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Ask PFW: Plugging the holes

This week's mailbag voices some concerns with the depth at linebacker as well as the continuing saga of the Deion Branch situation. Enjoy:

I have heard A LOT about Richard Seymour being the best defensive lineman on the Patriots and I agree with it. But I think one of the most underrated defensive ends in the league is Ty Warren. He has consistently shown he can stop the run and he's one of the better run stoppers in the NFL. Do you think he can take his game to the next level and become as good of a pass rusher as he is at stopping the run?Jamie O.

First, there's a good reason that A LOT is of talk about Richard Seymour being the best defensive lineman on the Patriots: that's because he is, and to be that good he has to be able to do A LOT of things very well, which he does. He's not just a great at one thing. He stops the run, can pressure the passer and perhaps most importantly occupies A LOT of attention from the opposing offense. Ty Warren is a solid player on the other end and does an excellent job of playing his role. Just because he's not at Seymour's level doesn't mean he's not doing his job. Bill Belichick says that Warren is an extremely hard worker who is always looking to improve himself. Defensive lineman in the Pats system aren't always asked to rush the passer that often. Usually the linebackers handle that. But Warren has been able to stay on the field for all three downs now after being limited to run downs earlier in his career. He will get better as he continues to work. I don't think he's one of the best run stoppers in the league like you say, but I'd take a bunch of guys like Ty Warren on my team with his team-first attitude and I'd win my share of games.
Paul Perillo

While Branch may be our number one receiver he is not in the same class as the elite receivers. I understand that Givens got a big deal but the team just over paid him. Branch does not block that well and there is question of his durability. With that said, I have two questions: How much do you think Branch is worth? The Pats offered him $6.25 mil already and he declined it like he is Randy Moss or Marvin Harrison. Secondly, is there anybody else available that might replace him? I'm hoping Caldwell can fill his shoes but I don't have a warm and fuzzy about that. No matter what the outcome is I am a die-hard Patriots fan and in Bill Belichick I trust. He has guided us to 3 championships and if anybody can take this team there again it's him. Your thoughts on this post please.Big Mike

One of my biggest pet peeves in NFL talk is the term "overpaid" for a player. Who's to say what a player is worth? Honestly, how can anyone truly determine if a player is making more money than he should? David Givens was offered $24 million by Tennessee. Everyone in New England, showing the kind of objectivity we're known for around here, immediately laughed at the Titans and criticized them for overpaying Givens. What if David goes out and catches 80 balls for 1,200 yards and the Titans make the playoffs? Would they have overpaid for him then? Of course he could get hurt, catch 20 balls and the Titans could go 4-12. If that's the case, then the veteran minimum would have been too much to give a receiver with that production. So really, how can you say he's overpaid?

Personally, I wouldn't have Givens that much and I wouldn't have given Branch that much, either. But now Branch isn't going to sign for less than that. He believes he's better than Givens and in my opinion he's right. So why would he sign for less than Givens got? The answer is he won't. And I haven't read any of his salary demands where he's said he's looking for more money than Randy Moss or Marvin Harrison, who are among the highest paid receivers in the game. Just because he turned down $6.35 million (reportedly), doesn't mean he wants Harrison or Moss money.
Right now the Patriots receiving corps is quite thin. It's highly unlikely that they will be able to pick anyone up that has the ability to make an impact on the team immediately. So what you see is basically what you get. If Branch doesn't come back, Caldwell will need to step up and make some plays. Otherwise, the backs and tight ends will be doing a lot of receiving.

And one request Big Mike – next week when you write a question can you please use capital letters when appropriate. It too me as long to edit your post as it did to answer it (I'll leave myself open for the return cheap shot here).
Paul Perillo

As Tom Brady would say, I'm mad as hell. I think Deion Branch has gotten a raw deal. He got a raw deal when he signed that five-year contract after all sides agreed to a four-year deal and now he is getting a raw deal from the front office for getting a three-year offer which doesn't start until next year. Everyone in the league knows he has been underpaid for at least the last three years. Don't tell me a contract is a contract. The Pats will rewrite a contract if they feel they have to. So anyway, Deion is gone. He is probably on the trading block right now. I'll like your comments on this idea, which started gnawing on me in April. Do you think Bill Belichick is petty enough to try to get back at the Tennessee Titans for signing David Givens away from us? This idea occurred to me when the Pats signed Eric Davis from Vanderbilt. It was as if Bill was saying "look what I got from right under your nose. I can coach him to be as good as David Givens." It must not be working out because now he has signed Kelvin Kight, late of the Nashville Kats. Then yesterday he signed Eddie Berlin, who spent four years with the Titans. Do you think this is just coincidence, given that there are 10 WRs in camp?
Warren Cook

