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Ask PFW: Suspensions, RBs and more

This week's mailbag features a variety of topics as the Patriots set to kick off their OTAs in Foxborough.

Has Jacoby Brissett signed his contract yet?

Eileen Lento*

As of today he is the lone Patriots rookie who remains unsigned. He is handling his own contract negotiations (reportedly with the help of former safety Abram Elam and NFL Players Association director of salary cap and agent administration Mark Levin) but there is no reason to believe there will be any protracted holdout or anything that would prevent Brissett from being with his teammates this spring and summer. The rookie deals are now slotted based on the most recent CBA so there is generally very little maneuvering that can be done. However, the first two rounds have a maximum of 25 percent allocation of the rookie salary cap while the third round does not have any limit. Therefore, sometimes these negotiations can be tougher as the rookies for a little extra. It's worth noting that the players chosen at 90 and 92 overall, the two picks around Brissett at 91, have both signed.
Paul Perillo

If No. 12 is suspended and cannot practice with the team, then can team members (receivers) practice their routes with Tom on their own time away from team facilities?

Rich Carter*

They certainly could but they would need to be spending their time practicing with Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of their teammates as they try to get up to speed with the game plan each of the first four weeks. Spending any significant time working out with Brady would seem to be counterproductive for the receivers, who would benefit more from working with the guy who is going to be throwing them the ball that particular week. Also, Brady will be with the team throughout training camp and the preseason so it's not like he won't get plenty of opportunities to work with the receivers before he would have to serve his suspension if it comes to that.
Paul Perillo

I want to revisit the topic that's been beat like a dead horse - the Patriots running back depth chart. I'm not going to get into how stupid I think it was to draft a third quarterback and a fourth defensive tackle instead of a possible bell cow like Davontae Booker, Jordan Howard or Kenneth Dixon because it just makes me mad. We need to stay positive so this is what we should do: make a trade with Kansas City for Knile Davis. Here's why: Belichick & Andy Reid have a trading history, Davis wants out, KC needs a guard, which we have plenty of, and we need a big back which KC has plenty of. And bonus he's a great kick returner. It makes way too much sense! I'd have no problem at all giving up say Tre Jackson for Davis straight up. Throw in a seventh-rounder to sweeten the pot. Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney should be our starters and we'd still have Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper, Ted Karras, Chris Barker and even David Andrews to fight for the backup spots.

Chris C.*

I was as surprised as anybody when the Patriots didn't draft a running back. And I was even trying to make a trade for a Kansas City running back, although it was Jamaal Charles and not Davis. I'm not really a huge Davis fan. He's always been a backup and has never really been impressive when doing so. On the up side it probably wouldn't cost much – I certainly wouldn't deal Jackson for him – to acquire him. I think the Patriots will likely sit and wait for some of the teams with crowded backfields (KC is certainly one of them) to make a move. Dallas (Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris) and Tennessee (DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry, Bishop Sankey, David Cobb) are two teams with a glut of backs and at least one should become available. I don't know if the Patriots will like any of them but I do believe there will be another addition to the group before the start of the season.
Paul Perillo

I have a question about Jimmy Garoppolo being the team's starter for four weeks. What I saw from JG, when he feels the pressure from the pass rushers he tends to run from it. Also, he has been often asked to emulate the scrambling QBs in practices. So he is now probably even more of a scrambler than ever. But is it really for him? He buys a couple of seconds running sideways, but he is not fast enough to elude the speedy defenders, and these two seconds are consumed by scrambling versus looking for targets. Moreover, the Patriots offensive line is trained to block for a pocket-passing Tom Brady. When Garoppolo scrambles far out of pocket, he is on his own and he usually throws the ball away. So why not ask him to emulate Brady and to stay in the pocket, side-step the pressure if needed and spend his time looking for targets vs. escapes? If this makes sense, is it up to coaches to tell him to do that or his instincts will take over regardless and he will run for his life?

