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Patriots Monday (WEEI Simulcast) Mon Dec 04 | 08:00 AM - 05:00 PM

Ask PFW: Potential Patriots needs, wants and fits

New England will return an impressive roster in 2016, but the team still has decisions to make and holes to fill as many an Ask PFW emailer has pointed out in recent weeks.

I've heard very little comment on the extremely disappointing performance of James White, particularly in the championship game where he was targeted 16 times and only caught 5. He looked slow as a receiver and lacking power as a runner. He was our offensive key in that game because we knew Denver was going to focus on stopping Gronk and Edelman and he failed to come through. Does he have a future with the team or is it time to move on? I feel like we've wasted a roster spot on Dobson for the past 4 years and I'd hate to see us go down the same road with White. What do you think?
Gary Vallely

There is no question that White failed to maximize his increased opportunities against the Broncos in the AFC title game. But, he had been doing just that up until that point. I thought White was solid in his playmaking in the second half of 2015 and personally would have liked to have seen him get more chances in the regular season. He made some big plays on swing routes and screens. He clearly is a far better receiver than he is a runner. He goes down on first contact too often as a runner. I am still intrigued to see what White can offer as a playmaker and committee member in his third season, especially early on if Dion Lewis isn't quite ready to open the year while coming back from a torn ACL. Also, lining White up wide and throwing him fades and gos on the outside, as was the case too often in the AFC Championship game, isn't exactly his ideal usage. We saw Shane Vereen fail in similar situations over the years as well. As running back out of the backfield and on screens I still think White has plenty to offer an NFL offense. Go back and watch his highlights from last year – rather than his lowlights and lackluster statistics – and I think you might feel the same way. 
Andy Hart

Say the Pats do pick up Forte. What happens to the rotation? I honestly don't think Forte is a good fit in New England, just based on his time in Chicago, John Fox has a whole different operating system than Belichick. How are we gonna account for his size and talent when we already have Lewis and maybe Blount in the backfield?
Rylie Wareham

First, if Forte is brought aboard I don't think Blount, who is also a free agent, would be brought back. Second, Forte has the ability to play on all three downs and is more of a traditional runner than Lewis or even White. I think Forte would be a nice committee addition at this point in his career as he monitors his post-30-year-old touches and looks to win. Him being on the field on first down gives plenty of run and pass options, more so than most backs the Patriots have had in recent years. In many ways, I think Forte would be a really nice fit in Foxborough. Although even if he did sign with New England I'd still like the team to draft a bigger-bodied, bruiser at some point.
Andy Hart

Do you think that one of the Chiefs backs could be disposable enough for them, given the other two, that they would consider a trade? And if so who, if any, would you like to see the Pats having a run at, Charcandrick West, Charles or Spencer Ware? And what do you think they will cost?
Mark Collier

I don't see the Chiefs looking to be in a hurry to deal off their cheap running back depth. Charles is coming off another ACL as he approaches the age of 30. Maybe K.C. could surprisingly cut its best offensive playmaker, but more likely they'll let him heal up to join a group that was impressive in his absence. Neither West nor Ware seems to have starter talent. They would be depth pieces in the Patriots backfield as well. I'd never rule out a trade with K.C. given Bill Belichick's history and relationship with Andy Reid. But dealing for West or Ware would not excite me and I don't see the Chiefs trading an injured Charles.
Andy Hart

What do you guys think of Rolando McClain at MLB? BB went after him and he signed with Dallas for $4-5 mill. I was surprised he was on a free agent list. Also, Ben Watson for a 1-2 year deal. He's another Roman Phifer type who atypically to most NFL players has aged well. He's always been a solid blocking TE and last year when Houman went from NE to NO, they Saints had Watson turn receiver and he had big game (10 catches 135 yds, TD). He can do both and is a known guy and may not be big $$.... Probably might like to finish up with a ring, too, no?
Jim Kelleher

