Mailbag: Ring or Hall of Fame?

This week's Patriots mailbag revisits comments made by Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson about choosing a Hall of Fame career over winning a Super Bowl ring and then Tedy Bruschi's response to those comments.

At a slow time on the NFL calendar, it's a lively topic to debate.

From there, it's a true mixed 'bag, a little bit of everything. So here we go:

Q: Mike, this entire debate with Tedy Bruschi and LaDainian Tomlinson needs to be put in the proper context. Bruschi talks about the championships as the ultimate because, while his numbers may not catch the voters' eye enough, he was a staple on some of the greatest NFL teams we've seen and helped create a dynasty. Tomlinson, however, has no championships but a Hall of Fame resume. Common denominator? Legacy. Tomlinson wouldn't trade his numbers for one championship season as a committee back, and Bruschi wouldn't trade his rings for a few more sacks to impress the committee. -- Christian Lawless (Framingham, Mass.)

A: Christian, I'm all for putting things in the proper context, as I think it's easier than ever to lose that these days. I like the way you framed the questions, and the part I read over and over was this, "Tomlinson wouldn't trade his numbers for one championship season as a committee back." That's the hard part for me to digest. I understand people play the game for different reasons, and I'm not naïve to think that personal accomplishments/statistics aren't important to many. Being the best at what you do means something, no doubt. But, to me, I have a difficult time thinking that in a team sport like football, anything is more important than working together with a group of 52 others for the purposes of winning a ring. I'm thinking of Rodney Harrison's remarks at "The Tradition" as I write that. He said:

"I would say it's more special now that I'm away and I get a chance to really sit back and [think] about what we accomplished. To be able to come together with so many different individuals, so many different personalities, and really have one common bond and one common goal, I think that was so special. Bill Belichick was the perfect catalyst to really bring all our different personalities together. To have grown men set their egos aside and say 'We're trying to win football games.' We didn't care if Tom [Brady] got the big contract, if he got all the write-ups in the newspaper, we just wanted to win football games."

Q: RE: Bruschi's comments about rather being a champ than a HOF'er: I agree with his conclusion, but not his analysis. There are a lot of mediocre players that have rings, but very few have made it to the HOF. Ask Jermaine Wiggins: Would he rather have immortality or that one ring? I suppose that some of the very few that can legitimately answer the question would be Tom Brady, Ray Lewis and Joe Montana. Is Bruschi even qualified to answer the question? Your thoughts? -- Tom (Boston)

A: Tom, I'd pick the ring, as explained above. I took your advice, and I went ahead and asked Jermaine Wiggins (thanks to Michael Felger for facilitating the contact). Here was Wiggins' response:

"I wouldn't trade my Super Bowl ring for a Hall of Fame career. The ultimate accomplishment is to win a championship, not the Hall of Fame. When I heard the remarks, I thought they came across as a little selfish; it's almost like 'What would you rather have, a rushing title or a conference championship?' LT accomplished a lot at the highest level at his position. But I've heard Dan Marino say it, he'd give up the Hall of Fame jacket and bust for that ring. Charles Barkley said something similar when it came to an NBA title. I know the counterargument is that anybody can get lucky and be part of a Super Bowl team.

At the end of the day, you might have the Hall of Fame career, but then there's always this -- 'He was never able to win the big game.'"

Q: Mike, I am an expat contractor working overseas in Kyrgystan and a die hard Patriots fan. So my connection to the Pats is limited to ESPN Boston online and I can only watch games if AFN shows them. So I've got a couple of questions. 1) The team honored (appropriately) Mrs. Kraft with her initials on a patch on uniforms this past season. Will they do the same for Junior Seau this year? 2) With so many improvements in coaching (Josh McDaniels, for one) and player acquisitions, most fans and many analysts predict another Super Bowl appearance -- and presumed victory -- for the upcoming season. So the question is simply: What do you think? -- Chris (Bishkek, Kyrgystan)

A: Chris, all the best in Kyrgystan. This is one of the reasons I initially was so compelled about a decade ago by our changing media business and the World Wide Web -- how it literally has a worldwide reach. I'm flattered that you make ESPNBoston.com a destination. As for a possible Junior Seau patch or something to commemorate his memory, I am checking on it. There were no definitive answers as of the time to post the mailbag (my sense is that the Patriots would defer to the Chargers out of respect). As for the Patriots and their projection to win a Super Bowl, I understand it. I believe they have as good a chance as any team in the league at this point. If I had to predict right now, I'd pick them. That is said with the understanding that the picture is ever-evolving, as no one can project injuries.

