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Ask PFW: Focus on free agents
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on Patriots.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New England Patriots organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Patriots officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
I am wondering if you guys think the Shea McClellin signing is a signal they will let [Jamie] Collins or [Dont’a] Hightower walk or if it is more of a depth move? Is he the type of player who could fill either of their roles? Thanks. Owen Eccleston
What are your expectations/predictions for the ex-Bears we acquired in trade/free agency? Lee Cooper
While many of us (I’m raising my hand) were mildly intrigued by the signing of Scott Chandler a year ago to complement Rob Gronkowski, Chandler never fulfilled his potential. Never even came close, in fact. Perhaps we were swayed by the few times Chandler had success against the Patriots when he was a member of the Buffalo Bills.
The addition of Bennett this spring, on the other hand, is potentially momentous. This is a player who, like Chandler, is a big-bodied tight end, but who is significantly more talented than Chandler in every respect. Bennett is just two seasons removed from a Pro Bowl appearance, and even if, in a worst-case scenario, he fails to fulfill expectations, his “floor” would be several stories higher than Chandler’s “ceiling.”
So, yes, I think the Bennett move could pay enormous dividends for the Patriots offense this fall. He could provide the kind of two-headed tight end monster the Patriots were hoping for, but never saw, with Gronkowski and Chandler.
McClellin, meanwhile, is less of a certainty, but I like the move. Here’s a guy who I like to compare to Dane Fletcher – an undersized college defensive end who had success at that level. When Fletcher arrived in Foxborough back in 2010, the Patriots wisely converted him immediately to inside linebacker, where his body type and skill set were more suited. He made the squad as an undrafted player and had relative success in the role and on special teams for four seasons (minus a couple injuries).
The Bears, however, drafted McClellin much higher than he should have been and tried to force him to play DE at the NFL level. Big mistake. Chicago essentially wasted their top pick in 2012 because they mismanaged a talented player by putting him in a position to fail, rather than succeed. Eventually, the Bears moved McClellin to middle linebacker, and that’s where I expect him to compete this summer in training camp. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wins a starting job, replacing Jerod Mayo, but my expectations for him are much lower than for Bennett. Erik Scalavino
Hogan will compete for the spot formerly occupied by Brandon LaFell – that is, outside-the-numbers receiver. In 2014, LaFell played that spot to near perfection, overcoming a slow start to become one of Brady’s most valued targets. In fact, we at PFW started calling him “The Drive Starter” because Brady often looked for LaFell on 1st downs to pick up big chunks of yardage. Last season, LaFell couldn’t quite rebound from a toe/foot injury that he sustained late in ’14, resulting in his eventual release this offseason.
It will be Hogan’s task to try to be that kind of receiver we saw from LaFell in ’14. However, with another former marginal Buffalo player having fallen flat (see Chandler above), I’m a little gun-shy regarding Hogan, who is a great story (lax player-turned-NFLer) but who hasn’t exactly lit up the league. I’m hoping the Patriots address the wideout position in the upcoming draft as well, to give Hogan some legitimate competition for that valuable role. Erik Scalavino
In theory, sure. There’s nothing, to my knowledge (barring some nefarious act by the NFL Commissioner), that would preclude such a transaction. In reality, though, it would seem difficult for the Patriots to find such a willing trading partner. Teams aren’t in the habit of selecting first-round picks only to ship them off to other clubs for less valuable, lower-round selections. Erik Scalavino
You are, and I will. I’m not sure where you got the notion that Ebner is “taking a year off.” Yes, he’s on hiatus from the Patriots, who’ve allowed him to pursue his life-long dream of playing Olympic rugby. But Ebner, who was a free agent until signing a two-year pact to remain a Patriot, has not yet secured a place on the Olympic team. Assuming he does, he’s potentially going to miss the bulk of training camp and preseason games, but thereafter, once the Olympics conclude, he should be back in Foxborough. In his recent press conference call, he acknowledged that he’d “miss a few things,” but he doesn’t sound like he’s planning to miss anything more than that. Certainly not an entire season.
For a veteran player whose role is predominantly on special teams, and who has been exclusively in the Patriots system since he joined the league, I don’t foresee that as being a problem. He’ll pick up right where he left off and will be in peak physical condition, barring any injuries he might sustain from rugby. Erik Scalavino
Hi there! Is there any news on Dion Lewis and how he is recovering from his injury? In your opinion do you think we will hold on to him? I'm not quite sure of his contract details. He was one of my favorites last year and I hope to see him back. Thanks! Scott Foley
Our friend Mike Reiss from ESPN recently noted that Lewis is progressing quite well in his rehabilitation. Of course, with an injury like his (torn ACL), it’s become routine for players to return in less than a year, but they don’t always return to top form until about two years after the injury.
Back in October, Lewis and the Patriots agreed to a two-year extension on his contract, so, he’s locked in until the end of next season. So, yes, I believe Lewis is in the team’s short- and long-term plans, but I’m only cautiously optimistic that we’ll see the Lewis pre-injury this fall. His quickness and cutting were almost supernatural, and it might be unrealistic to expect to see him doing the same types of things this year.
He could still be an effective weapon in the offense, but I would temper expectations for him for the time being. With time, hopefully, he’ll get back to the player he was before last November’s injury. Erik Scalavino
Well, Josiah, you’re lucky you’re asking me this question and not Belichick himself. Because if you were directing this to the coach, you’d probably get an answer along these lines: “Believe it or not, we try to win the Super Bowl every year.” I’ll just say that, yes, it seems like they are more active this year so far. The reasons why could vary, but it’s a combination of having willing trade partners, available funds to court desired players, and a consciousness of Tom Brady’s being in the twilight of his career.
I can’t speak for my two other aforementioned PFW colleagues, but I would have liked to have seen the team pursue RB Matt Forte more aggressively, especially in light of how relatively inexpensive he came to the AFC East rival New York Jets. A starting-caliber cornerback would have been nice, to. Erik Scalavino
Why am I not hearing anything about Tyms? He can rip the top off of an offence and can catch the ball as well. His TD against Buffalo in 2014 was a thing of beauty so what's the deal? Ralph Colucci
Because Tyms, who became a restricted free agent this year, was informed that he would not be offered a contract tender. He’s no longer a Patriot. Erik Scalavino
It seems most PFW folks and even most fans have dismissed Steven Jackson as an option, and considering his play last post-season I can understand it: he certainly wouldn't make any sense as a an every-down, work-horse back. Having said that I was impressed by Jackson's ability to move the pile down at the goal line; it's been awhile since the Pats have had a pile mover. I was actually hoping they keep him for goal line rushes and I see he his still on the roster. Do you think BB and gang may plan to keep him for training camp at least? Stephen Flemming
I liked Jackson, too. He was a true professional in his brief stint with New England at the end of last season. It’s unfortunate that he arrived here so late in his football career, because he could have been a difference-maker in this offense behind Brady and with Gronkowski, Edelman, Dion Lewis, et al. Unfortunately, Jackson only had a little bit left in his tank, it seems, and does not appear to have a desire to come back this year. Both sides look to have moved on. He gave the Patriots all he had in his limited opportunities and was always gracious and pleasant to deal with from a media perspective. He’ll be missed in this locker room. Erik Scalavino