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Ask PFW: Personnel-ly Speaking
Hey guys I know this is kind of far-fetched, but since the Texans drafted all those DEs and are switching to a 3-4 and due to the lockout Mario Williams doesn't have the time to adjust (because he's switching to OLB) to his new position, ends up wanting a trade, do you think he's a good fit for the Pats (replacing Richard Seymour)? If so what would be the price? If not what about Osi Umenyiora from the Giants?
I do think there’s a possibility that Williams will have a hard time adjusting to outside linebacker at his size but if that’s to be the case I don’t see it happening immediately. Therefore, I don’t see him being available at this time. Also, I don’t see Williams as a fit in a 3-4 at either end or OLB, although my guess is he could put on a few pounds and play up front if need be. If the Texans thought he was best suited for defensive end they’d probably leave him there despite making the switch. His pass rushing speed and pass rushing ability are what separates him from most guys his size and I’d bet he’d make it at OLB given his athleticism. But either way I don’t see him translating to a 3-4 end for the Patriots. Umenyiora is a little smaller and probably could be an outside linebacker as well, but not a candidate to replace Seymour. Players need more bulk in order to take on blocks in the two-gap system and Umernyiora is another speed-based guy who relies on quickness more than power. If the Giants were willing to deal him, I’d think about Osi as a possible pass rusher off the edge at OLB if the price was right. Again, highly doubtful.
Do you think if the new labor agreement takes away franchising a player, the Pats will target Tamba Hali? I believe he would be a great fit for them.
Hali is a terrific player and certainly would draw interest from every team. But my guess is the Chiefs would re-sign him to a long-term deal if that were the case. At 6-3, 275 he’s got the kind of size to succeed at outside linebacker and his 41.5 career sacks in five seasons obviously show he can get to the passer. That would cost an awful lot of money, however, and I don’t see the Patriots making that kind of commitment.
With regard to the offensive line this year, I think of the three players under heavy discussion (Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Nick Kaczur), I think they will try to keep two of these. What’s the best-case scenario here? Also, do you think that a rookie wage scale could be the decisive factor in the Pats ever taking two first-round picks? Has Bill been delaying until it is in place.
The best-case scenario for the offensive line would be for Light to agree to a one-year deal to return and the Patriots to give Mankins a long-term deal to remain the center piece of their front. Kaczur would be largely irrelevant in that scenario considering the presence of Light, Sebastian Vollmer and rookie Nate Solder at tackle and Mankins and Dan Connolly at guard. Kaczur would simply be insurance in that case. Mankins is the most important cog for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his ability. He’s also in his prime and his durability is off the charts. Light would provide insurance in case Solder isn’t quite ready to start from Day 1. But to me the only issue is Mankins and finding a way to keep him long term. As for the two first-round picks, Belichick has done so in the past. In 2004 he took Vince Wilfork and Benjamin Watson in the first round so it’s not like he won’t do it. If the players he wants are available, he’ll pick them. The rookie wage scale really only impacts the top seven or so picks. Anything after that isn’t a factor when it comes to making the picks. So don’t be surprised if a rookie wage scale is implemented and Belichick continues to trade down – if he feels the players aren’t there he’s not going to take players he doesn’t feel strongly about.
When the lockout is over, do you think the Patriots will go for a stud pass rusher like LaMarr Woodley or Jason Babin?
I could see the Patriots taking a flyer on a journeyman like Babin, who has been on five different teams during his seven years in the league. He had 12.5 sacks last season but never had more than five in any other season. He could serve as a low-risk possibility to bolster the pass rush but I don’t see him as a true impact player. Unlike Babin, Woodley is truly a stud pass rusher but he isn’t leaving Pittsburgh anytime soon.
Who do you think is going to get the starting running back job?
Payson Vande Lune
BenJarvus Green-Ellis will likely be the lead back for the season but rookie Stevan Ridley should also be in the mix to get some carries. Danny Woodhead and rookie Shane Vereen will factor in both as ball carriers and pass catchers, and veteran Kevin Faulk has expressed a desire to return despite his free agent status. But Green-Ellis figures to be the starter to open the year.
