The Patriots are coming off the bye, which usually means a lighter mailbag. But this year is different, and it's because of the Aqib Talib trade.
There is a lot to digest when it comes to the Talib acquisition, and I'll sum up my opinion before we get to the questions: Talib's talent checks out, the compensation to acquire him checks out, and it makes the Patriots a better team from a pure football perspective, so this is all about character and the fit in the locker room.
I hold myself accountable and when the Patriots traded for defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, my take was that it was a "low-risk, high-reward" move. But I made a mistake in that analysis, failing to factor in that football was not in Haynesworth's heart. Thus, that was a deal that was doomed from the start.
So I won't make the same mistake this time, because when a player gets into the type of trouble that Talib does, it makes you wonder, "How much does he really love football?"
Bill Belichick obviously has done his research on Talib, and has some assurances that it can work out. My guess is that it does.
But after the failed Haynesworth trade last year, it's hard to say that with conviction.
Q: Hi Mike, I live on the other side of the bay from Tampa and I have seen Aqib Talib be a huge problem and distraction for the Tampa Bay Bucs. His history of bad behavior precedes him to the Pats. I do not see this as a positive. He was one of the leading players that quit on his coach and got him fired [Raheem Morris]. In my opinion, he may not last the rest of the season with a BB type of discipline. I hope I'm wrong. Your thoughts? -- Jim C (Seminole, Fla.)
A: Jim, I think it's worth a shot for the Patriots from a football perspective. The biggest question, as you've pointed out, comes with the player's character and how he'll fit in the locker room. I don't know Talib, but I do know the Patriots' culture and how it often (but not always) brings out the best in players who have a checkered past that includes poor judgment. I wouldn't be surprised if it works out. If it doesn't, the Patriots can move on with little lost in the form of compensation.
Q: Hi Mike, what's the latest on Aqib Talib? Is he practicing yet? -- JB (Los Angeles)
A: JB, Talib can not yet practice or be with the Patriots during his suspension. So we won't see him until after Sunday's game against the Bills.
Q: Very excited about the trade for Talib. Considering the Pats were on a bye this week, how does this affect the last game of his suspension? -- Adam Griffin (APO/UK)
A: Adam, the suspension is for four games, not four weeks, so Talib is not eligible to play with the Patriots until Nov. 18 against the Colts.
Q: What are the rules for how much time a suspended player can spend with a team? For Talib, obviously he has to miss the game, but how much participation can he have in team meetings and practices? Chris (Fairfax, Va.)
A: Chris, Talib can not have contact with the Patriots in any form.
Q: Hi Mike, have you seen the list of things that Talib has done? Check out this article from the Tampa Tribune. I'm not cheering for this guy. -- Mike S. (Boston)
A: Yes, Mike, I have seen the full extent of Talib's off-field transgressions. I don't think you can sweep that stuff under the locker room rug. While he'll get a fresh start in New England, everyone is accountable for their actions and it's part of our character. It's your right not to cheer for Talib and I understand that. For me personally, it took me a few years on the beat before realizing that no team has 53 Boy Scouts.
Q: Has Aqib Talib commented on being traded or on playing for the Patriots? Has he been heard from at all? -- Paul (Mass.)
A: Paul, I haven't seen any comments attributed to Talib since the trade. The Patriots can't have any contact with him, so this is something the team could not facilitate right now. Talib could potentially make himself available to reporters, but I'm not sure that would be the smartest decision when trying to make a solid first impression with the Patriots.
Q: Hi Mike, some have done some serious Pats bashing over the Talib acquisition. The accusations seem to focus on the "Patriot Way" of supposedly only signing team captains and character guys. I see the Patriot Way in a different light: as having a core group of high character players able to provide a stable team environment when a troubled player is brought in. If that player does not avail himself of the clean slate or doesn't play well then it is adios as in adios Fat Albert, Ocho, Randy. I love the Talib acquisition the same way I applauded when they traded up in this year's draft, because it says the future is now. -- John F (Walpole, Mass.)
A: John, I view things similar to you. First and foremost, I have never heard Bill Belichick talk about the "Patriot Way;" it's more of a media-born phrase. If anything, the idea of a "Patriot Way," to me, is more about what the player does once he is here. No matter the past transgressions, he gets a clean slate and the Patriots hope the strong culture they have in the locker room helps bring out the best in that player. It doesn't always work out, but this approach isn't anything new.
Q: Talib -- cost, risk, and compensatory picks. It occurs to me that while many pundits keep repeating that Tampa traded Talib rather than "let him walk for nothing" that ignores compensatory picks. I argue that his trade value was connected to Tampa likely insisting that they be compensated in-line with what they could reasonably claim they would get as a compensatory pick (albeit one year later). Then if you take it one step further, if New England doesn't re-sign Talib and lets him walk "for free," NE will be the team that gets that compensatory pick. If it ends up being a third-rounder (doubtful), then NE actually increased draft picks by taking Talib out for a test drive and potentially shoring up, for 6 months, the team's biggest weakness. Thoughts? -- Galen (Ashland, Ore.)
