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Ask PFW: Calm before the storm

From my point of view the biggest needs for the Pats are safety and linebacker. Sure there is some need at receiver and corner but I think those will be addressed with development and franchising Mr. Samuel. Against Indy I thought the corners played really well and the Colts passing game exposed our coverage up the middle (which was obviously not our first string talent). I'd like to see two linebackers and safety with their first three picks ... and secondly I think there is no question that Asante needs to be franchised if he can't be signed. My question is, are their any safeties worthy of a late first round pick (I'd be just as happy with two linebackers) or are there any of interest projected to be available in free agency?? Thanks, you guys do a great job and I look forward to your column every week.J. Hus

While I agree with your desire for an injection of talent at safety and linebacker, I do think more depth is also needed at corner. If the team does franchise Samuel or, even better, reaches a long-term agreement, I still think another talented young corner would be a nice addition to the secondary. While projecting the draft this far in advance is difficult I would love to see the Patriots go linebacker in the first round and it seems the likely candidate would be Ole Miss' Patrick Willis. At worst most believe he's going to be a solid two-down playmaker in the NFL with the size and ability to play inside in the 3-4. Others think his upside could make him a three-down, sideline-to-sideline player with the ability to be the foundation of the middle of a talented defense. Florida underclassman Brandon Siler is another inside linebacker to keep an eye on. Looking to the outside, I'd like to see the type of defensive end/OLB projection prospects that other teams have been able to develop in recent years. Guys that would fit into that class include another Gator, Jarvis Moss, as well as Purdue's Anthony Spencer and Notre Dame's Victor Abiamiri. At safety LSU's LaRon Landry and Florida's Reggie Nelson are both playmakers who could go in the top half of the first round, with Miami's Brandon Meriweather perceived as a late first rounder at this point. An interesting guy to keep an eye on is Texas' talented Michael Griffin. A strong safety for the Longhorns, Griffin could have the coverage abilities to move to the free spot in the NFL. He has all the measureables (6-0, 195, 4.48/40) to be a playmaker at the next level and could be a late first-round option.
Sitting at 24 and 28 in the first round, and a year removed from a draft that focused heavily on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots have a chance to restock the middle and back end of the defense in 2007 and potentially build a young foundation for the unit to grow on for years to come.
Andy Hart

What do you think about the 2 LBs the Giants dropped [Monday]? Does [LaVar] Arrington still have upside? How is his attitude and work ethic?Moses Ip

Arrington is and always will be a talented playmaker. His natural abilities are phenomenal, unfortunately he seems to try to get by on those alone. He has a reputation as a free lancing player who doesn't fit in well in a structured scheme, has had major Achilles' and knee injuries in recent years, is represented by the Postons, has questionable rehab habits and looks for big-money deals. Sounds like the anti-Patriot to me. As far as Carlos Emmons, he's a little older and has dealt with pectoral injuries over the last two seasons. He has experience in the 3-4 from early in his career but is probably more of a depth/backup option for the Patriots at this point and not the youthful, talented player the team should be targeting.
Andy Hart

It was great to watch the Pro Bowl with Coach Belichick and the staff working with all of the great players in the NFL. My question is do your think Coach Belichick would have been eying up Adalius Thomas from the Ravens because he is going to be a free agent this off-season? Adalius Thomas can anywhere on the football field and that is something that Coach Belichick loves from player. Adalius has played all of the 3-4 linebacker spots to he also played safety for the Ravens, they even lined him up at cornerback for one play. If we could re-sign Asante Samuel and sign a player like Adalius and with are draft picks we have, we would be a better team then last season.Big John Cavallo

I don't think there is any question Belichick spent time talking to Thomas and getting a better feel for him as a player and a person. Belichick has talked in the past about relationships he had with players after coaching them in the 1998 Pro Bowl when he filled in for Bill Parcells. Thomas has a very impressive package and resume to bring with him to free agency. He has the size, speed and athleticism to do a lot of different things for a defense. The only real downside is the fact that he'll be 30 during training camp so he is a little older than might be considered ideal for a top free agent target. That said, the Patriots have the money to pursue a player who could be extremely fun to watch under Belichick's defensive tutelage. And I totally agree that the team would be a formidable foe for most if it can re-sign Samuel and bring in Thomas. Unfortunately I'd be shocked if the team gets both those things done. Heck, on some level I'd feel pretty good to just get one of them done.
Andy Hart

I was wondering your thoughts on the Patriots drafting, Paul Posluszny from Penn State, and Reggie Nelson from Florida with are two first round picks? I have seen both players in the top 10 in some mock drafts, and sometimes around where the Patriots are drafting. I know it is a reach but I would love to see both players in Patriots colors next season.Amber Bennett

