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Patriots Unfiltered Q&A: Offseason topics pile up

Fans' questions answered in our weekly mailbag 


I know that running back isn't as big of a need as WR or TE, but in the modern NFL, lots of RB depth is needed since RBs take a lot of pounding and get hurt more than other positions. The Patriots already have Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White on the roster. Rex and Sony both have a history of injuries and White is more of a pass-catching back. I just don't see a short-yardage "power" back as many other teams have. Should the Patriots take someone late in the draft with their many picks or acquire a vet with upside like T.J. Yeldon for depth? Jarrett Ochsner

Just to be clear, the team also has veteran Brandon Bolden on the roster at the moment, but I agree with your overall premise. I'd like them to add a bigger-bodied, short-yardage type of ball carrier to the stable of backs they already have, and someone like Yeldon makes perfect sense to me. He remains on the free agent market, so, I'd be in favor of signing him sometime this spring, as well as drafting a similar young player later this month. Erik Scalavino

Along with the [recently adopted NFL rule] change regarding pass interference, I wonder whether anyone has thought about the possibility of doing something like what is done in the NBA, with the distinction between breakaway fouls and regular fouls on fast break situations. Could the NFL institute a policy where clear breakaway-type situations or pretty much sure-catch situations would result in a spot foul, but less egregious situations would result in a 15-yard penalty? John Peters

It's not a bad idea at all, John. I'd like to see something done to fix what I think is an overly favorable (for the offense) penalty, and this sounds like a potential consideration. No one in the league is advocating for such a change at the moment, however. So, it's unlikely to be taken up anytime soon. Erik Scalavino

If the Cardinals take [QB Kyler] Murray with the first pick [in this year's NFL Draft], would the Patriots be interested in Josh Rosen? Thomas Clarke

I would be, if I were making decisions for the Patriots, but I have no idea what the front office thinks of Arizona's young passer, who started several games for the Cards last season as a rookie. Even if the Cards select Murray, I'm not yet convinced they're prepared to move Rosen. But if they are, I think it would behoove New England to inquire about him. Erik Scalavino

What do you think are the Patriots' most-needed positions right now and for the future? Who are some possible prospects coming up in the Draft that could fill in these positions? Chat Moon

Clearly, the tight end and wide receiver positions are the most bereft of proven talent, with defensive end/pass rusher not far behind. For a thorough examination of who we think are the best players at those positions in the upcoming draft, please listen to the Draft Prospect Review podcasts that are populating these days. Erik Scalavino

Do you think the Patriots should trade for A.J. Green, and what do you think it would take to get him? John Jones

Yes, and I have no idea. As I've written ad nauseam in this column, it is virtually impossible to know what this team is willing to part with and what another team is willing to accept in any trade – did anyone ever expect them to give away Jimmy Garoppolo for only a second-round selection, for example? Short of actually asking the two parties directly (and chances of that ever happening are slim to none), anyone who posits a trade scenario is only engaging in pure speculation. I choose to spend my time more productively.

Would I be interested in the Patriots acquiring Green in a trade, though? Absolutely. Erik Scalavino

If his suspension is lifted, Josh Gordon can return and add so much depth [at wide receiver]. I am hoping that Gordon will finally fulfill his true potential and have a record season similar to his 2013 season. Am I too optimistic? Narasimha Rao

What do you think the outcome of Josh Gordon will be? Kyle Brown

I'm not optimistic. First, the suspended Gordon needs to be reinstated by the NFL, which is hardly a guarantee, considering his lengthy history of transgressions. And even if he is cleared and does suit up again, can the team count on him long-term? Based on his checkered past, you'd have to err on the side of caution and say no.

Gordon's case is a sad one, because in the limited time he spent here last season, he appeared to be a nice young man, but clearly, he has a serious health/addiction problem which he needs to control. That isn't easy, as anyone who's ever dealt with such things can attest.

However, the team is apparently hoping for the best, as it extended to Gordon a restricted free agent tender contract this offseason. If and when Gordon is allowed to play in the NFL again, New England wants him to do so here in Foxborough. If I were you, though, I'd keep my expectations for him (as a player) low, while of course hoping for the best for him. Erik Scalavino

With free agency drying up, receivers are scarce. I know he is coming off a big injury, and I know he is getting old, but what do you think of rolling the dice on Dez Bryant? Shawn Seitz.