Q: Mike, I have to argue a little bit with the articles the last couple weeks regarding the difference between right and left tackles. While I think in general, the context of the discussion that the best pass protector of your two tackles should be on the left side, the whole "RT should be a run blocker, LT should be a pass blocker" concept has been significantly over-emphasized. We've seen time and time again in this league that coaches will put their best pass rusher on whichever side he is most likely to succeed, whether it's the left or right. I think also in today's game, where teams emphasize sub packages with two strong pass rushing ends, a right tackle that's a strong run blocker and poor pass blocker will have a pretty tough time finding a job in this league. Thoughts? -- Tim (Georgetown, Mass.)

A: Tim, when I read this, one of the first things I thought about is the Bills' plans to use Mario Williams mostly at left end, which supports your line of thinking. So I get the point, and it's a good one. But in reading those pieces, which I truly enjoyed, I didn't necessarily consider it a black-and-white proposition. I looked at it this way -- if you had the choice to put your best pass-protector on any spot on the line, where would you do it? I'd still pick left tackle.

Q: Hey Mike, I recently saw an article saying that Robert Kraft is all for having a team in London. Do you think we could see a UK based team in the NFL within this decade? Do you think it could lead to other international teams joining the NFL? -- Dominic Giacobazzi (Peru, Ill.)

A: Dominic, I think it's a real possibility, and the reason is what I heard while listening to Sirius XM NFL Radio on Monday, while a member of the NFL's marketing/business department was interviewed. My biggest takeaway from listening to the interview was that adding an international team would create a significant revenue stream because of the worldwide television tie-in. When I heard that, and I considered how NFL owners are always looking for ways to generate more money and that revenues are closer to peak levels in the U.S., it made me think this is a real possibility within the next decade. Then the question would become, is it a new team or a relocated team? I think it's early to say either at this point.

Q: Mike, since the start of the 16 game schedule in 1978 if we compare the records of the two Super Bowl teams in the three-year span after their game, the winning team has come back to win another 10 times, the losing team has never won it in the next three years. Some team will snap this string, and I hope it is this year's Patriots. Still, I hope Bill Belichick is trying to overcome, not ignore this "coincidence." -- Joe (Waimea, Hawaii)

A: Joe, I have little doubt that Bill Belichick has all the angles covered on this one. My guess is that he'd say the past will have nothing to do with whether the 2012 Patriots snap this streak; that it will be primarily about preparation and performance on the field this year. At the same time, when past results might help sharpen the focus of his players, I could see him tapping into the past like this. For example, the Titans have won their last two home openers with last year's victory coming against a tough Baltimore team. I could see him mentioning that in the first week of the season, pointing out to players that it has been a few years since a team went into Tennessee and won in the Titans' home opener (Texans, 2009).

Q: Hi Mike, my question is on the offensive playbook, and why it is so complicated, and why the Patriots don't draft and develop their own crop of receivers. My point is that even for an experienced guy like Chad Ochocinco to have trouble, it seems like something has to give. -- Friday (Boston)

A: There are two things that come to mind with this topic, Friday, and the first is that so many defenses are complex these days, so the offenses need to have flexibility to adjust -- pre-snap and even post-snap. If we want to simplify it, that's where I'd start. Naturally, some offenses are going to be more complex than others, and the Patriots' are high on the list, in part because of the quarterback now entering his 13th year in the system, so you have a lot of accumulation there over the years. As for drafting and developing receivers, it's been a weak spot for the team, but overall, I don't think it has been a major issue in terms of the team's success. Specific to the responsibilities of receivers in the team's offense, receivers coach Chad O'Shea said at the Super Bowl: "At times, there are four decisions that a receiver needs to make after the snap the way our offense is. That's one of the advantages of our offense, that we give players a lot of flexibility within the system to take what the defense gives us. And that's definitely something that's unique about our offense." (Boston Globe link).

Q: Hey Mike, I wanted to commend you on your long-term analysis of Ochocinco. He confirms the suspicion that players either understand this offense within a few weeks (Jabar Gaffney) or never at all (Joey Galloway). With that in mind, we know that Welker, Lloyd, Branch, Gaffney and Edelman can play in this offense, and Slater makes the roster for his special teams duties. Does that leave anyone else? Could Davis or Ebert sneak on as developmental projects playing special teams? -- Chris W. (SW, Conn.)

A: Chris, thanks for the thoughts on Ochocinco. I never root for players to fail, so it's hard to feel good about it in that sense. At the same time, it builds some personal confidence when what you think you see is how it ultimately ends up unfolding. We know that's not always the case here (yes, that was me predicting a big second-year jump for cornerback Darius Butler in 2010). On Britt Davis and Jeremy Ebert, I think they have long odds, and if we were projecting the roster today, I'd leave them off. But that's the thing, we don't have to do it today, and all it takes is an injury or a strong, consistent performance over the course of training camp to alter the picture. One thing I want to watch on Ebert is his health. A leg injury slowed him in minicamp, and if he's not ready for the start of training camp, he could be a physically unable to perform (PUP) candidate that delays that potential decision until six to nine weeks into the season.