From what I've seen, I have two very different opinions on the two players you mentioned. I love Nelson and think he could be a pretty good playmaker in the league for years to come. Combine that with the Patriots needs and the fact that he comes from the Florida pipeline and I think he'd be a good pick. At this early point, though, it appears Nelson probably won't be around for either of the team's two first-round selections. And I don't think I'd be looking to trade up to get him, but that's just my opinion.
As for Posluszny, I am not a big fan. While I know he's probably going to be a first-round pick, I think he'll end up being a mid-round talent in the NFL. I don't think he makes as many game-changing plays as you might expect from a player with his reputation. I think he runs around blocks and I don't know that his game speed is up to NFL levels. I certainly don't think he fits in the Patriots system. To steal a line that PFW editor Paul Perillo (another overrated Paul P., but that's for another discussion) uses to describe great movies that he has no desire to see such as Gladiator and Braveheart, my feelings on Posluszny can be summed up in two words – no interest.
Andy Hart

How much of a run do you think the Pats will make at Lance Briggs if he happens to reach the free agent market?Nathan Demers

That's a big if. I don't think the Bears have any intention of allowing Briggs get away. If he does hit the waters many teams will be in the hunt of the four-year veteran who's never missed a game. Briggs is a very talented linebacker who has great speed, is very good in coverage and can make plays all over the field. But he's already said he doesn't have much of a desire to play in the 3-4, something he'd obviously have to do in New England. That said, he's good enough that I think the Patriots might try to persuade him to reconsider. And if Briggs does reach the open market, there will be plenty of teams lined up to throw plenty of money at him, so I don't think he'd have to settle to play in a system he doesn't really like. I wouldn't be buying those Briggs Patriots jerseys any time soon.
Andy Hart

Do you think there is any chance of the Patriots drafting Brian Leonard, the fullback from Rutgers? I think Leonard would be an excellent fit for the Patriots. He's the definition of a team player, as he was an All-American his junior year but sacrificed personal glory to block for Ray Rice and help Rutgers to its best season in school history. Not only does he embody the selfless, hard-working attitude the Patriots love, but he also could fill a big need at RB. I love Corey Dillon as much as anyone, but Leonard is a tremendous athlete and could be the "thunder" to Maroney's "lightning" for years to come. He's big (6'1 224 lbs), fast (has been timed at 4.47 in the 40) and has exceptional hands to make him a threat out of the backfield or as an H-back/Tight End. To me, Leonard has the total package: athleticism, versatility, and a great attitude. Any chance the Patriots take him in the Draft?Steve Kress

I agree with your assessment of Leonard as a Patriots type player and do think there is a chance the team could draft him this April. Leonard could fill a lot of roles in New England as a fullback, backup tailback, backup third-down back and bring depth to the running back stable that includes aging veterans Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon. The only question I have is how far Leonard will rise up in the draft. I expect him to continue to impress teams at the Combine and during interviews and workouts. If he moves up to the top of the second round or even into the end of the first round, I don't expect the Patriots would be willing to pull the trigger on his selection in that area. But if he's available late in the second round, I think Belichick and Co. might consider it.
Andy Hart

Would you please compare and contrast Maroney vs. Addai based on there rookie season. And where were they selected in the draft? And which do you believe has the most promising future, barring injuries of course? Regards.Bob Robertson
Pensacola, Fla.

Maroney was the 21st selection last April, while Addai was taken 30th by the Colts. While Addai put up more numbers as a rookie and obviously helped his team to a Super Bowl title, I still think Maroney is going to be the better, more productive player in the long run. In my mind Addai benefited greatly from the system he played in. As I felt heading into the draft I still believe Addai does a lot of things pretty well but is nothing special. I've said it before and will say it again, Joseph Addai is just a guy. Maroney has the big play ability to be a franchise type back and I think we saw flashes of that talent this fall. I know he was banged up, tentative and less productive to close out the season but I still feel he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Andy Hart

Why is it so insulting to a player to place the franchise tag on him? I know last offseason Deion Branch and his agent made it clear that he did not want to be franchised. Now we are hearing the same things coming from Samuel and Graham. It doesn't seem to be an insulting gesture to pay a player an average of the top 5 salaries at the position. Did Branch get more money from Seattle than he would have made if franchised? Is Samuel or Graham going to get more than their tag numbers, 7.79 and 4.37 million respectively, on the free agent market? Even if they get a long-term deal from another team, the contracts are not guaranteed and are usually back loaded and re-structured before the cap number gets too high anyway.Anthony Gorgone

