Evan (NJ): Hi Mike, in the AFC Championship Game last year, our pass rush was nearly nonexistent. I think we definitely need to sign a strong pass rusher to give Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich some relief. Do you see the draft or free agency as being the better option?
Evan, I do think we'll see an addition at defensive end behind Jones and Ninkovich, as the team has explored veteran Will Smith as one possibility. But another point to consider is how a pass rush comes from more places than just the defensive end spot. A better interior push will also be a factor and the team should upgrade in that area if Armond Armstead emerges as a contributor. I could also see Jamie Collins being more of a factor in this area. Better coverage also helps the rush and the Patriots look pretty solid in the secondary right now.
James (England): If, as you suggested, linebacker Ryan Shazier is an option in the first round, do you project him as playing inside or outside?
James, I think Shazier is best suited off the line, so it would depend on what defense the team is in. Part of my thinking with Shazier is that 70 percent of defense is played in sub anyway and he could ultimately be a big part of that. Also, there is a pretty notable dropoff after the top three linebackers of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and more quality depth is needed.
Joe (Waltham): Mike, do you think the Patriots draft a QB in this draft? Obviously the visits of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were nothing more than educating themselves more on the draft board, but if someone like AJ McCarron falls to the bottom of the 2nd or even the 3rd, do you think they consider it?
Yes, Joe, I think that is a distinct possibility. A late second-round pick seems a bit rich to me for a quarterback but I think anything after that is in play. Just as Ryan Mallett was a third-round pick in 2011, it wouldn't surprise me if the team picked a quarterback that early this year if the right prospect is there (e.g. Pittsburgh's Tom Savage).
Earl (Marlborough, Mass.): I thought that Will Svitek filled in pretty admirably for injuries early on in the season, and he has versatility. What is his likelihood of return as depth on OL?
Earl, Svitek helped the Patriots through an early stretch of injuries in the preseason but by the end of the season, it was notable to me that rookie Josh Kline was thrust into action over him. Part of that could have been due to Svitek battling an injury. My sense is that the plan would be to turn that guard position over to a younger (less expensive) player like Kline or Chris Barker, knowing that the team goes three deep at tackle with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon.
Carlos (Maine): Mike, why is it just assumed that Ryan Mallett is gone next year?
Carlos, Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014 and thus is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at this time next year. With Tom Brady entrenched as the starter here, and signed through 2017, it makes sense to think that Mallett will likely want to pursue a better chance to start elsewhere. The door should never be slammed shut on Mallett's return, but I'd think the odds wouldn't favor it at this point.