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Ask PFW: Free-agent frenzy

I nearly jumped out of my chair when I saw the Pats signed Thomas. That was a great move...if he doesn't go Chad Brown on us. The Pats seem to be pretty aggressive this offseason so far. How do you think the recent signings will affect their focus come April? Are they still looking for a low-round linebacker or running Back or do you think that DB is the focus?Dave Cruz

Hi guys, the Pats organization proves once again why they are the best. The Thomas signing is exactly what was needed here. I was approaching this year's draft thinking those two first round picks should be spent on LBs, but I now think there is a good chance we could see at least one of those picks go to WR (I understand that WR is pretty deep this year). I may be one of the few, but I really don't see DB being a huge problem simply because the amount of injuries we have had is really what has created the problem there. Given what we know now, what positions do you see us spending most of our picks on? Thanks for your time and keep up the great work!Bob Deagan

Now that we've signed Adalius Thomas, what do you think about the Patriots trading their two first round draft picks for a pick higher in the first round to get Patrick Willis? I've seen him go as high as 14th in some mock drafts. Would our first rounders be good enough to get that pick? I think having Thomas, Willis, Bruschi and Seau in an ILB rotation would be great. Could and should we do it?Daniel Waters

While I am excited about the Adalius Thomas signing, I have to be honest....before this year I had never heard of the guy, despite his Pro-Bowl invite as a special teamer. I consider myself a decent, well-knowledged NFL fan as well. How good really is Thomas? Isn't it risky giving a big contract to a guy that had a "breakout" season in his last year before UFA? I guess I just don't know enough about this guy. Please tell me something to re-assure me. He is getting a ton of money. Was this a wise signing or not?Ty Combs

It has been so frustrating the last few years to watch free agency come and go with little fan fare. I cannot remember being this excited since the acquisition of Rosey Colvin. What I find even more exciting than the acquisition of Thomas is the aggressive nature with which the Pats are addressing other positions. Neither Kyle Brady or Sammy Morris should equate to a game changer, but the Pats grabbed them and addressed positional needs early rather than waiting for the scraps at the end of free agency. I think the Corey Dillon deal of a few years ago was a rare opportunity, and propositions like that should not be depended upon. The Wes Welker signing, while not the final solution to our receiving corps was another key acquisition that covers depth very well. I guess my point is, I couldn't be more excited with the acquisitions... thank you Patriots staff for keeping the fans excited through the offseason. So where's the question? Here goes... Did receiver just jump to the top of the priority list with these signings, or is depth at linebacker still a big enough concern to be #1?
Steve Hartigan

These emails represent just a sampling of the many we got here at Ask PFW following the exciting moves that kicked off the first week of the offseason. Obviously the Thomas addition is the key to the whole story this spring. Thomas is a clear playmaker with the versatility and experience to do many things in New England's 34 front. I don't agree with the assessment than he had "a breakout" year heading into free agency. He's a seven-year veteran who has slowly made the transition to OLB in the 3-4. He started every game over the last three seasons recording at least 72 tackles, eight sacks and an interception each year. He's always been productive on the football field going from a very good special teamer to an elite outside linebacker. He's the perfect fit to fill New England's biggest need – linebacker. I also think the contract, relative to the overall NFL economy, is a palatable one. He's getting paid very well, but certainly didn't break the bank. My only concern with Thomas is that he's going to turn 30 before the season and doesn't necessarily add any youth to the LB corps. But for the next few years I think he's the perfect playmaker for Bill Belichick's defensive schemes. Fans are going to love what Thomas will do over the next few seasons in New England. He's not the savior, but he doesn't have to be. He's joining an already elite defense and should only make it that much better.
As for what the Thomas signing does for the rest of the offseason, it certainly alters the team's list of needs a bit. I still think the team needs to add a young playmaking linebacker to the mix at some point in the draft. I really like Willis. His stock was on the rise at the Combine and he will likely get picked somewhere in the middle part of the first round. The good news is that according to the widely-used draft pick value chart packaging the Patriots 24th and 28th picks could move the team as high as the eighth overall pick in the draft. That's more than high enough to get Willis. It might even be high enough to get another stud defensive playmaker, LSU safety LaRon Landry. I also think the team still needs to address receiver, although thanks to the depth at the position that could come in the second or third round and still bring an impressive talent. Two guys to keep an eye on include a rising Jason Hill out of Washington State and Auburn's precision route runner Courtney Taylor. I also think the team needs help in the secondary at both safety and corner. But all those needs are now easier to target with the addition of the playmaking Thomas to fill out the biggest hole on the defense and make the strength of the team, the front seven, all that much more dominant.
Finally, I think the additions of Brady, Welker and Morris are like so many of the moves the Patriots have had success with in the past. They help fill needs but certainly aren't glamorous or flashy. Brady is a very good blocker and will help fill for the eventual loss of Graham. Morris is a veteran backup who can run and catch the ball. And Welker is a developing young slot receiver and team-first contributor in the mold of Troy Brown. Without the Thomas signing, the other three moves might have left Patriots fans disappointed and envisioning another lackluster offseason like a year ago. But combining the big splash with the solid contributors the early offseason maneuvers already have one of the NFL's best teams from 2006 poised to be even stronger in 2007.
Andy Hart

