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Ask PFW: Early offseason fury

Hi, thanks guys for the great job you've done all season. I was wondering what you think of Jonathon Wilhite's future with this team. Has he shown enough to be brought back and start perhaps ahead of Ellis Hobbs if the team chose to upgrade the corner position either in the draft or free agency? Also from what I saw of Terrence Wheatley briefly before he was injured he seemed to have good potential. Will this affect Wilhite's position? P.S. Can't wait to see the Pats play in London!David Grew

Clearly both Wilhite and Wheatley are in the plans for the future at cornerback. A fourth-round pick, Wilhite saw the field earlier than his draft mate Wheatley (second-round). A lot of that had to do with Wilhite's advanced level of technique coming into the league out of Auburn and his ability to play in the slot early in the season. Then, just when Wheatley broke into the starting lineup at Indy, he was lost for the year due to injury. That allowed Wilhite to get a starting job later in the season, replacing Deltha O'Neal. I thought he played relatively well in the late-season action. At worst, he didn't show up too often getting beat for plays. He also showed good awareness to come back on the ball for the interception in Oakland. He seems pretty physical and pretty versatile (able to play inside and out), which bodes well for his future in a Bill Belichick secondary. As much as Hobbs may have struggled at times this season, I'm not sure either second-year player will be ready to pass him on the depth chart next summer and fall. Time will tell, but I do think both youngsters have a chance to be playmakers for this team in the defensive backfield even if we only have a limited sampling of their abilities to go on at this point.
Andy Hart

What draft pick do we have next year and what do you guys think Bill will do with it? (side note, will Scott Pioli be back do you think?) Most mock drafts have us taking an OT or CB but with the talent at LB, wouldn't it be better and to go with our philosophy of later round DBs and O-linemen? Of course, there's always the chance we could try and move up for say, Taylor Mays?!?!? To me, our biggest holes are safety and O-Line because of injury issues and then LB afterwards. Wouldn't it be great to have a Rey Maualuga or James Laurinitis next to Jerod [Mayo], or maybe even a Brian Cushing to complement Adalius [Thomas], or the guy from Wake? What do you guys think?Pascal Rawls-Philippe

I love the early draft talk, but have to admit I'm not prepared to make assessments on college players at this point. My draft analysis and research begins today.
As of right now the Patriots hold the 24th pick in April's draft, although that could change moving forward because the Super Bowl winner and runner-up will select 32nd and 31st respectively. So if those slots end up being any of the playoff team's currently slated to select ahead of New England – San Diego, Arizona, Philadelphia or Minnesota – the team could up one or two slots.
If I had to rank some of the Patriots needs at this early point in the offseason I would start in the secondary in terms of a playmaking safety and more talent/depth at cornerback. Then I'd include more youthful talent at both inside and outside linebacker, offensive tackle and a potential playmaker on offense from either the running back or tight end position. A lot can change between now and the draft, though.
Andy Hart

The Patriots had the best record of any team not in the playoffs. I know the Super Bowl teams get picks 31 and 32, so this should put the Pats at #20, right? It looks like they however are scheduled to pick 24th. Was there a trade or something that I am not aware of?Andrew Grigg

First time entry for me so here goes. What will the Pats draft position be related to those who are in the playoffs with less wins? Thanks for your insight. PFW keeps us who live far from New England in the loop.Todd Green

Aside from the Super Bowl winner and runner-up picking 32nd and 31st, the NFL Draft order is slotted based on the teams' previous year's record. That leaves the Patriots, at this point, with the 24th slot in the draft. That could change slightly based on the Super Bowl. New England's 11-5 record earned the 24th slot as it gets the highest pick of all the 11-5 teams based on the fact that it was the only one not to earn a playoff spot.
Andy Hart

Hey PFW, I noticed that both Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini were just fired today. I am unsure where Dean Pees stands with his contract, but regardless, what do you think the chances are of the New England Patriots bringing either Crennel or Mangini back as defensive coordinator since our defense was so successful and won Super Bowls when they were with the team?
Steve Lemieux

Hi, I was wondering what do you think about signing Eric Mangini and if so where would we put him as?
Joshua Pales

What do you think the chances are of us getting Romeo crenel again as a coordinator?Brad Carroll

It is interesting that both Crennel and Mangini became available again on the same day. I was sorry to see both of them get the ax. I always had positive experiences dealing with both guys and I hate to see people lose their jobs. My guess is that Crennel would be welcomed back to New England as it seemed left on solid terms with the organization and Coach Belichick. Could he be an option as an assistant head coach on defense? Sure seems like it could be a possibility depending on his other job options and how things shake down here in New England. The Mangini situation is a little different. Obviously a lot has gone on between the Patriots and Jets since he jumped from one side to the other. How much effect that would have on his relationship with this organization is something that I can't answer. Would he be welcomed back? I don't know. Many people seem to assume he would not be, but I don't know that to be the case one way or the other. My guess would be that Crennel is a more likely candidate for a return but I also don't have any definitive information on what the future holds for either Pees or current Special Assistant/secondary coach Dom Capers. I have no reason at this point to believe either won't be back, but you never know what changes will take place during the offseason.
Andy Hart

