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Ask PFW: Crawling toward camp

This week’s Ask PFW mailbag has a variety of questions regarding the Patriots roster and future as we draw ever closer toward the opening of training camp later this month in Foxborough.


What are some of the things that can propel an undrafted free agent in training camp to making the team or not? JC Jackson seems like a good fit but how he looked in college and OTAs will only help if they liked what they saw and he has a bad camp right?

Jason Bickel

If a guy has a "bad camp" and/or struggles in preseason game action it's really hard to make the roster. There is a saying within the football offices of Gillette Stadium that, "It's not how you got here, it's what you do once you're here." So potential – based on college resume or physical characteristics – is great. But at some point that has to equate to performance in padded, competitive situations. It is also quite helpful for young guys and roster bubble types to carve out roles for themselves as versatile options on special teams. That's often a key deciding factor in close calls on roster spots. If I had to boil the process down to three words it would be opportunity, potential and performance. (The "and" doesn't count as a word.)

Andy Hart

Big If: Let's say Tom retires in a year or three, and Coach Bill finally proves he can win consistently without number 12 a few years later. Then Bill too retires. So the Patriots transition to Josh McDaniels. Do you think, as I do, that the Patriots can continue to be an elite team? I feel it would be what Bill Parcells attempted to do in N.Y. when he retired and left BB as the HC of the NY JETS. His plan seemed to be a seamless transition keeping the system intact with a brilliant younger coach to carry on into the future. If it somehow plays out that way I am asking can the Patriots stay a winning team? This assumes a competent QB is found. Thank you.

Craig Lawson

As they say in the newspaper industry, you buried the lede. I still firmly believe that the quarterback is the most important factor in a team's success over a period of time. Coaches are very important, but they often cannot consistently overcome lack of talent at the QB position. So, if the Patriots have a high-end quarterback moving forward I think they will be a high-end team. If not, they will struggle like the rest of the rudderless teams do. The timing of your scenario is also peculiar. You have Brady retiring in a one to three years, then Belichick a few years after that at which point McDaniels takes over. I can't really envision McDaniels waiting around five or more years to get the job. If it happens, I think it will be sooner than that. Still, it's all about the quarterback, as you noted. If McDaniels has a competent quarterback I do think he's a good enough coach to be a winner.

Andy Hart

Do you agree that Devin McCourty looked to have lost a step last season or was I just imagining things? I am not saying that McCourty played poorly by any stretch of the imagination, but he did not look to me like the borderline elite safety he had been for a good chunk of his Patriots career.

Ben Offen

I don't think McCourty was great last season and certainly he looked really bad the last time we saw him falling and allowing a touchdown in the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. Earlier this offseason I expressed my concern for the aging bodies – McCourty and Patrick Chung – that have been the core of the safety position over the last few years. Both in terms of playing time and consistent play, the veteran duo has been key in the back end in recent years. I find it hard to imagine that can continue too much longer. The good news is that Duron Harmon is likely ready to take on a greater role, not only working with the two vets but maybe if he had to take some reps from McCourty due to age or injury. There is less certainty in the Chung role. But I will certainly be keeping an eye on how McCourty looks this summer and early fall because I do think if he hasn't already begun to decline that process could begin any time now for the ninth-year veteran. McCourty has played a lot of football over his career when you consider in addition to his 123 regular season games he's played another 19 playoff games over the last decade.

Andy Hart

Last week someone questioned Bill Belichick's succession planning I believe. The answer did not appear to address Josh McDaniels as the heir apparent. Is that because you see the machinations of Belichick and McDaniels as simply one more act by Belichick to punish the Colts organization for abandoning Baltimore in such an underhanded and cowardly fashion and not because he wanted to keep McDaniels with the Pats as part of his succession plan?

Andrew Spence

I'm not sure exactly what you are referring to in regards to last week's mailbag, but I think pretty much everyone assumes that McDaniels could have a role in the future of the Patriots after he reneged on his agreement to coach the Colts this offseason. I do not think that decision had anything to do with Belichick punishing that franchise from some long-standing grudge. Sorry. I'm not sure what exactly brought what McDaniels called "clarity" to his future in New England but I've said all along I assumed that it had something to do with money and an idea of what his role might be moving forward. Right now, it would almost surprise me if McDaniels doesn't end up as the Patriots head coach in the near future even if he's denied the idea that some agreement for such is already in place. Signs simply seem to point in that direction. But we all will have to wait and see.

