Should Pats and Moss reunite?
A look at N.E.'s need for a deep threat, potential draft picks and lockout worries
If you were the Patriots and you were looking to add a dimension to your passing game, would you consider re-signing receiver Randy Moss this offseason?
That's the question leading off this week's Patriots Mailbag.
But for those tired of receiver talk and whether the Patriots truly need a deep receiving threat, there is more to digest deeper in the mailbag. The topics explored include the upcoming NFL scouting combine and draft, as well as potential free-agent targets.
Q. Mike, let's talk Randy Moss. I think you're kidding yourself on this one, along with anyone else who thinks there's a chance he could return or be a good fit. There's a reason the Pats traded him, and it wasn't because they were looking for another draft pick. Who trades a Hall of Fame receiver during the climax of the regular season? The answer: someone who doesn't want him. Have you ever broken up with a girl and then talked yourself into the idea that "things will be different" to return for one more round of heartache? I bet Bill Belichick has, too, and he won't make the same mistake twice. Thoughts? -- Gabe (San Francisco)
A. Gabe, here is the scenario in which I could envision Moss' return: He tells Bill Belichick he had it wrong last year, has a new outlook on what's important, and would accept a one-year salary at $2.2 million with incentives that could push it higher -- putting him in line with Wes Welker and Deion Branch. Is it likely to happen? Probably not, in part because it could block the development of younger receivers, but that's the thought I've been bouncing around in recent weeks.
Q. Hi Mike, the failure of Tom Brady to read and pass to open receivers and his easily rattled state in the Jets game does not negate the value or necessity of picking up a stretch-the-field wide receiver. An addition would have to be someone ready to accept a quite reduced salary who wanted a last chance or two to win a Super Bowl and who did not require a learning curve. Randy Moss fits that description if he was agreeable to both the money and the old Patriots-style pass game plan. He would also get to be back with the ones he most admires in the NFL -- Belichick and Brady. It seems like a win-win to me, so why not get on it now? -- Jake M. (Vancouver, British Columbia)
A. Jake, the big question would be, "Which Moss are you getting?" If it's the 2007 version -- which was the player who cut his salary and was looking to simply fit in while reviving his career after struggling in Oakland -- I see the possibility. Otherwise, I think Gabe has it right in the question leading off this week's mailbag. Something tells me there were more things happening behind the scenes with Moss that contributed to his exit.
Q. Hey Mike, I know you've been back and forth with the idea of the Patriots exploring bringing Randy Moss back next year. I'm in the camp of the Patriots adding another deep-threat veteran WR to help out our other receivers. I think if we had that type of receiver in the playoff loss to the Jets (I know we had some other missed opportunities), the outcome might have been different. We got by with the revamped offense for the rest of the season, but the Jets were ready for it. If we add a deep threat, teams need to plan for that wideout and will open things up for others. With this in mind, do you see the Patriots exploring trade options for Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith or possibly even Larry Fitzgerald? I also think taking a look at T.O. might not be a bad option either. Your thoughts? -- Grant (Columbus, Ohio)
A. Grant, on the whole, I don't rate wide receiver as a top need. I could see the Patriots going in that direction if the opportunity is too good to pass up, but I put it behind defensive line, outside linebacker, offensive line and even running back in terms of need. I am of the mindset that the final eight games of the season looked pretty good on offense (the Patriots scored 30-plus points in each game) before things fizzled out in the playoffs. It's easy to remember the last game, but my view is that the overall body of work wasn't bad at all. Now, if the Patriots were to say, "We have top receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker entering the final year of their contracts and we want to plan more for the future," I could see that possibility in adding a receiver in the draft. I just don't think the playoff loss was reflective of what we saw all season. I don't see Terrell Owens as someone the Patriots would take on, and I find it hard to believe Arizona will let Larry Fitzgerald go. I do like Steve Smith, depending on the price to acquire him.
Q. Steve Smith for the 60th (second-round) pick in the draft. If you are New England, do you do the trade? If you are Carolina? I say yes to both. -- Pete (Santa Fe, N.M.)
A. Pete, I'd go for it from a Patriots perspective. I still don't know why Carolina would let go of one of its best assets. Smith is a top competitor in my book.
Q. Hi Mike, I feel that a wide receiver to stretch the field is not a huge priority. We won three Super Bowls without one and lost one with one. I also hate to admit it, but Tom Brady's accuracy deep downfield is not that good. Moss' ability to catch helped greatly in 2007. Let's get the D back where it should be. Your thoughts please? -- Charlie B. (Richmond Hill, Ga.)
A. Charlie, I'm more in line with your thought process. I think the Patriots need to get back to controlling the line of scrimmage more regularly on defense. That's where I would start when identifying areas of need this offseason.
