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Ask PFW: Patriots draft questions and Dominique Easley

The 2016 NFL Draft is less than two weeks away and Patriots fans fill out this latest edition of Ask PFW with plenty of questions regarding what New England might do on selection weekend.

With Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower's contract extension concerns, do you think Belichick would risk a second-round pick on Jaylon Smith, a player with a lot of upside if he were healthy?

Trevor Huff

What round would you take Jaylon Smith in after his medical re-check which is rumored to have been less-than-stellar?

Tim C.

Smith is one of the real interesting and in some ways sad stories of this year's draft. He's an elite talent who got a terrible injury at the worst time. But the fact that nerve damage is an apparent issue in his knee (along with reported ACL and LCL tears) is just a really scary proposition for any team looking to draft Smith. It sounds likely that he won't be an option to play in 2016 and beyond that is a question as well. That said, New England is the type of team with the existing depth, talent and cache that could use one of its many picks to take a shot on a player with, fingers crossed, a huge upside. I can't imagine that would be in the second round, as I think New England still needs to add a couple players at cornerback, running back and maybe tackle. But beyond that, if Smith slides down the board, I could see Belichick taking a flier. Remember, he's a guy that took chances on the likes of Dominique Easley, Ras-I Dowling, Antwoine Womack, Marcus Cannon and others, with varying degrees of success. I'd be more than happy to see Smith next on that last if it comes at the end of the third round or later.

Andy Hart

I have a question: I've noticed that there are several prominent players who have been franchised but have not signed their tenders and haven't reported to their clubs. Is there a certain timeframe allotted for this and if they decline to sign, are they free to negotiate with other clubs? Thanks for all you do!

Charles Adams

Unless they are exclusive franchise players, they are indeed free to negotiate with other clubs. The caveat is that if they sign with another team that team would give the previous squad a pair of first-round draft picks. That's not likely. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other clubs. But both groups of players can sit out and wait the process out as long as they'd like in an effort to pressure their team and create leverage. They can do so into the season and beyond, until next year. But, even with the tender unsigned, the current team has to keep that large cap figure open on their salary cap. That hurts the team. Of course, the player doesn't get paid that huge amount of money if the sits out into the regular season. That's hurts him. It's a negotiating waiting game between the two sides, trying use leverage to get the best deal possible in the end.

Andy Hart

So I plan on going to the patriots and Panthers preseason game again this year in Charlotte. On a scale of 1 to 10, what are the chances of getting to meet Tom if I get there early enough?

Robert Miles

While I never rule anything out, I'd set your expectations pretty low. So I'd say chances are around a 1. If by some crazy way it happens, you'll be even that much more excited. Good luck. And either way, enjoy the overall experience and game.

Andy Hart

Sending this in from the mean streets of north Philly and Temple U. I just saw that Brian Hoyer was released. Could this raise the possibility of a Jimmy G trade if we can get Hoyer to come home for cheap? Come on guys, Tom has a few more good years ahead and we all know Jimmy won't sit back there forever. Also, with the Pats cutting Easley and Jones, how high is pass-rushing interior DL on the draft priority list now? Thanks fellas.

Mike Ruiz

Hoyer is reportedly visiting the Jets today, so it seems he's still making the rounds of teams looking for starting quarterbacks. If that's the case, he's unlikely to jump at the shot to be No. 3 or No. 2 again in New England. I also don't think the time is right to deal Garoppolo. He's yet to really play significant snaps, so even QB-needy teams aren't likely to go all-in to deal for him. And, with Brady's suspension still a possibility, Garoppolo could be needed to start some games in New England. Unless a team blew my doors off with an offer of a first-round pick, I'd hang on to Jimmy G. for at least one more year. As for the defensive tackle spot, I do think there is a lack of talent and depth in terms of an athletic guy who might be more likely to get after it a bit. That role was held by Akiem Hicks, Dominique Easley and Chris Jones at various times in recent years. All are gone. So there could be an increased need in that area. Some have theorized that the team is getting away from needing such a position, but given how much they've targeted that spot in recent years I'm not sure I agree with that idea. Guys like Chris Long, Markus Kuhn, Jabaal Sheard, Geneo Grissom and Trey Flowers could be options on a rotational basis. But it's more a need today than I ever thought it would be.

