Waiting on Welker, and more

There has been no shortage of news surrounding the Patriots in recent weeks, from quarterback Tom Brady's contract extension, to the club not using the franchise tag, to receiver Brandon Lloyd's uncertain future with the team.

This is what's great about the NFL. The season never ends and there are always things to analyze and dissect.

We'll do plenty of that this week, as the mailbag was overflowing.

Q. Hi Mike, with the cap space created by Tom Brady's contract extension combined with $4.9 million saved against the cap if Lloyd's $3 million option bonus is passed over (probable), then tagging a player was neither advisable nor necessary. If players like Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib, Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman can be re-signed with the money available, the Patriots will be in good shape. The risk now, though, is the fallout from those who may not re-sign. What did you think about the Patriots passing on the franchise tag? -- Jake M. (Vancouver, BC)

A. Jake, I thought the cost of the tags made it unlikely that the Patriots would use them for two reasons: They didn't represent good value and it would have restricted them from making other moves. They are obviously a better team with Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer, but the question becomes "at what cost?" When building a team, tough decisions have to be made and I think this was the right one, forgoing the tag. I sense optimism that Welker will return. I think the Patriots will be competitive to retain him, as well as their other free agents.

Q. If you are Wes Welker, how do you feel about Brady's deal? The leader of the team and friend takes a "creative" deal to stay with NE. Does that make it harder for Welker to leave for top dollar so long as NE is in the ballpark? We all know what Brady had in mind by creating cap space, so how does that play between Welker and Brady if Welker bolts despite NE being in the hunt? -- Karl (Charlotte, N.C.)

Karl, Welker and Brady are close friends and I think it's the type of situation where Welker is, first and foremost, happy for him. In terms of the trickle-down effect, I think it sets the general parameters for a Welker deal because if Brady is willing to accept less than market value on his extension, it's hard for Welker to demand top-of-the-line money and think he'll get it from New England. Brady, to me, is the ceiling. The Patriots won't offer another player more than he makes. In the end, it comes down to what's important to the player in these situations. I think the Patriots will have an offer that might not be as rich as Welker initially hoped but is still solid; then it's up to Welker if he wants to attempt to max out somewhere else. I never begrudge a player for his decision, because every situation is a bit different and what makes one player happy might not make another happy. Take Rob Gronkowski as an example. When the Patriots signed him to an extension last year, some felt he left a lot of money on the table and that he would've made more had he just decided to play out his rookie contract. But look at his recent run of bad luck/injuries with his broken forearm -- that dynamic has changed a bit and now Gronkowski cashing in early looks like a smart decision.

Q. Does Welker hit the open market or does he agree to an extension first? -- Anonymous

A. I think Welker ultimately signs with the Patriots, and if I had to make an educated guess, I think it will happen before free agency or during the negotiating period of March 9-12. The reason is that I'd imagine the Patriots creating that urgency in talks by saying, "This is our best offer, but we can't guarantee it will be there once free agency starts because we have to protect ourselves with other moves." Take that, and couple it with my feeling that the sides are more aligned in their goals this year, and I think it gets done.

Q. Hey Mike, I know it is rarely used, but why wouldn't the Patriots slap Wes Welker with the transition tag? That way he could talk to other teams and take the best offer he gets back to the Pats. I hear a lot of people say that Welker is worth more to the Patriots than any other team, and if that is true, there is a good chance the Patriots would be happy to match any offer he gets. Welker would get his long-term contract and everyone wins. In a worst-case scenario, a team offers him too much money and the Pats need to let him walk, and they would get a draft pick out of it. Seems like the perfect solution to me. What am I missing? -- Jeff (Springfield, Mass.)

A. Jeff, when a transition-tag player signs with another team, the club he leaves actually doesn't receive anything in return. So that's one factor. The second is that I think teams are often reluctant to let another team craft an offer that they might have to absorb on their cap. Usually if a team is seriously considering putting together an offer that they hope isn't matched, it's structured in a way where there is a big first-year salary to create a big cap charge. Finally, Welker's case is unique in that he was the franchise-tagged player last year. As colleague Field Yates noted, Welker would still be eligible for a 20 percent raise of his 2012 salary as a transition-tagged player, which would be $11.4 million.

