Although it's officially the football offseason, the Patriots mailbag will continue to be produced each Tuesday. Thanks to all for writing in with some insightful and thoughtful e-mails.
The biggest topic this week was owner Robert Kraft's remarks Friday at the Super Bowl and what to make of them. Some trades with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are also revisited, as well as areas that the Patriots can improve in 2011.
Let's get right to it.
Q. Mike, when asked last week why the Pats lost to the Jets in the divisional round, Robert Kraft made clear reference to the game plan. I am sure I was not the only one taken slightly by surprise here, as these comments seem quite out of character. I can't believe I am asking this but do you see him growing impatient with the coach? Does Bill have to go deep into the playoffs next year? -- John (Fort Lauderdale)
A. John, I thought the fan in Kraft came out with those remarks. I didn't read into them any further in terms of what it might mean for Belichick's future from an ownership perspective. I think Kraft realizes he has one of the top coaches in the NFL and he also values the stability of having the same coach in place for a 12th season. So I don't think Belichick needs to go deep in the playoffs or anything like that. On the flip side, I did wonder what Belichick thought of the remarks. I can't imagine he'd be thrilled.
Q. Mike, you're clearly a big fan of Robert Kraft but I feel like he's starting to overstep his boundaries a little bit with the "good game plan" comment, the "lazy" Brady pick quote and the whole feud with Mankins that will probably pave the way for his exit. Don't you think Kraft needs to remind himself that his only true asset to this team is his money and that he needs to stay out of the football aspect? -- Dan (Massachusetts)
A. Dan, I respect what Kraft has done as owner of the Patriots, although that doesn't mean I would shy away from criticism if I felt it was warranted. As for his remarks, I appreciated them as a reporter covering the team because they seemed to be unfiltered and reflected what he was really thinking. That's always the goal -- to uncover the truth. If I was removing myself from the job, and focusing solely on what was in the best interests of the Patriots, I would agree with your point that Kraft's remarks didn't seem to do anything to help the team.
Q. Mike, where do you see the Patriots going with their draft picks? I can see three spots of need: edge rusher, offensive line, and a stud running back. I know BenJarvus Green-Ellis has done the job, but he's not on the minds of the opposing defense when game-planning. A running back can be interchangeable, however it seems to be a very valuable position to fill for those games when Brady alone can't shoulder the burden of the team. It's not a coincidence the last SB win for the Pats included Corey Dillon's 1600-plus yard season, and his clock-killing runs played a huge role in keeping Indy's
defense off the field in the divisional round of that playoff. -- Mike K. (High Bridge, N.J.)
A. Mike, I could see that scenario unfolding, although I could also see the running back exchanged with a defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. As for the running back spot, I still envision the Patriots drafting at that position, or signing a free agent, to complement Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. It will all depend on the way the board falls in terms of when the team strikes that opportunity. On the "Dillon Factor," I'm not as convinced that's the reason the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl since 2004. This year's Super Bowl champion, the Packers, didn't have that Dillon-like presence in the running game.
Q. Mike, after reading Bob Kraft's comments it sounds like he really wants Logan Mankins back next year (who doesn't?). Do you think the Pats will make a better offer and really give it a go in trying to sign him? I know he's no Jerry Jones, but how much input does Kraft have on personnel decisions? -- Mike (Massachusetts)
A. Mike, I thought Kraft's remarks were safe and didn't reveal too much when it came to Mankins. He praised him, but didn't get into specifics of how far the team would be willing to go to sign him. As we've seen in the past, the Patriots place a value on a player and are consistent with not budging off that position as it fits in the context of the 53-man roster. I do believe the team will sweeten its reported five-year, $35 million offer, both in terms of total dollars and structure, and the question then would be if it is sweetened enough for Mankins to sign his name on the contract.
A. Rob, these are two special players and while I think the bigger need is on defense, I'd go the Fitzgerald route in this scenario, with the idea that I'd try to find a dynamic pass-rusher in the draft. Admittedly, I might be swayed after getting a feel for what Fitzgerald was all about at the Super Bowl; he seemed like a Belichick type in terms of knowledge and love of the game. A possible Brady-Fitzgerald combination would be off the charts. It's important to note that Fitzgerald isn't a free agent this year.
