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Ask PFW: On to a busy Patriots offseason

The disappointment of the AFC title loss in Denver has not completely dissipated, but fans have certainly turned their attention to the offseason with plenty of wide-ranging questions for this week’s Ask PFW.

Do you think the Patriots could look at Matt Forte or Marshawn Lynch in free agency after an awful year running the football or would these big names be out of the Patriots price range?

Chris Symanski

I would love to see the Patriots add a true lead back this offseason to help balance out the offense and complement Tom Brady as he continues to impress while fighting off Father Time. I think Forte is a very interesting option. At the age of 30 – seemingly a death-blow to a running back's value in the NFL – he might be a more financially feasible option. He could be a true three-down back in the Patriots offense as a former 1,000-yard rusher and 100-catch receiver. (Forte caught 40-plus passes in all eight of his seasons.) I'd love to see him added to the New England backfield committee and think there is a chance his price could be in the right range. The Patriots have dipped into the 30-plus running back market in the past, including Fred Taylor. As for Lynch – I hate everything about him except the way he runs. I think he is a selfish player who decides when he wants to play, certainly doing that a lot in recent years could be related to his contract desires. That, though, is the bigger issues as a soon-to-be 30-year-old running back coming off his worst season in terms of production and injuries. Lynch seems to still think he's worth huge money. He's not. I also just don't like him.

Andy Hart

I have a few ideas for players to add on offense this off-season.

At wide receiver, could we possibly get a deep threat? The guy I have in mind is Miami's Rishard Matthews. While I'm sure everybody would love to get Alshon Jeffery, I think Matthews might be a lil' more financially affordable. His teammates seemed to like him in Miami, and he has been underutilized. He's the deep threat on the outside we've been waiting for.

Also, on the O-Line. I know we already have starters ready to go, but the biggest weakness needs to be addressed. It might be a pipe dream, but if he is still on the block, as he was at the deadline, could the Pats put together a package centered around Nate Solder for Joe Thomas?

Finally, who would you like to see the Pats put in at running back (realistically)? I know we would all love Matt Forte, but would a guy like Chris Ivory or Lamar Miller fit the bill. I wouldn't mind giving Doug Martin a shot, but after his great year, he might have played out of the Pats price range.

Erik W.

Matthews could be an interesting guy after four up-and-down seasons in Miami. He has potential given his size and speed, but has never really put it all together. He certainly is a lot more realistic and affordable than Jeffery, who isn't an option as he seeks huge money. I don't see any way the Patriots could trade Solder – a lesser player with a new contract extension – for Thomas. For better or worse, New England seems to be married to Solder at left tackle for the near future. As for running back, Ivory is an interesting guy. While I think Miller is too much of a speed-based, outside runner, Ivory is a physical beast who can make his own yards and could bring a non-existent attitude to the New England running game if that is indeed a goal. But at the age of 27 and coming off by far his best all-around season, the Pro Bowler may be looking for more than the Patriots will be looking to spend. That's certainly would seem to be the case with Martin.

Andy Hart

Was looking at future contracts and the current roster and noticed Montee Ball seems to have disappeared. I can't find anything that says he was released, is gone or was this an oversight?

Rick Soden

Ball's practice squad contract ran out when the season concluded and he was not signed to a reserve/futures contract moving forward. He will be a free agent when the new league year begins and seems unlikely to return to New England.

Andy Hart

Dion Lewis seemed to play an important role on the offense I'm curious on what his chances are of his return with the Patriots next season? Thanks!

