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Ask PFW: Dealing with Dillon

With the news of Corey Dillon's pending release dominating the coverage as of late, Patriots fans are wondering what the team's alternatives are regarding the veteran running back.

Now that Corey Dillon is gone he leaves a gaping hole to fill. Do you see Pioli picking up a free agent, or will the Pats look to the thin choices at running back in the draft to replace Corey?
Chip Heard

Running back was probably already a secondary need for the Patriots because even if Dillon stuck around for another year he wouldn't likely have been around for much longer than that. If Dillon is indeed released then the Patriots might move that position up the priority list a bit. There are some free agents available that could fit the role of an 8-10 carry-per-game back. Musa Smith could be a candidate, Marcel Shipp also could fit into that category. LaBrandon Toefield is a bigger guy that could give the Patriots a physical inside presence. But if the Patriots acquire a running back this offseason I'd expect them to draft one in the mid-to-late rounds instead.
Paul Perillo

It looks like Dillon is looking for more playing time and wants out. If the Pats are comfortable with that and want to save some cap room I don't think it is such a bad thing. My question is, if there are teams out there that want to sign him and give him the opportunity as their primary runner, why can't the Pats get some value back in the form of a draft pick? Wouldn't a fifth- or sixth-round pick be fair for Dillon and make more sense then flat out releasing him?
B. Tozzi

I understand why people would be surprised if the Patriots released Dillon instead of trying to get something for him in return but because of a new rule in the collective bargaining agreement teams can now let two players go at the start of the new league year and spread the cap hit over two seasons. If the Patriots traded Dillon, they would have to absorb the entire cap hit this year. So rather than taking a $1.9 million hit in 2007 and $3.8 million in 2008, as would be the case if he's released, the number would be about $5.7 million if he was traded. That's not worth the draft pick they get in return.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering how Corey Dillon's release would count against the cap, if at all, and if the Pats could receive any compensation picks for him in next year's draft?
Jeremy Ribadeneyra

Well Dillon's cap hit would be as I described above if the Patriots release him later this week. As for compensation, teams aren't compensated for releasing players.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering what your thoughts on the Dillon release are? Seems to me that they would be inclined to keep him even if he is only good for 10-12 carries a game. Also, do you think Laurence Maroney is ready to take on 25-30 carries a game? I agree that he is the future but the way he faded down the stretch leaves some concerns in my mind. Do you think the Pats were concerned that Dillon might cause trouble if he had reduced carries?Nick Johnson

Obviously having Dillon back as insurance for Maroney would be the best-case scenario for 2007. But your final question to me is the real crux of this issue. Dillon doesn't want to have such a reduced role and is looking for a bigger role elsewhere. That tells me that if he were to stick around he'd probably not be happy. With that in mind I'd agree with the Patriots if they were to release him at the end of the week, as Dillon's agent has said. Maroney is capable of being the front-line back – maybe not 30 carries per game as you asked – but he's big enough to carry a full load. He was banged up down the stretch last year and I think that's why he faded. Bottom line is it doesn't look like the Patriots will have the choice to keep Dillon because it certainly looks like he wants out.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering about the salary cap for last season. I had heard the Patriots were well under the cap. I remember in your column that you thought we would pay down some signing bonuses and/or contracts. Has this happened? If we don't use it soon, doesn't the cap reset and we lose all the left over cap space?
Darrell Fitzsimmons

Not exactly. The Patriots did indeed have some cap room to use and they did so by re-signing Dan Koppen, giving Richard Seymour a bonus that was due anytime before March and redoing some other contracts as well (Tedy Bruschi was one that was reported). So the Patriots didn't finish the year with the amount of cap room that many thought they had. However, teams don't "lose" cap space if it's not used. At the start of the new league year (March 2 this year), all teams need to be in compliance with the cap. So unless escalating salaries from one year to the next eat up all that cap space, a team wouldn't lose any available room they finished the previous season with just because they didn't use it in that season. In other words, if the Patriots finished 2006 with $5 million in cap space (hypothetically), and every player under contract for 2007 was making the same as the previous year (obviously not the case), then they would still have cap room.
Paul Perillo

I think one of the lesser needs of the Patriots this offseason is to find Kevin Faulk's ultimate successor. What draft or free agency options do the Patriots have for a quick third-down back with good hands that Faulk can groom for a year or two?Andrew Avery