Are we offering pretty much the same contract to Welker, that Deion Branch got from Seattle? Why would we not give it to a proven Pats player and Brady's favorite target, but give it to the Dolphins return guy/ 4th receiver? What's the deal?John a.

5.5 Million $'s a year and our 2nd round pick for 5' 9" WES WELKER!? I live in Florida and have always told my friends I liked Wes and thought he was a Patriots kind of player, but isn't this a lot of money to pay this guy? Someone please explain this to me slowly so that I don't have walk around wondering why the Pats will give Welker 39M over 7yrs but wouldn't give Branch 39m over 6 yrs. Wasn't that what he got in Seattle?Sarah M.

As much as I like Wes Welker, do you guys think they are reaching too much, both contract wise and draft picks in this trade? Can this guy be a full-time starter? All I kept hearing for the last two weeks is how deep this year's draft is at WR. Should they have kept the pick and drafted somebody with some more size? Initial reactions from some sports media is that the Pats gave up too much for this guy. What if they can't work out an extension? He could walk this offseason. How do you guys grade this trade?Ben Askew

As a Patriot fan, to me, it was well worth giving up the patriots 2nd and 7th round draft choices to get Wes Welker from Miami -a proven player, because he offers us a legitimate threat to score every time he touches the ball as a kick returner-he is that good and also fills a huge need at wide-out. Plus, now McDaniels and O'Brien can run the spread offense, something they really couldn't last season having had limited receivers for Brady to throw to. In your estimation, how good of a deal was it to sign and get Welker ??!!Chip Heard

While there were some reports of a potentially large contract the Patriots were preparing to give Welker as a restricted free agent, the end deal was far different. After reportedly sending second- and seventh- round picks to Miami for the diminutive (5-9, 185) receiver/returner, New England then reportedly signed him to a five-year deal worth $18 million that included $10 million in guarantees. That deal is more in line for a developing three-year veteran and doesn't really even approach the money Branch got in Seattle. Welker is a very nice little player and very well could continue to develop in New England as a slot receiver and return man in the mold of Troy Brown. To be fair, though, Welker isn't quite the playmaker that many are making him out to be. He's had some very good games against the Patriots over his three years, including a memorable performance at Gillette Stadium when filled in for an injured Olindo Mare to handle Miami's kicking duties as well as his normal return role. He became the first player in NFL history to have a kickoff return, a punt return, a field goal, a successful PAT try and kickoff in the same game. But he has only two career touchdowns – one receiving and one on a kickoff return. Over three seasons he's averaged just 11.7 yards a catch and only 22.7 yards per kickoff return. He's done a nice job in a variety of roles with the Dolphins but trying to paint him as Devin Hester in the return game or even the next Troy Brown at this point is a little bit premature. He did have his best season last fall with 67 receptions for 687 yards.
As for the trade itself, I also initially found the draft picks (second and seventh) a bit strong for the former undrafted player out of Texas Tech. But if you want something sometimes you have to go get it. The Patriots wanted Welker, avoided the restricted free agent process and potential animosity with the Dolphins and got their man. A look at other trades this offseason, though, is interesting. The Jets got 1,000-yard rusher Thomas Jones from Chicago for swapping second round picks and dropping 27 spots in the round. To me, that seems like less to give up for a more proven, productive, valuable commodity. But value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The Patriots wanted Welker and did what it took to get him. He's in New England now and will likely be a productive player in Tom Brady's passing game and Belichick's overall schemes.
Andy Hart