Q. Hey Mike, not to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to touch one last time on Brady's extension. Putting everything else aside, I feel the biggest message with this deal is that Brady's hungrier than ever to get a couple more Super Bowls under his belt. With that in mind, most of the talk about extra cap room seems to be focusing on the offense, and WR position the most, which I get since we need to lock up the receiver spot. However, I feel Brady might be thinking that by freeing up this extra room, it helps Bill Belichick go after more defensive players. He has always said that he leaves personnel decisions to the organization, and I believe that is true. In this case though, I think he feels that if BB can shore up the defensive backfield, and maybe get an extra pass rusher or two, this team might get over the hump and win another championship. I think Tom realizes that if you can't stop anybody in critical moments of the game, it doesn't matter how many points you put up on the scoreboard. Tom is confident enough in his abilities to get the job done with whomever he's throwing to, but I think he realizes that if the team had better defensive players the past few seasons, he'd have at least one more SB ring? Your thoughts? -- Grant (Columbus, Ohio)

A. Grant, I think Brady looks at it in more general terms. He understands that if he's accounting for 15 to 20 percent of the team's cap space, it doesn't put management in the best position to surround him with the best players to win a championship. I don't think he's specifically saying, "If I sign this deal, the cap space should go to defense." But I agree with the general thought that Brady knows the Patriots are a contender and some impact personnel additions could get them over the hump. I keep coming back to the visual of him sitting at his locker for an extended period of time after the second Super Bowl loss to the Giants, and his general despair at that moment. It is the most powerful reminder to me that he's, first and foremost, fueled by the quest to win another Super Bowl ring with the Patriots. That's a big part of what this is all about and time is running out for him.

Q. Mike, do you worry about the impact of the Patriots letting Brandon Lloyd go this year? I understand he's maybe a tad expensive given his production (particularly the lack of getting in the end zone), but he basically had a season in line with his career -- other than his best season in Denver a few years ago. I worry about the amount of swings and misses at that position over the years and I think it's a long shot that the Patriots would even be able to duplicate Lloyd's 2012 production. Even the obvious upgrades (e.g. Mike Wallace) have had lapses in effort in recent years, not to mention their prohibitive cost. Your thoughts? -- Dean (Taunton, Mass.)

A. Dean, I don't have great concern if that's the way it unfolds. I credit Lloyd for playing through a knee injury and being available to the Patriots for every game in 2012, but I feel like it's time to revamp that position. I think bringing Welker and Julian Edelman back and then eyeing some youth/speed in the draft would give the receiver spot a fresh outlook. You're right about the "swings and misses" and there's nothing I can say that can change what has already unfolded. I think they just have to keep swinging. In terms of free agents, I'd be surprised if they wind up in the bigger-money area with the likes of Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings, unless the market for them is lower than I anticipate. That's why I'm focusing on the second level at the position for them, where options such as David Nelson (Bills), Mohamed Massaquoi (Browns), Brandon Gibson (Rams) and Ramses Barden (Giants) could be of interest.

Q. Hey Mike, I have not been really receptive to the idea of the Patriots drafting a wide receiver in the first round of this year's draft. However, after watching some of these guys at the combine, I have changed my tune. I really like what I saw from Tennessee Tech's Da'rick Rogers, Tennessee's Justin Hunter and Louisana Tech's Quinton Patton. I also like what I have read and heard about Cal's Keenan Allen. I was wondering if you think that Patriots could use more than one pick on the position this year? Or, does the potential re-signing of Wes Welker mean we will not draft a wide receiver again this year? -- Jonathan Weller

A. Jonathan, I like the prospects you identified. They also caught my attention, in one way or another, at/since the combine. In terms of the Patriots maybe using multiple picks at the position, I think it's possible but it would probably be a split between early/late in the draft.

