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Patriots Replay Tue Oct 22 | 12:00 AM - 09:00 AM

Unfiltered Q&A: Patriots team-building questions continue 

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I have a question on the salary cap. After the cap is set for the new [NFL] year, how long do teams have to get under it, and if a team does a deal that puts them over the cap, how long do they have to get back under it? Len Carmody

All teams must be in compliance with the current season’s salary cap (in other words, below it) once the new NFL year begins. The 2019 league year began at 4 p.m. last Wednesday, March 13. So, all teams had to be below this year’s cap of $188,200,000 by that time. If teams reach agreements on deals with free agents which put them over that number, they would have to create room underneath the cap before completing those deals to remain below the cap. Erik Scalavino

I always enjoy reading this page but have never written in before so here goes: it seems to me that the Patriots draft well at every position except WR. In the past 20-plus years, NE has nailed it with Troy Brown, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman while missing on Chad Jackson, Aaron Dobson, Taylor Price and all others taken lower in the draft. Meanwhile Pittsburgh drafts a stud receiver seemingly almost every year. It almost seems as the philosophy is to not draft receivers and pick up crumbs left behind by other teams. What do you guys think? Is this a blind spot for Coach B? Chris Watson

WR is obviously a weak position for the Patriots, however, do you think this is by [Bill] Belichick’s design? I love seeing the quick release short routes to the slot WR, RB, or TEs. This gets the ball out of Brady’s hands fast which reduces hits and helps keep him healthy. The deep threat WR has also become one of the most expensive positions. Jason Belliveau

Since these questions appeared in our inbox, the Patriots have inked deals with a handful of free agent receivers, bolstering the depth chart at this position. Whether any of these signings proves impactful remains to be seen, of course, but by no means does the head coach of this team purposely make this or any other position weak. That’s just a laughable suggestion.

As far as drafting, it’s far from the first time New England has struggled to secure talent at a particular position through the draft. For years under Belichick, the Patriots struggled to draft quality linebackers, until they hit on Jerod Mayo and later Dont’a Hightower. Tight end was another woeful position from a draft perspective, but then New England struck gold with Rob Gronkowski.

Drafting isn’t as easy as it may look from the outside, but chances are, sooner or later, this team will select a young wide receiver in the top rounds who winds up being fulfilling his potential. Maybe this is the year! Erik Scalavino

The need at wide receiver would certainly dissipate a lot if Josh Gordon could return. Exactly how would this happen? Does Roger [Goodell] have to pardon him? Does anybody else have a say in it? Not sure the league office would be very eager to make a move that would be of huge help to the Patriots. BTW you guys all do a fantastic job. I’ve been a fan of the team since the 60’s. Long since moved to the West Coast, but your coverage is first-class and keeps me updated. Thanks. Peter Music

You’re quite welcome, Peter. As has been reported previously by other media outlets, Gordon and his representatives cannot officially begin seeking reinstatement to the NFL until sometime in the month of May. It’s unclear how long the process could take, or if it will end successfully for the player. However, by offering Gordon an original draft round tender contract this month, the Patriots appear to have interest in keeping Gordon if and when he is allowed to play again in the league. The decision will ultimately be made by the NFL Commissioner’s office once the reinstatement process runs its course. Erik Scalavino

There are several spots on the roster where the Patriots need depth or even possible starters, but none as glaring as our WR or TE positions, I feel. Who would the top two WR and TE targets be for the Patriots (realistically based on draft position) and why? Daniel Casey

We’re currently in the midst of our 2019 pre-draft preparation, and later this spring, we’ll make our annual Draft Prospect Review podcasts available. At that point, when we’re closer to the draft itself, we’ll have a better idea of how to answer this question. Be on the lookout for those items beginning in April.

However, an early call on the tight end spot? Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson. Erik Scalavino

Thank you, as always, for the amazing job you do keeping us fans informed about all things Patriots. Are you as extremely disappointed as I am about [their] lack of impact acquisitions [so far]? The weapons on offense are very below average and there is no way the Patriots can go into next season without an upgrade somewhere on the receiving corps. They can create cap room a number of ways (Tom Brady, Devin McCourty extensions, restructuring contracts to pass the financial burden to next year when they will have plenty of room). Do you think maybe a trade is likely for someone with only a year remaining on their contract? The draft scares me because Belichick has a bad record drafting receivers minus a couple exceptions. They need to surround TB12 with as much talent as possible for his remaining years because on paper, at least, almost everyone in the AFC has significantly upgraded their rosters. In TOM I trust, not BILL! Michael Pizzoli