Andy Hart's time to stop drafting players from the University of Florida, right?

Haris H.

For the last decade or so it seemed like Belichick would invariably draft a Florida Gator in the first three rounds and much would be made of how he and former head coach Urban Meyer were the best of friends and it was assumed that BB was getting the inside scoop on those prospects and it was all going to end wonderfully. And then it never did. Actually, when you look at the Gators we've drafted over the last decade - the similarity between them is that they have been either decidedly unproductive or, to put it lightly, a bit maladjusted. Chad Jackson (not very good), Jermaine Cunningham (not very good), Brandon Spikes (good in spurts but also kind of a malcontent), Aaron Hernandez (um, he murdered people), Dominique Easley (rarely got on the field to begin with), Gus Scott (actually I don't remember him at all, was he good?). Can Robert Kraft not institute a rule which prohibits BB from drafting any Gators in the first three rounds? Should he?

Jonah Wexler

Certainly the history of drafting players from Florida hasn't been great. And the idea that Meyer could be some trusted information pipeline to drafting prospects hasn't worked out at all. Now, that's probably a concern in regards to Ohio State, where Meyer is now working. Clearly Belichick tries to learn from every draft failure, regardless of where the player comes from. I'm sure he's done a lot of work looking at the many spectacular failures on Florida players over the years. Clearly he needs to be careful with players from that school and with players who've played for Meyer. But I don't think he'd ever cross off any one school or players from any one coach. And I wouldn't want him to.

Andy Hart

With the draft in less than two weeks, all the movements in the free agency, the re-signing of some players that were key in their respective positions, having to wait until late 2nd round and after that having to wait another 100 picks between 3rd and 5th round selections, what are the positions you think may help Pats with the 60 and 61picks? Most people and analysts that I have read say a CB is a top priority along with WR and perhaps they are right, but the problem with those two positions is that many teams need players in those positions and may already have taken the best names by the time NE make its first pick so picking some potentially good linemen might be a logical option?

Victor Galicia

You are correct that the biggest consideration when holding picks as late as 60 and 61 is which players are on board at that relatively late point. Of course that's really the issue no matter where you pick other than at the very top of the Draft. Runs on certain positions could push players at other positions down the board. Clearly you don't want to take the 20th best cornerback just because that's a position of need. I am of the mind that cornerback and running back are the two biggest needs at this point followed maybe by tackle and defensive line depth. But there are going to be a lot of offensive and defensive linemen selected early in the draft as well, so that may not be a position to focus on if the run goes too deep. Given the situation, it's really just a waiting game for Belichick and Nick Caserio, although the latter said the situation doesn't really change the drafting philosophy in any way.

Andy Hart

Greetings from Ohio. My question concerns the role of Shea McClellin in New England's defense. He has recently stated he believes he's best at rushing the passer but he's been used in a variety of roles. My question is, do you guys believe an early draft target will hinge upon Matt Patricia and Bill's idea of what role McClellin will play? I know that there has been a great deal of interest placed in USC LB/S Su'a Cravens and he seems like a Patriot type of guy as he can really help in the linebacker coverage area (something which killed us in the AFC conference championship game) and who seems to be a real contributor to special teams. I've read he has great football intelligence and plays bigger than his size. There's also a lot of Patriot buzz surrounding Jordan Jenkins from Georgia, Bill and Patricia personally attended his pro day in addition to a personal visit and workout and he seems to be another hybrid except in the opposite direction (OLB/DE). From what I've seen, Jenkins has good size and football IQ and excels at attacking the line of scrimmage. I realize many don't believe LB depth should be a target early on, but I thought the addition of McClellin and the prospects New England is targeting pose a somewhat interesting question. Thanks!

Connor Haley

No, I don't believe that McClellin's role will be a major factor in New England's draft considerations. I also think that McClellin is pretty clearly established as a linebacker at this point in his career, not as the defensive end or edge player that he was supposed to be as a first-round pick coming out of college. I had not seen the comments you allude to about his role as a pass rusher, but when I spoke with him shortly after signing with New England he acknowledged that he got pretty comfortable as a linebacker last year in Chicago. While I think he maintains versatility and will be used as needed based on the personnel around him, I think McClellin's first role is linebacker depth behind star starters Hightower and Collins. Regardless, I don't think he's an important enough or established enough player to really alter the team's draft thoughts in any way. The prospects you mentioned may be considerations, but it will be based on their own merits and not McClellin.

