A few leftover pieces of Patriots mail

A few leftovers from the weekly Patriots mailbag:

Dan (Williamsville, N.Y.): If you look at the Patriots history in the draft, they have a habit of protecting themselves from potential free agents by drafting their replacement a year ahead. In 2011 they grabbed Nate Solder with Matt Light in his last year and Sebastian Vollmer finishing out his rookie deal. In 2012, they used Chandler Jones to push Jermaine Cunningham and replace Mark Anderson/Andre Carter. Last year, they grabbed Jamie Collins in round 2 with Brandon Spikes in his contract year. With this in mind, I think the place to look high in the draft is interior line and safety. Devin McCourty is due for an extension that we all want, but they could stack the deck to ensure they have coverage. And with the contract status of starting right guard Dan Connolly (signed through 2014), center Ryan Wendell (free agent) and Logan Mankins (signed through 2016), a case could be made for some “future” planning there.

Dan, neither position would be a surprise to me with a high draft pick, depending on how the board falls. If Louisville safety Calvin Pryor unexpectedly slips to No. 29, for example, the Patriots could see some value there. Pryor is a bigger safety (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) who NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has compared to hard-hitting former Indianapolis Colt Bob Sanders. I think that’s the type of safety the Patriots would be eyeing, more so than another center-field type in the McCourty mold. They also have 2013 third-round pick Duron Harmon in the developmental pipeline and he did some nice things as a rookie. Likewise on the interior offensive line, the team had to like what it saw out of rookie guard Josh Kline late last season. So while I could see that position targeted with a top pick, I also think there is a favorable view of what they have in-house.

Peter (Texas): On Devin McCourty, could the Patriots extend his contract without increasing their 2014 salary cap charge? Even with the cap rising, it’s not like they have a lot of space.

Peter, McCourty’s salary-cap charge for 2014 spiked to $5.1 million. So usually the way an extension is structured, you’re going to have a few lower-level cap numbers in the first few years of the deal because the up-front bonus money can be spread out over the length of the contract. So yes, I think they could lower that number a bit, but it would spike back up in future years.

Patrick (Keene, NH): With all the young talent on this team do you see BB trading for future year picks?

Patrick, this is a deep draft, so there might be less of a desire to trade out of it when compared to last year unless it was one of those deals that produces a future first-round pick (e.g. 2014 second-round pick for 2015 first-round pick). As we look ahead to 2015, the Patriots are without a seventh-round pick, which was traded to St. Louis for receiver Greg Salas. So if they could replenish that in a minor type deal, I think that would obviously be to their liking, but not a high priority.

Andy (Framingham, Mass.): With the NFL scouting combine winding down, has there ever been any discussion of changing the tests and evaluations the players go through? It seems silly to me that anyone would put credibility into a player's 40 yard dash time or their broad jump etc. I understand that these tests can provide some insight into a player's mental and physical makeup, but I would rather see more practical evaluations like how well a LB sheds a block or if a DB can fight through a pick and so on. Those types of tests are more difficult to quantify, but when's the last time you got excited about a player's shuttle run? Compare that to how eye opening seeing a scrappy RB stand up a blitzing LB would be.

Andy, I think teams still see value in those combine-type tests as a small piece of the overall scouting process. Last year's top Patriots pick, Jamie Collins, is a good example of this. I think his athleticism shined in these drills and a team like the Patriots maybe felt a little more comfortable in selecting such a raw talent because of it. Teams get to evaluate the things you mentioned in games during the season and then all-star games after the season (e.g. Senior Bowl, etc.).