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

Just two weeks removed from the season finale there's plenty going on these days in Patriots Nation, even if it unfortunately does not include postseason action.

So what ever happened to Donte Stallworth anyway? He signed a long-term deal with the team, had a good '07 season as a reliable third option for Tom Brady, then the Pats just decided to terminate his contract. I mean, what was their reasoning behind that? If they thought he was overpaid or something along the line of money, why not just restructure his contract. I think he would have been more valuable to New England this season than most people think. For all we know, he probably would have caught the touchdown that Gaffney dropped in Indy, won us the game, and sent us into the playoffs...Justin Nelson

Stallworth's "long-term" deal in New England was essentially a one-year deal that called for roster and other types of bonuses that totaled more than $10 million were he to remain with the Patriots beyond 2007. While he did a nice job for New England's record-breaking offense with 46 catches for 697 yards and three scores, it certainly wasn't enough to warrant the significant financial commitment moving forward considering the money invested in Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The Patriots did not pay the first roster bonus ($6 million), due last Feb. 25. Stallworth subsequently became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Browns, reportedly a seven-year, $35-million deal with $10 million in guarantees. He caught just 17 passes for 170 yards and one score in 11 games this past season in Cleveland.
Andy Hart

Here is my idea on the Pats QB Off Season: Franchise Cassel, if Brady is not healthy for 2009, put him on IR at the beginning of the season (players on IR don't count against the cap or 53 man roster, right?). If Brady just needs more time, the trade deadline is week 6, no? Trade Cassel when Brady is ready to start in 2009. If Brady's career is over, (a popular notion for Pat Haters everywhere), sign and keep Cassel. I'm sure this dilemma isn't this it? Do you like the LBs from USC or that cat from Ohio St? Any chances of landing one in the draft? I really think LB should be #1 priority in the draft. I liked Wheatley and Wilhite @ CB from what I saw this year, though we can't stay healthy @ CB for nothing! This position should be a high priority as well. Thanks and God Bless.Mike Peters

Mike, I hate to shoot holes your idea. Heck, who am I kidding, I'd love to shoot holes in your idea. First, players on IR do count against the salary cap. Second, a player placed on IR is done for the season. He cannot return at any point. Maybe you are thinking about the PUP (physically unable to perform list)? Those guys count against the salary cap as well. So, clearly, the dilemma is nowhere near as simple as you tried to make it.
As for the draft, I do like Rey Maualuga from USC. He's a big, proven playmaker. I know there are some questions about his speed, but I'd like to see him line up next to Jerod Mayo and see what happens. Mayo could be the speedy, athletic guy who runs around and Maualuga (6-2, 260) could be the resident run stuffer and then some. Those are my initial comments before I've done too much draft prospect preparation. As for James Laurinaitis from Ohio State, he's been very good in college and ridiculously productive but I'm not his biggest fan. I'd rather have Maualuga at this point. But I reserve the right to change my opinion after meeting with these guys at the Combine next month and going through my usual pre-draft film study.
Andy Hart

First, a quick reply to a question in the last AskPFW regarding the yardage credited to kickers vs. punters. I'm told the reason is because the punter's job is to get the ball as far from the current line of scrimmage as possible. He, therefore gets credit for all the yards past the line of scrimmage that the ball travels until stopped. When place-kicking, the spot where the ball is held becomes the opponent's line of scrimmage if the attempt fails, so the PK is credited with those yards when he's successful. Hope that helps. My questions, though, are regarding Dom Capers and our secondary. How long is Capers' contract? How much involvement/influence over off-season acquisitions will he have? I know he is one of the few coaches who can TRULY run a 3-4, but why did our secondary look baffled so often and what can we expect him to do about it?John Constantine

Boy, this field goal thing really has some legs. But all field goals do. People are pretty interested in this topic and I've yet to come across a factual answer. And the theory about the ball being turned over at the spot on a missed attempt is a logical one. Unfortunately, it's not the right answer. That rule on missed field goals is a relatively new one and therefore doesn't substantiate the fact that the 7 or 8 yards have been added to the field goal distance for as long as I can recall.
Andy Hart

