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Ask PFW: McCourty times two?

Fans' questions answered in our weekly PFW mailbag.

An interesting development occurred with CB Jason McCourty being released by the Titans. I know Devin [McCourty, his twin brother] wants him to be picked up by us, but would that be a prudent choice for us, beyond Devon's obvious, but understandable bias? Jon Dowling

If Jason McCourty clears waivers, do you think New England picks him up or tries to sign him outright, or don't even bother to kick the tires?Gary Burdick

To be clear, at this point in the NFL calendar, there is no waiver system. Players like Jason McCourty who are released are free to sign with anyone.

And yes, there should be considerable interest on New England's part to look into signing Devin's twin. He's a solid, experienced starter at corner – a position where the Patriots could still improve their depth chart. Plus, the fact that his brother is the team's top safety would make the communication transition that much smoother, given their obvious established fraternal bond.

The Patriots have expressed interest in trading for McCourty in the past, as has been widely reported in the media, and now that he's a free agent, it would seem likely that they make an attempt to bring him on board. The question is, how much would it take to bring him here?

McCourty was slated to earn at least $7 million from Tennessee this season, but it's unclear if the Patriots would want to invest that much in him. Perhaps they could convince him to play here, for the reigning Super Bowl champs, with his brother – something the two McCourty's have long said they'd like to accomplish someday – at a price that's palatable to both sides.

Suffice to say, it makes perfect sense for both McCourty and the Patriots to work out an arrangement. Erik Scalavino

We don't have a first-rounder, yet the Patriots are still having private workouts with potential first-round picks. Are they just doing their due diligence or are they thinking about trading up in the draft or dealing Malcolm Butler before the draft? Philip Balestriere

All your scenarios are possibilities, Philip. One never knows exactly how a draft is going to unfold, so, the Patriots must do their due diligence on every prospect in whom they have legitimate interest, even if he is expected to be selected where the team has no picks, such as rounds 1 and 2 this year. Anything can happen between now and the draft, as far as trades are concerned, so, New England must be prepared to make a selection up high in the event that a pick or picks fall to them somehow.

There's been deafening silence with respect to Butler of late, but that doesn't mean his situation has been resolved yet. He has until this Friday to receive contract offers from other teams, although at this late stage, that seems unlikely. There was considerable talk and interest between him and the New Orleans Saints earlier this offseason, but there's been no movement on the Butler front because he has yet to sign the restricted free agent tender contract that New England offered him. Until he does that, nothing can happen to him in terms of being traded or working out a long-term contract with the Patriots to remain here in New England.

That, too, could happen at any point between now and the draft. So, the Patriots have to continue preparing for the draft as they normally would, just in case, as I said, they suddenly acquire a pick or picks in the first two rounds.  

What's more, the Patriots like to acquire knowledge about top prospects in case those players become available to them years down the road. As player personnel director Nick Caserio told us just this morning, he and his scouting staff and the coaches often refer to their pre-draft notes when a young veteran is being considered as a trade prospect or free agent signing (think Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore as recent examples).

Bottom line, don't read too much into all these so-called high-profile visits you're hearing about. There might not be much fire associated with all the reports of smoke. At least not right now. Erik Scalavino

Hello guys! First thanks for your work throughout the off-season I love it. My question is how feasible do you think a trade for Richard Sherman is? Would a package of Butler plus pick/picks next year do it? And is it worth it? Would you rather see a pick come back for Butler from say, the Saints, and sign Jason McCourty?Keith Henderson

Richard Sherman is probably not going to be wearing a Patriots uniform in 2017. Stranger this have happened, particularly on draft weekend (that's when New England traded for Randy Moss in 2007, remember), but my sense is, while there was some interest possibly expressed by the Patriots, it won't go much further than that.

As I stated at the top, I like the idea of bringing in McCourty, even if New England decides to keep Butler on the roster. In the pass-first NFL, you can never have enough talented cornerbacks, and in recent years, New England hasn't consistently had that luxury.

While Sherman would make a potent addition to the secondary, a second McCourty would do just fine here as well. Erik Scalavino

When players are selected in the first round, do their contracts all come with fifth year options? Besides Brandin Cooks, do the Patriots also have an option with Kony Ealy? Raymond Hurteau

Yes, every contract signed by first-round draft choices is four years in length with a team option for a fifth year. Teams must elect whether or not to exercise those options in the spring before that player enters his fourth year. Cooks, the wide receiver acquired in a trade with New Orleans earlier this year, falls into that category. He was drafted by New Orleans in 2014, and is about to enter his fourth NFL campaign. New England has until May 3 to decide if they want to pick the fifth-year option on Cooks' original rookie deal. My sense is that they will.

