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Ask PFW: Wells Report fallout

Fans' questions answered in this week's PFW mailbag.

[wysifield-embeddedaudio|eid="327331"|type="embeddedaudio"|view_mode="full"]Hey guys, I always enjoy coming to and seeing all your posts about my favorite team. Your draft coverage kept me clued in throughout so I didn't have to deal with listening to Mike Mayock make vaguely descriptive comments about all the players. But obviously the ruling handed down by the NFL and [NFL Executive VP] Troy Vincent was much harsher than most thought it would be. Four games seems steep, but with a successful appeal it could be two. My question for you guys, however, is what has your opinion been all along? Forgive me if you've covered this before, but I'd like to know what you guys think. I realize most of us are biased towards the greatest team ever, and easily the best person to hold a football in Tom Brady, but where do you guys fall on all this? Keep up the great work and I look forward to all the mini-camp and training camp coverage you guys will bring us! Jason S.

Jason, if you want to hear the most logical, impartial, yet passionate debate about this particular subject, I suggest you tune in to "PFW in Progress" from Noon to 2 p.m. Eastern today on You'll hear me, Fred Kirsch, Paul Perillo, and Andy Hart give our unvarnished opinions on this whole saga. If you can't listen live, download the podcast at your convenience. I promise you it will be well worth your time. Erik Scalavino

Big fan from out here in California! Do you think [Jimmy] Garoppolo is ready to lead this team to success? And if he does indeed win the games that Brady is suspended for, would [head coach Bill] Belichick consider trading Brady or slowly put him back in the game while Garoppolo starts the games?  Thank you for answering my question.

Jorge Ornelas*

It's difficult to say how "ready" Garoppolo is to lead this offense.  We haven't seen him take any significant snaps since the regular season finale against Buffalo last season, and that was essentially a glorified preseason game. The Patriots sat most of their key players that day, so, it's unfair to judge the young signal caller based on his performance in that game. It will be one of the major stories of this summer, though, to see how big a leap Garoppolo has made since last year, when he was the team's second-round draft choice and played increasingly well with each passing week in the 2014 preseason.

Whether Garoppolo can make a significant "year-two" jump remains to be seen. If he can, that certainly will give the Patriots some measure of comfort during Brady's expected absence. At this point, I can't imagine the Patriots offering their franchise QB – the man who's led them to their only Super Bowl titles – on the trading market. But as we've seen with this team and this coach, anything is possible. Even the unthinkable. Erik Scalavino

If a player is suspended by the league and he does not get paid, does that money impact the salary cap for the team?

Michael H Blokland*

Excellent question, Michael. The simple answer is yes, there is an impact. The games for which a player is suspended without pay do not count against his team's salary cap. Only those games for which he is active count toward the cap calcuation. For example, at the moment, RB LeGarrette Blount and his contract count fully against New England's salary cap. However, Blount is scheduled to serve a one-game league-imposed suspension (Week 1 this year) for a previous violation when he was briefly with Pittsburgh last season. Assuming he remains with the Patriots for the remainder of this season, 16/17ths of Blount's contract will count toward New England's cap (players are paid on a weekly basis during the NFL regular season).* Erik Scalavino*

Just a question, could [safety Devin] McCourty go back to corner this year? We have [Patrick] Chung and [Duron] Harmon, drafted [Jordan] Richards at a reach. McCourty was drafted and started as a corner to my memory.

Damon Morris*

Yes, McCourty was originally a cornerback, and a very good one in his rookie year. He not only made the Pro Bowl, but actually started the all-star contest. However, his performance gradually declined over the next few seasons, forcing the Patriots coaching staff to move him to safety, where he seems to be better suited. Certainly, McCourty could play any position in the defensive backfield, but moving him back to corner would deplete the safety position. While Chung had a decent return in 2014, I'm not at all comfortable with him and Harmon as the starters back there. But again, anything is possible with this team. With Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, and Alfonzo Dennard all having been let go this offseason, the secondary will be one of the most intriguing areas to watch this summer during training camp and the preseason. It's anyone's guess how the starting roles will play themselves out back there. Erik Scalavino

Hey if we assume that Jordan Richards is smart enough to learn the defense pretty quick and can be a play caller in the backfield, then how would you compare his physical abilities to Rodney Harrison? Is he that much slower than Rodney?  Also is he too small to fill in for Brandon Spikes Role?

