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Ask PFW: Negotiating the slow times

Because of the talent we saw from David Thomas on a few plays last season, I was just wondering what the chances are of him being ahead of Kyle Brady in the depth charts.
Matt Wheaton

As much as I was impressed with Brady at mini-camp, I think he and Thomas will play very different roles in the Patriots offense this fall. Brady – as we all saw and were amazed by at mini-camp – is an absolute beast. Bill Belichick has referred to him as a third tackle in the past and I think he'll fill a more important role as a blocker and pass protector this fall much the way Daniel Graham did at times in the past. Thomas is more of a pure pass catcher with natural hands. When his broken foot heals – something that kept him out of mini-camp and likely gave Brady extra reps in the passing game – he should be a decent option in the passing game. In the end I think Brady and Thomas will sort of split the role that's been handled well by Graham in the past, although I do think Thomas could be a playmaker in the offense down the line.
Andy Hart

First of all, I'd just like to say what a fan I am of this feature and what good work you guys do. My question concerns 2nd year man Chad Jackson. I know he had a rough rookie season, due in large part to a training camp injury. With all the new talent added to the WR spot this year, does he have any hope at even making the team? It seems like he's not even being considered to make the final roster. It seems like a waste of a second-round pick, especially since he was a predicted first rounder last year. Is he still eligible for the practice squad? What about using him as trade bait? Do you think he could be trained as a defensive corner? He's got the speed and ability.Josh Rose

Josh, relax for a minute and step away from the keyboard. Jackson was a clear disappointment last year. While it's hard for me to admit it now, when he was drafted I called the pick a second-round steal and predicted Jackson would be a Pro Bowler before the end of his rookie contract. That could still happen, but the former Gator did little as a rookie to lead us in that direction. He's still recovering from the torn ACL suffered in the AFC title game. My guess is he will start the year on PUP, but I certainly don't think there is any chance he'll get cut, traded or play corner. It's too early to give up on him, regardless of how he handled his business as a rookie. As far as a trade, I don't think his value could be much lower than it is right now. That would also essentially be giving up on him. My hope is that he can get healthy, work hard in the background while guys like Moss, Stallworth and Welker handled the every day pressures and expectations and then eventually have Jackson develop into the guy I think he has the talent to be. Will it happen? Time will tell, but I still think he has the talent for it to happen even if he's not in a Pro Bowl by the end of his rookie deal.
Andy Hart

Hello, I realize this may be a loaded question but, if there is a short answer, what is it about the Pats' defense that makes is so "complicated." Secondly, because it has paid dividends - which opponent has come the closest to duplicating New England's system. I would suspect the Jets and Browns, because of their head coaches but, at least in Cleveland's case, using the defense and having success with it are entirely two different things. Thanks.
Richard MacKenzie

I think the reason people label the New England defense as "complicated" is because it can be so variable in nature. Belichick is a game-plan coach who attacks opponents' weaknesses on a weekly basis. So while the Patriots are a 3-4 base front, there are a million different things the team can do out of that front and the many other fronts it employs, not to mention the endless coverages and secondary packages Belichick loves to throw at opposing quarterbacks. So while some teams "do what they do" and try to improve it over the course of the year, the Patriots players could be asked to do very different things on a week-to-week basis. In order to fill those variable roles the players need to really understand the system and schemes well as they don't have a ton of time to learn and perfect them on the run during the course of the season. That's why the work done in training camp laying the foundation for the playbook the team will use over the course of the season is so very important.
As for duplicating the scheme, that's hard to do because other teams are missing two very important ingredients – Belichick's brain/coaching ability and the Patriots players. You could hand me the New England playbook and a defensive team, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be able to get them to play like the Patriots. Lets not underestimate the playing ability of guys like Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Asante Samuel and other Patriots defensive players who have played a key role in the team's defensive success in recent years. And I don't any of us will ever underestimate the coaching ability – especially defensively – that Belichick brings to the table.
This reminds me of a couple years back at the Combine when a reporter asked then-Cardinals coach Denny Green about duplicating what the Patriots do. I'm paraphrasing here, but he basically said to give him Tom Brady and then maybe he'd be able to try to duplicate what the Patriots do. It's the same thing for other defensive teams trying to copy Belichick and his ways.
Andy Hart

With all the questions regarding moving Wilson to CB if Samuel holds out, I'm surprised no one has asked about Artrell Hawkins. Assuming Wilson stays at S, we have a surplus at that position with him, Harrison, Meriweather, Sanders, and Hawkins. How do you think Hawkins would do converting back to CB?Jay Corbeille