When a quarterback drops back and punts the ball on fourth down and it goes into the end zone, is it still a touchback as if the punter kicked the ball?Donald Johnson

Boy, Don, things have gone so far downhill since Miami Vice that you've resorted to sending questions to Ask PFW? That hurts. Maybe it has something to do with your wardrobe. Might want to update those suits and t-shirts. Just a suggestion.
Anyway, it would indeed be a touchback.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, great job this season. So I have a couple of questions, the first one being how do you think Dom Capers did with the secondary? I think that he did the best with what he had. Also, what is the difference between being a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro? Thanks!Lauren Fitzgerald

Based on the production, the secondary clearly struggled most of the season and was the weakest part of the 2008 Patriots team. On the other hand, I do think Capers had limited talent to work with. The group lost a proven, All-Pro playmaker and tried to fill those big cleats with lackluster veterans and unproven mid-round draft picks. Not surprisingly, the group struggled. As someone who wasn't in all the meetings or on the field for all the in-season practice action, I find it hard to blame Capers for the coverage failures. He's been too successful for too long in this league not to get the benefit of the doubt from me.
There is a big difference between a Pro Bowler (not the PBA kind who roll 300 games) and an All-Pro. The Pro Bowl is voted on by fans, coaches and players. The honors are separated between the NFC and AFC and each team has backups. All-Pro is voted on for the Associated Press by a panel of media members. There is an All-Pro first and second team that's made up of the best players in the league, combined from the NFC and AFC. So All-Pro is a greater, more difficult honor to achieve. As such, Stephen Gostkowski deserves a huge congratulations as the Patriots only first-time All-Pro for the 2008 season.
Andy Hart

BB always says a player shows his most improvement between his first and second season after a full offseason and season in the system. With that being the case why should we not be excited about our defense for next season, with Mayo, Guyton, Wheatley, Wilhite, Redd, and Crable I think we can be yery, very good next season.
Jim Polchin

Who said you shouldn't be excited about the young talent on defense? I think it's pretty intriguing. But there is some ground in between being excited and a very, very good defense. The group has potential. Mayo is a star in the making. Wheatley and Wilhite look like they could develop into starters. Redd and Crable, if nothing else, have the build to be 34 outside linebackers. And Guyton has already shown he can be an option on sub downs. They should all be better next season and able to contribute even more. Will that equate to more overall defensive success? That's a question that only time will answer. But feel free to be excited. Go buy an authentic No. 51 Mayo jersey to wear during games. Enjoy the youth movement on defense, you've waited for it long enough.
Andy Hart

I understand the rivalry between the Pats and the Colts, but we have played them the last 2 years in Indianapolis and are scheduled to play them there again next year! Why 3 years in a row away? Is this a normal scheduling practice?Doug Albert

It is indeed normal scheduling practice. Since 2002 the NFL has used a schedule that had 14 of every teams' 16 games slotted well in advance thanks to a system of rotating through the divisions for inter- and intra-conference games. Two games a year for each team are then decided by previous season's records. Combine the regularly scheduled meetings with teams like the Colts with additional meetings based on the fact that both Indy and New England often finish atop their respective divisions and you have the seemingly yearly meetings between the clubs. Thanks for bringing this to our attention, it's not something we've had too many fans point out over the years. Are you picking up on my sarcasm? Because I'm spreading it thicker than the vanilla frosting on my wife's double-chocolate brownies. I even put a little ice ream on top for good measure. On the brownies, not the sarcasm.
Andy Hart

For some reason, I seem to remember that we got a pick when the Jets got Mangini. Does my memory serve me correctly? Will we get a pick for McD or Pioli (if he leaves)? Thanks
Deniz Savas

No, the team did not get a pick when Mangini flew to the Jets. Assistant coaches, even if under contract, can leave to become a head coach. And in general the league has frowned upon the practice of teams swapping compensation for coaches/front office types that became so prevalent in the late '90s and early 2000s. When it does happen it generally only occurs for coaches who are under contract looking to make a lateral move. If my memory serves me right the last case of compensation came in Jan. 2006 when the Chiefs sent a fourth-round pick to the Jets for the right to hire Herm Edwards, who was still under contract in New York. (That's a lie. That's not my memory, I Googled it based on my vague memory of Edwards' exit from the Big Apple."
Andy Hart

