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Ask PFW: Drafting up a plan

Patriots fans have finally turned their attention away from the high profile departures and toward the additions on the horizon in next month's draft. Most everyone believes linebacker to be the team's biggest need.

Who and what do you think we will go after in the upcoming NFL draft. With the acquisition of Duane Starks at corner I think that gives us some flexibility to go after the best player available instead of going after strictly a secondary player. What do you think? I would prefer someone like David Pollack out of Georgia.Tom Moniz

I like Pollack's intensity and desire but from what I've read it seems like he'll be gone if the Patriots sit tight at No. 32. Of course, Belichick and Pioli aren't afraid to play the trading game come draft day so they could always move up. But in terms of philosophy, I don't think the Patriots fit into any one line of thinking when it comes to need vs. best player available. I've seen examples of both in their history drafting together and I wouldn't be surprised to see them take a linebacker, but only if they felt the player was among the best available at the time. What the Patriots generally don't do is reach for a player just because he fills a need. That's when teams generally get in trouble. I still think corner is a need but linebacker, to me, is the biggest area of concern and I'd expect the Patriots to address it either through free agency or on the first day of the draft – or both.
Paul Perillo

Please can you tell me how much longer is Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel are under a contract with the Patriots?
Brian Reed
New Hampshire

McGinest has two years remaining of his current deal while Vrabel through 2007. Both players have significant bonuses due that would likely prohibit them staying under their current deals, however. McGinest is due $3.5 million before 2006 while Vrabel has a $1 million bonus before 2005 followed by a pair of $6 million bonuses in 2006 and 2007. McGinest, who will turn 34 in December, is nearing the end of the line so his bonus may wind up being moot, but Vrabel (30 in August) would likely still be part of the plan in two or three years and would need to have his deal reworked.
Paul Perillo

Looking at the Bruschi situation and availability of MLB in the draft, and the fact the defensive line for the Pats carries somewhere around 6 quality players, is it possible the Pats could be ready to switch back to a 4-3 defense? It would seem to make sense. Seymour would go back to playing tackle with Wilfork with a rotation of possibly Traylor. Warren and Green would play the ends with a rotation of possibly Hill, and Johnson would be the lone MLB sharing time with Klecko as he learns the position. The current rotation of OLB would continue with McGinest, Colvin and Vrabel. Seeing how many upper level draft picks that have been used on DLs in the last three drafts, and the fact that we have more playmakers on the line than we currently have at the 'backer position, it would seem this has planned out already. Also it would provide a solution to the MLB issue if we didn't need an immediate starter, BB could focus more on the CB and WR positions in the first day of the draft. Have there been any comments around the organization about this?Jim Loewke

There is certainly plenty that makes sense about your scenario. Based solely on personnel, the Patriots could easily switch back to the 4-3. But I think the whole thing is highly overrated in the first place. Whether Belichick employs three or four linebackers is sort of irrelevant. Regardless, the Patriots are going to have the players use the same techniques and schemes whether they line up in a 4-3 or 3-4. The two-gap principles will be in effect either way. My guess is Belichick will continue his efforts to maintain flexibility in his system by having players that can be utilized in different ways. It's my belief that he would rather stay with the 3-4 if he has a choice since this is what he has done most often in the past. But as you pointed out, necessity may change things.
Paul Perillo

The linebacker position w/the question mark on T. Bruschi and the age of W. McGinest seems to be a focus in the upcoming draft. Who from the college ranks are we looking at? And is there anyone we can get in a trade or free agency?
Tina Raptis

The Patriots don't make their draft plans public so it's almost impossible to determine which players, if any, they're interested in at linebacker. Most of the draft boards have players like Florida's Channing Crowder, Georgia's Odell Thurman, Oklahoma's Lance Mitchell and Nebraska's Barrett Ruud ranked as the top linebackers available. I'd expect the Patriots to select at least one linebacker at some point on Day 1 of the draft while also looking into possible free agents that may be available.
Paul Perillo

I noticed in an article that Randall Gay and Dan Koppen benefited from the NFL's "performance-based pay" program. Does this program have any effect on the team's salary cap numbers? Percentage wise, which teams players benefit the most from this program?
Marc Roy

According the collective bargaining agreement, salaries earned through the performance-based pay program does not count toward the cap. The pool is projected on a league-wide basis and deducted from the calculation of the salary cap before the start of the league year.
Paul Perillo

With all of the players the Patriots have lost this off season (Law, Brown, Andruzzi, Patten and Phifer) do you thick there will be a leadership problem on the team next season.Mike Rizzotti

While that is a concern, I believe the team still has plenty of leaders left to maintain the type of atmosphere the Patriots want in the locker room. Players like Harrison, Brady, Ted Johnson, McGinest, Vrabel, Izzo and Seymour are well respected and several other younger players like Branch, Givens and Wilson seem to be cut in the same mold. Even though the guys that are leaving are leaders, there are still plenty left to carry that load.
Paul Perillo

Assuming that we need help at inside linebacker with or without Tedy, is there a possibility that one of the outside linebackers, particularly Vrabel could move inside and be effective? I think Vrabel is a playmaker and instinctive player like Tedy and he has the best choice. How is Klecko doing recovering from his injury and will he be a factor at inside linebacker?
John M
Boca Raton, Fla.

