This week's mailbag is a mix between the business/contract side of the game, and the actual X's and O's.
Some of the team's more pressing contract issues are dissected -- including Tom Brady, Logan Mankins and Randy Moss. Meanwhile, with the Patriots currently going through their third week of organized team activities, there has been plenty to digest on the field.
It was a challenge to pick out one overriding theme for the mailbag, but there were quite a few questions on the defense. So let's start there.
Q: Hey Mike. You hear often that this team was lacking playmakers on defense. I thought that Brandon Meriweather was becoming more and more of a playmaker. Who do you see making big plays and becoming a playmaker on this defense? -- Paul X. (Warwick, R.I.)
A: Paul, I think Meriweather is one of the defense's top playmakers, but I also see him as inconsistent in certain areas, such as tackling. His five interceptions tied for the team lead last year with cornerback Leigh Bodden, another playmaker. I also see Darius Butler as a potential top playmaker with the potential to become a 1A-type corner in the NFL. He's not there yet, but I can't think of a better pure athlete that I've seen walk through that locker room in recent years. I thought linebacker Jerod Mayo's knee injury limited his playmaking ability in 2009, but I'd expect more of him this season. I could also envision Patrick Chung emerging at safety.
Q: Mike, with all the young talent the Patriots have stockpiled on defense, could this be the year the "D" steps up? Look at the Jets as an example. They similarly stockpiled defensive talent and it all now has come together. The Pats have quietly added top talent to the defense over the past 3 years. If it emerges, they, not the Jets, could again be dominant. What do you think? -- Steve Foster (Friendswood, Texas)
A: I think it's an optimistic outlook, Steve, when using the word dominant. I could envision the young defense coming together and producing winning results, but it's hard for me to make that leap when there are significant questions to be answered, such as: Who starts at both outside linebacker spots, right defensive end and strongside inside linebacker?
Q: Hey Mike, such a big deal is made out of our lack of a pass rush last year and our lack of a major upgrade (Cunningham is still just a rookie). I was wondering if you think BB will change some of his defensive scheme to get more of a pass rush? I know BB's defensive strategy has been bend but don't break, but do you think he might throw some more blitzes in there to offset the lack of an elite pass rusher? -- Jeff (Port St. Lucie, Fla.)
A: I thought he did last year, Jeff, without the desired success. The Patriots blitzed on about 40 percent of their defensive snaps, meaning that's how often they sent a fifth rusher, or even more. Without a consistent ability to pressure with four rushers, they had to try different things.
Q: The Patriots have developed a reputation over the years for allowing key personnel to swing in the wind over contracts. Almost all have routinely been justified for one reason or another. But letting Brady swing, in my opinion, is playing with fire. His kids are on the west coast. He may just feel offended enough privately to picture himself in a west coast uniform to finish his career. Without Brady, NE is just another pretty good team. Who's to blame for this annual stress fest? -- Al (Port St. Lucie, Fla.)
A: Al, I think the uncertain labor forecast and 30-percent rule is a part of it, and that explains in part why the Indianapolis Colts also haven't reached an extension with Peyton Manning. Like Brady, Manning is also entering the final year of his contract. In the end, though, I don't think that is a big enough hurdle to not consummating the deals. I still think a deal should get done. If Brady had been an unrestricted free agent this year, for example, I don't think there would be hesitation in striking a deal. (It would have been easier without the 30 percent rule in play.) It comes down to both sides getting to the table and hammering it out. I don't think you can blame one person. Any negotiation is a two-way street. If there is no extension, I could envision a 2010 pay bump as an alternative.
Q: Mike, once upon a time Tom Brady's first love was football. Now, with life's changes, football is not the most important thing in Tom Brady's life. Family first (of course), but the love affair is cross country between family and football. Do you think one of the reasons the Patriots have not signed Brady to a long term contract is that Bill Belichick wants to find out just how much Tom Brady is "really" motivated. Maybe Tom Brady "thinks" he's motivated, but ... -- Jillian (Quincy, Mass.)
