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Ask PFW: Pre-free agency frenzy

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Franchise-tagging Gostkowski and not McCourty makes financial sense to me. Pats would have little to no leverage after paying McCourty close to $10M per year, and in fact, he may even prefer that. Would you say that the "fear of injury" is less significant for many players than "the most guaranteed money now" in negotiations?*
*Stan C.

I'm not sure which is more important but the fear of injury balanced out by the most guaranteed money is at the heart of nearly all big-time NFL contract negotiations. McCourty is probably looking at the market that might open him up to a potential $50 million deal with something like half of it guaranteed. That's a lot more than just under $10 million guaranteed with the tag. There have been players – Walter Jones comes to mind – who have played under the tag for a couple years and then inked a lucrative longer term deal. They "beat" the system. But there is obviously a risk in that. The way I look at it, McCourty is likely to get $40-plus million this spring somewhere with an average annual value of more than $8 million. I wouldn't want to pay him that at this point. But I wouldn't mind overpaying him for a year to keep the secondary together, assuming the team can reach a deal with Darrelle Revis. Maybe the Patriots are confident they can do a deal with both McCourty and Revis. But if the safety gets to the open market next week – given a weak free agent class of safeties and weak draft class at that position – I think he's going to find a lot of aggressive suitors willing to give him a big deal. He's going to get a lot of guaranteed money somewhere. Stay tuned.
Andy Hart

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Hi fellas! So Danny Amendola had a very good postseason an even a OK end of the regular season, but my question is if he won't restructure his deal would the Pats try to trade him for a lower pick? Or flat out release him? Now in my opinion there's plenty of options (Douglas, B. Gibson, Hartline, Royal, etc.) Royal would be awesome here. Or would a trade for an older guy be better like a Colston?*
*Steve DeMoura

What's up, boys? (Hey, you addressed me in the plural, so I returned serve.) I do think the Amendola situation is an interesting one. Most assumed he would be cut after the season. He never had as many as four catches in a game in the first 14 contests in 2014 (including six games without a single catch), but then finished the year with four or more catches in five of the last six contests, including the postseason, when he notched three touchdown receptions to tie for the team lead. Is that enough to save his career in New England, where he's set to have a cap charge of $5.7 million next season? The team would only save around $1.6 million if it cut or traded the backup receiver/kickoff returner, and that doesn't take into account having to replace him on the roster. In an ideal world maybe he would restructure his contract. But if he doesn't, it's not a guarantee that he's gone. If the team does want to cut some financial fat, it would almost certainly look to trade Amendola to a receiver-hungry team, which feels like it might be one of those draft weekend type deals.
Andy Hart

Mock draft season seems fully underway and no consensus about position or player is yet emerging. From these players on various mock drafts, which would you take if they were all available at 32? Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan; Carl Davis, DT, Iowa; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington; A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina; Laken Tomlinson, OG, Duke; Eli Harold, OLB, Virginia; Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon. I feel the most pressing needs are interior offensive and defensive line, so like the idea of Carl Davis lining up next to Wilfork and A.J. Cann next to Bryan Stork more than the other possible selections.
David Beckett

Cann is the first person that jumped off the list for me, because I think the guard spot might be the biggest need on the team. He's a talented player who I still need to do more pre-draft research on, but I don't think he'd be a bad pick on any level. Peters is interesting in his ability, but he comes with some off-field questions. I would also consider Davis or Armstead, but certainly need to do a lot more work on those players before I make my final assessments of their draft stock.
Andy Hart

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Not tagging Devin McCourty may work out (not ideal) for the Pats. His APY will be very high when he signs his free agent contract on signing with another team, the Patriots most likely will end up with a third-round pick for him.*
*Nader Behbehani

