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Ask PFW: Jimmy G, the future and more

Jimmy Garoppolo's excellent opening-night performance highlights this week's mailbag.

Is Jimmy Garoppolo the best backup since Tom Brady? (I'd like to exclude Drew Bledsoe for the sake of this question as he was the starter when Brady took over). Also is Jacoby Brissett good enough that you'd feel comfortable trading Jimmy G if the offer was right?

Travis Helms*

It would be awfully hard to say that Garoppolo is not the best backup quarterback the Patriots have had since Brady but in all seriousness there really isn't much competition for this "honor." Looking back Garoppolo is competing with the likes of Damon Huard, Rohan Davey, Jim Miller, Matt Cassel, Kevin O'Connell, Brian Hoyer and Matt Gutierrez plus some aging veterans like Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde. Huard and Cassel are probably the only two in the equation but it certainly looks like Garoppolo is on his way to exceeding both. He's only played one game and as impressive as it was it's still way too early to make any long-term projections. At the end of the season the Patriots will no doubt receive some offers on Garoppolo and I wouldn't be surprised if Bill Belichick jumps at something he feels is great value – perhaps a first-round pick in return. Brady could realistically remain the team's starter for at least another two years, meaning the team could deal Garoppolo and continue to develop Brissett. In terms of evaluating Brissett … he's played only in preseason games so honestly it's almost impossible to make any long-term declarations for him.
Paul Perillo

As much as I appreciate the Patriots winning the Cardinals game, why are Patriots coaches said to be in love with continuously underperforming his contract Marcus Cannon? I am also not impressed with our secondary. Malcolm Butler plays like a No. 2 corner which is fine, but does Logan Ryan compete with quality receivers. Devin McCourty, one the highest paid safeties in the league, is he showing it to you?

Ben G.*

I honestly didn't expect to see any emails resembling yours after the season-opening win in Arizona. Was the win perfect? Hardly, but considering the circumstances it came under I thought there would be nothing but excitement about what went right rather than wrong. Cannon definitely had his struggles in Arizona and I agree with you that he's not performed up to the level of his contract. I'm not sure why the coaches seem to like him more than most fans. I feel he's a serviceable backup right tackle but unfortunately Sebastian Vollmer is injured and he's forced to start. As for the secondary, the Cardinals game wasn't their best effort. Butler struggled at times on the outside with Michael Floyd and Ryan had trouble with Larry Fitzgerald, but Fitzgerald has made a lot of corners loo bad over the years. The Patriots also used a lot zone coverages, and that led to some of the struggles too. Overall the secondary has been inconsistent at times, McCourty included, but I felt the group played really well throughout the summer and I'm looking forward to Cyrus Jones getting some playing time and adding some depth. Honestly, I can't understand how this email made its way to me after such an impressive win.
Paul Perillo

Hi guys, big fan from a family of big fans in the UK. I know this is a controversial thing to even say but given how the team performed Sunday and the depth on defense, is this the deepest the team has been on all sides of the ball since 2007? I can't think of an obvious weakness outside of injuries at the offensive line.

Richard Giddings*

I'm not really a huge fan of these kinds of comparisons because it's almost impossible to determine how different personnel from one team might impact another. In 2014 the Patriots had a secondary with Darrelle Revis operating at a high level with a lot of depth around him – including Malcolm Butler. There was depth at linebacker and in the backfield with Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount. I agree that the current team appears to have some depth in a variety of positions but the offensive line – healthy or not – would represent a weakness in my mind. The 2014 team also had a suspect line and that group came together with veterans Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and improved over the course of the season. It will be interesting to see if this group can improve as well, although it will need to do so with younger players. Overall I'd say this team is probably as talented as any Patriots team since 2007 but I can almost hear the disgust in Bill Belichick's voice when talking about a question like this. Really we need to see this group perform more than once before making such determinations.
Paul Perillo

I'm making an effort not to get too ecstatic at Jimmy G's first game, though it's difficult. Now the defensive coordinators have tape on him, and they'll be able to look for holes in his game (and they usually find some). So how he adapts to the schemes that will be thrown at him in the next three games is the real test. Of course he won't be doing it alone: Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels will prepare him for what's coming. But the player has to execute and no one can help him with that, so we'll have to wait and see. I think he'll do fine, and if some weakness is found and exploited, he's a worker, he'll overcome it. What's impressed me about him from his rookie year is his mental toughness, and that can't be taught.

