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Ask PFW: Cutting to the chase

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After the preseason, I have a serious problem with the idea that someone in this great organization decided it was better for us to keep Matt Cassel and release [Matt] Gutierrez? Were we not all watching the same games? I recall him being the only one to move the ball, and get close to us getting back in the games after Cassel's way-less-than-stellar performance? Please shed some light on this, I don't get it!GJ Beardsley

Hey fellas, I've been a long time Ask PFW reader, but I've finally got a question to ask: Why did the Pats cut Matt Gutierrez?? Belichick has never had anything bad to say about him -- in fact I remember him saying that he was one of the hardest workers on the team. Based on what we saw in preseason, he seemed to have the upper hand on Cassel (although like Belichick says, sometimes a players opportunities to shine are beyond their control, e.g., poor blocking for Cassel). Other than the obvious answer "Bill thought Cassel was a better option" -- is it possible Goots was cut to give him a chance elsewhere? Assuming O'Connell is the QB of the future, and that there's not much difference between Cassel and Goots at the moment, do you think Bill might have done a favor to Gutierrez by cutting him and giving him a chance to go somewhere he'll have a legitimate shot at playing time?
Jason G.

Did the "Turk" read the cut sheet correctly and accidentally send the wrong Matt packing? W[hat] are the coaches thinking? Don't tell me he is better then Gooz because he (Cassel) knows the offense. Actually his making the team is quite offensive to me and many others I'm sure. Look, he may know the offense better than Gooz but he CANNOT PLAY in this offense, isn't it obvious? Whatever.
Will
Bowie, MD

I don't think Cassel is worth keeping on the teem. His playing badly with the first unit only proves it. I thought Gutierrez played a lot better and he played with the second unit. Do you think this has anything to do with Brady liking Cassel as a backup. I think Gutz would have played a lot better with the first unit. I also think O'Connell looked really good. I don't think Cassel is a NFL type player. He is too inconsistent. What is your thought.
Daniel O'Neil

This is just a small sampling of the emails we received revolving around the team cutting Gutierrez and keeping the fourth-year veteran Cassel. I know it's a boring answer, but clearly Belichick is more comfortable with Cassel than many fans and media types would be. Cassel has essentially been the full-time backup for two-plus years now, so clearly he's done something to impress his future Hall of Fame coach. I don't think Gutierrez was cut to allow him to go elsewhere and play. If Belichick thought he was the better Matt, he'd still be here. I don't think Cassel was kept as any sort of favor to Brady. Clearly Belichick just thinks he's the better, more developed backup option at this point.
I also think that Cassel has become a lightning rod of criticism and the whipping boy for fans during the disappointing preseason. I'm not trying to say he was good this summer. He didn't lead the team to any touchdowns. That's simply not acceptable. I've said many times that I probably would have cut him last August as I thought his development has clearly flat lined in the last year-plus. But to listen to fans and some media types, Cassel can't throw the ball back to the line of scrimmage and falls down all the time (Well, there was that one preseason play, but let's move past that). He may have been bad in August, but not nearly that bad. And he's also being unfairly compared to what Tom Brady – arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation or any generation – can do. Cassel isn't Brady. He never will be. Heck, he's probably not even as talented at O'Connell, who's clearly the developmental backup in the making. But why the truly venomous hate?
The bottom line is that if Brady can't play in the regular season the team doesn't have a legitimate, proven backup ready to step in. Not Cassel. Not Gutierrez. And not the raw-but-talented O'Connell. But at least the team isn't looking for a starter like half the teams in the league. As fans, would you rather be disappointed at the decision for the guy to back up a future Hall of Famer or would you rather watch guys like Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman compete for a starting job? Just asking.
Andy Hart

I can't believe some of the cuts the Pats made!!! I don't get it. Why let John Lynch go? They already lost Tank Williams.Paul Calnan

I was not really all that surprised by the Lynch cut. He was a great player in this league and has a lot of experience. But anyone who truly watched his preseason work saw that he struggled. He missed tackles, looked unathletic in the open field and looked slow. I thought the only reason that he might make the roster was that he was John Lynch, because his summer performance was not good at all. And I know that a lot of people think he'll be back, but I wouldn't bring him back. I just don't think he has anything left in the tank.
Andy Hart