Nope. Erik Scalavino

What's the status of Chris Hogan? I note he's not listed on the Patriots roster, and he doesn't show up on one of the free agent lists as still out there or signed with anyone else. Keith Nelson

The veteran wide receiver remains unsigned as of this posting, which is why he's not on the official Patriots roster. Erik Scalavino

What would Danny Etling have to do to make the 53 man roster? This guy entered Purdue during a scheme/coaching change. Seeing a hopeless situation, he transferred to LSU and his stats were as decent as some QBs drafted much higher. He seems determined to get it right, and has had coaching sessions with TBs guru, [Tom] House. What kind of second-year growth would you like to see? David Gonsoriowski

What Etling would need to do to make this year's 53 depends a great deal on what New England does later this month in the NFL Draft. If the Patriots select a quarterback in the upper rounds, he'll have an even tougher uphill climb than he already faces. Assuming the team does not take a quarterback, though, Etling would be one of three QBs on the roster. New England could keep all three, but if recent history is our guide, they'll keep just two, which means the youngster would likely have to play significantly better than veteran Brian Hoyer to keep his job here.

The coaching staff gave him considerable opportunities to grow last season as a rookie, first by keeping him on the practice squad all season, and by allowing him to travel to road games with the team. While Etling looked every bit like a rookie during the full practices we were allowed to watch in training camp, it's possible he could show enough growth this spring/summer to provide a serious challenge to Hoyer. However, until we see him doing so on the field, it's just too soon to say for certain what his chances are – especially if a high-round draft pick enters the picture later this month. Erik Scalavino

Now that Gronk has "retired," do you think a trade for Travis Kelce or Austin Hooper is possible? Assuming, of course, the Chiefs or Falcons would part with them, and what the cost would be. Keith Nelson

No. I don't believe the Chiefs front offices is foolish enough to part with one of K.C.'s best players. It makes absolutely no sense for them to do so. Atlanta could be more of a reasonable trade partner with Hooper, but again, it's anyone's guess what the Falcons might want in return. Erik Scalavino

I noticed the Patriots picked up [Cedrick] Lang, who is listed as an OT. However, his bio indicates he played basketball, then went into football as a TE. Is it possible they will use him more like Dwayne Allen in the run game with occasional catches (can't imagine his hands being worse) or is he too slow? He has good size. Stan Joe

We've never seen Lang on a football field, but his background, which you mentioned, make him one of the more interesting pickups the team has made this offseason. We'll keep an eye out for him when on-field practice sessions begin next month. Check back with us later this year for a more detailed scouting report. Erik Scalavino

I just finished reading an article in which the sportswriter extolled the virtues of Mike Vrabel as the most suitable to become the next head coach in maintaining and extending the dynastic success of the New England Patriots. Mike checks all the tangible and intangible boxes. Being a New England Patriots player for eight seasons and playing for [Bill] Belichick during all that time, he has firsthand knowledge and experience of the "Patriot Way." I wholeheartedly agree. Do you believe the Patriots would go that route, or do you think they would extend the challenge to Josh McDaniels, who excels as OC but has unsuccessful limited experience as head coach elsewhere in the past? Thomas Mitcham

First of all, I have no idea what the ownership of this organization will consider when, at some point, they must decide who will take over for Bill Belichick as head coach of this football team. Thankfully, they don't have to make that choice right now. Even if the position were open, Vrabel is already employed elsewhere and would not be an option. And to be fair, Vrabel himself has, as you put it for McDaniels, "unsuccessful limited experience" in the role with Tennessee.

If the choice had to be made today, I'd feel much more comfortable with McDaniels as this team's head coach than Vrabel. If Vrabel's eight years of experience as a player here is a qualification for him to coach the club, then McDaniels exceeds him by double, as 2019 will mark his 16th overall season as a coach with New England. This isn't to say Vrabel can't or wouldn't make a good head coach here or as he continues with Tennessee. But if I were forced to choose between them right now, I'd go with McDaniels. Let's not forget, Belichick also had "unsuccessful limited experience" as a head coach before he took over the Patriots in 2000. Past performance is not always an indication of future results. Erik Scalavino

As I understand it, only former players and head coaches are eligible for inclusion in the Patriots Hall of Fame, which would exclude Dante Scarnecchia. If allowed, do you believe Dante is worthy of consideration? If so, do you believe that an exception will be made for him or that the rules will be changed? Thank you. Bob Bennett

Let me clear up your misunderstanding, Bob. No, Patriots Hall of Fame induction is not limited to former players and head coaches. Contributors – e.g., ownership, executives, broadcasters – are also eligible, just like at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Two such people, former owner Billy Sullivan and radio voice Gil Santos, are already enshrined here in Foxborough. No exception would need to be made for Scarnecchia, who definitely deserves consideration some day when he retires for good from the game. He could be nominated just like any other former player, coach, or contributor. I'd even argue that Scar warrants a discussion for enshrinement in Canton. That's how good a coach I believe he is and has been for decades in this league. Erik Scalavino

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