David Pineo*

You are wise not to get too carried away with one game for Garoppolo but I'm not sure you followed your own advice through the rest of your email. You start by saying things will get tougher but then you discuss Garoppolo's mental toughness, which honestly at the point we have no evidence of. What adversity has he had to overcome at this stage of his career? We need to see what those coordinators dial up and then evaluate how handles it before we make any conclusions on his mental toughness and I'm having a hard time figuring out how you determined he had that during a rookie season in which he barely played. I love what I've seen from Garoppolo on and off the field. He appears to be poised and gifted with the athleticism to help himself out of some difficult situations. But we've yet to see if he has the mental toughness necessary to be great, and only time will be able to answer that question.
Paul Perillo

Can you explain to me what happened right before the half in the Cardinals game? I don't get why, with a minute and a half plus left Josh McDaniels called several running plays with really no gain or a 1st down and they don't use any of their three timeouts? Arizona had no time outs left so why not try a short pass to get the first down? And then why punt it back to them with 20 something seconds on the clock possibly chancing a return for a score? Couldn't they have just taken a knee on 4th down and close out the half?

Gary Abrams*

I felt the Patriots handled the end of the first half exactly the way I would have. They took over at their own 31 with 1:24 left and leading 10-7. They also knew they'd be getting to ball to start the second half. With Garoppolo making his first start the goal was to make sure there were no mistakes that could allow Arizona to get the lead, so McDaniels called a running play on first down. Had Blount shot through for 10 or 12 yards then perhaps McDaniels would have allowed Garoppolo to get into the hurry up, but Blount was stuffed for 1 yard so they kept things conservative. On Blount's second down run, David Andrews was called for tripping, pushing them back 10 yards to create second-and-16. Then Shaq Mason was called for holding to make it second-and-26 from the 15 so Arizona began using timeouts to force the Patriots to punt. Even if Tom Brady was playing they wouldn't have been throwing it on second-and-26 from their 15 with 33 seconds left in the half. The Cardinals called timeout after the third down play with 22 seconds left. This forced the Patriots to punt since taking a knee on fourth down would stop the clock, giving the Cardinals the ball at the Patriots 23. It was a conservative approach but a wise one.
Paul Perillo

Will we see any of the other running backs play or will it just be Blount? I think it's time to see who else we have and bench Blount.

Al Kidder*

I thought Blount was OK in the opener. He made some tough runs, especially on the goal line for an 8-yard touchdown, but he also averaged just over 3 yards per carry and lost a costly fumble. He did some good things but overall I feel like we know what he is at this point – a guy who can take advantage of weak run defenses but too often struggles to get through the line without excellent blocking. I would like to see if another back, maybe practice squad member Bishop Sankey, could perhaps get through holes a bit quicker and provide some additional production. If not Sankey then maybe using the passing backs James White and/or D.J. Foster a little more as ball carriers. I don't feel the Patriots will be a terribly successful running team regardless but I do feel it could be better.
Paul Perillo

Hi guys love the column. My question is about the captains that were chosen this past week. While I have no problem with the ones who were chosen I was curious about Tom Brady not being chosen. I'm sure it has something to do with his suspension, but this will be the first time in 14 years he's not a captain. Can this change when he is eligible to come back in four weeks?
Patrick Stroh

I would guess that you have it exactly right. I would expect Brady to resume his role as captain in Week 5 when he returns from his suspension. Both he and Rob Ninkovich are technically not on the roster at the current time so they are not captains as a result. It will be interesting to see if both remain captains when they return, and I would expect that to be the case.
Paul Perillo

Thank you PFW for doing this article, I find it very entertaining. Anyway do you think LeGarrette Blount will have a good year? I know it is too early to tell but he looked unstoppable against the Cardinals.