I just wanted to get your opinion on three players, James Saunders, Brandon Meriweather, and Ellis Hobbs. Do you think they are talented enough (individually and as a group) to form the core of a championship caliber secondary? Thanks for you replyGreg Beane
Orrington, Maine

That's a good question. First off, I'll start with Sanders. He doesn't seem to get much respect around here, evident by your misspelling of his name. He's been a starter for the last couple years. He's a solid tackler and has saved the team from a number of big plays in the running game. But he's not an overly flashy player and can be exposed at times in coverage. He's a free agent this offseason and I hope he's back. In the right secondary I think he can be a solid player.
Meriweather made a nice jump in his second season in terms of picking off passes early and then as a blitzer over the final month. He still needs to become a better tackler in terms of both the angles he takes and then actually using his arms rather than always going for the bit hit. He's very athletic and could be a weapon in both coverage and near the line of scrimmage. He needs to continue to develop and become far more consistent. His third season should be an interesting one.
To me Hobbs is what he is at this point. He's a decent No. 2 corner, is over his head as a No. 1 in New England and might be best suited as a third corner. I really like him as a kick returner. He's a great quote and works as hard as anybody in the game. But after four seasons, I doubt he's going to suddenly evolve into an All-Pro or anything near that level. He gave up too many plays playing alongside Asante Samuel. He gave up too many plays this fall.
As a group, though, what can they be? That's a good question. Last year, with limited help from the pass rush and a rotating teammate at the other corner spot, they weren't a very good secondary. My guess is that as a three-pack they aren't the core of a great secondary. Could they win a championship? Probably. Would they be a big reason for that title? I doubt it. If I had to pick I think the two safeties may be an intriguing duo moving forward should Sanders re-sign with New England.
Andy Hart

Did the Pats 'franchise' Matt Cassel to retain him for next year?Danny Brackett

While there have been multiple reports that the Patriots have indeed decided to use the franchise tag on Cassel this offseason, nothing official has happened. In fact, teams cannot officially assign franchise tags until Feb. 5, and have until as late as Feb. 19 to do so.
Andy Hart

Why shouldn't the Pats try to sign Cassel to a market value contract now instead of just slapping the franchise tag on him? Wouldn't his market value deal (4-5 years, $35-$40mm, $10-$15mm guaranteed???) be better from a cap standpoint this year – and make him much more tradable in the future? Would Cassel be opposed to this simply because he then can't decide his final destination? And who knows, maybe he would end up being THE guy here? Seems a much better way to go to me than promising him $14mm for one year. I am also in the camp that you AT LEAST have to see what Brady will bring…Why wouldn't you at least see what his market is?Joe
New York.

Boy, I'd love to shop at your market. Sounds like the discounts are tremendous. I think you are setting Cassel's value a bit low. I'm not going to pretend to know what he would or is going to secure on the open market but my guess it's somewhat more than you are predicting especially in terms of guaranteed money. Former NFL personnel man and current Sirius analyst Pat Kirwan wrote in mid-December in Patriots Football Weekly that Cassel's stock had risen into the range of the six-year, $65 million deal that Aaron Rogers signed in Green Bay that included more than $20 million in guarantees. Some believe the numbers, in terms of guarantees, could rise even higher than that. Re-signing Cassel to a deal like that in New England isn't all that realistic with Tom Brady still on the books. Plus, from his perspective, he wants to start. He wants his own team. He's been a backup for too long. He showed what he can do and now he wants his own show. I think he deserves it. If that's not going to be the case here in New England, and let's be honest that's not going to be the case here in New England, it's probably going to have to happen elsewhere. Maybe he could spend one more year with the team under the $14 million franchise number as an insurance policy as Brady returns from injury. Maybe, although I think that's a tough salary cap pill to swallow. As for trading Brady, I just don't see it. Sure, if someone bowls me over with four first-round picks. Beyond that, no thanks. My guess is if Brady's healthy enough to return to the field again he'll be healthy enough to prove why he's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
Andy Hart

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