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Ask PFW: Filling the roster

Posted Mar 27, 2012

With the many signings in free agency fans are wodering where many of the newcomers will fit in and if there's room to add much more. We'll tackle some of those questions and more in this edition of "Ask PFW."

Gentleman - great job as usual. Quick Question - if the Pats trade a draft pick for Asante Samuel, do they assume his existing contract? In addition, have you heard any rumblings within Patriots HQ about this happening? I would love to see him back in a Pats uni!
Graham Smith

Samuel seems to always be involved in potential trade talks with the Patriots ever since he left following the 2007 season. But thus far we’ve received no indication that the Patriots feel as strongly about re-acquiring him as the fans do. If they did make a trade for the Pro Bowl corner, the team would have to assume the existing contract. However, New England would almost certainly try to rework the deal as they did with Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco shortly after trading for those players. So far we haven’t heard anything about the potential for such a move but certainly adding a playmaker like Samuel to the secondary would be a huge improvement for the pass defense.
Paul Perillo

The Law Firm moved his practice to Cincinnati (stole that one from you guys, obviously), what do you think will become of the position? I know that Stevan Ridley showed flashes but had the dropsies, and Shane Vereen is an x-factor. Here's a veteran that might be a good fit ... Jackie Battle, formerly of the Chiefs. He's a big guy (6-2, 220 pounds), and he's never fumbled in his career either, according to stats on the NFL website. What do you guys think? I haven't seen much of him, but his stat line from last year was decent.
Steve Nadeau

I actually think Battle would make some sense replacing BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the Patriots backfield committee. At this point I’m comfortable with Ridley assuming Benny’s role as the “lead back” getting most of the carries and handling the ball around the goal line. Vereen is more of a third-down type but is also capable of filling in as a more traditional option. And Danny Woodhead will continue doing the things he’s done for the last two seasons. Battle could be a nice complement to Ridley in that he’s a tough, between-the-tackle runner and is used to handling his role as a part-time option. I know he visited with San Diego earlier in free agency and I’m not sure what came of that, but if he’s available I’d be interested in taking a look. Nice suggestion Steve.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys, I understand we still have the draft coming up but I was recently looking over the current roster and in my opinion we are worse off than we were last year. The Patriots have done nothing via free agency to address the d-line other than adding depth, we have no starting DEs on the roster. We still have no pass rush, the safety position needs work and I’m not overly impressed with our wide receivers other than Wes Welker our two TEs and maybe Lloyd. What are the chances we'll make a draft day trade for a proven pass rusher, and if we don’t can all these needs be addressed in the draft?
John A.

I’m not sure you’ve identified that many needs where you’d characterize them as “all these needs.” The Patriots need some help along the defensive line. They’ve added Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott, who both figure to factor into the rotation. Andre Carter is another possibility to return and he’d be one of your starting defensive ends provided he’s healthy enough. He also helps the pass rush problems. Then Bill Belichick would need to find some help in the draft, and with four picks in the first two rounds he should be able to find a couple of options for the front seven as well as a piece for the secondary. On offense, you say you’re not impressed with receivers other than four players – Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez and Lloyd. How many do you need? I’d like to see the Patriots draft a young wideout with one of the first four picks and develop an athlete for this offense to complement the pieces already in place. Obviously the draft is no sure thing but neither is free agency. The Patriots have some holes to fill to be sure, but nowhere near as many as you’re claiming.
Paul Perillo

Rodney Harrison took a lot of heat for his criticizing Rob Gronkowski's partying immediately after the Super Bowl loss. It looks like Rodney may have been right. It's ironic that the same day our star QB restructures his contract to save $7.2 million in cap money, there are pictures of Gronk all over the Internet guzzling from a beer bong and passed out at Spring Break. Don't you think it's time that someone from the organization, be it a veteran player, BB or Mr. Kraft himself sit Gronk down and explain to him that he's no longer a college student with no responsibilities? He's a star professional athlete who represents a team with an image to maintain, and like it or not, he is a role model. Aren't you concerned that if he keeps up this behavior it won't be too long before we're reading about Gronk facing charges similar to Ben Roethlisburger, Kobe Bryant and David Cone because of the compromising positions that he puts himself in?
Gary Goldstein

