This week's Patriots mailbag is a mix of reaction from Robert Kraft's remarks on Monday as well as some of the front-burner questions and key dates surrounding the team.
In describing the mood in Kraft's office on Monday, the words "cautious" and "empathy" and "accountability" have come to mind. Kraft was cautious because he was speaking against the advice of his legal counsel, he was empathetic to Odin Lloyd's family, and he also took accountability for what he called a mistake. Kraft used the word "sad" multiple times.
Let's get to the questions.
Q. Mike, Robert Kraft was duped all right. But not by Hernandez. I highly doubt Kraft hands out $12 million checks because someone is polite. Kraft relies on highly paid people within his organization to do their jobs and provide the right information in order to make the right decisions. Those people duped Mr. Kraft. They were either lazy, arrogant, incompetent or all the above. Regardless of the "gullible, kindhearted old man" routine that Kraft is trying to make us believe, I can't imagine he's happy to be out $12 million, have his brand trashed, and have to go out and admit he's just not that bright after all. Do you see any additional fallout in Foxborough? -- Dan (Boston)
A. Dan, there was obviously a breakdown somewhere in the process, and as Kraft said Monday the team will "renew efforts, look at procedures, and [be] auditing how we do things." Accountability starts with Hernandez, but from a team perspective I also think it's a fair question to ask, "What signs could one of the smartest organizations in sports possibly have missed in extending Hernandez's contract in August 2012?" Kraft often says that in any of his businesses he hires smart people, lets them do their job, asks tough questions, and then they earn more leeway if they prove they can handle it. So maybe the main thing that comes from this is more oversight from Kraft in some form.
Q. Hi Mike, regarding the Aaron Hernandez situation and Mr. Kraft's comments about it Monday, I think will affect a future contract for Brandon Spikes, among others. No one in the Patriots' organization has been in the trouble that Hernandez is in, but the way that Mr. Kraft is protective of his franchise, I think it will change some the way that football personnel is chosen. Your thoughts? -- Memo (Mexico)
A. Memo, maybe the biggest takeaway will be that extending the contract of a player after just two years, which the Patriots did with Hernandez, isn't enough time to gather enough quality information on what someone is all about. I could see a shift to a more conservative approach in that area. As for the way players are chosen, I'm not anticipating any major changes, but instead minor tweaks. Kraft said Monday that in 20 years of ownership, the club has "by and large done a good job," so I don't think the Patriots will stray too far from what they've done. But perhaps this situation will serve as a reminder of the principles that Bill Belichick has relied upon to build his program, and some things can be tightened up.
Q. Hi Mike, there seem to be mixed reports as to whether the Patriots will be able to negate Hernandez's cap charges going forward. On one hand his violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy should give the Patriots grounds to void his contract and avoid cap charges, then on the other hand, because they cut him before his charge was known, they will endure a $7.5 million cap charge next season. Can you please clear the air the best you can? -- James (Malden, Mass.)
A. James, my understanding of the situation is that nothing is definitive. They could still get some form of cap relief, but by releasing Hernandez when they did, the club loses control over the process.
Q. Hi Mike, obviously Belichick issued his own gag order from the organization on the Hernandez situation, but two former players in Deion Branch and Matt Light have spoken up. What is your general sense on how the current players feel about Hernandez? Was he popular within the locker room, or were there others like Matt Light that knew something wasn't right with the guy? -- Tim (Georgetown, Mass.)
A. Tim, just as the comments from Branch and Light were at opposite ends of the spectrum, I think that was probably reflective of the overall locker-room view on Hernandez – some liked him, some not so much. He wasn't a loner in my opinion. I spoke with one former teammate who really liked him and said he was one of his favorite teammates. Others, such as Light, viewed him differently.
Q. Mike, don't you think Dannell Ellerbe's comments about the "Pats being vulnerable" fall right into Belichick's wheelhouse? What a great thing to give the team a reason to galvanize their emotions as well as provide them with an "underdog/nobody respects us" attitude. -- Tom (Boston)
A. Tom, I could see those comments being shown in the meeting room prior to one of the team's games against Miami this year. But overall, I don't see the whole Aaron Hernandez situation as one that Belichick points to as a rallying cry of sorts. I think he naturally will address it with players, likely on July 25 when they return as a unit for the first time, and then attempt to distance the team and players from it as quickly as possible.
Q. Hi Mike, I need some good football news after all the recent events. So would you please update everyone on the key dates and events? Tedy Bruschi's Patriot Hall of Fame ceremony? Season-ticket holder practice? Bruschi's halftime tribute? Any other halftime events planned? Throwback uniform game(s)? Thank you. -- Chip (Monroe, Conn.)
