This is a quieter time for the Patriots, who remain in the background in the Boston sports landscape as the Bruins and Celtics are in the playoffs, while the Red Sox navigate some choppy waters early in their season.
But the die-hard fans keep filling the mailbag with pertinent issues.
One significant topic that came up in multiple e-mails was how the lucrative contract extension signed by Saints guard Jahri Evans last week might affect the Patriots' dealings with Logan Mankins. Another topic that was prevalent was the team's ability to improve its pass rush.
That's where this week's mailbag begins.
Q: Hi Mike, what is happening with a contract for Logan Mankins? I was not exactly pleased with his whining (at the time, the Pats had more pressing matters to attend to), but I certainly would hope they could come to an agreement. -- LouLou8072 (Lexington)
A: Nothing imminent, Lou. From what I understand, the sides aren't engaged in any type of serious negotiation at this time. While things can change fast, I don't view the present situation as one in which any momentum is building toward an extension. I also think Mankins can now look at the mega-deal signed by Saints' guard Jahri Evans, a restricted free agent like himself, and dig his heels in a bit deeper in terms of pushing for an extension.
Q: Hi Mike, unlike the media coverage of Vince Wilfork and free agency, there has been scant coverage of Mankins' situation. What sort of deal is Mankins seeking? What are the Pats offering? What in your opinion is the market for a similar guard? Do you feel the Pats are risking long-term relations with Mankins by playing hardball? -- Chipfromct (Wilton, Conn.)
A: Chip, I don't have any of the answers, but I can make an educated guess. Mankins is going to look toward the Jahri Evans deal and feel that is his value in the market, since both players were in the same situation -- restricted free agents with Pro Bowl resumes. The Evans deal was a reported seven years for $56.7 million, with a significant chunk of money in the first three years. Mankins is obviously upset enough to stay away from the offseason program for an extended period for the first time in his career, so I'd say this is a situation to watch going forward that could have long-term implications. One final point is one difference I see between Mankins and Wilfork: The Wilfork situation was one in which he had reached unrestricted free agency, while Mankins is a restricted free agent. So in that sense, I can see why the Wilfork situation had more urgency to it in terms of timing in February and March.
Q: Hey Mike, what are the Pats going to do about getting to the quarterback? Do you think it was a mistake to let Jared Odrick go to the Dolphins? It seems to me that Bill Belichick does not like Penn State. He passed on linebackers Dan Connor in 2008 and Paul Posluszny in 2007. Have the choices that BB has made already come back to haunt him? We need a pass rusher. Any ideas where the next one will come from? There is not much out there in the free-agent market. Does it come down to what Tom Brady said today that everyone has to just buy into the system? What do you think? -- Philip Berardinelli (Braintree, Mass.)
A: Philip, I don't know enough about Odrick to feel strongly that it was mistake at this time. But I don't think that Belichick's passing on Odrick had much, if anything, to do with him attending Penn State. As for the pass rush, I think it starts with the following players at outside linebacker: Tully Banta-Cain, Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich and Shawn Crable. While they could be the answer, it remains a bit of an unknown and that is why I thought Jason Taylor would be a good signing for them. Right now, I don't see any sure-fire answers on the free-agent market. Perhaps a Ted Washington-type trade might be a possibility down the road (the Patriots acquired Washington in a training camp trade in 2003), but teams aren't exactly giving pass-rushers away. One other point that is important is the rush can come from more than just the outside linebacker spot, and maybe that is where free-agent defensive linemen Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren could help. Better play in the secondary, which perhaps ties into the selection of cornerback Devin McCourty in the first round of the draft, could also help the pass rush. I'd agree with you, and other e-mailers, that this is a big question for the team.
Q: Are the Pats finished with roster moves until training camp opens, or might we still see some movement to bring in a pass rusher, perhaps Antwan Odom, should he be available? -- Matt (Leesburg, Va.)
A: Matt, I'd say the Patriots' roster is probably 95 percent complete, with only a few tweaks ahead. The key date for me is June 1, because after that date is when teams can sign players and not have it affect the formula for determining compensatory draft choices, which the Patriots value. Odom had some injury problems in his first two seasons with the Bengals, but I'd be surprised if they gave up on him at this point. When healthy, he is a solid pass rusher at end in the 4-3 defense (eight sacks in six games last season).
Q: I was wondering, since the Pats really didn't do much to help the pass rush in the draft, do you see BB bringing in a veteran or two to help out with the pass rush and to bring a little more leadership? I think a player like Bertrand Berry or a Chike Okeafor would be good even though they are up there in age. Who do you think they should bring in if BB was to? -- Paul X. (Warwick, R.I.)