Andy Hart

If we need a WR, would we look at Travis Labhart? Also is Steven Jackson going to be re-signed?

Srikanth Ganesh

While Labhart was a nice little side story in last year's Hard Knocks show with the Texans, I'm not sure he has much of an NFL future. He's currently a free agent after losing out to, among others, Keyshawn Martin last summer. He clearly wouldn't be ahead of a lot of guys already on the New England roster. His knowledge of the Patriots-like Texans system might make him an option in a real emergency, but other than that I don't see the need/fit.  He's the ultimate Rudy type slot receiver prospect. He walked on at Texas A&M, for both the football and basketball teams, giving the former a shot when the latter didn't work out. He was undrafted after taking forever to produce as Johnny Manziel's guy. He's a great story of perseverance, but not much of a prospect. Jackson, on the other hand, had a great NFL career but it looks like it is over. He was out of the league until New England came calling late last season and not is probably done for good after a short, unimpressive stint with the Patriots.

Andy Hart

Two questions about Easley please. If some team signs him and then releases him, would Patriots still be stuck with a cap hit? And if Easley is still unemployed before the season starts, would Patriots consider bringing him back if his knees are in decent shape and he is ready and willing to produce?

Logan K.

Easley passed through waivers and is now a free agent. The Patriots could get a cap credit for 2017 based on any money that Easley makes from another team this season, including bonuses or salary, thanks to offset language in his rookie contract. I don't really see any way that Easley would be brought back to New England. I don't know the details of why he was cut this spring after just two seasons, but it was enough for Belichick and Co. to want to basically pay more for him to go away than for him to stay to try to earn a role. I can't see how that would change. His future, if he has one, isn't in New England.

Andy Hart

Would you rather have Braxton Miller at # 61 or Moritz Boehringer at #96?

Tim C.

I'm assuming this is a true either-or, and neither is not an option for me? If that's the case, I'd probably say Miller at No. 61. But I wouldn't feel great about it. I think he is really raw and would probably struggle mightily learning the Patriots complex and very specific offense. But he does have elite athletic upside. Boehringer is even more of a wild card or longshot having only played at the low level of German football from which he hails. Neither guy would be expected to contribute right away, or maybe even for a couple years.

Andy Hart

With the sudden influx at the receiver position, who is most likely to be odd man out? And what is Amendola's situation given that he showed great ball skills similar to Edelman (like the catch against Buffalo) but will cost the Pats a ton of money for 2016? I figured he'd be gone by now if he doesn't take a pay cut. Likewise for Dobson... is he finished?

Doug Tozier

At what point does Danny Amendola's contract become partially or fully-guaranteed? In other words, by what date should we expect either a restructuring/extension for cap-relief, or a release/trade? While not the albatross other teams bear with some insane contract cap hits, his cap number is disproportionate to his value, obviously, and I'm curious what the dead-money is likely to be when applied to his being on the roster with this existing deal past certain dates? Thanks.

Steven Eckert

Amendola's salary for 2016 -- $5 million that makes up the big chunk of his current $6.8 million cap figure – wouldn't become guaranteed as a vested veteran until he on the roster for the first week of the regular season. I don't see any way that it reaches that point. He'll either restructure – which has reported Amendola will push back against – or be cut/traded. My gut still tells me that Amendola won't be with the Patriots by the time the 2016 opens up in Arizona.

Andy Hart

I know it's way too early and very speculative, but if Brady's suspension is upheld, what veteran do you see the Patriots going after as a backup? Matt Cassel, Matt Flynn or someone else?

