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Ask PFW: Will David be given the money?

Everyone seems to be talking about needs in the secondary, the advancing age at linebacker and potential free agent losses at wide receiver. Then there is the almost annual "we need a stud running back" chant. What about the O-line? Granted, Light and Koppen would have made things look a lot better later in the year but Tom Brady is regularly getting pounded. When fully healthy they are a decent pass blocking line and below average run blocking line. I like what I've seen from Mankins so far but the right side is a mess. The Neal experiment needs to go and the rotating right tackle position needs to be solved. Brady makes the line look better than it is by making timely decisions and getting rid of the ball. One day soon, getting off on the cheap on the O-line is going to be very expensive. Your thoughts?Bob Anderson

Well Bob, I'm going to have to disagree with you on Neal. He's one of the most consistent players on the Patriots offensive line and from what I understand the team really likes him. We can't be too hard on the offensive line this season. We talk about all the injuries in the secondary but think about all the injuries the Patriots had on their offensive line. Plus, it's easier to replace defensive backs than it is linemen because the group plays as one unit and constant change makes it difficult for them to work together. Mankins and Kaczur were both rookies and I'm pretty sure the team wasn't expecting Kaczur to start right away when they drafted him. You're right, Brady took a pounding and the running game was non-existent all year long and the line needs to take some of the blame for that but if they re-sign Neal and get Koppen and Light back, I think they will be fine. I wouldn't be surprised if they signed or drafted more linemen but many of the problems they had this year had to do with injuries and a reshuffled lineup every week. I expect the Patriots offensive line to be much improved in 2006.
-Tom Casale

What happened to Kyle Eckel, the former FB from Navy? He showed some skill during the preseason last year and I was kind of disappointed when he was cut in training camp.

Because the Pats lost in the playoffs does this mean that they'll open the season on Sunday afternoon this year, unlike the past couple years when they opened on Thursday night?Nathan Graf

Other than his mother, no one likes Eckel more than I do. I loved him at Navy and I thought he had a really good shot at making the team. He's a powerful runner and a good blocker who really is a Patriots-type of player. Eckel was released by the Patriots on Sept. 4 and signed off waiver by the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins then placed Eckel on their reserve/military list on Sept. 7. Eckel must now complete his military commitment with the Naval Academy and then – as long as they keep him on their roster – the Dolphins will own the rights to Eckel once he's able to play football full-time.

As far as the opener goes, the Patriots won't be playing on Thursday night. They will open the season either on Sunday afternoon or Monday night. Recently, the NFL decided they want the defending Super Bowl champions to kick off the season on Thursday night so that will either be the Steelers or Seahawks. We can only hope it's the Seahawks, huh?
-Tom Casale

Well Mr. Hart, I'm apparently more dedicated to emailing you guys than you are at responding to my emails. Aside from the thing I sent in about the referees, I was really hoping for a response about the Givens thing. Considering the chemistry with Brady, how well they know each other as on-field players and how well Givens fits the system, it seems like a really bad idea to let him go. Having the 1-2 punch is huge. Branch will be double-teamed every game if Givens goes and then we rely on whoever comes in to learn the system, playbook and become comfortable on the field with Brady, and vice versa. That takes a while, I believe. And I still stand by the point that when Brady took less money, he clearly stated that it was to leave money free to keep the championship team together. So it would be nice to see the management (who I have a lot of respect for, regardless of what the tone here is) come through in return for what Brady did for them. I believe that Brady had in mind to sign people like Givens, Vinatieri, Seymour, and other core players. In fact, the money that Brady saved them with his contract could probably sign Givens and Vinatieri right there.Nathan F.

How can we even consider the possibility of signing a big name receiver like T.O. while saying David Givens would be too expensive? The only reasons mentioned against signing TO is his attitude etc. but if they're not signing relatively unknown Givens, they definitely aren't signing the guy who'll be among the most expensive players even if he had a great attitude. But also, I still don't understand how the Pats couldn't re-sign David Givens. They NEED him. Branch, Davis and Johnson would be their top three receivers otherwise and they're all small, speedy, big play receivers. None of them complement each other like Branch and Givens do.Robbie Mitchnick

Dear PFW, you guys are doing a very good job in keeping us up-to-date so keep it up. Now I'm sick of hearing the David Givens will not be re-signed by the Patriots. I mean come on, think about it. He's been one of, if not the, hardest working guys in the last 2-3 years. Now why would the Patriots want to release him is beyond me. My predictions are that he will be given an opportunity to stay with the Pats.Jan Yaakoob