A: Paul, we looked at the outside linebacker spot on the Patriots blog last Thursday and there aren't many top options out there. I think a player like Derrick Burgess would probably be the top option based on his knowledge of the defense. I could see Okeafor or Greg Ellis high on any emergency list as well.
Q: You're always saying that certain players aren't a good fit for the Patriots' 3-4 scheme at OLB because they're too short or too slow. The same refrain is heard for any potential draft picks or free agents. While the Pats might be picky, there's got to be someone out there that they'd be willing to play at the position. Mike Vrabel isn't walking through that door. So here's the question: If all the players in the league were available to the Patriots and money wasn't a concern, which players would be a good fit for them at OLB? I'm just confused about which kind of player they think would be worth pursuing. -- Dave (Carlsbad, Calif.)
A: Dave, I think a lot of players can play the outside linebacker spot in the Patriots' 3-4 defense. However, I do believe the Patriots are choosy, as they have a standard that they'd prefer for the position, and this is where I think the field gets narrowed for them in terms of "clean" prospects for their system. If I had to pick one outside linebacker in the NFL to come in and make an immediate impact, it's the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware.
Q: Mike, What would it cost for the Pats to get Elvis Dumervil? If we could, do you think it's a fit? Would he solve our OLB pass rushing deficiency? Any chance the Pats are considering signing Elvis? -- Mike (Belmont, N.H.)
A: Mike, if the Broncos were serious about trading him, I think Dumervil could probably be acquired for a first-round draft choice and a long-term extension that averages in the $8 million-10 million per year range. Looking solely at on-field production, I do think Dumervil would be a fit despite his lack of height. But when factoring in the compensation to acquire him -- both in draft picks and salary -- I don't see it as a smart move when the team has the contract situations of others (e.g. Brady, Mankins) to address in some form in the near future.
Q: Mike, with all the focus on the Patriots' need to add a pass rusher and receiver, how do you think they did with the drafting of two TEs, a receiver and a LB/DE? Also, when the Pats were lighting up scoreboards in '07, the line gave Brady enough time to place an order at his favorite restaurant. So if they are to have a successful 2010, Brady will need similar protection. Your thoughts? -- Mel (Sacramento, Calif.)
A: Mel, one of the things I liked most about the team's draft was the tight end selections. Rob Gronkowski, if his previously injured back is not an issue, could be a steal in the second round (42nd overall). Aaron Hernandez, if off-field issues that included one failed drug test at Florida are avoided, looks like a nice complement there as well in the fourth round (113th overall). My big question would be if the team has done enough to boost its pass rush.
Q: Hello Mike, each year a couple of teams rise from mediocrity to become elite (like the Saints and Bengals in 2009). And another handful of playoff teams fall off significantly (Steelers, Dolphins, Titans). Looking into your crystal ball, who makes the playoffs this year that didn't last year, and which '09 playoff team stays home this year? Does this year look much like last year due to limited FA movement? -- Stephen (Denver, Colo.)
A: Stephen, my crystal ball usually doesn't produce such good results. But in the teams dropping out of the playoffs category, I'll pick one from each conference (Bengals, Cowboys). To replace them, I'll go with the Dolphins and Falcons.
Q: Hey Mike. There has been a lot of discussion about the Pats not drafting a running back when that was widely seen as a position of need leading up to the draft. Is it possible for a team to be successful without having much of a running game, as long as their passing game is stellar? And do you think that is what the Patriots are trying to do? Last season the Colts and Chargers were near the bottom of the table in rushing statistics, but they still enjoyed great seasons. I think as long as you have a solid punt/kick returner (Wes Welker), and a guy who can come in for third-and-short situations (Kevin Faulk), then you can get by without a franchise RB. -- Robert (Liverpool, England)
A: Robert, it's going to sound like I'm playing both sides here, but I don't mean to. I'd sum up my thoughts on the running back spot this way: I do think the Patriots would have liked to draft a rusher, but the ones they were interested in didn't fall to them, or they were trumped by other situations (e.g. a more important need; a trade that produced excellent value in the form of a 2011 second-round draft pick). At the same time, I think they feel like they can win with the backs they have, assuming good health for all of them. Let's not forget this running game -- while struggling at times in short-yardage situations -- still averaged 4.1 yards per carry last season. The desire to draft one this year, in my view, is because Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk enter the final year of their contracts.
Q: While Laurence Maroney hasn't lived up to his draft pick, I don't consider him bust. He's well under 30 and coming off a full season where he only trailed Randy Moss on the team in touchdowns with nine. He had four fumbles, and totals just five for his career. However, he was more decisive at the line of scrimmage last season, grinding out tough yards. He may not be a feature back, but is effective in a committee which was 12th in rushing in 2009 and sixth in 2008. I think with decisiveness and a more physical line, Maroney will be part of New England's long-term plans. If the fumbles last season were bad luck, he'll be the first 1,000-yard back we have seen since Corey Dillon. What are your thoughts? -- Alvin (Deerfield, Mass.)
