Commentary

Mailbag: Mankins, Moss and more

Patriots riding high at 6-1, but optimism overshadowed by player news in this 'bag

Updated: November 3, 2010, 11:07 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

This week's mailbag took a few dramatic turns.

After the Patriots' 28-18 victory over the Vikings on Sunday, the majority of e-mails into the mailbag were bigger picture in nature, focusing on how the team had the best record in the NFL at 6-1. There was optimism at the growth of the defense and how the Patriots were winning close games.

Then came a wave of Randy Moss questions, focused first on his postgame press conference, and then the shocking news that the Vikings were waiving him. The possibility of the Patriots taking Moss back was raised by many.

Those two topics alone would have filled up the mailbag. But then late Monday, news broke of Logan Mankins reporting to the team.

It's never dull when it comes to the Patriots, is it?

Q. Mike, with Mankins reporting Tuesday, do you see the Patriots actually using him in a game? Should they feel good about trusting the protection of Tom Brady's blindside to a guy who doesn't want to be here and has ripped the coach, organization and owner? -- Glenn (Newburyport, Mass.)

Glenn, I do see Mankins playing for the Patriots at some point. In the end, I think both sides have a feeling that "business is business" and in the short-term they will put this behind them and move on. The Patriots did what they thought was right. Mankins did what he thought was right. They disagreed at the time, but now they come together, and with Mankins reporting early and on a quiet Tuesday, it's about as amicable as could be, given the circumstances. As for Mankins and playing time, the way I envision it unfolding is that Mankins will first need a few weeks to get himself ready. At that point, the team will assess the health and production of the line and decide how it wants to proceed. If the feeling is that Mankins will make them better, I could see them easing him into the mix as part of a rotation with Dan Connolly at first, before turning it over to Mankins -- assuming he returns to Pro Bowl form.

[+] EnlargeLogan Mankins
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesHow will the Patriots welcome back Logan Mankins? He was very well-liked in the locker room before his holdout.

Q. How are the Patriots going to react to Mankins finally signing his tender and reporting? He can be a key part of the offense and improve an already impressive offensive line. How soon can we expect to see him on the field after he held out so long? -- Harry (Bloomington, Ind.)

A. Harry, I think teammates will celebrate his arrival. Mankins is extremely well-liked in the locker room and I see players rallying around his return. As for how quickly one could expect Mankins to return to action, I think of it from a preseason perspective. It usually takes 3-4 weeks for players to be where they need to be. The other factor to consider is how this affects Connolly both in the short-term and the long-term, and that will be a factor in the decision-making process as well. You don't just cast your fill-in aside.

Q. Does Mankins count against the roster immediately, or do the Patriots get a three-week roster exception? -- Earl (Waltham, Mass.)

A. Earl, I think the Patriots will get an exemption and won't have to make a roster move immediately to make room for Mankins. I am not sure how long it will be.

Q. What are the chances Logan Mankins plays the six games required to obtain a year of service and then sits out the remainder of the regular season and playoffs? I know he would be subject to fines (as he would then be under contract), but the animosity between the two sides and the risk of injury seems to make this a possibility. What do you think? -- Pat (Kennett Square, Pa.)

A. Pat, I don't see it happening. I think the sparring is over. Once Mankins reports Tuesday, he will be making a statement that he is fully committed to the team from this point forward. While the scenario in the question is always a possibility, I just don't see it going down that path.

Q. Mike, great news that Mankins is coming back. Does his earlier-than-expected arrival suggest that: 1) He is signing the original, higher tender amount (before the reduction), and 2) That all hope is not lost about a long-term contract? -- Pete

A. Pete, Mankins comes back on his reduced tender -- at $1.54 million -- according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. As for the long-term deal, my sense is that the sides will table the topic until the end of the year. I see this as a short-term situation at this point.

Q. As the chances of Randy Moss receiving either a last big contract or a Super Bowl ring are dwindling by the day, you have to watch these developments with a sense or irony. At best, I could see him on the receiving end of a Terrell Owens type deal in the offseason. His behavior, on and off the field, has seemingly cost him everything. Your thoughts? -- Pat (Kennett Square, Pa.)

A. Pat, it's hard to argue that Moss has done anything to improve his standing. Jackie MacMullan wrote strongly on this topic on our site here at ESPNBoston.com when the trade was made. Moss had it good in New England, and it's hard for me to imagine he will find a better situation elsewhere.

Q. Mike, what is the best team for Randy Moss (other than the Patriots)? -- MarkJ (Japan)

A. MarkJ, I'll go with Washington because I think Moss would see some similarities between coach Mike Shanahan and Bill Belichick -- and having a strong head coach is important when bringing on a player/personality like Moss.