Players dislike the Franchise tag because it limits their ability to find the best deal possible (the heavy compensation of two first-round picks for any team looking to sign a franchise player can scare teams away) and also leads to only a one-year contract with the current team rather than a long-term extension. Players want the security that comes with a longer contract that includes big dollars in the first three years of the deal. Branch was never a free agent, so he would never have been franchised until this spring, a tag that would have paid him $7.613 million for next season. The six-year, $39 million deal he got in Seattle ripped up the final year of his rookie deal. Therefore, he got a signing bonus of $7 million, a 2006 salary of $2.1 million and will get another $6 million as an option bonus this spring. Add that to his 2007 salary of $3.38 million and he'll collect a total of more than $18.48 million for his first two seasons in Seattle. Not too shabby.
Both Samuel and Graham will obviously be looking for more than the franchise numbers, including big bonus money as part of longer term contracts. While many contracts are back loaded and re-worked, Branch's contract shows that there is plenty of money out there to be earned early on in contracts. That's why most players generally look for the most money they can get in the first three years of any free agent contract. Using that logic Branch is going to get more than $20 million in three seasons in Seattle. That's far more security than playing on a series of one-year contracts for the franchise numbers, even if those deals can add up over a series of three or four seasons.
Andy Hart

I've recently read that Donnie Edwards will be a free agent this 2007 season. Considering the depth issue the PATS have at linebacker do you think it would be a good move to sign Donnie Edwards to a one-year deal while at the same time developing its younger linebackers (Eric Alexander and Pierre Woods) and possibly others via the draft? I completely understand the argument about his age but he appears to be very consistent and durable in his play year after year. This was not the case with Junior Seau. By no means am I stating that he should start every game but his talent and experience in the 3-4 defense can be an asset while younger players are developing throughout the season.Craig Wallace

I would be all for bringing in Edwards for a role adding depth to the roster. I think he probably could start a few games and has enough left to be a very productive player at the right price. Regardless of who is brought in for veteran depth purposes, whether it be Edwards, Seau or another experienced player, the goal of getting younger, faster and more talented at linebacker has to remain a focal point of the offseason. It certainly can't hurt to have a mix of young players on the roster learning from solid veterans over the course of the season. The problem is the Patriots haven't invested much in the young players at the position in recent years, relying more on late round or undrafted types like you mentioned in Alexander and Woods as well as Tully Banta-Cain. I have said this before, but the restocking of the linebacker position with young talent has to be a priority this spring and summer.
Andy Hart

How do you feel about our team only having one Pro Bowl player this year (Richard Seymour). Then Vince Young goes to the Pro Bowl ahead of Brady, it doesn't make any sense. I think we should have had 3-5 players make it but that's just me. Oh well, next year we got the Super Bowl. GO PATRIOTS!!!
Allen Marino

The Pro Bowl debate is an interesting one. Because of the fact that the voting includes fans, players and coaches, there is a trio of different views reflected. I personally think the voting should also include the media, to bring another perspective to the process. Seymour didn't have a great year, but got the nod in part because of respect, reputation and the game planning opposing teams have to prepare for him. He may not have had a Pro Bowl season, but Seymour is a Pro Bowl player regardless of who is doing the voting. As for Brady, he turned down the chance to replace Philip Rivers in the game, as did Steve McNair. Young was next in line. That's how the game works. When starters can't go, the alternates are then invited. It's worked in favor of a number of Patriots over the years, including Willie McGinest.
As for how many players the Patriots should have had in the game, that's a tough question. Should a team have more representatives just because it had a 12-4 record? I don't think so. To me the game is a display of the best individual players that the NFL has to offer. The best teams get the Super Bowl; the best players get the Pro Bowl. Seymour and Brady will always be candidates. Ty Warren had a season worthy of consideration. And obviously Asante Samuel's 10 interceptions could have earned him trip to Hawaii. Beyond that, I'm not sure any other Patriots really had much of a gripe at not getting the Pro Bowl nod. There are a lot of good players in the league and that makes the competition for individual honors a tough race.
Andy Hart

Hey guys - My question is about David Thomas. Now, I don't want to be one of those guys who sees someone have one good game and then thinks they're the second coming, but am I wrong in thinking that this guy looks really good? I haven't heard his name once since the Jacksonville game. I honestly don't think that Ben Watson could've made that diving grab, and he also showed that he can run after the catch. You folks obviously know a lot more about all of this than I do, is there some other reason that we didn't see more of him this past season? Can we expect to see more of him next year? Also, are there any other players that may not have had their numbers called much this year but who we should look for in the future? Keep up the good work!
Matt Cox

