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Ask PFW: A Q&A for OTAs

Here are my 5 Pats predictions that are inevitable every summer. I will call these the Stork, Tavon, Butler, Ventrone & the Van Noy

(1)        The Stork (prior year starter cut) : Rob Ninkovich.

(2)        The Tavon (2nd round draft reach DB finally cut): Jordan Richards.

(3)        The Butler (annual UDFA to earn a spot): Harvey Langi

(4)        The Ventrone (cut & resigned multiple times): DJ Foster

(5)        The Van Noy (castoff trade to succeed in NE): Tamba Hali

Thoughts?

Chris C.

First, I need to defend Tavon Wilson. He was never cut. He left as a free agent to sign with Detroit and actually started for them at times last year. And as popular a pick as it is at this point for Richards to get cut in his third season, I still think he may stick around one more year. Second, I don't see any way that Ninkovich would be cut. He could be in line for a surprise retirement in camp, but no way he gets cut. I, too, have pinpointed Langi as the mostly likely undrafted rookie to make the team, of course this is before I've seen him take a single practice rep. I also like your Foster selection as a guy who could be around the team – practice squad and roster – various times throughout the year. Not so sure about the Hali pick. He's dealt with knee injuries and if what I read is right, actually costs the Chiefs more to cut/move on from than to keep in 2017. Plus, as a fellow AFC playoff contender, I'm not sure Kansas City would be looking to boost the New England D.

Andy Hart

This is my last PFW question. It's been fun but I think I'm done. Andy, who do you see us playing in the Super Bowl this year? I personally hope it's the Cowboys but I wouldn't mind seeing us against anybody. Finally, who do you see being Tom's top target? I'm going out on a limb and saying this is Hogan's best year ever.

Robert Miles

Sorry to see you go, Robert. But it's been a fun run. Thanks for all the questions over the years! As I said last year, I would love to see New England take on Dallas in the Super Bowl. But I don't think the Cowboys will be there. My guess is that this could be a step-back, reality-check year for the young studs that lead that team. It feels safer, almost every year, to predict either the Seahawks or the Packers. So I will go with Green Bay. As for Tom Brady's leading receiver in 2017, I think injuries could be a factor for a few guys. So I'm going to go with his young, healthy new two and say Brandin Cooks with around 80 receptions or so. I think Hogan's role will be similar – 30 or so catches – with probably a lower yards per catch compared to last fall. Based on numbers and depth he may also have an increased role in the kicking game, which was one of his strengths in Buffalo.

Andy Hart

Everyone assumes that the Patriots will franchise Jimmy G. next year and either keep him (which probably means that TB12 is moved on) or trade him. The thinking is that BB would not invest over $30 million in one position because of Brady's salary and the franchise tag for QBs at around $22 million which would go to Jimmy G. Under this scenario, someone has to go, either Jimmy G or TB. My question is why wouldn't Belichick offer Jimmy G a two-year contract now worth $22 million. This would be a significant bump in pay for Jimmy this year and he would be no worse off with a two-year, fully-guaranteed $22 million contract because it would net out the same but stretched over two years.  From the Patriots perspective, this would give them immense flexibility. They would be investing less money next year in one position, they would be able to free up the franchise tag for a different player, such as Malcolm Butler, and it could give them an additional year with Brady that is cap manageable, again because you are spreading the $22 million over two years. It seems like a win-win. I believe the Patriots have the cap space to take on an extra $11 million hit this year. I'm sure Jimmy G. wouldn't mind being the most highly paid back up QB this year either.

Alan Bernstein

This is by no means a crazy idea, Alan. The one issue might be with Garoppolo agreeing to such a deal and potentially extending his time stuck behind Brady on the depth chart. He's made it clear he wants to start. He will either have that chance or a huge contract next year. If he's stuck under the franchise tag, that's one thing. But I'm not sure he'd want to willingly lock himself into New England any longer than is currently required. Plus, he has limited injury risk this year given that he's likely to see limited playing time behind Brady. So the security of the contract you envision might not appeal to him enough to limit his future. Again, though, it's not a bad idea.