Q. Do you see any chance of the Pats bringing back Randy Moss? If the Patriots can't get any deep threat, would the Pats consider him? -- Mark (New Jersey)

A. Mark, I went back and forth on this one and in the end, I think the team has moved on. One could make an argument that Moss would have been a better No. 3 option than what the Patriots got out of that position in 2012, and I could see that. But moving forward, I expect them to add multiple pieces at receiver and don't see Moss as part of the mix.

Q. Hi Mike, we both agreed last year that Wes Welker wouldn't be tagged twice, but I'm still hopeful that a deal can be struck. Whatever the outcome, more support is needed at WR. Do you think Bill Belichick might repeat the trick of taking other AFC East teams' castoffs to bolster the team? I would loveto see Brian Hartline in this offense; what do you think are the chances? -- Marc (London)

A. Marc, I like Hartline, who at 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds fits a little bit of a different physical makeup than what the Patriots currently have on the roster. He is coming off his best season and seemed to have developed a nice rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. I'd be surprised if he gets away from the Dolphins. The Miami Herald reported that "both sides at this point believe something can get done before the start of free agency."

Q. Hi Mike, with Brady's new contract extension it gives us a lot of room in the cap to work with. With this money could we possibly be bringing back Aqib Talib? And with the Eagles not being too happy with Nnamdi Asomugha, could the Patriots make a run at him? And we all know that Bill Belichick loves Ed Reed, could he also be coming to New England? -- Bhavik J. (Framingham, Mass.)

A. Bhavik, the Patriots would like Talib to return, it's just a matter of if the sides can find a contract that works for both. By all accounts that I've heard, they were impressed with Talib in his time here, and I think his toughness in playing through injury might have been undersold a bit. So he's definitely on the radar. As for Asomugha, if he becomes available, I could see the Patriots pursuing him. I think cornerback is one position where we could see an aggressive approach from the club. As for Reed, signs point to him returning to the Ravens.

Q. Hi Mike, while we hear all the hype about New England being a landing stop for safety Ed Reed due to all of the "love" between him and BB, and to a lesser extent, Charles Woodson, why is there no discussion about Dashon Goldson from San Francisco? The Patriots had interest in him two years ago but didn't offer him enough. It would seem to me that Goldson paired with Devin McCourty (playing center field) would be just what the doctor ordered, rather than a stop gap solution in Reed or Woodson, while also inserting some physicality that someone like Rodney Harrison or Chung brought. -- Matt (Clarksburg, Md.)

A. Matt, I see it, but I think the reason we've heard less about it is that Goldson is probably looking at a longer-term, big-money contract. I just assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that the Patriots won't be in that market. Let's see where that one goes.

Q. Hi Mike: A couple of thoughts on the Pats offseason. I hope they let Talib walk. In my eyes, he played well against Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson, but not so hot against the rest of the field. He was average and while the D played better as a unit with him, I cringe at the thought of being tied to him long term because of some of his past transgressions. On Ryan Mallett: He might get moved after the preseason for a pick or picks next year, which seems to be a stronger draft. He needs to be showcased a bit and take advantage of the opportunity. Why would anyone give up value for him when his last good film is three years old? -- John F. (Walpole, Mass.)

A. John, no one is saying Talib was perfect, but I thought he was an upgrade to what the Patriots had on the roster. I look at it this way: With an offseason to get that hip healthy and work in the team's program, I think he's the best option for the club at the left corner spot for 2013, assuming the contract numbers work. And if the Patriots are concerned about past transgressions, they can protect themselves based on the structure of the contract, assuming another club doesn't up the bidding on them to an area they don't want to go. On Mallett, this echoes my viewpoint, although I think the Browns would be the one wild card. First-year Browns vice president of player personnel Michael Lombardi was high on Mallett coming out of the 2011 draft, and that's one potential landing spot where the lack of recent quality NFL tape might not be a big factor. Then the Patriots could angle for a conditional draft choice based on Mallett's playing time and/or production.

