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Ask PFW: Receiving plenty of help

Plenty of draft and free agent analysis highlights this week's mailbag. Lining up all the additions at wideout seems to be the priority, as well as searching for the difficult answer to the question -- where will the Patriots focus on in the draft?

My question has to do with all of the new receivers. How do you see them lining up next season? Assuming they all do their homework and develop some chemistry with Tom Brady, I'm sort of wondering where Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney fit. I see Donte' Stallworth at Z, Caldwell at X, Gaffney and Wes Welker taking slots. What happens to Kelley Washington? I feel like someone is going to be the odd man out here unless they're playing an abundance of five-receiver sets.
Nathan F.

Before any of these guys take over specific roles they're all going to have to earn jobs. That's the best part of what Bill Belichick did by bringing in so many talented players – it created tremendous competition at receiver. With the exception of Welker, who would cost a significant cap hit if released, none of them is even guaranteed a roster spot. Obviously it would be surprising if Stallworth got cut, but the point is there are jobs to be won between now and the start of the season. I believe Stallworth is the most talented of the group and will be one of the outside receivers. Welker works best out of the slot and should factor into that mix. From there, it's a crapshoot. Caldwell and Gaffney have an edge because of their year in the system, but Washington can play outside and from the slot and could be an option as well. If Washington is healthy I think he could be a better option than either Gaffney or Caldwell … but time will tell.
Paul Perillo

Would it be possible for the Pats to trade a first-round pick with Chicago for Lance Briggs? Not sure if it would be a good idea or whether it could be done but just like to know your thoughts.
Susan Gervasi

I just saw on that Lance Briggs is going to sit out if he it not release or traded. What are the chances that the Pats will try to work out a trade for him?
Pat Connolly

While a trade for Briggs would probably be considered a long shot, it would make some sense. The Patriots have two first-round picks and could certainly afford to give one to Chicago. Plus, the Patriots have the salary flexibility to work out the long-term deal Briggs is looking for. Several reports project the Patriots to be roughly $4 million under the cap after the draft picks are signed. The team could gain more room by tweaking some contracts and moving some money around to make it fit. Briggs' ability certainly fits into what the Patriots need and he'd look great inside next to Tedy Bruschi as a fast, athletic linebacker in his prime. The lone drawback to this scenario would be Briggs' comments before the Super Bowl where he said he doesn't like playing in a 3-4 defense, but my guess is the Patriots could give him $25 million or so reasons to learn to like it.
Paul Perillo

I think Wes Welker is a good player but I feel that the Patriots gave up to much for him. The Patriots have usually made value a key component in their personnel moves and I am not convinced that the Patriots maximized the value they sent to Miami in the trade for Welker. My question is: Is there some reason that the Patriots had to trade for Welker when they did? I do not believe that there were other strong suitors for a restricted free agent like Welker and in my opinion, trading for Welker now gives the Patriots less flexibility in the draft, even if they have many other picks due to compensatory picks awarded. I think the Patriots could always trade the pick to the Dolphins up until when the Patriots were making their second choice assuming they didn't see a player they liked better. They also may have other suitors for the pick or they could have tried to bargain with Miami for a better deal if a good player fell. I doubt Miami had a take it or leave it proposal on the table and in all probability Welker most likely wanted out of Miami after New England showed a strong interest. The Patriots gave up to much to soon.John Heisman

I agree with you that the Patriots gave up too much for Welker. A second-round pick (plus a seventh-rounder) is a valuable commodity to along with a pretty significant salary. But really the only difference between signing Welker to an offer sheet and making the trade in this case was the seventh-round pick. If the Patriots wanted Welker, who was a restricted free agent, it would have cost a second-round pick plus a contract big enough to prevent Miami from matching it. The Patriots decided to pass up signing Welker to an offer sheet and instead worked out the trade. That way they didn't have to worry about Miami matching the offer. You also sort of drift off course with your scenario a bit as well. Teams can't sign restricted free agents to offer sheets after April 20, so the Patriots couldn't conceivably wait until the draft before deciding whether or not to sign Welker. In that case, New England could still trade for Welker, but the Dolphins would no longer have to fear losing the receiver to an offer sheet they would be unwilling to match. So really it all came down to giving up a seventh-round pick now or risking having to pay more later. If you want the player that's not a risk you want to take.
Paul Perillo

The Pats new signings can't possibly leave them with too much room to work under the cap. With the way first-rounders are getting paid these days, do you think this affects what they'll do with their draft picks? Would one high first-round pick be more "affordable" overall than two late-round picks?
Will Bortolin