Q. Mike, you had to realize once you did that interview with Larry Fitzgerald (and his abundant praise for the Patriots) that the conspiracy theorists among the fan base would start trying to put together a trade for him. So, was part of the intention to tease us ... ahem, I mean them ... or is there a tiny ember of a chance out there? -- Rob (Ashland, Ore.)
A. Rob, I don't envision a scenario that realistically happens in a trade.
Q. Mike, as impressive as Tom Brady's unanimous MVP selection is and Belichick's well-deserved Coach of the Year award is, they also only reinforce the gap between these achievements and the team's underwhelming playoff performance. It makes it all the harder to accept the lack of execution, intensity, focus and resilience in the playoffs. Your thoughts? -- Jake (Vancouver)
A. I can understand that, Jake. The Patriots were well positioned after a great regular season, but they couldn't capitalize on that positioning. There was another "season" to play and that's why Bill Belichick posted a big sign that read "0-0" on the wall where players walked into Gillette Stadium -- it was a reminder that regular-season records don't mean anything in the playoffs and everyone was even again. I do think they have an opportunity to be better from having gone through the experience, especially given the youth on the roster.
Q. Mike, it's hard to turn the page after the Pats had such a great season and failed to produce anything in the playoffs. Talking about Brady being the "goat" of the playoff loss and the entire team playing with a lack of intensity when it matters the most just seems like deja vu to the 2009 playoff loss. What's the problem? I can't remember the Patriots ever having such embarrassing playoff outings two years in a row. How do they fix it? Do you think it's more mental or more personnel-related? -- Mel
A. Mel, I don't think there is one easy answer to the common thread between the last two playoff losses. I also think it's important to note that the Patriots have raised the bar high and there are quite a few teams that would be feeling great about themselves to simply have made the playoffs the last two years, with the chance to build on that experience. That being said, if I had to pinpoint two areas to start with, I'd say quarterback Tom Brady's postseason play and the coaching staff. I thought the Patriots had the personnel to make a Super Bowl run this year but those two areas (Brady, coaching) weren't up to their usual standards in the playoffs.
Q. You said it all when it comes to Tom Brady. He couldn't win when it mattered most. But we'll give him the MVP award anyway because no one was close to him. As you said, he made an ill-advised pass, which was unlike him. And when he seemed to be getting it together, his teammates didn't help. What a bunch of sorry excuses. Not by him, but you. He made a number of ill-advised passes before he broke the record, passes that should have been picked off. I don't see you mentioning that. Keep carrying his water. You're doing it well. -- Sam A. (Harford, Wis.)
A. Sam, I think one point that might be missed here when it comes to Tom Brady and the National Football League MVP award is that it's for the regular season only. Brady received 50 of a possible 50 votes. It seems I wasn't alone in my opinion.
Q. In the post-game interviews, Charles Woodson made a special reference to the way the Packers handled themselves the night before the game. He said he believed they were going to win by how loose and relaxed they all were. Do you think the Pats will address their recent tendencies of being wound too tight before big games? -- Joe (Vt.)
A. Joe, I think Bill Belichick will look closely at how he's approached the team's playoff preparation in recent years based on the disappointing results. In the end, though, I think he'll find that it comes down to execution more than anything else. I'm not sure I'd agree the Patriots were tight in that Jets game -- they moved the ball right down the field in the first quarter and had breakdowns in execution (e.g. Tom Brady interception, Alge Crumpler drop in the end zone). I didn't think those mistakes were a result of tightness. They also came up with a big defensive stop in the first quarter; if they were tight, I would have expected a different result defensively early. So if they had early three-and-out drives, and gave up an easy score early against the Jets, I might look at it differently. But I think this is more about execution in key spots than an overall tightness.
Q. Mike, every team is going to copy the Jets game plan against us unless we find a big-play receiver. What do you think of the Pats trading the 17th overall pick, one of the third-rounders and Julian Edelman to Washington for the 10th overall pick to select Julio Jones? -- Imala (Brisbane)
A. I don't buy the idea of copying the Jets game-plan. That sounds good in theory, but it's all based on personnel and few teams have the solid cover corners to pull that off like the Jets do. For example, if the Steelers tried to do that with cornerbacks Bryant McFadden, William Gay and Ike Taylor, I think the Patriots would have put 40 up on them. As for the trade proposal, I wouldn't do it because I lean toward strengthening the line of scrimmage with those early picks.