I'm going to tackle these one at a time because we have been swamped with e-mails regarding David Givens. First of all Nathan, I agree that Andy Hart is inconsiderate and smug. If you think it's difficult getting him to respond to your e-mails, you should try working with him. Since he's too good for you, I will be more than happy to take the time to address your inquiry. Now on to Brady. Brady never took less money with the Patriots or gave any money back at all. That's a fallacy. He signed a new deal that extended the length of the contract through 2010 instead of 2006 , which means he got more money up front in signing bonuses. Don't ever think any athlete is giving back money. They are still getting every penny of their contract; it's just received in a different way. So in reality, there is no money left over from Brady reworking his contract to sign other players with. That money is in Brady's bank account, it just got there sooner than it would have the first time around. He never, ever took a penny less than what he was originally owed, which makes him one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL.

Now for Robbie. A couple of things I want to touch on. Although I love Givens, I don't think the team NEEDS him. Sure, he's a solid player who contributes a lot but he's not a Brady or Seymour who can't be replaced. Givens is a No. 2 NFL receiver and there are a lot of those floating around the league so if another team is going to break the bank on Givens, the Patriots probably will let him walk. As far as T.O. goes, he would probably cost less than Givens for one season. I doubt any team is going to give Owens a long-term contract right off the bat. He will have to sign a one-year incentive laden deal and proof himself to his new team so actually; T.O. will probably cost less to sign than Givens in the short term. Just something to think about but if Givens does leave, the Patriots will be active bringing in receivers during free agency and the draft. Don't worry, Bethel Johnson won't be lining up opposite Deion Branch. The Patriots receiving corps will look a lot different in 2006 if Givens leaves.

Jan, you are right, the Patriots will try to re-sign Givens but the problem is some other team may came along and offer him too much money for the Patriots to match. The Patriots decide what a player is worth and very seldom will they overpay a player beyond what they determine their worth is. I agree Givens is a hard working guy but so is Ray Ventrone. Unfortunately, free agency doesn't work that way. Teams can't keep a player just because he works hard. They have to set a price on what they think the player is worth to the team and if that price gets exceed by another team, they have to move on. That's the way the Patriots have always done things in the past and I don't think that strategy will change in regards to Givens. I would love to see him back in a Patriots uniform but my gut tells me that won't happen.
-Tom Casale

Everyone is concerned with the running game and frankly I am too. However, is it possible that the departure of guard Joe Andruzzi played a big part in the running game's poor production? He's a big guy and well respected by the team. But the offensive line seemed to do a good job this year so oh well. What about getting Thomas Jones from the Bears? I like his attitude and I think he would be a great fit with the Pats. Plus he's young and his best years are still ahead of him. What do you guys think?Dan Gregoire

I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Patriots possibly scooping up Priest Holmes in the offseason. Since Larry Johnson has taken his starting job away from him and Priest has made it clear that he wants to be a team's clear-cut starter, it only makes sense that he will be looking elsewhere for next year. If not Priest, what are your thoughts on some other possible prospects (drafting aside).Jeremy Roy

As I stated earlier, I think injuries to the offensive line had a lot to do with their performance this year, along with questionable play at the running back position but you do make a good point about Andruzzi. I do think his leadership and toughness was missed but I see Mankins as a player who could grow into that role and like I said, I believe the offensive line will be much better next season.

I don't see the Patriots going out and getting a veteran back like Jones or Holmes. Dillon will return next year and still be a part of the running game, so I expect the Patriots to bring in a younger back to play behind him. This way if Dillon gets injured or runs the way he did this season, they will have a talented young player to fall back on. Holmes isn't even sure if he'll play next season and Jones is a solid back but not the kind of player you want to give up draft picks for. I really don't think the Bears will trade Jones and if Holmes comes back for one more year, it will most likely be as Larry Johnson's backup. I just don't see teams lining up to sign a 32-year old back with health problems. Unless something major happens – like the Patriots release Dillon – I would expect the team to bring in a young back and groom him to be the starter in 2007.
-Tom Casale

Hi Gents! The Pats are likely to have a significant need at key positions. They need two receivers to replace Givens and Patten. Then the Pats need a safety and CB. They also need to replace Dillon with a No. 1 running back. Finally, the Pats need one OT on the right side. That means that the team needs at least five top-notch players if they want to compete for the Super Bowl next year. With the Pats order in the draft, it's likely they will get only one top-level rookie. So the team would need to find four top-notch free agents. I hate to see these positions filled by many aging bodies. As we saw it last year in the secondary, this approach doesn't work.Josh McNulty