A. Chip, here are some key dates ahead for the Patriots.
July 21 -- Rookies report to training camp
July 25 -- Veterans report to training camp
July 26 -- First open training camp practice
July 29 -- Season-ticket holder practice/Bruschi, Gil Santos Hall of Fame ceremony
Aug. 27 -- Roster cut-down from 90 to 75 (by 4 p.m. ET)
Aug. 31 -- Roster cut-down from 75 to 53 (by 6 p.m. ET)
Sept. 1 -- Practice squads can be formed (noon ET)
Sept. 3 -- Clubs can place a player on "injured reserve/designated to return" list (4 p.m.)
Sept. 12 -- Halftime ceremony for Patriots Hall of Famers during home opener
Oct. 15 -- Clubs can begin placing players on the "physically unable to perform" list
Oct. 29 -- Trading deadline (4 p.m. ET)
Dec. 30 -- Clubs can begin signing players for the 2014 season; earliest date to renegotiate or extend contracts of members of 2011 draft class
Jan. 4-5 -- Wild-card playoff games
Jan. 11-12 -- Divisional playoff games
Jan. 19 -- Conference championship games
Jan. 26 -- Pro Bowl (Hawaii)
Feb. 2 -- Super Bowl (N.Y.)
Feb. 17 -- First day to designate franchise/transition players
Feb. 19-25 -- NFL combine (Indianapolis)
March 3 -- Deadline for teams to use franchise/transition tags
March 8-11 -- Clubs can negotiate with free agents (but a contract cannot be executed)
March 11 -- Free agency begins (4 p.m.)
March 23-26 -- Annual NFL meeting (Orlando)
April 21 -- Clubs with returning head coach can begin offseason programs
May 8-10 -- NFL draft
Q. Mike, I've heard quite a bit of talk in light of the turnover on offense that now is the time for Tom Brady to prove he is elite. Hasn't he done just that by spending a significant portion of his career without big time offensive weapons? That being said I think they will be able to remain a top 10 offense easily. Do you think that is realistic? -- Brandon (Schererville, Ind.)
A. Brandon, I don't think there is any question about it: Brady is elite. And even with all the questions the Patriots currently have on offense, I think they will still be in the top half of the NFL when all is said and done. This coaching staff is resourceful, Brady is one of the best in the game, and the Pats still have talent on that side of the ball as well as an offensive line that returns intact. Overall, it might not be at the level we've seen in the past, but I think the Patriots' offense will still be tough to defend.
Q. Mike, I'm wondering how much we can expect from Julian Edelman, since he has basically been in rehab all offseason. Edelman looked great in the beginning of the 2012 season, but that was after a full offseason of conditioning work, including (if I remember correctly) some really high-tech conditioning work to improve his speed. This offseason, I'm guessing he's hardly been able to do any of that. It seems like this is going to hurt Edelman more than someone like Rob Gronkowski (a physical freak) because Edelman is more of a normal guy who relies on incredible focus and work ethic (and not on natural gifts). Thoughts? -- Jeff (Arlington, Va.)
A. Jeff, I think Edelman is the team's No. 2 receiver on opening day if he is healthy. I also wouldn't undersell his athleticism and speed. Naturally, losing part of the offseason as he rehabs his foot wasn't ideal, but I think one of the main things he has going for him is a trust built up with Tom Brady and a knowledge of the offense. If he's healthy on the opening day of camp, I think he'll quickly elevate to close to the top of the depth chart.
Q. Hey Mike, many people seem ready to announce the demise of the Pats as owners of the AFC East due to losing Wes Welker and Hernandez. I see the defense being improved sufficiently to cover for this for a variety of reasons too numerous to list. What are your thoughts on this? I think the offense will improve as the season progresses as well. -- Enjoythegames (Cleveland)
A. I still think the Patriots are favorites in the AFC East. I understand why some would look at all the changes on offense and be reluctant to pick them to win the conference, but I wouldn't count them out at this time, either. Specific to the defense, the club essentially has everyone back, and that continuity, coupled with some additions in free agency and the draft, should lead to better results (especially in the secondary). Add in a resourceful coaching staff, and this team should still be in the mix, in my view.
Q. Mike, I enjoyed your piece on the Patriots and the supplemental draft. Do the losing bids ever get released? I agree with you that there are a lot of disadvantages to getting a player now, but if I can get a second-round talent for a fifth- or sixth-round pick, I think I throw in the bid. I'm wondering if the Patriots, under Belichick, have ever put in that type of bid? -- Joe (Waimea, Hawaii)
A. Thanks Joe. Sometimes it comes out after the fact that a team put in a low-round "bid" on a player, but I've never heard that with the Patriots. My guess would be no.