Andy Hart

Just wondering if there is any chance we might see a change in the structure of awarding compensatory picks? I have never understood the formula that determines how those picks are awarded but I believe the highest level that those picks can be are at the very end of the 3rd round after 90+ players have already been taken by other teams. It would seem to me that if a team loses a valuable starter and contributor that has been signed as a UFA or drafted and then developed, groomed and starts for two or three seasons (or more) that a back-end 3rd round pick (or lower) is not an appropriate level of draft compensation for that loss. Wouldn't a more equitable system take into account actual games started and/or played and possibly the win/loss record of the team taking the hit of losing that player as a FA and NOT be restricted to a 3rd round or lower comp pick but actually have a system that starts at the end of the 1st round-again solely dependent on the player's value as a starter/contributor?

Chip Huckins

I'm all for changes to the compensatory pick system, but I'd actually prefer they get rid of it all together. In a league that has a salary cap to keep the financial playing field relatively level, I don't see the need for it. Teams are more than capable of re-signing their own free agents if they want. If they don't, they shouldn't be rewarded. This isn't like baseball where a team can draft and develop a star only to lose him to a big-market club. If a guy is worthy of a first-round pick compensatory selection in your scenario, I'd prefer he just re-sign with the team he's on to keep some continuity in the game. I've never been a fan of making a lot of decisions based on compensatory picks. But smart teams, including the Patriots, take it into consideration as a part of the entire free agent process. It's another example of Belichick's organization doing business as business is being done. And doing it well to take full advantage of the system in place over the years.

Andy Hart

A topic that's been brought up a good bit lately is that when scouting college football players, a player's experience starting games is increasingly valuable with the decrease in practice times players get in the offseason now. Do you kinda agree with that, or do you think it'll always be draft for potential more than a slightly more polished four-year starter?

Blake Norris

While there is no one key factor or answer in the scouting process, I think that potential will always be the priority. It's funny that sometimes guys are praised for experience and maturity at the college level, but other times it's almost viewed as a negative. Really, it's a projection of what a guy can be as he grows, matures and competes at the highest level. Experience is a factor in that but potential is just as important and probably more so. For example, there has been a theory evolving in recent years that Alabama players may be too well-coached and worked too hard to continue to make huge strides at the NFL level, that many may be tapped out prior to reaching the league. Just a theory, but it plays into your question. NFL teams want to draft guys whose best play is ahead of them. Put simply, elite potential is the ideal. Unrealized potential, though, is on the other end of the spectrum.

Andy Hart

Why is Jordan Richards still on the team? He stunk up the Super Bowl, and has never been more than mediocre since they drafted him. Do they just not want to admit that they wasted a second-round pick on him? The Patriots could have taken safety Justin Reid out of Stanford in this year's draft, but passed over him twice. I don't get it.

Jim Loveland

Richards has certainly become the whipping boy for criticism of the Patriots defense over the last year, especially after the Super Bowl loss. And some of it is very much deserved. He's a great guy and a solid contributor on special teams, but I've never really understood the continued chances he's been given on defense. He looks the part of a big-bodied safety or maybe even a hybrid linebacker type, but has never shown the ability to turn that into production on the field. I didn't think he should have made the team last fall and would guess that he'll be in a major fight for a roster spot this summer. That said, I don't know what the team thought of Reid in terms of its scouting reports, but clearly it went in a different direction on draft weekend. I wasn't a huge Reid fan, so it didn't bother me much and I didn't really see safety as a top need. But, if Richards is cut and veteran Patrick Chung slows down or gets hurt there could be a void left for the in-the-box safety role.

Andy Hart

Hi Guys, I read you every week. I believe your information and opinions are among the most reliable available. I have just one short question. Do you know who is joining Brady out in Montana this month? I'm wishing and hoping that it's all the pass-catchers, especially the newer ones. Thanks.

Howard Wolfe

Short answer, I do not. Sorry to let you down after such a praiseful lead in to your question. It had been reported that Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman would take part. But based on social media, all I know is that Brady encountered a bear in the woods and that he's now seemingly back in the Boston area working out with his own son in the backyard. Maybe later we'll find out what happened in Montana – or maybe there is another session of work in the mountains that is upcoming – but for right now, returning from my own vacation and time away, I don't have much more to offer.

Andy Hart

I love reading John Rooke's columns, but he's flat-out wrong in his objections to the NFL's refusal to allow an "MD." after a player's name on his jersey. There are lots of things besides "MD." that require a guy to be "smart and able enough to become." Does he really think the NFL could allow this one EXCEPTION, and that would be the end of it? Not in the NFL that I've been following the last 50 years.


I love the perspective that John brings to his columns and radio show on It certainly brings a different voice than that of the PFW boys. I don't really feel strongly about this issue, but tend to agree with the NFL in not allowing Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who finished medical school and earned the title, to add "M.D." to the back of his jersey. I don't see the need for it. I think it could open the door to other similar requests from those with advanced degrees/certifications/etc. But John is obviously free to his own opinion and I like that he brings alternate takes to our site.

Andy Hart

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