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Ask PFW: Coming together

Posted May 14, 2013

The draft and most free agent signings are in the past, while OTA practices are just around the corner. Now it’s all about how this year’s roster of talent comes together in New England, and plenty of questions surrounding that topic fill out this mid-May edition of Ask PFW!

In football, it is about coach, QB and the depth of the roster. In all that regard Patriots should be champs. Yet something is missing. Can you say what it is?
Gene L.

While I agree with your first two points, I’m not sure the latter is a proven necessity. In my opinion after coach and quarterback the most important thing in football is timely playmaking on both sides of the ball. That’s what I think the Patriots have lacked at times in recent years, especially in the postseason. I’ve said all offseason that New England needs more playmakers, and that it needs its top expected playmakers – Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty and others – to make more plays at key points in games. That’s what could put a very good football team over the top once again.
Andy Hart

Hey, who do you think the top 5 receivers will be at the end and in what order do you think they'll rank.
Ben Vaudo

Having not seen a single receiver catch a single pass wearing a Patriots helmet other than Julian Edelman (and that one catch, that one time for Matthew Slater), this is quite a projection to be making at this point in the process. But, here goes. I’ll say that Danny Amendola – with his $30 million contract – will be the top receiver. After that, I’m going to go outside the box and go with Michael Jenkins as the second-most productive target. Something tells me Brady might fall in love with the veteran target, even if the doesn’t offer a lot of athleticism or playmaking ability. Third and fourth I’m going to go with, in some order, the rookie draft picks, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. I’m intrigued by Boyce’s speed and Dobson’s hands. And given the lack of overall depth/talent at the position Brady may have to spend a little more time working with them to get them acclimated the way he did with the rookie tight ends back in 2010. Then I’d say Julian Edelman will get his plays, as he always does, although I still think his main role remains as a punt returner. Of course injuries – Amendola, at least one rookie and Edelman are all potential candidates to get hurt based on history – could change a lot of this. So could the players’ learning of the offense and performance this summer. So write this list down in pencil and keep a big eraser handy!
Andy Hart

I actually like what the Patriots did with the wide receiver position. They don't have a true No. 2 receiver, which I think is good. The opposing defense won't know who to cover.
Pepe Ramirez

Your theory is one way to look at it. But I don’t really buy it. I don’t think teams intentionally leave people uncovered. Sure, they choose to double or bracket different guys at different times. And maybe they’ll be unsure of how to do that against the Patriots. But I’d rather have a roster of proven playmakers for a defense to deal with than a group almost completely unknowns. We know at this point that the opposing defenses will target Gronkowski, Hernandez and Amendola. After that it’s a crapshoot as to what type of production the Patriots might get out of the rest of the targets and how teams defend them.
Andy Hart

I've been reading a lot about the Patriots. Many NFL experts agree that the departure of Wes Welker and [Brandon] Lloyd will hurt the 2013 patriots. D.A. (Danny Amendola) has big shoes to fill. The surgery to Hernandez and Gronk doesn't help at all. My question is how does the front office feels about the departure of Welker? Do they expect D.A to be as productive as Welker? I strongly believe that the Patriots running game must be stronger than last year. Why not trade Ridley, Gronk and 1st rounder for Adrian Peterson? Adrian Peterson on the team will take us to another Super Bowl victory. What are your guys’ thoughts about this trade? Please respond.
Miguel Pizano

First of all, the front office as an entity doesn’t really send out its comments on matters. Really we have to cull together the quotes of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio to get an idea of what the overall organization is thinking. In the Amendola matter, I think you can read from the $30 million the team gave him that the Patriots expect him to be a productive receiver. Maybe that’s not quite as productive as what Welker has given, but at least in the ballpark. That said, Kraft made it very clear that Amendola was the team’s second choice, with the preference of bringing back Welker. So that tells you the team liked Welker more for the job, but just couldn’t get the deal done. As for your trade, I wouldn’t do it. NFL running backs have a short shelf life, even freaks like Peterson. He’s already put up some very big years in the league and may not have too many more in him. Gronk, if he can get his body right, could be an All-Pro for a decade. I’d say he’s the freakish equivalent at tight end that Peterson is at running back. Throwing in a first-round pick and 1,200-yard rusher on top of that? Crazy. Oh, and I’m not sure you win in the NFL these days with a powerful running game. Peterson is the best in the business, but is he a sure-thing to win it all if he came in New England? In my mind, given that Gronk would be removed from an already uncertain passing game, that’s no certainty. So no thanks on your trade idea.
Andy Hart

