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Ask PFW: Offseason plans

A look at free agency, the draft and other offseason preparations highlight this week's mailbag.

While there's a chance Martellus Bennett stays, I would assume the priorities of both parties would lead to him signing elsewhere. How do you see the Patriots addressing the tight end position in the offseason? Do you think we may go high with a potential replacement or successor for Rob Gronkowski by drafting someone like O.J. Howard or do you see the Patriots looking for another TE2? In which case I'd like to see the team go after someone like Jake Butt in the draft, also with the trade for Julius Thomas do you think that Jordan Cameron could be a possibility? I'd guess he'd be available for a late-round pick and at the very least he'd immediately make Gronkowski the most durable tight end on the roster.
Alex Marr

I definitely expect tight end to be high on the Patriots draft radar and I could definitely see Butt being one of those injured players that Bill Belichick takes a long look at. Butt tore his ACL in his bowl game and his draft stock will suffer as a result. That means the Patriots could be willing to take a flyer on him in the middle rounds if he's available, knowing that his contributions in his rookie season won't be crucial to the team's success. I agree that Bennett is likely going elsewhere so New England will need to find some alternative behind Gronk. They signed Rob Housler to a futures contract so he could be an option depending on how his offseason goes. He has some experience as a pass catcher and could provide some depth. Cameron is indeed a free agent but as you already mentioned he's dealt with concussion issues and hasn't been able to play often enough to be a contributor. There are some interesting names on the free agent list at tight end (the Giants Larry Donnell and Seattle's Luke Willson) as well as guys with Patriots ties such as Clay Harbor, Tim Wright and Matthew Mulligan. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Belichick pick up a veteran at some point.
Paul Perillo


With free agency starting soon, I have to believe the Patriots 2017 roster will change dramatically from that of last year. I don't see the Patriots outbidding other teams for the services of Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Alan Branch, Jabaal Sheard or Martellus Bennett. In addition, absent a franchise tag, I can see Dont'a Hightower chasing the big contract you know some team will offer. Despite the Patriots having over $60 million in cap space, Belichick will not pay more than what he feels a player is worth. Hightower's durability will be a factor in the Patriots offer. Do you agree and what would plan B be?
Gary Madera
East Hanover, N.J.

I'm not exactly sure what the you're asking me to agree with. Do I agree that Hightower is in line for a big contract? Yes. Do I believe Belichick will be willing to give him a big-money deal? Yes. How much that will end up being and will Hightower be willing to accept it to stay? That's tougher to answer. I agree Hightower's lack of durability will play a role in the decision but Belichick understands how valuable he is and I feel he'll make a respectable offer. That doesn't mean Hightower will stay, however. He may simply want to go elsewhere after winning two titles and perhaps he'll search for a better situation for himself personally. Most of the players you mentioned above will likely wind up elsewhere but Harmon and Branch could be back. Branch will be tougher because at his age he might be looking for a big deal while Harmon should be easier to retain. It will be an interesting offseason for sure.
Paul Perillo

I believe a lot of players will go away for more money, like Bennett, Ryan and Harmon. This last one will leave a big void because we are playing a lot of big nickel. Thinking about players who can fill it, do you think we have a shot at Eric Berry? On the other side, Chris Long and mainly Alan Branch probably will retire at the top, leaving another big void. Any chances on Calais Campbell, Kawann Short or Chris Baker? On to Minnesota!
Gregorio Ladeira

I'm not sure why you assume Harmon is gone because of money but yet you want to sign Eric Berry, who just played the 2016 season under the franchise tag. He's certainly looking for big money and will cost more than Harmon. Branch could be back if he doesn't strike it rich on the open market. He had a terrific season for the Patriots, though, and that might draw some attention and free agent dollars. Short would be a terrific replacement but will command a very high price tag, much more than what we're talking about for Branch so again, why not just keep the guy you're already comfortable with. Baker's a guy who might make some sense – a solid 300-pound run-stuffer who theoretically could enter into a rotation with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine. Campbell is a defensive end so he's different than these options, and he also would cost some dough on the open market.
Paul Perillo

I am concerned that BB may see Jacoby Brissett as a successor to Brady. This QB may be good at many things dear to Bill, but he never showed good accuracy especially for long balls. Can such accuracy be coached?
Jim Richards