I think there's a chance the Patriots could move an outside linebacker to the inside much like they did with Roman Phifer a few years ago, but I don't think it will happen. Vrabel, McGinest, Colvin and Banta-Cain – the main outside linebackers – all have played as defensive ends at one point in their careers. They're more suited as outside pass rushers who can also perform well in pass coverage on the perimeter. Having them move inside as run stoppers would be a drastic change for any of them. Belichick has surprised us before, but I don't see any of that group switching. As for Klecko, we haven't heard anything about his injury rehab but I don't see him as a major factor at inside linebacker based on his lack of experience playing the position. He didn't see any defensive action last year before the injury and obviously he was a nose tackle in college. So I don't see him stepping into a major role alongside Ted Johnson.
Paul Perillo

I heard a rumor that if Clarett was available last year the Pats were going to draft him in round 3. I believe that since we swapped picks with Arizona in the 5th (that is an early pick) if Clarett is still available (and he should be) we would use that 5th pick to take him. I think it would be interesting. Thoughts?

I agree that Clarett is a definite second-day possibility. The Patriots have plenty of information on him because quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels' father coached Clarett in high school. If the reports are good, I doubt the Patriots would let a subpar 40 time at the combine dissuade them from taking a crack at such a talented kid late in the draft.
Paul Perillo

With the release of Law, Brown ... and possible losing Tedy Bruschi forever, do you think New England still has a good enough defense to stop some of these teams with a very talented offense?
Patrick Skaarup

Really the big loss here would be Bruschi if he were sidelined for good. Law is tremendous but Samuel and Gay proved last year they could fill in capably. So the secondary, while a bit thin, should be OK without Law. But losing Bruschi and Phifer leaves Ted Johnson as the lone experienced inside linebacker on the roster. That means the Patriots almost have to add some depth to that position – whether it be through the draft or free agency. But there remains plenty of talent, not to mention Belichick's schemes, for the Patriots defense to continue to succeed. They have a pretty deep defensive front plus an experienced and talented group of outside linebackers. Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson also return in the back of the defense so no one in the league will be shedding any tears for the Patriots defense.
Paul Perillo

I'm sure that Pats management has it all well in hand, but I would have thought we (fans) would have heard something on a successor to Charlie Weis by now. I'm sure the search is well underway but Chuck Long at Oklahoma would be a legitimate choice. Please release some info on this subject. As far as I'm concerned this is a much bigger (missing) piece of the pie than the few player signings that I've read about.
Jay Zimmerman

You haven't read much about it because there isn't much to write. The Patriots announced their coaching staff several weeks ago and there wasn't anyone with the title of offensive coordinator listed. More than likely Belichick plans to do much of the offensive work himself, as he did in the past during some of his Cleveland years. He also is likely grooming a young coach (Josh McDaniels perhaps?) for the job in the future. But I wouldn't be overly concerned about the offense as long as Brady is still the one running the show. He tends to make whoever is calling the plays look pretty good.
Paul Perillo

Incentive laden contracts like Corey Dillon's affect the team in the following year that he makes the incentive, is that not correct? So how much did we have to pay for all incentives from '04, i.e. that is a form of dead money too just like releasing a player and paying the remainder of his signing bonus. Now if we are only $2.3 million under the cap and have to sign draft picks, wouldn't you say there is concern about the cap and that is why we cannot sign big name free agents.
Len Rucki

Let me clear up a few things regarding the cap in this case. First, Dillon's incentives were deemed not likely to be earned because he hadn't reached those milestones in 2003. That means the incentives he reached last season count toward the 2005 cap for the Patriots. That is not dead money but part of Dillon's 2005 cap number. He was slated to earn about $3.85 million in salary this year but the incentives will push that number near $6 million. That means that deal will need to be reworked, actually it probably already has been. But whatever cap figure Dillon has would not take anything away from the remaining space the Patriots have at this point. In other words, if the Patriots have $2.3 million in cap space (as you stated), Dillon's incentives will not cut into that total but rather are included in that. I'm not aware of exactly how much cap space the Patriots currently have, but the team is not is such dire straits in that regard that it would prohibit it from signing the draft picks and potential free agents.
Paul Perillo