Wow, I thought Fred Kirsch was the resident Oliver Stone conspiracy theorist. Why would Tennessee care that the Patriots signed a player that played his college ball in Nashville (Davis), for an arena league team there (Kight) and a player the Titans cut (Berlin)? Would Belichick care if a receiver from Boston College signed somewhere else? Only if he thought the player was worth signing himself. Obviously the Titans didn't think much of Berlin or they would have let him go. As for Davis and Kight, they were playing right in the Titans backyard yet they chose not to sign either of them. I'd say suggesting Belichick did so out of spite is quite ridiculous.
Paul Perillo

I was curious why teams that are supposedly interested in Porter or Ashley Lelie are not showing interest in Branch?Dick Pierce

The reason is simple: as far as I know, Branch isn't available right now. Maybe the Patriots will change that in the near future, but while Porter and Lelie were given permission to seek a trade, the Patriots aren't interested in dealing Branch so why would another team express interest in a player that isn't available?
Paul Perillo

Why oh why is this man not in the Hall?? Did I miss something here? The guy has the numbers, boy does he have numbers! Can someone tell me why Andre Tippett keeps getting overlooked?
Dave Panneitz

You're preaching to the choir, my man. And I'm not just saying that because he's standing behind me reading my answer as we speak. Tippett was in his prime when I was in high school and he was an absolute beast. He was very comparable to Lawrence Taylor at the time but he never received the same attention because he was playing in New England and not New York. Tippett could rush the passer and stop the run, something some of his contemporaries like Kansas City's Derrick Thomas could not do. I can't understand why Tippett hasn't received more Hall of Fame consideration – he should at least make it to the final 15 cutdown every year. Perhaps this will be the year he makes a push.
Paul Perillo

I read in Ask PFW something that stuck with me – the idea that signing Ty Law would not be the difference in whether or not this year's Patriots will be a championship team. I agree. But then I got to thinking, if this team had signed Vinatieri, drafted Mike Hass in Gostkowski's place, and signed Law, all of which I believe would have been possible, this team enters the season worried about depth at linebacker (unless they picked up Oliver Hoyte too – wink, wink), the health of Rodney Harrison, and relatively little else. I am not second-guessing the coach. My point is that the Pats are two or three pieces away right now IMO and, at some point, the strategy of not overpaying anyone may be trumped by the logic of getting the 2 or 3 people you need to seriously contend for the Bill Beli – uh, Vince Lombardi trophy. What do you think?Jason Picone

First, I disagree that signing Ty Law wouldn't have made much a difference for this year. I believe he could have potentially been a missing piece to the puzzle. I know the Patriots were certainly trying to sign him so they obviously felt he could help as well. Second, I don't see how drafting Mike Hass in the fourth round would have alleviated any concerns you have with wide receivers. If drafting Chad Jackson with Law and Vinatieri (in your fantasy scenario) didn't make you feel good, then I don't see how Hass would have made a difference. I agree with your concerns – the depth at linebacker looks thin and Harrison is not yet 100 percent. But I have seen the Patriots operate financially this way in the past and not get burned by it. So while I hate to take the "it's worked in the past" approach, I have to say that until I see differently I'm going to assume the Patriots front office knows what it's doing with regard to personnel and financial decisions.
Paul Perillo

