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Ask PFW: Heading toward free agency and the Combine

Posted Feb 11, 2014

Seattle's Super Bowl victory officially put 2013 in the history books so Patriots fans have clearly turned their attentions to free agency, the draft and building a winner in 2014 with a wide variety of questions in this week's Ask PFW.

Is it finally gonna be time for Bill to make a splash in free agency since Brady’s not getting any younger, or is he gonna trade back in the draft and put duck tape on team needs instead of fixing them? What are your thoughts on adding a playmaker like Greg Hardy or T.J Ward or is it impossible with the salary cap?
Trey Turner

Nothing is impossible with the salary cap, it’s simply about priorities and financial maneuverings. That said, the Patriots don’t have a ton of cap room at this point and will need to make some moves – or restructures – to do business this offseason. Ward is an intriguing player who’s likely to get a lot of money on the open market. Even mid-range safeties get $6 million-plus in this day and age. So even though that’s a position of need, I’m not sure he’ll be an economical Patriots target. The same could be aid for Hardy. Coming off a 15-sack year in Carolina, he’s going to get big money somewhere. But just because the Patriots can’t or won’t land two of the younger, more valuable free agents on the market this spring doesn’t mean Bill Belichick won’t be working to fix the team’s problems. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. I still think New England will make some noise this offseason and be a bit more aggressive than we’ve seen in the last few years.
Andy Hart

What is the chance that we go after Donte Whitner in free agency? He's a hard hitter, which we will lack if and when Brandon Spikes leaves. He could also add veteran leadership to the Patriots. He also won't cost as much as the Jarius Byrds and TJ Wards.
David Smith

I agree that Whitner … or is it going to be Hitner at some point? … would look pretty good as a hard-hitter in the back end of the New England secondary. But I think you are selling him a little short. He may not get the money that Byrd or Ward get, but he won’t be too far behind. Don’t be surprised if Whitner signs a deal somewhere that has an annual average value of nearly $7 million. And I don’t think that will be in New England.
Andy Hart

Will Wilfork be ready for the season and how do you think the Pats would have done with Seattle?
Gayle MacDonald

My guess would be that Wilfork will begin training camp on PUP and then a decision will have to be made during camp whether he’s ready to being practicing. If I had to make a further guess, I’d wager on the veteran hard worker who’s never had much in terms of injuries being ready to suit up early in the year if not for the opener. My question will be what his fitness level and playing ability will be at that point. My guess is that it will take much longer for us to see the return of Big Vince, the man who terrorizes opposing offensive linemen. As for the Super Bowl, I think the Patriots would have struggled mightily against the Seahawks swarming defense. They may not have wilted and turned the ball over like the Broncos, but I don’t think it would have been pretty given New England’s limited offensive weapons. After all, they did get dominated by the Broncos two weeks before Denver was dominated by the Seahawks.
Andy Hart

Could the Patriots trade with the Jaguars for one or two players! With Justin Blackmon and Mercedes Lewis on the block, they are two positions New England needs. It could cost next to nothing for JB with off-field problems, aka Randy Moss!
Marco Silveira

If I’m not mistaken, Blackmon is suspended indefinitely right now by the NFL and needs to apply to be reinstated by the commissioner before his career can continue. He’s had issues with alcohol and drugs. He’s one of the top problem child-types at a position full of them. He’s a major risk for any team to take on and place any faith in. So while I think the Patriots are always looking for value and willing to give guys second chances, I’m not sure that bringing Blackmon in to a young receiving corps would be a good idea. Lewis is a more intriguing option. He’s an impressive physical talent but has been inconsistent in his production, though that could be mostly thanks to the quarterback position for the Jacksonville. He has a cap number of more than $8 million over each of the next two seasons, and was once thought of as a potential cap causality this offseason. But with four touchdowns in the final month, Lewis may stick around in Jacksonville for one more year. If he could be had for a mid-round pick, I’d be interested given his physical skills. Tom Brady would certainly love his 6-6 frame in the red zone.
Andy Hart

Hey Guys, Pats fan before birth, my question is: Gronk? He is a total beast when he's on the field and healthy, but he never seems to remain healthy for long. What do you think his future is with the Pats? I'll probably be hated for this but wouldn't they be better off dropping him and seeking a healthier alternative or 2?
Stephanie Adams

Right now, Gronkowski’s present and future is as a rehabbing star talent. He’s coming back from ACL surgery so his health and performance will be a major discussion in the summer and into the regular season. But his contract isn’t an issue right now. He has an option bonus due after the 2015 season, $10 million that kicks in the final four years of the deal. At that point his value and worth to the team will be in question. His salary is reportedly already guaranteed for this year, so there would certainly be no point in cutting him. We all know how valuable he is when healthy and on the field. The proof is in the numbers – both for him and the offense as a whole. Clearly the team will need to add depth to the offense and the tight end position to be more prepared for life without Gronk moving forward, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a part of the picture for at least the next year. He’s too good to rush out of town, and there is no reason to at this point.
Andy Hart