Q. Hopefully you put an end on ESPN Boston about the Mallett for a second-round pick trade, it's driving me mad!. If Alex Smith only went for a second and a conditional pick, Mallett, who hasn't started an NFL game, isn't going to go for that. No common sense is being used here! My vent of the week! -- Anthony M. (Taylors, S.C.)

A. Thanks for sharing the thoughts, Anthony. I think it would have to be a conditional pick(s), if they could find a suitor. To me, it's the Browns or bust based on Lombardi's presence there.

Q. Mike, I respectfully disagree with your viewpoint that a GM would need to see more rather than commit a high draft pick for Ryan Mallett. None of these quarterbacks in the 2013 draft have any proven success, plus you have to assume that Mallett has only improved under his learning circumstances. The main reason I disagree is because I have heard you talk about "buying an asset at its lowest price." Any team that waits to see him light it up in the preseason (which wouldn't prove much anyway) would not only waste time that he could have been in the program, but would also waste higher draft equity. Sometimes part of being a successful GM comes down to being able to predict future success. I would also like to add that the Patriots saying that they are NOT actively shopping him means that he, in fact, will be traded this offseason. It is an attempt to gain leverage on the Patriots' part. -- Ramin (San Marcos, Texas)

A. Good points, Ramin. Thanks for sharing. I don't see a market for Mallett outside of the Browns (and possibly the Cardinals), but let's see how it unfolds.

Q. Hey Mike. Can we agree that defense wins championships? If we can, do we take a defensive tackle, safety, or cornerback with pick 29? (Let's assume we haven't signed Aqib Talib, and Alfonzo Dennard will just get probation). -- Bill L. (Fort Collins, Colo.)

A. Bill, I think we could make a case for all three, so from this perspective, the important thing to understand is the makeup of each position in the draft. Defensive tackle is very deep. This is a draft where the value of what you get at that position at No. 29 is probably better than years past. Cornerback and safety is a little lighter earlier in the draft, but the sweet spot is probably in the second- and third-round range. Mike Mayock of NFL Network called the safety class the best he's seen in recent years. It's not good business to lock in on a position beforehand, but if we were to base the decision on immediate need (also a dangerous thing to do), I'd say cornerback.

Q. Hi Mike. If Talib were to move on, what sort of compensation picks would the Pats receive (if any) in next year's draft? Is it possible the NFL would award them a third-rounder if Talib starts all 16 games for another team in 2013? -- Ben (Los Angeles)

A. Ben, the formula for compensatory draft picks takes into account the salary the player signed with another team, his performance with the new team and also the overall net gain/loss that a team has with all compensatory free agents. So it's difficult to predict now. What I've come to learn is that a lot of the teams can project what they might receive for compensatory picks, but even they don't really know because of the complex formula.

Q. Hi Mike. Are the Pats likely to receive compensatory draft picks this year? Technically, we "lost" Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis, a 1,000-yard rusher, and DEs Andre Carter (Pro Bowl in '11) and Mark Anderson (10 sacks in '11). Also, is it completely out of the question that the Pats consider free agent Richard Seymour? There would be a certain symmetry in bringing back arguably the greatest D-lineman in team history (at a greatly reduced salary) for Brady/Belichick's last (five-year) hurrah, no? Big Sey at DT next to Big Vince in a 4-3 should result in more of an inside rush ... and give Armond Armstead someone to develop behind. Or is that bridge totally burned? -- Bill (Seabrook, N.H.)

Bill, unless something has changed that I'm unaware of, I don't see Seymour returning to the Patriots. Some hard feelings there, I believe. As for the compensatory picks, it's a guessing game, but longtime cap guru Miguel at Patsfans.com has informed me the Patriots are unlikely to receive any because they signed more compensatory free agents than they lost. One note to pass along on those -- the value of a compensatory pick is actually based on what the player did with his new team, so Anderson's 10-sack production in 2011 wouldn't be a factor.

