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Ask PFW: Anticipation builds for team-building

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag

There is a real possibility that the Patriots could lose [LT Nate] Solder, [OT LaAdrian] Waddle, [RB Dion] Lewis, [RB Rex] Burkhead, and [WR Danny] Amendola to free agency. In addition, [CB Malcolm] Butler is obviously gone and we await the status of [TE Rob] Gronkowski. That is potentially a lot of talent and production for a team to lose. Do you think that the Patriots will sign any of these free agents? Do you feel this ongoing mystery surrounding Gronkowski has irreparably damaged his relationship with [HC Bill] Belichick and lead to a Logan Mankins-type of ending? Thanks. Gary Madera, East Hanover, NJ

As of this posting, New England has 14 players scheduled to become free agents next Wednesday – 13 unrestricted free agents (those with four or more accrued NFL seasons) and 1 restricted (special teams contributor Brandon King). One player who was supposed to be on the UFA list has reportedly already re-signed with the Patriots on a 1-year deal (running back/special teamer Brandon Bolden). Looking at the full list, it's entirely possible that a majority of Bolden's other free agent teammates stays in Foxborough as well.

Butler, as you suggested, is the most likely to leave town, which is unfortunate. In my estimation, it's unlikely the team can keep both Lewis and Burkhead, so, at least one of them will likely find greener pastures. Keeping Solder would be ideal and not altogether unreasonable to expect, and while Amendola might receive considerable attention from other teams, money might not be enough to lure him away from a place and from teammates it seems he's grown to love.

Clearly, the biggest concern for the Patriots right now is a guy who's already under contract – Gronkowski. New England needs to know sooner rather than later whether he intends to continue playing football for a living, because if he doesn't, his loss could change the way the Patriots approach this crucial team-building period of the offseason. Erik Scalavino

With a draft loaded with quarterbacks, do you think Bill will trade up to get a QB like Josh Allen, take Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph with their 31st or 43rd pick, or wait and take a QB like Kyle Lauletta or Luke Falk?Connor Heim

If it was up to you guys at PFW to decide among yourselves, would you seriously find and draft Tom Brady's successor during this year's draft, or wait until 2019 or later? Would you guys draft a QB in 2018 even if you aren't assuming that this QB might become Tom Brady's successor?John Moore

Trying to guess what Belichick will do in any draft is a nearly futile exercise (although, I did accurately predict he'd take defensive end Derek Rivers with the team's top pick last April). Quarterback is obviously a position of some need, however, and there do seem to be a number of decent players available this year. What I don't expect is for the Patriots to take just any quarterback. If there's one they feel has enough developmental potential, like Jimmy Garoppolo back in 2014, they'll take him. If not, I could see them taking a pass (pardon the pun) on a QB this year. My sense, though, is that there will be a rookie quarterback drafted by New England next month – who and where remains up for debate.

Good quarterbacks are so difficult to find, which is why the team's decision to deal Garoppolo came as such a hard one for many supporters and analysts to justify. But now that he's no longer in the Patriots' plans, New England must try once again to win the lottery, so to speak, and find a prospect talented enough to take over, conceivably, when Brady calls it a career. This isn't a process that can be rushed or force-fed, however. If it were up to me and I didn't see such a player in this year's crop, I'd hold out until I did. But if there is such a player available this year, I'd do everything in my power to acquire him. Erik Scalavino

Hello from Utah/Broncos country. Being in Utah, I only see about a third of what you see. Why is there such love for Rex Burkhead? He seems like a good backup, but doesn't excel like Lewis and [James] White. Also, been hearing rumblings that [CB] Aqib Talib will be released. What do you think it will take to sign him? Lastly, I've been reading that all the QBs in this draft class are big followers of Tom Brady. Is there any chance that if the Patriots do pick one, they will be to star-struck to develop into the future QB? Thanks. Monty Borrowman

Burkhead was injured a couple times last season and missed significant time as a result, but when healthy was a productive player in this offense. I would not be at all surprised if he's back with the Patriots in a complementary role, as he was in 2017, but he opened some eyes with his play last season and could attract interest elsewhere, too.

Talib isn't available at the moment, but if someone of his caliber (and experience in this defense) were to be this offseason, it would seem like a great match for both parties.

And no, there'd be no concern whatsoever about a star-struck youngster at QB. Not saying they wouldn't be so at first, like Garoppolo admitted he was when he first got here, but that novelty wears off pretty quickly for most players. They learn that the "stars" are just people like the rest of us. Erik Scalavino

Hey, guys. Andover native here living in Los Angeles. Really love your show and appreciate what you guys do. Been listening for a long time now, and wanted to ask about off season free agency/draft decisions. I've been listening to all of your predictions and ideas circling the Patriots needs since the SB loss, and wanted to ask if you could give a priority list for positions that need attention and also include the platform of how you think the Patriots will fill such needs (FA or draft). Also if Gronk leaves, would TE take the first spot? Obviously it would be a series need, but not sure if it trumps the needs on Defense, considering the depth of our WRs. Thanks and sorry for the long ask, but been curious about this for a while. Take care and I look forward to listening. Matt Lee

For me, the needs start on defense, even if Gronk were to retire. What I saw in the Super Bowl was just an extension of problems that plagued the D throughout the season at various times: lack of pass rush, inconsistent pass coverage, and thin linebacker depth. So, that's the order I'd list them – pass rusher, cornerback, linebacker. Tight end would certainly become a need if Gronk is out of the picture, but not enough to trump the severity of the problems on defense. Erik Scalavino

Hi, guys. Is Gronk serious when speaking about retirement? I mean not just after the Super Bowl loss, when he was disappointed... but still now, not yet clearing the subject, saying he will return. It looks to me like a little game played with media to keep everybody on its toes. A little bet with Brady and Belichick to speak less of the Butler eviction or the supposed Brady/Kraft/Belichick fight?Ludovic Boisseau, Versailles, France

I don't know what's going on in Gronkowski's mind, but I certainly hope he isn't truly considering hanging up his cleats just yet. He's a joy to watch on the football field. I can understand why he might be contemplating it, however, given the inordinate amount of punishment his body has taken in the last decade. Erik Scalavino

Free agency will begin [next week] and with Bill being such a special teams junkie, should we take a look at Justin Bethel? Amazing special teamer in Arizona.Gregorio Ladeira

I'm always of the mind that you address your most important issues first and build your team from the starting lineup down. So, no, I would have little interest in pursuing a special teamer in free agency, especially considering how many such players New England already has at its disposal. Erik Scalavino

Even though Malcolm Mitchell didn't play a snap [in 2017], does his year still count towards his rookie contract or will it be extended a year due to his injury? Ryan Sylvestre

My understanding is that NFL contracts only toll (meaning to get extended a year) if a player's injury keeps him out of the final year of his contract. Mitchell was only in year two of a four-year rookie deal, so, nothing should change in his contract status. Erik Scalavino


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