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireEvery other NFL team would have to pass on claiming Randy Moss for him to end up back in New England.

Q. Mike- If this were the offseason or preseason, Moss would have been immediately a free agent and not subject to waivers due to his number of years in the league correct? -- Brian (Mansfield, Mass.)

A. Brian, that is correct. The rules change after the NFL's trade deadline, which passed in October.

Q. Now that Moss is on the waiver wire, does Moss have the option to decline any waiver offer by another team? Can he wait until a team he wants to be with agrees to take him on? -- Sakeef (Va.)

A. Sakeef, Moss has little leverage in the situation unless he's willing to sit out and force a team's hand. Once a team claims him, that team assumes his contract and owns his rights. That team could also play hardball and say "Moss plays for us or no one."

Q. Mike, what is the difference if any between being waived and being cut? If Randy Moss is cut and not waived, does that mean he doesn't need to clear waivers and is a free agent who can sign with any team? Is that why Minnesota is waiving him -- so he won't sign with Chicago, Detroit or Green Bay? -- Alex Simon (Stamford, Conn.)

A. Alex, any player that is let go by a team after the trading deadline is subject to the waiver system, regardless of how many years they have played in the league. That is what has happened to Moss as this year's trading deadline has passed. The waiver system allows a team to put in a claim on the player, and teams with the worst record have priority. Had this move happened before the trading deadline, Moss would have been released and free to sign with any team.

Q. Hi Mike. In your article this morning "How a Moss-Pats Reunion could work" you say that Moss would have to be willing to take a pay cut to make the deal work. However, since the Pats have the last waiver claim, wouldn't it make more sense to not place a claim and just sign him for the veteran minimum if he clears waivers -- and let Minnesota pay his salary. -- Ned (Greensboro, N.C.)

A. Ned, that is correct. It wouldn't make sense for the Patriots to claim Moss. They could just sign him as a free agent to a reduced contract if no other team claims him.

Q. Am I the only one who thinks it was the plan all along to trade Randy for a pick and then get him to piss off his new team enough so they'd cut him and then the Pats could have him back? After Childress' "sign stealing" talk, I will quite enjoy the fact that Childress just gave BB a third-round pick for nothing. -- Mike (Sterling, Va.)

A. Mike, that's quite the conspiracy theory. We often hear people say "nothing surprises me in the NFL", but this one would surprise me.

Q. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most surprised), how surprising is the Patriots' 6-1 start to you? -- Jamaar (Rochester, N.Y.)

A. Jamaar, I'd put it at an 8. Given the team's struggles on the road in 2009, and the trips to New York, Miami and San Diego in there, I didn't project 6-1 at this point.

Q. Hi Mike, given the many questions on the defense coming into the season and the youth expected to answer them, as well as the Pats' brutal schedule this season, it's amazing that they're 6-1. I think this may be Bill Belichick's best season coaching ever. Would you agree? Do you think he deserves to be considered for Coach of the Year? -- Joseph (Andover, Mass.)

A. Joseph, if the Coach of the Year award was given out this week, I think you'd be looking at Bill Belichick and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin as the leading contenders. When I think of Belichick's top coaching jobs, I still put 2008 -- when Tom Brady was injured and replaced by Matt Cassel -- atop the list.

Q. If we win 13 or so games this year, Tom Brady has to be the MVP of the league, right? He does whatever is necessary for his team to win games, whether that means master of ball-control or airing out 50 touchdown passes, or handing off 300-plus times to Corey Dillon over the course of a season. That's what a QB is supposed to do right? -- Liam (Melrose, Mass.)

A. Liam, I don't see enough of the other teams around the league to have a great feel for the MVP watch, so I lean on national writers to provide that perspective. Peter King of SI.com puts Brady atop his current "MVP rankings", while Mike Sando of ESPN.com has him at No. 2 (prior to last weekend's games).

Q. Mike, the Pats are 6-1. I think I can say with considerable authority that no one saw that coming. So what does it mean? Are they the best team in the AFC? The NFL? The AFC East even? There have been a few close calls, but that's still the league's best record. What do you attribute to the team playing so well so far this season? -- Brooklyn (Toronto)

A. Brooklyn, I think it means they are part of the elite class of NFL teams at this time. As we know, things can also change quickly, so it doesn't guarantee anything at this point. I attribute the team's success to rising up in critical situations. There are often just a few critical plays that decide football games and the Patriots are winning on those plays.