Andy Hart

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I know the Tom Brady concussion comments by his wife are going to get blown way up because it is Brady and the New England Patriots. However I have not heard anyone discuss that English is a second language for Gisele. The intent of what she said may not be the literal, medical translation we are all making it out to be. In the same quote she discusses the aggression of the sport which is not the cleanest use of her intent either. I believe what she was saying is it is a violent sport.

Bill Scott

You apparently need to start listening to PFW in Progress on Patriots.com radio because I brought up this point, at least worthy of discussion, on our show last week. Concussions and head injuries are clearly a hot-button topic. They are also not always defined or discussed properly, even by those whose first language is English. I'll be honest, I've actually been surprised how quiet the Brady concussion story has gone since Gisele's comments. I thought it would get blown up more than it has been. In the end, I don't think much will come of it.

Andy Hart

Hey guys. Have been listening to your podcast from out in Wisconsin for years. Have been a Patriots fan since the early 70s, and have a question to pick your brain about: What if the 2017 Patriots could do a Quantum leap back in time and bring back one of their all-time greats in their prime. Which one would you take? John Hannah or Andre Tippett? Maybe ask the fans to call in and vote. Go,Pats,Go!!! (I loved them both, but would take Hog-Hannah for this team.)

Hank Jensen

This is a perfect talk-radio question. It's also perfect for this year's Patriots team because I think many believe pass rusher and offensive line are New England's two biggest weaknesses or questions heading into the new season. I'll be honest, I'd go with Tippett. I would love to see his aggressive, violent style added to what looks to be an elite secondary. I've always wanted to see what Belichick would do with an elite pass rusher on his New England defense. But there is no question that sliding Hannah into the line mix, probably for Joe Thuney, would be a huge boon for Brady and the running game. Either guy would be a fun addition. But I'll stick with Tippett.

Andy Hart

I'm not sure what to make of Gisele Bündchen's comments about Tom Brady having suffered a concussion last year and multiple concussions through his career, and Brady's silence since then. Could this be a situation where Gisele is not a doctor and, in the same way that people say they have the flu when they have a heavy cold, is confusing sub-concussive symptoms with a full-blown diagnosable concussion? I guess every NFL player will have a sub-concussive symptom at some point without being officially diagnosed and listed on the injury report; is that accurate?

On his silence, we all saw what happened when he gave the press conference about footballs which led to Deflategate, so could he be following the Abraham Lincoln quote "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt"? If he gave a press conference, there would be numerous things for the media to seize or question him about, so isn't it better to let Don Yee and the NFLPA give statements and stay out of the public eye?

David Beckett

I agree with almost all of this email. I think taking medical information from a wife or mother can be a bit risky. I think they are biased and look out for their husband/son more so than anything else in the world. I think it can lead to these types of issues. I also don't believe Brady should have a press conference. That would only extend the story and potentially muddy the water. His agent issued a statement. Let that stand. Brady could issue his own, if he wanted to. Either way, he's going to be asked about the topic the first time he speaks with the media, whenever that happens to be. He can address it then and move on. As I said earlier, I'm actually pleasantly surprised with how quickly this story has seemingly died down. I hope it stays that way.

Andy Hart

I was thinking that Pats would draft a linebacker. We have Hightower, an awesome but often injured starter, and 3 players sharing the snaps next him. Freeny is awful and some unproven UDFA. Wouldn't make sense go for DeAndre Levy? He has his injuries problems, but would be a good starter if healthy. A low-risk, high-reward player.

Gregorio Ladeira

Levy's injury history is probably the biggest concern right now for any team that might be interested. He missed most of the last two seasons with knee and hip issues. He had to have knee surgery as recently as early April. He'll probably need to get healthy and prove himself worthy of a roster spot before any team is willing to sign him. Certainly the Patriots have some depth questions at linebacker. But right now, Levy's health probably makes him more a risk than a reward. If/when he gets healthy I would certainly consider adding him to the mix given his impressive track record. That said, Hightower, Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Jonathan Freeny, Harvey Langi and maybe even some Rob Ninkovich is not exactly a bare cupboard at the position.

