Could LaAdrian Waddle (or even Cameron Fleming) project as emergency interior OL depth? They are both a bit tall (6-6) for the inside, but they are only one inch taller than Joe Thuney, and otherwise they should have the anchor and footwork to make it work. This wouldn't be a permanent switch, but just something to add emergency depth and versatility given the current depth chart. The team has quite a bit of depth at OT (with Fleming, Tony Garcia, Waddle and Conor McDermott fighting for only two spots), but very little depth at interior OL (with Ted Karras, James Ferentz and Jamil Douglas as the top reserves, and none guaranteed to make the roster).
My question concerns the offensive line and quality depth. I would love to see the Pats sign Nick Mangold to replace David Andrews at center. Mangold is one of the premier centers in the NFL and would solidify the offensive line. Andrews is undersized and lacks ideal strength. This move provides Brady with much needed protection up the middle where he needs it most and more push in the run game. What do you think?
Fleming actually started a game at right guard back in 2014 in Kansas City and things did not go well for him or the rest of the team as the Patriots were buried by the Chiefs that night. I don't believe Fleming or Waddle is a solution for the interior but in a pinch they could probably add depth. It will be interesting to see how the backup positions pan out along the offensive line. Waddle is certainly no lock to make the tram after being inactive most weeks last year. Fleming has been cut in the past and worked his way back to the roster from the practice squad. If the rookie tackles prove worthy, the veterans could be gone. Inside things are less settled, especially with the recent news that Chase Farris was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. I could see Bill Belichick adding to that depth with a training camp move to acquire a guard or center – Nick Mangold is often mentioned. The starting line is set but the backups, both inside and out, are question marks.
The Ravens released Michael Oher last week. Are the concussion concerns that severe or have his abilities regressed to the point that the Patriots would not take a flier on him as a backup?
Well, first it was the Panthers that released Oher. He hasn't been with Baltimore since 2013. Since then he played for Tennessee and Carolina. Last year was pretty much a lost season for the former first-round pick as he was limited to just three games and spent the rest of the season in concussion protocol. He failed his physical with the Panthers for that reason and was let go, so it would seem that his career is over at this point. In truth, Oher proved to be an average tackle when healthy and at this point the risk would seem to outweigh the reward for any team looking to sign him.
Do you believe that professional minor league American football will ever exist, someday? With the rate of injuries that happen in American football plus the time it can get for out of shape football players to get into decent NFL shape, I'm surprised that professional American football, from Day 1 of their existence, never successfully put something into place along the lines of a farm system for future players, besides the already existing college football, Canadian Football League, Arena Football League and semi-pro football leagues. I also know that I'm already answering my own question with the lack of enough available money needed for such a farm system to successfully exist, plus the lack of general public interest in attending minor league football games. Just about each and every other professional team sport has a minor league farm system in place.
You did basically answer your own question here but I will try to add some further thoughts. The college game really serves as the minor leagues for the NFL more so than anything else. Plus, teams are allowed to have 10-man practice squads which give clubs a chance to have players practicing and ready to go if needed. Minor league football would require a lot more money to run than the other sports considering the amount of players needed to fill teams. Baseball's minor leagues are much different from the others with the various levels, which take into account the younger ages of many of the players. Football would require a lot of funding and quite frankly the NCAA does this for the NFL, taking away the need for such a system. I don't see a true football minor league being created that will create enough interest to last and provide any meaningful purpose.
If you look at David Andrews-Joe Thuney combo on the inside of Patriots offensive line, they somewhat remind me of Dan Koppen-Dan Connolly duo, smart and agile but not powerful. Can teams like Atlanta, who got even stronger on the defensive line, dominate these guys and cost us the rings? Why not add some muscle there?
I do worry a bit about the interior of the offensive line and their ability to protect Tom Brady. I view both centers – Andrews and Koppen – as a bit undersized and they do/did occasionally get overpowered. I believe Thuney will improve in his second season and hopefully things will improve in that regard. I thought he was solid through most of the regular season but he appeared to wear down a bit down the stretch and in the playoffs against Houston and Atlanta things weren't great. It's reasonable to expect Thuney to be more prepared for the rigors of the season with a year of experience under his belt, and things to improve as a result. I'd like to see some depth added but at 6-5, 305 pounds Thuney is big and strong enough to do the job.
With the cutting of Chase Farris, do you think the Pats might try to sign Nick Mangold on a one year deal? Or is it the case that Mangold is looking for a guaranteed starting spot, with starter money or might the Pats be able to lure him with the shot at a ring?
There's that name again … Mangold has been a constant topic of conversation in Ask PFW throughout the offseason and I honestly don't have an answer as to why he's still looking for work. My guess is he's not interested in just playing for anybody at this stage and would like a chance to compete for a title, which eliminates a lot of teams from the mix. Obviously the Patriots would not be one of those and as long as he remains available I wouldn't rule out a possible marriage. The Patriots still have an open roster spot after losing Farris, so maybe something will happen. But I couldn't offer any concrete reasons why Mangold isn't signed – here or anywhere else.
