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Ask PFW: International Edition, Part I

I have a question about the franchise tag. The tagged player (OK, I really mean Matt Cassel) can negotiate with another team and the Patriots would receive two first-round draft picks as compensation if he were to sign with that team. Does the other team have to have two first-round picks in this year's draft or can they pay one this year and one the next? If a team does not have a first round draft pick this year, would they be able to give first-round picks in the next two years?Richard Walker, England

A great question. I just spent the past half-hour scouring the several pages of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that pertain to this issue, and I couldn't find any evidence to the contrary, so … Since most clubs don't have multiple first-round picks in the same season, yes, they could, and in most situations would be forced to, offer their next available first-round choices, whenever those might be. The language in the CBA simply indicated that two first round draft choices must be surrendered in such cases, but it doesn't seem to specify when those would have to be surrendered.
Erik Scalavino

I am a huge Pats fan from the UK and have tickets to the Wembley game. My question is, which safeties in the upcoming draft do you see as potential targets of the Patriots. Harrison may retire and Meriweather hasn't lived up to expectations, so the position needs an upgrade.
Martyn Morris

Wow, you must have some pretty lofty expectations there, Martyn. Let's see, all Meriweather did, as a second-year player, was start every game at strong safety after Harrison was injured, lead the Patriots in interceptions (a marked improvement from his rookie campaign, when he had trouble holding on to the ball), and finish third in total tackles. I'm not even going to mention those two game-saving strip-sacks he caused against Seattle and Arizona. What more did you expect of him?

Look, I'm not saying he's the next Ed Reed back there – for one, I think he needs to work on his tackling technique, because he has a bad habit of just throwing his shoulder into players and, all too often, they bounce right off him. Third on the team is a great stat, but if he had wrapped up more, he would've had even more tackles. But to say he hasn't lived up to expectations is simply unfair. As for Harrison, yes, he might call it a career, he might not. He said recently he was close to letting everyone know his plans. We're waiting with baited breath.

And as far as the draft goes, Andy Hart and I will be going to the Combine in a couple of weeks and defensive back will be among the positions we'll be watching most closely. By the time we get back, we should also have received our yearly package of draft prospect game film, in which we'll be immersing ourselves for the following weeks. At that point, we'll be in a better position to let you know whom we think the Patriots will have on their radar. Check out patriots.com and our PFW blog for our thoughts and analyses in the days and weeks ahead.
Erik Scalavino

Now that Zack Thomas said he wouldn't be back in Dallas, do you see him coming to New England?*Jeremy Wilder *

No, I don't. It's certainly a possibility, but the defense – linebacker in particular – needs to get younger, not older. I've always respected Thomas for his overachieving NFL career, but I'd rather see the Pats upgrade with a younger, Jerod Mayo, Karlos Dansby-type player. If Thomas were to sign here, it would be a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution.
Erik Scalavino

What do you think about moving Mike Vrabel back to inside linebacker? He showed a great deal of decline in his pass rush ability, but still has the experience and smarts to be able to compete at inside linebacker next to Mayo. With the uncertainty of Tedy Bruschi coming back next season, I believe this would make a lot of sense.Juan Rodriguez

On paper, yes, it makes sense. In reality, it doesn't. Vrabel has played on the inside at times, without complaint, and has performed well there. But his natural position is outside. I don't think, at this point in his career, Vrabel would be content to go back inside. I could be wrong, but I'm not sure he'd be as effective there as he once was. Clearly, the defense needs another Mayo-type next to the Defensive Rookie of the Year, but they'll either have to draft one or sign one in free agency. Bruschi, by the way, is still under contract through the 2009 season. He'll most likely be back, but in what role remains to be seen.
Erik Scalavino

Why don't the Patriots switch to the 4-3? Jarvis Green has continued to show his play making ability and pass rushing expertise. Why not throw him in as the other defensive end to not only fix the Patriots pass rushing needs, but also to decrease the need for another linebacker this off season?Tom Dargan

They could switch to a 4-3. In fact, they often rotate during games between the 3-4 and 4-3, based on various conditions (personnel match-ups, game plan, injuries, etc.). Now, I don't expect it to happen, mind you, because I think Bill Belichick likes the 3-4 and he's not going to make such an important decision simply because it seems convenient, as you suggested. To make the move permanently would be a complete change of mindset.

Plus, I feel that Green is a solid player who excels in the role he's currently in – that of a situational play-making pass-rusher. His most effective games – or at least the ones in which he seems to stand out – are those in which he comes off the bench. Again, I think he fills in admirably as a starter when called upon, but I'm not sure his play warrants a change in defensive philosophy.
*Erik Scalavino *

Since Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, etc. are getting old, do you think our draft will be focused more on the defense?
*Tanner Allen *

Do you guys have any early predictions for the 2009 Draft? Also, why is James Laurinaitis ranked so low and is only predicted to be chosen in the back of the first round? From what I have seen and heard about him, he is a complete beast. I also believe that last year, people thought he would be a top pick in this year's draft.
Keaton Stoner

Any so-called draft expert who tells you in January or February where a guy is going to be picked in April is embarking on a fool's errand. Several mitigating factors will come into play between now and then, namely the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the players' individual workouts (for those who choose not to do so at the Combine), one-on-one visits with teams, and the free agent signing period. All of which can and do have a significant impact on how high or low a player is drafted and by which team.

Will the Patriots' draft be more defense-focused? Perhaps. Depends what the team does in free agency. Is Laurinaitis ranked lower than you thought? Give it time, his stock could suddenly soar. Or plummet even further.

Look, most NFL scouting departments probably already have a good idea of who they think are the best players in the draft, and they'll use the Combine, workouts, and interviews to confirm their suspicions or find some new surprises. But anyone not directly involved in a team's personnel decisions, at this time of year, before those aforementioned factors are considered, is just making a guess – educated or otherwise.
Erik Scalavino

I am a Pats fan and have the unfortunate luck to live in San Diego. My question is this ... with the luck we've had with Harrison and [Junior] Seau, if the San Diego Chokers let L.T. go, what are your thoughts on the Pats picking him up?John Bolton

My thoughts are these: What a great regular season running back we'd have! Now, who's going to carry the ball in the playoffs?

For the past two seasons, I've seen a disappointing trend with Tomlinson – he can't or chooses not to play when his team needs him most. That said, he'd probably be worth the risk because he's immensely talented. But he'd definitely have something to prove if he came to this team.

By the way ... "unfortunate" to be living in San Diego? Hey, dude, hit the beach more often.
Erik Scalavino

With Herm Edwards available and not wanting to be a defensive coordinator, is there anything between him and Belichick that would prevent him from coming here to coach the secondary?
David Gibbs

I was wondering what you thought the chances are of Scott O'Brien coming to the Patriots to replace Brad Seely?Eric Graskey

I know of nothing personal or professional that would preclude Edwards from joining a Belichick staff. That seems to be a plausible scenario, David. As for O'Brien, late of the Denver Broncos, we've heard the same rumors. We know very little about him, but he appears to be eminently qualified, based on his résumé.
Erik Scalavino

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