You wrote in your last edition in response to the hypothetical question about Brady quitting practice to support Branch that Brady has a contract and a job and if he were to quit practicing, he would be letting down his teammates and his fans and "it would make him one of the worst teammates of all-time." I couldn't agree with you more but isn't this exactly what Branch is doing? Branch has a contract and he is letting all his teammates down. He may not like his contract but he has one! What has made the Patriots organization great, in my opinion, is that they do not put up with prima donnas like Law, Milloy and now perhaps Branch. I doubt Law or Milloy will ever see a SB again. This isn't by chance. Organizations that cater to those types of individuals (like the Jets, Cowboys, Raiders) will not make it to the show very often in the modern era. The Patriots organization has set the standard, the culture and the organizational philosophy of what it takes to win in the modern era and that is emphasizing the team over the individual. I think the spoiled brat Branch ought to focus at the great success his teammates have brought him with the Patriots and stop whining about his contract. (How much extra money in endorsements did he make by being the MVP in the SB due to the great TEAM he was on?) It's hard for a guy making 50 K a year (like most fans) to understand a guy whining because he is making $2 million instead of $4 million, but, according to the all-time prima donna Ty Law, "has to worry about feeding his family." I say the Patriots should not budge on Branch's contract, collect his fines and get rid of him at the first opportunity. The more we coddle these egomaniacal malcontents the more they fester in an organization.J.P. Smallard

You raise some interesting points, J.P., but I'm not sure I totally agree with you. First off I think it's irrelevant to suggest that players like Law and Milloy will never get to another Super Bowl. Between them they've been to six in their careers so I think it's safe to assume they're both winners and have been key members of winning programs. There's a lot of luck involved in getting to a Super Bowl and a player can be very good, team-oriented and do everything in his power for the betterment of the team and still never get there. If Kansas City or Atlanta doesn't make it to the Super Bowl this year, my guess is it won't have anything to do with Law or Milloy. Plus, just to point out the short-sightedness of your claim, the Cowboys have won three Super Bowls during "the modern era" even though you claim teams like them won't ever win one. So I guess that's theory goes up in smoke right there. Second, I don't think what Branch is doing would the same as what Brady would be doing under the hypothetical situation of Brady leaving camp, Brady is one of the highest paid players in all of football while Branch makes a modest salary (in NFL terms) in relation to the rest of the league. I'm not advocating Branch's holdout but he feels he's being paid unfairly and wants a better deal. Now the rules stipulate that he likely won't get that until he becomes a free agent and that's why I disagree with his stance. You act like Branch had nothing to do with winning the Super Bowl MVP award and he only did so because of the team. Well, not just any receiver would have excelled the way he did – not just in that Super Bowl but against Carolina the year before as well. But why would Brady quit practice? It wouldn't be because of money or because he believes he's being treated poorly. I obviously wouldn't condone Brady leaving, either, but I don't think the two situations would be the same.
Paul Perillo

I'm probably in the minority, but if Deion Branch wants to hold out, I don't think this offense is going to struggle. Brady consistently throws to 7-9 different people per game, so it's not like we are ever going to have a legitimate No. 1 receiver. That said, I don't understand how contracts in the NFL work. I thought contracts were binding. But every year, it seems like a fraction of the NFL players either hold out or renegotiate. If you signed as a rookie to make $10 million over five years, I don't understand why there is an issue until that five-year period is up. If I take on a car payment for five years, I can't just stop paying during the fourth year because I don't feel the car is still worth what I'm paying. Contracts these days don't seem to be worth the paper they're written on. What am I missing?
Rick Schneider

You're half right, Rick. NFL contracts are binding – for the player. If a player signs a five-year deal, he must wait five years before he gets a chance to go elsewhere. But the team can do exactly what you describe in your car payment analogy. If the team signs a player to a five-year deal but after two years feels the player is no longer worth it, then the team can break the contract. But to say the offense won't be affected by Branch's absence is wishful thinking. Where is Brady going to find the 7-9 people per game to throw to if no one is capable of attracting the defense's attention? Unless Caldwell emerges and Chad Jackson gets back on the field, things could get ugly. And without Branch, they may anyway.
Paul Perillo

You always hear the longer the O-line works together the better feel they have for each other. Wouldn't that be true for the D-line? If so why wouldn't BB try Sully and Seymour as DTs in a four-man front since they played together at Georgia? It might light a fire under Sully? The same could be said for Santonio Thomas. Didn't he play next to Wilfork in a four-man front at Miami? If one of these combos worked it would also help rotate some of the guys into the game.
Phil Buscemi