Hey Guys thanks for your good work. I depend on you guys here in Idaho. Is there any buzz about Wilfork, Mayo, Gronk restructuring their contracts? We need some cap space to sure up our weaknesses and I don't think we have enough cap space to get it done without a restructure. Thoughts?
Scott Stears

There has been plenty of chatter about a potential Wilfork restructure, as he’s probably the most likely man on the roster to have to rework his deal. The nose tackle has a cap number of more than $11.6 million for 2014, including $7.5 million in salary in the final year of his current contract. So if cut, he would save the team $8 million on the cap. A traditional restructure would involve converting a big chunk of his salary to bonus money that would be spread out over an extension. But given that he’s 32, coming off a major injury and a guy who plays at a heavy weight, an extension might be risky. Given that Mayo already has cap numbers near or above $10 million in the next three seasons after 2014 and only has a salary of $3.25 million for this fall, he may not be in line for a simple restructure either. Gronk’s deal also would seem to be less likely for a reworking given its split structure. Logan Mankins is another guy with the potential for a restructure given his $10.5 million cap number for next fall. Frankly, I’d be stunned if Wilfork plays 2014 under his current contract. It just doesn’t make sense for the team. It’s too costly for a guy who’s coming off a major injury. He’ll need to redo his deal, or there is the outside chance he could be a cap casualty.
Andy Hart

It seems that there are concerns with all the top quarterbacks in this year's draft. I think Bill O'Brien will select Jadeveon Clowney with Houston's first selection and trade the first selection on the second round to the Patriots for Ryan Mallett, a quarterback that he has coached for two years as offensive coordinator for the Patriots. Mallett knows his offense and is more NFL-ready than any of the rookies will be. Mallett was projected as a first-round draft selection when he came out. The Patriots could use that selection to select Stephen Tuitt to pair with Chandler Jones. I think they select Jace Amaro with their first round selection. Do you see this as a possibility and do you think the Patriots would make that trade? What do you think? Thanks guys.
Robbie Brown

I don’t see this as a possibility but I do think the Patriots would make that trade if it were offered. Mallett has by no means proven himself “NFL-ready.” I still have my doubts about his future as a starter while he heads into the final year of his rookie contract. He was a third-round pick, so getting a second in a trade for him would be good value. I think the more likely scenario is that Houston take’s Clowney with the first pick and then takes a quarterback in the second round. I really like LSU’s Zach Mettenberger even though he’s coming off an ACL injury. As for the Patriots, I certainly think the team will look to address the tight end position and defensive line early in the draft, although I’m not sure a guy with Tuitt’s build in the mold of Richard Seymour will be the target body type or value.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, My question is about free agency. So, I was thinking about two or three guys who could help the Patriots out. Eric Decker, TJ Ward and Michael Bennett. Do you guys think that the Patriots will pursue any of these guys if the negotiations with their current teams fail? I personally want TJ Ward. Next to Devin McCourty? Awesome.
Vikram Sakotai

As I wrote earlier, I think Ward is going to get more money than the Patriots might be willing to invest. Decker, to me, is a guy who is overrated. I think he’s a product of his quarterback and the guys around him. He seemed to disappear late in the year and I’d be quite hesitant to hand him big free agency money. Bennett is interesting in that he’s coming off a one-year, $5 million deal with the Seattle. He led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks a year after notching a career-high 9 with the Bucs. Given his success, he’s likely looking to cash in with a long term deal for good money. I don’t consider him an elite player, so I personally wouldn’t be willing to break the bank on him in free agency. Of the three guys you mentioned, I’d be most likely to invest in Ward. I agree with you that lining him up next to McCourty would be in an intriguing duo in the middle of the New England secondary.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! So in this past season, the team suffered from the loss of a ton of key players (Gronk, Wilfork, Mayo, etc.) Without those players, we saw the rise of a lot of rookie talent. How do you think the team as a cohesive unit will change next season when the vets return? Is the balanced offense the Pats found this year going to make an even stronger appearance next season, or do you think that Brady and Belichick might shift back to the success they found in previous years with a pass-heavy offensive strategy?
Annabelle M.

