When going through questions for this week's Patriots mailbag, one thought that came to mind is how there is a 365-day-a-year cycle to improve a team's roster. We often think about big free-agent signings in March, the draft in April, and now the June 1 marker for unsigned players who don't count against the compensatory draft pick formula.
But consider some of these key contributors over the years, and when they have joined the Patriots:
DE Rob Ninkovich: Aug. 2, 2009
G Dan Connolly: Sept. 12, 2007
LS Danny Aiken: Sept. 4, 2011
CB Kyle Arrington: Sept. 21, 2009
FB James Develin: Sept. 1, 2012
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: Sept. 5, 2012
This is brought up because I sense some disappointment in some corners that there wasn't a more immediate move from the Patriots once the calendar turned to June. As the players above show us, that doesn't mean there won't be moves in the coming days, weeks and months.
Q. Hi Mike, June 1 went by and no news about signing another tight end. Do you think they will go ahead with their current group or are they still negotiating and some news may be coming soon? Assuming both check out healthwise, which one would the Patriots like to sign: Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley? -- Oliver (Burlington)
A. Oliver, I wouldn't close the door on an acquisition. The great unknown is the team's view of the medical situation with both players. My educated guess would be they would have more comfort level with Keller. If both were healthy, Finley has the higher upside.
Q. Hey Mike, now that we have all patiently waited for June 1, what's the latest on TE depth? Playing GM, I would sign both Keller and Finley, as I have very little confidence outside of Gronk. But I also have huge doubts that Gronk plays 16 games, never mind the playoffs. Even if BB is not planning on a 2-TE attack this season, not providing adequate insurance leaves a potential gaping hole if Gronk goes down. Is BB thinking about converting someone from another position to TE? Is the injury to Keller/Finley not worth the risk? -- JB (Boston)
A. JB, the players working at the spot at last Friday's practice were Hoomanawanui, undrafted free agent Justin Jones and James Develin, whose fullback position has a natural linkage with the tight end spot. Rob Gronkowski is still rehabbing, undrafted free agent Asa Watson was at the NFL Players Association's rookie premiere, while four-year veteran D.J. Williams was limited. I think they need another player there and would expect it to happen at some point, even if it doesn't unfold until the end of the preseason when there is more supply after roster cuts.
Q. Do you believe Tom Brady is in decline? Or were more of his struggles about the players who were placed around him? Bill Belichick's failure to put real wide receivers around him is his biggest mistake and has cost them championships. -- Ryan (Concord)
A. Ryan, I don't believe Brady is in decline from an elite quarterback perspective. Like every other quarterback, he missed some throws in critical situations (e.g. AFC Championship Game), but the arm strength, ability to read coverages, decision-making and accuracy all seem to still be at a very high level. So I lean more to the side of 2013 being more about the players put around him than a personal decline. Part of that was tied to the investment in tight ends Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, which the team didn't get a big return on.
Q. Jimmy Garoppolo signed a four-year, $3.3 million contract to be the backup in New England for the next four years. What's great about this pick is the fact that we get a backup QB, with upside, for four seasons at only $3.3 million. What's the current rate for a free-agent backup QB? Simply based on economics, that's a good pick in my book. -- Corey (Saco, Maine)
A. Corey, a top backup quarterback with starting experience, such as the Colts' Matt Hasselbeck, commands around $4 million per season. This highlights the importance of developing young talent, because most of them represent "cheap labor" in the NFL's economic model. As you pointed out, the total of value of Garoppolo's four-year contract is still significantly less than one year of a player such as Hasselbeck.
Q. Hey Mike, it seems like there's some concern surrounding the center position. What do you think the chances are that we'd see Marcus Cannon kick inside to RG and have Dan Connolly return to his old starting center spot? I feel like Ryan Wendell was the weakest link in the line last year, and Bryan Stork may not be ready to play right away. -- Sterling (Clinton)
A. They have that flexibility, Sterling, but I don't think that's in the plans right now. Cannon played pretty well last season at tackle, and that's probably his best spot. He was working on the left side in last Friday's practice, which was a bit different for him as starter Nate Solder was held out of practice. For right now, they'll go with Wendell and Stork at center, Connolly and sixth-round pick Jon Halapio at right guard, with Logan Mankins, Josh Kline and Chris Barker at left guard. Let's see where the chips fall from there. I wouldn't rule out Stork competing for a starting spot at center right off the bat.
Q. Hey Mike. My question is about the wide receiver position. I'm still a little worried about our outside receiver position. We have a lot of WRs, but many are slot receivers. The only outside receivers I can pick out are Brandon LaFell and Aaron Dobson. How do you think the Pats address this position? I think the Pats should take a risk and go for Santonio Holmes, Andre Johnson or Danario Alexander to bolster the position and give Brady another outside threat. Your thoughts? -- Patrick G. (Quincy, Massachusetts)
A. Patrick, I've been thinking about the possibility of Holmes as well. The reason I haven't pushed it is because I think the club would probably view that as blocking the path of youngsters like Josh Boyce (high fourth-round pick, 2013) and they want to give those players a chance to develop. Holmes' work ethic has also come under some scrutiny, but the dynamics of that situation could always change. I'd add Kenbrell Thompkins to the outside receiver group and he looked pretty good to me in Friday's practice; I think he can still be a factor. Overall, this all comes back to Dobson to me. They drafted him in the second round last year (59th overall), and they need him to come through and be that outside threat. This is his year to emerge. Without him on the practice field Friday, the throws to the outside looked similar to me as what we saw last season -- tight windows when throwing to mostly undersized receivers.