McClain is an interesting name to keep an eye on given the Patriots interest a year ago as well as the team's obvious need for depth at linebacker. McClain has his issues both in terms of injuries and off the field, but he comes from the Alabama system that has New England ties and produced Dont'a Hightower. He reportedly had a pretty poor season for the Cowboys and his paychecks are shrinking by each season. I wouldn't rule him out as a veteran depth option in Foxborough. In many ways, the same certainly could be said for Watson. He's a versatile professional with obvious experience in the New England system. The team has not been able to find consistency after Rob Gronkowski on the depth chart. Watson has played in all 16 games in three of the last four years, which is impressive for any player never mind a 35-year-old. He's also coming off a career-high 74 catches, so he might find more lucrative options than New England. But he's the type of veteran depth guy that is invaluable to NFL teams, so can't be ruled out, either.
Andy Hart

Now you mention in a past article of picking up a deep threat to spread the defense and not only create a deep threat but would also open up more opportunities for short passes obviously. Now my question(s) being, who in FA and in the draft would best fit that role for the Pats? My first thought is Alshon Jeffery. Also how much would someone off FA of that caliber cost?
Mike Colgan

Jeffery is arguably the best receiver on the free agent market, or even the best free agent at any position depending on who you listen to. I find it hard to believe the Bears are going to let the young playmaker go. If they do, he'll probably command a contract north of $50 million that pays in the range of $13 million a year in free agency. That's too much for the Patriots, and probably much more than Jeffery is really worth. I don't see any chance in Hades that he lands in New England. Other options I do think might be somewhat more reasonable include Marvin Jones or Rishard Matthews, although I don't think either will really end up in Foxborough. I don't see Belichick committing much money to the need at outside receiver. Maybe he'll invest in the position in the draft, but otherwise it could be story of returning options – Aaron Dobson or a re-signing of Brian Tyms? – or lower-level signings that won't create buzz like a big-name trade or signing would.
Andy Hart

I believe the Patriots biggest concern is the offensive line. What are the chances the Patriots bring in a tackle like Mitchell Schwartz from Cleveland? Vollmer is not getting any younger and Cannon is not capable of being a 3rd option at tackle. I think the return of Dante S. will help though.
Chris McCaul

I am a big believer in Scarnecchia and his reported return from a two-year retirement is a coop for the Patriots offense. He will immediately make the line better with his coaching, teaching and experience, which is not in any way a shot at departed coach Dave DeGuglielmo. But there are also issues with the personnel that need to be addressed. Marcus Cannon was just not good for most of the year, and really most of the last two years. I think there is a chance he could be cut this offseason thanks to the combination of poor play and a pretty large cap number of more than $4.7 million. Vollmer is aging and his cap number is more than $5.2 million, but I still believe he may be the line's most talented player when he's healthy. Schwartz is a talented player who started all 16 games in each of his first four NFL seasons. I can't see him coming to New England to be a swing tackle, nor do I see the Patriots ponying up the money to sign him to replace Vollmer. That's not their style. They draft and they develop talent on the line. Scarnecchia made a legendary career out of it and is now back in the mix to make that plan work again. The team may sign a lower-level veteran offensive lineman. It may draft a developmental tackle. But I can't see a splash on the line in free agency, even in the wake of the debacle in Denver in the AFC title game.
Andy Hart

With Dion Lewis coming back and huge free agent market for running backs, I think BB will find a solid solution at RB. But an outside threat is something that is needed very much. I think they should obviously cut LaFell if the can sign Sanu or Marvin Jones but if they don't want to sign at $3.5 million per year LaFell should stick around. But I think they should look at Braxton Miller in the draft. He has elite speed, quickness and elusiveness; Miller also was a former QB and obviously thinks like one which is key to be successful on this Patriots offense. Do you think the Patriots will target a wide receiver early and a FA receiver or will they stay put?
Jason Porter