Jerry K.*

Based on very little opportunity to watch him play in the regular season – basically just the 2014 finale against Buffalo with mostly backups – I would agree with your assessment of Garoppolo's penchant for scrambling. However, I don't view it as anything near the negative as you do. Garoppolo is elusive in the pocket and he's shown the ability to avoid pressure both in the preseason and in his limited regular-season action. This will definitely lead him into trouble at some point, as you said, and he will need to learn how to deal with the pressure more effectively down the road. The coaches can work on this with him but really it's all about experience. Garoppolo will need to learn what he can and can't do, and he'll need to keep his eyes downfield when under pressure. This is not an easy task and it separates many of the great quarterbacks from the good ones. It's a fine line for young quarterbacks to learn when and how to scramble because they're so used to making plays. Experience is the only way for young players to learn such nuances.
Paul Perillo

What will have to change to defend against a Denver-like pass rusher on any team that New England faces (Von Miller-like)?

Martin Jackson*

There is no secret formula for offensive lines to improve in pass protection. The Patriots simply must do a better job than they did last year, especially in the AFC title game in Denver. Bringing back Dante Scarnecchia is a huge step in the right direction in that regard. He will have the unit as prepared as possible so the occasional communication breakdowns won't be as common this year. The question is can he improve the overall talent level enough to eliminate the problems in protection that occurred too often a year ago? That will be the only way for the Patriots to be able to better handle the onslaught they faced in Denver with the likes of Von Miller last year.
Paul Perillo

I feel like typically the writers for New England get mad at these types of questions but I'm wondering, with the possibility of us having a few really difficult games without Tom Brady, shouldn't we at the very least just entertain the idea of Greg Hardy?

Robert Miles*

I'm not sure it's anger but there's no way I'd sign Greg Hardy at any price. I don't think teams need to necessarily be filled with all high-character guys but I do feel like all teams should be able to do without guys who are abusive to women. But the biggest problem I have with this reasoning is, why do we need Hardy in the first place? Whether Brady is on the field or not is irrelevant. If there's a need for additional pass rushers then Brady's presence should affect that. Hardy would add some depth to the edge but I don't think he's a difference-making player and his baggage would prevent me from making a move. No thanks … but no anger either, Robert.
Paul Perillo

I love Kevin Faulk and he is very deserving of the Hall of Fame. But how is Bill Parcells not in there yet? He is a GREAT COACH! He got this whole region into football.  Robert Kraft was brand new at the time, the initial turn around was all Bill Parcells. I didn't even watch the NFL until Bill came to this team and drafted Drew Bledsoe and created the excitement. I know he was considered a few years ago, but after Faulk he needs to be the main next one considered. He laid the groundwork for Bill Belichick's future success. Without Bill Parcells, there is NO DYNASTY.  Bill is getting older now, would love to see him come back to the organization and be in the Patriots Hall of Fame.  He DESERVES it. Would be a great story even for any fans that are bitter for how he left. Bill referred to himself once as Darth Vader. Well there is no better story told than that one and how great will it be to see Bill return to the "Good" side. Please consider it before the man is dead and can't enjoy his glorious deserving day.

Paul Graham*

Swansea, Mass.*

I agree with you that Parcells should be in the Patriots Hall of Fame but there are many fans who disagree with us. The process calls for the committee (full disclosure: I am a member of the nomination committee) to nominate three candidates and from there it's up to the fans to vote. Parcells has been a finalist on multiple occasions and has yet to earn the necessary votes from the fans. Part of that is no doubt due to the controversial manner in which he left, but regardless of the reason he hasn't been able to get the votes. There are many deserving candidates but it's up to the fans to decide.
Paul Perillo

This week I wanted to ask about the playing surface at Gillette Stadium and whether or not the Krafts had thought about returning to a natural grass surface. Do you know if the original switch to the artificial turf was based on quality of play or the costs of maintenance or some other motivation, because I believe that football (and soccer) should never be played on synthetic material. I feel it contributes to player injuries, but also the spirit and aesthetic of the game. I wonder how the players feel about it. Compliments to Green Bay, Chicago and Cleveland for preserving the tradition of the gridiron!