After having re-watched the Super Bowl a number of times as well as highlights of last season I am becoming increasingly concerned over the (lack of) speed in the linebacker corps. Had it not been for the injury to Tevin Coleman and the gross misuse of Davonta Freeman by the Falcons the outcome could have been very different. Time and time again throughout the year - not least in the Super Bowl - the linebackers appeared to lack the necessary speed in the open field. The Pats appear to be without a mobile, fast linebacker such as Deion Jones on the Falcons. I am less concerned by the loss of edge rushers Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long after all of the offseason activity, but other than Derek Rivers I just don't see the open field speed. Rob Ninkovich, who is a great favorite of mine, quite simply no longer has the speed needed and was embarrassed in the big game. If we then consider the loss of Logan Ryan, who covered a lot of ground, chasing down tacklers, the concern becomes greater. I rate David Harris highly, but he is not the solution. If we look at the 2015 AFC Championship game we all know what decided the game, it was Jamie Collins blowing the coverage of the Broncos tight end. I fully understand he is gone, but again, the lack of speed concerns me. As a diehard Pats fan in Stockholm, Sweden, I am desperate for some reassurance from you guys, but I remain concerned.
I think you are correct to be concerned about the lack of speed at linebacker. I felt covering backs out of the backfield was an issue with Collins and certainly that's only been exacerbated in his absence. (BTW, in my opinion the Patriots lost to Denver due to the offensive line's ability to protect Brady but that's a different story). However, I don't look at this as a fatal flaw or anything like that. I feel most teams lack the ability to cover running backs and very few of them are fast enough and gifted enough to cover skilled players in space. Honestly, even the best ones struggle in that department more often than not. I agree with you about Deion Jones … yet James White killed Atlanta in the Super Bowl. So while I do wonder about the overall speed at linebacker (although Kyle Van Noy moves pretty well) I don't worry about that being the difference between the Patriots having a solid defense or not.
Who would be the best coach for NE currently in active coaches, except Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia? And who would be the best QB without Tom Brady, Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo?
Tough question to answer … and luckily the Patriots don't have to figure it out just yet. In terms of coaches I feel John Harbaugh is pretty solid. I like Bruce Arians and Andy Reid, but I'd make sure I hired someone to handle the clock for Reid. There are some young guys I'm intrigued by but need to see more like Adam Gase. Overall, not many I'd want around the league. If Belichick retired at the end of the season and I needed to look elsewhere I'd go after Nick Saban or Urban Meyer, the two best coaches in the college ranks, and hope they could work their magic in the NFL. As for quarterback, I'd go with Aaron Rodgers. I'd also take my chances with Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson.
Training camp is finally going to start, which has to be exciting around Gillette Stadium. I just read your projection on who might make the 53-man roster at the running back position and noticed that you mentioned neither Brandon Bolden nor LeShun Daniels. I find it hard to believe that the Patriots would have re-signed a loyal trooper like Bolden (and given him a $50K signing bonus) if he didn't have a better-than-average chance of making the team. Daniels meanwhile looks like a between-the-tackles workhorse ala LeGarrette Blount, who has moved on to the Eagles. I can see Belichick safely stashing Daniels on the practice squad but I have to believe that more than a few teams could use the very versatile Bolden. What say you?
First, a $50,000 signing bonus is pretty insignificant in the NFL. That small fee isn't going to have any impact on whether Bolden makes the team. In fact, I agree with Andy's projection that left him off the roster. Bolden is basically a special teams player who has provided very little out of the backfield over the years. Rex Burkhead was brought in with a similar skill set plus the possibility of adding more out of the backfield. He would seem to be a more logical candidate for a spot along with Mike Gillislee, James White and either Dion Lewis or D.J. Foster if not both. Plus fullback James Develin factors into the mix. There just doesn't seem to be enough room for Bolden and Daniels, although I am looking forward to watching the rookie to see what he can do.
Who are the guys you think are the most important players to take a step in there improvement to help win another Super Bowl?
This is a difficult question to answer because the Patriots have proven they can compete and win while missing virtually everyone. In terms of guys improving, I think Trey Flowers is one who finished strong last season and it's important that he improve in 2017. The pass rush is one of the few areas that lacks depth, and Flowers may be the best of the group. I'm a little concerned how he handles being the focal point of opposing game plans considering his strong play late in 2016 so how he handles the extra attention will be important. If he regresses, that could make the defense suffer in terms of applying pressure. I'd also like to see Shaq Mason, David Andrews and Joe Thuney improve in order to shore up the interior offensive line. That would ease the fears of watching another team wreak havoc come the playoffs. Eric Rowe is another player who could really help the team with some further development. He should be the third corner, which is an important position, and if he isn't up to the task the secondary's lack of depth could be problematic. But like I said, even worst case scenario in all of these cases wouldn't mean the end of the world. The Patriots will be in contention regardless.