Keith Nelson

If a Brady suspension is a consideration by the time summer arrives, I do think the team could look for a veteran third quarterback. Guys like Cassel (who is currently a member of the Titans) or Flynn, to a lesser extent, could fill that bill, as could Brian Hoyer if he's still available for some reason. Otherwise, I wouldn't be surprised if the No. 3 passer is simply a late-round draft pick or even an undrafted quarterback. Certainly, though, the role is a bit different if the guy is a camp arm as opposed to the potential for him to be Garoppolo's backup for regular season action during a possible Brady extension. In that case an experienced, familiar veteran would be preferable.

Andy Hart

Would it be possible for the Patriots to trade for a player drafted in the first round right after he has been picked? Ala San Diego and Giants? Would that be a way for them to get around moving up into the first round?

Blaze Baker

Yes. Not sure it's likely, but yes. I also don't know that the NFL would be real happy with the other team that agrees to the trade with New England, allowing them to in a way get around their Deflategate punishment. But theoretically I do believe it is possible.

Andy Hart

What is your opinion on rolling the dice on RB Tra Carson from Texas A&M with one of those late round draft picks? The guy definitely has the frame to play at the next level at 5'11'' 227. Named the Offensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl. He has a punishing running style, decent speed, is a good pass blocker, has great hands AND is a core special teams player and we all know how much BB values versatility. His only real drawbacks are that he is a little tight in the hips, and needs to work on his vision. Maybe the future counterpart to Dion Lewis?

Caleb Tinsley

I don't have any real opposition to Carson as a late-round guy. I don't love his upside and wouldn't envision him as a future Lewis tag-team mate, but as a developmental camp body I think New England could do worse. Carson had decent production and is a tough guy to tackle at times. I don't love his overall speed or quickness, but as a camp body type I've seen less palatable options.

Andy Hart

Do you think the Patriots should trade a 2nd-round pick and a 5th- or 6th-round pick to get a late 1st round pick to get Derrick Henry?

Samuel Leduc

No. I'm not in love with Henry as a pro prospect and certainly wouldn't want to trade up to the first round to get him. If he dropped to 60, then he's certainly a consideration. I just have fears that he's not quick enough and that his upside is as a guy like LeGarrette Blount. That's not enough to warrant a first-round pick or even a high second-round selection. There are other guys in the draft that I think will be the in Patriots range that have the potential for more upside. I would put Indiana's Jordan Howard, Arkansas' Jonathan Williams, Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon and Notre Dame's C.J. Prosise in that class. No one can ever take away the fact that Henry was a phenomenal college player, I'm just not sure he's going to be an elite NFL star.

Andy Hart

I wish we could give Greg Hardy a chance. I know he has a hard time treating women right but the guy has talent. That's something we should be craving seeing how Tom is getting older and we have no first-round pick.

Robert Miles

I'm going to assume/pray this is simply a bad joke. I can't even imagine any Patriots fan actually wanting Hardy on the team. And beyond his issues not "treating women right," he also just seems to have terrible judgment in his comments as well as being a questionable team player. I wouldn't take him, no way, no how.

Andy Hart

For the Patriots to take a $3 million cap hit, by releasing Easley, and doing so 2 weeks before the draft--- I can't help but think that Easley did something very, very bad and we simply have not heard about it yet. The only reason I can think BB didn't try to trade Easley is that whatever bad deed Easley committed, which has yet to come to light, would bite any trading partner in the ass--- and then no other teams would ever want to trade with BB again.

Mark Rowe

Just heard about the Pats cutting Easley and I have a question: Why did they not try to trade him? Seems like the Pats could have gotten something reasonable for a young 1st-round draft pick, instead of just losing him. Thanks, and appreciate reading your 'PFW'.

Ron Kaplove

First of all, we can't be sure one way or the other that the Patriots did or did not try to trade Easley. My guess is that they may have at least looked into the possibility. But given that he went unclaimed on waivers after being cut, there clearly wasn't a lot of interest in acquiring him as a player with his current contract that included guaranteed salary. Second, we really have no idea what led to his release. The major Boston papers have completely contradictory stories on Easley based on quotes from unnamed former teammates. It could be any variety or combination of things including health, failure to impact the team or many minor issues added up. For whatever reason he just didn't fit in New England and wasn't worth continued investment of time and a roster spot. It's an unlikely ending for a first-round pick in New England, which has been pretty close to a sure-thing contributor over the years. The bottom line, though, is that if Easley were a better player and the kind of impact athlete on the defensive line that he was supposed to be he'd likely still be a Patriot. He just never lived up to his pre-draft hype, even when healthy.

