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Ask PFW: March madness

Alge Crumpler is reportedly set to sign on, Robert Kraft has made some interesting comments on the futures of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the entire NFL world is moving closer to the NFL Draft. Those topics and much, much more fill out this madness-filled, late-March edition of Ask PFW.

Gentlemen, I really looking forward to reading the Ask PFW column weekly and appreciate your insights. Reports are out that the Patriots have signed Alge Crumpler and now many people are expecting us to draft a tight end. What do you think the chances are we go after one of the RFA tight ends like Owen Daniels, Tony Scheffler or Anthony Fasano? Also, what tight ends do you think we would target in the draft? I appreciate your thoughts on the subject.
Dave Craig

I don't really see the Patriots going after one of the RFAs you mentioned. Daniels may be the best of the group, but he's coming off an injury. I do think there is a very good chance the team looks to the draft for a tight end, maybe in the second round. That might eliminate the two top guys – Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham and Arizona's Rob Gronkowski. Both are very good players coming off a season lost to injury. But both could be gone by the time the Patriots pick for a second time on draft weekend. But there are plenty of other talents available in the middle rounds. Many Patriots fans seem to like Florida's Aaron Hernandez. I'm not sold. A trio of guys I find interesting is USC's Anthony McCoy, Miami's Jimmy Graham and BYU's Dennis Pitta. Graham is a guy I've targeted because he's a former basketball player trying to transition to the football field. Belichick has said in the past that some of the world's potentially great tight ends are playing power forward on the basketball court. Maybe this is his chance to grab one of those guys.
Andy Hart

Dear PFW: Is Alge Crumpler another Kyle Brady or an older Chris Baker? Why did the Patriots "release" David Thomas, an original third-round pick who could get open and catch the ball, for a seventh-round pick? Why not involve the tight ends in the offense more? Maybe it would take some pressure and injury risk off overused receivers like [Wes] Welker. What is the Patriots tight-end strategy and has it been successful?
Yan Sun

It's tough to say what the Patriots tight end strategy is. They've tried drafting them in the first round. They've tried drafting them in the middle and lower parts of the draft. They've tried signing veterans. They've tried trading for veterans. For the most part, it hasn't worked out that well. While Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson were productive players before leaving in free agency, both failed to live up to draft day expectations. Thomas never carved out a role for himself in New England, due in part to injury, and was deemed expendable last summer. While the team probably could have used him at times last year, and certainly could at this point, I'm not sure he's the answer he might look like thanks to hindsight. My guess is that Bill Belichick and Co. will get another chance at drafting a tight end this April. Let's hope they hit the jackpot at the position this time around and land an all-around contributor who will help the team for years to come.
Andy Hart

Aiken is listed at 6-2, 215. Shannon Sharpe was 6-2, 228 during his playing days. Can Aiken bulk up to 225 and play an effective receiving tight end? He is a special team ace so he is at least a passable blocker. His hands are not great as a WR, but as a TE they are way above average. Similarly his speed for a WR is not great. As a Tight End, he would be a speedy one. Crumpler fills the need for a blocking tight end. Aiken is a good offensive football player. TE/FB is like linebacker. You need to be a football player to play those positions because you need to do different things all the time. Aiken has the heart. He has the hands. He has the speed to be an outstanding receiving TE, the question is can survive playing there (i.e. does he have the size)? Thanks.
Michael S.

