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Ask PFW: A blizzard of offseason action -- Part I

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I KNOW THERE'S PLENTY OF TIME TO FIND A REPLACEMENT BUT I FEEL LIKE WE'RE LOSING EVERYONE ON PATS STAFF. WHEN WILL IT END? WILL IT BE IN HOUSE OR AN OUTSIDE PERSON WHO WILL BE THE NEW OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR?Steven BILLIEL

With Josh McDaniels heading out west to the Denver Broncos, I've got a few questions. 1)Will him leaving the Patriots have a significant effect on our offense next season and if so, how bad would it be? 2)Who would you see Belichick picking as the next offensive coordinator? Would he look internally or would he look outside the organization?
Alex Philipchik

In light of Josh McDaniels becoming the new head coach of the Broncos, the team is obviously without an offensive coordinator. There are several coordinators out there now that many teams have fired or retired their head coaches. I was wondering what you thought about Belichick bringing in Rob Chudzinski as the new offensive coordinator. I know that many people felt the Browns offense wasn't that great but I think that his scheme would work well with the talent we have in the passing game and the stable of running backs. Your thoughts?
Charles Adams

McDaniels departure to take over as head coach in Denver certainly leaves a big hole on the Patriots offensive staff. At just 32 years of age, and having held the title of offensive coordinator for the last three seasons, McDaniels was a well-liked, well-respected and key member of the coaching staff. But he was certainly an unknown, at least in public circles, when he ascended to play-caller and then offensive coordinator when Charlie Weis went to Notre Dame after the 2004 season. My guess is that Belichick will once again look internally for a replacement for McDaniels. That could mean a season without a coordinator in a titular sense, as was the case when McDaniels first began calling plays in 2005. I would have to think the two most likely internal candidates for the job would be current tight ends coach Pete Mangurian and wide receivers coach Bill O'Brien. The former served as Atlanta's offensive coordinator for one season in 2003 and has 17 years of NFL experience under his belt. O'Brien is a relative NFL newcomer with just two seasons in New England and only this past fall as a position coach. He served as offensive coordinator in college at both Georgia Tech and Maryland. Either guy could get the chance to replace McDaniels, or Belichick could take on a more involved role in the offensive game planning and play calling. It also wouldn't be out of the question for the team to look outside the organization for a replacement – Chudzinski, who spent recent years with Romeo Crennel, might be in that group -- although based on the way Belichick has handled these things over the years I'd have to say that would seem to be the least likely solution to the current opening.
Andy Hart

Whose departure, Pioli or McDaniels would hurt Pats most? Both men accomplished a lot with the organization, and deserve our big thanks and respect. But Pioli did not produce the best draft in years, and McDaniels couldn't handle Giants D in SB [XLII]. Still, Pioli's superb negotiating skills could have helped us with Cassel. While Tom Brady is a natural leader on offence. What do you think?Ben Yoursky

At this point, Pioli's future is uncertain while New England will indeed find out what life without McDaniels is like. I think both will be difficult to replace, and at the very least the team's continuity both on the coaching staff and in the front office is going to be challenged. But if you force me to choose one or the other, I think McDaniels is harder to replace. He's been the quarterbacks coach since 2004, playing a key role in the evolution of Tom Brady and the development of Matt Cassel. For the last four seasons he's called the plays for an offense that's succeeded in a variety of different ways, at times to record-breaking results. I think it's difficult to replace his playcalling, in-game coaching and adjustments, rapport with the quarterbacks and the respect he'd earned working under Belichick since 2001. That's not to say Pioli wouldn't also be hard to replace. I just think most of his ultimately very important work takes place behind closed doors in the offseason and not under the gun of game action. Time will tell how this all plays out. We were once talking in a similar way about the departures of Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis after the 2004 season and wondering which loss hurt more. I don't know if we ever got an answer to that question. Not sure will get one in the potential McDaniels/Pioli scenario either. But as long as Belichick is still around I feel pretty good about how the entire situation will be handled.
Andy Hart

First off, I love what you are doing. I read PFW daily! Now that Pacman has been cut do you think that the Patriots would pick him up and try to turn him into a model citizen? We have done this before with Dillon, and Moss. He is a great player and would be a weapon in kicks and punts. I think with a little humble pie we can turn his career around as well as shoring up our secondary. What are your thoughts?
Tom Lloyd