A: Yes, Galen, the compensatory picks are a factor in this trade and it's why a fourth-round draft choice was reasonable compensation in my view. First, you have to give up a solid enough pick that entices the team to trade the player. Talib still had value to Tampa. Had Tampa kept Talib, and then had a net gain in total compensatory free agents lost vs. total compensatory free agents signed in the offseason, the Buccaneers would have received a compensatory draft choice(s) in 2014 between the third and seventh rounds. How compensatory draft choices are awarded is a bit complex, and it includes salary considerations, so it's not as simple as to say "Tampa would have received a third-round pick if Talib walked." But this is part of the decision-making process, and now Talib factors in to the Patriots' compensatory free-agent picture. Thanks for bringing it up.
Q: Mike, listening to you on sports radio WEEI last Friday, the point about the value of the Talib trade was right on. The number of young players on this team is off the charts and when you have this much top-end talent coming off a Super Bowl season, fourth-round draft value is well worth it if the move puts you over the top. I would take it a step further and say, I think the team has made enough mistakes on the secondary in the draft and this is actually a safer route. We know this player is a legitimate NFL caliber cover corner and that player just wasn't going to develop from the current roster this season. Your thoughts? -- Dean (Taunton, Mass.)
A: Thanks Dean. The Patriots have drafted 40 players over the past four years, and that doesn't include others who have stuck on the roster as rookie free agents, such as running back Brandon Bolden. Thus, I don't think the loss of a 2013 fourth-round pick is any big deal. Every team goes through different stages and where the Patriots are right now -- I'd call them a young championship-contending team -- this move makes complete sense to me as long as the player fits from a locker room/off-field perspective. Overall, I agree with your thoughts. It's sort of similar to trading for Deion Branch in 2010. To a degree, it eliminates the challenging projection of how a rookie receiver might fit in the system.
Q: Do you think the Pats gave up too much for Talib? Maybe the reason they gave a fourth-round pick is because they didn't have the option of giving up a fifth- or sixth-rounder so they had to give up a little more than they wanted. -- Adam (Cranston, Mass.)
A: Adam, as we know, they gave up a fourth-rounder and got Talib and a seventh-rounder in return. Some teams view a deal like that from the "net" perspective of it being a fifth-round pick. Regardless, the compensation strikes me as fair for both sides. From a different point of view, a fourth-rounder is what the team gave up for Ted Washington (2003), Randy Moss (2007) and Deion Branch (2010), so it's not as though this is an outlier when it comes to trades. In the end, if you want the player, you have to give up enough for the other team to trade him. Talib still had value to Tampa. I thought the compensation was fair. To me, this is a trade where the talent and compensation check out just fine; it's the character/fit with the player that is the question.
Q: I love the acquisition of Aqib Talib. If he can adopt to the Patriot Way he could really be a tremendous boost to our woeful secondary. I like the look of Talib and McCourty on the outside with Dennard in the slot. Hopefully our safeties will get healthy. Any chance we make a play for newly waived Stanford Routt? -- Doug (Los Angeles)
A: Doug, I think the makeup of the secondary will be contingent on the health of safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory. If they aren't healthy, I think we'll see Devin McCourty at safety. If they are healthy, I think the odds of seeing McCourty at corner are higher. As for Routt, I wouldn't rule it out, but based on his struggles in Kansas City and the Patriots' lack of interest in free agency, it makes me think it would be a longer shot.
Q: Mike , what do you think is wrong with the secondary? I read your chat and you stated Steve Gregory as a steadying influence? He is always late, and avoids hits. -- Chris (Brookfield, Conn.)
A: Chris, I think it starts with personnel, first and foremost. When a team waives its nickel back (Sterling Moore) who played 43 percent of the snaps, and no other team claims him, that says a lot. As for Gregory, he's obviously not Ed Reed. When the words steadying influence are mentioned, it's done so in the context of communication and getting everyone lined up correctly.
Q: Why don't more teams try to get something for players that they know won't sign over the offseason and will just leave for free agency. In baseball this seems the norm. I know in the NFL there is a salary cap and you do get some sort of compensatory picks in return for losing a free agent but why not line up the highest bidders and see if you can get a better draft pick? -- Jack Parkman (Boston)
A: Jack, a big part of it is that the trading deadline is so early. In this case, the deadline was at the halfway point of the season. How many teams are really out of it so that they want to start selling off players that might have them a weaker team in the present season? This situation with Aqib Talib was a bit unique in that sense. The Bucs felt they could afford to move him and still be strong at the position.