Andy Hart

I don't remember a single year when Brady played behind a "wall" of an offensive live. It was always a mixed group with some studs and weak links who allowed him to get seriously rattled if not concussed, and I wonder if taking big hits and being slammed to the turf every game, every year is a recipe for playing till 45, and if BB is very cognizant of that?

J.T.

Brady has been one of the most durable, consistent quarterbacks in the game since he took over the starting job in 2001. I agree that he's never played behind a line that was among the best in the game. Even in 2007, when Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen went to the Pro Bowl, I thought the unit rode the wave of offensive success more than imposed its will on defenders. Bill Belichick has seen everything you and I have seen over the years. He's well aware of – and I believe honestly assesses – his team's strengths and weaknesses each year. Asking a 40-year-old quarterback to take a pounding isn't a great plan. But Brady has proven himself different than most. If he gets hurt moving forward it may be due to issues on the line. It may be due to 16-plus years of pounding and age. It may be bad luck. It could be anything. Sure, the Patriots would love to have him play behind the Cowboys line. But that's not reality. New England, Belichick and Brady will make the best out of what they have. And that's worked pretty well for nearly two decades.

Andy Hart

Hey how are you doing today? I have a couple questions. With Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen having injury problems in the past do you think we will sign someone like Gary Barnidge or Ladarius Green? My next question is do you think we will sign a veteran OL that's left in free agency and my last question is with the age of Rob Ninkovich do you think we will sign more pass rushers?

Akim Gibson

Great, thanks for asking. I can't see the Patriots signing Green, who has seemingly severe concussion concerns, or Barnidge. I think the team is willing to let James O'Shaughnessy and Matt Lengel battle it out for the No. 3 depth spot and special teams work. As for your other two queries, I would not rule out the addition of a veteran at offensive line or pass rusher in the coming weeks and months. That could come via free agency, but could also come via trade. As we get nearer and into training camp and teams assess their positions of need vs. depth, surplus-for-surplus trades become a much greater possibility. Maybe New England could trade a running back for a lineman/pass rusher. Maybe.

Andy Hart

Your pics of May 18 practice made one surprising impression, how mature most of the players who are only in their 20s look. There are very few if any "baby faces" even among the rookies. Also, many of them are not only BIG but appear a bit out of shape. Are the players expected to exercise during the off-season?

Sam B.

I can't really comment on the mature look of the players, maybe they just grow up faster these days! I don't think too many of them are out of shape, though. While I haven't seen them practice yet, the rookies have spent the last six months getting in shape for the combine, team workouts, pro days and everything else leading up to the draft. They may not be in "football shape" but most are probably in the best testing shape of their lives. If you are talking about more veteran players, they indeed are pretty much expected to be in shape year round. Long gone are the days when football players showed up to training camp and used that time to get in shape. Today things are too competitive for the players and the teams for that to work. They are working to get better just about 52 weeks a year.

Andy Hart

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I always get a kick out of your PFW Debate on Fridays! In the most recent one you asked who will be TB12's go-to target this coming season, but you left off 1 name! "The guy that's OPEN!" I've heard him say this many times in the past and that's who will be the top receiver this year! My question is if Gronk can stay healthy for all 16 games, do you think it's possible for him to get 100 catches?

Gary Abrams

Yes, Brady has said that his favorite target is the guy who's open. That's nice in theory, but on the field he obviously has favorites. Of late that means, when healthy, Julien Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. Guys have to work their way into Brady's circle of trust and favorites. That's something that Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan seemed to do on some level last fall. We all will wait to see how well and quickly Brandin Cooks is able to do it. In theory, Gronkowski is certainly capable of catching 100 passes in a healthy, 16-game season. (Gronkowski did have 90 catches even with Wes Welker notching 122 receptions in 2011.) But the depth and versatility of the Patriots passing attack make that really unlikely this fall. There is no need for Brady to force it to Gronkowski – who teams will game plan for – more than six times a game when guys like Edelman, Mitchell, Hogan, Cooks, James White and others are options to turn to with proven ability to contribute. It is going to be interesting to see how Brady's 600-plus pass attempts are divided up this fall. It's a great "problem" to have – only one football and so many receivers.