Q. We all know that the Patriots could have picked Clay Matthews, but traded the pick and landed some good players in return. The last time you wrote on the subject, you thought that the Pats got good players, so it was not clear in your mind that they made a mistake in passing on Matthews. Now that the season is over, and you have a more complete body of work on all the players in question, can you give us an updated perspective? For my part, after watching Matthews make one of key plays in the
Super Bowl, I am distraught that this guy is not on our team, especially since I believe that one of the three guys we got instead was Darius Butler, the new Laurence Maroney. -- Joe (Wilmington)
A. Joe, if they knew Matthews would make this type of impact -- and everything checked out off the field -- I can't imagine they'd make the trade again. The Patriots ended up drafting cornerback Darius Butler, receiver Brandon Tate, receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski with the four picks they received in return (some of which were parlayed into other picks), so it's not like it was a blowout in the
trade. Still, they could have landed Matthews and a few of those players anyway, and that would have been a better option for them. The Patriots weren't alone on this one, of course. There were quite a few teams that passed on Matthews who are probably asking "Why?" now.
Q. Hi Mike, a lot has been written and said about the Patriots trading the pick away to Green Bay for Clay Matthews, but should we also overlook that we also traded with Green Bay to get Chad Jackson and they got Greg Jennings? Top rusher and receiver ... how much better would this Patriots team be with those two players on the roster? Do you think that the Patriots should stay away from ANY Green Bay trade? -- Kim C. (Adelaide, Australia)
A. Kim, that Jackson trade from the 2006 draft -- in which the Packers netted both Jennings and guard Jason Spitz -- was one of the worst of Belichick's tenure. I might put the 2005 trade for Duane Starks in there, too. On the whole, I think Belichick's trades have worked out more than they haven't, but the two deals with the Packers tilt in favor of Green Bay. Still, I wouldn't close the door on a future trade with the Packers because of that.
Q. I believe people have seriously underestimated the potential of the Patriot defense even before the additions of the 2011 draft. Ty Warren, Leigh Bodden ... but the biggest reason is Patrick Chung. I'm really surprised that he doesn't garner more respect on this defense. Before his knee injury, he was flying all over the field. His physicality, quickness, leadership, intensity and emotion were off-the-charts. In my opinion, before the injury he was there with Devin McCourty, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo in terms of ability. Let's do the math here -- great before the injury/good after the injury. Did the
knee affect him? Obviously. He toughed it out. It's not until years later that we ever hear the full truth about the effect of these injuries on performance. Chung will be an All-Pro providing the emotional leadership spark in the defense we haven't seen since Tedy Bruschi. -- Jay S. (Austin, Texas)
A. Jay, interesting thoughts here on Chung. I know Bruschi himself really liked what he saw from Chung, saying he reminds him of a young Lawyer Milloy. I thought we saw a lot of growth from Chung from last year to this year, where he went from playing 20 percent of the snaps to 70 percent. That growth should continue, and with full health, he has the potential to be a top safety.
Q. Hi Mike, do you think that too much emphasis is placed on "winning it all" in sports today? It occurs to me that by far my favorite season was 2007-2008, undefeated 16-0 and Brady and Moss connecting on a bomb (after a failed bomb on the previous play) to break both their respective records. Granted, the Super Bowl loss eclipsed the Aaron Boone game as the worst sporting event of my life, but I grew to appreciate what an amazing season that was, just as this year's Pats gave us 14 good Monday mornings this year. Hard for me to look at both seasons as failures, as most do. Also, if Belichick looks
at the first 3-4 picks and feels that there will be no high-quality three-down DEs available with great pass-rushing abilities, do you think he trades up? It seems like there may be some big, heavy DEs OR some light, sub-package DEs at 17, but I'm not sure the total package guys will make it that far. Thoughts? -- grandjordanian (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
A. I look at the "winning it all" in two parts. First, there's the bottom-line view, which is what Bill Belichick spoke about after the season ended: "We had positive things happen over the course of the regular season, but unfortunately that's overshadowed by the final result." I respect that because that's the reason coaches are coaching and players are playing -- to win a championship. At the same time, and this is a lesson I hope to teach as a coach of youth teams down the road, there is great value in the journey a team takes over the course of the season that I think often gets lost. It's obviously a little different on the professional level, but I still think that is still a factor to consider. On the second part, I could see Belichick moving up if the right target is there. Maybe not into the top 10, but once we get to double-digits, anything is in play in my book.