I'm not sure I agree with your thinking Josh. First of all, the Pats are picking higher in the first round of the draft this season than they have the past two years and you make it sound like the draft is only one round long. Nick Kaczur and Ellis Hobbs played important roles for this team in 2005 and they weren't selected in the first round. I expect the Patriots to be aggressive in free agency but don't look for a lot of big-name players. A cornerback there, a receiver here, maybe an offensive linemen and a safety. The Patriots will certainly address their holes this offseason but they won't do it by just going out and throwing money around. They'll do it with a combination of good drafting and free agents they feel are worth bringing onto the team. They have holes to fill but I expect they will be in position to make another run at the Super Bowl next season.
-Tom Casale

Hey guys enjoy the show. Keep up the great job! What is the deal with Bethel Johnson? Also, what happened to him in the last part of the season?Chad Elie

Many times I have read here about the Patriots development of late round draft picks and rookie free agents into quality NFL players. On the current roster Stephen Neal, David Givens and of course Tom Terrific stand out as proof that Belichick and Pioli have an eye for spotting talent and the patience to teach a player to perform to his full potential or higher. My question is who on the current roster that is a still developing player do you think is NOT making the grade. Marquise Hill and Bethel Johnson come to mind to start with.Gary Abrams

I think the clock is running out on both Johnson and Hill, especially Johnson. For being second round draft picks, neither player has performed up to the level the Patriots hoped they would when they drafted them. Hill and Johnson have had plenty of opportunities to impress the coaching staff and make their mark and they haven't done so up to this point. Both players will need strong training camps if they plan on being with the Patriots in 2006. You asked which players weren't making the grade but you answered your own question by naming the two biggest disappointments over the past couple of years.

As far as what happened to Johnson at the end of the year, he was suffering from a pelvis injury. My question would be: where was he the rest of the season?
-Tom Casale

I was wondering: what the chances are Ty Law will wear a Patriots uniform again? I heard somewhere that it was a possibility. Look if you can take the time to answer questions about Terrell Owens, surely you can answer this one.Mark Bonello

To be honest Mark, we answer the Ty Law question at least once a week. We get roughly 15-20 e-mails a week asking about Ty Law so quite frankly, we like to find other things to talk about from time to time. I have no idea what the chances are that Law will return to New England. They didn't want to pay him the first time around and after picking off 10 passes, I'm sure other teams in the league are going to be interested in him. I think Law makes a nice story because he used to play here and all that but if I had to guess, I would say he won't return next year unless the Patriots change their mind and decide he's now worth more money – which I can't see them doing. Remember, both times the Patriots played the Jets this season Law had to leave the game in the second half because of his injured foot. If he wants to play in New England for less money and go after another Super Bowl ring, I would say there is a chance he returns but as we all know, Ty Law does what's best for Ty Law. And as for T.O.? Hey, you never know.
-Tom Casale

I was just thinking if Rodney Harrison was unable to return in time for camp or not at all, for that matter, what do you think the chances of Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law both coming back to finish their playing days as a Patriot would be? Or am I just living in the past? Also should the Pats move up in the draft and grab a stud running back this year?Michael Purdy

I think you are living in the past. Let me ask you a question. What if the Patriots brought in Nate Clements and Corey Chavous? Would that make you happy? It sure as heck would make me happy. My feeling is let's just hope the Patriots fill in their holes this offseason and whether or not they do that with players who used to play here shouldn't have any relevance at all. Hopefully the team will go out and get the best players they can afford, regardless if they used to play here or not. That's the way I look at it.

I'm not sure if the Patriots will trade up or not to get a running back, it all depends on how their draft board is set up. If they believe DeAngelo Williams is the third best player in the draft and he's sitting there at 14, then sure, they might make a move to get him. However, if they don't feel any of the running backs are that special, they will sit at 21 and select the best player available. And that goes for every position – not just running back. If Chad Greenway starts to slide and the Pats think he's the best linebacker in the draft, they might try to work a trade so they can move up and get him but it all has to do with their draft board and how high they have certain players ranked.
-Tom Casale

Dear PFW, I want your opinion on Dillon. When I read that he has a $10 million guaranteed contract with the Pats, I think I understand why he's playing the way he is. I don't understand why Robert Kraft decided to pay Poole, Starks and Dillon millions. All these players are "over-the-hill" and had little gas left in their tanks. They were simply trying to milk the Pats before they retired and they got away with it. It's shocking to me that while the Pats save on Andruzzi, Givens and probably Neal, they squander their savings on players like Poole, Starks, and Dillon. My question is - can Dillon be let go or are the Pats on the hook with him?Ted Beltin

