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Ask PFW: Offseason offerings

With the 2006 season now entirely complete, the Patriots are moving forward and looking toward the offseason. This week's mailbag features a variety of questions ranging from free agency to the draft to next year's schedule.

What is Reche Caldwell's future with the Pats? Do you see drafting another No. 1 receiver or testing the free agent market? Also, it seems Coach Belichick does not like to pay his receivers No. 1 money (Deion Branch) because the offense distributes the ball to so many different players, but with the receiver play from this past season and the Patriots so far under the cap, do you see them going after a high profile receiver, say a Steve Smith?Thomas Johnson

I'll start at the top: Caldwell will be back since he's under contract and is very affordable at a scheduled $1 million for the 2007 season. Whether he's No. 1, 2, 3 or 16 doesn't matter. The Patriots don't classify their receivers in that way. They all are expected to contribute when called upon and it doesn't matter if one guy winds up with more catches than another. As for Belichick being unwilling to pay "No. 1 money" (whatever that is) I think it's important to understand that Branch was under contract and was holding out. We can all argue about the decision to trade him but saying he was unwilling to pay him doesn't really tell the whole story. Maybe if Branch was a free agent Belichick would have offered the same contract Seattle did but was unwilling to because of the ramifications it might have had for others looking to suddenly redo their deals. Personally I don't think they would have given Branch that contract regardless but I also don't think Belichick "does not like to pay his receivers No. 1 money" as you stated. And in terms of free agency, there really aren't any big names scheduled to be available. Donte' Stallworth might be but the Eagles have made it clear they intend to keep him. Drew Bennett should be available but he isn't any better than what's already on the roster. So I wouldn't be waiting for Steve Smith to become available.
Paul Perillo

I don't remember the exact time frame because at the time, I thought it was a minor story, but Ted Johnson was interviewed during the season. In this article he talked about being the healthiest he has been in years, and that he would play again (since the Pats needed ILB help) as long as the Pats paid him enough. But now, a few months later, he comes out swinging against the coach he was just willing to play for. Do you guys have any idea why he has seemed to change his tune so quickly? Were his concussions not bothering as much back then? This story for whatever reason seems to hit a nerve with me. Thanks for your insight and keep up the great work.Paul Calderone

This story should hit a nerve with you and anyone who actually cares about the players beyond the playing field. Ted Johnson is in tough shape and he's not even 40. His comments about returning were made on 890 ESPN Boston and were done somewhat tongue-in-cheek, although listening to them at the time it was not really clear that was the case. But either way, I think it says volumes about how messed up he is right now. The brain damage he suffered likely allows him to have good days and bad days. If he were honestly talking about returning, my guess is he was having a good day at the time. He's in absolutely no shape to play football right now and really he's in no shape to do much of anything. It's an unfortunate situation that hopefully will shed some light onto a growing league-wide problem. Concussions are serious business and players need to take better care of themselves, coaches need to handle them better and most importantly the training and medical staffs need to do a better job of keeping those players on the sidelines for longer periods of time.
Paul Perillo

Is it a possibility that the Patriots use the franchise tag on Asante Samuel and then trade him? Historically, has this happened with other players? If so, what sort of compensation would you find reasonable for a player of his talent?
Russell Rososky

It's absolutely conceivable that could happen. The Patriots did that with Tebucky Jones in 2003 and wound up trading him to New Orleans for third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks. I think Samuel would be worth more than Jones strictly as a player, but he'd also cost more money for a team to re-sign and thus the compensation might not be as high as it would if he was under contract. The Deion Branch situation might be pretty comparable since he needed a big contract as well and he garnered a first-round pick. Samuel should be able to do the same if the Pats were looking to deal him.
Paul Perillo

I have been very disappointed with all of the talk about the Patriots may cut Corey Dillon because of his cap value for next season. I hear it is around $4.4 million. I know Corey is up there in age from a running back in the NFL at 33. However with Laurence Maroney here, Corey doesn't have to be the main back. Corey this past season had a career high in rushing touchdowns with 13. I feel like Corey dealt with Laurence Maroney being drafted in the first round very well. PLEASE KEEP COREY IN NEW ENGLAND!
Amber Bennett

