This week's Patriots mailbag is filled with a variety of topics, which highlights all the different footballs in the air for the team during the organized team activity period of the offseason.
A quick sampling:
1. Looking deeper into linebacker Brandon Spikes' absence from voluntary OTAs.
2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski's surgery on his forearm and what is to come.
3. Forecasting the receiver position, which has been a hot topic of discussion in recent weeks.
Reporters will be on hand Tuesday, May 21 at the club's organized team activity, and we'll have full coverage on ESPNBoston.com.
Here we go ...
Q: Hey Mike, is Brandon Spikes' absence from OTAs any sort of telltale sign of a coming holdout to try and get a contract extension before this season, instead of hitting free agency next year? Or is that reading too much into things, too soon? Thanks! Matt G. (Portland, Maine)
A: Matt, I don't think that's what it is with Spikes. One thing about Spikes, and this was apparent from his initial days as a rookie, he's not the type of player who fits into a standard box. He's going to do things in his own unique way, and that was even something Bill Belichick mentioned in 2010 when it came to coaching Spikes. I think Spikes just made the decision that he didn't want to attend voluntary workouts because he wants to do things his own way -- nothing more, nothing less. We can now debate if that might create some reluctance on the Patriots' part to execute an extension with him at some point down the line -- the thought crossed my mind because I could see the team being reluctant to make a full-fledged commitment to a player who could be perceived as not fully invested in the program -- but I think it's too early for that. I don't think the Patriots have a desire to strike an extension at this point, and I would think Spikes understands that his body of work over the first three years of his career doesn't scream out for an extension at this point, and that his focus needs to be on putting together a solid fourth season and entering free agency at a time when his value is highest.
Q: Mike, the discussion of Rob Gronkowski's surgeries is hard to understand without the physicians' perspective on how invasive each procedure is/was and what the potential negative ramifications may be. Is Gronk good as new or does he have physical issues that could limit his performance? -- Paul (Lexington, Mass.)
A: You're right Paul, without the on-the-record commentary from a surgeon/doctor who operated on/examined Gronkowski, it's a question that's impossible to answer. For what it's worth, I do think there is optimism from those close to Gronkowski that the left forearm will eventually return to health, and that it's more a matter of "when" than "if." Then there is also the lingering back issue, which could be addressed a few weeks from now.
Q: Mike, if it's a foregone conclusion that Gronk needed a fourth surgery, why not do it right away and start the recuperation clock. If it were done now, he could be back for August. I would just like to see one complete season of a healthy Gronk and Hernandez. Thanks! -- Gary Madera (East Hanover, N.J.)
A: Gary, the main thing was waiting for a round of antibiotic treatment that was given to Gronkowski in hopes of having his infection eradicated. It's hard to fight time, and that's what Gronkowski needed before doctors were confident in going back in to replace the plate in the forearm with no infection present.
Q: Mike, it's officially time to push the panic button when it comes to Gronk. Four arm surgeries and a potential back surgery within an eight-month span is alarming to say the least. As much as it hurts me to say this, I think they have to trade him. They should hold him out of all football activities until they can convince another team he is healthy (e.g. Dallas), then trade him. He'll have injuries throughout his career. Keep in mind, his first arm injury came on an extra point. I can't remember any other player ever getting hurt on the P.A.T. -- John (Stoneham, Mass.)
A: John, I look at it a little differently. This latest run of injuries for Gronkowski is obviously a concern, but let's not forget, this was a player who didn't miss a game or practice in his first NFL season (2010). In his second season, he also played in every game. I look at the forearm injury/recovery and feel as if there was some bad luck there. I'm not saying it isn't a concern, but I think it's way too early to give up on Gronkowski at this point.
Q: Mike, can you find out why they are removing and then replacing the plate in Gronk's arm instead of just removing it and allowing the natural healing process to complete? I'm told there are potential problems if the plate is left in, such as additional fractures in adjacent areas like happened to him already. Thanks -- Steve Davis (Shrewsbury, Mass.)