Sorry, Michael, but I don't really follow your logic. Aiken is a very good special teamer. He's a decent reserve wide receiver. How does that turn into elite tight end option? How would his hands improve any as a tight end? Either you can catch or you can't, regardless of where you are listed on the depth chart. Plus, in many of the Patriots spread passing formations the tight end is lined up wide. Putting Aiken back where he's failed to achieve much consistent success in his NFL career. Aiken has the heart. I agree with that. Otherwise, I don't think the rest of your little tight end solution holds much water. Sorry.
Andy Hart

Just to mix in with all the pessimistic emails I'm sure you've been getting, I wanna say I really like the Pats offseason so far. Keeping the core of the team and re-signing [David] Patten should build chemistry and help with the development of our young WRs. That being said, do you think the Patriots could select Toby Gerhart with one of their second round picks? He's a big, strong back who could get the tough yards where needed, and probably has the size to line up as a fullback in 2-back formations.Sam Frankel

My favorite intuitive, knowledgeable, Frank-el emailer. (There is an entire Sam Frankel wing in the Lame Name Joke Hall of Fame!) So as always I'll be Frank-el with you, Sam. I think Gerhart's NFL future is as a Heath Evans-like fullback. Good enough to get you some yards at times and fill-in, but not worth a second-round pick by any means. I don't think he'll ever be a team's primary ball carrier. I think the Patriots two needs at running back are a true lead back – what Laurence Maroney was supposed to be – and a long-term replacement for Kevin Faulk. Gerhart doesn't fill either of those needs, so I don't see him as a good fit in New England at this point.
Andy Hart

With the draft around the corner, and with Bill's wheels turning in his mind, do you think he has debated the question of asking the Bucs to swap their 2nd round picks (35 and 42) for the Pats 1st round pick (22)? Bill loves how deep this draft is and more so loves jumping out of the 1st round adding more future picks for cheaper money. Do you think this may be an option? If so, is it a good or bad one? Thanks guys.
Jason Closson

First off, I generally assume that Belichick considers just about everything. He leaves no stone unturned, at least in terms of research and discussion. Second, how do you know so much about what Bill loves? Third, using the widely known and now probably out of date draft value chart the deal you proposed greatly favors the Patriots. New England's No. 22 pick is worth 780 points on the chart. Tampa's two picks, 35 (550) and 42 (480), total 1,030 points. That would equal the equivalent gain for the Patriots of 250 points, which is the value of the 68th pick in the draft, early in the third round. Sure Bill might like to have five second-round picks, but I'm not sure it's what the team needs. New England needs more playmakers. Generally top NFL playmakers go off the board early in the NFL Draft. I'd rather he stay put at 22 or even trade up.
Andy Hart

Big fan of PFW. Love your site and insight. Wondered how much longer you thought the Brady "window" was open? It seems we need receivers who can perform now, and yet only signing David Patten so far, suggests the Pats are looking at the draft (or rate Aiken, Tate et al higher than the rest of us). Are there any receivers in the draft that you think will make an immediate impact in the NFL, and if so will they even be left on the board when the Patriots draft? Thanks. I'll hang up and listen.
Steve Green

Steve, are you a first time, long time? The Brady window, in my mind, has at least four good years left. I'm not saying he can't be great after that, but I think the best chances for elite play from Brady come in the next four years. He's going to be 33 this August. After four more seasons he'll turn 37 prior to the 2014 season, potentially his 15th NFL campaign. That's getting up there. So I agree with your point that the Patriots need more talent around him as soon as possible before his "window" closes. I think that means the team will have to draft at least one receiver in the first couple rounds. Notre Dame's Golden Tate would make sense, coming from Charlie Weis' scheme. But he's probably going to be a first-round pick and I'm not sure the Patriots will go there. I think a couple guys to keep an eye on in the second round might be a guy like USC's Damien Williams or Georgia Tech's Demaryius Thomas. I think Williams is a good all-around receive prospect and might make a nice second-round pick.
Andy Hart

My 2 cents on one of last year's defense's problem was a lack of chemistry. I believe that with Wilfork's signing and Mayo, with two years under his belt, this will change dramatically. They led by example, but now is the time to add vocals to their leadership. Do you agree that this will happen?Roger Marcotte