I definitely think the receiver position is one to keep an eye on this offseason. LaFell is a guy whose future is a question mark after a poor second season in New England that followed up a great first year. Danny Amendola is also an uncertainty for 2016 due to a cap number of nearly $7 million that's currently sixth-highest on the projected roster, while his $5 million salary is twice what Julian Edelman's is. If Amendola doesn't re-do his contract, he could be sent packing. I can't see the Patriots targeting a big-time free agent at receiver. Jones is a guy who probably will get more money than most think. He's been a popular name thrown around Patriots Nation, but he has the size and rising production – career-high 65 catches last season – to cash in. He's been a secondary piece working win Cincy with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. He's probably ready to get a shot to be a No.1-type target somewhere. That wouldn't happen in New England. Miller is another name that's been thrown around a lot by fans and draft experts alike. He has the size and athleticism to be a very intriguing option. But as a converted QB it's questionable how long it will take him to be a polished NFL receiver, especially in a very difficult scheme like New England's. He's a fun prospect to talk about, I just wonder how big an impact he could have as a rookie working with Tom Brady. The Patriots will be competing for a Super Bowl in 2016 and the need at outside receiver might be more for an immediate contributor than for a work-in-progress like Miller with an upside. But, I wouldn't rule it out, especially given Belichick's relationship and history working with Urban Meyer, who coached Miller at Ohio State. There is a lot to like about Miller in a lot of ways. Just not sure he's the right fit for the here and now in New England.
Andy Hart

Do you think the Patriots should try to acquire Jimmy Graham from the Seahawks? He's not really a fit for them anyway and I could see them taking the bait for Matthew Slater and a second-round draft pick. Plus it would make it easier for the league to make the Super Bowl rings for the Patriots before the season began.
Robert Miles

Before the last line, I thought this was a serious email. The idea of a trade of Slater for Graham, even after a disappointing year and a ruptured patella tendon for the star pass catcher (I know there was a pick too, but the names caught my attention) had me laughing. Graham's value may have plummeted to the point that some Seattle bloggers are wondering if the team could cut the tight end a year after shipping a first-round pick and starting center to New Orleans for his services. But the Patriots certainly aren't trading for a guy with a $9 million cap figure when they already have Gronkowski under a big-money deal at the position. I'd love to see Graham, even if he takes a while to get back to full health, in an offense with Gronk that's run by Brady and Josh McDaniels. I wanted the Patriots to draft both Gronkowski and Graham in the 2010 draft, but that never played out. Still, I think this fun little plan is a little outside the realm of, you know, reality. But I'll root for your dream to come true.
Andy Hart

So I have been wondering this as of late, but what would be the chances of the Patriots getting or going after WR Josh Gordon? Maybe he could replace LaFell? That's if he gets reinstated of course. He still has lots left in him!
Ryan Smith

I would love to see Gordon in New England. For some reason, I'm buying into the idea that maybe he's finally turned himself around. He's working hard, supposedly including MMA work with Jay Glazer. He's a risk, because he's a misstep away from being out of the league again. But he's a physical freak who can dominate games. He certainly would fulfil the Patriots needs for an outside receiver. And maybe getting out of the dysfunction of Cleveland and into the professional environment in Foxborough would be just what Gordon needs. We can dream, even if it would seem unlikely.
Andy Hart

There's been a lot of Matt Forte talk this offseason which I like the thought of. I believe Chris Johnson is a Free Agent this year. Personally I'm not a big fan of his but he was fairly impressive last year. Any chance you think the Pats might take a look at him?
Cord Rink

As a pure speed-based runner, I don't like the idea of adding Johnson to the mix. He did bounce back with a nice year in Arizona before going down in late November with a broken leg. Prior to that, he's been very durable. But…stop me if you've heard this before … he's on the wrong side of 30 years old. I don't love the fit. I'd much rather see Forte, Chris Ivory or even a big rookie in Foxborough.
Andy Hart

First things first: I love your work, thank you for the interesting comments and input you made regularly. My question is: what are your thoughts on getting cornerback Sean Smith (KC)? I think cornerback depth is still an area the Patriots could use more depth and I believe he could be a quality addition to the current CB corps. He is a seasoned veteran with a lot of experience and I think his best years are still to come. Is there any chance he could land on the Patriots roster? Is he worth a shot? Thank you in advance!
Richard Farkas