Q. With the Browns this week followed by the Steelers, what is Belichick going to do to keep the Patriots focused? The Saints fall into the trap before the Steelers and losing to the Browns. Is Belichick going to do anything different in this week of practice to keep the team focused? -- Harry (Bloomington, Ind.)

A. Harry, Tedy Bruschi tells the story of how Bill Parcells once put mouse traps in the locker room to remind players that the upcoming game was a "trap". I don't see Belichick going to those extremes and I don't think he has to. I think players are listening to his message and his message this week is that if you don't believe anything can happen in the NFL, how do you explain the Browns going into New Orleans two weeks ago and winning? So if you don't bring your A game Sunday in Cleveland, you will lose. Players are responding to Belichick, and you could already hear that in the locker room after the game. Receiver Deion Branch even turned to reporters and asked, "How many of you had Green Bay beating the Jets?" The message is getting across.

Q. Hey Mike, in the win over the Vikings you can really see the strides the defense is making since the start of the season. The coverages look tighter and we are seeing a lot more physical play from everyone. What are your thoughts on the defense, and specifically, rookie cornerback Devin McCourty? -- Emerson (Newark, Del.)

A. Emerson, the defense is sometimes a little shaky starting games, which I think is a product of the youth maybe being antsy and needing some time to get into the flow of things. But what stands out to me is that they are coming up with the big stops when they need them. Third-and-1. Fourth-and-goal from the 1. Tackling well. As for McCourty, it seems like yesterday that a lot of people were up in arms about the Patriots picking him in the draft. At the time, it wasn't a top need. But, to me, it is a shining example of how you never pass up a good player for a lesser player that fills a specific need.

Q. Jerod Mayo, Jerod Mayo, Jerod Mayo! What a stud he has been this year, and one of the highlights this entire season, in my opinion, was seeing him stuff Adrian Peterson as Peterson dove at the goal line. Belichick challenged the TD call and lost. Do you foresee the NFL apologizing for the horrible call? -- Derek (Dallas)

A. Derek, I don't see the NFL apologizing for the call, because the TV replays weren't conclusive enough to say one way or the other. I think that is a situation where replay couldn't overturn whatever the call was on the field -- if they said no touchdown, I think that call would have stood as well.

Q. Was there any commentary from BB about the failed goal-line challenge? If I remember, it happened on second down, so even if it was changed, they still would have had to stop Adrian Peterson again on third and potentially fourth down from just shy of the goal-line. Seems like a waste of a challenge. -- Rob (Watertown, Mass.)

A. Rob, I see what you are saying. At the same time, given the Patriots success later in the game on fourth-and-goal from the 1 -- coupled with the possibility of a penalty -- I think Belichick was thinking that there was no reason to concede the points there. It also shows your defensive players, "Hey, I'll go to bat for you, because that was a superb effort."

[+] EnlargeWelker
Stew Milne/US PresswireWes Welker's numbers have been down since Randy Moss left.

Q. Do you think the reduced production of Wes Welker and Julian Edleman can be attributed to the double coverage Randy Moss drew, which opened up the field for them? -- Nick (Santa Cruz, Calif.)

A. Nick, I think there is something to that when it comes to Welker. Without having to account for the deep threat of Moss, defenses can now defend Welker differently. As for Edelman, I think it's more of a playing-time situation. He's seldom on the field as the No. 4 receiver.

Q. Mike, I went back and watched a lot of the game. I'd like to offer another "up" player for you to consider. I thought Alge Crumpler played one heck of a game. In the second half he was involved in providing key blocks to free BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Crumpler is just relentless. He makes a key block and then heads right up field looking for someone else to hit. Then, there is his other well-documented benefit. He is the first to help a player up and pat him on the back. He is very emotional on the field with the rookie tight ends. This guy is a great addition to the team and played a game Sunday worthy of an "up" rating. What do you think? -- Dave (Berlin, N.H.)

A. Great point, Dave. He also helped out on defensive end Ray Edwards with chip blocks in the passing game. On Green-Ellis' final touchdown run, offensive guard Stephen Neal was marveling at how Crumpler blocked two players.

Q. Mike, when the Pats traded Moss I thought that Rob Gronkowski was going to become a bigger part of this offense. With his size and athleticism, he should be a mismatch for any LB or safety in the league. He's got real good hands and I thought he could work the middle of the field the way Ben Coates did in the old days. Any ideas why we have yet to see him targeted more by Brady? Is it a trust thing? Is he not grasping the offense, specifically route running, as well as we hoped? -- Steve (Norton, Mass.)