Guess it depends on what your definition of working out is. If McCourty leaves the team will almost certainly get a third-round pick in compensation as it's unlikely New England will be signing a free agent of similar caliber. But if that leads to poor safety play in the back end of the Patriots secondary for a team trying to defend its Super Bowl title then I wouldn't consider that working out. Plus, you'd be getting a third-round pick for a Pro Bowl talent you took in the first round. If New England simply feels that McCourty isn't worth $8 or $9 million a year, I have no problem with that and would probably agree. If they would rather have a third-round pick than McCourty that's just poor to me.
Andy Hart

Crazy question but with the release of Steven Jackson from the Falcons what are the odds of him coming to the Patriots?
Seth Whited

I don't think they are great, but I know that Belichick did really like Jackson when he entered the league way back when. I don't think Jackson has much left and is injury prone at this point, but he's the type of veteran signing that will never surprise me with the Patriots. Jackson averaged just 3.7 yards on his 190 carries this season. And I don't think the Patriots need a big veteran back to add to the New England committee. So it's not too likely.
Andy Hart

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Hey guys, what do you think about the Pats drafting Cameron Erving (out of FSU) with the 32nd overall pick, he played LT for 3 years for the Seminoles before moving inside to center to help stabilize the line after they lost their center from last year (and it was Bryan Stork). I read that Rick Trickett and coach Scar (Dante Scarnecchia) are old buddies, do you think that's a possibility due to that relationship and Erving's versatility?*
*Clarens Jarbath

Yes, yes, yes. I think Erving is an interesting prospect for most of the reasons you listed. He's versatile. He's experienced. He's a leader. He has the team's best interests in mind. He comes from a scheme and a coach that the Patriots trust and respect. Will Belichick see Erving as value at No. 32? That's hard to know. But I have to think Erving will be a draft day consideration.
Andy Hart

I was thinking about the free agent market and what do you guys think about the Pats picking up Michael Sam? Could probably get him cheap and he would do great in the mix with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.
Mark Bushnell

They don't come much cheaper than Sam, a street free agent who may need to go to the veteran combines to try and find a football job while moonlighting as a ballroom dancer. I don't see the fit in New England. Sam is an undersized, slow pass rusher. That's not a great combination in the NFL. Other than being a solid camp body, I don't think he'd have much of a chance with the Patriots.
Andy Hart

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It appears to be a foregone conclusion that Shane Vereen is going to another team. With Reggie Bush being unwilling to take a pay cut and being released by Detroit, do you think he would consider coming to the Patriots? Do you think it would be a good fit?*
*Morris Hickok

I would love to see Bush in New England. Whether he would want to play for the Patriots and Belichick, I can't answer that. I think he's a rich man's Vereen who has higher upside, similar injury history and is about to turn 30, which is never good for an NFL running back. I also haven't completely closed the door on the idea of Vereen returning to the Patriots. Sure the team generally lets running backs walk in free agency, even for relatively reasonable money. But if Vereen leaves the cupboard will be almost bare at the passing back position, a key role in the New England offense. I can't see the team just turning things over to fourth-round pick James White after a red-shirt rookie season. (Or other options like Brandon Bolden or Dion Lewis.) That might be worse that leaving Brady with no receivers. Some think the third-down role – which has gone from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to Vereen – is easy to fill. I don't quite agree with that and would worry if Vereen is let go without a proven, reliable replacement. I would consider Bush to be just that.
Andy Hart

Vince is a fan favorite and a good guy but he's got 1-2 yrs max, that's just life. [Ndamukong] Suh however would be a cornerstone for 5+ yrs to come. How far off market $ would we be for Suh if we cut say Wilfork & Mayo (Amendola...Arrington...)
Tim A.