I am seeing other teams around the league signing their draft picks, and was wondering when you expect the Patriots to do the same. To my knowledge, none have officially been signed yet. Also, any guess on who will be the first to sign his contract?
Kyle Volo

The Patriots have always tended to be late to the draft pick signing party. But don’t worry, with what is essentially a slotting system under the new CBA there is nothing to worry about. In the old days, New England didn’t do the rookie deals until after many members of the organization took vacation time in late June and early July. Last year the Patriots picks began signing around this time, with Tavon Wilson making his deal official on May 15. I have no idea who will be the first New England draft pick to sign, and don’t really see any significance in it.
Andy Hart

Just curious on what your take is on Josh Boyce. I can’t help but be somewhat reminded of a faster David Givens when I look at Boyce. Given the Patriots recent struggles at finding WR talent in the draft, this is a selection that I think may actually work out.
Mithil P.

I am very much intrigued by Boyce’s abilities, especially his speed. He’s certainly faster than Givens ever was, and not as thickly built. But he should have some of the versatility that Givens brought in terms of lining up inside and out. The biggest comparison might be the knack for making plays. Givens was a timely playmaker for Brady, especially in the postseason. Boyce had a similar knack in his time at TCU, but offers even more true big-play ability. I’m looking for Boyce to break the rookie receiver curse in New England. But I thought the same thing about Chad Jackson and Taylor Price and we all know how those guys worked out.
Andy Hart

I read an interesting piece recently on draft reaches in the Belichick era. Always a lot talk about picks that don't work out and not enough about picks that do. Brady aside, Samuel 4th round, Gronk & Hernandez 2nd & 4th, Koppen 5th, Givens 7th, could go on and on. Let’s give the new guys and guys from last year a chance before the criticisms.
David Houlden

Belichick is one of the more talked about and analyzed drafters in the NFL. His record on the field is some proof of his success drafting. He has had some very strong drafts, with hits at all levels of the process. But he’s also had some real stinkers at all levels of the process. In the end, I think he gets far more praise for his drafting – certainly from a national perspective – than criticism. I also agree that there are different stages of questions/criticisms in terms of draft picks. It starts with the pick itself at the time, then the rookie performance and finally the overall value of the pick over the long term.
Andy Hart

Gronk is basically just a college freshman trapped in a leviathan's body. Isn't it about time we get him a Dez Bryant-esque entourage to follow him around and make sure he doesn't do anything stupid, (i.e. drink while on antibiotics)?
Andrew W.

I’m sure there is plenty of support for Gronk off the field, as there is for most NFL players. And let’s not try and compare the things he’s done to what guys like Bryant and others have gotten into. Not even close. Gronk is a young superstar who enjoys his lot in life. He likes to live it up, especially when with his family. Let’s remember that a lot of other young athletes have done similar things and then matured as they got older/had families/settled down. Gronk may not always make the best choices all the time, but who among us does? Not me, that’s for sure. But I also don’t think it’s quite to the extreme you make it out to be. Heck, people now look back on the stories about guys like Lawrence Taylor off the field and laugh. Gronk may be in that same boat in terms of being a freakish talent and unique personality.
Andy Hart

Who is replacing Gil Santos as the radio play by play announcer?
Peter Lee

Bob Socci is now the play-by-play voice of the Patriots on 98.5 The Sports Hub. He also calls games on the radio for the Pawtucket Red Sox and spent more than a decade as the radio voice of Navy football. He’s lived in Massachusetts the last five years (where his wife’s family is from) and was raised Auburn, New York. He’s replacing a local legend in the booth and has to work next to Scott Zolak, so I wish him luck on both fronts.
Andy Hart

Why does it seem that every time an existing Patriots player achieves All-Pro status (e.g., Curtis Martin, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Asante, Wes Welker, etc,) and is up for contract renewal or extension, they wind up getting traded or become a target for controversy? Please don't use the salary cap as an excuse!
Al Kahaulick

A real question from a fake name. Either that or you have the coolest name I’ve heard in some time. The cap isn’t an excuse, but it’s always a mild consideration in NFL circles. So is Bill Belichick’s value-based philosophy on contracts and not overpaying for anyone. But I don’t think every player and every contract situation has been ugly or not worked out. Vince Wilfork got his deal. Tom Brady has gotten plenty of deals. Seymour got a couple deals. It’s not like the Patriots are the only team that deals with contract disputes. Seems like Darrelle Revis and the Jets went through it on an annual basis. It happens all across the league all the time. The Patriots try to make sound business decisions with contracts, and often that doesn’t gel with what players and agents are looking for. New England takes a hard line approach and thanks to its success has the luxury. It’s just part of the business. If they gave every player what they wanted they would have a ton of problems as a business and likely as a team.
Andy Hart