There are two ways of looking at this. On one hand $4.4 million isn't really that much of a cap hit for a running back that had 13 touchdowns last year. On the other hand, it is a pretty significant hit for a guy who at best figures to split the carries with Maroney next season. If Dillon wants to keep playing, and from what he was telling people after the Colts game that's no guarantee, I'd expect the Patriots to keep him while probably trying to lower the cap number a bit.
Paul Perillo

Are you kidding me, Vince Young is replacing Philip Rivers in the Pro Bowl? Am I the only one that thought Tom Brady was deserving of making the Pro Bowl in the first place?
Steven Morrison

Obviously Brady was more deserving of a Pro Bowl slot than Vince Young, and the NFL agreed. But Tom had already committed to play in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament and turned down the trip to Hawaii, leaving the spot open to someone else.
Paul Perillo

The Colts have been doing something I find irritating all postseason. Peyton Manning does a hard count, a guy on defense flinches. A second and a half later an offensive lineman (usually the right guard) comes flying off the line, and immediately points at the defensive lineman who flinched. The ref's call "neutral zone infraction" on the defense. We're supposed to buy that the D-linemen pulled him offside? Am I the only who finds that cheap? Should the ref's really be calling this penalty?
Will Bortolin

Of course they should, as long as the defensive player was in the neutral zone. What's the difference between that and hurrying up to the line and snapping the ball while the defense has 12 players on the field, as the Patriots have done many times? It's called smart football. Brady often recognizes when the defense is trying to change personnel quickly and I've seen him snap the ball and take a knee just to get the free 5 yards. Again, that's smart … just as the Colts taking advantage of a defensive player jumping the gun is smart. No one is saying the defender caused the offensive lineman to jump, but it's still a penalty.
Paul Perillo

With Coach Belichick coaching the Pro Bowl, are there any free agents among the Pro Bowlers who he might have a "conversation" with about how great it would be to have them as part of the Patriots? I know he would have to be careful about the no tampering rule but there must be ways to show the Patriots interest in them. It might give coaching the Pro Bowl a little extra value.Ron Ireland

I think you're absolutely correct, Ron. Belichick has mentioned his meetings with certain players at the 1998 Pro Bowl (when he coached for the Jets) several times. Good coaches like Belichick use everything as an opportunity and he'll no doubt be around players in a different manner than an opposing coach normally is. He'll be able to get a feel for some personalities and different aspects of players he likely knows but on a different level. I wouldn't be surprised to hear Bill telling us about his meeting a future Patriots at the 2007 Pro Bowl.
Paul Perillo

This isn't a question, so I don't expect this to be posted. For the 2007 season, I would like to see the Patriots sign another receiver or have Chad Jackson as a starter because Reche Caldwell's performance in the AFC Championship Game was inexcusable (there was a point in the game when he was wide open, without coverage, and he dropped the ball). I believe that Caldwell cost the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl. For this reason, I believe he should be waived because he is a substandard receiver. Brady is an outstanding quarterback and deserves receivers that he can rely on when the situation becomes critical, and Caldwell is not one of those receivers, and that was affirmed in the AFC Championship Game.
Robert Johnson

I'll start by saying if you don't expect us to post the things you say, then do us all a favor and don't bother. When you blame an entire game on one player because he dropped two passes then you deserve to be criticized. Did Caldwell have a good game against Indy? Obviously not. Did he cost them the game? Obviously not. How can you say a defense that allowed 32 points in the second half doesn't bear any responsibility? Caldwell dropped two passes. After the first one the Patriots scored a touchdown on the next play so that didn't have any impact on the game. The second one may have since he likely would have picked up a first down on the play and the Patriots could have gone on to score a touchdown on a drive they eventually were forced to settle for a field goal. For that I'm supposed to cut the guy? That's ridiculous. Caldwell turned in a solid season and played well in the playoffs. Funny, I don't remember hearing anything from you after the San Diego game when Caldwell made the key play by catching a 49-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal down the stretch. Ridiculous.
Paul Perillo

What teams are the Patriots playing at home and away next season?
Alex Quezada

The dates and times have yet to be determined but the Patriots will host Buffalo, New York Jets, Miami, Washington, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and San Diego, and will travel to Buffalo, New York Jets, Miami, Dallas, New York Giants, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
Paul Perillo

Just a quick question, supposing the Pats decided to trade our two first-round picks for a single pick, how high up the board do you think the Pats could move?
Tim Hart

Without having too much in depth knowledge of stuff like this, I would say realistically they could probably get to the fringes of the top 10, give or take a spot or two. The famous, or infamous, draft value chart has No. 24 worth 740 points and 28 worth 660. That's a total of 1,400 points, which corresponds to the eighth pick. I'm not sure the Patriots could get quite that high, but somewhere in that ballpark.
Paul Perillo

I have heard a lot about drafting an inside linebacker for the future. Did anyone see Eric Alexander against the Colts? He was flying around the field making plays all over the place. He has good speed and I think he will be a big contributor in the future for the Patriots.
Jamie O.

