FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- I'm always interested in what topics will fill up the Patriots mailbag, and the American Enterprise Institute's takedown of the Wells report is the catalyst for a Tom Brady-centric theme this week.
AEI is an organization that the NFL tapped in the Bountygate appeal hearings with the New Orleans Saints, and which the New York Times viewed as worthy of having a place on its opinion page this past Friday.
At this time next week, Brady will have his formal appeal with commissioner Roger Goodell as arbitrator. This is what seems to be at the forefront of the minds of many emailers, so let's get right to the questions:
Q. Hey Mike, when Brady goes before Roger Goodell next week, will members of the media be allowed to cover the hearing? Are reporters present or only representatives of Brady and of the NFL office? What access is available to the public, if any? -- Jim R. (North Haven, Connecticut)
A. Jim, this will be a private hearing with no public or media access. It's similar to what you might remember from the 2011 lockout reporting, where those covering the story were waiting on New York and Washington, D.C., street corners for the people involved to arrive/leave, etc., hoping they comment.
Q. Mike, is it time to speculate how the Deflategate appeal will play out? Here are my thoughts: Roger Goodell reduces suspension to two games. Brady and his team of attorneys find this unacceptable. They file lawsuit (the latest true "independent" report publicized by American Enterprise Institute will be a cornerstone piece). Brady and the team receives a temporary injunction on suspension. Brady plays the entire season, as this lawsuit will go on for over a year. -- Alan A. (Tucson, Arizona)
A. Alan, like you, I have subscribed to the theory that the four-game suspension for Brady was decided on with the idea that it could be easily trimmed to two on appeal. The question is whether Brady would find that acceptable, and my sense is that he won't, because by agreeing to any suspension he would be acknowledging some level of guilt. As for where it goes from there, and the timetable, the sides would be at the mercy of the courts. I'm not as familiar with the way things work in the courts.
Q. Mike, do you think that Roger Goodell or the NFL will ever declare the Patriots innocent of altering the footballs, opting for just mishandling/taking them without authorization? Could the AEI Report be the catalyst for overturning the whole punishment for Brady? -- Dan (Leominster, Massachusetts)
A. Dan, that seems like a Hail Mary to me at this point, as Goodell has stood behind the Wells report, calling it "very clear and comprehensive." The league paid about $5 million for the report. While Goodell has said the NFL is open to new information, and the AEI report falls into that category as it highlights some of the obvious flaws of the Wells report, it would shock me if that alone is enough for Goodell to completely overturn all penalties relative to the Patriots and Brady.
Q. Mike, the AEI report is a devastating look at the science underlying the Wells report, which they concluded was "deeply flawed." The question is, will the NFL, after spending millions of dollars and creating a media circus, have the courage to acknowledge this and alter its penalties? This latest piece should be the final nail in Roger Goodell's coffin. From a fan point of view, his leadership has stood for one thing: total incompetence. -- Sean S. (Seattle, Washington)
A. Sean, to this point in the process I have seen very little (if any) introspection from the NFL as to its handling of the entire situation. An example of this is that in the 243-page Wells report, there is just one paragraph that touches on how the league conducted its investigation and any flaws/mistakes along the way. Likewise, there have been few (if any) public comments acknowledging what could have been done differently by the NFL. So based on that, it seems the league office is not budging and thus it's hard for me to believe anything will significantly change in the NFL's approach at this point.
Q. Hi Mike, have you had a chance to read the American Enterprise Institute's analysis of the Wells Report? Just as you and all of us Patriots fan have always maintained, they have found the report to be "deeply flawed." Do you think this will be considered in Tom Brady's appeal, and possibly change Mr. Kraft's mind about appealing the team's penalties? The authors did mention their findings were heard during Bountygate's penalty appeals, which was subsequently overturned/reduced for all the players involved. -- Gora (New York City)
A. Gora, I read the AEI report with interest and commented on it in this piece. One would think Tom Brady's defense team will use it as part of its testimony. As for Robert Kraft and his perspective, I don't envision him going through any formal appeal process based on the AEI report (which debunked the science in the Wells report but didn't address text messages between equipment assistant John Jastremski and locker-room attendant Jim McNally). In the end, I think Kraft sees Brady's fight as the one that can exonerate the team should Brady win, as that's the fight that has the best chance at victory.
Q. Mike, who was the most surprising show up for the Super Bowl ring ceremony? Tim Wright with his recent release? Stevan Ridley with his "they made a mistake" Deflategate comments? Big Vince? Also, what would be the shot of the Pats landing Eric Weddle from the Chargers? Weddle and D-Mac would be a killer safety combo that would instantly improve our DB group. -- Rick B. (Chesapeake, Virginia)
A. Rick, I don't think anyone was a major surprise, but Wilfork's presence stood out to me, as one of the nice photos of the night was seeing him and Bill Belichick side by side. From Wilfork's perspective, it could be hard to accept that the team you played for from 2004 to 2014 didn't value you financially at the same level as a new team, but he was able to put that aside for one final celebration and I thought that was nice to see.