A: Jillian, I don't buy that line of thinking at all. I think Bill Belichick knows what he has in Tom Brady, and he is not interested in having anyone else playing the position for the Patriots while he is the head coach.
It's good to see Welker participating in OTAs. I'm probably in the minority on this, but I'd much rather have Welker back mid-season even if he is ready to go by September. I'd even go as far as to wait until after Thanksgiving. He tore his ACL in January, he shouldn't rush recovery. In addition, Welker's season-ending injury late in the season exposed the Patriots lack of a third option. Brady relied too much on Moss & Welker. While a return in September helps New England on offense, it may not be the best option going forward. Rather on hoping Welker can start against the Bengals Week 1, they should sit him and see what the other receivers can do. I think New England should determine the depth chart behind Moss and learn to utilize the tight ends in the offense more effectively. What are your thoughts? -- Alvin (Deerfield, Mass.)
A: Alvin, this is going to sound like I'm playing both sides here, but hear me out. If Welker is cleared to play, I'd play him. He's too valuable. At the same time, I think there is validity to the idea last season that Welker became a crutch for quarterback Tom Brady -- in part because he got open so often -- and it seemed to affect the flow and distribution of the ball at times. So if the Patriots can strike that balance in getting Welker back while not relying on him as much, I think that's the ideal scenario.
Q: Hi Mike, I'm a big Randy Moss fan and I love to see No. 81 on the field in a Patriots uniform. However, with Randy saying that he is "not in the Patriots future plans," is this a distraction that the Patriots locker room doesn't need, even though he says that he is eager to play in 2010? Would it be worth it for the Patriots now to let him know that negotiations can start but only after Brady and Mankins are taken care of? If not (and I would hate to see this), would a trade be viable? Surely Moss would be worth more than a compensatory pick? Your thoughts? -- Kim Clayton (Adelaide, Australia)
A: Kim, I wouldn't trade Moss, as I think this offense -- and Tom Brady -- needs him. He's still a bona fide No. 1 receiver, and those players are hard to come by. As for the distraction, I don't see it. If Moss said that and didn't show up for voluntary work, I might lean in that direction. But he showed up and looks motivated to have a big year. I think he will. As for letting Moss know that negotiations could commence after Brady and Mankins, I'd think he's already aware of that.
Q: Hey Mike, I was wondering what your opinion is on being able to re-sign Randy Moss next season or applying the franchise tag? I'm hoping we re-sign Brady this offseason, and already re-signed Wilfork and Bodden. I would like next season to focus on re-signing Logan Mankins and Randy Moss, as they are now the two most important Patriots to re-sign, pending a Brady contract comes before the beginning of the season. What do you think? -- Bill (Charlotte, N.C.)
A: I think it's going to be tough to keep all three, Bill. I'd start with Brady and then see where things go with the other two. When it comes to Moss, my feeling is that the Patriots will still show interest, but it will be a situation where the market dictates what happens, because I sense Moss is looking to max out this next deal. I can't see the team winning a bidding war or setting the market for Moss, and I also don't think the team would place the franchise tag on him. They didn't go that route in 2008 with Moss, and, while there were different circumstances in play, I don't think the team would put itself in a position like that with him.
Q: In the past the Patriots have re-signed the middle priced players like Kaczur and Neal before they had to, but for the high-priced free agents like Wilfork and Bodden they waited to the last possible second. With that in mind, don't you think the Patriots -- because they don't have to re-sign Logan Mankins this season -- are more likely to wait to next year to do so? With no CBA in place, isn't Mankins in this position because his union in part along with the owners put him there? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)
A: David, I am not expecting a contract extension between the Patriots and Logan Mankins this year, although that's not based on any insider information. It's just a hunch. I think it would happen next year at the earliest. The final point is valid about the position Mankins is in and how he got there. I still think he'll sign the tender and show up for mandatory minicamp June 15 to 17.
