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Ask PFW: Moving along

The Patriots are smack dab in the middle of the preseason at this point and most of the fans concerns are on defense -- particularly the outside linebacker and defensive end spots.  

I hate to sound like an alarmist, but for the first time since the Pete Carroll era I'm concerned about the direction the Patriots organization is heading. The organization seems like a sailboat adrift at sea without a mast. The Pats have gone from a likeable team of hard-nosed players on a mission to win that everyone wanted to play for to a somewhat dysfunctional organization. The coaching staff is a question mark without a true offensive and defensive coordinator, the team has many holes on offense and defense, which were not adequately addressed in the offseason, and now it seems that there is a perception that the Pats don't take care of their players. ESPN was reporting last night that Tom Brady is not happy with the way his contract talks are being handled. Over the past few years we have seen several key players such as Richard Seymour, Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Logan Mankins and now Tom Brady not happy with the way that the team has treated them with contract negotiations or as players (such as being a few minutes late for a meeting during a blizzard). If Tom Brady, the face of the franchise and a player who took far less money six years ago to help the team's salary cap, is not happy with the way that he is being treated, what message does that send to the other players on the team and, more importantly, to other players around the league who were thinking of playing for the Pats? A large part of the Pats success was a result of quality veterans willing to come to the Pats for less money with a chance to win. If the Pats are viewed as a team that doesn't take care of its players, makes puzzling coaching and personnel moves and is viewed as a franchise on the decline, what quality players are going to want to come here to win? You may want to deny these perceptions all you want, but the reality is, outside of the Boston area (and maybe in Boston), the perception is that the Pats are an organization is decline and disarray for these reasons. Your thoughts?
Gary Goldstein

These are my favorite questions every week. A few hundred words of a poster's opinions followed by 'your thoughts?' That's the best you can do for a question. What exactly is your question, Gary, because I got lost somewhere in the middle of your ramblings?
Look, this stuff is really pretty simple. You start by saying the team is dysfunctional. I don't see how that's the case. This past offseason the Patriots were able to retain several of their free agents (Vince Wilfork, Leigh Bodden, Tully Banta-Cain, Stephen Neal) and they spent a lot of money to do it. How is this dysfunctional?

You say they don't have true coordinators – of course they do. Bill Belichick has simply decided not to give anyone those titles. But clearly from watching practice there are coaches in charge on both sides of the ball and all the players know exactly what the situation is. Bill O'Brien is running the offense and Matt Patricia is calling the signals on defense. Belichick, as he said would be the case last spring, is working more closely with the defense as well. It doesn't matter what we think; as long as the players know who's in charge.

You rattled off a number of players who aren't happy with their contracts – show me a team where that's not the case. Not to mention I can't recall Moss every expressing any dissatisfaction with his deal. He's said he doesn't expect to be back next year, but in terms of his current contract I don't remember him complaining. Tom Brady has spoken several times about his contract and hasn't expressed the unhappiness you write about. Logan Mankins would be the only one who fits this category and he admitted that the Patriots made him an offer that would have placed him among the top paid players at his position. Again, where's the dysfunction in that?

Look, the bottom line here is the Patriots are not as talented as they were in the early 2000s when they won three titles. A lot of the veterans you wrote about are no longer here and the young guys trying to replace them have yet to prove themselves. But let's not turn this into some reclamation project going on in Foxborough. There may be a decline going on, like I said, in terms of talent. But there are no signs of disarray. You want my thoughts?? I think your first sentence says it all.
Paul Perillo

Since Dane Fletcher was a DE/OLB in college, wouldn't it make more sense for him to be an OLB in New England, especially given the need there? He has 7.5 sacks and 17.5 TFL in his senior season.Sam Frankel

Fletcher was an undersized defensive end at the Division I-AA college level at 6-2, 244. In the NFL he would have a difficult time holding up on the outside at that size. Outside linebackers in New England are asked to set the edge on running plays by taking on tackles and tight ends. At that size Fletcher would likely get swallowed by many of those behemoths. I like what I've seen from the rookie free agent, though. He looks pretty athletic and has shown some quickness playing inside. Belichick mentioned that he's made a "surprisingly quick transition" from defensive line in college to inside linebacker. If he continues to show that kind of progress he could represent an intriguing developmental prospect for the future.
Paul Perillo

OK, surely enough's enough. The Pats must change to a base 4-3 and make a trade for someone. Ty Warren is out for the season, there is no pass rush on the outside. We can't expect Jermaine Cunningham to shoulder the load in his first year and Marques Murrell and Rob Ninkovich have never played a game before. Sure Derrick Burgess is back but obviously he's a better edge rusher in the 4-3 back when he played well for the Raiders and Eagles. I say we make a trade for Shawne Merriman or something. Who cares if he only ends up with 7 or 8 sacks because that number will lead everyone anyway from the looks of it.
Mark Wheeler

