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Ask PFW: Getting with the Patriots offseason program

Though much of the coverage surrounding the Patriots continues to be about Deflategate, Ask PFW fills out another week with football-only questions!

I see that the Pats don't really have a pass-catching RB. I thought that on the 3rd draft day, BB would pick Jay Ajayi, but he did not. Do you think that the Pats can find one in FA like Pierre Thomas, or will they leave it open to (Travaris) Cadet?

Jordi Kokkinakis

I, too, was a little surprised the Patriots didn't address the running back position one way or the other over draft weekend. There are certainly a lot of questions at the position, both in terms of pass catchers and more traditional runners. But the one name you are leaving out is second-year former fourth-round pick James White. The former Wisconsin star didn't have much of an impact as a rookie last fall, serving as a healthy scratch for 13 games. He certainly should have a chance to compete for reps filling the void left by the loss of Shane Vereen to free agency. Cadet could also be an option, though he was used more a receiver out wide than a true passing back in New Orleans. And I would never rule out Bill Belichick making a late signing or even a trade at any position, because we've seen it many times before. That said, I do have some serious doubts about the depth and playmaking ability at the running back position heading into training camp.

Andy Hart

We have to assume BB isn't finished at CB. If they don't sign Tarell Brown or another FA soon, they may add a veteran in August after the initial league-wide cuts, or even a trade is a possibility. It's a pipe dream but I'd love to see a trade with Tenn. for Jason McCourty, and get both brothers in the backfield. You'd think they'd bring the best out of each other on the field together. Would a McCourty for Chris Jones, Tim Wright (talented young players who could contribute anywhere but are now buried on the Pats depth chart) and two mid-round picks get the job done? Work your magic Bill.

Jon T.

Pulling off a trade like that would indeed be magic and, as you acknowledged, is a pipedream. Why would Tennessee trade a No. 1 corner for a couple borderline backups and a couple blah draft picks? It simply doesn't make any sense for a Titans team that likely hopes it is now moving in the right direction with a franchise QB. I do hope that the Patriots sign Brown. Based on the multiple visits he's had to New England it would seem he might still be coming back from the foot injury from last season, but I think he'd probably become the guy I'd have the highest hopes/expectations for the second he was added to the paper-thin New England cornerback depth chart. Like you, I hope/have to think that the entire puzzle at cornerback is not yet complete at this point.

Andy Hart

I feel after the Tom Brady suspension, we really need the first rounder in 2016. After Robert Kraft decided to not appeal the $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks, is there any way Roger Goodell or the NFL re-compensate a draft pick, or the first rounder?

Trevor Lin

Like you, I think the loss of the first-round pick is the biggest blow to the team in the Deflategate controversy, beyond the blow to its reputation/legacy. It represents a potential starter or marquee player who could be key into the post-Brady era down the road in New England. Unfortunately, I don't see any way the Patriots will recoup that pick in any way, regardless of how things play out of Brady's appeal. That first rounder is gone.

Andy Hart

What would happen to Brady if Garoppolo lights it up in the few games he is going to play?

Phil Manning

Most fans likely have their fingers crossed that, pending his appeal, Brady won't end up having to miss any games. But if Garoppolo does have to play to open his second season it's going to be one of the biggest stories to watch in the NFL this September. If the 2014 second-round pick "lights it up" it will be a great sign for the future of the Patriots offense and organization. But, it's infinitely unlikely that it would have any effect on Brady's status with the team for 2015. At whatever point No. 12 is ready to play this fall, he'll be under center. Certainly, though, it would be better for Garoppolo to play well than to struggle.

Andy Hart

Greetings from Finland! As LeGarrette Blount currently sits atop the RB depth chart, do you see any of the younger guys threatening his position? Travaris Cadet will probably become the pass-catching option, but I would hope to see Tyler Gaffney get his shot and see what the kid can do.

Mika Mattila

As I said in an earlier answer, the running back position is fascinating. James White may be the most overlooked guy on the roster right now. And Gaffney may be the most overrated, or at least a guy who fans seem to have overly optimistic high hopes for. With Blount suspended for the opener, there will be early reps for guys looking to stake claim to them. That could be White. Could be Jonas Gray. Or Brandon Bolden. Or Gaffney. Who knows? Gaffney is a total unknown in my mind. He was a workhorse for Stanford and then missed last year as a late-round pick. I need to see him on the field – which should come in OTAs later this week – to begin to assess him.

Andy Hart

Would it be better to have Rob Ninkovich not be a starter this year and instead put Dominique Easley at end along with Chandler Jones and Sealver Siliga and Malcom Brown at defensive tackle? Have Ninkovich come in on situational plays?