Hi! Thanks for the time, I am a loyal Pats supporter, and I follow football religiously but with the recent personalities New England has brought in for their receiving corps, do you think there is any chance for the Pats to consider T.O? I know he has had some problems but, is it completely out of the question. No question he would be a fantastic addition but for how long? Thanks so much!
Cole Bellefleur

N.O. And there is very much a question as to whether he’d be a fantastic addition. Beyond all his personality quirks and off-field issues T.O. hasn’t caught a pass in the NFL since 2010 with the Bengals. He was cut by the WR-needy Seahawks last summer. He will be 40 in December. He’s not coming to New England, even if the depth chart at wide receiver is a bit questionable right now.
Andy Hart

Michael Jenkins seems to be in a squeeze for a position. Could BB be looking at him as a Hernandez backup? Hernandez is a WR is TE clothing as far as route running. The big difference is blocking. Hernandez is an adequate blocker as a TE and a great blocker when compared against WRs. Does Jenkins have the blocking skills to fill Hernandez's niche?
Michael S.

Having yet to see him practice, I’m not sure exactly what kind of blocker Jenkins is. I do know that he’s not known for his speed or quickness. He’s more of a solid, reliable, experienced veteran type. He’s not going to line up as an in-line tight end (Jenkins weighs 31 pounds less than Hernandez and 50 pounds less than Gronkowski!) or even as a wing, like Hernandez does. Sure, Jenkins could fill some of Hernandez’ slot/flex duties. But he’s not a true backup for him in any sense.
Andy Hart

It sounds like [John] Abraham is going to another team and I have always had faith in New England but what do you think the chances are if New England signing [Dwight] Freeney?
Jake Fisher

It has sounded like a lot of things in terms of Abraham and Freeney in the last couple months. Everyone assumed Freeney was going to Denver. He didn’t. There were reports Abraham was working on a deal with the Patriots. Then that he might be doing the same with Tennessee. The only thing that seems pretty certain is that neither veteran pass rusher – both of whom reportedly visited the Patriots – has found what he is looking for on the open market. That could change moving closer to camp. Or, maybe the veterans would like to miss some of the offseason work and camp, preferring to sign later in the process. I’m still holding out hope that one of them lands in New England, most preferably Abraham.
Andy Hart

Long time Patriots fan (I remember Joe Bellino). It's early, but what do you see the Patriots doing as a replacement for Brady at some future date? He's what, 33 now? Do you think they have a plan in mind for a replacement?
Keith Nelson

Hey guys, I know with Brady having another three years left, the QB position isn't really a worry at the moment but in your eyes who do you believe will take up the position after he's gone? Especially noting the fact that Hoyer is no longer on the squad and our offense is huge with the pass.
Dominic Cyaks

Every three weeks when I do the Ask PFW mailbag I’m stunned that there always seems to be at least one question about Brady’s heir/replacement. Sure No. 12 is on the backside of this career. He’ll turn 36 in training camp. But he’s also signed for the next five years and continues to play at a remarkably high level. The team has to worry about it at some point, but why do fans worry so much? Why not enjoy Brady and the success he leads the team to for as long as possible and leave the worry to the people who make a lot of money to worry about such things? Right now, I don’t believe there is a QB succession plan in place. I don’t think Ryan Mallett is the answer. So the future QB is playing in college right now, or for another NFL team. Luckily one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL is playing in New England right now, and should be for at least a few more years.
Andy Hart

What's the latest on Josh Boyce and his injured foot? I know it's early, but I see the receiver position looking like this come week one. Amendola, Moe, Boyce, Edelman, Dobson and Jenkins. The first four mainly for their ability to play on the perimeter and in the slot, also as potential return men. Dobson and Jenkins because of their big frames which can be utilized in red zone situations. Do you agree with my speculation? Granted they all are able to pick up the offense.
Louis Pierre

As I said in an earlier answer, predicting the wide receiver depth chart at this point is a pure projection with little to base it on. I certainly don’t see Moe as the team’s No. 2 receiver or even necessarily making the roster. Beyond that, I think your rundown is very possible. But could also be very wrong. There simply are no known commodities in the group. It has to play itself out at this point. As for Boyce, he did not participate in rookie mini-camp. There was a reported six to 10 week recovery from the surgery that reportedly took place in the first week of March. Boyce deemed himself “day-to-day” at rookie mini-camp so he could take the field at any point. It will be interesting to see if he’s on the field for OTA workouts in the coming weeks. The sooner the better for his development and need to learn the offense that can be a challenge for young receivers.
Andy Hart