Q: Hi Mike, don't you think Gronkowski needs a handler? Maybe a team of handlers? He is everyone's playful 22-year-old son except he is famous, worth millions and has access to lots more trouble. I see a major mess on this kid's horizon, and the season can't start soon enough for me so that he is off the college and club circuit. -- John F (Walpole, Mass.)

A: John, I've thought about something along these lines. I am all for players capitalizing on their notoriety and success when they have a chance -- which is what Gronkowski is doing -- but there comes a point when a line must be drawn. Has Gronkowski gone over that line? He hasn't done anything to hurt anyone, hasn't been arrested like we've seen from other players, or known to be involved in an altercation. That doesn't mean it can't happen, and I do think he needs to be careful about the situations he puts himself. At the same time, these players shouldn't stop living their lives and having some fun.

Q: It's hard to believe the Patriots would just let Brian Hoyer walk at the end of the season without getting anything in return. Knowing Ryan Mallett has potential and nothing negative to report from his time here, what are the chances of Hoyer being shipped off during the season, with Mallett becoming the primary backup? Knowing it is [risky] going into an NFL season without a capable backup QB (Colts last year), would the Patriots feel comfortable with Mallett as that guy? Another thought, with the trade deadline pushed back, would that have any factor in this trade scenario? -- Matt (Newport, R.I.)

A: Matt, I like both Hoyer and Mallett, but I want to put the brakes on a little bit when it comes to the backup quarterbacks. I think the expectations of getting something meaningful in return for either player in a trade, at this time, are a bit higher than the reality. First, I just don't see the suitors out there. Second, I still think both have to prove it to the rest of the NFL in the preseason, and that's why a nationally televised game like the Aug. 20 Monday night home game against the Eagles potentially looms large for them. I love Hoyer's intangibles, grasp of the offense, work ethic and overall command in the huddle. It's hard not to like Mallett's arm strength. But both also have some questions that still need to be answered before I see a team even considering a big investment. Also, consider that any team could have signed Hoyer this offseason for the cost of a big contract and second-round draft choice, yet it didn't happen. So in the end, the best-case scenario might be what happened with the Packers and Matt Flynn, as Flynn signed with the Seahawks in free agency, and the Packers could be in line for a nice compensatory draft choice in 2013.

Q: Mike, Kevin Faulk is one of my favorite Patriots but, barring injuries, it would appear that the team will move on without him. Have you heard anything to indicate otherwise? -- Gregg (Scottsdale, Ari.)

A: Gregg, I haven't heard anything otherwise when it comes to Faulk. The Patriots haven't issued his jersey No. 33, which is one indication there remains a chance of his return, but I think that would take an injury from one of the players already on the roster at this point.

Q: Mike, I was reading about how all change of possessions are now automatically reviewed and the consensus seems to be that coaches are in favor of it because that is one less decision for them to make. My question is, with so many coaches mismanaging challenges and thus timeouts, wouldn't a coach like BB be against the change because he is losing an element of the game where he can gain an advantage? -- Adam (Winnipeg)

A: Interesting viewpoint, Adam, and one I hadn't considered. I'm hoping it's something he might address in training camp, although this topic might spark one of his annual responses when it comes to rules, "It doesn't matter what I think, it's our job to understand the rules."

Q: Hey Mike, we're coming up on the time when several of the players from the Patriots' Super Bowl run will be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Obviously one day Tom Brady will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but do you think any of the other players from that era will have a chance of making it? I don't personally see any of them making it except for possibly Ty Law or Rodney Harrison. Thanks, Mike. -- Eric (Clinton, N.Y.)

A: Eric, when it comes to rankings and Hall of Fame stuff, I'm often off the mark. I don't envision Law and Harrison getting into the Hall, but why not Adam Vinatieri? I know there is only one kicker in the Hall (Jan Stenerud), but when I think about some of the most clutch, toughest kicks in the history of the game, Vinatieri's name is at the top of my list.

Q: Mike, with the new rules for the NFL offseason OTAs, I was wondering what the rules are for when the OTAs are completed. Are players allowed to be at the facilities between OTAs and training camp? -- Joe (Quincy, Mass.)

A: Joe, players can be at the facility for individual strength and conditioning workouts, but no footballs may be used. During such activities, no coaches or other club personnel who have any type of coaching responsibilities (including, but not limited to, the club's director of athletic performance, its strength and conditioning coach, etc.) are permitted on the field.