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Ask PFW: Assessing the comings and goings

New England has seen plenty of players come and go over the first week of the new league year and that’s left Ask PFW writers with plenty of questions about the defending AFC champs.

Hi guys. I have a question about the trade for Cordarelle Patterson. With a 2018 cap hit of over 3 million, do you think that Coach Belichick envisions a bigger role for Patterson other than special teams? The Patriots completely eliminated Patterson as a kick returner in the 2017 game against the Raiders. The new NFL rules have really devalued the kick returner. I have to believe Coach sees a potential playmaker on offense in Patterson. Do you agree? Thank you.

Gary Madera

East Hanover, NJ

Patterson is an interesting guy. He has elite speed and playmaking ability as a kickoff returner. He can scare people on some catch-and-runs or jet sweeps, but really isn't a consistent weapon for an offense. He has an eye-opening statistic in that he's averaged more yards per rush in his career (10.3 avg.) than on receptions (10.0 avg.). Now, he's obviously had about four-times as many catches and rushes, including 30-plus in four of five seasons, but the reality is that he's just not a consistent, reliable option on offense. So, his first role in his new home with the Patriots will likely be returning and covering kicks. As far as the rules devaluing kickoff returners, that's true. But the Patriots do a better job of that against guys like Patterson than a lot of other teams seem to be able to. I still think Patterson can be a weapon on kickoffs – he has five career TDs and a 30.2 avg. – especially in games late in the year in Foxborough where teams aren't going to be able to drive it through the end zone or even control it short. Certainly $3 million is nothing to sneeze at, but a team like the Patriots consistently pays guys similar money to play primarily special teams and that's an area where Patterson has and can excel. And I think he'll be a complementary player on offense.

Andy Hart

With the recent free agent signings I feel excited as ever for next season. How do you think Jeremy Hill will fit in? Personally I was a big fan of Burkhead when he was able to play last season and healthy and think he could be the main back like Lewis was last season. What are your thoughts on the running back situation and how it will work out? Another interesting signing was Tobin from the Eagles. I don't know much about him but was wondering if he was starting material. What would you think about moving Cannon to left tackle to protect the blindside while moving someone else (for example Waddle if we can re-sign him) to right tackle? Do you think Clayborn can be a big contributor given he had six sacks in one game and only 3.5 the rest of the season? What should be the focus in the first two rounds? I know it's a lot of questions but I'm a huge fan of the Pats and this column. Thanks for what you do!

Logan Morrison

There are a lot of questions here, but I think this email is probably symbolic of what many fans are feeling. Hill is a guy that kind of follows the LeGarrette Blount career path. He's a big back with some fumbling issues who had 1,000 yards as a rookie but hasn't done much since. He can punch it into the end zone but also has been well under 3 yards a carry for most of his career. We know Belichick has a long history of liking big backs. He now has another to add to his committee approach. If Burkhead can stay healthy – a big if for him – I don't mind the trio of him, Hill and James White as the passing back. That doesn't even take into account Gillislee, who might be given the chance to redeem himself in camp to fight for a roster spot. In terms of tackle, I don't see former Eagle and Seahawk Matt Tobin as much more than a versatile backup option. He's played more guard than anything in his career and I can't really envision him suddenly becoming a starting left tackle for one of the NFL's best passing attacks. Of course I don't feel much better about a lot of the other options. I don't think either Cam Fleming or LaAdrian Waddle is that type of player, either. Marcus Cannon is the best player in the group, but it's been quite clear over the years his best position is by far right tackle. Moving him to the left side would probably leave the Patriots worse off at two separate line spots. I'm not a huge fan of that idea. And I probably like the Clayborn addition the most. I think defensive end was the team's biggest need before the Solder departure. The team had rotating bodies there last year and it didn't work. Clayborn is a proven, starting-caliber veteran. New England lacked those types of guys last year. He's far from an elite pass rusher but can be solid against the pass and the run. That's a nice start to trying to solidify the front seven moving forward, but the work is far from done. And thanks for reading!

Andy Hart

With the uncertainty of Gronk returning or even as complementary pieces should BB be taking a serious look at Eric Ebron or Celek to shore up our TE position?