Obviously chemistry was indeed an issue for the 2009 Patriots. It's all we've heard about from the players, and even Robert Kraft. I am of the belief that for the most part leaders are born, not made. I think both Wilfork and Mayo are leaders, but as you said that leadership comes in their actions more than anything else. I'm not sure they suddenly become more vocal. And if they do, it may come off as phony or forced. Chemistry needs to be addressed, but I'm not sure it falls solely on those two guys to fix it. They were both captains last year. Why didn't they step up then? Why will they suddenly do so in 2010? Team chemistry is all about team. It's a tough thing to predict. It's a tough thing to force. Wilfork and Mayo are two positive forces in the chemistry area, but I'm not sure they can carry more than their natural load in that department.
Andy Hart

I have been a Patriots fan for my whole life and I have been reading Ask PFW for years. It annoys me that people are questioning Bill Belichick. In Bill We Trust people. I love the moves he has been making. When we were winning championships we were not spending big in free agency. This year we kept all the players that made a decent impact on D (Wilfork, Bodden, Banta Cain) and that is what I like to see. I would like to see an explosive running back, though, so my question is do you see any possibility of the Patriots getting one of the big time running backs like Spiller or Best? Thanks. In Bill I Trust!
Nick Messier

There's no I in Team, Nick. I thought the saying was In Bill We Trust. But reading a lot of the Ask PFW emails in recent weeks I guess the We group is shrinking a bit. But you're not alone just yet, Nick. Anyway, I do think the Patriots could look at running back in the first two rounds. It's unlikely they'll be in play for Spiller, who should be gone pretty early in the process. But Best could be an option as a dynamic playmaker, maybe the long-term replacement for Faulk. I think one name to keep an eye on as a potential future every down back is LSU's Charles Scott. If he's healthy I think he could be a good NFL runner.
Andy Hart

I, for one, am all for the way that the Pats have handled the offseason so far. While I would have loved to have seen Peppers in a Patriots uniform, I don't think he is worth what he signed for. Re-signing Bodden, Wilfork and Faulk were far higher priorities and I think, set the Pats up for the future. I also think that the Pats have a nice young nucleus on defense built that will only get better. Mayo, Wilfork, Meriweather and Sanders could start for anyone in the league. Butler, Chung, Pryor, Brace and other youngsters have the chance to make a real difference this year. That being said, I'm more interested in the lack of coaches being hired than I am in personnel at the moment. Are we really asking BB to be the GM, Head Coach, Offensive and Defensive Coordinator? Come on! I know he has a particular system that he demands people buy into but are you really telling me that there isn't a single guy out there who fits into that system? Seems kinda outrageous to me.
Josh Hirsch

Through the first part of this email I thought maybe it had come from my boss and Patriots Nation leader Fred Kirsch. Close enough, I guess. Addressing the many hats that Belichick will wear, he's the one who made the decisions to structure the team as such. He runs the football program. He'd be the one hiring the GM. He hires the coaches. So you either trust his decisions or you don't. He likes to develop young coaches and guys in the personnel department. He promotes from within. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn't. But they always have been and always will be his decisions to make in terms of the football structure in Foxborough.
Andy Hart

What are your thoughts on picking up Ryan Mathews from Fresno St. with our 1st pick in the 2nd round? He's big (220lbs) enough to be an every down back and has the speed (reportedly running the 40 in the 4.3's) to be the home run hitter the Pats have been lacking. I think he would be a great addition and would also give us an opportunity to allow Maroney to move on. What are your thoughts?
Mike Collins

The more research I've done on Mathews – including the Combine and watching tape – the more I've grown to like him. He seems to have all the tools to be a workhorse in the NFL and a solid head on his shoulders. He had a great season last fall for Fresno State in Pat Hill's pro-style program. I think he'd make a great Patriot. But I'm not sure he'll still be there in the second round, and I don't think the need in New England really warrants taking him at No. 22. Either way I think he's going to make a solid NFL runner for whichever team drafts him.
Andy Hart