Q. Are there any big free agents that you feel the Patriots could make a move for? -- Scott P. (Lake Pacific Sea)
A. Scott, I don't see the Patriots making a big move in free agency. I think they will focus more on the draft, using free agency to complement that approach.
Q. Mike, the future of the offensive line is certainly tied to Logan Mankins and Matt Light, but Nick Kaczur also has to figure prominently in the equation. Where is he in his recovery from that back injury? His status, one way or the other, will play a large role in the team's approach to both the draft and free agency. Thanks. -- Neil (South Boston)
A. Neil, it sounded like Kaczur was on the road to recovery when he stopped to chat for a few minutes in the locker room late in the year. That being said, it's a lot different walking through the locker room than banging on the football field. Kaczur is scheduled to earn $3.4 million in 2011, and I'm interested to see how Patriots management views that cost because it's one of the higher base salaries on the team.
This remains a question mark in my view.
Q. Mike, what's with commissioner Roger Goodell? Why does he keep bringing up Spygate? -- Steve F. (Friendswood, Texas)
A. Steve, as part of that larger piece for Sports Illustrated, I assume Goodell was asked a question about some of the biggest rulings he's made and that included the Patriots' videotaping. So that's how I envision it came up again.
Q. Hi Mike, those 400 people that had tickets and were not allowed into the Super Bowl; I can't even imagine this. Giving them a ticket to next years game? What if their team isn't in the Super Bowl the following year? What should have happened didn't -- the high-ranking NFL personnel giving up their seats to those people. I put myself in their shoes, and I can not even imagine how angry I'd be. What did you think? -- Corky D. (Destin)
A. Corky, that was an embarrassing moment for the NFL. I didn't expect something like that from an organization that usually has all its I's dotted and T's crossed. They really botched it and it's inexcusable given the costs involved and magnitude of the game.
Q. I want to congratulate you on your Super Bowl prediction. Not only did you pick the winning team, but also predicted the score to be 31-24. It would've been that exact score if Pittsburgh didn't go for the point. -- Minh (W. Hartford, Conn.)
A. Thanks for noticing that. I think predicting scores of games is mostly about luck, and I got lucky on that one. At the same time, Bill Belichick's analysis on analysts is something I've had in mind, as it's an area I want to improve. In November, Belichick said: "I think sometimes somebody with a totally objective point of view, whether it's Cris Collinsworth or Phil Simms or whoever it is ... guys with experience, guys that really understand how the teams really do match up or how they see each other, I think sometimes they can give you some interesting insight into the game, particularly if they have some inside information."
Q. If Goodell is really pushing for an 18-game regular season, wouldn't the league have to expand game-day and/or practice squad rosters too? -- Rosenblatt (Beverly, Mass.)
A. It's not necessarily Goodell pushing it as it is the owners. If 18 games is passed through, the league would expand rosters and practice squad spots, probably in the 1-2 player range.
Q. Now that Robert Kraft has talked about bad game plans and lazy passes, can you objectively dissect the Patriots? ESPN's Ron Jaworski said Tom Brady missed opportunities, which is a nice, professional way to say "scared." I still can't believe that "lazy" drive late in the game. When I sum it all up, the NFL has reached (diminished) to the level of the other major sports: Make the playoffs and who cares what your record is. Thanks, Pats, for the great in-season excitement, but it has only led to embarrassing
collapses in the playoffs. Don't tell me how successful we've been. Records of 14-2, 18-0 and we can't close, that's the definition of loser. Ask Apollo Creed. -- Hub R. (Mattapoisett, Mass.)
A. Hub, I appreciate the "Rocky" reference. I also 100 percent agree with you about "make the playoffs and who cares what your record is." Even the Packers were saying this. Go back to Dec. 12 and read their press clippings after a 10-3 loss to the Lions. It was ugly. But they hit their stride later, got a couple of breaks, and it all fell into place for them. The Patriots need to become better closers. No doubt about it.