Stacy Hanson

Rob Gronkowski's potentially uncertain future is tough to assess. If he returns, the tight end position looks like it did last fall when it was good enough. If he doesn't or he gets hurt, it's a major need. Ebron already signed with the Colts. The durable 33-year-old Celek is well past his prime and has had limited catches in recent years. But if Belichick thinks there is a chance Gronkowski will not play this fall, or if he wants to cover himself for a potential injury-shortened season for the All-Pro, he probably would be smart to add a body to the depth chart with either a low-priced veteran or a draft pick with upside. Really, though, the ball is in Gronk's court.

Andy Hart

Do you think the Pats will bring back FA TE M. Bennett? He was a great fit in the Pats system & D. Allen is not.

Jack Connolly

Another backup tight end question. Bennett had talked about retiring but then was also trying to figure out a way to play with his brother, Michael, in New England. That obviously didn't work out. The longer he's unemployed, the cheaper he would probably be. I'll never close a door on his return, especially since he's already joined the Patriots twice in his career and did seem to fit pretty well in the offense and with his teammates. As for Dwayne Allen, there is no question his impact was disappointing last year, especially in terms of receptions. There is also no doubt he's going to have to take a pay cut to stay on the roster as he's not staying with a $5 million cap hit or a $4.5 million salary. I wouldn't be surprised if that happens at some point.

Andy Hart

How do you think people would rate Tom Brady coming out of college now? His lack of mobility was highlighted in 2000, nowadays it's practically a must. Plus the fact many of the things that make him great now like the way he reads the field and the work he does pre-snap a) he developed as a pro and b) aren't prevalent in the college game as a lot of the offenses are read two routes and throw to a or b. I think he'd go Undrafted if Michigan Tom was in the 2018 draft. Also, do you think we'll see a change in offense once Tom goes? Obviously we don't expect anyone to draft the next GOAT but so many college influences have made their way into the pro game now like bootlegs and options, the Patriots offense is almost like a throwback, do you expect the Pats to move with the times or try to find a guy who can stand tall in the pocket, feel the rush coming and drop a dime under pressure?

Alex Marr

I think Brady would be rated similar today as he was then. He was a relatively productive guy with limited physical skills in terms of mobility, arm strength, etc. But given the lack of QBs and need to find them, I still think he'd get his shot as a late pick out of a conference not known for its passing. Heck, he might even go higher. Certainly the Patriots offense will be different after Brady. It will change based on the next quarterback as well as based who the coach is. Heck, we saw the offense look different with Jimmy Garoppolo playing over his time in New England. If the next QB is Mason Rudolph it won't look the same as it would if it were Lamar Jackson or even Kyle Lauletta. I think the Patriots are on the lookout for the best available QB, not the next Brady, Garoppolo or even Brissett, the last guy they drafted at the position.

Andy Hart

Put this in the bank: BB will draft QB Lauletta with a 4th round comp pick. And he will be the third-best QB drafted by BB after Brady and Jimmy G. Who would you draft at QB?

Pascal S.

I'm not in love with Lauletta as most seem to be, even if he did once play lacrosse and has ties to Navy. While I'm still processing it all, I kind of like the idea of Mike White out of Western Kentucky. I think the most fun option would be Lamar Jackson. I would love to see how Josh McDaniels would put his unique skills to use. But I'll remember your Lauletta guarantee when I'm watching him in training camp practice next summer.

Andy Hart

I am concerned (and I bet Brady is too) with what's going on with LT. Tobin, Colston, Garcia cannot protect Brady. Patriots MUST sign Waddle and also Fleming, and if they lose Fleming, then they must use one of the top 2-3 picks on LT. Are you concerned with what's going on with LT?

Jeremy Buffet

Please tell me you have a brother named Jimmy! As I said earlier, I don't have a lot of faith in the left tackle depth chart right now, even if the team re-signs Waddle and/or Fleming. Garcia might have the most upside of the group but after missing his rookie season as a mid-round pick and losing a lot of weight while dealing with reported blood clots in his lungs he is fighting an uphill battle to a year two jump to becoming a trusted starting left tackle. Don't forget about Andrew Jelks, who was once considered a top prospect at Vanderbilt before missing the last three seasons due to a twice-torn ACL. I often like to calm the masses when responding to these types of questions. But I'm going to be honest, I have no idea who is going to play left tackle and I don't really like any of the options right now. Again, I'm just being honest. But, as Belichick likes to point out, there is a long time between now and when his team has to play a meaningful game. So stay tuned.