With the end of the season and Matt Cassel's contract ending, where do you think Cassel will end up next year? My thought is that he would end up going to Tampa Bay (because Gruden loves QBs) or the Jets or Vikes.Jacob Nepini

This is the $14-60 million question of the offseason. Cassel could land anywhere from New England to San Francisco or any point in between. The Patriots could try to retain him. They could let him test the free agent waters. They could use the franchise tag on him. There are so many different scenarios. As for teams that I think should be interested I would include the 49ers, Lions, Chiefs, Vikings, Bucs and the Jets if Favre decides to finally hang it up. Could that be influenced by where either Josh McDaniels or Scott Pioli lands if either decides to move on from New England? Sure. Does Cassel have a major say in where he goes? Sure. Do the Patriots have some say in where he goes? Sure. This is going to be one of the major storylines to watch this winter and spring. I don't think anyone could predict, at this early point, how it will play out.
Andy Hart

First of all, I am extremely proud of the Patriots and the great season they managed to put together despite all the injuries. 11-5 is a great record and usually gets you into the playoffs. Way to go and thank you Pats for a wonderful year! Can you give us an update on Tom's rehab? A scroll along the bottom of the screen during one of yesterdays games said his rehab was not going well. Also, if he is struggling during rehab do you think the Pats will make a strong offer to Matt to keep him and maybe work Tom back into the game slowly in 2009?
Jim Dow

Hello PFW! First off, I would like to thank you for all of your information, insight, and assistance over the years...I love when I see the PFW column pop up on the site. Now for my questions and concern. Do you think that Tom's career might be coming to an end earlier than we all would want and expect? With the [reported] engagement (congrats to him by the way), his injury, the newly reported complications of the surgery, his age, and how well Matt did this year, I can't help to think that he might be done physically and mentally. There were also reports during training camp that for the first time he did not win the award for outstanding training camp and he lost his parking spot for working the hardest, which to me started off the season on a sour note. Then looking back on his demeanor in the SB, and the first game this year during warm-ups, I got the impression that something just wasn't right...Should we be worried that his time has come? Thanks again for your time...
Scott Ogurick

I know Tom Brady's future with the team is a hot topic these days. Seems like everywhere we turn there is a new, contradictory story on his status as he returns from knee surgery. Rather than speculate which of these stories is the most accurate, I'll simply go with what Bill Belichick said in his Monday press conference at Gillette Stadium:
"Tom's here on a regular basis. I see him all the time. I see our doctors and trainers all the time. I don't need to go read a report and see what somebody else has to say. Those people are all here. We do it on a regular basis."
Brady's situation will play itself out in the coming months just as Cassel's will, though the two may be intertwined to some degree. And it's clear that Belichick is pretty comfortable in the fact that he's kept up to date with Brady's status. And as far as Brady's motivation or drive to play the game, I don't think I'd feel comfortable questioning that at this time. He's coming back from a major injury. People are wondering about his future and even some fans here in Ask PFW have proposed trading the two-time Super Bowl MVP. I have to think he'll use all those doubts and questions as motivation. It's dangerous to ever question Brady's drive, even more so now given all that's happened over the last year.
Andy Hart

If the rumors are true and our offensive coordinator and GM get interview for Cleveland or Detroit-will the Pats get compensation? I thought Pioli signed a long-term contract last year? Is a GM worth a head coach -- 1st round pick -- or is that negotiated between teams? Would an OC be worth a 1st round pick as well?Stephen Greene

As far as I know, the league no longer allows for teams trading draft picks for off-field personnel. Based on published reports the Patriots have given permission to the Browns to talk to Pioli and assistant coaches are always allowed to interview for promotions to head coach with another team, whether they are under contract at the time or not. Sorry to burst your bubble, but if Pioli and/or McDaniels leave, there will be no compensation coming back in return.
Andy Hart

I've heard a lot about whether or not to franchise Cassel (the WBCN post-game crew had some especially spirited debate), but I'm curious what your thoughts are at PFW. Some of the national media guys seem to think it's a sure thing he'll be franchised. But from a practical standpoint, it seems risky, sleazy and stupid. Would it be possible to sign him to a big contract, which is trade-friendly? (i.e. not a lot of bonus).Will B.