Q. Mike, I was hoping you could give some names of blue-chip pass-rushing D-linemen or pass-rushing outside backers. I'm not a college football fan and rely on the experts to supply that info for me. -- Mike (Brockton, Mass.)
A. Mike, this is projected to be a good year for defensive ends, with both ESPN analyst Todd McShay and NFL Network's Mike Mayock projecting eight or nine going in the first round. Here are some names to keep on the radar in the first two rounds for the Patriots: Akeem Ayers (UCLA), Robert Quinn (North Carolina), Aldon Smith (Missouri), Justin Houston (Georgia) and Chris Carter (Fresno State). These are players who would project to rush end in a sub package or outside linebacker in the 3-4.
Q. Hey Mike, I'm glad to hear that this year's draft projects to be strong in the OLB/DE areas, as I see this as the Pats' two biggest areas of need. Honestly, though, I saw these as areas of need in last year's draft, and was appalled when they took Devin McCourty (I was way wrong, happy to admit it). It really just seems like there's no way to project who BB is going to grab with any of his picks, and that positional need doesn't factor in much, if at all. What do you think? -- Zack (Somerville, Mass.)
A. Zack, I think there is truth to that, because it's all based on opportunity on how the board falls. So if the Patriots have a chance to pick the top running back at No. 17 (widely regarded as Alabama's Mark Ingram) or the No. 5-rated outside linebacker who might have a lower grade overall, I could see the Patriots going the former route. In the end, I think the best philosophy is not to force need and pick good football players. You usually can't go wrong that way.
Q. Mike, do the Patriots subscribe to the NFL scouting service that covers the combine? What is the real value of the combine? -- Joefla (Orlando, Fla.)
A. Joefla, the Patriots have not been part of BLESTO or National, the two scouting services that share information among teams subscribing to them. The Patriots view their operation as system-specific, meaning they grade players based on how they would fit into their system, and thus they view the BLESTO and National grades as not best applying to their program.
Q. Mike, I am very much inclined to think the Patriots need a stud running back who can also pick up the blitz and catch out of the backfield. I think Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray would be a great fit. This would force defenses to respect the run more. Your thoughts? -- Brian B. (Pierre, S.D.)
A. Brian, I have little doubt that the Patriots will draft a running back and possibly even sign a free agent at the position to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. Murray could be that guy -- his physical build is a bit different from a running back in that he looks receiverlike at times -- but I think it's a stretch to think he becomes that No. 1A stud from Day 1. I still envision Green-Ellis and Woodhead handling a big part of the load.
Q. Hi Mike, are we sure that Aaron Hernandez's hip injury isn't a career-altering injury such as the one Rosevelt Colvin suffered in 2003? Back then, the Pats ended up getting a player who was significantly less explosive than the one before the injury when he was in Chicago. In short, will Hernandez be the same player after the surgery that he was prior to the injury? -- Tman (Belmont, Mass.)
A. Tman, the surgery was similar to what Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas underwent, according to Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet. Curran notes that Thomas returned in time for the season and has not been affected by the injury.
Q. Mike, curious about your thoughts on the D-line, and specifically, where is Ron Brace at this point in his tenure with the Pats? Is he viewed as a viable starter for years to come if healthy or an inconsistent backup? What are your thoughts on Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Ty Warren? -- Jim K. (Northford, Conn.)
A. Jim, I don't think Brace is viewed as a starter for years to come at this point. He is still developing. If Ty Warren returns to form in 2011 and is with the Patriots, I think he'd get the nod over Brace at left defensive end at this point. As for some of the other linemen, the health of Mike Wright bears watching based on how he missed the final six games of the season with a head/neck injury. I view Pryor's best fit as an interior sub rusher. With Warren, I think it's fair to wonder whether he will return to form. I see no reason he can't, but as we saw with a player like Jarvis Green, sometimes the wear and tear can catch up to veterans quickly.
Q. Mike, over the last 10 years or more, the Patriots, Steelers and Colts have been consistently competitive. I've been trying to figure out if there is any common factor between these three teams that could be the possible explanation. Coaches? Signing of free agents? I think I've boiled it down to a few things. All three teams show great prowess in the draft and with the second tier of free agents. All have more hits than misses. All three have consistent ownership and owners that seem to set a tone but don't micromanage. What do you think? Wouldn't you think the other teams would see the success of these three teams and try to copy their ways? -- Dave M. (Berlin, N.H.)
A. Dave, I think this is an interesting topic. The first two thoughts I had is consistency within their system and strong quarterback play. Put those two together, and it can take you far. When it comes to consistency within the system, I'd use the Broncos as an example. Look at what they are doing now under first-year head coach John Fox, trying to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Two years ago, they were trying to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Such volatility can set a team back a few years because it requires targeting players with different skill sets. All three teams aren't huge free-agent spenders, so they instead focus on drafting and developing. They generally do a good job at it, although it looks to me as though Indianapolis is in a little slump right now when looking at its draft picks in the first three rounds since 2006.