I was watching the hockey game against Canada last night, and I was wondering why the Summer Olympic games don't offer football? If football was in the summer games, who would be your QB, 3 WRs and 2 RB on your starting offense?
Ryan Joyce

Football isn't offered in the Olympics because it's not enough of a global game. Not enough people play it at a high enough level for it to be a legit Olympic sport. You think the original basketball Dream Team blew opponents out? A U.S. Olympic football team would absolutely destroy its competition – on the scoreboard and in terms of physical brutality. But I'll play along with the rest of the question anyway. Since I'm writing on I'll go with Tom Brady at quarterback, although clearly Peyton Manning would be a fine choice. Wide receiver I'll take Andre Johnson, DeSean Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald. And my two running backs will be Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson. I'd like to see some poor overmatched team from Europe, Asia or Africa stop that offense. Good luck.
Andy Hart

What do you think has happened to the Patriots team? I am starting to see a lot of things coming from several players that in the past several years has not happened such as, Randy Moss pretty much saying he is going to leave and Adalius Thomas publicly questioning Bill. I am starting to wonder if a lot of these players have gotten together behind the scenes to publicly humiliate the organization for under paying players. There is something that is wrong behind the scenes and it looks like a lot of people are trying to tear up a special group of players and coaches. I watch every game this team plays and I am a huge Patriots fan. I am really concerned about this team.
Tim Scott

As we've all talked about, clearly chemistry was an issue for the 2009 Patriots. It wasn't a surprise, either. We knew with the losses of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour that leadership could be an issue. It was. But let's not jump to conclusions or conspiracy theories. As Wilfork has said, maybe there are some "bad seeds" that need weeding out. But I don't think those seeds are working together to plot to take down Belichick and the organization. As for Moss, I think he was talking strictly about NFL business. He knows the situation and how the league works. I don't think he meant it as a shot at the team and I don't think the team took it as a shot. At least Robert Kraft didn't seem to in his reaction to Moss' comments.
Andy Hart

For years Tom Brady was considered to be one of the hardest working players in the Patriots organization during the off-season and was often awarded a preferred parking space as a result. As his star status rose and his urge to become a family man got the better of him, Brady's focus seemed to shift from football to his personal life. In a year when building morale and a strong leadership base within the locker room is vital, do the writers at PFW feel as though Brady's early absence will have a negative impact on the psyche of the younger players and an effect on the upcoming season?Chris Adamec

Will it? I have no idea. Could it? Maybe. No one really knows how all these little things play out in the building of a team and its chemistry. All I know is that we all thought it was a good thing, a real positive coup in the past that the greatest quarterback on the planet was also the hardest worker on his team. The franchise, the star of stars, was just one of the hardworking guys in the locker room. We all thought that was great and part of why Brady was so great in leading the true "team" in New England. Things are a little different now, so I think it's at least possible that his absence at times could be seen as a slight detriment to the team as it builds toward a new season. Big deal? No. Ideal? No. It is what it is.
Andy Hart

I know many consider pass rushing a more pressing issue than the Pats secondary but picking up Pacman Jones would solidify our secondary (giving him the benefit of the doubt his antics & legal issues are over) & leave the Pats with the ability to pick up a young pass rusher in the draft. I don't think anyone has signed Pacman yet, what do you think?
Nick Filion

I have no interest in giving Pacman Jones the benefit of the doubt. He's used up his chances, in my mind. I don't see a huge need for a guy with his track record in New England. The secondary has some talent, both young guys and veterans, to build around and will be better with a pass rush. Draft a pass rush. Let the secondary develop. And leave a headache like Pacman for another team. I also never thought he was all that good of a cornerback. I thought he proved himself to be an electric return man. I didn't think he proved himself an elite corner. Even without all his off-field issues. No thinks.
Andy Hart