Ted, I think you're way off here. No one was complaining when Poole helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl title in 2003 and when Dillon helped lead them to the championship last year. Dillon had so little gas left in the tank that he ran for over 1,600 yards. Look at this way: the Patriots gave up a second round draft pick for Dillon. If he doesn't run for one more yard as a Patriot, they made out on that deal. I will trade a second round draft pick for a Super Bowl win any day of the week. Besides, these guys didn't beg to become Patriots. Dillon and Starks came here via trade so it was the team that went after them. Two out of the three players you mentioned had a lot to do with the Patriots success over the last couple of seasons, so you can't cry now just because they didn't have the kind of year people were expecting from them. As far as Dillon goes, I think it's doubtful that he gets cut. I imagine he will enter 2006 as the starting running back with a younger player backing him up. The only way he gets released is if there is something going on between him and Belichick. Was I the only one who thought it was weird that during his tirade on the media Dillon managed to mention Belichick's name? Just something to think about.
-Tom Casale

I've read a lot of mock drafts suggesting the Pats take a CB in the draft. Why? They still have Samuel, Hobbs and Gay. Shouldn't the Pats be more concerned with a linebacker or running back?*Matthew *

I can help you with this Matthew: don't pay attention to any mock drafts because no one knows anything. The draft is fun and mock drafts are a part of that. Heck, I'm doing one myself for Patriots.com and I will give my educated guess on which players teams will select but in reality, I don't have a clue who the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will select. For that matter, I don't have a clue to who the Patriots will select. I can use my insight to make an educated guess but it doesn't mean I know anything. I guess what I'm trying to say is that myself and every other "draft expert" in the world doesn't know a darn thing when it comes to mock drafts. We do them because their fun and because people enjoy them but be sure to always take them with a grain of salt because some guy on the Internet running a rinky-dink draft site has no idea who Belichick and Pioli are going to select. Trust me on that one.

As for cornerback, look for the Patriots to address that problem by bringing in a veteran free agent. I wouldn't expect the Patriots to draft a corner in the first round of the draft unless they have a player at that position they really love. Then again - as I stated above - what do I know?
-Tom Casale

A Matt Cassel related question. Do you think he'll be in NFL Europe this offseason? I sure hope so because the game related experience this guy has is next to nothing and it would be interesting to see his potential blossom.Jeremy Hus

Matt Cassel will not be going to NFL Europe. The Patriots have allocated their players to NFL Europe and they are: S Raymond Ventrone, RB Earl Charles, CB Antwain Spann, QB Todd Mortensen, T Jeff Roehl, G Nick Steitz and WR Rich Muslinski. My guess is Belichick wants Cassel to stay around and work in the system this offseason. To be honest, the fact Cassel isn't going to NFL Europe shows the team thinks very highly of him in my opinion.
-Tom Casale

With the drafting of Logan Mankins last year, Coach Belichick shocked the world. Do you feel like he is going to shock the world again? I know the draft is April 29th - maybe a little to early to start talking about it - but I'm dreaming of our fourth Super Bowl ring maybe next year and the draft is a big part of that. Where do you feel like they are going to with the first round draft pick? A running back like LenDale White, a linebacker like Bobby Carpenter or maybe a defensive back like Ashton Youboty. Do you feel if Greg Blue would be around when the Patriots draft in the second round they would draft him? With his big hits he would be great in the Pats jersey. If we lose David Givens what do you think the chances of the Pats drafting Maurice Stovall are? Thanks for your time. Go Pats!!!Big John

I don't really know if the Patriots will shock the world but hopefully they will draft a quality player who can come in and help the team right away. Right now, I have the Patriots selecting Carpenter at 21 because he's a big, smart, athletic linebacker who can play either inside or outside. I don't think White will be there at 21 but if he is, it's going to be hard for the Patriots to pass up on a talented kid like that. Personally, I think White is one of the best five or six players in this draft so getting him at 21 would obviously be a steal in my book.

I'm not high on Youboty. I think he was one of the only weak links in that Ohio State defense. I'll have to watch more film on him but right now he isn't a guy I love. Blue is a big hitter but other parts of his game need to improve. He struggles in coverage and even though he lays the wood, he doesn't wrap up and therefore misses a lot of tackles.