Pats fact: Back in 1960 the Patriots first Head Coach was Lou Saban, and he was dismissed five games into the 1961 season after going 7-12. My question: Are Lou and our new Dolphins rival Nick Saban related?
Mark Kupczyewski

There seems to be some confusion regarding this matter. I've read in the past that Lou is Nick's uncle but there are some reports that dispute that. The new Dolphins coach's full name is Nick Lou Saban and many bios for him list Lou as anywhere from a distant relative to his uncle. The Dolphins have yet to post a bio of Nick on their website but my best guess is the two are indeed related.
Paul Perillo

Do you think Dan Klecko has any resemblance to Bruschi, having played defensive line in college and making the move to linebacker in the pros? I like him a lot and I think he'd fill in admirably.Max Margulis

Klecko and Bruschi are definitely similar in that they both played the interior defensive line in college and linebacker in the NFL. Any other similarities that develop remain to be seen. Klecko has not played one real down of defense as a linebacker so it's impossible to say if he will be able to make that transition. I think he's actually better suited to maintain his role as a spot duty fullback, but he will likely get a chance to continue his development as a linebacker this summer.
Paul Perillo

I hear all the time on SportsCenter, and other sports news channels about Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress, and others, but why not Deion Branch? David Givens? Is it just me or are they just simply both amazing? Givens with his touchdown streak in the playoffs, and how clutch has each of those touchdowns have been? Respect needs to be given to these guys. I don't care about Randy Moss, because his playoffs stats are probably nothing compared to Givens' and Branch's, and the playoffs are what really matter. I mean, Branch has what it takes to be a 1,000-yard a year receiver, but it will be tough because of how Brady distributes the ball so much. Givens almost got to the 1,000-yard mark this year so we'll see what next year holds. I just want to know why these guys are not given as much respect as the "stars" such as Randy Moss or T.O. Givens and Branch each have two Super Bowl rings, and Branch is the MVP of one of them.
Jared Brouillette

You don't care about Randy Moss?? Isn't that showing him a lack of respect, just like you're complaining others are doing to Givens and Branch? Is the number of Super Bowl rings a player has the only way to evaluate a player's ability? If that was the case, I guess only the players who have been on teams that have won Super Bowls can be considered great players. Randy Moss may not be the best team player in the league but in terms of talent he's off the charts. You say Givens and Branch are potential 1,000-yard receivers but Moss and Owens already have posted those types of numbers on a consistent basis. Because their teams haven't won the Super Bowl doesn't mean observers can't marvel at their ability. Givens and Branch are solid players and their team-oriented approach makes them even more valuable. But from a pure talent aspect, players like Moss and Owens are at a much higher level.
Paul Perillo

Toward the end of last season rookie P.K. Sam, while on IR, was suspended. Media reports indicated that he was not too diligent in rehab or attending meetings, which ultimately led to the suspension. Can you tell me what his current status is and if the reports were accurate? I'd also like to hear your opinion on his potential since he arrived here with plenty of hype but never got the chance to show anything on the field.
John Farrell

About the only thing I can confirm about San is that he was indeed placed on the reserve/suspended list before the Super Bowl. The team never issued any information as to why that was the case so I cannot confirm any of the reports that indicated a poor work ethic was responsible. He is currently back on the active roster. As for his hype, I'm not sure how much can be expected of a rookie fifth-round pick, as Sam was last year. He was the youngest player drafted last year so it's far too early to give up on him, especially given his impressive size, speed and hands. He'll be a guy to keep an eye on this offseason.
Paul Perillo

I am curious to learn what the contract status of David Givens is. I know that he is a restricted free agent but has a long-term deal been completed? I would hate to lose him as I think he is becoming a very solid and important player for the team.
James Corbett

Givens was offered a medium tender as a restricted free agent, which would pay him $1.43 million in base salary in 2005. If another team offers him a contract, the Patriots would have the right to match the offer or receiver a first-round pick as compensation in return. I spoke to Givens about a month ago and he indicated that there has been little or no talk between him and the team regarding a long-term extension, but things can change pretty quickly in these matters.
Paul Perillo

I don't know if you guys have seen Northeastern games in the past couple years, but middle linebacker Liam Ezekiel is an absolute beast and I would be very pleased to see the Patriots draft him on the second day. This kid is strong as an ox and plays with extreme passion. The only reason he isn't a top prospect is because he passed up on a scholarship to West Virginia to stay close to home at Northeastern. What are your thoughts on the possibility of Ezekiel staying close to home again, with the Pats?