Smith is a guy that we here at PFW talked about as a possible trade target before last year's deadline. I think he makes a lot of sense as a bigger, man corner who could play opposite Malcolm Butler. He's a decent but not great player, which is probably in the Patriots need area and price range. But I agree that the cornerback spot is a major position of need this offseason. The Patriots got by with Logan Ryan starting last season and very little behind him on the depth chart. Ideally I think you'd like to add a guy who could compete for the starting job with Ryan or at the very least be a No. 3 cornerback. To me, Smith and a draft pick might be perfect for such a scenario. He's an experienced, durable, big veteran cornerback. I'd rather see him, for example, than the return of Brandon Browner.
Andy Hart

I agree that Forts is the best choice for the back field. But don't you agree that we need to concentrate on the offensive line? Brady needs protection. Without it we may end up losing him, then what. Also have they named an offensive line coach? If they haven't who do you think should be considered?Thanks
Allen Sardone

I don't think there are going to be huge changes on the offensive line. All signs point to Dante Scarnecchia coming out of retirement to return to coaching the group. That should be a huge plus. But Nate Solder is going to be the left tackle, that's what he was drafted and re-signed for. In all likelihood the interior will be a battle between returning young players Bryan Stork, Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson, David Andrews and Josh Kline. And until we find out otherwise, aging veteran Sebastian Vollmer is certainly the top candidate for right tackle and maybe the most talented all around player in the group. Cannon could be replaced as the swing tackle, but really the line we saw in various forms last fall is the same basic group we'll likely see moving forward. 
Andy Hart


Is there any special reason why Patricia insists on using Collins NOT rushing or blitzing the quarterback?? Collins seems to be better when "pinning his ears back" and going full tilt towards the QB. He does not seem to be as good, when he is "staying back" and acting more like a corner or safety. It just seems they could have won a few more games just by utilizing Collins in a different manner then they did.

The strength of Collins' game, at least theoretically, is his athletic versatility. He can rush, cover and play the run. One thing that I think limited his rushing at times last year was playing without Dont'a Hightower, who was hurt on and off throughout the second half of the season. The defense is at its best with both linebackers in the middle and playing off each other, at times in A-gap blitzes and various rushes in which either can get after it. That playing off of each other was negated when one or the other was hurt. But Collins can also be valuable in coverage, although he clearly struggled in that area in the AFC title game loss in Denver when he allowed a pair of touchdowns.
Andy Hart

First, I think it's horribly underrated that Bill kept his coaching gang intact. I just wanted to say that. But my question is don't you think all the talk of the Patriots getting Forte or someone is over buzzed? I'd like Bill to get a RB in the third or so, keep Dion Lewis and replace Blount and Jackson with some younger faces. I prefer signing our Danny Woodheads and not Chad Ochocincos.
Blake Norris

While the Patriots did keep their coordinators, the team did lose linebackers coach Patrick Graham, strength coach Harold Nash and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, although the latter is being replaced by the legend Scarnecchia. Certainly, though, keeping both Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels as defensive and offensive coordinator, respectively, is very good for New England's continuity and overall chances of going to what would be a record sixth-straight AFC title game. As for the running back situation, I'm for adding both a veteran and a draft pick. Lewis may be limited early in the year coming off a torn ACL, but White can fill that void. I like Forte, but don't think he's the only option that could work. Lewis is the Woodhead in the current situation, both in terms of role and his arrival as a virtual nobody who turned into an immediate star. As for the comparison to Ochocinco, how about a comparison to a different aging Bengals star in Corey Dillon, who extended his career in record-setting fashion in New England. Forte is a different kind of player, but could have a nice upside.
Andy Hart

Hey guys, have always enjoyed your work. My question is in regard to Chandler Jones. You have discussed trading Jones for a potential draft pick. I know Jones may have overpriced himself for a future in New England, but what about trading him to another team for a position of need? Draft picks could be great or bust. What do you think the chances are of the Patriots trading Jones to another team in exchange for an offensive tackle, running back or cornerback? Thanks.
Mark Acker