Sean Winter

Lewis was indeed a huge performer for the Patriots early in the year and one of the great, breakout stories of the NFL during the first half of the season. He signed a contract extension before he tore his ACL that will keep him in New England through 2017. Lewis is reportedly doing well in his rehab with a hope that he'll be ready to go in training camp, but it could be a while before we see his characteristic quickness and electric playmaking ability return coming off a major injury. But whatever he brings to the field in 2016, he'll do it in a Patriots uniform.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, I guess this will be my last time writing for the 2015 season. I have one statement and three questions. First, although painful, I would rather have us lose the AFC Championship game than the Super Bowl. It seems to be a much bigger 'stain' when you lose the SB. Face it who really remembers who lost a Conference Championship game? But the stigma of losing the SB will last with a team forever (just ask the Bills & Vikings). First question, do you agree with the above? Second do you think the Patriots could have beaten the Panthers in the SB? Finally, do you think Peyton Manning will go out with a SB win, or go down in history as the QB that really had a hard time winning the big one (1 win, 3 loses) in Super Bowl games? Thanks for all your hard work!

Larry from BroncoLand

I don't agree with your point in any way. I always think it is better to go to the Super Bowl than to prove you weren't good enough to get to the big game. And for teams that have both won and lost Super Bowls, adding another trip adds to the greatness of the organization regardless of the outcome. New England has been eight times, and a ninth would have added to the overall legacy of everyone involved with the team. I do think the Patriots "could" have beaten the Panthers in the Super Bowl. Carolina would have likely still been the favorite, but I would have loved to have seen that game. I think the Broncos will have a hard time on Sunday. I expect Carolina to get the job done. They are a pretty well-rounded team with a quarterback seemingly having a historically special season in so many ways. It will certainly be interesting to see how Manning deals with an impressive defense and a team that's gotten off to quick, big leads in the last few weeks. If that happens, Manning is done.

Andy Hart

Big PATS fan from the UK, disappointed about the loss to Denver, however my question is a basic one relating to most NFL teams. Why are corners nearly always smaller than WR? Are there not 6ft-plus corners in college football?

Will Murray

There are not a lot of corners over 6-feet tall and even fewer who are good. A lot of the skills required to play the cornerback position at a high level – quickness, hip turn and flexibility – just aren't common among guys who are taller. It's just the reality of the world and the way the human body works. Guys who are tall, fast and can catch end up as receivers. It's easier to be tall and move forward than it is to move backwards or laterally with that frame/skill set. Pete Carroll has talked often about the fact that there just aren't a lot of big cornerbacks who can play, which is why guys like his own Richard Sherman and Arizona's Patrick Peterson are so special.

Andy Hart

The only thing I would like to mention is Bill's decision making this year. I never questioned his decision making until this year. Bill needs to look back at this year, and agree he was part of our problem.

The OT game, gives the ball away with Brady, the best OB ever?

Game plan for Miami game, total disaster!

AFC Championship Coin Toss?

One other thing, in the AFC game no screen passes to white to slow the pass rush?

Looking forward to your thoughts?

Love Pat's forever !

Bryan Griffin

I agree that there were plenty of decisions made by Belichick this season that could be questioned. Some of those may have contributed to the season ending early and ending in Denver. Belichick himself acknowledged that he'll go back and review everything with the team from this year, including his own actions and decisions. He'll do so with a critical eye and a focus on learning/improvement. Belichick also made a lot of good decisions in 2015 that helped the team to an AFC title game for the fifth straight year. We can't lose sight of that. We all make mistakes. We all make decisions that we might like to have back. Belichick is no different. But he's still by far the best in the business. Bar none.

Andy Hart

Is it just me, or are you guys surprised the Pats appeared to not change a thing on offense during the AFC Championship? As in, the Denver pass rush is killing us, and we continue to NOT try something different while in spread offense, i.e. an RB chip Von Miller out of the backfield, employ a back and take a receiver off the field (leaving 3 to go out for passes) to help block (like Jackson), try 6 OL for a few downs, no screen passes (remember the Jackson screen vs Jets), jet sweeps, or God forbid hurry up offense for a series or 2....?? This bothers me most about the loss. Not trying to slow them down by trying different things.