Andy Hart

I don't know why the contracts of David Harris, Jacoby Brissett and Connor McDermott have incurred dead money that counts towards the Patriots salary cap. Harris retired, so doesn't that mean that any financial obligations are forfeited as a result? Brissett and McDermott were traded and claimed off waivers, respectively, so doesn't this mean those teams take on all of the players financial obligations and contract guarantees? Are the websites that take dead money into account wrong, or are the rules about dead money different than my interpretation of dead money in these cases?

Mackenzie Kirkey

Dead money is incurred via bonus money paid out that is then spread out for cap purposes over the life of the contract. Teams that trade for or claim players acquire the future of the contract – future salaries, bonuses and incentives – not the ramifications of past bonuses paid out. That's why a team that loses a player has an acceleration on its cap that results in dead money. If a player retires a team can pursue a portion of the signing bonus and a salary cap credit, but that is a very rare occurrence. Dead money is, in many ways, the cost of doing business at times.

Andy Hart

When BB used to trade his top players in the last year of their contract for picks, people called it "genius". Well, is Garoppolo for a 2d-round pick "genius"? Anyway, "Trader Bill" is also doing the reverse – trading picks for players including lately for contract-ending players. Do you agree with this "rental" strategy based on the results it produced so far? In my view, only Cooks was a fair deal.

Stan C.

The trade market is one that has had its ups and downs over the years for Belichick, something he even pointed out at the Super Bowl in regards to losing the Chad Ochocinco trade with the Bengals. Last year's trades for Kony Ealy, Dwayne Allen and Cooks weren't great. The Cassius Marsh trade was putrid. I don't hate the rental strategy in theory. I was hoping Ealy would have a big contract year. He never got that chance. I don't love the idea with a guy like Cooks, though. If you trade a first-round pick for a player I think you need to get more than two years out of him. There is a contract decision coming with Cooks and based on last year it's hard to envision the Patriots offering him a market-level deal. That hurts the value of that trade big time. I still think Belichick has won far more trades than he's lost, even if things haven't been as great of late.

Andy Hart

Who do you expect to become the new defensive coordinator?

Peter Roozen

At some point in the near future, I expect linebackers coach Brian Flores will be the Patriots defensive coordinator. It's been reported this offseason that Flores, who's called the defenses at times in the preseason, will handle those duties this coming fall with Matt Patricia having moved on to the Lions. He reportedly will not get the coordinator title, though. It's a transition process that Belichick has used in the past for the jobs with guys like Patricia and on the offensive side with Bill O'Brien. But sooner or later Flores seems destined for the job and the title.

Andy Hart

What do you think of Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State and do you think the Patriots snag him with the 49ers pick?

Myles Geoghegan

Rudolph is an interesting guy. He's more of a traditional quarterback in terms of his size and passing ability. He put up huge numbers in college. And I think that New England will indeed consider taking a quarterback in the early rounds. Will that be Rudolph? Will it be with 49ers pick? I can't answer those and anyone who pretends they can is selling you a bill of goods.

Andy Hart

Hello. Huge Patriots fan from China. I agree that coach BB is great, while I kind of believe he lost respect within the team since there was still no explanation on why he benched Butler in the SB. Yes, money talks on FA market, while I don't really think Solder, Lewis and Amendola all left just looking for higher salary only.

John Shen

This has been a theory making the rounds over the last week -- that the free agent departures were motivated by some discontent more than money. I think Belichick made a bad decision in the Super Bowl. My guess is that some players feel that way too. But I don't think it's such a bad locker room or level of "lost respect" that guys are running away from Foxborough. All the guys you mention, and Butler, got really good contracts relative to their situations. In sports, money almost always matters more than anything else. I also think the idea that guys have taken less to stay in New England over the years is overblown. I've seen guys like Hightower and Devin McCourty listed as examples of that and I couldn't disagree more. Both guys got big contracts, and in Hightower's case probably much more than he could have gotten on the market after a few free agent visits. There may be issues in New England. Maybe the Super Bowl added to that. But I don't think it's the reason these guys left as free agents. Money talks.