A: Alvin, I think you bring up some fair points. I think bust is too harsh, for sure, but I do think it's fair to say that the pick hasn't been what either side hoped for at this point, in part because of health reasons. I'm at the point where I'm wondering if a fresh start might be best for both sides. I don't think that means Maroney can't be productive, but after four years, my feeling is that one is pretty optimistic to think that the situation will look much different than what we've seen from 2006-09.
Q: Mike, in a recent blog you compare seventh-round draft choice Kade Weston ("Big-bodied player who has the build that physical teams target") to Ron Brace. Sorry, but I take this as a terrible slam against Weston, who I have real expectations for. As a season ticket holder, Brace makes me cringe every time he steps onto the field. I have never seen anyone arrive with so much hype be a complete bust. I cannot think of an opponent where he was not jerked off the field after being pushed all over for a couple of plays. Do you expect Weston to be this bad? -- Peter Piusz (Johnstown, N.Y.)
A: Peter, that comparison was made based on physical build, with the idea that if you look at both players it's clear they have NFL-type size. One of the things I remember Bill Belichick saying about Brace when he was drafted was how he was a big man, and those types of big-bodied players are harder to find. I'd put Weston in that category as well. As for Brace, he had limited action as a rookie (approximately 50 snaps), with most of it coming in one game against the Bills in December. I think it's fair to say both the team and Brace would have hoped for more. Still, I want to see more before making a final judgment on him as a player.
Q: Mike, what is your take on four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's drug policy. Personally, I think it is a bit of a joke. Players always get caught in the offseason and miss the first four games of a season. They then are stronger and well rested for the part of the season that matters. If they changed the punishment to the last four games of the season plus all playoff games, the players and the teams would have a much greater interest in making sure that everyone is clean and the cheating would probably disappear. As it is now, the hit to the team appears to be a cost of doing business. What is your take? -- Ted (Boston)
A: Ted, I'd start with the thought that my hope is for the game to be 100 percent clean. So my overall take is that anything leading to that taking place is what I would be in favor of, but of course, it's never that black and white. I can see both sides of the suspension-at-the-end-of-the-year idea. That wouldn't have hurt a team like the Colts last year, or a team that was already out of the playoff chase. On the flip side, it would have hurt a team like the Texans, who were still clinging to playoff hopes those final four weeks. Weighing both sides, I'd leave the suspension at the start of the year. One other point: After a player gets a four-game suspension, if he fails another test he gets a one-year suspension. So that is also important to keep in mind for context.
Q: Hi Mike. I'd be interested in knowing your thought process as to why you would be in favor of stripping Brain Cushing from his rookie-of-the-year honors. I'm not saying it was OK he tested positive, but it appears to me you feel ALL his play was a direct result from his testing. Thanks. -- Shane (New Mexico)
A: Shane, what probably came through in that Sunday blog post is my frustration with the idea that the game I cover isn't 100 percent clean. I acknowledge that I jumped to the immediate conclusion that performance enhancing drugs helped Cushing's 2009 season. I should have prefaced my thoughts by saying, "If it is proven that performance enhancing drugs contributed to Cushing's 2009 season, I think the award should be stripped."
Q: Mike, let me preface this by saying that I enjoy your work and appreciate the effort you put into the blog. It is a must read for Pats fans. However, I need to call you out on two items: You have mentioned multiple times that Brandon Tate looked good with the ball in his hands and that Billy O'Brien is a promising young coach. Where is the evidence for either of these? Tate had one official touch last year -- the reverse. NO catches. No other rushes. No preseason. We know nothing about this guy except he is injury prone. And please don't reference Robert Kraft's comments, as he also was a big Tebucky Jones fan. Also, the Pats' offense was not good last year. Josh McDaniels did much more with less: AFC champs with Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney as top receivers and salvaged a respectable '08 with Matt Cassel. The offense last year was predictable with basically same people as '07. No adjustments when clearly the league has caught up. I see no evidence this guy is good unless we blindly trust Bill B. Please help me understand these two. -- Matt (Conn.)
A: Matt, thanks for starting with the nice stuff. Here is how I will defend my two points on Brandon Tate and Bill O'Brien: 1) Don't kickoff returns count for Tate? He had four for 106 yards (26.4 avg.), one of which was 34 yards. Albeit a small sample, I thought that was a clear example of what Tate could do with the ball in his hands, not to mention factoring in his college career at North Carolina; 2) I'm not saying O'Brien is perfect, but I also remember some similar criticism of McDaniels in 2005. I see some of the same qualities in O'Brien, who is still growing on the job. I'll put myself out there on this one and say that with better talent on offense this year, and with Tom Brady two years removed from his knee injury, O'Brien is going to look like a better coach this year.