One thing that no one seems to be factoring into the Brady vs. Garoppolo decision in 2018 or 2019 is the issue of QB contracts. Looking around the league and what teams will need to spend on franchise QBs, this might just tip the scales in favor of keeping TB12 for another few years. It won't be the primary factor in the decision, but given Brady's age, his desire to play into his 40s, his history of taking team-friendly contracts this may tip the scales in terms of value for the Patriots. Paying less for a highly effective QB with slowly diminishing skills is a better value proposition than paying the going rate for a franchise QB in this overheated market. I'm assuming of course that Jimmy G. is going to want to get paid somewhere in the top 10 for QBs in the league. This has to factor into Belichick's calculations. What do you think, are we overlooking this aspect of the TB/JG decision?
I don't think the salary is all that important in this decision. Basically it comes down to player evaluations and how long Brady can reasonably be expected to continue playing. If Belichick thinks Brady has a year or two left then it would make sense to hold onto Garoppolo as long as possible. If Belichick is convinced Brady can continue playing into his mid-40s then letting he might not be as worried about letting Garoppolo go. Either way money shouldn't be a huge factor. If Garoppolo is truly worthy of being Brady's successor, his contract isn't a huge deal. Brady definitely has left money on the table but it's not like he makes peanuts. If Garoppolo signs a lucrative extension and pans out no one is going to worry about the money. If he can't play, then that's a different story. Garoppolo's ability, not his paycheck, will be the key.
Do you think that acquiring David Harris means Harvey Langi won't make the roster? Langi is someone Bill Belichick rated very highly and gave a big signing bonus as a UFA. I'm afraid he wouldn't clear waivers if they cut him.
There's a lot of football to be played over the next six weeks before that decision needs to be made. On the surface it would appear that both Langi and Harris could be part of the mix, depending on how much Harris has left in the tank and how well Langi adapts to the pro game. At this point it's impossible to know how and where Langi fits in since he's a rookie. My guess is if he can play special teams, which shouldn't be a stretch given his versatile background, then he has a reasonable chance to stick around.
How do you currently see the return game being split up? Who right now are likely to be the biggest contributors to the return game?
The big question here is Cyrus Jones. Can he overcome the ball security issues he displayed last season and become productive? If yes then he should handle punts at the very least. If not, then I'd expect to see the veteran wideouts – Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman – working in that type of role. Also, D.J. Foster got a lot of reps as a returner last summer and could factor into the mix. Dion Lewis finished the season as the kick returner and if he sticks around he's an excellent choice to continue in that department. One real dark horse would be Will Likely, a tiny (5-7) but dynamic corner who was a return specialist at Maryland. If he gets a chance in the summer and breaks one he could be a factor as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see Foster get the chance to handle both punts and kicks during the preseason.
Say Rob Gronkowski has a career season, sets a new single-season touchdown record for a TE. Does this ensure he's a lock for the HOF or does the fact that he's had a number of seasons cut short through injury put a question mark on his induction?
I think another record-setting season would put Gronk in the Hall if he's not already there. Few players dominate their position the way Gronk has, even while injuries have shortened his seasons. Assuming he can put another strong campaign together, proving he's still the best when healthy, my guess is he would be a lock. Of course that answer comes without the inside knowledge from the Hall of Fame voters who would ultimately be the ones making that decision.
I would like to see a rules change where teams get to keep at least half their practice squad from players made at the final cut as opposed to risking them all to waivers. Teams bring players in to learn their system and playbooks. It would be nice to keep some who have shown promise. Your thoughts?
It seems like every year there is at least one or two pretty good players that seem to slip through the cracks and not make the final roster. I'm sure other teams must go through the same problem. Is there a reason why the NFL doesn't increase the size of the team rosters by one or two additional players? I think this would allow teams to maybe hold onto a player they really like and without the risk of losing them to another team by putting him on the practice squad.
I like it. Makes sense to allow teams to keep some of the players they don't currently have room for rather than being forced to start over with new players. Basically this is how it works now anyway since many practice squad players go through camp with their teams and clear waivers. However, my guess is the players wouldn't like that because it would limit their chances to remain on the active roster. Sometimes teams are reluctant to expose players to waivers and therefore find a way to keep them – like D.J. Foster last year. I'm sure Foster enjoyed the benefits (i.e. paycheck) of being on the 53-man roster as opposed to the practice squad, where he could just as easily be picked up by another team anyway. But overall I think your idea has some merit.
I don't think expanding the rosters is the way to go. At what point do you avoid losing players you like? If it's 53 or 55 there will always be players you like that you have to cut. I'm not sure what the perfect number is but regardless of the limit you'll always have questions.