First, I'm not sure Belichick views Brissett as the successor and I'm not sure Belichick knows for sure how much longer Brady will play. In terms of ability, Brissett is a developing prospect. He shows great leadership skills and toughness but in terms of throwing I would agree that he's a work in progress. Accuracy is something that can improved with mechanical adjustments but in general I would say it's not a trait that can necessarily be coached. Like I said, if there were some footwork issues or problems with his delivery that practice could correct, then I'd say Brissett could potentially improve his overall accuracy. I haven't watched enough of him to make such a determination but it's something to keep an eye on during the spring and summer when we next get a chance to see him throw.
Paul Perillo

Any chance the Pats pick up Jared Odrick or Eddie Lacy? Odrick is a versatile defensive lineman who can play anywhere on the line, and you know how much Belichick likes versatility. Odrick has struggled with injuries though so that could change things, but do you think he's still worth looking into? Lacy is four years younger than LeGarrette Blount, and before he got injured this year he was averaging 5.1 YPC. He has struggled with his weight, but given the success of the conditioning coach this year, do you thing that Lacy's weight could be dealt with?
Liam Sullivan

I like the idea of Odrick, not so much Lacy. As you stated Odrick has some versatility up front and he would make some sense on a short-term contract at this stage of his career. He has battled some injuries and at his age the price tag shouldn't be too high. Lacy I have no interest in. The weight issue is a problem but I also don't have much interest in paying for running backs who've already been through some wear and tear. Blount won't cost much to re-sign and I believe the Patriots would get just as much out of him as they would Lacy.
Paul Perillo

I was wondering what you guys thought of the Giants letting go of Victor Cruz? I know he was injured then had a down year but he seems like the type of guy Bill would take a shot on? I know he's more of a slot guy but I still think he's got plenty left to offer.
Nick Hayes

Basically you've already touched on all the factors surrounding the problems with Cruz. He was let go because he lacked durability and production, and adding another slot guy to the equation doesn't seem to be a priority. Cruz has already been making the rounds looking for a new team so my guess is someone will offer him some money to see if he can jumpstart his career. But if he's still on the market come April maybe my perception will change and the Patriots could get him for the minimum to see if there's anything left. Cruz was a terrific slot receivers for a short period of time but he doesn't look like the same player at this point.
Paul Perillo

Hypothetically, if the Patriots could draft someone who would be a stud player, at the least second-team All Pro for his entire rookie contract, without any injuries or character issues, what position would he play?
David Beckett

Great question. I'm going with cornerback to match alongside of Malcolm Butler. Obviously if I was guaranteed a stud player at any position it's hard not to say quarterback, but I'm going to assume Brady is here at least for the next three seasons so I'm looking to help him the best way I can. So I'm going with cornerback followed by defensive end/edge pass rusher. I'd take either of those spots to play this game.
Paul Perillo


With the recent comments that Cyrus Jones has been making regarding his less-than-stellar rookie season with the Patriots, I'm a bit concerned that he may be damaged goods mentally. By saying that he didn't feel a part of the Super Bowl team or that the team wasted a high draft pick on him or that he felt at times like no longer playing, this is not instilling confidence in me that he can bounce back. I would be concerned that if he has a few muffed punts, blown coverage assignments or other miscues that he won't be able to get this monkey off his back. Unless he has immediate success and can build off that success early and often - OTAs, training camp, preseason, regular season - the Patriots would be wise to have a backup plan of moving on from him if things continue and he stays in his funk.
Alan Bernstein

I have violent agreement with this entire post. I'm not quite ready to write off Jones but I'm not relying too much on him as we head into the offseason. Jones displayed some maturity issues last summer when he was responding to fans' criticism on Twitter after dropping some punts and it seems his sensitivity has affected his overall performance. Beyond the glaring mistakes as a returner, Jones also struggled badly in coverage, especially out of the slot. The Patriots may very well need him to fill a bigger role in 2017 assuming Ryan leaves, which could put Jones in line to be the third corner. At this point, I agree with you that Belichick will need to have his bases covered in case Jones proves incapable of filling such a role.
Paul Perillo

What are the smartest short-term and long-term plans and goals for the Pats at QB? Should they draft another QB? Will they be able to keep any to all of their present reserve QBs? Any sleeper college QBs out there that the Pats should, seriously, pick in the next draft? Tom Brady's playing days will end, at some point in the future, and there's always a possibility that he could get injured, with this possibility increasing with age.
John Moore