Q: Hi Mike, there are very high expectations for Julian Edelman going into this season. Do you expect to see continued development and improvement from him or is he due for a sophomore slump due to the high expectations and increased role in the offense while filling in for Wes Welker? -- Matt (Essex Jct., Vt.)
A: Matt, I notice a more confident Edelman on the practice field. I also think he looks faster. At the same time, there was one moment from Monday's practice that served as a reminder that he still has a long way to go. The receivers were working on specific routes with quarterbacks, Edelman didn't finish his route and a throw from Tom Brady sailed high over his head. As Edelman came back to the huddle, Brady talked to him about where things went wrong. You could see how frustrated Edelman was at the mistake. I thought to myself at the time, "He's just one year into his life as a receiver, so I guess that is to be expected." Knowing Edelman, he probably stayed at the stadium into the early evening dissecting his routes, because he has such a strong work ethic. Given his not-to-be-denied approach, I'd put my chips behind Edelman avoiding a sophomore slump and delivering results for this team.
Q: Mike, I think Albert Haynesworth is a greedy player. After getting his money, he is not acting as a team player. Do you think any Pats who recently got big paydays (Wilfork) or might get big paydays (Mankins) will follow a similar path? -- Alex (Rome, N.Y.)
A: Alex, I don't think we'll see any Haynesworth-like issues with Wilfork or Mankins (if he gets a deal). These guys are solid. In the case of Wilfork, I think we've seen it go in a different direction. He seems like he's stepped up into more of a leadership role.
Q: Mike, Len Pasquarelli's piece on the evolution of the fullback position is interesting. Do you think the drafting of Aaron Hernandez as a hybrid kind of player, in addition to traditional TEs Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski, means that the Pats may be using different sets this year? Such as more use of a 2nd TE instead of a 3rd WR? Besides giving the passing attack a different angle, could they use a 2nd TE to help the running game? -- Steven (Boston)
A: Steven, I think we could see more two tight end sets, although Hernandez -- while a tight end in title -- could flex out almost as if he's a receiver. So I think there is some built-in flexibility with Hernandez. The other thought on this question is that I have some doubts as to how much Crumpler will help the passing game. It's early yet, but when I watch him in practice, I jot down a question mark next to his name in that area.
Q: Hey Mike, I know there is a lot of curiosity about the TE position. How has Crumpler looked? He's supposed to be the savvy vet but I don't think I've seen too much written about him lately. -- Alan (Nashua, N.H.)
A: Alan, I am not expecting much from Crumpler. I think it will be easier to tell when the pads come on, because he was one of the NFL's better blocking tight ends in 2009, but he seems slow and is only a 3-to-6-yard option to me at this point. He's not going to run down the seam and threaten a defense like I think Rob Gronkowski might eventually.
Q: Hi Mike, my question is about the scouting process that Pats employ, especially when it comes to offensive linemen. It is very interesting that we draft and develop our OL and haven't seen us trading for one. Light, Neal, Mankins, Vollmer and Kaczur all were products of scouting and developing. In fact, I don't think any other team has such a record when most of the drafted OL go on to become starters. On the other side, I don't remember having such luck with our WR and RBs. Why can we not scout and draft WRs and RBs and hit the jackpot like we normally do in the OL? Is our OL scouting department that good when compared to other departments? -- Bharat (Rhode Island)
A: I think it's a bit easier to project an offensive lineman to the NFL than a receiver. I don't know this for sure, but my sense is that we'd see a higher rate of busts at receiver than offensive line. The other factor is Dante Scarnecchia, the team's offensive line/assistant head coach. He's excellent, both as an evaluator and coach.
Q: I have a question about the Patriots running game. Ever since Laurence Maroney was drafted from Minnesota in 2006, I've never really seen him be an impact player for the Patriots. In my opinion, since then, he has been both unproductive and injury prone since he entered the NFL. My question is how long does Bill Belichick really give Maroney? Do you think this is his last year to step it up? If he doesn't make an impact this season what would you do about the running back position for the 2011-2012 season? -- Alex Frenette (Lynn, Mass.)
