Other topics include:
-- A stocked tight end position
-- Receiver Brandon Tate's development
-- Tom Brady's offseason
-- Battle of the backup quarterbacks
-- Logan Mankins and his future
Let's get right to the questions
Q: Mike I would like to say this 18-game season stuff is bull. It is not looking out for the best interests of the players and Roger Goodell is really looking at dollar signs. Goodell should allow only 2-3 preseason games and then extend the playoffs. He should allow more teams in the playoffs, and I think players would approve of that possibility. There are so many different scenarios that can be worked out that I think it is worth looking into. It would bring in more money, and it would give more teams/players something to play for. What do you think? -- Costa Karellas (Shanghai, China)
A: Costa, I agree on the 18-game season idea being a bad one. It seems Goodell is making a leap that because fans don't want to pay regular-season prices for the preseason that they automatically want 18 regular-season games. Not so, from the majority of those who have chimed in here. As for expanding the playoffs, I hesitate to go that route because 12 of the league's 32 teams are already in. By adding two or four more teams to the postseason, you're getting close to 50 percent of the clubs in the playoffs, which I think would lessen the meaning of the regular season. I personally like the numbers where they are now.
Q: Hi Mike, as an NFL fan, I am both outraged and offended at Roger Goodell's statement regarding an 18-game season that, "We do think it is attractive to season-ticket holders. I hear that all of the time from our season-ticket holders." Clearly Goodell is taking the feedback that fans don't want to pay full prices for preseason games and twisting that into the statement that an 18-game season is attractive. When Goodell continually makes these statements, he makes it blindingly obvious that he is not thinking about the fans in this situation. I am absolutely outraged at him as commissioner of the league, and I am offended by the way he interacts with fans. He is clearly, in my opinion, trying to get away with doing things that will make the owners happy by twisting the truth to the fans. Rant over. -- Nick (Denver, Colo.)
A: Nick, your thoughts reflect what the majority of emailers have shared in this space. Another thought to consider is that if the season is expanded to 18 games, it would likely still start the weekend after Labor Day. So that would mean two more regular-season games in January. Those cold-weather games in Foxborough can be tough for fans at that time of year, which is another reason to vote down the 18-game idea.
Q: With the drafting of Lee Smith, do you think Aaron Hernandez would be temporarily switched to a third wideout or slot receiver so that Bill Belichick can keep three tight ends on the roster? -- Michael Sherman (Wis.)
A: Michael, while the letters "TE" precede Hernandez's name on the Patriots' official roster, he could also be considered a receiver because of the way he plays. He's not a traditional combination tight end. So I do think this point is a good one; when factoring in Hernandez's place on the roster, it's important to consider his receiver-like role. I do envision Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Lee Smith being on the final roster, assuming all are healthy and playing at the anticipated level.
Q: Hey Mike, I was wondering, why is there no faith in Brandon Tate? He was injured for the majority of his rookie season and showed glimpses of promise when he played last season. Also, there is Taylor Price, who is a bit of an unknown at the moment, but I'm sure we will see more of him this season, if there is one. Also, this talk of a veteran receiver being added is bogus; Wes Welker and Deion Branch aren't veteran enough for the Pats? -- Tim (Sydney, Australia)
A: Tim, I view the thoughts on Tate as a reflection on his inconsistency in 2010. One stat that stands out is that he was targeted 46 times and totaled 24 receptions for a 54.3 target percentage, one of the lowest among the team's pass-catchers. That doesn't mean Tate can't improve and become a Top-2 target, but the body of work wasn't overwhelming in 2010. As for Price, I'm interested to see what he can put together. Welker is reliable and Branch had a good season, although he seemed to slow down a bit late. I think they are fine at receiver -- when also factoring in Aaron Hernandez -- but I understand why some might look at the playoff loss to the Jets and wonder if the Patriots need more of a vertical threat. I just don't see it that way.
Q: How is Wes Welker's knee mending? Will he be 100 percent again this year? -- Steve Dowd (Kokomo, Ind.)
