NEW ORLEANS -- Put yourself in Bill Belichick's hoodie and what would you do?
Welker and Branch enter the final year of their contracts. Tate played in all 16 games last season and showed some flashes of excellence but also inconsistency. Edelman didn't have a big opportunity to make his mark as a pass-catcher, while Price -- a 2010 third-round pick -- appeared in one game, the season finale.
When you assess that situation, do you add a receiver to the mix in free agency or the draft? Or do you stick with what you have?
That is the question that leads off this week's mailbag, which also includes a lot of draft and NFL labor chatter.
Q: Let's be honest here. We have no good young receivers. Brandon Tate didn't show anything in his full season. Julian Edelman is nothing more than a 4th to 5th WR on a good team or a mediocre 3rd WR on a bad team. Taylor Price couldn't crack the gameday roster until the final game and has shades of Bethel Johnson written all over him. Unless we trade up to grab AJ Green or nab Julio Jones or Jon Baldwin, we have no reason not to bring back the greatest WR the Patriots ever had -- Randy Moss. Either draft one of the three studs in this years draft or bring Moss back. Thoughts? -- Dj (Raymond, N.H.)
A: Dj, I have a different view of the receivers, specifically when it comes to Price. I think it is too early to judge him based on what he did in 2010, mainly because he missed all spring camps as Ohio had yet to graduate. That created a steeper learning curve, especially since he was coming from a nontraditional offense in college. You may end up being correct, but I feel it's too early to make that call. As for Tate, I thought he was up and down last season and should be striving for more consistency. It was his first full NFL season, and I think that has to be part of the consideration. I wouldn't give up on him, although I still think he needs to earn his No. 3 spot on the depth chart; that is no given. I'd like to see Edelman get some more opportunity in 2011, although it's a challenge when you have Wes Welker in front of you. I could see the Patriots adding another receiver, but I don't think it would be Moss. I think the team has moved on, both from an on-field and off-field perspective.
Q: Hi Mike, these days everybody is worried about which players the Pats will draft, but I'm curious about Jermaine Cunningham's development at outside linebacker. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, and he did look good in his first year. Do you think he has to get more muscle for next season or is it just a question to learn more moves and with his pure talent and one year of experience in the NFL he's ready to be a full-time starter and get more pressure on the opposing QB? -- Memo Alfaro (Tijuana, Mexico)
A: Memo, I think Cunningham has a strong foundation on which to build, for sure. The rest is up to him. The lockout hurts him because this would be an important offseason for him, but I think he can overcome it by hanging around people like Jerod Mayo. I thought he had a promising rookie campaign that tailed off late, in part because of injuries.
A: Chris, I don't think it's a necessity because the Patriots could always flip Sebastian Vollmer to left tackle and they also have tackles Nick Kaczur, Mark LeVoir and Steve Maneri on the roster (and could re-sign Quinn Ojinnaka in a pinch). One thing to keep in mind is that offensive tackle is one area of this draft that is quite strong, so the Patriots might feel that's the best value regardless.
Q: Hi Mike. With all the talk about the Pats moving down and trading picks for next year, I'm wondering why we don't take a page out of the Jets book and trade up for a player we really like. They Jets have clearly drafted better than us the last 5 years and made some nice draft day acquisitions: Sanchez, Revis, Mangold, Ferguson, etc.. Here's my scenario: move up and take JJ Watt -- giving up one of our higher picks. A nice second pick would be his Wisconsin teammate Gabe Carimi. I keep hearing about his mean streak (sounds like Logan Mankins). Thoughts? What would it cost to move from 17 to 10? -- Chris C (Boston)
A: Chris, the Jets have a strikingly different approach than the Patriots when it comes to the draft. I have heard general manager Mike Tannenbaum call his philosophy "quality over quantity." Last month, I did a comparison of the Patriots and Jets -- focusing on the first three rounds of drafts from 2006-10 -- and it was neat to see the teams side by side. On this scenario, I don't think Carimi will be there in the second round. To move up from 17 to 10, the Patriots would probably have to surrender their high third-round pick and perhaps a late-rounder depending on whether they were competing with another team for that pick.
Q: Mike, many fans have suggested that Bill Belichick trade some of his 2011 draft picks for 2012 draft picks. This may be a very risky idea. The NFL is warning teams to be cautious because there is no guarantee of a 2012 draft. Thoughts? -- Jim Keddy (Kennebunk, Maine)
A: Jim, there is a risky element to trading 2011 picks into the 2012 draft. That will have to be part of Bill Belichick's decision-making. I do think the risk is minor, but it is a factor that has to be part of the decision-making process.
Q: Mike, many NFL commentators agree that the new collective bargaining agreement will have some sort of rookie salary cap. That would seem to favor the Pats with their two first-round picks. How likely do you think the Pats will keep and use those picks (assuming there is value there for them)? Or, do you think they'll be more likely to trade one or both as in years past? -- ChipFromCT (Monroe, Conn.)