Actually, I did see Eric Alexander playing against the Colts and that's one of the reasons I believe the Patriots need some help at the position. Please don't take that as a slam on Alexander because it wasn't meant to be. The guy was seeing his first significant playing time of his career with a Super Bowl berth on the line so the fact that he struggled covering the Colts talented tight ends should not have come as a surprise. But relying on an undrafted guy who switched positions to provide an option at inside linebacker is a risky proposition. Alexander still shows promise and should still provide depth. But the Patriots will need an infusion of youth and athleticism at the position to prepare for life without Tedy Bruschi in the future.
Paul Perillo

What are the extra draft picks the Patriots have this year. I know they have Seattle's first rounder and a pick for Gorin. I also know they gave up a fifth rounder to the Raiders in a trade for Doug Gabriel. When it is announced, they should receive some compensatory picks for losing David Givens, Adam Vinatieri, Matt Chatham, Tom Ashworth and some others that I can't think of. I think they will at least receive a third rounder and some later picks.John Heisman

As of now the Patriots have their pair of first-round picks (24th and 28th) plus one pick in each round except the fifth (due to, as you stated, the Doug Gabriel trade). They also added a sixth-round pick in the Brandon Gorin trade with Arizona. The compensatory picks haven't been awarded as of yet but I agree with you again in that the Patriots should come out with at least a couple more. Compensatory picks range from the third round to the seventh round. Given the NFL formula for awarding those picks it's tough to predict exactly what they'll receive but it certainly seems clear the Patriots lost more free agents than they signed so it's safe to assume they'll be adding some picks.
Paul Perillo

I've tried to get an answer to this question before without success. On the various draft sites they will often list, let's say a WR with a 40 time of 4.3 and say that he's "fast." Later another WR with a time of 4.5 is listed as "average" or even "slow." How much of a real difference is .2 of a second. Can anyone even snap his fingers that quickly? Shouldn't other things such as: good hands, production in college, quality of competition, etc. be more relevant than .2 seconds?
Joe Peretti

To answer the first part of your question, I'd say that two-tenths of a second makes a huge difference for a wide receiver, and in the example you gave I'd agree that 4.3 is fast and 4.5 is average. Obviously speed isn't the only way a measure a wide receiver's ability. You listed several factors that also come into play. However, if a receiver isn't fast enough to get open consistently, it doesn't matter how good his hands are or how much production he had in college. Bill Belichick always says he needs his receivers to do a minimum of two things: get open and catch the ball. In other words, if you're lightning quick but drop every other pass thrown your way, that's no good. And if you have hands like glue but can't get open, that's no good either. There are plenty of good wide receivers in the NFL who probably run a 4.5 – especially the older ones – but they understand how to get open and use their body. So I understand that speed isn't everything. But in terms of evaluating two college wideouts, there's a big difference between 4.3 and 4.5 speed.
Paul Perillo

Would you guys say these teams with BB assistants as head coaches and such would employ the same draft strategy as the coach assuming they were obviously part of the draft process for the Pats? What's your take on his coaching strategy in regards to his assistants?Hank Wilson

I think the bigger issue for assistants like Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini is that they are using a variation of the Patriots defensive system and obviously are looking for players to fit into that system. In the past a guy that may have interested Belichick as a 3-4 end or an outside linebacker may not have been attractive for some other teams. Now there are more teams looking for those types of players and that shrinks the pool a bit. In terms of overall strategy, I really don't think the Patriots are much different from the vast majority of teams. Everyone is balancing value with need and make their picks accordingly. No team picks strictly on value or need because it's virtually impossible to do that. For example, if the Patriots are picking 24th and the highest rated player on their board happens to be a quarterback then Belichick isn't going to go with value and take him. He's going to the highest rated player at a position of greater need. That's what most teams do. Some just don't do it as well as others.
Paul Perillo

