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Ask PFW: Deeper concerns

Posted May 20, 2014

With the draft now done fans are wondering if the Patriots have enough depth. We look at some spots that could use some further help in this week's "Ask PFW."

I am still concerned about the depth the Patriots have at linebacker. Even though they seem solid with the starting three, the Pats lost two role players. Although they have signed second-year player, Darius Fleming. How do you see the position this year and the depth chart?
John Spread

I agree that depth at linebacker remains an issue. The Patriots have very little in the way of proven talent on the roster beyond the three starters, and even Jamie Collins has just eight regular-season starts under his belt. The Patriots have a few returning guys who played mostly special teams last season including Chris White, Steve Beauharnais and Ja’Gared Davis but none has any significant experience playing defense for New England. The team also signed some young players, including Fleming, Deonte Skinner and Cameron Gordon. I’d expect at least six linebackers to make the roster, and White was a special teams staple a year ago. That would leave room for two others, but we’ll have to see which of these prospects offers the most potential in terms of contributing on defense should the need arise. Perhaps OTAs, mini-camp and training camp will offer a better understanding on the situation, but as of now I share you concern.
Paul Perillo

While I am delighted the Patriots have drafted some strong competition on the offensive line, I have concerns on our defensive line. I do not have much trust in Tommy Kelly, Will Smith, Joe Vellano and Armond Armstead as significant contributors for the entire year if at all. Vince Wilfork may want to go the distance, but who knows if he can. Dominique Easley may need time to fully recover and get up to speed. So then the hope is the Patriots pick up a defensive line player in the August cuts? Or do you think we are stocked well?
Cam L.

I actually think the Patriots are pretty well stocked up front at this point. Wilfork and Kelly will start at tackle with the potential for Easley, Vellano, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga and Armstead to serve as backups. Easley should serve as an interior rusher in sub packages immediately while Vellano and Siliga provide some extra help against the run. Jones showed he could rush the passer a bit last year. The only unknown is Armstead, but even if things don’t pan out with him there’s plenty of help in front of him. At end the starters will be Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones with Smith, Michael Buchanon and Jake Bequette fighting for backup spots. Rookie Zach Moore may need some time to develop but he’ll also be in the mix. I don’t really see the need to add much here unless and a really talented pass rusher becomes available, but then again, why would a really talented pass rusher become available at this point?
Paul Perillo

Hi Guys, big Pats fan from Belfast, Northern Ireland. My question relates to the drafting of Jimmy Garoppolo. As the dynamic of the NFL seems to be changing, with successful teams having more mobile quarterbacks like Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, did the Pats pass up on a really good chance by not signing Teddy Bridgewater, who was still available at 29? I know Garoppolo has quick release, but essentially he is a pocket passer without too much mobility.
Al Warren

First I would be so quick to write off traditional pocket passers just yet. While mobile guys like Wilson and Kaepernick have been successful, that doesn’t mean the days of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady dominating are over. Now, with that out of the way I have to point out the following – Teddy Bridgewater is not a very mobile quarterback. He had 226 rushing attempts in his three seasons at Louisville and managed a grand total of 170 yards and six touchdowns. That translates to 0.8 yards per attempt. Those numbers are a little deceiving because in college when quarterbacks are sacked it goes down as a rushing attempt, but still those are very low rushing totals. Garoppolo was even worse, rushing for minus-67 yards on 260 attempts with eight touchdowns, so neither is going to remind anyone of Michael Vick. But in terms of the more important element, I believe Garoppolo is the better passer with a sturdier frame and will prove to be the better choice between the two.
Paul Perillo

Is Jermichael Finley completely off the table for the Pats to sign? Everyone keeps talking about Dustin Keller, but I’d rather have Finley. They both have serious injury red flags but Finley is a much better player than Keller. Who would you rather have on the Pats (assuming under the same contract)?
Jake Smith

The last I heard Finley had yet to be cleared to return to the field following neck surgery last year. Based on what I’ve been told his injury is truly career-threatening, and even though Keller’s knee problems are quite serious as well, it’s not something that will prevent him from trying to make a return. If health and contracts were similar, I’d take Finley. But given the choice based on what we know, I think Keller is the better option, and I still believe he’s in the Patriots plans this season.
Paul Perillo

Why would the Patriots choose a quarterback in the second round, looking toward the future, when they could’ve easily added a top offensive weapon for Tom Brady, for a Super Bowl contending team this year?
Vikram Sakotai

That would seem to be the biggest question to emerge from this year’s draft. Bill Belichick explained how the team’s situation at quarterback needed to be addressed based on the contract status of Ryan Mallett and Tom Brady and that it’s better to make such a decision too early rather than too late. He also felt Garoppolo was worth using such a high pick to get. Personally I didn’t like the pick, for two reasons. First, I don’t believe the need for another backup, or even Brady’s eventual replacement, was as high as many others believe. Second, I’m not sure Garoppolo is good enough to warrant the selection. Time will tell. In terms of this season, I agree with you that a player chosen in the second round – offense or defense – could have helped out immediately and I would have chosen the best player available other than quarterback. But that’s why I’m writing this blog and not making the big bucks!!
Paul Perillo

Of the three offensive linemen the Patriots drafted, who do you think will be the best or will get the starting job? I think Jon Halapio is the best player. And who is your favorite player the Patriots drafted?
Aron Moore