Andy Hart

Why did the Pats not go after Brandon Marshall? We definitely have great receivers but Marshall is a beast.

Paul Shelton

The Patriots have plenty of depth and no real room for Marshall. Personally, I've never been a big fan. Maybe it's a coincidence he's never played in the playoffs. Maybe it's not. I'll take my chances with the stacked group of targets Brady has to work with and wish Marshall luck with the Giants and his New York-based TV career.

Andy Hart

Gisele said that Brady had a concussion "last year." Why does everyone think it must have happened last season? I think the January loss to Denver is more likely time - he took a beating and there was no reporting period after the Patriots were eliminated.

Herb Whitney

Toronto

This was a common response to Gisele's comments and a legitimate possibility if he did indeed have a concussion. It's also quite possible that he never had a diagnosed concussion, as his agent stated, and that his wife didn't articulate her point properly. Either way, I hope it's water under the offseason bridge.

Andy Hart

I have to ask the conspiracy theory question. With the latest Tom Brady buzz is this another opportunity to the league to punish the Patriots and Brady? Will they suspend him because he may have had a concussion that he did not report?

Greg Findlay

That seems highly unlikely. The league issued a statement last week that stated: "We have reviewed all reports relating to Tom Brady from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and certified athletic trainer spotters who worked at Patriots' home and away 2016 season games as well as club injury reports that were sent to the league office. There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms. Today we have been in contact with the NFLPA and will work together to gather more information from the club's medical staff and Mr. Brady. The health and safety of our players is our foremost priority and we want to ensure that all our players have and continue to receive the best care possible."

It sounds like there is no evidence that Brady had a concussion. (Insert Deflategate/Wells Report scoff here!) As such, I can't see this story being much more than a talking point moving forward and even that should dissipate once Brady talks to the media at some point this summer and puts an end to the questions.

Andy Hart

In regards to Blount, do you think Patriots not making a big push for him was because of his age or the evolution of what the Pats are trying to do next season? I feel like they will be running a lot of hurry-up offense in the upcoming season.

Hunter Oleson

I think it all boils down to value. Running backs beyond the age of 30 have a limited value. So do guys who averaged 3.9 yards per carry while working with one of the NFL's elite passing attacks. And coming off a 299-carry season could also be seen as a negative. The Patriots got younger, more versatile and more explosive at running back. My guess is that early on they would have taken Blount back at their price, but at some point New England moved on to other options. Blount's limited value was the reality of his lot in life based on all the factors.

Andy Hart

As you guys know by now, the latest news on Tom Brady is this concussion narrative indicated by his wife, Gisele. We all understand football is a rough sport but based on my observation, (and I watch and scrutinize every Patriots game including replays on DVR), it seems Brady has maintained all his faculties during every game that I witnessed last season. And, of course, the media is going to put up a big stink on this subject, but do you believe there is some truth to this story or do you think the wife just simply wants Tom to retire and be with his family?

Patrick Yaskel

First, watching the game is not even close to proof that Brady never had a concussion. They are tough to diagnosis, display in different ways and can vary based on so many factors. While I've read a few high-horse commentaries with people up in arms about Brady not coming out to discuss the situation, it's actually faded pretty fast. I don't know if there is any truth to it or not. I don't know what Gisele was specifically trying to say. I can't imagine she would say anything in an effort to force Brady to retire. I really can't imagine any happily-married spouse sabotaging their mate that way. She clearly would like him to retire, he said as much at the Super Bowl. But, she also has to respect what is important to her husband and support him as a wife. I won't assume that she's doing anything other than exactly that and maybe just misspoke or failed to properly articulate her point.