I'm confused. Why do you want to change to the 4-3 and trade for Merriman? Merriman has been a 3-4 outside linebacker so I'm not sure why you'd want him in a 4-3. And really I'm not sure how switching to a 4-3 helps the areas you feel are lacking. Which Patriots defensive linemen would add to the pass rush by playing in a 4-3? I'm not sure there are any. Mike Wright has been the most effective pass rusher of the bunch while playing in a situational role. He may be asked to play more this year with Ty Warren on IR. But that would be the case regardless of alignment. Again, I'm not sure how losing a starting defensive end leads to the conclusion that playing more 4-3 fronts is the solution. Burgess likes to play from a three-point stance, which he did most of last year. If he can get after the passer better playing like that then so be it. But changing schemes isn't the answer. Whether Belichick uses the 4-3 or the 3-4, the Patriots defense needs to play better than it did in 2009.
Paul Perillo

In 8/3 PFW there was a question about moving an ILB to OLB and the response was there was no one worthy of that role. I do believe that Gary Guyton got his playing time there when he first started playing and then moved to ILB when the need came. So why then would using him back at OLB be a problem? Either way we all agree that adding some depth would go a long way.James Truden

I'm not sure I would use the terminology that no one was worthy of playing outside, but I watched Guyton do it some in 2008 and it was a complete disaster. He couldn't hold up trying to set the edge and teams were able to get outside consistently. I remember the game at Seattle specifically when Belichick had to use Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau extensively in their first games because the Seahawks ran all over the Patriots in the first half. Guyton is just 245 pounds, and even though he's quite athletic, showed that he had trouble handling that position. Perhaps with evidence of some depth inside with Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes maybe Guyton could try it again. But I'd rather have someone with a little more bulk outside, although I agree with your overall assessment that the depth chart at OLB is sorely lacking.
Paul Perillo

Ty Warren being placed on IR is a big hit to this defense. First off, do you see it causing more of a leadership/communication ripple effect like we saw last year? Besides Wilfork, Warren was the last of the defensive starters who have consistently been a part of the New England defense from the Super Bowl years. TBC spent some time with the Patriots earlier in the decade, but was never the unspoken leader Warren was. This leaves 10 fresh-faced Patriots on defense. Kind of a scary thought. Also, do you see the Patriots front office making a larger push for Aaron Schobel or perhaps a proven veteran via trade? Is there any chatter about keeping Ninkovich/Murrell on the outside and converting Derrick Burgess back to defensive end? Thanks guys. Let's cross our fingers on people staying healthy and keep up the good work!Tyler Spence

I agree that the loss of Warren will hurt in terms of leadership and overall toughness. He's been a steady rock up front next to Wilfork and his presence will be missed. My biggest concern with regard to the rest of the group is ability, not leadership. If enough of the new pieces are worthy of the playing time they're going to get, then I believe the defense will be fine. But there are a lot of ifs in that equation. There will be at least six new starters on defense and maybe more – two defensive linemen, two linebackers, at least one corner and it looks like one safety. That's a lot of change and that's why I think losing Warren will have an impact. Again, my fear would be whether or not these new guys can play.

As for Schobel, PFW favorite Mike Reiss from reported that the Patriots reached out to him and got the impression that he did not want to play for New England. Word has subsequently leaked out that he has retired and will no longer take calls from anyone. Burgess basically plays outside linebacker whether he has his hand on the ground or not. Many times last year he was up front in a three-point stance but still served as a linebacker. And that's really how he's played throughout his career even when he was considered an end in a 4-3. I don't think we'll see him dropping into pass coverage all that often regardless of scheme.
Paul Perillo

Thanks for responding to all our questions each and every week. My question is in regards to our OLB situation. It's great that we have Derrick Burgess back, and Marques Murrell showed some promise against the Saints, but where was second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham? I didn't see him at all during the game, and he wasn't on the field for Sunday morning's walkthrough. Any update on him?
David Gilmore

Hey guys, the following quote is from an article by Karen Guregian on 8/16/10. "But with bodies going down left and right, with Ty Warren a season-ending casualty and rookie Jermaine Cunningham now shelved." What the heck does "now shelved" mean? Could you make some sense of this by providing an update of Cunningham's status in your to be expected infallible reporting. Many thanks.Bob Robertson

Cunningham has been very quiet in his first camp and now he's out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury. He appeared to be shaken up late in a practice on Aug. 11 and then did not dress for the preseason opener against the Saints the next night. He hasn't been back on the field since. We haven't received word as the severity of whatever is keeping him off the field, but even when he was practicing he was getting mostly backup reps and wasn't really standing out. He's just a rookie and making a position switch so I don't think it's time to panic or anything. I'm just pointing out why there hasn't been a lot of information on him thus far.
Paul Perillo

I see little logic in protectionism by teams who tender some of their players prohibitively high? If say we tendered Mankins at first round, he would have been gone by steal or trade and that would have been fine. Now Pats would be lucky to get a second round for him.
Ted K.

