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Ask PFW: Free advice

The free agency period is just about upon us and the Patriots are facing several questions regarding some significant players. We do our best to sort through them in this edition of "Ask PFW."

Sealver Siliga
Sealver Siliga

My question is salary cap. What date do they have to be under it? After they sign rookies do they have another date to be under again? Do practice squad players also fall under it and what are their minimum/maximum salaries?
Dave Chambers

All teams need to be under the salary cap at the start of the new league year, which is March 12. There is one slight variation to this, however, as during the offseason only the top 51 players in terms of salary for each team are counted. Once final cuts are made prior to the start of the regular season, that's when everybody counts – 53-man roster, practice squad, injured reserve players – everyone. Minimum salaries vary depending on service time and there are no maximums – but obviously everyone needs to be fitted under the cap.
Paul Perillo

What's going on with Brandon Lloyd? He goes from being one of our best buys during last year's free agency to being on the chopping block before the start this year's. I realize he didn't live up to the hype that he had garnered, but I still think he's worth holding on to. Do you guys think he'll be a Patriot next season? If not, who do you think the Pats will chase in order to fill the void he leaves?
Kaleb Olson

I do not think Lloyd will be back based on the many reports circulating indicating as much. These reports say Lloyd's behavior was erratic last year but if you ask me his play wasn't anywhere near what his statistics say. In fact, if not for the injuries to the tight ends I believe his numbers would have been greatly reduced. Either way, he didn't impact many games – he averaged less than 12 yards per catch and had only four touchdowns. That's not the kind of production a big-time receiver is supposed to bring. If it were up to me I'd let him walk and make a run at Brian Hartline (assuming he doesn't re-sign with Miami), who I believe can at minimum replace Lloyd's production while providing a semblance of a dee threat without the headaches that reportedly were created behind the scenes. Greg Jennings would be great but it appears that he'll cost too much money. I'd also look at former Buffalo wideout David Nelson, a big target who has had injury problems. There are other options as well, but Hartline and Nelson are two I'd look into – plus the draft.
Paul Perillo

With all the attention on Wes Welker and Aqib Talib, what is the case of Danny Woodhead re-signing with the Patriots this year?
Aldo Martinez

Woodhead wouldn't cost much to re-sign but the question is, can Shane Vereen replace him? Vereen showed glimpses, especially late in the season and in the playoffs, of being able to do the things Woodhead has provided recently. He has more explosiveness as well. The Patriots used a second-round pick on him in 2011 so obviously they're high on him. Now is the time to see what he can do with an expanded role. If Woodhead is retained, it can't be as an option over Vereen. There's room for both, but only if their roles are reversed from last season. Assuming, of course, that Vereen can stay healthy and do it for 16 games. I believe he can and would represent an upgrade over Woodhead.
Paul Perillo

With the Patriots being $25 million under cap space, does that number represent what they will have after re-signing their free agents or is that all they have to work with? I never paid attention to that stuff before this year.
Jacob Helmann


Unfortunately that figure does not include any money spent on re-signing free agents. If the Patriots were to re-sign Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer – their three top free agents – a good chunk of that money would disappear. But there are ways to sign players while avoiding huge cap hits in the first year and I'm sure if New England winds up retaining some or all of these players the team would try its best to keep the cap figures at a manageable level. But the bottom line is $25 million can go quickly depending on how you choose to spend it – and re-signing your own free agents would put a pretty good dent in that figure.
Paul Perillo

There is a former big name missing from your DT list. Has anyone discussed the possibility of signing Glenn Dorsey from the Chiefs? He seems exactly like the type of reclamation project the Pats are famous for. Low risk/high reward from a former fifth overall pick. Also, he could be a great pass-rush compliment at DT. Or is he just that bad, and we should stay away?
Justin, Chicago

On the surface you are exactly right – Dorsey is the type of reclamation project the Patriots gravitate toward. But much as has been the case with most of the former first-round picks the team has brought in, I'm not sure there's anything there with Dorsey. He's been a colossal bust with just four sacks in five years so I don't see impacting the pass rush in any way. As a run stopper he's been just average, and last year he played just four games and wound up on IR with a knee injury. Dorsey was supposed to be a versatile inside presence but in five years has done very little. I'll pass – even for short money.
Paul Perillo

Given Tom Brady's deal, why wouldn't the Patriots restructure Vince Wilfork's contract and convert his salary this year to a bonus and free up more cap space? Also why don't more teams pull this stunt? Take your top talent who is a leader and adjust his contract so that he has minimal cap implications?
Michael S.

Well first off, many teams do pull stunts like this to steal your phrase. In fact, in the same week Brady's deal was announced the Steelers performed restructures for Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons. This is a common way to open up cap space and many teams do it. The problem is it can be expensive. Any player would love to have his salary given to him up front and guaranteed but not all owners want to hand over the cash. For a player like Brady there's very little risk because he's played at such a high level for so long. But not everyone is like Brady. Wilfork plays a very physical position and he's starting to get up there in age. If he got his salary up front in a bonus, and then suffered a serious injury, that could become problematic. Injuries are a big deterrent for teams when they conduct these types of restructures. But overall, it's a very common practice and teams will continue to use it as a device to keep their cap dollars in line.
Paul Perillo

I think Jeff Demps could really be a huge weapon on the Patriots offense. Since his decision to return to track and him being the fourth running back it's pretty obvious he's slipping. I think the Pats should let him compete for the starting job or the third down back. What do you guys think?
Tommy Prunty

Demps is really a wild card at this point. The recent news that he'll be participating in track events during the offseason cannot be considered a good sign for the Patriots. This should have been a big offseason for Demps to learn the system and get prepared for training camp. It doesn't look like that will happen now that he'll be busy at track meets. But to be honest I look at Demps as a return threat and really nothing more. I believe he can provide a lift on kick returns but I don't see him as a viable third-down option out of the backfield. He's small and doesn't figure to be an effective blocker. So, even if Demps is part of the equation in 2013 I feel it will be as more of a return option than anything else.
Paul Perillo

New England Patriots James Develin (46) runs after making a catch during the NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.  The Patriots won 28-24.
 (AP Photo/Tom DiPace)

Should the Patriots let both Welker and Vollmer go? Shane Vereen who is short and fast plays better as a WR than at RB and could replace Welker for the fraction of a price. Marcus Cannon can play RT just as good as Vollmer can. Not to mention Vollmer has never truly been the same since he hurt his back. Anyways, Welker is aging and has been dropping way too many passes. Do any if all these moves make any sense?
MacKenzie Kirkey

What evidence do you have of Vereen being a viable option at wide receiver? He's never played the position. Just because he has good hands doesn't mean he is a potential replacement for Welker. As for Vollmer, I don't share your belief that Cannon is a better option. Vollmer has played at a high level when healthy and last season he played in 15 games. While I wouldn't get caught up in a bidding war for his services, I also wouldn't feel comfortable just handing the job to Cannon, who has yet to prove he's capable of playing tackle in the NFL. Vereen looks like a capable third-down back and Cannon may provide some stability as a backup tackle, but at this point I've seen nothing to indicate they're ready to assume the roles you have for them.
*Paul Perillo

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