Hey guys- the Sammy Morris pick up really does not excite me how about you ? Are you really sold on Morris as a viable replacement for Corey Dillon ?!Chip Heard

Morris (6-0, 218) is sort of the prototypical career backup. He's never started more than eight games in any of his sevens seasons with the Bills and Dolphins. He's surpassed 100 carries just once in a season. For his career (94 games with 23 starts) he's carried the ball 374 times for 1,469 yards (3.9 average) and 14 touchdowns to go along with 112 receptions for 792 yards and one score. Dillon was going to be a backup to the emerging Laurence Maroney next fall. Now that he's gone the Patriots needed a veteran backup for Maroney. I think Morris can fill the role. He's never going to be Dillon, but Dillon isn't what he was a couple years ago either. Morris is a suitable role player/backup. Nothing more, nothing less. But I also think the team might still look for a mid or later round running back on draft weekend to develop into either a backup to Maroney or even to serve as the future third-down back with Kevin Faulk not getting any younger.
Andy Hart

My question is about Eric Alexander. Yes he got burned in the AFC Championship game, but do you see him developing into a viable ILB? Also, with the addition of Adalius Thomas would you agree that next years Patriots will have one of THE most confusing looks of the Belichick era? We once again have a LB that is capable of dropping back into coverage, making it easier to disguise the blitz...other than his pass rushing skills I think that could be his greatest contribution to the team, bringing back the hidden blitz that BB loves to employ.D.C.

Like you, I do look forward to the schemes that Belichick will come up with to use Thomas alongside returning Patriots like the versatile Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and others. It should be fun to watch. As for Alexander, he's the only young linebacker currently on the roster that's really ever shown any potential in the NFL on defense. He's had some productive preseason stints in the past and I will be very interested to see what he does this August and if he can carve any role for himself moving forward. As a third-year undrafted player this is probably a key summer for Alexander and his future on defense might be now or never.
Andy Hart

Does Chad Jackson have a torn ACL or what? If he does, I think we can pretty much factor him out as major contributor next season!
Mikey Mike

As has been reported Jackson did have a tear in his ACL in the AFC title game. He's had surgery to repair the injury and will be spending the offseason in New England rehabbing the knee. The hope is that he'll be ready for training camp, but the fact that he's likely to miss mini-camps, passing camps and workout time with Brady and the rest of the receivers can't be overlooked. While I won't totally count him out as a contributor for next season, his limited growth in the offense last year combined with limitations on his work learning the offense this spring could make for a tough row to hoe in his sophomore development.
Andy Hart

What will the Pats do about their CB position? Clearly we need some help. Even if Randall Gay does return he's injury prone and every year our secondary gets banged up and we run out of reserves. I would like to see a young player like Nick Harper or a rookie come in. I know we have Samuel, Hobbs, Chad Scott but I think we need more! What do u think? And who do you think they will go after?Travis Bachman