Many believe that Suh is about to become the highest paid defensive player in the history of the game. His deal could surpass $100 million with more than $50 million in guarantees. Oh, and he's not a quarterback. That's for a defensive lineman. So, there is no chance of Suh landing in New England, regardless of any other roster moves that will be made. But I enjoy the passion and creativity in your thinking.
Andy Hart

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Hey guys big fan down here in Colombia, South America!! It's so great to see Tom Brady get his fourth ring and leave his mark as one of the greatest of all-time. I have a question about the Combine. Do you guys think that there is any chance the Patriots will draft WR Dorial Green-Beckham with their first-round pick? I know he has had some off-the-field issues as well as not playing since 2013, but the guy is supposed to be on Calvin Johnson type WR. I really think a guy like him could solidify our WR core. Please let me know what you think.*
*Carlos Restrepo

Green-Beckham is a really intriguing prospect. He has all the physical tools and potential. But there are major questions about him off the field, his maturity, his football IQ, his work ethic and all the rest. For that reason, I can't see the Patriots drafting him in the first round. New England has never used a first-round pick on a receiver under Belichick and I don't think they'll break the trend for such a boom-or-bust prospect like Green-Beckham. That's especially true given the team's problems developing wide receivers and getting them to play in a very challenging Patriots system. Green-Beckham is enticing, but my guess is that we'll have to watch him succeed or fail elsewhere.
Andy Hart

Do you think Wes Welker is coming back to PATS?
Severin Kristensen

No, I don't. I think that bridge has been burned a little bit in both directions. I also don't think it makes sense as a football move at this point. He's a shell of himself. The Patriots have too many slot receivers as it is. Not gonna happen.
Andy Hart

Hi, thanks if you take my question this week. I am still asking if Hernandez will have again in 2015 an impact in Patriots salary cap or if it's now over.
Ludovic Boisseau

Hernandez's dead money is now completely off the Patriots cap, as he accounted for a $7.5 million hit this past season. The team actually reportedly got a small cap credit for some Hernandez money that was disputed in a grievance due to workout bonus. But aside from that, any unlikely future credits are a long ways away as the tight end's legal issues play out in the courts. So for this season Hernandez's situation actually results in a credit for the cap, no dead money and nothing on the books moving forward.
Andy Hart

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With Tom Brady's success, how does he stack up with some of the other Boston greats like Russell, Williams, Orr, Yaz & Bird? If he can be considered the best QB of all time, can he be considered the best all time sports figure in Boston?*
*Kevin Soucy

Brady certainly very much belongs in that elite company and a strong argument can be made that he sits atop the list. He has the numbers. He has the longevity. He has the titles (even if he can't measure up to Russell!). He has the awards. He has the popularity and just about everything else that goes with greatness. It's an argument that will never have a definitive answer. In many ways it may be broken down by generational lines and sports preferences. But Brady is very much in the argument for the greatest sports figure in arguably the greatest sports city of them all.
Andy Hart

Fellas, Long time follower, lifetime Patriots fan. Greatly enjoy your insightful analysis and commentary whether I read it in the comfort of my own stateside home or in any number of foreign countries while deployed. I just read an article reference NFL Payroll Spending by SI Wire dated 17 FEB 2015 that says New England is 82.7% spent in regards to the most recent collective bargaining agreement which stipulates that teams are required to spend 89% of the salary cap in cash over two four-year periods (2013-16 and 2017-20). What exactly does this mean in relation to the current salary cap - I thought New England was already over the projected salary cap for 2015 with Darrelle Revis' option being fully counted / projected? How do teams maneuver to meet this requirement? How can it be leveraged in New England's case? Many thanks and keep up the good work.
Steven Isenhour

The two issues are cash spending compared to cap spending. The Patriots are set to be over the cap at this point by a little more than $10 million with the current cap commitments. The 89 percent number is in regards to actual cash spending over the four-year span as compared the salary cap numbers for those four years. Broken down to its simplest form, it's more about actually spending in a given season/span of seasons -- including, say, large signing bonuses – as compared to cap calculations that are spread out over the life of the deal. So the Patriots need to spend cash in the next two years to reach the 89-percent minimum. That can be accomplished as easily as signing big money extensions to guys like Revis, Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins or others to deals with big signing bonuses that will be paid out, count toward the 89 percent and yet spread out for longer periods in terms of cap calculations. So, essentially, the Patriots will need cap-friendly and but cash-heavy deals at points over the next two years.
Andy Hart