Q: Some have opined on Aqib Talib and said that while he might be better than what the Patriots had at corner, he's still not a very good corner (citing statistics from the analytical website Pro Football Focus). I was wondering your thoughts on that. -- Shimon (Miami, Fla.)
A: Shimon, I think Talib becomes the Patriots' best cover corner the moment he steps on the field. This opinion is based mostly from speaking with personnel folks around the NFL than my own evaluation of his play. The first words that came out when Talib was brought up went something like this each time: "He's very talented but comes with baggage."
Q: Tedy Bruschi talked about how much Bill Belichick has a hard time with "error repeaters." Along those lines, the recent roster move to release Sterling Moore and pick up Aqib Talib doesn't makes sense. Why cut Moore? Wasn't it Tavon Wilson that is the error repeater? What upside does Wilson have if he's an error repeater? -- Gregg (Vermont)
A: Gregg, Wilson made the same mistake twice and I think we'll see the fallout from that is that Wilson won't be starting once/if Patrick Chung and/or Steve Gregory return to full health. But the team still sees future upside in Wilson, a second-round pick, and thus wants to keep working with him. It's sort of like Kevin Faulk in 1999, his rookie season. If the Patriots cut Faulk after some of his early fumbles, and didn't give him a chance to work through them, he probably wouldn't have had the solid NFL career he put together (the Patriots will honor Faulk at halftime Sunday). As for Moore, the coaching staff/talent evaluators obviously don't see the same future upside or they wouldn't have risked losing him to one of the NFL's other 31 teams. Given that no other team claimed Moore, it appears the team's evaluation was sound in that regard.
Q: Mike, I know you have been quick to defend Josh Boyer, and I respect that you are often slow to criticize and are rarely knee-jerk. Furthermore, you have indicated that it's more of a talent issue. However, isn't one of Boyer's jobs to "coach-up" inferior talent? No one in the NFL gets to draft only elite players, but good coaches should be able to at least hide some of the talent deficiencies you point to. Additionally, you say it's a talent, not coaching issue, but you also tend to defend Arrington and McCourty especially. It's either a talent problem or it is a coaching problem, or it's both, but it's clearly a problem. So, could anything lead you to change your opinion on Boyer? -- George C. (Brookline, Mass.)
A: George, Boyer isn't perfect. No coach is. So this isn't a black and white situation, and it reminds me of when Green Bay hired Mike McCarthy as head coach after he was 49ers offensive coordinator and his unit ranked 32nd in the NFL the prior year. Doesn't it tell us something that the team just cut its nickel back (Sterling Moore, 43 percent of the snaps) and no one picked him up? Let's see what happens now that Talib is here. If he starts to look like Chris Canty, the 1997 first-round pick who never panned out, then the viewpoint on the coaching might change. I'm open-minded, but also strong in the viewpoint that the anti-Boyer stuff is over the top.
Q: I think we should put the talk about Josh Boyer to rest for now and revisit it at the end of the season. We have a very solid CB in Aqib Talib now, so if we see his performance dip then we know for a fact that something is wrong with either Boyer or our defensive strategy/scheme. If Talib continues to be a very solid cover corner then that will say that our coaching and strategy is not the issue, and that it really is the personnel. Thoughts? -- Ramin (San Marcos, Texas)
A: Sounds like a plan, Ramin. Let's hold each other accountable on this one.
Q: Hi Mike, if I'm correct, right now Aqib Talib doesn't count against the 53-man roster but sure he will be on that one before the Colts game. Also, Visanthe Shiancoe could return from IR soon and maybe it's just me, but I'd like to see what Myron Pryor can do inside. So it's two, probably three roster spots that will be needed. Who are the top five in danger if the Pats decide to get those two or three on the field? -- KG (Budapest, Hungary)
A: KG, the math adds up. I'd say veteran defensive back Derrick Martin is one player whose roster spot could be shaky. Also, with defensive lineman Ron Brace going down with injury at the end of the Rams game, perhaps that's an IR situation. After that, I'd look at defensive back Malcolm Williams possibly as a player who could head back to the practice squad, and then the linebacker spot with the likes of Mike Rivera and Jeff Tarpinian.
Q: Hi Mike, I was wondering if you can tell us what the status is with Jake Bequette. I've not heard much about where he is in the system currently. I was really hoping he would turn into a good (if not great, like Jones) pass-rusher off the edge. Ryder (Denver)
A: Ryder, Bequette is currently sixth on the depth chart at defensive end behind Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott and Justin Francis. The way things are turning out, this looks like a redshirt type of year for him at this point, similar to what we saw from 2010 third-round draft choice Taylor Price. As Bill Belichick often says, players develop at different rates. In this case, the Patriots obviously see something they like in Bequette from a down-the-road perspective, so they'll keep working with him. The way it looks now, 2013 training camp looks like a big one for him to "take the next step."