I agree that some depth needs to be added to the secondary, and corner in specific. Gay has only shown the ability to stay healthy for one season and his injury history dates all the way back to college. That's the main reason he was limited at LSU and went undrafted. Scott has also had his injuries, isn't getting any younger (33 by the opener), has had some struggles in coverage and is probably more a safety than corner at this point. So I do think the team will address the spot in the draft at some point. An interesting prospect who might fill both safety and corner needs to some degree is Florida's Reggie Nelson. His stock seems to be falling, partially due to his being undersized, but he's a proven playmaker for Urban Meyer and the Gators. Once thought to be a top half of the first round prospect, he might be falling into the last part of the opening round. That might be right into New England's lap.
Andy Hart

Not to be picky about the signing of Thomas, but who would have been the better signing for the Pats, Briggs or Thomas? Would Briggs cost more to sign due to his younger age?Moses Ip

Thomas is a better fit in the 3-4. Briggs also said that he had no desire to play in the 3-4 and didn't like the defense. The only plus that Briggs really had over the Thomas is age (26 rather than 29). Plus acquiring Briggs would have cost draft pick compensation because he's Chicago's franchise player, even if a team worked out a trade with the Bears. So Briggs may have cost more in terms of dollars, would have cost more in terms of draft picks, doesn't like the 3-4 and didn't want to play in it. Thomas sounds like the much better fit to me.
Andy Hart

Is it me or is losing Daniel Graham really not that big of a deal? I mean he's a tremendous blocker but as far as the passing game is concerned I think Ben Watson and Dave Thomas will do just fine!Doughy Doug

I think Graham was a good player for the Patriots, filled a nice role as a blocker and pass catcher and was a good guy to have in the locker room. That said I wouldn't have given him a ton of money. The one place I think Graham will be missed is in his versatility. Kyle Brady may be as good a blocker as Graham when he lines up opposite Watson in two-tight end sets. Thomas may be as good or better as a pass catcher when he lines up opposite Watson. But neither can bring that versatility that Graham brought in a single package lining up opposite Watson. That's where the offensive co-captain will be missed.
Andy Hart

Well the Patriots got Adalius Thomas, and while I am excited about that, at the same time I don't see him being a permanent fix for our aging linebacker corps because he will be 30 by the start of the regular season, and in a few years he too will probably have lost a step or two like Bruschi and we'll be in the same situation. I still feel we need to draft a linebacker in the first round, I like the look of Patrick Willis, some people have him going in the 11th-20th pick range, but others have him as late first round, early second round. Do you guys think that Patrick Willis would be somebody worth trading up for?Wesley Nickle

From what I've seen (and the boys here at PFW will be watching a lot more tape of the prospects in the coming weeks) I like Willis and would trade up to get him. I think he's the perfect guy to play inside for the Patriots. He plays stout but can also run all over the field to make tackles. As you indicated, he seems to be a first-round wild card in the coming draft potentially going anywhere from 11th overall to as late as the second round. Again, value is in the eye of the beholder. I like him and would go after him. He wouldn't have to start right away but would give the team youthful depth inside and the option to use a few different rotations with the LB group as a whole. I'll have even more to say on Willis and the rest of the draft's linebackers when we see more tape. Another guy I'm very interested in and hope to get a better read on is Michigan's David Harris. He might be another inside option if the team doesn't go the Willis or Jon Beason route in the first round.
Andy Hart

I was watching SportsCenter the other day and got pretty excited seeing some of the new free agents. Two that really caught my attention were Joey Porter and Eric Moulds. Porter is a flat out beast and you guys are always talking about how difficult it is to find a 3-4 linebacker, I think he would fit in great. Eric Moulds although getting up there in age could be a great go to guy for Brady as well, something that would have helped this off-season. My question is do you think the Pats bring any of these two in?Josh Tornstrom

Porter has already signed with the Dolphins and I never thought he'd have a chance in New England. My opinion is that a lot of people don't like Porter around here and probably think he's a bit overrated. As for Moulds, I do think the Patriots might consider one of the many veteran targets on the market. That group includes Donte' Stallworth (who reportedly visited Gillette Stadium today), Moulds, Joe Horn, Keenan McCardell and others. Moulds didn't have a great year in Houston. He had just 57 catches, his lowest production since 1997. He'll also be 34 when the season starts. I personally have never liked Moulds (despite very impressive numbers over the years). I don't think he's a great locker room guy and at this point probably isn't what he once was on the field.
Andy Hart