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Hey guys. With one year in the books, how would you rate the Patriots 2014 draft class? Is it too early to declare their first rounder, Dominique Easley, a bust? Or do you think he can be productive this year? Stork and Fleming saw the field last year, but that was about it. Was the 2014 rookie class a success, a disappointment or something in between? Thanks.*
*Bob Malloy

When you draft a defensive lineman coming off his second ACL injury with your first pick and a backup quarterback with your second, it's a little much to expect a draft class to have a huge impact. Stork was the star of the class and looks like a mainstay in the middle of the line for the foreseeable future. I am not ready to declare Easley a bust. It takes a year for players to come back from an ACL, for the most part. Add that to the transition that all rookies must make and it was probably not fair to expect too much from Easley in 2014. But there will be big expectations moving forward into 2015. The Garoppolo payoff is (fingers crossed!) further down the road a couple years. So I would say this draft class, as much as any we've seen, deserves an incomplete after one season. But next fall will be huge for Easley, James White and maybe Fleming to help declare the class's overall value.
Andy Hart

I read on many sites that the Pats should let Shane Vereen go, and either James White or some draft pick can fill his shoes. Shane has learned one of the most difficult offenses in the NFL, and has shown productivity, as well as Brady's confidence. For the sake of a few million dollars, how many years would it take before the replacement reaches Shane's level. Brady's window is limited. Now is the time to keep his trusted weapon. I hope the Pats won't be penny wise, but pound foolish.
Steve Reed

This is what I was alluding to in a previous answer, Steve. More often than not, letting Vereen walk would be the expected and maybe correct way of business for the Patriots. But that doesn't mean it's the right move in this specific situation at this specific time. If you can get a proven option for less money – maybe Bush or another veteran – then go for it. But if you are just going to turn the very important, trusted role over to White or some other unproven hopeful, then it doesn't make any sense to me. You and I seem to be on the same page, Steve. Of course, I'm not sure that's a good thing for you.
Andy Hart

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Even if the Patriots retain Revis, I think the number 1 need is corner (I'm not saying corner is definitely available I just think it's the number 1 need). Those doubting that claim need only look at the loss to the Packers (everyone after Revis, Browner and Arrington was burned, and many top teams now have more than 3 effective receivers) and the Super Bowl (Arrington was burned too often). Are the Pats really ready to absolutely bank on Dennard, Ryan and Butler? Thanks.*
*Joe Theban

I don't agree. If Revis and Browner return, then I think the Patriots are well positioned at corner. If either or both veterans were to leave, especially Revis, I think the corner need becomes massive. Very few teams have two good corners. Fewer have three. None have four. I also don't get all the hate for Arrington. Sure, he struggled in the Super Bowl. It happens sometimes with No. 3 cornerbacks. He had a bad physical matchup against a much larger receiver. And by the way, Revis was burned against the Packers, for whatever that's worth here. Dennard is the most experienced of the three young corners, but I have no idea where he stands with the team after last season. Ryan struggled at times and I'm not sold he has what it takes to be a top-3 corner. The team really likes Butler, but it will be hard for him to live up to his Super Bowl hype. Really, though, it's all about Revis. If he's back, the rest should fall into place on some level. If he's gone, it's back to the drawing board and probably giving up big plays and long third downs that we've seen in prior years. Especially if McCourty is gone too. But let's not forget key needs along the interior offensive line, the defensive line and depth at linebacker.
Andy Hart

I am starting to get concerned that Patriots would lose Revis and possibly McCourty, and most certainly Vereen and Ayers, while retaining Wilfork, Branch, Connolly, Mayo (at present salary) and Browner. It will be business as usual kind of year for the Pats, but with our divisional competition improved, we may struggle this year to win even that. Do you think that aside from Tom Brady, BB and the organization want the 5th SB ring to separate this dynasty from NFL's historic pack?
J. Roberts

