With NFL free agency opening March 11, this is a week to play the "what if?" game.
What if the Patriots don't come to an agreement with cornerback Aqib Talib?
What if receiver Julian Edelman is playing elsewhere in 2014?
The Patriots would obviously like both players to return, but as is always the case, they'll have contingency plans. We begin this week's mailbag by exploring what some of those might be.
Q. What are your thoughts on the rumors of Danny Amendola being traded? I think if they got him traded in time, it could benefit with the Julian Edelman signing from a $$$ standpoint in the long run (with not having so much invested in the slot) and can also let us draft another WR with size in the later rounds in this year's draft. Also, thoughts on Adrian Wilson making the roster as added depth behind Harmon, for that hard-hitting strong-safety presence? -- Mike A. (Las Vegas, Nev.)
A. Mike, my first thought was that the writer that reported that Amendola's name "has been floated in trade talks," Dan Pompei, is one of the best in the business. So there is no reason to doubt the information. Second, my thought was "it's a tough business." Amendola played through a groin injury all season and now it looks like the Patriots are having some buyer's remorse. If I'm Amendola, that stings a bit. Finally, I think you nailed it -- the Patriots probably floated a trial balloon to see if anyone would take on Amendola, which could help them retain Edelman. On the second part of the question, I had doubts that Adrian Wilson would make the club last year, so I wasn't expecting him to be part of the 2014 squad.
Q. Despite the increasing rumors about Danny Amendola's name being floated in trade talks, I really don't think that happens. There's no financial point to it as his contract includes $10 million guaranteed, and he still put up career-average numbers despite a major injury. My belief is that the Patriots are trying to gauge the market for Julian Edelman, who is a free agent and plays the same role as Amendola. This would give them an idea of how heavily they would need to pursue Edelman should they decide to keep him on the roster. Do you think this might be a legitimate possibility? -- Matt (Elon, N.C.)
A. Crafty thinking, Matt, although my one counter is that the legal tampering period (March 8-11) gives them a chance to gauge that market without floating one of their players in trade talks. That type of thing can hit at the trust between a player and management.
Q. Mike, I'm predicting that the Patriots don't come to agreements with either Aqib Talib or Julian Edleman. If that's the case, how would you predict that changes the Patriots' approach to free agency and the draft? Pursue another receiver in free agency or the draft? Pursue another corner in free agency or the draft? If it's the draft, that frees up a lot of money for other positions -- tight end, center, possibly someone to push the pocket. Thoughts? -- Dan (Leominster, Mass.)
A. Dan, I don't expect a big-money signing at receiver, so I don't think losing Edelman would change much in terms of approach. If Talib signs elsewhere, I could see the Patriots quickly going to Plan B at the position in free agency, whether that's Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie or someone else. What we often see is the Patriots attempting to plug all the holes if possible before the draft, so then you're not married to one position, and losing Talib would create a large void at a critical position. If they can come away with a cornerback, tight end and pass-rusher in free agency, I think that puts them in good shape.
Q. Hey Mike! Do you see the Pats making a play for Eric Decker in free agency, or do you see them targeting another WR? I know there has been a lot of talk about upgrading the defense, but I feel like we will lose Edelman, and adding Decker would be a great answer. I am hopeful that the second-year WRs can make more of an impact, but I still feel we need one or two established players to stretch the D. What are your thoughts? -- Mike (Anderson, S.C.)
A. Mike, I'd be surprised if the Patriots make an aggressive pitch for Decker, whose performance in the Super Bowl had to raise some questions about paying him big bucks. I'm assuming the market for Decker will be in the $5 million-per-season-and-up range. When I think of free-agent receivers, I'd look in the lower price range toward the likes of Emmanuel Sanders (Steelers), Jacoby Jones (Ravens), Dexter McCluster (Chiefs), Kenny Britt (Titans), Tiquan Underwood (Buccaneers) and Austin Collie (Patriots) as more likely possibilities. I'm not sure where Sidney Rice (Seahawks) might fall salary-wise, but he'd be another receiver worthy of keeping an eye on as a possibility.
Q. Mike, in your analysis of how Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes' contract might affect Aqib Talib, you wrote: "I think the Patriots would do this type of deal for Talib if the $16 million in bonuses/guarantees was split into multiple parts -- such as $6 million up front, $5 million in a 2015 option bonus and another $5 million in 2016." Well, that's not $16m guaranteed, is it? That's $5m guaranteed. The cap's gone up and will go up a lot more over the next couple of years. If the Pats want top-notch players, they will have to pay them. -- Peter (Texas)
A. Correct, Peter, and my guess is that when we see the fine print on Grimes' contract, his deal won't be $16 million guaranteed either. It will be $16 million in guarantees and bonuses and we'll have to look closer at the structure to see what's truly guaranteed. I could be proven wrong, but I'd be surprised if Grimes received a $16 million signing bonus. Usually when you hear the terms of a contract immediately after it's signed, it's slightly inflated because the numbers are coming from the agent/player side and they want to make the deal look as good as possible. Thus, it's always good to go back and match it up with the fine print when that becomes available.
Q. I'm worried that the Grimes contract could spell trouble for a potential deal being reached between the Patriots and Talib and his representatives. Talib is three years younger and are both around the same caliber of player. Although I'd like to see Talib back, his injuries concern me, especially at seemingly critical points of the season (last two AFC Championship Games). He seems like a lock to miss 3/4 games per year. I don't see how he takes any less than Grimes, but I only see value in a Talib signing at about $21 million over three years -- 10/11 of which being guaranteed. What do you see his value at, and how much does the Grimes signing hurt the Patriots with leverage in negotiations? -- Tony (Methuen, Mass.)