A: Steve, as I understand it, the plate is crucial in the healing process for the fractured forearm. It keeps it sturdy. The reason they wanted to remove the plate this time around is because it was exposed to an infection, and most doctors would want to remove the "compromised" plate in those situations. Some doctors might recommend otherwise, but I believe that would be the minority opinion.
Q: Hi Mike, despite what most of the "experts" think, I believe the Pats will be very good at WR this season. Danny Amendola (when healthy) has looked great at times over the last few years. I expect a 2007-type Wes Welker season from him catching from Tom Brady. Aaron Dobson looks like a prototypical outside deep threat on tape. I'll go out on a limb and say he'll have the second-best season of rookie receivers in 2013 (behind only Tavon Austin). With Donald Jones, Julian Edelman & Josh Boyce in the mix too, they'll be just fine! I'm hoping T.J. Moe makes it too. Maybe Bill Belichick implements an offense with 3 slot guys on the field at once! Thoughts? -- Chris C (Revere, Mass.)
A: Chris, this is an optimistic outlook, and there are a few thoughts I'd add to it. If Amendola is available and avoids injuries, I don't anticipate he'll be an issue. There's only one Welker, but Amendola has some really good things going for him too and I can envision a solid fit in this offense with Tom Brady throwing him the football. The exciting part to me is the element of the unknown with the other receiver spot. Can Dobson fill that void? One assumes they'll give him every chance to do so, but I think the key for him right now is learning what it means to be a professional, and that entails conditioning and meeting the demands of the Patriots' program from a physical and mental perspective etc. He's just starting and we can expect some bumps in the road. It's hard to envision the end point for me based on where we are now, but like you, I see some of the same promise based on what we saw at Marshall. Still, it's a whole new ballgame now and that really doesn't mean anything at this point. Overall, I understand some of the questions/concerns at receiver, in part because a lot of the players haven't done it before, but I don't think this is anywhere close to the situation in 2006 at receiver. They have more talented layers -- young and experienced -- this time around. I'm intrigued to see how it unfolds because it's really the only positions on the roster that has such a significant turnover.
Q: Mike, how many of the OTAs will you be able to watch? Will you be permitted to watch the entire session? -- Jim Keddy (Kennebunk, Maine)
A: Jim, media members will be present for organized team activities on May 21, May 29 and June 4. The team has other OTAs that will be closed to the media (May 20, May 23, May 28, May 30, June 3, June 6-7). As I understand it, we will watch the full practice. We'll also have the mandatory minicamp from June 11-13.
Q: To what degree does the compensatory pick period of free agency, which ends June 1st, play into signings? Obviously free agent players can sign any day of the year, but Belichick is chess master when it comes to personel decisions, so would he wait a few weeks to sign a player that could give another team an extra pick if they signed him now? Or is that an insignificant factor? Also, are there any free agents still available that that Pats might jump on next month, DTs in particular? -- Tyler (Peterborough, N.H.)
A: Tyler, I think compensatory draft choices are a minor consideration. For example, if the Patriots were playing the waiting game to sign a player, but the situation changed and now the team risked losing the player if it didn't make a move, I think they'd sign the player. I do think there is a preference to sign a player released by another team, because that player wouldn't count in the compensatory picks formula, but it's only a small part of the thinking. As for defensive tackles on the free-agent market, here are a few notables: Justin Bannan, Sedrick Ellis, Trevor Laws, Amobi Okoye, Sione Po'uha and Richard Seymour.
Q: Mike, after the release of Brandon Deadrick and Kyle Love, I would love the Pats to bury the hatchet with Richard Seymour, make a fair offer, and stick him in there with "Big Vince" and Tommy Kelly. How sweet would it be to line up Seymour, Vince, Kelly, and Chandler Jones as a starting "D" line this season? What are the chances? -- Scot (White Plains, N.Y.)
A: Scot, we can never say "never" in this league, but I'd be surprised if it happened. Seymour previously said in a media interview that he'd play for 31 teams and it wasn't hard to figure out which one he was singling out as a "no" (the Patriots). Could that bridge be repaired? It's always possible, but I'm not counting on it.