A: Steve, Welker gave a positive report on the condition of his knee earlier this month, saying this is as good as he's felt since 2009.
Q: Mike, I know you are a big believer in Tom Brady having some time off in the offseason, spending time with the family, etc., but seeing that photo of him coming down the waterslide made me cringe. Considering he is just coming off foot surgery, I did not think this was a wise choice. What if his foot got jammed or was hurt entering the water? Did the Patriots have any comment on the photo? -- Barb L (Shelton, Conn.)
A: Barb, there was no official comment from the Patriots on the Brady photo, but if there was, this is what I envision it would be: "No one works harder than Tom and he'll be ready when the time comes to return to Gillette Stadium. Tom takes great care of himself and if he's our biggest worry, then we're in good shape." The photo obviously didn't paint Brady in the most favorable light, but I think it means little in the big picture.
Q: Hi Mike, interesting question about comparing Brady and Favre. I think it highlights a weakness in these type of lists in trying to compare someone whose career is over vs. someone whose career is still ongoing. Favre's best case is his career durability and production over such a long period. Obviously Brady will never match his passing stats, but suppose he wins another Super Bowl or two, he will probably catapult into the top spot in most peoples' lists. Also, Favre's cachet will likely drop a little if Manning breaks his career numbers. All that said, it is a fun comparison to make because the two strike me as having completely different styles. Brady's hallmarks seem to be decision-making and consistency, which is kind of the opposite of Favre. I feel like it's like comparing Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders. Would you rather have the home run threat or the consistent guy who moves the chains? -- Gus (L.A.)
A: Gus, your thoughts capture why those type of lists are so prevalent in recent years -- they are conversation starters. I think you captured it nicely. I also think Brady should have been higher on the list.
A: Memo, I don't think Mallett -- without the benefit of offseason camps and possibly with a shortened training camp -- will be able to overtake the improving Hoyer for the No. 2 job behind Tom Brady. Hoyer's two years in the system, coupled with his skill, should help him solidify that role in my view.
Q: Mike, what becomes of Kyle Arrington this year? The guy was basically a career special-teamer who got thrown into duty as a starting cornerback and, in my opinion, did a great job. With Devin McCourty and Leigh Bodden returning and the addition of Ras-I Dowling, is Arrington still a starter or is he just another part of a very deep defensive backfield? -- Gregg (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
A: Gregg, I think Arrington will compete for a starting job, and while I wouldn't rule him out, I think Bodden is more of a favorite for the position. But Arrington's value on special teams should help him make both the 53-man roster and 45-man game-day roster. From there, anything is possible.
Q: Mike, what's up with Myron Pryor? I have not heard about him in a while. Is he hurt? -- Joe (Quincy, Mass.)
A: Joe, Pryor's back injury knocked him out of the mix at the end of 2010. I have not caught up with him this offseason to see how he is progressing.
Q: With the Pats willing to pay Logan Mankins $10M in 2011, isn't the difference on a long-term deal fairly small? Mankins would seemingly be pleased with an $8.5 million average over five years. Is the current difference that close or am I missing something? -- Bob (South Portland, Maine)
A: Bob, because player contracts aren't guaranteed, a big factor to consider is structure of the contract. Without knowing that, it's difficult to tell how close they really might be. But your point echoes my thoughts -- it shouldn't be as hard as it's been. If the Patriots are willing to pay Mankins a one-year, $10 million contract as their franchise player, a long-term deal should be relatively easy to strike.
Q: Hey Mike, I read the Football Outsiders article on Top 10 trades that hurt both teams, with the Pats' trade of Deion Branch to Seattle being No. 10 on that list. I have some difficulty swallowing this because, while having Branch in '06 might have pushed them over the top, that probably also would have meant Belichick would have been more content with his offensive roster that offseason and not gone out and gotten Moss and Welker. And I would take the magic of the immortal '07 season, Super Bowl loss and all, over a potential '06 Super Bowl win, crazy as that sounds. Thoughts? -- Miles (Twin Cities, Minn.)