A: Chip, I don't think the rookie cap/slotting system that is expected to be part of a new collective bargaining agreement will have much of an impact on the Patriots' decision-making with those picks. The rookie cap/slotting system has a much more significant impact on the top 10 of the draft, where the salaries are significantly higher. The Patriots have reportedly already let teams know they're willing to move one of the picks if the value is right, so I think we should expect some action. I could envision a scenario in which the Patriots trade the No. 28 pick for a first-round pick in 2012 and a mid-round pick in 2011.
Q: Hey Mike, if the players win the April 6 injunction, and business goes on under 2010 rules, it will mean no cap and contracts of 5-6 years for first-rounders. Would this help or hurt the Patriots? -- Ryan (Baton Rouge, La.)
A: Ryan, this brings up an interesting aspect to the draft, as picks 1-16 can currently sign for a maximum length of six years, while picks 17-32 can sign for a maximum length of five years. Do the Patriots move up one spot to potentially take advantage of the extra year? I could envision that, although the wrinkle in play here is that teams might not know what the rules are when they are drafting. I don't see it playing a major factor in draft strategy.
Q: Hi Mike, I've noticed that the Pats are working out, and meeting with a lot of running backs and wide receivers. While I can understand that there is some need at those positions, I am really surprised that I haven't heard much about workouts for positions of need (OL, RDE, and OLB). Is it simply a matter of scheduling? Closer to the draft, will we be hearing more interviews for offensive line, right defensive end, and outside linebacker? Am I just not going to the right websites? -- Jim (Boston)
A: Jim, the Patriots are working out players at those positions as well; it's just that the specific workouts haven't been as publicized. I think it's also important to point out that by the time the draft arrives, the Patriots will have worked out, or met with, anywhere from 100-200 prospects. I think that is important context. It's tempting to look at a workout and say "The Patriots are interested in that player." But in reality, the workout could lead the team to not select the player. It's all part of the information-gathering process.
Q: Mike, I read in Roger Goodell's letter to the players that a key part of the proposal would be significant cuts to offseason workouts, OTAs and "live" contact practices. What effect do you see these potential new rules having on the quality of the game? -- Ben (Amherst, Mass.)
A: Ben, I see very little effect on the quality of the game. I thought Dan Koppen said it best in a Sirius radio interview. "The OTAs are not contact and the offseason is just working out, and you should really be working out anyway," Koppen said.
Q: What do you think Brady's peers think of him lollygagging in Brazil while all hell breaks loose with negotiations? Particularly since he was supposed to be a marquee proponent for the players. -- Hub (Mattapoisett, Mass.)
A: Hub, I don't think players have strong feelings about this. Brady has lent his name to the lawsuit and that's powerful from a symbolic standpoint. But he hasn't attended meetings and hasn't commented on these issues, while others, such as Saints quarterback Drew Brees, are out front in a leading role. So Brady is doing his part, albeit in a different way.
Q: I have heard that some owners are cutting employee salaries during the lockout. I have seen some of the teams that are doing it and others that aren't, but have not seen the Patriots on either list. Please tell the Kraft is on the classy side and not like the Jets. -- Kyle Hallett (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
A: Kyle, team president Jonathan Kraft was asked about this Monday and said: "Right now, we're focused on getting ready. We believe there's going to be a season in 2011 and so our full complement of organizational staff is working full-time under normal terms and conditions and we're going to keep working that way for the foreseeable future."
Q: Hi Mike, after reading your piece on Aldon Smith, I couldn't help but think: Is this the next Vernon Gholston? Players who do well in college but not great and have a ton of athleticism move up on draft boards and have a high bust rate (I don't have any facts supporting that but I would say it's a fair assessment). I used to think Smith would be an intriguing pick for the Pats but now I'm convincing myself there is no way they will take him. Thoughts? -- Eric (Burlington, Mass.)
A: Eric, I view Smith as one of the riskier picks, mainly because he hasn't played much compared to other prospects and is young. I also think the position he plays contributes to that. Those defensive end/outside linebacker types have produced mixed results of late. The Colts' Jerry Hughes is one example. A late first-round pick in 2010, he had a quiet rookie season. The Chargers' Larry English, a mid-2009 first-rounder, has also struggled at times (in part because of injury). So I think that volatility is part of the analysis when looking at Smith, Kerrigan and other possible 3-4 outside linebackers.
Q: Mike, at the end of the season there was speculation that the team could potentially cut ties with James Sanders, as he has a large cap hit this coming season. Now with the off-field issues surrounding Brandon Meriweather, I am hearing more whispers that perhaps the team could target a safety in the draft while also pursuing a veteran in free agency. Putting the labor unrest aside for a moment here , what veterans would you see as a possible fit in the Pats secondary if the team were to release/trade Sanders/Meriweather? -- Neil (South Boston, Mass.)
A: Neil, I think the Patriots will keep Sanders and Meriweather. But in terms of veteran options on the free-agent market, Buffalo's Donte Whitner is a player who stands out, depending on what rules are in play.
Q: Mike, two names that stand out to me as possible Pats are Cameron Jordan and Muhammad Wilkerson. Of the two, who would you anticipate to help us more (not just immediately, but long-term)? Also, can you envision a scenario where the value is too good, such as having a need/value pick being there at each of our top 3 picks and us making each pick? It'd be nice if we could land either Jordan/Wilkerson/Cameron Heyward at DE, Mike Pouncey/Danny Watkins at C/G, and another solid player such as Gabe Carimi at offensive tackle, Phil Taylor at defensive tackle, or Ryan Kerrigan at DE/LB. Can you see that playing out? -- Kyle (Warwick, R.I.)