Q. Mike, Tim Wright's release was pretty surprising, and the fact that 10 teams put in waiver claims on him shows that plenty of people still think he's a good player. I was thinking, though, that maybe it was a coordinated agreement between Belichick and Buccaneers GM Jason Licht, who know each other well. Since the Bucs top the waiver list, they would be guaranteed the ability to secure Wright if the Patriots released him. Sort of a one-way trade. Perhaps Wright just wasn't working well enough in the Patriots system and they wanted to give him another chance in Tampa. Do you think my theory holds any water? -- Jacob (Washington, D.C.)
A. Jacob, the idea that Bill Belichick was doing a "solid" for Jason Licht is possible, as the teams have done business in the past and have a history of working together. But I tend to think that's a little bit of a stretch, in part because Belichick always says every decision he makes is in the best interest of the Patriots and there was no harm in letting Wright compete for a job through training camp as he represented quality depth in the event of injury and was cheap on the salary cap. Something isn't quite adding up there to me.
Q. Hi Mike, if the facts in the story are true about Malcolm Butler being late because his flight scheduled for the night before was delayed, I think being dismissed from OTAs is too harsh a punishment. This seems like it's out of the player's control. Sometimes BB rules like the NCAA! Your thoughts? I hope this doesn't set him back. -- Mark W. (Chicago)
A. Mark, I thought it was a little harsh, but in the end Bill Belichick was sending a message to Butler and the other 89 players, and it's hard for me to argue with Belichick's track record. Butler had received widespread praise this offseason and this was bringing him back to earth. While he missed valuable on-field practice time, the lesson he learned from a big-picture standpoint probably trumps that. He can be a special player and ultimately I view it as Belichick helping him in the long run. I know that sounds backward, but I view it similarly to a parent at home holding the line with stringent rules because he or she knows it's best for the kids. More thoughts here.
Q. Hi Mike, have you heard any talk about the Patriots interest in former Eagles guard Evan Mathis? I would love to have his talent and experience on the O-line, especially when playing the defensive fronts in the AFC East. -- Gary (East Hanover, New Jersey)
A. Gary, I'm not sure the level of interest the Patriots have in Mathis at this time. My sense is that they want to see how the young interior linemen look before making that type of move, whether it's Mathis or Dan Connolly (who sat next to Tom Brady at the Super Bowl ring ceremony Sunday night).
Q. Mike, don't we now have to get serious about the Pats' glaring offseason errors and the likelihood that they will take a big slide in 2015? The secondary's currently awful -- one of the worst in the league -- there's no depth at LB, and we have no big-time RB or pass-rusher. Yes, you'll tell me about team-building, giving it some time, and the like; but Team Kraft has done nothing to make the team better, and allowed everything to let it substantially slide, with the exception of keeping McCourty. How can anyone realistically expect a defense of the crown with this dubious crew? -- John (Alexandria, Virginia)
A. John, we'll get into this more as the weeks go by, but I didn't want you to think I was ducking the question. At this point compared to last year, I don't see as talented of an overall team. But that doesn't mean they won't compete for a Super Bowl. Part of it is that when I look around the AFC, I don't see another club that makes me say, "They are much better than the Patriots." I also believe the Patriots will improve over time because of their track record in doing so, which comes back to an excellent coaching staff. Yes, there are plenty of question marks to dissect right now, but I'll return the question to you: Which team truly has all the answers right now?
Q. Sixth-round draft choice Matt Wells of Mississippi State did some very intriguing things in college: He blitzed well off the edge and showed he could cover downfield (4 sacks, 8 pass breakups). Sort of like Jamie Collins, Wells doesn't come in with a defined position but he has notable athleticism: He ran a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He seems like an option to match up with tight ends on passing downs -- fast enough to cover them, but also capable of making plays at and around the line of scrimmage. To the point, he seemed to line up at both defensive end and nickel corner last year. Is that how the coaches are using him? Thanks. -- Jeff (New York, N.Y.)
A. Jeff, I spoke with one scout whose team didn't regard Wells as highly as the Patriots, which is passed along for context as it relates to expectations. First and foremost, my sense is that the Patriots view Wells as a potential core special-teams player (where his speed mostly shows up) and that's the most realistic spot we can expect to see him in 2015 if he makes the club. Anything else, at this point, would be a bonus. I haven't seen him as a big part of defensive plans in practices.
Q. Hi Mike, is Jake Bequette a tight end or defensive end? Will the Pats keep him for one more year? -- Bob H. (Methuen, Massachusetts)
A. Bob, the Patriots have been working Bequette exclusively at tight end this spring. That can always change, but look for him more on offense at this point. He's a long shot to earn a roster spot.
Q. Hey Mike, I think running back coach Ivan Fears' quotes on OTAs could rival Allen Iverson's "practice" rant. "We're talking about shorts and T-shirts, man. What are we talking about? We're talking about shorts and T-shirts, man." -- Michael (Las Vegas)
A. Michael, it's always nice to get that type of insight from members of the coaching staff and Fears is a gem. Here's the link for those who might have missed it.