A: Miles, I think this is a great debate. I respect the point of view. I'd always lean toward the championship, so if we really think that Branch would have been the difference in 2006 -- which is debatable -- I'd lean in that direction. But it's an interesting topic to discuss.
Q: Mike, I enjoy reading your coverage of the Patriots. However, I do disagree with your idea that the success of the Patriots draft will be determined by how Ras-I Dowling performs in comparison to Brooks Reed and Jabaal Sheard. I think it is very possible that Sheard could end up with 10 sacks as a rookie. To say that the Patriots really missed the boat if that were to happen would be incorrect, as Sheard will be playing in a 4-3 in Cleveland. There is no way to accurately compare Sheard's production in the 4-3 to what he might have been able to accomplish in the Patriot 3-4. -- Slade (Fort Riley, Kan.)
A: Slade, I understand this point of view, and you're right in that Sheard will be playing in a different system. That is always tricky. I think there are certain players who can play in any system and there will always be some gray area when making the determination of a player in Sheard's situation. The system fit is important, but just because a player goes to a different system doesn't necessarily mean he wouldn't be successful in this one.
Q: Mike, I respect your work and generally agree with your analysis. When it comes to fining teams for repeated flagrant penalties, however, I think you have missed the point. The NFL needs to do everything in its power to reduce the health risks to its players. Assessing penalties to teams is a way to institutionalize the new rules. Players are more likely to respond to their coaches than to the NFL office in New York. Of course, fines will be levied inconsistently, but let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. When it comes to health concerns, the NFL is not "over-regulated," it is under-regulated. -- Ben (Istanbul, Turkey)
Q: Re: fining teams for flagrant hits, I think this is absolutely necessary. I agree with your comment about inconsistent officiating, but the head-first spearing has to be "coached out" of the game. You cannot tackle with your head. A while back the head slap and more recently the horse-collar tackle were eliminated by rule and I hope that officials will make spearing -- that's what it is -- a point of emphasis if we ever see football again. I don't subscribe to the notion that this can't be helped. Leading with the head is a technique just as leading with the shoulder is a technique. One can lead to concussions, neck and spinal cord injuries, the other does not. Fine the players, suspend them for a game, fine the teams, whatever it takes. -- Mike (Somersworth, N.H.)
A: Thanks for sharing the thoughts, Ben and Mike. I respect different points of view.
Q: Hi Mike, Non-drafted free agents are part of a Patriots tradition. With this in mind, any chance we see a certain BC linebacker -- Mark Herzlich -- in the plans? -- William T (Los Angeles)
A: William, I think it would be a good choice, although I got the sense that Herzlich might prefer to go to a team that runs a 4-3 defense where he could line up on the strong side. I could be reading too much into his recent Sirius XM Radio interview, but that was the impression I came away with.
Q: Mike, do you think the big public role the Krafts take in this labor negotiation process could hurt their ability to get players (or keep their own) in free agency? Would their own players separate it and forget when the season is on again? I have always wondered if taking a lead role (both in the process and in the media) would have long-term implications. -- TimB (San Francisco)
A: Tim, I don't see it playing a factor at all. My view is that players are going to go to the situation that is best for them and their family regardless. Perhaps there are a few who might view things from a labor perspective, but I thought Drew Brees' remarks on ESPN were reflective of what most players think: "This isn't anything personal." Those thoughts come from a player who is suing his owner, but could eventually sign another contract extension with the Saints.
Q: Do you think, since many owners seem to see a lot of fan frustration, that they will lower parking costs, ticket prices, etc., to try to "win back" their fans? Or do you see them doing the unthinkable and actually raising prices after this fan-enraging lockout? I'm curious to see if they have the guts to kick us in the teeth one last time this season. -- Matt Dennen (Boston)
A: Matt, I don't see those prices going down. I could see them as staying the same until this lockout mess is a distant memory.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.