Why do some many people have the Patriots taking a DT in the first round? They have Wilfork, Wright and the second-round pick from last year Ron Brace. I see them getting Brandon Graham or Sergio Kindle. Maybe Dez Bryant if he falls that far. Why would they take a DT?
Nick Cabrera

The heart of the defense for the last decade has been the defensive line. Now, there is a hole in that line at right defensive end, a spot that would be filled by an athletic college DT. Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green are long gone. Wright has proven himself a very good backup and a versatile guy to have on the team, but I'm not sure he's a 16-game starter in a base 3-4 front. I think he'd get worn down and pushed around too much. And Brace did nothing to prove himself last fall, getting pushed around in his limited late season action. So I think there is a need at the spot vacated when Seymour was traded to Oakland. I don't think it's one of the top couple needs on the team right now, but there could be some thought to adding some talented depth at that spot at some point. I just wouldn't do it too early in the draft with all the other more pressing needs the team has.
Andy Hart

The Pats can trade Maroney to a team like the Raiders for a first or second and third round picks, or even a better defensive player. That way we can draft a running back and get some actual usefulness from that guy. He isn't a bust, but for a 1st round pick, ineffective at times.
John Brinkina

Not even the Raiders would be crazy enough to give you anything near a first-round pick or second- and third-round picks for Maroney. Are you kidding? I know one man's trash is another man's treasure, but let's at least try to keep things real. Maroney is what he is. We know that. So, too, do the other 31 NFL teams. So let's put these lopsided trade ideas to rest.
Andy Hart

Looking at the mock draft tracker on the Pats website I notice 21 of 23 "experts" have the Patriots taking a defensive player with the 22nd pick. They must have a lot of confidence in Laurence Maroney, Julian Edelman and Alge Crumpler. Do you agree Pats will go with "D" in the first round? Thanks and keep up the great (and humorous) work.
Bill West
Santa Fe, N.M.

I certainly think the defense – most likely a pass rusher or linebacker – is the biggest need right now. I don't think there is a huge need in the backfield. The committee led by Maroney may not be flashy or dominant, but it's good enough to get the job done. It proved that two years ago – and I think the current version with Fred Taylor instead of LaMont Jordan is a better group. The need is there at receiver and tight end, but I think there is good value at those spots in this draft in the middle rounds. I think more often than not if you are going after an elite pass rusher, you need to get him in the first round. I hope that happens this April in New England.
Andy Hart

Hey guys great work. This is something that drove me crazy last season. Why didn't the Pats run out of the 4WR formation more often? We threw out of it plenty but when it came time to run we loaded up front and tried to pound the ball up the gut. To me it makes more sense for a RB like Maroney to spread out the defense and give him some room to run. Plus it keeps the defense honest and allows you to set up play-action. Your thoughts?Brian Tweedie

I tought I taw a poody tat. I did! I did! Good stuff. Anyway, this was a general criticism of the Patriots supposedly predictable offense last fall. They ran out of running sets and passed out of passing sets. I haven't done enough of a scouting breakdown to know if this holds true, but it sure felt that way a lot of the time. Beyond that I agree with a lot of your thoughts. Keeping a defense off balance and being unpredictable as an offense is key to success. New England could have done a better job of that last fall and I expect they will this fall. The only thing that I think limits them at times is personnel. I'm not sure how versatile the bulk of the personnel was, especially the lower portion fo the wide receiver depth chart. That may have played into some of these issues we all seemed to have with the offense last year.
Andy Hart

Hey, I know everyone has the Patriots using their first-round pick on a pass rusher, but I was wondering what you guys think of Dez Bryant. His stock seems to have fallen and he does have character issues but he is probably the most talented receiver in the draft and could be the eventual replacement of Moss. If Bryant's available, do you think the Pats should take him?
Kartikeya Misra

