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Ask PFW, Part I: Caps and compensation

Compensatory draft picks (Tom Brady was one) and the salary cap (or lack thereof) kicks off this week's Ask PFW mailbag.

What are the three compensatory picks the Patriots have?
John Faton

New England was awarded three compensatory picks during last week's annual league meeting: a third-rounder (97 overall), a fifth-rounder (170 overall), and a sixth-rounder (207 overall).
Erik Scalavino

The Patriots drafted Tom Brady with a compensatory pick. Who was the player for whom the Patriots were compensated?Dennis Dietrich

This question came up last week, and our editor, Paul Perillo, did a good job answering it. However, we've since learned some new information about the compensatory pick process, so I'd like to clarify.

According to our friends in the media relations department, and contrary to popular opinion, compensatory picks are not assigned to offset specific players, but are assigned based on the aggregate net loss after the signing of "compensatory free agents" (i.e., signed players of equal or greater value than those lost).

So, in 2000, when Brady was drafted, the Patriots received four compensatory picks based on the loss of free agents in the previous offseason (1999). That year, the Patriots did not sign any compensatory free agents, but lost LB Todd Collins, P/QB Tom Tupa, DL Mark Wheeler, and C Dave Wohlabaugh.

The combined (i.e., net) loss of those four players produced compensatory picks in the fourth round (127 overall, used on OL Greg Robinson-Randall), sixth round (199 overall, used on Brady), sixth round (201 overall, used on DL David Nugent) and seventh round (239 overall, used on RB Patrick Pass). Therefore, it wasn't a one-for-one swap, per se. Together, those four losses and zero signings produced the four extra picks, one of which was Brady's.

This year, the Patriots received three compensatory draft choices, as indicated in the previous answer. Under terms of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are eligible to receive no more than four compensatory draft picks each year. The Pats got three this year because prior to the 2008 season, the Patriots lost three compensatory free agents - Randall Gay, Asante Samuel and Donte' Stallworth - while signing no compensatory free agents. Since the Patriots' net loss of compensatory free agents was three, New England received three compensatory choices in this year's draft.

It's a little convoluted, but I hope that clears up the issue for you.
Erik Scalavino

Although I was pleased with [backup QB Kevin] O'Connell's arm/scrambling abilities, I'm not convinced he could "pull a Cassel." I'd like to see a veteran who could step in and WIN now should the unthinkable happen and Brady goes down again. Is the team looking at proven veteran(s) such as Jeff Garcia or Byron Leftwich?Tim Estabrook

The Patriots will most likely add a veteran QB sometime between now and training camp to add depth to that position. Recent media reports indicated that Patrick Ramsey had visited with the team (though reports of a subsequent offer to him were shot down by the team). So, I think it's safe to say New England is in the market for another signal caller.

Garcia is a proven commodity and would be a logical fit here, from the team's perspective, but there are so many NFL teams that need a starting caliber quarterback that I think it's unrealistic to assume he'd come here as a backup. He'll probably wind up somewhere else where he'll start right away. As for Leftwich, I just don't think he's all that good a player. I'd rather take my chances with O'Connell if it came down to that.

There are still some other options out there, however, like Charlie Batch, Charlie Frye, or Anthony Wright who could serve as capable backups or third-string guys. And don't rule out a deal with Ramsey either. An offer hadn't been made as of a few weeks ago, but that doesn't mean it won't.
Erik Scalavino

Before his season was shortened due to injury last season, how do you guys feel Shawn Crable was performing? I know the team needs an OLB, but I was wondering how much confidence you guys had in Crable?Mike Maxey

Last preseason, Shawn Crable looked pretty good. Now, everybody is talking about Julius Peppers and Jason Taylor. What about moving up in the draft to grab Rey Maualuga and start Crable on the outside? The rookie thing worked out with Mayo and Crable's had a year to learn and put on some weight. This way you stay young and keep the money needed to sign Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, and Logan Mankins. What do you guys think?
Stephen Holland

It's a little unfair for us to offer an opinion of Crable at this point because we've seen so little of him on the field. Yes, he made one or two nice plays last preseason, but up to that point, he hadn't been doing much to impress in training camp practices. Then he went on IR and never had a chance to show what he could or couldn't do. So, until I see some consistent production from him, I'm not going to feel comfortable with him out there. And to suggest he could start immediately is just preposterous. "The rookie thing," as you put it, Stephen, worked out with Mayo, who, by the way, just happened to be a top-ten pick in the draft. So, it's not too surprising that he started right away and won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Crable was a third-round choice who got hurt early in his rookie year. If he can stay healthy this year, I'm sure he'll be given a chance to perform, and I'll be very interested in seeing him. He just hasn't had the time to make an impression.
Erik Scalavino