When the free agent period finally begins, what players do you think the Pats will go after? Will they address the lack of a playmaker in the wide receiver corps, or in the OLB department? My thinking is we'll go after a play-making outside linebacker who is a proven pass rushing specialist. We could use a WR, but it’s my belief that with our system in place we can pick up a second or third string player like we did with Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell and with QB Tom Brady throwing them the ball we'll do fine.
I don’t think the Patriots will make any big splashes in free agency but OLB is a much bigger need than WR in my mind. I definitely feel the team could use an outside threat but the offense is so productive even without it that I just can’t see spending many resources to acquire one. The pass rush is a different story. It’s been the team’s defensive weakness for years now and things don’t figure to improve much this year based on personnel. While sacks are overrated, creating pressure on the passer is not and the Patriots don’t do it nearly often enough, especially when considering how often the team is able to play while comfortably ahead when it should be much easier to apply pressure. But I just don’t see the Patriots spending big bucks in free agency, particularly this year given all the strange happenings this offseason.
How much will Taylor Price be in the mix next season or do you think the Pats should go for Sidney Rice in free agency?
I think Price will be the breakout offensive player for the Patriots in 2011. I thought he enjoyed a solid start to training camp before he hit a bit of a wall about halfway through. As a rookie learning on the fly that’s not all that uncommon. He has a nice blend of size and speed and showed great hands during the summer and flashed in his one opportunity to play in the finale against Miami. Price will be a candidate for playing time as an outside receiver opposite Deion Branch and I believe he’ll take snaps away from Brandon Tate in that role as a more consistent player. I love Rice and would love to see the Patriots make a splash on a talented player in his prime. But such performers come at a premium and I don’t see New England making such a splash with a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. But we can dream.
What about signing Zdeno Chara as a situational pass rusher? Coach converted a wrestler, why not a hockey player. Love the Pats, but congrats to the Bs!!
At 6-9 Chara would certainly be an imposing figure coming off the edge!! Nothing to lose, right?
Stevan Ridley, despite his reputation as a bruiser, was explosive through the hole and often was able to make the first defender miss in college. Is he the balanced, every down back that the Patriots have been looking for since Corey Dillon was let go? I think he could really shine if he's given a chance.
I like Ridley a lot and definitely feel he could be an every down back with some experience. But he only had one productive season at LSU so he’ll need to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. Ridley has the ability to run inside and outside with the power and speed to succeed at the NFL level. I have very high hopes for him and share your enthusiasm.
What position needs to step up on defense and become more dominant to help improve vital areas like red zone defense and third down efficiency? Any word on how hard Leigh Bodden worked last year while rehabbing? Was he one of those guys constantly at team meetings and contributing and improving? Can we expect him to come back a better player than before? And assuming no free agency/trade moves happen going into this year evaluating prior talent how would you place the depth chart of the cornerback position?
In my opinion the lack of a pass rush is the biggest factor in the team’s struggles on third down and against the pass. Unfortunately, the Patriots didn’t really address that area in the draft other than using a late pick on Markell Carter. Also, the defense needs to cover better in the middle of the field, where backs and tight ends have given the Patriots trouble in recent seasons. Again, this comes down to better linebacker play both inside (other than Jerod Mayo) and out. As for Bodden, he was basically healthy by the end of last season and has been working out throughout the spring and says he’ll be ready to go whenever things begin. I wouldn’t expect him to be a better player after missing a season but there’s no reason to believe he can’t resume his solid play from 2009. I’d say he and Devin McCourty will be the starters at corner with Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite fighting for jobs in the subpackages.
What would you think of a package deal that would send Logan Mankins and a couple of second rounders to Dallas for DeMarcus Ware?
I’d definitely be interested in trading Mankins and a second-round pick to Dallas for Ware … but not multiple picks. Ware is a special talent who is worth such a high price. He’d address the team’s biggest need and make an immediate impact. Mankins is a supremely talented player as well but as a guard I believe he’d be easier to replace and therefore would be expendable in order to acquire a guy like Ware.
I love what you guys are doing, thank you for keeping me sane this offseason. My question is about D-Mac, Devin McCourty. He returned punts and kickoffs at Rutgers and was pretty good. He didn't do any of that for us last season. Do you think with the new rules and more depth at corner he could get some reps returning? Thanks.