I don't think I'd take Bryant, even if he slipped to 22. I know he's supposed to have elite talent. I've heard him compared, on some level, to Randy Moss. I'm just not sure I see it. I think he has some maturity issues. I'm also not sure he has elite hands. He's a very good talent, no question. But given the struggles for so many receiver to make the jump to the NFL, I get the feeling Bryant could be next in the bust line. I wouldn't take him and I don't think the Patriots would either. But that's just my opinion, my hunch. Nothing more.
Andy Hart

OK, Paul Parillo or whomever is on duty. The fact that I am here submitting a question is testimony that I am a die hard pats fan!! Question 1. What is your assessment of our current running game? I think Maroney is garbage and is in no way, shape or form the great running back that his college teammate Marion Barber is. We need to get rid of him and find a replacement via the draft, veteran or hell high school for all I care. Question 2. Are we doing enough to produce a pass rush and do you feel the Seymour trade was worth it? I would never have traded Richard. Even if we got the Ndomkua guy (however you spell it) he is no Seymour. Richard was a proven d lineman and could line up inside or out and had to be double teamed on most plays allowing other Patriots to make plays. Question 3. Are we doing enough to win ? The Jets are having a montster of an offseason and I hate as a matter of fact HATE that fat guy Ryan over there. However they have had a great off season thus far.
Mike Brown

I have to be honest, I think it's funny when people spell Paul's name wrong. It reminds me of the time when an airport ticket counter lady pronounced his name in a Spanish-type accent and he snapped at her. He's an angry not-so-little man. Funny stuff. Now let's get to your questions with rapid responses. Answer 1. The running game is OK. Not great. But good enough to win with on a well-rounded team. And Barber isn't a great running back, either. Answer 2. No. The pass rush needs to be better. There needs to be more talent added to the area. Now that the season is over, I'm fine with the Seymour trade. You probably would have lost him as free agent. But I would have loved to have had him on the field for the 2009 season. Answer 3. We'll find out next fall. There is plenty of offseason left. You don't win the Super Bowl in March. Could I get any more cliche?
Andy Hart

If you publish one more question from a reader asking why the Pats haven't been more active in signing big name free agents, I think I literally might start punching myself in the face. It reminds me of when you're standing outside at the end of February or beginning of March and someone says something contemplative like, "Gee, it was really warm last week, I can't believe Spring isn't here." Apparently people live in New England for their entire lives without understanding that the weather is unreliable here. Just like people who have Pats fans for years don't understand '07 was the exception (and as a side note, the beginning of the Pats becoming primadonnas who fail to come up big when it matters: Giants, Colts, Ravens yay three for three! All of a sudden its like some rip in the space/time continuum where the Colts have become the Pats and vice-versa). The Pats like veterans who will contribute without a huge price tag. And on April 23rd I'll be ready to pull a lemming when there are 43 questions that all begin with "why did the Patriots trade down when there was so much top tier talent". And because it's 'Ask: PFW', I'll conclude my email with the ever necessary, "What do you think?"
Ethan Bresner

I think I'd like you to please read the following email. And then duck. Either your right or your left is looking for your face. And I think that if you are a man of your word you now have a black eye.
Andy Hart

Why are the Patriots seemingly so inactive this offseason? The Pats seem to really be inactive right now and with the Jets being so active to improve I don't get it. For instance I thought the Pats were hot for Julius Peppers, but did nothing. Why are they just standing still, almost every team in the league seems more involved than them.
Shawn Williams

Clearly the Patriots targeted re-signing their own free agents this offseason, especially Wilfork. They succeeded in that area. That also cost a lot of money. Would you rather they had let some of those guys go and used the money to sign other players? If so, that's fine. I've said in the past that I would have considered letting Wilfork walk and using that money on an elite edge rusher. But you can't sign everybody. There is only so much money to go around. Even billion-dollar franchises have budgets. New England used a bunch of coin on its own free agents this spring and will soon be handing out some big dough to Tom Brady for an extension. I know that none of this is sexy, makes for good headlines or makes you feel any better. But it's the truth.
Andy Hart

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