There were hundreds of players available as restricted free agents this offseason and exactly one changed teams. So I doubt very highly that Logan Mankins would have gotten signed to a lucrative contract had the Patriots given him the first-round tender as opposed to the first and third. For whatever reason, teams did not make restricted free agent offers to the abundance of talented players that were available, and not all of those players received the highest tender. The pending CBA uncertainty is the main reason for the inactivity and changes to the tender offers wouldn't have solved that problem. Mankins commands a high contract offer plus a high draft pick in return. That's why no team signed him then and it's likely why no one has traded for him now – assuming the Patriots are even interested in dealing him. But really I think you miss the entire point of the tender system to begin with. You said you don't see the logic of tendering prohibitively high. Did you ever think that the Patriots did not want anyone to sign Mankins to an offer sheet but rather wished to retain his services? That's why teams offer the highest tender level – to discourage teams from signing players that want to keep.
Paul Perillo

Long time reader, first time asker. I really look forward to "Ask PFW" each week. You guys do a fantastic job. My questions are fantasy football related. Regarding fantasy football, what order would you rate the WRs? Do you think Brandon Tate would be a decent choice? Also, same question regarding the TEs? Will G-force or Hernandez be good fantasy options this year? Keep up the good work. Thank youGary McLellan

No one has less enthusiasm when it comes to fantasy football than me. But, we do have the world famous Brian Lowe of "Patriots Today" fame on board as our resident fantasy geek (sorry, expert). B-Lowe will be offering his rankings in the upcoming issue of PFW next week. Until then I'll take a crack at your specific questions. I'd go with Houston's Andre Johnson, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and of course the Patriots Randy Moss at wideout with Indy's Dallas Clark, Dallas' Jason Witten and San Diego's Antonio Gates at tight end. I'd stay away from Tate but would jump on either of the rookie tight ends in the later rounds. I think Gronkowski will score some touchdowns while Hernandez is going to rack up some receptions.
Paul Perillo

How do you feel the loss of Ty Warren for the season will impact the team? Coach said Ty has missed time the last couple of seasons with injury. Coach seemed disappointed but not surprised about this injury. It seemed as if Ty was going to be a staple on this team for years to come. Now?
Brett Larson

I think Warren's loss will be big but not insurmountable. He's been a staple next to Wilfork for the last six years and been a steady performer, particularly against the run, during that time. He's also a solid locker room citizen and goes about his business in a very professional manner. Replacing guys like that isn't easy. While Coach Belichick mentioned that playing without Warren was something the team was used to, he didn't mention that the Patriots haven't fared well in those games. Warren missed seven games in his first seven years with six of those coming in the last two seasons (three each in 2008 and 2009). The Patriots are 2-5 in those games.

However, the Patriots haven't generally had veterans like Gerard Warren and Damione Lewis around to fill in. Both have tons of starting experience and could be worthy of filling Ty's shoes if they're able to make the transition to the Patriots two-gap approach up front. Ty Warren has not been a huge pass rusher during his career so it's not like the Patriots will miss him in that area, but he has been an effective player and will be missed.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering if there is any possibility of Julian Edelman becoming the new scatback/Kevin Faulk-type player for the Patriots. Kevin Faulk (as wonderful as he is) is going into his 13th season as a Patriot. His greatest asset is his quickness and his experience. Edelman was a QB in college, and transformed into a receiver with the Patriots. Is it possible that Edelman could take Faulk's spot on the roster as the punt Returner /third-down receiving back?Robert Heckard

I think there's definitely a possibility of that happening and that's why Andy Hart and I have written so many blog posts regarding Edelman's work out of the backfield this summer. It was something I first noticed early on in camp and has been somewhat ongoing ever since. Edelman is obviously a gifted runner and has the ability to make plays in the open field. He's shown the ability to catch the ball as well. While I don't think he's ready to take Faulk's job this season, we've mentioned that perhaps Belichick is checking to see if he can eventually assume the third-down back role in the future. Interestingly, Faulk was a running quarterback in high school before making the switch to running back at LSU. Edelman obviously was a running quarterback in college at Kent State. If Edelman shows he can handle the blocking elements of the position, I'd say he'd make an excellent third-down back down the road.
Paul Perillo

What is the status of Darrell Stingley. I hope this is not a past tense question. I have that hit implanted in my mind forever.
Dexter Greer

Unfortunately, Stingley died April 5, 2007, at his home in Chicago from heart disease and pneumonia complicated by quadriplegia. You're obviously aware of the tragic circumstances that ended his promising Patriots career prematurely, and ultimately his life as well. Stingley was an inspiration to many. He published his memoir "Happy to be Alive" in 1983 and started a non-profit group to help troubled youths in Chicago in 1993. Ironically, the man who injured Stingley, Jack Tatum, died recently at the age of 61.
Paul Perillo

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