Will the Patriots sign the recently released CB Adam "Pacman" Jones? He could be another great success story to add to Belichick's resume. But it is worth it? Even Jerry Jones who loves his circus-like organization couldn't deal with him. Is there any chance Pacman could find a new home in New England?Joe Goldman

Pacman's been released. Take him or leave him?Gage Brown

Leave him. He couldn't fit in on the Island of Misfit toys, I mean with the Cowboys. Why would you want him here, especially with reports of more legal/court problems on the horizon? Most importantly, though, I think he's a very overrated player. Sure he has a lot of natural physical skills, but I don't think he's a "great player." He's way more trouble than he's worth at this point. Regardless of all his issues, he's had just four interceptions in three seasons, all coming in 2006 in Tennessee. That was by far his best season as he also had three punt return touchdowns. But since taking a year-plus off at the Commissioner's asking (see how nicely I can phrase things, even suspensions), Jones averaged just 4.5 yards per punt return with Dallas and didn't have a single pick. I don't care how much the Patriots could use help in the secondary I'll pass on Pacman, thanks.
Andy Hart

What is the status on Rodney Harrison? Will he return for the '09 season?
Wendy Thompson

After finishing the season on injured reserve Harrison is technically scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He recently did some TV work for NFL Network and declined to answer questions about his own future, preferring to say that'd he'd be discussing the issue with the New England media en masse in the near future. Does that mean he's retiring? Coming back? I don't know. He's reportedly been working out. But let's look at the facts. The 36-year-old, 15-year veteran has played in just 31 of a possible 64 regular season games over the last four seasons, playing in less than half the games in two of the last four years. He's dealt with major knee, shoulder and quad injuries in recent years. He's not getting any younger and you just have to wonder if he could come back from yet another injury. That said, he was playing pretty well through the first six games before his most recent injury and is one of the more mentally driven men in the game. He recently told ESPN radio with a laugh that he's leaning toward the "may" in may come back. If he does, and if that comeback attempt occurs in New England, it's hard to bet against him. If he chooses to retire, it would conclude one of the most impressive careers ever for an NFL safety. He's been a great player and a great guy in the locker room. Whatever decision he makes, one we should get an answer to in the coming weeks, I wish him well.
Andy Hart

Who are the Patriots that will become free agents this year? And what are the top free agent corners on the market this year?Scott Macone

According to my information the Patriots have 21 players scheduled to be either unrestricted or restricted free agents this spring. The restricted free agent list includes Eric Alexander, Wesley Britt and Pierre Woods. The unrestricted list, topped obviously by quarterback Matt Cassel, also includes Rosevelt Colvin, Heath Evans, Jabar Gaffney, Chris Hanson, Rodney Harrison, Russ Hochstein, Larry Izzo, LaMont Jordan, Deltha O'Neal, Lonie Paxton, James Sanders, Lewis Sanders, Junior Seau, Kenny "Big" Smith, Barry Stokes, Tank Williams and Mike Wright.
As for an early look at some of the top names projected to be on the free agent market at cornerback, I think you start with Raiders All-Pro and "franchise" player Nnamdi Asomugha. I didn't think he played all that well against New England this year, and has had only one really productive season in terms of interceptions, but he's probably atop the class. Another name to keep an eye on is Houston's Dunta Robinson. The former first-round pick (10th overall) had a major knee injury in 2007 that landed him on PUP to start 2008. But he returned to the starting lineup for the final six weeks this fall. He has 13 career interceptions, although six of those came as a rookie. For his size (5-11, 184) he's a big hitter and the injury – one that included torn knee ligaments as well as the hamstring tearing from the bone – would seem to be a thing of the past based on how he finished the season. He'll cost some money but is young, talented and if healthy is an intriguing option. One other big name (who may not play to that name recognition) is Asomugha's former teammate and former Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall. New England reportedly had interest in Hall when he was let go by Oakland during the season and could look into his availability again moving forward even though he would seem to carry some baggage at this point. Aside from those three there aren't a ton of names in a group that could include more than 50 players.
Andy Hart

If McDaniels leaves the Pats and Jags from BC doesn't get hired as the head coach of the Jets, what's the possibility of him becoming the OC here? If he wouldn't be a good candidate, who would most likely be the OC to come?Matt Barton

McDaniels obviously did leave. Jeff Jagodzinski didn't get the New York Job and was still fired by Boston College. Those are the facts. Aside from that I'd be surprised if Jags landed back in New England, this time with the Patriots. While it's clear he wants to return to the NFL -- where he spent nine seasons and was offensive coordinator with Green Bay before taking over at BC -- I still think the Patriots will fill the hole at coordinator from within in order to ensure true system continuity.
Andy Hart

