderick and something Patrick Chung said at an elementary school appearance earlier this month: that players will have to motivate themselves to work out and stay in shape until they’re back at their team facilities. Given that Deaderick had a hard time being on time for meetings during his rookie season, I wonder if he’ll be strict with his workouts like he should if there’s a lockout. One of Bill Belichick’s favorite compliments is “football is important” to a player, and slacking off when the team isn’t watching shows that it might not be of the utmost importance to a player.
Gerard Warren: 3.5 – Warren is slated to be a free agent. Though last season was his first real experience in a 3-4 defense, Warren fared well and I could see him coming back on a veteran-minimum deal to provide some depth.
Tully Banta-Cain: 4 – To look at his stats, Banta-Cain had a decline last season after his 2009 numbers, but a league source said he played much of the season with a groin injury that hampered his effectiveness. But pass-rush is one of the Pats’ biggest needs, and Banta-Cain is one of the more experienced rushers they have.
Jarrad Page: 3– A midseason calf injury slowed him, and he is a free agent. Page would like to stay in New England, but Chung, James Sanders and Brandon Meriweather are also at the position, and Page played the fewest snaps of the four last year. Of course…
Brandon Meriweather: 3 — …Meriweather’s status plays into Page’s. The coming season is the final one on Meriweather’s rookie contract, and while he is coming off a second straight Pro Bowl appearance, there are few who think that he played at that level last season. Under “normal” circumstances – i.e., CBA in place, allowing for trades – Meriweather might be a candidate to be traded on draft weekend.
And Fred, that is the longest answer I’ve given to a mailbag question!
Which Patriots do you see having a potential Hall of Fame career? Tom Brady’s a lock, but what about guys like Wes Welker, Fred Taylor, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, and Brandon Meriweather? Or anyone else maybe farther along or as a dark-horse pick.
Brandon Auger, Shrewsbury
As you said, Brandon, Brady is certainly a lock. For the other players, only time can tell. In conversations with other writers over the last couple of months, we’ve concluded that Taylor is likely a prime candidate for the Hall of Very Good, but is shy of the Hall of Fame. Welker, Wilfork and Mankins need to have sustained greatness. While it’s understandable that Welker’s numbers dipped last year after his knee surgery, the Hall of Fame requires an extremely high level of play over many years. Wilfork’s flexibility may help his argument. As for Meriweather, there are many who think he doesn’t belong in the Pro Bowl, let alone the Hall of Fame. For whatever reason, it is tough for any safety to make it to the Hall: there are fewer than 10 men who played the position (and a few of those were great cornerbacks first) enshrined, with players like Steve Atwater, Carnell Lake and LeRoy Butler on the outside looking in.
Among other current Pats, most are far too young to try and project such a thing. From past Pats teams, I think Ty Law definitely has a chance, and Richard Seymour will get some consideration as well.
I’m of the opinion that we (The Pats) have not progressed in the playoffs because we no longer have a beast in the backfield, a la Corey Dillon. I love what BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have done, but let’s face it, they don’t strike fear into the opposition in play-action situations. We need someone who punishes the defense. What’s your take on this?
Mac Bryant, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
I agree that New England has a need at running back, Mac. Since drafting Laurence Maroney in 2006, the Patriots have opted to use a two- (or three-) headed running back combo, with mixed results. Green-Ellis won’t hit many home runs, but he rarely gets negative yardage. I don’t want to knock his efforts by any means; I think he’s effective but not a guy, as you said, who will “strike fear” into defenses. Woodhead ultimately could wind up in a Faulk-type role where he is primarily a pass-catcher out of the backfield. A back that can get the ball on first- and second-down and keep defenses honest, lower his pads, hit the hole and pick up all of the yardage that’s there to get and more a few times a game would be a good addition to this offense and take some attention away from Brady and the receivers.
What do you think about bringing back Donte Stallworth? He can go deep, he wouldn’t be able to ask for much (in a contract) and he also is a yards-after-catch guy. In our offense I feel he can do a lot of the things that Deion Branch has done and he can stretch the field as well. He also has been here before and has some familiarity with the team and the offense.
Not a bad thought, Davmac. Stallworth would welcome a return to New England, where he spent just one season, 2007, and was released because of a large ($6 million) option bonus he was due in February ‘08. That bonus made it clear that Stallworth would likely not be with the Pats beyond that first season. On the day news broke of the alcohol-related accident he’d been in, when he hit and killed a pedestrian in Miami, Stallworth received a supportive text message from Brady, so it’s safe to assume the two had a good relationship. Last year, Stallworth entered the season anxious to return to the field after his suspension, but was injured in training camp and wound up playing eight games, with just two catches. His lack of involvement in Baltimore’s offense was a source of frustration, and he will be a free agent.
It seems after the last CBA there was a handful of owners who were not happy with it and that a lot of the others (for example Mr. Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, etc) were happy with it. Have other owners become dissatisfied with the CBA over time or is it still that small minority of owners who claim they are losing money and don’t like the CBA? It seems foolish to hold so many hostage over the wishes of a few.
As always, there were owners who did not like the CBA when it was adopted in 2006, JB, but it got the three-quarters vote it needed. Interestingly, Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, one of the men who was a major proponent of the deal five years ago, is one of the most vocal opponents to it now.
There has been a lot of talk about “growing the league” and revenues from the owners’ side, but in my opinion, the league has done a poor job of clarifying why it’s asking for more money. My assumption would be that most teams are like the Packers – since Green Bay is publicly owned, it must open its books, and their records showed that while the team made more money than it ever had before in 2009, it also spent more than it ever had, and the profit margin between revenue and expenditure shrunk to just under $10 million. Given that $10 million is half of what the Packers made in 2008, it’s easy to see that in a couple of years they might be operating in the red.
So when you look at it through that lens, there are some changes that have to be made. But the Players’ Association wants the financials to stay the same and the owners want them slashed. As always, a compromise must be reached. Then there’s that sticky 18-game situation, among other things, to deal with as well.
Since the NFL owners want to extend the season by two games and obviously the players do not, why don’t they consider adding an extra bye week for each game? It seems like a win/win for everyone. The season will be extended an extra week, producing more revenue for the owners. The players will get an extra week to heal/rest, etc. I have not heard anyone bring this up. What would be the downsides of this? Thanks!
Scott Knowles, Laconia, N.H.
From what I’ve heard, Scott, if the owners do get the Players’ Association to agree to an 18-game season, there would be an extra bye week during the regular season, pushing the regular season to 20 total weeks (up from 17 currently). The other thing that likely would have to happen in the 18-game model is expansion of rosters – which would likely dilute the talent pool league-wide.
I know that Kamerion Wimbley is a free agent. What are your thoughts about the Pats signing him?
Brian sent this question several days ago, and just yesterday the Raiders notified Wimbley’s agent that they will exercise the buyback option in his contract. Wimbley had nine sacks last year for Oakland, and being able to hang onto him for $3.5 million for ’11 is a good deal for the Raiders. Reports are that they are hoping to come to an agreement on a longer-term contract with the 27-year old.