Q. Mike, it could be a unusual offseason if the players and owners don't agree on a CBA soon. I do think that it is good that they agreed on mediated discussions. Is it good sign? What kind of compromise can be made in regard to the splitting of the revenue pie? That seems to be the most critical issue? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)
A. David, I am not close to this story, as it's more national in scope and I'm focused more closely on one team, the Patriots. But I don't think it's a stretch to say it's positive that the sides are talking. That's the only way to get a deal done. As for the splitting of the revenue pie, and the best possible compromise, I'll leave that to the national reporters who are assigned to cover that story, as they have a better grasp of all the ins and outs.
Q. Mike, what happens come March 4 for young players or any players that are recovering from an injury? I realize that Tom Brady has his own trainers, but will these rookies need to find their own rehab come March 4? Will the Pats' training staff work to help the players find rehab that matches with the player/team's needs? -- Nancy (Haverhill, Mass.)
A. Nancy, these players will be on their own, which is something that recovering kicker Stephen Gostkowski talked about last week when discussing his rehab from a torn right quad. Gostkowski, for example, plans to return to the University of Memphis. I'm sure the Patriots' staff is doing its best to make sure these players have some plans, but if there is no agreement or extension by March 4, the Patriots' staffers will be hands-off with these players.
Q. Hi Mike, since a lockout-shortened season would undoubtedly cause further disillusionment in cities with already-floundering attendance (Jacksonville, Carolina, Oakland, etc.), any insight into how teams are putting together their ticketing strategy? How about long-term plans in preparation for no 2011 season? And any chance the Patriots shave ticket prices to appease fans should any work stoppage occur? -- Tim M. (San Francisco)
A. Tim, right now it's business as usual when it comes to tickets. For example, the Patriots sent out renewal forms to Patriots season-ticket holders last week, with a deadline of March 31 to return payment. I've read reports in recent days of some teams raising some ticket prices (e.g. Rams, Packers). Overall, I don't see prices coming down. If anything, I see them stabilizing or going up.
Q. You mentioned the possibility of signing safety Bob Sanders, who was released by the Colts. I would love this to happen, as it reminds me of when the Patriots signed Rodney Harrison after he was released by the Chargers in 2002. Thoughts? -- David (Cambridge, Mass.)
A. David, I can see the link there, although I view Sanders' injury history is more significant than Harrison's was when the Patriots signed him. I could see the Patriots exploring Sanders as a complement to their top three safeties -- Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung and James Sanders -- but I don't see them getting into any type of bidding war. If they were seriously considering Sanders, I think it would be a low-risk, high-reward situation where the contract included heavy incentives. Sanders has scheduled visits with Jacksonville and Buffalo, according to reports.
Q. What are the chances that the Patriots acquire Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason? -- Chandler (Evans, Ga.)
A. Chandler, I think it's highly unlikely. I wouldn't be surprised if Asomugha lands back in Oakland. I view this situation similar to Julius Peppers' situation last year. If he's willing to come on a one-year deal, it has a chance. But I don't see the Patriots going the big-bucks route to sign him.
Q. Do you think the Patriots have any interest in Marcus Stroud now that he is a free agent? -- David (Elon, N.C.)
A. David, I don't see the connection with Stroud and the Patriots. I think the team would lean toward bringing back Gerard Warren if they were thinking along those lines.
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Q. Hi Mike, the situation with Logan Mankins has me thinking about how teams make and maintain their rosters. As an avid Patriots fan, I am increasingly tired of having my favorite players leave the team. Has there ever been any thought of the league financially rewarding NFL players for staying with their teams? I know money is pooled in the league, so how about using some of that money to reward players for staying in one place? The NFL could provide $25,000 to $100,000 for each year of continual service to the same team in addition to any amount offered by the team's contract. This would give additional incentives for players to stay put and provide the continuity that makes following a team fun. I know this sounds like it could work out to be an enormous amount of money, but I have got to think that if contracts are prevented from growing in the new CBA, with time this system would provide the players with identical incomes plus provide a built-in system to encourage longevity with the same team. -- Pats fan, Keene, N.H.
A. I like the thought because, like you, I've always had a fondness of sorts for players who spend their entire career with one team. I remember writing on Tedy Bruschi on this topic a few years ago at The Boston Globe, and how passionate he was to have played for just the Patriots. The biggest obstacle I see with this scenario is money. That's a lot of cash, and it has to come from somewhere. We see players get additional money in the performance-based pay pool, and perhaps it could be something similar to that. But, as usual, it comes down to dollars and cents, and I think it would be hard to do that.