First, what does Brady receiving $7.2 million up front have to do with anything? There isn’t a player in any sport who wouldn’t want to get his base salary paid up front. The Patriots did that for cap reasons but by no means is Brady to be commended for it. The move was quite beneficial to him and like I said it’s one that any player would be crazy not to agree to. As for Gronkowski, I believe Harrison was dead wrong to call him out after the Super Bowl. We’ve gone over this before but just to reiterate, how a player chooses to handle a tough defeat is up to the individual player. How Harrison would have handled it is irrelevant. Gronkowski chose to blow off some steam with his brothers and that’s his right. It’s also his right to enjoy himself during his offseason. As long as he’s 100 percent committed to the Patriots during the time the team needs him to be, I don’t have a problem with his behavior. I’m sure the team does talk to him – and all the players – about making good decisions and avoiding positions that can appear unfavorable. But to ask a young athlete to sit in his house and not enjoy life is too much for me. The Patriots need more players like Gronk, not less.
Paul Perillo

What are your thoughts on Robert Gallery's ability to play tackle next year? My concern is that if Matt Light retires we are thin at the OT position, and Sebastian Vollmer missed a lot of games last year. Dante Scarnecchia is the best in the business. Do you think he can transform Gallery into a quality OT if we need him to play there due to injury?
Mike Anderson

Based on his history, no. Gallery has to be considered one of the all-time draft busts. As the second overall pick he was supposed to be a franchise left tackle and never even played there. He started at right tackle and failed to produce before being moved to guard. By most accounts he’s been serviceable inside despite playing through a number of injuries. If healthy I expect him to provide some insurance as a backup at both tackle and guard. But if Light indeed retires and Vollmer and Nate Solder don’t hold up as starters, I would be more comfortable with Marcus Cannon playing tackle than Gallery. I like the acquisition because Gallery is a veteran with some flexibility as a backup but if he’s pressed into full-time duty I’d feel better about him at guard than tackle.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys, I read PFW and believe it keeps the diehards in touch. My question is, are the Patriots going to finally draft an impact defensive playmaker? I hope they either move up, or stay put and take somebody that will scare the crap out of opposing QBs. I'd still take Mike Wallace if the asking price is just a No. 1. I'd be happy with Janoris Jenkins and Andre Branch. Paul Carlone

Well, the asking price for Wallace isn’t just a No. 1. It’s a No. 1 plus a long-term, big-money contract. Wallace has even put out numbers as high as $120 million. So, it’s not as simple as giving Pittsburgh a first-round pick – the Steelers would not be interested and Wallace wants a boatload of cash. As for the playmaker on defense, I couldn’t agree with you more. That’s exactly what the Patriots are lacking. I’d love to see Alabama safety Mark Barron slip to the Patriots, and I’d also be interested in one of your suggestions – Jenkins. I know he has some baggage but if Belichick is comfortable with it after meeting with him, there’s no denying his ability. I talked to several wide receivers at the Combine and many of them indicated that Jenkins was the toughest cornerback they faced in college. Talent like that is hard to find and the Patriots may have an opportunity to take him.
Paul Perillo

With the addition of so many new receivers can you see the Pats possibly using two slot receivers plus maybe Hernandez coming out of the backfield for swing passes? Anthony Gonzalez and Welker in the slot or one in motion with Lloyd creating space?
Fred Cappucci

The Patriots used multiple slot receivers quite a bit last year with Hernandez serving in that capacity more often than he did as a tradition tight end. I’m not sure Gonzalez will factor into the team’s plans that much considering his injury history. Lloyd should help on the outside and that would allow Deion Branch to operate more in the slot if Belichick wants to use Hernandez more out of the backfield, as you suggest. There are a lot of possibilities with regard to personnel packages and figuring out which ones make the most sense will be a big part of Josh McDaniels’ job in the coming months.
Paul Perillo

If I counted correctly we currently have nine wide receivers on the roster. Usually the Patriots keep seven, so who do you think is going to get cut? I don't see Anthony Gonzalez or Chad Ochocinco making the final roster.
Pat S.

The Patriots have certainly added their share of wide receivers to create plenty of competition this summer. With Deion Branch and Ochocinco returning, as well as the additions of Gonzalez, Stallworth and Lloyd, obviously there won’t be room for all of them. The Patriots usually keep six wide receivers during the Belichick era (they did keep seven once, in 2008) so there would seem to be the need to chop even more than you suggest. It’s way too early to make such speculative evaluations but I’ll do my best to come up with a list. Welker and Lloyd are the only locks in my mind. From there things get hazy. I’d keep Julian Edelman due to his versatility and his punt return ability. Matthew Slater is probably a lock as the special teams captain, and perhaps wouldn’t be considered a true wide receiver given his lack of a role on offense. That could open up another spot. I’d stick with Branch for another season given his rapport with Tom Brady. He’d be a better option than Ochocinco in that regard. Then it’s down to Ocho and the two free agent veteran – Gonzalez and Stallworth. If Stallworth can still run I’d keep him as a true deep threat. If not, I’d stick with Ocho given Gonzelez’ vast injury history. Also, I hope the Patriots draft a receiver with one of the first four picks, which would necessitate another cut. All in all it should make for an interesting training camp at the wide receiver spot.
Paul Perillo