I'll start with my first problem with this – what's wrong with the combination the Pats have used the past two years – Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour? Why are we trying to tinker with that success? Your suggestions don't make much sense to me. First, Johnathan Sullivan only played one season with Seymour at Georgia and that was way back in 2000. From what I've seen so far in camp, Sullivan simply isn't good enough to play a significant role on the Patriots defensive line. It doesn't have anything to do with lighting a fire under his butt. He's not good enough. Santonio Thomas? What have you seen from him that makes you want to give him more playing time? No disrespect meant toward Thomas, but he spent 2005 on the practice and now we're looking to change our scheme to get him a starting job just because he went to Miami with Wilfork? If that was the best way to go why wouldn't teams just draft players from the same school and at the same positions?
Paul Perillo

Do you think the Pats have any plans to bring in and work out inside linebackers looking for jobs in the weeks leading up to opening day? Beisel's poor showing along with Gardner and Davis against the Falcons was enough to show everyone there is a huge hole at inside linebacker until Tedy Bruschi is back.
Chip Heard

Do you think with the loss of Bruschi for the preseason that NE might pick up another Free agent LB, like James Posey?
Robert Langdon

The Patriots have had a few linebackers in for tryouts recently – Orlando Ruff, Chris Claiborne and Jamie Sharper – but I haven't heard anything about Posey. He does have some experience, albeit it brief, in the 3-4 from his days in Houston back in 2002 (he actually had eight sacks that year) but perhaps the Patriots don't feel he fits their needs for their system.
Paul Perillo

Hi Guys, Thanks for your fantastic coverage of training camp and the preseason so far. Could you please comment on how you felt the individual linebackers did in our game against the Falcons? It seemed to me Mincey was really stepping up and Davis seemed lost a couple times, but I was having a hard time keeping track of who's who from the angle on TV.
Len LaPadula

I thought the linebacker play was not up to par in Atlanta. Barry Gardner and Don Davis struggled getting off blocks and stopping the run during the first couple of series. Monty Beisel played later and didn't fare much better. The outside guys I thought were better – Mincey was active and Banta-Cain really seems to be establishing a role for himself. Pierre Woods also got into the action with a couple of nice plays at the end of the first half. But overall I remained concerned about the inside linebackers, especially with Bruschi out.
Paul Perillo

I'd hate to be negative about things but something has been bugging me about New England. I feel they overvalue Richard Seymour and undervalue a few other players. Seymour is good but he seems to miss 4-5 games every year, yet he gets this big contract. Deion Branch always seems to come through when he's needed but the Patriots refuse to pay him like the top-flight receiver he has become. They lose two of the most important players of their former Super Bowl winning teams in McGinest and Vinatieri. If they didn't pay Seymour that big contract couldn't we have had all 3 of these players in camp? Everyone talks about how good our line is 1-7 I think we could afford to lose Seymour. Sorry for the spelling errors. Thanks for you guys input.
Patrick Hinman

Thankfully for you I've corrected the 27 spelling mistakes you made Patrick, but there's nothing I can do about your flawed logic. Have you ever heard the phrase, "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest?" That's how I feel about your comments. Seymour misses 4-5 games a year? In 91 possible games in his five-year career he's missed 11. That's a far cry from 4-5 a year, which would translate to 20-25 over his career. On the other hand, Branch has missed 11 of a possible 72 games during his four years, and he had three others where he dressed but did not play. The Patriots have plenty of cap space available right now (close to $14 million) so they could have had McGinest and/or Vinatieri back if they opted to do so. They made the decision to go in a different direction and those players opted to chase big money deals. You can't blame any of that on Seymour's contract. And calling Seymour overvalued is ridiculous. He is considered to be the best defensive lineman in football and that position is among the toughest to fill in the game. I'd say the Patriots value him exactly as they should – as one of the most important players on their team.
Paul Perillo

Hi Guys, I have a question concerning Branch's holdout and potential for free agency next year. If he plays hardball and holds out till the last minute, I think I read that in order for a player to get credit for a season played, they have to join the team by the 10th week. At $14,000 a day in fines, Branch's salary would be totally eaten up. At that point does he play those last 6 weeks, plus postseason, for "free?" I know this scenario won't happen; he'll probably sign before this even gets answered.
John Allen