Buz D.*

I'll reserve final judgment on Richards' skills until I actually see him in uniform and on a Patriots practice field. However, comparing him to Rodney Harrison – a sure-fire Patriots Hall of Famer and possible Canton inductee – is just unfair to both parties. And let's be clear, Richards is a safety when he plays on defense. Period. He's nowhere near big enough to take on a linebacker role in any defensive formation. Erik Scalavino

I have been to New Orleans a couple of times and had a great time there. The next time I go there, I want to see the Patriots. Can you tell what year they play there again? Thank you.

Gerry L.*

You're in luck, Gerry. New England travels to New Orleans late this summer for a preseason tilt with the Saints. That game is at the Superdome on Saturday, August 22 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Hope you can grab yourself some seats… and as they say, "laissez les bon temps rouler!" Erik Scalavino

Why doesn't Belichick use [Brandon] LaFell as a H-Back/Tight End? As a receiver, he is just okay, but he has the tools to be an excellent replacement of Hernandez.

Gregorio Pampaloni*

As receiver, he is more than "okay." He was one of Brady's most reliable targets last season – one to whom he often threw to start drives and who got better as the year went on. He was one of the rare free agent pickups to earn the QB's confidence, and despite a slow start and a nagging foot injury late in the season, was one of the team's leading receivers. He's also a solid downfield blocker, but nothing I've seen from him makes me believe he is well suited for the H-back role. I like where he is at outside receiver, and the coaching staff apparently agrees. Erik Scalavino

I have a question about a newly passed rule. The Julian Edelman rule. If I remember correctly, there's now a rule that if someone looks like they've taken a hit to the head and haven't been taken off the field for a concussion evaluation, that players get to report it to the refs or something? I'm not sure of the specifics of this….but how will they be able to enforce this rule without it being abused? Can't a team just say, for example, that Gronk looks like he needs a concussion evaluation just because they want to get him off the field for a play or a series? Do you have any info on the checks and balances of this rule, because it sure sounds like a recipe for worse disaster than players who fake injuries to stop the no huddle.

Nathan F.*

Not exactly, Nathan. Yes, there's a new protocol going into effect this season, inspired largely by Edelman's hit to the head in the Super Bowl. The league is now having an extra set of eyes, if you will, at every game to determine if a player who's exhibiting concussion-like symptoms is still on the playing field. This person is an independent certified athletic trainer (what's known in NFL parlance as an ATC spotter) who will act as a fail-safe in case the team coaches, officials, and medical staffs on the field somehow don't notice and a player stays on the field in such situations. Players or coaches or anyone else on the field (other than the refs) will be allowed to stop the game.

At the league's annual meeting in Phoenix this past March, the Competition Committee explained that this is being instituted merely as a backup plan. The ATC spotters will be in a booth above the field and will only stop the proceedings if, like in the Super Bowl, there's a player stumbling around after a big hit and isn't being taken off the field for evaluation. Most of the time, players are treated immediately, but Edelman's case was a rarity. Still, the league wants to err on the side of caution, however the committee said it didn't "expect this to be a rule that gets used a lot." Erik Scalavino

What is the activities schedule before training camp?

Dave Betts*

The Patriots have 10 organized team activity practices (OTAs) scheduled for the end of May and early June, followed by a three-day mandatory mini-camp in mid-June. Full contact hitting is not allowed at any of those practices. Players don helmets but no other pads for OTAs and mini-camp. Following those 13 sessions, there is a layoff of about six weeks before training camp opens at the end of July. Erik Scalavino


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