Ron Izzi*

The Patriots made the switch from natural grass to FieldTurf in 2006 because the poor condition of the field was affecting the players during games. While no synthetic surface is perfect, the current field is in much better condition than the grass that was last in place. Players constantly complained about the state of the field, comparing it to running on a beach. Players also blamed the poor conditions for some of their injuries from time to time. Of course the same could definitely be said of the FieldTurf leading to some injuries as well. Obviously having natural grass is the ideal situation but in the Northeast it's very difficult to maintain it. Pittsburgh is an example where the field conditions are terrible every year. The surface at Gillette Stadium has been much better since the transition.
Paul Perillo

If Jimmy Garoppolo were to get re-signed to backup Brady through 2019 (end of Brady's contract) what would the price be to re-sign a backup QB like him? And could we potentially get a starting QB in Jimmy G for backup money for a few years after Brady retires? Or do you see BB drafting more QBs and trading Jimmy like he did with Matt Cassel?

Ashton Stelljes*

That question is almost impossible to answer at this stage. First, as long as Brady remains at the top of his game I don't see why Garoppolo would re-sign to stay as his backup after the 2017 season when his current deal would expire. There really wouldn't be enough money to make up for the fact that he wouldn't be getting a chance to play. And without playing, it's impossible to assess his contract value on the open market should he become a free agent. I'm sure there would be a team willing to offer him a deal to compete to be the starter, but exactly what that would be worth is tough to say. If he gets to play the first four games in place of Brady this season and performs well, then I could see him getting something like Brock Osweiler did from Houston. If he never gets a chance to play in the regular season and hits the market, then I don't see him nearly that much. But either way if Brady is still the starter I don't see Garoppolo re-signing to stay here and sit.
Paul Perillo

Which starter from last year is most in danger of losing their roster spot?

Matt St. Jean*

I'm not sure any of the real 2015 starters are in danger of losing roster spots, but in terms of players who actually started games I have a few possibilities. Josh Kline started 13 games, mostly due to injuries to interior linemen such as Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Bryan Stork. The Patriots have added guards Joe Thuney, Ted Karras and Jonathan Cooper and it's possible that he could be on the outside looking in come September. Marcus Cannon started eight games, but since the Patriots really didn't add much to the tackle depth he could stick around. Aaron Dobson started three games and could definitely get cut, and Jonathan Freeny started seven games and could be in a battle with rookies Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts for a spot. Michael Williams also started nine games a year ago, and with Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor added to the tight end mix he could be in trouble as well.
Paul Perillo

Is it my imagination or have the Patriots started using two linebackers in the nickel? I hate it when you are watching the game and you can't even tell who is on the field while some idiot like Dan Fouts drones on and on about something he has picked up on (to let you realize how smart he is), sometimes carrying on well into the next down.

Ralph Colucci*

The Patriots have used a base defense that includes just two linebackers frequently over the past two seasons. Sometimes a third is added, whether that's been Jerod Mayo, Jonathan Freeny or Akeem Ayers back in 2014, but often Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are the only linebackers on the field. Many teams use just two in the nickel as they rush four and use five defensive backs, but the Patriots are a bit different in using such personnel groupings on early downs as well.
Paul Perillo

Hey guys. Like what you do from France. Even if I like the fight and refuse the idea Brady or even Patriots should give up against the league and left behind Deflategate now, I am not really convinced Brady should really continue. I am afraid of the distraction and uncertainty it will bring for months to come. Who will start, when will it finish? This saga looks to never finish. Is it really for the best of team or just big egos?

Ludovic B.*

Versailles, France*

I tend to agree with you that it might be in the team's best interest to give it up at this point and just focus all of its energy on the upcoming season. But that's easy for you and I to say because no one is accusing us of doing things we believe we didn't do. I can understand the Patriots and Brady's reasoning for wanting to fight this out till the end. Personally I wouldn't have but it's not about egos as much as it is right and wrong and Brady's desire to play the games. Hopefully at some point soon this will be resolved but I can certainly understand your frustration with the entire affair.
Paul Perillo

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