Ealy, meanwhile, is another recent acquisition via trade, but he was a second-round draft choice of Carolina in that same 2014 draft. As a result, he does not have a fifth-year option. If New England wants to keep him beyond this season, they must work out an extension of his current contract, apply a franchise or transition tag on him after this season, or allow him to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2017 season and compete for his services on the open market. My guess is, the Patriots will take a wait-and-see approach with Ealy before making a decision about his long-term future in Foxborough. Erik Scalavino

Hello PFW crew. Now that we are closing in on the 2017 draft, a few current players raise questions for me. Geneo Grissom and Jordan Richards occupy two spots where I think the Patriots could really use some depth, in defensive end and strong safety, respectively. However, they haven't played to their potential. What are your confidence levels in these two players moving forward after two years on the roster? Additionally, which 2016 Patriots draft pick are you most excited about moving into his second season? Personally, I'm interested in the development of Elandon Roberts.Connor Haley

As Grissom and Richards enter Year 3, it's likely we know by now what they can and can't do at this level. I'd be stunned if either man showed up at training camp this summer and played at a level worthy of unseating any incumbent starters at their respective positions. They both appear to be capable role players, particularly on special teams, and will likely continue to vie for those same roles this year.

With respect to incoming second-year players, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell excites me the most because of the potential big-play ability he can provide this offense. I'm also anxious to see Jacoby Brissett under center with a year's experience under his belt, especially if, as many of us expect, Jimmy Garoppolo is still here. Guard Joe Thuney was solid as a rookie starter throughout 2016, so, I expect him to make strides as well to help solidify New England's interior o-line.

The only drawback to Roberts, whom you mentioned, is his relative lack of size for the linebacker position. He plays a style that's better suited to someone much bigger than him, so, I worry about his long-term durability.

Also be on the lookout for Jonathan Jones, a speedster who made some nice plays on special teams last year. I'm most intrigued by Cyrus Jones. He couldn't have had a worse rookie campaign, and for his sake, I hope he makes a complete 180-degree turn in 2017. Erik Scalavino

The Patriots recently hosted running backs Mike Gillislee and Damien Williams. Which one of the two do you think has more upside? Personally, Gillislee stands out to me. He plays bigger than his size and was a great backup to McCoy. I think he would absolutely be worth the 5th rounder we would have to give up if we signed him.Nick M.

I'd agree that Gillislee is the one who has made more of an impression on me in the limited times I've seen him play against the Patriots. Apparently, he made a similar impression on New England as well. Reports today suggest that the Patriots have offered Gillislee a two-year pact, which Buffalo now has the option to match. If they don't, the Patriots would send the Bills a fifth-round draft pick. This is a developing story which we'll obviously keep close tabs on in the coming days. Erik Scalavino

As a fan it can be hard to know a good deal of specifics about players who are on the lower end of the depth chart. I see Matt Lengel is an exclusive rights free agent. He was good enough to earn a roster spot as depth behind Gronk and Marty, but was rarely used. The team liked him enough that they dealt [AJ] Derby to the Broncos and chose to keep Lengel instead. At 6-7 he seems like he might be a good red zone target, but he only caught one touchdown last season. I realize that much of a tight end's job is often blocking, and I can only assume that he's pretty good at it. What do you think about him? Do you think the Patriots should try to re-sign him? Any word on which way the team is leaning? As an exclusive rights free agent, when does he become unrestricted?David Halpern

First, let's clear a few things up. Lengel was plucked off Cincinnati's practice squad last season, but only after Derby was shipped to Denver. Lengel was not a factor in the decision to move Derby because Lengel wasn't a Patriot at the time. He also didn't "earn a roster spot" in the traditional sense, meaning he didn't compete in training camp and win the job. He was given the job because the team was in dire straits and he found himself in an enviable position after Gronk went down midseason. New England had no one else to rely on at the position other than a perpetually gimpy Martellus Bennett.

Lengel was fine in his role as a mostly blocking tight end, but that's certainly a position where the Patriots could improve this year, possibly in the draft. If he is brought back, he's by no means guaranteed a job, but will surely be given an opportunity to earn a job properly.

Lengel reportedly was offered an exclusive rights contract, but the team has yet to make that transaction official. Lengel, like every other player, will earn unrestricted status after he's played four seasons in the NFL. Erik Scalavino

What one position is still the Patriots' highest need for improvement? What's your solution to this highest need, if you had the ability and the power to make this improvement happen? John Moore

The pass rush is the biggest need, in my estimation. Whether it's an outside linebacker or defensive end, I want the Patriots to upgrade the depth, including the starting jobs, if possible this offseason. If I had the ability, I'd bring back Andre Tippett in his prime. That would solve the problem in an instant. Erik Scalavino

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