John Hooker

I did think that the in-game adjustments on offense were lacking in Denver. Many of the things you bring up are quite valid and I'm not sure why they didn't get more consideration. New England was once the best screen team in the game. Not sure where that has gone. The coaches did try to use Cameron Fleming at one point and that failed. I also think that the Broncos impressive pass coverage caused New England to not want to take options out of the routes, especially Rob Gronkowski. Maybe the biggest adjustment could have been with the silent snap count that the Broncos took full advantage of to get off the ball seemingly even before the Patriots could. It was a bad day for the Patriots offense on a lot of levels in Denver, and coaching was certainly a part of that story.

Andy Hart

Do you think there would be any chance that Bill would try and trade for Josh Gordon? He acts like he's matured up and I think Bill could straighten him up. Tom Brady to Josh Gordon would be epic!

Spencer Lutton

I don't think such a deal with the Browns is likely. Gordon is clearly a talented physical freak at the receiver position. But he also has an apparent drug/alcohol problem and maturity issues. He's not proven he has dealt with either, even if he is saying/tweeting the right things right now. He's also not reliable at this point given his drug suspensions, being in the program and being one mistake from essentially a lifetime ban. Heck, he's applying for reinstatement now, so his future is far from certain. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't see the Patriots risking the investment in Gordon. If they did, it would certainly be fun to watch on the field.

Andy Hart

I told you before that McDaniels was a terrible coach. Two-tight end sets, two receivers, one back and the Pats would be going to the Super Bowl. By now even your brain should react to getting rid of McDaniels. Brady was getting killed. Worst offense I've seen in a while from the Pats.

Larry Kothe

First, you've never told me anything because I have no idea who you are. Second, McDaniels is not a terrible coach. He may have had a bad day in Denver, but that happens to everyone in every profession. And if you think he has total power over the offensive game plan and adjustments, then you are nuttier than a Snickers. McDaniels will probably leave New England soon, but that will be to take his own job as a head coach not because he's fired. Not sure if you know this, but Belichick thinks as highly of McDaniels as maybe any coach he's ever worked with. I wish there was some virtual reality program or dream world where we could see and then criticize your coaching ability, Larry. My "brain' would love to react to that. But I'm guessing you wouldn't love the reaction. Thanks for reading and writing us an email!

Andy Hart

If a team like the Browns, offered an early 2nd & 3rd round pick, would you cash in Garoppolo and take another developmental QB in the mid rounds? Brady looks like he could play on for several more years, more than the two left in Jimmy's contract anyway and with no 1st this year might be a good year to add to draft ammo.

Colin Brady

At this point, I don't think I would. It's not a very good or deep class of quarterback prospects. Brady is indeed coming off a great year but guys tend to age faster at this point in the process, so the idea of "several' more years might be a shade optimistic even if there are no current signs of Brady fading. Garoppolo looks like a good developmental player and unless I got a first-round pick in return I don't think I'd part with him. The NFL is a quarterback league. The Patriots have a great one and may be developing a good one. That's good for business in the long term. I understand the possibility that Brady may continue to succeed and Garoppolo's contract is a year closer to running out, but I'll deal with that issue when I have to. For now, I'd hold onto my quarterback insurance unless I get a first-round pick in return.

Andy Hart

Will Pats retain Cameron Fleming, Akiem Hicks, Sealver Siliga and Justin Coleman? And what about the situation of Scott Chandler and Aaron Dobson? Will they have another chance?

Gregorio Ladeira

Fleming is an exclusive rights free agent, so there is a good chance he'll be back to at least compete next summer. But since he was cut this year and landed on the practice squad before being called up as an injury fill-in, Fleming's future is far from certain. I think Hicks, an unrestricted free agent, will get a decent contract from some other team this spring. He was an impressive performer after joining the Patriots via trade from the Saints and should be rewarded with money New England isn't likely willing to spend, sort of the way Akeem Ayers was last year in a similar situation. Siliga is a restricted free agent who saw his role shrink some in 2015. He's been plagued by injuries in the past and I'm not sure he's worth the projected low-end RFA tender of nearly $1.7 million. Coleman is another exclusive rights free agent who will certainly be brought back. By the end of the season, despite battling a concussion and hand injury, the undrafted rookie may have been New England's second best cornerback behind Butler. I'm sure the team would love to see what he might become after a full year in the program heading into next summer and season. I think there is a very solid chance that neither Chandler nor Dobson is around come 2016. Chandler could even be cut this offseason to free up a little bit of cap space after a dismally disappointing first-year in Foxborough.