Q: Mike, while I am very pleased with the Pats' personnel additions this offseason I can't help but be worried about our lack of coaching (not including Bill Belichick) as we move forward. Last year we saw a lot of "un-Patriot-like" mistakes (delays of game, too many men on the field, wasting timeouts) that I can't help but think will be increased if Bill is trying to do it all by himself this year. With previous Patriots great coordinators (Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel) finding new homes, I find it hard to believe that there weren't any other solid coaches we could have brought in. Does Bill just feel like nobody can do it better than him? I'm just worried that he's trying to do too much and that will result in more "mental" mistakes this year. Thoughts? -- John (Baltimore, Md.)
A: John, I take Belichick at his word that he is not planning to do more, he is just redistributing his workload to spend more time with the defense. This is consistent with others around the NFL, such as Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton, who calls the offensive plays for the Saints. So while I think the perception is that Belichick is planning on doing more -- a perception which is shaped in part because official coordinators haven't been named -- I don't necessarily see that as the reality. I think the addition of secondary coach Corwin Brown will help the staff, and I agree that there were some uncharacteristic mistakes from 2009 that cannot resurface if the team hopes to contend.
Q: Hi Mike, how do you see the Pats utilizing Ron Brace going forward? The No. 40 pick in the 2009 draft seems like a very expensive insurance policy now that Vince Wilfork has re-signed. I can't see him being quick enough to play DE. Is he going to play out his rookie deal as a situational DT when the Pats switch to a 4-3? -- Woody (Moncton, Canada)
A: Woody, I think Brace's best chance to help is at right defensive end, and I agree that there is a question as to whether he is quick enough. Otherwise, I see him as a backup nose and interior rusher similar to what we saw Terdell Sands do in his brief 2009 stint with the team -- plow forward and push the pocket on passing downs. In terms of the cost, I don't think that is a huge issue. The 40th overall pick isn't a big-ticket item.
Q: Hi Mike, I am wondering what your thoughts are on WR David Patten. He returned to the Pats after sitting out a year and I want to know what you think about how he might do. -- Scott (Orlando, Fla.)
A: Scott, I think he's a long-shot to make the final roster, but when he came to work out in March, he had an impressive showing. Overall, I think a player like Patten is a good guy to have around because he is a true pro who can show the younger receivers how things are done. If he makes the final roster, my feeling is it will be because were unexpected injuries in front of him.
Q: Mike, if the Patriots do play more Wildcat offense this year, who would be at the controls: Julian Edelman? And why did the Wildcat make such a big splash when Miami rolled it out, but now its effectiveness seems to have waned? -- Steve Foster (Friendswood, Texas)
A: Steve, I think the Patriots might have been in the Wildcat once last year and it was when Edelman fumbled a snap while motioning from an outside position to under center. Otherwise, it wasn't a huge factor for them. If they use it more in 2010, I'd say Edelman or Brandon Tate would be the players most likely to have the ball in their hands. As for why the effectiveness of the Wildcat has seemed to wane a bit, I think it's because the element of surprise is no longer there. Teams are better prepared for it.
Q: Mike, it's been a few weeks since the Pats cut Adalius Thomas, and there's been little buzz about him going anywhere, let alone the Jets, who we all thought would scoop him right up. So is AD still New York-bound, or will we have to stoke the rivalry fire with what we have? -- Tony (Billerica, Mass.)
A: Tony, the quiet market for Thomas reflects that teams didn't like what they saw on tape in 2009. I think Thomas will play in 2010, and I still think the Jets are his most likely destination, but it now looks like it might not happen until training camp or even after that.
Q: Hi Mike, how do you envision the Pats fitting all of their draft choices into the 80 training-camp roster? -- MikeC (Manchester N.H.)
A: Mike, the Patriots have 89 players on their roster. NFL teams are allowed to have only 80 players under contract at any time, but since none of the 12 draft picks have signed contracts, they don't count against the 80-man limit at this time. The Patriots are smart in that they use this opportunity to work with more players who could help them down the line. But once the draft picks start coming to contract terms -- and I don't see that as a big issue -- I think we'll see some of the fringe players let go, such as some rookie free agents. Those fringe players will be told to be ready for the call should an injury occur.
Q: Hey Mike, do you know when the Pats start training camp that is open to the public? -- chains18 (Cambridge)
A: There is no official starting date, but the Patriots said on Twitter that it "should be around 7/28, 7/29 or 7/30."