Touching on New England Patriots hot topics in the form of a mailbag:
Rivers' fit in this defense intrigues me. Would you say that he projects to backup Hightower's role? Or does he project to the old Ninkovich role? Didn't Eric Lee assume that role late last year?
— Matthew T. Murphy (@MTM558) March 17, 2018
Matthew, one of the trickle-down effects of the Patriots' signing of free-agent defensive end Adrian Clayborn on Friday was the reaction on Twitter when I listed the DE depth chart and 2017 top draft pick Derek Rivers (third round, No. 83 overall) wasn't on it. I had included Rivers instead with the linebacker group of Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Harvey Langi as players who aren't traditional 4-3 defensive ends (Rivers is closer to 245 pounds), but all of whom could play at the end of the line of scrimmage depending on the scheme. The main thing I'd say about Rivers is that one of the best things he had going for him coming out of Youngstown State was his pass-rush skills, so if he's in a three-point stance, it would be as a substitute rusher.
@MikeReiss Hey Mike, any thoughts as to why the Pats signed Jeremy Hill after resigning Burkehead and having White? Last year they had essentially 4 man backfield and Gillislee seemed like odd man out. Seems like they could use that money in other areas?
— Sam Pirozzi (@SamPirozzi1) March 17, 2018
Sam, I haven't seen the financial details on Jeremy Hill's deal, but the Boston Globe reported it as a one-year pact and my expectation is that it would be at a modest figure. With the 90-man roster limit, this is the time to try to build quality depth while maintaining a solid standing with the salary cap. With that in mind, I don't think it would be wise for any team to turn down a talented player with some desirable traits at any position when there is a 90-player limit. That's why projecting how the running-back position shakes out with spots on the 53-man roster now isn't really the team's primary mindset at this time, because that can change in an instant with an injury. The concept is to add quality players in the team-building process -- Hill was the 55th overall player picked in 2014 and has good size for position -- and see how it all shakes out in the end.
@MikeReiss if the Pat's lose Dion Lewis what's the likelihood of going after someone like Sony Michel?
— Mathew Cooper (@MathewC46651540) March 13, 2018
Mathew, the Patriots haven't drafted a running back since 2014, and it makes sense to think that streak will be broken this year. Georgia's Sony Michel would be a solid pick, but the question becomes if the Patriots want to invest at that position over other spots when they already have a depth chart of Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Hill and Brandon Bolden. Michel is projected to be selected within the first two rounds, so if the Patriots don't pounce by picks 31, 43 or possibly 63, it probably won't be an option.
What do these signings mean for the Pats in the draft?
— Myles Geoghegan (@mylesg2004) March 17, 2018
Myles, I don't think it changes anything for them draft-wise. The way I believe they've always tried to look at it is filling out the roster as much as possible so if they had play a regular-season game, they could be competitive. They are on their way to accomplishing that goal. And when taking that approach, it doesn't lock them into a specific position in the draft, although I'd still put left tackle atop the list.
@MikeReiss it looks like Dwayne Allen has a $5M cap hit for 2018. Do you see him back at that #? Seems a bit rich for a blocking TE.
— KM2 (@Kevinmitchell2) March 17, 2018
Kevin, Dwayne Allen is valuable in his role as the No. 2 tight end and is the type of person the Patriots like in their locker room. While a $4.5 million base salary and $5 million cap charge might have seemed rich entering the 2018 league year, I could make the case that when former Eagles No. 3 tight end Trey Burton is earning $8 million in a new deal in Chicago, perhaps Allen's salary isn't as out of line as originally thought.
Mailbag question, these deals never happen but if offered, would you trade Gronk for Earl Thomas?
— Dan Noonan (@dnoonan222) March 17, 2018
Dan, I wouldn't make that trade for the Patriots, even though Earl Thomas is a terrific player. I just see Rob Gronkowski as a crucial piece of New England's offense, coupled with a very good safety in Devin McCourty already on the roster. So I'm essentially choosing a Gronkowski/McCourty package over Thomas/Allen.