Q: Mike, the Patriots' release of Myron Pryor, Brandon Deadrick and Kyle Love, coupled with the selection of linebacker/defensive end Jamie Collins and their free-agent signing of Tommy Kelley makes me wonder if they are planning to change their defensive style to more of an attacking 4-3. Am I reading too much into their moves? -- Mike (Laconia, N.H.)
A: Mike, that might turn out to be the case, but I don't see it that way myself. I think both Deaderick and Love could play in that type of defense, and they also represented important depth, so to me I think it just came down to Bill Belichick essentially not wanting them in the program any more. My read between the lines is that Belichick no longer viewed Deaderick as a "program" fit and that there was some disappointment in Love's performance in 2012 after he earned a two-year contract extension with a $500,000 signing bonus, and thus there might have been less of a tolerance to wait for his potential return to health.
Q: Mike, considering the personnel as it currently is and the release of Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love, do you think we may be seeing the return to the 3-4? It seems the best way to get our best athletes on the field most often. -- Donald Norman (Marietta, Ga.)
A: Donald, we potentially could see more of the 3-4, although I don't think that's why Deaderick and Love were released. They were good fits in a 3-4 scheme. Because of some of the retention of defenders, and also the growth of younger defenders in the system, I could see some more multiplicity of schemes in 2013, but I haven't seen anything definitive at this point to suggest they are going back to the old-school 3-4 we saw in the past.
Q: Mike, I was concerned about lack of depth on the defensive line before the release of Deaderick and Love, now I am really concerned. The Ravens' offensive line shoved our D-line around in the AFC title game and I thought then that we needed more quality depth around Wilfork. It seems like Vince can be easily neutralized against the run by a big, physical offensive line like Baltimore's, especially when he is double-teamed. I view Vince like a great hitter in baseball: If you don't protect him in the batting order, you can pitch around him and get the other guys out with ease. Thoughts? -- Gregg (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
A: Gregg, I see it as almost even when it comes to depth at defensive tackle. I think a top depth chart of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Armond Armstead and Marcus Forston mirrors what they had last year with Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace. I did think it was a little thin in 2012 overall and wondered what the result would be if Wilfork ever was injured. So it's a good point. The other thing is that those big guys aren't on the field as much as they were in the past in the team's system because they aren't in a base defense as much (sub about 57 percent of the snaps in 2012). So I think one way to protect Wilfork is to maybe trim his snaps a bit in certain sub situations to keep him fresh.
Q: Mike, I can't believe the Pats released Kyle Love after he was diagnosed with diabetes? How many other players have this and can still play the game? -- Samantha (Ludlow, Mass.)
A: Samantha, I think there were more layers to Love's release than the diabetes diagnosis, but that's not to overlook it as a factor in the decision. The Patriots just felt he wasn't in condition to meet the demands of their program, so they gave him an option to sit out one year and return in 2014, or be released so he could attempt to hook on with another team and play in 2013. Love wanted to play in 2013, so he chose the latter option. We can ask, 'Why didn't the Patriots want to wait for Love's potential return to health before making that decision?' and I think it's fair. That's where I think it goes back to their disappointment with his play, and potentially conditioning, from last season. If this was a different player in the same situation (e.g. Vince Wilfork), maybe it's a different end result.
Q: Is there any way to know how many waiver claims are put on a player? I'd be interested to see for Love and Deaderick, considering that the Jaguars were one of the first teams in the claiming order. -- Alex (Wakefield, Mass.)
A: Alex, the Jaguars were the only team to place a claim on both Love and Deaderick.
Q: Mike, is this the best year the Patriots have had in regards to signing rookies? When rookies have signed late in the past, it has seemed to stunt their development. -- Dan (R.I.)
A: Dan, this is as early as we've seen signings and part of the reason is that with the recently-instituted 90-man roster, unsigned draft picks still count. In the past, a draft pick didn't count against the roster limit until he signed his contract, so there was some team-based incentive to wait a bit on the negotiations closer to the start of training camp, which bought more time to work with other players. The other factor to keep in mind is that these deals aren't that hard to consummate.