Running back has suddenly become an area of need with Faulk's age (31 in June) and Corey Dillon's possible departure. In Faulk's case, there are a few third-down backs that might be available. Travis Minor, Kenny Watson and Musa Smith might be options in free agency. There are a few possibilities in the draft as well. Personally I love Florida State's Lorenzo Booker, who is small but very quick and has good hands. Notre Dame's Darius Walker might be an option as well, although I'm not as high on him. Kolby Smith of Louisville is a lesser-known guy but has some versatility as well. There certainly are others and the Patriots might look for one in the middle rounds to provide some depth to the backfield.
Paul Perillo

Since being tagged the franchise player for the Pats, has there been any reaction from either Asante or his agent? I have not found anything on the topic, but based on his comments a few months ago, this wasn't something he did not want. Is this possibly a set up to trade him or do you think he will actually be signed long term?
Tom S.

Samuel's agent, Alonzo Shavers, expressed no resentment toward the Patriots for placing the franchise tag on his client. I'm sure he understands the team had little option as the sides continue to try to work out a long-term deal to keep the cornerback in New England. Trades are always possible when it comes to franchise players (Tebucky Jones back in 2003) so I wouldn't rule that out. But I don't feel that will happen in this case. Shavers said Samuel has no desire to stage a holdout at this point, and although that could certainly change if he felt the team wasn't bargaining with him in good faith, I don't foresee that being a problem. Worst-case scenario for the Patriots would be Samuel signing the one-year tender offer and playing in 2007 for $7.79 million. Then he would become a free agent again next year.
Paul Perillo

I have been reading you guys for quite a while and enjoy your comments and opinions. I have a question regarding the last Super Bowl. At one point, when the Colts had the ball, Dungy threw the red flag to review the non-call of 12 men on the field on the Bears. I have never heard of the ability to challenge a penalty call. Is this challenge isolated to that specific penalty, or can teams challenge any yellow flag or non-call? I thought it was not a smart move on the Colts part for that particular challenge, and they were lucky it was inconsequential.
Kevin Arsenault

In black and white matters such as whether or not a team had too many players on the field it is within the rules to challenge the play. Teams are not allowed to challenge judgment calls such as holding and pass interference, which constitutes the vast majority of penalties. I disagree with you that it was a bad challenge by Tony Dungy, however. The problem for the Colts on the play is that there really wasn't a conclusive replay that showed the entire field to see how many players Chicago had. Watching live and seeing two of the Bears players run off the TV screen, and then seeing the ball snapped, I immediately thought to myself that there was no way the players could have made it to the sideline in time. But the replay didn't show the ball being snapped and the players at the same time. Therefore the official could not overturn a call that he didn't definitively see. There's no way of knowing for sure without the evidence, but I'd be willing to bet the Bears had 12 men on the field on that play.
Paul Perillo

Since it seems like a lot of teams are going to 2 RBs can you see the Pats drafting Michael Bush? Where do you think Bush will be drafted? Also, everyone knows that the Pats need a receiver any chance that they will sign Donte' Stallworth? He voided his last year of his contract and their aren't to many good WR in the market.
Greg Barker

Bush is sort of a wild card because of the broken leg he suffered early in Louisville's season. The injury has prevented him from working out for teams, which further clouds his situation. Without the injury he certainly would have been a first-round pick but he expects to workout during his pro day at Louisville and is likely a second-round pick. As for Stallworth, the Eagles maintain the intention of re-signing him so I'm not sure the Patriots will get a chance. And his constant hamstring troubles would worry me when it comes to giving him too much money as well.
Paul Perillo

Will OSU's wideout Anthony Gonzalez go into the draft next year and would he be an awesome late steal for the Pats. He is smart enough and is definitely athletic enough.
Will Bisbee

Well, Gonzalez is definitely in the draft but I'm don't think there's much of a chance of him being a late steal for the Patriots or anyone else, unless we're talking late in the first round. Gonzalez ran a 4.4 at the Combine and he was considered one of the receivers that really helped himself with a strong workout. Obviously the Patriots have two late first-round picks so New England might have some interest in a guy that runs good routes and has good hands and speed.
Paul Perillo