It’s really hard to answer this big-picture question at this very early point in the team-building process. Really, it’s probably a mix of what you suggest. I think the Patriots will continue to be a somewhat balanced offense with Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, if he returns. Josh McDaniels seems to like what the fullback position brings to the offense and how it balances out the attack, having spoken a lot last season about not wanting to be too out of whack in terms of passing too often. But we know that things can change depending on personnel. While it seems unlikely, if Gronkowski is a fully healthy beast to open the season, the passing game will be a bigger factor than if he’s not in the lineup. Likewise, changes to the receiver position could alter the attack. If it’s Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman it will look different than if a big play guy on the outside is brought aboard. If I had to guess, though, I think the offense in 2014 will be more balanced than it was in say 2012 or the years before that.
Andy Hart

Do u see the texans trading de java on clowney to the pats for mallet n our first round pick this year n second next year??
Joe Holts

No.
Andy Hart

I was just looking at free agents by position on NFL.com and I was wondering of the talent that is out there (mainly on the defensive side) who do you think fits the Pats system and is within their price range?
Jacob Templar

The price range factor is the biggest part of this question. A year ago the Patriots weren’t apparently willing to go to two years and a reported $4.6 million for John Abraham with a $1 million signing bonus that he got in Arizona (although playing time/role may have also been a factor). The team also didn’t seem to go all-in on a RFA offer to Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders. If the same approach is taken this spring, adding higher-end talent could be an issue. But if there is a bit more of an aggressive approach Ward and Whitner might be options at safety. Michael Johnson or Jared Allen would be interesting pass rushers. At receiver some names would include Sanders, Jeremy Maclin, Jacoby Jones (would help as a KOR too) and Anquan Boldin. I also wouldn’t disregard the trade market on either side of the ball. Another name to keep an eye on, assuming he’s cut by the Bears as expected, would be defensive end Julius Peppers. He may not be a $100 million talent anymore, but his long rumored arrival in New England would help the Patriots depth even at this point.
Andy Hart

The Patriots should definitely attempt to keep Edelman, and find a way to trade the "injury prone" Amendola. We need someone who can play "every day", and not someone who picks and chooses what day he plays based on some small injury. And in fact Edelman can produce more than Amendola ever could or can.
Ron Dion

This is the perfect email displaying what-have-you-done-for-me-lately logic. Edelman stayed healthy for the first time in his career, nearly doubling his career production from the previous four seasons combined. But now he’s considered a sure-thing by many fans. Amendola missed time to a reportedly torn groin and a concussion from a pretty horrific hit. But some think he was picking and choosing when he played? Crazy talk. Given their histories, the guys would seem to have the same probability of staying healthy and contributing next season. But perception is reality these days. Amendola was a disappointment in his first season, at least in part due to injury. But I still think there is a chance he could earn his keep with the Patriots moving forward. Edelman had a very good year and worked hard to earn it, but let’s not pretend he’s well on his way to six straight Wes Welker type seasons.
Andy Hart

OK, Is it just me or do you think Edelman would not be a huge loss if we let him go? I was thinking more and more about it. If we put Amendola in the slot, and draft a new TE 1st round along with Gronk and Thompkins and Dobson on the outside we should still have that explosive offense we had in 2011/2012. Thoughts?
Tim Adams

I’m a little torn on this question. One part of me remembers that Edelman was the only reliable option that Brady had in the final month-plus of the season. There was no one else. The other part saw a guy catch a lot of balls but really not make a ton of plays. And we’ve seen that the slot position in New England is going to produce almost regardless of who lines up there. While I’d prefer to have Edelman back, I don’t think he’d be a tragic defection. First, if Gronk is on the field and healthy the offense will be good. He makes everyone else that much better. I also expect Dobson to make some strides in his second season. He may not be a No. 1 down the road, but I think he will have a solid career. Add in a first-round talent at tight end and I think Brady will be happy with what he has to work with, even if his good friend Edelman is no longer in the mix.
Andy Hart

I'm a big Amendola fan. I think he had a rough first season in New England, but I think that he can do the job great. Do you think the Pats will keep him next season or drop him for cap room? Also what are your thoughts on the three rookies Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins? Big fans of those guys too, haha!
Kyle Butler

I do think Amendola will be back. I can’t see the Patriots cutting ties with him after one season in which he battled a torn groin all season. He did get a reported $10 million guaranteed when he signed his deal less than a year ago. He’d cost the team in dead money on the cap and actually has a good chunk of his 2014 salary reportedly guaranteed. Cutting him wouldn’t create cap room, especially considering you’d have to replace him on the roster. As for the three young receivers, I’m most excited about them in the order you listed them. I think Dobson could have a really solid second season if he can stay healthy. I think he’s got the talent to be a big part of the offense and No. 2 receiver moving forward. Boyce still intrigues me with his speed, and a year under his belt should help him get more comfortable in the offense and earn the confidence of the coaching staff and his quarterback. Thompkins, to me, is just a complementary guy. He was thrust into a key role at times last year, one that I don’t think he’s really suited for. I see him as a depth guy moving forward, although he has shown some knack for making plays.
Andy Hart