Andy Hart

I believe that there is no way that Carr can be cut. Do you believe that Austin Carr could be the next big star in New England? Thanks for all the hard work.

Jesus Fernandez

I would expect Carr to be cut and potentially spend the year on the Patriots practice squad. It's simply a numbers' game. New England has a stocked receiver depth chart with Edelman, Cooks, Amendola, Hogan and Mitchell. There simply may not be room for an undrafted developmental rookie. As for his long-term status, it's hard for me to comment on that before I've seen him practice in New England at least once. He had a great breakout final year at Northwestern. He's a little different build and skillset than the typical Patriots slot receiver. He's an impressive young man. But he has a lot to prove and I'm not sure he can do that fast enough to win a roster spot at a crowded position as a rookie.

Andy Hart

Which combination of skill players are we likely to see most of in 2017. My guess is Gronk, Burkhead, Edelman, Cooks, Mitchell. I realize it will be close with the Patriots backups being able to form a pretty good offense.

Elvis Fifo

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels loves to change personnel and use all his players. I expect he'll do that a lot in 2017 given the versatility and the depth of the talent he has to work with. I expect that Edelman, Cooks and Gronkowski will be very high on the play-time lists when healthy. Otherwise, I think the likes of Burkhead, Dwayne Allen, Mike Gillislee, James White, Mitchell, Hogan and Amendola will have chances to shine at various points throughout the year in key contributing roles. As I said earlier, it's going to be fun watching how McDaniels and Brady utilize all the talent they have at their disposal in 2017.

Andy Hart

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If we use the tag on Garoppolo next year, what will he make as a backup GB? Or Butler, how can we keep both and at what cost? What would we get if one leaves in comp if anything?

Ken Foote

The official franchise tag numbers won't be set for 2018 until next February. In 2017, the quarterback franchise tag was just under $21.6 million. The number for cornerback was just under $15.1 million. The numbers will likely be in that ballpark with a slight increase next year. You can only tag one player. So whichever guy doesn't get tagged would need to sign a long-term contract or will hit free agency. If either leaves, he will likely get a huge contract and role on a new team, making it likely the Patriots would get a high compensatory pick in return, possibly after the third round depending on what New England does elsewhere in free agency.

Andy Hart

I have been wondering about this for a while now. When the score is "basically out of reach" for the opposing team, why doesn't BB put in Garoppolo, and take Brady out for the rest of the game? This will in turn, gain Garoppolo some playing time, and also keep Brady from possibly getting injured in a "meaningless" game, with the score heavily in Patriots favor.

Ron Dionne

Historically this is not something that Belichick has done with Brady. The quarterback has always said he wants to finish games and the coach has always seemed to err on the side of worst-case-scenario in regards to possible opponents' comebacks. But I think this could change this fall and you might just see more of Garoppolo for some of the reasons you stated. It would keep him fresh, let the aging Brady rest/stay healthy and also keep the backup's name out there as a possible trade option down the road. Only time will tell if this scenario is treated differently in 2017, but I think that might be the case. Stay tuned this fall.

Andy Hart

Greetings from San Diego. Awesome work that you guys do for us Pats fans. My question happens to be a complex one, given that the patriots handed out a massive contract to a cornerback that isn't better than Malcolm Butler, (5yr-$65 million dollar contract). Do you think Stephon Gilmore will be a bust like A. Thomas in 2007? Given with the early free agency reports would you have rather preferred having Richard Sherman? Do you think in the 2018 free agency period that could still be a possibility for the Pats to trade for? Thank you for your time.

Louis Alvarez

While I do think Gilmore faces really high expectations and pressure based on his huge contract, I do not think he'll be a bust. At worst I think he'll be a good, productive cornerback on what should be a very good overall secondary. At best I think you could see him really shine on a new team with new teammates in a new environment. He has all the tools to remain a Pro Bowler and everything around him – from coaching to teammates' talent -- should be better than it was in Buffalo. I like the youth and versatility of Gilmore. I think Sherman's best days may be behind him. Still, I wouldn't close the door on Sherman. Depending on how things work out with Butler over the next year the Patriots could be in line for a veteran cornerback next offseason. Revisiting reported trade talks with the Seahawks for Sherman would not be a bad idea to replace a potentially-departing Butler next spring.