Andy Hart

Hey guys MAJOR Patriots fan from Boston. My questions are why don't the Pats pick up a good strong safety one that can set the tone of the game and play linebacker like Arizona does or did in some packages, unlike Chung who is small and gets beat in coverage all the time when it counts. And my second question, why don't the Pats ever pick up high draft players? Why do we stay going for low-rated quality players? Doesn't that hurt us in the long run?

Rich Porter

Sometimes I think these emails are just trolling me trying to get Angry Andy to bubble to the surface and lash out in an emotional response. I think I've done a pretty good job controlling that, though, in recent years. My Bruce Banner has answered more questions than my inner Hulk, so to speak. Chung has been a really good addition to the Patriots secondary since returning to the team as a free agent before it went on a Super Bowl run in 2014. He's been better in coverage than he was the first time around as a second-round pick with the team but most importantly he's been able to stay healthy. He's been a part of a New England defense that used plenty of looks with five defensive backs on the field and a true linebacker coming off in the sub sets. He may not be Deone Bucannon – a first-round pick by the Cardinals who I lusted over in the pre-draft process and hoped the Patriots would land – but Chung has been good enough for Belichick to ink him to an extension this very offseason as a core guy in the back end. As for the question regarding the team going for low-rated players, I just don't get it. Certainly the Patriots miss on draft picks, much like every other team. But they have done as good a job as anyone targeting and acquiring talent. Easley stands out because he's the worst first-round pick of the Belichick era, because the rest were starting contributors or much more than that. Recent young high draft picks were in the core of the defense last season in Jones, Collins and Hightower.  The second-round hasn't always been fruitful over the years and Belichick is criticized for it, but it's also brought the likes of Collins, Rob Gronkowksi, Sebastian Vollmer and others to key roles on the team. So, I guess that's the long way of me saying I don't agree with the premise of the second part of your question. And I didn't even turn green or tear my pants.

Andy Hart

Hey guys, I'm looking at 3rd-round prospects, what is your opinion of Scooby Wright? He has great instincts but his senior year was cut short by injury. Thanks guys.

Ben Schroeder

Wright only played in three games last year, so that hurt his value. But, he certainly seems like a Patriots-like player given his elite production prior to the injury, instincts and desire to let his play do his talking for him. He lacks the measurables with a 4.9-ish 40. But that didn't keep New England from taking Brandon Spikes a few years back. There is a lot to like about Wright as a true football player with a real defensive mentality. Projected as a mid-round pick, I could easily see him fitting in at Gillette Stadium. Heck, he still has a chip on his shoulder from being a two-star recruit coming out of high school. He was made for the Patriot Way!

Andy Hart

Your PFW mailbags have no intro paragraphs. You just jump right in. Is that intentional based on a desire to brief and to the point, or is it more a function of laziness?

Ed Hollison

Neither. What should the intro paragraph say? In my opinion it's just a waste of space. Fans ask questions. We answer them. It's a pretty simple format. Sorry you don't like it. Is that a function of your specific taste or you're overall acerbic personality? (In case you can't tell, I didn't care for the tone of your email and Angry Andy took over the keyboard for just a second. But thanks for reading, Ed!)

Andy Hart

Do you think the Patriots will try to go for Anquan Boldin? I know he's a little older but would be great and like last preseason how they went for Reggie Wayne.

John Ball

First, the Wayne situation was a terrible fit. He looked awful on the field in the preseason and reportedly asked to be cut because he didn't like the New England environment. While Boldin might – might – have more left in the tank, the depth chart at receiver is pretty full right now. I also think the team could very well invest in a young receiver to develop in this month's draft. Boldin will turn 36 this fall. He caught 69 balls last year in San Francisco and at least 56 passes in each of his 13 seasons. If he can't find a home by the season, surely the Patriots might be interested in a can't-pass-it-up way. But right now the need and his fit might not be right. I also wonder what Boldin is looking for in terms of money and role with any potential new team. He's clearly coming to an end, but his production speaks for itself and says he's probably not quite done.

Andy Hart

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