A: Alex, regardless of what Maroney does this year, I think we'll see additions at the position in 2011. A big part of that is tied to Maroney, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk all entering the final years of their contracts. Had the draft fallen differently, I think they would have taken a running back, but other positions of need or opportunities trumped it. The last thought is that I think it's harsh to call Maroney unproductive. While I do think he hasn't met first-round expectations, he's produced some big games for the team in critical situations.
Q: Hey Mike, there's so much talk on the Pats' lack of QB pressure. But I think BB believes that in order to win the AFC East you must stop the run. The Jets and Dolphins both have strong running games and mediocre passing games. Beefing up ILB and not OLB would make sense in that regard. We no longer have the luxury of focusing on teams like the Colts when we now have to really focus on a tough division. Your thoughts? -- Scott (Burtonsville, Md.)
A: I understand the line of thinking, Scott, but I'm not personally buying it. I think it's always good to be aware of other teams in the division, and how they play, but I don't believe it's smart business to build your team solely based on division opponents. They could dramatically change styles the following year -- perhaps with a coaching change -- and then I think you're in trouble. Another thought is that the Dolphins' mediocre passing game looked Pro Bowl-caliber against the Patriots' defense last year. That's a scary thought to me.
Q: Looking at the roster I see the Patriots with 3 QBs, 3 TEs, 2 Cs, 3 OTs, 3 Gs, 4 RBs, 1 P, 1 K, 1 LS, 6 DL, 4 MLBs, 6 CBs, 4 S. If they want to carry the fifth RB or an extra OT or G, that takes them to 43. This would leave only 10 spots open for WR and OLB. It seems like this would mean players like Sam Aiken and Rob Ninkovich are more on the bubble than they might appear. I see WR coming down to Moss, Holt, Edelman, Price, and Tate (with Welker starting out on the PUP list). The preseason favorites at OLB should be Cunningham, Banta-Cain, Burgess, Crable, and Woods. While Aiken and Ninkovich are good special teams players I don't think that production alone will keep them on the roster. The practice squad will be limited to players with little or no NFL experience like Farnham, Paschall, Weston, Deaderick, Johnson, Brown, Fletcher, and Anderson. That means some familiar names are not going to be Patriots next year. Your thoughts? -- Ken (Belfast, Maine)
A: Ken, this is pretty detailed and it makes you think about some of the decisions to be made in the coming months. I think we can expect at least one familiar name to be let go. The one thing I generally caution on this is how one injury can alter the picture in an instant, and also how all the positions are intertwined. If I had to project right now, I'm putting Aiken and Ninkovich on the final roster. Based on what I've seen at practice, I'd have Crable on the outside looking in at this time.
Q: Mike, I'm curious how running back Pat Paschall is doing? I've not read much about him during the OTA's. -- Mark (Palm Bay, Fla.)
A: Mark, the three times I've noticed Paschall is during special teams work, in a pass-catching drill and at the end of practice when the lesser experienced players get some 11-on-11 work in. I think he's going to have to show up on special teams in the preseason to have a chance to make the club. As for his pass catching, I've already noticed some improvement. Paschall previously said he didn't do much of it in college, but he's been working on becoming a more well-rounded back. It looks like it's producing some results for him.
Q: Why not make a run at John Henderson to play RDE? Even if it fails, it would still be a better investment than all those failed DB experiments. -- Matt (Las Cruces, N.M.)
A: Matt, I think part of the hesitation is that the team has already invested in Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren in free agency. The other part is that you are projecting Henderson to a position and scheme he hasn't played in. There is no telling if he can make that switch, especially at this stage of his career. If Lewis and Warren struggle in training camp, and Henderson is still available, then maybe I could envision movement in that area. But I just don't see him as a sure-fire upgrade over those two now.
