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Ask PFW: Divisional Playoff edition

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.


With the NFL coaching carousel starting up, a few of the Patriots coaches have been mentioned as HC candidates. Of course, Josh McDaniels' name being mentioned is not surprising, but I have to say I was really surprised that teams have requested interviews with Brian Flores. Now maybe he has a larger reputation in the football world than fans know, but I can't help but think teams are just trying to appease the Rooney Rule. Do you believe this in fact could be the case? Joel Greyling

No, I don't. Last January, when Flores was granted an interview with the Arizona Cardinals for their head coaching vacancy, it came as a mild surprise because, at the time, Flores was little more than New England's relatively obscure linebacker coach. However, by all accounts, Flores left the Cardinals' brass impressed, and when the Patriots made Flores their defensive signal caller this year (in essence, their defensive coordinator, minus the official title), his profile was raised even further.

My guess is, the good will that Flores generated with his interview last year made more teams pay attention to him this year, and that's why he's such a coveted candidate. The fact that he is also a person of color, and as such, satisfies requirements of the Rooney Rule, is more of a coincidence than a contributing factor in his current popularity. Erik Scalavino

Hi, all. Can you please help a confused fan? Every year, the Patriots' coordinators and staff are front-runners for new roles and coaching jobs. How do their contracts work? Looking at Josh McDaniels in particular, why – especially after last year with the Colts – is he not tied into, say, a three-year deal? I read that he and Flores are already being approached. Are the rules and regulations different? Love the post-game show and a big PFW fan. TJ Looker

While we at PFW aren't allowed access to the contracts of New England's assistant coaches, we can give you relative assurances, based on information to which we are privy, that each coach's contract is unique to that particular individual. In McDaniels' case, he reportedly inked a five-year contract last January that pays him in excess of $4 million per year to be New England's offensive coordinator. My educated guess is that there is a clause in that contract which allows McDaniels to pursue head coaching jobs if other teams request him for interviews.

Of course, clubs have a right to deny such requests of their in-house talent. Last year, for instance, the Patriots denied the Houston Texans' request to speak with Nick Caserio and Monte Ossenfort, two top-tier personnel executives.

All we can tell you for sure, TJ, is that by allowing both McDaniels and Flores to interview for jobs this month, the Patriots are, for whatever reason, clearly not holding either of those men back from pursuing employment elsewhere. Erik Scalavino

What are the chances that we see Stephen Anderson added to the active roster for the postseason run? We could really use the receiving depth, and he is a talented, athletic prospect. It would be nice to have a receiving tight end to take pressure off of Gronk, as Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister aren't really involved in the passing game. Jordan F.

Before this afternoon, I would have said, 'Slim to none, barring something catastrophic at the tight end position.' I'd barely seen Anderson on the field, so, I couldn't say just how athletic or adept at pass-catching he is, but the fact that he's been on the practice squad for most of this season is a solid indication that the team likes him at some level.

That seems to be the case now that Jacob Hollister has been placed on injured reserve with a hamstring issue that's plagued him all season. Anderson now has a chance to contribute, but I'd venture to say that he might be more involved in the competition this coming spring and summer. Erik Scalavino

Which players do you think are most likely to be brought back next year out of all the Patriots' free agents? It's almost scary to think about how much talent the Patriots could lose to free agency this year after already taking a big hit last year. LJ Cox

Hello from New Hampshire. Two questions. I believe Larry Fitzgerald is going to be a free agent. What are the chances of the Patriots signing him to a one year deal? What are the chances of Malcolm Mitchell returning next season? Thank you. Mark Bushnell

Every offseason – once the offseason actually arrives – we put together comprehensive free agency reports for every position and post them on In those reports, we analyze who we think will be back with the team and which external players might be good fits to sign here. Those are available in the two weeks or so leading up to the start of the new NFL year, which, in 2019, begins on Wednesday, March 13 at 4 p.m. Eastern.

We need time to pour over the lengthy list of players across the league to compile a meaningful analysis, and that's not something we can dedicate resources to during the postseason. So, please be patient and you'll have all your free-agent questions answered in early March.

However, I'm fairly confident, as I've written in this space numerous times before, that Mitchell's opportunity with New England came and went and he will not have another. Erik Scalavino

Could you see Coach Bill having the patience to deal with Josh Gordon IF he is reinstated, or is this the end of the line for him? Also, With Antonio Brown causing trouble in Pittsburgh, along with him and Brady exchanging social media posts, do you think it's possible that we could see AB in a Patriots uniform next year? Daniel Hill

My hunch is that Gordon's time in Foxborough is over, regardless if he is ever allowed to play in the league again, which is far from guaranteed. Meantime, a trade for the talented Brown would mean acquiring a player with significant "diva" qualities that I'm not sure would be worth the trouble for this organization. I wouldn't rule it out entirely, but, again, it's something worth revisiting in the offseason. Erik Scalavino

Each year we hear the same lament, "Only offensive players are considered for the MVP." Here's a thought: Why not change it to an MVP for the offense, an MVP for the defense, and also a special teams MVP. It solves the problem, doesn't compromise any position (except o-line), creates more debate among the fans, shines a light on more players, and the cost is minimal. From where I sit, it would be a win-win for the players, NFL, fans, and all types of media. What's your take and if negative, your reason(s)? Dave Brown

I'm not sure it's a pressing issue for the league at this time, but it's not a bad idea, Dave. I'd consider it if I were in a position to do so. Erik Scalavino

I know Matthew Slater is a receiver by position, but since he never plays it, I'm assuming he has trouble catching the ball. But since he is such a great athlete and can tackle, has he ever been tried as a safety? I know I've never seen him there, but it seems to me he could have been more useful adding to the defense instead of just special teams. Brian Hughes

Early in his Patriots career, before he found a niche on special teams, yes, Slater bounced back and forth between safety and wide receiver. Clearly, he's a gifted athlete to be able to do so, but the coaching staff feels he is best suited for his role on special teams, where he's been named to numerous Pro Bowls over the years. I'm not sure he'd have much more of an impact on defense than he's had as a receiver. What Slater provides on special teams is more valuable to this team than what he'd bring to either of the other two aspects of the game. Erik Scalavino

Question from a rookie fan in New Zealand, so, please forgive any ignorance. Danny Etling seemed to have a good start with the Patriots. He can obviously run (his 86-yard touchdown in the preseason a perfect example). I know he's a rookie (and now on the practice squad), but wouldn't it make sense for BB to use him instead of Brian Hoyer in games where the Pats have a commanding lead and they decide to pull TB12 from the game early? It doesn't appear that Hoyer, at 33, is a long-term solution to the Patriots' QB dilemma, especially given Tom wants to play for 2 or more years. By using Danny in this role, he gets valuable experience, and his young legs could add an extra dimension the offense. Chris Young

No, it isn't feasible at this stage, Chris. First of all, as you mentioned, Etling is currently a practice squad player. He's not on the active roster. If New England wanted to elevate Etling over Hoyer, they'd have to make room for him on the 53.

Second, Etling, as you mentioned, is a rookie, and not nearly in a position to be Tom Brady's backup should Brady be lost for an extended period. Hoyer is far more capable of leading this offense right now.

That said, the Patriots clearly believe Etling has promise, as evidenced by his being taken on road trips throughout this season. It's unusual for practice squad players to be given this opportunity. So, that obviously indicates that Etling is being groomed to some extent. It will be interesting to see how much growth Etling has undergone this year when the spring and summer practice sessions get underway. At that point, we could see him work his way up the depth chart, but not before then. Erik Scalavino

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