Paul Perillo's noting in his 1/6/09 PFW that " . . . tight end play hasn't been up to par," is an understatement. In 2008, receptions, receiving yards and TDs were HALF the average TE crew production from 2002 through 2006. One could claim that Watson and Thomas didn't have the usual receiving opportunities in 2008 because they were kept in to block in support of Cassel and in support of the running game (also, indirectly, in support of Cassel). However, TE receiving production was also way down in 2007. And, of course, one could explain THAT by saying that perhaps Tom was simply too busy playing with his shiny new toys (Moss and Welker). And, maybe it's all simply because McDaniels has had a different focus. But, still, Watson didn't exactly make the most of his limited opportunities this season. Plus, there seemed to be a continual "musical chairs" thing going on with the third TE position for a good part of 2007 and the 2008 pre-season. All of this leads me to believe that the odds are really high that Belichick goes for someone like Chase Coffman with the first round pick this year. After all, it will have been five years since he last drafted a first-round TE (Watson, 2004) and three years since he drafted a TE at all (Thomas, 3rd round, 2006). Seems like the stars are aligned.Steve Warren

I agree completely with the fact that tight end production in the passing game has been very disappointing. Watson has never lived up to his draft position or pure athleticism. Thomas has not developed as I thought he might considering his soft hands. Both have dealt with multiple injuries. So I do think an addition or upgrade to the depth at the position should and could be a consideration this offseason. Belichick and Pioli have never had a lot of success drafting tight ends over the years, and both first-round picks Watson and Daniel Graham, never turned into key playmakers. That would scare me if New England looked for a tight end high in the draft once again. I'm also underwhelmed by some of the top, flashy tight ends that have come into the league in recent years. Just as many have flopped as have succeeded. I would tread lightly in evaluating the tight ends moving forward, even though I do think it's an area of the New England offense that could use an upgrade.
Andy Hart

I think Paul Perrillo missed the question about field goal and punt measurements in the 1/6/09 edition. In his reply he stated, "If the ball is placed at the 34, then it's a 44-yard field goal." I believe this is not true. You add the distance to the goal line (34 yards), the distance of the uprights form the goal line (10 yards) plus the distance behind the LOS where the ball is actually spotted (typically 7 yards). So 34 10 7 means that a field goal from the 34 year line is actually 51 yards, not 44.Rick Soden

I'm sure Paul did miss the question. He is, as Forrest Gump would say, "not a smart man." But in this case, it's just a matter of a little vague writing. He meant that if the holder for the field goal places the ball at the 34 for the kick that it's a 44-yard field goal. If the line of scrimmage happened to be the 34 then you would be right in saying it would be a attempt of 51-yard, plus or minus depending on whether the holder is 7 or 8 yards deep as has become more customary in recent years. But thanks for keeping check on Paul's work. Somebody has to.
Andy Hart

This is a huge what if, but I going to ask your opinion anyway. I have heard rumors that the Cowboys are interested in Cassel. Given the emergence of Tashard Choice, Barber's "injury" problem, and the fact that they signed a long term deal with Barber as there #1 back, do you think it would be reasonable to trade Cassel for a #1 (possibly in the 2010 draft) and Barber? The Cowboys seemed to have lost confidence in Barber right at the end of the season, but in my opinion he is still the big back, with decent hands that can close out games. Morris is good, but Barber is better. Barber did sign a new contract just this past year, but it looks to be cap friendly. I also think that with the addition of Barber and Kevin Faulk getting closer to that age that RBs begin to wane, that Maroney may still have a place on this team. Becoming more of that 3rd down passing game back.Marc Roy

First, through all the endless news and ESPN Ed Werder live updates out of Dallas I've not heard the rumor that the Cowboys are interested in Cassel. I think they're pretty happy with Tony Romo, who by the way is more experienced and proven at this point. Second, I believe Barber's late-season issues were very much about the "injury" you referenced and assuming he can get healthy I think the Cowboys want his services moving forward. So I don't think the trade makes much sense from a Dallas perspective. Finally, I don't ever see Maroney turning into a third-down back. He doesn't have natural hands, hasn't caught the ball much in college or the pros and isn't the best pass protector in the world. If he can't hack it as a featured-type back, or even a true backup runner, I don't think his future is too bright. He certainly doesn't have 10-percent of the third-down skills of a guy like Faulk.
Andy Hart

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