Ryan Plourde

I have always said that in an ideal world Ninkovich would be used as a rotational or situational player in conjunction with others. He's a little undersized and I think he might be able to have more impact on fewer snaps. But he's also been one of the team's most consistent and durable contributors for the last few years. He's one of my personal favorite players. And the guys you are promoting to play more – especially Easley and Brown – are big question marks. I was under impressed with Easley last year. He has to prove he's ready for a full-time, starting job. And as a rookie, Brown has plenty to prove even to work his way into rotation playing time never mind a starting job. I would say, though, that the addition of Jabaal Sheard and a couple young players (Trey Flower, Geneo Grissom) could give the Patriots more options on the edge of the defensive front than has been the case in a long time. That could allow Ninkovich to get a few more reps off than he's used to as he enters his 10th season at the age of 31.

Andy Hart

Is it possible that the glut of TEs currently on the roster is foreshadowing a potential deal to trade Gronk. I couldn't understand signing Fred Davis with all the other TEs already on the roster. Perhaps BB has decided that Gronk is too unreliable, flamboyant or too expensive to re-sign and we could trade him for a quality DB and save cap space. Please tell me I'm crazy.

Pat Mackey

This is terrible idea! I don't like these negative thoughts. And I can't see Belichick looking to ship Gronkowski out of town after a healthy season in which you could argue the tight end was the difference in winning and losing in the end. So, you are crazy! Gronk is under contract, assuming the Patriots pick up his option, through 2019. He's coming off a healthy season. He's, in my opinion, the most irreplaceable force in football. And he's staying in a Patriots uniform or you will see/hear/read an eruption from me that will require ear muffs for anyone under the age of 27. My reaction to such a trade would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. I think the Davis signing is simply a class take-a-shot move. He's a guy who was a proven athlete and pass catcher. If he's cleaned up his act and healthy maybe you can catch something. If not, he's gone and nothing is lost.

Andy Hart

What do you guys think about our receiver position? I'm still not wildly confident with LaFell our number one, Danny is not consistent either. Let's also be honest, Julian Edelman hasn't been consistently a great option. Let's be honest, he was a number 4 or 5 a few years ago. He has a rapport with Tom Brady, and I just feel his talent isn't there for what we need. Great special teams guy, and he is a possession option. I actually think Bill should consider him playing a lot more DB, specifically corner. We need help at that position, and he is a "football player" more so than any specific position. He was impressive, and I think we should incorporate him fully into the defensive side of the ball; while using him on offense sparingly for his "gimmick" efficiency.

Jack Foley

No. That's my response to all of this. Just no. I think I disagree with almost everything you wrote, Jack. LaFell is essentially the No. 3 receiver on this team, behind Gronkowski and Edelman. He was very solid last season, something that's been uncommon for first-year receivers working with Brady. Edelman has been a key, consistent cog in the offense for the last two seasons. He's made big plays in big games. Just watch the Super Bowl for a refresher. And there is no way he's the answer to any lack of depth at cornerback. He played that spot out of pure emergency need a few years back and that was before he was such an important part of the offense. Could the Patriots add a deep threat receiver on the outside? Sure. Other than that the team returns the core of an offense that has all the makings to be very productive once again. Not sure where all the hate for the receivers comes from, but it's unwarranted and thinking that simply isn't based on the facts of last season.

Andy Hart

I have two questions. It's obvious now that the front seven is being called upon to be the strength of our defense. But is our front seven going to be good enough to compensate for having NO starting-caliber corners? Maybe Bill thinks Butler is better than we think. Also, why haven't we brought in a backup QB yet? It takes a while to learn our offense and I think the sooner we get one in, the better-even if it is just a back-up for 2-4 games.

Andy Gibbs
York Pa.

While some observers are gung-ho that the front seven is ready to dominate games and make up for the failings in the back end, I don't really buy it. The front looks like it will be good. It has more depth than we've seen of late and some intriguing high-end potential. But it doesn't have an elite pass rusher or obvious game changer in the mix. And, I don't think any front is ever good enough to cover up for a complete lack of ability in the back end. It doesn't work that way in this day and age. I do think the organization probably likes some of the corners – namely Butler and Bradley Fletcher – more than some of us outsiders do. We'll get our first chance to see some of this stuff play out with the beginning of OTAs and media access to the workouts later this week. As for the backup QB question, I'm not sure the team thinks it needs a veteran backup. Brady will be back, either for the fifth game or earlier, depending on his appeal. Garoppolo has a year under his belt and is the future. Heck, he's where Brady was way back when in 2001. And the team still has Garrett Gilbert in the mix as the No. 3. I know the idea is that the team needs to add a veteran, but that leads to the question of who and at what cost? The answer to that may come with the Brady appeal. There is also the chance the team could wait to bring back a veteran with the experience in the system later in the process like maybe Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett, depending on how things shake down in Houston. Just a thought.

Andy Hart


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