What do you make of Chad Jackson being cut? I would think that the team would prefer keeping a player with his physical abilities instead of someone like C.J. Jones or Sam Aiken. Let me know what you think.
Juan Zuluaga

Like Lynch, Jackson was another cut that really surprised some people. But once again, based on preseason action it wasn't all that stunning. The former second-round pick continued to struggle to get on the same page as his quarterbacks. Fans may have even seen him getting chastised at time by his quarterbacks both on the game field and at practice. Despite extended preseason game action, much of it against lesser talent, Jackson didn't make enough plays to stand out. He was given every opportunity to win the No. 3 job vacated by Donte Stallworth with reps with the top unit dating back to spring camps. He did nothing seize the opportunity. There is no question that he has physical tools, probably the most physical gifted receiver in camp not named Randy Moss, but that only gets you so far. For him that was through two-plus years. He never put his talent to use and didn't show signs that he was ready to do so this year. Aiken had a better camp catching the ball and is a proven special teams ace from his days in Buffalo. The Jones slot surprised me, but he worked hard and showed flashes of playmaking ability. He made his share of mistakes but, as coaches would say, they were physical mistakes that he made at full speed. That means something. For now, it means he has a job and the utterly underwhelming and disappointing Jackson doesn't.
Andy Hart

Why would the Patriots keep John Lynch and Chad Jackson on the team for one day after the roster cut-down only to release them anyways? Any why release two players without immediately filling their roster spots?
Andrew Grigg

I found several of the Patriots moves a little surprising. With our secondary so inexperienced, do you think it was a smart move to cut ties with Fernando Bryant? Their decision to keep 8 wide receivers seems a bit excessive. Also, after final cuts were announced, they released both John Lynch and Chad Jackson. Any idea why they would cut them a day after they seemingly made the opening day roster?
Shawn Frazier

I don't know for sure, but I think there were a few different issues at hand with the Lynch and Jackson cuts. My guess I the team initially kept Jackson and then may have tried to shop him on the trade market with teams looking for depth at receiver. When nothing happened there, they cut him. I also think that it had to do with the team putting in waiver claims on, reportedly, as many as four players cut from other teams. Had the team been awarded all four, it would have had to make room for them on the roster. New England was awarded two players on waivers – TE Jason Pociask from the Jets and T Mark Levoir from the Rams. New England was also simultaneously in talks with Deltha O'Neal and probably a few other free agents. The time right after the 53-man cuts is a busy one as all teams are going over the hundreds of players made available and looking improve their own roster. If you get those players you have to fit them into your roster. If you don't, you stick with what you have. I think there was some of that at play with the Sunday moves following the Saturday cutdown.
As for Bryant, his release was the biggest surprise of the weekend for me. He was penciled in as the starter opposite Hobbs. He started four preseason games and took nearly all the first-team reps during camp on defense. I thought he had a decent camp. Not great, not even really impressive, but not terrible. I know a lot of fans were upset with his lack of effort in the preseason finale when he got pushed into the end zone by Darcy Johnson from 7 yards out. I, too, would have cut him for such an embarrassing play, but I find it hard to believe Belichick and Co. would do the same. My guess is Bryant didn't do enough to distance himself from youngster Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite and the team decided to give the young guys a chance to develop through playing time from Day 1.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, I was a little surprised with the release of Fernando Bryant but not with John Lynch and Chad Jackson. What's the point of paying a receiver money when he catches 13 balls in 2 seasons? What do you think the chances of bringing Fernando Bryant back are? Or do you think they can finally tab Ty Law? Also what about Terry Glenn returning or Joe Horn? They could be valuable to this team for little money.Derek Rego