Actually, it's exactly the opposite. Two late first-round picks are more affordable than one high first-round pick. Using last year as an example (and using unofficial figures since I don't have access to the actual contracts involved), Cincinnati's Johnathan Joseph (5 years, $8.3 million) and Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis (5-$7.5 million) combined for $15.8 million as compared to Oakland's Michael Huff, who received five years and $22.5 million. Huff was the seventh overall pick while Joseph (24th) and Lewis (28th) went in the spots the Patriots currently occupy. The numbers can vary slightly from pick to pick and depending on how much of those deals was actually "real" money that the players figure to earn, that is a pretty good gauge of how the slots vary. As I mentioned earlier, several reports project the Patriots to be roughly $4 million under the cap after factoring in paying their draft choices. That's a decent amount of money left over to any additional signings the team would have to make in the event of injuries and any other acquisitions that may be necessary during the season.
Paul Perillo

It's simple really … cap-wise, talent-wise: keep Troy Brown and get rid (finally) of Marquise Hill.
Jim Hartman

Sometimes, even us know-it-alls at PFW have nothing to add.
Paul Perillo

If Bill Belichick retires or leaves the Patriots, who in your opinion is his most likely replacement? Second, if you had your choice of any Coach (even one under contract) pro or college, who would you select to replace him?
Mark L.

Since we're dealing with a strictly hypothetical situation here because as far as I know Belichick isn't planning on going anywhere, I'll attack the second question. My answer would be Jeff Fisher from Tennessee. I've always liked the way his teams play and I believe he is one of the game's better coaches.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots have Chad Jackson, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, Donte' Stallworth, Wes Welker and Kelley Washington under contract, what do you think the chances are of all six of those players making the final roster? Do you think Troy Brown will be in the mix?
Josiah Wing

There may never be a reason to have all six of those guys on the roster at the same time in 2007. Jackson's torn ACL leaves him as a perfect candidate to start the season on PUP, which wouldn't require him to take up a roster spot. The other five all could conceivably be in the mix depending on how well they perform over the coming months. When/if Jackson is ready to play there's a chance one of the others could be banged up and be forced to go on IR. If not, there's also a chance Belichick could have all six on the active roster, which would not be unprecedented during his tenure. As for Troy Brown … I'd love to see him stick around if he wants. There might not be any room for him but if it was my choice I'd find a spot for him.
Paul Perillo

At what point did the Patriots let go of Micheal Bishop? Was he on the 2001 team? If he was I was wondering why BB put Tom Brady in when Drew Bledsoe got hurt. I thought Bishop was second string?
Mihir M.

Bishop was on the team from 1999-2000 before Belichick cut him before the 2001 season. In 2000 he served as the emergency quarterback mostly but did see action in seven games, mostly in either short-yardage situations as a runner or for a Hail Mary pass attempt. When Bledsoe was forced to leave a November game against Buffalo in the first quarter, John Freisz took over while Bishop remained on the bench. By the end of that season, Brady had passed him on the depth chart and actually served as Bledsoe's backup when Freisz was injured.
Paul Perillo

Even though the Pats got WRs in free agency do you think they will look at a wideout considering there is such a deep class this year?
Matt French

I do believe the Patriots will be interested in bringing in another wide receiver in the draft if the right situation presents itself. There's a possibility that Gaffney, Caldwell, Stallworth and Washington all could be gone next year since the first two are entering free agency and the latter pair have option bonuses due before 2008. Belichick might decide to bring in another young guy in the middle rounds to add some depth and provide insurance for the future, especially with this being, as you pointed out, a deep receiver draft.
Paul Perillo

OK, so I've accepted the fact that of all the people I know, I am the only one slightly worried about the running back position. I know Laurence Maroney was a beast in the beginning of the season last year, but what if he tails off again?Andrew Gianola

You can put me squarely in the homer category on this one because I believe Maroney will be very productive as the lead man. His dropoff last year was definitely injured related as he dealt with rib and shoulder injuries down the stretch. Provided he stays healthy, I believe Maroney will be in the neighborhood of 1,300 yards and hit double figures in touchdowns and no one will be worrying about his dropoff last year.
Paul Perillo

I like all the offseason free agency signings but I think the Pats either need to draft another RB or acquire one. Maroney will more than likely get banged up, Sammy Morris is not a starting RB, etc. Do you think the Pats will draft a RB that can contribute or make a move to get one? Not having a 1-2 punch combo in the backfield, not having that downhill bruising back (like Dillon) is going to hurt. Maroney is a home run hitter and although he's the future, he's not an every down back, dances too much and doesn't run well up the middle, which he proved in the postseason.
PJ Dyring