Andy Hart

Although many are casting doom and gloom on the Pats, I'm not overly concerned.  However, the loss of Nate Solder is a bit disconcerting, I believe trader Bill will find an adequate replacement. With that said, what do you think about the Pats making a trade with Cleveland for the rights of Joe Thomas? Of course the Pats would have to coax Thomas out of retirement first. Cleveland has been a friendly trade partner and Thomas has made past positive comments about Brady and the Pats. It would also give Thomas a chance of winning, which he has never experienced. Sounds like a perfect fit for both sides to me. Thanks for all the great coverage of the Pats, whom I've been a fan of for 32 years.

Mel Buford


I have joked that many New Englanders retire to Florida, it would be nice if Thomas retired to New England. I'm all for it. With seemingly limited traditional options to fill the void at left tackle I'm all for these more creative plans. I don't think it's likely to happen, but I appreciate the effort. Fingers crossed and we can dream, right?

Andy Hart

Hello from little RI. I just wanted to ask if you guys see Jason McCourty becoming the #2 corner at the start of this season. I personally see us drafting a CB in the 1st and with Cyrus Jones returning, our CB situation is starting to look competitive.

Hector Rivera

I would not rule out drafting a cornerback, maybe even with the first-round pick. You can never have enough good, cost-effective cover guys. I do think McCourty will compete for a "starting" job, although Belichick's game plan/matchup style could see them both starting in various weeks. Whether he's a starter or not, I think J-Mac (as he's goes by on the twin brothers' combined Twitter account) is a solid addition who will very much help the back end. I'm not as high on the depth, though, if Jones is part of the picture. He's shown me nothing over his two seasons, when healthy, to prove that he's ready to compete as a top-3 cornerback for a team. And now he's coming off a torn ACL, which won't exactly help his chances to break out in his third season.

Andy Hart

Can we please stop saying that the Patriots value special teams more than the rest of the league. First Malcolm Butler played on special teams in the biggest game of the year, for the first time all year. No recent experience, no expertise. Why? Also Patriots special teams were completely outplayed in the Super Bowl. From field position to the kicking game, it was a terrible performance. I really think the Patriots would be better off building roster depth instead of keeping multiple designated ST players - Slater, Ebner, King, Bolden, stop the madness.

Matt Driscoll

I think you contradicted yourself in one short email. Just because the Patriots weren't very good on special teams in one game in the Super Bowl doesn't mean they don't value the third phase as much or more than other teams. They do. I have had too many players come from other teams and tell me how the kicking game is treated differently/emphasized more in the New England for me to ignore it. And you acknowledge that they keep more special teams-only players (some at a pretty high cost) than most teams do. Belichick does care about the kicking game. A lot. And it's worked for him for a long time. Even if it didn't work out on Super Bowl Sunday.

Andy Hart

There has been lots of talk about discord in the Pat's locker room, particularly since the Super Bowl and the benching of Butler. Do you think Edelman's presence in the locker room was missed this year and do you think he return will help to settle things?

Chris Guay

As I said earlier, I'm not sure anyone knows if there is any "discord" in the Patriots locker room and if there is, how much there is. But Edelman would certainly help any team both on the field and in the locker room. He's a very good player and a unique, positive personality. Both aspects of his game will be very much welcomed back in 2018.

Andy Hart

Question re a SB52 non-call: hindsight is certainly 20/20, but can you give us some insight into whether BB, Matt Patricia and the coaching staff considered calling a timeout when the Eagles shifted into that strange offensive formation which led to the Foles TD catch? Seems like they got caught with their shorts down? It WAS 4th down and was a game change. Thanks.

Gene Sorbo

I was wondering the same thing at the time. It was sort of a slow-developing trick play and was somewhat obvious on some level, though the final result may not have been clear. That said, I never actually asked Patricia or anyone else about it and I haven't seen where they've answered that question. But it's one worth asking. Of course the time to ask it may have passed at this point. On a day of questionable coaching decisions, add that one to the list.