Q. I think you are way off on your assessment of a possible Andre Johnson trade. A first-rounder and conditional second (possible first) for a WR who will be 33 before the start of this season is ridiculous. The Patriots acquired a 30-year-old Randy Moss for a fourth-rounder. Even one first-rounder would be too expensive for a player who won't be around very long. -- Scott (Southington, Connecticut)
A. Scott, I think the difference between Johnson and Moss is that one team wants to keep the player (Texans/Johnson) while the other team was ready to move on from the player (Raiders/Moss). When trying to acquire a player that a club has little to no interest in parting ways with, a team needs to come to the table with an offer that is tough to turn down. Hence the thoughts of what it would take to pry Johnson away from the Texans.
Q. Mike, I think you're going a little too far to make your point on Andre Johnson. There's no way that anyone gives up a first-rounder for him because he will be 33 in July, and his contract is an obvious problem. It's not smart business to give up a first-round pick for someone who will only give you a maximum of three years, and I saw you talking about giving a 2015 first-rounder with a conditional 2016 first. In my opinion he won't go for anything higher than a third-rounder if he is dealt, but I could see a team giving up a second for him and would leave the door open on that. Nothing more than that, though. -- Ramin (San Marcos, Texas)
A. Ramin, my feeling is that the Texans will easily view keeping Johnson as a greater asset than the second-round pick they could receive in a trade, especially if it's a projected late second-rounder from a team like New England. So my point is that when a team wants to keep the player, a rival team making its trade pitch really has to blow that club away with an offer to create an incentive to deal. So if you're the Patriots and you're serious about trying to acquire Johnson, I think that deal needs to be sweetened considerably or it's not happening. Just trying to be realistic here.
Q. With the logjam at WR, I think the odds are high that Aaron Dobson gets IR'd for his foot before the cut to 53. Also, cornerback Darrelle Revis has made a history of signing one-year-only contracts. He's a rental in that they'll have to renegotiate next year, but his strategy of betting on himself works out for everyone since he never gets paid below market, and the team is never exposed to long-term risk. If all goes well this year, I wouldn't be surprised if he signs a very similar contract next year to be a Patriot. -- Ben (Austin, Texas)
A. Ben, it would be a major disappointment on Dobson if that's the way it unfolds. I think they really need him and are counting on him in 2014. There is no indication that I am aware of where IR is the expectation. As for Revis, I know some have looked at the recent big free-agent deals (e.g. for cornerback Richard Sherman) and figured it's a one-and-done situation. Too early to be thinking along those lines. I think it's similar to when Corey Dillon arrived in 2004 -- a competitor thirsting for the chance to play for a championship contender, with all possibilities still open.
Q. Hey Mike, how do you think the No. 2 cornerback spot plays out? I'm personally not as high on Brandon Browner as everyone else is. People seem to forget how well Alfonzo Dennard played last year. I think Dennard, Logan Ryan and Browner will all start depending on matchups. -- Luke (Maine)
A. Luke, I lean a bit toward your line of thinking on Browner. I like the concept of what he could bring to the defense with physical play and press coverage, but I do think it's notable that the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks didn't make a more competitive effort to keep him. Because we saw Dennard and Ryan struggle in the AFC Championship Game, it might make it easier to overlook some of the good things they did last season. Both can be competitive at that spot.
Q. Hi Mike, I'm trying to plan a trip to Richmond to watch the Pats/Redskins joint practices later this year. Any tips you can provide for the best way to experience an event like that, such as how early you should get there to get a good spot, how long the day goes, etc? Thanks! -- Eoin (Fullerton, California)
A. I haven't seen the itinerary for those practices, but it's usually around a two-hour session. Depending on weather, the times could fluctuate, so one thought is to keep your schedule flexible. I think an early arrival is always a good thing -- it gives you the best chance to pick the spot from where you'd like to watch -- so plan for an hour or two before the announced practice.
Q. Hi Mike, one of the biggest questions surrounding the Patriots this year is who will play opposite Devin McCourty at safety. Ed Reed is still a free agent. On paper, a nickel backfield of Revis/Browner/Arrington with Reed and McCourty seems pretty incredible. Other than money, what would be the downside to bringing Reed in? I know Reed wasn't his old self last year, and it's possible Father Time may have caught up to him, but he did have three picks in the last four games of the season. The Pats were reportedly interested in him when he was released by Houston last year. Why not now? -- James (Derry, New Hampshire)
A. James, I'm not sure how interested the Patriots truly were last year. I think Bill Belichick has a lot of respect for Reed, but in the end, don't believe he saw the fit last season. As you mentioned, Reed didn't play well last season, and the tape shows a player in decline. While there's always a possibility, it seems unlikely to me that the Patriots would make a move on him.
Q, Hi, I have a question about defensive tackle Armond Armstead. I'm hoping for big things from him this season, or at the very least I'm hoping to see him in uniform on the field. But you reported that he was "limited in his work" in OTAs. Is he still hurt? How could that be? Or am I reading too much into this? -- Chris (Arlington, Virginia)
A. Chris, it could be a few things with Armstead at this time. It's possible that he was fully cleared and then just tweaked something at some point. Or they are working him slowly back to top condition after he missed all of last season. My educated guess would be the latter.