I wouldn't be so quick to so that probably won't happen. It looks like I was able to answer before he signed so that's out. But Branch isn't concerned with the fines at this point. His goal is to get a new contract or get to free agency so as long as he accomplishes one of those he'll be happy. I agree that I doubt he'll get 10 weeks into the season without returning, but if he does the fines won't be the reason he returns. It will be to get a chance to hit free agency next season. If the Patriots fine him the $14,000 (the most they're allowed under the new CBA) then Branch will have to find a way to deal with that, which likely would involve an advance from his agent to help defray the cost.
Paul Perillo

Do you think the Patriots will consider keeping two kickers? I am concerned that if they release Gramatica, and Gostkowski has problems or gets hurt, we may have to settle for a Jose Cortez and there begins the trouble.Andres Ochoa

Don't worry, Eight Man, I'm going out on a limb and predicting no Jose Cortez sightings for the Patriots. Belichick has said that he's never kept two kickers but wouldn't rule out the possibility of doing so if he felt it was in the best interests of the team. Right now I'd say the competition is about even but we'll see how it unfolds as the games continue. My guess is they won't keep them both but will have the other on speed dial if necessary.
Paul Perillo

I grew up in New England and I'm a life-long Patriots fan (since the early 1960s). I've been through the lean years & disappointments and am basking in the run of success the Pats have been enjoying the past few years. I do have one question, though. First, I'd love to see Matt Cassel turn out to be the "next Tom Brady," but I think we are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice, hoping Cassel will pan out. I realize he didn't get much playing time in college, but he seems to me to just not have the instincts to make it as a starter in the NFL -- for example, he doesn't seem to have that instinctive clock in his head to know when it's time to unload or tuck and run. As a result, he too often holds on to the ball, gets hit and fumbles (as he did in Friday night's game vs. Atlanta). Reminds me more of Bledsoe than Brady -- and Bledsoe-like in that he has a tendency to follow up a great play with a costly mistake. He played virtually the entire game vs. Atlanta against second & third stringers and didn't really impress me that he has the instincts to run an NFL offense. His failure to slide a step earlier on a couple of runs set himself up to get blasted by the defensive player, further displaying a lack of instinct. I know he's still learning, but are my assessments (that he just seems to lack the football instincts to someday become a topnotch NFL QB) on target, and, if so, don't you think we should already have a proven veteran QB on the roster, just in case Brady goes down? Cassel may make an OK backup someday, but I can't imagine him taking this team anywhere but mediocrity, in the event we need someone to fill in for Tom. Great job, guys! Always enjoy your comments!
Jim Dillard

Well if we're going to hold Cassel to Brady's standards then I guess I'd say he has no chance. But I'd say that about just about anybody the Patriots could bring in. If Cassel reminds you more of Bledsoe than Brady then my comment would be – and what's wrong with that? I know the revisionist historians in this town have now made Bledsoe out to be a laughing stock punch line, but the guy was and is still a pretty good quarterback. Is he Brady? Not by a long shot. But in my opinion Brady is the best in the game so there's no shame in that. If Cassel winds up having a career that even approaches Bledsoe's I'd say Belichick would be thrilled to find such a diamond in the rough. I think Cassel is a serviceable backup right now and he will only get better with more experience. I'm looking forward to seeing more of him in the coming weeks. Just curious, when Brady gets hit and fumbles, which happens occasionally, do you ever question if his instincts are lacking? I know I don't because I've seen enough to know that his instincts are superb. But Cassel gets stripped from behind and suddenly we give up on him and say he has no instincts. I'm not willing to make the assertion just yet.
Paul Perillo

Love the Dillon/Maroney combination, but these guys are both feature. The RB combination in the Pats "run" has been Running Back X/Faulk. It appears that Maroney will carry the torch for Dillon, but who will carry it for Faulk? Is Cobbs an option? Haven't heard much reported on Cobbs, but the few things written have been quite positive. How do you think he has looked? There does not seem to be room for him on the 53-man, would he last on the practice squad?

You don't need a backup third-down back since the position by nature is part-time. Faulk doesn't need someone behind him. But Cobbs has been impressive in camp with his quickness and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He has shown a nice burst and was a very productive back in college at North Texas. I think he has a very good chance of landing on the practice squad.
Paul Perillo

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