I don’t think the new rules for kickoffs will have any bearing on personnel decisions whatsoever. The Patriots had a solid group last year with Brandon Tate returning kicks (although he tailed off as the season wore on) and Julian Edelman on punts. I’d expect to see those guys again in 2011. McCourty is too valuable in my mind to risk in that role when the team has other candidates who have shown they’re capable of doing the job, especially when considering that McCourty plays virtually every snap on defense.
It looks like Belichick is getting ahead of the curve again. With so many three-wide sets now, he realizes that it's important to have three starting-caliber corners, and that's why he selected Ras-I Dowling at 33. With him, Devin McCourty, and Bodden all three receivers should be effectively taken care of in all three-wide situations. I know a flashy pass rusher seems nice, but I trust in Bill and his ability to adapt to a changing league and if he says a corner is more important than a pass rusher, he has three more rings than me so I'm going to listen.
I don’t doubt the importance of having depth at corner because the the NFL has grown increasingly into a passing league. Multiple receiver sets are certainly nothing new, however. In the late 1990s many teams employed empty backfields with five receivers, therefore creating the need for defenses to have more than two capable cover men. Dowling was certainly drafted with that thought in mind, but so were Darius Butler (2009) and Terrence Wheatley (2008) – both taken in the second round as well. I also don’t remember hearing Belichick say a corner is more important than a pass rusher. Maybe he did and I just don’t remember it, but I can’t recall him ever saying that. If you can’t get any pressure on the passer it’s awfully tough to cover consistently. Obviously Belichick felt that Dowling was a better option than any of the pass rushers available at 33 but that doesn’t mean he feels that position is more important than any other.
I was just wondering do you think that the threat of no season or the reduced preseason influenced Belichick’s drafting?
Not at all. Belichick does things that he feels are in the best interest of the team, period. That means he has the future as well as the present in mind when he makes his moves. I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that he chose to work on the future instead of 2011 when he made his picks because he felt those players wouldn’t be able to help much, but why would he pick a player that he didn’t feel could contribute in both the short and long term? It would run counter to what he’s done throughout his illustrious tenure with the Patriots. As always, I feel Belichick chose the players he felt were best. I don’t always agree with all of his assessments, but I don’t think his mindset changes from one pick, or one year, to the next.
What are the chances of the Patriots landing OLB Matt Roth. Roth had a good year with the Browns plus worked with Mangini who ran a similar defense to the Patriots. Although not the greatest coverage OLB, but a great pass rusher off the edge. Your thoughts?
Most of you know by now that Andy and I are the founders of the Matt Roth fan club. We see a fairly productive pass rusher who has produced on a limited basis given his limited opportunities. But evidently the rest of the league doesn’t view him quite as highly as we do. He’s been cut a couple of times and bounced back and forth between Miami and Cleveland, two teams that haven’t exactly been racking up victories as of late. He had 3.5 sacks in Cleveland last year in 16 games – not exactly a big-time threat. Some scouts feel his short arms hurt his ability to perform at outside linebacker but I’d be willing to bring him in for short money to see what he can do. He’s already played in the 304 so there’s plenty of tape for Belichick to look at to make a solid evaluation. If he does become a Patriot he may need to take out a restraining order against Andy and me.
How is it that Lawyer Milloy is not on the Patriots 50th Anniversary team? If you look at stats and awards from seasons with the Patriots Milloy would beat Fred Marion and Rodney Harrison out. Furthermore, Milloy never missed a game in seven years with the Pats. Harrison missed around 40 percent of games I would guess due to injury. Is there something going on behind the scenes? Bad blood between management and Milloy or something? I admit I am biased because I started liking the Patriots because they drafted Milloy and I am a huge UW fan and he was my favorite Husky of all-time.
As a member of the selection committee I can tell you with all honesty that I agree with you. I can also say this was one of the more hotly contested debates we engaged in. From a personal standpoint, Harrison is one of my all-time favorite Patriots but I feel most of his work was done early in his tenure. Injuries and his suspension in 2007 prevented him from being much of a factor later in his Patriots career, which spanned 2003-08. Milloy (1996-2002), as you said, was more durable and in 2001 he was a terrific all-around safety and one of the defense’s most valuable players. He and Marion deserved to be the two safeties on the all-time team but unfortunately I was overruled – and as I mentioned it pains me to say that because Rodney is and always will be at the top of my personal list.