A. Steve, I have seen Gronkowski stay in to block just as much as I've seen him out in pass patterns, with Sunday a good example as he was locked into some one-on-one battles with end Ray Edwards on the right side. So I think he's one of those true combination tight ends -- equally as valuable as a blocker than as a pass-catcher. I saw him at times matched up one-on-one against Vikings end Ray Edwards on Sunday. There is probably a grasping-the-offense aspect in play a bit as well. It's tough at that tight end position.

Q. After the first game, Danny Woodhead has increased his snap count, taking on a large part of the Kevin Faulk role. A big part of this is blitz pickup and I've seen him put a few great hits on blitzing LBs each week. Is he consistently picking up the blitz? -- Garrett (Vietnam)

A. Garrett, this is an area I have watched closely and been impressed with Woodhead. The Ravens game comes to mind, when he stepped up and took on Ray Lewis, who is as tough as they come. When you look at Woodhead's physical makeup (5-foot-9, 195 pounds), it's natural to ask the question "How is he going to hold up against 230 and 240 pounds linebackers?" I've been impressed with how he has held up to this point in that blitz pick-up role.

Q. Mike, please explain the Patriots' strategy near the end of the game. Leading by three points, Green-Ellis breaks a run to the Vikings' 1-2 yard line. The Patriots then call two QB sneaks that seemed designed not to score. Why not simply try to score on first down? That would have given the Patriots a 10-point lead with just over two minutes to play, effectively ending the game. It seemed like the Patriots put themselves into possibly having to settle for a field goal if they failed to score on third down, giving them only a six point lead. What are your thoughts? -- Connor (Portsmouth, N.H.)

A. Connor, this is some good situational football chatter. Belichick was working the clock in that situation, but an argument could be made that he should have powered through for the score on first down. Tedy Bruschi's weekly "Bruschi on Tap" piece on ESPNBoston.com credits Belichick for his coaching in that situation (see point No. 6).

Q. Mike, I've noticed with the lack of star power on the team, the Pats are winning by playing disciplined and smart, as opposed to past years when they appeared to run up the score. The Miami and San Diego games particularly stand out. Is this a factor of the personnel on this year's team, or a renewed emphasis by the coaches, knowing they can't simply score 40 and win every week. The defense is also growing each week, making more and more big stops. Just how good can they be? -- Matthew (Framingham, Mass.)

A. Matthew, I think this approach starts in the locker room with the right mix of players and leaders. It's hard to get 53 players pulling in the same direction and you need the right mixture of leaders, followers, talented star players, talented role players, older players and younger players, etc. Unlike 2009, the Patriots have the right mix at this point and they are really taking to Belichick and the staff's coaching. So I'd start there, because I think when you have that, good things can happen.

Q. Mike, coming into this year I pegged that Raiders' 2011 first-round draft choice to be a top 10 pick for the Pats. Now I'm bummed after every Raiders win. However, after some further thought, I think with the Patriots' style of drafting they actually might prefer to pick in the teens. My thoughts are that the dollars are much more reasonable for a mid first-round draft choice than a top 5 pick, and the Patriots clearly think value in the draft. Your thoughts? -- Kartal (Denver)

A. Kartal, in the current climate, I would agree with this. But the difference is that in 2011 there will probably be a rookie-type salary cap that brings those top rookie salaries back in line. If there is a rookie salary cap, I think the Patriots would want the pick to be as high as possible.

Q. Hey Mike, I was wondering how the Patriots decide to have certain players come to the postgame podium each week to answer questions from reporters. Obviously Brady has to come out each week, but how was it decided that Green-Ellis and Brandon Tate would answer questions this week? Does Belichick tell them to go up? Do reporters request they answer questions? Do the players ask to answer questions? -- Jeff (Cambridge, Mass.)

A. Jeff, the reporters often request the players and the Patriots' media relations staff, which is headed by Stacey James, facilitates that process.

Q. Hi Mike. I have a different kind of question for you. Could you give us a glimpse behind the scenes and tell us how a game day works? When do the players arrive and what do they do before the game and what do you do yourself on game day? -- Peter (Denmark)

A. Peter, I think every player's routine differs. For example, this week, I was driving up Rte. 1 toward Gillette Stadium for the 4:15 p.m. game and I saw tight end Rob Gronkowski in the next car over, and that was about six hours before kickoff. He must like to arrive early. I'll attempt to take this question into the locker room and ask some players what their routine is, and hopefully it turns into a blog post. As for me, I usually arrive early to beat the traffic or because of television commitments. You watch the field during the pregame for any injury updates, report on the inactive players for the game, and then watch the game from the press box while taking notes. After the game, there are interviews with players and coaches and then it's back up to the press box to write up some blog entries and stories. Dream job in many ways. I'm thankful for it every day.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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