If Tom Brady isn't the quarterback for up to four regular-season games next season, then should the Patriots sign a veteran QB, and for how long? Who would fit the bill as TB's replacement, and who would, willingly, take the job, if they end up, probably, being released after the TB ban is over?
I don't think there's a need for a veteran backup unless that veteran is someone who has ties to the Patriots like Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett. All of those players are under contract elsewhere and aren't expected to be available to serve as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup should Brady's suspension hold up. Garoppolo is clearly the starter if Brady is out so the Patriots would need a backup. Currently Garrett Gilbert is the only other quarterback on the roster. He finished 2015 on the practice squad so he has at least a basic understanding of the offense, and assuming he's able to show some progress during OTAs and mini-camp he should get the chance to stick on the roster to open the season if Brady is out. If Gilbert isn't up to the task I'd assume Bill Belichick will look elsewhere for a backup quarterback but I don't necessarily believe that quarterback needs to be a veteran. The last thing Garoppolo would need is more pressure on him while trying to replace Brady, and having a veteran breathing down his neck doesn't sound like a great scenario. Obviously only Belichick knows the answer to that question but my guess is a young player like Gilbert will fill the role.
If we look at the Patriots top earners, except for Devin McCourty, all have durability issues. And that's one reason I believe why the loss of the first-round pick next year is so painful. The Patriots may want to address some of these positions as well as the cornerback position and they cannot in the first round where there is more talent and they have the most success. I feel that the league not only punished the team, but tried to make it weaker. So besides being excessive, do you agree that punishments have to weaken the organization? Aren't there other ways to empower change in a more constructive ways?
These are two very different points you are trying to make. First, I believe the league was far too tough on the Patriots with regard to the punishment it levied against the team. Suspending Brady for four games and taking away two draft picks and adding a $1 million fine is quite excessive in my mind. So we're in agreement there. But your point seems to be that the NFL should hurt the team itself so much with its punishments in general. On that point I disagree. If teams are found guilty of breaking significant rules (I don't deem deflating footballs significant) then they should be hit with significant punishments. As an example, if a team was found guilty of paying its quarterback extra money of the side – say deferred payments to circumvent the salary cap – then I feel that team should be fined severely and lose high draft picks. I do feel punishments should weaken teams when warranted. I just don't believe it was warranted in this case.
Do you think there's an outside chance the Patriots could sign Reggie Wayne? I can't tell how much he has left in the tank vs. how much his injury last year slowed him down, but he was a top receiver in this league for a long time and a consummate pro. Do you think there'd be interest?
I love Reggie Wayne and I agree he's been a consummate pro. But the guy I watched last year was a shell of his former self – and that wasn't just after he was injured. He still caught passes but lacked the burst he had as a younger player. Three years ago the Patriots were definitely interested in signing him but I doubt that interest still exists. On the surface, where would Wayne fit in among the Patriots receiving corps? He would be behind Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola at a minimum. So we're talking about adding a fifth or sixth option to the passing game. Sure, it's possible that Belichick sees a specific role that Wayne could fill and perhaps sell him on that, but I think it's more likely that he looks at what he has as better options at this stage.
I remember a couple years ago you guys mentioned Dax Swanson and how he was a standout at camp, due to the purge (for lack of a better term) we experienced in the secondary recently would you say that the coaches feel like he could be a starter? If not what are your thoughts on what you may have seen from him? (I know the sample size is virtually non-existent). Is he a legitimate candidate to play significant snaps next year or should I move on from my pipe dream?
Swanson has only been around New England for one season so it's possible you have him confused with someone else. Swanson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie by Indy in 2013 and the Colts cut him around Halloween that year. He hooked on with San Francisco's practice squad a couple of weeks later and remained there the rest of the year. The Niners released him last May and the Patriots picked him up 10 days later. He spent training camp with the Patriots last summer, where he showed some flashes of ability but nothing the really stood out. He is 5-11, 191 and appeared to play both corner and safety at times. He was on and off the practice squad throughout the season and should get an opportunity to find a role in the secondary in 2015, but I don't see him emerging as a starter.
On NFL.com, Gregg Rosenthal thinks the Patriots starting front seven will be a 3-4 with Chandler Jones, Malcom Brown and Jabaal Sheard on the line and Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich at linebacker. This alignment seems unlikely as personnel suggests a four-man front but, as Rosenthal says, the Patriots are more likely to switch around depending on matchups than almost anyone else in the league, so could Ninko switch between DE and OLB (where he previously played very well) in order to get the best defensive seven on the field? Also, formations tended to change from play to play and down to down. However, if Brown can play nose tackle well enough, could we see a switch back to the 3-4-base defense?