With the signing of Adalius Thomas, does this now propel the Patriots to the top of the AFC? With the cap problems in Indy, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and San Diego losing it's entire coaching staff, this move by the Pats looks like it will separate the Pats from the rest of the AFC. I don't think people realize what kind of impact Thomas can have on this defense. He would have made the difference in the AFC championship game with his coverage against tight ends, and back coming out of the backfield, as well as the ability to rush the passer from almost anywhere on the filed in 3rd-and-long situations. The guy is a beast. What do you think?Jim J.

I do think Thomas will have a big impact in New England. I also think his addition and the rest of the signings/trade make the team better. Based on the fact that the team was in the AFC title game and possibly minutes away from the Super Bowl last season, I do make the Patriots one of the teams to beat in the AFC. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that on paper the Patriots will have a much tougher schedule in 2007. So they might have to be better just to end up with the same regular season record.
Now let's look at the rest of the teams in the conference. Baltimore has lost Thomas and Jamal Lewis while Steve McNair is a year older. San Diego is in shambles with the turnover of coaches. Pittsburgh has a new coach and some rebuilding to do. But the Colts aren't having too many cap problems. They were at the cap, but restructurings by Peyton Manning and others helped ease that a bit. I think they will be OK moving forward and will once again compete for the top spot in the AFC. I also think the Broncos are going to be a tough team to beat. They have been very aggressive this offseason and may not be done. I like the addition of Jim Bates to the defensive coaching staff and we know the Patriots have their problems with Denver. As of right now I'm predicting an AFC title game matching the Patriots and the Broncos. Of course since there's six months until the opener and lots of moves left to be made I reserve the right to change my prediction.
Andy Hart

Tom, Andy, and Paul, I admire your work and look forward to reading your articles every week. First, I have a concern about the Pats recent drafts. The only way to accurately judge a draft is by hindsight. If Vince Wilfork didn't descend to the Pats at #21, the 2004 draft would have been a complete disaster (I'm not high on Ben Watson). I thought they made the most out of a weak 2005 talent pool, but now I'm deeply concerned for the 2006 draft class. I'm writing off CJ at this point. Moreover, I don't like Maroney's running style, question his ability to take a full season of punishment, and don't like the way he carries the ball (Eric Dickerson-like). If Maroney's struggles continue into the 2007 season, the Pats will have poor overall drafts in 2 of the last 3 years! (Moral to the story: don't draft RBs and WRs high in any draft since D wins championships!) Thoughts? Secondly, I'd like to know your opinions on the following 2007 draft prospects: Michael Griffin (S Texas), Anthony Spencer (DE/LB Purdue), Eric Weddle (S Utah), and Jay Moore (DE/LB Nebraska).Mark E.

