Leftovers from Patriots mailbag

Leftovers from the weekly Patriots mailbag, with Field Yates pinch-hitting for Mike Reiss in this segment:

With all the talk about what receivers will make the team, could you see Matthew Slater getting cut because his value is strictly special teams? I remember special teams captain Sam Aiken was cut after the 2009 season due to the lack of role he had in the offense. -- Peter (Reading, Mass.)

Peter, with 11 receivers in the mix, nothing is a guarantee, but I still consider Slater close to a lock. Taking into account his special teams value, leadership (he was a captain in 2011), and the fact that the Patriots gave him a three-year contract this offseason that included a $2 million signing bonus, he seems to be a player that will stick around for 2012 and beyond.

Why would the Pats risk signing Alfonzo Dennard to a four-year contract when he is facing five years in jail? If he is convicted is the contract null and void? --Patrick (Norwell)

Patrick, under the new CBA, all rookie contracts are for four years (first rounders can also include an option for a fifth year), so don’t let the length alarm you. As far as how a conviction would affect the contract, that is something that varies from contract to contract. The two sides may have agreed to a clause that would allow the team to nullify the deal in the event of a conviction, but without seeing the language of the contract, that remains unknown to us.

I'll eschew questions about wide receivers or the offensive line. I actually wondered about the Pats' quarterback position. Tom Brady is notoriously demanding of reps in practice, and staying on the field even in blowouts. He turns 35 one week before the preseason opener. Would Belichick pull rank and give Hoyer and Mallett more 1st team reps in practice, and more preseason and garbage time snaps than he did in 2011? No one would think for even a second that Brady wasn't the starter, but taking into account an older quarterback's susceptibility to injury and the eventual need of Brady's replacement, aren't more snaps for the backups in non-crunch time situations good insurance for the present and the future? -- (Tyler, New Hampshire)

Great question, Tyler. Although Brady has not shown signs of age in recent seasons, at the age of 35 (which he turns in August), it’s likely that the team is ever mindful of his workload. While Brady may prefer to stay on the field, I would not be surprised to see the team cut back (perhaps just slightly) on some of his reps in both practice and pre-season games. I wouldn’t expect to see a steep drop off, but curtailing his workload a bit would seem sensible.

Could Cedric Benson play for the Pats? I think they did a good job helping Corey Dillon step up. I think they could help Benson. -- RS Wilson (Battle Creek, MI)

RS, I’m not sure I see the fit for Benson in New England. While he is a workhorse with good durability, the Patriots seem to be targeting backs with more versatility. Benson has averaged barely over one reception per game in his career, and is not a home-run hitter from the backfield. With a stable of young players and veteran Joseph Addai in the mix, the Patriots appear set at running back.

Any updates on the contract talks of Dont'a Hightower or Jake Bequette? -- Ben (Nashua, NH)

Ben, both remain unsigned, and there’s little that we have heard regarding the progress of either deal. That being said, there’s no need to push the panic button, as each contract should be signed in plenty of time for training camp. The process of negotiating rookie contracts has become exponentially easier with the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement. In regards to Hightower, one reason for the delay could be the number of unsigned players drafted ahead of him. Teams sometimes use the deals signed by players in draft slots near their own picks as reference points (all three players drafted between Hightower and Chandler Jones, the 21st pick, are unsigned). Considering how swiftly the Patriots acted on the Jones deal, however, it would come as little surprise to see the Hightower deal come together soon. In the third round, the contracts don’t come under quite the same focus, but the Bequette deal could be a matter of the two sides deciding upon the overall value of the contract (although the CBA largely sets the value, there is some negotiating that can occur). This too should be completed in the near future.