While there is no question Hawkins has plenty of experience as a starting cornerback in the league, I think at this point in his career he's more of a safety/nickel for the Patriots. I'm not sure the 30-year-old, 10th-year veteran has the speed and playmaking ability to line up on an island on an every-down basis anymore. I certainly don't think he would be a No. 1-type corner in Samuel's absence. I do agree that there would seem to be more depth at the safety spot. I think that depth – including the versatility of guys like Wilson, Meriweather and Hawkins – will be put to use if the team has to play regular season games without Samuel. I just don't think lining up Hawkins at corner every down is the answer and we didn't see anything at mini-camp to lead us to believe that is a legitimate option that the team is considering right now.
Andy Hart

Hi Guys, Checking in from sunny Boca Raton, Florida!!! You're probably sick of all the questions regarding Asante's holdout but I was curious about his idea of coming back after week 10 just so he could earn a full year. My question is, do the Patriots actually have to take him back? After months of not attending games, practices, meetings or watching any film, do the Patriots have the right to just sit him out for the last 6 games? And if so, where would that put his upcoming free agency status? Not necessarily as a slap in his face, but if his first full practice with the team isn't until mid-late Nov, he would be HUGE steps behind the rest of the team and it would probably take him several weeks just to start catching up. And how would the rest of the team feel about him coming back so late when they've all been busting their butts since early July? Wouldn't this ruin some of this year's team chemistry? I know he's a good player and I would love to have him out there starting in week 1 (as I'm sure the rest of the team would, too) but the Patriots are still a good team without him and they've proven before that they can win without their #1 corner and even their #2. I'm not so sure he deserves to come back for the last 6 weeks under the circumstances he has proposed. What are your thoughts? Has any player in the NFL ever done this before and if so, how did it work out for them and their team? Thanks guys. You're doing great work.Buddy Taylor

Hey Buddy, I did a little digging but couldn't come up with too many guys who have done what Samuel is threatening. If I remember correctly WR Joey Galloway sat out the first half of the 1999 season in a contract dispute. He returned to play in the final eight games before getting traded to the Cowboys the following offseason. Bucs WR Keenan McCardell, who unlike Samuel was under contract and seeking a raise, held out for six games in 2004 before being traded to the Chargers. He later had to repay money to the Bucs because he'd violated his contract. Other players, like Sean Gilbert, have sat out for entire seasons. But I don't recall guys who have used the 10-week rule to their advantage in the way that Samuel has proposed.
If Samuel does report the Patriots basically have to take him back, but they don't have to play him. By rule they can't just send him home as the Bucs did with Keyshawn Johnson a few years back. And my guess is that even if the players aren't totally behind Samuel's holdout, and I don't know whether they are or they aren't, I think that they would want him to play if he came back. Lets be honest, putting egos and negations aside New England is a better football team with Samuel on the field. So my guess is that he would be put in the lineup if/when he returns to the team.
Andy Hart

Tom, First let me say that I live in Maryland and don't have access to all the local papers and media sources so whatever you guys got up there I don't have down here. I make it up there a couple of time a year, always playoffs, to see the PATS and watch my old wrestling teammate for DSWC Steven Neal. Now last week I asked some questions about Stallworth and how he got no love from the media and all I hear about from NFL Network, ESPN, and Patriots.com are stories on Moss. You indicated this wasn't true but never answered any of my questions about Stallworth and how he was fitting in with the team, Brady, etc. So I am going to ask them again. Is Stallworth gelling with Tom? Have they had any one on one workouts? Do you think he will be a bigger impact then Moss assuming he stays healthy and given the fact that Moss will probably draw a lot of double teams? What do you think his stats will be? Now to respond to your message back to me in regards to the Moss stories all the time. What about the weeks between the mini camp and the Draft? I counted over 20 stories on Patriots.com that were mainly geared towards Moss. This doesn't include the countless times I have heard only about Moss on NFL Network or ESPN when the PATS are mentioned. You say there were 9 stories about the other 11 receivers, but how many about Moss? 9 stories about 11 different guys isn't a lot in my opinion. You were given the opportunity to address the WRs in a later question and again never mentioned Stallworth even though he will most likely be the #2 guy. Again, please understand that I don't have access to all the stories or blogs written up North nor do I have the time or money to research that material or buy those papers. Also, understand that I am not trying to start an argument but rather get answers. Anyway, keep up the good work and thanks for the insight.Jason Gabrielson