I don't think there is any way the Patriots will employ Jones and Sheard as every-down ends in a 3-4 look. That would make the front awfully small with Jones (6-5, 265) and Sheard (6-3, 264) being subjected to a lot of punishment against the run. Jones, Ninkovich and Sheard would be able to play OLB in 3-4 sets or DE in 4-3 looks, so there's some flexibility there. I would think the four-man fronts would have some combination of Brown, Dominique Easley, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga as the interior tackles with Jones and Ninkovich at end while Collins, Mayo and Hightower play linebacker (at least once Mayo and Hightower and Jones are all healthy). Belichick will absolutely mix and match his personnel based on the opponent like he always does, but the 3-4 look you described would be tough to imagine. We'll see how the alignments look in a few months when we get to watch practice.
Another question: I know Brandon Spikes is limited but, with the AFC East being predominantly a power running division and some question marks at defensive tackle, I think the signing makes good sense. What are your thoughts? Where will he fit in, or is he an insurance policy in case Mayo or Hightower take longer to recover from injury than anticipated?
I'll allow the rare follow-up since it's not related to the scandal that shall no longer be named … I actually think all of what you said makes sense. The Bills and Jets definitely want to run the ball so having Spikes around can't hurt. Mayo and Hightower both are dealing with significant injuries so they're availability to open the season is in question. That doesn't mean they'll be taking longer than anticipated. Hightower's injury reportedly requires 6-8 months of rehab. I don't necessarily see defensive tackle as a huge question mark, but that may be due to the fact that I loved the Malcom Brown selection and feel he'll be ready to step in a contribute immediately. Maybe not starting as a full-time player from Day 1, but regular time right away and starting before too long. But in terms of Spikes, I like the idea of having an experienced run-stopping linebacker around as depth.
Any word yet on the dates for the 2015 preseason training camp? I'll be flying back from Denver to see it.
The official camp dates have not yet been announced but generally things get underway in late July when practices are opened to the public. The first preseason game is set for Aug. 13 at home against Green Bay.
If Jimmy Garoppolo comes in and lights it up, will he be called the Italian Stallion because Andy seems to think he's hot. Andy and the man crushes.
Not sure about his man crushes but if a nickname is lame Andy will definitely use it – and Italian Stallion would certainly apply. Now, I thought when I started to read your question you were going someplace fun like – If Garoppolo lights it up should the Patriots trade Brady? Now that would have spurred some nice debate. Perhaps another time!
*What are the prevailing thoughts as to how Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will plan for any Tom Brady absence for the first few games of the season? Seems to me that all summer they will have to plan for the contingency that Garropolo goes down in the first quarter of the first game and can't return. This means finding, grooming and carrying at least one more quarterback from now right on through the final 53-man roster cut down. They must be looking at a few options now - maybe a vet looking to hook on (not sure who that might be) or an undrafted FA. What's your sense of how this will play out? *
As I mentioned earlier, Garrett Gilbert is already on the roster and I believe Belichick and McDaniels must have seen something they liked in him in order to keep him on the practice squad down the stretch last season and then re-sign him in the winter. He'll likely get a lot of work during the spring and if he shows he can't handle it then I'd expect the coaches to go out and find another option as a potential backup to Garoppolo. I don't think that means finding a veteran backup with starting experience. To me it's more important to find someone who might have experience with the Patriots system than finding a retread backup. We'll see what Belichick thinks of Gilbert probably sooner rather than later, though, because the team usually doesn't waste time cutting bait with new players who don't factor into the future – witness the recent releases of Chimdi Chekwa and Devin Gardner, who didn't even make it to mini-camp.
I have a question taking us away from the current sagas. I've observed all our changes in the secondary and found myself looking at the all-time DB leaders. We are in the century of the QB and grind it out football seems to be out of favor. This being highlighted by 2011 when Drew Brees and Tom Brady alone amassed 10,000 yards, so why is it that the top three season leaders in picks has not moved since the 1948-52, the top two all-time leaders hail from 1948-67? The Pats had an amazing secondary but only amassed 16 picks, two more than Night Train Lane, who had 14 in one season. My question is who killed the interception, the NFL, TV ratings or impossible rules?