Believe it or not I've seen almost all of Northeastern's home games, and even some on the road, during Ezekiel's four years with the Huskies. He's a terrific player who would a great fit as a run stuffing inside linebacker in the Patriots 3-4. Many draft sites list him as a mid-to-late second day pick and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Patriots take a chance on him, but I haven't heard anything from the team in that regard.
Paul Perillo

Hi Guys, Any clue why so much inactivity from the Pats this offseason. Other then the Starks trade, and the Tim Dwight signing we have not heard any thing. Could it be that B.B. is hiding in the tall grass until after the draft when teams believe a particular new draft pick could replace a current team player, thus making that player expendable. It seems a good majority of the teams have spent most if not all of there offseason war chest. I just get the feeling after the draft we may see a big splash at the Razor. Just wanted to get your thoughts.
Pete Condon

I think the Patriots MO every season under Belichick has involved patience. They rarely jump into free agency immediately but rather take their time in identifying the players they believe best fit their system. You mentioned Starks and Dwight, both of whom I believe are typical Patriots signings in that they represent a very high risk-reward ratio. If both stay healthy then the Patriots can get a pair of contributors without sacrificing too much in return. But I don't think there will be many earth-shattering signings in the future. Maybe the team will choose to re-sign a player like Troy Brown or even Ty Law, but I would be surprised to see a major signing from another team.
Paul Perillo

In the past four drafts the Patriots have selected either a TE or a DL (or both) in the first round of the draft. As a result, the team is very deep at both positions. I know that the Patriots use a "best player available" system as far as drafting goes, but with other areas clearly more important, even if a TE or DL is the "best" player on their board at pick 32, do you think that they will reach a bit to fill more of a need position such as OL, WR, ILB, or DB?Mike Rumsey

I don't really agree that the Patriots are a "best player available" drafting team. They certainly have drafted with position in mind as well. Ty Warren comes to mind back in 2003 when the team was looking for a nose tackle to plug into the 3-4. I feel the Patriots do a good job of weighing both sides of that equation and look at the best players available and then see which ones play positions that the team needs most. If a quarterback is the best player available at No. 32, you can bet the Patriots won't be taking him. However, I don't think they will "reach" to take a LB or any other position at 32. If they target LB as the biggest need but a LB isn't among a small group of the best available at 32, they'll take a player from another position rather than settling for an inferior player that fills a need.
Paul Perillo

I was talking with some of my friends recently about Pats letting go of Brown. I think it sucks that he's gone but I understand why. I was thinking that instead of signing another WR the Pats should move Watson or maybe even Fauria to Brown's position and then switch between Graham and whoever is not on receiver on TE. I was just wondering if they would even consider that, or if they will just sign another WR?
Chris Flynn

I don't think it would be wise to consistently use tight ends as wide receivers. Troy Brown was a very effective slot receiver for several years for the Patriots. Asking a tight end to perform similar duties is rather unrealistic. Benjamin Watson runs very well for a tight end but is he agile enough to beat cornerbacks one-on-one from the slot? Maybe he is, but I'd bet against it. The Patriots likely need to add another receiver and will likely find one somewhere in the draft.
Paul Perillo

With Ty Law as yet unsigned with another NFL team, is there the remotest possibility he could yet be a Patriot next year? You reported in this column that he would likely sign with Kansas City – what's stopping him signing?
Tom Roberts

Bill Belichick has taught us all to never rule out virtually anything. I would doubt Law would ever return (probably my mutual decision) but recent reports have indicated that as a possibility. I don't think Law would take less to return, but if no one offers him a contract to his liking and the Patriots make an offer, I believe Law would accept it. As for his imminent signing in Kansas City, I've read only that he's met with Chiefs officials but no offers have been made public.
Paul Perillo

I would like your thoughts on moving Tully Banta-Cain to inside linebacker. Presently, the three-man rotation outside is Vrabel, McGinest and Colvin. You also have Matt Chatham available. Thus, Banta-Cain will not see much action outside. He would appear to have the size, speed and measurables to play inside. Please explain why I am wrong in this thinking.Kent Pandolf

Again, Belichick has taught me not to dismiss anything, but Banta-Cain as an inside linebacker would also seem unlikely. He was a pass rushing defensive end in college and has been a stand up pass rusher from the outside as a pro. Moving him to the inside would be asking him to totally learn another position, one in which he has absolutely no experience playing. His speed also seems to make him a better fit outside.
Paul Perillo

Why are the Pats playing the Raiders on opening night? That doesn't really make much sense because the Raiders aren't a good team and I thought the Pats were going to host the Colts again.
Nathan Graf

I totally agree, Nathan. Oakland coming to town offers very little in the way of drama other than Randy Moss. Now maybe Oakland can rebound this year and become last year's San Diego, but until the Raiders improve I'd rather see a team like San Diego or Indy come to Foxborough.
Paul Perillo

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