First, Tom's not here this week. It's Andy's (yes Andy is talking about himself) turn at the helm of the Ask PFW ship. Second, I'm not really surprised that Tom didn't answer your question and just ranted. That's pretty much what he does. Argue is his middle name.
I don't want to get into a long answer about media stories and comparing coverage of players. But in my mind Moss deserves more media coverage. He's done more in this league, is a potential Hall of Fame player and is an entertaining figure on and off the field. Stallworth simply doesn't have the same resume, cache or star power. That's not a shot at him, it's simply the facts. Stop counting the stories written about the new players and just enjoy the influx of new talent that your favorite football team has to work with.
Stallworth is a big-play receiver as his career numbers show. If he can stay healthy I think he will make big plays for the Patriots this season and will be a productive part of the offense. Based on what I saw in mini-camp he is getting acclimated with the offense and working with Brady. The only question I have is in regards to his hands. He doesn't seem to have natural, soft hands on short and intermediate routes. At times in camp I saw him double-catch the ball. Did I catch him on a bad day? Will that be a problem moving forward? Not sure. But I do know he's fast, accelerates quickly in and out of his cuts and will make plays for this team this season. As your good friend Tom would say, book it.
Andy Hart

Every year I hear about important players in the last year of their contract being given the Franchise Tag. What exactly does that mean for the players since it seems every time they are give it they want to leave?Patti Rourke

The franchise tag is used on players who are technically free agents, not in the final year of their contracts. The tag pays the player the average of the top five salaries at his position on a one-year contract. But it also limits his ability to test the free agent waters as any team looking to sign him would have to give up two first-round picks as compensation. So it essentially keeps the players from getting the lucrative, long-term deal on the open market and huge signing bonus money that they so openly covet. It's not simply about wanting to leave, it's about getting the most money and security that players can get when their value on the open market is at its highest.
Andy Hart

Hey I just heard that Donovan Darius was released. Do you think it would be smart for the Patriots to sign him. That would allow them to convert 1st rounder Brandon Meriweather to CB and give them more flexibility with Asante Samuel?Ryan Currier

How do Wilson and Harrison look coming back from their injuries? What do you think of Meriweather? In your opinion do you think we have enough depth in that area or might the Patriots look to pick up a veteran like Darius for a season or two?
Ken Scotch

I haven't heard anything about the Patriots having interest in Darius at this point. While I haven't seen him play much, I've heard that he's lost it a bit over the last couple years and has been injured for much of the last two seasons. He broke his leg and injured his labrum last year and I'm not sure exactly where he's at physically. That said, the 31-year-old would seem to be a Patriots type player with his hard-hitting style. Interestingly there hasn't been much out there in terms of rumors as to where the recently-released Darius might end up.
Wilson and Harrison were both on the field for mini-camp as they work back from injury. Both players looked a bit tentative at times, but didn't seem to be held out of any drills so that is a plus. Both have said they are fully healthy and ready to go for the new season. Harrison has had three major injuries over the last two years, but he believes they were all of the "freak" variety and not a result of his age or his wearing down. He doesn't think the team has anything to worry about in terms of counting on him moving forward as a starter. Wilson has had a variety of leg injuries and hopes to prove this fall that he "still has it." If they can both stay healthy and return to form of a couple years ago it would be a nice boost to the back end of what should be a pretty good defense.
Andy Hart

If you want to be paid like Nate Clements, how about you follow in his footsteps. Accept the $7.79 million franchise tag under the condition that you cannot be tagged next year. Play the year out, possibly win a Super Bowl and watch your value increase even more. Next February take it to the bank. Doesn't this sound reasonable?Derek Laverriere

It might sound reasonable, but how do we know that the Patriots are offering such a deal? Do you have sources? Samuel might take that deal if it were on the table, I'm just not sure it's been offered.
Andy Hart

Okay, recently I've been going around the Asante Samuel situation that's disturbing all the Patriots community. I came across an idea that my friend put up. He said the Pats should trade Asante and a 4th rounder for the Carolina Panther's Ken Lucas and DeShaun Foster. I said that the Panthers would have to give up 2 1st rounders though also. To which he replied by saying "You don't HAVE to trade two first round picks for a tagged player. You can work out a suitable trade, just as long as it compensates both teams." Which got me thinking. Lucas is a good corner who had an off year last year but still can be good corner. Do you think this trade offer would be a good one for both sides?
David De Leon

I think it would be a good deal for Carolina and would have not interest in such a trade from a Patriots perspective. Lucas is a middle-of-the-road corner who makes way too much money after he was given a big deal by the Panthers in free agency. Foster is a backup running back who has never really lived up to his potential, in part due to injury. So you are basically adding two borderline starters in exchange for a young, developing No. 1 corner who might still be getting better. Doesn't sound too good to me. Lucas and Foster are nice players, Samuel is more than that right now and could be much more than that moving forward.
Andy Hart

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