Anything is possible, even with the restraints of the salary cap. Your type of sign-and-trade scenario is not likely, but possible. There are also risks that come with pretty much anything. I don't think that the franchise route is sleazy or stupid. It's risky but in my mind it's also good business and doing business the way it is often done in the NFL.
Andy Hart

Is it time for us to start rebuilding? At least our defense needs it, what do you think? Could we perhaps trade Brady for a 1st and 2nd re-sign Cassel and use those draft picks for defense?Bruce Kowaleski

I don't think what the Patriots need to do this offseason is accurately described as rebuilding. That's what teams that win one or two games do. The Patriots are an 11-win team that needs to re-tool on the run here. A lot of that will come on defense. But let's not forget that the team drafted four guys last year – Jerod Mayo, Terrence Wheatley, Shawn Crable and Jonathan Wilhite – who could all be candidates for major playing time next season. Put undrafted free agent Gary Guyton into that mix. If the team adds one or two Mayo-type impact rookies to that in this April's draft then the defense could have a dramatically different look next fall and could be on its way toward dramatically different and better results than was the case at times this season.
I'm not a fan of the idea of trading Brady. I think he's a sure thing (assuming he's healthy enough to play) and that's not something you can say about draft picks. Unless I'm getting a ridiculous haul for Brady (meaning three first-round picks or more) I'm not even thinking about making that trade. As Simon would say in his not-so-lovable accent on American Idol, "Sorry."
Andy Hart

I wanted to send this off before I know whether or not the Pats make the playoffs. I have been a Pats fan since 1960 and I have never been prouder of the team. They have overcome so much adversity and have remained competitive. So, playoffs or not, congratulations on a great season! PS - I hope Matt Cassel makes a lot of money - he deserves it.Richard Mason

While Richard Mason sent this before Sunday's win in Buffalo, I don't think his sentiments changed after the game. My guess is that nearly all of Patriots Nation feels the same way at this point, even considering the disappointment of missing out on the playoffs. The team should be proud of what it accomplished, even if it didn't end in the postseason. They fought the good fight, it just didn't come together for them in the end. And I couldn't agree more on Cassel. He's one of the great guys in the locker room. He's been buried behind stars for eight years. He finally got his time to shine and boy did he. Not sure how or where it works out for him next fall, but I hope he makes a lot of money and continues to have a lot of success in the NFL.
Andy Hart

I know that on of the rookie head coaches will probably get Coach of the Year, but in my mind I think BB deserves it...The Pats lost the best player in the league (Brady), have had 13 full time starters out, and 6 backups who came in as starters out because of injuries hurt...so that makes 19 KEY INJURIES! And yet they are still 10-5 and have a chance at the playoffs even though they had a kind of tough schedule and division. Most non-fans hate BB but I think he deserves the award. What are your thoughts?Travis Bachman

I think your numbers are a little inflated to make your point, as the team only ended the season with 14 players total on injured reserve, but I agree with the overall sentiment. The Patriots overcame a lot this year, both mentally and physically over the course of the season. Belichick was the guy who led the team through it all. He deserves a ton of the praise, a message many of the players stated in the locker room in the wake of Sunday's win in Buffalo. He's the best in the game and probably could get coach of the year votes every season. He won't win it because of what some of the rookie coaches did, but he faced challenges throughout the course of the season like virtually no other coach in the league. Through it all he kept his team competitive, focused and on course to win 11 games. For that, he's to be commended. He's certainly my coach of the year.
Andy Hart

Who was the head coach in 1973 and 1974?Mark Fogarty

Chuck Fairbanks coached the Patriots from 1973 through late in the 1978 season.
Andy Hart

Hey, I was wondering why the Patriots punted so many times on 3rd down [against Buffalo]. At the end of the fourth quarter they had a chance to run another 40secs off but instead punted. Can you please elaborate? Thank you.Mark B.

The Patriots did indeed punt twice on third down in the fourth quarter of the windy win in Buffalo. The first was a 57-yard Matt Cassel quick kick that rolled to the Bills 2. The second was out of a tradition punt formation and resulted in a Chris Hanson 41-yard boot to the Bills 19. Afterwards Belichick said the decisions were due to protection concerns as the Bills had sent 10 men on previous punt attempts as they tried to come back in the tough conditions. Obviously the Cassel punt eliminated that issue as it catches the defense off guard. The second situation gave the Patriots the insurance of an extra down in case there was a problem with the snap or catch in the trying conditions of the day. It was an interesting decision and obviously worked out for New England in the end.
Here is Belichick's exact quote when asked about the two decisions:
"We quick-kicked. I thought that was a situation where earlier in the game, Buffalo rushed all ten guys, so protection was going to be an issue. The quick kick saved us there, with the protection problem. Matt did a great job there. And at the end of the game, just punting on third down, making sure we didn't have any problems with protection, or snap, or anything else -- at least we would get a clean punt out there."
Andy Hart

So how much money did Favre make when he threw the game against the Phins? No one could be THAT bad in a must-win game. His picks were thrown less than 5 yards in the air......unbelievable.Steve Bean

I just liked the passion in this email. A true Patriots fan, of course he must not have watched much Favre action over the years as the future Hall of Famer piled up 310 interceptions over the last 18 seasons. The man is known for interceptions that give fans, coaches and even teammates fits.
Andy Hart

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