Andy Hart

Anything new on the 'trick kicker' they tried out? Since he hasn't been NFL-tested, he wouldn't replace Gostkowski, but I can imagine many situations where he would complement him. The only way to find out if he's for real is for someone to give him a chance, and I believe Belichick has a fondness for kickers who can offer a little something extra, like the ability to throw. Maybe the guy's a flash in the pan, but if he could be a game-changing secret weapon, isn't it worth the risk to sign him?

Jeff Faria

I have not seen or heard anything about the trick-shot kicker, Josh Gable, since his reported tryout. The team is currently at the 90-man roster limit. I thought New England would have a young kicker on the roster to push Gostkowski coming off his poor 2016 season and maybe lay the foundation in case a change had to be made at some point down the road. I don't, however, think Belichick would bring a kicker in for his tricks and versatility. The goal would be to find a guy who can hit field goals, PATs and kickoffs at an elite level in the NFL. If Gable can't do that, then all the tricks in the world are somewhat meaningless. So far he hasn't found someone willing to take a shot on his skills.

Andy Hart

Hey guys. I am a fan from Brazil and I'm planning to visit Boston next month. How far is Foxborough from Boston? What is the best way to get there? Can I visit Gillette Stadium and the Patriots Pro Shop in the offseason? Sorry for the non-football question. Thank you!

Arthur Ribeiro

It's about 30 miles from Boston to Foxborough. The best way for you to get here would probably be rental car. Otherwise taxi or Uber. You can visit the Patriots Pro Shop, Patriot Place's stores/restaurants and the team museum, The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon, any day. And while you won't be able to go inside of Gillette unless there is a game/concert, you can get a pretty cool view of the stadium and field from the plaza just outside stadium. It's a pretty fun experience for any Patriots fan.

Andy Hart

Hey guys, I'm curious to hear your assessment of our linebackers other than Dont'a Hightower. Personally, I really think Elandon Roberts has potential to be a great player in our system. I know he struggles a lot in coverage, but let's not forget that Dont'a Hightower was a disaster in coverage in his rookie year, and has since improved immensely in that regard. If Roberts can make a similar jump, I think he can be a special player considering how well he stuffs the run as a rookie. I understand that Roberts is not nearly the prospect that Hightower was, and that Hightower is more athletic, but I have high hopes for the kid. Unfortunately, once you get past Roberts and Hightower, our linebacker group seems pretty unimpressive. I was very disappointed in Shea McClellin, who seemed to fill a variety of roles (on the edge, and off the ball both inside and outside) without doing any of them particularly well. I really don't have much to say about Kyle Van Noy, who seemed to totally disappear in a lot of games. For some reason, I get the feeling that only one of the McClellin-Van Noy tandem makes the team, and I'm interested to hear which of the two you guys would prefer. I'd also like to hear your thoughts on Elandon Roberts' potential and whether or not I'm being overly optimistic about his future.

Ben Offen

I do think you are being overly optimistic about Roberts. I think he was a nice story last year. I think he's a run-first player with limitations in any role beyond that. Ideally I think he's a backup/role player. But, I will be watching closely to see the jump he makes heading into his second training camp and season. I pretty much share your feelings on McClellin. He did a lot of things and filled a variety of roles, but I don't feel like he really excelled in any area. Van Noy was a bit more productive in my mind and is the better player of the two. I don't think he's going anywhere and really it would seem like a decent chance that both guys will be kept around for depth roles and their versatility. I am intrigued to see what Harvey Langi, the undrafted rookie out of BYU, brings to the field. Most seem to feel he has a shot to make the roster. At this point I wouldn't bet against it.

Andy Hart

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