Considering that there may be some issues with Gronk's availability at the start of camp and through the early part of the season what do you think the Pats might do to offset the loss of such a talented player, especially considering the lack of clarity at the receiving position going into this season?
Paul Evenson

There isn’t a lot that can be done to replace such a unique talent as Gronkowski. It could help a little bit to have Jake Ballard in the mix at the position, but he’s a long way from being Gronk. I also think that Shane Vereen could add a unique dimension and option to the passing game in his third season. That could be a boost and matchup issue for opposing defenses to deal with. And if Gronkowski is limited to begin the year, it will be important for Amendola and Hernandez to be healthy as the other primary targets for the passing attack. In the end, though, Gronkowski is one of the more irreplaceable players in the league. That’s what makes him so great.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, appreciate your work. I was just wondering if you guys realized that Brandon Spikes has not tweeted since February 28th. I kind of find it weird since I see him sometimes favorite a tweet or follow somebody. Is there any chance that BB told him to cut down the twitter because of some of his tweets?
Andrew Lotfalla

I did notice that Spikes has not been tweeting for months. It is certainly possible that he was asked to stop. But it’s also possible that he decided given some of his issues on social media that it was more trouble than it was worth. I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand half his tweets anyway. Regardless, nothing bad ever happened from a guy not tweeting. So from a team perspective, it’s a good thing.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! Do you believe Bill puts too much pressure on Tom Brady ?? Letting Wes leave, switching up his receiving corps all the time??
Joe Van lesberghe

I do think that Belichick and the Patriots put a lot of pressure on Brady. But that’s why Brady -- like all elite passers – is paid so much money. If you are going to eat up so much of a team’s cap space, it makes sense that you will be asked to do a lot. Sure it would have been easier on Brady to bring Welker back. But at some point he’s had to transition to new players at all positions. It worked great at tight end. It worked great at receiver in 2007 when Randy Moss and Welker were brought aboard. There have obviously been bumps along the way, but for the most part the team has surrounded Brady with pretty good weapons and he’s been able to put those weapons to use. And aside from Welker’s departure, I think the rest of the WR position needed a makeover. Some young talent – including Amendola and the two draft picks – was needed. It won’t be easy on Brady, or coordinator Josh McDaniels. But life isn’t easy and that’s why those guys make the big bucks.
Andy Hart

Do you feel Jamie Collins will have a Chandler Jones-type rookie season?
Rudy Bueno

No, I don’t. Jones won a starting job almost immediately in training camp and was a key part of the defense all year when he was healthy. I don’t see Collins winning a starting job early on, or maybe at all during his rookie season. I see him more as a situational and sub player who’ll take time to develop and carve out a position for himself. I don’t expect nearly as much out of Collins – a second-round pick – as I did of Jones.
Andy Hart

Andy "The Hitman" Hart (WWF reference) I just want to apologize a year later about Nate Ebner, you were right, he hasn't evolved into the superstar that I once imagined. But on the bright side I do have a new prospect in mind (cheesy smile). Mr. Zach Sudfeld, now I don't think he will be a superstar, but I do see him as a threat, he is vertically gifted and can be used as weapon opposing Gronkowski. With a 6-6 and 6-7 tight end formation, we can create an abundance of formations. Zach could be a great Red Zone threat if we throw it high enough and he holds on to ball till all 6-7 of him hits the floor (which shouldn't be too long). Now I don't know how well his hands are but if he does make the cut, can we say Bon Voyage to Daniel Fells? He is eating cap space and isn't as effective as I thought he would be. Anyways thankful as always and I'll question again in 3 weeks.
Kyle Rodgers

I don’t want to be a pessimist all the time, but consider me more a voice of grounded reason. Sudfeld had really no production and six surgeries leading up to his breakout sixth season at Nevada when he had 45 receptions for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s also skinny – just 225 at 6-7 – for the tight end position in the NFL. [EDIT: While the Patriots PR department list Sudfeld at 225 on their roster, he actually weighed in at 253 at the Combine. Which makes sense, because I didn't think he looked super skinny at rookie mini-camp. My bad.] His frame is intriguing, but given his limited production and injury history I’m not quite ready to pencil him in as anything other than an interesting guy to keep an eye on in training camp. As for Fells, I think he battled that shin injury for much of last year and never got going with the Patriots. He’s a talented, experienced veteran. And he’s not making a ton of money on his three-year, $5.25 million deal. Given the injury situations with Gronkowski and Hernandez, and with Ballard coming off an ACL, I think Fells is a nice guy to have around.
Andy Hart

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