Based on my previous answer, it should come as no surprise that I totally disagree with … pretty much everything you said. No kidding Sammy Morris isn't a starting running back. He's a career backup and he'll backup Maroney in New England. He's more than capable of getting 100 or so carries and giving Maroney a blow every once in a while. Then you say Maroney is the future but he's not an every down back. That makes no sense. If you're right that he's not an every down back, then he can't be the future. I believe he's more than capable of being the lead back and will prove that this season. As I stated above, I felt his lack of production in the playoffs was more related to his health than anything else. I do believe he tends to dance a bit, but overall I love his explosiveness and tough running style. He breaks tackles and also makes people miss. Dillon only broke tackles and was one-dimensional the last two years. He was productive in what they asked him to do last year, but his days as anything more than a complementary piece are over. Morris won't be as good as Dillon was last year but he'll provide enough to give the team the 1-2 punch you're looking for. And I wouldn't rule out Belichick looking for a back in the draft – maybe even a smaller third-down type to potentially replace Kevin Faulk in the next couple of years.
Paul Perillo

The Patriots must resist taking a linebacker with one of the first-round picks and go after a corner and a safety. They can get some linebacker depth later in the draft. Secondary has to be the focus of the early part of the draft. There are too many uncertainties with Rodney, Eugene Wilson, re-signing Samuel to a long-term deal. Get some top-level youth in the secondary while the getting is good.
Mike Duggan

I disagree, although not entirely. I agree that the secondary is a need and should be addressed early. But I also believe linebacker is a need – and just in terms of depth. Based on what many of the draftniks are saying, there isn't a ton of depth at the linebacker position and missing out on a guy like Willis or Beason if available early in the draft would be a mistake. I agree with your points about the secondary but I would make my selection based on the players that are available and not necessarily the position.
Paul Perillo

As things stand now, who on the current Patriots roster would be a UFA in 2008? Also, from that list, who would you guess the team might target to wrap up in a contract before 2008?
Steve Tibbetts

As of now there are several players scheduled to hit free agency after the 2007 season, but only a couple of them are big names. Asante Samuel, assuming he doesn't sign before then, will be a free agent again after playing under the franchise tag. I'd assume the Patriots would like to work something out with him long term before he hits the market next year. Tedy Bruschi is entering the final year of his contract but it's unlikely he'd want to go anywhere if he plans on continuing his career. Eugene Wilson, Reche Caldwell, Chad Scott, Randall Gay, Artrell Hawkins and Larry Izzo are among those who will become free agents after the season, but none of them represents a pressing need to re-sign before the season is over.
Paul Perillo

Who do you think can be the 1,000-plus-yard receiver with over 70 catches for the Pats? I think Washington could do it even though he has had health problems. He's a big, physical threat for the Pats and I think he could become Tom Brady's go-to guy over the years. What do you think?Woori Kwon

In terms of receptions I think Welker could be the guy who racks up the most, but Stallworth would be my choice to leas the way in yardage. Stallworth has always been a big-play threat and in my opinion represents the best chance to top the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Welker is a good candidate to pile up some receptions, although with the way the Patriots generally spread the ball around there's a chance that no one tops the 70-catch mark. But those would be my odds-on favorites to do so.
Paul Perillo

Hey PFW thanks for all the great insight into the PATS. Why is that we are scheduled to play the Colts yet again this season and no other team in our division has to. Have any of the other teams in our division even played them since they left our division? Why does the NFL continue to schedule them to play us every year since they left our division? Isn't it possible that because they play us every year that they have been able to learn certain aspects of our defense and offense that teams that play us only every few years have not – therefore they were able to capitalize these past few years and beat us. Could you explain why we continue to be scheduled to play them every year?
Rick Tibbetts

First of all, the entire AFC East played Indianapolis just last year so there's one part of your theory that goes up in smoke. The reason the Patriots have played Indy every year is because both the Colts and Pats have generally finished in first place in their respective positions, which guarantees a meeting between the teams. The way the schedule works is teams play one other division in the AFC in its entirety plus single games against the teams from the other two divisions that finished the previous season in the same position. So for the Patriots that's meant playing the first-place teams from the AFC divisions the East hasn't been lined up with. Last year, the AFC East was lined up to play the AFC South, so the entire division played the Colts. That was also the case in 2003. In 2004 and 2005 – as well as 2007 – the Pats and Colts will meet because they both finished in first place. Miami played Indy in 2002 and was the only AFC East team to do so. As for the Colts gaining any advantage, why wouldn't the same hold true for Indy? I'm sure the Colts benefited from having more experience playing against the Patriots, just as I'm sure Belichick learned more and more each time he faced Peyton Manning and the Colts. So saying one team gained an advantage from this probably isn't accurate.
Paul Perillo

Everyone knows the draft is horribly unpredictable, but what do you think are the chances the Pats trade one of their first-rounders in a deal similar to what they made with the Ravens back in 2003? This draft class just does not seem all that deep to me.Jarrod Grant