I think fans should be excited to see what the sophomore campaign might hold for Thomas. He has great hands (something his more veteran tight end teammates can't say), seems to run solid routes and, as you said, showed a bit of running ability in his big game in Jacksonville. With Graham's unknown status moving forward, Thomas could have a chance to move into a more productive role next fall and I think he's capable of filling such a role. Beyond Thomas another obvious young guy to keep an eye on next fall is Chad Jackson. While his rookie season was an undeniable disaster, he still has the natural talent to be a big contributor if he can put it all together on the game field. I also think that safety James Sanders gets better with every game he plays. He made some key tackles late this fall and I think could be a solid if unspectacular starter in the secondary moving forward in his third season. And if Alexander can bounce back from a tough AFC title game, he could battle for more playing time as the one real returning youngster in an aging linebacking corps.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys, I love reading all the questions that are on Patriots fans' minds, and I love reading the replies and all the information you guys have. My Question is concerning a Patriot that does not get much love, and he really has not received any football love due to him not playing. Matt Cassel. What is his contract like with the Patriots? With so many teams seeming to need a QB for next season, is it possible another team could be interested in Cassel? Or is he destined to be a backup forever? Thanks Guys. You do a great job. Best of luck to the Pats in the 07/08 year.Joseph West

Cassel is currently under contract through 2008. Given his lack of playing experience (in college or the NFL) his value is still extremely limited. I think he's developing nicely as a backup in New England and should improve with even more playing time this coming preseason. Will he ever get a shot to go somewhere and be a starter? That will depend on how he continues to develop over the next two seasons. One thing that's for sure is that he's learning under the best -- Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Andy Hart

Linebackers are definitely going to be an issue in the Pats future. With Bruschi unsure about retirement and Seau maybe making a second run at his "graduation" after his injury do you thing the Pats will look to the draft to fill these gaps or maybe go after a London Fletcher-Baker, Cato June or Adalius Thomas. I think Fletcher-Baker would be a pretty good fit in this defense -- he's experienced, smart and despite his age he's all over the field, what do you think?Jim Cunningham

With all the attention being paid to Lance Briggs and Adalius Thomas, why isn't more attention being paid to Donnie Edwards? Although getting up there in years, he's rarely injured and consistently leads the Chargers in tackles, who run the same 3-4 as the Patriots. He's a free agent who would command much less then the others mentioned, which would allow the Patriots to open the bank to Samuel. He would also be an excellent sidekick to Bruschi should he not retire.Jeff Scott

With the combination of the draft and free agency there are plenty of interesting options for the Patriots to pursue. In an ideal world the team would probably be able to get a veteran fit, maybe Thomas, and a draft pick, maybe a guy like Willis. But things aren't that simple in the real world. Top free agent targets like Briggs and Thomas may not even make it to the open market, will cost a ton of money and aren't sure-fire solutions in a new system. And rookies always bring a certain level of uncertainty – see Chad Jackson. Guys like Edwards and Fletcher-Baker are possibilities to patch the holes at linebacker for a year or two, but there's still a serious need for young help at the position. Edwards is a tackling machine, hasn't missed a game since 1998 and has experience in the 3-4 that might help. He's not a long term answer, but could be a nice piece of the puzzle for the short run. But as I said, in a perfect world I'd love to see Thomas and Willis in a Patriots uniform next fall. Making that happen, that's a job for Belichick and Scott Pioli and that's why they make the big bucks.
Andy Hart

Just a random question...When does running out bounds really stops the clock from moving is it within five minutes to the end of the half or game? Thank you so much for you time...if you do read this and post a response. Jack Dang

Dang, that's a good question. The clock stops on a change of possession, after the two-minute warning of the first half and during the last five minutes of the game when a runner goes out of bounds on a play from scrimmage.
Andy Hart

Wow, no offense to Matt Light or anything but I don't think he had that good of a year this past season. I don't know maybe I wasn't paying enough attention or something but I think it's cool that Light is going to his 1st Pro Bowl alongside Belichick as the only two Patriots to go to Hawaii as of now. What are your thoughts on Matt Light's season?Jamal Anderson

Wow, no offense but how far you've fallen from your days of the dirty bird and 400 carries for the Falcons. I think Light had a typical season – not great, but very solid. He finished very strong, specifically with a very good performance against Shawne Merriman. While I don't think I'll ever consider Light one of the top tackles in the game, he will now forever be known as a Pro Bowl left tackle regardless of some of his lesser performances against the likes of Jason Taylor and other speed-based pass rushers.
Andy Hart

There have been several comments here that the Pats could franchise and then trade Asante Samuel, ala T. Jones. I sure hope that it doesn't get to that. But my real question is why didn't the Pats franchise and trade Adam V? Wouldn't they have gotten more than the compensatory pick that they will end up with? And do you know what day the NFL will announce the compensatory picks? Thanks.Steve O.

The compensatory picks are generally announced in late March, although there is no specific date on the NFL calendar. As for the Vinatieri situation, his franchise number would have actually been a 120-percent raise on his previous salary and would have paid him more than the average of the top-five kickers. The team didn't want to pay that amount and thought it could get a long-term deal done with the legendary kicker. Hindsight shows that didn't happen.
Andy Hart

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