Like you, Michael, I used to bemoan this time of year, when it seems New England is content to watch the proverbial free agent parade go by. However, please consider that in March and April, we (collectively) almost always find ourselves saying what you expressed above – the Patriots aren’t doing anything, everyone else is, the sky is falling! – and yet this team inevitably winds up, at worst, in the AFC Championship Game and/or the Super Bowl. I’m not suggesting we should take such success for granted, but until that postseason trend comes to a halt, let’s not get too overexcited about what does or doesn’t happen at this point on the NFL calendar. As most other teams in the league can attest, excitement in March and April doesn’t guarantee the same feeling the following February. Erik Scalavino

The Patriots clearly have a solidified running back room, and their offensive line seems solid, with the possible exception of [Isaiah] Wynn, who is a relative unknown. Reports seems to point to [tight end Rob] Gronkowski coming back, and there is even speculation that Martellus Bennett could come back to play with his brother [Michael, a defensive lineman for whom the Patriots recently traded]. If both Gronk and Bennett come back, would it be better to draft heavy on receiver talent or grab a talented TE to replace Gronk in a year or two? And is there anything else that would indicate Gronk or Bennett’s return at this point? Daniel Casey

The answer to your first question is… yes. New England needs quality pass catchers, both at wide receiver and tight end. In my estimation, those are two of the top three positions of need overall for the Patriots this offseason (defensive line would be the other). The Super Bowl champs have already started stockpiling receivers and at least one tight end in free agency, and I’d like to see that trend continue next month in the draft, regardless of how the Gronkowski/Bennett situation unfolds. Erik Scalavino

Do any of our young defensive ends take a quantum leap in production next year? John Matthews

Whether they do or not is impossible to say with any certainty at this stage, but I certainly share your implied desire that they do. Of the candidates – Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris – I’m most intrigued by Rivers. A knee injury wiped out his rookie season in training camp two years ago, and last year, though he was on the 53-man roster, he essentially red-shirted by being inactive on most game days.

He might have the most natural talent in this group, and if he’s fully recovered from that knee injury, he’ll have every opportunity to contribute this coming season. I’m also encouraged by the fact that head coach Bill Belichick spoke so glowingly of him whenever his name came up last year.

Of course, with Trey Flowers now out of the picture and other changes along the d-line, there are potential opportunities for more than just Rivers. It’s up to these other young ends to take advantage of whatever reps their given this spring and summer. Erik Scalavino

Do you think the league should tweak the compensatory draft pick compensation formula so that it represents an actual pick instead of just a round? For example, the compensation for Trey Flowers might be the 90th pick in next year’s draft and Trent Brown might be the 99th pick. I realize this might be a complicated formula, but I assume the one in place already is, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to refine it. A. Bugman

No, I don’t think the formula needs to be changed. What I’d prefer is for the NFL to do away with compensatory picks altogether. I’ve never liked the idea of them, but I understand that this is a change that’s unlikely to be made. The best thing the league ever did was allow those extraneous picks to be tradable, whereas in the past, teams couldn’t part with them. Erik Scalavino

This off season seems different from the past as it relates to Bill Belichick. Free agency begins and we see pictures of him on vacation. Obviously, he can conduct business without being at Gillette, but it just seems to go against past practice. Most noticeable to me is that, to my knowledge, he hasn’t attended any pro days. I thought he would attend both Michigan’s and Clemson’s pro days. As I recall, last year he was very visible at pro days and was often seen helping to conduct some drills. Tomorrow is Alabama’s pro day. If he’s not there, I’m going to really start to worry. Do you think these are signs that he is starting to wind down his coaching career? Thank you. Gary Madera, East Hanover, NJ

Nope, nothing’s changed. Despite his famous post-Super Bowl chant of “No days off!” a few years back, Belichick takes time off every year after the season ends, as is his right and as he should to recharge mentally and physically. I’m sure you’ll also start hearing of and seeing his presence at college pro days very soon (probably this week, I’d venture to guess). So, don’t fret about Belichick… but I am concerned that you might be in need of a vacation, Gary! Erik Scalavino

The Patriots have lost a number of players and coaches this off season. Which so you think is more difficult to replace? Morris Hickok

Fantastic question, Morris. One of the best we’ve gotten this year. And it’s difficult to answer because, at least during the Belichick era, we haven’t seen this much turnover on his coaching staff. We know that it is certainly possible to replace players and continue to have success on the field. The Patriots do it year after year. It will be interesting, though, to see how they manage with nearly half of the assistant coaching positions being filled by new faces (or at least unproven ones) in 2019. Erik Scalavino

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