While looking for answers to a Patriots trivia questionnaire at work, I pinpointed the date of the first Patriots game I ever attended. It was Oct. 30, 1988, and I was 8 years old at the time. I don't remember much of the game aside from the butt kicking we handed the Bears that day and the long TD pass on the first play of scrimmage. I'm wondering if you can tell me who the QB and WR that connected on that TD pass were. I'm thinking maybe Doug Flutie or Steve Grogan as the QB and maybe Irving Fryar as the WR, but those are purely guesses on my part.
Joel Lindgren

Excellent guesses my friend. Flutie hit Fryar on the first play of the game for an 80-yard touchdown and the Pats rolled to a 30-7 win at Sullivan Stadium. However, the Pats finished 9-7 and did not make the playoffs that season.
Paul Perillo

Why is it that the Patriots seem to suffer so many injuries to their defensive backs each season? Is it because of some particular idiosyncrasy of the defense? Does the 3-4 place a greater demand on the action of the DBs? Is it the selection of players themselves? Bad luck? I realize it is most likely all of the above but how do you guys view this issue?
Kevin E.

To be honest I really think it's only one of the above – bad luck. There is no added burden on defensive backs in the Patriots 3-4 defense as compared to any other defense. Player selection might have something to do with it since some of the guys they chosen recently have come with injury-filled pasts (Chad Scott, Randall Gay, Duane Starks, etc). But Rodney Harrison was a pretty durable player (he was coming off a bad groin injury in San Diego) before coming to New England and he's been injured a few times. Really I don't think it's anything more than an unfortunate coincidence that the secondary seems to get hit the hardest by injuries.
Paul Perillo

First let me just say I am a Patriots fan to the last and watching them lose to the Colts killed me (as I bet ever other Patriots fan too) but as much as I don't care for the Colts I must tip my hat to them because no matter what they did beat us and no ref interfered with that. My question however has to deal with Tedy Bruschi and our free agents. Do you think he comes back next year? Also everyone talks about Asante Samuel being our most important free agent and he is a good player; however I think Daniel Graham is just as important because he is such a great blocker and really tight ends need to block. I know he isn't going to be mentioned with other elite tight ends who can catch but shouldn't we re-sign him? Also please don't kill me for my statement on the Colts because I really don't care for them but I felt like the Patriots really let that game slip away more so then the refs blowing it for us.
Donald Chisholm

I certainly won't kill you for that statement but I'm guessing some of the emailers might. I too hate the Colts but was very impressed with what they did in the second half against the Patriots. I gave Indy no shot to comeback and I was wrong (as usual if you followed my picks this year). As for the free agents, I agree that both Samuel and Graham are key players but I disagree with Graham being more important. He is an excellent blocker and I believe an underrated receiver that doesn't get that many chances to show those skills. But good blocker tight ends are replaceable while quality cover corners are much more difficult to replace. Samuel emerged as a top-level corner this season and if he leaves it would be difficult to find someone to fill in. In a perfect world both players are back next season but judging from the past I'm preparing for life without at least one of them – maybe even both.
Paul Perillo

Hi I think you all do a great job and I enjoyed the piece Tom wrote about the Senior Bowl. I happen to think one of the Pats largest needs is at CB especially if they don't franchise or re-sign Samuel. I was just wondering if any of you who were down at the Senior Bowl saw any CBs that might fit in well with the Pats that might be available at 24 or 28?Joe Smiroldo

None of us was actually down at the Senior Bowl but we all did our best to watch the footage on NFL Network of the practices and stuff. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be an overly strong crop of corners in this year's draft. There's still a long way to go before we hit April and things can change depending on the combine, workouts and interviews but I'd be surprised if the Pats took a corner in the first round. But I do expect some corners to be taken at some point so we'll have to keep an eye on that position throughout the spring.
Paul Perillo

I have the 2006 yearbook and I noticed that some of the players' numbers have either a w or a b next to the numbers. What do the w and b stand for? IE: Wilfork is 75b and Nick Steitz is 75w. Someone suggested that it may be white and blue which would make sense except not all the players' numbers have these letters, they simply have the numbers.
Heather Niles

The letters do stand for white and blue with the former representing an offensive player while the latter represents defense. Only the players with duplicate numbers are designated with white and blue. During training camp when there are 80-plus players, sometimes there aren't enough numbers to go around so some have to double up.
Paul Perillo

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