A few leftover pieces from the weekly Patriots mailbag:
Rick B. (Chesapeake, VA): Mike, I know we always hear about pro athletes not needing motivation but all this talk about Tom Brady being in decline, no longer a top 5 QB, and drafting a QB in the 2nd round----this can not be falling on deaf ears of a man driven by the fact that he was No. 199, correct? I just can't fathom that all this noise is not being filtered through Tom's chip on his shoulder.
Rick, I don't think too much gets by Tom Brady. In the end, I don't think this media-based chatter will help him throw more touchdown passes, but it's the type of thing that would sharpen the focus of any player in his preparations and approach. Brady, as you said, has been fueled by being the 199th overall pick. This adds another log on the fire.
Jake (Portland, ME): I understand free-agent signings might not be as soon as we would like, but what are the reasons a team waits? Salary agreement? Medical results? I think the fear is that another team will scoop up the best available FAs and why not have them on the team sooner rather than later anyways if it seems like a fit?
Jake, I think you hit on the main factors -- salary agreement and medical. Specific to tight ends Dustin Keller and Jermichael Finley, I don't think salary agreements would be the main thing as those players don't have much leverage given their medical situations. So in the end, I think it's mostly about health and then a question of whether the team thinks the player is the right fit for the program.
Ray (Brookline, MA): Hi Mike, I keep reading these questions from your followers about the Pats' TE situation and how we need another TE to make up for Hernandez, and Gronk's injured status. Why is it that you haven't approached this issue from the perspective of BB "moving on" from the two TE formation? Namely, BB saw an opportunity, based on his talent pool (Gronk and Hernandez) to do something new (two TE formation) which his competitors would find hard to counter. Now that the competition has found ways to counter the two TE formation he has chosen to move on to new tactics to get "the upper hand."
Ray, this was a topic that led off the mailbag from May 27. I think the premise of the Patriots' offense is essentially the same as it's always been -- the coaches would like to be able to call on every personnel grouping at any time, which would provide flexibility based on their game-plan-based approach. They won't force the two-TE approach just to say they are a two-TE offense -- we've already seen a shift away from it compared to 2011 -- but they'd at least like to have capable personnel to run it if that's what it deemed the most favorable matchup that week.
Chip (Arlington, VA): Mike, I am a strong believer in the old cliche that defense wins championships. I think the Seahawks are the perfect example of this and there is certainly a history of seeing a high-powered offense get handled by strong defensive units. The top D's then set up their offense with short fields and other scoring opportunities and that's all she wrote. I really want to see the Pats get back to this mindset and my question is, based on the personnel they have in place, where do you project this defense to be at the end of the year and what are the biggest question marks? Thanks.
Chip, I think they have a good chance to be an upgraded unit in 2014 and it starts with the presence of cornerback Darrelle Revis. If he can effectively help take away one side of the field, that is a pretty decisive start. As for question marks, it all comes back to the pass-rush and third-down defense to me. In theory, better coverage should help the rush. I'm curious to see if it will unfold that way.