Q: Mike, it was mentioned recently that Philadelphia might be in the market for a safety after Marlin Jackson was injured, and that the Pats have the depth to make a move there with a trade. Now that the Rams have lost O.J. Atogwe to FA, they would seem to be in a similar position of needing a safety. With the Pats depth there, who would be the most likely to be moved, and what would be likely asking price? -- Chris (Orlando, Fla.)
A: Chris, I look at Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung as locks for the roster and players who are part of the short and long term. That leaves James Sanders and Brandon McGowan, and I could see Sanders being of interest to a team looking for a steady center-fielder type, such as Philadelphia. (This is pure speculation on my part.) Sanders is scheduled to earn $2.3 million in 2010, which is a lot for a backup. As for the likely asking price in a possible trade, I'd think a fourth-round draft choice might be the range, if not a player already on the roster.
Q: It was great seeing Ty Law on NFL Live. I know the Patriots are stuffed at cornerback and he may not be healthy, but if he is, will there be any possibility that they sign him just for leadership purposes? -- Alex Simon (Stamford, Conn.)
A: I'd say that door is closed, Alex, unless there is a run of injuries. As for leadership, I don't see Law in that light. I always liked Law, but he never struck me as a pure leader type.
Q: Mike, with the terrific effort shown by Kyle Arrington last year, why is he not getting a shot at the corner position? He seemed like a special teams machine last year, so shouldn't he be in the mix? -- Hans (Los Angeles)
A: Hans, I think the coaching staff is giving Arrington a look at left corner with the third-string unit. He's behind Darius Butler and Devin McCourty on the depth chart, but any good team builds quality depth.
Q: Hi Mike, my question is more about football in general than the Pats. With recent roster moves, it looks like Tim Tebow will be third on the QB depth chart in Denver. I was under the impression that the third QB didn't count against the game day roster numbers, but that if he entered the game before the fourth quarter, both the first- and second-string QBs couldn't go back in. How does Denver get around that if they plan to use Tebow in some limited Wildcat and H-back sets? Do they include his spot on the game-day active roster? Do they list him as a fullback or tight end? Thanks for your help. -- James Healy (Hartford, Conn.)
A: Great question, James. I think they'll list Brady Quinn as the No. 3 quarterback, even though he's probably more of the pure backup to Kyle Orton. That allows them to have 46 players on the game-day roster, and if Orton gets injured in the first three quarters, they probably could get by with Tebow until Quinn steps in for the fourth quarter.
Q: Mike, Steve and Angela Nelson put on a first-class event last week at Showcase Live for Mosi Tatupu. The First Annual Mosi Tatupu Comedy Night raised money for a scholarship foundation in Mosi's name. The Nelsons, sponsors and comedians deserve some recognition and thanks. What a great night for a great cause! It was nice to be part of the "Patriot Family" for a night. -- Dan (Leominster, Mass.)
A: Thanks for sharing the thoughts here, Dan. I hope Steve and Angela have a chance to see this.
Q: Mike, would you be willing to project an extremely premature 53 man opening day roster (practice squad for extra credit)? We know that it is an eternity between now and then with minicamp, OTA's, training camp, and pre-season for evaluation/injuries/competition to develop, but it would be a good way to tee up where the roster stands and the number of players fighting for a job. -- Casey O'Connor (Milwaukee)
A: Casey, I'll try to work one up after the team's mandatory minicamp, which is June 15 to 17.
Q: Mike, I am visiting all of my family in the Boston area in late July and was wondering if you know or have an idea on when training camp will start? Also, what do you recommend for a first timer to Pats training camp? -- Brendan (Greenville, S.C.)
A: Brendan, there are no official dates that have been announced, but plan for the final few days of July for the start. I recommend a trip to the team's Hall of Fame as well. I think you will really enjoy it. As for the training camp practice, I'd also bring a pair of binoculars.