Andy Hart

As always we enjoy reading this column in Alaska and love watching the Pats. Now that the linebacker coach has moved on what about Teddy Bruschi as linebacker coach? He was the consummate Patriot and as a linebacker my memory is that his success was largely considered to be due to his knowledge and instincts. It seems those would be good attributes in a coach. I honestly expected him to show up as a coach immediately after retiring. I hope it is not too late.

William Saltonstall

While I do think that Bruschi has the skills and attributes to potentially be a good coach, I don't think that's a role we'll be seeing him in. Like so many former players, I don't get the impression he wants the lifestyle and time commitment that comes with being an NFL coach. He's great on ESPN, makes good money in that role and still has plenty of time to have a regular life with his wife and kids. That's a pretty good life to give up for the sleepless grind that is NFL coaching. I don't see it happening.

Andy Hart

Looking at free agents outside of the team's own, what do you think of Eric Weddle? He's a top flight safety who will come for cheap due to his age, and Belichick seems to like Ex-Chargers safeties (Steve Gregory and Rodney Harrison were both big contributors). Do you think he would fit the system? I know they have Chung and McCourty, but they ran a lot of 3 safety Nickel this past season. The other free agents I'm looking at are running backs Alfred Morris and Matt Forte. Would you rather have the young and promising Morris, or the proven but aging Forte? I'm assuming both would come at a fairly hefty price, in addition to the expense of Blount and Jackson.

Zach Lax

Weddle is indeed an intriguing option and a very good player. I still marvel at the way he dealt with Rob Gronkowski last season in the matchup in San Diego. He's 31 and got into an ugly contract dispute with the Chargers. He's been remarkably durable for his size and an All-Pro caliber player. The biggest question is what his value would be on the open market. I'm guessing he'll get more than the Patriots are looking to spend to pair him up with the $50 million McCourty and a pretty deep young group of safeties that includes Duron Harmon and 2015 second-round pick Jordan Richards. Weddle is a good player but there doesn't seem to be a fit for him in Foxborough. As for the running backs, as I said earlier, I'd love to see Forte in the Patriots offense. He can run inside and out. He can catch passes. He's on the wrong side of 30, so that could keep his value down. I wouldn't rule out such a marriage. Morris is a young (27) running back coming off his worst season. He's been durable playing all 16 games in each of his four years, but his yards and yards per carry have gone down each season. Still, he's probably more of a big-price item than the Patriots are likely to invest in at running back, given their history of not paying significantly for talent at the position. He doesn't seem like a value committee guy at this point but rather a lead back a team could pay.

Andy Hart

Looking into 2016 season. Do you think we have a chance to get Calvin Johnson? We should trade Chandler Jones for Calvin. He would be the perfect outside WR we have been missing since Randy Moss. Also, what about a guy like Eric Weddle at safety? And we desperately need a RB. Alfred Morris or Matt Forte would be nice. I think we might be able to get Morris for a team friendly contract. What are your thoughts?

Talwinder Singh

Talwinder, you and the previous emailer, Zach, seem to think alike. I don't think there is much of a chance of Johnson landing in New England. Word out of Detroit is that Johnson seems pretty set on retiring due to physical issues. The Lions may convince him otherwise, but not to trade him. I also don't think Detroit would trade him for Jones, even forgetting the salary cap issues it would create for the Lions. Jones only has one year left under his contract and they already have their own breakout young star pass rusher in Ziggy Ansah, who'll need his own huge contract at some point. As I said above, I don't see a fit for Weddle in New England, though I think he's a good player who could help the team in theory. Finally, if Morris is willing to do a "team-friendly" deal I'd take him. Otherwise, and with that seemingly unlikely, I'd target Forte as a nice fit for the team's needs and as a guy who might want to win at this point in an impressive career.