A: Kyle, one NFL general manager I spoke with at the NFL annual meeting called Jordan a "perfect fit" for the Patriots, but didn't think he would be there at No. 17 . I think he's a cut above Wilkerson, who is also a solid prospect. If choosing between Heyward and Wilkerson, I'd go Heyward if his injured elbow checks out OK. On the interior offensive line, I wouldn't be too concerned if Pouncey or Watkins don't wind up here, because I still think the Patriots can find a quality interior lineman elsewhere. Kerrigan is probably too one-dimensional for the Patriots at No. 17, and I have doubts he'll be there at No. 28.
Q: If Mike Pouncey is available at 17 do you think the Patriots take him instead of D-lineman or linebacker? -- Ben (Turners Falls, Mass.)
A: Ben, I'd put Pouncey's name on the short list, but would lean toward a D-lineman there if the right players are still on the board. The opinion of one personnel man here at the NFL's annual meeting is that Pouncey is more of a natural guard and projecting him to center is no sure bet, which makes me ask the question: "If the Patriots feel the same way, is 17 a bit too rich to make a pick like that?"
Q: Hi Mike. You've mentioned the Pats D was in sub packages over 50 percent of the time last year. Thus, Bill Belichick should consider drafting players that aren't necessarily ideal 3-4 fits. The flip side to this is that perhaps these sub packages were used frequently because we didn't have the appropriate personnel. It seems Bill's been consistent (or stubborn) in not deviating from his required characteristics, such as 6-foot-5, 260-pound OLBs. What prospects do you see as ideal fits at either OLB or DE for the 3-4 defense? -- Mark (Melrose, Mass.)
A: Mark, the top 3-4 defensive ends are J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan and Cameron Heyward. I like all three for the Patriots at No. 17, depending on the way the draft unfolds. The top outside linebackers are a bit tougher to project because there are differing opinions on whether prospects like Ryan Kerrigan and Aldon Smith fit. Von Miller, Justin Houston, Akeem Ayers, Brooks Reed, Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus are some others who rate highly at the position.
Q: Dear Mike, the main concern for the Patriots appears to be their pass rush. However, a pass rush can become more effective with great corner play. I was wondering your thoughts on if the Pats may look to improve an already improving position by drafting Miami's Brandon Harris in the second round. He is a corner that can do it all, and a guy that plays with a swagger that is needed for the patriots in the defensive backfield. Teams stopped throwing the ball his way in the second half of last season. -- Billy Munroe (Weymouth, Mass)
A: Billy, Harris is a player who showed up on my radar at the NFL combine. In listing 10 possible targets for the Patriots, he was on the list. So I think you bring up a good one here.
Q: Hi Mike, thinking of the upcoming Patriots Draft "Party", I can't believe how lame and disingenuous the NFLPA (or whatever they are called now) is in asking draftees to boycott the NFL Draft. Go wave the union flag kid and miss the biggest night of your life while they bargain you into a rookie wage scale and cost you millions. I am now officially rooting for the billionaires in this battle. -- John F (Boston)
A: John, I think the NFLPA is making a big mistake on this one, although not all feel that way. Tedy Bruschi wrote strongly in support of the decision.
Q: Hi Mike. Really struggling with this one; must have started and erased about 20 comments already. The conclusion I have come to is that I have no sympathy for the union or its players. What's being displayed is the face of America -- I have enough, but I feel like I am entitled to more even though it's not mine. I feel like the owners are getting the shaft from this whole mess. I think they should all get together and void all the players contracts. Make them all free agents and reestablish a pay scale by position. Give them a 3-5 percent merit raise every year and if they exceed expectations, give them a bonus. Ridiculous, I know, but that's what my job does. -- Nate (Wildomar, Calif.)
A: Nate, thanks for sharing your thoughts. In fairness to the players, they were happy to play under the present rules and the owners opted out of that labor agreement. I think both sides can take a shared responsibility for the current situation, which reflects poorly on the game.
Q: Mike, with the draft coming up, and the CBA issues eliminating mini-camps and rookie camps, etc., my question is: When Roger Goodell announces a team's pick next month, what happens after that? I know that in years past, the coach or owner might call a player to let them know they are going to be picked, but can that happen this year? Also, is a coach allowed to even get a playbook or anything like that to a player, whether by hand or through UPS or something? Just seems like a lot of uncharted waters this year, and I'm afraid a coach or owner is going to do something outside the rules, a la Spygate. -- Casey (Plymouth, Mass.)
A: Casey, teams can contact players after they select them. In fact, you might even see the Patriots' first-round picks (assuming they make both selections) in Foxborough the next day or two. But once the draft is over, all communication ends.
Q: Hi Mike, during the lockout will the league still set team schedules for the upcoming season? -- Andy (Brighton, Mass.)
A: Andy, the NFL is planning to release the schedule as it usually does, in mid-April.