A. Tony, I think Talib is just as good as Grimes, if not better, with the only issue his injury history. But Grimes had questions in that area, too, playing only one game in 2012 after an Achilles injury. If I'm Talib, I wouldn't plan on taking any less than Grimes, assuming I was looking for the top-dollar contract above all else. Another team still has to step up and give it to him, though, and there are no guarantees that will happen. Meanwhile, for the Patriots, they often set a value and don't stray far from it, not usually allowing another team's deal to dictate their terms. These are the dynamics in play and we'll have to see how it all plays out.
Q. Mike, I see Jimmy Graham was given a non-exclusive franchise tag. I know the Patriots would never sign him due to the money and the picks, but why not consider it? Brady's window is closing and the Pats have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. To me, this is win-now territory, and with the young roster, you can afford to lose a couple of picks. If they restructure Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins and Devin McCourty, as is expected, they should have money under the cap to sign both Graham and Talib. The defense is improving. Why not swing for the fences and make your offense borderline unstoppable? Currently, I don't consider them on the same level as Seattle and San Francisco. This move would put them on that level. -- Scott (Wilmington)
A. Scott, those high draft picks are so important to the lifeblood of a team and a healthy ongoing salary- cap situation because they are more affordable contracts. To give those away, and then pay top dollar for Graham while also pushing money around with other players, I just don't think that's the right way to build a team. It sounds good in theory, the idea that you're loading up for this year, but what if Graham snaps his ankle on the first day of training camp and is out for the year? The team would have just built its whole season around one player and seen the entire plan blow up, which would also affect them in the future years because of the reckless cap maneuvering.
Q. Mike, can you please explain to me why obtaining a smash-mouth strong safety isn't being talked about more? The Patriots just cut Steve Gregory. Are they planning on re-signing him? -- Danny Boy (Burlington, Mass.)
A. Danny, this is an area that former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison has been talking about since the Super Bowl, so I wouldn't say it's being overlooked. In today's game, there really aren't too many free safety/strong safety distinctions. Both safeties need to do a little bit of both, because if you're solely a box safety, offenses can often manipulate things to find that weakness and exploit it in the passing game. The Seahawks, with Kam Chancellor, are the exception more than the rule. On Steve Gregory, if he's back, it would only be a result of no market developing for him and the Patriots possibly experiencing an injury or unexpected turn of events.
Q. Hey Mike, I am wondering if former Lions safety Louis Delmas could be a fit with the Patriots. I thought Delmas was a great vocal leader and a Pro Bowl level defensive back when he was with the Lions. Could he be the hard-hitting, aggressive safety the Patriots have been longing to put alongside Devin McCourty? -- Kevin D. (Beverly, Mass.)
A. Kevin, I've followed Delmas closely since he was the top pick in the second round of the 2009 draft because the Patriots took safety Patrick Chung right after him, so it was a natural comparison. Health/injuries were the biggest knock on Delmas prior to this past season when he played in every game. I view him as more of a coverage-type safety, but still worth a look.
Q. Mike, I remember years ago when Bill Belichick said: "I would rather release a player a year too early that a year too late." Do you think he will apply the same philosophy to Vince Wilfork? Vince is on the wrong side of 30 and his skills were declining before the injury. The cap relief would be huge. Does BB pull the plug? I say yes. You say... -- Paul O. Kenosha, Wisc.)
A. I say "no," Paul. If anything, I see the Patriots approaching Wilfork with a proposal to ensure he retires as a Patriot with an extension offer that pays him his $7.5 million but extends his deal out a few years and reduces his cap hit.
Q. Why has the center position not been one of concern? That's been a trouble spot for a few years now. They need a Logan Mankins-type attitude to center that line. If it gets upgraded, you will see more offensive production. Do you think they will give Alex Mack a look? -- Mike (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
A. Mike, I do think the Patriots will look to add competition/upgrade at center this year. In advancing to the AFC Championship game in each of the last three years, I think the team showed it could win with Dan Koppen, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell at the position, but I also think it's fair to say that if a team could find a Mack or Nick Mangold, you strongly consider that option. With Mack getting the transition tag from the Browns, I'd say it's much less likely now.
Q. Hey Mike, with the talk about Troy Niklas and the tight ends in the draft, would you rather find a guy that can complement Gronk, or a guy like Niklas whose role is redundant? Can you see them both playing? Cincinnati tried that and struggled to get both Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham in complementary roles. -- George (Boston)
A. George, that's a good thought with the tight ends being similar in playing style. I still think Niklas could be a good pick, in part because of the more immediate injury concerns/questions with Rob Gronkowski and the idea that a third tight end is also going to dress for games. Then there is also the future -- Gronkowski is due a $10 million bonus after the 2015 season and if the team doesn't pay it, the potential in-house replacement would already have two years of grooming in the system.
Q. Mike, do you think the depth in the draft makes it more or less likely that the Patriots could find a trade partner that would give them a 2nd this year and a 1st next year in exchange for the Patriots' 1st pick? What would it take for Bill to turn down an offer like that? -- Peggy (Melrose)
A. Peggy, my initial thought was that a team looking for a quarterback might be willing to make that type of swap to get back into the back end of the first round. I think there would have to be a pretty special player for Bill Belichick to turn that down should the scenario present itself.