I was just wondering how much effect you feel position coaches have in the development of young players? In recent years we have seen a steady stream of tight ends/wide receivers come to New England who show early promise, but ultimately fail to develop into consistent players (Daniel Graham, Ben Watson, David Thomas, Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson). On the other hand, it seems that nearly every offensive lineman that the team drafts develops into a quality, oftentimes, Pro-Bowl caliber player. How much of this can be attributed to coaching and to what extent is success or failure determined by the personal qualities of the player?Jeremiah Pyle

Great question. You could be onto something, Jeremiah. Dante Scarnecchia, New England's O-line coach, has been in the league for decades, most of that with the Pats, and has developed a deserved reputation as one of the finest in the business. His longevity with this team is certainly a factor in why the Pats offensive linemen have such success. On the receiver/tight end side, there's certainly been much more turnover at the coaching position, which could have something to do with the inconsistency there.

However, if you look at the players you mentioned, Watson has struggled with consistency here, to be sure, and Thomas has just had some bad luck with injuries, so, it's a little too soon to write him off, I think. Of the rest, only Graham has had a steady job in the NFL since leaving the Pats. Johnson has bounced around, and Jackson was picked up mid-season by Denver last year and was an afterthought in their offense. So, it's not like they left town and set the world on fire elsewhere. Coaching had nothing to do with their problems, seems to me. They just weren't as good as advertised coming out of college.
Erik Scalavino

Hi guys. Love the job you do! The Ravens recently released cornerback Samari Rolle. What do you think are the chances the Pats add Rolle to the team? We need depth in our backfield and Rolle is a playmaker.Archie S.

Well, if he was such a playmaker, Baltimore wouldn't have felt comfortable letting him go. I've only seen him play in person once, and he did little to impress me. The Pats have already added good depth and talent in the secondary with Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, they have several young players with game experience returning this year, and will most likely draft at least one new player at the position in April. Could they still add Rolle? Maybe, but I think it's unlikely.
Erik Scalavino

I'm a long time Pats fan but stuck down south thanks to the Army. My Question is in regards to the Salary Cap and how our potential draft picks count against it. So far with the moves that the Patriots have made, I'm tracking that they have about 8-10 million in cap space left. Once the draft is over, is that the cap room the Patriots have to play with to sign the new rookies, or is there already a predetermined amount that teams have to work within that already counts against the cap?James Bonin

Yes, there is a rookie salary pool, but we are not privy to what that amount is because it's normally determined each year following the draft. The NFL comes up with a different amount for each club to spend on rookies, based in part on how many picks they actually make. Last year, for example, the Pats reportedly were told had just under $4.5 million to sign draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents. This year, that number could be completely different, but we probably won't find out what that is until sometime in May, at the earliest.
Erik Scalavino

I've been hearing reports of next season (2010) being an uncapped year. Does this mean it will be like baseball and teams will be able to dole out the money they see fit? I ask because if this is true, the Julius Peppers trade seems to be a no-brainer. He could be signed to a multi-year deal (with trademark Belichick/Kraft frugality) and still retain the talents of players like Wilfork and Seymour next season. So, is this uncapped year a possibility or am I dreaming?Jim Cunningham

Can you explain the possible uncapped year? Could a team sign a player this year to a contract and pay them say 2 million this year and say 28 million next year? Could a team also redo someone's contract and do something similar?Keith Henderson

The potential exists for an uncapped year in 2010 because last spring, NFL owners decided to shorten their existing labor agreement with the players and their union. As a result, if no new agreement is reached by next year at this time, the NFL will do business without a salary cap. But that doesn't necessarily mean teams can spend willy-nilly on free agents. The rules will be altered slightly.

If the cap vanishes, teams could spend as much or as little as they please, to a point. The top eight teams, for example, would be restricted somewhat in pursuing players. Plus, the pool of available players would be smaller because players would need at least six years of credited service to be considered unrestricted free agents. As it stands now, they only need four years in the league.

With regard to Peppers, the Pats couldn't really sign him now to an oversized contract only if they were banking on next year being uncapped, because it's entirely possible the league and the union could come to an agreement before next year. So, as I understand it, if the Pats rolled the dice and gave Peppers (or any other player, for that matter) the moon, they might be stuck next year with less to spend on other players.
Erik Scalavino

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