While quarterbacks are indeed throwing the ball with far more frequency than they ever have, they also do so in a much more conservative manner. In the days you referenced, most passing games with of the vertical variety – deep passes that were much more difficult to complete and often times would up being intercepted. How many times have you seen a wide receiver bubble screen get intercepted? It seems every team throws five of those per game nowadays, and those aren't likely to get picked off. Also, the other factors you brought up are quite valid too. Defensive backs aren't allowed to play with the physicality they did when Night Train Lane was patrolling the secondary – even much more recently when guys like Deion Sanders were playing. Today the physical style many of the greats used would often result in flags, and you could make an argument that the TV ratings and the league want it that way. But overall I'd say the quarterbacks are much more accurate today with more sophisticated passing games that require timing and most of the teams are efficient enough to avoid large numbers of interceptions operating that way.
I know the crap has hit the fan and all but why the media blackout on the rookies being in town? No first-round pick presentation. No rookie mini-camp updates. I was expecting something.
The team hasn't really held an open rookie mini-camp in recent years. Generally the rookies are made available after one of their workouts and I believe the mess surrounding the punishment coincided with that this year. Normally we would get to see the first-round pick with Robert and Jonathan Kraft on the field, and then another day we'd hear from the rest of the class. But given the circumstances it didn't make much sense for the team to expose the rookies to the media at that time. Obviously they were still here at the stadium working out and going through their mini-camp; they just did it without having to speak to the media. Even though I am a member of the media, I think that was a wise decision by the team – assuming that was the reason we didn't get to speak to them.
I am interested in knowing if there will be any backdated cap relief from the guilty verdict in the Aaron Hernandez case?
I've gotten this question from time to time and I'm not really sure why. What difference would the verdict make in this case? The team released the player and therefore was subjected to the cap hits that resulted. It's unfortunate for the team but I'm not sure there's much I would change in these cases. Teams run the risk of having their players run afoul of the law. If they get cap relief that would open the door for teams to released underperforming players who get involved in even the most minor infractions. As an example, if a player got caught with marijuana and was arrested, and the team owed him $30 million and that player wasn't performing well should the team be allowed to release him with no cap ramifications? Obviously the Hernandez case involved a much more serious crime, but in terms of the cap I don't see the difference. Maybe the NFL will someday see it differently and give teams some relief, but I don't agree with it.
Everyone is so worried about how weak we are at cornerback, but didn't Devin McCourty start at CB and do a wonderful job for us? He then was moved to free safety ever since, but couldn't it be a possibility he moves back to corner if someone can step up and fill that role for us? I feel it's easier to find a good safety rather than a corner that can shut down No. 1 receivers? If that was the case I don't feel like it's that worrisome in all honesty. McCourty can definitely be a top 10 corner in this league if not higher he's such a great dude.
While I agree that McCourty is indeed a "great dude" I don't share your enthusiasm with his ability to play corner. He enjoyed a solid rookie season when he picked off seven passes. After that he wasn't nearly as effective while playing corner, often getting picked on with loads of deep passes being completed against him. It got so bad that the team finally moved him back to safety even when the likes of Alfonso Dennard and Kyle Arrington were the best corners on the team. Last year with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, it certainly made sense for McCourty to play safety, but prior to there was a need for improvement at the spot opposite Aqib Talib, and yet Belichick still kept McCourty at safety. For better or worse, I feel McCourty is a safety at this point and if he's forced to move to corner, which I'll admit is a possibility given the lack of depth at the position, it won't make me feel better about the team's ability to cover.
It's obvious now that the front seven is being called upon to be the strength of our defense. But is our front seven going to be good enough to compensate for having no starting-caliber corners? Maybe Bill thinks Malcolm Butler is better than we think?
I share your concern with the secondary at this point. I don't see the talent nor the depth needed to keep quality passing games under control. Even if Butler does turn out to be starting caliber at this point, and that's a big if, then I still don't see a No. 2 or 3 option that I feel comfortable with. Bradley Fletcher really struggled last year, as did Robert McClain. Not to mention the lack of experience in the Patriots system for both. The front seven is loaded with first-round picks so I assume it will be solid. But I don't assume that all of sudden the Patriots front is going to terrorize opponents into submission with some ferocious pass rush that we haven't seen. There will be some sacks but unless the guys on the back end can perform at a level higher than we're anticipating, things could get real ugly – it might be a return of the days when Brady and the offense need to put up 30-plus every week to win.