Andy Hart

What 3 upcoming free agents would you like the Patriots to at least make a run at? And what do you think our top 3 draft needs are?

Sean Rockcliffe

I would love to see the Patriots go after running backs Matt Forte or Chris Ivory, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and maybe Rishard Matthews, as an emailer brought up earlier. As for the top draft needs, I'd go with cornerback, running back and wide receiver as the top three.

Andy Hart

Hi Guys, Just wandering with the season ending to ensure we have cap space to re-sign and improve players do you see departures or altered contracts with Mayo, Vollmer and Amendola. Also do you see LaFell and Chandler leaving after poor seasons.

Damon Morris

There is a chance that the answer to all of the above is yes. After his third-straight season landing on IR Mayo is probably gone, given his $11 million cap figure and that he already re-did his deal last year. It's the sad reality of the business. Amendola also needs to agree to a pay cut, or he will be gone with a nearly $7 million cap figure for 2016 that's seventh on the team. Vollmer is the least tenuous of the three, but his age, injury history and decent cap number are an oncoming issue. I do think that both LaFell and Chandler are potential offseason casualties. They are coming off poor seasons and cuts could save $2.5 million and $1.5 million respectively. Mayo and Amendola are the only sure-things in terms of pay cuts/departures, but the rest should certainly be on their toes this spring as well.

Andy Hart

I wish the Pats were heading to the Super Bowl, but it is what it is. With this season over for the Pats, who do you think will be the next o-line coach? Also do you think we need new bodies in the o-line? Thank you.

Mark Bushnell

While it's always hard to predict what Belichick will do with his coaching staff, I can make a few educated guesses. If he stays inside the organization, as he often does, the most logical candidates might be tight ends coach Brian Daboll or coaching assistant Jerry Schuplinski. Daboll assisted Dante Scarnecchia with the offensive line in the past. If he did bump to the line, Schuplinski might be an option to take over the tight ends. A couple outside candidates with connections would include Pat Hill, the former Falcons lines coach and Fresno State head coach who oversaw Belichick's offensive line development program with the Browns in the early 1990s. Another option would be Brian Ferentz, who is currently on his father's staff at Iowa after previously working as an assistant in New England. Beyond the coaching change, I don't see a huge turnover in the line talent. The group is pretty young and made up of guys Belichick has brought in for the job. I expect that Nate Solder will return as the starter at left tackle. Vollmer is getting older at right tackle, but he also may be the best player on the team's line. Inside, I think that Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson, Bryan Stork and David Andrews will be battling for the three starting jobs. They are young and should improve. Most of the roster turnover on the line could be in terms of backups.

Andy Hart

As disappointed as I am about missing out on this year's Super Bowl I am pleased with the idea of Manning suffering another humiliation on the biggest stage of football and being 1-4. Now my question. Why does it seem that teams like the JETS and Broncos have an incredible collection of players yet stay under the cap while the Patriots struggle every year in signing players with proven records? How can Denver afford Ware, Miller, Wolfe, Manning etc while we are stuck with players that other teams simply don't want?

Bill Gorman

The NFL salary cap is a pretty easily managed and controlled financial system. Teams can pretty much keep or acquire any players they want, within reason. It's like a family budget for a person making a very good salary with good credit. As long as you don't do anything really stupid, you should be able to lead a very nice life. The Patriots have plenty of big-money players just like the Broncos do. Both teams also have guys playing above their contracts who are soon to warrant bag-money deals. Now, New England had some big money contracts with guys who didn't play in that game such as Solder or Mayo. Some will also question big money given to guys like McCourty or Mayo in terms of the impact value they bring for the huge price. But saying the Patriots – who had seven players make the Pro Bowl – are stuck with players other teams don't want is just not accurate. Brady, Gronkowksi, Gostkowski, Jones, Collins, Hightower, Butler, Edelman and others are among the best in the game at their positions.

Andy Hart

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