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Ask PFW, Part I: Previewing free agency

This week's Ask PFW focuses overwhelmingly on the upcoming free agent period, with a few miscellaneous questions mixed in as well.


Since next season is most likely uncappped, do you think the Patriots could go out and grab three great linebackers and Julius Peppers for 2010? We would be the best defense. I was thinking our front 3 would be: Peppers, Wilfork, Warren, (Wright as a backup), then our linebackers being (from left to right) Elvis Dumervil, Jerod Mayo, Keith Bulluck, Shawne Merriman? (Tully Banta-Cain as a filler.) Hope BB thinks about this.
Ben Poore

Quick question. You've mentioned that even though 2010 is uncapped, teams will be limited in spending because any long-term deals will have repercussions beyond 2010 and will presumably impact a team's cap in later years. However, is there anything preventing a team from front-loading a long term deal to pay out in 2010? For example, could the Patriots sign a player to a four-year, $50 MM deal with $30 MM paid out as 2010 salary? Financially, this would be the equivalent of paying a player a large signing bonus, but instead of the bonus being spread out to later cap years, it would be pushed into the uncapped 2010 year. Are there any restrictions on this approach?
Eric Kirschner

I have a question regarding an uncapped year. Does this mean a team could spend as much as they want with no penalty? What happens when a cap is reinstated? Does a team that spent money foolishly (Washington comes to mind) have to be under the cap when the new fiscal year starts or will they be granted some sort of buffer? Personally, I don't want the Patriots to spend foolishly to have one good season and pay for it over the next five years.
Darrell Fitzsimmons

The short answer to Ben's question is no, I don't see that happening, even in this uncapped year. If you can, gentlemen, I strongly encourage you to pick up the latest issue of PFW. In it, you'll find a very detailed explanation of how the uncapped year will work. The feature is called "Uncapped, but not unlimited," and it details why teams probably won't be able to spend profligately in this unusual offseason, contrary to popular belief. It's far too ponderous a topic to explain in this limited space. If you don't have access to PFW, fear not. We may be posting that primer on in the near future.
Erik Scalavino

After 2006, when it was clear that the receiving corps was just not there, BB dropped all but one (Jabar Gaffney) and picked up three quality starters. Is it possible that after this past season, it's time to do the same with the OLBs? Keep Tully Banta-Cain and rebuild completely. Peppers would be great for a pass rush, but who is going to set the edge as well as Mike Vrabel did? Are there any proven vets that could fill that role? Can Shawn Crable make the team, let alone make an impact?
Brad Pelletier

Brad, you really need to listen to "PFW in Progress" more. We've been saying for over a year now that the Patriots need a quality infusion at linebacker – inside and out. But according to Bill Belichick, no linebacker the Pats have had in the past 10 years has been able to set the edge and rush the passer as well as Derrick Burgess did in 2009. Even coming from Bill, I find that a bit hard to believe.

As for the best available players on the free agent market, you're looking at DeMeco Ryans (RFA4) on the inside, and Karlos Dansby (UFA), Elvis Dumervil (RFA4), Aaron Kampman (UFA), and Shawne Merriman (RFA5) on the outside. New England should try to land a least a couple of those guys. Crable, who's been on IR both seasons in New England, gets one more chance, but that's it. Keep your expectations low with him. Maybe then he'll exceed them.
Erik Scalavino

With speculation that the Saints will not pay $8 million in base salary next year to Reggie Bush, do you think the Patriots would be interested in signing him if he were to be released? He would be an excellent upgrade in the backfield with his catching ability and speed, and would also help out the return game, assuming Wes Welker will miss the first part of the season.
Steve Feeney, Canada

You don't have to convince any of us about Bush's talent. There's no question that if a player of his caliber wound up on the free agent market, New England would consider getting him. I just don't believe it will come to that point in Bush's case. My gut tells me that he and New Orleans will restructure his contract to allow him to remain a Saint.
Erik Scalavino

What's up with the tight end position on this team? A few years ago it seemed that they might start utilizing an H-back type by drafting both D. Thomas and G. Mills, but neither panned out. The way D. Clark gets used [by Indianapolis], and even watching Thomas with the Saints, would seem to be something that would fit into the Patriots' offensive philosophy – short routes, versatility, another facet that a defense has to plan for. Even with Watson likely gone, I wonder if it's worth spending more than a mid-round pick on the TE position, with the lack of role in the offense. Hey, I know Thomas is no Clark, but he did look natural lining up all around even at FB, and good enough where I don't understand why he would be cut outright. Wouldn't it make sense to put this into the offense? In Brady's early years, we said he didn't have the weapons that Manning did. Well, he got his premium #1 and slot receiver (resulting in 50TDs); time to give him his H-back please!
A. Snibbets

Guess you're not on a first-name basis with anyone, including yourself! In any event, David Thomas wasn't cut. He was traded to New Orleans last summer. Now, we at PFW were all surprised by the move because Thomas was doing all those things you mentioned that he did for the Saints this past season. Thomas actually had the best camp, in our opinion, of any tight end on the roster. It didn't make much sense to us at the time, and still doesn't.