I think Stovall is one of the most underrated players in the draft. He wasn't used right in his first three years at Notre Dame and in just one season under Charlie Weis, he showed he could be a difference maker. Stovall has a knack for going up and outfighting defenders for the football and that's a skill you just can't teach a player. If he's put in the right system – like the one the Patriots run – Stovall could be a star in the NFL. Don't pay attention to his 40-time either. Chris Carter didn't have a great 40-time either but he knew how to use his body and time his jumps so he could use his size to get the ball at its highest point. I think Stovall is a similar kind of player.
-Tom Casale

This is going to seem a little out of left field but I have a theory as to why we didn't win the Super Bowl this year; the decline of Patriots Video News. Everything about PVN was inspiring, from the opening music to the classy "Tell your friends you heard it on PVN." That was a show to brag about. Patriots Today is fine but it lacks that bit of magic. Get the magic back and I'll see you at Super Bowl 41. Trust me.Tom Barneby

I'm going to go ahead and assume this e-mail is a joke. Brian Lowe is a good friend of mine and I think he's a very talented individual but even he doesn't think PVN had anything to do with the Patriots not winning the Super Bowl. I would say Champ Bailey – not Brian Lowe – is the biggest reason the Patriots season came to an abrupt end.
-Tom Casale

Everyone keeps talking about how Corey Dillon "lost" it this year. What did he lose? Was he hurt? I don't care how old a running back is or how many carries he has in a career or if he has been pounded for many years. How does a running back go from 1600 yards and 12 TD's to a season like this last one? Players don't "hit the wall" as you claim overnight. There are gradual signs of decline, not this night/day transformation that took place. As long as Corey wants to play next year, I for one will not bet against him. As long as he's healthy, I look for another 1200 year with 10 TD's. He's not that old. Players like John Riggins (a basher like Dillon) played well into his 30's at a high level. Curtis Martin has done it for years. He is what 30,31 years old? Lets not write off a great one like Dillon without giving him a chance to prove himself. Yes, the Pats need to draft a RB but Dillon is still our starter.Mike Knott

Well, first off you have a couple of your facts wrong. You used John Riggins as an example. He and Marion Motley are the only two big, power backs that racked up a lot of yards after the age of thirty. They are the exception, not the rule. Now you may not care how many carries Dillon has gotten over the years or how much punishment he's taken but I'm guessing he does. Curtis Martin is a totally different runner than Dillon is. He's more like Emmitt Smith. He's not a power back like Dillon is so that isn't an accurate comparison. Throughout history, look at what running backs did after the age of 30. Other than a handful of great backs, very few have put up big numbers after seven or eight years in the NFL. That's just the nature of the position.

Now you said running backs just don't "hit the wall." Not true. Let's take Eddie George for example. In 2000, George ran for 1,509 yards. The next season his production dropped to 939 yards. He never topped 1,200 yards again in his career. Is that not overnight? First people blamed George's toe injury, then his offensive line but in the end it was him. Now, George is still in tremendous shape and has the heart to play the game, he just doesn't have it anymore. There's nothing wrong with that. He was a great player but a person's body can only take so much punishment. George did score 12 touchdowns in 2002 but that shows what a useless stat that is. Any running back can run the majority of their touchdowns from one-yard away like Dillon did this season. Heck, Zack Crockett and Moe Williams do it all the time.

You said he was injured. Okay, let's take a look at that. Emmitt Smith once said when a running back gets older the biggest problem they have is getting through the small holes they used to get through. He stated that most holes in the NFL aren't big enough to drive a truck through. They are small openings and that slight loss of quickness and explosion is the difference between getting through the open space before it closes up and getting hit in the backfield. If you look at the Buffalo game when Dillon had holes big enough that you and I could run through, did he look hurt to you? Plus, don't we all think Bill Belichick is a good coach? If Dillon were hurting, why would Belichick run him 26 times in a meaningless game late in the year against the Jets instead of resting him? We'll see how this plays out next year but my money says the days of Dillon being a premier running back in the NFL are over. If you think Dillon was injured, just tell me why the best coach in the NFL is running him 26 times in a meaningless game. I'm sorry, Belichick just isn't that stupid.
-Tom Casale

The Senior Bowl synopsis that Casale wrote -- awesome. Just great stuff. More stuff like that please. I'm a draft geek, I can't help it. Keep up the good work.Mike Mammay

Thanks for the comments Mike, I'm glad you enjoyed it. As I stated on here before, expect Patriots.com to become draft central over the next couple of months. If you love the draft and you love the Patriots, this is the place you'll want to be. Andy Hart and myself are heading down to the NFL Combine later this month and we'll be providing you with a lot of information from Indianapolis. It's draft time baby and in my world, there's no better time of year.

-Tom Casale

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