Trading is always a possibility at draft time when it comes to the Patriots. Belichick and Scott Pioli have always been willing partners and the deal you mentioned was a perfect example. I could definitely see a scenario where the Pats trade one of the two first-round picks in order to move down into the second round, where they currently have no picks. From what I've read, it's not that this draft isn't deep; it's more that there aren't as many potential blue-chip prospects as there have been in some other years. But overall there are probably just as many potential players this year as there have been in most others. I like the idea of trading down, where they could probably stockpile a pick for the future and get a player in the second round that's comparable to anyone available late in the first. I'm also not opposed to packaging the two ones in order to move up if there's a specific player they love – I know it's a pipedream but I'm thinking LSU safety LaRon Landry in this scenario. Doubtful, but not likely.
Paul Perillo

I continually hear Jabar's name come up from Paul as the WR that he sees as being the one left out of the mix in the unit. Is this from what Paul sees on the field during games, practice or is it something else? Jabar's career numbers, while definitely not great, are still better than Reche's, Welker's and Kelley Washington's. Jabar was a great WR in college and while I know that doesn't always translate in the pros. Do you feel Jabar, perhaps playing with David "on his back" Carr could be a reason his skill didn't translate with the Texans? Maybe I am wrong but Reche played with Drew Brees and Kelley Washington played with Carson Palmer before they came to New England. Jabar had to play with Carr. When skill and talent break down with each other Jabar could be a step above Welker, Caldwell and Washington.Clint Scoles

I haven't been as down on Gaffney as you claim I've been. I simply refuse to put him in the lock category for making the roster. Gaffney has been let go by two teams and neither was a cost-cutting measure. He had been reasonably productive in Houston when the team was forced to throw the ball constantly while playing from behind and yet still they allowed him to walk. He went to Philadelphia when the Eagles were badly in need of wideouts and they cut him. I think he played reasonably well considering the circumstances he entered in New England last year, but I also saw him drop more than a few balls and fail to stay in bounds on a couple of others. In terms of talent, I believe the others are ahead of him but haven't been able to stay healthy – especially Caldwell, Stallworth and Washington. Even though Carr hasn't won a lot of games, he has completed a lot of passes over the years so claiming that Gaffney is better than he's shown because of bad quarterback play may not be the case. He played with Tom Brady last year and wasn't any more productive than he had been, with the exception of the Jets and Chargers playoff games when he played very well. If that was a glimpse of what he's capable of in the future, then I was wrong and he'll definitely be a big part of the Pats offense in 2007.
Paul Perillo

If a player like Brady or Vrabel is under contract with a team, what are their requirements to the team during the offseason? Do they have to report to the stadium for workouts or meetings every so often? Or are they free to do what ever in the offseason?Jasson Cote

All teams now run pretty extensive offseason training programs but most aspects of them are not mandatory for everyone to attend. The emphasis should be on the word mandatory though. By rule teams cannot make it a requirement for players to train at the stadium during the offseason, but it is strongly suggested and many players choose to do so. There is also a mini-camp that is considered mandatory and players can be fined for missing it. For veterans like Brady and Vrabel, the choice would be up to the individual in terms of regular workouts and lifting, etc. Brady has generally spent his offseasons training in Foxborough. Vrabel has done some work here and some back home in Ohio. Basically, it's up to the individual.
Paul Perillo

Do you believe that championships are won in the trenches? If so, all the mock drafts and experts are wrong about what the Patriots will do with their early picks. The 2006 season ended with Vince Wilfork flat on his back "pancaked" by Jeff Saturday. The rest of the defensive line, like Vince, was sucking wind by the end of the game. On the offensive line, if you look at total yards gained rushing, sacks allowed and passing efficiency, the Patriots O-line, as a unit, would probably get a B or B grade when compared to the rest of the league. Given their lack of depth on the D-line and lack of elite talent on the O-line doesn't it make more sense for the Patriots to focus on their offensive and defensive line needs with their early picks rather than WR, CB, S, and RB?*Chris Noble
I've never really fallen into any of those football clichés when it comes to how to win. I believe there are a lot of ways to win football games and being strong in the trenches is certainly one of them – and I believe the Patriots are very strong in the trenches. You pick out the final play by Wilfork and use this as an example of why the Patriots should focus on the trenches in the draft but you fail to point out the other 18-plus games where strong line play helped the team succeed. There's no question the Patriots defense got worn down in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts. But I don't believe it would be wise to use a first-round pick on a defensive lineman to add depth to an already strong unit while ignoring a potential hole in the secondary or adding youth to the linebacker spot. Seymour, Wilfork and Warren are all under contract for at least a couple of years and figure to remain the backbone of the defense. The secondary and linebacker corps could be without the likes of Bruschi, Harrison, Samuel, Wilson and perhaps others in the near future. For those reasons, I believe the back eight should be the priorities come April.
Paul Perillo

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