While I won't rule it out, player-for-player trades remain pretty rare in the NFL, especially Pro Bowl-caliber players. It's hard to get teams to agree to deal two guys with similar values at a pretty high level while also making it work in terms of the salary cap. That said, I'd be all for dealing Jones for a high-quality starter at running back, cornerback or wide receiver. I'm not as high on the need at tackle as you or many others are. Solder is under contract to be the left tackle, even though I've never been his biggest fan. And I'm not in love with the idea of dealing a talent like Jones for a right tackle to replace Vollmer, who I think is very good when at his best.
Andy Hart

Are there any savings by not having a first round pick?
Joe Paretti

There will be minor savings not having to sign a first-round pick, but not much as that spot will be taken up by another player, maybe even a veteran making decent money. Just for an example, last year's No. 1 pick, Malcom Brown, had a rookie cap number of just under $1.4 million. If he's replace by a minimum player, that could "save" nearly a $1 million against the cap. But a decent veteran player will eat into those supposed "savings." The penalty of not having a first-round talent is far worse than any minor benefit not paying said player. Even first-round picks are cost-effective talent that is the backbone of any team's successful salary cap strategy.
Andy Hart

With Vollmer turning 32 this summer, Solder coming off a serious injury and no first-round pick essentially because it gets cold in January, how are the Patriots going to address their need for a swing tackle? Watching Cannon and Fleming allowing Brady to get pummeled in Denver was not enjoyable (can't imagine Tom liked it much either). Assuming Scarnecchia has the raw materials to field a run blocking line, the Patriots second biggest need has to be a run-stuffing DT. Where can they get that?
Ralph Colucci
Toronto, Canada

Boy, you know you have a good team when one of your biggest perceived needs is a backup swing tackle! Those can be found through free agency or in drafting a guy who might replace Vollmer in the near future. Finding one under Scarnecchia' watch, as he's done with guys in the past making due with Cannon, Tom Ashworth and others, is that much more feasible. As for the run stuffing defensive tackle, I don't see that as a huge need. Brown had a very nice rookie season. Alan Branch was solid in his role. Sealver Siliga saw his job diminish, but he could remain in the mix as a restricted free agent. With Brown as the anchor and Branch still viable, finding a third depth defensive tackle is another spot that can be filled in low-level free agency or later in the draft.
Andy Hart

First thought is shouldn't the pats get their first-round pick back? Second and final question is who do you think they should get in the draft with their 2nd-round pick I'm thinking wide receiver if we don't get someone like Anquan Boldin in free agency. What do you think?
Aron Moore

First answer is yes, the Patriots should get their pick back. That's a drum that MMQB's Peter King and others have been banging pretty loudly of late. We'll see if it leads to anything, although that would seem to be unlikely. As for the second-round pick, I think I'd like to see a cornerback. Certainly the real answer is the best player available at a position of need and that perceived need could change between now and the draft based on free agency and other factors. My three top choices would be corner back, running back or wide receiver.
Andy Hart

Do you think the pats will ever wear their throwback uniform again? Thanks
Mark Bushnell

Due to the NFL's supposed rules for teams to wear the same helmets for every game, it doesn't seem likely we'll be seeing Pat Patriot uniforms, with their white helmets, any time soon. More likely, it would seem, would be a red true alternate jersey at some point that would go with the current pants and helmets. I think that would look great, offer a great alternative and allow for the use of the current helmet.
Andy Hart

Since we obviously don't have a solid o-line do you think we will take crack at Russell Okung or Cordy Glenn, both on the market right now?
Simon Napo

Not sure how many different ways I can reply to questions about the offensive line. The Patriots have invested draft capital and financially in the group they have right now. I think they plan on sticking the core of that group moving forward. And New England has never been a team to go out and spend big money on an offensive lineman in free agency. It fills in with developmental types and cheap veterans. I think that will be the case again, even though a lot of fans sound like they are clamoring for much more than that.
Andy Hart

Just wandering after Mayo's apparent retirement if the draft or free agents will be used to get a new run-stuffing LB? Without Mayo our run defense suffered in 2014 and we were a poor at times vs. the run this season. Or do you see increased playing time for Malcolm Brown as the answer? Cheers.
Damon Morris