Should the Patriots pursue a big-name defensive lineman? As it was evident that the Patriots could not put any pressure on Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship. So could they open up their wallet and chase the likes of Michael Bennett from the Seahawks, or Greg Hardy from the Panthers?
Nicolas Garcia

I’d be surprised if they went after either of the guys you mentioned. It’s just a lot of money to invest in a guy who’d be likely brought aboard to rotate through with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. The best, most financially feasible way to add a potentially elite pass rusher is through the draft. So I wouldn’t count out the idea of drafting another defensive end early. Otherwise, I think a more mid-tier, older veteran free agent might be the route to go this spring. Either way, I do think a pass rusher needs to be added to the defensive end depth chart. It’s unlikely that Jones and Ninkovich can stay healthy enough to start all 16 games again next fall.
Andy Hart

After watching the Super Bowl, and seeing how physical the Seahawks (especially Kam Chancellor) were with the Broncos receivers, do you think a true strong safety is a need the Pats should fill? Even more so do you think someone on this current roster could fill that role? Do you think Jamie Collins could move back to safety and be our Kam Chancellor. Here are some measurables; KC 6'3" 235lbs, 4.59 40 yard dash, played LB in college, JC 6'3" 250lbs, 4.59 40 yard dash played safety in college. What do you think?
Alex Pavidapha

I do think strong safety is a position of need. I don’t think Collins is the answer. He hasn’t played safety in four years. He’s not nearly fluid enough an athlete to play the position full time. Look how he struggled at times chasing Julius Thomas in the AFC title game and envision that problem more often and with more talented athletes. I really like what I’ve seen from Collins as an athlete. He may even turn into a freak matchup guy from the linebacker position. But he’s not going to be a full-time safety at the NFL level. The Patriots do need to upgrade next to McCourty. Steve Gregory did his best, but as a former corner with limited size, it’s not really a job he’s suited for. Free agency or the draft is the likely answer as Tavon Wilson doesn’t seem like he’ll ever grow into the role for which he was once projected, while it’s probably too early to tell on Duron Harmon.
Andy Hart

Hey guys! I know that Devin McCourty has been great at the safety position but could you possibly see him return at the corner position and having Adrian Wilson at FS and Steve Gregory (or a free agent/rookie) at strong safety?
Faiq Afzali

What is the update on Adrian Wilson? And how could he help us out next year because I believe he can bring that real physical presence on defense.
Brandon Kelly

No, I don’t see McCourty ever returning to cornerback on a regular basis. He struggled too badly there for too long, and has proven too valuable at safety. With Aqib Talib a free agent, McCourty at safety is the only thing that you can count on in the New England secondary right now. In addition, I think Wilson is done. I thought he really struggled last summer and never thought he was going to make the team or have a successful role on it. He went on IR with a hamstring injury but then according to his own Twitter account apparently tore his Achilles tendon at some point thereafter. I don’t think you will ever actually see Wilson play in a game in New England. He was once a great player, but no longer is. And is coming off a major injury.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW guys, haven't heard about Gronk in awhile, any news on his rehab? Does he rehab at the Patriots facilities our elsewhere with his own crew?
Richard Tougas

Gronkowski does spend time working out at Gillette Stadium. Clearly everything he does is monitored by the Patriots medical staff, whether it is at the stadium facility or not. He also likely confers with Dr. James Andrews, who performed his ACL surgery, as he goes through the process. Gronkowski has been seen out and about this offseason without a brace on his knee, so he’s advancing in the process. But there is still a long road of rehab ahead of him.
Andy Hart

Since the linebackers coaching job is currently vacant, and Tedy Bruschi said that he'd like to coach, and Bill Belichick's opinion of Bruschi - "the perfect player" (and a linebacker at that) - is known: what's the chance of Bruschi landing the linebackers coaching job?
Andy Frank

I would say it’s doubtful. While I’ve not discussed this specifically with Bruschi, I wonder if he’d be willing to make the major time commitment it takes to be an NFL coach. He clearly cares a lot about family time and spending time with his growing boys. He would lose out on a lot of that time as an NFL assistant, as it is a very difficult schedule and lifestyle. While there is no doubt that Bruschi is capable of being a linebackers coach, I don’t think it’s likely at the NFL level. I could see him getting into coaching at a lower level, though. Maybe even as an assistant for his boys when the reach high school. But who knows for sure.
Andy Hart

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