Q. Do you think Marcus Cannon would be able to start at right tackle if Volmer leaves? -- David K. (Chelmsford, Mass.)

A. David, if we go back to the Nov. 22 game against the Jets when Cannon filled in for Sebastian Vollmer, it was a solid effort. Can he string 16 of those together? I don't think line coach Dante Scarnecchia knows that for sure. There's always an element of the unknown when making that transition, but I wouldn't bet against it based on Scarnecchia's success grooming others along the line. I still wonder if Cannon's best fit would be at guard.

Q. Hey Mike, I was just wondering if you think there's going to be any surprise cap casualties? I'm thinking Dan Connolly could be in trouble, especially if the team wants to re-sign Donald Thomas. It seemed like Thomas was a more consistent player last year. Thoughts? -- Jordan (Manchester, Conn.)

A. Jordan, this was a scenario I discussed with a colleague over the past week, and the important thing is to consider the dead money on the cap the Patriots would be assuming if they made this move because of the acceleration of signing bonus money. Connolly received a $3.25 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1.2 million in 2012, $2.25 million in 2013 and $3 million in 2014. Based on my math, if they cut him at this time, they'd have $2.16 million of dead money on the cap. If they kept him, Connolly's cap charge would be around $3.3 million, so the net savings would be $1.17 million. Just a hunch, but I don't think that's enough of a difference to make the move. Overall, I don't see many surprises ahead.

Q. Given the position, youth and price, I am guessing Donald Thomas could be the most sought-after FA among all. I also think he's one of the priorities for the Pats. -- markJ (Japan)

A. Thomas generally played well for the Patriots in 2012, logging 48 percent of the offensive snaps and proving to be a capable option at left guard and right guard. I think he has good timing this year because the guard market is a little light, and my sense is that he could be looking at a similar deal to the one Dan Connolly signed last year (three years, $9.7 million). The Patriots are locked in with Logan Mankins and Connolly at the starting guard spots, and I think that is a lot to pay a player who projects as a backup. So I could see Thomas playing elsewhere in 2013.

Q. John Abraham, longtime nemesis of the Patriots while he was with the Jets, was released by the Falcons over the last week. Could you see him landing with the Patriots? Do you know if he is still a legitimate pass-rusher given his age? Your thoughts on his fit from a Pats perspective? -- Alex (Wakefield, Mass.)

A. Alex, from my amateur scouting viewpoint, I think Abraham still has some life left in his legs. I'm not sure he'd view the Patriots as his best fit. With Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich returning at defensive end, whoever the Patriots bring in would be a No. 3 option at best, so I figure Abraham will look for an opportunity where maybe there is a larger role awaiting him. It will be interesting to see what market develops for him, as well as for Dwight Freeney. I sort of put them in the same category.

Q. Mike, any word on if the Pats were able to recoup some of that signing bonus money in the Jonathan Fanene contract? -- rw (Boston, Mass.)

A. I believe it's still pending. The situation came up in the annual agents meeting at the combine, as I understand it. One agent who was there said the message was, in part, the importance of disclosing all information at a physical.

Q. Hi Mike, do you think that the Patriots will be more aggressive in attempting to re-sign Danny Woodhead since Jeff Demps is a similar player and is splitting his time between track and football? -- Tom (Acton, Mass.)

A. Tom, that might be a minor consideration, but I'd be surprised if it's a huge factor because they also have Shane Vereen on the roster. Vereen, while not a carbon copy of Woodhead in terms of style of play, has some similarities.

Q. Any word on Brandon Spikes' future contract extension? -- Mike A. (Las Vegas, Nev.)

A. Mike, I haven't heard anything on a possible extension for Spikes. My hunch is that it's a bit further down the priority list at this time for the team. They have some more pressing business to address.

Q. Hello Mike, with all the talk recently of Tom Brady's and Joe Flacco's contracts, I have seen a stat thrown around that I am not too familiar with. What is Total QBR and how does it differ from the other QB Rating? Do you have access to the formula behind it, and can you share that formula with us? Thanks! -- Adam M. (Framingham State)

A. Adam, QBR was created by ESPN as a measure of quarterback efficiency. Check out this explanation from ESPN.com.