Mayo was a part-time player for the most part last season even when healthy. His retirement cuts into the depth of an already thin linebacker position, but doesn't have a dramatic impact on the team's needs. Hightower and Collins are the core of the linebacker group, and many of the team's two-linebacker sets that have become its base defense most of the time in the last couple years. Certainly a couple solid linebackers need to be found in free agency or the draft, but that's a depth issue and not a top, starting-caliber priority. And I don't see Brown's starting job at defensive tackle changing. He was a key starter and cog in the run defense that was very solid down the stretch and will only expand in that role in his rookie season.
Andy Hart

Do you think that the Patriots offense is predictable to play against and that after the Denver game, teams will know how to beat us? What options do we need to add to the roster, RB and WR options? Thoughts please....
Zane Brown

Denver physically kicked the Patriots butt on offense due to talent more than anything else. The Broncos had elite edge rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. They got solid inside play on the defensive line. They fielded maybe the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. And they did the same things two weeks later to a very different Panthers offense in the Super Bowl. Denver's domination in the postseason was about the talent and scheme on its defense. Give it the credit it deserves. The Patriots have annually fielded one of the best offenses in the NFL in recent years and will do the same in 2016. That said, certainly there needs to be additions at running back and maybe at receiver. The line needs to play better. But the core is in place for Brady to once again be at the helm of one of the best offenses in football next fall.
Andy Hart

Do you think a versatile player like Denard Robinson, would be a nice fit for the Pats backfield? Watched Denard at Michigan...think he is a smart player...what would it take to get him away from Jags?
Carol Womboldt

While in general I think Robinson is a smart, versatile guy who could fit in the Patriots offense I don't think there is a need right now. Between a recovering Dion Lewis, a maturing James White and solid Brandon Bolden that area of passing back is pretty full. I don't think New England would have much interested in trying to trade for Robinson at this time. And I think the Jaguars like what they have with the former Wolverine as a versatile aspect of a developing young offense.
Andy Hart

I know it's way too early, but the 2016 season begins in March, but early already had in many respects. And so my question, if you could tuck it away for the right moment, is along the lines of leadership in the locker room as the 2016 team forms. For years Willie McGinest had the locker next to the locker room, serving as an enforcer of sorts over the room, then it was Mayo for a time. Now that Mayo has retired can you please keep an eye out for who gets that spot, as it seems that this person gets held in very high Bill regard to deliver and enforce the intended message - at least that is what we seem to read and hear about over the years. I'm so curious to hear more about this important part of the team dynamics as we head into the team assembly phases. Thanks, and thank you for all the weekly info!
Michael Monk

It's never too early to start thinking about team building and leadership. I certainly think that will be an area to watch for a team that's lost the likes of Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and Mayo in the last couple years. That's in addition to less heralded veteran leaders like Dan Connolly. The young players have to evolve and step up. Guys like Rob Ninkovich may take a more vocal role. But there could very well be an opening for the type of enforcer that you are referencing, a role that McGinest certainly took pride in filling. I think Wilfork did, too. That will play out in the coming months and into 2016, but it's a key role that can't be overlooked. It also is hard to force someone into that role. In some ways it has to come naturally. Don't be surprised if Hightower takes over that job in some form or fashion.
Andy Hart

Any chances were the patriots may sign any or all three of the Rams players that were released like James Laurinaitis for extra linebacker depth or Jared Cook for that twin TE set?
Rob Peak

I doubt very much that any of the three big-name Rams players cut this week will end up in New England. Chris Long is a still-young, proven productive pass rusher assuming he can get and stay healthy. He will have options and money on the market. Laurinaitis is as durable and productive a middle linebacker as you'll find. He's not going to land with the Patriots as a backup or role player. Cook might be the most reasonable option. He's a solid player who is more of an athletic specimen than a consistently productive player, probably having never really reached his full potential. Maybe he'd like a go working with guys like Gronkowski and Brady, but I doubt it. He'll have bigger, better options than that. None of the three seems destined for Foxborough. Sorry.
Andy Hart


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