I think you are being a little hard on the Patriots drafts. Using the three you brought up, I'd say there's been some hits and misses. But the team virtually always hits on its first-round selections and does better than many other NFL teams. Watson might not be a superstar or Pro Bowler, but he was second on the team in catches and is a contributing starter. Wilfork is on his way to a future Pro Bowl and filling the nose spot in the 3-4 isn't the easiest thing to do. So getting two good starters in a draft is not bad, even if the rest of the 2004 class was a disappointment. The 2005 group is stronger in terms of depth. Top pick Logan Mankins is a very good guard, Ellis Hobbs is a starting corner and both Nick Kaczur and James Sanders are well on their way to locking down yearly starting spots. Throw in backup QB Matt Cassel and five of seven picks are contributing to the roster two years later. As for 2006, it's way too early to make definitive assessments. I still think Maroney has a chance to be an elite player, just give him some time to develop and show he can stay healthy. Jackson is a question mark and I have lowered my overall expectations for him. David Thomas is going to be a solid receiver and likely a starting tight end in New England for the next few years. And Stephen Gostkowski is well on his way to successfully replacing future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri. Not bad for a group of guys making a first impression. Give them a chance. Plus, if you are really all that down on Belichick and Scott Pioli drafting, take a look around the league and do some comparisons. I think that might change your opinion. The draft is an inexact science, as they say, but the Patriots have done a better job trying to master it than most teams in the NFL.
As for the prospects, we have a lot of tape to watch before we make our final assessments. At this point, I like Griffin a lot. I think he has the ability to be a playmaker in the running game and cover from his safety spot. I'd love to see him in a Patriots uniform as a potential late first-round pick. Spencer is a 'tweener and I'm not sure he can make the transition to OLB in the 3-4. I really have my doubts. Weddle is a jack-of-all-trades safety and the kind of guy I think Belichick would love on his team. I'd take him in the third round or lower, but nothing any higher than that. And Moore is a guy that Tom Casale has fallen in love with as a potential OLB convert. I don't think as highly of him. We'll see.
Andy Hart

Was I seeing things last season when on occasion a sideline shot would show a Patriots coach who bore a remarkable resemblance to Otis Smith? I don't recall seeing his name on the coaching staff. Is this Otis, or a double?
Jay Robinson

Smith was on the sidelines for all of New England's games. He started working with the Patriots as part of the NFL Minority Coaching program in training camp and then remained with the team for the entire season although he was never officially added to the coaching staff or given an official title. He spent much of his time helping out with the defensive backs.
Andy Hart

Hi guys, I was just wondering if the Patriots still have any interest in Randy Moss, the Raiders are reported only asking a third round pick and maybe another WR. I really don't think this is too make to give up to get someone like Moss. He is a big receiver, one of the best playmakers in the game, and I think his attitude would be better in a winning environment and with a capable QB. Is there any chance of this happening? ThanksCurtis Levesque

Do you guys think it's a possibility that Randy Moss or Mike Williams could be traded for? Rumors and reports seem to say that the Raiders and the Lions asking prices are not sky high (3rd and a wide receiver for Moss). Maybe trade Chad Jackson and a 3rd for Moss or Williams. What do you think?
Keith Henderson

There is always a chance. Moss is unhappy in Oakland (he's certainly not the only one). I think Belichick would consider adding Moss at the right price. A few years back he compared the perception/reality of Moss with that of Corey Dillon and I found that comparison interesting. He chose to bring Dillon to New England so why wouldn't he do the same with Moss? My fear is that Moss has lost a step physically. He was always a big-play guy making his mark down the field. If he can't do that any more I don't think he's the sort to morph into an older possession type. Not happening. But he's only a season removed from 1,000 yards and 16.8 yards per catch. He's worth a look by a scout's discriminating eye, especially if he can be had for a second or third round pick. It's a chance I think I'd consider taking even with all the baggage he brings.
Williams, on the other hand, has never done anything in the league. I loved him coming out of USC and thought he got railroaded by the NFL, the NCAA and the courts in having to sit out a season before entering the league. But that's in the past. He has questionable work habits, weighs too much and probably isn't as good as he thinks he is. I'd be less willing to bring him in because I don't think the reward is anywhere near the risk for such a move unless the Lions are just looking to totally unload the former first-round pick.
Andy Hart

With the recent signing of Kyle Brady to the Patriots, does this now mean that Tom Brady will have his jersey say " T. Brady" ? Or is it possible to have Kyle Brady only have the initial....meaning Tom Brady could just keep simply BRADY on his jersey? Thanks
Joe Clarke

The league has recently changed its uniform rules. Players with the same last name no longer have to use first initials to differentiate themselves. It is now up to the players in question. So it is my understanding that both of the Patriots Bradys, Tom and Kyle, will go with just their last names on the backs of their jerseys. I don't really think people will have much trouble separating the two-time Super Bowl MVP and the 280-pound tight end.
Andy Hart

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