Boy, Derek, sorry you are so disappointed with the roster. Couldn't find a few more guys you want to pick up at this point? Not exactly thrilled with the team Belichick has put together, eh? I don't think Bryant will be back, although like Belichick I'll never rule anything out. I still think Law is a possibility, but one that lessened slightly with the addition of O'Neal. I also think Law will stick to his requests for serious money and I don't think the Patriots will be giving him, say, $6 million any time soon. I have no interest in the loud-mouth Horn who's production has fallen off the map in recent years. And I think the Glenn bridge to New England was burnt to a crisp way back in 2001. I never say never, but he'll never play for Belichick's Patriots again.
Andy Hart

Hey guys I have two questions. How does the punt team know when to go, does the punter say 'hut' or does the gunner say 'hut'? My second question is, I just read that Chad Jackson was released so what impact do you think the other receivers, Washington, Aiken etc, are gonna have this season? Thanks you guys, you do an amazing job as always.
Edgar Paz

Edgar, are you related to Vinny by any chance? Just wondering. After the snap, which comes after a cadence as with any play, the timing on the punt comes down to mental timing and practice reps. Once the punt coverage team sees the ball snapped the players do a count in their head before getting down the field in coverage. As far as I know the only verbal command is given in the instance of a directional kick or a miss-hit, which then alerts the coverage guys to change their coverage lanes to accommodate for the direction of the punt.
Clearly the departure of Jackson, and more so 2007 No. 3 Donte Stallworth, leaves a void in the offense. Gaffney will likely get more action in the No. 3 slot, a spot he took over at times late last season. Aiken had a very strong training camp early on, before getting hurt. He showed strong hands and got some reps with the first unit. Washington didn't catch pass a year ago, but got reps in Wes Welker's spot in the slot in recent weeks with the starter missing time with a rib issue. The problem is neither Washington nor Aiken has ever established himself as an impact contributor on offense in five years in the league. Every receiver is better playing with Tom Brady, something that's been proven over and over again, but I find it hard to believe even a great year on offense from proven special teamers like Washington or Aiken would involve more than, say, 21 receptions. The Patriots are a bit top-heavy at receiver right now with Randy Moss and Welker and need to really hope to stay healthy throughout the season or a lack of depth at the position could be an issue.
Andy Hart

Can you tell me what's happening to the Patriots in this preseason? I know preseason is not so important but what makes me feel scared is that I have seen a team without a leader. I really believe that Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez are not making a good job, and the players that played the last Super Bowl seem like frustrated and without playing skills like last year, do you think that Tom Brady will change the face of this team?
Salo Zonana

Brady could very well be the most important man in sports. That includes all players, coaches and executives in all sports. He's that important. Do I think the defense will suddenly become a brick wall and tackling machine with Brady in uniform? Not exactly, but I do think he brings a leadership and confidence to the field and the team that can never be truly measured. Remember, before he was playing and winning games he drew the praise and attention of the New England coaches for his natural leadership skills. He's a born leader. So when he takes the field Sunday against the Chiefs (a team expected to struggle in a rebuilding year), and I have no doubt he will, the offense will be exponentially better. The entire team will have a different swagger and Kansas City could be in real trouble. Brady is the face of the franchise, its best player and most important leader. That's the truth.
Andy Hart

In the latest issue of PFW in an article by Erik"the Leg"Scalavino entitled" Feeling Blue about Not Seeing Red" it is discussed that the Patriots should use the old Pat Patriot logo and Red/White uniforms as they're alternates to pay homage to past teams. I agree, but Erik wants this to begin next season to celebrate the teams 50th anniversary. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the team started in 1960 wouldn't 2010 be the 50th anniversary?Gary Abrams

When will the Patriots be celebrating their 50th anniversary? Will it be during the 2009 season to commemorate the purchase and founding of the team? Or will it be during the 2010 season to commemorate the first games played?
Ari Rosen

I was told there would be no math, and you guys should have hoped for as much as well. As much as I like to make fun of Erik and take shots at him, and no one will really ever know how much I truly enjoy doing that, he's right on this. The Patriots came into being with games in 1960. That means 2009 will be the team's 50th season. It's sort of like the thing where the 20th century was from 1900 to 1999. Here's how to prove it: First, take off your shoes and socks. Now, using all your fingers and your toes (hopefully you guys have 10 of each, otherwise this won't work quite as well) count the years from 1960 to 2009. By the time you go through your fingers for the third time (and your toes twice) you'll see that 2009 will be the 50th anniversary. Thanks for playing and please put your shoes back on, something stinks.
Andy Hart