What do you think the odds of Belichick/Pioli packaging their two first-round picks to move up in the draft and take Dwayne Jarrett of USC?Fred Barrett

I always think trades are strong possibilities when Belichick and Pioli are involved in the draft. This year in particular might see some moving because many of the experts don't believe this is an overly deep draft. In the past we've seen 12-15 "can't miss" prospects while this year they're saying the number is closer to six or seven. With that being the case, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Pats move one of their first-round picks to move down and pick up an extra second, which is what they did in 2003. In theory there would be little difference in terms of talent between a player taken around 28 and 40, but the salary would be less. As for Jarrett, I'm not as high on him as you are. I have questions about his ability to get open at the NFL level because I'm not sure how quick and fast he is. Plus, there's a legitimate chance the Patriots could draft him at 24 without having to trade up.
Paul Perillo

What is meant by receivers being great, or not great, route runners? Is it they are not being where they are supposed to be or they do not recognize coverages and change accordingly?
Chuck O'Donnell

Pretty much exactly what you said, Chuck. Guys like Troy Brown are considered excellent route runners because they are always where they are expected to be. When a player is asked to run an 8-yard curl route, it can't be 7 or 7½ yards. The quarterback needs to have confidence that his receiver won't cut the route short, or went to long. Recognizing coverages is also a part of that. If a certain coverage is being played it might call for an adjustment to a route. Again, good receivers are where they are supposed to be.
Paul Perillo

I'm upset to hear about Chad Jackson's injury. Do you think that he's worn out his welcome with BB? For some reason I feel like BB is done with him now since he can't stay healthy and will be missing all the off-season drills again. Thoughts?Nathan F.

First of all, the Patriots have not confirmed that Jackson has suffered an injury. There have been several reports that have indicated he tore his ACL in the AFC Championship Game, but at this point neither the player, the team nor his agent have confirmed that. Assuming he is injured, why would a player have worn out his welcome because he tore his ACL? Unless he did it riding a motorcycle or skydiving or something, how could a coach hold that against a player? There could be other reasons that Belichick might be disappointed with Jackson, but I doubt this injury would be one of them. The injury is definitely a setback because it will deprive Jackson of a chance to go through the all-important Year 2 offseason in which many players make a significant jump.
Paul Perillo

Does losing Deion Branch count as a loss even though he was traded for a draft pick?Jason Belliveau

The only way teams get compensatory picks is when they lose free agents. Trades and releases don't result in compensatory picks, so Branch's deal to Seattle won't give us a draft pick beyond the first-round pick we received from the Seahawks in the trade.
Paul Perillo

Is it true that all of the Patriots linebackers under Bill Belichick were defensive ends in college?Peter Schipilliti

Not all, but most … especially the starters. Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, Tedy Bruschi and Tully Banta-Cain were all college defensive linemen. In the Patriots 3-4 scheme, many college defensive ends make the transition to outside linebacker, as was the case with Vrabel, Colvin and Banta-Cain. So looking for smaller defensive ends in college and trying to determine whether they can make the switch to linebacker in the pros is one of the more difficult tasks the Patriots coaches and scouts have every year.
Paul Perillo

Belichick isn't big on drafting linebackers early. How much do you think that has to do with the lack of 3-4 in the college game? It just makes me curious why so few teams in college run the 3-4. Does it require smarter, more athletic linebackers than most teams have? Does it require smarter coaches to pull it off?
Will Bortolin

I think the Patriots lack of linebackers in the draft is definitely due to a lack of 3-4-style players in college. I'm not sure why most teams – college and pro – choose to run four-man fronts rather than three, but that is certainly the case. Therefore it can be difficult to find the players that fit into the system the Patriots want to run. I don't think that system requires more intelligence on the surface. Although the Patriots system is considered fairly complex, I don't believe that is a result of the 3-4 as much as it is Belichick's principles regardless of which front they use. The linebackers are the lifeblood of a good 3-4 and it can be tough to find guys big enough to take on blocks on the inside and fast and athletic enough to both rush the passer and drop into coverage on the outside. As you said, with so few college teams running 3-4s, it can be tough to find players that fit into those descriptions. But I wish I had a good reason as to why teams don't use the 3-4 more.
Paul Perillo

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