Andy Hart

It appears unlikely that Tom Brady will play forever. It also appears that San Francisco will give up Jimmy Garoppolo. It seems to me that now is the time to obtain a talented QB to be Brady's successor and to serve as a backup to an aging Brady. Why not use a 1st-round pick or a second-round pick to draft a QB and use a late round pick to draft a long shot. Also sign free agent Johnny Manziel. Have these three new QBs and Brian Hoyer fight it out in preseason. If two QBs look promising, keep 3 QBs for the season. After we win the Super Bowl next season, Brady can retire and the Patriots have the next Tom Brady on the roster. What do you think?

Gordon Rowlinson

"Unlikely," huh? Thanks for the laugh. While I think the Patriots may go after a quarterback in the draft – and I try never to say never – I feel confident saying they probably won't be signing Johnny Football. Sure the Patriots can minimize distractions well and give guys second chances. But in this case, with that player, I don't see it happening. I also can't see him fitting in with the Patriots offense. At all.

Andy Hart

I feel it's feasible for this year to be TB12's final year playing. If you look at the team the offense should continue to be great but the defense is not significantly upgraded as if yet. It would appear the Patriots would be a good bet to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl next year. If you look at the NFC contenders they are only looking stronger (Rams, Vikings, Eagles). If we go and lose, what does that do to TB12's legacy or is it more of a knock on BB?

Tim Bartlett

If they go to a ninth Super Bowl together but fall to 5-4 in those games? For me it makes their dynasty and run that much more remarkable. I think going to the Super Bowl is a huge challenge and achievement. But some, including the Globe's Ben Volin, seem to think it's better to lose earlier and fall short before the Super Bowl. That somehow that preserves a legacy. I guess there are different ways to look at it. The right way and that way.

Andy Hart

There will be the owners meeting and to the sport keeps growing, there are some thing I believe should be discussed, I would like your opinion:

1. End the limit of practice squads: teams should be able to carry as much players as they want, within their salary cap. This could give teams more "layers" and more opportunities to the players.

2. Full body pads: there are some injuries that will happen no matter what, but there are others like fractures that, with a full body equipment, that protect arms, legs, ankles, neck, could be avoided.

3. Agreement between teams for inactives: mainly in the beginning of the season, teams have a lot of healthy scratches, so, why not, before the game, teams agree how many players will be inactive?

4. Buy picks with cap space: this could add a new layer few GMs. If a team needs cap, could find with picks, and rebuilding teams could use it to get more picks, it's a win-win game.

5. Why not discuss if every player could use radios to communicate with coordinators and coaches? They already talk in the sideline. Use the same 20 second rule. This could make the game even more strategical and diminish the mistakes.

6. One thing that I would like to see in Pats jerseys would be little Super Bowl patches that we won. Would be awesome to always remember our rivals every time who is the boss.

Gregorio Ladeira

While I am not usually a fan of change in any aspect of my life, I like the effort that goes into these ideas. There are potential issues with many of them, though. The practice squad issue is a solid idea that would give more guys a chance to develop and it would be interesting to see how different teams used the option. I also wonder what the NFLPA and owners would think about it. The pads idea isn't terrible and striving toward better equipment is a part of the future of football. Now, adding more equipment might get players to play more violently or aggressively and could be counterproductive. It might also hurt the players' ability to play at a high level with extra weight/limitations in movement/etc. I don't like the inactives idea. I think teams would try to manipulate it. It's not worth it. I also don't want to see anything like buying picks or trading cap space (although in some ways that's what the Browns and Texans did in the Brock Osweiler trade). That's too much like the NBA to me and I want to see the NFL keep a pretty hard cap. I also don't want the coaches talking to players more. I like having players play the game. I hate college where the coaches make all the calls and adjustments to the quarterbacks in the spread attacks. And I hate how coaches call all the pitches in college softball. Finally, I like the idea for the patches but I don't think we'll see it while Belichick is with the Patriots. He doesn't even have the team use the captains' patches the rest of the league wears. The Patriots and Steelers would have some pretty impressive jersey patch collections if it did happen, though.

Andy Hart

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