It’s always difficult to evaluate offensive linemen when you are not an experienced football coach, and I’m certainly not in the position to make such an evaluation. But from my view I feel Bryan Stork is the best of the three linemen and he has the best chance to find playing time right away. He’s a tough and versatile interior linemen who could push Ryan Wendell and/or Dan Connolly for a role depending on his development. I like the idea of adding some young depth up front and we’ll see how the competition plays itself out in training camp. In terms of my favorite overall draft pick, I’d have to say James White. He’s a versatile running back who’s been productive as a rusher and a receiver, and I expect him to find a role in the Patriots committee backfield right away.
Paul Perillo

Would a Ryan Mallet and Danny Amendola trade for Andre Johnson work for the Pats or make sense?
Morris Hickok

I think it would make perfect sense for the Patriots, but I’m not sure Houston would think it was such a great idea. Johnson is not only one of the most productive wide receivers in the game, he’s also one of the most durable. He’s shown he can catch passes regardless of the quarterback and he remains a dangerous threat. Amendola has had a lot of trouble staying on the field and has a big contract, neither trait would seem to be all that desirable for Houston. And I’ve stated this many times before, but Mallett has no track record to play to be a valuable trade chip. I’ll never rule anything out because I’ve seen too many trades and roster moves that I’ve found curious over the years, but I don’t see that trade happening. If it does it would qualify as one of Belichick’s best moves yet.
Paul Perillo

Guys, listening to your podcast makes me wonder if you are contradicting yourselves and wonder if you can clear this up for me. When talking about Jimmy Garoppolo you say the Patriots made the pick because they like the player, yet you don’t like it. Yet in the past when referring to a player you do like, your desire is that the Patriots trade up to get the guy to show they “want” him. Isn’t this what they did here only the player fell to their spot? Is this not the same thing?
Ryan B.

I think part of your confusion is we don’t all feel the same way about the pick. Fred and Erik loved it. Andy was more lukewarm on the idea and I didn’t like it at all. So it’s no wonder you’d be getting mixed signals. I have often advocated for identifying a player they liked and going after him. That is the case here, as you said, I just don’t like the player. It’s also a little different with a quarterback that won’t play for four years assuming Brady plays out the remainder of his current contract. I felt a player who could help now and during the next few seasons made more sense. But all of that is in the past and it’s time to see what these guys bring to the table. No sense in continuing to complain about it – although I’m sure we will on “PFW in Progress.”
Paul Perillo

I’ve heard that with Aaron Hernandez’ indictment of the two new murders, it is much more likely the Patriots will receive cap relief from his contract. So I was wondering if that extra cap space would make a large enough impact so that a trade with the Texans for Andre Johnson would be feasible, and if it does clear enough cap space for Johnson do you think the Patriots will make a strong effort to get a trade for him?
Dan G.

I’m going to leave the Johnson trade part out of this, other than to say the Patriots could easily make a trade to acquire him without too much maneuvering in terms of the cap. And I’d also add Johnson would likely renegotiate his deal if the Patriots were to get involved. Now, back to the cap. Hernandez’ indictment could be the first step in regaining some space, but that won’t likely happen for quite some time. Because those two murders took place before he signed his new deal, the team could be in line to gain some relief (reportedly about $7.5 million worth) in the future. This won’t likely happen until after that trial, and considering the trial for the Odin Lloyd murder hasn’t happened yet we’re talking well into the future. So any relief the Patriots get won’t likely be until 2015 or more likely beyond.
Paul Perillo

Cut Mallet? He is just using up a roster spot.
Peter Asenbaum

Loved this post … brief and to the point. My guess is Mallett stays, backs up Brady while Garoppolo slowly learns NFL life. Mallett leaves after the season as a free agent and Garoppolo takes over the backup role in 2015. Same situation at 2011 when Brady, Mallett and Brian Hoyer were the three quarterbacks.
Paul Perillo

I saw that Andre Johnson said that he wanted to be on a team that had a chance to win the Super Bowl. I understand why the Patriots could potentially be interested and why the Texans might want to trade him. But what I don't understand is why would the Texans agree to trade him to a contender instead of someone like Jacksonville?
Jacob Mattson

You’re no fun, Jacob. Don’t all the teams want to help New England by trading their really good players for the ones the Patriots don’t need? In all seriousness, if the Texans really want to unload Johnson (and I doubt they do), they should deal him to the team that offers the most in return. If that happens to be the Patriots or even the Colts, who are in their division, then they should. But I just don’t see Bill O’Brien getting rid of one of his best players at this point.
Paul Perillo

After seeing the price of the trade for both Stevie Johnson and Bryce Brown, I was wondering why the Patriots didn’t seem to show any interest in either player, particularly Brown who would be the most talented back on the roster had we got him. Buffalo obviously preferred Johnson out of the division, but why was there not even a hint of either being traded to the Patriots?
Alex Marr

Do you know the Patriots weren’t involved in discussions for either player? I certainly don’t. I will say I doubt strongly the Patriots would have been interested in Stevie Johnson and all of the headaches that go along with him. He’s a talented receiver but not to the point where I’d be willing to give up much to get him due to his erratic behavior. As for Brown, I don’t share your enthusiasm. He’s fumble-prone (where have we heard that before) and I don’t look at him as an upgrade over Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen at this point. He’s still young and has some talent but I don’t look at missing out on Brown as a huge lost opportunity. And like I said, I have no idea if the Patriots had interest in either player in the first place.
Paul Perillo

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