I don't get how some people can think Usain Bolt could be the next Randy Moss when probably has never even touched a football. And I thought the only way a player can be in the NFL is if they were drafted?
Dane Lindenmuth

While Bolt's ridiculous speed at the Olympics he became my favorite athlete on the planet. Some people didn't like the way he pulled up in the 100, but I like guys with swagger and personality. But just because he's fast doesn't mean he can run in pads, run routes, catch a football or take a hit. I'd love to see him get a chance (he'd certainly make a perfect San Diego Charger, no?) somewhere. And he could. There is no rule about getting drafted. Hundreds of players enter the league each year as undrafted free agents. You don't need a football background either, as the Patriots proved with world-class wrestler turned offensive lineman Stephen Neal.
Andy Hart

Everyone seems to be getting playing time this preseason, but where is Jonathan Wilhite? Everyone talked about him being a big, strong, CB, but I haven't heard anything about him this whole preseason, where is he?
Steve DeMoura

Wilhite missed a good part of training camp with an undisclosed injury. In limited practice and preseason action he's shown the ability to be around the ball. He certainly has an aggressive style, something that may bite him at some point. He's on the roster and based on the lack of depth in the secondary, it looks like he'll get a chance to play. He's not overly big, but he likes to mix it up a little bit. He's still raw and I'm sure will go through a growth period, but he's going to get his chance to show his stuff at some point.
Andy Hart

I've been watching the past [four] preseason games, and I have to be honest, the backup QB battle is not looking very good. As you all know, I am still a free agent and before Randy re-signed there were talks that both of us would go to any team interested as a package deal. Wouldn't it be nice to know that the Patriots backup QB was close to breaking the touchdown record just a few years ago with the same WR that Brady had last year?
Daunte Culpepper

Sorry Daunte, but I don't think you have much left in the tank. You never bounced back from the severe knee injury and you couldn't get out of your own way in Miami. Clearly much of your success was due to playing with Moss. Brady didn't exactly become good overnight just because he had Moss. I loved your work with Moss as much as anyone, but your days as a productive league playmaker are over. But thanks for reading and emailing in. We love when active players – and for you I use the word active a bit liberally -- take part in our little Ask PFW world.
Andy Hart

I'm curious about the waiver process regarding the players who were recently cut. First, do teams having the worst record last year get first choice, etc. Second, does a player who is selected by another team have to go to that team and if he doesn't can he remain a free agent.Joseph Paretti

Yes, to both to both questions. Teams place waiver claims (on players with less than four accrued seasons) and the team with the worst record from a year ago is awarded the player. Teams send in claims on multiple players and often have them prioritized with the league so they end up with their top choice(s) if they are the team with the worst record to claim a player(s). When teams send their list of waiver claims to the league they must also notify the league of which player they will cut from their roster in the event that they are awarded the players or players in question. If a team is awarded a player it must take the player and assume the contract he had with his previous team. Likewise, players cannot choose, on their own whim, to ignore the waiver process and simply become free agents.
Andy Hart

The Bucs cut Eugene Wilson. What are the odds of bringing him back?Dan L.

82 to 1.
Andy Hart

I watched 'Hard Knocks' the other night with the Cowboys discussing projected personnel cuts with all coaches present, and Jerry Jones in attendance. Was this just mugging for the cameras, or do owners, including Robert Kraft, have some input on final cuts to the 53 man roster? Thanks so much, you guys do a great job in your weekly analysis.
Joseph Couto

Jones is the general manager of the Cowboys. Yes, he's mugging for the cameras. But he's also the top decision maker in Dallas. That's certainly not the case in most NFL cities where owners leave the decisions to the football men that they hire and pay very well to make them. I'm sure all owners have some input, and there are probably varying degrees of that throughout the league, but Jones is in a class all his own.
Andy Hart

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