As I mentioned earlier I believe Brady will play at least another three seasons so I'm not anywhere near as concerned about the short term as some others. I would trade Garoppolo to the highest bidder and allow Brissett to serve as Brady's backup in 2017. The Patriots have generally opted for just two quarterbacks on the roster so I don't feel it's a necessity to draft one as a potential No. 3 this spring. If there's someone who catches their eye, then certainly take him and allow him to develop and see if he's a better option than Brissett moving forward. Brady already stated that 2017 won't be his last season, and he's been incredibly durable throughout his career so while a devastating injury is always a possibility it's not something I would anticipate.
Paul Perillo

Jordan Richards has been a bust for two years and nobody's going after him with the same tenacity as fans and media were after rookie Cyrus Jones. Why not give kid a break to regain his confidence or we will have the second second-round pick wasting away on the bench while Pats are losing a CB and S to free agency?
Paul Paslanski

There isn't anything the media or fans can do to allow Jones to regain his confidence. The reason Jones took more heat than Richards is because Jones made several plays that hurt the team while Richards was relegated to special teams coverage and wasn't involved as a returner. Both have been disappointments and certainly look like questionable second-round picks at this stage, and many have commented on that fact with regard to Richards. But again, the media and fans can't help Jones. He's going to have to play better if he's going to restore his confidence.
Paul Perillo

If a player gets a transition tag, example Hightower now or Garoppolo later on, will the team receive any draft picks from the team that signs the player away?
Peter Chloss

Only the franchise tag requires draft pick compensation. The transition tag simply allows the current team to hold a right of first refusal, which means the Patriots would be able to match any offer sheet Hightower signs with another team should New England choose to use its transition tag on the linebacker. Garoppolo will be a free agent after the 2017 season and he would then be eligible for one of those tags as well. The salary for the transition is also smaller than that of the franchise tag. The former would be the average of the top 10 salaries at the position while the latter is the average of the top five.
Paul Perillo

First, thank you for your awesome never-ending Pats coverage. I appreciate reading the column every week. I have a question about SB LI in that I saw that records were set for most passing yards by Tom Brady (466) and most passing yards by a team (442)? Would you be able to shed some light on how those were calculated differently?
Michael Monk

The difference in the totals is fairly simple: Brady's number is the gross yards the Patriots passed for while the team total represents the net total. The net passing yards subtract the yards lost due to sacks. Brady was sacked five times for 24 yards in Super Bowl LI, so 466 minus 24 would get you to the net total of 442.
Paul Perillo


The Pats traded Jamie Collins to Cleveland for a third-round compensatory draft pick (for the loss of Alex Mack, I believe). But what is the compensation if Cleveland is not awarded a third-rounder? Do they get whatever the league awards for Mack, or is there some other arrangement in place?
David Peterson

The Patriots traded for a third-round compensatory selection and if Cleveland doesn't receive one this spring the pick will become a fourth-round pick in 2018. All signs point toward the Browns receiving a third-round compensatory selection after losing Mack to Atlanta in free agency last year, but in the event that the Browns don't receive such a selection, it will simply become a fourth-round pick next year.
Paul Perillo

When watching college football, the Combine and draft day(s), I'd love to have a better idea of what a future Patriot looks like, so I can get more invested in the process and selections. Today, I feel that most of us end up thinking, "I guess Bill saw something good" and we wait to see who makes the team. What takes priority? The tape? Referral from a trusted coach? Does Bill ask Malcolm Mitchell, "Now that you've been here a year, who on your former team would be a good fit?" Is it just a gut feeling after a good lunch? In short, future Pats icons aren't necessarily college rock stars, and I'd like to know when I should be excited about a pick that looks benign on the surface.
Michael Schultz

The simple answer to a complicated question is pretty much all of the above. Belichick and his staff do extensive research on the prospects and they use any and all information they can find. They talk to the players at the Combine and on visits and they deal with college coaches and others around the college programs. They talk to their own players about college teammates and even college opponents – anything to get as much information as possible to best determine whether or not a player would makes sense for the Patriots. There isn't necessarily one thing the Patriots or any other teams use to make these decisions but rather a mosaic put together from a variety of sources.
Paul Perillo

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