That said, your question is a bit perplexing, because on the one hand, you say you don't want the team to spend more than a mid-round pick on a tight end/H-back, yet you're dying to get Brady a quality player at that position. I agree that the position has been underutilized in recent years, but I think that's because the Patriots felt they didn't have the necessary talent at the position. If they find a player that can do everything that's expected of a tight end, they'll use him. Problem is, the Patriots have swung and missed with tight ends in the draft under Belichick. Maybe that'll change this year.
Erik Scalavino

Is it me, or does the offensive line seem to have real problems with athletic defenses? Case in point: Baltimore. That defense is fast and furious, to say the least, and were able to, at will, bust through our 'O' and pounce on Brady. Our guys seemed slow and amateurish ... not the seasoned vets that they are. Will we see some big draft moves to breath more athleticism in the line this year?Doug McCusker

Your assessment is a little off base, in my estimation – both Baltimore games aside, because not a lot of offenses have great games against that defense. Overall, the Patriots have one of the more athletic offensive lines in the NFL. Even their largest guy, Sebastian Vollmer, isn't one of those fat slobs that you typically associate with the average o-line. Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Nick Kaczur, Stephen Neal … these guys are as physically fit as you'll find at that position at this level. Consistency, more than athleticism, is this unit's biggest problem. What they need are more talented players like Vollmer to counter the better defenses like the Ravens.
Erik Scalavino

If there are no "named" defensive or offensive coordinators under HC BB, does that mean that the Patriots coaching staff is smaller, by 2, than the other 31 teams in the NFL? Another question is, who will be sitting up in the booth like Dean Pees did for most of the 2009 season? Thanks for all the info we need till spring camps!Gary Abrams

Even when they had designated coordinators on both sides of the ball, the Patriots had one of the smallest staffs in the NFL. But in this case, less is more. There are way too many specialized coaches in the league nowadays. For instance, there are, on many teams, two linebacker coaches – one for inside guys and another for outside guys. That's just ridiculous. If one man can't coach the positions as one, he doesn't deserve to be at this level. And the number of "coaching assistants" (not to be confused with "assistant coaches) is growing, it seems, around the league, while in New England, the number of staff members is shrinking.

Which leads me to the second part of your question. Who will sit in the booth in place of Pees, the former defensive coordinator? Your guess is as good as mine. That, to me, is the problem with not having at least a nominal coordinator. Players need to know exactly who's calling the shots on their side of the ball. We'll be interested to see how that unfolds come the fall.
Erik Scalavino

How about re-signing Richard Seymour? We loaned him to the Raiders for a year for a first round pick. Wouldn't it be funny if we re-signed him now? I think he would still be better value then going out and signing Julius Peppers, and we could definitely afford it if we got rid of Adalius Thomas. Bringing back three super bowl rings would also help the leadership void on the team.
Jason Eggleston

I have little faith in the Raiders' ability to retain quality talent. Consequently, the fact that Richard Seymour is an unrestricted free agent suggests the intriguing possibility that he could return to a system and a team that he knows well. The Pats would end up having traded one year of his services for a 1st round draft pick. That would be awesome! It's such a comic possibility that I'm surprised it isn't generating more discussion. The fact that he's played here before has to count for something, even with our acknowledged focus on finding an outside pass rusher. On the other hand, I don't know if the surprise trade soured him on New England. And then there's the money. Unfortunately, I think that would be single biggest obstacle. What do you guys think?
Philip Antin

Crazy at it sounds, that's technically a possibility if the Raiders don't slap Seymour with their franchise tag. New England could, in theory, sign Seymour as an unrestricted free agent and still have Oakland's 2011 first-round pick. That seems unlikely to me, however, given the terms under which Seymour left New England last year. I don't think he's pining to return, if you know what I mean. I also don't think he'd be a better signing than Peppers. Seymour isn't a guaranteed double-digit sack machine. Peppers is, and that's what the Patriots defense needs more than anything else.
Erik Scalavino

Do the Raiders have anything to offer for Adalius Thomas? They love to overpay players, so his salary might not be an issue.
Danny B.

They really don't have a lot to offer, player-wise, but that hasn't stopped the Raiders from making foolish moves before. Still, I don't foresee Thomas being traded anywhere. Most teams – even the Raiders – wouldn't be able to justify his huge salary. I wouldn't get your hopes up, Danny.
Erik Scalavino

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