I am fully aware that most mock drafts have the patriots picking DE/OLB or CB in the first round. Another option is if David DeCastro or Peter Konz are available go for solidifying the offensive line since Logan Mankins had surgery, and we are down to one center and our starting guard may retire. In addition, the drop from the top two interior guys to next level is great. 
Nader Behbehani

I think both DeCastro and Konz are solid prospects, and I want no part of either in the first round. With Cannon and Gallery here the depth at guard should Mankins be sidelined early in the season seems fine. Ryan Wendell is here to back up Dan Connolly at center, as is Nick McDonald. I don’t see center or guard being such pressing needs to use first-round picks on either. Which means that’s probably exactly what Belichick will do.
Paul Perillo

With the loss of Green-Ellis do you think the Patriots will take a RB like LeMichael James? They can get him in the second to third round and he will provide some explosiveness or be a great third-down back, or do you think we will just stick with Ridley? And are there any free agents who would fit the team?
Blake Williams

I love James and believe he will be an explosive player just like you said. But I’m not sure it would make sense for the Patriots to take him with Woodhead and Vereen already on the roster, especially Vereen. The Patriots used a second-round pick last year to get him and he has the versatility to contribute in that manner. He’s also capable of making some big plays and if healthy he should get the chance to do so this season. Ridley is more of the traditional workhorse type but he has more big-play potential than Green-Ellis. He’ll get the chance to show he can contribute on a more regular basis. As reader Steve posted earlier, former Chiefs running back Jackie Battle may be a guy the Patriots take a look at in free agency to add to the mix.
Paul Perillo

With Brian Hoyer still on the roster as Brady's backup, what is the future for Ryan Mallett? I would like to see him be the backup this year so he can learn from Brady as opposed to not playing at all. How long can we string him along  for?
Jeff McCarroll

Why can’t he be the third-string quarterback and still learn from Brady? Look, in a perfect world neither Hoyer nor Mallett is going to play any significant snaps. So, where they’re positioned on the depth chart is not of the greatest concern at the moment. I think the Patriots feel Hoyer has developed to the point where he’s comfortable in the offense and would be the better option if Brady were unavailable. That should be the case given his three years in the system as opposed to Mallett’s one. But Mallett still has time to learn and develop and he’ll get every opportunity to do so with Brady this year.
Paul Perillo

With the draft just around the corner; I have two questions I would love to ask. First, what position do you think BB will go for? Will it be a defensive end? Andre Carter isn't going to get any younger. Or will it be an O-line player in case Brian Waters retires. My second question is, will BB trade one of our draft picks again this year? I remember last year we traded one of ours to the Saints, do you think we will do it again this year
Kyle Rodgers

It’s still a little early to forecast the draft, and even when the time comes Belichick isn’t exactly easy to read when it comes to these things, but I believe he will target defense early on. In particular, I feel he’ll look for some help along the front seven (maybe a defensive lineman and an edge rusher) and in the secondary. I also feel wide receiver would make some sense. As for your second question, I’d be surprised if Belichick didn’t make a trade. It seems to be what he prefers, especially when dealing with multiple picks in the early rounds. He likes to have control over the draft and then wait for teams to come calling. Usually that has resulted in trades and gathering more picks in the future. I expect this year to be no different.
Paul Perillo

Every year we all know BB will trade down in the draft to pick up more picks in later rounds or future picks. Do you guys think that because of the few picks we have this year that BB will trade out of the first round completely and pick up more picks later in this year’s draft instead of for future years? I think if he can pick up two to three more seconds, a couple of thirds and a couple of fourths for our first rounders. This draft has depth on defense where we can restock for the future now? What do you guys think if BB can get that done?
Norm Gifford

I for one would extremely disappointed if something like this transpires. I know it’s sort of become vogue every year to suggest there is not much difference between players taken in the 20s and the 50s but that’s simply not true. Every year the majority of the best players in each draft are taken early. The odds of getting an impact player are greatly reduced the further down the board you travel. So I would not rather have four second-round picks than two first-rounders, as it seems many others do. To me, the higher the pick the better. I have no problem with the way Belichick trades picks for future first-rounders, but to trade them for lower round picks wouldn’t be wise in my opinion.
Paul Perillo

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