Srikanth Ganesh*

Blount was average at best, as I stated above. He made a couple of quality runs – one on the goal line and the other to convert a third-and-11 in the fourth quarter. Other than that I thought he looked slow to the hole and had a difficult time finding space. Blount will pile up big numbers against overmatched opponents but against teams with quality defenses he won't have much success.
Paul Perillo

Rob Gronkowski and other athletes have hamstring injuries. This is BS. Shouldn't they stretch properly also shouldn't the trainers be somewhat accountable.

Jim Antonopolis*

Athletes, even ones in top-flight condition, sometimes pull hamstrings. It's not always because they are not in shape or aren't stretching properly. When we are allowed to watch practices during the summer, and even during the regular season, the entire team goes through a lengthy warmup period where the players do several stretching exercises to prepare for the workout. Gronkowski pulled his hamstring and that's unfortunate but I don't feel it's a BS injury, as you said, nor do I feel it's a matter of him not working hard enough. Gronk is among the hardest working players on the team and few if any are in better condition.
Paul Perillo

How are players assigned to the practice squad paid?

Rick Lew*

For the 2016 season, practice squad players can make no less than $6,900 per week, which equates to $117,300 for the season. But teams can also choose to pay these players more in order to help keep them around. Sometimes practice squad players are targeted by other teams so to entice them to stay sometimes teams can up the ante and pay more than the minimum. There is no limit but these salaries count against the cap.
Paul Perillo

First off thanks for all the great coverage, it really keeps me entertained and informed while I'm deployed in the Middle East! With the recent addition of Eric Rowe it got me thinking, after Week 4 how will the roster be shaken up to add Brady and Ninko? I know a lot can change in four weeks in terms of injuries, as well as on-field performance but who do you see as potential cuts? The DBs seem to be overstocked but I'm not sure BB would be willing to part with any of them. I'm fairly certain that Elandon Roberts is a likely candidate to go but what are your thoughts?

A.J. Sparico*

It's always interesting to play these kinds of games but in the end usually situations like this tend to work themselves out. Just as you said, injuries will inevitably occur and depending on the severity of one or two it's certainly possible that someone will wind up on injured reserve and make it an easy decision. Roberts is a logical candidate and I'd put Jonathan Jones in the discussion as well. Both would be practice squad candidates. Clay Harbor could be a possibility to get released if the tight end group is healthy and performing well. Health will likely be the determining factor, since an injury to a certain position could elevate the importance of a backup and therefore make him safe. It's really tough to pinpoint something like that three weeks out.
Paul Perillo

Do you think the fact that Barkevious Mingo played so well in the first exhibition game makes Jamie Collins more expendable when his contract runs out?

Joe Gora*

In a word, no. Mingo is an interesting athlete but he has not yet demonstrated the ability to contribute to an NFL defense. He was impressive in the preseason game against the Giants playing against players who largely are no longer in the league. But he's basically a special teams performer at this point and he didn't receive a single snap on defense against the Cardinals. Mingo is worth developing but he's not going to replace someone as valuable as Collins.
Paul Perillo

What is with this 3-1 and 2-2 talk? Jimmy G has not looked near good enough to make those records a possibility. With the exception of one preseason game, he has not convinced me he has what it takes. He does not have a sufficient offensive line or running back to provide him security either.

Matthew G.*

In fairness to Matthew this post was submitted before the Cardinals game and his views weren't all that different from lots of others. However, even though I felt the Patriots would struggle in Arizona I still felt a 3-1 record was well within reach and I still feel that way. Garoppolo has shown poise and the ability to get the ball out quickly in order to negate the pass rush, which is a necessity given the state of the offensive line. It might not be perfect but the offense is capable to generating enough points to win a few games with Brady out.
Paul Perillo

Do you see Brady working out with Keshawn Martin or Aaron Dobson during his four-week absence? I'm picturing this happening and at least one former Patriot receiver returning with or shortly after Tom's absence. I believe Aaron Dobson was purposely placed on the block to see if he would make it through waivers. If a team would have shown interest, than I bet he would have made the 53. Now he gets to build rapport and keep Tom sharp. Possible? What do you think?

Matt Langa*

So the idea is to cut a guy we think can help the team so he can work out with Brady? Got it. No, I don't think that's possible. Dobson has been talking to other teams so I don't think he's spending much time with Brady. I like the conspiracy stuff but this one's way out there.
Paul Perillo

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