I do think the organization wants to win a fifth ring. Robert Kraft has already spoken openly about the desire to defend the title and win Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco. How that all plays out in terms of finances and roster moves is always hard to project and analyze. I would not assume that Wilfork, Branch, Connolly and Mayo will all be back and certainly not at their current projected salary. I would not assume that Revis, McCourty and Vereen are long gone. There will probably be some mix of truth in each of those lists. Many moves will be made and the goal will be to win the division and compete for a Super Bowl within the confines of the overwhelming philosophy that Belichick has instilled over the years and decisions made…wait for it…in the best interest of the football team.
Andy Hart

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Andy, If McCourty leaves town, do you think it's possible that his replacement is already on the roster? Especially if Revis is retained, I wonder if Logan Ryan or Kyle Arrington could take his place and develop into a quality starter. Thanks!*
*Joel Lindgren

Yes, I do think that a player on the roster might be asked to develop at safety if McCourty leaves via free agency. I'd add Duron Harmon to the list. A year ago everyone saw him as the projected safety next to McCourty. Maybe he could slide into a starting role in Year 3. Of the two corners you listed, I would think Ryan makes the most sense. There's been some talk previously of him working at safety. He's younger and probably has a higher upside as a deep safety. Arrington is more entrenched as the slot corner. But these options will all be considered if McCourty leaves, as would potential additions in the draft or free agency. Regardless, it would be hard to expect one of these guys to step in and play at a Pro Bowl level or serve as a rock in communication, which is what McCourty brought to the back end.
Andy Hart

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MY PREDICTION FOR PATRIOTS 2015 SCHEDULE.......... Sept 10 BUFFALO Sept 20 AT N.Y.JETS Sept 27 WASHINGTON Oct 4 PITTSBURGH Oct 12 AT N.Y GIANTS (MON) Oct 18 AT HOUSTON Oct 22 N.Y.JETS (THURS) Nov 1 AT INDIANAPOLIS Nov 8 AT DENVER (SUN NIGHT) Nov 15 MIAMI Nov 22 JACKSONVILLE Nov 26 AT DALLAS (THANKSGIVING DAY) Dec 7 AT BUFFALO (MON) Dec 13 PHILADELPHIA Dec 20 TENNESSEE Dec 27 AT MIAMI.*
*William Napier

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!
Andy Hart

So many questions to ask, but I'll steer away from Free Agency to ask a few different ones. Would you rather see an NFL franchise in London or Los Angeles? Why were Josh McCown and others allowed to sign with a team before Free Agency? And if, for some reason, Dorial Green-Beckham falls to the bottom of the first round should the Patriots take him? I am overwhelmingly in their yes category on that, to give Brady a potential star receiver and possibly a future lynchpin for Garoppolo or another QB to build their offense around when #12 retires. He could be the next Dez Bryant.
Alex Marr

Rapid responses: Los Angeles. They are street free agents and not under contract. No. Too many questions about his football IQ and maturity. Can't imagine him fitting/developing in New England.
Andy Hart

With Andre Johnson given permission to seek a trade, do you think the Patriots would be interested? Would Johnson be a good fit in New England? Would a trade of Mayo for Johnson make sense?
Marc Roy

I do think the Patriots would at least look into a Johnson deal. He's a proven talent. He's a big bodied receiver who could fit in with the overall mix of size, speed and style on the Patriots wide receiver corps. He's been pretty healthy of late and still caught 85 balls last year with questions at quarterback. If he wants to play for low money and have a chance to win a ring with the first elite quarterback of his Hall of Fame career then maybe New England would be a fit. It's worth the discussion anyway. Johnson certainly might offer more than Brian Tyms, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce or even Danny Amendola. I do not think a swap for Mayo would make sense. Not sure the Texans are looking for an aging, injury prone tackle machine. Houston would probably prefer a draft pick deal.
Andy Hart

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